by Joseph Joyce
Exiting the Planet
The full impact of President Trump’s announcement that the U.S. will withdraw from the Paris climate accord will not be fully realized for years, and indeed, decades to come. But the withdrawal is part of a series of disavowals of international agreements and commitments that were created after World War II. It represents a fundamental change away from engagement with allies and partners in the global community to a mindset sees every interaction with a foreign partner as a zero-sum situation, with only one country benefitting from the dealing.
The administration’s actions can be analyzed in the framework offered by Albert O. Hirschman’s in Exit, Voice and Loyalty. A member of an organization or an agreement that commits its members to a course of action, who is dissatisfied with the current arrangements, can decide whether to leave (“exit”), or remain and seek to correct the perceived problems. Those with more basic loyalty to the goals or principles of the existing arrangement are more likely to choose the latter option. Clearly the Trump administration does not share the loyalty to the international liberal order.
This position has its roots in U.S. history. The country initially sought to avoid involvement in World War I, and it took years of German offenses (such as the sinking of the Lusitania) before President Wilson could obtain agreement to enter the war. However, the Senate failed to approve U.S. membership in the League of Nations, and during the 1930s there was little interest in opposing German expansion in Europe or Japanese incursion in Asia. Only with the bombing of Pearl Harbor could President Roosevelt receive approval to take up arms against Japan, and Hitler’s declaration of war on the U.S. solved the problem of justifying a European conflict at the same time.
These experiences and the emergence of the U.S. as a global superpower after the war led to a fundamental change in the U.S. position. John Ruggie and others have described the rise of multilateralism, a system of international alliances and intergovernmental organizations formed under U.S. leadership for the purpose of achieving shared objectives. In many cases, these were global public goods. The institutions ranged from the United Nations to the North Atlantic Treaty Organization, and more recently, the Paris Accord. While the fortunes of these organizations and pacts fluctuated over time, they contributed to international peace despite a half century of “cold war” between the Soviet Union and the U.S. They also facilitated the process of economic globalization that accelerated during the 1990s after the disintegration of the Soviet Union and the entry of China into the global economy.