Unilateralism and U.S. Foreign Policy
Unilateralism and U.S. Foreign Policy

Unilateralism and U.S. Foreign Policy

Apr 24, 2003

How is U.S. unilateralism in foreign policy perceived from abroad? This panel of international affairs experts presents a range foreign perspectives and discusses the challenges the U.S faces by adopting a "go it alone" policy.


JOANNE MYERS: On behalf of the Carnegie Council I thank you for joining us for our panel discussion this afternoon on “Unilateralism and U.S. Foreign Policy.”

As the world’s only superpower, America has recently been seen as pursuing a “go it alone” foreign policy strategy. As the Bush Administration seemingly avoids international undertakings that it does not control and forsakes multilateral arrangements that do not suit its agenda, America is perceived as both uniquely strong and yet vulnerable.

In reading the newspaper and listening to the news, we see how the U.S. has become a target of envy, hostility, and suspicion around much of the world today, a situation which merits further consideration, at least for the consequences of unilateralism, what this policy holds for both the United States and for the world at large.

Accordingly, our discussion this afternoon will focus on this topic, based in the second book in a series on U.S. foreign policy. Both volumes have been written under the auspices of the Center on International Cooperation at NYU. The Center, which was founded in 1996, conducts policy research and international consultations on the political, financial, and organizational factors that impede or advance the effective use of multilateral means to resolve pressing global challenges. The Center’s Director, Shep Forman, will be the moderator for our discussion today.

The first book in the series, Multilateralism and U.S. Foreign Policy, was presented at the Carnegie Council about a year ago. At that time we examined the costs and consequences of U.S. ambivalence toward multilateral arrangements, and as the writings in this volume prophetically indicated, America’s resolve to go it alone carries with it serious risks for the vitality, and perhaps even the viability, of certain international institutions.

The current volume, Unilateralism and U.S. Foreign Policy, takes this analysis one step further and draws on the findings of foreign affairs specialists from around the world to focus our attention on international responses to America’s foreign policy.

Thus, it is now possible for the U.S. policy community to see the manner in which America’s unilateralism is perceived abroad, to appreciate some of the reactions that U.S. policies have stimulated in other countries, and to estimate the likely consequences of this dynamic for both U.S. national interests and international institutions.

Our speakers today are towering figures on the stage of international relations. Each in his own way has been a keen observer of the United States’ involvement in world affairs and has carefully studied the degree of America’s willingness to be involved on the international level in order to resolve some of the more global challenges facing us today.

This “Dream Team” of foreign affairs specialists each has thought a great deal about global issues, and they will certainly share their views with us today.

Please join me in giving a very warm welcome to Shep Forman, David Malone, and Ambassador Mahbubani.


SHEPARD FORMAN: The volume that we are here to present today, Unilateralism and U.S. Foreign Policy: International Perspectives, is the second in a series of a project on multilateralism and U.S. foreign policy that we began at the center in 1999 in, looking back, what is somewhat prescient fashion.

When we began the project four years ago, we faced vastly different circumstances from those that concentrate the mind today. Neither the war on terrorism nor the war against Iraq were then the primary conditioning factors in U.S. foreign policy.

Instead, we set out to understand the roots of U.S. ambivalence toward multilateral arrangements at a post-Cold War moment in which collective responses to a critical set of global problems held out great promise. We wanted to explain the apparent disjunction between the positive role the United States played in shaping global and regional instruments over the past half-century and what appeared to be an increasingly regressive reaction particularly to institutional forms of multilateralism across a range of now-familiar arenas.

While the first volume and the project in itself were not intended as a review of Clinton Administration policies, Multilateralism and U.S. Foreign Policy describes a decade of U.S. ambivalence toward multilateral engagement, resulting in an inconsistent use of multilateral instruments, especially noteworthy in the difference between our approaches to economic and political objectives; a backtracking on some important commitments, especially in the areas of nonproliferation and the environment; and a degree of skepticism at best, and scapegoating at worst, especially regarding the United Nations.

In this project we engaged more than fifty people, including a broad-based and bipartisan advisory committee and eighteen authors, to examine the causes and consequences of American ambivalence toward multilateralism, a subject that proved far more complex as we pursued it than we had originally imagined.

Individually, the authors of the first volume remind us that multilateralism takes many forms—some formal, some ad hoc—and that the U.S. has always used these selectively, sometimes even acting presumptively, to promote ends it deemed in the common interest.

Collectively, the authors corroborated a set of American values that encourage cooperative efforts to address transnational problems, located the roots of U.S. ambivalence toward institutional forms of multilateralism in America’s sense of exceptionalism, and attributed its ability to act alone or to act on that ambivalence to its exceptional power.

The book also identified a number of costs—to its reputation, to its claims to leadership, to the development of universal forms and standards, and to the strength of international law and institutions—when the United States acts alone or opts out of multilateral frameworks.

It also stresses the limits singular U.S. action imposes on its ability to mobilize the support of other countries to deal with a range of problems that, in the now-common parlance, no single nation, not even the world’s sole superpower, can address alone.

In the one chapter written by a non-American, Professor William Wallace from the London School of Economics, traces the damage to trans-Atlantic relations of a perceived tendency of the United States to go it alone.

How others see the United States, and act accordingly, became a focal point for our discussions and led to a decision to commission a second group of authors to provide us with a greater range of international perspectives on U.S. foreign policy.

We are extremely fortunate that David Malone and Yuen Foong Khong agreed to co-edit this second volume. In a field resplendent with high rhetoric, David and Yuen, with the excellent assistance of my colleague, Stewart Patrick, assembled an extraordinary group of academics and diplomats to examine from their national and regional perspectives the same set of subjects that their U.S. counterparts analyzed in the first volume.

The difference in perspectives is heralded in the two titles, Multilateralism and U.S. Foreign Policy: Ambivalent Engagement and Unilateralism and U.S. Foreign Policy in the second book.

Before turning to David and Kishore for their views on U.S. policy, let me call your attention to one more product that emerged from the overall project, the policy paper entitled “The United States in the Global Age: The Case for Multilateral Engagement.”

I co-wrote the paper with Princeton Lyman and Stewart Patrick. The paper reminds us that it was precisely at another moment of great historical crisis, with American power at its apogee, that the United States assumed a leadership role in fashioning the multilateral institutions that, by and large, have served us well for the last half-century.

As the paper notes, however, the world has changed dramatically since the end of the Second World War, when the U.S. took this leadership role. Multiple threats beyond the curse of terrorism to our health, to the environment, to our financial and economic order, require cooperative mechanisms that seem to supersede the mandates and capacities of a number of existing intergovernmental organizations. For that reason, we argue, the United States needs once again to assume the mantle of leadership, to help reform, and where necessary redesign, the institutions needed to set and implement the standards that should guide the conduct of international affairs in the century ahead.

To do so, requires the United States to do three things:

    1. To recognize that we face a range of collective action problems beyond terrorism that require concerted cooperative action amongst the broadest set of international partners;

    1. To examine systematically current institutional arrangements in this country, both the structure of congressional committees and Executive Branch agencies, to ensure more coordinated and effective response to the entire range of domestic and international issues that face us, just as the Department of Homeland Security is intended to do with regard to global terrorism; and

  1. To face up to a serious attitudinal problem in which now, more than ever, the extraordinary power of the U.S. and an assertive sense of exceptionalism seem to reinforce the notion that this nation can go it alone.

The United States, on reflection, does not act very differently from other countries, all of which choose among a constellation of foreign policy instruments to pursue their national interests. What differentiates the U.S. from all others is the range of choices available to it, its capacity to dictate the terms of reference, to affect the course of multilateral action, and to act alone.

It is this claim to exceptionalism and use of power that awakens critical attention among U.S. allies and adversaries alike. Unilateralism in U.S. foreign policy was designed to expose U.S. policymakers and the public to the views of others, in this case to friendly critics.

I am extremely grateful that David Malone and Kishore Mahbubani were willing to contribute to the volume and are here to discuss it with you today.

DAVID MALONE: I would like to talk under three broad headings: some trends in international relations; the impact of 9/11, including on perceptions of the United states by foreigners; and finally, some challenges for the United States, but also for other governments, in dealing with the post-9/11 world.

The very uneven knowledge of American history amongst the authors of this volume was a real challenge. Foreigners, by and large, do not know much about American history. It is assumed in Europe and in many other places that there is no American history worth knowing. Likewise, unfortunately, Americans learn very little about the history of other countries. If international relations is to be well understood all over the world, the study of history is absolutely vital. All of our authors had to take a crash course on American history, and the interpretation of American history, in light of changes in the post-Cold War world.

The book slices and dices international perspectives on U.S. foreign policy in a number of ways. Several chapters deal with how the United States approaches the rule of law, inconsistently of course—most countries do, but the United States perhaps most of all. It deals with peace and security, which has played an important role in American foreign policy all along, particularly American security. A number of chapters deal with international economic relations and regional perspectives, how the United States deals with regions and how regions of the world see the U.S.

Gelson Fonseca, a Brazilian scholar and diplomat, argued in his chapter that responsibility for the disappointing state of U.S.-Latin American relations is broadly shared, that while Latin Americans complain nonstop that the U.S. does not take them seriously, does not deal with them in any meaningful way, the reality is also that the Latin Americans have failed to engage the United States multilaterally. In many ways, the challenge to countries around the world is to engage the United States rather than sitting back and whining. Gelson seemed to be preaching to his compatriots as much as he was to anyone else.

Now, some trends in international relations in the post-Cold War world are very relevant to the Iraq crisis and to the volume.

First, we have become so used to the Permanent Five Members of the Security Council working well together that it surprises us when they do not. But the norm during the Cold War was that they did not, and as a result the UN was able to play only a marginal role on international security questions.

Since the end of the Cold War, the Permanent Five have worked very closely together, and well, on all but three questions:

  • The Israeli-Palestine conflict continues to provoke an occasional American veto, and the meaningful action has moved to Washington to a large extent.
  • Kosovo separated the Five very briefly in 1999, but then, through diplomacy in the G8 Forum, it was brought back to the UN quite successfully.
  • And finally, Iraq.

As a result of the Permanent Five working together with each other well during this period, three other broad trends developed.

  • One was the ability of the Security Council, and the international community more broadly, to address civil wars, internal conflicts, which the UN was not designed to deal with. But the Council and many regional organizations have been doing this for the past fifteen years, with mixed results. This willingness to deal with the internal affairs of other countries through international organizations is an extremely important trend in international relations.
  • Secondly, the Security Council has become quite comfortable with invoking the provisions of Chapter VII of the UN Charter, the Chapter which gives coercive power to the UN, falling under several headings: sanctions, economic and diplomatic; naval blockades to enforce them; and the use of force by UN commanded and controlled troops or by members states mandated by the Council, all of which have been authorized quite routinely since the end of the Cold War.
  • Finally, with the end of the colonial era, most of us thought colonial adventures and international administration of territories were over. But that turns out not to be the case. Starting with Namibia, moving on to Cambodia, then the Balkans—, Bosnia and Kosovo—, then East Timor, the Security Council and the rest of the international community have become much more comfortable with the notion of international administration of territories. This has not always been carried out successfully, but it has often been seen as the “least bad” of a number of bad options available. We will see more of this in the future rather than less.

A few other trends I will mention.

In Europe, the tremendous ambition, realized in the economic sphere, to create European unity with the launch of the Euro. However this has been, accompanied, as we now know after the Iraq events recently, by a bankrupt European common foreign policy, a very fragile common defense policy, founded on a mix of inconsistencies, wishful thinking, and hypocrisies. That poses tremendous challenges because multipolarity without a second pole. So if the Europeans actually want multipolarity, they remain still to construct the second pole on the security front. They have done a very good job on the economic front, where the U.S. deals with Europe as an equal. It has no reason yet to do so on the security front.

Russia and Japan have been in decline in recent years. The only clearly rising power geo-strategically in the world other than the U.S. is China. It is very important to bear this in mind in looking at how the world is evolving, especially in the case of North Korea. When China helps the United States with North Korea, that is a very significant development. China’s help matters in ways that Australia’s or Canada’s does not. We can help with a number of problems. China can help uniquely with others.

NATO is broadly in decline, but also seems to be about to inherit the mantle the Security Council wanted to avoid, which was the primary role internationally for mopping up after the United States and its military adventures. The United States is campaigning for that role for NATO in Afghanistan, which it will assume, and is now beginning to campaign for NATO to take over after the U.S. in Iraq. If this really is the future, it is a fundamental shift in the history of NATO, with many implications.

What did 9/11 do to international relations? International relations since the early-1970s had revolved mostly around international economic cooperation (and competition). After the first oil shock, after the Nixon measures shock of 1971, there was a tremendous effort led by Europeans—Helmut Schmidt, Valéry Giscard d’Estaing—to institute international economic cooperation, if not coordination. The G7 was created, the WTO was created in due course, and most meaningful diplomacy was about economic relations amongst the industrialized powers, and also between the industrialized and developing countries.

9/11 changed all of that, for the U.S. domestic and international security now matters above all else. This is good in that there are real and serious security threats, but it also presents risks that international economic cooperation will be swept aside, with costs to us all. The gains of the last thirty years could be compromised and a degree of economic hostage-taking could occur, rather than further construction of international economic cooperation.

Now, what are these challenges?

For the United States, there are some obvious ones:

  1. The most surprising feature to foreigners of the Bush Administration is the degree to which it is made up of risk-takers in positions of authority. Will this eventually lead to hubris, will it lead to a bridge too far, will it continue until the United States stubs its toe badly somewhere? One hopes not, but it is a question Americans need to ask themselves.
  2. The way the Administration has talked about Iraq on and off, depending on the day and who is speaking. Some in Washington are extremely open to the idea of a colonial adventure in Iraq, of re-inventing the country in our own image. This is a huge risk, marked by breathtaking ambition, refreshing in many ways, but very risky also.
  3. To what extent will the United States draw the conclusion from Iraq that compelling compliance with U.S. objectives is the way to go rather than inducing compliance of allies, partners, and others? On the strength of what has happened on Iraq to date, the hawks in Washington have a number of arguments on their side, that trying to induce cooperation and compliance did not work. This is a question that Americans need to mull over amongst themselves. Trying to compel compliance systematically will turn the image of the Ugly American as a state into something much larger than it is today.
  4. Can the U.S. Government accept honest disagreement by its partners and allies? A number of populations in particular, governments secondarily, sensed no threat from Iraq, and, if they accepted there could be a threat from Iraq, did not accept the urgency of it, and so they did not accept that the military response preferred by the U.S. was appropriate.

The way in which official Washington has viewed disagreement in this instance is that it is tantamount to treason within alliances. Disagreement is, in one way or another, to be discouraged, if not punished. If this line is pursued, it is highly unlikely that the United States will have any alliances left worthy of the name. It will have a lot of countries scared of it, will lose respect, and ultimately will find it very difficult to manage international relations.

But there are also very important challenges for other countries.

As I mentioned, the Russians and the French have spoken quite a bit about multipolarity. The Russians are not in a position to engage in multipolarity; their decline is fairly accelerated. Western Europe could, but is in no position to on security issues.

But is multipolarity to become the obsession of countries around the world? Isn’t it a rather negative agenda? If the only policy of major powers elsewhere is to resist American foreign policy, it does not say much for those countries and their ability to formulate positive foreign policies, and this needs to worry them a great deal.

Public opinion will not help governments on this particular issue, because public opinion is anti-American in many places and welcomes anti-American posturing by governments, however irresponsible it is.

Are other countries able to recognize that because of the unique military power of the U.S. in the world today, unrivaled by any combination of other countries, the United States will probably see itself as having certain custodial responsibilities for peace and security, which it will feel that it must act on, even in the absence of international consensus? Can the rest of the world come to terms with that, or will denial be the response? The jury is out on that.

Two more points.

Can the rest of the world accept leadership? There is much loose talk about welcoming American leadership, but we do not actually see much acceptance. Other countries must think through how they see leadership developing internationally on security issues.

Here the Security Council faces a difficult time. The Council did not want to follow the United States on Iraq. But is it prepared to deal with hard security issues—proliferation, nuclear proliferation, other forms of proliferation? As an observer of the Security Council, I am not sure.

Finally, the European Union. For multipolarity to work, the Europeans must construct a genuinely common foreign policy. For this to happen, Britain and France must submerge their very strong foreign policy identities into something broader that does not have their individual stamp all over it. I do not see either country prepared to do that. It is very hard to imagine how a genuinely common European foreign policy will emerge any time soon, although the shock of the total failure of French policy in the Security Council to manage and contain the United States should be a wake-up call for all powers in Europe with pretensions to rival the U.S. in any way.

KISHORE MAHBUBANI: First, I would like to give a sense of my historical assumptions of where we are in the world today.

At the end of the Cold War, with Francis Fukuyama’s essay “The End of History,” we had the sense that all the big questions had been settled and now we could roll along nicely.

The events of the last few years have shown that we do not have the end of the history but we have the acceleration of history. There is a shortening of historical epochs. You had the Cold War for forty years, then the post-Cold War era until 9/11, and then the 9/11 era, and now arguably we have a new era, the post-Iraq era. Each era is getting shorter and shorter, and each era brings its own set of challenges.

My essay in this volume, “The United Nations and the United States: An Indispensable Partnership,” was written after 9/11. If anything, 9/11 reinforced the need for a stronger relationship between the U.S. and the UN:

“Daily, the forces of globalization are generating greater and greater interdependence. Actions in one corner of the world can affect a distant corner relatively quickly. Most people living outside the United States can feel and understand the impact of globalization: they feel a loss of autonomy each day. Most American do not feel this, or not yet. They live in one of the most powerful countries seen in the history of man. Sheer power and two huge oceans make Americans unaware of how the world is changing.”

Rereading this paragraph after September 11, 2001, it is quite clear that a tidal wave of change has reached the U.S. shores. To quote Shashi Tharoor, decisions made in a village in Afghanistan led to the steel girders being melted in Manhattan. That showed in a sense how the world has come together.

When that happened, it proved that we are in a sense in a global village. If we are in a global village, clearly we do need a global village council; and if we do need a global village council, the only one that can provide it is the United Nations.

I go on to point out in the article what the UN could do for the United States in many areas to help U.S. interests – norm-setting, burden-sharing, and also helping to set the agenda whenever problems arise in the global village.

If you want a vivid demonstration of how the village has shrunk, look at the current SARS epidemic and how it spread quickly from China to Hong Kong, Hong Kong to Singapore, and then mysteriously to Toronto. The physical geography of the world has been changed. We are all becoming interconnected.

If the United Nations is to serve U.S. interests, then the United States will have to live with a more independent UN. From time to time, many Americans have complained that the General Assembly passes resolutions that are critical of the US. This is what I wrote:

“The great paradox here which few Americans have grasped is that the demonstrated independence of the General Assembly from U.S. domination, while not serving some short-term American interests, does indeed serve long-term American interests. Were the General Assembly to be perceived as a compliant U.S. instrument, it would quickly lose the respect, trust, and commitment of the 5.75 billion people who live outside the United States. The more independent the General Assembly seems to be, the more confidence the people of the world will have in it and the greater the commitment to the larger norm-generating activities of the General Assembly.”

It does serve American interests to have a UN independent of the United States rather than one that is compliant to the United States. In my article, I also quoted what Adlai Stevenson said in the 1963 Senate testimony about the United Nations:

“The United States does not own or control the United Nations. It is not a wing of the State Department. We are no more and no less than the most influential of the 110 members. If we were less, we would be failing to exert the influence of freedom’s leaders. If we were more, we would destroy the effectiveness of the UN, which depends precisely on the fact that it is not an arm of the United States or of any other government, but a truly international organization, no better or worse than the agreements which can be reached by the controlling majority of its members.”

How times have changed. I bring you now to the May/June 2003 issue of Foreign Affairs. The lead essay, “The UN vs. U.S. Power,” tries to capture the latest thinking within Washington on the role of the UN. It says that the UN, especially the UN Security Council, belongs in the dustbin of history. Let me read two quotes:

“Although the effort to subject the use of force to the rule of law was the monumental international experiment of the twentieth century, the fact is that that experiment has failed.”

“The first and last geopolitical truth is that states pursue security by pursuing power. Legal institutions that manage that pursuit maladroitly are ultimately swept away.”

I disagree with much in this essay. For example, he dismisses the concept of the sovereign equality of states by saying: “How can Nauru have one vote and China one vote?” He confuses sovereign equality with political or economic equality. They are not the same. Sovereign equality merely means that Nauru has a right to exist as much as China does.

He also equates the Canadian idea of humanitarian intervention with the U.S. intervention in Iraq and conflates the two as part of the same idea. In fact, the two are very distinct ideas. The Canadian idea is to use force only to help minorities who are being trampled at a particular point in time. The situation in Iraq was clearly different.

But whatever the specific points one may wish to disagree with in this essay, it raises the most crucial issue that the UN faces. Hitherto, we have worked under the assumption that come what may, no matter how the geopolitical picture changes, the UN would inevitably survive. For the first time since the UN was created, it is conceivable that it may actually be thrown into the dustbin of history in many significant ways.

The purpose of the UN is to set the rules for how nations interact with one another. His argument is: if the U.S. can make its own decisions in its own way, why should it subject itself to these internationalist rules?

But the question that others will ask him is: if the United States is allowed to set its own rules on when to use force, does that allow China to decide when it should use force and does it allow India to decide when it should use force? What are the consequences of throwing away what he calls the great UN experiment?

He discusses the efforts to use the UN Security Council to check the United States. He said that “To be more precise, the French hoped to use the battering ram of the Security Council to check American power.” The other powers thought that one way to constrain the U.S. was to bring it into the Security Council and to try to make it abide by Security Council decisions.

But that put a fragile institution like the Security Council on a collision course with the largest power seen in the history of man. If you do have the Security Council being used as a battering ram against this enormous power, will it be the big power that will break or will it be the Security Council?

If you try to have a discussion like this within the UN community and suggest that perhaps we should discuss more seriously how to adapt the United Nations to the new power structure, you run into great difficulties.

That is why I am glad that we are here, and I hope that in the course of this discussion, since I have so many of my colleagues here, they will bring back some of these ideas to the UN when we discuss these things within the UN.

JOANNE MYERS: Thank you all very much. We will open it up for discussion.

Question & Answer

SHEPARD FORMAN: I would like to go back to the points that David and Kishore both ended on, with how the world manages its relationship with the new global hegemon.

In the chapter which David cited, Gelson talked about the need for Latin America to act multilaterally to contain its big neighbor to the north. Several months ago he delivered a version of the paper in Rio de Janeiro, where amongst his Brazilian colleagues he changed the language to ask how Brazil and its neighbors might seduce the U.S. into more effective multilateral action.

How do we begin to seduce this giant into a better accommodation with where the rest of the world seems to be?

DAVID MALONE: In the mid-1990s, when I was still in the Canadian Foreign Ministry, I used to go to G8 meetings. The American political director raised again and again with his Russian counterpart Russian support to Iran’s nuclear industry as troublesome for the future. Would the Russians please think this through, where this was going to lead? “Yes, yes, give us proof it’s being misused.”, responded the Russian. Here we are a number of years later with the nuclear installations in Iran by no means weaponized yet, and perhaps not even intending to be, but much further down the track, and potentially quite worrying.

In those discussions ten years ago in the G8 there was a lack of seriousness of America’s partners on the security issues Washington was raising at the time, nuclear proliferation in this case.

There have been other similar issues, such as terrorism. Europe suffered much more from terrorism than the United States historically. And yet, when the U.S. kept raising terrorism over the years, ad nauseam, European officials, and some of ours, and me too, used to get very bored with it. We were very worldly and weary of the subject, and didn’t find it terribly relevant.

The Security Council does have a future. My worry is that it will be a future of dealing with second-order conflicts, conflicts that are murderous in Africa and elsewhere, but on the periphery of geostrategic priorities.

But if the Security Council wants to play a serious role in the future, it would be helpful if it became serious substantively, rather than in process terms, about issues like terrorism and proliferation. That is a big test for the Council. I don’t know how it will come out.

I don’t know whether it will be easy to re-engage the United States, even if the other members decide that they do want to become more serious about these broad systemic threats to security internationally. But there are many reasonable people in Washington, and if interest in these subjects was expressed, I’d be surprised if the United States didn’t engage.

KISHORE MAHBUBANI: Remember the famous question Mao Tse-tung was asked a few decades ago, “What do you think of the French Revolution?” and his answer to André Malraux was “it’s too early to tell.” Most policymakers in the world are thunderstruck by what has happened in Iraq. Nobody is quite sure of the implications. There is a general sense that the rules of the game have changed.

The trend is towards what I call pragmatism. If you share a shrinking global village with an elephant that is getting bigger and bigger, it is your responsibility to step aside when the elephant comes towards you, because the elephant may not see you. He may not intend to trample on you, but he may not see you coming. And so, pragmatically, everyone is learning how to step aside.

It was also a surprise to many that the Security Council did not agree to the second Resolution in February 2003. The general working assumption everyone had was that when most countries finally had to decide whether to blink or not, most of them would have blinked and gone along. But, surprisingly, that did not happen.

Subsequent to that, those states which did not endorse a second Resolution have quietly also begun to change their positions. I cannot, because of diplomatic niceties, mention country by country, but the signals that are coming from all the capitals is “we no longer want to confront the United States on this issue.”

Everybody is caught in a fog of ambiguity, not knowing which rules of the past prevail and what the new rules are.

QUESTION: Economics is one factor that has not been examined properly. The United States, even though it is allegedly the most powerful country in the world economically and militarily, has a countervailing force over its head, that its debt with the capital markets of the world is $8 trillion, $3 trillion in addition to the balance-of-payments debt.

This forces the United States to act in a multi manner and not a singular, because the U.S. always has been dependent on foreign investments. If you look at the percentage of the Treasury instruments that the Japanese hold, this is a force that the United States is either oblivious to or doesn’t want to view.

DAVID MALONE: You are absolutely right. My Canadian compatriot, Michael Ignatieff, who is a terrific thinker about all of these issues, has developed the metaphor of Washington as the new Imperial Rome.

But there is a big difference: Rome could tax all of the known world at the time to pay for its imperialism. The U.S. cannot tax the whole world to pay for its own military adventures, particularly when they are being carried out against the wishes of much of the world. That is where the failure of U.S. diplomacy does matter very much.

The decision makers in Washington, many of whom are fired by ideological zeal, are not very worried about the financial angle. It has been interesting watching the civilian ideologues and others in Washington, how single-minded they have been in pursuing their agenda on Iraq.

Ideological zeal is a huge asset. The hawks in Washington have clear projects and, damn the torpedoes, they will implement them. Liberals have brunch, and it isn’t getting them anywhere.

If one wishes to challenge the hawks, one would need to come up with a schema that was at least as attractive as theirs. The liberal community has failed to do so. It has analyzed what the hawks are up to down to a fine point and criticized them with great elegance in places like the New York Review of Books. But it has not come up with any alternative vision to offer the American people or even a number of important international players.

KISHORE MAHBUBANI: American power today is unique in its multidimensional character. Now the U.S. military spends more on defense than all the other militaries of the world combined.

On the economic front, you are right that the United States may be an indebted country, but most countries of the world with reserves have no viable alternative but to park them in U.S. Treasury bills.

More importantly, if a country gets into trouble anywhere, it has to go to the IMF for assistance, and the IMF has at least one deciding vote, the U.S.

QUESTION: The U.S. claims that it wants to bring democracy to Iraq and to the other Middle Eastern countries.

How is a country like Turkey to behave? It is supposed to be democratic, but the U.S. is not happy when Turkey votes against it.

DAVID MALONE: One thing that the Turks must do for themselves is to manage their economy better to avoid being at the mercy of the IMF and Washington.

The way the Turkish political elites, together with the armed forces, have run the show for a number of years, is highly reliant on terrible economic management.

In the Middle East there are many important countries, but Turkey has a unique role in the region, as a country that straddles into Europe, as a nation that is a member of NATO, that has traditionally good relations with Israel as well as with most Arab countries.

Turkey can be tremendously useful, not just to the U.S., but to Europe, to the Arab world. It is a country that can intermediate and interpret many countries to each other. I hope that this is a role that Turkey comes to play in years ahead. The change of government in Turkey may be a good thing, because the new government may be more inclined to play this interpretive, bridging role than some of the former governments.

KISHORE MAHBUBANI: The war was quite unpopular not just in Turkey, but also in the United Kingdom, in Spain, in Japan, in South Korea. However these governments decided to go along with the United States.

This tension creates an additional problem for policymakers. If they try to do the rational thing for their national interests vis-à-vis the U.S., they will always try in one way or another to go along with the U.S. But at the same time, to retain power they must be sensitive to the wishes of their own populations. This is especially true of the Islamic countries and Islamic ground where there is a lot of unhappiness about what is happening.

I suspect that most governments will, in one way or another, find some pragmatic solution to cope with this. For example, take the case of Indonesia, Singapore’s neighbor with 220 million people. The Government had no choice but to make statements critical of the war. At the same time, the Indonesian Government in its various other actions made sure that, for example, all Americans were protected in Indonesia, American investments were protected. All the other links to America were also protected.

QUESTION: First, is this Administration, with all its protection in the world, an aberration, or an exception? Yet Bush, too, will have to deal with the economy.

Secondly, what do we know about Iraq? Will Iraq be the only case to divide the European Union? I don’t think we will see other Iraq’s.

SHEPARD FORMAN: On the first point, one of the arguments in the first volume on multilateralism and U.S. foreign policy, where the history of U.S. engagement multilaterally is traced, is that the United States has always been ambivalent about its multilateral engagement. It does not want to be tied down by laws and formal institutions that will constrain its ability to act.

What we are seeing at the moment is not an Administration that is acting more unilaterally. We would be hard pressed to demonstrate that the Bush Administration is acting more unilaterally in some areas than Clinton did—for example, North Korea, the Middle East, for one, where the Clinton Administration preferred singular and exclusive action, unlike the present Administration.

What marks this Administration is the style, the posture, and the language that it uses, and the vehemence with which it states its positions. We are seeing a reaction as much to that as we are to the facts of its actual behavior.

KISHORE MAHBUBANI: I both disagree and agree with you.

Where I disagree with you is your belief that what has happened is just a temporary four-year aberration. Something much more profound has taken place. The relative shift of power now is of such an extreme nature that it is something we haven’t seen for a long time. Shifts of power affect the international fabric. Whatever Administration comes next year, things still will have changed significantly.

I agree with you when you say that there may not necessarily be any more Iraqs. The United States is aware that you need to have some degree of international support for whatever you are doing. That is why they mentioned the seventeen Security Council Resolutions as justification. There are very few other countries in the world that have seventeen Security Council Resolutions behind them that we can attach to. It will not be so easy to move beyond Iraq to other countries.

DAVID MALONE: You are probably right that the economy will be a constraint. But the American economy is inherently dynamic. We have seen tremendous economic crises in the United States in the past and the ability to recover from them, unlike many other places.

It may well be that this post-colonial adventure in Iraq will cause great grief to the United States. But in a way this goes to my central point: is our only approach to want the United States to fail in a number of ways, or do we have more positive ideas about how we think the U.S. might be with other countries running the world?

One of the sad things about the position the Security Council left itself in at the end of the disagreement is that many of them were disappointed that the U.S. did not fail in Iraq, and are now hoping that there will be lots of trouble in the post-colonial adventure. This is extremely unattractive.

I am optimistic about Europe. Its economic achievements are enormous. But will it be able to build a common foreign policy, with Britain and France having the instincts they do and which were so clear during the Iraq crisis, and with all the new Member States? How will it be possible to establish coherence unless the big countries are prepared to submerge their foreign policy identities into something common? That is the big challenge for Europe.

And it is not something that the smaller countries in Europe can do anything about. It either will come from the large countries realizing that their approach leads to failure for Europe, or they will carry on behaving the way they have been behaving.

JOANNE MYERS: I thank all of you for a very constructive and thought-provoking discussion.

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