Dan Vallone: No, Canada is not a national security threat

  • President Donald Trump talks with Canadian Prime Minister Justin Trudeau during a G-7 Summit welcome ceremony last week in Charlevoix, Canada. AP

For the Monitor
Wednesday, June 13, 2018

According to President Donald Trump, Canada is a national security threat. This is the justification he cited recently when imposing tariffs of 25 percent on steel and 10 percent on aluminum. Such hostility was also on display during and after the recent G-7 summit, where Trump attacked Canadian Prime Minister Justin Trudeau on Twitter. Such belligerence toward our allies – for good measure Trump also labeled the European Union and Mexico threats to our national security – is profoundly misguided and dangerous.

Trump’s actions disrespect the sacrifices made by Canada and our allies in the EU on our behalf, embolden China and Russia, and hurt American small businesses and workers. Left unchecked, Trump risks inflicting harm on Americans in a way not seen since the days of Smoot-Hawley (tariffs signed into law in 1930 that accelerated the Great Depression and fueled trade wars).

Congress and political leaders at all levels must emphatically reject Trump’s reckless trade decisions. Sen. Bob Corker’s legislation to curtail Presidential authority to impose tariffs on national security grounds is a meaningful step in the right direction, but we need more action. We need leaders across the political spectrum to defend our Canadian and European allies as essential partners and friends.

This is an easy argument to make. From the beaches of Normandy to the mountains of Afghanistan, Canadian soldiers have served alongside of Americans in defense of our shared values and common security. From 2001 to 2014, for example, more than 40,000 Canadians served in Afghanistan, with over 150 making the ultimate sacrifice. Tens of thousands of soldiers from France, Germany, Italy and other European countries also have deployed, fought, and in many cases died, in Iraq and Afghanistan alongside of American service members. To label such allies threats to America’s national security is to breach a solemn bond among our countries and among all those who served shoulder-to-shoulder in war.

It is also harmful trade policy. Trump holds up America’s trade deficit (the gap between what America exports for goods and services and what we import) as proof of a rigged trading system, yet the U.S. trade deficit hit a nine-year high in December 2017 ($53.1 billion) under his policies. Although that has dropped in recent months, the four-month deficit for 2018 (January-April) of $201.8 billion is a significant increase compared to $181 billion for the same time period in 2017. By sowing disorder and chaos Trump will continue to exacerbate the situation.

The trade deficit is caused by a range of factors beyond tariffs, such as America’s growing fiscal deficit, and as a single metric it fails to capture the strength of America’s economy relative to our trading partners (nor is the trade deficit by itself indicative of unfair trade practices). But by focusing exclusively on the trade deficit and wielding tariffs as a blunt club, Trump risks trade wars with our allies and neighbors (Mexico has already announced $3 billion in tariffs against the United States).

The winners from Trump’s actions are Russia and China. Vladimir Putin pointed to the tariffs as evidence of the dangers that an American-dominated international order poses to Europe and other countries. And Russia’s status as a winner became even more explicit when Trump inexplicably advocated for inviting Russia back into the G-7 (Russia was suspended in 2014 for invading Crimea).

China, though it is subject to tariffs as well, may benefit the most from the trade turmoil. Not only did the U.S. Commerce Department just make a deal with the Chinese tech company ZTE – a firm that violated U.S. sanctions against Iran and North Korea and was identified as a true threat to our national security by our intelligence agencies – to keep ZTE in business, but Trump’s recklessness also gives cover to China’s aggressive action across the Asia-Pacific. When we are abusing our own laws to attack our closest allies, we lose all credibility to hold China accountable for placing anti-ship and surface-to-air missiles on contested islands in the South China Sea and other such belligerent conduct.

We need Congress to force President Trump to abandon his dangerous abuse of our trade laws. We also need governors, particularly those from states that border Canada, to defend our allies and the sacrifices they have made for our shared security and to demand trade policies that actually work for American businesses and workers.

(Dan Vallone is a member of the Truman National Security Project’s Defense Council. He lives in Concord. Views expressed are his own.)