Return to nationalism and balance of power seen in Trump's UN speech

By Sumantra Maitra
0 Comment(s)Print E-mail, September 27, 2018
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U.S. President Donald Trump [Photo/Xinhua]

President Trump addressed the United Nations General Assembly in a way that was forceful but also comical at times, inviting laughter and backlash as well, summed up by his statement that, "The United States will not tell you how to live or work or worship, we only ask that you honor our sovereignty in return." 

The overriding impression was of a return to sovereign nationalism as the defining factor in global great power politics. These statements mark what Trump calls his doctrine of "Principled Realism," a version of hegemonic realism that, arguably, doesn't distinguish between friends and foes, but only understands interests and allies who are equal. 

The speech started in a way different from every other American president in over 50 years, as Trump declared that when nations respect the rights of neighbors and defend interests of the people, they can better work together in peace and prosperity; a pointed hint at great powers who America considers expansionist, as well as American neighbors who are the prime source of migration to the U.S. 

America, according to Trump, will always choose independence and cooperation, over global governance and domination, respecting every nation state's right to follow its own customs and beliefs. 

The implication seems to be that America would prefer bilateral deals over multilateral and institutional cooperation, with humanitarian nation-building and the business of intervention becoming limited and obviously on a decline. 

One can lead any type of government one wishes, America won't play the global policeman, nor will the U.S. try and change societies and form and shape them in its own image (system). 

In a startling announcement, Trump undermined the International Criminal Court, formed in 2002, saying it has no jurisdiction and legitimacy and authority over America as a nation or citizens, and actually violates all principles of due process. 

"We will never surrender America's sovereignty to an unelected, unaccountable global bureaucracy. America is governed by Americans. We reject the ideology of globalism, and we embrace the doctrine of patriotism," he said – a clarion call to defend national sovereignty essentially sounding the death knell for any institution seeking to control any other great powers. 

If the U.S. can ignore institutions, so can China, India and Russia. Multilateralism and institutionalism, therefore, is dead. "Around the world, responsible nations must defend against threats to [their] sovereignty not just from global governance, but also from new forms of coercion and domination." Presumably this is economic domination, a hint to European Union in regard to leveraging trade power. 

Invoking the 19th Century Monroe Doctrine, Trump warned other powers not to interfere in America's backyard, and stay away from Latin America. "It has been the formal policy of our country since President Monroe that we reject the interference of foreign nations in this hemisphere and in our own affairs." 

On the personal front, Trump thanked President Moon of South Korea, Prime Minister Abe of Japan, and President Xi of China, for the successful Korea summit and breakthrough towards peace on the Korean peninsula, signaling willingness to take the relationship forward.

This was a remarkable appreciation from a man who is essentially waging a three-front trade war in North America, Europe and Asia. With regards to the Middle East, however, Trump's approach is quite simply belligerent towards Iran. 

He thanked the UAE, Saudi Arabia, and Qatar for pledging billions of dollars to aid the people of Syria and Yemen, two places where the Saudis are engaged in a proxy war with Iranian forces. 

On Iran, Trump was at his harshest. "We are working with countries that import Iranian crude oil to cut their purchases substantially. We cannot allow the world's leading sponsor of terrorism to possess the planet's most dangerous weapons."

Is Trump a Realist? Doubtful, as he seems to have isolated all his allies and is determined to go to war with Iran, two ideas that any Realist would oppose. However, there's no doubt that this speech marks a milestone in American foreign policy and heralds a return to great power politics, spheres of influence, military buildups, and relative gains based on bilateral trade. 

America is alone, and is embarking on a crucial journey of military buildup, and trade wars. Whether other powers want to follow is irrelevant. They won't have a choice. 

Sumantra Maitra is a columnist with For more information please visit:

Opinion articles reflect the views of their authors only, not necessarily those of

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