Two Presidents Separated by Same Party-Ideology“Tear down this wall”, Ronald Reagan, former Republican President of USA   challenged Gorbachev 30 years back. Journey from Ronald to Donald. 
“Tear down this wall”, Ronald Reagan, former Republican President of USA   challenged Gorbachev in his speech at Brandenburg Gate, in Germany in  June of  1987, 30 years back.  Reagan was speaking from next to iconic Berlin wall. He was referring not only to the brick and mortar wall erected in 1961 by the then communist East Germany with unflinching support from Soviet Union, but mainly to the ideological fire-wall that existed   between inward-looking isolated centralized socialistic economy. It was the time when open market globalization was sweeping to establish new world order of late 1980s.

During his candidacy announcement speech this month in 2015, Donald Trump, also Republican, first proposed the idea of building a real wall along America’s southern border. He boasted that, due to his real estate experience, he was uniquely qualified for the job: “I will build a great wall — and nobody builds walls better than me, believe me –and I’ll build them very inexpensively”. Trump was referring to a barricade, “great, great wall” on the southern border with Mexico.

One year after Reagan ended his Presidential tenure, again this month in 1990, the demolition of Berlin wall officially began and completed within two years. The open market economy and waves of globalization started unfurling east-ward. Regulations started taking back-seats and the innovation-draped freed creativity started proliferating. The world witnessed  yet another revolution, this time it was grey revolution. That was the uprising of IT entrepreneurship and unveiling of third revolution to transform the world into digital regime and hurl it into cyber space.

Trump, in his bid to ‘make America great again’, has isolated Americans at crucial time depriving them of the opportunities offered by globalizing and digitalizing world . He is doggedly firm that fulfilling election promises-at any cost-is his urgent priority. His unilateral decisions, without multilateral consultative dialogues is poised to make serious impacts on social, economic and environmental fabric of planet Earth.

When the world, in 1980s, was strengthening multilateralism, the foundation on which United Nations was built, Reagan was riding on the wave that was demolishing the archaic walls of unilateralism that dotted the globe. Those dots were the unfortunate post-war memorials of the bilateral and unilateral treaties that started the wars in the first place. Reagan, alarmed by the risks to planet, engaged his administration into negotiations of multilateral environmental agreements.

Reagan’s record on environmental protection at national level may not be without controversies. As Governor of California from 1967-75 his environmental record was highly appreciated by many, particularly for his path breaking California Environmental Quality Act (CEQA), but his first presidential term starting in 1981 was marked by ‘Reaganomics’ of tax reduction, economic deregulation, reduction in government spending and his aggressive policy of issuing leases for oil, gas, and coal development on tens of millions of acres of national lands. Later in his second Presidential term Reagan signed into law 38 bills that added more than 10.6 million acres of spectacular forests, mountains, deserts, and wetlands to the National Wilderness Preservation System.

Trump has ‘hate at first sight’ relation with multilateralism, particularly its recent product –Paris Climate Agreement. That starkly contrasts with consultative and multilateral approach of Reagan.  Trump is wading through unilateral process by connecting  dots of American job-loss, rise of China and India and loss of manufacturing base and trying to present climate change crisis  as diversion and digression from his ‘America First’ slogan.

The multilateral negotiations under United Nations held 30 years back to carve out  the global environmental treaty, called the Montreal Protocol, skilfully traded by Reagan in wake of threats to American industry and jobs, was the extraordinary example of American Republican stewardship. The Montreal Protocol was aimed at protecting the life-saving Ozone Layer threatened by man-made chemicals. Without Reagan’s leadership, the ozone layer would have resulted into millions and billions of deaths due skin cancers and other diseases apart from catastrophic losses due to cataracts and immune deficiency.

More than USD 125 Billion worth of equipment in American supermarkets, buildings, automobiles, electronic instruments and foam blowing relied on the Ozone Depleting man-made chemicals which were proposed for the phase-out under the Montreal Protocol were at risk of premature obsolescence when Reagan administration was negotiating the treaty under the umbrella of United Nations Environment Programme ( UNEP).  American chemical industries sold about 100 ozone depleting chemicals at the time of negotiations. Just one of them –CFCs- were valued at half a billion dollars annually. The value of goods and services from these chemicals was 28 billion dollars every year. The predicted American job losses due to provisions of the the Montreal Protocol were threatening not just very base of Republican popularity, brought in by Reagan over his two terms, but the very tenets of American superiority and competitiveness. The ‘hoax’ cries against the science of Ozone Layer depletion by human interference were echoed from all over the American skies, just like what we overhear today from the lawns of White House on climate change.

Regan, in partnership with British Prime Minister Margaret Thatcher and most surprisingly USSR President Gorbachev, held number of informal consultation on the possible options of the negotiations of the Montreal Protocol, including financial and technical support to the developing and emerging countries like India and China. Many diplomats have termed the Regan-Gorbachev summits of 1987-88 that included ozone and climate issues as ‘Ozone-glasnost’. Regan-Gorbachev even collaborated for stratospheric ozone research through joint satellite missions.  For the troika, the planet first’ was the slogan.

Trumpian stance today on Paris Climate Agreement, his alleged cyber space-affair Russia and his buzzing campaign of ‘America First’, in comparison to Reaganian past appears to be pitiful defiance of the gravity of the situation.

30 years back, Reagan sent the Montreal Agreement for Senate’s ratification stating that “In this historic agreement, the international community undertakes cooperative measures to protect a vital global resource of ozone layer.’ Senate approved Reagan’s recommendation unanimously.

Three decades after, the Republican President Ronald Reagan and actor turned politician is remembered today as the key contributor for the unique success of the multilaterally negotiated Montreal Protocol, implementation of which has averted the global catastrophe. Thirty years from now Donald Trump, another Republican President, real estate businessman turned politician, would leave historians wondering on how to describe his contribution to climate solution. END

 By Rajendra Shende, Chairman TERRE Policy Centre , former Director UNEP, IIT-Alumni








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