America First fit into G-7 summit
BRUSSELS – Candidate Donald Trump was famous for his frequent refrain on the campaign trail: Other countries are treating the U.S. unfairly.
Very likely, he had multilateral groups such as the Group of Seven in mind.
But now, as President Trump prepares for his first summit with the world’s most advanced economies, other members of G-7 get the chance to assess what the president’s “America First” foreign policy really means for them.
“The main agenda item of the other G-7 members will be sizing up Trump,” said Charles Kupchan, a former National Security Council member and a senior fellow with the Council on Foreign Relations. “Figuring out who he is, and what he stands for.”
There’s a wide range of issues on the agenda. The group will also address concerns about Russia’s aggression toward other countries, North Korea’s nuclear weapons program, Syria’s civil war and the threat of terrorism, an even bigger priority in the wake of Monday’s attack on concertgoers in Manchester, England.
Trade is also sure to be high priority, as Trump seeks to get what he sees as the best deals for Americans, even if it means shaking up long-standing trade agreements. What’s more, Trump is considering whether to the pull the United States out of the 2015 Paris climate accord to cap carbon emissions – a move many G-7 members are almost certain to condemn.
Trump’s attendance at the G-7 in Taormina, Italy, on the island of Sicily, caps his first foreign trip as president.
Formed in the mid-1970s, the G-7 summit is designed to give global leaders an opportunity to discuss global challenges in more relaxed settings. The discussions among G-7 members – the United States, Canada, France, Germany, Italy, Japan, and the United Kingdom – will likely include potentially difficult discussions about a former member of the group: Russia.
Expelled from what was then the G-8 over its 2014 annexation of the Crimea region of Ukraine, Russia is now under fire after accusations of attempted interference in elections in western countries, including the United States. G-7 members have also criticized Russia over its support of Syrian dictator Bashar al-Assad. Both Russia and Syria are accused of killing anti-Assad rebels in the guise of fighting Islamic State terrorism.
Yet Russia remains an awkward topic for Trump – and one he seemingly can’t escape even on an ambitious trip overseas.
Last week, the Justice Department announced the appointment of a special counsel to oversee the FBI’s investigation into possible collusion between Trump campaign associates and Russians who sought to influence the 2016 presidential election by hacking Democratic political organizations.
Trump has called the investigation a “witch hunt” and openly sought warmer relations with Russia – and just this month welcomed top diplomats to a controversial Oval Office meeting in which he reportedly disclosed highly classified information in an apparent attempt to get Moscow to step up its fight against the Islamic State.
Already on Trump’s first foreign trip, European leaders broke with Trump’s public warming of relations with Russia. “I am not 100% sure that we can say today … that we have a common position, common opinion, about Russia,” said European Council President Donald Tusk after meeting with Trump Thursday.
Tusk added that both parties remain critical of Russia’s military incursions into neighboring Ukraine, a theme Trump appeared to reinforce during his speech to NATO on Thursday, in which he said “the NATO of the future must include a great focus on terrorism and immigration – as well as threats from Russia.”
Yet countries also have their own domestic considerations, and G-7 countries are sure to be focused on assessing the new reality of the Trump presidency and what it might mean for each of their countries.
“The potential for friction at the G-7 is pretty great,” said Julianne Smith, director of the Transatlantic Security Program at the Center for a New American Security. “These are leaders that are not yet convinced about the value of Trump-onomics.”
Some countries have already felt the effects of Trump-style nationalism. His first week in office, Trump formally killed off the proposed Trans-Pacific Partnership trade deal that would have included a G-7 member, Japan. The president has also reopened negotiating the details of the North American Free Trade Agreement that includes G-7 delegate Canada.
The U.S. is coming into the G-7 with strong statements on trade. At a preliminary meeting leading into the G-7, finance ministers from other countries urged the United States not to abandon free trade principles, yet Trump’s Treasury Secretary Steve Mnuchin said the U.S. reserved the right to retaliate if other countries don’t play fair.
Still, Trump has also altered positions on certain issues and has already displayed a tendency to shift his opinions after meeting with world leaders. During the campaign and early days of his presidency, Trump discussed withdrawing from the North American Free Trade Agreement, but opted instead to renegotiate certain terms after speaking with leaders from partners Mexico and Canada.
He also previously called NATO “obsolete” but after meetings with key leaders, is now expressing strong support for the military alliance.
During NATO meetings Thursday, Trump urged allies to spend more money on defense, arguing that the United States now carries too much of the burden – though notably, even at the behest of those same allies, Trump did not explicitly reaffirm U.S. commitment to the mutual defense obligations of Article 5 of the NATO charter to come to the defense of any member that is attacked.
So going into the G-7, countries may be even more on the lookout for possible impact of Trump’s “America First” policies. Already, throughout his four months as president, Trump has pushed for more military spending by the North Atlantic Treaty Organization, particularly G-7 stalwart Germany. And any number of Trump policies, from his stance on climate change to tax reform and regulations reductions, could affect any number of other countries.
Summit delegates plan to pressure the U.S. president to stay within the Paris climate change deal in which countries agreed to reduce heat-generating greenhouse gases. Trump advisers are divided on the subject; some say adhering to the agreement will hurt U.S. energy production, while other say the goals are manageable and will help stave off harmful environmental effects on the planet.
Climate change – which Trump has denounced as a hoax – has turned into a major theme from Trump’s first foreign trip, which started with visits to Saudi Arabia and Israel to discuss Middle East Peace plans and included an audience with Pope Francis at the Vatican. There, the pope gave Trump a copy of his 2015 encyclical about the need to safeguard the environment from the effects of climate change, which Trump promised he would read.
National security cooperation is also emerging as a key concern this year. British Prime Minister Theresa May confronted Trump in Brussels over news leaks from U.S. officials on the British investigation of the Manchester terrorist attack, saying these kinds of disclosures threaten intelligence sharing the future. May told reporters Thursday she would make it clear to Trump “that intelligence that’s shared between law enforcement agencies must remain secure.”
In response, Trump issued a statement saying he has asked the Justice Department to investigate the leaks and prosecute people if necessary. “These leaks have been going on for a long time and my administration will get to the bottom of this,” Trump said, adding that “there is no relationship we cherish more than the special relationship between the United States and the United Kingdom.”
While Trump has met all of G-7 leaders one-on-one, dealing with them as a group presents different challenges.
Kupchan, who is also a Georgetown University international affairs professor, said Trump tends to favor “bilateral contacts and negotiations, but now he has to “figure out how to operate in the multilateral context.”
“It’s about building consensus,” he said. “It’s not about winning.”
America First fit into G-7 summit