There is a lot of talk this week about the 45th US President Donald Trump taking his “America first” campaign message to the United Nations. In that context, it is vital that everyone involved in the US political system consider the following:

  • The United Nations exists to bring all nations into a coordinated, complex discussion oriented toward establishing and maintaining a conflict-free world where human liberty and dignity are secure, everywhere.
  • The United Nations exists to ensure that legitimate participatory processes reliably put people and their human interest ahead of the whims of tyrants, in all countries, at all times. 

This is an ongoing project, resisted by many governments, who have not yet found their way to embracing democratic processes. The United Nations is not the silver bullet that has the secret to making all nations perfect without delay; it is a deliberative process that models negotiated political outcomes, and requires even those least willing to join such a process to work in cooperation with international standards and for the common good.

In his UN address today, Pres. Trump cited the Marshall Plan—an act of far-sighted post-war generosity, and a successful peacebuilding investment—as integral to a global structure for sustained peace and stability. He described the United Nations and the Marshall Plan as key standards in a three-pronged strategy for achieving lasting peace: Sovereignty, Security, and Prosperity.

Mr. Trump, thought by many to be impatient with democracy and to favor his own whim over the will of the people, acknowledged that “In America, the people rule, the people govern, and the people are sovereign.”

Writing from within the United States, we can say with confidence that the sovereign will of the American people, despite our political and ideological diversity and the bombast of some politicians, stands clearly on the side of:

  1. Cooperative peace and security;
  2. Shared prosperity and the empowerment of all people to do good for their communities and for the wider world;
  3. A world free from conflict, environmental degradation, and deprivation;
  4. The coming together of world leaders to stand for timeless human values and legitimate governance;
  5. Forceful support for human liberty, human rights, and peacebuilding.

“America first” cannot mean isolation, and the American people understand this. While political rhetoric allows candidates to whip up factional passions, it is vital that We the People manage to communicate to the rest of the world that we understand our impact on the wider world, our responsibility to foster wellbeing without weaponry, and to work in cooperation with all nations to achieve global shared thriving that is sustainable and that does not marginalize any group or subgroup in any nation.

The scale of that challenge escapes many leaders, and the spirit of that vision is absent from many arguments about “national interest”. Pres. Trump has himself been an example of this deficit. Just moments ago, for instance, he stated his opposition to the North Korean regime’s non-compliance with UN mandates, saying continued aggression would leave “no choice but to totally destroy North Korea”.

Peace and security cannot be won by threatening mass death. This core human value is central to the American spirit of civics, on all sides. Mr. Trump cited John Adams—the nation’s second president and one of the leaders of the American Revolution of 1776—who said the revolution is in the minds of the American people.

Everyone should recognize that, whatever Mr. Trump’s rhetoric suggests, the honor of a legitimate democracy, founded on universal values, lives in the minds of the American people. This nation will not support, and will not countenance, the wanton destruction of another people by our leaders. This week, there is on American public television a documentary history of the Vietnam War that reminds us all of the degraded public support that will accrue to any leader who seeks to take the United States outside the bounds of justifiable military action to defend against evil.

Worse: such threats can provoke rogue tyrants to seek still more dangerous means of building up their desired illusion of self-defense.

The Geoversiv view of the mortal tensions of this moment is that, even with the provocative language of this address, all nations should seek cooperation for a peaceful resolution that will endure, without resort to mass killing. Elusive as that solution may be, and recognizing that appeasing rogue dictators is not a path to security, it should be remembered that one cannot avoid the horrors of war through war. It should also be remembered that a much more dangerous Cold War was resolved without resort to the world’s worst weapons.

We can report—because this discussion is happening every day—that people of conscience across the United States ask the peoples of the world to recognize that behind Mr. Trump’s defiant rhetoric, there is a people that will demand better outcomes, serious cooperation, support for shared prosperity, and a world free from conflict. Any leader who does not deliver that kind of effort will, necessarily, lose virtually all support at home.

The voice of the United States at the United Nations is bigger than Donald Trump. We, and countless others, want to project very clearly a message that the United States does, and will, stand for a strong UN that builds value, expands opportunity, protects human rights, and manages security effectively, for all people, everywhere.

Written by Joseph Robertson

Joseph is Global Strategy Director for the non-partisan non-profit Citizens' Climate Lobby. He coordinates the building of CCL's citizen engagement groups on 5 continents, leads the Citizens' Climate Engagement Network and represents CCL in the Carbon Pricing Leadership Coalition, UNFCCC negotiations, and other UN processes. He is a member of the Executive Board of the UN-linked NGO Committee on Sustainable Development-NY and of the Policy and Strategy Group for the World We Want. He is also the founder of Geoversiv.net and the Geoversiv Foundation and the lead strategist supporting the high-level climate dialogue series Accelerating Progress, Advancing Innovation.

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