Trump ‘s ‘America First’ Strategy: Europe and Brexit in a World of Blocs

By Professor Stephen Haseler
9th February 2017

This article was previously published by Global Policy Institute

President Donald Trump’s ‘America First’, should it succeed, will represent nothing less than the end of the neo-liberal global order – often called ‘globalisation’ – which has governed world economics, and to some extent politics, for well over 30 years. This world order had its roots in the Cold War era (roughly 1947-80), but was deepened in its wake by the opening of world markets to China and Eastern Europe. ‘Globalisation’ was always controversial, particularly in the western world, but was eagerly embraced by western transnational corporations, which saw markets and cheap labour in rising Asia.

US Turns Away from Globalisation

For many years resistance to globalisation was a feature of left-wing protest politics. But opposition also began to grow amongst American populists and nationalists. Ros Perot ran a campaign for the presidency in 1992 against the NAFTA treaty (and secured almost 20% of the vote); later Pat Buchannan ran a similar campaign, and in recent years academics like Professor Peter Navarro, now an advisor in The White House, began to gain traction for their protectionist views.

Navarro argued in his book ‘Death By China’ that the virtually overnight opening of the labour market to China was the primary cause of what many critics of globalisation describe as the ‘hollowing out‘ of the US middle class and the collapse in US manufacturing.

It was a theme disdained by mainstream economists and politicians, but it was again taken up by Donald Trump in the 2016 presidential campaign. And his victories in the MidWest, particularly in the ex-Democrat Rust belt, are directly attributable to this campaign to restore these ‘lost jobs‘.

Retreat from the post-WW2 global governance framework

What Americans increasingly call the ‘Globalist’ agenda also lost its allure as the interventionist American foreign policy in the Middle East turned sour following the failure in Iraq.

And Donald Trump’s election represents a momentous change in American foreign policy. His ‘America First’ strategy, should it succeed, means that America will retreat from the multilateral organisations created by the post-war US leadership class in favour of a unilateral nationalism based upon bi-lateral dealings around the world. Thus, ‘America First’ will bring into question old alliances like NATO, the US-Japanese alliance, and traditional US policy in the Middle East.

And it seems, as of the time of writing, that with Steve Bannon on the White House National Security Council and Peter Navarro in charge of trade policy, a priority of ‘America First’ will be the containment of China. Whether at the end of Trump’s four years China remains a rising power must be open to question.

What Will Europe Do: Unite or Whither?

This new global architecture is very dangerous for Europe. As the White House turns from ultimate protector – via intelligence and missile defence – of Europe to a neutral player in the coming great power game, the EU countries, including Germany, are faced with a stark choice; one they have been avoiding ever since the creation of the European Community. They can either, finally, unite to become one of these great power blocs in the making, or, alternatively, watch themselves become ‘Balkanised’ and carved up by America, China and Russia. Much will depend on the Germans.

Germany has been sheltering under US geo-strategic leadership during the post-war years whilst at the same time building, with the French, the European Union and the Euro-Zone. However, lately, Germany has cooled somewhat on the union, as the federalist instincts of Helmut Kohl have dissipated. Trump’s White House is right that the Germans have certainly benefitted from a weak Euro (as opposed to a strong Deutsche Mark) and have prioritised their export drive in rising Asia.

In this new era one option for Germany is to meet the new world order by continuing to see short-term advantage in ‘remaining global’ – and by selling their cars to China – whilst they distance themselves from the EU they helped to create. Or, they can take a longer-term, more strategic view – and lead a campaign to unite the EU into an autonomous trade and political bloc.

The EU needs a political government

For Europe (or the EU) to become a great power alongside the USA and China, all that needs to be done is to build on existing structures. One of the great differences between the 1930s and today is that Europe has serious supra-national structures and institutions already in place – built around the EU and the Euro-Zone.

So to complete the project the Euro-Zone needs a political government – which like in the US has to act as a transfer union – and the EU needs a defence and security policy autonomous from, though possibly still in alliance with, the United States. Germany would become the economic engine of the new superpower and France would provide the strategic dimension (including strategic thinking), and initially the defence capabilities (the French nuclear deterrent is genuinely independent and works). Of course, should Britain ever come back into the union then Britain alongside France acting in tandem could provide the security dimension for the bloc.

Brexit Will Spell Disaster in the New World of Blocs

For ‘Brexit Britain’ the new protectionism in the White House and the likely emergence of a stronger Europe comes at a most dangerous time. In this coming world, Brexit is a dead end. For Britain, more than ever, needs to be inside, not outside, a superpower trade bloc. Brexit, if it holds, is an option that can only lead to bad trade deals with the likes of Turkey, India and Trump’s America. The ‘England Alone’ ‘Tax Haven’ ‘Singapore’ Option‘ is a recipe for national poverty and impotence.

Professor Stephen Haseler is Director of the Global Policy Institute.


This article was originally published on LinkedIn.