The fault lines of global realpolitik are becoming obvious with the arbitrariness of the United States. The 45th President of the US has been brashly putting these up for display with his numerous aggravations since his inauguration in 2017. It is hard to tell whether the world is going to be rid of America or it will be condemned to become its colony for the foreseeable future. Interestingly, the American surface tension and conflicts are obvious with China yet the real threat and strategic foe it is out to subdue remains Europe united as the European Union (EU).
American Secretary of State Mike Pompeo asked in his speech at the German Marshal Fund what he called the central question to mostly European Union bureaucrats in Brussels earlier this month. “The central question that we face is that – is the question of whether the system as currently configured, as it exists today, and as the world exists today – does it work? Does it work for all the people of the world?”
The answer is no. This is the answer that Mike Pompeo and his boss President Trump have also carefully computed. However, our reasons for arriving at the same answer either have same grounds or do they follow strategic objectives.
Mike Pompeo was telling the Europeans America no longer cares of rule of law since it does not assure continued American hegemony. He wants to undo the multilateral system for his Boss who imagines what the Russian TV has called a “Pax Americana 2.0” to replace it. Incidentally, the remnants of the existing multilateral system are actually nothing more than what really was “Pax-Americana 1.0” designed and forced down the unwilling throats of nations in 1947 by the victorious World War II allies.
Mike Pompeo made no bones about how America is now all set to push its own unilateralism. Ironically, it is akin to going back to the world before World War II. It was unilateralism that forced about the World War II.
So why would America want to undo that it has itself created? Some say it is all hollow threats and we all know how hollow cavities make loud sounds. Some say as performance declines, rhetoric grows louder in Trump’s America. The United States have made clear noises in the recent past it wants to break up NATO. Pomopeo also asserted how Europe needs a new security infrastructure.
Pompeo is also a former Director of the Central Intelligence Agency—a job he appears to be more proud of than his present one—and wishes to impart the impression that his boss is playing four dimensional chess. His bragging on American “leadership” tells in their new game of high politics, the US not only wishes to be the player but the referee, the empire and if need be, executioner too.
His hubris on the international criminal justice system and the desire to undo the United Nations did not excite any comments from the European leaders. Does that mean Europeans are so weak? So worthless? Will they come crawling as Washington continues to bark? Does their silence mean America is so great and powerful they cannot defy it irrespective of how patently illegal and foul may be the US game?
Trump administration has been bullying its European allies non-stop. This not limited to the hubris Trump has spewed out on NATO along. Or even two years of a non-sense called Brexit which is British Aristocratic Establishment in league with the United States to undermine the European Union (EU). In brief, what Pompeo asserted in Brussels was that is going to the American way or the highway.
The international status quo built by Western powers—read the US—after World War II was effectively neutralized in 1971 with the Nixon Shock. The edifice of institutions was alive with the spirit of value that was the gold peg to the US dollar President Nixon unilaterally knifed on August 17, 1971. Europe had no choice but to go with the US as 97% of the global trade was between the 22 OECD countries and largely trans-Atlantic in nature. They had no choice but to move for greater integration. This finally took the form of the EU, a political and economic union of 28 member states that developed an internal single market ensuring free movement of people, goods, services and capital with common policies on trade, agriculture, fisheries and regional development. The EU and European citizenship were established when the Maastricht Treaty came into force in 1993 that later on also allowed to abolish passport controls. A monetary union composed of 19 EU member states was established in 1999 that uses the euro currency.
The EU traces its origins to the European Coal and Steel Community (ECSC) and the European Economic Community (EEC), established, respectively, by the 1951 Treaty of Paris and 1957 Treaty of Rome. However, the fact remains that the real incentive for the EU to coalesce was the Nixon Shock. The original members of what came to be known as the European Communities were the Inner Six: Belgium, France, Italy, Luxembourg, the Netherlands, and West Germany. The latest major amendment to the constitutional basis of the EU, the Treaty of Lisbon, came into force in 2009. While no member state has left the EU or its antecedent organisations, the United Kingdom with its Brexit has been maliciously bent upon leaving negotiating its withdrawal on 29 March 2019.
With 7.3% of the world population, the EU had a gross domestic product (GDP) of 19.670 trillion US dollars in 2017. This is approximately 24.6% of global nominal GDP. Through the Common Foreign and Security Policy, the EU has also developed a nascent leadership in external relations and defence. The union maintains permanent diplomatic missions throughout the world and is represented at the United Nations, the World Trade Organization, the G7 and the G20. It has global influence and thus is a standing threat to US pre-eminence being an emerging superpower. Hence it is not only China that has to escape the Thucydides Trap and keep itself out of the harm’s way by keeping America at bay.
Europe has a collective weight that rivals the United States in trade and finance. In defense, Europe is forging a common policy and acquiring the means to act on its own. A new centre of global power is thus in the making. Yet, at present, the states that make up the EU possess resources sufficient to rival the United States. In what period of time they might succeed in converting that potential power into usable power is anyone’s guess. The EU’s challenge is above all dependent upon forging a centralized decision-making body having the authority to act on behalf of Europe in matters of foreign policy and defence. The European response to Iraq has shown that the EU is still a long way from achieving so revolutionary a change, and, the recent defeat French President Emanuel Macron and the German Chancellor Angela Merkel has suffered on their proposal for an EU defence budget shows that day is even more distant.
When President Trump imposed his tariffs in March, it was seen as a policy largely aimed at China. However, many other allies were also targeted. Soon afterwards, the White House targeted the EU and other allies including Canada although Trump later chose to exempt several countries temporarily and negotiate with each one to obtain concessions in return for a more permanent exemption. And then he hit the EU, Canada and Mexico with tariffs of 25 percent on steel and 10 percent on aluminum at the start of June, ending exemptions in place.
The European Union also began charging import duties of 25 percent on a range of US products to the tune of 2.8 billion dollars in response to the new tariffs imposed on EU steel and aluminum. Earlier, the EU had made public a 10-page list of possible targets. The extensive lineup includes an array of agricultural products, including rice and tobacco, as well as automobiles and motorcycles, whiskey, paper products, shoes, and blue jeans. From July 1, Canada also imposed tariffs of 25 percent on shipments of US steel and 10 percent on aluminum, as well as on other products such as playing cards, inflatable boats and yogurt. Canada’s finance ministry estimated the value of American goods subject to those tariffs at up to C$16.6 billion ($12.8 billion).
Jean-Claude Juncker, president of the European Commission, led the European Union in applying new tariffs on American goods signaling EU would target products made in states represented by key Republican leaders. “The U.S. now leaves us with no choice but to proceed with a [World Trade Organization] dispute settlement case and with the imposition of additional duties on a number of imports from the U.S. We will defend the Union’s interests, in full compliance with international trade law,” Juncker said in a statement.
Christine Lagarde, Managing Director of the International Monetary Fund, tweeted from the G7 Symposium in Whistler, Canada, saying: “At the end of the day, if #trade is massively disrupted, if the level of trust among economic actors is severely damaged, those who will suffer most are the poorest people #G7.” German Chancellor Angela Merkel warned that the move from Washington would trigger an “escalation spiral” that could seriously harm world trade. “We consider this unilateral measure to be unlawful, [Trump’s] stated national security concerns do not hold any water,” she said.
The EU’s rebalancing measures in response to the US tariffs on steel and aluminium was part of the three-pronged response outlined by the European Commission earlier this year. This also included the launch on 1 June of legal proceedings against the US in the WTO and safeguard action to protect the European market from disruptions caused by the diversion of steel from the US market.
French President Emmanuel Macron had lobbied against the tariffs during an April state visit to the White House, was unusually unsparing in his criticism. Macron spoke with Trump and called the tariffs “illegal” and a “mistake,” according to a readout released afterwards by the Elysee Palace. The French finance minister said it was “not acceptable” any longer for the US to play “economic policeman of the planet”.
Those who wait with baited breath for a stinging European response to America’s withdrawal from the multi-lateral Iran nuclear deal were greatly disappointed. Tormer Swedish prime minister Carl Bildt said: “European economies can certainly survive without trade with Iran but European sovereignty in foreign affairs can hardly survive passive compliance with the new dictats from the White House.”
Mark Leonard, director of the well-networked European Council on Foreign Relations, suggested: “We’re going to have to treat the US as a hostile power”. Former EU foreign policy chief Javier Solana fulminated “the country that is breaking its promises has decided to punish those that have kept theirs”. The US just continued to refuse to honour the Iran nuclear deal and Trump withdrew the US from the deal and re-imposed sanctions on Teheran in May earlier this year.
American unilateralism is nothing new. Actually setting any date to it is arbitrary. It is certainly not Trump that started it. One recalls 9/11 driven American unilatralism ofPresiden Gworge W. Bush with his “with us or against us” challenge to his allies. Treaty-based and customary international law, shared norms, instiutions and practices by which the international community as a whole have sought to manage common affairs are now on the line. The vast power asymmetries between the US and the rest of the world in the military realm give Trump and Pompeo the gall to strut around with unilateral postures.
The average tariffs on US-EU traded goods were under three percent. The US move to impose tariffs on China, EU and others was an illegal and unnecessary act of protectionist hostility. It is an act of aggression against the EU direct for the end of multilateralism is the end of EU. To keep multilateralism alive, Europe must first make it work within the union itself. The EU has not succeeded in doing that to date. The presence of four ambassadors of EU member states at the opening of the US Embassy in Jerusalem was proof the union was not quite there yet.
With Mike Pompeo’s speech in Brussels, it is apparent that no change has occurred in the view taken of American power. America is not starting out to neutralize China and the EU only now. Most of its unilateral actions –including those the EU agreed with and joined in action to implement like the war in Libya and Syria—has gone on to cement American hegemony. What the Gulf War failed to do, the war in Afghanistan succeeded in doing. It has made converts—irrespective of the fact whether or not they are reluctant—of most of those who were once skeptics. The fact of American hegemony cannot be disputed as is its durability. The “unipolar moment”, has become the “unipolar era” in which unilateralism is trumping multilateralism.
Once considered the motor of the European Union, the German-French partnership no longer has the clout it once did. Macron could not make any progress on the eurozone defence budget. Originally, he had envisioned resources in the hundreds of billions of euros. Now it has been whittled down to just a small item in the future EU budget, as the Netherlands successful neutralized his proposal. Macron’s defeat shows the German-French motor that drove the EU forward for decades doesn’t have the same horsepower it once had when if Paris and Berlin were in agreement, other EU countries would fall into line.
American unilateralism has crept into the EU with many members more than happy to seize the initiative for themselves if the opportunity presents itself. Macron has been forced to fight for political survival back home and Germany has largely been naval gazing since elections in September 2017. This has led to Matteo Salvini, head of the right-wing party Lega and Italian interior minister, to succeed in the elections with launch attack after attack against Brussels.
China or Russia cannot resist American hegemony on their own as history has shown. The EU has a GDP roughly equal to that of the US and so has power it has yet to properly use. Europe could work with China to circumvent US sanctions. In the absence of the EU, American domination of the continent may be expected to continue into an indefinite future, particularly if the Trump administration’s unilateralism prevails and Brexit succeeds.
Khalid Hussain is Resident Editor of TLTP – You may contact Khalid Hussain at Resident.Editor@tltpnews.com.pk
The Law Today Pakistan, commonly known as TLTP, is the largest news wire service, headquartered in Islamabad. The service is providing fast, comprehensive and verified news on superior courts adjudications, regulatory framework of fiscal, monitory and external sectors, economic regulatory bodies amid apex institutions regulating the financial system. TLTP is empowering readers of more than 12 national English dailies in the country.