US Soft Power Leadership Experiencing A Sharp Decline: Ex-UN Official
TEHRAN (Tasnim) – A former official at the United Nations and professor of international law said a recent United Nations vote against the US decision to declare al-Quds (Jerusalem) capital of Israel signifies that Washington’s “soft power leadership in the world” is plunging.
Speaking to the Tasnim News Agency, Richard A. Falk pointed to US President Donald Trump’s threat to cut off financial aid to countries that voted in favor of the UN resolution on Quds and said, “the ineffectiveness of such an unprecedented overt threat and pressures is definitely a sign that US soft power leadership in the world is experiencing a sharp decline.”
Richard Anderson Falk is the author or co-author of 20 books and the editor or co-editor of another 20 volumes. In 2008, the United Nations Human Rights Council (UNHRC) appointed Falk to a six-year term as a United Nations Special Rapporteur on "the situation of human rights in the Palestinian territories occupied since 1967”.
The following is the full text of Interview:
Tasnim: As you know, nearly 130 countries recently voted in favor of a United Nations General Assembly resolution condemning the US decision to recognize Jerusalem (al-Quds) as the capital of the Israeli regime. What message does the vote signal to the world’ public opinion?
Falk: The main message of this overwhelming rejection of the Trump recognition of al-Quds (Jerusalem) as the capital of Israel by the UN General Assembly is to disclose that the Palestinian national movement continues to enjoy strong support from every important country in the world, thereby rejecting the current Israeli approach, supported by the United States, to impose unilaterally a solution on the Palestinian people. Such a solution would foreclose both a sovereign Palestine and an arrangement of shared sovereignty between the two people. A secondary message was the consensus in the General Assembly that on this issue, matters of global justice take precedence over geopolitical maneuvers. There can also be read into the vote the erosion of global leadership that had been exercised by Washington since the end of World War II. This erosion reflects the rise of China, and its advocacy, along with that of Russia, and maybe also even Europe, of a multipolar approach to the formation and implementation of global policy with respect to security issues and economic governance. The fact that America’s closest allies, including France, United Kingdom, and Japan voted for the resolution condemning the effort of the US Government to legitimize the establishment of al-Quds as Israel’s capital is also of considerable significance. What remains to be seen is how the future of al-Quds will unfold in light of these dramatic developments. There are currently visible two tendencies—first, the handful of negative votes by tiny island countries and a few minor Central American countries to follow the lead of the US and move their embassy to al-Quds; secondly, the counter-initiative of the Organization of Islamic Cooperation (OIC) to declare al-Quds as the capital of Palestine, and the Turkish decision to establish their embassy for Palestine in East al-Quds. What remains to be seen is whether the Trump presidency softens its stand on these issues or doubles down by actually moving its embassy to al-Quds, withholding economic assistance from countries that voted for the resolution, and reducing its financial contributions to the UN in a vindictive display of anger at the various actors viewed as responsible for humiliating the US Government.
Tasnim: Prior to the UN vote on Quds, US President Donald Trump had threatened to cut off financial aid to countries that voted in favor of the resolution. It seems that his warning has been ineffective. What do you think?
Falk: Yes, the ineffectiveness of such an unprecedented overt threat and pressures is definitely a sign that US soft power leadership in the world is experiencing a sharp decline. More generally, the failure of the threats to influence the vote of any country of stature in the world is also indicative of a parallel decline of geopolitical capabilities to control global policy at least on the key issue of the rights of the Palestinian people, particularly in the context of al-Quds, which has a strong symbolic significance for many countries. What is unclear is whether this vote exhibits a broader trend among states to pursue foreign policies that exhibit their sovereign independence rather than as in the past, a strong tendency to defer to the views of a globally dominant state(s). In this context, the radical character of Trump’s presidency may be having the effect of fracturing hegemonic structures of control in contemporary world order that were faced with accumulating pressures since the end of the Cold War, and the breakdown of the bipolar structure that had shaped much of global policy between 1945 and 1992. What Trump has done is to intensify pre-existing pressure for global restructuring, a dynamic also reinforced by the rejectionist approach taken by the United States on other issues of global concern, including climate change, the Iran Nuclear Program (5 + 1) Agreement, global migration, and international trade. The Trump slogan of ‘America, First’ has to be coupled with ‘World, Last,’ to grasp the extent to which the United States invites by its own initiatives a reaction against its outlier policies at odds with strong countervailing views of the international community of states as to desirable forms of global cooperation for the public good.
Tasnim: In a speech at the White House on December 6, Trump said his administration would also begin a years-long process of moving the American embassy in Tel Aviv to the holy city of Quds. Do you see any chance that Trump would push ahead with his plan to relocate the embassy given the widespread international opposition?
Falk: My guess at this point is that the US Government will definitely implement its decision to relocate the embassy, but will likely do so in a gradual manner that does not provoke a major subsequent reaction. Of course, any steps taken to relocate the American Embassy in al-Quds will be correctly perceived as a defiant rejection of the conclusions set forth in the GA Resolution. In this sense, the quality and impact of reactions will depend on the political will of the Palestinian Authority, the OIC, the UN, and world public opinion. At stake is whether the United States further provokes an adverse international reaction to its behavior and whether governments seek to engage further on the issue to preserve the rights of the Palestinian people with respect to al-Quds. The future interaction with respect to al-Quds will be very revealing as to both the responsiveness of the United States to the rejection of its approach to the site of the Israeli capital and as to the energy of those that supported the resolution to take further steps in the direction of seeking compliance. The fact that the al-Quds resolution was itself based on The Uniting for Peace Resolution (GA Res. 377 A (V), 1950) gives the text a special status, both as the outcome of a rare Emergency Session of the General Assembly and as a reaction on behalf of peace and security to the use of the veto in the Security Council to block its decision of condemnation backed by a 14-1 vote, that is, all other members. This status gives the General Assembly response on al-Quds an authoritativeness that extends beyond its normal recommendatory capabilities, but as earlier indicated there are few guidelines as to how such an initiative will be implemented if defied. Yet it may well be that either course of action will exert an important influence on whether the UN in the future can serve the human and global interest, as well as take account of distinct and aggregate national interests.