The United States withdrew from the United Nations Human Rights Council on Tuesday, condemning the "hypocrisy" of its members and its alleged "unrelenting bias" against Israel.
US Ambassador to the United Nations Nikki Haley came to Washington to announce the decision alongside President Donald Trump's top diplomat, Secretary of State Mike Pompeo.
Both insisted the United States would remain a leading champion of human rights but, for many, the decision will reflect Trump's general hostility to the world body and to multilateral diplomacy in general.
The announcement came after the top UN human rights official criticised Washington for separating migrant children from their parents who are seeking asylum after crossing into the country from Mexico.
But Haley and Pompeo stressed the decision had been made after a long year of efforts to shame the council into reform and to remove member states that themselves commit abuses.
"These reforms were needed in order to make the council a serious advocate for human rights," Haley said. "For too long, the Human Rights Council has been a protector of human rights abusers and a cesspool of political bias. Regrettably, it is now clear that our call for reform was not heeded."
The Geneva-based body was established in 2006 to promote and protect human rights worldwide, but its pronouncements and reports have often clashed with US priorities.
The United States refused to join the body when it was created in 2006 when George W Bush was in the White House and his ambassador to the UN was John Bolton – now Trump's UN-skeptic national security advisor.
After Barack Obama came to power, Washington joined the council in 2009. But when Trump took office, he adopted a hostile approach to world governance, leading to major foreign policy changes.
Under Trump, most of the accepted diplomatic order has been shaken up, from the traditional balance of power between blocs to intangible alliances and longstanding systems of coordination.
In breaking with just about every multilateral structure in the name of US interests – the Paris climate accord, free trade agreements, the Iran nuclear deal, pursuing an aggressive foreign policy while taunting allies as much as enemies – Trump appears to have set up new terrain to go up against China's Xi Jinping.
Since taking office in January 2017, Trump has pulled out of a number of international organisations and agreements, in addition to the UN Human Rights Council:
Iran Nuclear Deal
Trump announced in May that the US was unilaterally pulling out of the Iran deal, meant to prevent Tehran from obtaining nuclear weapons. US allies argue Iran was keeping to the deal and are keen to salvage what they can from a multilateral agreement that took years to cobble together. Trump says the deal was a bad agreement and suggests a tougher line against Iran.
Several major firms – including France's Total and Peugeot, and Russia's Lukoil – have said they are preparing to exit Iran before US deadlines, the last of which is 4 November.
Almost right after being elected, Trump had taken the decision to dump the Trans-Pacific Partnership trade deal. Since then, 11 countries circling the Pacific signed a slimmed-down version of the TPP in March, opting to proceed with the deal after it was left for dead when Trump pulled out to pursue his "America First" agenda.
The US president has since sparked fears of a trade war by levying steep tariffs and denouncing unfair trading practices, even rejecting a joint communique at the G7 summit over trade disagreement.
Trump also initiated a process, to be completed at the end of this year, to withdraw from UNESCO, the UN organisation focused on education and preserving cultural heritage. Trump had accused the body of a bias against Israel.
The withdrawal of the United States, which is meant to provide a fifth of UNESCO’s funding, dealt a major blow for the Paris-based organisation, founded after World War II to help protect cultural and natural heritage around the world.
An Arab-backed UNESCO resolution had last year condemned Israeli's policies at religious sites in East Jerusalem and the West Bank.
Under UNESCO rules, the US withdrawal will become effective as of the end of December 2018.
The Transatlantic Trade and Investment Partnership, known as TTIP, is primarily a deal to cut tariffs and regulatory barriers to trade between the US and EU countries.
But Trump, being a staunch critic of multilateral trade deals, killed off the already stalled negotiations. He imposed import duties of 25 percent on steel and 10 percent on aluminium on grounds of national security but granted EU producers a temporary exemption until 1 June pending the outcome of talks.
According to a report in Indepedent, TTIP was going to be the breakthrough deal between the two largest markets in the world – the US and the EU. In fact, it has been in trouble for a while. The left in Europe disliked the privileges it granted private companies and the idea that the profit motive would invade organisations such as the NHS and equivalent social programmes. But Trump drove a stake through its heart.
Paris Climate Accord
Trump also withdraw the United States from the landmark 2015 global agreement to fight climate change, spurning pleas from US allies and corporate leaders in an action that fulfilled a major campaign pledge.
"We're getting out," Trump had said at a ceremony in the White House Rose Garden in which he decried the Paris accord's "draconian" financial and economic burdens. He said American withdrawal "represents a reassertion of American sovereignty."
Trump had said that the United States would begin negotiations either to re-enter the Paris accord or to have a new agreement "on terms that are fair to the United States, its businesses, its workers, its people, its taxpayers.
Though he has not yet withdrawn, Trump has also been threatening to pull out of NAFTA since April 2017, a key agreement from 1994 that formed a powerful trading bloc.
A NAFTA termination letter from Trump could become the ultimate sleight of hand from Washington as it seeks to gain negotiating leverage over Canada and Mexico in talks to update the 24-year-old trade pact.
While such a letter would start a six-month exit clock ticking, the United States would not be legally bound to quit the North American Free Trade Agreement once it expires.
Unlike the irreversible missile that Britain fired when it triggered a two-year countdown to its exit from the European Union last March, quitting NAFTA would still be optional for Trump. And an exit would almost certainly face court challenges over Trump’s authority to leave without consent from Congress.
With inputs from agencies.
Updated Date: Jun 20, 2018 13:02 PM