India, Japan, and the Indo-Pacific: Breaking Out of the Middle Power Status


June 16, 2017

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Number 384 | June 15, 2017

ANALYSIS

 

India, Japan, and the Indo-Pacific: Breaking Out of the Middle Power Status

By Nidhi Prasad

A day after China launched its second aircraft carrier, the American administration under Mr. Donald J. Trump appeared jubilant about celebrating the first 100 days of its “America first” policy. Asian nations have to grapple with an uncertain security environment which lacks the structure or predictability that existed during the Cold War. They are caught between an aggressive China – their largest trading partner and their security ally or partner – and an increasingly capricious United States. Should one kowtow and shape Asia’s “common destiny” or negotiate a deal to “make America great again”? This article explains three ways in which India and Japan refuse to be caught in binary choices and are gradually creating room within which other Asian countries can  maneuver.

First, India and Japan under Prime Ministers Modi and Abe respectively, have attempted to change the geopolitical imagination of their nations. By 2014 China had announced its plans to link the Eurasian landmass and Pacific Rimland (through ports, pipelines, etc) by reviving the maritime and continental ‘Silk Road’. In 2015 India and Japan signed a joint statement to mutually work towards building peace and stability in the Indo-Pacific region within a decade. This was the first time the two nations agreed to expand the geographic scope of their strategic partnership (almost a decade after Abe first proposed it in India). Until 2014 the two nations looked for convergence in their foreign policies (‘Act East’, ‘Proactive Contribution to Peace’, ‘Make in India’, ‘Quality Infrastructure Initiative’, etc…). The United States under the Obama Administration additionally engaged in ‘burden sharing’ and institution building, as well as recognizing Indian and Japanese intentions to break out of their middle power status. It promoted India’s ‘leading power’ ambitions and supported the unprecedented changes in Japanese security legislation to make it more ‘proactive’.

Secondly, India and Japan are making attempts to transform the security order rather than being either status-quo nations or revisionist actors. The United States expects its Asian partners to balance against Chinese aggression while China’s biggest concern is a joint coalition that would resuscitate the ‘cold war mentality’ of containment. China has increasingly used its geo-economic tools punitively to target trade, tourism, and other sectors against any diplomatic disobedience. This was glaringly visible when South Korea decided to go ahead with setting up the THAAD missile defense system against Chinese wishes. Recently Beijing standardized the names of Arunchal Pradesh localities with Chinese character in retaliation against the Dalai Lama’s visit to the Indian state (which Beijing claims is part of “South Tibet”). Meanwhile, Japan has deployed its helicopter carrier Izumo to a tour through the South China Sea (where China and ASEAN countries have disputed territories). Additionally, Izumo will participate in the Indo-US-Japan Malabar exercise in the Indian Ocean in July this year. Such “resistance” by India and Japan is a sign that both nations are unwilling to be dictated to by China.

India and Japan are keen to play active roles and engage in close cooperation with all actors in their respective restive neighborhoods on issues for which China exercises influence such as the North Korean nuclear crisis or negotiations on Afghanistan. The complexity of relations further illustrates that states in this region cannot adopt simple strategies of balancing, band-wagoning, or hedging; rather, India and Japan need to present alternatives to others that are unable to afford to maneuver in the present system.

Third, India and Japan are moving beyond middle power narratives as they seek to support smaller Asian nations and provide alternatives to China’s “win-win” diplomacy that has placed nations like Sri Lanka and Cambodia in a Chinese debt-trap. In 2016 India and Japan articulated a joint “Free and Open Indo-Pacific strategy” towards achieving this goal, but have not yet spelled out any specifics. The two countries can assist with the need to fill the estimated $1.3 trillion estimated infrastructure gap in the region. China, under the pretense of connectivity and trade, is attempting to “hard-wire” geopolitical realities and Chinese influence, brush territorial disputes and disagreements under the carpet and carry out business as usual. Neither India, Japan, nor the United States were among the 28 countries that sent heads of government to China’s maiden Belt and Road Forum. Before the forum develops into an overarching platform to discuss Indo-Pacific security issues, India and Japan need to quicken the pace of infrastructure cooperation.

In order to succeed Japan and India must compete with China’s ability to mobilize resources at a fast pace and engage in robust diplomacy without threatening smaller nations or appearing interventionist. India is seeking Japan’s help to regain lost geopolitical capital in its neighborhood. Ultimately, India and Japan need to help realize the aspirations of smaller nations like Sri Lanka, Nepal, Vietnam, Pacific Island countries, and others who need economic and security assistance.

Finally, the role of the United States to project power and influence is also of great significance to Indian and Japanese strategy. Recent talks of the creation of an Asia Pacific Stability Initiative (with a fund of approximately $7.5 billion) and other diplomatic overtures hold the potential to stem the direction of the current power transition in the region. Asian nations now have to deal with an America that expects allies to do most of the heavy-lifting, and security guarantees in the future will be conditional on free and fair trade. Unlike before, it is the United States (in order to retain its dominance) that has to strengthen credibility in dealing with a new geo-strategic landscape, where intra-Asian trade is high and China is no longer shy about its hegemonic aspirations. Ultimately the United States would have to pressure China and maintain the security and stability of the region. To preclude China’s hegemony or Sino-US rapprochement, India and Japan are breaking out of their traditional roles and are willing to shoulder the responsibility of securing the Indo-Pacific region.

About the Author

Nidhi Prasad is a Researcher in the Department of International Politics at Aoyama Gakuin University in Japan. She completed her Master of Philosophy in Japanese Studies from Jawaharlal Nehru University, India. She can be reached at Nidhi29Prasad@gmail.com.

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Xi Jinping’s Marco Polo Strategy


June 13, 2017

Xi Jinping’s Marco Polo Strategy

by Joseph S. Nye*@www.project-syndicate.org

*Joseph S. Nye, Jr., a former US assistant secretary of defense and chairman of the US National Intelligence Council, is University Professor at Harvard University. He is the author of Is the American Century Over?

Last month, Chinese President Xi Jinping presided over a heavily orchestrated “Belt and Road” forum in Beijing. The two-day event attracted 29 heads of state, including Russia’s Vladimir Putin, and 1,200 delegates from over 100 countries. Xi called China’s Belt and Road Initiative (BRI) the “project of the century.” The 65 countries involved comprise two-thirds of the world’s land mass and include some four and a half billion people.

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Originally announced in 2013, Xi’s plan to integrate Eurasia through a trillion dollars of investment in infrastructure stretching from China to Europe, with extensions to Southeast Asia and East Africa, has been termed China’s new Marshall Plan as well as its bid for a grand strategy. Some observers also saw the Forum as part of Xi’s effort to fill the vacuum left by Donald Trump’s abandonment of Barack Obama’s Trans-Pacific Partnership trade agreement.

China’s ambitious initiative would provide badly needed highways, rail lines, pipelines, ports, and power plants in poor countries. It would also encourage Chinese firms to increase their investments in European ports and railways. The “belt” would include a massive network of highways and rail links through Central Asia, and the “road” refers to a series of maritime routes and ports between Asia and Europe.

Marco Polo would be proud. And if China chooses to use its surplus financial reserves to create infrastructure that helps poor countries and enhances international trade, it will be providing what can be seen as a global public good.

Of course, China’s motives are not purely benevolent. Reallocation of China’s large foreign-exchange assets away from low-yield US Treasury bonds to higher-yield infrastructure investment makes sense, and creates alternative markets for Chinese goods. With Chinese steel and cement firms suffering from overcapacity, Chinese construction firms will profit from the new investment. And as Chinese manufacturing moves to less accessible provinces, improved infrastructure connections to international markets fits China’s development needs.

But is the BRI more public relations smoke than investment fire? According to the Financial Times, investment in Xi’s initiative declined last year, raising doubts about whether commercial enterprises are as committed as the government. Five trains full of cargo leave Chongqing for Germany every week, but only one full train returns.

Shipping goods overland from China to Europe is still twice as expensive as trade by sea. As the FT puts it, the BRI is “unfortunately less of a practical plan for investment than a broad political vision.” Moreover, there is a danger of debt and unpaid loans from projects that turn out to be economic “white elephants,” and security conflicts could bedevil projects that cross so many sovereign borders. India is not happy to see a greater Chinese presence in the Indian Ocean, and Russia, Turkey, and Iran have their own agendas in Central Asia.

Xi’s vision is impressive, but will it succeed as a grand strategy? China is betting on an old geopolitical proposition. A century ago, the British geopolitical theorist Halford Mackinder argued that whoever controlled the world island of Eurasia would control the world. American strategy, in contrast, has long favored the geopolitical insights of the nineteenth-century admiral Alfred Mahan, who emphasized sea power and the rimlands.

At World War II’s end, George F. Kennan adapted Mahan’s approach to develop his Cold War strategy of containment of the Soviet Union, arguing that if the US allied with the islands of Britain and Japan and the peninsula of Western Europe at the two ends of Eurasia, the US could create a balance of global power that would be favorable to American interests. The Pentagon and State Department are still organized along these lines, with scant attention paid to Central Asia.

Much has changed in the age of the Internet, but geography still matters, despite the alleged death of distance. In the nineteenth century, much of geopolitical rivalry revolved around the “Eastern Question” of who would control the area ruled by the crumbling Ottoman Empire. Infrastructure projects like the Berlin to Baghdad railway roused tensions among the Great Powers. Will those geopolitical struggles now be replaced by the “Eurasian Question”?

With the BRI, China is betting on Mackinder and Marco Polo. But the overland route through Central Asia will revive the nineteenth-century “Great Game” for influence that embroiled Britain and Russia, as well as former empires like Turkey and Iran. At the same time, the maritime “road” through the Indian Ocean accentuates China’s already fraught rivalry with India, with tensions building over Chinese ports and roads through Pakistan.

The US is betting more on Mahan and Kennan. Asia has its own balance of power, and neither India nor Japan nor Vietnam want Chinese domination. They see America as part of the solution. American policy is not containment of China – witness the massive flows of trade and students between the countries. But as China, enthralled by a vision of national greatness, engages in territorial disputes with its maritime neighbors, it tends to drive them into America’s arms.

Indeed, China’s real problem is “self-containment.” Even in the age of the Internet and social media, nationalism remains a most powerful force.

Overall, the United States should welcome China’s BRI. As Robert Zoellick, a former US Trade Representative and World Bank president, has argued, if a rising China contributes to the provision of global public goods, the US should encourage the Chinese to become a “responsible stakeholder.” Moreover, there can be opportunities for American companies to benefit from BRI investments.

The US and China have much to gain from cooperation on a variety of transnational issues like monetary stability, climate change, cyber rules of the road, and anti-terrorism. And while the BRI will provide China with geopolitical gains as well as costs, it is unlikely to be as much of a game changer in grand strategy, as some analysts believe. A more difficult question is whether the US can live up to its part.

Foreign Policy: ASEAN, North Korea and United States in the Quest for Stability


June 13, 2017

Foreign Policy: ASEAN, North Korea and United States in the Quest for Stability

by David Han@RSIS (Rajaratnam School–NTU)

http://www.eastasiaforum.org

In recent months, North Korea has raised tensions and aroused anxiety throughout the Asia Pacific, including Southeast Asia. Although ASEAN should be concerned about this threat given the grave security implications for the wider Asia Pacific region, it needs to be mindful of why it exists in order to avoid distorting its credentials and relevance to the Korean Peninsula crisis.

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In a letter to the ASEAN Secretary General dated 23 March 2017, North Korean Foreign Minister Ri Yong-Ho indicated his ‘expectations that ASEAN, which attaches great importance to the regional peace and stability, will make an issue of the US–South Korean joint military exercises at ASEAN conferences’. He added that ASEAN should take a ‘fair position and play an active role in safeguarding the peace and safety of Korean Peninsula’.

In April 2017, during the 30th ASEAN Summit in the Philippines, ASEAN instead expressed ‘grave concern’ and urged North Korea to comply with the UN Security Council resolutions on its nuclear program. ASEAN’s firm yet measured response to North Korea reflects the international consensus against North Korea’s actions. It is also a neutral posture that avoids siding with any party involved in the crisis, including China or the United States. ASEAN’s position neither overestimates the organisation’s ability to contribute to the resolution of the crisis nor misconstrues its existing purpose as a platform for shaping regional security.

RSIS researchers Shawn Ho and Sarah Teo wrote that ‘ASEAN could strengthen its regional security credentials by paying more attention to the challenge on the Korean Peninsula’. The rationale is that given the ‘current salience of the Korean Peninsula’s security to Beijing and Washington, if ASEAN is to do more to deal with the challenge on the Korean Peninsula, ASEAN’s relevance and importance to both major powers could be enhanced’.

This argument raises the importance for ASEAN to urge the United States to continue engaging with Southeast Asia. The United States could do this through existing regional arrangements that have been shaped by ASEAN multilateralism, rather than circumventing such established structures when dealing with security and geopolitical issues.

Yet the Korean Peninsula may not be the appropriate conduit for ASEAN–US ties so this argument could be problematic for two reasons.

First, it is unclear how ASEAN would demonstrate its relevance to the United States by dealing with the North Korean threat, when ASEAN is already challenged by existing geopolitical issues within the region. As ASEAN has been unable to reach consensus over major geopolitical contentions, such as the South China Sea dispute, it is not clear how ASEAN would be relevant to the United States tackling the Korean Peninsula crisis without first demonstrating its capacity to resolve Southeast Asia’s maritime spats.

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The second problem is that it risks ASEAN becoming divided between China and the United States. During the recent meeting on 4 May 2017 in Washington DC, US Secretary of State Rex Tillerson conveyed to ASEAN foreign ministers that Washington intends to stay engaged in Southeast Asia when he commended ASEAN as an ‘essential partner’ to the United States. Tillerson also urged ASEAN to pressure North Korea by reviewing Pyongyang’s relations with ASEAN and curbing the country’s revenue flows from Southeast Asia.

But were ASEAN to comply with the United States’ request to condemn North Korea’s actions, China could perceive this as an attempt by Washington to complicate the dynamics of the Korean Peninsula crisis in which ASEAN is not directly involved.

ASEAN’s internal unity could also be affected negatively if it were to get involved in the Peninsula crisis. There are already indications that some member states are more inclined towards China while others gravitate towards the United States. If ASEAN chooses sides regarding the North Korean threat, this could widen the intra-ASEAN divide.

So if ASEAN intends to show its relevance regarding the North Korean threat, it should be realistic about its own ability to offer viable solutions to the crisis and avoid pandering to either China or the United States.

During the ASEAN Regional Forum (ARF) meetings, ASEAN could signal to North Korea that it should back down from its provocative behaviour, but beyond this there is not much that ASEAN can do to pressure North Korea to change its course. In the past, ASEAN has issued similar statements on North Korea’s brinksmanship and North Korea has disregarded them, continuing with its nuclearisation drive unabated.

This is not to downplay ASEAN’s importance as a regional organisation. Indeed, over the past few decades, ASEAN has played a key role in reducing the risk of conflict in the region through dialogue, consultation and consensus. It was even envisioned that ASEAN norms could have a wider influence on the security trajectory of the Asia Pacific. The ARF was formed in 1994 for ASEAN and external stakeholders to discuss security issues and promote cooperative measures to enhance peace and stability in the region.

But the ARF is not meant to provide and enforce solutions to conflicts, so ASEAN is limited in offering viable recommendations to both the United States and China on the Korean Peninsula crisis. In the long term, ASEAN should focus its efforts on developing the ASEAN community to advance norm formulation, measures to promote peaceful consultation on security issues and collective solutions for conflict prevention and resolution.

In the meantime, ASEAN should continue in its unequivocal insistence that North Korea step down from its aggressive actions and that all parties involved are to avoid any further provocation.

David Han is a Research Analyst with the Malaysia Programme at the S. Rajaratnam School of International Studies (RSIS), Nanyang Technological University, Singapore.

This article was first published here on RSIS.

Phasing out the US (dis)order in the Asia Pacific


June 9, 2017

Phasing out the US (dis)order in the Asia Pacific

by Jean-Pierre Lehmann, IMD

http://www.eastasiaforum.org
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It is widely held that there is qualitative distinction between the benign, liberal US global order prevailing in the Asia Pacific, and a potentially threatening and malign Chinese imperialist order. This perspective is quite hallucinatory.

 

To cite the most egregious example, the Vietnam War, apart from its bloody savagery, was fought with cultural arrogance. It was during the Vietnam War that the Kafkaesque term ‘body count’ was coined, whereby the number of corpses from battles were tallied up and transmitted to the Pentagon. Much forgotten was the US war in neighbouring Laos where an estimated 10 per cent of the population were killed and 25 per cent, mostly civilians, were made refugees.

Also widely ignored are the origins of the US presence in the Asia Pacific. John Hay, US Secretary of State from 1898 to 1905, expressed his vision that while ‘the Mediterranean was the ocean of the past and the Atlantic the ocean of the present, the Pacific is the ocean of the future’. When the Spanish-American War (1898-1899) broke out, Hay ensured that the US also obtained Spain’s colony in the Philippines. As even The Economist, a notoriously pro-US newspaper, points out, ‘The generals in the Philippine campaign had nearly all earned their spurs fighting Native Americans; in the tropics they applied the same genocidal techniques of terror, atrocities and native reservations’.

By no means has US foreign policy in the Asia Pacific been invariably malign. On balance, the US presence in the Asia Pacific has ultimately been positive. The US occupation contributed significantly to the economic reconstruction of Japan. There can also be no doubt that US aid, the opening of its market and technology transfers contributed mightily to the economic rise of Japan, Taiwan and South Korea. This was further enhanced by former president Richard Nixon’s historic 1972 visit to Mao Zedong in Beijing and eventually the restoration of diplomatic relations between the United States and China. As Kishore Mahbubani argues, ASEAN owes its successful existence in good part to the collaborative, rather than conflictual, relationship between the United States and China.

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But that was then and now is now. In the second half of the 20th century, the US’ main rival in the Asia Pacific, as elsewhere, was the Soviet Union. The Sino–Soviet split in 1960 allowed the United States to consider China a potential ally in the Cold War, paving the way for Nixon’s visit.

But the 21st century has witnessed the spectacular re-emergence of China as a global power. China’s economic growth has had a most positive effect in China itself — especially the massive reduction in poverty for an estimated 700 million — and for the world. Following the great financial crisis of 2007, China has been an engine of global growth. Its aid, trade and investments in Asia, Africa and Latin America have been significant.

As awesome as China’s rise has been, it has also generated considerable anxiety, including — or perhaps especially — among Asian nations. In contrast to the US that has a whole network of both formal and informal alliances in the Asia Pacific, China only has one: North Korea. Asian nations are increasingly faced with the thorny dilemma: while China is their major economic partner, the United States is their major strategic partner.  

The greatest geopolitical threat to the world is China and the US falling into the so-called Thucydides trap of war, which for Asia Pacific countries would require making a choice between allying with either China or the United States. Following the early 20th century pattern in Europe, the Asia Pacific risks becoming the terrain of great power military conflict.

There are many frailties and tensions in the Asia Pacific landscape. The drama unfolding on the Korean peninsula vividly illustrates how the United States may be aggravating these tensions, rather than mitigating or resolving them. By seeking to bring its allies Japan and South Korea into a confrontation with China and North Korea, Washington is playing with potentially explosive fire in Northeast Asia. The current situation of continued US military domination and presumed political leadership in the Asia Pacific is unsustainable.

Instead, Washington should take a leaf out of the post-World War II history book. While the US ‘saved’ Europe in both World War I and World War II, after World War II it provided strategic, economic and moral support to allow and encourage European governments themselves to build the post-war European edifice, especially through Franco–German reconciliation and collaboration.

Ideally, the US should phase out its military presence, while providing leadership in trade and global economic governance — in other words, the opposite of the present situation. Recognising that while at times the US presence in Asia was malign, at others benign, and that on balance it was positive, the time has come to turn the page and open a new volume in the Asia Pacific’s narrative. The construction of the 21st century Asia Pacific must be left to Asia-Pacific nations.

This process must be undertaken incrementally over the long term. A sudden impulsive US departure from the Asia Pacific region would create a perilous vacuum. Major geopolitical great power transitions have almost invariably involved war. In the process of dismantling the US-led Asia Pacific order, a new 21st century edifice with solid foundations should be constructed by the Asia Pacific itself, though with the US’ benevolent support. This seems the only viable course for peace.

Jean-Pierre Lehmann is Emeritus Professor of International Political Economy at IMD, Switzerland, founder of the Evian Group, and Visiting Professor at Hong Kong University. You can follow him on Twitter at @JP_Lehmann.

 

Trump’s radical departure from postwar foreign policy


June 5, 2017

Trump’s radical departure from postwar foreign policy

by Dr. Fareed Zakaria

https://www.washingtonpost.com/opinions/trump-could-spur-the-rise-of-a-new-not-so-liberal-world-order/2017/06/01/1e9aeff2-4707-11e7-98cd-af64b4fe2dfc_story.html?utm_term=.78926a85cfb1

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The Doctrine is…screw everybody if you can while we compete when we can

We now have a Trump Doctrine, and it is, at least in its conception and initial execution, the most radical departure from a bipartisan U.S. foreign policy since 1945. In an op-ed for the Wall Street Journal, National Economic Council Director Gary Cohn and national security adviser H.R. McMaster say that President Trump has “a clear-eyed outlook that the world is not a ‘global community’ but an arena where nations, nongovernmental actors and businesses engage and compete for advantage.” The senior officials add: “Rather than deny this elemental nature of international affairs, we embrace it.” That embrace has now led the United States to withdraw from the Paris accord on climate change, signed by 194 other parties.

The “elemental” aspect of international relations has existed for millennia. The history of the human race is one of competition and conflict. U.S. foreign policy has amply reflected this feature. The United States has the world’s largest military and intelligence apparatus, troops and bases in dozens of countries around the world, and ongoing military interventions on several continents. This is not the picture of a nation unaware of political and military competition.

But in 1945, the world did change. In the wake of two of the deadliest wars in human history, with tens of millions killed and much of Europe and Asia physically devastated, the United States tried to build a new international system. It created institutions, rules and norms that would encourage countries to solve their differences peaceably — through negotiations rather than war. It forged a system in which trade and commerce would expand the world economy so that a rising tide could lift all boats. It set up mechanisms to manage global problems that no one country could solve. And it emphasized basic human rights so that there were stronger moral and legal prohibitions against dehumanizing policies such as those that led to the Holocaust.

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It didn’t work perfectly. The Soviet Union and its allies rejected many of these ideas from the start. Many developing nations adopted only some parts of the system. But Western Europe, Canada and the United States did, in fact, become an amazing zone of peace and economic, political and military cooperation. Certainly there was competition among nations, but it was managed peacefully and always with the aim of greater growth, more freedom and improved human rights.

The “West” that emerged is, in historical terms, a miracle. Europe, which had torn itself apart for hundreds of years because of the “elemental nature” of international competition, was now competing only to create better jobs and more growth, not to annex countries and subjugate populations.

This zone of peace grew over the years, first encompassing Japan and South Korea, and later a few countries in Latin America. It was always in competition and conflict with the Soviet bloc, in traditional geopolitical ways. Then in 1991, the Soviet Union collapsed and large parts of the world gravitated toward this open international order.

At the heart of the system was the United States, which had tried to create such an enterprise after World War I but failed. President Franklin D. Roosevelt, learning from those mistakes, advanced a new set of ideas as World War II was drawing to a close. This time, it worked.

Since then, every president of either party has recognized that the United States has created something unique that is a break from centuries of “elemental” international conflict. In the past two-and-a-half decades, it has tried to help incorporate hundreds of millions of people, from Mexico to Ukraine, who want to be part of this liberal — meaning free — international order.

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From the start of his political career, Trump has seemed unaware of this history and ignorant of these accomplishments. He has consistently been dismissive of the United States’ closest political, economic and moral allies. He speaks admiringly of strongmen such as Russia’s Vladimir Putin, China’s Xi Jinping, Egypt’s Abdel Fatah al-Sissi and the Philippines’ Rodrigo Duterte but critically of almost every democratic leader of Europe.

The consequences of Trump’s stance and his actions are difficult to foresee. They might result in the slow erosion of the liberal international order. They might mean the rise of a new, not-so-liberal order, championed by China and India, both of them mercantilist and nationalist countries.

But they could also result, in the long run, in the strengthening of this order, perhaps by the reemergence of Europe. Trump has brought the continent’s countries together in a way that even Putin could not. German Chancellor Angela Merkel said that Europe must look out for itself and, as if to underscore that fact, the same week welcomed the prime minister of India and the premier of China. French President Emmanuel Macron upheld Western interests and values face to face with Putin, in just the way an American president would have done in the past.

Trump might not cause the end of the Western world, but he could end the United States’ role at its center.