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Under pressure

  • Published at 06:40 pm July 21st, 2018
Grabbing headlines everywhere REUTERS

All that Donald Trump has been up to 

On June 27, US President Donald Trump suggested that his administration had already implemented “64% of our top agenda items.” It was also mentioned that such an achievement had been made “at a much faster pace than even Ronald Reagan.”

The reason for all this confidence appears to have originated from a few factors. He appears to have taken over the Republican Party completely. He has also created a bit of history through his summit meeting with Kim Jong-un. At present, he is also overhauling the US judiciary through a series of conservative appointments.

The prospect of two Supreme Court vacancies being filled through the president’s conservative picks has led to fears among the Democrats that the 1973 Roe v Wade abortion-rights ruling could be overturned. Trump’s political opponents, with little chance of blocking a justice nominee, are now hoping to galvanize voters with the issue during November’s midterm elections.

However, while Trump has been savouring his success, the rest of the world is asking questions about what to expect next. They have been expressing concern about the thousands of immigrant children who remain separated from their parents. Another mass shooting has taken the lives of five at a Maryland newspaper. Traditional US alliances also appear to be fracturing within the G-7 and also within the NATO membership. 

The dynamic has also been greatly affected through the tit-for-tat controversial imposition of tariffs and trade battle being waged by the US administration.

Trump’s emboldened approach to foreign policy has also led to anxiety in European capitals. Leaders were concerned about what waited for them in the summit discussions that took place in the NATO headquarters in Brussels. As expected, the summit on July 11 and 12 turned out to be a consequential meeting -- probably the most important since the end of the Cold War. 

Trump’s hostility to multi-national institutions and his belief that America’s allies were taking advantage of its security guarantees, at relatively little cost, brought sensitivity among many NATO alliance members. They now realize that the most successful post-World War II national security institution could be at risk. 

Such fears had multiplied after Trump recently feuded with allied leaders at the G-7 Summit in Quebec, where he complained that NATO was worse than NAFTA (the North American Free Trade Agreement) -- which he is trying to renegotiate with Mexico and Canada. Trump also rebuked Germany for its dependence on Russian energy.

After that came Trump’s visit to Britain. This was his first formal visit to the UK. It included a ceremonial meeting with the British Queen and a less-than-open high-tea and dinner with the British Prime Minister Theresa May. His arrival, as expected, also sparked mass protests in London. This persuaded Trump and his party to stay out of central London and call on the British Queen at Windsor Castle and also meet Theresa May at her official country residence Chequers.

The trip to Britain got media attention because of Trump’s public criticism of May’s soft Brexit strategy. Later on, however, Trump apologized to May. He blamed this, as expected, on the media. To make up, he promised May a bilateral trade agreement after Britain left the EU. 

Strategists have described that Trump’s meeting with Putin in Helsinki as a high-profile and headline-grabbing encounter. There is doubt as to whether Trump brought up the issue of Russia meddling in the 2016 US presidential election with enough temerity. It is generally agreed that the talks focused on the geo-political quagmire that is Syria, fears of a new nuclear arms race and Trump’s effort to convince North Korea to end its own nuclear and missile programs.

This busy schedule for Trump over the last two weeks has, however, been clouded over by the bad blood generated between Trump and EU leaders over a gathering trade war sparked by his imposition of sanctions on steel and aluminum imports to the US and the continuing trade fiasco with China. 

It all started on February 16 this year, when the US Commerce Department recommended a 24% tariff on all steel imports and 7.7% on aluminum. It was seen as a policy directed at China, which is the world’s largest maker of steel. 

China’s Commerce Ministry has already lodged a complaint with the WTO with regard to these US tariff measures, and starting the “largest trade war in economic history.”

Similarly, Russia has also announced extra duties on US imports in retaliation for earlier US steel tariffs. Russia is introducing extra duties on a range of products imported from the US which can be replaced by locally-made equivalents. 

This recession-inducing “trade war” could, in the long, run hurt not only the EU states, but also countries like Bangladesh.

Muhammad Zamir, a former ambassador, is an analyst specialized in foreign affairs, right to information, and good governance. He can be reached at [email protected]