Reestablishing the American commitment to cooperation as the ruling principle in American international policy is the central non-domestic policy issue to be decided by the coming US presidential election.
If you are the CEO of a multinational firm, the head of a worldwide financial institution, or a four-star commander of a multinational military command, the environment of international cooperation will define success or quagmire in the 2020s.
Today, Donald Trump and his foreign policy team are dismantling 70 years of international relationships that form the backbone of US international power. In short, Trump is destroying the inner core of US international power—its relationships with other advanced economy democracies.
Leadership in the first world is central to providing leadership in the wider globalized world. Weaken first-world leadership; weaken world leadership.
It is from this base of power in the advanced world that the US exerts influence in the fast growing but often unruly developing world and with rival countries outside the democratic market economy framework such as Russia and China. Maintaining and growing this influence will only become more strategically important in the future.
US power expresses itself through relationships for mutual security, trade, and international financial management through a dense web of arrangements, mostly centered on the 36 countries comprising the Organisation for Economic Co-operation and Development (OECD) that girdle the globe.
These countries are high-income developed countries that self-describe themselves as committed to democracy and the market economy. The momentum of this organization is inclusive with eight countries currently in candidate membership.
The OECD countries comprise 62 percent of global nominal GDP and 43 percent of GDP at purchasing power parity and encompass 1.3 billion people. These are the most attractive markets in the world. All the members of the G7—the free world board of directors—are leading members of the OECD.
Advanced world economic cooperation has an almost perfect overlap with mutual security. Undercutting economic cooperation weakens security cooperation in addition to which Trump habitually undercuts solidarity with security partners with divisive public comments.
The US has mutual security relationships with virtually every OECD member. NATO is also an inclusive organization with numerous affiliate and out-of-area relationships with non-member countries.
In the Pacific, the US has important security treaties with Japan, South Korea, and Australia-New Zealand and strong relationships with other countries in the region. The US has long-standing security arrangements with Israel and other countries around the Indian Ocean.
With Trump’s withdrawal from the Iranian Nuclear agreement, the US abandoned effective leadership of the nuclear nonproliferation issue, an issue of first importance to the world community. Shared diplomatic goals with European allies were broken while unreliability was demonstrated to geopolitical rivals Russia and China.
Trump’s withdrawal from Iranian agreement and ensuing militarized confrontations with Iran follow the Iraq invasion of 2003 to display egregious foreign policy miscalculations in the volatile Middle East twice in a generation.
Trade is the area of greatest retreat by the Trump administration where the movement from multilateralism to unilateralism is in full flood. This profoundly changes how the world conducts its daily business.
The focal point of the Trump administration’s disenchantment has been the World Trade Organization which for over a half century has promoted multilateral trade and provided a dispute resolution process.
The WTO has been a living, functioning mechanism of the international rules-based order which the US has promoted since World War II. The Trump administration has attacked its daily functioning by blocking the appointment and re-appointment of Appellate Body members which are at the center of its adjudication process.
Crippling the functioning of international trade law and its dispute settlement process is to move towards a ‘devil take the hindmost” unilateralism. Future opportunity costs will be large because the efficiency of trade will be diminished. The costs of today’s China-US trade war mount daily.
The Trump administration signaled retreat on trade when it withdrew from both the proposed Transatlantic Trade and Investment Partnership with the European Union and with the Pacific Trade Partnership, both of which covered 90 percent of the OECD countries plus additional countries. That is the core of America’s network of allies.
The geopolitical role for the US as an “offshore balancer” is to prevent hostile concentrations of power in the wider world, particularly outside the advanced democratic nexus. US allies among the OECD advanced economy democracies in both the Far East and Europe are indispensable to this over-arching mission.
As an offshore balancer, the US should not be formulating maladroit policies that drive other advanced economy democracies into the arms of nondemocratic powers such as Russia and China. Instead, improved maintenance of relationships should be the goal.
Re-establishing cooperation is the task awaiting a new generation of US leaders in the coming decade.
by Paul A. Myers