Shortly before Christmas, I sent the corrected proofs for my new book back to my publisher. My English editor quipped that we should send the book to Donald Trump so he can read it. In view of the recently leaked daily reading performance of the President, I immediately calculated that, taking into account the summer breaks, he would probably finish it shortly before Christmas 2019. However, shortly after reading the December 2017 “National Security Strategy of the United States of America (NSS)” with the President’s preface, I suspected that he had already read at least the first chapter of my book.
This first chapter deals with the normative foundation of the global political system. Accordingly, one can speak of a global political system if three conditions are met:
1) The members of the system recognize that there is at least one rudimentary global common good and a few public goods beyond the national whose realization should be achieved together.
2) There are international institutions that, in case of doubt, can enforce the common good against the short-term interests of individual members.
3) These public authorities justify themselves to those affected by these measures – be it with good arguments or tampering.
A global political system with these characteristics emerged after the Second World War, at the latest with the fall of the Berlin Wall. Such a global political system is not necessarily just and peaceful; it is (currently) characterized by power asymmetries, unequal participation opportunities, material inequalities, protests, resistance, and (legitimate) criticism of many of the policies it produces.
In his preface to the current NSS, the president of the country that has shaped this global political system undermines its normative foundations with a radicalism that is remarkable. It makes the Putins, Xi Jinpings, Erdoğans, and Orbáns of this world appear as apologists of global governance. As if Trump had read my chapter, he questions precisely the three aforementioned foundations of the global political system.
First, the very idea of a global common good is simply rejected. Trump sees a competitive world order. Especially China and Russia are branded as “rivaling powers” that questioned US influence. In Trump’s words, “My [sic] administration’s National Security Strategy lays out a strategic vision for protecting the American people and preserving our way of life, promoting our prosperity, preserving peace through strength, and advancing American influence in the world.” Common interests, public goods, or a global common good do not even come into question, and peace is equated with American dominance.
Secondly, and in line with the previous, political institutions, too, are unnecessary to the realization of shared interests. The withdrawal of the United States from the Trans-Pacific Partnership (TPP) and from the Paris Climate Agreement are therefore considered to be “successes” of his policies.
Thirdly and finally, neither the President’s preface nor the NSS paper at any point gives the impression that they are addressing people, groups, or governments outside the United States. A justification of politics towards those affected by it does not take place.
Rather, the preface unfolds policy standards that, in their one-sidedness, undermine the normative foundation of the global political system: the protection of the US homeland, the promotion of American prosperity and economic security, the protection of American borders through military power, and the expansion of American influence over the world. The world community and the cosmopolitan are just not there.
Thus, the rhetoric of the American President differs from the heads of government of almost all other countries. Putin and Xi Jinping also do not fail in their keynote speeches to point out aspects of a global common good and the need for international cooperation, and to justify their actions with regard to the world community. It is precisely this implicit recognition of normative foundations, especially by those opposed to a Western-dominated order, that makes it worthwhile to speak of a global political system. This civilizing achievement seems to challenge Donald Trump with his world view, in which the “political” seems to limit itself to “rivalry” and the “national”. Trump’s rhetoric of fire provokes in me a mixture of speechlessness and fury.
Surely, rhetoric and political practice are not one. Just as most of the concrete measures and policies of the Putins and Erdoğans make their political rhetoric seem empty and manipulative, the concrete American foreign policy has not completely negated the global political system so far. On the more-than-60 pages of the new NSS are still occasional indications of its recognition (well, on the bright side, Trump was probably busy reading about the normative foundation of the global political system at the time). Nevertheless, as the NSS is implemented and the radical nationalist rhetoric continues, the United States shake the basis of the normative foundations of the global political system. Of course, the system is in deficit and does not adequately take into account the interests of the underprivileged in Western industrialized countries and parts of the Global South. That has to change. Undermining the normative foundations of the global political system, however, is simply irresponsible. Without this global political system, its further development and improved legitimacy, we will face an unprecedented number of brutal crises in the near future: an economic crisis reminiscent of the early 1930s, a climate crisis that will cause many deaths, and a migration wave that will make the talk of ceilings and walls look ridiculous. As in the title of the bizarre bestseller, fury follows fire.