March towards isolationism

Trump’s hostile stance on key issues is changing the terms of diplomacy

Published - June 02, 2017 12:05 am IST

It was a diplomatic double whammy by the U.S. last week when President Donald Trump virtually held the countries of the North Atlantic Treaty Organisation (NATO) and the Group of 7 industrialised states (G7) hostage. The President’s near-repudiation of NATO’s key principles at the Brussels meet and the Paris Climate Accord at Taormina, Italy is the clearest sign yet of the diametrically opposite pathways the U.S. and its European partners have been traversing of late. The big difference, of course, is that the U.S. under Mr. Trump insists on going it alone; while Europe now has no option but to find its own feet. The normally circumspect German Chancellor, Angela Merkel, did not conceal her utter disappointment over the deepening rift among the Western allies on her return from the summit in the Sicilian town. She even implored the constituents of her Christian Democratic Union (CDU) to remain prepared for greater global engagement, given the uncertain future that lies ahead. Notwithstanding the divisions that surface frequently in transatlantic relations, the security umbrella under NATO has been an article of faith in Europe’s post-war partnership with Washington. But Mr. Trump refused last week to reaffirm a commitment to the mutual defence clause, a reassurance his counterparts had hoped would allay their apprehensions over the extent of U.S. isolationism. However, to their dismay, he upbraided them on their supposed failure to contribute to NATO’s finances.

Washington remained equally unyielding at Taormina, both on the commitments to reduce greenhouse gas emissions and to advance global trade. A mere reference in the final G7 communiqué, to the promotion of multilateralism, was the only concession the other Western allies could extract from the U.S. President. That was enough for diplomats to put a positive spin on their otherwise fruitless efforts to prevent Mr. Trump from walking away without a categorical endorsement of the 2015 Paris Accord. As the country responsible for the world’s second-largest volume of carbon dioxide emissions, the U.S.’s refusal to cooperate risks encouraging other countries to lower their own treaty obligations. Some of Mr. Trump’s advisers sense an opportunity for Washington to renegotiate more favourable terms by remaining within the accord. Mr. Trump himself has indicated that he may pull the U.S. out of it. Meanwhile, the Earth has registered the highest temperatures on record in the past three successive years, a trend which portends the dangers of global warming. The warming of the planet by more than half-a-degree Fahrenheit between 2013 and 2016 was the largest temperature increase in a three-year time span since temperatures began getting recorded in 1880. Of the 17 hottest years on record, 16 have occurred since 2000. So far, the anti-establishment mood of recent years has largely coalesced around the opposition to immigration and globalisation in national elections. Mr. Trump’s hostile stance in the two forums last week has placed it on a wider canvas.

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