JOANNE MYERS: Good morning. I’m Joanne Myers, Director of Public Affairs Programs. On behalf of the Carnegie Council, I would like to welcome our members, guests, and C-SPAN’s BookTV to our breakfast this morning.
Today it is a great pleasure to welcome Josef Joffe, author of Überpower: The Imperial Temptation of America. His book will be available for you to purchase at the end of the hour today.
If you have spent any time in a bookstore recently, I am sure you were struck by the plethora of books lining the shelves on the subject of American empire. Some of these books speak of America’s arrogance and its perceived imperial expansion, while others talk, with an intensity and even glee, about our decline on the world stage. So when a book surfaces with a title that may seem to imply superpower status, but in the end is less about imperial overreach and more about the dilemma of being the mightiest power since Ancient Rome, it should compel our attention, especially if, as in this case, the author is a true Atlanticist who not only knows the United States well, but is also an admirer who is sympathetic to American policies and culture.
In Überpower, our guest this morning eloquently talks about America’s role in the world and offers not criticism but advice on how Washington can better handle its predominant position as the world’s superpower, now that the simple but unbending rules of the Cold War have vanished with the collapse of the Soviet Union. Dr. Joffe investigates the worldwide rise of anti-Americanism, especially that coming from Europe, and talks about how America is often used as a negative political symbol for self-serving politicians. He ponders what this means for long-term U.S. strategic planning and proposes a solution for our current foreign policy dilemma. He reminds us of our unique strengths and capabilities, whether they are military, economic, technological, or cultural, and, to this end, sees broad American power as a source of great potential good, capable of guaranteeing security by taking on dangerous tasks beyond the means of other nations.
Josef Joffe is a prolific international relations analyst, who also happens to be the editor and publisher of Germany’s most seriously weekly, Die Zeit. He is often cited as one of the most respected pro-American European intellectuals today. Therefore, it is not surprising that he notes as his major areas of interest U.S. foreign policy and European-American relations. His articles about these topics often appear in such illustrious publications as Foreign Affairs, Foreign Policy, and The National Interest.
In addition, he recently became one of the cofounders of a new publication on foreign policy issues called The American Interest. I know we can look forward to seeing his articles in this journal as well.
Most of us know by now that Dr. Joffe is a widely acclaimed writer, but what you may not know is that he also has an illustrious career as an academic. He has taught at Johns Hopkins, Harvard, and Princeton’s Woodrow Wilson School, and most recently at Stanford, where he was a fellow at the Hoover Institution and the Freeman Spogli Institute for International Studies.
Dr. Joffe arrived in New York just a few days ago from his home in Munich. I am confident that in crossing the Atlantic, he has brought with him the ideas to enact the sea change that our country so desperately needs at this time.
Please join me in giving a very warm welcome to our guest, Josef Joffe.
JOSEF JOFFE: Thank you.
How do you talk about U.S. foreign policy at 8:00 in the morning, in America, and if you love, as I do, American culture so much? You reduce it to a few Hollywood lines. I would like to dedicate this talk this morning to two heroes. One is Spiderman—or, more precisely, Uncle Ben, who, when he was dying, whispered into Spiderman’s ear, "With great power comes great responsibility." The kid had just discovered that he was a superhero. The other line comes from Field of Dreams. It is, actually, its best-remembered line: "If you build it, they will come." Remember that. He was told by James Earl Jones, "If you build it, people will come."
What does that have to do with contemporary U.S. foreign policy? The first line, from Spiderman, is an exhortation: The mighty have to take care of more than their own interests, more than their own narrow self-interest. Number one has to look out not only for himself, but for the other kids.
The Field of Dreams model is not exhortation but what I would call supply-side diplomacy. "If you build it, they will come" means, if you offer it—if you build institutions, if you do for others—people will flock to you, and they will come all the way into the cornfields of Iowa. "If you build it, they will come" is just a shorthand for American diplomacy during its golden age—say, 1945 to 1975. That golden age was actually built on power breeding responsibility, which translated into a magnificent edifice of global and regional institutions built, maintained, financed, started by the United States. There is this whole alphabet soup of institutions—UN, IMF, NATO, OEEC (OEEC, the Organisation for European Economic Co-Operation, was better known as the Marshall Plan), the World Bank, GATT, the free trade agreement, plus a host of subsidiary alliances, like SEATO or ANZUS.
The moral of these acronyms is this: The United States built it, and they came, as James Earl Jones predicted, and they came because these institutions served American interests as much as they served the interests of others.
The golden age of American diplomacy had to do with institution building. The point about them was that they served America’s interests, along with those of others. You might call it "hard-hat altruism" or doing well by doing good.
Take the United Nations. It was supposed to take care of global security, which was good for the United States, as the global power, but also good for everybody else. The IMF was supposed to take care of parities and international liquidity—good for the United States because it had lots of stuff to sell after the war; good for the rest because they got the liquidity with which they could buy the stuff.
You can run through the list like that. But the basic point was always, "If you build it, they will come," and it will work because, as you take care of your own interests, you take care of those of others.
Something happened to this world which can be dated very precisely. That is Christmas Day 1991. That was when the hammer and sickle flag was hauled down for the last time from the Kremlin, and up went the red, blue, and white flag of Russia. That was a momentous moment, one of the very rare moments in international affairs, when the stage on which international politics unfolded was completely destroyed and rebuilt. That stage, the classic stage—bipolarity, dominated by two giants—was suddenly turned to unipolarity, because one of the giants had knocked himself out voluntarily. No war; it was a very peaceful moment. That’s why we didn’t notice what had happened.
But with one giant gone, only one was left standing. That was the United States of America. That is where my book starts. It devotes itself to two simple questions, very simple-minded questions: How did this rupture affect subsequent behavior on the part of the United States? What should that behavior be on this new stage, which we will call, roughly, a unipolar stage?
So after this Christmas Day of 1991, you have one giant gone, Gulliver unbound, left standing, Gulliver among the Lilliputians. The consequences were really enormous. On the previous stage, what had these two giants done? They had consistently countervailed each other, contained each other, constrained each other. They had systematically neutralized, devalued each other’s power. As the United States contained the Soviet Union, so did the Soviet Union contain the United States. A much overused simile of the Cold War was the two scorpions in the bottle: Whoever shoots first dies second. That explains the enormous stability of that bipolar world.
Now the red, white, and blue scorpion was free to roam the world. Suddenly, Gulliver was untied—hence, the imperial temptation, which is the subtitle of this book.
Let me just give you some illustrations of why I say that this consequence for American behavior was so enormous. For instance, would the United States have gone to war against Afghanistan after 9/11? Probably not. You have to remember that Afghanistan was very close to the underbelly of the Soviet Union. It was part of its sphere of influence. One of the rules of the Cold War bipolarity was that you don’t attack allies of your foe too closely to his core territory. Remember how cautiously the United States acted during the Soviet war in Afghanistan. Formally, the United States never did anything against the Soviets. It supplied the mujahideen with Stingers and stuff, trained them in secret, but it was all very cautious, very sub rosa.
Would the United States have gone into Iraq in 1991? I don’t think so, not if Soviet power were still intact. That was, again, too close to the underbelly of the Soviet Union. The same thing for Bush 43 and Iraq II.
So this was one consequence of Gulliver unbound. But now you might interject, "Hey, you can’t put all these wars—Iraq I, Iraq II, Afghanistan—in one drawer." I would gladly agree and say, yes, we have to make distinctions, because they are important for the rest of the argument. I will argue that Iraq I and Afghanistan were legitimate, not only in the sense of being legal under international law but legitimate in the wider sense: They were prosecuted with the consent, even cooperation, of large parts of the world. Iraq II, as we know, was not legitimate in that sense. You could argue endlessly about whether it was legal or not; legitimate is something else. Legitimate has to do with consents and others saying, "Hey, what you are doing is kind of right." It was not, for the United States and Britain, essentially, fought alone.
The case for legitimacy for Iraq I and Afghanistan is very simple. In Iraq I, Saddam Hussein had committed naked aggression, conquered another country. Afghanistan was the place that hosted al Qaeda, which had committed the worst aggression on American territory since the Brits burned down the White House in 1812. There had not been any foreign powers in the United States ever since.
So these two wars were both legal and legitimate, under any kind of code. But not so Iraq II, if we look back. Was Saddam building nukes? No, he wasn’t. Was there a Baghdad connection in the international terror game? No. We always suspected that there wasn’t, and it has pretty much been confirmed.
So legitimacy as consent being absent, the United States had to fight it alone, and worse: Faced with this unchained number one, the world did what it always does, what it has always done in the history of international politics. If you are faced with a serious imbalance of power, you start balancing against it. You start to balance against number one, in order to constrain and contain him.
That was the price of America’s imperial temptation. Suddenly you are unleashed, the ropes are off, you don’t have any risks to fear, and you can start to try to remake the world.
But the price was higher still. Not only was there this resentment of the rest of the world, especially on the part of some of America’s old allies, France and Germany, who actually tried to trip up the United States on the way to Iraq II. Part two of this imperial temptation was, I would call it, psychological or ideological—this kind of irrational exuberance, you might call it, in the stock market. Not only could the United States, in sheer power terms, defeat any nation, whether singly or in combination, the United States could also remake them. That was the great ideological temptation.
So Bush 43 went Woodrow Wilson one better. Remember, Wilson wanted to make the world safe for democracy. He wanted to make it safe for those nations that were democratic. Bush 43 went one better. He wanted to make the world safe through democracy, turn the world into democracies.
So the ideology or the value system that grabbed hold of the first real post-Cold War strategic integration was a very old American penchant that goes back to the beginning of the republic, this idea that stability is not built on a balance of power and maneuvers and alliances and counter-alliances, in an ever-shifting manner, but in the way states are on the inside. The basic idea of American foreign policy forever and ever has been, only good states make good foreign policy. So if all states are good—i.e., democratic—the world will be good, too.
Bush, of course, didn’t invent this. This is a very old and respectable tradition in political philosophy, associated with the German philosopher Kant and the French—still the greatest observer of America—de Tocqueville, that democracies are inherently more peaceful than autocracies, and the more democratic the world, the more peaceful it will be.
I think it’s a good theory. It’s a very attractive theory. It has a ring to it. There is a kind of idea of moral progress in there. There is also experience which seems to confirm the democratic peace theory. Democracies don’t normally fight each other—to which we must add the Friedman theorem. You know the Tom Friedman theorem? It has nothing to do with Kant and de Tocqueville, but McDonald’s: No two nations that have McDonald’s on their soil have ever attacked each other—which is not true. When NATO attacked Serbia, there were lots of McDonald’s already there. But these are the exceptions that prove the rule.
There is something very attractive about it. But my point, on which I want to close, is that it leads you astray. It leads you to Iraq, which was not a strategic threat to the United States. It pushes you into the wrong war at the wrong time, at the wrong place.
Why do I say that? On the day when U.S. forces marched into Baghdad, back in Tehran—if they were allowed to do so—the champagne corks must have been popping (or the Muslim version, the orange juice corks.) They must have said, "Thank you, Great Satan, for three things:
"One, thank you for taking out our worst enemy to the west, Saddam Hussein, who had inflicted a murderous war on us in 1980, which cost us a million dead. Thank you, Great Satan, for wiping out this guy."
"Thank you, secondly, Great Satan, for lifting the yoke of Sunni oppression from our Shiite brethren, empowering the Shiite minority. There’s a natural kinship between us and them."
"And thank you, Allah," they must have said at this point, "for entangling the United States in the great insurgency war to come, which we can manipulate at will. We can play it like a piano." Which is exactly what they have been doing.
The consequences are pretty bitter. With U.S. power entangled in Iraq, it has left on a loose rein the one power that really was a threat to the United States. It was Iran that was building nukes. It was Iran that was sponsoring terrorism. It was Iran that had real—and has real—hegemony ambitions in the Middle East.
My point here is, if you have the wrong theory of international politics, you might make very serious mistakes in your foreign policy.
I think, like the one in 1812, this war was a foolish war, but for the reason that it has not served American power and position in the world. Let me put it this way: Never before has any nation been so powerful in the international system, in economic, strategic, and cultural terms, as the United States, but never has its legitimacy been so weak. There is a vast gap between power and legitimacy that ought to be closed promptly.
How? Here are my two answers:
- Think strategically, not ideologically. Think more realpolitik.
- Second, as to legitimacy, think Uncle Ben in Spiderman and Field of Dreams. Go back to the golden age. Do not treat the Lilliputians with contempt. Don’t make them balance against you. Make them bond with you. Conduct foreign policy in such a manner that, as you pursue your own interests, you will also take care of those of others. Repair your alliances, rebuild institutions—in short, go back to the winning ticket of the Cold War, though I understand that the Cold War is no more. The Cold War energized a lot of that altruism that motivated American foreign policy in those days. I think the structural lesson still obtains.
I think the appropriate metaphor, in conclusion, is this: Don’t be a soloist. Don’t try to play every instrument yourself. Be the conductor. The conductor, it is true, has to work very hard, and he doesn’t make any beautiful noises. He just does this. But having the baton is a very important thing. By working hard, you manage to turn the quirks and vanities of the players of the symphony orchestra, and that is your own reward. It’s a very high reward. It’s called authority, legitimacy, and leadership. If you take care of others, they will follow.
Bush 43, by the way, had it right in the 2000 campaign. He said, "If we are a humble nation, they will be with us. If we are arrogant, they will dislike us." That was Bush 43, in the summer of 2000.
I would simply add that he was right. Ironically, he was right. There were a few things that happened afterwards, like 9/11.
But do for others and they will do for you. Doing well by doing good is the proper maxim for number one who wants to remain that.
Questions and Answers
QUESTION: About eight or ten years ago, you wrote an article in The New York Times magazine section that stressed the fascination with American culture and the adaptation of American culture by Europeans—Germans and so on—pretty broadly. From what I hear and see now, Europeans are so angry at the United States that they are almost rejecting anything to do with the United States. Clearly, there is a different tone in the European attitude towards the United States than there was back when you wrote the article. I wonder whether you feel that that is purely a matter of U.S. policy, and whether that’s something that can be repaired with a change in policy. To what extent is it deep enough so that we really have to concern ourselves with an ongoing change in attitude towards the U.S. position?
JOSEF JOFFE: It’s a central question, which one should talk very elaborately about. But I won’t. Let me just say this. When you go around the world, you are struck by how the world is becoming more American by the day. The world eats, drinks, listens to, views, dresses American. Any fad that is invented here will travel across the oceans almost immediately, and will be absorbed—skateboards, hip hop. If American kids start wearing their baseball caps sideways, they will wear them sideways. Young neo-Nazis in Germany use baseball bats as weapons the most American of instruments.
But the kid that wears, say, the Yankees baseball cap, first of all, doesn’t know what the Yankees are, presumably, nor does he know that the Yankees are from New York, nor does it signify any particular affection for America as such. It’s just a beautiful art nouveau logo which is cool enough to wear.
America builds and makes stuff and ideas and images and icons which seem to be uniquely fitted to the rest of the world. I would speculate that the reason is that America was the first universal nation. Who invented Hollywood? A bunch of Russian Jews such as Gelbfisz, later called Goldwyn, and Warner, and so on. A bunch of Russian Jews invented the American dream and exported it abroad.
But you have to understand the world in order to speak the language, so that you can project it to the rest of the world.
The point is, it has nothing to do with whether they like America, have any affection for America, admire America. It’s just one gigantic imitation effect. That’s the first and most important distinction I want to draw between imitation and affection. Imitation, yes; affection, no.
Is anti-Americanism worse now than it was then? The point is that anti-Americanism is as old as the American republic. If you go back to the early 18th century and look at what French and Germans and others had to say, the same language was being used. My favorite one is Talleyrand, the French foreign minister, who had escaped from the revolution. He spent some time in Philadelphia. He quipped, "This America—32 religions and only one dish to eat." That is the oldest attack on America there is: No culture, too much religion.
But the question, I think, is, can America do something by its behavior? Some. There is always anti-Americanism. It has to do with America as this engine of modernity that has rolled across the world for the last 250 years. I would think that if U.S. policy behaved in a more humble manner that takes care of others, or at least pretends to take care of others, that takes them seriously, or at least pretends to take them seriously—the Bushies didn’t even pretend to take people seriously, and this in a culture which is a very polite culture. American culture is much more polite than German culture or Scandinavian culture, what have you.
So I think just changing the tone and the style of American diplomacy—plus actually taking it seriously and working on multilateral solutions, on building coalitions, on building institutions—to do all the kind of stuff that they do in the Congress every day, which is to schmooze them, which is to talk to them, which is to have coalitions, vote together, give and take. It’s the classic American game of American domestic politics. If one went back to that, I think, the furor would decline drastically. It’s bad enough if I am very strong compared to the rest of you, but if I throw my weight around, it makes it worse, doesn’t it? Human affairs, right?
QUESTION: I wonder if you could refine a little more the relationship between European governments and the first Bush administration and the second one. When Condoleezza Rice became the secretary of state, the impression in the American press was that she had gone out of her way—or went some way, anyway—to improve American relations with European governments, and that they appreciated that, and that there was somehow some kind of closer relationship. Of course, in Germany itself, there is now Chancellor Merkel, who succeeded Chancellor Schröder, and supposedly German-U.S. relations—administrations, governments—are somewhat closer.
I wonder if you could refine your comment, and whether you think there is a significant difference in European-U.S. relations in the second term.
JOSEF JOFFE: Bush 43-B versus Bush 43-A.
QUESTION: Right, and over and above Iraq. Obviously, there is this tremendous tension. But there are so many other issues these days—Lebanon, Darfur, and so on.
JOSEF JOFFE: I’m glad you posed that question, because it’s a very important one. There is a change. The best yardstick is the transition between Schröder and Merkel. Schröder, if you want to exaggerate a little bit, almost tried to build an anti-American diplomatic alliance with the Russians, the Chinese, and the French. On the other hand, there is always much more to foreign policy than meets the eye. So while he kind of strode the world as a rhetorical enemy of the United States, in real terms he was probably the second-best ally in the Iraq II war—base rights, overflight rights, patrolling the Mediterranean with the German navy, protecting the bases, freeing American soldiers in Germany to go to Iraq. So there’s always more than meets the eye.
With Merkel, there is a kind of warmer language. She’s returning, rhetorically, the country back to its older Atlanticist tradition. But she is not just playing a "pretty please" game. I think the effect of the last five years, where the two sides have stared into the chasm of a rupturing alliance, has reenergized realism, where both sides kind of got off their high perches. Remember Rumsfeld declining, almost arrogantly, any European help in Afghanistan. Hey, we need those Europeans in Afghanistan. The Europeans, opposing rather than cooperating with the United States in Iraq, are realizing, hey, this terror thing is not just a 9/11 kind of Twin Tower thing, so we have to cooperate.
So the common interests that have tied these chunks of power—economic, cultural, and strategic power—together in the past are reasserting themselves. And I think that’s a good idea.
It’s one of the nice things about democracies: They do have a learning curve, which non-democracies, like Kim Jong-il, don’t seem to have. So three cheers for democracy.
QUESTION: Being in the UN Secretariat, I welcome your multilateralist message. But I also have a slight weakness for the Kantian perpetual peace, and I’m a bit worried that you might be throwing a quite important baby out with the bathwater of the Iraq war.
The idea of spreading democracy is not bad in itself. The idea of spreading it to the Middle East might not even be so bad. There was something sick about the previous American policy, which really relied on some of the more unpleasant regimes in the world to look after its interests. It wasn’t, probably, a complete coincidence that fifteen of the nineteen on 9/11 were from Saudi Arabia.
You might say, well, did they just invade the wrong country? No, I don’t think that. But I do think that it’s naïve to suppose that you can spread democracy by force of arms. Maybe the fact that Germany is now a democracy, after being defeated in 1945, has something to do with that idea. Maybe it could have been done in 1991, when everybody was thinking about Saddam’s regime as an aggressive regime which had attacked two countries in short order and was clearly a menace on the international scene.
But for Rumsfeld to make an analogy, as he did in April 2003, between Iraq and Eastern Europe was, to my mind, obscene—I mean, "stuff happens". That sort of stuff didn’t happen in Eastern Europe, and the Eastern Europeans were not liberated by an American invasion.
So I would say the ends are not necessarily bad. The philosophy is not necessarily bad. It’s the means used which seem to me unacceptable.
JOSEF JOFFE: The point is well-taken. Nobody can quarrel with the theory that wants to replace cruel, oppressive, obscurantist regimes with the kind of regimes that we built after the Scottish-English Enlightenment, liberal democracy. On the moral plane, it’s hands-down. There is no way you cannot want that.
I think what we learned in Iraq and Afghanistan is that you can’t switch on democracy. Apparently, even when you bomb the hell out of Germany and Japan—you flatten the country so that they won’t even think about rising up against the American occupiers—you have flattened a country with a long liberal democratic and capitalist and market and rule-of-law tradition, right?
So I think it depends on what stage you send in your tanks. Apparently, at the late stage, like Germany or Japan, with a long history of modernization, it works better than Afghanistan and Iraq.
Point two is, there is something about the Third World and its stage of development which makes it very tough to impose your will from the outside. Let me give you one example. The French conquered Algeria in 1830 with about 30,000 men, and in 1962, they couldn’t hold it with 600,000 men. Somehow, the tradeoffs, the ratios between military power and political effect, have really worsened if you are a Western power. They turn against you. The second-best army [Israel] in the world—maybe even the best, man for man—and they were close-by; they didn’t come from afar—couldn’t do anything to change society in that little patch to the east of them that is four times the size of Dallas airport.
Finally, on a more practical level, we know what happens when we push democracy. You get Hamas and Hezbollah.
So what a crushing dilemma. Any politico faced with hanging in there with those potentates and despots, or getting Hezbollah or the Muslim Brotherhood or what have you—what would you do? What would your choice be? We are talking about the usual short run of policy, which is from today until tomorrow afternoon or until the next election. I don’t know how to deal with that dilemma.
QUESTION: I’m not sure that people want to hear a debate —
JOSEF JOFFE: I think they want to hear this.
QUESTION: Obviously, there has to be a short-term policy and a long-term policy. In theory, the long-term policy of the West was to promote democratic values worldwide. I didn’t see, really, much sign of that long-term policy being taken seriously by Western governments. It was not only the United States, by any means. My own country, Britain, I think, was mainly interested in getting arms contracts and other contracts from the same regimes, and playing along with the American policy.
I remember when they set up the Westminster Foundation, which is a pale imitation of the National Endowment for Democracy. I asked then, as I was then a free commentator like you and I could write in The Financial Times —
JOSEF JOFFE: It was much nicer, wasn’t it?
QUESTION: It was. I asked, what are you doing about democracy in Saudi Arabia? Of course, there was no answer.
Now we are where we are, and we have Hamas and Hezbollah. We clearly need a policy to deal with that.
But I don’t think we should lose sight of some of the longer-term questions. If you are going to promote democracy in a region like the Middle East, it means you are going to promote governments which are responsive to public opinion. Then you have to think whether your policies are likely to endear you to public opinion in those countries. That’s going to lead you to some thoughts about the country you just mentioned and the little area, however many times it is the size of Dallas airport.
QUESTION: First, I do think the democracy question is important. We tend to forget that Hitler was elected by popular vote.
JOSEF JOFFE: Plurality.
QUESTION: In a time when we have quite extreme views in Islamic and other countries, we are going to get people voted into office that are not very much in support of the United States.
But I’m interested in anti-Americanism in Europe. Could you give me one particular response? To what extent is Tony Blair’s stumbling a result of his American connections, and to what extent is it other things that were screened by the American connection?
JOSEF JOFFE: I’m not an expert on British domestics. I think that when the Blairs go down in this world, I wouldn’t, first, look at a particular policy which has brought him down. First of all, I would look at the most important variable in politics: time. The man has been in business for ten years. There is only one other politico in recent times who was in power longer. That was Helmut Kohl, who ruled for sixteen years. People just couldn’t stand the sight of him anymore. Half of Germany had not even been born when there was another chancellor. It was almost like living in Egypt, where Mubarak has been around forever. There is something about politics which tires out the people.
I think the second thing is—and it’s the oldest law in politics, again— the longer you’re in power, the more corruption, the more shenanigans, the more enrichment takes place. Power corrupts, as Lord Acton said.
I’m not so sure—but don’t take my word for it; I don’t have the public opinion figures with me—that the most important thing is taking the country into Iraq. I don’t think that there will be a rupture in British foreign policy after him, because that has been British foreign policy ever since they gave in to these young American upstarts—the Americans kicked them out of the Middle East in 1956, in a very brutal manner, under that mild-mannered president called Eisenhower—ever since the Brits decided that a close alliance with the United States serves their interests better than the French, which was the opposite tack, which was to kick America’s shin and to be an economy power that always wants to fly business, but doesn’t have the money to pay for an upgrade. [Laughter]
Is there anybody from the French consulate here? Je m’excuse. [Laughter]
QUESTION: I just wanted to ask you, in view of your excellent speech, what do you see as the role of the United Nations, if any? How could we strengthen the role of the United Nations, in your view?
JOSEF JOFFE: I think the United Nations is what it is. It’s 200 nations, from the tiniest like Vanuatu and Papua New Guinea to China, with 1.2 billion people. It is something that you would have to reinvent if it didn’t exist.
It’s a deeply flawed organization because of how it is composed. Everything they say about the United Nations is right: It’s a spoils system; it’s a quota system; it’s log rolling; it’s corrupt; it’s blah blah blah. Yet has anybody ever wanted to leave the United Nations? No.
The United Nations is like Switzerland in World War II—not very powerful, surrounded by stronger actors. But you needed Switzerland as a place where you could meet and talk. That’s what the United Nations does. It’s a very important organization. The moment we would abolish it, we would have to start rebuilding it.
Can it be improved? Yes. But that question you are going to have to ask of my colleague again—but not now.
QUESTION: How about the future? You spoke about the end of bipolarity in 1991. You are concentrating on überpower now. What about the future? Are we going to have a tripolar situation with the Europeans and the Asians, probably China, rising in power and counterbalancing the United States?
JOSEF JOFFE: I said the oldest law of international politics is that unbalanced power shall be balanced. The United States looms pretty large over the rest of the world. But at this point, in terms of raw economic or strategic power, it is uncontested—at this point. The United States spends as much on its defense as the rest of the world combined. But there is also the danger of overstretch. There is also the danger of a dollar that can come tumbling down on the United States and destroy the trade system in the process. There is also the problem of using power in such a way as in Iraq, which, on the one hand, is not legitimate, and on the other hand, doesn’t get what you want to get. That might breed a reaction in this country against the use of power in the future.
But having said that, I think the real question you are asking is, what about the real rising power, China? 1.3 billion people, nuclear weapons, 7 percent growth rates, in a competitive strategic relationship in the Pacific or with Taiwan. I would even go one worse: China is repeating another historical pattern of the 19th century, which you could observe in the case of rising Japan, rising Germany, and rising America.
The pattern is an old one. First you get rich, then you become rowdy. The United States suddenly got very rich and suddenly it grabbed Cuba and the Philippines. Remember the Philippines? McKinley said, "For three nights, I sat there and prayed whether we should take our little brown brethren in hand, and then I decide to take them in hand, uplift, and Christianize them," conveniently forgetting that they had been Christian for 400 years. [Laughter]
The Japanese industrialized and they became imperialists. The Germans started overtaking everybody else in the late 19th century in terms of growth rates, and started building a big navy, started tangling with the Brits, et cetera.
So there is that pattern—rich and rowdy.
The question is, is China going to do the same thing? I don’t see that pattern with the Chinese. They are being very subtle. They don’t want to tangle with number one. They understand American security interests. They play the game very subtly and—knock on wood—almost responsibly. The United States is playing the game much better with the Chinese than it did with the Japanese in the 1930s. It’s cooperating. It is opening its market for the Chinese. The Chinese have a powerful interest in not shutting down that market for the largest export surplus they have.
I guess the point is, nations are not like atoms or molecules. They have memories and they can learn from history. I think the Chinese policymakers must think about the late 19th century every day, as they get up in the morning, and say, "How do we avoid this as we become richer and richer and more powerful? How can we translate riches into influence without getting into war against the status-quo powers?"
So I am reasonably optimistic that in that particular case we won’t repeat history.
JOANNE MYERS: Thank you for sharing your perspective with us.