Following swiftly upon Donald Trump’s unhappy NATO and G7 summits in Europe, and Angela Merkel’s incendiary comment that Europe can no longer look to the US for protection, comes Donald Trump’s decision to pull out of the Paris Climate Change Treaty.
I accept the scientific consensus about climate change. Accordingly I consider Trump’s decision to be a serious mistake. I am at a loss however to understand the surprise.
It seems that Donald Trump has not always been consistent about the Climate Change Treaty. However the previous Republican administration in the US – that of George W. Bush – was openly skeptical about climate change, and much of the Republican party also is.
In addition Donald Trump’s close connections to the US oil industry have become very clear since his election. After all he has taken the unusual step of appointing Rex Tillerson, the former chief executive of Exxon-Mobil, to be his Secretary of State.
It seems that during the election Trump made his skepticism about the Climate Change Treaty clear, and given this stance and his outspoken support for the US oil and coal industries there is nothing surprising about his decision to pull out of the Paris Climate Change Treaty which he has announced today.
What this episode in fact shows is something which by now ought to be obvious, which is that the US can never be relied upon to stick by its commitments, and that no US administration feels itself bound by commitments made by its predecessors.
The most egregious example of this in recent years was the George W. Bush administration’s decision in 2002 to pull out of the ABM Treaty the US had agreed with the USSR in 1972 so that it could press ahead with its various anti ballistic missile projects, which despite the increasingly thin denials, have always been directed against China and Russia.
The Obama administration – whose Paris Climate Change Treaty Trump has now pulled out of – went along with this, and despite appearing to promise the Russians the contrary, also pressed ahead with the US’s anti ballistic missile projects, which are of a sort that the ABM Treaty once outlawed.
European governments – now so outraged by President Trump’s decision to pull the US out of the Paris Climate Change Treaty – not only did not object to the George W. Bush administration’s decision to pull out of the ABM Treaty. They have actively colluded in the profoundly destabilising and dangerous anti ballistic missile projects which the George W. Bush and Obama administrations have engaged in since that decision.
The US’s pullout of the ABM Treaty, and the collusion of European governments in that step, comes on top of the even grosser breach of the promise the US together with NATO’s European governments made to the USSR in 1989 and 1990, that in the event that the USSR agreed pulled its troops out of East Germany and agreed to German reunification there would be no expansion of NATO eastward beyond the borders of Germany.
Neither the Bill Clinton administration nor the George W. Bush administration have abided by that promise, and nor since then has any other US administration either.
European governments for their part have again happily colluded in this breach of promise.
If the US pulling out a treaty that it has signed and going back on a commitment it has made has now become so commonplace, why are the Europeans so angry and so surprised that it has again happened?
Some European leaders undoubtedly care about climate change, and large sections of the European public undoubtedly do. However it is worth pointing out that the risk to humanity resulting from the US decisions to break the promise against NATO’s eastward expansion and to pull out of the ABM Treaty, are at least as great, and probably much greater, than the risks from the US pulling out of the Paris Climate Change Treaty, since they have greatly increased the risk of nuclear war. Yet though the danger to humanity from nuclear war is at least as great as the danger from climate change – and probably much greater – European leaders and the European public never protested those decisions.
The key difference is of course that the promise not to expand NATO eastward was made to the Russians, and the ABM Treaty was agreed with the Russians. European leaders, and the European public, care little about promises given to the Russians which are subsequently broken, or about treaties which are agreed with the Russians that the US subsequently pulls out of. By contrast – as the reaction to the US pullout from the Paris Climate Change Treaty shows, they care a great deal about the US breaking promises and pulling out of treating it has made with them.
In my previous discussion about Donald Trump’s NATO summit I pointed out that what most upsets European leaders about Donald Trump’s attitude to NATO is that he doesn’t treat NATO and the Western alliance in general as a common ideological and geopolitical enterprise between the US and its European allies, but talks of it instead in transactional terms.
Donald Trump’s decision to pull the US out of the Paris Climate Change Treaty provokes European anger for the same reason. It is one thing when the US breaks promises and pulls out of treaties it has made with the Russians. For the Europeans it is quite another when the US breaks promises or pulls out of treaties it has made with themselves. That is the US treating the Europeans like it – and they – treat the Russians, and the Europeans don’t like it at all.
For all the rage and the strong words today, no one should be in any doubt that following Donald Trump’s move the Paris Climate Change Treaty is dead. As Russian President Putin is reported to have all but said today, without the US the Paris Climate Change Treaty is unworkable. European leaders contemplating that fact might care to consider that by constantly colluding in US unilateral actions and breaches of promise around the world, they have helped to create the unilateralist mindset which has today resulted in the death of a treaty they care so much.
If the fact upsets them so much, then they should consider the upset such behaviour they have previously colluded in has done to others.