We’re looking back at the first year of the Trump presidency. During his time in office, the current US president has been breaking with political traditions on many different levels while undercutting big parts of his predecessors’ legacies and significantly stirring up the inner workings of the international political arena. The current issue of the Bonn Power Shift Monitor tries to shed light onto some of the trends relating to global power shifts that have been occurring as a result of Trump’s first year in office.
One of the first major bomb shells was Trump’s decision to retreat from the Paris Climate Agreement which opened up room for France and China to step up as a new leader in the field of climate politics. Nevertheless, Trump’s withdrawal will still have a significant impact on the global efforts to mitigate the extent of climate change. While the international community, political observers and particularly environmental activists reacted positively to the national counter movement #WeAreStillIn that has been gaining momentum across the US, Trump’s plans to turn the US into the number 1 country for petrol extraction and open up a large percentage of its coastal areas to offshore oil drilling directly counteracts these efforts. On the other hand, the current rise of fracking technologies might hamper the success of Trump’s offshore plans. This might be more a curse than a blessing, however, since fracking appears to be responsible for the latest massive rise in methane emissions.
Washington hasn’t only retreated from climate politics, however, but also from its position in the liberal word order as a whole. The withdrawal from TPP and the prevention of the TTIP from being finalized are only two examples which highlight the loss of the US’s position as the global hegemon – a trend which is magnified by political action in Washington and the president’s apparent lack of competence that is being widely discussed. As a result of this trend, the United States is losing political credibility among its partners which leads to a reduction of soft power – a factor which the current president seems to be massively underestimating. This loss of relative political clout is furthermore illustrated by the lack of progress regarding NAFTA; both Mexico and Canada are quite simply in a significantly stronger position than they were during the first round of negotiations.
In part, however, Washington seems to become increasingly aware of the consequences of Trump’s isolationist America First policy. As a response to Trump’s lacking affirmation of NATO defense obligations, the EU has been incited to take steps towards a defense union, which recently prompted US Secretary of Defense Mattis to demand a written statement confirming the EU’s commitment to NATO as the primary institution for military intervention. Consolidating the North Atlantic military alliance is particularly important against the backdrop of a growing number of international crises. While Trump does play a certain role in these conflicts as well – particularly in terms of media coverage – he does not provide substantial contributions to managing the various crises or offer coherent strategies and solutions: Forging a new deal with Iran is made impossible by the resistance of his European negotiation partners, he doesn’t have a viable plan of action regarding North Korea and, despite promises, Trump has so far failed to deliver a solution to the Israel/Palestine conflict as well.
Prof. Dr. Xuewu Gu
Center for Global Studies, University of Bonn
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