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Trump’s erratic behavior towards allies is causing pundits in the US and abroad to worry about the future of the Transatlantic Alliance between the US and Europe. The concern is misplaced, however, says CEPR’s Mark Weisbrot

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GREG WILPERT: It’s The Real News Network and I’m Greg Wilpert, joining you from Baltimore.

This week’s release of Bob Woodward’s new book on the Trump presidency has provoked new anguish from U.S. allies in Europe, who worry that Trump’s erratic leadership, as depicted in the Woodward book, will lead to permanent damage in U.S.-European relations. This relationship, also known as the transatlantic alliance, seems to be on thin ice these days. For example, during the NATO summit earlier this year, Trump berated allies for not spending enough on defense. He then went on to have a far more friendly meeting with President Putin of Russia a few days later. What is the state of the transatlantic alliance and is it in the process of falling apart?

I’m joined by Mark Weisbrot to discuss this issue. Mark recently wrote an article for the publication, The Nation, titled The Transatlantic Alliance Will Survive Trump. Mark is codirector of the Center for Economic and Policy Research and president of the group, Just Foreign Policy.

Thanks for joining us today, Mark.

MARK WEISBROT: Thanks for having me, Gregory.

GREG WILPERT: So, let’s get to the heart of the argument. Why will the alliance survive Trump? He doesn’t seem to care about it one bit. Or does he, and his actions are just a big show? What do you say?

MARK WEISBROT: Well, I think the reason that I’m focusing on is one that’s never discussed, and that is that the transatlantic alliance is not like all these articles that you see every week, really, and more than that, just an alliance of democracies based on common values. But it’s also an alliance of rich countries, led by the United States, against the poor and developing countries of the world. And the Europeans- I think the European leadership, not the population of Europe, but the European leadership sees the United States as an indispensable ally in order to maintain this world order in which they call the shots. They wrote the rules of the World Trade Organization to benefit them. They control the International Monetary Fund, which is supposed to be an organization of a hundred and eighty nine member countries.

But in fact, for most of the world, it’s ruled by the U.S. Treasury Department. And then of course for Europe, they have a voice as well. And of course, the World Bank, which by custom and tradition since the 1940s has to have a U.S. citizen as the president and is also controlled by the rich countries and has these institutions have enormous influence on policy, economic policy, throughout the world. These are these institutions of global governance as they are called, and they’re controlled by the rich country governments and elite of the world. And that, I think, cements this alliance and that’s I think one of the main reasons why the Europeans will take all this abuse from Trump and just wait him out.

GREG WILPERT: So basically, it sounds like what you’re saying is that there are interests behind Trump, and that there are interests behind the leaders in Europe who want to maintain this relationship no matter what Trump is saying. But perhaps, in other words, the alliance will not fall apart for those reasons. But isn’t it possible that the elites are concerned that Trump is causing at least some damage, that is with his rhetoric, which comes from this nationalis, alt-right, kind of anti-globalist, as it’s often called, rhetoric? Aren’t they concerned that perhaps Trump will at least accelerate the decline of a transatlantic alliance in favor of the rise of China and Asia?

MARK WEISBROT: Well, they are worried. And I just don’t think- I think their worries are somewhat exaggerated because of what I just described. And Trump is also- there’s a limit to where he will go and how much he will use even the power that he has. But I wouldn’t dismiss it altogether. Obviously, the discourse he has put forward and the protectionism as it’s called- I mean, it’s selective protectionism that they’re against, right? They support the protectionism. When I say they, I mean the most powerful interests United States support the protectionism that they wrote into the World Trade Organisation, which was its major achievement, was to increase patent protection for the pharmaceutical companies. So, that kind of protectionism is okay and Trump is actually supporting that, and that’s part of what his fight with China is about.

So, is he really going to take measures that would destroy the global trading system? I don’t think so. He does listen to the most powerful corporations of this country, he has them in his cabinet still. And so I don’t think he’s going to do those kinds of things. But the main point is that this world order is something that they really want to maintain, both Europe the United States. It’s hard to explain why Europe wouldn’t stand up to the U.S., for example, over the Iran nuclear deal, which Trump is scuttling or trying to. And the Europeans have much more to lose from that.

They’re the ones that are getting the refugees from the U.S. wars and chaos and destruction that the United States has caused in the Middle East, in Iraq and Syria and other countries, and they’re the ones that really have to worry about this much more than we do. And yet, they’re not standing up to him over that either. They’re making noises, but they’re not really standing up to him. And so, why is that? They have a bigger economy than we do. And I think part of it is they don’t want this fight. And the U.S. has other advantages too in the international financial system. The dollar, for example, is the reserve currency for sixty percent of central bank reserves in the world. That puts Europe at a disadvantage there, that’s another avenue of leverage that the U.S. has besides the IMF and besides the World Bank. That applies to them as well.

GREG WILPERT: Well, one thing that seems kind of curious is why is Trump actually engaging in this if this is not in the interest of the people that he is representing and if it’s not in the interest of the people who are in his own cabinet, these other billionaires, basically, in some cases? Why is he pursuing this kind of anti-globalist rhetoric and also, to some extent, some of those policies that at least seem to threaten their lives? Is there something else behind him that that would cause him to go into that direction. What do you think?

MARK WEISBROT: Well, trying to analyze Trump is obviously difficult. Everybody’s trying to figure it out. Every day he has another distraction, an outrageous tweet, an announcement of another trade war in the making. Most of these things are distractions. That’s the way he ran his campaign, and people thought that- I have to say I was one them. I thought that he would shift to be a more normal president from the campaign, but he didn’t. It’s still a politics of distraction. The trade war is a perfect distraction, because he can start a fight with any country on the planet at any date with threatened tariffs and even implemented tariffs, and he can say that he’s standing up for America.

So, it’s really posturing, mostly. Does he have any core beliefs? I don’t know. He does have some people, obviously, and I think they’re not dominant, but people like his trade representative, Lighthizer, and also Peter Navarro, who are definitely not in charge but they have some influence because he has selected this kind of nationalistic platform as part of his mode of operation. But so far, you don’t really see any kind of consistent policy coming out of it. Yeah, it aggravates. There’s no doubt it aggravates a huge part of the elite here. And in fact, his rejection of the Trans-Pacific Partnership, that was the one thing you can point to that you can say he really did that almost- I would say the entire corporate and national security state elite was really upset about. That was something they really, really wanted.

And so, you can point to that. But that was deeply unpopular politically. And of course, even Hillary Clinton had to say that she was opposed to it. And it’s not clear where they would have gone with that. They might have gone with it with Hillary Clinton. A lot of people think that they would have. But my point is that it isn’t serious or consistent. He isn’t going to cause irreversible damage to this most important alliance of the United States. This is their most important alliance, and empires need alliances, they always have. And this is the big one.

GREG WILPERT: Well, very quickly at the end, should we be concerned about the possibility of this alliance maybe breaking apart in some way or another?

MARK WEISBROT: Well, it’s not something that I lose a lot of sleep over. Because first of all, for the rest of the world, the institutions of this alliance are very damaging, the ones I mentioned. I could speak for hours on all the damage caused to developing countries by the International Monetary Fund, the World Bank and of course the rules of the World Trade Organization. I’ve barely mentioned- I mentioned the pharmaceutical companies, but the World Trade Organization also prohibits, they make it illegal for countries like India to subsidize their domestic agriculture to feed people. There’s all kinds- the IMF imposes all kinds of damaging policies on the rest of the world.

And so, this is not such a bad thing. If these institutions lose power, this is a positive thing for most of the world. And I think the U.S. will obviously lose power. The WTO rule was created in 1995. That would never be passed today. Those rules would not have been accepted by most of the world if they were to be attempted today, because the world has changed drastically. China is now bigger than the United States on a purchasing power parity basis by about twenty-five percent, and it’s going to be twice as big in a decade or so.

And so, the world is changing by changing slowly. My main point is that it’s not going to change from Trump being rude and offensive to the Europeans. And the changes that are going to take place for the world as the United States loses this power are mostly going to be beneficial for the rest of the world. And I also think they’ll be beneficial for the people of the United States too, because we won’t be spending so much on eight hundred military bases around the world, and maybe we’ll be able to have universal healthcare like other rich countries.

GREG WILPERT: Okay. On that note, we’re going to leave it there for now. I was speaking to Mark Weisbrot, codirector of the Center for Economic and Policy Research. Thanks, Mark, for having joined us again.


GREG WILPERT: And thank you for joining The Real News Network.

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Mark Weisbrot is Co-Director of the Center for Economic and Policy Research in Washington, D.C. He is also the author of “Failed: What the ‘Experts’ Got Wrong About the Global Economy” (2015, Oxford University Press).