Trump's speech to UN called 'terrifying' and 'delusional' by foreign policy experts
by Mythili Sampathkumar (feat. Stephen Saideman)
September 19, 2017
Donald Trump gave his first address to the United Nations General Assembly, pushing for “sovereignty” in what has been called both “terrifying” and “delusional” by experts.
The President, sticking to prepared remarks as he spoke in front of the signature green marble of the UN Headquarters in New York, spoke primarily on his “America First” doctrine, North Korea, and Iran.
His main message to member countries gathered also addressed his core base: “I will always put America first, just like you as the leaders of your countries will always - and should always - put your countries first.”
He said this emphasis of “sovereignty” was the basis for the international cooperation upon which the UN was founded and what made former President Woodrow Wilson and Truman's Marshall Plan - that aided reconstruction of Western Europe in the wake of World War II - a success.
Although all the experts The Independent spoke with agreed that it was a consistently Trump-esque speech - “it was more rhetorically repetitious than intellectually coherent” according to UN expert at the European Council of Foreign Relations Richard Gowan.
The words “sovereign” or “sovereignty” were mentioned at least 18 times in the nearly 40 minute speech as delivered.
Mr Gowan said the speech was more catered toward appeasing the President’s base of supporters who have stuck to Mr Trump’s repeated campaign and early term remarks that the UN is full of elitists and “just a good time “just a club for people to get together, talk and have a good time”.
TJ Pempel, a political science professor at the University of California-Berkeley, echoed that statement, adding that the speech was “good for headlines” but not much else in terms of reducing global threats.
Anjali Dayal, an international security professor at Fordham University, said the speech was "terrifying" since it was such a drastic break from past US presidents despite the fact that sovereignty is still a “cornerstone” of the UN.
She said the main difference is interpreting what respecting that sovereignty means.
“I don't think it was a standard hawkish Republican foreign policy speech, even though much of what Trump said called back to the John Bolton era at the UN,” referring to the controversial US representative under George W. Bush’s administration.
Mr Trump spoke extensively on two particular countries: North Korea and Iran, calling them a “depraved regime” and a “murderous regime,” respectively.
Ms Dayal said: “it's hard to square the idea of sovereignty as non-interference with his language on North Korea, Iran, and Venezuela.”
After North Korea conducted its sixth nuclear weapons test recently, developed a hydrogen bomb, and fired test missiles over Hokkaido, Japan - the Security Council unanimously voted to place the strictest-ever sanctions on the hermit kingdom.
Today Mr Trump said that should Pyongyang not cease with developing its nuclear arsenal or attacks a US territory or ally the US would have “no choice but to destroy North Korea”.
He said, referring to the mercurial Kim Jong-un, that “Rocket Man is on a suicide mission”.
This is not much of a change in policy as Dr Stephen Saideman, an expert at Canada’s Carleton University, pointed out.
However, what worried Human Rights Watch’s UN Deputy Director Akshaya Kumar was that he said it at the UN.
War with North Korea would be an “incredibly disproportionate response to punish innocent civilians for the [North Korean regime’s] actions,” Ms Kumar told The Independent.
Neil Bhatiya, a researcher at the Center for a New American Security, told The Independent that Mr Trump’s rhetoric today ignored the “necessity of cooperating with Beijing on sanctions against Pyongyang”.
Mr Trump’s comments do not appear to take into the account the ripple effect of his apparently fatalistic view towards military action, according to Mr Pempel.
“The new sanctions authorities granted to the President have to potential to incur significant financial costs for China-based firms, which could have wider effects for the global economy if, for example, U.S. sanctions target certain large Chinese banks,” noted Mr Bhatiya.
Any implementation will have to be done in coordination with major players like China.
At the same time, Mr Pempel said this speech was “good for headlines” but not really serving the grander purpose of actually reducing a North Korea threat.