Sunday, January 07, 2007

The neo-diplomacy of the US?

The Bush revolution in foreign policy is over. After September 11, the Administration acted on the conviction that an America that dared to shake off the constraints of international rules, laws and institutions could remake the world for the better. What they found instead was that an America unbound alienated allies, empowered adversaries and divided Americans. Faced with an overstretched military and multiplying threats, the Bush Administration in its second term has acknowledged through its deeds what its critics have long argued: The United States, powerful but not omnipotent, needs to work closely with others if it is to solve the foreign policy challenges now confronting it. To paraphrase Richard Nixon, we’re all multilateralists now.

While the Bush Administration’s renewed commitment to cooperate with others resolves one major foreign policy debate of the past six years, it doesn’t resolve another—namely, what kind of multilateralism do we need? President Bush’s conversion to multilateralism has been of a particular sort. It mostly involves traditional diplomacy, typically only with close U.S. allies, and almost always on an ad hoc, problem-oriented tactical basis—as with the decision to take Iran’s nuclear program before the UN Security Council. There is no strategic vision of how international institutions can be shaped to serve longer-range American interests. In many ways, then, President Bush’s second-term multilateralism is a kinder, gentler version of his first-term unilateralism.

As most will already know, those are the opening two paragraphs to Ivo Daalder’s & James Lindsay’s treatise on the direction of American diplomacy published in “The American Interest”. As most will already know it has been picked up by several groups as an almost gospelic statement of future American Foreign Policy. It must be said that there are also those who have panned, dismissed, and trashed the piece.

There is one sentence in the second paragraph which I see as the executive summary definition of the “problem” to which the authors take most of the report to suggest a solution.

There is no strategic vision of how international institutions can be shaped to serve longer-range American interests.

That problem is expanded –

In an era where dangerous developments anywhere can have devastating consequences everywhere, including here at home, we need international institutions capable of prompt and effective action both to prevent and, when necessary, respond to threats to international security. We need institutions that bring together the most capable states that share common interests and perspectives on the dangers confronting us. .
and a solution provided...
A Concert of Democracies, which brings together the world’s established democracies into a single institution dedicated to joint action, fits that bill.

OK, so can I summarise to this point –
 America, and Bush’s America in particular, is still getting its foreign relationships all wrong.
 Bush prefers to act on an ad hoc problem basis, rather than as part of a group.
Culminating with
 There is no strategic vision of how international institutions can be shaped to serve longer-range American interests.
The start of the “solution”
 . We need institutions that bring together the most capable states that share common interests and perspectives on the dangers confronting us.

I need not go any further. The development of the argument is predicatable, slanted to a specific end, and that end has already been spelt out.

I can not overlook the name of the publication – “The American Interest”. That certainly sets the scene well. That is the one over-riding factor. That is the one thing that must, at all costs, be preserved. No other interests, unless they are an unanticipated by-product of the process of the “American Interest”. Remember that as you read both the original paper and my thoughts.

But, in my inimitable fashion, I want to put the “problem” into a slightly different focus.

It is a run of events that did not start with Iraq2. It tracks back further; to Bosnia, to Rwanda. It is not a single “problem”, but a linkage of one organisation – the UN, its charter, the power of veto, and one man – Kofi Annan. Now before the right starts crowing about that small piece of what I am saying I want to be VERY CLEAR. This is not about any allegations of impropriety or wrong doing. This is not about the man, but about his position, the job that he had to do. In the view of many, and especially the American right, Annan has done his job very badly. That criticism I will allow in part. I do not believe that Annan alone is at fault. But I want to draw a comparison between Annan and another powerful individual – George W Bush. Not so that I can criticise him, but to merely point out that BOTH have been doing their own extremely difficult jobs to the best of their abilities. Putting it slightly differently, both men have their supporters and their detractors.

Out of the various linkages at the UN came two events.

First was the total failure of the UN to act against the genocide in Rwanda. That failure came from the reticence of major players, including the US, to accept that their was imminent or actual genocide taking place.

Second was the total inability of the UN to actively support any solution to the Bosnia crisis.

Both failures stem in part from Annan’s strict and pedantic interpretation of one section of the UN Charter preventing that organisation from acting in “the internal affairs of a nation”. (His inability to accept the true place of the UN is evident in his continuing and continual refusal to allow the UN to get involved in Sudan. As long as the Sudanese government says that it is trying to bring the problem undercontrol it is “still an internal matter of governance”. There is absolutely no assistance from the UN membership to get him to change his mind...) There are exceptions, amongst which is the action of genocide. Both failures stem from the inability of nations to act in anything like the coherent manner that the Charter originally foresaw.

The reason for that brief reprise is NOT, as I said earlier, because it is the crux of the debate. It is NOTHING of the sort.

It is the genesis of the idea of the “Concert of Nations”.

So, the “problem” can be restated in the following form –

 The US is desirous to realise its maximum potential, to ensure the safety of the nation, to advance its interests to the full. (See quote above)

 Those desires can not be met or satisfied in a global climate where there is significant opposition to the path that the US wishes to follow. Very frequently that opposition is the result of other, less powerful perhaps but powerful none-the-less, nations being desirous of following their own interests.
One obvious problem is that great powers often refuse to cooperate. Washington may think Beijing should use its economic clout to shut down Pyongyang’s nuclear weapons program, or that Moscow should halt its nuclear dealings with Tehran, but China and Russia see their interests differently...

So, as I stated earlier, the solution is presented in the form of “Like attracts like”. As the authors point out so clearly it happens that the “like the US” also attracts most of the wealthy nations and none of the most poor.

As the authors develop their idea, they approach the question of “international legitimacy”. Their example of Iraq2 not having the legitimacy of support from the UNSC is given as the problem and dismissed thus –
But should international legitimacy rest on universalism, or at least on the widespread support of the international community as a whole? This notion reduces the criterion of legitimacy to a procedural question: The number of states or votes one can marshal in support of a given action will determine that action’s legitimacy. The nature of the action itself—or the nature of the states consenting to it—matters little, if at all.

...and again with this old chestnut –
...equating legitimacy with the number of states that support a given action ... assumes all states are equal. States may be equal in a procedural sense, but they are not equal in fact. Most states in the world today, including a majority of UN members, do not represent the interests or perspectives of the people they rule. So when it comes to determining international legitimacy, why should states with no legitimacy at home have an equal say as states with such legitimacy? Real legitimacy, like real sovereignty, resides in the people rather than in the states—which is why state decisions to confer international legitimacy must rest in the democratically chosen representatives of the people, not in the personal whims of autocrats or oligarchs.

Now remember that little gem. It returns later.

Obviously, the most important element of the idea is that of “inclusion vs exclusion”. That much is obvious to anyone who has lived with the Commonwealth of Nations. Now perhaps Daalder and Lindsay might have begun to see the flaws in their idea had they taken the time to study this example of “exclusive” international club with even just a passing glance at Wikipedia.

Perhaps the most dramatic illustration of the flaws that exist in this example of the “international concert” would be the total inability of the Commowealth to move on Zimbabwe. The question was simple – should Zimbabwe be kicked out? A committee comprising (from memory) Australia, Nigeria and ??Botswana spent so long trying to make up their minds that Zimbabwe more or less left of their own accord in frustration (Mugabe would have enjoyed telling everyone who was responsible for the exclusion).

Daalder and Lindsay pick a different example –
Would Chinese leaders view the creation of a Concert of Democracies as an effort to encircle and constrain it, thereby setting the stage for a new cold war? They might—especially if Washington sought to use the Concert and other foreign policy tools to isolate China. But such an outcome is hardly inevitable (or likely to win the support of other democracies). To suggest that members would have to choose between the Concert and China is to present a false dilemma. The Concert of Democracies is not a substitute for all other forms of multilateral and bilateral cooperation, but a complement to them. At the same time, democracies should not be shy about pursuing their vital interests by working together to build a global order conducive to their political principles. China’s regime certainly has no inhibitions about shaping the global order to suit itself. From Asia to Africa to the Americas, it has been aggressively using its newfound economic strength to advance its interests at the expense of others.

Now that is an extremely interesting bow to draw, given the response and attitude of the US to a “very very good friend” and treaty ally to a small and independently minded country of 4 million people who decided (horror upon horrors) to effectively ban US warships from their waters. Do not imagine for a moment that the US would hesitate to use similar tactics against any dissent from within the Concert of Democracies.

The question of China is also too easily (and glibly) passed over. One of the first challenges to the COD would be not the military challenge from China, but the economic. That is recognised at the end of that last extract. And, it is noted, the thought goes no further. Should that challenge impact upon the form and function of a COD? Yes, IMO, of course it should. I have little doubt that was in the minds of the authors as well.

At this point we should consider the impact of the formation of a COD at the global level. Daalder and Lindsay make no secret of the fact that a large proportion of nations would be excluded (they predict a nice cosy 60 members), and equally as important, the “representation” of some 60% of the global population. The justification for the exclusion is “rational” – those excluded are not “democracies”. More to the point though, they are nations that either can not be relied upon, or would actively oppose, the American direction. Why else was the question raised in the first place?

I have debated this question of “American Interest” in a number of different fora and (regretfully I believe) it does nothing more than raise the ire of Americans, especially those from the right. The debate has come from such beginnings as the invasion of Iraq; or the imposition of a ban on joint defence training exercises between US and NZ forces; or the “free trade” agreement with Australia that allows US agricultural products immediate access to Aussie markets in return for the Aussies waiting some 5 to 7 years before their existing quotas start to expand; or the fact that the greatest part of US aid to poor nations is contracted from US businesses and valued at the purchase price rather than the value to the recipient... the examples are easy to find - look to anything that the US does in the name of “American Interests”.

This “problem of exclusion” raises one other (final) thought.

The US has, since the late 1800’s, occasionally withdrawn from the “real world”. The debate has flared through the blogiverse from time to time over the past four to five years; usually taking the form of “should we or should we not...”.

It strikes me that this idea of the “Concert of Democracies” is not much more than isolationism with a different name, and in the company of a few close mates.

I make no apology for using NZ repeatedly in a discussion like this – think of “New Zealand Interests” as being as important to me as “American Interests” to an American or “British Interests” to a Brit. I make no apology for using history to judge the likely response of one nation to the actions of another. When there is a relative consistency in the nature and reactions of the US to changes in NZ policies, then I would anticipate that consistency to continue into the future...

So, what happens when the US calls together those “friendly democracies” in joint protection against the dangers and threats that are posed by the outside world – the international equivalent of “things that go bump in the night.” What happens when li’l ol’ NZ turns up, a very lucrative FTA with PRC tucked in the back pocket. Or perhaps it is a deal with Iran to provide sheep meat in return for an “understanding” with the Muslim world. Past indications suggest that there would be a polite “leave that at the door” before admission were allowed. Or, to take the idea just that little step further – the threat of expulsion if such an agreement were to be negotiated after formation of the COD.

No. It will not work.

Read “1984” again. The division that Orwell used was between Europe/America and “Oceania/Asia”. Not too far removed from the idea being discussed here when you think about it.

No comments: