Analysis of President Trump's UN Speech By Jun Kwon
Last week President Trump boasted of American military strength before the United Nations, an international audience where political compromise, dialogue, diplomacy, and the restraint from the use of military forces are respected and honored. Trump stated that “the United States has great strength and patience, but if it is forced to defend itself or its allies, we will have no choice but to totally destroy North Korea.” Trump also highlighted the importance of nation-states, sovereignty, nationalism, and "America" first in the international relations.
No one denies that the world is composed of self-egoist nation-states pursuing their own self interests; however, the pursuit of self-interest of nation-states in a system which is anarchically ordered naturally leads to competition, tensions, and possible military conflicts. This is the very reason why nation-states are voluntarily motivated to create international organizations to manage refractory relations of nation-states.
Even critics of the United Nations recognize that the UN has played an important role in facilitating cooperation between states and in mitigating disputes in non-military means. Article 2 of the UN Charter clearly stipulates “…settle their international disputes by peaceful means” and “…refrain in their international relations from the threat or use of force.”
Even though Article 42 states the use of military options, it should be narrowly confined to only specific conditions under: 1) the use of the forces becomes absolutely necessary to maintain or restore international peace and security; 2) all the diplomatic efforts and resources are exhausted; and 3) the unanimity of the five permanent members at the Security Council is reached.
The unanimity of the P-5 can be viewed as impediment to efficient and swift response to international crises, but it is designed not only to ensure checks and balance among the P-5 but also to prevent any country from misusing Article 42 and conducting unilateral military campaigns. Threatening to totally destroy North Korea is counterproductive to building international support and legitimacy for the cause of the United States to get North Korea to abandon its nuclear ambitions.
Moreover, President Trump’s speech aggravated the-already-tense situation on the Korean Peninsula. In a rare address, Kim Jong Un himself delivered a response to President Trump’s UN address. His statement says that “Now Trump has insulted me and my country in front of the eyes of the world and made the most ferocious declaration of war that he would destroy North Korea…His remarks which described the US option have convinced me, rather than frightening me or stopping me, that the path I chose is correct…We will consider with seriousness the highest level of hard line countermeasure in history...I will surely and definitely tame the mentally deranged US dotard with fire…”
North Korea is now likely to respond militarily, perhaps with more missile tests and possible nuclear tests in the near future. Nationalism of North Korea becomes more pathological since the imminent and actual threat from the Unites States creates life-threatening conditions for North Korean people.
President Trump also mentioned another nuclear issue the Unites States has confronted with: the Iran nuclear deal. Trump called the Joint Comprehensive Plan of Action (JCPOA) an “embarrassment” and “a one-sided deal where the United States gets nothing in return.” He did not specify what components of the Iran nuclear pact are “embarrassment,” but he implied that he would renege on the Iran nuclear agreement.
JCPOA was a productive political outcome from an international negotiation between countries with no trust. The International Atomic Energy Agency (IAEA) has verified and monitored Iran’s implementation of its nuclear-related commitments under the JCPOA. The Agency has reported to the Security Council that Iran is complying the agreement.
Scraping the Iran deal will surely give Iran a justification to return to the nuclear programs and will disrespect the group of world powers which participated in the deal (P-5 plus Germany). It will also have far-reaching consequences on the possible U.S.-North Korean nuclear agreement.
Many wondered how President Trump would handle his first address before the United Nations. There is little doubt that what he said will have significant consequences for U.S. foreign policy.
Jun Kwon in Assistant Professor of Government at Utica College.