Trump-Style Diplomacy and International Law

Former Senator J. William Fulbright (D-Ark.), former chair of the Senate Foreign Relations Committee, had a definite idea of what our country should stand for in the world: “Law is the essential foundation of stability and order both within societies and in international relations. As a conservative power, the United States has a vital interest in upholding and expanding the reign of law in international relations.”   Fulbright’s vision certainly isn’t recognizable in President Donald Trump’s foreign policy. Trump certainly doesn’t see our country as a conservative power, as his foreign policy is hoisting a new state of disorder on the world.

Polls suggest the United States has become less respected under Trump and our allies seem to be looking in the other direction for leadership. Former State Department negotiator Aaron Miller, who served presidents of both parties, has called Trump’s foreign policy a “galactic disaster.” Harvard University International Affairs President Stephen Walt pointed out the biggest difference between Trump and prior presidents is his disregard for American values such as freedom, democracy and equal rights and also his fondness for dictators such as Putin and Duterte.

On a similar note, Trump-style diplomacy is leading to an arms race that could cost our country and other countries lots and lots of money out of their respective treasuries. Trump has exited the Paris Climate Accords, the Trans-Pacific Partnership and threatened to walk away from the Iran nuclear deal, angering our European allies in the process. He’s also sent mixed messages about the New START Treaty with Russia. In addition, the Trump administration has fully embraced the nuclear force modernization that started under President Barack Obama.

All of these actions place our country on the edge of an arms race. Just days after Donald Trump became president, the Bulletin of the Atomic Scientists moved the hands of its doomsday clock to two and half minutes to midnight. Reasons cited for the move included North Korea’s testing of nuclear weapons, tensions between the United States and Russia and “a rise in strident nationalism worldwide … including in a U.S. presidential campaign.”

Are there any cases of our country working in a multi-lateral fashion to solve international problems? Is this only a utopian dream? The answer is no. US President Ronald Reagan and Soviet leader Mikhail Gorbachev, at a summit in Reykjavik, Iceland in 1986, came close to eliminating both countries’ nuclear arsenals. This didn’t happen, but they did agree to eliminate all intermediate-range missiles under the Intermediate-Range Nuclear Forces Treaty (INF). The treaty eliminated all nuclear and conventional missiles with ranges of 500 to 1,000 and 1,000 to 5,500 kilometers.

Reagan’s successor, George H.W. Bush, concluded the first strategic arms reduction agreement with the Soviets, known as START I, in 1991, and unilaterally dismantled many of the United States’ deployed tactical weapons. The treaty barred both the United States and Soviet Russia from deploying more than 6,000 nuclear warheads on top of 1,600 intercontinental ballistic missiles. In 1993, George H.W. Bush signed START II with Russian President Boris Yeltsin. This treaty banned the use of multiple entry targetable reentry vehicles on ICBM’s METRV’s contain several thermonuclear warheads, each capable of hitting a different target.

US President George W. Bush concluded the Strategic Offensive Reductions Treaty (SORT) with President Vladimir Putin in 2003. SORT limited the nuclear arsenal of both countries to 1,700 to 2,200 operationally deployed warheads. The treaty expired in 2012 and President Barack Obama not only signed New START with Putin in 2011. The treaty expires in 2021. It limits the number of deployed nuclear warheads to 1,550.

These agreements eliminated one entire class of nuclear weapons and also reduced the number of deployed nuclear weapons in the United States and Russia. This accounted for 90 percent of the world’s nuclear arsenal! We went from tens of thousands to approximately 3,000! These agreements attest to the success of the concept on international law. On that note, we need embrace Fulbright’s ideas about law and the United States as a conservative power now more than ever.

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