July 7, 2017

TSC IntelBrief: President Trump at the G20

Protests at the annual gathering of the Group of 20 (G20) are nothing new, nor are the host of contentious issues among the world’s largest economies.

• On July 7, U.S. President Trump meets with leaders at the G20 meeting in Hamburg, Germany to include a meeting with Russian President Vladimir Putin.

• While much attention is given to meeting minutiae, important strategic trends are being solidified without the U.S.

• On July 6, the EU and Japan signed a massive trade deal, the likes of which the U.S. now openly disdains.

• It is difficult to overstate the difference between the U.S. and the EU’s outlook and methods for solving future challenges.


Protests at the annual gathering of the Group of 20 (G20) are nothing new, nor are the host of contentious issues among the world’s largest economies. While the meetings now underway in Hamburg have been met with large and even violent public protests, the more consequential conflict is emerging between the U.S. and other G20 members, including long-time U.S. allies in the EU. There is a great deal of deserved attention focused President Trump’s bilateral meetings with several world leaders—most significantly with Russian President Vladimir Putin. President Trump’s first meeting with Putin since taking office will be held amidst an unprecedented investigation into Russian interference in the 2016 U.S. election, and the Trump administration’s persistent downplaying of Russia’s attack on U.S. democracy.

The Trump administration’s preference for bilateral ‘deals’ stands in stark contrast to America’s post-WWII strategy of strengthening its international position through multilateral pacts with critical allies. More specifically, President Trump’s belief that fervent nationalism is the best way to address global issues is anathema to the EU’s deliberate, long-term disavowal of nationalism as the basis for foreign and security policy. The difference between the U.S. and its allies now covers nearly every aspect of global challenges, from trade and climate change, to human rights and security challenges. Amidst previous spikes in security concerns—from the Cold War to 9-11 and after—the U.S. has stressed a multilateral approach based on the strength of foundational ideals. The Trump administration’s apparent desire to bring that approach to an end is likely to confound the administration’s efforts to tackle global challenges that simply defy unilateral solutions.

The growing chasm between the U.S. and its allies is evident in agreements among several G20 powers that exclude the U.S. Prior to the summit, Germany and China declared their intent to increase cooperation around a host of issues, highlighting the growing willingness of key U.S. allies—especially in the absence of American leadership—to move closer to one of America’s primary geopolitical competitors. On July 6, Japan and the EU solidified a trade agreement that accounts for nearly 40 percent of global trade. The impact of such massive decisions on global issues being made either without the U.S., or in spite of it, will likely have seismic long-term consequences for U.S. relevance in international affairs.

In his speech in Poland on July 6, President Trump framed issues such as immigration and terrorism—again conflating the two different issues—as existential threats to ‘the West.’ President Trump explicitly stated his belief that ‘the fundamental question of our time is whether the West has the will to survive.’ He went on to rhetorically ask whether ‘the West’ has ‘the confidence in our values to defend them at any cost? Do we have enough respect for our citizens to protect our borders? Do we have the desire and the courage to preserve our civilization in the face of those who would subvert and destroy it?’ 

While the President expressed a steadfast desire to defend ‘Western’ borders, he made no attempt to clearly define a shared set of democratic values among Western countries, likely raising further doubts among America’s allies over the U.S. commitment to democratic values as the basis for Western alliances. Previous U.S. administrations had viewed U.S. and ‘Western’ ideals as the source of their greatest strength, something to defend by expanding—not restricting—their reach and appeal. The concept of the U.S. and ‘the West’ as espoused by the Trump administration—as requiring a bunker mentality that deemphasizes shared democratic values—is largely at odds with the viewpoint of America’s allies. As the gap in worldviews between the U.S. and its allies continues to grow, the Trump administration’s ability to exercise leadership abroad in the service of U.S. national interests is likely to diminish.




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