Is there conflict brewing amidst the most powerful nations?
Donald Trump was castigated right and left for his style of governance and communication. Partly due to the unwillingness of the world at large to accept “change” in the form of governance, it was like a thumbs down to management theory that change is the only constant in life.
Many of his public statements drew outrage, not necessarily with his supporters. The man may be out of the public eye but he’s still calling the shots of the Republican Party he wasn’t associated with prior to his election bid in 2016. In spite of all the damning evidence related to the January 6 mayhem on the Capitol, the Senate couldn’t impeach him because of the Republican numbers.
The GOP was and is wary that more than 70 million Americans voted for him. They are also apprehensive about mid-term elections and that they don’t appear to have an outstanding alternative candidate for the 2023 Presidential polls.
The so-called “pundits” were all at sea when he openly said that Saddam Hussain’s Iraq and Muammar Gaddafi’s Libya had been lesser “terrorist” states than they are today. That after the Bush administration used exaggerated satellite imagery to convince the UN Security Council to justify attacking Iraq. A similar dossier convinced Tony Blair to join the US in the misadventure.
What Trump didn’t say is that the people of those two countries were far better off in infrastructure, education, jobs, and social security under those regimes. Today, they live in the midst of internecine conflict, in the ruins of bombed homes and utter disillusionment.
Trump’s ire with the United Kingdom and the European Union went to the extent of imposing import tariffs, especially on steel. The reactions from the EU were furious with tit for tat measures put in place. Deep within, UK and EU leaders were waiting, hoping, and praying for his non-re-election. Trump didn’t start any wars during his presidency and began withdrawing US troops from the Middle East and Afghanistan.
Joe Biden hasn’t veered off-course. His approach to wars, the UK, and the EU are just different. These are tools that he may well use in cobbling the anti-China coalition. Similar is the vehemence with which he has put forth the China policy. Secretary Blinken started it with the Chinese in his first meeting with them by bluntly stating the US would not be “coerced.”
Biden took great care and put in much thought by making the UK and the EU his first foreign trip, ostensibly to discuss Covid-19, climate change, and countering Chinese economic expansionism. All that under the garb of a G7 that has effectively lost its bite. One wonders how nations with collapsing economies such as Italy and France are members any more. That too, with Italy’s open ambitions of wanting out of the EU.
The attendance at the G7 meeting of Brazil, South Korea, and India by invitation further propounds that theory. And somewhere, somehow the United Nations and the G20 appear to have further lost their relevance. During WWII, Winston Churchill was forced to sign a treaty with the United States for military support in the fight against Germany. Among other matters, the UK had to mortgage many of its colonies as collateral for the expenses.
The new Atlantic Charter between the two countries probably has the new world order in mind. It will certainly seek to change the Obama and Trump policy that should Britain exit the EU, it would drop in the pecking order of trade-agreements.
The difference between the “order” that Boris Johnson has publicly sought to “restore” and the “new order” that Jeremy Corbyn had warned of is fraught with danger. The G7 will now be under pressure from the US to form a new “allied” approach to blunt China’s startling growth economically through sanctions, territorially by creating funds to counter the Belt and Road initiative, and using the newly formed QUAD to militarily thwart China’s territorial ambitions at sea.
Here too, Johnson has a dilemma, having announced a reduction in foreign aid from 0.7% of GDP to 0.5%. That comes in addition to suspension of aid for the starving Yemenis. Tory MPs have said that such a reduction is further at odds with Johnson’s Global Britain policy. During Theresa May’s tenure, the then Treasury Secretary had met with lukewarm responses to reach out to India and the US for favourable trading terms post Brexit. Johnson has had to cancel a trip to India for a new trading push, due to the Covid-19 proliferation there.
The danger of the “new order” lies in proliferation of nuclear capability (another Trumpesque idea) and essentially forcing smaller and poorer nations to be sucked into such initiatives. The world order that we followed for nearly 76 years was crafted at Breton Woods in 1943 and designed to work out business benefits to the developed world under the guise of the United Nations.
The crucial but subtle change began with the Cold War between the US and the then Soviet Union, the beginnings of the European Union, and were cemented by the World Trade Agreement. This offered bits and pieces to the rest of the world, offering opportunities to countries such as India that were trying to become self-reliant.
The new order is also at conflict with Merkel and Macron’s no-longer-under-wraps European army as an alternative to Nato, given Trump’s threat to withhold US funding unless the EU nations coughed up their committed contributions. Without the UK and the soon-to-retire Merkel, this concept is destined for disaster.
There are rumblings of further discontent within the EU. Italy doesn’t like the controls the Union budgeting protocols demand. Greece still hasn’t found a way out of its staggering debt problem. Turkey’s admission is still uncertain. Macron’s idea of becoming the leader after Merkel has taken a hit due to France’s internal economic woes. More and more, far-right nationalist governments are being elected.
Last but not the least the EU is not amused by Britain re-thinking the border issue between the Republic of Ireland and Northern Ireland. Belfast views it as a violation of the Good Friday agreement. Throw in for good measure Joe Biden’s warning that that is non-negotiable, and you have a potpourri of insurmountability.
Mahmudur Rahman is a writer, columnist, broadcaster, and communications specialist.