The recent inauguration of US President Donald Trump brings a new era of uncertainty to the international community, as many countries re-evaluate their relationships with the United States.
The role of the President as the chief negotiator of foreign policy is essential in maintaining global peace and security, and should not be taken lightly. Though he describes himself as an “expert negotiator”, the fact that Trump has caused considerable tension within his first few days in office has proven that he is in fact quite the opposite.
In this increasingly volatile climate, what does the behaviour of the US Head of State indicate for the future of negotiation, mediation and other dispute resolution practices?
In a recent article in the Sydney Morning Herald, regarding Trump’s rather ‘undiplomatic’ phone call with the Australian Prime Minister Malcolm Turnbull, the article’s authors Greg Miller and Philip Rucker stated: “Mr Trump’s behaviour suggests that he is capable of subjecting world leaders, including close allies, to a version of the vitriol he frequently employs against political adversaries and news organisations in speeches and on Twitter.”
A dangerous approach to diplomacy
Donald Trump is currently taking a very confrontational approach to negotiation, based on his experiences in business – where this method was perhaps a little more appropriate than it is for diplomacy.
“In my tiny and unpleasant exposure to the commercial world, it seems to me you go into a negotiation … and you know you can walk away. But in geopolitics there’s no walking away,” he told the Association of European Journalists in London, the Sydney Morning Herald reported.
In a recent article in the Independent, General Sir Richard Barrons, former commander of the UK’s Joint Forces Command, raised concerns about Trump’s negotiation mentality. Barrons stated that the President’s “win-lose” philosophy might appear “psychologically normal” to a head of a large company, however he warned on the international stage this could be “deeply dangerous”.
He added that generally wars begin “for really bad reasons and the red mist descends and you lose control … I think the risk of that is evident.”
Negotiation now more than ever
The breakdown of the trade negotiations on TTIP, as well as Trump’s announcement to withdraw from NAFTA, TPP and even NATO could have huge consequences for the world economy, and for the stability of Europe in particular, not to mention Mexico.
The global crises caused by large movements of refugees, economic instability and climate change are putting the international community under considerable pressure at this time. In this globalised world, protectionism is no longer a viable option, nevertheless this increasing trend driven by populist parties and by activists on both ends of the political spectrum is leading to increasing polarisation of public opinion in many countries.
In this increasingly volatile political climate, the need for effective dispute resolution mechanisms, at all levels, is becoming more and more evident. Furthermore, the example set by Trump in regards to negotiation is extremely unsettling, not only because of the potential effect on world politics but also because of the negative way it portrays dispute resolution tactics.
In an article for Mediate.com, Mediator Robert Benjamin wrote last year: “It is disheartening to think of the number of people who might lose the opportunity to learn what a thoughtful and serious negotiation process might look like and how it might help them traverse difficult issues by following his example.”
He added that the US President is “undermining the efforts of many who have diligently studied the negotiation and mediation processes and sought to make their skills as useful and as available to the public as possible”.
It is now more than ever that effective negotiation and mediation skills must be put into effect to stem the civil unrest within the United States in the wake of Trump’s first weeks in office, as well as to construct an effective trade and foreign policy his administration so desperately needs over the next four years.
Article written by Natasha Mellersh.
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Natasha Mellersh is the editor of the GPC Blog. She is currently pursuing an LLM in Public International Law at Leiden University in the Netherlands.