World leaders meeting this week in New York for the UN General Assembly are a diverse crowd, including allies and partners as well as adversaries and competitors.
One thing many will have in common will be a lack of understanding of the Trump administration’s view of the world — of what makes the administration tick on foreign policy.
In Washington’s extraordinarily contentious environment, attention has focused on the controversies surrounding President Trump’s personality while obscuring important transformations in global affairs. Defining these changes and what they mean for the United States are key goals of the administration’s national security strategy, which, actually, has more bipartisan support than most people think, or care to admit.
The administration understands the world not as a community of nations with universally shared norms and values but as an arena where sovereign states align — or clash — in pursuit of national interests. It recognizes that sovereignty is the basis of interactions among states and is fundamental to the character of conflict and comity. This is not a new insight. The UN charter, after all, states that the organization is based on the sovereign equality of its members.
For decades, however, sovereignty has increasingly been subordinated to a global cooperative ideal. Yet globalization has not fulfilled the promise its advocates had hoped for and has, in many respects, exacerbated income inequality, contributed to severe immigration crises across the West and has been unable to moderate the behavior of states like Iran.
Recognizing these facts, the administration has opened a conversation on sovereignty and the degree to which individual states pursuing their national interests are best suited to solve persistent problems. It is a critical debate — one that’s engaged Democrats and Republicans alike, as well as leaders around the world. It is also a particularly relevant question as states continue to face territorial challenges to their sovereignty, in addition to new challenges like disinformation and foreign influence campaigns.