September 24, 2019

CNAS Responds: Trump Addresses China, Iran, Climate Change in UNGA Speech

At the U.N. General Assembly (UNGA) this morning, President Trump addressed world leaders on his vision of the United States' role on the global stage. Covering a range of flashpoint issues including U.S.-China trade tensions, armed conflict in the Strait of Hormuz, and climate policy, Trump moved forward on his 'America first' foreign policy agenda.

As news from UNGA and Trump's speech shape the trajectory of global politics this week, CNAS experts weigh in key issues for journalists to watch for:

America's Relationship with China:

  • Dan Kliman, Director & Senior Fellow for Asia-Pacific Security: "U.S.-China economic competition featured prominently in President Trump’s remarks at UNGA. Echoing the language of his National Security Strategy, Trump made the case that American engagement with China had failed to liberalize Beijing's economic practices. Reflecting the fact that bilateral trade deficits are only the tip of the iceberg when it comes to U.S.-China economic competition, Trump’s remarks on China emphasized its systematic efforts to acquire American technology – including through espionage. In asserting that he would not accept a bad trade deal with China, Trump is clearly positioning for the likely outcome that current negotiations between Washington and Beijing will fail to bear fruit before November 2020."
  • Kristine Lee, Associate Fellow for Asia-Pacific Security: "Having ascended from the CCP’s core diplomatic establishment, in the lead-up to UNGA, China’s new Ambassador to the UN, Zhang Jun, has spoken in unusually blunt terms to push forth Beijing’s agenda at the UN by not only doubling down on its core interests – Taiwan, Hong Kong, Tibet, and Xinjiang – but also by framing China’s growing activism in contrast with that of the United States’ inaction. Chinese diplomacy, while heavy-handed at times, can also be quite calculated and sophisticated. Beijing’s seeing the gaps that Washington is leaving behind in climate change, development finance, and other areas and filling in those gaps to grow its clout within the organization."

American Global Leadership at the United Nations:

  • Susanna V. Blume, Director & Senior Fellow for Defense: "The kind of globalism that President Trump derided in his remarks at UNGA, while not perfect, has lifted millions out of poverty and contributed to a second half of the 20th century that was far more peaceful than the first half. Conversely, his isolationist brand of nationalism, which he describes as 'patriotism,' weakens the United States' role in the world, making it a more dangerous place for Americans and our like-minded allies and partners."
  • Kaleigh Thomas, Research Associate for Middle East Security: "This UNGA week saw renewed calls for negotiations with Iran—most emphatically by French president Emmanuel Macron. In addition to experiencing little to no consequences from the United States for the attacks in Saudi Arabia last week, the push for diplomacy at UNGA only proves to Iran that it was the right move to launch the strikes. As such, we should expect future escalations from Iran in its effort to garner global attention that it hopes will bring an end to its economic isolation and suffering."
  • Emma Moore, Research Assistant for Military, Veterans, and Society: "The complete abdication of any plan or leadership by the United States on climate change spells potential disaster for the U.S. military, which will grapple not only with infrastructure damage, but threats to its lines of communication in future conflict scenarios. The military itself has codified climate change as a driver of instability and a threat to infrastructure and communities. Without a national plan of action and support for innovation, the military will be left to budget for and modernize capabilities to tackle fuel sources, human stresses, and logistical challenges."

Challenges for U.S. Alliances and Partnerships:

  • Kristine Lee, Associate Fellow for Asia-Pacific Security: "At UNGA, U.S. allies have traditionally looked to the United States for moral and political leadership. Yet U.S. leadership amid growing tensions between Japan and South Korea has been notably absent. If the United States is unable to leverage international gatherings such as UNGA to halt the collision course of these clashing democracies, President Trump’s criticism of authoritarian countries such as China – reiterated in his address before the General Assembly today – will ring hollow. Without an airtight coalition of democracies aligned on common goals in the Asia-Pacific region, the United States will be hamstrung in its efforts to curb China’s authoritarian influence and re-enter negotiations with North Korea from a position of strength."
  • Samuel Dorshimer, Research Assistant for Energy, Economics, and Security: "In his remarks to the General Assembly, President Trump threatened Iran with tightened sanctions as long as Iran’s 'menacing behavior' continues. But the administration’s all-out sanctions strategy has failed to apply serious pressure while incentivizing that same 'menacing behavior' from Iran and alienating key European allies. At this point, nearly every significant entity in Iran has been sanctioned and there is little room to expand economic pressure. Until the administration is willing to consider sanctions relief and diplomatic engagement, little will change and the risk of further escalation will remain."
  • Carisa Nietsche, Research Assistant for Transatlantic Security: "While President Trump claims that his administration is 'revitalizing alliances,' our European allies don’t agree. Chastising allies and referring to them as a 'foe' of the United States only drives a deeper wedge between the U.S. and Europe. While NATO allies must shoulder their fair share of the defense burden, allies are inching toward the 2% of GDP goal in record numbers, and they have another five years to do so. The United States going at it alone is a recipe for America last."

All CNAS experts are available for interviews. To arrange one, please contact Cole Stevens at [email protected].


  • Daniel Kliman

    Former Program Director and Senior Fellow, Indo-Pacific Security Program

    Daniel M. Kliman is the former Program Director and Senior Fellow for the Indo-Pacific Security Program at the Center for a New American Security (CNAS). He is an expert in As...

  • Susanna V. Blume

    Former Senior Fellow and Director, Defense Program

    Susanna Blume is a former Senior Fellow and Director of the Defense Program at the Center for a New American Security. Her research areas included the Defense program and budg...

  • Kristine Lee

    Former Associate Fellow

    Kristine Lee is a former Associate Fellow with the Center for a New American Security (CNAS), where she focuses on U.S. alliances and partnerships in the Indo-Pacific region, ...

  • Sam Dorshimer

    Former Research Associate, Energy, Economics, and Security Program

    Sam Dorshimer is a former Research Associate for the Energy, Economics, and Security Program at the Center for a New American Security....

  • Emma Moore

    Former Research Associate

    Emma Moore is a former Research Associate at the Center for a New American Security (CNAS). Moore is a Non-Resident Fellow at the Brute Krulak Center for Innovation and Creati...