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Uncompromising: Donald Trump’s UN speech in September used the words “sovereign” or “sovereignty” more than 20 times

Our cover piece on Trump, sovereignty and the nation state is based on a talk given recently to the Manhattan Institute in New York. Events of the last few weeks have confirmed that the elements of a Trump Doctrine are now emerging. By far the most important foreign policy initiative of this administration so far has been the President’s decision to abandon his predecessor’s policy of doing secretive deals with rogue states such as Iran and North Korea. This part of his doctrine — no deals with untrustworthy tyrannies — has set Mr Trump on a confrontation course with Congress, the State Department and most of his allies at home and abroad.

Israel supports the Trump Doctrine and so, a least in private, do quite a few other small or militarily weak countries that live in fear of their predatory neighbours. But the entire American and European foreign policy establishments have lined up to defend the Iran deal and to warn against any provocation of Kim Jong-un. On this, as on climate change and many other issues, Mr Trump is ploughing a very lonely furrow indeed.

Yet there are plenty of precedents for leaders of the free world going it alone. For two centuries, the power of the Royal Navy enabled the British to impose and defend the freedom of the high seas, abolish the slave trade and even depose despots without reference to lesser powers. Having taken over the burden of championing liberty from the British, the United States has rarely hesitated to use diplomatic, economic and occasionally military muscle to enforce peace and stability. Harry Truman, a president who had fought in the trenches, used nuclear weapons to forestall an invasion of Japan rather than see another generation of young men consumed in what would surely have been a fight to the death. Eisenhower likewise saw no case for prolonging the Korean War he inherited and so threatened China and North Korea with the use of nuclear weapons. The threat of annihilation forced Beijing and Pyongyang to sign an armistice in short order. When President Trump says that “only one thing will work” with North Korea, he is alluding to Eisenhower. Nuclear brinkmanship has a long history and is a necessary part of the strategy of deterrence. So too does the repudiation of policies of appeasement, from Churchill to Thatcher and Reagan. Yet the public square is filled with denunciations of Donald Trump that treat him as at best an ignoramus, at worst a warmonger who must be stopped at all costs. It may be true that Mr Trump likes nothing better than a slanging match, but for that very reason he understands the psychology of those who really are psychopaths. He seems to have an intuitive grasp of how far he can go in humiliating thugs like Kim Jong-un.

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