Trump’s withdrawal from The Paris Agreement and Operational Code Analysis

Image Source (Iga Gozdowska)

Written by James Lo

Trump withdrew from the Paris agreement on the 1st June 2017. The Paris agreement’s aim is for countries to work together to keep global temperature rise this century below 1.5 degrees. In his announcement, Trump argued that the reason for withdrawal was that the agreement led to ‘US disadvantages’[1] as well as ‘exclusive benefits of other countries’[2]. Trump’s personality traits are the best explanation for the withdrawal from the Paris agreement. Trump’s decision to withdraw from the Paris agreement can be explained through individual level analysis, including personal beliefs and operational code analysis.

Personal beliefs can translate onto their foreign policies. Trump openly stated that he didn’t believe in climate change – ‘the concept of global warming was created by and for the Chinese in order to make US manufacturing non-competitive’[1]. Personal beliefs are translated into policy making as US climate change policies are ‘heavily reliant on the tools of the administrative presidency’[2]. Trump’s beliefs therefore dictate the direction of US climate change policies. Another example of his beliefs being the backbone of his policies is in immigration – in 2015 he indicated that he believes Mexico was bringing ‘drugs, crime and rapists to US’[3] – which then translated into his policy to build a wall between US and Mexico.

The operational code theory analysed Trump’s inherent belief of self and others and how it will affect his decision making. Trump’s score on perception of others was 3 standard deviations lower (i.e. others are more hostile) than the mean of past US presidents, while his score on distrust was 4 standard deviations higher than the mean of past US presidents[4]. Therefore, Walker classified Trump as ‘more conflict orientated, mistrustful’[5] and more likely to perceive others as hostile. US’ withdrawal from the Paris agreement can therefore be framed through the idea of mistrust as Trump argued that India and China are using the Paris agreement to undermine the US.[6] Moreover, by mapping this onto a game, Walker argued that if the other had the first move to construct the initial state, Trump will likely choose conflict and alter the initial state.[7] This is important in the analysis of withdrawal as the initial state of the Paris agreement, when Trump elected as President, was that of ratification by Obama’s administration. Trump’s withdrawal can therefore be seen as conflict orientated as he reversed the ratification. In general, Trump’s higher than average traits of distrust and belief in his ability to control events led to the conclusion that Trump ‘prefers the general role of rival as the strategic orientation of the US in world politics’[8]. Indeed, US will become the only UNFCCC country which is not a signatory to the Paris agreement (Syria and Nicaragua did not sign, but they ratified the agreement).[9] Therefore, Trump’s higher than average trait of mistrust and affinity for conflict motivated him to withdraw from the Paris agreement.

Trump’s personality is especially crucial when analysing American environmental policy because it has always been ‘heavily reliant on tools of administrative presidency’ [10]. This meant that the American president had the final say in terms of environmental policy. Indeed, even though both the House and Senate were against the Clean Power Plan, Obama was able to veto their resolution of disapproval. This means that the direction of America’s environmental policy is largely dictated by the wishes of the president. As discussed above, the operational code analysis and Trump’s personal preferences dictated Trump’s foreign policy behaviour, leading to US’ withdrawal from the Paris Agreement.

All in all, operational code analysis can help explain Trump’s withdrawal as the preference of the general role of rival enticed Trump to act on his personal beliefs regarding climate change both domestically and internationally. The withdrawal from the Paris agreement was an expression of his personality matrix to alter the initial state of the international agreement. Even if one held the same personal belief regarding climate change as Trump, the preference of cooperation instead of rivalry can allow US to remain in the Paris agreement.

[1] Trump, D. 2012.

[2] Konisky, D. 2018, p.356

[3] Trump, D. 2015.

[4] Walker, S., Schafer, M., & Smith, G. 2018, p.12

[5] Ibid. p.15

[6] Trump, D. 2017.

[7] Walker, S. et al. 2018, p.17

[8] Ibid. p.20

[9] UNFCCC. 2019.

[10] Konisky, D. 2018, p.356


Konisky, M. & Woods, 2018. N. Environmental Federalism and the Trump Presidency: A Preliminary Assessment

Trump, D. Speeches. 2012, 2015, 2017.

Walker, S., Schafer, M., & Smith, G. 2018. The operational codes of Donald Trump and Hilary Clinton.

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