On September 19, President Donald Trump addressed the General Assembly of the United Nations for the first time. To the horror of the Globalist elite, the focus of his speech was sovereignty. In a front-page “analysis” the hyperventilating New York Times reported that he used the term 21 times: “But more important than how he defined sovereignty was Mr. Trump’s adoption of the word itself.”
Mr. Trump . . . used the words sovereign or sovereignty 21 times. “Our success”, he said, “depends on the coalition of strong, independent nations that embrace their sovereignty to promote security, prosperity, and peace for themselves and for the world.”
Strong, sovereign nations, he said, keep their citizens safe and enable them to prosper economically. Strong, sovereign nations, he said, can join together to fight common threats and constitute the irreducible building blocks of world institutions like the United Nations.
Mr. Trump is right. But to understand just how right he is, we need to look at his stress on sovereignty from the perspective of the new realities created by the rise of Fourth Generation War.
As I have said many times, Fourth Generation war is above all a contest for legitimacy. On the one side is the state and the international state system. On the other side is a vast array of alternative primary loyalties ranging from God through gangs to “animal rights”.
Since World War I, global (and now Globalist) elites have sought to transfer people’s primary loyalty away from the state to supra-national entities: The League of Nations, world peace (the Kellog-Briand Treaty), The United Nations, The European Union, world federalism, etc. The idea was that by replacing nationalism with internationalism, we could put an end to war. This was of course a utopian quest; as Martin van Creveld has written, war exists because men like to fight and women like fighters. But global elites’ feet tend to be anchored in the clouds, not on earth.
Globalism has in fact led people to transfer their primary loyalty away from the state. But they have not transferred it to Globalist institutions. Instead, they are transferring their primary loyalties to those more focused, more concrete (yes, God is more real than Globalism), and often more local entities, causes, etc. In other words, Globalism has ended up feeding Fourth Generation war.
President Trump is correct to stress sovereignty because sovereign states are better able to contest 4GW elements for people’s primary loyalty than are Globalist institutions and causes. It is much easier to get the average American or Briton or (as President Putin understands) Russian to be loyal to his country than the EU or the UN. States can still compete effectively for popular legitimacy. Supra-state, bureaucratic entities, especially those that benefit primarily the elites, cannot.
So President Trump is ahead of the New York Times and the rest of the foreign policy elite that so loathes him in facing the 21st century’s main challenge, uphold the state system in the face of the 4GW challenge. Does he know that? Probably not. His instincts are generally good, and they may give him a valid gut feeling that state sovereignty remains important. I doubt if he has ever heard of Fourth Generation war, although John Kelly certainly has. But the unfortunate fact is that almost no one in Washington gets 4GW, in part because it is useless for justifying vast budgets and hi-tech weapons systems. In Washington, the only war that matters is the budget war.
In the real world, Fourth Generation war changes everything. The whole foreign policy framework accepted by virtually everyone in D.C. becomes obsolete; the contrasts and conflicts that matter are no longer those between states. The main threat the United States faces is neither Russia nor China. It is the spreading collapse of states and the rise among their ruins of an endless variety of 4GW entities and loyalties, some of which easily reach around our vast national security apparatus and establish themselves on our soil, as some have already done.
To confront this threat, we need exactly what President Trump called for: an alliance of sovereign states, ideally of all sovereign states. Mr. Trump gets it. Too bad he is the only man in town who does.