William PFAFF

International Herald Tribune

On Bush II: Can We Expect Unilateralism or Multilateralism?

Cicero Foundation Seminar for Experts
Paris, 17 december 2004

Paris - The transatlantic debate asks whether the second George W. Bush administration will approach Europe in a mode of unilateralism or multilateralism.
For Washington today, that choice is not one of substance but of manners. It is polite to consult "multilaterally" even when you are not seriously interested in other opinions. Condoleezza Rice has better manners than Donald Rumsfeld.
The stature and career of Colin Powell made his European interlocutors think that to talk with him could change American policy. They eventually found that Powell's influence was limited, and that the Bush administration was and is incorrigibly unilateralist.
It is not simply a problem with the Bush administration. Unilateralism is the American style. The western alliance grew accustomed to a formal American multilateralism after 1948, when NATO was established. Only DeGaulle challenged Washington's views, and eventually he chose to take France out of NATO's command structure. Its multilateralism was form only.
The other allies were content to continue, but after the NATO bombing campaign against Serbia in 1999 the U.S. Air Force said "never again" to coalition wars with allies second-guessing its decisions. The Gulf War had been waged by a non-NATO coalition that the U.S. commanded.
When Donald Rumsfeld announced at the start of the war on terror that the mission would decide the coalition, NATO effectively ceased being a military alliance in which everyone had a vote. It survives as a furnisher of military auxiliaries to American operations.
Multilateralism is an affair of diplomacy, and there is an instinctive American hostility to diplomacy, meaning negotiation and compromise. As the German-born American political scholar Hans J. Morgenthau noted years ago, American diplomats even before the second world war (in the Coolidge and Hoover administrations, as well as under Woodrow Wilson) were known for their practice of "diplomacy by storm."
This was "the sudden presentation of an agreement to be accepted or rejected by the other nations as it stood. The intrinsic merits of the agreement were supposed to command approval by all right-thinking nations. These same merits excluded the possibility of [the proposed agreement's] being subjected to the indignity of modification by bargaining and compromise." Those who have dealt with the G.W. Bush administration will recognize the practice.
It is virtual certainty that George Bush's second term foreign policy will simply be more of the same. So far as Europe is concerned, the United States will watch the EU's development with concern to contain its potentialities as an economic, technological and political competitor to the United States. It might find an enlarging American interest in division or "disaggregation" of the EU.
American international objectives will remain the prosecution of the war on terror, meaning pursuit of individuals or bands of terrorists, plus "regime-change" in rogue states and Arab dictatorships, with a view to creating a New Middle East.
There will be aggressive anti-proliferation activity; support for Israeli policies meant (as Henry Siegman of the Council on Foreign Relations has recently described it) to create a nominal Palestinian state in several West Bank enclaves dominated by Israel.
U.S. missile defense will be pursued, with containment of China and Russia, and expansion of American global security networks in Asia and the regions of Africa where major energy resources exist.
Washington's immediate priority will be the pacification of Iraq, simultaneously its great problem. The goal still will be to make that country a strategic ally and base for American activities in the Mideast and Central Asia.
Iraq will be the administration's great problem because it could fail ignominiously there, and conceivably could even be forced to abandon Iraq. However more will be seen about that as the Iraq elections planned for January approach, accompanied by intensification of the insurrection.
In all of this the Bush administration will certainly want allies, but as George Bush said during the election campaign, he will not "farm out American security" to the UN, to "countries like France," and he will not do so even to faithful NATO.
American unilateralism as the Bush administration practices it is more than simple national ego and power aggrandizement. It is a considered and principled position.
Condoleezza Rice has argued to her foreign counterparts (notably at the International Institute for Strategic Studies a year ago) that a multilateral international system - including rival interests and competitive great powers or power centers -- is the road to war. "We have tried this before. It led to the Great War."
The UN and even NATO as it exists are considered unsatisfactory because they incorporate rival policy visions and competing values, limiting their ability to act.
There should be a new system and new organizations that unite behind a single vision. Rice asks, "Why should we seek to divide our capacities for good, when they can be much more effective united? Only the enemies of freedom would cheer this division."
The evidence of history is against her. Multipolarity is an expression of freedom, and multilateralism a recognition of that freedom. A pluralism of power reflects the impulse, and in the long term the human need, to create countervailing and balancing powers in political systems to protect freedom, whether national or international. This is why the Bush administration's unilateralism, and its determination that there be a single hierarchy of international power will fail.

17 December 2004