Analysis by Reporting San Diego
There are few moments in world history that mark critical changes in the world order. As President Donald Trump readies to pull the United States from the Paris climate agreement, it signals the end of the role of the United States in the world stage. In order to understand how radical this is, we first need to understand the world order of the last 70 years. This is the world that the United States helped create. In some ways, it is our empire.
What the president is doing is rejecting this world order, and turning inwards.
The world order after 1945
World War Two destroyed Europe, and many areas of Asia. The world that existed in 1939 was very different from the world that stood on August 14, 1945. Major European cities were gone. Millions of refugees filled camps, run by both the Red Cross and the newly formed United Nations. It was the greatest movement of people until now.
The United States could have pulled back like the country did after 1919. We could have fully demobilized like the country had done with every other war. Instead, the United States maintained a presence in Europe. This was not accidental.
The first post-war institution to emerge was the North Atlantic Treaty Organization. While NATO was technically formed in 1949, the foundations were laid by President Franklin Delano Roosevelt and Prime Minister Winston Churchill in 1941. This was the North Atlantic Charter, that set the post-war goals for the two allies. It was signed on a navy ship, in the middle of the Atlantic, before the United States entered the war.
NATO is a military alliance, to preserve a European integrity, formed also to contain the Soviet Union. It’s goals, such as democracy, are not that unfamiliar. It contained the Soviet Union and kept Germany from growing into a continental power once again, with territorial ambitions.
NATO has served this role admirably well. It has also been a target, naturally, of first the Soviet Union and later Russia. The dissolution of NATO is the ultimate goal. The weakening of NATO is a strategic victory for Russia.
The Marshall Plan
On Victory Day Europe lay in ruins. Cities were shells and the economy was chiefly back to barter. People were starving. In this environment, the US started to see Soviet influence all over and feared a takeover of the West by the Soviets.
Then there was the experience of the post-World War I years. That crisis also led to the rise of fascism. So, the United States government and its Secretary of State implemented the most ambitious humanitarian aid program in the history of the country.
The program benefited midwestern farmers, whose grain was exported to Europe as part of the aid packet. The grain came with advisors who stood up Europe. These advisors insisted on reforms as well, which benefited the common people and created good will for Americans across the continent.
That will translate to support of American goals across the world, and the successful containment of the Soviet Union.
The United Nations
The end of the war brought the United Nations. It was formed in San Francisco. Later it moved to New York. It was a policy goal if the United States as a way to prevent another disastrous war.
Among the bodies created was the Security Council. This has prevented the level of warfare that the world saw in the first half of the 20th century. While Korea and Vietnam were terrible conflicts. So has the war on terror, none of them approaches the level of destruction. It has also increased cooperation in times of disaster.
Has it been the pollyannish organization to end all wars? No. Does it have defects? Of course, it does.
The fiscal order
So far we have explored the diplomatic and military side of that postwar we helped create. This is the least well-known aspect. It is also one that in some ways started to give way to a new one around the presidency of Richard Nixon. That new system, however, is an evolution.
In 1944, before the shooting and the dying stopped, a group of economists came together in Breton Woods, New Jersey. The goal was to set the basis for the post-war economic order.
There is one singular agreement that has kept constant and affects your life every day in significant ways. When the agreement designated the US Dollar as the reserve currency, it became the de-facto world currency for trade.
This gives the US enormous economic power. It also means that the US prints far more dollars than it need because national banks have their stated reserves in US Dollars. Some nations even use the dollar as they currency.
We replaced the Sterling. And if the dollar ceases to be a reserve currency, there will be severe consequences to the US economy. It might include hyperinflation.
World Bank, WTO, IMF
The agreements also created the World Bank and the International Monetary Fund (IMF). Both were created to first rebuild Europe, later the world, under an American model. Early funds and staff came from the United States. Early American economists were Keynesian. They were in favor of a far larger role of government in the economy.
The World Trade Organization is also partly our creation, but less so. It was formed to rule over trade disputes.
This is why the United States became the essential nation. We got far more back than we spent in this. Among other things, a stable world with expanding markets.
Trumpism Rejection of the Post-War Order
Many analysts keep making a mistake. Trump has a doctrine, a hardcore ideology. It rejects any and all multilateral agreements as bad. The philosophy also rejects the role of the United States in a global system.
He and his followers are convinced that it is best to go at it alone. All these organizations and treaties have stolen our sovereignty. Chiefly, there is this belief that foreign countries are taking advantage of the US and weakening the country.
Trump Intends to Blow This Order to Bits
There are two signals that Trump intends to do this. The first is to pull out of the Paris Climate Agreement. Angela Merkel said over the weekend that Europe could no longer rely on the US. This is one reason.
The Obama administration has to fight tooth and nail. However, this is the second time we pull out of a critical agreement. When George W Bush pulled out of Kyoto, Europeans could scratch that to the insanity of one man. It is clear that this is not one man.
It also betrays a level of denial adequate for the leader of a small, inconsequential nation. We are not that, but we are in the path of isolation and a greatly diminished influence in the world.
Moreover, for the Department of Defense, this is a strategic imperative. They are not putting solar all over bases because they love dolphins. Nor are advanced research into nonfossil fuels because they love Pandas.
We already have evidence that Climate Change could lead to resources wars. Syria might be the first climate war. We have written about this in the past. The pressures of climate instability in countries that have no mitigation efforts in place, only make internal crisis that far worst.
We are in the midst of the sixth mass extinction, and it could even lead to species extinction, or at the very least the greatest threat to human civilization. Moreover, civilization collapses, as both the Levant and the Maya examples prove, are not unprecedented. This is why European Nations want the US to stay and lead.
Our refusal only fuels the speculation that perhaps the American century is over.
There are other reasons. The trip to Europe proved to be a disaster at multiple levels. When Trump refused to declare support for NATO’s Article V, that was a smack in the face of European leadership. There are multiple reasons. As we wrote above, NATO has been at the center of European peace for 70 years.
There is one more thing. Article V means that if one member of the alliance is attacked, the rest will come to help that member. It has only been invoked once in the history of the alliance. That was in the wake of Sep 11. This is why German Air Force planes took to American skies to help protect the United States from what at the time we had no idea what it was. They have also stood shoulder to shoulder with American forces in Iraq and Afghanistan.
However, European nations are concluding we are not reliable partners. This could have disastrous consequences for the United States.
The end of the American role in the world
We are an Imperial power. However, we are also an imperial power in decline. There is exhaustion in the empire and like Rome, we are now spending more money in the military and bases, than we are in keeping our citizens healthy. However, what is happening right now, including the rise to the presidency of a man who does not understand the effects of his words, or policies, we are clearly on the edge.
Imperial collapse is never nice. Nor is ever sudden. We have known we have been on this edge for some time. So what is already happening? If the United States pulls from Paris and a panoply of other multilateral agreements, the first thing that Americans will notice is that our companies will be less competitive worldwide. Perhaps my readers will not notice, especially if they never travel abroad. Right now, Nike, Coca-Cola and Ford dominate the landscape in Mexico City for example. While many Mexicans do not speak English, those who are in the business and academic communities do. This is the lingua franca of both business and academia like Latin was.
We are starting not to see the leading edges with a drop in tourism. We saw some of that during the years of the Bush 43 administration, but now it seems to be more profound, and perhaps permanent.
This could very well go from the essential nation, that the US has been for 70 years, to the Isolated nation that once was. Our role in the world will be taken over by other countries. During the Ebola crisis, we saw the leading edges of this in stark relief. China sent aid to Africa, and medical teams. The part none is telling you is that China is deeply involved in the development of Africa and other nations. It is also now leading the efforts to green the economy.
The starkest of these developments, and it will be sudden, seemingly, will be the end of the US Dollar as the reserve currency. No country is rushing towards that moment because it will lead to a shock to the economic system. However, it is coming.
All of this is consistent with the ascendancy of the America First, nationalist philosophy at the core of Trumpism. This present administration could very well have a nasty gift to Americans. Many in the United States believe that the Empire has been bad, never mind they have utterly benefited from it. The end may very well be near. However, like the Soviet Union, the tensions within the country will make the crash of the Empire for very interesting times.
Pulling out of Paris, and the Transpacific Trade Agreement may very well signal the beginning of the nationalist, isolationist retrenchment from all international organizations and bodies, as well as treaties. Never mind we built that world we are pulling away from.