The emerging multipolar world

The president of Mexico has canceled a trip to the US next week to meet with Donald Trump after he said that Mexico was not going to pay for the wall, following which Trump said that there was no point him coming for the meeting if he was not going to pay. This cancellation was entirely predictable and the first sign that the US is going to be steadily alienating nations that were once its allies.

The Trump administration floated the idea that they could make Mexico pay for the wall by imposing a 20% tax on imports from that nation and then using that money to pay for the wall costs. This might please those Trump supporters who have no clue that such a move does not end up with Mexico paying for the wall at all, since the revenue raised will come from the higher prices that will be paid for those imported goods. So the American taxpayer will be paying for wall, not Mexico. As has become common in this administration, the idea was walked back later. But such a tax threat may be a form of economic blackmail. The US is the largest importer of Mexican goods and such a high tariff would result in lower exports to the US by Mexico and cause hardship to that nation. Maybe Trump thinks that the threat is sufficient to force Mexico to pay for the wall, although Mexico is not entirely without leverage either. But the Mexican president Enrique Pena Nieto is under strong pressure from the public to stand up to Trump and paying for the wall would be seen as a national humiliation that would be political suicide for him.

As a result, what we are likely to see under a Trump presidency is other nations moving away from the US and the rise in strength of other economic and political and even military blocs that do not include the US. Organizations and treaties that were dominated by the US, such NAFTA, the Organization of American States, and NATO will likely start realigning. We already have the BRICS (Brazil, Russia, India, China, South Africa) alliance of five economic powers, the European Union, and now that the US is out of the TPP, it is being renegotiated with the possibility of China entering into it. The Non-Aligned Movement that started in 1961 and now has 120 members will likely become more active as will the African Union. And who knows what is going to happen in the UN. While the US still has its veto, it may find itself no longer able to stop issues from coming to a vote at the Security Council or the General Assembly, as it was able to do in the past to avoid repeatedly being seen as isolated.

The neoliberal and neoconservative mindset that has dominated US politics since the breakup of the Soviet Union and the end of the Cold War was premised on the idea of the US as being the lone superpower, the hegemon that was able to impose its will on the rest of the world, often using proxies or alliances that it dominated. What Trump’s lessening of the US influence in the world means is its ability to wage its wars and to bomb or otherwise damage other countries using proxies and alliances will have to find a new rationale. Using multinational organizations that it could control partially hid the imperialistic nature of US actions in other countries and enabled it to claim some international legitimacy. Now it will have to go it alone or with reactionary states like Israel, Saudi Arabia, and Egypt as allies, states that have awful records and are themselves isolated internationally, with only the US protective umbrella shielding them from international condemnation. With its withdrawal from the EU due to Brexit, the UK is now more alone and may find itself forced into an even more subservient role to the US than it had before.

While the US relationship with Russia might improve due to Trump’s admiration for Vladimir Putin, it is not clear how long that romance will last because Putin clearly has his own agenda that will undoubtedly diverge from Trump’s at some point, probably pretty soon. The even bigger issue is what the US-China relationship is going to be like. China has been quietly but steadily increasing its influence in the world, forming strong trading links and providing aid to many nations. The US under Trump will make its task of increasing its global influence much easier.


  1. brucegee1962 says

    Anyone with a lick of sense would realize that, if you want to keep people from Mexico from coming to the United States, the best way is to make sure the Mexican economy is robust so they have no reason to leave their homes. That’s been working for the last few years, and more undocumented immigrants from that country have been leaving than coming in for a while now. (A conservative I know was gobsmacked when I showed him that data; while it has been widely reported in the regular media, it hadn’t penetrated his bubble yet.)

    By trying to shut down Mexican portions of the American supply chain and crash their economy, Trump almost guarantees that the total number of people crossing the border will increase, wall or no wall. There’s also the fact that the kind of wall he wants will need roads to get built, which will in turn be used for people and drug smuggling. It is very, very likely that the net effect will be 180 degrees from what he intends.

  2. AndrewD says

    What a wall will do is drive up the costs to US consumers of one major uncontrolled import-Narcotics. Drug smugglers will smuggle but there will be a premium added to the price.

  3. brucegee1962 says

    My guess is that a fairly low proportion of the drugs are coming across the border in the area where they want the wall built, because it’s supposed to be pretty rough territory, and why go to all that trouble?

    But if the wall does get in their way, I understand there are these things called drones that are getting pretty cheap. You just need someone on both sides to send and receive. Or you could shoot them over with a cannon, or make a frigging catapult out of materials at the Home Depot. There are also plenty of tunnels already. So I seriously doubt it will do much to the price of drugs.

  4. Dunc says

    If you work up a Fermi estimate of the quantity of drugs coming across the border, and look at the occasional interception of large shipments, it rapidly becomes clear that drug smuggling isn’t generally a matter of people backpacking a few kilos here and there… It’s a major international supply chain, involving semi trucks and containerised shipping, crossing at the same places as everything else.

  5. applehead says

    Mano, I fear you’re wildly optimistic. What we’re living through are the dying days of liberal democracy and the emergence of a new unipolar, fascist-dominated world order.

    Trump is a Russian puppet, and Putin is allied with China through the Shanghai Cooperation Organization. Britain has been America’s lapdog ever since the Special Relationship was cooked up, but it’s gotten so much worse since they have a Trump fangirl as PM. That’s four permanent members of the Security Council conspiring behind closed doors -- or openly on prime time TV -- to form an all-consuming power bloc. Plus, with France under threat to fall to Le Pen and the EU to dissolve courtesy of Russia-funded far-right populist parties…

  6. says

    What we’re living through are the dying days of liberal democracy and the emergence of a new unipolar, fascist-dominated world order.

    That’s what it looks like to me, too. The Despots Strike Back.
    Democracy is/was a failed experiment and Chinese-style and Putin-style corporate/capitalist oligarchies are taking over.

    The problem is that capitalists think they can run things but they can’t -- their model depends on smash-and-grab economics backed by government force, to open new markets, and government force to keep labor costs down. But their relentless desire to skim ridiculous amounts of the wealth off the top means that they’re always going to perpetuate more unfairness, which will inevitably result in mass general strikes and insurgency, or periodic economic collapses and insurgency.

  7. patrick2 says

    Marcus Ranum #6

    That’s what it looks like to me, too. The Despots Strike Back.
    Democracy is/was a failed experiment and Chinese-style and Putin-style corporate/capitalist oligarchies are taking over

    Maybe, but it’s not inevitable. I don’t think the challenge to democracy is as strong now as it was in the 1930s. At least not yet. On the other hand, blocking it largely depends on the ability of Democrats and other parties in the world to form a viable leftist alternative to this, which at the moment I’m sadly not optimistic about. I hope that can change.

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