By Duly Albarracin (FIGRI)
(Article originally published on the Libre Pensador blog: librepensador.uexternado.edu.co)
Donald Trump has tried to take a harmonic approach to United States diplomacy, staying true to his ideals and giving little in negotiations. It’s true that the decisions taken regarding migration haven’t left a good impression in other countries, and this has been reflected in the meetings that Trump has had with representatives of the United States’ allies. Besides, the way that diplomacy has been handled with the US’ main counterweight, China, risks putting an end to a potentially prudent friendly relationship between the two countries.
On the 17th of March 2017, the president of the US, Donald Trump, met with the German Chancellor Angela Merkel. This meeting, even if described as fruitful by its participants, was reported by the media as “uncomfortable”. It looked like the two heads of state were miles apart from each other. And it’s not without reason. The German chancellor has declared herself to be in opposition to the migration bans that Trump has announced, and tension has also been increased by the direct criticism of Germany for its economic participation in NATO. Meanwhile, Trump has criticised Germany’s refugee policies, describing them as a “catastrophic mistake”. Despite this, the two leaders tried to remain as powerful leaders of global liberal thought, keeping the discussions and agreements to topics such as industry and free trade.
However, there seems to have been a general feeling of implicit rejection from the US’ main allies, like Canada and the UK. On the 13th of February 2017, Justin Trudeau, the Canadian Prime Minister, and Donald Trump met in Washington D.C., which was another uncomfortable encounter where the handshake was also conspicuous by its near absence. Why the atmosphere of this encounter was like this is still unknown, given that these are two allies with important economic and frontier ties.
The same thing happened with the UK. British citizens rejected Trump’s future state visit to the Anglo-Saxon state, putting the British government between a rock and a hard place due to this rejection of one of its main allies.
Why do the US’ relations with other countries have these two sides? One explanation could be that Trump is putting to one side the promotion of liberal values which characterise the US and which stabilise its links with other countries. Merkel is walking on quicksand by trying to maintain optimal relations with Trump despite his opposition to the reception of refugees. This has given Merkel such a good image in her country and in the European Union, for receiving the largest amount of refugees, and softening the migratory crisis which is affecting the continent. If she starts to sympathise with Trump more than is necessary, her political future will be uncertain.
The same is true with Trudeau. This head of state appears as subtly defiant, and this can be seen in the welcome to refugees that he expressed via Twitter following Trump’s first migration ban. Trudeau must play his cards skilfully if he doesn’t wish to lose his main commercial partner without disappointing his followers. After all, the defence of liberal and progressive values is what characterises the Canadian prime minister.
Along with rejecting Trump’s possible visit, the British also reject his migration ban, which forces the British government to speak out. For this reason, the UK government has adopted a critical diplomatic position which appeals to sovereignty but which leaves it clear that it doesn’t share the US leader’s position. The pressure on the government is greater, taking into account that it hasn’t been in office for long, and it faces the challenge of stabilising the country with Brexit on the horizon.
Once again, it turns out to be complex to maintain relations with the US without having to adopt a “hypocritical” position to neither cause problems for liberalism nor the alliance that relations with this country represents.
And what about the “not such good friends”?
If it has been difficult for the US’ allies to maintain diplomacy with Trump, this is even more complicated for its competitors, such as China, for example.
Relations with China have taken on various tones during Donald Trump’s campaign. At first, Trump lunged at the Chinese, who he accused of “stealing jobs from American citizens”. Trump’s government initially stood firm in supporting the One China policy, which recognises just one Chinese Government. This support changed later, after the disagreement and complaint of the Chinese government following Trump’s communication with his Taiwanese counterpart. More recently, Trump appears to have supported the policy, which can be explained by the improved handling of diplomacy with China. This then recognises the relevance which the question of Taiwan deserves.
We can see, then, that diplomacy isn’t Trump’s strength, but that it is even more difficult if his politics depend on the traditional pillars of foreign policy: support of security, development, and leadership in multilateral organisations. All of these, being liberal characteristics, can become a source of discord between the US and its allies, and this in turn will contribute even more to the American giant’s harmful isolation project.
Donald Trump needs to better shuffle his diplomatic cards if he wants to stay within the game of power. If not, others will take over the game, or, even worse, change the rules.