Benefiting as a partial winner in the Great War and one of the principal winners in the Second World War, the United States has become the emerging Superpower during the second part of the 20th Century. It lasted victoriously thru the Cold War, and into the present times and it is being presumed to maintain this status for the foreseeable future.
As a result, the US has begun an all out effort, first in the west and then beyond it, to establish a model society that looked as close as possible with their own society. By the end of the past century, in great part, these efforts have succeeded.
As an undisputed economic power the United States were able not only to assist financially the countries ravaged in the aftermath of the war but also help create some patterns in developing independent economies, create economic and financial alliances, thus finally promulgating global and mutually benefic treaties among participant states on both sides of the Atlantic.
In addition the United States presided over military alliances established at the end of the war, with the purpose of safeguarding the west from dangerous and aggressive polices of the Soviet Union and later with the extended goal of maintaining peace and prosperity throughout the world.
The rampant development of a multitude of cultural aspects in America has been easily and willingly adopted in Western Europe and beyond, from Elvis Presley to Madonna, from Kirk Douglas to George Clooney, from McDonald to the computer language.
It will be difficult in a limited space like this, to identify all the American ideas proposed during the past half century, shared or even ”acquired” throughout the world as a whole. By ”acquired” we mean collected and applied locally, not always by legal means, although discreetly tolerated by the USA.
Photo acquired from ”Daily Beast”
Some of the most important benefits of these multifaceted transfers, turned out to be, among others, a basically long lasting peace, an unprecedented economic growth and an unprecedented prosperity for most people living within the boundaries affected by these transformations.
This phenomenon is known under the name: Pax Americana. And as history repeats itself this is not a new term but rather a contemporary repetition of the previous similar phenomenon like Pax Romana or Pax Britannica. It will be an incomplete analysis if enumerating these benefits the western alliance had enjoyed for the past 70 years we will fail to mention the benefits America had enjoyed as well; because they are just as significant. Indeed the success in winning the Cold War against the Soviet Union would have not been possible or at best greatly delayed without the consistent political, strategic and military contributions on the part of the American transatlantic allies. As such, the US prosperity in science, economy, health, agriculture, military or culture would have moved up for certain but perhaps at a lower and less comprehensive pace. After all peace or even the absence of war benefits everybody.
The American influence however, was often doubted, challenged and opposed by the rest of the western world. The alliance however, remained strong despite occasional contradictions. For sure, America was often called the ”gendarme of the world” due to its more or less apparent ”arrogant” intrusions, especially in the fields of economic and cultural development pertaining to individual countries. But it is worth remembering that the same similar complaints among European nations against each others led more than once to bloody wars. Now, for a prolonged time not only the catastrophes were avoided but eventually were resolved in a lasting peace and understanding. Furthermore, even in the worst of circumstances when competition on any given domain was exacerbating, because competition among free, capitalist partners or even allies never ceases, the reality presided eventually once the basic understanding has settled, thus showing time and again that the true evil was definitely never coming from the US. The Lord Hastings Lionel Ismay, NATO’s first Secretary General, famously said, that the organization was created to ”keep the Soviet Union out, the Americans in, and the Germans down.”
It is therefore ironic that presently, under President Trump’s Administration, the US seems at best naïve and at worst careless in keeping up with Lord Ismay’s first reason for NATO’s creation; it is contemplating a recall of ”the Americans” from Europe and is attacking Germany for not being willing to become a more significant military power. This is what strategically the Administration calls now a concept of ”America First”. It is however, in this writer opinion a rather ”playing with fire” concept. One needs to recall that in the early 40’s President Roosevelt had a hard time turning a traditionally isolated America into the power who eventually won the war against Hitler. As a result of previous isolationist policies, not very different from what we witness today on this matter, at the beginning of the Second World War, America was unprepared and it took years to position her on a fighting footage. Some argue that situations are not comparable. But what is Crimea of nowadays? Or Eastern Ukraine? or Georgia? What are the possible prospects of the Baltic States? What does it mean when the US retreats from international organizations like UNESCO, the Iranian Treaty, the UN Rights body, the Lead on Epidemic Preparedness, even if sometimes they could be interpreted as principled decisions? After all, even if these organizations are not very friendly or principled, you need to keep you enemies closer if you want to know what to expect. What other proof than the multi decade policy of the US to place itself in a continuous dialogue with the USSR, during the Cold War?
If what former US Secretary of Defense Donald Rumsfeld was right when he said ”there are things we know we know; things we know we don’t know and things we don’t know we don’t know”, then we need to stay in touch if we want to know the world we live in. Withdrawing cuts our access to the very knowledge we need.
The Administration argues it is unfair that the US contribution to the strategic alliance is lopsided. Is it really? In fact, according to the 2017 Budget, the US spends an increased 3.7% of its GDP, followed by Greece, United Kingdom and Estonia, all spending in excess of 2% of their respective GDP’s. Some say it was originally planned this way so the US can secure the seat at head of the western alliance table. We witness a new and surprising strategic approach on the part of the United States whose strategic goals for Europe in the late forties were a partial or even total disarmament in order to assume its own supremacy on the continent.
The situation gets worse. At the recent NATO meeting in Brussels, after the President decided to insult some of his allies, pears and partners, the Congress felt obligated to reiterate its full support for the organization, in a rare unanimous vote, contradicting the President and warning against implementation of such policies.
Strangely enough, after the secret one on one meeting between Presidents Trump and Putin in July 2018 in Helsinki, at which only translators were allowed, the same Congress has decided to discourage the American President in pursuing his ideas of western alliance and/or Russian appeasement. NATO’s key and most significant section – the Article 5, specifically stipulates its commitment clause defining the casus foederis. It commits each member state to consider an armed attack against one member state, in Europe or North America, to be an armed attack against them all. Looking at the Admi-nistration latest policies toward NATO, countries like Bulgaria, Estonia, Latvia, Lithuania and Romania are probably not feeling that confident about the American commitment nowadays on Article 5.
In other words, as even some in the President Republican party acknowledge: ”Trump appears to have lost the Cold War Ronald Reagan won”.
The weakness Trump showed at the Helsinki meeting reminds us of the old atmosphere between the USSR and the USA only with their roles reversed.
It is however true that the Trump Administration at times does not seem to follow the President’s message delivered abundantly via Twitter. The sanctions against Russia due to its involvement in the American elections of 2016 are in place, even increased.
Among the talks of Trump team about the US recognizing Russia’s annexation of Crimea or of a possible Putin invitation to the White House in November 2018, neither has actually crystallized. In fact Putin never responded to Trump media overture for a second meeting only few months after the Helsinki fiasco and any such meeting has been cancelled for the foreseeable future. The Congress, after holding hearings about the two leaders gathering in July, in no uncertain terms advised the administration against such meeting and in fact disinviting in advance the Russian President to speak in front of the Congress.
Therefore, even if the odd decisions, declarations, press releases and other announcements made by the President in more than few occasions, are not translated into facts, an unusual confusion at the highest level has been installed in the world of economic, strategic and political life.
It is the case with the negotiations with North Korea. Certainly after the surprising meeting between the US President and the President of North Korea in Singapore, nothing has so far been proven true among the flamboyant declarations issued by Trump upon his return home. His assurance that ”the world can now go to sleep” confident after so many years, because the nuclear threat from that part of Asia has miraculously dissipated overnight, did not in any way, shape or form became reality.
And the confusion among the Asian allies of the US reigns supreme. These allies, just like the Europeans have tried unsuccessfully to understand Trump. They tried to appease him with the hope that he’ll change his mind or that eventually the US will behave like they always did, or as Churchill once said: ”You can always count on Americans to do the right thing – after they’ve tried everything else.”
Perhaps, all these allies who really don’t want or cannot afford to renounce the alliances with the US are just waiting out the present Administration and hope the change will come with the next elections.
Although meanwhile, some governments like those of Germany and France in Europe as well as Japan or South Korea in Asia are lately confronting the possibility of going alone and not counting on the US Support.
Hard to imagine how these confusions and overturns of the status quo can serve the concept of ”America First”.
The first thing the Trump Administration did after inauguration was to withdraw the US, via executive order, from ”TPP” – The Trans Pacific Partnership Organization.
Consumers especially and business certainly stand to benefit from open trade treaties among as many partners as qualified. The US consumers surely benefit, perhaps even more than other partners from such treaties.
Due to the large volume of imports from places like China, the American consumer enjoys even less costly goods, a large variety and an enhanced availability of merchandise.
By withdrawing the US from such partnership, the American consumers stand to lose all these benefits.
Why then, an American President who wishes to preside over a well to do popu-lation, at least in order to enhance his own popularity and secure an eventual re-election effort in 2020, would consider such a withdraw or imposing such harsh tariffs on its commercial partners?
A simple explanation is this administration desire to save American jobs, which due to their higher pay may become less competitive as their Asian counterparts.
If correctly implemented the multinational trade partnership is beneficial but the Trump administration has its point. The question remains if securing a limited number of jobs in the US by protecting against what some call ”unfair competition” is worth preventing the rest of the population from benefiting from the trade treaties. This in turn may often have a negative effect on the overall economy.
Who can live today without a smart phone, a laptop or a smart TV?
What happens if these basic items become more expensive or harder to procure, when opening a new company, studying a new manufacturing method, learning from people and organizations located far away, communicating in cyberspace rather than by personal encounters?
When these commodities become expensive enough, few new businesses can come on the market, fewer sales can be achieved, fewer people may be employed and larger unemployment might occur; continuous well being in general may stagnate or be delayed.
There is no fool proof policy when trade treaties are signed. These large treaties have certainly some negative effects. Assured by existing and inflexible economic pacts already signed the innovations among other things may be suppressed and as such this will naturally reduce and intimidate new development and progress.
Even if not perfect, treaties like the PTT can be managed in order to compensate for possible damage they create. Or in average the ”good” outcome can be larger than the ”bad” outcome.
The Trump Administration has promised to sign most advantageous treaties on bi-lateral basis with individual TPP partners. So far they did not fulfill that promise.
Instead we witness all sorts of threats of unilateral tariffs against US former partners.
There is however a possibility that spells more trouble than just the economic chagrins, not only for the US but for all the regions of the world.
The United States, with its largest world economy at the head of TPP, can influence and expand within the cartel. That is not only pertaining to economic issues but more important to strategic, defense and military issues.
Excluded from it, the American place is being gradually filled by China which as a consequence was quickly promoted from the second economy in the world to the first economy in the area. In a larger sense, China raises from a big strategic power in the area to the most significant one.
In addition, we should not forget that Russia is a Pacific partner as well; a Pacific power ready and willing to join and replace.
How then, the withdrawal of America from TPP serves the concept of America First?
Since we are talking tarriffs, Europe is not spared from the new ”deals” the American President is experiencing.
Tarriffs on China provoked retaliatory tarriffs from China and tarriffs on Europe provoked tarrifs from Europe. The tarriff wars, according to most economists, includig some in the Trump Administration, are never good. There is no victorious party in a tarriff war. Fortunatelly, after the Adminstration showed its less than welcomed position at the G7 meeting in Brussels this summer, Trump has changed his mind and at the latest meeting in Washington with the European Union boss, took back his threats and announced the new, non-tarriffs policy of the American government, even though some of the previously imposed tarriffs have already negatively impacted on both sides of the Atlantic.
The Paris Accord on Climate Change has been another field America has withdrawn from. At the beginning, that is. Later, when private companies, well to do political and economic figures like the former new York City Mayor Mike Bloomberg and even the government of certain American states acting individually, announced they will continue to support financially and will fully participate in the principles of the Paris Accord despite the official position of the Trump Administration, the same administration has announced that the withdrawal is not definite, after all.
Sometimes it looks like the President has his own, untested and unusual strategy altogether. It works in three separate stages with geographical characteristic but are the same in substance:
– Insult the potential target. See Kim Jong Un of North Korea or various leaders like Angela Merkel of Germany, Emmanuel Macron of France and Theresa May of the Great Britain.
– Threaten them with ”apocaliptic” scenarios.
– Backoff, re-establish the status quo ante and then pretend you solved a bad situation not mentioning it was self inflicted.
Meanwhile, the ”victims” of this strategy are forced to look for new partners among other strong nations as the Europeans did with Japan only recently and thus creating a new problem for the US. Such problem may not be so easily fixed anytime soon.
Or, reducing the foreign investments in the USA to unenviable 50% which was documented this week.
Is there a blame on the Europeans or Asians part as well?
Are these their retaliatory measures?
Hard to evaluate. As one of the officers from the European Union Organization recently declared: ”The US doesn’t seem to have our back anymore.”
This is a situation nobody should be happy about.
Confused? So is the rest of the world.
Which brings us the final question: How is this serving the ”America First” concept?
New York, 01 August, 2018
Drake Institute for Social Studies, Philadelphia, USA