Trump Administration Threatens International Order
Ambassador Curtis A. Ward
American exceptionalism is arguably an accepted reality. However, with exceptionalism comes responsibility to ensure global stability, peace and security and should not be to create global chaos. Respect for American use of power and its role in the world comes with acting within a rules-based system, with moral authority exemplified by its deeds and behavior, and not because of its exceptionalism. Respect is not earned by threats and bullying, or by coercion; nor is respect earned because of military might or threatened use of nuclear power. Thus, the international community has come to expect that no matter who serves as president of the United States whenever there is a threat to international peace and security the United States can be counted upon as a reliable partner, to lead other democratic nations in efforts to restore international stability and protect global order. The U.S. is not expected to exacerbate the threat and create more hostility and chaos.
The Trump Administration’s threat against the International Criminal Court (ICC) is only the most recent in a series of words and actions undermining international order. Trump’s recent threat against the World Trade Organization is another. Also, coming from Trump’s national security adviser John Bolton should not be a surprise. He has been consistent in his disdain for international multilateral organizations and international norms. His record of disparaging the United Nations is well known. It intensified after the UN Security Council’s refusal to give its approval for the U.S. invasion of Iraq in 2003. As a member of the George W. Bush’s Administration, Bolton’s support for the ill-conceived illegal Iraq war is well documented.
However, the UN Security Council (UNSC), and by extension the United Nations, was not always viewed by most leaders in Washington as acting contrary to U.S. desires and interests. Following the terrorist attacks on the U.S. on September 11, 2001, the UNSC voted unanimously on September 12, 2001 (Resolution 1336 (2001)) recognizing international terrorism as a threat to international peace and security, and declared the 9/11 attack as a military attack against the U.S. Most importantly, it recognized the inherent right of the U.S. to take action, including military action, under Article 51 of the UN Charter, in self-defense. With the imprimatur of the UNSC, the U.S. invaded Afghanistan to go after Osama bin Laden and Al Qaida, as well as the Taliban which provided safe haven for bin Laden on Afghanistan territory. From his protected space in Afghanistan, bin Laden planned and executed his nefarious 9/11 acts of terrorism against the United States. The outpouring of empathy and support of the international community for the United States was unprecedented.
In the immediate aftermath of the 9/11 attacks, the UNSC was willing to do whatever the U.S. asked. I was there on the UNSC as an Ambassador of Jamaica and experienced this first hand.
Less than three weeks later, on 28 September 2001, the UNSC unanimously approved Resolution 1373 (2001) giving President George W. Bush’s Administration an international legal platform on which to build global capacity to prevent and suppress terrorism. Resolution 1373, approved under Chapter 7 of the UN Charter, made it mandatory for all UN Member States to pass anti-terrorism laws and build administrative and operational capabilities to cooperate, with the U.S. being the primary beneficiary, in the prevention, apprehension, and bringing to justice all perpetrators and supporters of international terrorism. Also, all countries were obligated to take action to prevent and suppress the financing of terrorism. While the entire global community has benefited from the UNSC mandate, the United States needed it most to protect its national security. Resolution 1373 was unprecedented in the extent of the mandatory obligations placed on every country, and many were put under tremendous burden to divert scarce resources to support the global anti-terrorism agenda.
There has been no major international terrorist attack against the U.S. Homeland since 9/11. Many terrorist plots against the U.S. have been thwarted because of the cooperation engendered by Resolution 1373. The U.S. has made tremendous investments globally to help countries build their capacities to meet Resolution 1373 obligations. Cooperating countries around the world are contributing to U.S. national security, protection of U.S. citizens and interests and securing the U.S. Homeland. Counter-terrorism capacity-building money has been well spent and redounded disproportionately to U.S. benefit. Withdrawing from international organizations and adopting a unilateralist approach, as intended by Trump and Bolton, will not serve the U.S. well.
In exercise of American exceptionalism not all U.S. administrations have gotten it right, and sometimes they fail to achieve a desired outcome. However, such failures do not disqualify America of its central role in maintaining global order. Without American moral leadership and responsible exercise of its power, autocratic bullies around the world would trample with impunity on the dignity and the rights of citizens under their control. Above all, such behavior is infectious and easily spread among other corrupt and cowardly leaders. At the same time, American exceptionalism is not a license for the U.S. with its footprint in every country to stomp on the rule of law and destroy a rule-based international system on which the world depends for the conduct of orderly international relations and commerce.
No one is above the law, no government can violate international law and norms to further its immoral and illegal activities, and there must be no impunity for behavior which costs innocent lives or oppress segments of populations under their control. To these basic tenets there is no exception.
When America fails, or is slow to act in a timely manner, the results can be devastating. Rwanda and Srebrenica genocides during the 1990s are good examples. So is World War II. When autocratic leaders defy the basic tenets of international law and norms millions of lives are lost, including American lives. Establishment of the United Nations was a direct result of the horrors of WWII. The founding of the UN was based on the premise that the international community must construct and uphold global order to prevent a third World War, and, after more than 77 years on, the UN, despite its inherent weaknesses, has managed to fulfill its original purpose.
The WWII Nuremburg Trials (1945-46), and the UNSC established and facilitated international criminal tribunals were established to bring perpetrators of genocide and crimes against humanity to justice. The UN established International Criminal Tribunal for the former Yugoslavia (1993), the International Criminal Tribunal for Rwanda (1994), the Special Court for Sierra Leone (2002),and the Extraordinary Chambers in the Courts of Cambodia (2003) with specific jurisdictions limited to specific acts of genocides have proven to be costly and not meeting all expectations. The UN with the full participation of the U.S. Government negotiated and agreed to establish the International Criminal Court (ICC) to bring future perpetrators of atrocities to justice. And, while the Bush Administration later withdrew the U.S. signature of the Clinton Administration to the Rome Statute and is not a Party, the U.S. has used the UN Security Council to refer perpetrators to the ICC.
The UN System with its many bodies and agencies have created mandates and have brought the international community together to codify norms, and create new international laws and institutions to protect the weak from the strong and to ensure that rogue nations abide. The UN and its Member States cannot enforce them without the United States as an enforcement partner. Marginalizing or destroying multilateral organizations and institutions serve the interests of despotic autocratic regimes and rogue nations, and disrupt international order. This path on which the Trump Administration has embarked does not serve U.S. national security interests and certainly not the interests of the international community.
© 2018 Curtis A. Ward/The Ward Post