If Trump sticks to his plan to withdraw from the Paris Agreement, that affects the world’s political system. The U.S. is a superpower through agreements, alliances, commitments, arrangements, programs, treaties and other such institutions that connect it to other states that it designates as friends, allies and partners. However, the U.S. government tends to play the role of the superpower in an all or none way. It views a foreign state as either a friend or an enemy. It is either with the U.S. or against it. This way of thinking and operating comes about because our government is dominated by its most influential departments, like Defense and State, and because sometimes a certain interest, like oil, is predominant. Thus, the U.S. bonds strongly with certain states and countries while being against others.
Reality is more complex, however, in that serving American interests sometimes demands cooperation with a foreign state on Matter X while demanding being against that same state on Matter Y. Thus, the U.S. had no real interest in joining France and Great Britain to destroy Libya’s government via NATO, but it did, because of the one-sided support of NATO. The U.S. and Russia have a common anti-terrorist interest and so do the U.S. and European countries, but working out agreements on this particular matter with Russia is almost impossible while viewing Russia as an enemy over Crimea and adopting sanctions.
By withdrawing from the Paris Agreement, Trump has cracked the U.S. as superpower’s state-to-state cement to some extent. He has reduced the bonding with European countries on this particular matter. They are taking this to mean that other arrangements, such as NATO and many others, are now less secure. Time will tell.
The world will be a safer place if the U.S. role as superpower and unilateral world policeman diminishes. If the U.S. stops viewing certain states as friends and enemies with nothing in between, this reduces the chances of war breaking out and it reduces the chances of large wars that drag in allied states that have no real interest in a war except to make good on their friendship to the U.S. as superpower. There was really little countrywide reason for NATO to have joined the U.S. in Afghanistan and little countrywide (not personal or narrow political interest) reason for the U.S. to have joined NATO in Yugoslavia.
If the U.S. as superpower reduces its practice of dividing the world into the “free world” and “other” or along some other monochromatic criterion, then individual states won’t have to align themselves accordingly. The world can move toward a more variegated and complex system of arrangements that address specific individual matters of importance to the states. The U.S. will be open to making deals with a given state on some matters and going against that same state on others. There will be less tendency for a dichotomous attitude of friend/enemy that colors relations across the board.
The evidence in Trump’s rhetoric that he sees matters in this way is that he is willing to make deals that are in America’s interests. He may not live up to this goal, but he has expressed it and withdrawing from the Paris Agreement is a clear step in that direction.
If Trump continued in this direction of questioning existing arrangements, he’d open up possibilities that are currently foreclosed and hardly even thought of or articulated. The results in specific cases could be good or bad, for better or worse than currently, depending on his decisions. However, it is a sound general objective to move the U.S. government away from creating a unipolar world government based upon ideas, goals, and systems of the U.S. as sole superpower, or as world policeman, or as world superdaddy who knows what’s best for its children, i.e., other countries that it regards as having inferior economies and inferior legal and political systems.
The political world of states is now flowing along a dangerously confrontational course that’s taken shape after the end of the Cold War, and it’s one that increasingly pits the U.S. against Russia and China. The U.S. withdrawal from the Paris Agreement has political importance mainly in what it might mean for altering this flow and the entire course of the world order. This is hard to forecast because Trump is mercurial. That acknowledged, this decision does define his stance on foreign policy as being sharply different from past administrations. Trump already dumped the trade deal known as TPP, at least for the time being. This is another sign that he’s willing to take or actually taking a far different course than what Clinton, Bush and Obama have followed.
The Trilateral Commission approach that has been dominant had the U.S., Western Europe and Japan as the three sides of the triangle. These were poised against Russia and China. By rejecting the Paris Agreement, Trump has just altered the U.S. relations with Germany and France. Although their leaders may be talking climate, that’s not of central importance. It is Trump’s rejection of the political family bonds that they are used to and considered unbreakable that’s their significant gripe, their worry, and the reason for their negative reactions. To some extent, Trump has shifted the U.S. relations with Japan too, having made remarks about North Korea and Japan. This too shows that Trump is open to going against the Trilateral party line, at least so far.
Michael S. Rozeff [send him mail] is a retired Professor of Finance living in East Amherst, New York. He is the author of the free e-book Essays on American Empire: Liberty vs. Domination and the free e-book The U.S. Constitution and Money: Corruption and Decline.