US can no longer take allies' support for granted after G-7

US can no longer take allies' support for granted after G-7
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It’s hard to see what just transpired at the Group of Seven (G-7) summit in Quebec as anything other than the worst-case outcome that many had feared.

Ahead of the annual gathering of leaders of the largest advanced democracies, there was speculation that President TrumpDonald John TrumpHannity urges Trump not to fire 'anybody' after Rosenstein report Ben Carson appears to tie allegation against Kavanaugh to socialist plot Five takeaways from Cruz, O'Rourke's fiery first debate MORE might not even attend, which seemed like a bad outcome given the signal it would send regarding U.S. support for our allies and the rules-based international system.

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In the end, Trump did attend the summit, along with his counterparts from Canada, France, Germany, Italy, Japan and the United Kingdom. His presence was marked by late arrivals, an early departure and reports of “tense and often confrontational closed-door discussions” with other G-7 leaders.

 

But the real damage was done as Trump departed Quebec aboard Air Force One, when he heard Canadian Prime Minister Justin Trudeau’s pledge to retaliate against the United States for imposing tariffs on Canadian steel and aluminum imports.

Trudeau’s statement prompted instructions from the president to the U.S. delegation still in Quebec not to sign on to the G-7 communiqué.

What’s the connection between Canadian retaliation for U.S. tariffs and the withdrawal of U.S. support for a statement designed to advance the “shared values of freedom, democracy, the rule of law and respect for human rights and our commitment to promote a rules-based international order”?

The answer likely reflects the state of trade negotiations between the United States and Canada, abetted by a deeply held conviction on the part of Trump and his closest advisors that “other countries expect America will always be their bank.”

For over a year, the United States, Canada and Mexico have been engaged in tough negotiations to re-write the North American Free Trade Agreement (NAFTA).

The slow progress of the talks — the Trump administration has missed multiple deadlines to notify Congress of modifications to the agreement — has been accompanied by a hardening of U.S. tactics over the past month.

These tactics include the imposition of “Section 232” tariffs on Canadian steel and aluminum exports to the United States, ostensibly on national security grounds, and the launch of a similar investigation on autos.

The president has barely disguised the real reason for these trade actions, tweeting most recently that, “Our Tariffs are in response to his (Canada’s) of 270% on dairy!

It now appears clear that the White House attempted to use Canada’s interest in a successful G-7 summit to extract trade concessions.

In a press briefing ahead of the summit, National Economic Council Director Larry Kudlow listed trade and bilateral discussions with Trudeau and French President Emmanuel Macron as priorities at the summit. Press secretary Sarah Huckabee Sanders also referred to discussions between Trump and Trudeau on a “bilateral deal.”

In an interview with Jake Tapper of CNN on the morning after the summit, Kudlow seemed to confirm that the president’s fit of pique was in response to the perceived “betrayal” by Trudeau following a bilateral meeting in which the United States and Canada were, according to Kudlow, “very close to making a deal with Canada on NAFTA, bilaterally perhaps.”

None of this is good for U.S.-Canada relations, but the damage from the summit will surely extend beyond the bilateral relationship. The apparent lack of regard for the broader mission of the G-7 was already on display before the public blow-up between Trump and Trudeau.

Reportedly, in the course of negotiating communiqué language, U.S. negotiators objected to the phrase “rules-based international order.” This drew a strong rebuke from Donald Tusk, president of the European Council, who asserted that the rules-based international order is being challenged not by the usual suspects (China and Russia) but by its main architect and guarantor, the United States.

Again, the U.S. objection may have simply been intended to gain leverage over Canada and other trading partners. But the result has left even the closest U.S. allies wondering about our motivations and the nature of our allegiances.

If trade-related tensions weren’t enough to rattle allies, Trump’s unprompted public statements concerning Russia’s readmission to the group certainly were. Trump’s assertion that “Russia should be in this (G-7) meeting” became another distracting headline from the summit.

The suggestion to re-admit Russia, expelled after its 2014 invasion of Crimea, was met by widespread skepticism; only new Italian Prime Minister Giuseppe Conte appeared to favor a return to a “G-8.”

Canada’s G-7 host year is almost over, but the legacy of this summit will endure. The United States, under President Trump, has proven unpredictable not just for our adversaries, but arguably more so for our allies.

There is confusion about what we stand for and how the current administration distinguishes between friends and enemies of the United States.

Given the confusion, we should not take for granted that traditional U.S. allies will continue to stand with us. Canada has already conducted public consultations on a possible Canada-China free-trade agreement; China and the European Union will reportedly hold high-level economic talks on June 25; and the next meeting between China and 16 Central and Eastern European countries is scheduled for next month.

By using the G-7 summit as leverage in a bilateral trade negotiation, the United States missed an opportunity to work with allies to address issues such as terrorist financing and foreign threats to democracy.

The U.S. also made the job of protecting and promoting rule of law, democratic values and a shared vision of the future — in the face of a concerted challenge from the likes of China and Russia — even more difficult.

Stephanie Segal is a senior fellow at the Center for Strategic and International Studies (CSIS). Matthew P. Goodman is senior vice president and holds the Simon chair in political economy at CSIS.