President Donald Trump De-validates the International Order?

President Donald Trump De-validates the International Order?

Monday, February 6, 2017 8:57 am

Ademola Araoye

By Ademola Araoye

The political orientations of Donald Trump as the President of the United States of America, the hegemon of the post Cold War era and leader of the North Atlantic Treaty Organization (NATO), threaten to upend the subsisting international order or create serious tensions in the dominant alliance system that emerged following the triumph of western Alliance in World War II, and more recently in the Cold War. In the aftermath of the dissolution of the rival Soviet Union and its associated Warsaw Pact Communist bloc, the situation is fluid in Eastern Europe. The successor state to the Soviet Union, the Russian federation, has sought to protect is western flank by asserting its territorial red line in Ukraine and has constantly reminded the Baltic states of their continued vulnerability. This is a buffer zone Russia deems necessary given its history of invasions from the West. In the midst of these is the rise of radical or political Islam as non state actors with devastating consequences for global stability. The Muslim world is in radical ferment. Samuel Huttington had presciently predicted a conflict of civilizations.

In the evolved situation, cohesion within the Western Alliance has been the most stable element in the structure of global power since the end of the Cold War. The United States with a power index of 0.0897 is ranked first, Russia (0.0964) is second pushing China (0.0988) to the third place. India (0.1661) is fourth in the hierarchy, followed by France (0.1993) United Kingdom (0.2164) Japan (0.2466), Turkey (0.2623) and Germany (0.2646). Italy (0.2724) is tenth. It is instructive that 50% of the ten most powerful states are fully located or straddle Asia. The eleventh on the list, South Korea, is also Asian. When combined with military and economic power, China is still the second most powerful state in the world. It is clear that there has been a shift in global power configuration in favor of Asia. Asia combined has also emerged as a global economic giant. That trend remains unabated. Meanwhile, Egypt power index (0.3056), twelve in global ranking, is first in Africa. Algeria (0.4514) twenty six globally, is second on the continent. Ethiopia (0.9619) is forty second globally, third in Africa. Nigeria, (0.7856) forty fourth in world ranking, occupies fourth place in the continent. South Africa (0.8252) is forty sixth globally and fifth in Africa. With a combined of less that 1% of global industrial production, Africa continues to remain in the margins of global relevance. Africa’s situation is compounded by continued governance challenges manifest in parochial appointments based on family ties, ethno-regional/religious affinities and corruption from Cape to Cairo. Most of its 56 rag flag pretend states are unviable.

Within the context of the rather constantly evolving unstable structure, reunified Germany has been restrained. France boisterous. The United Kingdom stuck to its unflinching hug with the United States. The Scandinavians and Eastern European jittery. Turkey, straddling Europe and the Arab and Muslim worlds, has been assertive as a member and more recently an exuberant proxy of NATO in facing off Russia in the middle East, especially Syria. Vladimir Putin puts on a grim grin of mischief. The United States is in retrogressive and conservative convulsion. The rise of a peculiarly white American nationalist Trump in the United States in 2017 in the context of the resurgence of an old nationalism that had led to catastrophe in the West and East in early and the first quarter of twentieth century, imposes a tour of the historical trajectory of the insular and reluctant United States to its centrality and preeminence in the present international order.

The implications of Trump’s policies, reverting to old principles that are antiquated in the context of present global sensibilities, are in its potential massive shifts of the tectonic plates in global strategic layout, including the ascendance of power based harsh protocols of the international system over fine liberal sensibilities that have guided the management of such humanitarian issues as immigration, asylum, integration and multiculturalism championed by multilateral institutions. As a rule of the thumb, most post modern states, mostly in Europe, are in relative terms more amenable to the application of liberal sensibilities than classic modern states represented by the United States. Classic modern states are often wedded to national sovereignty and are resistant to international law, that they often despise. John Fonte is clear that Abraham Lincoln, America’s 16th President, was unambiguous in his message to Congress on July 4, 1861 defining sovereignty as a political community without a superior. A supra national sovereignty would thus be a political superior to a liberal democratic nation state.

The intellectual anchors, mainly in but not limited to the United States of America, of puritan nationalism perceive conflict between global governance represented by multilateral institutions such as the United Nations and their soft protocols on the one hand and on the other hand independent self government of classic modern states. They cite John Locke as explicitly rejecting Immanuel Kant’s notion that it would be legitimate for an independent democratic state to cede some of its sovereignty to a transnational or foreign political authority. National interest, no matter how defined, is thus supreme. From their podium, it is postulated in the name of Locke that universal human rights and presumably humanitarian law can be realized only within particular commonwealths whose governments are based on popular consent an respect for individual rights. Ominously, they assert that the implementation of universal principles should be the business of democratically elected and accountable national governments and not transnational authorities.

The paradoxes of this perversions of the main ethos of the United States as a safe haven for burdened humanity notwithstanding, this has been an abiding philosophy undergirding the United States relations with the global system irrespective of ideo-philosophical orientation of the party in power. Trump has merely suppressed political correctness and swung the pendulum to the very far polar end of untamed and unmediated nationalism. His definitions of America’s national interests, however bizarre, have driven recent policies that have generated global controversy as they assault emerged transnational liberal and humanitarian sensibilities. But these developments have to be put in a historical context.


The tensions ensuing from Trump’s philosophy and political orientation are unique in contemporary history of alliances since World War II when the United States of America was forced to jettison its insular policy and reluctantly or forced to embrace engagement across the Atlantic to stop rabid nationalism, expressed in Nazism and Fascism, in both Europe and Japan . Trump’s inclinations also challenge the fundamental assumptions and logic underpinning the post Cold War international order or even the main elements of Woodrow Wilson’s liberal internationalism that never really took root in the United States. Tamás Magyarics recalls that the first hundred years of the history of the United States were characterized by – among other things – a continuous attempt to prevent foreign countries (in practice the European big powers) from influencing and interfering with American affairs. Most of the major statements on foreign relations – from George Washington’s Farewell Address through the Monroe Doctrine to the Polk Doctrine – basically offered a deal to the Europeans: they should stay away from the Americas and, in return, the U.S. would also do the same with regard to European affairs. Accordingly, during the decade after World War I Americans had no desire to get involved in foreign wars, no matter what happened. They had turned away from Wilsonian internationalism.

Magyarics further notes that President Woodrow Wilson, who was elected President in 1912, had strong convictions regarding the role of the government and the role his country should play in the world. He tried to blend universalism with the concept of the uniqueness of the American experience, value-based American foreign political traditions, which might be called “liberal”, with internationalism. Further, Woodrow Wilson also believed in an antihistoricist notion of universal right. He discounted the geopolitical and spatial components of international politics. For him what is true is true everywhere at any given time. Policy orientation had nothing to do with historical or geographical configuration in the Wilsonian world. Wilsonianism thus implies that the order of the “Right” embodies the universal interests of humankind, and opposition to it is inherently inhuman or even criminal. Magyarics surmises that Woodrow Wilson projected this role onto the world stage: he exhorted foreign statesmen for failing to comprehend the requirements and necessities of the new age and thinking in terms of traditional balance-of-power politics instead of endorsing the new, American approach to international relations. American interaction with world has swung between Wilsonian noble notions and Kantian understandings. Policies have been driven moderated by the domestic and international complexities of each era and the dominant worldview of each administration. President Franklin D. Roosevelt was forced by the domestic realities and dominant internal sentiments at first before he succumbed to the inscrutable imperatives of the international politics of his time.

Even though recorded as a one of the great progressives of his time, when Franklin D. Roosevelt became President his attention was diverted from the international problems arising from the destructive realpolitik of Europe, including and expressed in the feud between England and France on the one hand and Germany on the other. American domestic problems were more immediate and important to him. It soon dawned on him that the expansionist policies of Japan in Asia and Hitler’s Anschluss of Austria in March 1938 required stronger armed forces for the United States. He passed a naval expansion bill for the building of a two-ocean Navy in May 1938 as a proactive measure in preparation for any eventuality. This was even as he realized the dangers to the US of his neutrality in the war.

Franklin Roosevelt

President Roosevelt began in 1939 to prepare for eventual participation in the war on the side of the western powers. He asked Congress for a five-fold increase of the Navy. Meanwhile, though not formally committed to war, the act of supplying Churchill 40 to 50 overage destroyers in May 1940 and a destroyers-for-bases agreement in September 1940 implied that the U.S. had openly declared its support of England in the war against Germany. This act marked the end of American neutrality. In June 1940 Japan entered the fourth year of war against China. Japan sealed Chiang Kai-shek’s forces, , who had retreated from the victorious Mao’s forces on the mainland, by having the British close the Burma Road, and forced the French, instructing the lame Vichy government of occupied France to ban military shipments via trains through Indo-China. With the direction the war had taken, only the United States had the capacity to halt Japan and its dominance of all Asia. Against this background, President Roosevelt ordered the Pacific fleet to initiate maneuvers off Hawaii and ordered the fleet to remain indefinitely nearby. He also transferred the fleet’s base from California to Hawaii. It was against this background that President Roosevelt in July 1941 placed embargo on materials destined to Japan. But this came too late since Japan decided to carry out its plan for the New Order in Asia, i.e., conquest of Southeast Asia. Even though the U.S. was formally neutral, in July, 1941, Roosevelt met Churchill off the coast of Newfoundland on a British warship. The main outcome was formulation of The Atlantic Charter espousing, among them:

1. a pledge against aggression.
2. a promise of self-determination in territorial changes.
3. respect for the right of self-government and freedom of speech.

In a move that may be interpreted as anti Wilson principles, President Roosevelt rejected the fourth item that is the creation of an effective international organization.

Official narratives note that meanwhile, invoking the Defence Act of 1940, on July 26, 1941, the United States declared a full-scale embargo ending all trade with Japan. In September 1941 the Japanese asked for a summit meeting between the Prime Minister Price Konoye and Roosevelt. Konoye hoped to get American approval of Japanese dominance in the Far East. The United States insisted that Japan give up the New Order in Asia and to withdraw troops from China and Indochina. This insistence of America ended the last chance for diplomatic accommodation between Japan and the U.S. in 1941. Konoye’s government fell from power on October 16, 1941. General Hideki Tojo formed a new cabinet. He pledged to fulfill Japan’s destiny in Asia.

A this played out, a Tripartite Pact was made between Nazi Germany, fascist Italy and expansionist, nationalist imperial Japan. Germany wanted to prevent American entry into the war, while Japan wanted to frighten the U.S. with the prospect of a possible two-ocean war. In this confusion of war and threats of war, Japan attacked Pearl Harbor on December 7, 1941. This instigated Congress to pass a Declaration of War on Japan. By December 11, 1941, Germany declared war on the U.S.A. So did Italy. On the same day, Congress adopted a resolution recognizing a state of war with them. America’s baptism in the fire of European style international politics and the foundations of the current international order arose from the struggle to defeat the desperate nationalisms of Nazism and Fascism.

In 1949, the North Atlantic Treaty Organization was formed. This was against the backdrop of an exhausted and economically weakened western Europe in the aftermath of WWII. The western Allies had rapidly and drastically reduced their armies at the end of the war. Facing Western Europe were newly powerful communist parties in France and Italy. David G. Haglund notes that by contrast, the Soviet Union had emerged from the war with its armies dominating all the states of central and eastern Europe, and by 1948 communists under Moscow’s sponsorship had consolidated their control of the governments of those countries and suppressed all noncommunist political activity. This was what Wiston Churchill christened as the Iron Curtain. North Atlantic Treaty Organization (NATO), military alliance was established by the North Atlantic Treaty, also known as the Washington Treaty, of April 4, 1949. The alliance sought to create a counterweight to Soviet armies stationed in central and eastern Europe after World WarII. The original members included Belgium, Canada, Denmark, France, Iceland, Italy, Luxembourg, the Netherlands, Norway, Portugal, the United Kingdom, and the United States. in 1952, the original signatories were joined by Greece and Turkey (1952); West Germany (1955; from 1990as Germany);Spain (1982);the CzechRepublic, Hungary,and Poland (1999); Bulgaria, Estonia, Latvia, Lithuania, Romani, Slovakia, and Slovenia (2004); and Albania and Croatia (2009). As memories of WWII receded, disagreements surfaced. France withdrew from the integrated military command of NATO in 1966 but remained a member of the organization; it resumed its position in NATO’s military command in 2009.

France’s relationship with NATO has been rocky. It became strained after 1958, as President Charles de Gaulle increasingly criticized the organization’s domination by the United States and the intrusion upon French sovereignty by the presence of many international staff members of NATO’s. He interpreted that “integration” subjected France to “automatic” war at the decision of foreigners. In July 1966 France formally withdrew from the military command structure of NATO and required NATO forces and headquarters to leave French soil; nevertheless, de Gaulle proclaimed continued French adherence to the North Atlantic Treaty in case of “unprovoked aggression”. Relations of the United States and France have been continually irritated each other. This was at play in the French denunciation of the unilateralism of the United States, including in Iraq. Relations were pacified under the Barrack Obama administration that gave France a leeway to consolidate its preeminent stature as Africa’s first power.

The international strategic layout in post WWII was thus dominated by the face-off between NATO and Warsaw Pact countries. Japan remained with a defensive army, while China concentrated on consolidating its domestic infrastructure and economy for the take off. West German maintained a defensive army without a mandate for external action. Since then, in the post Cold War, China has developed a blue ocean naval fleet and constructed a string of defensive islands to proclaim its arrival as a major power in global affairs. It has asserted its claims to a string of islands in the South China sea. China is actively building artificial islands in the South China Sea, turning them into military and logistical bases. Beijing already has at least seven such bases, equipped with access channels, helipads, radar facilities, gun and missile emplacements, piers, military facilities and other objects of strategic importance. China explains that the islands are designed to frustrate the US intention of controlling international trade in the Indian Ocean and the Pacific or even monopoly of trade control in those waters by the United States. China has robustly engaged in Africa and has been a pivotal actor in the BRICS. These developments have not gone unnoticed in the United States. President Donald Trump would seem to appreciate the import of these developments for American future as a hegemonic power better than most.

In 2017 and in the relative peace of post WWII and the limited turbulence of the post Soviet era as well as the pandemonium in states with tangential relevance for world peace, some define the real challenge to the hegemonic status of the United States as not in Eastern Europe, or plainly in Russia, but in South Asia. China, to be specific. Bruce Jones, Jeremy Shapiro, Robert Keane, and Thomas Wright in a 2014 report on the State of the International Order observed that since 1991, the world has enjoyed a great power peace where war between the major states was highly unlikely. They highlight that unfortunately this period appears to be ending as several major powers are engaged in a robust security competition. They see the greatest risk as stemming from the rivalry between China and Japan in the East China Sea but that rivalry also exists in Southeast Asia, between the United States and China, and to a lesser degree in Eastern Europe.

The major threat to the continued leadership of the world by the United States is located in China, both militarily and economically. Accordingly, the return of great power politics not only threatens the peace—it might also complicate international cooperation to tackle common challenges. These are reflected in the structure of global power or the balance of military power in the world. With little public sympathy for this little appreciated understandings, Trump’s policies are generally perceived as confused and undermining traditional understandings among elites western forces. It would seem the awkward delivery of his message is confused with the substance of the message. Tensions in the NATO alliance arising there from, and the salvos of deleterious populism in the human rights realm that are not inconsistent with significant illiberal voices in the United States, Eastern and Western Europe would seem to be integral to a major realignment of political sensibilities among elite forces. This would impact the international order.


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