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Donald Trump

Trump can do the right thing for United Nations

US president criticised for making ‘wrong’ moves in General Assembly address, needs to be better informed and understand the role America should play in facing the global challenges that lie ahead

PUBLISHED : Thursday, 21 September, 2017, 2:36am
UPDATED : Thursday, 21 September, 2017, 2:36am

Donald Trump’s inaugural address to the UN General Assembly was, as one observer said, “the wrong speech at the wrong time to the wrong audience”. The US president threatened North Korea with war, accused Iran of sowing “violence, bloodshed and chaos” and warned Venezuela that he was prepared to act against it for being a corrupt “socialist dictatorship”. Menacing talk and intimidation have no place at such a forum and certainly not from the leader of the world’s only superpower. He should instead be acting responsibly and working with others for the common good.

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Whether Trump is aware of such obligations is unclear; since taking the presidency eight months ago, he has shown little inclination to think beyond the “America first” policy that took him to the White House. Nor, as a businessman used to negotiating to strike a deal, has he yet learned the ways of diplomacy. His speech was therefore more in the vein of his Twitter account, even borrowing from it in referring to North Korea’s leader Kim Jong-un as “rocket man”. Given his tendency to backtrack, it is to be hoped that his threat to “totally destroy North Korea” is merely bluster. He is surely aware that another war on the Korean peninsula will take a heavy toll.

Yet he seems oblivious to the potential impact of his actions against Iran. He has threatened to pull the United States out of a multi-nation nuclear agreement, giving Tehran an excuse to resume its weapons programme. Why he would do this while the world is grappling with the threat of North Korea cannot be explained. The UN’s foundations lie in ensuring peace and security and handling problems collectively through dialogue. Trump’s earlier decision to pull the US from the Paris climate change accord, which aims to bring rising temperatures to heel to prevent seas from rising and adverse weather, proves such disregard.

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But he was at least aware of the importance of the UN. He had previously spoken of it as “useless” and threatened to pull funding; the US contributes 22 per cent of the world body’s budget. There was praise for work with refugees and UN secretary general Antonio Guterres’ reforms, although he complained about his country providing an unfair share of resources.

There is no doubt that the UN, formed after the second world war by the victors, inadequately represents 21st century political and economic realities. Reforms to its heavily bureaucratic system are needed so that it can better deal with global challenges such as poverty, nuclear proliferation, terrorism, epidemics and climate change. Trump needs to be better informed and understand the valuable role his country can play in that process.