What Trump’s actions at the G7 summit mean for multilateralism

What Trump’s actions at the G7 summit mean for multilateralism

With Donald Trump refusing to sign the G7 Communique in Charlevoix, Quebec, the traditional balance of power within the G7 countries has been upset, placing the future of multilateralism in danger. The volatile environment that will result from this upset is likely to make it difficult for the G7 nations to safeguard liberal-democratic values.

G7 summit reveals divisions

On June 8th, 2018 in Charlevoix, Quebec, the most shocking G7 summit in recent history was held. The summit was meant to address the global events that have occurred this past year, from the rise of populism to answering questions such as what to do about Russia. More importantly, it was the hope of the G7 powers that the summit would reinforce the members’ commitment to a rules-based international system and a respect for human rights and the rule of law.

However, from the events of the summit it seems that not all the G7 powers are on the same page. A clear divide between the United States and the other G7 powers became evident when Donald Trump advocated for re-admitting Russia into the G7, a suggestion that was rejected by all of the other powers. The summit ended with heated remarks, the beginnings of a trade war, and Trump walking out without signing the communique. Essentially, Trump told the US’s oldest allies that the US will no longer provide economic and political support to G7 missions.

In the wake of the United States’ retreat from the Trans-Atlantic Alliance, a new volatile balance of power will likely be created. This new balance of power is unlikely to protect liberal democratic principles due to the changes that the G7 will need to make to keep multilateralism functioning, and the problems posed by domestic issues and new global trends.

Shifting balance of power may lead to a breakdown of multilateralism

Trump’s decision has essentially created a power vacuum in the G7. As a framework dependent on inter-cooperation between the world’s most powerful economies, multiculturalism has functioned up until now due to the US’s significant diplomatic and financial involvement. In its absence, it is certain that the other G7 nations will be immediately forced to take charge of the international order to avoid a breakdown of multilateralism in the wake of a rising tide of illiberalism. However, with the absence of the United States, this will have to involve reaching out to other strong nations, such as Russia, to develop deeper ties, a move that Angela Merkel acknowledges as necessary to preserve multilateralism and liberal-democratic values. However, despite it being potentially necessary, this move may also be potentially dangerous to multilateral efforts given Vladimir Putin’s habit of disobeying orders from the G7 that are not in his interest, and his continuous disdain for the principles on which the EU was built.

The shifting power relationship among the G7 and other countries will be further complicated in the long term by the rise of new political powers such as China and North Korea. With China’s strategic influence growing in the right-wing governments in Central-Eastern Europe due to economic and political investment, the G7 powers may find it difficult to keep the right-wing governments of Hungary and Poland under control with the present multilateral framework. This is because there is the potential that any economic leverage the G7 powers may have over the East will decrease as the East becomes more heavily reliant on China. Thus, being unable to exert control over these authoritarian governments, the G7 powers will not be able to promote the image of a united Europe thereby undermining the multilateral framework. Furthermore, a stronger alliance is beginning to develop between the United States and the more authoritarian North Korea. If this alliance bears fruit, there will be a new dimension to international security that the G7 will have to consider if multilateralism is to continue being effective.

According to Chatham House, if it is to survive, multilateralism needs to evolve to incorporate not just the countries’ governments, but the private sector and civil society as well. However, this will not be easily accomplished in today’s political climate and is in fact likely to have significant consequences that may spell the end for multilateralism. The main obstacle to any potential reforms is the rise of right-wing governments in Austria, Hungary, Poland and Italy. The election of these right-wing governments indicates that an increasing proportion of civil society in the East does not hold much confidence in the G7, and as a result will most likely not be willing to cooperate with them.

The status quo is no longer enough to safeguard liberal democratic values

Europe’s ability to move forward and protect liberal-democratic values through multilateralism now depends on its ability to create a more effective multilateral framework, which needs to include economic reforms. Without it, the mounting tensions and the continuing inability of the G7 powers to provide effective solutions about what to do with the “migrant issue” will make it difficult for the G7 to prove that these liberal-democratic values are valuable and necessary.

As it stands, Europe will be unable to deal effectively with future crises given that many nations are still finding their economic systems overtaxed due to supporting more than their fair share of asylum seekers. The situation is exacerbated by the fact that many Eastern nations are refusing to admit refugees, placing added pressure on Western Europe. If another recession or wave of refugees hits Europe, it is likely that already high right-wing sentiments will increase further. The West’s inability to deal with these hypothetical future problems will only prove to their populations and other countries that they are unable to deal effectively with international crises, thereby potentially bolstering the legitimacy of the radical right.

Once again the ability of the G7 to implement these reforms is being tested by internal disagreements, with Macron and Merkel being unable to agree on economic reforms, making the eurozone more susceptible to sudden economic shocks. This, combined with the fact that Germany is potentially facing a breakdown of their ruling coalition if Merkel does not produce a viable plan on how to deal with immigration and migrants, may interfere with their attempts to keep Europe unified and as a result may affect the political clout that these nations hold internationally.

Categories: Europe, Politics

About Author

Diana Anton

Diana Anton holds a M.A in in Political Science from Queen’s University with a specialization in comparative and international politics. During her time there, she spent three months on exchange at the Bundeswehr University of Munich. Diana focuses on the rise of right-wing public attitudes in Poland, Hungary, France and Germany, and is concerned with the impact that right-wing public attitudes and post-communist politics have had on European politics and the civil society-state relationship in Europe.