The world order is changing. One of the important consequences of this phenomenon is the shift towards hyper-nationalism and isolationism in many parts of the world. And this has necessarily called into question the concept of sovereign obligation defined by Richard Haass, president of the Council on Foreign Relations, an influential American
think tank, as the obligations every sovereign nation has to other nations. In an increasingly globalising world, often connecting despite obvious dissent from certain (significantly large) sections of the population, we face problems that affect us without regards to borders. Serious challenges such as climate change, cyber security, terrorism and refugee crises have implications on political stability, economic development, and national and human security worldwide. Hence, it is paramount that the international community reviews its role in setting the rules to ensure global stability.
Trump's executive order... threatened to exacerbate the refugee crisis. This policy is a blow to the traditional understanding of a liberal world order.
Given its role in global governance post World War II, one would have expected the United States to be the primary driver of this new international world order. However, we are seeing the United States (and other major Western European powers) voluntarily retreat from their positions as global leaders. And with that, they are throwing in the towel on major international problems with the potential to threaten the lives and livelihoods of millions of people around the world.
The crisis of refugees from Syria, Iraq, Yemen and Libya is, in some measure, an outcome of the West's imperial and (previously) interventionist policy in the Middle East. Far from fulfilling its obligations in the region, US President Donald Trump's executive order to ban people from seven Muslim-majority nations is a major move towards American isolationism. Although the American judiciary halted the ban, the order demonstrates the course the US's foreign policy might take over the next four years. Trump's executive order threatened global security and stability; it was an ineffective tool to combat terrorism and threatened to exacerbate the refugee crisis. This policy is a blow to the traditional understanding of a liberal world order.
By contrast, according to Haass' explanation of sovereign obligation, problems such as terrorism and refugee crises require collaborative efforts for their resolution in order to "adapt the traditional principles of international order for a highly interconnected world." Since terrorist threats have transcended national boundaries – from Paris to Brussels to Orlando to Dhaka – it is essential that nations come together to solve this threat. Similarly, the refugee crisis requires that governments come together, and ensure the people fleeing their home countries are provided with the resources for their resettlement, in order to ensure stability in the international arena. The United States has more than a lion's share of the work here. For decades it has hailed itself as the leader of the free world. Furthermore, its policy of military intervention has exacerbated terrorist threats around the world, and its inconsistent role in halting the civil war in Syria has contributed to the refugee crisis. This means the formulation of foreign policies with the vision of taking on a global challenge, rather than simply dealing with a potential or perceived national threat.
Trump and his cabinet have chosen to formulate policies that not only violate sovereign obligation, but also the very foundation upon which the United States was built...
The Trump administration is naturally raising serious concerns about its counter-terrorism policies. However, it is necessary to note that the United States has continually had a rather weak counterterrorism policy thus far, violating the crux of sovereign obligation, with military intervention taking precedence over sustained grassroots efforts. This has left communities around the world with worse off, with violations of international laws, increased human rights abuses, and instability within nations already struggling with extremism.
Trump's Muslim ban also has profound implications on the Syrian refugee crisis. The US's policy on Syria has deviated from its previous rhetoric as the "champion of democracy". Despite repeated human rights' abuses by Assad's government, the United States refrained from military action, unlike the past decades. It also refused to coordinate its Syria policy with Putin's Russia. As a result, Syria has seen one of the greatest humanitarian crises in modern history. Because of the populist appeal of isolationist rhetoric, Trump and his cabinet have instead chosen to formulate policies that not only violate sovereign obligation, but also the very foundation upon which the United States was built—a place where immigrants could come and start their lives anew.
The crux of it? Building bridges is the future, not building walls.
So where do we go from here? Haass suggests that the new world order embodying sovereign obligation would entail increased collaboration among nations. In order to work together and solve the crises on hand, it is important that the United States (and the international community at large) understand the threats that surround them, have their ears to the ground, empathise with the communities they impact due to their actions, and improve grassroots efforts to empower local communities. This would foster strong bonds between members of the international community, paving the way for an integrated global environment. The crux of it? Building bridges is the future, not building walls.