I wrote today for Politico about the reaction to Trump’s emphasis on sovereignty in his UN speech:
There’s no doubt that there’s a tension in Trump’s emerging foreign policy that couples traditional Republican thinking with his own instinctive nationalism. But he outlined a few key expectations in the speech.
He said, repeatedly, that we want “strong and independent nations” committed to promoting “security, prosperity and peace.” And we look for nations “to respect the interests of their own people and the rights of every other sovereign nation.”
Every country that Trump criticized fails one or both of these tests. So, by the way, do Russia and China. Hence Trump’s oblique criticism of their aggression: “We must reject threats to sovereignty, from the Ukraine to the South China Sea.”
Trump’s standards aren’t drawn out of thin air. A consistent nationalist believes in the right of every nation to govern itself. Moreover, modern nationalism developed alongside the idea of popular sovereignty — i.e., the people have the right to rule, and the state is their agent, not the other way around. This is why the rise of nationalism was the worst thing to happen to dynastic rulers in Europe.