Trump and the UN
by Kristen Boon
Like most policy issues in his campaign, Trump’s references to the UN and multilateralism have been brief. If one searches for Trump & the UN, the main hit are statements made in 2005 that he could do a much better job renovating the UN than the UN itself!
Apart from disparaging remarks about the Paris climate change agreement, the TPP, NATO and NAFTA made in the heat of the campaign, there has been no consistent message about multilateralism. Moreover, as Deborah noted in her post earlier this week, he has already (thankfully) retreated from some of these remarks.
To the extent we can make predictions at this point however, an observation in an IPI editorial last week has merit: “a Trump presidency may challenge a post-World War II American record of establishing long-term global security alliances.” Although the Trump World Tower is directly across the street from the UN, it seems unlikely it will be much of a pied-a-terre for real engagement with the UN.
At present, we know his top pick for UN ambassador is Richard Grenell, a former UN Spokesman and current media strategist. His writings and thoughts on foreign policy are available here. We also know Trump plans to pull the US out of the Paris Agreement that only entered into force in early November. Although Ban Ki Moon has gone on record to say that he is “sure [Trump] will understand …. [and] make a good and wise decision” and shift course on global warming and climate change, a source in the Trump campaign said it was “reckless” for the agreement to enter into force before the election.
There will be important reputational effects for the US as it seeks to withdraw from this treaty, particularly if the normal exit process is disregarded. That is to say nothing of the effect on the world’s climate. Moreover, the statement runs up against a basic tenet of international law that the legal entity in international law is the state, and the government is only the representative of the state. The Obama Administration was clearly within its rights to sign the accord, and any “recklessless” must be attributed to Trump. Unfortunately, Trump’s determination to upend the Iran deal may have a similar effect: destabilizing an important pact that took years to engineer while threatening to open up the nuclear race once again.
A few issues to watch as Trump takes over the presidency in the new year include the effect of a more like-minded approach between the US and Russia at the UN. If Trump and Putin engineer a rapprochement, some of the recent deadlocks we have witnessed between the super-powers will evaporate, and may reinvigorate partnerships at the UN. But what would this look like in practice? Less opposition to Russia’s expansionist tendencies? Less use of the veto? More opposition to references to human rights, protection of civilians in Security Council resolutions? Less activism? Shifting priorities for which regions the Security Council should engage with? Certainly for Syrians, the Trump presidency does not seem hopeful. Yesterday Asad called Trump a natural ally in the fight against terrorism.
Moreover, institutions that challenge the US – take for example, the signal that the ICC may open an investigation into events in Afghanistan that implicate Americans – will both test his diplomatic mettle and provide easy fodder for critics of international institutions. Trump’s relationship with the new Secretary General Antonio Guterres will also relevant. As both assume new leadership roles, their view on issues like migration and refugees could not be more diametrically opposed. With two of the five P5 states (the UK and US) moving towards a more isolationist position, the global appetite for multilateralism has changed significantly, and the effects on dynamics within the UN will clearly be profound.