The United States is losing respect quickly, but it’s hard to imagine a world order without it
Presidential debates in the United States capture the imagination of billions around the world. They happen every four years, and began as modern technology aided scrutiny of the aspirants. Even amidst the doom and gloom predicted of the death of television, parties concerned treat it seriously. Billions are also pumped in to the media in terms of promotional content.
It is also true that the majority of Americans don’t watch the debates and that these don’t have much impact on how people vote, barring the swing voters. President Trump, in his own convoluted way, figured this out four years ago. His outrageous and at times cynical comments gave him an unassailable presence in the media, leaving his promo campaign funds under-utilized. In the debates, his strategy of attacking personal credentials of his opponents and interrupting their comments broke the unwritten rules of democracy.
In between, he interspersed popular themes of “building a wall,” “draining the swamp,” “making America great again” and “America first.” The strategy worked.
In the past four years, he has pulled out of the Paris Climate Agreement, the Iran nuclear deal, the conflicts in Afghanistan, Syria, and Iraq, and pushed Arab nations in to recognizing Israel.
Withdrawal from several United Nations organizations including the World Health Organization has left world leaders in a tizzy about the global village that has been much touted.
The same US Congress and Senate that supported all these initiatives in the past have turned face. And now it appears that Trump wants to turn his back on the World Trade Organization that so much time and effort was devoted to by the world.
The unfortunate reality is that without the United States, world orders of any kind don’t have a chance. Woodrow Wilson was the theorist behind the League of Nations in the early 20th century but the US never joined the group ostensibly designed to prevent further world wars.
It failed. The absence of Russia and the withdrawal of Germany contributed to the league being disbanded, giving in to the Second World War. The successor, the United Nations, had similar designs -- preventing world conflict and trying to base objectives on international law.
That was nearly 80 years ago. Multiple branch organizations formed through the years including trade groupings and have infringed on those principles of law and intended cooperation.
It now sounds crass but the founder countries were made up of those that were deemed to be the ones that would influence and advance the objectives. In 1945, 51 countries signed up.
The determining factor, that went against democracy and all that is fair, were the five “permanent” members. Taiwan, France, Soviet Union, United Kingdom, and the United States were given the veto power to undo anything the others might vote for. Over time, China replaced Taiwan and the Russian Federation replaced the Soviet Union. For any resolution to pass in the Security Council, nine out of 15 votes are required. It is the veto by any of the permanent members that scuttles everything.
The initial six non-permanent members was expanded to nine. 74 years ago, the world was different. A bulk of it was colonized and true freedoms were not recognized by the United Nations for reasons of influence and trading benefits.
Even in the countries of the big five, citizens were more worried about their next meal and how to bring up their offspring. Fanciful, for indeed it was so in those days, introspection about laws and man-made rules wasn’t an imperative. It was all about cementing control of the world by the like-minded, under fairly a fanciful display of international law.
Hugo Grotius, a Dutch humanist, diplomat, lawyer, theologian, and jurist is largely considered as the father of international law. He was influenced among others by Aristotle and Cicero, followed by John Locke, Immanuel Kant and Jean-Jacques Rousseau to name a few. More than 300 years after his death, Grotious’s views are understandably under question.
As is the question that hangs over the United Nations, international law too is in many ways moth eaten and requires major reform to cover the realities of today and attempt a prediction of tomorrow. Laws, having been formulated by man, must change and, if possible, come closer to rather than be distant from natural law.
Australian legal philosopher John Mitchell Finnis defines seven basic goods of natural law -- life, knowledge, play, aesthetic experience, sociability of friendship, practical reasonableness, and religion. If one were to pick at each of these, the glaring inequities of the law are exposed like nothing else.
Such inequities and the inadequacy of national laws that govern countries fly in the face of the global village concept. The essence of a fair, humane village just doesn’t exist.
Mahmudur Rahman is a writer, columnist, broadcaster, and communications specialist.