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Turning diplomacy on its head: The UN in the Trump era

Upon his recent inauguration on the 20th of January 2017, President Donald J. Trump has proven to be loyal to all the promises he made during his campaign in the past 10 days in office. From renegotiating NAFTA to withdrawing all donations to abortion programs outside the US, he has been acting in line with his infamous quote, ‘America first’, a strategy that might lead to serious repercussion given it’s contrast to former more benevolent strategy under the Obama administration.

With his latest travel ban pertaining to individuals from Iraq, Syria, Iran, Yemen, Sudan, Libya and Somalia, Donald Trump has caused domestic and international uproar regarding the unconstitutionality of his executive order. His justification, as argued by the federal government, states that it is for the temporary protection of the US from ill actors originating from these states, a statement void of much evidence or constitutionality. UN human rights chief Zeid Ra’ad Hussein denounced Trump’s intentions as “mean-spirited” and in direct violation of international human rights law. Add an already tarnished and tense relationship with Mexico over the construction of a border wall and we can see how coming through with such campaign promises can develop into an international relations issue. The repercussions of such an escalation can signal danger to Americans as well as neighbour states who risk to endure the feedbacks of a potential reshaping.

On the 26th of December, Donald Trump tweeted a statement indicating his controversial views on the United Nations. In the tweet, Donald Trump stated:

“The United Nations has such great potential but right now it is just a club for people to get together, talk and have a good time. So sad!”

It is difficult to discern whether Trump believes the UN needs structural reform or abolition due to his perception of the organization’s inefficiency; an organization that has until now, received most of its funding from the United States. If this belief were to materialize itself into concrete public policy, Trump’s administration may pose an existential threat to the United Nations and its current functioning. A draft order has already been initiated with the intent to drastically reduce or withdraw funds to the UN. However, as alarming as Trump’s tweet sounds, it does not necessarily point towards the end of the United Nations during his mandate, but rather a shift in the US’s treatment of the UN. If a head of state deems that the UN is merely a platform to discuss, indifference will bleed into US foreign policy. Consequently, the overriding international norms and principles that make up the UN structure will become less of a problem for US officials as the new Presidency delegitimizes the organization. Although Donald Trump is unpredictable, it is certain that one who publicly wished to foster and maintain “great relationships” with other countries will remain in a body that brings nations together to address world issues. For example, Trump’s appointment of Nikki Haley as ambassador of the US to the UN may has caused confusion in regards to the US stance on Crimea given the contradiction between their statements, which called for the cessation of Russian hostility as opposed to Trump’s consideration of recognition of the annexation of Crimea by Russia.

The implications of a confrontational relationship between the US and the UN, backed by a Republican majority holding both houses of congress, will inevitably lead to increasingly negative behavior on the global stage. This will ultimately resemble a jumbled process that involves many actors in the Trump administration.

The initial step involves Donald Trump’s appointment of Steve Bannon as UN ambassador from the Security Council leadership. The implications of such an appointment is the tarnishing of US legitimacy on the Security council and a sharp break from conventional diplomacy. What has been most alarming out of Bannon’s statement, and what gives a gist of his dangerous personality for the UNSC is his insistence on going to war in the South China sea. The adoption of adversarial politics in international relations isn’t a good step in the right direction for a nation that has previously held positive ties with China.

Secondly, Donald Trump’s words in regards to the Middle East have indicated indifference towards the undermining of international law given his inclination towards pillaging Iraq of its oil. According to Human Rights Watch, this goes into direct violation with international humanitarian law and deviates from traditional American prohibition of such behaviour, dating back to Abraham Lincoln’s Lieber Code. Moreover, The Hague Regulations of 1907 and the 1949 Geneva Convention ‘Relative to the Protection of Civilian Persons in Time of War’ are two treaties Donald Trump would be explicitly breaking through the intentional and targeted pillaging of Iraq in the context of a military occupation.

Such a dichotomy between former and present government administrations presents its own challenges insofar as other leaders within the international community must deal with a hard-headed, undiplomatic figure. Trump’s attributes are a jamais vu in world politics as they deviate from former US heads of state, which is in large part due to the impulsiveness that characterized his career as a businessman and reality TV host.

Will Trump ‘make America great again’ on the international stage? It seems like his actions thus far prove that the final result will be the inverse.

About Victor Percoco

Victor Percoco is a student at McGill University who is majoring in Political Science and minoring in History. His topics of interest are Latin American politics and International Law.

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