When American President Donald Trump threatened to “completely destroy North Korea” in his inaugural speech at the United Nations General Assembly last Tuesday, September 19, it certainly marked the end of an era in the history of liberal internationalism. And the irony is that it was one of Trump’s predecessors – Woodrow Wilson – who had striven hard for internationalism harmony after the world witnessed the macabre outcome of the First World War (1914-18) and played a key role in the formation of the now defunct League of Nations in 1920.
Almost a century since Wilson’s liberal beliefs had offered the devastated world some hope, Trump in effect demolished the idea of international brotherhood in his speech at the UN, the successor to the League. The international body might still continue to function physically, but when the leader of the world’s only superpower threatens to wipe out an entire country to punish its rogue leadership, then one can conclude with confidence that the soul of internationalism is fast nearing its end. And that’s not a good news for this planet.
Trump’s speech marked by contradiction
Trump’s speech at the UN GA had a touch of contradiction. He strongly reiterated the power of the nation-state while praising the international body at the same time. But that Trump’s praise for the UN was more of a lip service became evident when he welcomed the idea of putting the interests of one’s own country above the rest. This is a prescription of the nasty power politics – the political realism which had taken the world to disaster more than once. As the leader of the most powerful nation, Trump’s conduct was reckless and is certain to open the floodgates for the medium and lesser powers to imitate.
The current president of the US is either ignorant of the repercussions that his words can have internationally or he is not bothered at all. Before his advent to power, Trump gave the impression that he was more interested to make the US retreat from the role of an international policeman and address its own domestic issues more to become “great again”.
Trump is not an isolationist as many had thought earlier
But as time is unfolding, one sees Trump is not at all an isolationist but a confused megalomaniac whose stand is absurd and inconsistent. When it comes to a key issue like climate change – something touches the interest of the entire human race – Trump doesn’t hesitate to pull his country out and also slam emerging powers like China and India for filling up its empty shoes. But when it comes to Pyongyang’s nuclear provocations, Trump takes the US back to the role of the policeman and issues the most dangerous threat one can imagine from the podium of the world’s biggest international organisation. This absurd unilateralism is extremely dangerous, even more than Kim Jong-un’s sinister ambitions.
It is being seen today that more and more countries are turning hyper-nationalistic and caring little for international obligations. One’s nationalism is a threat for another and if the tendency is not checked through international institutions and mechanisms, then disaster will not be far. The US, being the most powerful state, needed to don a mantle of responsibility in these tough times and promote liberal internationalism through bodies like the UN. The North Korean problem should have been handled with patience and peace but Trump didn’t care for either. Instead of taking a leaf out of Wilson’s book, Trump more imitated the “We will bury you” threat which was issued by Nikita Krushchev, the leader of the former Soviet Union, aimed at the West in Poland in 1956. It also came a close second to the same Soviet leader’s outbursts at the UN GA session in 1960 during which he had allegedly banged his shoe against the desk to protest against the West.
Krushchev was removed from leadership by the Soviets themselves soon after because he had caused the country far too much embarrassment on the international stage. How far behind is Trump in earning dishonour to own his country which he wants to make great again?