UNGA: Trump Again Rebukes Multilateralism as Allies Look Elsewhere

“Oy vey!” rings the collective shout of all New Yorkers as they gear up for one of the most difficult times of the year in the city. This week, as summer winds down and autumn begins, traffic is at its worst, security is at its tightest, and whole streets of Manhattan can be shut down at a moment’s notice to make way for VIPs racing through the city from 5-star hotels to their next luncheon, cocktail reception, or photoshoot. That’s right New York City, it’s UNGA week!

But the high-level segment of the 73rd Session of the United Nations General Assembly is proving to be a nightmare not only for New Yorkers. In fact, the world is now joining in the collective “oy vey” of the Big Apple’s denizens (albeit not so much because of the traffic, stress, or general congestion in the streets). The reason being that the speeches, proclamations, and statements at the UNGA (and on the sidelines) by world leaders this year are more contentious and provocative than usual, most especially, by the representatives of the United States.

The United States’ arrogant behavior this week, though nothing too out of the ordinary, has been leaving a particularly sour taste behind in far too many mouths. More than possibly ever before, the rhetoric emanating from U.S. officials has been unabashedly belligerent and out of step with decorum and diplomacy. From President Donald Trump to National Security Advisor John Bolton, the U.S. has been sparing no measure of nastiness for friend and foe alike.

Yes, this is certainly an interesting UNGA, to say the least, with bitterness all around, not to mention a few laughs at the U.S. President’s expense (as well as a touch of levity thanks to New Zealand Prime Minister Jacinda Ardern bringing her newborn baby into the General Assembly hall). But, notwithstanding the commonplace aggression of men like Trump and Bolton, and one headline literally calling Trump and his big speech an “embarrassment,” the most notable thing to take place at the UNGA has been the ways in which the U.S. and its actions are being rebuked, not only by its enemies, but also by its allies.

What is effectively happening is a realignment of sorts, with Europe’s leading powers and other important players on the world stage, like Russia and China, seeking to present themselves as bulwarks of the global order, as essential pillars to the survival of the multilateral system, and as key supporters of international peace and development.

This is exemplified by the fact that on numerous occasions, world leaders have been taking potshots at the U.S. and President Donald Trump, and are keen to remind the heads of state and government gathered at the UNGA of the critical importance of multilateralism. U.S. allies like French President Emmanuel Macron have used their main speeches to stand in total contrast to the U.S. President. From climate change to the issue of Palestine and Israel, Macron has touted the importance of international agreements on a variety of matters. It is obvious that Macron’s once cozy, even jovial relationship with his American counterpart is unraveling.

UN Secretary-General Antonio Guterres opened the UNGA with stern remarks, with particular emphasis on the very issues that rub Trump the wrong way: “Those who see their neighbors as dangerous may cause a threat where there was none. Those who close their borders to regular migration only fuel the work of traffickers.” He also fired at Trump’s recent full-frontal attacks on the UN system by saying: “We need commitment to a rules-based order, with the United Nations at its center and with the different institutions and treaties that bring the Charter to life.” [Full remarks] Those “institutions” of course include ones that have been lambasted by Trump as of late, like the International Criminal Court.

Then there’s the mother of all UNGA 2018 issues in the eyes of the United States: Iran.  

Both Trump and Bolton used the UNGA as an opportunity to attack Iran and make ugly threats against it (all the while self-righteously proclaiming state sovereignty as sacrosanct). But in light of this above mentioned realignment of the global order, in a joint statement, Britain, China, France, Germany, Russia, and the EU announced the creation of alternate channels for payments related to doing business with Iran as to go around U.S. sanctions. While Secretary of State Pompeo fumes in reaction to this joint proposal, it cannot change the fact that the U.S. is finding itself increasingly isolated on matters in which it would normally play a primary role. 

At a time when the world faces serious sustainable development, environmental, and countless other challenges, the U.S. as a leading power and core architect of the international order, is simply out of step with so many other countries. This session of the UNGA lays bare the problems plaguing the western alliance and reveals the realignment and reorganization of key international players on a variety of important issues.

In the end, instead of seeking to quell conflict and tone down the tension that is gripping the UNGA, Trump had this to say during his moment in the limelight: “America is governed by Americans. We reject the ideology of globalism and we embrace the doctrine of patriotism.”

Thank you President Trump. We now know Americans run America.  

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