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~By Inderjit Badhwar

President Donald Trump, in his maiden speech to the United Nations General Assembly, has enunciated what appears to be a dangerous new war doctrine in which the international rule of law would be subordinated to the interests of the “sovereignty” of nation states. This is a sharp departure from the concept of nations coming together as stakeholders in the quest for collective security and avoidance of a Third War that could extinguish civilised life as we know it.

He reiterated his tired campaign theme of “America First” and actually urged all nations to adopt this principle in the pursuit of narrowly defined nationalist interests in a rant that The New Yorker described as the dogma of identity politics on steroids. The US President, who used this hallowed international platform to announce that “our military will be the strongest it’s ever been”, then actually proceeded to issue threats to use it.

Note some of his most remarkable jingo-linguistic flourishes: “Major portions of the world are in conflict, and some, in fact, are going to hell.” He called Iran “reckless” and a supporter of forces (among them Al Qaeda) that “speak openly of mass murder, vowing death to America, destruction to Israel, and ruin for many leaders and nations in this room”. (That is tantamount to calling for a regime change.) He promised he would “totally destroy” North Korea and its leader Kim whom he described as the “Rocketman on a suicide mission” if they continued pursuing their nuclear and missiles programme. He described as an “embarrassment” the Security Council and Nato-backed nuclear deal with Iran initiated by his predecessor President Obama. He threatened military action in Venezuela “to help them regain their freedom, recover their country, and restore their democracy”.

This champion of alt truth democracy, who continued to berate Iran and Cuba for repression and torture, sees nothing but benign tolerance in the regimes of Saudi Arabia and Turkey. And never mind the alt fact that Al Qaeda and ISIS, both Sunni outfits, revel in terrorist murder of Shias who are championed by Shia-majority Iran.

Trump’s most drawn-out theme was, however, straight out of the ultra right-wing media organisation Breitbart News, headed by his former advisor Steve Bannon. Trump harped on the need for greater sovereignty of all nations to do whatever they pleased within their own borders: “The nation-state remains the best vehicle for elevating the human condition,” he said. (Read: The nation state solving its own problems as it sees fit is a far better than the collective security concept of the UN). In other wor-ds, all nations are better off by building walls, and never mind that this completely contradicts Trump’s justifying punishing Iran, Cuba, Venezuela and Korea on the basis of human rights violations within their own walls.

The trouble is that when you contradict history you get trapped by it. The world is not a safer place after Trump’s speech. It is infinitely more dangerous. It will not rein in North Korea. Kim will be even more belligerent. It will further destabilise the Middle-East by freeing Iran from its commitment to allow international inspection of its nuclear facilities.

As Richard Haass, the current president of the Council on Foreign Relations and the head of the State Department’s policy-planning staff under the George HW Bush Administration, told American journalist Robin Wright: “The defining challenges of the twenty-first century are global in nature. That is what was missing—whether proliferation or terror or climate change or hacking or democratic disruption. A pinched approach to sovereignty is inadequate.”

The world is not a safer place after Trump’s speech. It will not rein in North Korea. Kim will be even more belligerent. It will further destabilise the Middle-East by freeing Iran from its commitment to allow international inspection of its nuclear facilities

In her analysis which appears in The New Yorker,  she also quotes Ian Bremmer, the president of the Eurasia Group, a risk-consulting firm, as saying that the long-term fallout from Trump’s speech may be to accelerate identity politics and anti-globalisation sentiments that fuel so many of today’s conflicts. The world, he said, has been headed toward a “geopolitical recession… weakened global institutions can’t respond quickly or effectively to challenges {and} increase the prospects for more wars”.

Trump meets Saudi Arabia’s King Salman bin Abdulaziz al-Saud during his visit to the kingdom in May this year. Photo: UNI
Trump meets Saudi Arabia’s King Salman bin Abdulaziz al-Saud during his visit to the kingdom in May this year. Photo: UNI

Just as it is today, even in the 1950s, North Korea had become the flashpoint for World War III after it invaded the South and American forces helped repel the invasion. Not many Indians will remember that the war came to an end when a newly independent India played a critical role in brokering a ceasefire through the United Nations. Prime Minister Nehru believed, as an article of faith, that the UN was the only venue for the resolution of international conflict. He said at the time: “However difficult the path, it has to be pursued by repeated attempts at co-operation on the part of all nations. Once that attempt is given up, the consequence can only be a preparation for conflict on a world-wide scale and ultimately, the conflict itself.”

India’s first prime minister was not the only great statesman who clung to this belief. In November 2001, another tall Indian leader, Prime Minister Atal Bihari Vajpayee said in his address to the 56th UN General Assembly: “This fundamental and seamless linkage between peace, security and development can be recalled in the sage words of the great Indian poet Rabindranath Tagore: From now onward, any nation that takes an isolated view of its own interests will run contrary to the spirit of the New Age, and will know no peace. From now onward, the anxiety that each country has for its own safety must embrace the welfare of the whole world.”

Possibly the best known Secretary General of the organisation, Dag Hammarskjold, once stated that the UN was not just a product of do-gooders but a harsh reality. “The day will come when men will see the UN and what it means clearly. Everything will be all right—you know when? When people, just people, stop thinking of the United Nations as a weird Picasso abstraction, and see it as a drawing they made themselves.”

Past presidents who had used and proved America’s might in war after war, still attested to the superiority of the international covenants of law and their instruments in avoiding future human conflict and eliminating human suffering. Harry S Truman said the UN was designed “to make possible lasting freedom and independence for all its members”.

And former Vice President Hubert Humphrey could very well be answering Trump today when he said many decades ago: “The heroes of the world community are not those who withdraw when difficulties ensue, not those who can envision neither the prospect of success nor the consequence of failure—but those who stand the heat of battle, the fight for world peace through the United Nations.”

Hearing Trump speak, many people across the globe wistfully recalled one of the greatest speeches delivered before the UN General Assembly on September 25, 1961 following the death of Hammarskjold. The speaker was President John F Kennedy: “A noble servant of peace is gone,” he said, “but the quest for peace lies before us.

“The problem is not the death of one man—the problem is the life of this organisation. It will either grow to meet the challenges of our age, or it will be gone with the wind, without influence, without force, without respect. Were we to let it die, to enfeeble its vigor, to cripple its powers, we would condemn our future.”

JFK’s stirring peroration is worth quoting at length. Delivered at the height of the Cold War and nuclear brinkmanship, it is probably more relevant today than it was then. In the development of the UN, he said, “rests the only true alternative to war—and war appeals no longer as a rational alternative. Unconditional war can no longer lead to unconditional victory. It can no longer serve to settle disputes. It can no longer concern the great powers alone. For a nuclear disaster, spread by wind and water and fear, could well engulf the great and the small, the rich and the poor, the committed and the uncommitted alike. Mankind must put an end to war—or war will put an end to mankind.

“So let us here resolve that Dag Hammarskjold did not live, or die, in vain. Let us call a truce to terror. Let us invoke the blessings of peace. And, as we build an international capacity to keep peace, let us join in dismantling the national capacity to wage war.

“This will require new strength and new roles for the United Nations. For disarmament without checks is but a shadow and a community without law is but a shell. Already the United Nations has become both the measure and the vehicle of man’s most generous impulses. Already it has provided—in the Middle East, in Asia, in Africa this year in the Congo—a means of holding man’s violence within bounds.

Hearing Trump speak, many people across the globe wistfully recalled one of the greatest speeches delivered before the UN General Assembly on September 25, 1961 following the death of Hammarskjold. The speaker was President John F Kennedy: “A noble servant of peace is gone,” he said, “but the quest for peace lies before us.

“But the great question which confronted this body in 1945 is still before us: whether man’s cherished hopes for progress and peace are to be destroyed by terror and disruption, whether the ‘foul winds of war’ can be tamed in time to free the cooling winds of reason, and whether the pledges of our Charter are to be fulfilled or defied-pledges to secure peace, progress, human rights and world law.”TRUMP’S GEOPOLITICAL RECESSIONHe concluded: “…But I come here today to look across this world of threats to a world of peace. In that search we cannot expect any final triumph—for new problems will always arise. We cannot expect that all nations will adopt like systems—for conformity is the jailer of freedom, and the enemy of growth. Nor can we expect to reach our goal by contrivance, by fiat or even by the wishes of all. But however close we sometimes seem to that dark and final abyss let no man of peace and freedom despair. For he does not stand alone. If we all can persevere, if we can in every land and office look beyond our own shores and ambitions, then surely the age will dawn in which the strong are just and the weak secure and the peace preserved.

“Ladies and gentlemen of this Assembly, the decision is ours. Never have the nations of the world had so much to lose, or so much to gain. Together we shall save our planet, or together we shall perish in its flames. Save it we can—and save it we must—and then shall we earn the eternal thanks of mankind and, as peacemakers, the eternal blessing of God.”

Earlier in the speech, JFK made a frank observation: “In this Hall, there are not three forces, but two. One is composed of those who are trying to build the kind of world described in Articles I and II of the Charter. The other, seeking a far different world, would undermine this organization in the process.”

Kennedy’s speech was the articulation of America’s forward-looking soft power at its best, an America at its noblest, its most humble self, a country with which any nation would want to live in peace and to emulate. Trump’s speech reflected victimhood, selfish aggrandisement, Rambo-hood, a backward-looking bully-nation whom any nation would shun. Small wonder that China’s Xi, Russia’s Putin, and Germany’s Merkel did not attend the debut performance of an American President thumping his chest on the world’s largest international stage.

Inderjit Badhwar is Editor-in-Chief, India Legal.
He can be reached editor@indialegallive.com

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