- By Dov ZakheimDov Zakheim is the former Under Secretary of Defense.
Reasonable people can debate whether the Paris climate accord represents the best way to address climate change. There is a case to be made that while climate change is real, there is not much that man can or should do to reverse what may not be a trend but rather a cycle that will correct itself. There is also an intermediate position that calls for defensive measures, particularly in the realm of national security, rather than focusing on emissions of various kinds. In any event, what is far less debatable is whether the United States, having signed the accord, should withdraw from it, as President Donald Trump has announced.
It is one thing to refuse to sign up to an international agreement. The United States has done so multiple times in the past, the most famous case being that of the treaty to create the League of Nations, for which President Woodrow Wilson advocated but Congress refused to ratify. There also have been cases where withdrawal from a treaty affected only one other country: America’s withdrawal from the bilateral 1972 Anti-Ballistic Missile Treaty in 2001 involved only Russia. Even in that instance, the treaty had been signed with a country that no longer existed, the Soviet Union. The Paris accord is an entirely different matter.
Nearly two hundred countries have signed the Paris agreement. Countries with tense relations, such as Greece and Turkey, or Algeria and Morocco, have joined each other in signing it. Countries that have been at war with each other and constantly remain on the brink of violence, such as India and Pakistan, or North and South Korea, have signed it. Countries with no diplomatic relations, such as Israel and Saudi Arabia, or, for that matter, Israel and Iran, have signed it. Of the 195 signatories, 148 have already ratified it, including the United States in November 2016. By withdrawing from the agreement, the United States is doing nothing less than turning its back on the world, including all of its major (and minor) allies and partners.
Trump’s decision to walk away from the accord also puts him in some very bad company. The tiny number of non-signatories, which will now include the United States unless the administration comes to its senses, comprises but two countries, Assad’s Syria and Nicaragua under Sandinista rule. The Syrian government has other concerns, of course — namely its survival. The Sandinistas, ever hypocritical, have argued that they would not sign the accords because, as Paul Oquist, leader of his country’s delegation to the December 2015 final negotiations put it, “We’re not going to submit because voluntary responsibility is a path to failure. … It’s a not a matter of being troublemakers, it’s a matter of the developing countries surviving.”
The president and his spokespeople have asserted that he is helping American working men and women. This argument rings hollow. The president has barely demonstrated that he has the interests of these people in mind: Thus far, Trump’s plans both for doing away with Obamacare and for tax reform, which will have a far more immediate impact on American workers than would climate change, will most likely hurt, not help, the very people who comprise the core of his political base.
Trump, by both his words and actions, has signaled over and over again that he holds himself in very high regard. Does he really want to be lumped together with paragons of virtue Bashar al-Assad of Syria and Daniel Ortega of Nicaragua? By rejecting the Paris agreement, Trump will be doing just that. He should rethink his decision before it’s too late.
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