Trump has emphasized the bilateral in his thinking and approach. This is in contrast to the multilateral world of the globalization era that is now at an end. This includes an end to multilateral trade in favour of a network of focused bilateral economic interactions. As a thought experiment, imagine that a Trump United States seeks to align itself strategically with other powers, ie. with Russia, even against the interests of its citizens (henceforth expendable in the interests of a monarchic state) or past allies (inconvenient obligations). In this vision, the US and Russia would be economically similar, as highly divided countries, rigidly ruled.
A US-Russia partition of global interests would be echoed regionally, suggesting balanced tensions between proxies in each arena that dominate international interactions, for example Israel-Syria in the Middle East. Such states would seek to profit as not only proxies but champions for their respective sponsors in each competition.
However, what of China faced with this bilateral duopoly? There are opportunities to innovate. Perhaps China is the banker of this dialectic? Closer China-India ties be a better strategy for both as it may lay the basis for a future, post-carbon economic bloc. India is otherwise too weak to influence the course of events.
As for Europe, it is now retired from the geopolitical stage as it is too internally divided. 2017 thus also marks the end of the long-duree of European colonialism. The peripheral states produced by European empires as suppliers of raw materials, whether Australia, South Africa, Congo, Algeria, Brazil or Canada, become more unstable because tied to one of the duopolistic major players and held captive to what they are willing to pay.
Bilateralism would suggest rather different international institutions. It certainly is not neoliberalism with its corresponding international institutions. Promoting a reduction to market logics seem to have destroyed civility, allowing tyranny to take root.
If such a thought experiment were to be realized, it would entail a massive forgetting of the 20th century and the lessons of the recent past.
Rob Shields (University of Alberta)