The neocon foreign policy of Donald Trump took a drastic turn toward greater international isolation for the United States, when the White House announced the American withdrawal from the 144-year old Universal Postal Union (UPU), the world’s third-oldest international organization. The UPU, which was established as the General Postal Union by the Treaty of Bern of 1874, coordinates postal policies among its member nations. It was President Ulysses S. Grant who signed on to the Treaty of Bern and sent U.S. delegates to the founding Universal Postal Congress in the Swiss city, where the UPU headquarters remains to this day.
The original members of the UPU were: Germany and the German Protectorates, the Greater Republic of Central America, the United States of America, the Argentine Republic, Austria-Hungary, Belgium, Bolivia, Bosnia-Herzegovina, Brazil, Bulgaria, Chile, The Empire of China, the Republic of Colombia, the Independent State of Congo, the Kingdom of Korea, the Republic of Costa Rica, Denmark and the Danish Colonies, the Dominican Republic, Egypt, Ecuador, Spain and the Spanish Colonies, France, the French Colonies, Great Britain and various British Colonies, British India, the British Colonies of Australasia, Canada, the British Colonies of South Africa, Greece, Guatemala, the Republic of Haiti, Hawaii, Italy, Japan, the Republic of Liberia, Luxemburg, Mexico, Montenegro, Norway, the Orange Free State, Paraguay, the Netherlands, the Netherlands Colonies, Peru, Persia, Portugal and the Portuguese Colonies, Romania, Russia, Serbia, the Kingdom of Siam, the South African Republic, Sweden, Switzerland, the Regency of Tunis, Turkey, Uruguay, and the United States of Venezuela.
It was Trump’s trade adviser, Peter Navarro, who championed the U.S. withdrawal from the UPU. The main reason is U.S. opposition to China setting low rates for the international delivery of packages. After the U.S. withdrawal from the UPU becomes formal, the U.S. will set higher rates for the delivery of postal mail from China to the United States. The Trump administration plans to enact higher postal rates against other countries, in addition to China, that it believes overly-subsidize their postal systems, thus ensuring lower postal rates.
The advent of e-commerce has resulted in discussions by the UPU to overhaul its system of postal rates. However, rather than participate in UPU negotiations aimed at reforming the current system, the Trump administration, which eschews multilateralism, decided to walk away from an international organization that survived its adjunct status with the ill-fated League of Nations and became part of the United Nations specialized agency system.
The UPU’s main responsibility is to set standards for electronic data interchange (EDI), mail encoding, postal forms, international reply coupons, international postal money orders, and meters between postal authorities. It also strives to ensure that member states adhere to uniform flat rates for mailing letters to any location around the world. Another UPU standard, that stamp values be denoted in Roman numerals, was violated by the U.S. Postal Service, when it began issuing “Forever Stamps” absent denoted stamp values.
The UPU also sets regulations for the sending of biologically perishable materials via international post and the handling of both hazardous materials and disease-bearing items that could pose a danger to postal workers. In pursuit of postal safety, the UPU coordinates its activities with the World Health Organization, the International Labor Organization, and the UN Educational Scientific and Cultural Organization (UNESCO). The Trump administration also announced the U.S. withdrawal from UNESCO, effective December 31, 2018.
The UPU also works with the Fédération Internationale de Philatélie (FIP), based in Zurich, to promote stamp collecting. One of the most avid stamp collectors to occupy the Oval Office was President Franklin D. Roosevelt, who was also a strong supporter of the UPU and was known as “America’s No. 1 philatelist.” FDR was a far cry from Trump, who has been called “America’s No. 1 philanderer.”
The consequences of U.S. withdrawal from the UPU will be felt immediately. According to UPU deputy director-general Pascal Clivaz, upon termination of American membership in the treaty, Americans will no longer be able to send or receive letters or packages to and from UPU member states, including Canada and Mexico. The UPU will no longer share special codes with the U.S. Postal Service (USPS) that are necessary to send and receive international mail.
Soon, U.S. postage stamps will be considered as void postal instruments, so far as the rest of the world is concerned. Postage stamps issued by Vatican City, Christmas Island, the Sovereign Military Order of Malta, Pitcairn Island, Aitutaki, Isle of Lundy, Tristan da Cunha, the United Nations, Isle of Man, Alderney, and the British Antarctic Territory will carry much more international legitimacy than a U.S. stamp.
That stark realization may lie at the heart of Trump’s withdrawal. The only mechanism to send and receive international mail will be through the use of more expensive private delivery services like FedEx and UPS. Trump has made no secret of his desire to eliminate the USPS and its employees.
The U.S. withdrawal from the UPU will adversely affect three independent Pacific states that are in “compacts of free association” with the United States. Under the compacts, the USPS handles all mail deliveries to and from the Marshall Islands, Palau, and Micronesia. The impact of U.S. withdrawal from the UPU will necessitate these states declaring their independence from the USPS to enable uninterrupted postal connections with neighboring Pacific island states, Asia, and beyond. In one way, Trump’s decision will allow these semi-colonial states to become more independent of Washington and, ultimately, establish foreign policies that will no longer ensure their reflexive support for the U.S. and Israel in the UN General Assembly.
Americans may be shocked to know that the UPU never came under assault by Adolf Hitler, Benito Mussolini, or the Japanese Imperial Government during World War II. The UPU and International Telecommunications Union were the only two international organizations in which Joseph Stalin’s Soviet Union maintained membership before and immediately following World War II.
Because of the postal universality established by the UPU, it was possible to send and receive mail between Nazi Germany, Fascist Italy, and Imperial Japan through neutral countries. All continued to adhere to UPU standards to enable mail to be transferred via neutral UPU members, including Switzerland and Portugal. Although Trump’s decision will prevent mail delivery between the U.S., Canada, and Mexico, it was possible to transmit mail between Nazi Germany and England at the height of World War II. Mail between the Nazi Reich and the Allied powers, all of which remained members of the UPU, was possible via P.O. Box 506 at the Thomas Cook office in Lisbon or through the International Committee of the Red Cross in Geneva, Switzerland.
Because of the inherent universality of the UPU, it was possible to send letters, subject to censorship by the warring and neutral parties, from Germany—with stamps bearing the image of Hitler—to England, Canada, and the United States, during the war.
The UPU has come under attack from right-wing Republicans in the past. In 1951, Senator Harry Cain (R-WA) tried to force the U.S. Post Office to cease delivering “propaganda” delivered to the United States under second-class postal rates. The Post Office said it could not enact such a policy without violating the UPU’s rules.
The UPU survived Adolf Hitler, but not Donald Trump. That is a legacy for which every American should feel nothing but everlasting shame and remorse.
Previously published in the Wayne Madsen Report.
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Wayne Madsen is a Washington, DC-based investigative journalist and nationally-distributed columnist. He is the editor and publisher of the Wayne Madsen Report (subscription required).