G Parthasarathy

Trump signals the end of globalisation

G PARTHASARATHY | Updated on January 16, 2018 Published on December 28, 2016

Oysters and pearls All in Donald Trump’s hands

There could be action against China on trade, and against West Asia’s Islamists on the strategic front. These are uncertain times

On December 25, 1991, the Russian tricolour replaced the hammer and sickle over the Kremlin in Moscow as the entire edifice of the once mighty Soviet Union disintegrated. Never had an imperial state, built on unparalleled military muscle and economic power, collapsed so swiftly and suddenly.

The then US president George Bush proclaimed a ‘new world order’ and cut to size an impetuous Saddam Hussein who had invaded and annexed neighbouring Kuwait. Bill Clinton, who succeeded Bush, sought to establish Pax Americana, labelled ‘globalisation’, which entailed universal acceptance of ‘liberal American values’ such as electoral democracy, market capitalism, free movements of goods and services, multiculturalism, and selective rejection of state sovereignty.

The dismemberment of Yugoslavia was justified on the basis of these ‘liberal American values’. It was this arrogance of power and rejection of political, cultural and religious diversity, that led to the 9/11 attacks, the military intervention in Afghanistan, and the subsequent invasions of Iraq and Libya.

Rise of fundamentalism

These developments were accompanied by the rise of Sunni fundamentalism and the emergence of ISIS. The situation across the Islamic world worsened, with the meddling in Syria by the US and its allies such as Turkey, Saudi Arabia and Qatar. Hundreds of thousands of hapless Syrians were killed, or became refugees. The military intervention in Libya by the UK, France and the US resulted in similar misery and suffering.

Less than a quarter century after George Bush enunciated his grandiose vision of a new world order, the US has found that while its large corporations and wealthy classes thrived and new immigrants embraced a better life, the traditional white middle class found that the country was bereft of any new industrial employment.

Globalisation had led to industrial jobs and capital for new industries shifting largely to the ‘Asian Tigers’ led by China.

Moreover, after 9/11, and the wars in Iraq, Afghanistan, Libya and Syria, sullen Muslims across the world held the US and its “Christian” European allies guilty for their sufferings. This, in turn, led to growing Islamophobia across the US and the EU.

The alien idea

Both Bernie Sanders, who challenged Hillary Clinton’s nomination by the Democratic Party, and Donald Trump, recognised this phenomenon of alienation. Trump triumphed because he successfully exploited widespread white American alienation. He made it clear during his election campaign that he was determined to overturn the policies that had led to this.

He warned that he would build a wall to stop the continuing flow of illegal immigrants from across the US-Mexico border. He remains committed to this. He also warned that he would end Muslim immigration, especially from countries known to harbour terrorists, and and even implement measures to keep a register of Muslims residents in the country.

Trump has promised to get tough with China which, he alleges, resorts to currency manipulation and “steals” American jobs. Precisely how he proceeds to do this is unclear. But, what is clear is that Trump will withdraw from the Trans-Pacific Partnership, hurting the economic interests of a large number of Asean countries and allies such as Australia, Japan, Thailand and South Korea.

His proposed changes in US security commitments, with demands that US partners must contribute a greater share of the costs involved, has shaken American allies in Nato and the Asia-Pacific Region. Trump has also changed the entire thrust of US policies in Europe by declaring that Russia is an ally in the fight against Islamic radicalism and ISIS.

While he has made noises about strengthening US nuclear weapons capabilities, it has been made clear that this is in a larger global context. One should not be surprised if he alarms China by suggesting that he would not be averse to Japan acquiring nuclear weapons.

Team profile

It is important to analyse the team that Trump is putting together. His national security adviser, Lt-Gen Michael Flynn, is an unabashed admirer of President Vladimir Putin and echoes Trump’s views of a partnership with Russia to deal with “Islamic terror”. Both Putin and Trump are committed to waging war against ISIS.

While Putin will not echo Trump’s policies on Jerusalem, there will be some meeting of minds about the Arab world. While Trump has threatened to undo agreements reached by President Obama and the international community on ending sanctions on Iran, this is not the view of either his defence secretary (designate), Gen James Mattis, or his secretary of state (designate), former EXXON/Mobil chief Rex Tillerson.

Similarly, while Trump’s ambassador (designate) to China, Terry Branstad, is an unabashed China admirer, the head of his newly formed White House National Trade Council, Peter Navarro, has highlighted the negative effects of current US policies on trade with China. The Chinese, like the rest of the world, including America’s allies, appear clueless about how precisely Trump will act either on trade and economic issues, or on China’s growing global ambitions and assertiveness.

While some in India have drawn satisfaction from Trump’s friendly references to India, ‘Hindus’ and Prime Minister Narendra Modi, it would prudent to proceed cautiously on how events will play out on his policies towards China and even on Afghanistan, where India has vital national security interests. While contacts have been established with Flynn, one can expect the state department to be more forthcoming now than it has been under John Kerry.

But what should one expect from the unpredictable and mercurial president-elect who assumes office on January 20? While Trump earlier held that “foreign policy was a big chess game” between the Soviet Union and the US, he now avers that “the days of the chess player are over…American foreign policy has now to be put in the hands of the dealmaker”. He adds: “We deal with Foreign Policy on a case by case basis”, and a “true dealmaker”, he avers, “knows when to be tough and when to back off”.

Reflecting the realism of China’s strategic planners, Eric X Li, a leading Shanghai-based VC, notes: “Globalism has committed suicide. A new world order has been born. Let us engage it.”

India would be well advised to heed this advice.

The writer is a former High Commissioner to Pakistan

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Published on December 28, 2016
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