We are moving toward a stronger global society and political structures amenable to it. President Donald Trump's stumbling attempts to advance isolationism and nationalism may interject a hiccup or two but the trend is inevitable. China understands this. So does Russia. So does Europe. Secretary of State Rex Tillerson knows this because, with Exxon, he has been a part of it.
The consequences of Trump's awkward and incoherent foreign policy will be the reordering of Great Power leadership roles, with China likely the dominant leader of the new order, a German led Europe second in the play and Russia or Japan third. The new Great Powers will of course pay attention to what is going on in the United States, but will set their own course for global management.
Why is this happening? We can't blame President Trump totally. Though his rejection of standards of global leadership disqualify him personally, as a Democratic politician once said, speaking more locally, "It's the economy, stupid." Globalism is on its way notwithstanding a bumbling Trump.
By the 1850s, the American economy was moving local to national even while a range of Pacific trade possibilities had the attention of imperially minded expansionists. American railroads were built with British steel. In the earlier years, the normal things a family needed came from sources within 50 miles. As the economy grew and transportation flourished, necessary goods were manufactured and distributed throughout the country. Even then, international trade with both the Far East and Europe helped to sustain American wealth. Even as the nationally based economy peaked, the global economy strengthened further, with goods of values in the trillions of dollars now shipped for use between countries under a fabric of international law.
As economic growth soared, global management was also coming into place. The political core of this system consists of international corporations, Exxon an example, and trade agreements. These are supported by international treaties, understandings and organizations, including currency management and a broad, thin but powerful system of governmental institutions such as the World Health Organization and the Paris Accords and international banks, with most under the heading of the United Nations. Others — Great Power meetings, NGOs and semi-governmental or regional organizations, also fit into an international government network.
Participation in the global economy and its government has meant cheaper goods and controlled inflation for Americans. The pursuit of a more protectionist policy, advocated by the president, will bring higher costs of goods, reduced value of U.S. currency, hostility to U.S. interests and, ultimately, depression. The Smoot-Halley tariff is widely regarded by economists as the initiator of the Great Depression of the 1930s.
The circumstances of the 13, former British colonies under the pre-convention confederacy might serve as a useful analogy. Don't forget, each of the original states was a separate country. A policy binding them to a continental pact was required for economic and social advancement, even while many basic powers were retained by the states. So it is as we go global.
Among global institutions needing more support start with the United Nations itself and, to take one example, its ability to act on internationally accepted values requiring physical, militarily supported intervention. U.S. interventions, while sometimes laudable, lack international credibility, being often seen as reflecting only self-interest. The world would have benefited from an intervention, requiring minimal force, in north Myanmar, a few months earlier when global values were first seen as grossly violated.
As we watch the Great Powers move to realign leadership roles in the global system, we might compare President Trump's retreat to nationalism with the global style of the new leader of China, President Xi. He has said "China will continue to play its part as a major and responsible country." Continuing, President XI, according to The New York Times, says China is committed to support international cooperation, global economic integration and the developing world.
Sounds like a pretty good formula for global leadership. China's population and amazing growth rate also rate it over Europe and Russia for a leading global role. XI's sneering comment on the failure of "democracy" might even have a point until we get rid of the Electoral College, gerrymandering and the overwhelming influence of money in our elections.
How does Xi's purported policy compare with President Trump's degradation of the role of the U.N., commitment to exclusive, armed intervention in Middle Eastern affairs, and promotion of national isolationism?
World peace apart, how does this affect Alaska? International trade agreements, within the context of international law, offer a complete legal context within which specific trade agreements can be negotiated for the sale of oil, gas, timber minerals, maybe water, etc. Within a trade agreement, the seller, such as Alaska, has a system of enforcement, pages of necessary explanation guaranteeing and covering the carrying out of the transaction. Outside a trade agreement, you are on your own, dealing with one or more sovereigns with all sorts of rules so you can never be sure your purchase or sale will work smoothly or work at all.
John Havelock is a former Alaska attorney general and White House Fellow. He lives in Anchorage.