On March 8, 2018, US President Donald Trump signed orders to impose tariffs on steel and aluminium imports. The decree to impose a 25% tariff on steel and 10% on aluminum will come into force starting March 23. "The Department of Commerce concluded that steel import levels and global excess capacity are weakening our internal economy and therefore threaten to impair national security," Washington stressed. At the same time, the White House said Trump welcomes any country with which the US "has a security relationship" to discuss alternative ways to address concerns linked to steel and aluminium imports. It was particularly unpleasant for Germany, which is the world's fifth-largest steel exporter.
The expert of the German Association of Foreign Policy (DGAP), Josef Braml, in the interview with Deutschlandfunk was extremely pessimistic about Europe's possibilities to influence the emerging situation.
"People who could keep Donald Trump from pursuing a tough protectionist policy are no longer part of the Washington administration. Only "hawks", like Secretary of Commerce Wilbur Ross or, even worse, National Trade Council Director Peter Navarro are left there. These people think within the framework of zero-sum games and mercantilism. We believed that such thinking remained in history books, but were mistaken - today this policy is flourishing in not just Russia, but also in the ex-Liberty Country. There is now a policy of protectionism in accordance with the slogan - if I win, then you will lose," Braml notes.
The political scientist's words make it clear that Berlin simply does not know how to react and how to respond to US actions. "We've heard Trump's conditions - the trade policy was tied to the security policy. We were already blackmailed by this. If we want to remain allies, then we should stop, quoting the US president, "tricking America." That's not what real allies do, they pay for the security services they receive, their own 2% of GDP, and best of all - in American weapons. In this case, we will not be able to invest in something our own, we will probably need to buy the American F35 and put off our plans to develop a joint fighter with France.
I guess that's what Trump thinks. He blackmails NATO allies, thereby destroying the obligations of providing mutual military assistance, and, even worse, he bypasses the WTO rules. The rationale of his demands by security issues also destroys this regulatory body. This means that it's not just about customs duties, but about several international organizations, the rule of law. But Trump is betting on the right of the powerful: might makes right. I think we will see it. A country that has little to offer in the military terms has to pay for its security - to pay a toll," the DGAP expert believes.
At the same time, Josef Braml does not believe that the internal system of checks and balances in the United States in the form of a separation of branches of power will somehow help to neutralize the decree of Donald Trump: "He consciously justified his actions by the security policy to bypass the separation of powers. I recall you that there is the 62nd law of the Congress, which gave the president broad powers in the area of national security. As a rule, the Congress has a strong voice, but not when it comes to security. And I think he will bypass Congress. Of course, one can assume that Congress may adopt a different law, taking this authority from the president. But in this case Trump may veto it, to pass a bill over the president's objections requires a two-thirds vote in each Chamber - the Congress and the Senate. This is very rare, and I do not think that this will happen now, especially since many aren't going to interfere with the president in national security issues during the election year," the political scientist explains.
Commenting on the threats of European countries to complain to the WTO, the DGAP expert noted: "The appeal to the WTO will not help either, because the existing precedent, the reference to national security, will only overtax the WTO. Then other nations will do the same. That is, we are actually observing the end of the WTO. Thus, Trump also destroyed the WTO. And if we look at the situation in a more global context, then the US president dealt a blow not only to the WTO. NATO is under pressure, and I venture to predict that the UN will ultimately not be in such a good position as it is now. "