President Donald Trump delivered his second speech to the United Nations General Assembly on Tuesday, September 25th. Its overarching theme was the primacy of national sovereignty as the best organizing principle to help foster prosperity, peace and freedom in the world.
At the outset of his speech, the president was met with derisive laughter from the assembled world leaders, ministers and ambassadors in the audience. They were mocking his claim that, in less than two years, “my administration has accomplished more than almost any administration in the history of our country.” In a quick rejoinder to the laughter, President Trump smiled and said, “I wasn’t expecting that reaction but that’s ok.” Then he proved his case with a recitation of facts demonstrating a strengthened economy at home, a stronger military, and more assertive U.S. leadership on a broad range of global issues. In the year since the president’s 2017 remarks to the General Assembly, the Trump Administration has diminished major threats to world peace, including the imminent threats posed by the North Korean regime and ISIS. President Trump has proven that the United States can engage fully with other nations on the world scene to surmount serious challenges to peace and security without sacrificing its own national sovereignty.
“We believe, that when nations respect the rights of their neighbors and defend the interests of their people,” President Trump said, “they can better work together to secure the blessings of safety, prosperity, and peace.” As far as America is concerned, President Trump made it unmistakably clear that it will always honor its own national sovereignty and protect its own people over any dictates coming from unaccountable global governance institutions. “America is governed by Americans,” he told the General Assembly attendees who sat on their hands throughout much of the president’s speech, shook their heads or stared blankly ahead, and only mildly applauded at the speech’s conclusion. “America will always choose independence and cooperation over global governance,” the president remarked.
President Trump singled out the International Criminal Court (ICC) for criticism, which, he said “has no legitimacy or authority.” The ICC, he added, “claims near universal jurisdiction over the citizens of every country, violating all principles of justice, fairness and due process.” He vowed to “never surrender America’s sovereignty” to such an “unelected, unaccountable” globalist body. The president also reiterated that the United States will not participate in the new global compact on migration. “Migration should not be governed by an international body, unaccountable to our own citizens.”
Contrary to the distortions of his position by globalists and his enemies more generally, President Trump is not disowning the United Nations. To the contrary, he views the UN within the framework that was originally conceived by its founders. The UN was seen at its inception as an international body of sovereign nations brought together for the purpose of fostering cooperation, while taking collective action where warranted against threats to international peace and security. The United Nations Charter specifically recognizes the sovereign status of the member states. It stipulates that the United Nations does not have the authority “to intervene in matters which are essentially within the domestic jurisdiction of any state.” The history of the UN’s founding is clear that the United States would not have become a member of the United Nations without such assurances.
In globalist circles, however, such talk is anathema. Globalists believe that national sovereignty is atavistic – a relic of the past that should be consigned to the dustbin of history. The world, they argue, needs to be governed by a transnational system of international law under the auspices of a strengthened United Nations and sister global governance institutions such as the International Criminal Court. With the backing of successive United Nations Secretary Generals, the UN bureaucracy, like-minded leaders of member states and globalist non-governmental organizations, UN expansionists have sought to create international institutional frameworks that would govern precisely the types of activities that nation states have historically reserved for themselves. Globalists are uncomfortable with anything less than subordinating national sovereignty to their notion of global citizenship in a world where individual nations would surrender much of their governance powers to one or more supranational bodies.
As President Trump has made repeatedly clear, he rejects the globalists’ premise. He adheres to the Founding Fathers’ cardinal principle that the United States is a self-governing sovereign democratic republic for whose citizens the U.S. Constitution is the supreme law of the land. “In America, we believe in the majesty of freedom and the dignity of the individual,” he declared in his General Assembly address. “We believe in self-government, and rule of law. We prize the culture that sustained our liberty. Sovereign and independent nations are the only vehicle where freedom has ever survived. And so, we must protect our sovereignty and our cherished Independence above all.”
President Trump’s “America First” precept embodies this principle of the primacy of national sovereignty. However, President Trump has not said that national sovereignty and multilateralism are mutually exclusive. He is not an isolationist. Rather, he believes in a community of diverse nations “pursuing their own unique visions” that can still cooperate in trying to solve common problems that truly transcend national borders. The United Nations, President Trump said, has “unlimited potential” if adequately reformed to make it “more effective and accountable.” He called for fairer burden-sharing, declaring that “[O]nly when we each do our part and contribute our share, can we realize the United Nations highest aspirations.”
President Trump also focused on several specific issues and hot spots around the world during his General Assembly address. Contrary to the president’s tough talk last year against the North Korean regime and its dictator Kim Jong-un, whom he at that time referred to as “rocket man,” President Trump touted the progress made following his summit meeting with Kim earlier this year. “The missiles and rockets are no longer flying in every direction,” he said. “Nuclear testing has stopped. Some military facilities are already being dismantled. Our hostages have been released. The remains of our fallen heroes are being returned home.” The president praised Kim Jong-un for “the steps he has taken,” while making it clear that the “sanctions will stay in place until denuclearization.”
Regarding the “ongoing tragedy in Syria,” the president declared that “the United States will respond if chemical weapons are deployed by the Assad regime.” He called for “the de-escalation of military conflict along with a political solution that honors the well-being of the Syrian people” and urged that “the United Nations-led peace process be reinvigorated.”
President Trump was unsparing in his condemnation of the Iranian regime, whose “corrupt” leaders, he said, “plunder the nation’s resources to enrich themselves and to spread mayhem across the Middle East and far beyond.” The president explained that his “decision to withdraw the United States from the horrible 2015 Iran nuclear deal and reimpose nuclear sanctions” was supported by “so many countries in the Middle East.” This was a direct slap at the Western European nations who have criticized the president’s decision as unilateral and plan to continue doing business with the Iranian regime.
President Trump also sharply criticized Venezuela’s repressive, socialist regime that ruined Venezuela’s once prosperous economy. He announced new sanctions targeting the inner circle and close advisers of Venezuela’s leader, Nicolás Maduro.
The president reprised his familiar complaints concerning unfair trade practices hurting the United States. Some countries admitted to the World Trade Organization have gamed the system while the United States and other nations have played by the rules. The countries acting unfairly “use government-run industrial planning and state-owned enterprises to rig the system,” President Trump said. “They engaged in relentless product dumping, forced technology transfer and the theft of intellectual property.” Not surprisingly, the president singled out China, explaining that his steep tariffs were necessary to staunch the loss of American jobs and the plundering of America’s wealth. “America will never apologize for protecting its citizens,” he said. The president also denounced OPEC for “ripping off the rest of the world” with its high oil prices. “We are not going to put up with it, these horrible prices much longer,” he warned, after noting that the United States has “become the largest energy producer anywhere on the face of the Earth.”
Finally, President Trump made it clear that the days of the United States’ open-ended generosity in funding the United Nations and providing foreign aid are over. “We are grateful for all of the work the United Nations does around the world to help people build better lives for themselves and their families,” he said. However, the United States will not participate in dysfunctional UN bodies such as the Human Rights Council, which refused to reform its ways after repeated warnings from the president himself and U.S. Ambassador to the UN, Nikki Haley. The president also made clear his intention that the United States pay no more than 25 percent of the UN peacekeeping budget, rather than 28.47 percent of its budget of $6.8 billion as the U.S. currently does. The U.S. contribution is nearly three times the amount of the second largest contributor to the UN peace-keeping budget, China.
President Trump noted that the United States is “the world’s largest giver by far of foreign aid.” Such aid can no longer be considered an entitlement, however. “Moving forward,” the president declared, “we will only give foreign aid to those who respect us and our friends.” The president said he was tasking Secretary of State Mike Pompeo with heading up an effort to “examine what is working, what is not working, and whether the countries who receive our dollars and our protection also have our interests at heart.”
Self-important world leaders, so-called global “experts,” and anti-Trump commentators in the mainstream media can sneer at President Trump’s remarks to the United Nations General Assembly all they want. In the end, their supercilious opinions and condescending attitudes mean nothing. President Trump was not interested in winning a popularity contest, as former President Obama was. President Trump spoke the hard truth about how the world really works. Sovereign nations are the locus of real power and legitimate governing authority in a world of diverse peoples and cultures.
The United States has and will continue to be a force for good against dangerous bad actors. It is not shrinking from its global responsibilities under President Trump. However, the United States will no longer be taken advantage of just to garner fake plaudits. The United Nations can play a constructive supporting role in some respects, such as coordinating humanitarian disaster relief and implementing collective security measures in those diminishing instances where there is unity among the members of the Security Council. However, UN bureaucrats and their globalist boosters would do well not to give in to hubris and try to elevate the level of UN and affiliated international institutions to some form of global governance meant to replace the authority of sovereign nation states. President Trump has given them fair warning to avoid the fate of collapsing under their own weight.