The Trump mantra and its dangerous repercussions
15 June 2018
After what can only be described as a disastrous G7 Summit, the fallout from the string of attacks by Donald Trump, lashing out at Justin Trudeau and host Canada, should be perceived as a significant watershed moment. Despite some initial optimism, that leaders could soothe the growing rift, the Summit’s conclusion portrayed a dysfunctional group of allies left searching for answers, even more so than when they arrived. Rather symbolically, this Summit will go down in history as the first G7 without a joint communiqué.
Since the Summit, relations have become even more strained. During his concluding statements, Justin Trudeau referred to the US punitive tariffs against Canada, allegedly enacted on the basis of national security concerns – under Section 232 of US trade law which enables a US president to impose tariffs up to 25%, well above the WTO allowance – as ‘kind of insulting.’ The Canadian PM went on to reiterate that Canada will respond in kind with its own tariffs on 1 July.
Rather symbolically, this Summit will go down in history as the first G7 without a joint communiqué.
Soon after, Trump fired off a number of scathing tweets, calling the PM ‘very dishonest and weak’, while his top economic and trade advisors suggested the PM ‘stabbed us in the back’ and that ‘there is a special place in Hell’ for people like Trudeau. Trump then formally announced his decision to retract his endorsement of the G7 joint statement, supposedly in response to Trudeau’s statements, with the possibility of more tariffs – on automobiles – possibly on the way.
On the contrary, Trudeau’s statements were not new. The PM had emphasised that ‘it would be an insult to Canada’ to call them a security threat during the previous G7 in Italy, over a year ago.
Herein lies the problem. Trump’s decision was not reactionary. It was manufactured to bolster domestic support for the US president, to villainize Trudeau and Canada in attempt to justify his policies, in this case trade tariffs, ahead of US midterm elections later this year.
This is not the first time Trump has employed this tactic. Look closely at the almost perplexing actions towards the US’s closest allies over the past year and the illogical arguments used to justify them. You will see that Trump’s mantra is: Trump first; everyone else last (friend or foe), with little consideration of the repercussions.
It is no secret that Trump routinely uses erroneous statistics and statements to back up his trade deficit claims, which most recently included using “national security” concerns against Canada and other G7 members. This has struck a major chord, especially north of the border. The United States and Canada are connected, especially in terms of security and defence, unlike any two other countries in the word.
Trump’s mantra is: Trump first; everyone else last (friend or foe).
As a result of their mutual security concerns, Canada and the US have interwoven troops, equipment and even military strategies since the end of WWII, both in terms of protecting their external and shared borders. From preventing opioids and terrorist threats from crossing the 8,891 kilometre US-Canada border, to integrated patrols in the Arctic, US and Canadian defence personnel work hand-in-hand.
Their defence cooperation also includes the jointly operated nuclear defence system, NORAD (North American Aerospace Defense Command), which ironically celebrated its 60th anniversary just weeks before the announcement of the tariffs. Canada is also an integral member of the NATO alliance, and was one of the few countries who seriously considered the US president’s advocation of bumping up its military spending, with a pledge of increasing Canada’s defence spending by 70% over the next decade.
Canadians are therefore particularly offended by the term “security threat”, given that they have increased defence spending, supply equipment and build some of the fighter jets which the US uses to defend itself.
Continuing his assault, Trump again took aim at Canada’s dairy industry as the pivotal reason for US dairy farming woes, when really Canada’s tight supply management system has secured the quality and sustainability of its own dairy sector. If Trump put America on the same pedestal that he regards himself, he would instead address the over-subsidised, saturated and mismanaged US dairy industry that was forced to dump over 100 million gallons of milk last year, rather than pandering for votes with his “blame the other” narrative.
We are well past warning shots; the trade war has already begun.
Ultimately, these punitive tariffs are not being enacted for security concerns. They are imposed by Trump under the banner of Section 232 because this guarantees that the White House has maximal control, allowing the President to also withdraw them under the same executive order. On the other hand, while they are being used to bolster the US position in negotiations on trade agreements, like NAFTA, these tariffs also threaten as many as 2.6 million American jobs, says the US Chamber of Commerce.
The silver lining to all of this is that opposition to Trump’s tactics have become a universal rallying point. In Canada, politicians of all stripes have already united to support the prime minister’s position, with members of parliament signing a joint motion to stand in solidarity against US tariffs, despite looking down the barrel of a possible trade war with their southern neighbours.
For the other NATO members, this should be viewed as a significant crossroads. If NATO allies are calling into question whether they can count on the unconditional support of the US to guarantee their protection, then they, like Canada, should also work towards increasing military spending and shoulder more of the transatlantic security burden. The EU in particular should take note here, as further developing an independent, integrated military apparatus with strategic autonomy has a renewed impetus like never before.
Simultaneously, G7 members must prepare for the trade dispute to get worse before it gets better. The US has already launched an investigation of whether its imports of automobiles surmount to a threat of its national security, with public consultations scheduled for July.
In line with his mantra, however, although potentially disastrous for all sides, one cannot discredit their possibility. Given that national security concerns have already been used to justify punitive tariffs against American allies, we are well past warning shots; the trade war has already begun.