Donald Trump’s performance at the UN General Assembly on Tuesday has been greeted with a sense of shock and awe by the global order that constitutes the entity. The US President has made a robust effort to match Kim Jong-un’s intemperate bluster with his own.
The speech was of a piece with the decidedly contemptuous allusions to the UN as part of his election rhetoric; his scriptwriters have managed to reinforce that disdain towards an institution that, at least going by the Charter, strives for peace, world security, and human rights. If its effectiveness is quite another story, Trump ~ in his maiden address to the UN ~ has reacted with far greater indignation than he is entitled to. It was indeed a blunt, fearful rant delivered from the world stage, of a kind that can only steel the nuclear resolve of North Korea and Iran further afield.
Not to put too blunt a point on it, he has come through as a Head of State whose belligerence can be crass, and profoundly ominous must be the signal emitted to the world, verily a stranger to the language of restraint. Of an analysis of world affairs there was little; of an effort to advance a prescription for peace even less. The US, he has warned, will have “no alternative but to destroy North Korea”.
The presentation will be noted for the sniper attack on Kim, saying that the “rocket man is on a suicide mission for himself and for his regime”.
Thus did Trump counter the North Korean President’s threat to “beat America to death like a rabid dog, reducing the country to ashes and darkness”.
The US President has utilised the opportunity of addressing the world audience by engaging in a competitive exercise to rant at his counterpart in Pyongyang. In the event, he has joined Kim to use the language of diplomacy that is beneath contempt. Both Presidents have violated the cannons of civility. Trump’s reference to Iran turned out to be a critique of what his predecessor had achieved. Iran, he said, was “a corrupt dictatorship” whose “chief export is violence, bloodshed and chaos”. President Trump has trashed President Obama’s nuclear deal in 2015 as “the worse transaction ever”. Is that a signal that the White House might be gearing up to pull out of the non-proliferation pact with Tehran? Europe will not concur.
The intrinsic belligerence of his administration alone explains the absence of an overture from the White House, indeed a direct appeal to Iran to forge a “new beginning” in bilateral relations. For the head of a libertarian democracy, it is rather surprising that Trump should think of “regime change” to make Tehran reflect on nuclear compliance.
Altogether, the US President has clothed his presentation with an iteration of his nationalist ideology. Hence the emphasis on “strong, sovereign, independent nations”, rather than on the universal values that the United Nations is meant to uphold.