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Is the UN Being Undermined by a Demagogic Trump Administration?

US President Donald Trump with UN Secretary-General Antonio Guterres during the UN General Assembly sessions last September.

UNITED NATIONS, Jan 25 2019 (IPS) - The United Nations, which embodies the core principles of multilateralism since its creation more than 74 years ago, is being steadily and systematically undermined by a reactionary and demagogic Trump administration recklessly flaunting American imperialism at its worst.

The US has already scuttled the 2015 multilateral nuclear agreement with Iran, refused to participate in the global migration compact, pulled out of the 2015 Paris climate change agreement, abandoned the 12-nation Trans Pacific Partnership (TPP) agreement, dismissed the relevance of the World Trade Organization (WTO), revoked the 1987 Intermediate-Range Nuclear Forces Treaty with Russia, and withdrew from both the Human Rights Council in Geneva and the UN Educational, Scientific and Cultural Organization (UNESCO) in Paris.

And that’s just for starters—and perhaps with more to come during the next two years of an unpredictable Trump presidency.

Meanwhile, as it continues to ravage international treaties and treaty bodies, the Trump administration has also weakened the Hague-based International Criminal Court (ICC)– of which it was never a member– by threatening its judges with sanctions if they ever investigate war crimes committed either by US troops in Afghanistan or Israeli troops in Palestine.

The threat against the ICC was vociferously reinforced last September by National Security Adviser John Bolton, a former US ambassador, who once infamously said that you could chop off 10 floors of the 38-storeyed UN building and it wouldn’t make a difference (prompting a New York Times columnist to say Bolton would be ideally suited as an urban planner than as an American envoy).

But the tragedy of it all is that several countries with rightwing governments, including Brazil, the Philippines, Hungary and Poland are following in the footsteps of the US – and tragically so, at a time when UN Secretary-General Antonio Guterres warns that “multilateralism is under fire precisely when we need it most.”

Will this trend continue in the coming years? And if it does, will the Trump administration be a potential threat to multilateral diplomacy – and the United Nations itself? And more importantly, will other big powers step up take the lead in a new world order?

Norman Solomon, Executive Director of the Washington-based Institute for Public Accuracy, told IPS the United Nations, as it now stands, is largely at the mercy of its most powerful member states.

Seventy years after adoption of the Universal Declaration of Human Rights, he pointed out, its principles are often violated by the five permanent members (P-5) of the Security Council—the US, UK, France, China and Russia — and the governments of many other countries.

“It is hard to see how the UN can move forward effectively to advance the ideals of the Universal Declaration in the real world without challenging the nations that dominate the world body.”

Selective outrage at the violations committed by countries in rival blocs does little to improve the well-being of the people of the world, said Solomon who is also Co-Founder and Coordinator of the online activist group RootsAction.org, which has 1.4 million active online members.

He singled out two fundamental, interrelated problems — vast economic inequality of extreme proportions and rampant militarism led by the U.S. government – that threaten the survival of humanity.

“Over us all loom the threats of nuclear war and climate change, with those threats fueled by severe shortfalls of democracy that make possible rule by oligarchy as well as huge profiteering from arms sales and warfare.”

The UN member states that have cleaner hands than the permanent members of the Security Council often seem intimidated by the most powerful governments as a matter of routine, he noted

“Yet, our only hope involves the willingness of individuals, organizations and nations to not only speak truth to and about power, but also to build effective coalitions across international borders on behalf of human rights, democracy, environmental protection and peace”, declared Solomon, and author of “War Made Easy: How Presidents and Pundits Keep Spinning Us to Death”.

Addressing delegates last December, Guterres lamented the rise of unilateralism and the decline of multilateralism.

He urged world leaders to renew their commitment to a rules-based order, with the United Nations at its centre.

“In the face of massive existential threats to people and planet — but, equally, at a time of compelling opportunities for shared prosperity — there is no way forward but collective, common-sense action for the common good,” he stressed. “This is how we rebuild trust.”

Despite chaos and confusion in the world, there are winds of hope, he said, pointing out three positive developments: first, Eritrea’s peace initiatives with neighbouring States, second, the signing of a peace agreement between rival leaders of South Sudan and third, the summit meetings involving leaders of North Korea, the United States and South Korea.

Stephen Zunes, Professor of Politics at the University of San Francisco, told IPS the Trump administration’s ultra-nationalism and its rejection of international legal principles and multilateral initiatives is certainly harmful to the United Nations and the international community on a number of levels.

One result is that the United States is not being taken as seriously as it used to be. That may actually be a good thing, however.

While there have been a number of areas at the United Nations where the United States has wielded a positive influence, he argued, there have been quite a few others areas where Washington has undermined basic principles of international law and efforts at multilateral diplomacy.

These, he said, include the 2003 invasion of Iraq, the frequent abuse of its veto power, the rejection of near-unanimous World Court decisions, attacks on various UN agencies which have documented war crimes and other misdeeds by the United States or its allies, support for the Israeli and Moroccan occupations, and more.

“The United States has gotten away with wielding a disproportionate amount of influence on the United Nations since its inception.”

With the U.S. reputation at its lowest ebb, however, it may allow some other countries to step up to take greater leadership and thereby help create a more pluralistic world order, declared Zunes.

Addressing the UN General Assembly last September, Trump said that his outgoing Ambassador to the United Nations, Nikki Haley, had laid out a clear agenda for reform.

“But despite reported and repeated warnings, no action at all was taken.”

So, the United States, he said, took the only responsible course: “We withdrew from the Human Rights Council, and we will not return until real reform is enacted.”

For similar reasons, said Trump, the US will provide no support in recognition to the International Criminal Court.

“As far as America is concerned, the ICC has no jurisdiction, no legitimacy, and no authority”.

He said the ICC claims near-universal jurisdiction over the citizens of every country, violating all principles of justice, fairness, and due process.

“We will never surrender America’s sovereignty to an unelected, unaccountable, global bureaucracy.”

“America is governed by Americans. We reject the ideology of globalism, and we embrace the doctrine of patriotism,” Trump insisted.

He also said the US did not participate in the new Global Compact on Migration because “migration should not be governed by an international body unaccountable to our own citizens”.

Trump’s nationalistic rhetoric was preceded by drastic cuts in US funding to at least two UN agencies: the UN Population Fund (UNFPA) and the UN Relief and Works Agency (UNRWA) aiding Palestinian refugees.

At a press conference announcing her decision to step down as US ambassador to the UN, Haley told reporters last October that that during her two-year tenure “we cut $1.3 billion in the UN’s budget. We’ve made it stronger. We’ve made it more efficient.”

At the same time, the US has slashed its contribution to UNFPA , from $69 million in 2016 to zero in 2017, and cut $300 million in funds to UNRWA.

The writer can be contacted at thalifdeen@ips.org

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