The Trump effect

Trumped: Emerging Powers in Post-American World
Trumped: Emerging Powers in Post-American World
Author: Sreeram Chaulia
Publisher: Bloomsbury
Price: Rs 799
Pages: 256

Donald Trump’s election as President of United States, still the world’s most powerful country in spite of its relative decline, has not only impacted that country’s domestic economy and polity but also — and more importantly —  the world at large and individual countries, both domestically and in their bilateral relationship with the US. In particular, Mr Trump’s policy of “America First” and gradual withdrawal from global responsibility and governance structures have a resonance with the polity and economy of many countries, including India. In Trumped : Emerging Powers in a Post-American World,  Professor Sreeram Chaulia, arguably one of India’s most formidable commentators in print and visual media on foreign policy issues, critically analyses the essence and consequences of this trend. 

In this richly informative and insightful book, he has identified India, Brazil, Turkey and Nigeria as examples to demonstrate how countries are trying to cope with the impact of American policy under President Trump. The selection of these four countries is not arbitrary. The rationale for choosing them is provided in an excellent foreword by Professor Andrew F Cooper of the Balsillie School of International Affairs and the Department of Political Science, University of Waterloo. He writes that that these countries share some characteristics that enable Professor Chaulia to illustrate his arguments. Among others, none of these four countries share a border or a continent with the US: So being “Trumped” is a very different experience from the one faced by Mexico or, for that matter, the vulnerable Central American countries. Although they have specific trade disputes with the US, none of the chosen four has the degree of complex interdependence faced by China.

Further, while each has challenges of “personalism” of their own, all retain a level of democratic space with competitive electoral systems and, to a greater or lesser extent, vibrant civil society and media presence. In other words, if Jim O Neil, the investment banker, in his formulation of BRICs (Brazil, Russia, India, and China) had certain economic criteria, Professor Chaulia has applied certain political criteria in selecting these four countries. Explaining President Trump’s protectionism, the author extensively quotes the Democrat politician David Jacoby.  According to him, with the unusually rapid pace of globalisation, and especially the rapid rise of Chinese exports, countries that import large amounts of these products feel deluged and competitively attacked. In the 1980s, the US was known and respected worldwide for its manufacturing strength, and the economy grew between 3.8 and 4.7 per cent from 1994 to 1997. However, the US gradually lost its competitive advantage in manufacturing goods. It was becoming more competitive in selling raw materials and natural resources such as oil. The US’ trade profile was beginning to resemble a country like Chile’s, which has historically been stuck in a rut of selling commodities like copper and other metals, rather than a country like Germany, which has been revered for its engineering expertise. In other words, the US was beginning to look like a less developed country.

If this is Mr Trump's worldview, how do the four countries look at the US? The author writes that when one looks at America from New Delhi, Ankara, Brasilia and Abuja, it is primarily from the angle of each national capital’s self-interest. Contrary to elite liberal Western assumptions that all countries are bound to benefit from partnering or allying with a benign hegemon like the US, emerging power centres evaluate America via the human welfare benefits associated with any interaction.

India is a major power that has been considerably affected by President Trump’s domestic and foreign policies. The author writes that New Delhi wished for continuity from Washington after the November 2016 presidential election, and instead got a transactional America First leader who had little regard for the democratic and geopolitical dimensions of the US-India relationship. What emerged was an all-consuming neo-mercantilist passion for forcing every American partner and ally to cough up money, open markets and return jobs it had “stolen” from the US homeland through the globalisation-fuelled outsourcing spree. 

He observes that the contradiction between Make in India and Make America Great Again is unmistakable. If the liberal international establishment, backed by corporate America, perceives America’s partnership with India as win-win, Mr Trump and his populist supporters look at it as zero-sum game in which America is getting a raw deal.
The reviewer is a senior fellow of Indian Council of Social Science Research affiliated to Indian Institute of Public Administration

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