Former president Donald Trump was widely pilloried for playing down multilateral cooperation and the global trading order in favor of his “America First” mind-set. But Trump likely understood the nationalist underpinnings of foreign policy better than his critics. For evidence, look to recent efforts by the European Union and India to restrict exports of covid-19 vaccines produced in their territories.
Defenders of multilateralism and globalism often proclaim that their approaches to foreign policy and economic development are superior to nationalist focuses. They champion efforts such as the Paris climate accord or the Iran nuclear deal as ideal ways that nations can work in concert for the betterment of all. Global free trade is often lauded as an end unto itself, a panacea for endemic global poverty and an engine for growth in developed countries. Those who pose queries or disagree are regularly shunted aside or pelted with epithets that seek to delegitimize them entirely.
So it’s telling, and more than a bit ironic, to see countries that regularly cast aspersions on nationalism resorting to nationalism themselves. The European Union has been locked in a war of words with Britain for weeks over whether the E.U. will bar vaccines produced within its members’ borders from being sent to the island nation. India has also engaged in vaccine nationalism, preventing the export of the savior drug produced within its borders for its own use. Contracts and the virtues of globalism apparently no longer matter to the leaders of these nations when their own domestic needs weigh down upon them.
Henry Olsen is a senior fellow at the Ethics and Public Policy Center.