Saturday, June 09, 2018

On Trump and the G7 Meeting

The meta messages coming from Trump over the G7 conference are interesting.  It's not the actual messages themselves, but the the framework that they imply.

On one hand, we have Trump spouting a bunch of trade war rhetoric on Twitter.  Taken on its own, you might simply interpret that as part of Trump's usual ham-fisted approach to negotiations.  However, when you take it as part of a larger gestalt picture, the focus starts to shift.


First, let's look at the steel and aluminum tariffs that Trump has slapped down.  Superficially, you might look at that and say "well, that's Trump trying to turn up the heat on the NAFTA negotiations.  However, that doesn't make a whole lot of sense.  Even with Trump now calling for Canada to dismantle the Supply Management system associated with dairy, it doesn't add up.  The timing relative to NAFTA negotiations seems off.  It does however, make sense when you think about the tariffs as a tool for derailing the G7 summit happening this week. Slapping down the trade tariffs drives a pretty hard wedge between the US leader and everybody else there - one that isn't likely to be "smoothed over" in the week or so between the introduction of the tariffs and the actual summit.

Then we have the on again-off again summit with North Korea, which has been percolating about for some time. Just before the G7 summit, there were rumours that Trump might skip it entirely in favour of "preparing" for the summit with North Korea. While the North Korea talks are important, it seems a strange choice of priorities. The US, and Trump in particular, has relatively little to gain from this. Trump's base looks at North Korea as a country run by a crazy man with no boundaries but poses no real threat to the US. So, why all the fuss over talks with North Korea?

Ultimately, Trump chose to leave the G7 summit early. An interesting move because it signals a lack of interest on his part in maintaining relations with the countries which have long been the natural allies of the United States. Why would this be "in the interests of the US"?  

Looking at Trump's tariffs, who benefits? Given the interconnected markets resulting from NAFTA, these tariffs are going to hurt US businesses as much as Canada and Mexico's.  Some analysts have pointed out that the real beneficiaries of these sanctions end up being Russia and China. Isn't that interesting?

The US has relatively little direct interest in North Korea. Outside of the Korean peninsula being the site of the last remaining vestige of the Cold War, there is precious little reason for the President to be directly engaged.  However, two states have long standing relations with North Korea:  Russia and China.  Russia would like to see sanctions against North Korea reduced so that they can more openly engage with several aspects of North Korea's economy - including supplying the North Korean military.

At first, you might look at all this and go "so what?".  Until one adds Trump's demand at the beginning of the G7 conference:  That Russia be readmitted to the G7.  The reason that Russia was tossed out of the G8 in 2014 was because they annexed Crimea from the Ukraine - an act which violates the fundamental principles of sovereignty.  To say that Putin has an interest in undermining the G7 is an understatement, for him to be able to do so at the expense of the United States isolating itself from its allies.

Putin must be practically cackling with glee.  Not only has Trump sown discord among the G7, but Trump has also demanded that he be reinstated as a member.  Quite rightly, most of the G7 has responded with an unequivocal "no" to this demand.  But in doing so, the process of isolating the US from its natural allies has begun.  Getting Trump to prioritize the North Korea summit over his natural allies also plays to Putin's interests (and that he has done so by stroking Trump's ego is just a bonus - as long as Trump thinks it's all about his "prowess", he'll keep on going).

In fact, if you look at the last month's events, there is only one person who really benefits, and it's the same person thought to be behind so much of the manipulation through social media during the election:  Vladimir Putin.


No comments: