Amid Covid-19 Pandemic, President Trump issued an executive order on April 22 temporarily banning some individuals from obtaining U.S. permanent residency. Since assuming power, Donald Trump has shaken one international arrangement after the other and followed the policy of economic nationalism. He withdrew from the Trans-Pacific partnership trade agreement, threatened to terminate NAFTA and slapped import tariffs on U.S. allies. He abandoned the global Paris accord aimed at curbing climate change. He scuttled the deal curbing Iran’s nuclear ambitions and questioned Americas commitments to NATO and allies encouraging even the dissolution of the European union. The global order was already under strain. However, under Trump it has attained death knell. The retreat from its traditional role sounds alarm for the entire world.
The liberal international order is essentially a body of rules, norms and institutions that govern international affairs. It encompasses security, economic and human rights order. Washington was the founder of this traditional order and anchored it for the past half century. With Donald Trump coming to power, there has been a retreat of America’s global commitments. Few observers have equated Donald Trump’s presidency to policy of isolationism.
During the 1930’s isolationist sentiments persisted. Only after Japanese attack on pearl harbor, the futility of placing ‘America first’ was realized. It seems that isolationism is back in vogue in U.S. with Trump giving new vigor to the “America first rhetoric of interwar sovereigntists.”
The Paris agreement has been seen in the same light. The deal which is based on country’s voluntary commitments to cut their carbon emissions violated American sovereignty according to Trump. Trumps argument is certainly baseless and unfound. The Paris agreement is a flexible arrangement consistent with the U.S. constitution. It does not mandate how the U.S. or any other party should go about fulfilling this obligation. Rather each government submits its own individual, nationally determined contribution to that joint effort.
The Effects of Embracing Isolationism
The mission to put America first and abandon the liberal international order can have serious backlash for the American people as well as its economy. It has isolated U.S. on key global issues and has also undermined its soft power diplomacy.
Trump by favoring a close bilateral and nationalist agenda in contrast to that of multilateral cooperative society is doing more harm than can be done by open and rule bound order governed by international institutions. This way it paves path for adversaries to grow at the cost of world peace and security. An unpredictable and unsafe world is what awaits us. The need of the hour is to renew commitment to collective security for the survival of the planet as well as the deterrence of aggressors. Moreover, a consolidated bloc and a common cause with other nations can give it a more leverage to deal with China on trade related negotiations.
While it is evident that Donald Trump does not want to make any compromise on American interests, he desires a lighter global workload for the U.S. However, at the same time there is an aspiration of keeping the global leadership. The two cannot go hand in hand. In a world of sovereign states minding their own affairs, the idea of nativism or isolationism is bound to create conflict. The embracing of isolationist policies by U.S. can lead to power vacuum in the liberal international order, pushing new states to acquire this position. Though the U.S. followed isolationist policies post World War I, for a peaceful interwar period. Today the situation is different and the world cannot do away without liberal order and take to exclusionist mode.
Potential Gain for China
China has been making every effort to replace the U.S. at global level. The isolationist policies of Trump have provided greater scope and leverage to Beijing. China has positioned itself as a growing climate leader along with European Union. It has been making great strides not only in policy domain but also gathering the influence required for filling the gap. For instance, when Trump paralyzed the WTO by leaving its appellate body inquorate, China along with Europe and other 15 countries set up their own ad hoc shadow appellate body to maintain WTO standards and procedures. The successor to U.S. global leadership seems to be collective global leadership, with the two largest economies––EU and the China.
Globalization and the rise of Populist leaders
The ill effects of globalization on the lower and middle classes have combined with the nationalist resentment over immigration and the sense of lost sovereignty. This has fueled a strong populist backlash against the principles and practices of the liberal order. That resentment has had significant political consequences. It has caused deep political divisions and fueled support for nationalist leaders around the world. Growing economic insecurity, together with the rise of identity politics has been enough to cause the body politic to revert to its unilateral, isolationist mindset. The inherent weaknesses of international liberal order have been aptly exploited by the populist leaders all over the world. A somewhat similar yet different trend can be seen in India as well. Both India and US are diverting from their traditional historical paths and are following exclusionary nationalist policies. The idea is to put majority concerns at the forefront at the cost of minorities.
Trump in 2017 suspended the entry of travellers and immigrants from several majority muslim nations. While the policy cited security concerns, critics dubbed it a “muslim ban”. The recent CAA bill reverberates the same ideals by Modi in India.
The future of the nation and humanity seems to be at risk .What needs to be seen is how America learns from its own past and mend its ways. As was believed by policy experts post world war that US interests can be best protected by building an order revolving around institutions and free trade. The prudence is that the mechanism be continued for better and safer world.