International Herald Tribune
On Bush II: Can We Expect Unilateralism or Multilateralism?
Cicero Foundation Seminar for Experts
NATO, ESDP AND THE FUTURE OF THE TRANSATLANTIC RELATIONSHIP
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
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
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
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
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
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
The UN and even NATO as it exists are considered unsatisfactory because they
incorporate rival policy visions and competing values, limiting their ability
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
17 December 2004
ALL RIGHTS RESERVED.