By Masoud Zamani  

On Trump, UN and the Logic of Unilateralism

January 4, 2017

TEHRAN - 'As to the UN, things will be different after Jan 20th,' reckoned the president-elect Trump in the wake of the Security Council Resolution condemning Israeli settlements, and thereby sketching his UN related policies. But exactly how different things will and can be as to the UN after Jan 20th? Yes, neither Trump nor the republican establishment as a whole exactly represents the champion of multilateralism inherent in the work of U.N. Nonetheless, the Trump administration may turn out to be more serious of a threat to U.N than any of its republican predecessors.

Trump's reaffirmations of the American exceptionalism themes, his unwavering support for Israel, his disagreement with the Paris Agreement, his distaste for humanitarian relief expenditures and his probable disapproval of the new Secretary-General's leftist background may well come to give the UN a very rough time during his presidency. 
Undoubtedly, a large part of the UN financial needs is met only by virtue of the U.S contributions, and certainly, with the increasing financial difficulties of UN, nobody in the world's major organization welcomes more trouble. Yet, what looks like Trump's fashion of exceptionalism has the potential to harm the U.S long-term interests in ways more than one. 

True that the upcoming U.S. executive seems a little more willing to befriend Russia, however, it cannot certainly afford to unfriend the rest of the world.Unilateralism comes with costs in the international community. One can still remember the reputational blows suffered by the Bush administration over the Iraq war, and other examples of the U.S. disregard for international law in that period. In fact, it seems that the possible gestures and moves of the Trump administration against such international law organizations as UN and WTO and such international agreements as TPP, NAFTA and even the Iran nuclear deal cannot but put the U.S. in a very peculiar position —one which effectively transforms the biggest world empire into the planet Trump. Could the president-elect Trump really be unwise or more diplomatically put, unadvised enough to corner the state he represents with his own hands? We are yet to see.

True that the upcoming U.S. executive seems a little more willing to befriend Russia, however, it cannot certainly afford to unfriend the rest of the world. By all accounts, the U.S. needs the UN more than any other state in the international community. If the future Trump administration takes a step back in relation to its UN aide programs, the Chinese government will most probably take two steps forward to fill the inevitable gap. If Trump ignores the interests of other members of the Security Council, the Syrian crisis will remain in deadlock indefinitely, and the outflow of war refugees will be increased. If Trump takes a hostile approach to the UN General Assembly, it will risk its own legitimacy and international prestige.  In the same vein, ignoring other organs of the UN and its specialized agencies will result into political, economic and legal consequences in no way favorable to the U.S. interests. What is more, withdrawing from the international treaties, agreements and pacts to which the U.S is a party can only call into question the reliability of the U.S commitments in the eyes of its friends and foes alike. These possibilities, if actualized, suggest that the beginning of the planet Trump could put an end to the American dream. Once again, could the president-elect Trump be impulsive enough to actualize all the mistakes he has promised to make? We are yet to see. 

Withdrawing from the international treaties, agreements and pacts to which the U.S is a party can only call into question the reliability of the U.S commitments in the eyes of its friends and foes alike. 
Today, every one appears to be interested in things that the president-elect Trump can or cannot do unilaterally; can Trump unilaterally dismantle the nuclear deal?, can Trump unilaterally decide to withdraw from NATO, TPP, WTO and Paris Agreements?, can Trump unilaterally recognize Jerusalem as the capital of the occupied territories?, can Trump unilaterally erect a border wall against Mexico? In the eyes of Trump, underlying an affirmative answer to these questions is the hypothesis that America is so great as to act alone and not suffer the consequences. 

However, Trump seems to have forgotten that if the U.S acts alone, it will be alone. Can the president-elect Trump with his best intentions be mad enough to render America the loneliest country in the world? We are yet to see. 
Whether we desire it or not, Trump is, slowly but surely, shaping his own discourse in the world's politics. In his discourse, America is the best, and the whole world, just one of the rest. This is unilateralism at its most vulgar. The question for us, the rest of the world, is how to process, face and encounter the logic of unilateralism in a way responsive to our needs. This is where our responsibility lies. Can we, the members of the international community, too review and renovate our own discourse?  Does U.N have a strategy to deal with Trump's threats? How are the other parties to the nuclear deal going to react to Trump's walking the talk? Above all, can we possibly be feeble enough to be trumped by a unilateralist Trump? We are yet to see.    

Dr. Masoud Zamani holds a PhD degree in international law from the University of Nottingham and is a lecturer of international law. 

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