Trump’s bullying and bluster on Jerusalem is bad news for the UN

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أخر تحديث : jeudi 21 décembre 2017 - 4:30
Trump’s bullying and bluster on Jerusalem is bad news for the UN

Strong, sovereign nations let diverse countries with different values, different cultures and different dreams not just coexist but work side by side on the basis of mutual respect, Donald Trump said in his first speech to the UN general assembly, in September, drawing sighs of relief

Three months later those same diverse nations have been warned by the US president’s UN ambassador, Nikki Haley, that she will take their names if they fail to support the US decision to move its embassy to Jerusalem and recognise the city as the capital of Israel. The era of mutual respect was short-lived

Hayley’s implicit threat was that countries that feature on the US register by defying the US president will face consequences. A few hours later, Trump made explicit what is implicit in America First diplomacy. If the UN voted against the US, he forecast that the US would save a lot

We don’t care. But this isn’t like it used to be where they could vote against you and then you pay them hundreds of millions of dollars. We’re not going to be taken advantage of any longer,Trump said

If soft power, in the words of Joseph Nye, “is the ability to get what you want through attraction rather than coercion”, then Trump has become the ultimate exponent of hard power diplomacy

It is partly because he is a product of a mindset that has long seen the UN as a hotbed of anti-Americanism, corruption and waste, best set out in the Fox News correspondent Eric Shawn’s book The UN Exposed. In the words of John Bolton, the US ambassador to the UN in the Bush administration, the UN has always represented a target-rich environment

It can also be argued that Trump is only highlighting a constant feature of big-power diplomacy at the UN. It is what David Hannay, the former UK ambassador to the UN, describes as “the trepidation index”, the calculus of the consequences that come with voting against a big power. Every permanent member of the security council, including the UK, hopes to be high on that index. A repeated resort to the veto by a permanent security council member – as has been the case with Russia over Syria – is normally a sign that a country’s diplomacy is misfiring

But there has been something qualitatively different about the US treatment of fellow member states over Jerusalem. The line of attack is so populist, so redolent of a protection racket, that it can only be aimed at a domestic audience rather than an external one. As countless diplomats have warned in the past 24 hours, it will also be counter-productive, only deepening US isolation

Boliva’s UN ambassador, Sacha Llorenty, has already advised Haley that the first name she should write down in her black book is Bolivia. For many countries, especially in the Middle East and Latin America, it will be a badge of honour to defy the bullying of a super power. Countries normally close to the US, such as Egypt, Canada and France, are having to take a discreet step away. They have their own courts of public opinion

Yet this could turn into an expensive symbolic clash for the UN as a whole. In 2016, the US remained the largest donor to the United Nations, contributing more than $10bn – roughly one-fifth of its collective budget. Of this, $6bn was voluntary and $4bn assessed. The US gives $2.4bn to UN peacekeeping operations alone

In addition, according to figures from the US government’s aid agency USAid, in 2016 the US provided $13bn in economic and military assistance to countries in sub-Saharan Africa and $1.6bn to states in east Asia and Oceania

It provided $13bn to countries in the Middle East and north Africa, $6.7bn to countries in south and central Asia, $1.5bn to states in Europe and Eurasia and $2.2bn to western hemisphere countries, according to USAid

The danger is that Trump’s row could spiral out of control, causing long-term damage to the UN and to the reform programme of the secretary general, António Guterres. The US has already pulled out of Unesco, and this week the UN high commissioner for human rights, Zeid Ra’ad al-Hussein, announced he was not seeking a second term, saying he would not bend the knee to the US

Still worse, Trump’s bullying of the UN may obscure the seriousness of the issue at hand. Moving the US embassy to Jerusalem is not a real estate decision. Recognising Jerusalem as the capital of Israel challenges the peace process, discomforts Saudi Arabia, America’s closest ally in the Middle East, and sets the US apart from its closest European allies, who have advocated a two-state solution for 40 years

No amount of bluster can hide this fundamental error

Patrick Wintour Diplomatic editor/theguardian.com
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