...or International Politics, US elections and how UN does not actually govern anyone
Here are several ad-hoc observations about the President of the United States of America speaking at the United Nations high level segment of the UNGA 73rd session earlier today:
1. POTUS spoke later than protocol allowed. That gave Ecuadorian President Lenin(!) Moreno a chance to capture the attention and criticize US.
Usually Brazil that chaired the 1st UN session at its creation, speaks first by tradition. The Presidents of the United States would speak immediately after, as the host country. This time the President of the United States spoke third, allowing Lenin Moreno keep attention on the public and criticize United States including. Later POTUS called countries to avoid socialism and communism - and I would want to believe that he meant extremist socialism and communism - as well as about the protection of national interests of the US. Yet, President Lenin received from the POTUS an unexpected opportunity to capture the attention of the public, due to the fact that all delegations were traditionally waiting for the POTUS and were attentive to all speeches before that. Normally after POTUS speech people leave for their bilateral meetings. Thus, President Lenin received a chance and US national interests that were supposed to be protected, I'd think about the public image too, were criticized.
As to why would POTUS make such a gift to Lenin Moreno and come later - there normally could be several reasons for a President to speak later than usual:
a. He has an important meeting right then. Than the journalists would have every right to wonder with whom?
b. He doesn't like his speech & needs to adapt it. In that case it would be interesting to find out what was "wrong", what was added and was deleted. Not less importantly, who actually wrote the speech?
c. He made a nice gesture allowing Ecuador first, though President Moreno would be critical to US. If POTUS did that nonetheless, that would be really praiseworthy.
d. Very unlikely - he is held by traffic, which is somewhat hard to believe with US president, as any diplomat who worked at UN knows. However, finding out about scheduling reasons/schedulers would be interesting, if traffic was the reason.
2. Reaction to POTUS suggestion that his administration has done more than any other US administration in history.
I can confirm that actually, speeches at UN are often used for internal political purposes. I have suggested that myself to our leadership, since national media actually follows very carefully such high level events. The obvious difference between US and Moldova is that for Chisinau authorities UNGA is a unique opportunity to express some points globally and target its own public locally at the same time, providing some increased visibility at home against the background of a truly global event. That would be called - amplifying the message in the media and politics (& marketing). However, the US President enjoys permanent coverage regardless of his political affiliation and time.
While quasi-electoral statements at UN would be expected in national election times, and US is practically in "permanent" elections, the particular statement about "doing more than any other US administration" in this case was an unfortunate choice by the person who wrote the speech (see my question above, who wrote the speech or was it changed by the president last minute & made him come late to the party). Hence the light laughter in #UNGA73 room during such a statement. Those in the room were not domestic electorate and took the statement with irony, since the usual Governmental praise is always present at these events, but is moderate compared to that. The POTUS reaction was actually quite ok, when he smiled and said he didn't expect such a reaction. I had a feeling he realized that he went too much overboard for this audience. The room reacted to his recognition of the fact with a slight (appropriate) laughter and applause. It was a signal of outsiders perception of the current US administration and POTUS around the world, which I presume doesn't bother the President and his supporters that much, but international relations are also prone to perfections and are affected by them, if negative. From this perspective, one particular thing in international relations and public relations, which I both covered throughout my professional career in foreign affairs, suggests to know your audience - and POTUS spoke only to domestic TV audience at that moment, which 99% might be used against him by his political opponents, which in turn will generate another exchange of his bitter remarks about the media and perpetuate a negative image trend for him.
3. On Syria
Further on, the US president spoke about eliminating ISIS, and the war in Syria. He suggested that US will respond if chemical weapons will be deployed by the regime.
My understanding is that despite these threats US will not intervene on the ground to actually stop it. That doesn't differ much from the Previous administration approach, in terms of non-involvement, perhaps with the exception of the internal motivation. Obama's administration seemed to be centered around the idea "no-war President" and avoiding deaths of US soldiers. President Trump may see the issue of US soldiers death as a negative event as well, understandably, but in a world where US partly isolates itself from global affairs, though the president later suggested that it doesn't. It just allows local players to involve themselves more, as well as on the "business" idea that equal investment is required for "defense" protection. This may seem:
- in a rough manner "ransom for protection" which will be perceived badly overall (there are important nuances, however!!!)
- isolationist Monroe Doctrine v02 (although Monroe was actually different) or may be interpreted as a sign of US weakness that confirms that it previously ceded Syria to Russia, which I am sure was not the intention of the US. But the world doesn't necessarily thinks as US does.
4. On Iran
The President was critical of Iran's aggressive stance in the region and perceived expansion policies, it's funding of terror in Syria and Yemen (which is indeed a concern) . Interesting enough POTUS brought up these data about Ira - a 40% increased military spending since the old deal was signed, including on missiles. This and other reasons explained US withdrawal from Iran's deal. Moreover, he promised to work on cutting exports of oil from Iran, all to isolate Iran's regime & support Iran's people freedom. Though I am not privy to some Iran's details, I can hardly argue that Iran, just like North Korea are not positive examples and the right tougher attitude was indeed necessary. In North Korea it almost paid off.
5. North Korea evolution
Though North Korea evolution was mentioned in a positive light and I did not catch yet all of the wording, but I am hopeful to see it published today, I am very careful when it comes to North Korea. A number of countries should be extremely nervous about the prospects of a "peace treaty" between North and South Korea, as it would legitimize North Korea as a separate state. This should be avoided by South Koreans at all costs. US does not seem to be interested in more than that, while for the sake of its own future Seoul should. It will be up to South Korea to diplomatically manage this unfortunate (underdeveloped) situation. There are more considerations and I will dedicate another post to that, sometimes later.
6. Moving US Embassy to Jerusalem
No changes on that topic, actually as expected. It was a move somebody else would have done at one point, with all the risks of the move. The fact that it was first done by the US gave it a greater weight, but it's a long story and probably one more point for disagreement in the resolution process. The fact of the matter is that the Embassies should be established in the capital of a country, but that it creates tensions in an unresolved conflict is a fact as well. As a conflict negotiator I know that every single subject will be inevitably a matter of discord to attain tactical advantages - and now Israel feels that it has an upper hand to not only maintain the status quo, but to "enlarge" it (a contradiction between a static vs evolving situation, but I am sure the idea is understandable).
7. Trade and tariffs (via China example)
POTUS spoke about the fair trade, where US opened its trade borders to other states, in a free and fair competition. However, some of those states used internal State subventions for unfair competition/dumping prices. He deplored that WTO rules of free and fair competition are used unfairly and therefore suggested here and later again that the infringement of international community (WTO etc) over sovereign US would make Washington DC protect it's country and citizens - this in my opinion has one good point and one flaw point as well.
a. Respectively POTUS just announced new billion USD tariffs on China. That specific approach, free trade vs subsidized & therefore unfair trade is a much more understandable explanation than the mere "we need to conduct a "Trade War" (unexplained) that I have seen up to now in the media, without an opportunity to enter into details of it. And as we all know, the devil is(!) in the details. Let's see, however, how this is conducted, as well as the impact over US prices, due to the lack of cheaper import goods. That would have a serious impact on the US economy and ultimately voters.
b. on exploitation of US by WTO - unfortunately this is not a serious explanation, as any country can implement its own protective measures in accordance with WTO provisions. Hence this is either naive or purposefully wrong, to create some sort of invented enemy. I remember that USSR, then Russia and their Transnistrian "separatists" proxies in Eastern Moldova, bordering Ukraine, always used the "besieged fortress" scare to ensure that people would unite around (their) flag, thus expanding their power. I would like to sincerely hope that this is not the case in US or that it would not be used like that in the future.
8. OPEC must lower prices
The conservative right wing US President made the statement that OPEC rips off the world with inflated oil prices, US defends them, but OPEC countries take advantage of that. He further added that US is not going to put up with high prices anymore. Like several other statements that he made today, these are in fact liberal (do not confuse with left-wing) assertions, where classical liberalism allows as little state intervention into business, free markets etc. Hence actually, from the point of view of free market, in my country the internal business agreements similar to OPEC's would be called "Cartel Agreements" and would be punishable by law under anti-monopoly and lack of free competition on the free market legislation.
9. Energy in Germany vs Poland (Nord Stream 2 including)
Further on energy, POTUS praised Poland for its steps toward energy lines independence, while being extremely critical toward Germany for continuing to discuss NordStream2 gas supplies from Russia, which would make Germany even more dependent on the Russian gas. He was very critical towards Russian actions in the region as such. I couldn't find a critical point in that statement and fully agree with that. Moreover, I am surprised that countries that I really respect, Germany and UK, continue to deal with Russian gas and banking matters in a controversial or insufficient manner, I am afraid.
10. POTUS Critical to UN Global Compact on immigration and illegal immigration
POTUS spoke against illegal immigration, stating that criminal gangs are profiting from it. If other countries place immigration restrictions, then US restrictions should be respected too by other countries. That's why, he stated, US will not participate in the Global Compact on Migration. He suggested that the situation in the countries of origin needs to improved instead.
As the former Chairman at UN of the Commission for Population and Development that dealt with New Trends in Migration I can definitely say this - actually this (sovereign rights and limits) is what the Compact is about. In fact the Compact is a non-legally-binding agreement - absolutely nothing will happen if US was in it. However, by proclaiming that it goes outside of it, US created a very negative impression of the lack of competence with diplomats and a wrong public image of a careless state in public circles. In fact US continues to receive immigrants, though creates enormous unreasonable and even illegal barriers to them, yet nonetheless it does receive some of them. POTUS message should have been that US will impose reasonable national restrictions - whoever advised him on the matter is not competent to deal with that from the diplomatic point of view. However, this may have appealed to some of its constituency, but that number might be smaller that he might think - I will follow closely how employers deal with inevitable salary expenditures, against the background of higher base prices due to international tariffs and lack of best qualified foreign experts.*
*Note: Currently illegal migrants seem to very well continue to live in the US, while the legal few and qualified applicants are often rejected entry into the US on plain ridiculous for a Rule of Law state explanations, including for example the lack of blank page 7 in the application and other even worst explanations. They most probably count on the fact that these are difficult to fight in US courts due to distance, excessive and unnecessary additional expenses for themselves or their companies and many other factors. It seems that currently the legal and qualified application migrants are scapegoats for illegal immigration to be reported as "successes" in stopping immigration. This would be too similar to USSR identical approaches to problems they could not properly solve and similar "reporting" by the militzia (soviet police), but we're talking about the US...
11. On foreign aid, peacekeeping (and Venezuela) - an unfortunately difficult statement, mixing positive signals with misunderstanding of the donor concept
POTUS was critical towards Venezuela, blaming such socialism & communism for bringing misery to its people and making them migrate from the country. He suggested that there is a need to oppose such socialism/communism and called for the restoration of democracy in Venezuela. He made an announcement hat new additional sanctions were just imposed (or will be).
Changing the angle, President Trump was grateful to the UN for its help in making the lives of people better, but lamented that few give anything to the United States. Hence US will give aid only to those who respect USA.
He then stated that others have to pay for their defense (a phrase I would've expected from him at NATO summit). However, he later explained that - US will give no more than 25% of the UN peacekeeping budget for their defense, and ensure that other countries will share & contribute to it. Only contribution of each state would correspond to UN aspiration of hope without despair and security without apology, he said.
Several points on some of these statements:
a. As a person who lived through a communist/socialist aka "socialist with human face" systems I agree that the fight for freedom (liberties - hence liberal wold order, including local liberty to wear a gun if threatened, which is also a liberal principle, to the dismay of easily manipulated electorate - not left wing, but liberal, which can be either left wing or right wing, as all liberties are large and accommodating) is necessary, against any totalitarian or corrupt regime, socialist-communist-corrupt including. Venezuelan people and people of Syria, Iran, North Korea or anywhere else, even with less restrictive, but still existing quasi-sultanic regimes, deserve to live free.
b. The concept of humanitarian help, like Mother Theresa's for example, is that a Christian gives without asking in return. That's what UN does, with donations from member states. US donates voluntarily to help others and actually dictates as the donor where to. Perhaps like the Salvation Army or Church helping without return on investment. In fact that should be very much and equally in line with the principles of both GOP and Dem voters, for various reasons. Since US is the biggest economy, it donates most, as per a mutual agreement by all member states, USA including. UN needs to improve on its spending and efficiency, no doubt, however this does not prohibit the countries to deal with that voluntarily. No one is forcing states to help others. And no one prohibits US (e.g. USAID) to contribute bilaterally, as well, as many other countries do additionally to the UN. In fact UN cannot take a decision, because UN does not tke decision - it's the member states who takes decisions, UN is ruled by member states, by US including. Surprisingly, this concept remains seemingly unknown to the large public and the phrase "UN does X or Y" is contrary to the reality. US has sufficient power to steer UN where it wants to. Still and again, this is not a contractual deal, but a concept alike to "help your neighbor"...
c. The richest country in the world should not be asking something in return for its donations. That is against the idea of donating. As rude as it may seem, but whoever wrote that does not grasp the concept of international affairs and its humanitarian help or, to use a concept better understood by conservative Christians, goes against the concept of the Church - failing to distinguish a commercial transaction from humanitarian help, like using (your own payment for) a phone call to 911 when seeing a person in distress, robbed for example, and then asking for money for that call. This misjudgment will result in heavy criticism that could have been easily avoidable by explaining the need for a "fairer" distribution of development budget.
e. Same goes for peacekeeping - it s a donation, not a tit for tat. In fact US and many others donate money employing inexpensive peacekeepers form other countries. It doesn't directly and massively participate in peacekeeping, like so many do. And mixing US involvement for example in Afghanistan with UN peacekeeping in this case would not be even remotely serious. Normally countries use for their protection their own military or private contractors (e.g. even Russian PCC in oil/gold/uranium rich African countries). Where local military is unable, and resources are either absent or unmanageable the UN intervenes with the mandate of the UN Security Council, where USA has the power to propose its own views, sanctions and vetoes - these arguments show that such statements will attract criticism and that it could have been easily avoidable again.
12. The concept of sovereign states vs global governance
During his speech, POTUS gave a comprehensive worldview (in a way I haven't heard before) and he did that in an clear explanatory manner, with very few characteristic hick ups. As a former Presidential Adviser on Foreign Policy in my country, working for a President who made controversial statements it was interesting to see from aside how Donald Trump seems and explains the world.
He mentioned that he does not accept globalism in his speech. At the end he asked the auditorium what kind of a future and nations will our children inherit? He praised the reforms of India and Kingdom of Saudi Arabia, spoke of Israel being the only democracy in the region, praised Poland again for taking care of its security & sovereignty. He spoke of many peoples with their own visions. He concluded that the world is richer because of the constellation of (individual sovereign) countries. US knows kind of future we want - of freedom, 'individual', self-government and rule of law, where Differences are to be embraced, nations would be greater, safer, the world better, and unleash the potential of the people. Sovereign & independent nations are the only vehicle where freedom survived. And so is the need to protect our countries. This way we'll find new spirit for peacekeeping & freedom, he suggested.
The thing is - this is what UN "does", when sovereign nations decide what they can do by themselves and what they can bring to the UN table, where they will take a decision where UN should be involved and how much. UN serves members states, not vice-versa.
Or else this is just for internal political consumption, but then US citizens should know better - there is no such thing 'UN dictates' and 'UN rules the world', only countries can order UN do something and as a leading member of the UN, the United Sates of America is the heaviest players of all in terms of what decisions UN adopts, since UN are the countries that vote, including US. Nothing is perfect, but not as dramatic as a "global government" above US.
The speech had good points and weak points, in fact reflecting both US diplomacy and electoral affairs. They either go along or clash, and as elections continue, they will continue to clash.
New York, September 25, 2018
The video of the POTUS speech finally appeared on UN's website, after I published the 12 points above - if there are discrepancies, my apologies. Watch POTUS speech here:
For condensed comments of POTUS speech, see my twitter thread here, though I have reflected everything above: