March 13-In an apparent shift in strategy, U.S. President Donald Trump now views human rights as an essential part of its “American First” foreign policy, a White House release said on Monday.
The statement carefully interposed the idea of human rights between respect for national sovereignty and American values.
“As a corollary, governments have a responsibility to their citizens,” the White House statement asserted, while referencing Trump’s speech before the UN General Assembly last September. “In other words, legitimate national sovereignty must begin with a respect for human rights.”
While the United States government has traditionally included democracy promotion and human rights as part of its foreign policy umbrella, Trump differentiated himself by putting forward a different vision based on pragmatic Realpolitik — an agenda that favors national interests over universal ideals — and respect for national sovereignty.
The March 12 statement echos sentiment the U.S. government outlined in the U.S. National Security Strategy, which Trump signed off on last December. That document includes supporting democratic ideals, such as free press, free enterprise, religious freedome, equal justice under the law and women’s rights. It says:
“No nation can unilaterally alleviate all human suffering, but just because we cannot help everyone does not mean that we should stop trying to help anyone. For much of the world, America’s liberties are inspirational, and the United States will always stand with those who seek freedom. We will remain a beacon of liberty and opportunity around the world.”
A Contrast from Candidate Trump
Though little noticed in the press yesterday, the new release reiterates the National Security Strategy, which makes human rights part of the agenda.
Its emphasis contrasts sharply with then-candidate Trump’s focus on national strategic interests over idealist vision. In his first foreign policy speech in April of 2016, for example, Trump made no mention of human rights. Instead, he talked about replacing “ideology with strategy” and “chaos with peace.”
The 4,000-plus-word speech only made one reference to universal rights. “Instead of trying to spread universal values that not everybody shares or wants, we should understand that strengthening and promoting Western civilization and its accomplishments will do more to inspire positive reforms around the world than military interventions,” Trump said.
A Diplomacy Tool
The March 12 White House statement underlines the National Security Strategy’s inclusion of democracy-promotion and human rights in making policy. “The NSS explains that a commitment to fundamental human rights is essential to advancing American influence abroad. Respect for human rights and democracy also produces peace, stability, and prosperity—making it an integral component of U.S. national security,” it said.
And the statement suggests that the Trump administration has “consistently used diplomacy, sanctions, and other tools to isolate states and leaders whose actions run contrary to these values.” It cited examples, such as Trump’s decision to order airstrikes against Syria after Bashar al-Assad used chemical weapons against civilians, his Cuba policy and, more recently, the Trump administration’s stand again Iran in the UN Security Council during popular demonstrations in that country.
Administration Shake Up
It’s curious that the statement on human rights comes as Trump is replacing his Secretary of State Rex Tillerson with CIA Director Mike Pompeo.
Pompeo is perhaps known more for his support for controversial interrogation methods than he is for human rights. But as the new top diplomat, Pompeo will take the lead in talks with North Korea (DPRK).
Human Rights Abuses in the DPRK
Coincidentally, another story broke on Monday when the the UN Human Rights Council met in Geneva to consider abuses in North Korea. A Special Rapporteur on human rights in North Korea presented findings about “continuing patterns of serious violations” in the rogue nation.
Although the Special Rapporteur, Tomas Ojea Quintana, has not had access to North Korea, he based his findings upon information received through a variety of sources. According to a UNHRC staff summation of the presentation, “The country’s extensive penitentiary system and severe restrictions on all forms of free expression, movement and access to information continued to nurture fear of the State and left people at the mercy of unaccountable public officials.”
Quintana is proposing that human rights be part of diplomatic talks with North Korea. As GER reported last week, Trump has said he would meet with North Korean leader Kim Jung-Un by May.
by foreign policy, human rights