The United States “is undermining the rules it created.”
In his co-authored book “The Internationalists,” Scott Shapiro, a Yale law and philosophy professor, wrote that the system of international laws established by the United States throughout the 20th century has led to the decline of warfare. According to Shapiro, it’s this very system that Trump now seeks to upend.
“We are at a situation where the institutions that the United States built at the end of World War II, both in terms of managing the use of force and creating a global trading network to act as substitute for war, are coming under assault,” Shapiro told Pluralist Tuesday.
“The Internationalists: How a Radical Plan to Outlaw War Remade the World,” was co-authored in 2017 by Shapiro and Yale Professor of International Law Oona A. Hathaway.
Their argument: The rise of free trade and of American global dominance in the 20th century have been central to fostering international cooperation and ultimately brought to an overall decline in war.
Through a series of trade agreements, Western powers, led by the US, established numerous international institutions that realigned national incentives, making prosperity contingent on global stability, rather than on the power of one country to one-up another.
Free exchange, rather than gunboat diplomacy became the key to success, and deadly skirmishes were largely supplanted by friendlier economic competition.
But how does Trump’s doctrine of isolationism, protectionism, and international strong-arming fit into this thesis?
“The United States is playing a dangerous game by rejecting the institutions of free trade and global security that have defined American foreign policy for decades and that have been central to the creation of the relatively stable post Word War II international order,” Shapiro said.
The G7 Summit: According to Shapiro, Trump’s fiery showdown with American allies at the G7 Summit in Quebec this weekend was a showy rejection of the legal structures that the US had authored.
“The tariffs the US has imposed have been illegal, and the national security justification has been pre textual.” he said. “The US had led the way for the creation of these [international] agreements, and the US has benefitted enormously form free trade. To reject these institutions is the most incredible thing.”
It’s not isolationism vs. internationalism: “A lot of people bemoan that America is withdrawing from the world stage,” said Shapiro. “In one sense, it really is withdrawing.”
But it’s not a lack of military intervention that is the problem. “The issue,” according to Shapiro, “is respect for international institutions that keep the peace and the seeming disinterest the Trump Administration has in maintaining those institutions. It’s a question of respecting the rules vs disregarding them.”
“Trump is not playing by the rules,” he added.
The North Korea summit: Another example of the president’s rule-flouting is Trump’s meeting with North Korea’s totalitarian leader on Tuesday, according to Shapiro.
“What is very clear is that Trump got nothing from the summit, and he gave up things, and he gave legitimacy to a ruthless dictator who is a massive human rights violator,” said Shapiro.
This, he said, could “give license” to other murderous regimes who will no longer worry that their human rights violations may jeopardize relations with the US.
The summit, according to Shapiro, also broke the United States’ rule for dealing with North Korea: no negotiations without concrete assurances for denuclearization.
Broadly speaking, “These rules were put into place by the United States and have been accepted by most major powers, and yet the US, the architect of those rules, is undermining the rules it created. This is extremely dangerous,” Shapiro said.
Withdrawing Troops: Shapiro did, however, express mixed feelings regarding Trump’s intention to eventually remove US troops from the Korean Peninsula, a move that could raise security concerns for countries like South Korea and Japan.
“It’s important for the US to be a counterweight against China in that region,” he said. “But on the other hand I don’t love that the US has military bases all around the world, enabling it to go to war whenever the political winds blow in a certain direction.”
“It’s not clear to me that the US is supposed to be the world policeman in that sense,” he concluded. “Is it a good idea to check China? Probably.”