C Gopinath

The UN tamasha

C Gopinath | Updated on October 01, 2018 Published on October 01, 2018

Trump pushes others too into disruptive mode

It’s that time of the year, for the annual fall ritual, when world leaders assemble at the UN to address the general assembly. In good times, you will hear boring speeches, with most leaders more interested in side deals they can strike with each other in the hallways, committee rooms and suites in nearby hotels. Occasionally, a few like USSR’s Khrushchev will wave a shoe or Venezuela’s Chavez will call President Bush ‘the devil,’ but aides generally brief leaders to maintain decorum.

Now, all that is gone and the norm is to speak your mind and name names.

US President Donald Trump fits nicely into that mould. At his speech at the UN General Assembly last week, he left no one in any doubt that his actions are focused on benefiting (only?) the American people. A nice change from the usual platitudes of multilateralism. Trump, who likes speaking his mind irrespective of the forum, is also used to strident opposition and often seems to say things to get his opponents riled up. But this time, they took him by surprise when they just laughed at him in reaction to his claim that his administration has accomplished a lot! Hmm.

The US, for long the champion of free trade, used carrots and sticks to spread its message around the world. Now, President Trump is propagating nationalism and wants more leaders to be like him. Although he feels others are hurting the US, he is not above hurting Iran using the might of his $20 trillion economy.

One major role reversal that is becoming obvious is between the US and China.

The champion of free trade is now China! After years of protecting itself behind its currency valuation and subsidising its industries, it now wants everyone to open their economies to allow Chinese goods and investments. China was represented by Foreign Minister Wan Yi who pushed for multilateralism, world peace and free trade.

Of course, China has been the largest beneficiary of global free trade, wants to keep the theme going and be seen as its champion, even though it does not make it easy for others to do business with it. Other major positions showed that the coming months are not going to be easy. European nations are trying to salvage their deal with Iran in spite of US road blocks, Turkey complaining about trade wars, and Mexico wanting more multilateralism. The Palestinian Authority president accused Israel and the US of not being interested in peace and Israel’s president complained about everyone else disturbing peace. Nothing new here.

The UN has had its own share of ironies. Countries like China and Venezuela get elected to the Human Rights Council. And Iran gets to a committee on gender equality and women’s empowerment. Perhaps it’s the UN’s way of anointing gross violators as insiders, and hoping that would effect some change.

So, even if you do not think Trump’s speech is a breath of fresh air, you would agree that he is a disruptive force and has made everyone else get on to the disruption bandwagon. This may be the right time for the greatest disruption of the UN — get it out of the US and onto its own island somewhere in the world and finalise its isolation.

The writer is a professor at Suffolk University, Boston.

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Published on October 01, 2018
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