Absent Global Leadership

There is another path: like-minded countries compromising in order to seek alternatives.

The current international scenario has become even more complex and unpredictable. We are witnessing the dissemination of power. The precedence of innovation and digital capital has caused the emergence of new winners and losers in the global economy. Those left behind by this redistribution of power — industrial workers, elders, the less educated, and those living in rural areas — were the ones who voted for Donald Trump and Brexit.

The age of American dominance is over, and Washington has much less power than in past decades, despite President Trump’s campaign slogan about America First. The European Union is going through a difficult period of redefinition, China is the rising world power, tensions between Russia and the West are rising, and there is an impasse in multilateral diplomacy. Meanwhile, a substantial lack of international political leadership can be observed.

The United States’ punitive strike, together with Great Britain and France, against the alleged use of chemical weapons against innocent civilians by Bashar Assad’s Syrian regime, generated an understanding which obscured the debate about the lawfulness and efficiency of the three allies’ attack. For Trump, it was “Mission Accomplished.”

But a solution to the brutal Syrian conflict does not lie in the bombing of chemical weapons facilities or in keeping American troops on the ground, which Trump would like to withdraw. There is no military exit for the Syrian conflict; leadership and persistence are required in order to arrive at a political-diplomatic agreement by reviving the ailing Geneva negotiations under the United Nations.

The absence of international leadership can also be observed in the increase of trade protectionism and in the threats of a trade war through tariffs, mutually imposed by the United States and China.

But there is another path: like-minded countries coming to an agreement in order to seek alternatives.

That is what the remaining 11 countries of the Trans-Pacific Partnership did when Trump chose to withdraw his country from the partnership in early 2017. They did the seemingly impossible: carry on without the United States to express their support for an open global trading system, governed by rules and collectively advantageous. After a year of negotiation, those 11 countries signed the Comprehensive and Progressive Agreement for Trans-Pacific Partnership, or TPP-11, on March 8 in Santiago, Chile.

In this context, Trump ordered a reassessment of the reinstatement of the United States into the TPP in mid-April, only to once again publicly attack it days later as a “bad deal for the United States.” The TPP-11 countries were right in moving forward by themselves, leading the Asia-Pacific integration.

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