Given Donald Trump’s inexperience in foreign policy, he may not understand or appreciate certain fundamental principles and realities that are essential for the maintenance of international peace and security, on the one hand, and the defense of core American values, on the other.
During the transition period and the early days of his administration, the risk of his taking hasty, ill-considered actions that undermine the security and reputation of the United States are great, particularly in view of what he has said about Vladimir Putin and improving relations with Russia, and regarding the use of torture.
It is useful now to begin to lay out these core values and interests. They include:
1. THE U.N. CHARTER AND INTERNATIONAL LAW
Upholding the United Nations Charter in general, and its prohibition of the illegal use of force across international frontiers set forth in Article 2 paragraph 4 and Article 51 of the Charter have been central tenets of U.S. foreign policy since 1945, This includes upholding and seeking to strengthen international law, and compliance with international treaties to which the United States is a party.
While not always adhered to in practice, they have remained guiding principles of U.S. foreign policy.
Mr. Trump needs to understand why relations with Russia have become strained. It is as a direct result of the military invasion and annexation of the Crimea in the Ukraine in February and March 2014, and the invasion and continued occupation of the eastern Ukraine between April and August 2014 by Russian forces.
APPLICATION: THE CRIMEA
Under no conceivable circumstances should the United States “recognize” the Russian annexation of the Crimea.
To do so would be to undermine the prohibition of the illegal use of force, giving other countries hopes that they, too, might invade other countries and one day achieve recognition of their military conquests.
It is worth recalling that the United States never recognized the Soviet military invasion and annexation of the three Baltic countries of Lithuania, Estonia and Latvia in 1940.
Given the way that international law works, U.S. recognition of the Russian annexation of the Crimea would, for example, lend legitimacy to Chinese territorial claims in the South China Sea and elsewhere, giving hope to the most extreme leaders in the Chinese government that they, too, might invade and annex foreign territory.
This could include the Exclusive Econonomic Zone and the Continental Shelf of other countries in violation of international law, including the Law of the Sea Convention and South China Sea Arbitral Award of July 12, 2016.
APPLICATION: ECONOMIC SANCTIONS AGAINST RUSSIA
The United States and the European Union have adopted coordinated economic sanctions against Russia in response to its invasions of the Crimea and the eastern Ukraine in 2014.
Lifting these sanctions while Russia continues to occupy invaded territory of the Ukraine would eliminate the main elements of pressure on Russia to fully implement the Minsk II Protocol of February 12, 2015 (regarding the eastern Ukraine), and the necessity of holding a U.fN.-supervised referendum in the Crimea to regularize the legal status of that territory under international law.
2. INTERNATIONAL HUMANITARIAN LAW AND THE PROHIBITIONS AGAINST WAR CRIMES AND CRIMES AGAINST HUMANITY
Cooperating with Russia and the Syrian government in actions which involve the commmission of war crimes will make the United States liable under international law for the commmission of those crimes. That could eventually expose Donald Trump to be tried as a war criminal in 10 or 20 years in one of the countries he travels to.
3. THE DEFENSE OF INTERNATIONAL HUMAN RIGHTS
The U.S. is a party to the U.N. Convention Prohibiting Torture. During the campaign, Donald Trump publicly advocated the reintroduction of torture as a U.S. policy. He should be aware that continuing to do so, and implementing torture policies, could one day make him a defendant in an international criminal case brought in another country which is a party to the convention.
Appointment of former officials who were instrumental in the execution of the torture policy under President George W. Bush , such as José Fernández, wouuld be a grave error, compromising the legitimacy of the Trump administration early and unnecessarily.
Worth noting is the fact that George W. Bush doesn’t seem to spend that much time traveling abroad these days.
“George W. Bush cancels visit to Swiss charity gala over fears he could be arrested on torture charges,” Daily Mail, January 31, 2016 (UPDATED: 19:55 EST).
(to be continued)
Implications: The Need for a Go-Slow and Cautious Approach on Foreign Policy
At the very least, these and other considerations argue for a go-slow approach by President-elect Donald Trump. An example to keep in mind was the quick approval by John F. Kennedy of the Bay of Pigs invasion of Cuba in 1961, which was a total fiasco and one which helped lead to the Cuban Missile Crisis in October 1962.
Caution, listening carefully to analysis and points of view from outside his entourage, from officials in government and other experts, should mark Trump’s transition and early months in the presidency. How good a president he could be may be determined by how well he adheres to such advice.
Trump has a number of areas in foreign policy where he could conceivably improve on the policies of Barack Obama, but it will take time for him to understand the issues and the consequences, if he is so inclined.
The Trenchant Observr