In his speech before the General Assembly of the United Nations today, U.S. President Donald Trump laid out preconditions we, the United States, demand of all nations, which is to respect the other sovereign nations of the world. At one level, this backs away off from the ideals of the U.N. which are to secure peace and to advance human rights. But, at another level, this re-balances these twin goals, offering non-interference in the internal affairs of other nations in return for nations not jeopardizing the peace of their region or the peace of the world.
The policy expressed in Trump’s speech could be view strategically. That we, the democratic nations of the world, are confident that, in the long run, we will “bury” the non-democratic nations of the world, to correctly refer to the famous statement made by Soviet Premier Nikita Khrushchev in 1958. Although I was taught “we will bury you” was a military threat, Khrushchev meant economically. The Soviet Union would bury us with kitchen appliances, family cars, health care, and so forth. He believed in “scientific socialism,” or a centrally-planned economy. So, he believed the centrally-planned economy of the Soviet Union would, in the long run, out-performed the free-market economies of the democracies of the world.
Similarly, Abraham Lincoln’s willingness, prior to the Emancipation Proclamation, to respect the institution of slavery in the slave states of the country, could be viewed as a strategic policy. Eventually, by choking off the expansion of slavery to the territories, the parasitic slave-based economy of the South would collapse. Looking back, we know the toll in terms of lives lost that ending slavery through war cost, and by contrast how much less costly it was for us to wait for the eventual fall of the Berlin Wall.
The way the few rogue regimes of the world threaten regional or world peace, Trump says, is through weapons of mass destruction, such as nuclear weapons and chemical weapons, and through sponsoring terrorism. In a sense, the world has past the point where criminals, having gained the power of the state, can conquer empires, because we, the United States, if necessary on our own, will swat them down. We live in an era when the lion can lay down with the lamb because we’re the lion. But, while we have an tremendous advantage in conventional power, WMD and terrorism threaten enormous loss. We might win a war involving WMD or terrorism, but what would victory mean? We need, if at all possible, to prevent such war or, perhaps, to pursue a military option with overwhelming force when that becomes necessary.
This was perhaps the scariest part of the speech. President Trump, in laying out a policy of not interfering in the internal affairs of countries that fall short of the U.N. ideal with regard to human rights, signals to certain countries with spotty records on human rights, that we can distinguish them from North Korea. This is designed to isolate that country from its presumed backers and free up our options.