Donald Trump has demonstrated his disdain for international agreements and treaties by either pulling the United States out of them or violating their basic requirements by his malign actions. Trump’s first renunciation of an international agreement was his June 2017 pullout from the Paris Climate Accord. The United States achieved the distinction of being the only nation in the world to denounce the agreement, which had been agreed to by all the world’s nations, including such non-members of the United Nations as the Holy See, the Faroe Islands, Aruba, Curacao, and Somaliland.
On December 6, 2017, Trump announced official US recognition of Jerusalem as the capital of Israel. In 1980, a UN Security Council abstention permitted the adoption of Resolution 478. The measure supplemented the earlier Resolutions 252, 267, 271, 298, and 465, which required that all UN member states, including the United States, are under an obligation not to recognize the illegal Israeli occupation of East Jerusalem. The passage of Resolution 478 resulted in nations that had moved their embassies to Jerusalem, including Costa Rica and El Salvador, moving them back to Tel Aviv, Ramat Gan, or Herzliya. Trump’s action reversed that action, with Guatemala, Paraguay, and Honduras moving their embassies back to Jerusalem.
On May 8, 2018, Trump renounced the US signature on the Joint Comprehensive Plan of Action (JCPOA) between Iran, the nuclear agreement with Iran. Even though the pact was signed by the United Kingdom, France, Russia, China, Germany, the European Union and endorsed by the United Nations Security Council, Trump, taking his cues from the Israeli war hawk, Prime Minister Binyamin Netanyahu, decided, once again, to make the United States an outlier. Trump effectively gave the back of his hand to the international community to placate Netanyahu. Moreover, Trump threatened “secondary sanctions” against foreign nations and firms that continued to engage in commerce with Iran after a November 4, 2018 deadline.
Trump’s authorization for the establishment of a “US Space Force” as an additional military branch was one of the more egregious trashings of a longstanding international treaty. The 1967 Treaty on Principles Governing the Activities of States in the Exploration and Use of Outer Space, including the Moon and Other Celestial Bodies, known simply as the “Outer Space Treaty,” established the basis for international space law. The original signatories were the United States, Soviet Union, and the United Kingdom. Since 1967, 107 nations have fully ratified the treaty, which bans the placement of weapons of mass destruction in Earth orbit and the establishment of military bases, installations, and fortifications on the Moon and other celestial bodies.
Trump’s creation of a military Space Force to supplant the civilian National Aeronautics and Space Administration (NASA) in US space operations and his call for space to be a “new warfighting domain” effectively violate US treaty obligations.
The US Air Force’s X-37B robotic space planes, smaller versions of NASA’s discontinued space shuttle orbiter, are believed to have carried out top-secret military-oriented missions since 2010. Trump’s creation of a Space Force represents a public admission of America’s desire to militarize space, even as the Air Force remains mum on the actual purpose of the X-37B program.
The basis in international law for the Outer Space Treaty was the Antarctic Treaty of 1959. The Antarctic Treaty bans military activity of the continent. Only scientific research in Antarctica is permitted under the Antarctic Treaty System. However, Trump’s disregard for the entire international treaty system has placed the Antarctic Treaty in as much jeopardy as the Outer Space Treaty. The suspected presence of rare earth minerals and gas hydrates under melting Antarctic ice shelves has Trump’s cronies in the mining and fossil fuel industries anxious to undermine the Antarctica Treaty and open the continent to commercial exploitation.
Considering the schoolmarmish haughtiness of Trump’s ambassador to the UN, former South Carolina Governor Nikki Haley, someone who had no foreign policy experience before taking over at the US Mission to the UN, the 1947 US-UN treaty, titled the “Agreement Between the United Nations and the United States of America Regarding the Headquarters of the United Nations,” may also be violated. The imposition of draconian visa bans and other sanctions and travel restrictions on government officials of Iran, Turkey, Russia, Venezuela, North Korea, Nicaragua, Cuba, China, Chad, Guinea, Sierra Leone, Pakistan, Yemen, Myanmar, Laos, Syria, Somalia, Vietnam, Cambodia, and Eritrea places in jeopardy US law that requires the facilitation of travel for delegations of UN member states and official observers to and from the UN headquarters in New York.
Trump’s total disregard for international laws and treaties may eventually see leaders and diplomats of foreign nations detained or arrested when they arrive in New York to attend UN sessions. Such harassment began in earnest just a few weeks after Trump was inaugurated as president. In February 2017, former Norwegian Prime Minister Kjell Magne Bondevik was caught up in Trump’s visa ban against visitors from Muslim nations. Bondevik was detained at Dulles International Airport outside of Washington and subjected to questioning about an Iranian visa in his diplomatic passport.
In June 2018, America’s Israeli-style harassment was also meted out to former Spanish Foreign Minister and NATO Secretary General Javier Solana. He was denied a US visa waiver because he had visited Iran in 2013 to attend President Hassan Rouhani’s inauguration. Solana told Spanish television, “It’s a bit of a mean decision… I don’t think it’s good because some people have to visit these complicated countries to keep negotiations alive.” Trump’s renunciation of the US signature on the Iran nuclear deal showed the world what Trump and his neo-conservative advisers think about peace “negotiations.” Although the general purpose visa waiver ban was instituted by Barack Obama, the Trump administration has been violating the spirit and intent of the US-UN Treaty by applying it to those, like Bondevik and Solana, possessing diplomatic passports.
Trump has made no secret of his disdain for foreign government officials and the countries they represent. During a briefing on the Indian sub-continent, Trump reportedly delighted in referring to Nepal as “nipple” and Bhutan as “button.” According to the “tell-all” book by former White House adviser Omarosa Manigault Newman, Trump, after viewing a video of his pushing aside Montenegro Prime Minister Duško Marković at the 2017 NATO summit, called him a “whiny punk bitch.” Trump referred to Canadian Prime Minister Justin Trudeau as “meek and mild” over a rift on US-Canadian trade policy.
One of Trump’s first phone calls as president with a foreign leader resulted in Trump complaining that his discussions with Australian Prime Minister Malcolm Turnbull were “most unpleasant.” Before warming to North Korean leader Kim Jong UN, Trump referred to him as “little rocket man.” During remarks at the UN in September 2017, Trump referred to Namibia as “Nambia.” Later, he called African countries and Haiti “shithole” countries.
Cities that have served as hosts for international summits and meetings have also earned Trump’s scorn. He called Brussels a “hellhole,” London a magnet for Muslim terrorist immigrants, and Paris not being Paris any longer because of Muslim immigrants.
Trump, ever the America Firster – a phrase invented by pro-Hitler politicians in the 1930s – has decimated international law on issues ranging from the environment and outer space to the peaceful uses of nuclear energy and international guarantees for the right of the Palestinians. Trump’s tearing up of international treaties signed by his predecessors with the chiefs of various Native American tribes warrants its own article. Mr. Trump’s damage to international relations represents a historical watershed event and it will take decades to recover from the current “dark ages” of American diplomacy.
Investigative journalist, author, and syndicated columnist. A member of the Society of Professional Journalists (SPJ) and the National Press Club