In a joint statement on Monday and in remarks at a UN Security Council session chaired by Trump on Wednesday, Britain, France, Germany, China, and Russia all reaffirmed their support for the Iran nuclear deal despite America’s withdrawal from the agreement last spring. They also agreed to establish a financial vehicle in the European Union in an attempt to keep trade with Iran flowing as the United States reimposes sanctions on the Iranians. While the Trump administration is trying to isolate Iran, it is actually the United States that finds itself alone because of its unilateral exit from the nuclear pact, Iranian President Hassan Rouhani argued at a news conference.
Across town, at an event with top Canadian officials at the Council on Foreign Relations, Foreign Minister Chrystia Freeland spoke wistfully—and in the past tense—of the post-World War II period when there was “clear American leadership in the world” and “we all got used to calling the American president the leader of the free world.” At a moment when Canada and the United States are at loggerheads over renegotiating NAFTA, Trade Minister Jim Carr talked euphemistically about “diversify[ing] our trade” through agreements with the European Union and Asian and Latin American nations. (Prime Minister Justin Trudeau, for his part, revealed the strategy he has come to adopt to avoid a blowup with Trump: Be firm—imposing equivalent countertariffs to Trump’s steel and aluminum tariffs, for example—but don’t “escalate or respond in kind” to maintain “a constructive relationship with the president.”)
Among the most notable adjustments to the Trump era at the United Nations was an escalating struggle over the soul of the international system. Speaking to the UN General Assembly shortly after Trump, French President Emmanuel Macron directly countered the American president’s vision of self-interested, fiercely independent states collaborating only if and when their interests overlap—and the specific policies on trade, climate, Iran, and other issues that derive from it. Rejecting both the “survival-of-the-fittest approach” to international affairs and the notion that today’s global tumult is an “interlude in history before things return to normal,” Macron advocated for a “new world balance” involving multiple powers that seek new ways to remedy the inequities of globalization.
“Never forget that the genocides that led to your being here today were fueled by the language we are growing accustomed to, because they were fueled by the demagoguery we applaud, because we are currently seeing … international law and all forms of cooperation crumbling, as if it were business as usual—out of fear, out of complicity, because it looks good,” Macron declared.
On Thursday, another young leader, New Zealand Prime Minister Jacinda Ardern, made a similar but less Trump-centric case during her first appearance at the UN General Assembly. Her country’s isolated position “at the bottom of the South Pacific” had not made it insular, she said—in fact just the opposite. And climate change was a prime example of what she called governments’ obligations “to their people and each other.” Ardern noted that “there is a grinding reality in hearing someone from a Pacific island talk about where the sea was when they were a child, and potential loss of their entire village as an adult. Our action in the wake of this global challenge remains optional. But the impact of inaction does not. Nations like Tuvalu, the Marshall Islands, or Kiribati—small countries who’ve contributed the least to global climate change—are and will suffer the full force of a warming planet. If my Pacific neighbors do not have the option of opting out of the effects of climate change, why should we be able to opt out of taking action to stop it?”
“In the face of isolationism, protectionism, racism,” Ardern continued, “the simple concept of looking outwardly and beyond ourselves, of kindness and collectivism, might just be as good a starting point as any.”
We want to hear what you think about this article. Submit a letter to the editor or write to email@example.com.