A crucial element in respecting the sovereignty of foreign states is an implicit understanding that the decisions a state might make during a negotiation process, may not always be that which is desired by the other partner.
Despite an exaggerated response by the mainstream media, the current open negotiations between the US and Mexico over Trump’s border wall represent everything a robust bilateral negotiation should be. The words exchanged between the US and Mexico have thus far been frank and the various quid-pro-quos exchanged have been realistic.
It started when Donald Trump signed an executive order allowing for the building of the wall to commence. As he explained during the campaign, it was always his intention to begin building the wall as soon as possible and that his promise to get Mexico to pay for the construction would involve protracted negotiations with Mexico where everything including NAFTA would be on the table.
In response to Trump’s insistence that Mexico will pay for the wall one way or another, Mexican President Enrique Peña Nieto said that Mexico will never pay for the wall. Trump replied by saying that if this is the case, he may cancel his planned meeting with the Mexican president. Into this fray, White House Press Sean Spicer said the following:
“If you tax that $50 billion at 20 percent of imports – which is, by the way, a practice that 160 other countries do – right now our country’s policy is to tax exports and let imports flow freely in, which is ridiculous. By doing that we can make $10 billion a year and easily pay for the wall just through that mechanism alone.”
It was always unlikely that Mexico would pay for the wall out of pocket, the realistic arrangement was always for the wall to be construed through Mexican generated tax revenue.
As Trump has always been keen to scrap NAFTA in any case, Mexico’s unsurprising reticence to pay for the wall outright may be the perfect bargaining tool for Trump to employ when re-negotiating NAFTA terms.
Whilst only formally in their first couple of days, the wall negotiations are anything but pretty. But this is how negotiations look when both parties have serious differences. For all of the words exchanged, at no time has either side threatened the sovereignty of the neighboring state. Neither have they threatened to forcibly alter the internal workings of each other’s countries. What has been threatened is the status quo relating to fundamental points of exchange between the two countries, something which for better or worse, each state has the right to do.
Compare this to the condescending and downright snide way in which the outgoing President Hollande of France has condescended towards Donald Trump and by extrapolation, American voters. Speaking beside the Empress of neo-liberalism Angela Merkel, the failed French leader said,
“Of course, we need to speak to Donald Trump, because he was elected by the US (citizens) to be their president, but we should speak to him from the European point of view, promoting our interests and values.”
Here Hollande breaks one of the most self-evident rules of any negotiation process and of diplomacy itself. One has not the right to choose the nature nor dictate the desires of a negotiating partner. As much as Hollande and Merkel might want America to be governed by someone who isn’t Donald Trump, for at least the next four years, the leaders of France and Germany will have to accept that the United States is governed by Donald Trump, just as the President of Mexico has had to accept the same.
The difference is that the Mexican leader has been more pragmatic in his acceptance. He will negotiate with the new US administration until some point of agreement can be reached on the wall. Germany and France who have less and less to say to a new, less globally involved US administration will have to learn this lesson one way or another.