What do Trump and the election have to do with international law, politics, and security?

You cannot make plans for additions to your house while there is a bulldozer outside, with its engines revving, actively engaged in tearing down your house.

The main focus of The Trenchant Observer has been, since its beginning in 2009, on International Law, Politics, and Security.

What is the relationship, then, between this subject and the 2020 November 3 elections in the United States, Donald Trump, impeachment, and the presidential campaign between Trump and Joe Biden?

The answer is that Donald Trump, who is probably the most brilliant demogogue and authoritarian leader since Adolf Hitler, has operated as a malevolent wrecking ball aimed at tearing down the entire system of international law and institutions created since the founding of the United Nations in 1945.

He and his cult followers and Collaborators have controlled the government of the most powerful and influential country in the world since January, 2017, and have done great harm.

You cannot talk about the maintenance of international peace and security, in the words of the U.N. Charter, without talking about Trump and the unique threat he poses to upholding the entire system.

You cannot talk about international law, politics, and security in the same way you could not talk about these subjects in the 1930’s without talking about Germany, the Nazi’s, and Adolf Hitler.

As long as Trump is President, there cannot be any progress toward strengthening international law and institutions.

You cannot make plans for additions to your house while there is a bulldozer outside, with its engines revving, actively engaged in tearing down your house.

The first and essential step, no matter what your plans for future additions to your house may be, is to stop the bulldozer and the man operating it, and remove them both from the scene in a manner which gives assurance that they will not return.

So, naturally, we turn our attention to the actions of the bulldozer and the forces which may determine whether it and its operator will be stopped and effectively removed.

While you would prefer to deal with architectural plans for future additions to your house, you are compelled to think of politics and the actions that will be necessary to get the sheriff to come to your property and remove both the bulldozer and its operator.

Can there be any serious question that Trump has been tearing down the edifice of international law and institutions, and that if he is re-elected he will continue to use the bulldozer to tear down the house?

The answers to this quesstion could comprise a book. Let us only addressa a few dimensions of International Law, Politics, and Security.

First, Trump has acted to destroy the system of International Trade created in Havanna in 1947, originally known as the General Agreement on Tariffs and Trade (GATT). The system is now known as the World Trade Organization.

Trump has repeatedly violated its most basic provisions by imposing punitive tariffs on China and other countries on the spurious legal ground that they are justified by the “national security” exception contained in the GATT rules.

To shield the U.S. from legal judgment by the WTO’s highest dispute resolution body, Trump has refused to nominate the members it requires to constitute a quorum in order to function and consider a case and reach a decision.

This is equivalent to avoiding condemnation by a court by burning the courthouse down.

Second, in the realm of international peace and security, Trump has never criticized Vladimir Putin for invading Ukraine, annexing the Crimea, and occupying two provinces in the eastern Ukraine, which occupation continues today.

He has never criticized Putin for interfering in the 2016 U.S. elections, or Russia’s ongoing intervention in the 2020 elections.  Such interventions represent flagrant violations of the international law principle prohibiting intervention in the internal affairs of any state.

International Law and institutions are, among other things, instruments that can be used by the nations of the world to solve current and future problems.

Trump has withdrawn the U.S. from the 2015 Paris agreement on climate change. It is the only country in the world to have done so.

Trump firmly opposes multilateral efforts to deal with climate change. As long as he is driving the bulldozer wrecking the house, we cannot expect any decisive action using international law and institutions to address these issues.  They are of existential importance for the future existence of humans on the planet.

Trump has withdrawn from the Intermediate Nuclear Forces (INF)  arms control treaty with Russia, and entered into a new nuclear arms race with Russia-which eventually will be joined by other countries such as China.

It currently appears likely that the U.S. will not renew the START Treay with Russia, which has imposed a decrease in and limits on the number of nuclear weapons on each side.

Under Trump, nuclear proliferation by North Korea has not been halted.

Trump has withdrawn the U.S. from the six-nation treaty limiting Iran’s nuclear capabilities, which has led to a slow break-out by Iran from the treaty’s limitations. If Trump is re-elected, we may see a much faster break-out by Iran from the treaty’s constraints. He has proposed no alternative for reigning in Iran’s presumed nuclear ambitions.

Third, in the field of biological defense, the coronavirus pandemic has underlined the urgent need for ever-closer cooperation and coordination among the nations of the world to counter biological threats, including viruses.  Trump’s response has been to withdraw from and attack the World Health Organization (WHO), instead of leading efforts to correct its shortcomings and strengthen its capabilities.

It is evident that Chinese cooperation is urgently required in efforts to control dangerous experimentation with biological agents, and to control the spread of the nouvel coronavirus and others wich may appear in the future.  Such collaboration might be best achieved through the WHO.

Bashing China has not been particularly fruitful.  Apparently feeling he had nothing to lose, Xi JinPing has crushed the autonomy of Hong Kong, in blatent violation of the treaty by which the United Kingdom returned sovereignty over the territory to the People’s Republic of China, with the ex-colony’s independence to be guaranteed for 50 years.

Trump did not object vociferously over this Chinese violation of International Law.

The list could go on.

The most fundamental problem with Trump is that he does not believe in the usefulness of multilateral diplomacy, or in the utility of international law and institutions.  The same can be said of law in general, at least if it might constrain his freedom of action.

The important point is that the man operating the bulldozer tearing down the house must be stopped.

That is why The Trenchant Observer writes about Donald Trump, his actions, and the forces that will determine whether and when he is removed from office.

The Trenchant Observer

About the Author

James Rowles
"The Trenchant Observer" is edited and published by James Rowles (aka "The Observer"), an author and international lawyer who has taught International Law, Human Rights, and Comparative Law at major U.S. universities, including Harvard, Brandeis, the University of Pittsburgh, and the University of Kansas. Dr. Rowles is a former staff attorney at the Inter-American Commission on Human Rights (IACHR) of the Organization of American States OAS), in Wasington, D.C., , where he was in charge of Brazil, Haiti, Mexico and the United States, and also worked on complaints from and reports on other countries including Argentina, Chile, Uruguay, El Salvador, Nicaragua, and Guatemala. As an international development expert, he has worked on Rule of Law, Human Rights, and Judicial Reform in a number of countries in Latin America, the Caribbean, Africa, the Middle East, South Asia, and the Russian Federation. In the private sector, Dr. Rowles has worked as an international attorney for a leading national law firm and major global companies, on joint ventures and other matters in a number of countries in Europe (including Russia and the Ukraine), throughout Latin America and the Caribbean, and in Australia, Indonesia, Vietnam, China and Japan. The Trenchant Observer blog provides an unfiltered international perspective for news and opinion on current events, in their historical context, drawing on a daily review of leading German, French, Spanish and English newspapers as well as the New York Times, the Wall Street Journal, the Washington Post, and other American newspapers, and on sources in other countries relevant to issues being analyzed. Dr. Rowles speaks fluent English, French, German, Portuguese and Spanish, and also knows other languages. He holds an S.J.D. or Doctor of Juridical Science in International Law from Harvard University, and a Doctor of Law (J.D.) and a Master of the Science of Law (J.S.M.=LL.M.), from Stanford University. As an undergraduate, he received a Bachelor of Arts degree, also from Stanford, where he graduated “With Great Distinction” (summa cum laude) and received the James Birdsall Weter Prize for the best Senior Honors Thesis in History. In addition to having taught as a Lecturer on Law at Harvard Law School, Dr. Rowles has been a Visiting Scholar at Harvard University's Center for International Affairs (CFIA). His fellowships include a Stanford Postdoctoral Fellowship in Law and Development, the Rómulo Gallegos Fellowship in International Human Rights awarded by the Inter-American Commission on Human Rights, and a Harvard MacArthur Fellowship in International Peace and Security. Beyond his articles in The Trenchant Observer, he is the author of two books and numerous scholarly articles on subjects of international and comparative law. Currently he is working on a manuscript drawing on some the best articles that have appeared in the blog.