Donald Trump left the G7 meeting early to head for Singapore and meet with North Korea’s Kim Jong Un. He left behind a disgruntled gaggle of Lilliputian states who have grown accustomed to U.S. leaders accepting the institutional ropes binding the world’s greatest power, and now are shocked and angry that an American leader is putting America’s interests first.
We don’t know how Trump’s high-stakes negotiating on trade and tariffs will turn out, or whether the American people can take any economic pain that may attend the correction of trade imbalances that have tended to favor our partners and rivals at the expense of our own economy. But we have long needed to concentrate our partners’ minds on the wisdom of changing their assumption that the United States will put itself second in order to uphold the “postwar world order” that frequently camouflages the subordination of our interests to theirs.
This “global order” is made up of the transnational institutions built on the rubble of two World Wars. The most important include the UN, NATO, the General Agreements on Tariffs and Trade, the World Bank, the International Monetary Fund, the World Trade Organization, and the G7 group of the world’s richest economies representing 62% of global wealth, a total of $262 trillion. These multinational groups are supposed to keep the global peace, and manage the globalized economy so that it runs smoothly and equitably.
This network of institutions, however, rests on some dubious ideas. One particularly tenacious one is that the old balance of power among sovereign nations failed, leading to the 20th century’s spectacular carnage. Nations that look first to their parochial interests and distinct identities threaten the global unification and “harmony of interests” that can better create and protect prosperity, democracy, human rights, and peace.