Shortly after signing the Declaration of Independence, Benjamin Franklin, a Founder of the republic and America’s first diplomat, famously told his fellow revolutionaries: “We must, indeed, all hang together or, most assuredly, we shall all hang separately.”
This week, leaders and diplomats, activists and CEOs from around the world will gather in New York for the annual UN General Assembly. From the halls of the United Nations to the hotels of Midtown Manhattan, the issues on everyone’s lips will be climate change, the trade war, tensions in the Gulf, or any of the world’s conflicts and humanitarian crises. But the question on everyone’s mind will be whether the multilateral system that’s supposed to address these challenges (albeit often imperfectly) has itself become a dead man walking. This fear has prompted a desperate attempt by a group of countries led by Germany and France to revive the spirit and practice of international cooperation by launching the Alliance for Multilateralism on September 26. Almost certain to be conspicuously absent (and the implicit reason for this initiative): the United States of America.
The very government that on its own soil founded and largely sustained the multilateral world we have known since 1945 has effectively abandoned it. Donald Trump withdrew from the Paris climate accord, the Iran nuclear deal, and the Trans-Pacific Partnership. His administration has defunded and disengaged from the United Nations while paralyzing the World Trade Organization. And he’s disparaged NATO allies and questioned the alliance’s core commitment to mutual self-defense.