March 2, 2017
U.S. President Donald Trump in the evening of February 28 (March 1 Japan time) delivered an address, corresponding to a “policy speech” in Japan, to a joint session of both houses of U.S. Congress. Trump in his speech listed the serious realities the U.S. society has been facing, which actually helped to give him his own victory in the presidential election. However, he could not show a way to overcome these realities. While trumpeting “America First”, Trump called for “the largest increases in national defense spending in American history” and called on U.S. allies to take a more direct role in both strategic and military operations.
Trump highlights ‘largest-ever military spending’ increase
President Trump in his first speech before Congress cited the number of those who are unemployed, 94 million, and those who live in poverty, 43 million. Under neoliberal economic policies taken through successive Republican and Democrat administrations, domestic industries have been increasingly hollowing out. Declines in full-time jobs and widening social disparities continue. However, President Trump could not address the root cause of the impasse and stopped short of touching on how to drastically break the deadlock.
His mentioning of a “one trillion dollar investment in the infrastructure”, “fair trade” and “bringing back of millions of jobs” were distracting rhetoric and his focus was on the need for tax breaks and deregulation.
President Trump has been implying an intent to cut the corporate tax rate but at the same time has been hinting at adopting a “border tax”. The Republic Party in the House of Representatives has proposed that the corporate tax rate be reduced from the current 35% to 20%. As for a “border tax”, 20% will be levied on imported products, according to the Republican’s draft for tax reform. Many people criticize this measure as it will cause a rise in the price of imported goods and place an additional burden on consumers. However, he did not elaborate on this point despite a possible main source of U.S. tax revenues.
President Trump in his address made it clear that he will send Congress a budget that “calls for one of the largest increases in national defense spending in American history”. The president demanded that other NATO member nations increase their security budgets as their “fair” share. In addition, Trump said that the U.S. expects its allies in NATO, the Middle East, and in the Pacific region to “take a direct and meaningful role in both strategic and military operations, and pay their fair share of the cost”.
The address dropped a hint that Tokyo will be pressed to increase its military spending and strengthen its defense capabilities. It is necessary to cast watchful eyes on the U.S. move to militarize ever further.
While putting a stress on “America First” in the field of security issues, the president in his speech made few proposals concerning how to promote international cooperation to tackle problems facing the world. There is a clear difference between the diplomatic strategy of the Trump administration and those of successive U.S. administrations.
Japan’s diplomatic abilities will be tested
After taking office, President Trump issued an executive order banning entry to the U.S. of citizens from seven Muslim-majority countries, which provoked severe criticism both nationally and internationally. A federal appeals court in San Francisco ruled that this executive order violates the basic principle of constitutional democracy in the U.S. Currently, the order is suspended. Such a travel ban is inconsistent with the Convention Relating to the Status of Refugees and international humanitarian law. The 2006 UN Global Counter-Terrorism Strategy states that terrorism “should not be associated with any religion, nationality, civilization or ethnic group”. President Trump in his address expressed his intention to implement new measures to tackle this issue. The nations of the world will be again tested whether they have enough diplomatic clout to properly respond to the issue.