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Illustration: Sarah Grillo/Axios

Internationalists have always dreamed of a court with jurisdiction over all the countries of the world. In 1995, the World Trade Organization was created — allowing the world's countries to press claims against one another for the first time.

The state of play: That era lasted just 25 years. As of Tuesday, the Trump administration has, to all intents and purposes, brought it to an end.

Why it matters: When Trump defangs the WTO, almost every country will be hurt, including the U.S., which won a record $7.5 billion WTO award in October after it sued Europe for granting illegal subsidies to Airbus.

How it works:

  • By blocking all new appointments to the World Trade Organization's dispute-resolution court, President Trump has allowed it to decline from seven members to three; after two more terms expire today, the court will be left with just one remaining judge.
  • That's not enough for the court to issue a binding ruling.
  • From now on, countries will be able to appeal any ruling they don't like to the WTO's highest court. Since that court will have no power to rule against them, they'll be left free to continue infringing any WTO rule they want.

Flashback: For some 350 years — from the Treaty of Westphalia in 1648, which marked the beginning of the modern system of nation-states — no such court existed.

  • Then, in 1995, the World Trade Organization was created.
  • For the first time ever, the world's countries could take one another to court.

Be smart: "America First," if Trump's slogan means anything, implies an expansion of unilateralism at the expense of the kind of multilateralism exemplified by the WTO, which marked a post-Cold War high point of international cooperation.

What they're saying: Carla A. Hills was U.S. Trade Representative when the WTO was created (under President George H.W. Bush). She tells Axios that "we've delivered a debilitating hit" to the WTO.

  • The WTO is already being replaced, she says, by plurilateral arrangements like the Trans Pacific Partnership (which continues without U.S. involvement) and RCEP, the China-dominated Regional Comprehensive Economic Partnership.
  • The U.S. Trade Representative's office referred Axios to a statement made Monday by Dennis Shea, the U.S. ambassador to the WTO. Shea's main complaint is that the WTO court hasn't been abiding by its own rules, as laid down in 1995.

Winners: Donald "Tariff Man" Trump (his words) can now impose whatever tariffs he likes, without fear that the WTO might find them to be illegal.

Losers: Britain in particular stands to be a big loser post-Brexit, since WTO rules are the backstop default option in the event of a "hard Brexit." If those rules are worthless, Britain will have even less negotiating leverage against trading partners like the U.S. and the EU.

Reality check: As Eurasia Group president Ian Bremmer tells Axios, "multilateral institutions really resist dismantling." When Americans see that other countries — like Germany and Canada — have preferential access to Japan's markets while they don't, they are going to demand a leveling of the playing field.

My thought bubble: The WTO was negotiated before China dominated international trade, and before the internet disrupted all global commerce. A new agreement is desperately needed, and while there's no way that Donald Trump and Robert Lighthizer, the current U.S. Trade Representative, will negotiate such a deal, Trump's successor might yet be able to.

Go deeper

Updated 21 mins ago - World

Gaza crisis: Casualties pile up with no signs of ceasefire from Israel, Hamas

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Tel Aviv — With Israel and Hamas now engaged in their most destructive fight in seven years, the Biden administration is dispatching a State Department official to join the de-escalation efforts.

The latest: The Israeli air force attacked a meeting of senior Hamas military leaders on Wednesday in Gaza and reported it had killed the Gaza City Brigade commander and the heads of Hamas’ cyber arm and weapons research and development department, along with at least three other senior officials.

Former Pentagon chief blames media "hysteria" for lack of troops on Jan. 6

Former acting Secretary of Defense Chris Miller told the House Oversight Committee Wednesday that he limited the deployment of National Guard troops at the Capitol ahead of Jan. 6 in part due to media "hysteria" about "the possibility of a military coup."

Why it matters: William Walker, commanding general of the D.C. National Guard, previously testified that a three-hour delay in approval for National Guard assistance during the Jan. 6 Capitol attack was exacerbated by "unusual" restrictions on his authorities by Pentagon leadership.

2 hours ago - World

Negotiations to oust Netanyahu stall amid Jerusalem crisis

Netanyahu holds a cabinet meeting this week. Photo: Amit Shabi/POOL/AFP via Getty

Efforts to form a new Israeli government and oust Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu have come to an almost complete halt amid the escalation with Hamas.

Why it matters: Opposition leader Yair Lapid is six days into a 28-day mandate, and seemed on track to strike a coalition deal with Naftali Bennett, a right-wing kingmaker. But the latest crisis could make those efforts nearly impossible.