US President Donald Trump speaks after touring Snap-On Tools in Kenosha, Wisconsin SAUL LOEB/AFP/Getty Images

Long Reads

Is Multilateralism Finished?

Although Donald Trump certainly deserves blame for disrupting global trade and security arrangements, the roots of today’s crisis of multilateralism run deeper than his presidency. As new powers emerge to rival the United States, the world should prepare for a future in which global cooperation is no longer an option.

PARIS – In the immediate aftermath of Donald Trump’s election to the US presidency, it was reasonable to wonder if the man would prove to be “all bark and no bite” once in office. For various reasons, many people were convinced that Trump’s beliefs and personality would have no real bearing on the exercise of American power, which is supposed to be stable over time. Yet after more than a year of Trump’s presidency, it has become increasingly clear that the malicious aspersions he cast on the international system are capable of drawing blood.

Trump withdrew from the 12-country Trans-Pacific Partnership (TPP) as one of his first official acts in office, and he ended America’s participation in the Paris climate agreement not long thereafter. Meanwhile, his administration has launched unprecedented attacks on the World Trade Organization, by accusing it of infringing upon American sovereignty, and by blocking the appointment of judges to its Appellate Body.

In another rebuke to the WTO this spring, the Trump administration announced sweeping import tariffs of 25% on steel and 10% on aluminum, the costs of which will fall largely on Europe and Japan, owing to exemptions that have been granted to other countries. The Trump administration is also threatening to impose additional tariffs on $100 billion worth of Chinese goods. And, in an episode reminiscent of the colonial era, it is pressuring China to drop its complaints against the United States at the WTO without a reciprocal commitment.

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