Rethinking Europe, Rethinking America

The West, After Charlevoix

In the age of Trump, the rest of the world now stands alone.

Credit: danielfela Shutterstock.com

Takeaways


  • We have heard about shifting tectonic plates and erupting volcanoes that are reshaping the planet. We now must include continental drift -- the US is tearing away from the West.
  • The West no longer exists. The countries that had shared it must now urgently build new foundations.
  • The Rest of the West is now on its own, left to define what is left of its world and decide whether it can survive with some form of unity.
  • The Rest of the West can choose to play for time, in the hopes that the Trump Administration is a passing nightmare. But even if it is, there will be no going back to the future for the RoW.
  • Those who treasure the best of the West must rebuild a robust and assertive center of values, goals and institutions, around which the rest of the world and those nations that aspire to join it can rally.

We have heard about shifting tectonic plates and erupting volcanoes that are reshaping the planet. We now must include continental drift.

The United States is tearing away from the West. In the process, it is deepening the rift between itself and its neighbors. The erstwhile heart, soul and main beneficiary of the Western world order has served notice that it has had enough of foreign entanglements. It now wants to pursue its interests alone.

Accordingly, the Rest of the West is now on its own, left to define what is left of its world and decide whether it can survive with some form of unity. These nations – Japan, Germany, France, the UK, Italy and Canada – will have to hold it together in the face of friction and fractions among them.

Starkly put, these democratic polities must hang together if they are not to hang separately.

The web of international understandings and institutions — built, sustained and operated under the supervision of the United States all along — has to date been the force on which the collective West has counted to hold it together.

The slide into more disorder will be hard to stem. Each nation is now obliged to decide where and how to pursue its national interests without the integrating energy of that overarching system.

Nations still have choices on how to proceed. They can operate through the established systems, regional institutions, alone or aligned with non-Western powers. The latter are now increasingly free to pursue rival disciplines on trade, rights and security.

Thanks to Trump

China, accounting for a third of humanity, is presented with a moment of world-shaping opportunity, but is not ready for the challenge.

Russia, intent on regional hegemony of its own, expects to be a beneficiary too. The United States’ pursuit of autarky under President Trump is most immediately threatening to the border countries abutting Russia. They are now bereft of formal and moral guarantees of any value that have underpinned their recent sovereignty.

The Asian countries, historically engaged with and against China, now must do so again without reliable superpower sponsorship from Washington.

They will reassess the areas of mutual interest vis-a-vis both China and the United States. Complex calculations will lead to unpredictable results.

Europe already faces the inevitable crisis of its own ambitions. The absence of the United States from EU calculations may take these countries alternatively to a more Gaullist future or to new borders.

Uniquely positioned, Canada and Mexico – the United States’s two neighbours – are already living their own nightmare of nativist American protectionism. They must now build everything in an entirely new and hostile environment.

This ”everything” includes not just their international relationships, but domestic policies and politics that had been shaped by existential assumptions about sharing the continent with the United States to mutual benefit.

Mexico has unhappily been there before. In contrast, Canada is about to go into shock. After 150 years of U.S. forbearance in exchange for earnest domesticity, it can no longer count on the latter to guarantee the former.

Exposing the Canadian dream

President Trump has enjoyed exposing the Canadian dream of comity for what it is – the wishful reliance of a small power on the eternal goodwill of a hegemon.

Canada is not a conventional country, but rather a process. Its politics consists in one way or another of managing U.S. power and provincial interests.

This process can no longer count on U.S. benevolence that has helped exert external pressure holding the federation together. Indeed, that pressure may turn divisive or even come to favour absorption.

Though the challenge is complex, Canada has the means, both in terms of economic competence and webs of alternative interests, to make its way, if the political process is able to produce a determined national government with an assertive vision.

The same may be true for Mexico, though its politics are implosive rather than externally capable. Moreover, its relationship with the United States is already poisoned by history.

Conclusion

The West no longer exists. The countries that had shared it must now urgently build new foundations. Their future thinking must be based on a radical change – the absence of an integrative America.

They can choose to play for time, in hopes that the Trump Administration is a passing nightmare. It may be, but even if that were to be the case, there will be no going back to the future for the RoW.

Those who treasure the best of the West must rebuild a robust and assertive center of values, goals and institutions, around which the rest of the world and those nations that aspire to join it can rally.

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About George Haynal

George Haynal is a Fellow of the Munk School of Global Affairs at the University of Toronto, and a former head of the Policy Planning Staff of the Canadian Ministry Of Foreign Affairs and International Trade.

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