While the progressive left is up in arms about imminent Armageddon, many have chosen to ignore the connection of this particular event to a greater trend with U.S. President Donald Trump. The erosion of America's sovereignty, the very thing that Trump would like us to believe he is defending, is melting away in front of our eyes. Trump attempted to defend his withdrawal from the Paris Climate Agreement as a reassertion of American sovereignty, confirming yet again that he has no grip on the actual definition or implications of the term in a global context that he often chooses to ignore. Truth, in this case however, is not in the eye of the beholder. For as long as Trump chooses to ignore the tides of globalization he will trap himself and his followers in a land of make-believe.
Paris represented the point at which the 1992 U.N. Framework Convention on Climate Change was finally coming to fruition, and the point at which rapidly developing carbon emitters such as China and India recognized that it was actually in their own interests to implement progressive climate policy as opposed having scientific dogma shoved down their throats, with the globalization-themed incentives of economic interdependence luring them in too. This is significant because of the fact that previous attempts such as those in Copenhagen and Kyoto were marred with a realist, self-oriented approach from developing states that fervently denied the idea that developing states would have no real restraints.
If anything, this is a huge dent in America's external sovereignty, i.e., its ability to enter relations with other states. In an unprecedentedly globalized world, this is all the more important than the traditional and intellectually simplistic understanding of sovereignty as purely internal – exercising sovereign power within a rigid (no longer so) set of borders. The exercise of the ability to affect change over fellow nation-states as opposed to over those within your own has gained significant currency and is the key to solving myriad collective action problems around the world. Climate change is one of them, one would have to be blind in order to say that the issue carries no significance whatsoever.
America's slide into the position of a global pariah is also exemplified by a range of other events, further denigrating her legitimacy and power as she attempts to enter negotiations with other nation-states. Trump's fervent attack on the January U.N. Security Council Resolution against illegal Israeli settlement building coupled with his more recent explicit bias toward the Israeli side, shown by praying at the Western Wall, has violated his potential neutrality as a mediating force in the Israeli-Palestinian conflict. Not only would this have alienated him from Arab leaders, but so has his constant reference to terrorism as Islamic, misguided at best and genuinely dangerous at worst.
More significantly, he is repeating grave past American mistakes in the Middle East. He has chosen to fuel one despicable terror cult in order to fight another, funding the Democratic Union Party (PYD) terrorists that have documented links with the PKK, which is officially listed as a terrorist organization by the U.S., NATO, and the EU, to the detriment of the national security of a crucial NATO ally, Turkey, that is now understandably moving closer to Russia. His legitimacy has also been slashed by his failure to follow up on successful North Korean missile testing and his inability to further reinforce accountability against the Assad regime after an almost entirely symbolic show of force that is rapidly losing its meaning.
From the perspective of America's own interests, this will only result in a far weaker state as withdrawal from such a universally praised treaty such as Paris seriously damages America's ability to exercise soft power, described by Joseph Nye as the ability to "get the other to want what you want." In the current paradigm that is dominated intergovernmental organizations and diplomatic routes to solving problems, a reality that Mr. Trump would rather ignore, soft power is crucial to achieving one's own interests. With the loss of soft power Trump will not only move America into near complete isolation but will also be left with no choice but to exercise hard power: coercion or the use of force. Not only is gaining influence by coercive means unfitting and therefore ineffective in today's world, but Trump's hard power is also losing currency because of the now increasingly apparent weakness on Syria and North Korea.
As Trump is slowly fixing the U.S.'s position as a pariah, and this opens up opportunities for other actors to take its place. His withdrawal from the Paris Accord will surely grant greater leadership to the newly globalized and climate-conscious China while his weakening of the North Atlantic Treaty due to his foolish attitudes on Turkey and his reluctance despite big talk to get involved in the fight against Daesh will reallocate American influence to a Russian-Turkish coalition. As the U.S. delegitimizes its own power and legitimacy and sacrifices increasingly important external sovereignty that is crucial to ameliorating global issues, the collective of the international community will only be left far weaker to combat a range of issues from climate change to poverty and Islamist terrorism.
* U.K.-based analyst