Code: 643151 A

Professor of Law at the University of Ottawa stressed that It seems the withdrawal IS America’s new foreign policy– a less collective/multilateral/cooperative policy.

Frederick John Packer is Professor of Law and Director of the Human Rights Research and Education Centre at the University of Ottawa.


ILNA: What is the reason for Donald Trump's decision to withdraw from international and multilateral treaties? Is it because these treaties are the legacy left of Obama's time?

It is difficult to know what are the reasons for Donald Trump’s decisions. It does not appear that they follow from a particular ideology or a consistent position. So one can only speculate about his reasons. This said, it appears that he is consistently unhappy about, and in practice against, a rules-based international order, especially a multilateral order; he appears to prefer one-on-one or bilateral relations in which he and the USA are generally larger in size and force than counter-parts. One can also observe a fairly simplistic adherence to some of his election promises; while this may be “honourable” in one respect, in fact it appears to be playing to his base and, thus, governing for those who voted for him, and not governing for the good of the country as a whole or for applicable principles as prescribed by law or pursuant to his oath. In line with this explanation, the rationale or impetus for some of Donald Trump’s decisions may follow – also simplistically – from the fact they are contrary to positions or the ‘legacy’ of Obama. But I am not sure any of these explanations are reliable or predictive of Trump’s future behaviour. 

ILNA: How will America's withdrawal from the Human Rights Council and its recent approach to refugees affect Washington's foreign policy?

It seems the withdrawal IS America’s new foreign policy– a less collective/multilateral/cooperative policy. It is a manifestation of “America First” (and likely alone) unconstrained by rules, fora or social conventions (like diplomacy). The consequence, I suspect, will be an increasing dislike for America and dissociation to the greatest extent possible; there appears little if any incentive for cooperation with the USA (which is not reliable) and, instead, greater incentive for cooperation with others. A likely result will be the increasing isolation of America (as some Americans welcome, ideologically) with attendant risks for America, Americans and others. 

Of course, international systems (notably for refugees and human rights) will suffer since the USA has been a major proponent and material supporter. Loss of USA as a champion (albeit a problematical one) will be difficult to replace, but not impossible. In the long term, it may turn out for the better; at the moment, the USA is a poor and unpersuasive example. Indeed, in disregarding or violating international law, especially human rights, the USA is now encouraging others to act likewise or worse. As a result, our world will become a harsher place, and lost hope will give way to extreme reactions… which, in turn, will offer justifications for further constrains on freedom, open societies and democratic governance.

ILNA: Trump administration has break faith with numbers of multilateral agreements, such as JCPOA and Paris Agreement. Why does not Europe give a firm response to United States? Why do you think Europe has maintained a conservative approach toward Trump?

The Europeans, including the EU, have expressed their dissatisfaction with the American withdrawals and overall approach. Of course, Europe is suffering its own internal problems. I suspect many in the world calculated they could ‘weather’ Trump’s presidency (perhaps limited to a single term) – to forestall or survive the damage, and rebuild thereafter. But Trump is acting quicker, broader, deeper and more unpredictably than any expected. The damage may be institutional, with confidences lost and negative facts and dynamics enduring. In this light, the EU should be bolder – but that implies it is united. Unfortunately, Europe is preoccupied by BREXIT and other prospective ones, as well as the (false) “migration crisis” which some say may precipitate the EU’s dissolution.   

ILNA: How do you evaluate the outcome of tensions between Europe and United States, from withdrawing from JCPOA to leaving Human Rights Council?   

The basic pillars of Pax Americana, Trans-Atlanticism, the Washinbgton consensus, and most of the post-WWII order are being shaken. That would not be so terrible if replaced by a progressive, inclusive multilateralism adhering to an international rule of law. It would arguably reflect global changes with relative declines and ascendancy in power and influence – with Anglo-American influence reduced amid the rise of the East and South. There would be re-balancing. But the current changes appear less about balance and more about chaos in the face of competing interests, dispersed power, weakened global institutions and no anchoring authority in law or politics. The risks of “America First”, if followed by all others, is simply the law of the jungle in global relations – a pre-Westphalian paradigm of constant conflict, high risks and perpetual costs. It implies uncertainty, the decline of democracies, a turn to authoritarianism, and a fragile ‘system’ unable to address shared threats such as climate change or other challenges of complex interdependence beyond any State acting alone. Oddly and ironically, it is not clear that America is best-placed to survive such a competition. And so it is dumbfounding that Trump’s America is hastening and in fact driving this change.     


Interview: Kamran Baradaran


Donald Trump human rights United Nations Human Rights Council Frederick John Packer
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