THERE was a big contrast when two leaders made their maiden speeches at the United Nations last week.
First, the UN Secretary-General Antonio Guterres gave a speech based on common sense and a full dose of the UN principles of internationalism and patiently seeking peaceful solutions to conflict.
Then we had the US President Donald Trump, who threw diplomacy to the winds, reaffirmed his pledge of implementing an “America First” policy and threatened countries selected to be a new “axis of evil”.
Analysts and governments alike were left pondering whether the US President had just codified a new Trump Doctrine, and what turbulence that means for the world.
The Trump speech laid to rest what had been expected when he entered office: that the US would take a more isolationist policy, being less interventionist in other countries’ affairs, as Trump focuses on solving domestic problems with a view to “make America great again”.
Instead, at the UN General Assembly, he married the aim of “America First” with a display of hard aggression not polished by diplomatic language with regard to countries he called a “new axis of evil” – North Korea, Iran and Venezuela.
He told world leaders, “Our government’s first duty is to its people, to our citizens – to serve their needs, to ensure their safety, to preserve their rights, and to defend their values. As President of the United States, I will always put America first, just like you, as the leaders of your countries will always, and should always, put your countries first.”
Trump praised national sovereignty 21 times in his speech. But it became clear he was championing the national sovereignty of the United States, which he could use as a principle to violate the national sovereignty of others.
“We will have no choice but to totally destroy North Korea,” Trump said, upgrading his threat from the earlier “fire and fury” he had promised to unleash.
The Korean situation is a most complex web to untangle, but threatening to totally annihilate a whole country is not going to contribute to a solution.
The North Korean leader Kim Jong-un has predictably responded that the remarks by a “deranged” Trump have convinced him that he is right to develop weapons.
Equally or more scary is Trump’s description at the UN that the Iran Deal signed by Iran, the United States and other major countries was the “worst” and most “one-sided” agreement the country has entered, laying the ground for withdrawing from it.
Leaders of most other countries gathered at the UN seemed aghast at the boldly aggressive nature of Trump’s speech. Some American politicians were also upset. US Senator Dianne Feinstein criticised the President for his remarks and noted the hypocrisy in using the UN stage of peace and global cooperation to threaten war, according to an IPS news report.
“He missed an opportunity to present any positive actions the UN could take with respect to North Korea. By suggesting he would revisit and possibly cancel the Iran nuclear agreement, he greatly escalated the danger we face from both Iran and North Korea,” she said. “He aims to unify the world through tactics of intimidation, but in reality he only further isolates the United States.”
Trump also had harsh words for Venezuela, which he claimed was on the brink of total collapse. He had earlier raised the possibility of military intervention.
In contrast to Trump, Guterres made a balanced and rousing speech, calling on countries to cooperate, seek peaceful solutions to political crises and tackle global problems like climate change and refugees.
The contrasting approaches to international affairs between the US President and the UN Secretary-General will have repercussions in the months and years ahead. Let us hope that the cool and internationalist approach of the UN chief will prevail.
Martin Khor is executive director of the South Centre. The views expressed here are entirely his own.
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