Last week has been eventful with the G7 summit. MIDS Candidate Girish Deepak writes a guest post trying to see if there is any method to Trump’s madness, or if it’s just short-sighted policies. In an era of Trump hate, read on to glean a logical reason for Trump’s actions.
In recent times, Trump has been the talk of the town (if Earth were a town), from G7 Summit to his monumental meeting in Singapore with the North Korean premier. While initially there were negative opinions and haters everywhere talking about the madness in his actions, the results are as shocking as can be. With the Korean divide conquered, most countries are on the defensive (in total shock) as Trump moves out of every deal ever made citing how unequal it is. In the trade world, he is taking an aggressive approach of protectionism which hasn’t been seen since the beginning of the WTO era (1994).
Thus it seems obvious that there has been a constant critique of Trump and his various actions. But while debating these issues (loud arguments basically, which involved name calling after a point), I have found some quite diverse views. Some of them hate the man but admire his “my way or the highway” diplomacy. I too was quite critical of his approach as it was against the basic tenets on which the WTO and Investment Law regime have been created (that of free trade). However, over time I have begun to regrettably appreciate to an extent the tactics he has successfully adopted in making everyone sit up, take notice and move towards protectionism (getting the best deal for America).
According to me, his idea of what is the best deal is severely flawed. Though the ideas may reap short term benefits by shaking up the system, in the long term, America (like every other country) is interdependent on other countries for prosperity. His ability to alienate major allies, including NATO members towards such hatred is indeed remarkable. The peace and tranquility that existed in the Obama era, in terms of diplomatic relationships, no longer holds true in the Trump Presidency. However, the effects of all his actions are truly to be felt as they have been limited to pulling out of long term deals which were futuristic in their approach. The ideals of the Paris Agreement or the Iran Deal were meant to secure a better future for the world (better environment and peace in the middle-east respectively).
While I continue to question Trump’s reasoning, given that his motivation matches those of the white, male, selfish Americans (which I feel is a poor representation of the Country), it is clear that his views will remain woefully short sighted throughout his presidency.
The only alternative, which makes me think at times that there may be method in his madness, is that these are all arm twisting strategies moving towards loftier goals. For example in the case of India, Trump has reserved an ace in the hole in the form of H1B and Dependant Visas. Through this, he knows he can compel India into withdrawing most actions against the USA. This has made India tread very carefully while retaliating to tariffs. Considering his temperament, it is extremely hard to predict what he might do next, creating a difficult environment for lawyers and negotiators to work. With Trump, certain minimum standards in international law or deals which were considered complete have gone in the complete opposite direction.
After initiating several tariffs which resulted in retaliatory tariffs by China (India has notified intent of the same on 18 May 2018 which can be accessed here). His end game seems to be dismantling the WTO Appellate Body. (The WTO Appellate Body seems to be near its end considering that it has three members left on the Panel as opposed to its original strength of seven. Without the US withdrawing its veto the Appellate Body itself may soon become non-existent which would weaken the WTO system significantly. All WTO decisions on such an issue are taken by full consensus, i.e. every State has a veto vote to restrict the appointment of new Appellate Body Members.)
Trump has once again employed hardball tactics here. He refused to budge until other countries came to the negotiating table and agreed that the Appellate Body Reports must be of a voluntary nature. (The reports include decisions of the Appellate Body, many of which have been against the US, given that they employ hardball tactics in violation of the WTO provisions frequently). This would in effect destroy any credibility and enforcement capability which the WTO currently has, which has worked towards creating a system for appellate body reports being adopted (with very few exceptions).
This has been done by employing the concept of negative consensus as per which only once all members agree for a particular report to not be adopted, is such non-adoption possible. This has been one of the crown jewels of the WTO Dispute Settlement Process as it prevents parties from refusing to follow decisions by Dispute Settlement Panels and the Appellate Body. This was in fact a rule that the US itself insisted upon, in the formative years of the WTO, as it feared that decisions would hold no value otherwise and it would be unable to enforce its rights. The USA of today stands in reversal of this and seeks to undermine this system by systematically vetoing appointment of Appellate Body Members reducing the Body from its strength of seven to three at present.
Overall, the most media covered person on the planet and a person who speaks his mind apparently yet remains somewhat of an enigma because no one knows what he will do next. His lack of predictability is both his greatest strength and his greatest weakness. (I sincerely pity his Press Secretary, toughest job on Earth defending the stuff he says). Trump’s determination to take on the World and his brazenness may be admirable, but unfortunately it’s for the wrong reasons.