Observations of an ex pat: Scary

Be scared. Be very scared. In fact if you saw, listened to or read about President Donald Trump’s UN address than you are probably terrified.  If not, then think again.

Trump used the occasion of his first speech to the General Assembly to draw red lines across the  map and dare his opponents to cross them. North Korea, Iran and Venezuela are the new axis of evil.

In one breath he called for an international order based on a respect for national sovereignty and with the next bullied those those who oppose him.

The United Nations and international cooperation enjoyed early support, but then the president contradicted himself by threatening to go it alone with a new and frightening American-centred unilateralism.

And finally Trump all but spelled out that he was jettisoning America’s long-held policy of keeping nuclear weapons in their protected siloes unless the US or one of its allies is attacked.  His speech was America First on steroids.

Pakistan, Russia, Britain, the United States, and France have had a long-standing policy that they will use nuclear weapons  only in the case of  attack against their territory or against one of their allies. China and India have gone one step further and pledged that they will only use nuclear weapons if attacked with nuclear weapons.

The reason is simple. Nuclear weapons have long been regarded as defensive weapons only—a deterrent. Other countries do not attack members of the nuclear weapons club for fear that they will themselves be attacked with weapons capable of killing millions and igniting Armageddon.  That is scary.

Until Trump’s speech, no one has ever said that they will use their weapons if another country “threatened” them. That is a completely different word from attacked. Look it up in the dictionary. No wonder that White House Chief of Staff John Kelly was holding his head in his hands and staring at his feet.  Oh well, we are about due for another session of West Wing musical chairs.

As for Iran, it is now a foregone conclusion that President Trump will scrap the Iran nuclear deal when it comes up for renewal  on October 15th. Not because Iran has broken its pledges, but because the agreement includes a wooly clause that allows the president to terminate it if he feels it is no longer in America’s national interests.  Surely it cannot be in America’s interests to have an agreement with what the president described as “a corrupt dictatorship behind the false guise of a democracy.” A government which “has turned a wealthy country with a rich history and culture into an economically depleted rogue state whose chief exports are violence, bloodshed, and chaos.”

For its part, Iran has served notice that if the US pulls out it will resume its nuclear weapons programme. Tehran can convincingly argue that it will need the weapons to deter an American or Israeli attack.

And what effect would an American pull out have on relations elsewhere around the world. For a start, North Korea, China and Russia could argue that there is no point in Pyongyang negotiating any de-nuclearization deal because Trump will not honour it. Next China, France, Germany, Britain and Russia—signatories to the Iran nuclear deal—have been treated as also-rans and totally ignored.

One of the pillars of Trump’s foreign policy has been an international order based on national sovereignty. He is opposed to states forming political or trading blocs in order to compete more effectively on the world stage. It makes sense. The US is the world’s most powerful country in both economic and military terms. But others are growing fast. To remain top dog America firsters need to keep the rest of the world divided and towing the American line.

So in one breath Trump pays obeisance to the principle of national sovereignty. But in the next he attacks Venezuela’s failed socialism and adds President Nicolas Maduro to his rogue’s gallery. Venezuela is in no position to threaten the US. It is a failed state.  Its failure is a domestic rather than a foreign policy issue.  It is contradictory hypocrisy to call for an international order based on national sovereignty and then threaten to meddle in another country’s domestic affairs.

Most Americans have sincere doubts about the UN. They reckon they reap only grief for the $8 billion a year that the international body costs them. They fail to compare their UN contributions to the  $11 billion a year in aid to Israel; $11.7 billion budget  for the Department of the Interior; $40.6 billion for the Department of Homeland Security; $47.4 billion for the State Department and last—but definitely not least—a whopping $824.6 billion defence budget.

The UN supports 100,000-plus peacekeepers in 16 different hot spots around; helps tens of millions of refugees; promotes health education programmes through the World Health Organisation; distributes food relief to famine and disaster-hit areas through the World Food Programme; encourages cultural links through UNESCO; children’s programmes through UNICEF…. Yes it is bureaucratic. Yes there is wastage. Yes, there will always be need for reform. But those are not Trump’s real complaints about the UN.

The real complaint is that the UN does not do what America wants, when and how America wants it. Donald Trump’s nominal support for the UN was him serving notice that he will support the United Nations as long as the United Nations serves American interests. He does not want a United Nations based on collectively agreed policies determined by national sovereign states. President Trump wants UN policies based on the interests of one sovereign state—America

* Tom Arms is foreign editor of Liberal Democrat Voice and author of “The Encyclopaedia of the Cold War” and “America Made in Britain". To subscribe to his email alerts on world affairs click here.

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  • Steve Trevethan 22nd Sep '17 - 4:31pm

    Thanks for a thought provoking piece!
    The foundation problem, which does involve nukes, is “the insidious assumption of power by sinister war making vested interests for which no American voted.”

    “Nothing has changed. [Mr Trump] declared he was “ready, willing and able to “totally destroy” North Korea and its 25 million people. His rival–Hilary Clinton, had boasted that she was prepared to “totally obliterate” Iran, a nation of more than 80 million people.”
    This is the American way; only the euphemisms are missing now.”

  • Trump is a coarse, boorish president lacking in statesmanship and many other qualities but so far, I am much more relaxed with his handling of international threats than I ever was when John F Kennedy was president.

    Many people do not realise the damage to world stability created by Obama, who made weak threats which he instantly ignored and failed to follow up. Trump now has to retrieve that situation. That is not an easy task, but world stability deteriorated significantly during the Obama administration.

    The UN is a bloated, useless organisation and has been for decades. It would not exist without lavish US funding. It also has its own political agenda which is independent of its members. Trump is completely justified in challenging the UN and should have our backing.

  • Excellent piece! Sadly Trump has crossed so many red-lines, that there are many people that wish to see him removed by any means whatsoever!

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