This past month the United Nations General Assembly held its 72nd annual gathering in New York City to engage in “top-level diplomatic talks known as the General Debate.”
According to the United Nation’s website, the main issues were the needs of the world’s most vulnerable people, including discussions revolving around sustainable development, climate change, migration and nuclear weapons.
Many Americans and most of the world had been patiently awaiting this session to see how President Trump would use the occasion and whether the administration would position the United States’ foreign policy in alignment with or against the international community.
Hence, my next few columns will discuss foreign policy, the Trump administration and the type of international engagement most likely to appeal to Millennial Conservativism.
Many see the United Nations as nothing but an institution in form that really achieves nothing serious in matter. This belief is typically espoused by conservative Republicans, radically unifying all sects against the international institution. Whether Republicans consider themselves establishment, Tea Party, Trumpites, Never Trumpers, Neoconservatives, etc., they all tend to question the necessity of the U.N.
There is some serious rationale behind the conservative angst against the U.N. It rarely accomplishes its stated first main goal of international peace and security; it gives each country an equal voice (at least within the General Assembly) and hence, tends to be skewed against American interests; but mainly, it has no executive function or police powers.
This means that even when it passes a resolution, that treaty tends not to be binding because it is viewed as non-enforceable. Often, the U.S. may sign onto these resolutions but unless the U.S. Senate ratifies it, the signature is nothing more than a symbolic gesture of goodwill.
Although all these faults and many more can be leveled against the U.N., it has attributes that most liberals already attest to, but that Millennial Conservatism also appreciates and encourages other conservatives to embrace.
I say openly that I am biased. Although I hesitate to give much power to the U.N., and readily admit that many of the world’s greatest war crimes and crimes against humanity partly resulted from the U.N. not working properly – and many of its peace missions (peacebuilding; peace enforcement; peacekeeping) seem to fail in proportion to how many succeed in calming ethnic or civil wars – it serves essential functions.
Its functions are so essential, I have directed the Model United Nations and Junior Model United Nations Program at Augusta University since 2011 and 2014, respectively.
I direct this program for the same reasons I believe the United Nations benefits the world: It creates a global forum for discussion, dialogue and communication.
Communication helps build trust, and trusting relationships are the least likely ones to result in violent conflict if some international crisis happens. This is not always the case and, of course, U.N. diplomacy often handles low politics (climate change; international economics and trade; and issues that are political softballs and easy to resolve) better than high politics (such as war, violence, and international security).
However, in international relations, being able to negotiate and compromise on low political issues builds trust and complex interdependence between different member states within the U.N.
This type of diplomacy is essential because the more issues tackled in the realm of low politics, the more likely will issues of international security be resolved peacefully because countries already have a trusting relationship. This is the main reason the U.N. is a useful international organization, even though I readily admit its defects.
The body teaches ambassadors to communicate effectively, to problem solve, to negotiate with high-level games, and to balance domestic versus international politics. These also happen to be the very same traits the Model United Nations bestows upon students who take seriously the simulation, which is why I stand in support of the U.N. because teaching it has great effects on student learning at the middle grades level as well as the university.
According to the international relations theory of Realism, international organizations can be important as extensions of the state. In other words, the U.S., if it uses its power prudently and smartly, can manipulate the international system toward its self-interest by acting through and within the parameters set by the United Nations. In fact, much of the world is anti-U.N. because they believe it is too Western in its orientation, which implicitly means too American.
Millennial Conservatism does not believe in isolationism, which appears to be the libertarian and particular orientation President Trump is geared toward. It also does not believe in an overly aggressive foreign policy, as do those of the neoconservative persuasion.
Millennial Conservatism does not, however, believe the U.S. should put the world’s interests first. It rather argues that it is in the U.S.’s interests to engage heavily in established international forums such as the U.N. and NATO, among others, to achieve its strategic initiatives, build and strengthen alliances and, hopefully, avoid conflict when at all possible, while reserving the right to defend its interest when international mitigation fails.
The writer is an associate professor in the Department of Political Science at Augusta University. Follow him on Twitter and Facebook: @DrCraigDAlbert