The G20 proves it. Because of Donald Trump, the world no longer looks to America for leadership

Trump disagreed on trade and climate change: Reuters
Trump disagreed on trade and climate change: Reuters

Donald Trump paused briefly as he and the First Lady reached the top of the steps of Air Force One, gave a quick wave, and was on his way. At 6.05pm, he was on his way back to the US, leaving the other members of the G20 disgruntled and defiant, but almost certainly glad he was out of there.

Until recently, the world looked to the US for leadership at such international forums. But in the six months since Trump entered the White House, that has all changed.

Now, on issues ranging from trade to climate change, on how to deal with problems such as Ukraine, the US has turned its back on the considered consensus. Even on subjects such as Article Five of Nato’s charter - the part that relates to mutual defence - Trump looks nothing less than wobbly.

The headlines at the end of the G20 were bad enough. The US was utterly alone on the issue of climate change, where the 19 other members agreed to push ahead with the Paris Accord to reduce greenhouse gas emissions and the US refused. The US’s position was noted in the official communiqué issued at the conclusion of the meeting.

“Wherever there is no consensus that can be achieved, disagreement has to be made clear,” said Angela Merkel, the German host, not hiding her disappointment. “Unfortunately, and I deplore this, the United States of America left the climate agreement.”

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On trade, language was reinserted to commit the members to condemn protectionism, something that had been done after Trump had raised the prospects of tariffs, especially for steel.

French President Emmanuel Macron, who vowed to host another climate summit in December and to continue to push Trump to join, was quoted by the Washington Post as saying: “Our world has never been so divided.”

Yet that was just the official, written record of what happened. Observers in Hamburg said people were struck by the US delegation’s unwillingness to take a leadership role.

During a meeting on climate change, Trump left for his bilateral with Vladimir Putin, while if a picture was worth a thousand words, the photograph of Ivanka Trump sitting in for her father at a meeting with world leaders, was that image.

“The two major issues for the meeting were trade and climate change. It was recognised the US was not going to change its position,” Thomas Bernes of Ontario’s Centre for International Governance and a former IMF official, told The Independent, speaking from Hamburg.

“[The countries] will not be looking to the US for leadership - they will be looking to Trudeau, Macron and Merkel. From everyone, I’ve been speaking to, they don’t think this is going to change.”

Trump may seek to claim some success, namely the ceasefire he and Vladimir Putin discussed during their two hour meeting, though there are already questions being asked about how that ceasefire will be enforced and how long it will stick.

Likewise, before he left, Trump spoke with the leaders of China and Japan and said that “something” had to be done about the threat of North Korea, which recently test-fired its first intercontinental ballistic missile. There were no details on what that “something” might be.

We shouldn’t be surprised by anyone of this. Trump famously said he was “elected to represent Pittsburgh, not Paris”. There will be others nations that like the idea of a less forward-leading, isolationist America. It will allow them to advance their ideas, their influence.

But at a time when there are so many pressing facing the planet, the indifference, and sometimes hostility, of the world’s only superpower, is not positive. Unfortunately, we'd better get used to it.