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Global nightmare, false alarm — or a first step to a new geopolitical order?

Global nightmare, false alarm — or a first step to a new geopolitical order?
“It’s Trump’s world, we just live in it.” Artwork from the basement of the Saint Vitus Bar, New York City. Photo by Nick Sherman

We have had a few days now to calm our jangling nerves. President-elect Trump has already had a civilized conversation with President Obama and “promised” to keep a couple of features from Obamacare. But he is going to be an almost omnipotent president, controlling both Congress and Senate and, maybe worse for Americans, shaping the Supreme Court for a decade or more.

Is this the end of the world as we know it? Or was the US, even under Obama, already fading as the all-purpose global leader? After a decade of badly mismanaged global and domestic economic policies, plus a series of costly interventions across Asia and the Middle East, the US is nobody’s favourite. China and Russia, especially if they collaborate, are as likely to be global stars in the next two decades. China may also regain its traditional economic lead as it completes its shift to pro-poor, internal consumption-driven growth (stabilizing at a healthy 7% p.a.). Interestingly Trump may launch that very same domestic strategy to meet the demands of his core voters, the “left behind” poor white males.

However, Trump will never emerge as a closet liberal, even if he has already wriggled away from some extreme positions on Obamacare and that Mexican wall. As Paul Krugman notes, even a Trump-inspired Keynesian push, including some tax cuts for the rich, is temporarily better than more years of global financial crisis. Indeed, for development folks, some of Trump’s messages actually resonate with the core theme of the just-launched UN Agenda 2030 and its “no one left behind” signature policy.

There is no such silver lining for the Paris treaty on climate change. The Morocco meeting that just formalized the treaty used a legalistic trick to undermine the Trump threat by denying any signatory the right to withdraw for the next four years. Of course, Trump and his team will likely do much damage inside the US itself, although a couple of European leaders have suggested that any country failing to meet its carbon reduction targets could be sanctioned via tariffs. The Trump threat could certainly have an inhibiting effect on Canada’s plan for a carbon tax. We will have to grit our teeth and hope for the promised new job benefits of green technology. Maybe California, which already coordinates green policies with us, will simply opt to join Canada.

Trump’s international policy stances will likely lead to a completely new set of geopolitical partnerships. Around such Security Council issues as human rights or development, we may start to see an alignment of Trump’s USA with Russia and China pushing back with their triple veto. On the liberal side might be a diminished EU, supported by Canada, and a struggling post-Brexit but still veto-wielding UK.

It is hard to define the future path for Japan and India, who have no inclination to cow-tow to China, but desperately need access and partnership for their own growth.

To break out economically, Japan must reconcile itself to substantial immigration for the person-power to sustain a strong economy. Failure means likely joining the post “hard Brexit” UK as a struggling, once major economy.

India has a more optimistic outlook. It is now the world’s fastest growing population, but that lead is an aberration, the result of China’s pro-poor, internally focused growth  policy. India must accommodate with China; their complementarity of mindsets and management skills could produce a great partnership. If that fails, India will likely align with the US, but only post-Trump.

Under Trump, the US might seek once again to be the hegemon for all the Americas. This will likely fail. Why would Brazil or Argentina give up their policy independence? They will wait for Trump to go, hoping that the USA regains its place as a world leader, but a chastened one, as a sensible social democracy like its neighbour to the north.

Africa, with the biggest concentration of the world’s poorest, must find the political will to move to a more inclusive, more equitable political model. It is starting on that political journey, but slowly and erratically. The prospects of losing a significant part of the USAID programme under Trump will be a major setback. The growing impact of global-warming-induced droughts on Africa has its own accelerating pace even without Trump’s Myron Ebell compounding it.

The Middle East has much healing still to do from the series of wars, often rooted in US post-9/11 paranoia: Afghanistan, Iraq, Iran, Syria, and Palestine. The US is now more a struggling ambiguous peacemaker than an active warmonger. The recent accommodation between Russia and the US in fighting ISIS may deepen under President Trump, who seems to want no role in such costly situations. This is a possible “plus” point for Trump’s impact (Hillary was the greater hawk) but it will take longer than Trump’s term to achieve the physical and political rehabilitation needed to put this region back on its feet.

This framework has many suggested challenges for Canada. Canada cannot hope to be immune from the certain shake up for US political actors, both the inner elites and the grassroots, but should instead seize this forced opportunity for bold changes.

Canada will join the immediate diplomatic effort to get the Trump administration to recognize the folly of not confronting the existential threat of global warming. We will retain our historic linkages to the weakened EU and UK but recognize they can no longer be sufficient. We also need to understand and respond proactively to the major shifts of power in Asia. We need to connect to new partnership networks with Asia, critically China and India, and perhaps by-pass the US to link more strongly with Latin America.

Finally, we must not overlook our commitment to implementing Agenda 2030, ensuring “no one left behind,” not only in the American rust belt, but globally.

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