A Deepening Leadership Crisis


“The wise man builds bridges; the fool builds walls.” That was the sentiment splashed all over Chinese editorial pages last week, when the United States imposed 25 per cent tariffs on some $50 billion of Chinese goods. Unfortunately, that isolationist approach extends beyond US trade policy in ways that are not just foolish, but also unethical — and they are depleting what is left of the West’s moral authority.

When it comes to trade, China of course immediately retaliated with its own tariffs on $50 billion (Dh183.5 billion) of US imports, just as Canada, the European Union, and Mexico are retaliating for US tariffs on steel and aluminium imports. Such disputes, if they continue to escalate, will hurt people all over the world — not least US consumers, businesses, and workers.


Worse, in recent months, US President Donald Trump has ordered a zero-tolerance immigration policy that treats all adults crossing the border illegally — a misdemeanour — as if they were violent criminals. That has meant referring even asylum seekers for prosecution, and, most controversially, taking away their children to be detained separately. More than 2,300 minors were placed in shelters.

Succumbing to political pressure, Trump signed an executive order stating that parents and children would be detained together. But that order itself may be illegal; while a federal court considers the issue, prosecutions will continue, and there is no plan in place for reuniting families that have already been divided.

The Trump administration’s policy of separating families has faced heavy criticism. Trump’s own wife Melania said that she “hates to see” children separated from their families.

But the US is not alone in pursuing policies that betray values that it long espoused. In Italy, the new right-wing populist government has begun targeting the Roma population, and Matteo Salvini, the interior minister and deputy prime minister, has been turning away ships carrying rescued migrants.

Hungary, for its part, has just adopted the so-called Stop Soros Law, which criminalises any effort by an individual or NGO to help an illegal immigrant claim asylum. It is named after George Soros, the Hungarian-born financier and founder of the Open Society Foundations, whom Hungarian Prime Minister Viktor Orban irrationally accuses of encouraging mass immigration to weaken European nations.

All of this highlights a deepening crisis of ethical leadership that could do as much damage as uncontrolled migration or even a trade war. Beyond the cruel policies that it enables, it risks emboldening governments like those in China and Russia.

This is already happening. The St Petersburg Economic Forum, which had lost substantial clout after Russia’s 2014 annexation of Crimea, was back in business this year, with President Vladimir Putin presiding over discussions involving the likes of French President Emmanuel Macron, Japanese Prime Minister Shinzo Abe, and International Monetary Fund President Christine Lagarde.

While Western governments issue statements critical of Russia — for its detention of religious and political prisoners — their commitment to isolating Putin’s Russia for its behaviour is clearly waning. Add to that unethical domestic policies, and Western claims to “moral leadership” ring increasingly hollow.

Now, Putin and his Chinese counterpart, Xi Jinping, can feel freer than ever to ignore Western criticism, but even to hold forth on the benefits of building bridges. Nor is that a mere metaphor: under Putin’s leadership, Russia has built at least a half-dozen bridges, including one connecting Crimea to Russia’s mainland. Such projects, like those undertaken before the World Cup, look good. A hunger strike does not. Fortunately for Putin, in a world where nationalism has been undermining the authority of international law and multilateral institutions, morality is more relative than ever. And, relative to the likes of Trump, Putin does not look so bad at all.

Yet the erosion of democratic ideals can hardly be blamed solely on Trump; after all, America’s human rights record is far from unblemished. Under President Bill Clinton, the US was one of only seven countries that voted against the establishment of the International Criminal Court, which every subsequent US president has refused to join. Then there was Bush’s capricious War on Terror, followed by Barack Obama’s military intervention in Libya and Somalia in defiance of international law. Clearly, Trump is far from the first US president to flout global agreements or structures.

Europe is not above reproach, either. As Putin has pointed out, the West’s response to Russia’s annexation of Crimea reflects something of a double standard, given that the EU, together with the US, supported Kosovo’s declaration of independence from Serbia in 2008.

After the Second World War, the world — led by the US and Europe — reassessed international norms and institutions, and created the pillars of today’s rules-based global order. A similar reassessment is needed today, perhaps shaped by two major crises of our times: migration and international terror. But Trump’s self-serving “America First” approach is no way forward. Nor can Russia or China be trusted to defend human rights. At a time when the EU lacks the confidence and coherence to reclaim its values and champion them globally, who will?

— Project Syndicate, 2018

Nina L. Khrushcheva is Professor of International Affairs at 
The New School and a senior fellow at the World Policy Institute.

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Source : https://gulfnews.com/opinion/thinkers/global-ethical-leadership-faces-deep-crisis-1.2245458

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