By Somar Wijayadasa*
NEW YORK (IDN) – The President of the United States, Donald Trump, made an unprecedented speech to the UN General Assembly endorsing nationalism around the world, and called for a “great reawakening of nations, for the revival of their spirits, their pride, their people and their patriotism”.
Trump told the UN delegates on September 19 that he was going to put America First and that “sovereign nation-states should also put the interests of their own citizens first”. He suggested that governments should cooperate within the UN to make the world better, and to deal with certain rogue regimes.
Saying that “If the righteous many do not confront the wicked few, then evil will triumph”, Trump labelled three countries as “rogue regimes” that overshadowed his vision for a new foreign policy based on “sovereignty”.
Rogue Regimes threaten the world
Saying “we meet at a time of immense promise and great peril”, Trump singled out North Korea, Iran and Venezuela as “rogue regimes” that disregard the rights of their own people and threaten the security of other countries.
NORTH KOREA: Referring to its leader Kim Jong-un, Trump said “Rocket Man is on a suicide mission”, adding that “if forced to defend itself or its allies, we will have no choice but to totally destroy North Korea”.
Kim Jong-un responded that he would “definitely tame the mentally deranged US dotard with fire”, and said that Trump’s comments reflected a “mentally deranged behaviour”.
North Korea’s foreign minister confirmed that his country’s nuclear force is “to all intents and purposes, a war deterrent for putting an end to nuclear threat of the U.S. and for preventing its military invasion”.
Russia and China have presented a viable proposal known as “freeze for freeze” that calls for North Korea to freeze its nuclear program in exchange for the U.S. and South Korea suspending their military exercises in the Korean Peninsula. This proposal may be acceptable to North Korea but the U.S has flatly rejected it.
IRAN: Saying that Iran is “an economically depleted rogue state whose chief exports are violence, bloodshed and chaos”, Trump threatened to abrogate the landmark Iran deal known as the Joint Comprehensive Plan of Action (JCPOA) that was reached, in 2016, after lengthy negotiations with the U.S., UK, France, China, Russia and Germany that has already restrained Iran’s nuclear program.
Trump reiterated that it was “the worst and one-sided transaction the U.S. has ever entered into” and that it is “an embarrassment to the United States”.
Addressing the UN, Iranian President Hassan Rouhani lashed out at Trump’s fiery remarks as “ignorant, absurd and hateful rhetoric” which was “unfit to be heard at the United Nations”.
He said that by quitting the nuclear deal, the U.S. would “destroy its own credibility”, and “Iran will not be the first country to violate the agreement”. He added: “It will be a great pity if this agreement were to be destroyed by rogue newcomers to the world of politics.”
Abrogating the deal without clear evidence of a material breach would force Iran to restart its nuclear program – with catastrophic consequences.
VENEZUELA: Trump said that “the socialist dictatorship of Nicolas Maduro” has seized power from democratic institutions and plunged the once oil-rich nation into poverty and misery “by imposing a failed ideology that has produced poverty and misery everywhere it has been tried”.
Trump threatened to take action “if the government of Venezuela persists on its path to impose authoritarian rule on the Venezuelan people”.
Venezuela’s Foreign Minister retorted: “No leader can come and question our democracy, and question our sovereignty,” adding: “We do not accept threats from President Trump or whoever in this world.”
President Maduro angrily reacted accusing the U.S. President of “aggression from the new Hitler of international politics, Mr. Donald Trump, against the people of Venezuela.” Maduro said: “Nobody threatens Venezuela and nobody owns Venezuela.”
During my 25 years at the UN, I have never heard any President of any country threaten another country with total destruction. Trump’s belligerent remarks ensued the deplorable diatribe that continues to date.
Sovereignty – to promote security, prosperity and peace
Despite his unorthodox rhetoric, Trump used the word “sovereign” or “sovereignty” 21 times during his speech to articulate his opinion that countries, not international institutions like the UN, will and should determine the fate of the world by pursuing their own best interests.
He envisions an international order in which each nation pursues its own self- interests – and cooperates only when those interests converge. “Our success,” he said, “depends on a coalition of strong and independent nations that embrace their sovereignty, to promote security, prosperity and peace for themselves and for the world.”
“Strong, sovereign nations,” he added, “let their people take ownership of the future and control their own destiny.”
Trump said: “We do not seek to impose our way of life on anyone, but rather to let it shine as an example for everyone to watch.” He added: “Strong, sovereign nations let diverse countries with different values, different cultures, not just coexist, but work side by side on the basis of mutual respect.”
Unless this is a total departure from the past policies and practices, the U.S. has a disparate record of imposing their way of life, and doctrines of democracy and freedom in other countries.
It would bode well for the world, if the U.S. can put Trump’s “magnificent” statements into practice.
United Nations on the back burner
Trump proudly announced that “we will be spending almost $700 billion on our military and defense”, and said that “our military will soon be the strongest it has ever been”.
As for the UN, Trump hinted: “The American people hope that one day soon the United Nations can be a much more accountable and effective advocate for human dignity and freedom around the world.”
Validating his usual vitriol vis-a-vis the UN, Trump reiterated: “Too often the focus of this organization has not been on results, but on bureaucracy and process.”
During his election campaign, Trump repeatedly called the UN “just a club for people to get together, talk and have a good time”. Also, when he addressed an Israeli group (AIPAC), last year, Trump said: “The United Nations is not a friend of democracy, it’s not a friend to freedom, it’s not a friend even to the United States of America where, as you know, it has its home.”
Therefore, I’m not surprised that Trump had nothing positive to say about the UN.
Trump said that “the U.S. is one out of 193 countries in the United Nations, and yet we pay far more than anybody realizes”.
He did not, however, mention that his administration seeks a 32% decrease in funding for the State Department, a 29% cut in foreign assistance, and a 50% cut in U.S. funding to UN programs including a cut of $1 billion in funding for U.N. peacekeeping operations.
The U.S. deserves credit that it pays over 22 percent of the UN’s $5.7 billion administrative budget.
According to the Foreign Affairs magazine, last year, the U.S. contributed more than $2 billion to the UN’s $8 billion-plus peacekeeping budget, and the U.S. government agencies contributed nearly $10.5 billion to several UN programs that vaccinate children, help keep the peace in conflict zones, care for refugees, feed the poor, and monitor the spread of nuclear, chemical, and biological weapons.
The cuts may be due to the premise that the UN purportedly don’t serve U.S. foreign-policy interests. On the contrary, the UN promotes stability around the world and advances U.S. interests, including economic development, conflict prevention, and nonproliferation.
Finally, the U.S. should remember President Truman’s words: “The responsibility of the great states is to serve and not dominate the peoples of the world.” [IDN-InDepthNews – 29 September 2017]
*Somar Wijayadasa, an international lawyer, was a UNESCO delegate to the UN General Assembly from 1985-1995, and was Representative of UNAIDS at the United Nations from 1995-2000.
Photo credit: White House
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