Trump reinvents the limited sovereignty

21 septembre 2018
Since the end of the Cold war, the United States has never been a fervent supporter of multilateralism. But Donald Trump is taking on a new dimension. Many among the American elites have believed, or still believe in the existence of a unipolar world.

Their exceptional power, their faith in their historic destiny and the widely shared feeling that their given mission is to spread “superior values” didn’t naturally led them to multilateralism. Of course, some nuances exist: Bill Clinton and Barack Obama have been quite multilateralist presidents (or less unilateralist) unlike George W. Bush. Thus, it was Bill Clinton, considered as a multilateralist, who did claim that the United States remained “the one indispensable Nation”. The American unilateralism didn’t start with 9/11, neither with the election of D.J. Trump. It is the foundation of the American foreign policy. It is also encoded in its strategic DNA, in the conception of a perfectly exceptional nation. B. Obama reduced this unilateralism without eliminated it.

But D. Trump brings it to fever pitch. His slogan “America first” hardly hides his will of “America only”. The problem isn’t his disagreement with the other nations or that he wants to act unilaterally. The problem is mainly that he seeks to set up penalties against those who disagree with him. According to him, only the Americans would have the right to fix international rules in terms of economy or security. Other countries would be wrong to disagree and would then take the risk to be punished. This is what happened with the Joint Comprehensive Plan of Action, signed in July 2015 in Vienna, which has patiently been negotiated during more than twelve years between the permanent members of the United Nations Security Council and Germany and approved by most of the other nations, and then one-sidedly broke by the United States. Besides, they consider themselves legitimate to punish those who want to keep trading with Iran. They also arrogate themselves the right to back out of the Paris agreement, signed in December 2015, denying the mostly universal consensus among political leaders and scientists for considering global warming as the greatest challenge for humanity. Finally, the United States treat its NATO allies as subordinates.

Every head of state and government supports its country when bidding for the organisation of sportive competition, such as the Olympic games or the Soccer World Cup. As for Donald Trump, he threatened of sanctions the countries which wouldn’t vote for the US application to organise the 2026 World Cup. This is a first in the history of great sporting events attribution. The United States decides, and other countries must follow without protesting.

Donald Trump’s national security advisor, John Bolton, made a speech that can be considered as a declaration of war to the International criminal court (ICC) and, by extension, to International law: “If the court comes after us, Israel or other US allies, we will not sit quietly. […] We will ban its judges and prosecutors from entering the United States. We will sanction their funds in the US financial system, and we will prosecute them in the US criminal system. We will do the same for any company or State that assists an ICC investigation of Americans. We will take note if any countries cooperate with ICC investigations of the United States and its allies…”. This is clearly the statement that the United States has every right when other countries don’t have any, such as a cowboy in a Native American reserve. The US isn’t subjected to any superior law and nobody can judge it. What give them the right? There is a real antagonism between the European vision, shared with many other countries, and the United States position. Thus, can this country speak on behalf of shared Western values? What would have we said if Russian or Chinese leaders would have made such a statement?

In 1968, when the Warsaw Pact troops entered in Czechoslovakia, Leonid Brejnev developed the concept of “limited sovereignty”, an oxymoron which aimed to conceal the reality. At the time, no country of the Warsaw Pact could exercise its sovereign rights because they were contrary to the Soviet policy. Today, Donald Trump is reinventing this concept, especially within the Western world.
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