Reciprocity

The editors of the Christian Science Monitor chime in on Trump’s dressing down of NATO:

Twice in two months President Trump has met with other Western leaders, first at an economic summit in June and this week at a gathering of NATO nations. A common theme? Mr. Trump’s demand for reciprocity in both trade and defense spending between the United States and its allies.

Trump asked for more access to European markets for American farm goods, for example, while insisting that other NATO countries spend about 3.5 percent of gross national product on their military forces – as the United States does – not the agreed target of 2 percent by 2024.

[…]

On trade, Trump has slapped tariffs on imports from allies in an aggressive attempt to win an opening for more exports of US products and services. In response, a few European nations have eased restrictions on US imports.

“At a time when nations have become so unwilling to play by the rules and restore reciprocity, tariffs are a wake-up call to the dangers of a broken trading system that is increasingly unfree,” warns Trump’s economic adviser, Larry Kudlow, in a Washington Post op-ed.

Trump says he is making up for the mistakes of past US presidents who gave away too much in both trade talks and in forming alliances during the cold war and afterward. Instead of seeing the US as a superpower making generous concessions for the sake of global order, Trump has in effect asked the US to be treated as an equal. Or as Gary Cohn, Trump’s former National Economic Council director, put it: “You treat us the way we treat you, or we’ll treat you the way you treat us.”

Look at it another way. It’s an acknowledgement of reality. The world of 2018 is not the world of 1948. It isn’t even the world of 1988. Seventy years ago the U. S. had the world’s only functioning industrial economy. Not only could we afford to be generous, generosity was a strategic imperative. Thirty years ago China’s GDP was just over $300 billion and the U. S.’s was nearly twenty times as large. Now we’re roughly at parity and China’s GDP may well be greater than ours. China is not only an economic power it’s becoming a military power. Thirty years ago the whole world could afford to ignore China’s failing to play by the rules. After all it was a developing country with hundreds of millions of poor people in it.

I disagree with the editors in one particular. It’s not hard at all to predict how our European allies will react. Our picking up the slack has allowed them to spend on other priorities. They won’t like it.

A Westphalian order demands countries that are treated as equals. All should operate under the same set of rules including us. We can’t afford and shouldn’t tolerate European allies who are behaving like whiny adolescents or a China roving the seven seas in search of plunder. Things are going to change because circumstances have changed and because they must.

2 comments… add one
  • Guarneri

    And once again I must observe that for all of his faults……

    Trump recognizes what you say – it’s not 1948 – and the dynamics in the world have changed. He’s not just blustering about a couple of pebbles in our shoe. The realities have become intolerable. His aim is a wholesale adaptation to today’s realities. Feathers will be ruffled. There will be adaptive pain, mistakes, even some chaos. Necessary changes aren’t easy, else everyone would do it. Popularity seeking Presidents who have dominated at least the last three administrations simply were not up to the task.

    In business terms, think of Clinton, Bush and Obama as caretaker executives. The turnaround guy is now on the scene. Hes not smooth and refined. He’s not here to be popular. He’s here to get some necessary things done.

  • TastyBits

    @Drew

    The turnaround guy is now on the scene. He’s not here to be popular. He’s not smooth and refined. He’s here to get some necessary things done.

    That is quite an astute observation. I completely agree, and it is probably the best way to understand what he does.

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