In the UN General Assembly (UNGA) general debate held from September 25 (Tues) to October 1 (Mon) this year, President Donald Trump made a speech for the second time. The Japanese media took up topics such as the change in his attitude towards North Korean leader Kim Jong Un who President Trump had called “Rocket Man” a year ago, or the “laughter” he received following his speech with stressed his own “accomplishments”. However, such responses of merely mocking the remarks made by the political leader of a superpower nation seem narrow-minded. The UNGA general debate is a system which allows the leaders of participating nations to manifest various issues from their own standpoint during the relevant UNGA period, and offers the opportunity to make an appeal for recognition of issues which should be tackled among multiple nations and efforts to be made. Below, an attempt is made to pick up some of President Trump’s issue agenda for the next fiscal year from his speech.
President Trump’s logic for his foreign policy is well summarized in his following comment made at the inception of the speech.
“I honor the right of every nation in this room to pursue its own customs, beliefs, and traditions. The United States will not tell you how to live or work or worship. We only ask that you honor our sovereignty in return.”
President Trump states that what is important is for each individual nation respects each other’s sovereignty based on their respective lifestyles and traditions. For example, with respect to the situation in the Middle East, the President commended Saudi Arabia and other Arab nations for their “self-efforts” referring to the fact that they have established their own organization for identifying and countering terrorists’ financing sources and networks. Also for Syria and Yemen, he has asked for involvement and resolution “within the Region”. The US Government will take a strong only in the case where the Assad regime deploys chemical weapons. The President said, “Ultimately, it is up to the nations of the region to decide what kind of future they want for themselves and their children.”
The strong stance towards Iran is also justified under the same context. President Trump criticized the Iranian Government’s foreign policy which stamps on sovereignty, stating, “Iran’s leaders sow chaos, death, and destruction. They do not respect their neighbors or borders, or the sovereign rights of nations.”
This indicates that the U.S. pulling out of the nuclear accord is not “an arbitrary act of the government.” The Iranian Government has actually dispatched its Revolutionary Guard troops in Syria, and in Yemen it is supporting the anti-government Houthi movement. More than anything, it is a widely known fact that Ḥizb Allāh which is an extremist organization which is active between southern Lebanon to Israel is sort of a regional hub of the Revolutionary Guard.
Therefore, the President claimed that rejecting the nuclear accord was justified as follows. “The Iran deal was a windfall for Iran’s leaders. In the years since the deal was reached, Iran’s military budget grew nearly 40 percent. The dictatorship used the funds to build nuclear-capable missiles, increase internal repression, finance terrorism, and fund havoc and slaughter in Syria and Yemen.”
The “softening” attitude towards North Korea can be positioned in this context. In other words, conducting missile experiments aimed towards other countries and conducting nuclear tests as warnings prejudice sovereignty. On the other hand, the Trump Administration will respect the “sovereignty” framework in so far as they relate to internal issues, regardless of the form of government, even if it is brutal control.
People should not mock this situation, calling it a conversion from calling Kim a “Rocket Man”. The Trump Administration has a clear logic, “Sovereignty comes first”, and foreign policies are determined within the logic. Remember his words in the beginning. If you respect the sovereignty of the U.S., the U.S. will respect the sovereignty of others.
One quick comment on the implications of this stance for Japan: Although it is not conceivable that Japan would infringe the sovereignty of others, there are several issues which are related to sovereignty such as the abduction issue related to North Korea, and territorial disputes with China and Russia. We should assume that the U.S. has no intention to “lend a hand” or “intervene” for the time being. This is because these issues relate to the sovereignty of Japan, North Korea, China, and Russia. Japan is no exception in that the Trump Administration is asking for self-sustainment, and we should strongly re-acknowledge this fact.