US needs to consider the ripple effects of its actions
DONALD Trump has swept into the US presidency with aplomb, declaring that he would make America great again, which was also his campaign pay-off line. What does this imply for the rest of the world?
Will making the US great also make the world great or will it be diminished so that the US stands out as the lone superpower?
These questions should trouble all those who understand that what happens in the US affects the world system which the US and the West control.
When the US drinks poison and falls ill, the world suffers as we saw when the US financial institutions made reckless trade decisions that triggered the financial crisis in 2009, which then transformed into a global economic crisis we are yet to recover from.
When the US decided the military was a critical strategy for managing international relations, the world was militarised. When it put its power behind spreading a liberal brand of democracy, it became a global trend.
The US isn’t an ordinary state. It isn’t just another global power. It is a state with a wide international character that millions in the world feel through the force of US commerce, the influence of the dollar and Coca-Cola, the violence of regime-change designs and the war on terror.
Every twist and turn in US conduct and foreign policy affects us all. The modern world the West began building in the late 15th century – using imperial trade and commerce, colonialism, slave trade and wars – had its custodianship shift from Portugal and Spain in the early stages to Holland, Germany, Britain and France, and ended up being the responsibility of the US after World War II to this day.
This gives the US immense power and influence on global affairs as a leader of the West and hence the modern world as a power system.
With this power comes responsibility. The US has the burden to act responsibly and with consideration for what ripple effects its actions have on the globalised world under its care.
It is a responsibility that obligates Washington to understand and consider the interests of the international system by which the world system operates, from the UN to regional organisations and international finance institutions.
It has, over the years, grown aware of the fact that it doesn’t have pure national interests because what it does affects others in real ways.
Trump was elected on the basis of his promise to restore the US national interest. It’s to fix the internal problems related to the effects of globalisation on jobs and international trade links on its manufacturing industry.
This narrative is about a great US in the making. It’s put America and its people first, which can imply putting the world second.
At his inauguration, Trump declared that he would put the national interest of the US above other considerations. He said it was no longer acceptable for the US to do for others what US citizens also needed such as security and jobs.
He implied that there would be less altruism. It’s about putting the poor, unemployed in the US before what the US can do for others.
He has promised to focus on building America while maintaining relations with other countries. This can imply that the US will want to act like a normal or typical nation state.
It won’t take on more responsibility than a normal state does. Trump’s promising a different America from the one we’ve known for the past 70 years.
If he keeps his promise, we can expect a US that pulls back to its national shell. It can be a pull back from the damaging role of a military power or imperial power interfering in the affairs of various countries in order to impose US ideals on others, establishing military bases everywhere and poking its nose in regional rivalries.
This is positive for a world that must allow various countries and regions to decide their destiny.
But this could also mean a US that will be reluctant to take the responsibility arising from global agreements on issues like climate change, sustainable development, multilateral trade and other matters of global good.
This will be bad for the rest of us. It might mean a US that is less enthusiastic to support and strengthen multilateralism, but one that is willing to undermine global consensus on public goods when it isn’t in its national interest.
The international system works on the basis of the willingness to build relations, strengthen international co-operation and keep dialogue going in search of global consensus.
A US that becomes a spoiler, a stumbling block or a bystander will have a negative bearing on global dialogue and the search for consensus.
Trump might accelerate the unravelling of the “American World” as a current version of the older “Western World”, thus bringing us closer to the moment of reckoning where the world might be forced to fashion a world for all. It might accelerate the decolonisation of the global system.
But it might also just sow more confusion as the US maintains its hegemonic power and uses it for national interest.
The progressive forces hoping for transformation of world affairs including the relations between their countries and the US, have to seize upon this moment to build links across the globe in order to build a pluriversal world in place of the universal (one version) multipolar one of Western dominance now.
It has immense power and influence on global affairs