from The Internationalist and International Institutions and Global Governance Program

When America fails to lead, the whole world suffers

May 15, 2017

Delegates protesting against the Trans Pacific Partnership (TPP) trade agreement hold up signs. Carlos Barria/Reuters
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Coauthored with Megan Roberts, associate director of the International Institutions and Global Governance program at the Council on Foreign Relations.

Today US Secretary of State Rex Tillerson is in Fairbanks, Alaska to attend the Arctic Council’s tenth ministerial meeting. The meeting comes amid new research that climate change is reshaping the arctic much faster than expected, and as Trump administration officials engage in an unusually public debate about whether the United States will remain in the Paris climate agreement. After pledging to ‘cancel’ the agreement during his campaign, Trump has now softened his tone, noting that he had an open mind about the global agreement to limit the effects of climate change. Rival factions within the administration are pitted against one another as President Trump closes in on a decision expected later this month.

The administration’s waffling on US climate commitments illustrates two important lessons that the global turbulence of the past year has taught us. First, the biggest threats to an open, liberal world no longer come from adversaries abroad (though those threats exist), but from skeptics at home. From Britain’s epochal “Brexit” decision to Donald Trump’s “America First” election to the political mainstreaming of Marine Le Pen’s hard-right nationalism, a chaotic populist wave has rocked Western democracies. The storm surge is propelled by anxiety that globalization has not brought citizens shared prosperity, just dangers to their doorsteps.

Second, when America fails to lead, the world becomes less predictable and more conflict-prone. Once upon a time, the United States managed and defended global order. President Trump, however, has staked out a far more insular, transactional and sovereignty-minded posture, and the consequences have already reverberated globally. Longstanding alliances are adrift, international organizations are moribund, and Russia and China seek to fill the vacuum, advancing authoritarian alternatives to liberalism. In this new world, injustices will go unanswered, and pressing challenges such as climate change go unaddressed.

Read the full op-ed here.

 

 

 

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