The post-World War II liberal world order, defined by open markets, rules-based international cooperation and a benign American hegemony, has brought unprecedented peace and prosperity to the world. Yet it is now under threat from nationalists and isolationists in Europe and the United States as well as revisionists in China, Iran and Russia.
For almost a century, America’s strategic priority has been to prevent the emergence of a dominant power in Eurasia that could challenge it for world supremacy.
Halford Mackinder recognized as early as 1904 that a single power could lord over the continent if it controlled the entire Eurasian “Heartland”, stretching from Moscow to Tehran to Vladivostok.
Alfred Thayer Mahan and Nicholas Spykman argued it was rather control of the “Rimlands” on the edge of Eurasia that could tip the balance of power: Europe, the Middle East and East Asia.
Their ideas were not mutually exclusive. They both informed the United States’ successful policy of containment during the Cold War. To block Russian ambitions, America allied with democratic Europe, Turkey, the shah’s Iran and Japan. It exploited the Sino-Soviet split and armed the mujahideen in Afghanistan to hasten the Soviet Union’s demise.
American president Donald Trump reportedly presented Germany’s chancellor, Angela Merkel, with a $374 billion invoice for missed contributions to NATO when she visited Washington DC earlier this month.
As first reported by The Times, Trump arrived at the figure by calculating how much Germany has fallen short of NATO’s 2-percent defense spending target since 2002 and then adding interest.
A German official described the move as “outrageous” to The Times. Merkel ignored it.
It’s hard to imagine a previous president treating an ally so cruelly, but the story is not at all unbelievable given what we know about Trump: that he humiliates people, is intimidated by powerful women and sees international relations in transactional terms. Read more “What’s Wrong with Trump’s NATO Bill to Germany”
Donald Trump’s disinterest in the transatlantic alliance, and Vladimir Putin’s attempts to undermine it, have left Europe with little choice but to turn the world’s fourth center of power: China.
The two aren’t natural allies. The EU has long irked the Chinese with its lectures on democracy and human rights. The EU insists on dealing through multilateral institutions when China would prefer to throw its weight around in bilateral talks.
If there was still any hope in Europe that Donald Trump might turn out to be less disruptive than he promised, the first weeks of his presidency must have put such hopes to rest.
It’s been less than two weeks and Trump has already disheartened America’s allies in Asia by withdrawing from the Trans Pacific Partnership, giving China a golden opportunity to take charge of regional economic integration; offended Australia and Mexico but hinted at improved relations with Russia, and banned Muslim immigrants and refugees from seven countries — including those who were previously approved for a visa — making a mockery of the rule of law and betraying a complete lack of compassion.
I wasn’t a fan of Barack Obama eight years ago, when we started the Atlantic Sentinel. It unnerved me how many people, especially here in Europe, fell over themselves to praise the new president and I disagreed with his policies.
Now I’m sad to see him go.
It’s not just that the Democrat looks like a paragon of grace and wisdom compared to his Republican successor, although Donald Trump’s shortcomings in both regards are profound.
China and Russia have often been bundled together as representing the single most serious challenge to the West. Without doubt these two states share a number of views on world politics and also have a host of similar interests. But it is where they differ that is more telling about their relationship with the West and the international order in general.
An interesting pattern has been unfolding for the past couple of months. Russia has been betting on growing chaos in the West. It cheered both Brexit and Donald Trump’s election victory. Russian support for populist forces in Europe can be traced back to the establishment of the Institute for Democracy and Cooperation in Paris in 2008.
China, in turn, has been much more cautious. It chose predictability, favoring the United Kingdom remaining in the European Union and tilting toward Hillary Clinton as a slightly better option, even though there were voices in the Chinese debate favoring Trump.
I am sitting at Madrid airport reflecting on the reality of Donald Trump’s victory in the presidential elections yesterday. We live in a very different world from last night. The American president may be constitutionally constrained by the separation of powers, but Trump will govern with Republicans controlling both the House of Representatives and the Senate.