Lost this week in the blizzard of a British constitutional crisis and an American impeachment inquiry was President Donald Trump’s speech to the UN General Assembly.
Compared to past addresses to the United Nations this one was subdued. His language was relatively temperate, measured and verged on statesmanlike. It was a good speech—and all the more chilling for it.
If Donald Trump has a political philosophy other than his own person advancement it is what he terms patriotism– and others fear as nationalism–versus internationalism and globalism. This is clear from his red “Make America Great Again” baseball caps, flurry of tariffs and immigration policy
Trump told the annual autumn meeting of heads of government and state in New York: “The future does not belong to globalism. The future belongs to patriots. The future belongs to sovereign and independent nations.”
In his 35 minute speech he went on to applaud Brexit, Boris Johnson, attack China’s trade policies and socialism; call for the complete isolation of Iran and Venezuela, increased spending by NATO allies, the reorganisation of the World Trade Organisation and refused support for any international organisation that supported abortions. He finished up all of the above with the insistence that all actions had to be made within the context of competing national political structures.
The reason for Trump’s Darwinian approach is clear: America’s is the world’s only economic and military super power. According to the latest IMF figures, the US produces nearly a quarter (24.4 percent) of the world’s GDP. Its national gold reserves ( in excess of 8000 metric tonnes) are greater than the next three largest gold reserves combined.
Trump extols the virtues of the nation state because doing so works to the advantage of America. The only way that smaller countries can compete against American power is by organising themselves into trading blocs or pursuing a level playing field policed by international organisations such as the World Trade Organisation. Trump does not believe in win/win or that a rising tide floats all ships. He a win/lose businessman letting loose torpedoes across the trading seas.
The US president supports Brexit because it will weaken the trading position of both the UK and EU. EU is the world’s largest trading bloc and this gives its members increased negotiating power in any trade deals. This is disadvantageous to the US. The break-up of the EU reduces the negotiating power of its constituent parts and enables to American trade negotiators to dictate terms to each of the separate 28 members as well as the EU’s trading partners. America wins. Everyone else loses.
China, is a more difficult case, and the biggest threat to American hegemony. Unlike the EU it is not a trading bloc but a national state of the sort lauded in Trump’s UN speech. And it is enjoying a patriotic resurgence and prosperity after centuries of decline. The problem is that its large population (1.435 billion) and fast growing economy makes it a major threat to Trump’s America First policy. So he imposes punitive tariffs on China and uses his UN speech to attack Beijing for intellectual property theft, dumping, currency manipulation and unfair trading practices. As with most of his attacks, there is an element of truth in his criticisms of the Chinese, but his solution of ditching globalism is a dangerous one.
The fact is that we live in a globalist economy. If you want iron ore for your steel mills it is best to have a quiet word with the Swedes or Canadians. If you need phosphates to fertilise the amber waves of grain or the fruited plain, it is best to be nice to the Moroccans. For tin cans think Africa and Australia. If you want a brick house you need sand—that probably means China or New Zealand. As for oil, well, just think of an unstable part of the world, smile nicely and thrust out a fistful of dollars.
America is not alone in its needs. Central and Western Europe are heavily dependent on Russian natural gas. Landlocked Bolivia depends on good relations with Peru and Chile to export and import its goods by sea. Oman and Iran together control the Straits of Hormuz and the entrance to the Persian Gulf, and the Vietnamese rice paddies are at the mercy of a China that controls the water flowing from the Himalayas.
Manufacturing industries of the 21st century are completely global. A car’s brakes may be made in Brazil; it’s tyres in Malaysia and its crankshaft in Lithuania before all the parts are shipped on British ships crewed by Filipinos for assembly in Detroit. A law office may be based in London, but the firm’s back office is in Mumbai while the call centre is in Cyprus.
This interlinking globalised trading system brings the benefits of economic growth to every corner of the world and reduces the prices for consumers by insuring that the best possible production costs are achieved. It also has the effect of reducing political tensions as economic interdependence forces countries to cooperate and avoid conflict. Trump’s anti-globalist nationalism risks the opposite.
Tom Arms broadcasts on foreign affairs for US Radio, regularly contributes to Lib Dem Voice, lectures and is working on a book on Anglo—American relations which is due to be published next year.