“Whoever believes the problems of this world can be solved by isolationism and protectionism is making a tremendous error on their own face value”, these words not only represent a crude statement of obvious meaning but also seem to transcend the usual cloak and dagger approach to politics and diplomacy. These are the words of German Chancellor Angela Merkel. They were delivered to the German parliament, the Bundestag, last week, just as Donald Trump prepares to attend the G20 Summit.
Though Trump’s attendance in the Summit would have been a major talking point on its own, he will make one stop preceding the Summit. That stop will be at Warsaw meeting Polish officials. The decision to make the trip to Poland has already managed to raise eyebrows in Brussels, with the Polish government increasingly at odds with the EU over its extent of governance since 2015. Saying that Trump has had a peculiar attitude towards Europe would be an understatement of grotesque extents. He has often called out European nations for their supposed lack of commitment to NATO. He has already lent the proverbial cold shoulder to Angela Merkel during her state visit, drawing accusations of being wholly unsuited to the role he is supposed to play till 2020.
One particular bone of contention that Merkel has publicly stated which will be a major topic at the Summit is the Paris Accords.
Once his visit to Poland is concluded, the 45th POTUS will head over to Germany for the G20 Summit. Under ordinary circumstances, this would be “business as usual” but this won’t be just another G20 attendance for the US President. It will be the first time that he will come face to face with his Russian counterpart Vladimir Putin, officially that is. The alleged Russian involvement has continually rocked the American realpolitik landscape since Trump’s win in November, 2016. Now, not only will he have the opportunity to finally engage Putin head on, but also should he wish, mend certain bridges that many critics believe he has already burned down. Emmanuel Macron’s election saw an air of relief breeze around the power corridors of Brussels due to his centrist liberal policies and adamant attitude to many global issues. One particular bone of contention that Merkel has publicly stated which will be a major topic at the Summit is the Paris Accords. The same Accords that constituted a major part of Trump’s election campaign and one he recently retreated from. Although he has cited the vitality of the United States’ coal industry as a major factor behind this decision, most of his critics have unilaterally declared it an act of ignorance in the face of a genuine threat to the world.
Economically, fossil fuels still make up a great deal of the industrial setup in the US. When the Obama administration decided to become a signatory to the Accords it was with a vision to invest significantly in clean and renewable energy. It was considered a decision with an eye towards the long game. In the shorter run, it was expected to put a dent in a volatile economic area of the United States’ own domestic framework. The coal coalition has traditionally been a powerful bloc in the annals of power in Washington. Their unambiguous support for Trump in return for his enthusiastic commitment towards stepping away from the Paris Accords played a major role in his striking a cord with the working-class belt of the US. As it stands, Trump has gained significant political capital from his decision, in turn leaving a sour taste in the mouths of his European allies, many of whom have signaled climate change as a grave threat in comparison to terrorism, another one of Trump’s great campaign rallying cries.
Trump has continually stressed that his iconic slogan of “America First” must not be mistaken as a synonym for “America Only”.
Trump has continually stressed that his iconic slogan of “America First” must not be mistaken as a synonym for “America Only”. In pure economic terms, the US position as a global power depends on its unspoken but unilaterally implied assertion of it being the leader of the world, politically, economically, financially, morally and ethically. In any case “America First” would lose, implies that the US would have to give up ground over its monopoly on various matters. An insinuation that Mr. Trump has repeatedly made is that it is “not the responsibility of the US to be the world’s policeman”. And it is precisely this position that has allowed the US to wield so much power. Any dwindles on this matter will surely leave a vacuum which the Chinese President Xi Jinping offered to fill in his address at the Global Economic Forum in Switzerland. This vacuum is, perhaps rightly so, dreaded by those that depend heavily on the US to act as the global leader to ensure tranquility, a sentiment that was again roundly reinforced by the Iraqi Vice President Ayad Allawi, in spite of the impending victory over ISIL forces in Mosul. He reemphasized the need for the US to resume its role not only as an international power but as a leader in maintaining global peace.
On the global stage, comparatively Trump enjoys far less appetizing approval ratings than his predecessor. This presents a unique problem for the traditional allies of the US. How to align themselves with a president whose global political capital is at rock bottom? Theresa May was lambasted in the House of Commons on the subject of her meet and greet with the US President. Rumors persist that Mr. Trump may make a short visit to Britain which has resulted in many groups preparing for mass protests should the occasion arise. Protests domestically and abroad, Trump arrives at the G20 with the international audience smelling blood. His policies have drawn ire from each and every corner of the political spectrum. It will be interesting nonetheless to see how Trump interacts with his international colleagues and what message he takes to the Summit. Equally important what message the rest of the G20 delivers to him. These are testing times, ahead lies the horizon. Who will steer the international community to that horizon, we cannot be certain of it anymore. Not with Trump at the helm.
Ousama Khurshid Khan is currently working as Senior Research Associate in CSCR. He is an MPhil Scholar at NDU Islamabad. He has previously served in NDU’s research think tank ISSRA in 2015. His area of interest is Defence studies and foreign policy of United States, and he writes on regional contemporary issues. He can be reached at email@example.com
firstname.lastname@example.org and he tweets @Sam1992sam.