By: Omar Salinas Chacón, EKU Graduate Assistant
The Melians were stuck between the two warring regional powers of Greece: Athens and Sparta. When Athens came to conquer the neutral island of Melos, the Athenians justified the attack saying, “…the strong do what they can and the weak suffer what they must.” The Athenians did what they could by slaughtering all the men of the island and taking the women and children as slaves. This was the world order prior to the end of the Second World War.
Today the world has moved away from the old realism idea of pure power politics and instead has tried to work toward international cooperation through international institutions like the UN, NATO, and the EU. This is a brand new and experimental phase of history. These institutions have brought the world an unprecedented peace. Entire generations have not seen a conflict as destructive as WWII. There have been failures along the way such as the world not acting to protect people in genocides such as the one in Rwanda and Bosnia. However, despite those conflicts the world has adopted new norms. It was through mutual understanding that the world finally condemned the acts now known as crimes against humanity.
Today President Donald Trump is trying to move America away from these institutions. He criticized NATO and the EU last year. He believed that America was unfairly paying the majority of NATO’s defense fund. He cited a trade deficit between America and the EU as a weakness (Davis 2018). President Trump has moved away from international institutions so much that American intelligence has warned that weakening such institutions could be undermining American national security (Megerian 2019). Then there is the Trump administration’s decision to withdraw from the Iran Nuclear Deal (Landler 2018) and from the opening of Cuba (Merica & Acosta 2017) that also paints the President as an isolationist.
President Trump’s foreign policy decisions are a return of realism. Not the realism of the Athenians but a neo-realism that for decades criticized the world’s move toward these institutions. Neo-realism works on the assumption that the world is anarchy and that because of that there is no central authority to exert power. Therefore, states must exert their power to impose their will. This language can be seen in President Trump’s last UN speech where he emphasized exercise of sovereignty and the rights of individual states (Diamond 2018).
However, what President Trump and other world leaders advocate for is the dismantling of an entire system of peace. UN Ambassador Eleanor Roosevelt described the UN as the last hope of mankind for peace. Politicians such as President Trump and other isolationist have forgotten the reason why our ancestors built these institutions and treaties. Peace requires trust and the upholding of norms not necessarily because they are beneficial but because of a normative understanding that peace and interconnectedness is a good thing. The alternative is to live in a world where Athenians massacre Melians.
About the author: Omar Salinas Chacón is an EKU graduate student working toward a master’s degree in public administration (MPA).He is an Honors Scholar, 2017 National Honors Student of the Year, and 2018 CLASS Dean Merit Award Recipient. Omar currently serves on the ACLU of Kentucky Board of Directors and wants to continue to serve the community after graduation.
Davis, J.H. (July 10 2018). As Trump Criticizes NATO, E.U. Leader Warns: You ‘Won’t Have a Better Ally.’ New York Times. Retrieved from https://www.nytimes.com/2018/07/10/world/europe/trump-donald-tusk-nato.html
Diamond, J. (Sept 25 2018). Trump ‘didn’t expect’ UN speech reaction he got. CNN. Retrieved from: https://www.cnn.com/2018/09/25/politics/donald-trump-un-speech/index.html
Landler, M. (May 8 2018). Trump Abandons Iran Nuclear Deal He Long Scorned. The New York Times. Retrieved from: https://www.nytimes.com/2018/05/08/world/middleeast/trump-iran-nuclear-d…
Megerian, C. (Jan 22 2019). U.S. Intelligence Agencies See Isolationism, Weakening Western Order as Threats. Los Angeles Times. Retrieved from: https://www.latimes.com/politics/la-na-pol-national-intelligence-strateg…
Merica, D. & Acosta, J. (June 16 2017). Tightening Cuba Restrictions, Trump Again Chips Away at Obama’s Legacy. CNN. Retrieved from: https://www.cnn.com/2017/06/15/politics/trump-cuba-obama/index.html
Thucydides. History of the Peloponnesian War Book V, Chapters 84-116.