Could Trump Ends the Era of Multilateralism: Wait…what?!

by Chitito Audithio Final Year Student at International Undergraduate Program in International Relations, Universitas Gadjah Mada

On the 12th of June 2018, The President of the United States made a historical meeting with the leader of North Korea, Kim Jong in Singapore, making this meeting more than historical, it is beyond imaginable. Marking from the Korean War to this date, it’s quite fair to say that both have gone through so much that conflict resolution needs to prevail so, Donald J. Trump rose up to the challenge and became the first US president to ever meet North Korean Leader. Based on this fact, are we able to say that Donald Trump embrace the idea of cooperation, agreement, and resolution throughout his presidential term? quite not.

We all have to understand that one of the reason World War III has not yet happened, the abolishment of some certain kinds of weapons, international coherence on human rights, and many other generally accepted norms depend on international regime. Based on the definition provided by one of the most famous international relations scholar, Stephen Kasner, ‘sets of implicit or explicit principles, norms, rules, and decision-making procedures around which actors’ expectation converge in a given area of international relations’. Simply put, regime allows states to interact on a certain principles and norms to avoid conflict, this idea can be reach if multilateralism is adhered.

Throughout his one-and-a-half-year presidential term, Donald Trump has done quite the opposite to the definition provided above.

Imposing tariffs on European steel and aluminium

As the US president has warned EU earlier regarding its “trade imbalance” with the US, Trump realizes this notion by imposing 25% on EU steel imports and 10% on imported aluminium, marked since 1 June 2018. The EU has submitted a complaint over World Trade Organization (WTO) and took retaliatory measure to US initiative. EU official has announced that the organization is currently working on the list of US goods that will be imposed tariffs by the EU as a retaliatory procurement. To this day, the list goes around Harley-Davidson Motorcycle, bourbon, peanut butter, cranberries, and many other US goods. Knowing this notion, Trump threatens back by saying one of the most peculiar thing to say, especially regarding the good trade relation that US has obtained with the EU. ‘The European Union has been particularly tough on the united states, they make it almost impossible for us to do business with them and yet their cars and everything else back into the united states’ informed Trump during one of the presidential speech.

Engaging in Trade wars with China

China-US trade has been marked to be reciprocal and for all we know, not all things goes in through a legal system, China has been indicated to force US companies to share its trade secrets over to the Chinese government. Furthermore, China is also indicated to subsidize China domestic producers and violate (one of the) WTO articles. As a retaliatory measure, Trump imposed USD 50 billion on Chinese imports, many experts believe that some sort of punishment has to be imposed over China for its wrongdoings however, it should not be tariffs on China import goods. The condition worsened with China immediate retaliation by also placing tariffs on US goods namely soybeans, electric vehicle, and many other strategically imposed goods.

Abandoning Paris Agreement

It has been one year since Donald Trump announced that the US has withdrawn from Paris Climate Accord. The Accord known to be one of the progressive and extensive environmental international agreement known to this date. The reason why Donald Trump pulled out such move, according to his speech, the accord is not fair to the US businesses, its workers, its people, and its taxpayer. “So we are getting out” said Trump on his presidential speech. Regardless of such move, Trump gave a little hope to the public by saying that it is possible for US to rejoin Paris Accord however, of there are no significant changes made to the accord then US might pursue to create a novel agreement based on US preferences. It is essential to notice how Donald Trump refer to an international agreement like it was easy to build. Mutual trust based on a mutual interest are two main components of an international agreement but yet, the US president said that a new international agreement to replace Paris Climate Accord that inline with US demands can be made.

Threatening NATO

Based on one of the most respected academician that focus on US-Europe relation, Constanze Stelzenmuller, Trump is the first American president that has ever questioned American liberal order. What this statement means is EU and US has the same preference in which mutual understanding has to be made. It is known since the establishment of NATO during the event of Cold War, the organization made and supposed to be led by the US in order to protect and extend US liberal order to Europe therefore, to have US as the leader of NATO is something that is not questionable. Both parties supposed to known this unique relationship. With Trump question the system of NATO, Trump implying that he is not recognizing this unique relationship. To this date,  the effect of Trump speech can be seen throughout EU’s leader behavior such as France eagerness to take over the void of power that left by  the UK after the event of Brexit, Germany Chancellor, Angela Merkel demanded for NATO member states to increase their defense budget vis-à-vis NATO, and several other examples which signing  the eagerness of EU and NATO member states to be more independent regarding their defense system.

Trump actions throughout his presidential term has been in the state of upheaval. This occurrence shown how fragile an international agreement can be and how  easy the durability of multilateralism can be put to test. Now, it is up to member states to maintain multilateralism or finding their own way that can lead to isolationism.