Wednesday, May 31, 2017

Couldn’t Abe Have Mediated Merkel and Trump at G7?

Shortly after the NATO and the G7 summits this month, German Chancellor Angela Merkel’s commented bitterly to question the validity of the alliance with the United States and continual partnership with post-Brexit Britain, which startled the media and intellectuals on both sides of the Atlantic (“After G-7 Summit, Merkel Says Europe Can No Longer Completely Rely On U.S. And U.K..”; NPR News; May 28, 2017). We know that Donald Trump is the worst American president both in terms of personality and political insights. Moreover, his uncultured words and deeds on his visit to Europe simply ruined American national dignity, as typically seen in his shoving of Montenegro Prime Minister Duško Marković in public at the NATO summit (See the video below). No other presidents, whether Republican or Democrat, have behaved so impolitely as Trump did.

Merkel’s resentment to him is widely shared among the global public. Yet, her harsh remarks raise critical concerns in the trans-Atlantic community. While admitting Trump’s fatal error to deepen American isolation at NATO and G7 meetings, Gideon Rachman comments critically to Merkel’s provocative remarks as European nations have failed to make sufficient efforts wipe out Trump’s doubts about the trans-Atlantic alliance for 4 months ever since his inauguration, particularly in burden sharing. Moreover, she blamed Britain along with Trump’s America for acting self-interestedly to disunify the Western alliance. Actually, Britain takes sides with the EU on climate change, and is fully committed to NATO. As Ranchman argues, Merkel is irresponsible to confront Britain and dismiss facts, just to proceed Brexit talks in favor of Germany. This simply weakens the Western alliance based on democracy and human rights values furthermore, that has already been inflicted horrible damages by Trump (“Angela Merkel’s blunder, Donald Trump and the end of the west”; Financial Times; May 29, 2017).

Merkel’s “German Gaullism”, which Ranchman criticizes so bitterly, reflects German domestic politics and European regional security. Trump’s contempt for European allies distresses German voters, and anti-Trump appeal is vital for Merkel to win the general election in September. Also, most of the NATO members except Britain and a few countries fail to meet the 2% of GDP for defense requirement, and they want Germany to stand firmly against Trump’s pressure on their behalf. In view of such domestic and international aspects, German élites equate the Trump phenomenon and Brexit, and they want Anglo Saxons to respect their standing in the Continent (“How to Understand Angela Merkel’s Comments about America and Britain”; Economist; May 28, 2017). Germany’s pursuit of self-reliance goes beyond verbal, and it is coming into practice. Merkel made a deal to incorporate Czech and Romanian troops into the German command structure for joint defense, this year (“Germany Is Quietly Building a European Army Under Its Command”; Foreign Policy --- Report; May 22, 2017). Every word and deed by Germany comes from critical alert to Trump’s alt-right vision of the world.

Considering trans-Atlantic affairs ever since Trump’s presidential inauguration, it was quite predictable that Germany and America would confront nastily each other at G7. Among the member states, it was Japan that was in the best position to mediate both. Prime Minister Shinzo Abe has visited Trump before and after his inauguration to secure Japanese national survival, and to gain more leverage to manage international problems. Therefore, some Japanese opinion leaders argued that Japan use the Trump shock as an opportunity to boost her international standing. Whether to agree with them or not, Abe failed to play a vital role to bridge Trump and Merkel at the last G7. Actually, Abe was the second most experienced leader after Merkel, while British Prime Minister Theresa May and French President Emmanuel Macron were newcomers to the Summit as Trump was. However, the emergent threat of North Korea was so critical that Abe needed to call an attention to Far Eastern security among European leaders.

It is quite regretful that both Western and Japanese media hardly considered Japan’s special advantage to lessen the trans-Atlantic rift. But this is not just the media’s fault. In Nagatacho, Abe has been preoccupied with so-called corruption scandals over the Moritomo Gakuen and the Kake Gakuen affairs, though his direct involvement in them is regarded doubtful. The Prime Minister is frequently bothered by daily chores. It is the role of the foreign and other civil service, intellectuals, and other stakeholders to provide national leaders with big pictures of international politics, for better preparation to attend key diplomatic events.

But things are not too late. To begin with, Japan can explore a close contact with the Macron administration, since leaders of both nations met each other at G7. Macron is an Atlanticist, and also advocates soft and practical agreements on Brexit, while Merkel keeps hard and dogmatic attitudes to Britain (“Macron ‘in favour of a softer deal’”; Times; April 25, 2017). Despite criticism to flattery, Abe’s experience with Trump and contacts with him are assets, and a good partner is helpful to make use of them. The job of mediating Germany and the United States is very difficult, but extremely important. Even if Trump is impeached, the scars left on the Western alliance is too deep to heal soon. Therefore, Japan needs to start it as early as possible.

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