International order threatened

By: Nelson Camilo Sánchez León*


The first few months of the new U.S. government have produced commotion around the world. The worst version of Trump’s campaign advertisements quickly became true through his executive orders, the selection of his administration, clashes with governments of other countries - including his outrageous position against Mexico - and its governance, which reproduces the bullying and lack of democratic decency that characterized his campaign.

One of the most worrying aspects of Trump's ideology and style of government is its frontal attack against the foundations of the international order built in the aftermath of World War II. A model that, despite being far from perfect (in fact, is very imperfect), has been forged as the best known version of governance to tackle the threats to peace and international coexistence.

The first move on this front has been the attack on the principle of multilateralism, that is, the idea that sovereign states should strive to find joint solutions to collective problems. The New York Times had access to a draft decree which states that the government will review - with the intention of leaving - all multilateral treaties that inconvenience the U.S. and will choose to renegotiate conditions one by one, where it can more easily impose the conditions of the most powerful.

This strategy is complemented with the intention of eroding the international institutions that seek to promote these principles. The same document states that the United States will review its financial contribution to the entire international system, seeking to reduce it to 40%, particularly the United Nations funds that are allocated to humanitarian work. The review will be strictly based on the interests of the government. That is, international humanitarian principles will yield to political interests. If there is any doubt about this, just look at the statements of the new ambassador to the UN who said she will " take note " of any State that does not support the U.S. in order to retaliate.

In the subject of human rights, the government has sent two disturbing messages about the low priority that this administration seems give to human rights international protection. On the one hand, the media outlet Politico obtained information indicating that the United States is considering withdrawing from the Human Rights Council of the United Nations. Although this council has mixed results in the protection of rights, the less that states participate in multilateral human rights dialogues, the less likely they are to tackle the enormous challenges that we have as a global community in this area.

Photo credit: UN Geneva

Photo credit: UN Geneva

A second message was given when the Secretary of State did not attend the presentation of the annual report on human rights in the world. Again, although this report has had multiple criticisms about the criteria with which it is carried out, the point here is what this symbolically means: the little or no interest of this government in the human rights situation in the world.

The third step is denial of global problems and the empirical base that supports their diagnosis. The clearest example is the climatic and environmental effects of global warming. By denying its existence and its effects, the United States government does not only promote a problem of collective action (where everyone tries to save oneself and in the process ends up hurting others and oneself) but throws away rigorous scientific research, which has been one of the main sources of response to the collective problems of the international community.

All of this leads to the final step: the flagrant violation of the basic rules of that community. One of them is the obligation to receive and protect those who seek refuge from persecution. The other is the absolute prohibition of torture. Both have been enacted as a timeless and universal insurance of mankind. Today, the persecuted are some, but tomorrow it could be others.

The lesson of the bloody wars that humanity has lived has been that no matter how powerful a state is, it will always be more fragile and vulnerable if it acts as a loner. That has not changed, despite other alternative realities that are intended to be built. Preserving these pillars must be the priority of a true world leadership. And that is what we must demand, as a global community, from our governments.


* Camilo is a Professor at the National University of Colombia and researcher at the Center for Law, Justice and Society (Dejusticia).

Featured photo: Ted Eytan