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Patten vs. Perle: Is the U.S. a Unilateralist Hegemon?     Print Email

A debate on the State of the Euro-Atlantic Partnership was held at a meeting of the European Group of the Trilateral Commission in Prague on October 18-20, 2002. The lead speakers were Chris Patten, member of the European Commission for External Relations and a frequent critic of U.S. policies under President George Bush, and the equally outspoken Richard Perle, Chairman of the U.S. Defense Policy Board and a consultant to Donald Rumsfeld, the U.S. Secretary of Defense. The following are edited excerpts of the debate. Mr. Patten starts by urging the United States to continue on the multilateralist path it has followed since World War II; but he worries that influential neo-conservatives in Washington are putting U.S. national interests first and are not really interested in a multilateral order governed by the rule of law.

Mr. Perle delivers a sharp response in which he suggests that Europeans do not fully understand the effect on Americans of the terrorist attacks of September 11, questions whether the use of force should always be a last resort, but insists that the United States always prefers to act with partners and allies if possible. Mr. Patten wraps up the debate with a warning that the United States is causing a great deal of resentment around the world. But he nevertheless remains confident that America will continue to be the first great superpower to give the world beneficent leadership.

We May Face a "Clash of Civilizations"

Chris Patten: What makes this such an interesting and important time in history is that three issues have come together at pretty much the same moment. Firstly, there is the question of how the rest of us deal with the United States, and how the United States deals with the rest of us.

America is not just a superpower, it is, as the former U.S. Ambassador in London Ray Sykes pointed out, a super-dooper power. It is powerful militarily, it is powerful technologically, it is powerful economically. It has a global cultural impact and reach, its universities are magnets for the world's young. We have to ask ourselves: does this potent hegemon, to use a Chinese phrase, want partners and allies, or does it just want followers?

Secondly, I think that we are at a juncture in international affairs when there is a real danger that the clash of civilizations forecast by Professor Sam Huntington of Harvard University may become reality. The gulf between the Islamic world and Europe and North America is deeply troubling; the degree of antipathy in the Islamic world to the West is very worrying.

Of course, hatred of America is wholly, wholly unjustified. But if I were an American I would not necessarily feel that it could be best dealt with by bombing the haters. I have always been rather skeptical about the proposition that military action in the Gulf is the best way of making the whole region more moderate, and a believer in Jeffersonian democracy.

The third issue is how to deal with new challenges to international governance and the rule of law. Henry Kissinger has reminded us that, since the Treaty of Westphalia in 1648, by and large international law has been based on the proposition that one state does not interfere in the affairs of another sovereign state, unless it is attacked.

But now three different sorts of intervention are suggested. First there was the speech that UN Secretary General Kofi Annan made about three years ago, in which he argued the case for humanitarian interventions - a recognition that people, as well as governments, had rights under the rule of law. That is what we were attempting to do during the Kosovo campaign.

Secondly, it is suggested that intervention should be justified when a particularly unpleasant regime has particularly unpleasant weapons - weapons of mass destruction. That, I think, is the justification being used at present in relation to Iraq. Thirdly, there is the proposition that we should intervene when a bad regime is using non-state actors - that is, terrorist organizations - to threaten another state.

In all these cases there are questions of context, of the scale of threat, and of the alternative options to the use of force. How can we determine these questions, if not wholly objectively at least in a way that commands the greatest international consent, if it is not by seeking to work through the United Nations?

Since World War II, American leadership has woven together two strands of policy largely associated with the names of President Harry Truman and General George C. Marshall - containment, on the one hand, and establishing an international rulebook, on the other. A rulebook and a set of institutions from the United Nations to the World Trade Organization have sought to sustain democracy, to open markets, and to uphold the rule of law.

By and large, that policy has worked spectacularly well. Compare the second half of the last century with the first half; compare the success of the leadership, which America gave us after World War II with what happened after World War I.

Three sentences from Marshall's speeches seem to be a pretty good intellectual infrastructure for the policies pursued by him and by the United States. They are, first: "A security policy is not a war policy." Second: "Our policy is not directed against any country, but against hunger, poverty, desperation and chaos." Third: "Democratic principles do not flourish on empty stomachs."

Now, applying these principles helps to make the world safer and more prosperous, not least for the United States. Those principles were applied through formal and through informal networks of international cooperation - it is what, very loosely, we all call multilateralism.

Of course the United States sometimes felt that it could not accept the rules by which everyone else wanted to play. We had arguments with the last U.S. administration - over anti-personnel landmines, for instance, and over the torture convention. But those arguments were by and large the exception, rather than the rule.

For some years now in the United States there has been a new, increasingly influential school of thought, of which Richard Perle has been a pellucid luminary. It is a school of thought that has challenged the liberal internationalism, and indeed the Realpolitik internationalism, of the first President Bush and of the post-Cold War years. This school of thought is made up of politicians, journalists and academics who thought that we should not trust former Soviet President Mikhail Gorbachev.

This school of thought argued passionately against negotiating strategic arms reductions and believed that we should identify China as America's next enemy. Indeed, it is a school of thought, which shows a dispiritingly pessimistic tendency to hunt for as many new enemies as possible. Some of its adherents think that America should prepare to fight five wars at the same time.

It is a school of thought that strongly opposed the Madrid and Oslo peace processes in the Middle East, and believed that former Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu was a wimp because he went along with some of those peace processes. Representatives of this school of thought argued in one or two cases that the Palestinians should be driven out of the West Bank. Above all, it is a school of thought which believes that any multilateralism undermines America's sovereignty and America's ability to stand up for its own interests. It has well-known, negative views on the Kyoto Protocol on global warming, on the recently lapsed Anti-Ballistic Missile treaty, on the new International Criminal Court, on the Small Arms Convention and on the Biological Warfare Convention.

The atrocities of September 11, 2001 seem to have convinced these distinguished unilateralists that they have been right all along. Now, I think we understand how those terrible events affected the American psyche and I think we should understand in Europe that, if anything, we fail to grasp the full impact of these atrocities on America. But are we wholly wrong to think that September 11 made international cooperation more important, not less? That September 11 should have made us realize that technological and military force do not and will not ever provide the whole answer if we want to live in a safer world?

It is interesting that that remains the view of the great majority of the American public. The recent Chicago Council on Foreign Relations survey of American and European public opinion makes it perfectly clear that outside the Beltway, in the main streets, Americans are just as multilateralist, just as supportive of the United Nations, just as supportive of working with the international community as they have ever been.

In the next few years we shall have to cope with a witch's brew of problems: the consequences of the revolt of the dispossessed; the fact that we live in a world where globalization has benefited most people but left well over a billion people behind, marooned in misery and poverty. We have to deal with the consequences of the revolt of the alienated, people who do not see the glittering prizes of the modern world in terms of freedom and the rule of the law, but see the brashness, the licentiousness and the greed of the modern world.

Alienation, a reversion for example to religious fundamentalism, seems to me to be a very human reaction to these circumstances - not least because poverty acquires a certain dignity if it can be recast as religious simplicity. But the issue, I believe, is not Islamic fundamentalism; the issue is religious fundamentalism. You only have to look at some of the Christian Evangelical websites to notice that.

We also have to deal with the consequences of the dark side of globalization - AIDS, drugs, international crime and environmental degradation. And we have to deal with the consequences of failed states. Most of the problems these days, as a distinguished member of the U.S. administration said recently, come from states that have failed, not from states that have conquered.

So how do we deal with these problems emerging from the swamp? Should America, as the only superpower, rely on its own strength and sovereignty, setting and imposing the rules but not necessarily being bound by them, in pursuit of its own national interest? But how should we define the national interest without talking about international cooperation? American citizens want prosperity and security. How, without international cooperation can you actually get those things?

A senior American official spoke recently about the contrast between the allegedly firm ground of the national interest and the interests of an illusory international community. Try defining that allegedly firm ground of the national interest, and for your next trick try nailing jelly to the ceiling. It is surely better for the United States, supported more energetically by Europe, to continue on a path laid down 50 years ago: that of trying to build a world empire without an emperor, a world where international rules set the parameters for the legitimate pursuit of national interests, but where the same laws apply to everyone - though admittedly the strong have more influence than the weak on their formulation and on their application.

Just as there is a tendency in Europe to define our Europeanness in terms of our hostility to the United States, so there is also a tendency in Europe to confuse European foreign policy with being critical of the United States. Former U.S. Secretary of State Madeleine Albright said that the United States was the "indispensable nation." I think that Europe and the United States represent the "indispensable partnership." But it is crucial for us in Europe to put more weight on our end of the rope if we are to be a serious player, if we are to be a serious counterweight and counterpart to the United States.

Now of course, that involves us doing more on the security front. The European Security and Defense Initiative (ESDI), alas, is still what Saint Thomas Aquinas called "an idea in the mind of God." We have not yet seen political leaders in Europe take on their electorates and argue for higher defense spending. Nobody supposes that we can match the United States, but we should be able to do at least a little bit more - so that, for example, we do not have to depend on America, or on rented planes from Ukraine, to airlift our armed forces. Equally, if we are to play to our strength, which is economic trade and aid, we have to take a lead; and we cannot take a lead in that debate unless we reform the Common Agricultural Policy.

Churchill once said that, "You need to have allies. But the problem about allies is they do tend to develop opinions of their own." We have opinions in Europe, and they are opinions that are strongly rooted in a commitment to multilateralism. But if our opinions are to be taken more seriously then we have to be a lot more serious about the role we are prepared to play in the world - not with a single foreign and security policy (I do not think we shall see that in the near future) but a more effective common foreign and security policy, moving from rhetoric to action.

Chris Patten is European Commissioner for External Relations. He was Governor of Hong Kong from 1992 to 1997, and has held numerous positions in the British Government. Richard Perle is Chairman of the Defense Policy Board at the U.S. Department of Defense and a Resident Scholar at the American Enterprise Institute. He served as Assistant Secretary of Defense for international security policy during the Reagan administration.

Richard Perle: Chris Patten began with the question: "Does the United States want partners and allies, or only followers?" That is an easy question to answer: we want partners and allies. We cannot always find partners and allies for the enterprises that we consider vital to our national security interests. But the idea that we have a preference for acting without partners or allies is simply wrong. I know of no instance in which we have preferred, or there has been a serious argument that we would prefer, acting without partners or allies.

Chris Patten referred to the "clash of civilizations," almost as though the United States were somehow responsible for it. I very much hope that such a clash can be avoided - there is nothing inevitable about it.

It was partly out of apprehension that we might slide into a clash of civilizations that I and others in the United States believed it was essential that we intervene in Bosnia at a time when Muslims were the victims of mass murder approaching genocide. And it may be recalled that the American approach, which was admittedly rather more half-hearted than one would have wished, was rebuffed by Europeans who preferred first not to get involved and then, when they did get involved, not to act in a sufficiently robust way.

As for the Treaty of Westphalia, it is ironic that an official of an organization that is in the process of shedding sovereignty should invoke a treaty of which the essence was recognition of the sovereign state as the fundamental building block of the international community. New concepts of sovereignty, as we see in the European Union, often lead Europeans to believe that only collective action is legitimate.

There is a confusion, however, between the charge of American unilateralism on the one hand, and the belief that only multilateral institutions can confer legitimacy, especially when the issue is the resort to force. There are indeed alternatives to the use of force, and by and large they are to be preferred. But this easily slides into the cliche that we hear all the time, that force must be a last resort.

In the case of Europe it is often not even the last resort, because there is no capacity to apply force. This inability to act leads easily to an abhorrence of action. We are not so constrained in our ability to act, and that is perhaps why we consider action in the face of threats to our security rather more readily.

But I want to raise this question of the notion that force must always be a last resort. What do we mean by a last resort? Do we mean that force must only be used after we have applied political and economic measures, sanctions against Iraq, for example, or sanctions in the case of the former Yugoslavia? Did we save lives or improve the security of Europeans by imposing feeble sanctions on Bosnia - which in that particular instance prevented the victim from defending itself?

Have we improved our situation or dealt effectively with Saddam Hussein by imposing sanctions that I think a great many people would recognize have in many ways strengthened Saddam within his own country? The question of the appropriate time and circumstances to use force has to be approached with greater sophistication than the cliche that it must always be the last resort.

Sometimes the timely use of force may forestall a great many dangerous consequences and may avoid a prolonged period in which a situation, far from getting better, actually gets worse. So I would hope that disparagement of the use of force would take account of the real world in which we are living. There are sometimes situations that can only be dealt with effectively by the use of force, and if that can be reasonably anticipated at the outset, it seems to me foolish, dangerous and costly to indulge in a prolonged period of ineffective political and economic measures.

Chris Patten says, "We must work through the United Nations," but I am very troubled by the idea that the United Nations is the sole legitimizing institution when it comes to the use of force. Why the United Nations? Is the United Nations better able to confirm legitimacy than, say, a coalition of liberal democracies? Does the addition of UN members like China or Syria, for example, add legitimacy to what otherwise might be the collective policy of countries that share our values? I do not think so. It is a dangerous trend to consider that the United Nations, a weak institution at best, including a very large number of nasty regimes, is somehow better able to confirm legitimacy than other institutions like the European Union or NATO.

NATO has every capacity to become a legitimizing international institution with respect to the use of force, because it is composed of liberal democracies that have exhibited since its inception an absence of self-aggrandisement and a responsible effort to bring about peace and stability. Why should not NATO be as legitimate as the United Nations, which happens to contain a lot of dictatorships?

Chris Patten puts a great deal of stock in containment and the rulebook, and there are situations in which containment is an entirely appropriate policy. We all wish that there was a rulebook to which everyone adhered. But there are those who break the rules, and containment is not always sufficient. Containment of the Soviet Union would have meant the continuing existence of the Soviet Union - are we not better off because we wound up with something other than containment?

The ideological and moral challenge to the Soviet Union that was characteristic of the Reagan administration took us beyond containment and recognized that containment alone was not an adequate response to the totalitarian Soviet Union. I think that was right. So sometimes we have to look beyond containment because it is not adequate. And if containment simply means that a country capable of doing great damage is left to prepare to do that damage, then I think we run unnecessary, foolish and imprudent risks. That will bring us in due course to an Iraqi situation.

General Marshall was right - a security policy is not a war policy - but I have to point out that it took a war policy to get to the point where he was able to make that statement. We had to fight World War II in order to make the transformation to the luxury of Marshall's principles.

Chris Patten refers to a new school of thought challenging some established notions in the United States. Here I have to say that a common mistake made by observers of American policy is to lump together people whose views in fact vary substantially.

I do not agree with everything that was entailed in Chris Patten's description of this new school, and I doubt that there is anyone in that school who would agree with everything he had to say. We should not have trusted Gorbachev? Well some of us thought that Gorbachev was trying to save the communist system, and we thought the world would be better off without the system and that Yeltsin, at least at a time, proposed a more fundamental challenge to a system that the world is well rid of.

Anti-arms control? I negotiated some of the agreements that we entered into in the Cold War and the debate was never between those who were for and against arms control. It was always between those who believed that arms control agreements should serve a security purpose and those who developed an interest in arms control agreements for their own sake. It might be worth some time looking back at the history of arms control agreements in the Cold War. We now know that the Soviet Union had 50,000 nuclear weapons, 20,000 more than we thought at the time, and that they hid far more weapons than were ever subject to limitation in the course of arms control negotiations.

China is the next enemy? I do not believe that. Whether China turns out to be an enemy will depend on decisions yet to be made in China. But there is certainly no reason automatically to expect that China will be an enemy. Opposed to Oslo? I do not think anyone can say that Oslo had a very happy ending - it led ultimately to Camp David and we saw the failure that occurred there.

The idea that there is a group of people that believes that any multilateralism is hostile to American interests is simply wrong. We hear it all the time and the repetition of it only confuses matters. I do not know anyone who would agree with it, including adherents to the school of thought to which Chris Patten referred.

Chris Patten says, "The problem is religious fundamentalism . . . Look at the Christian evangelicals." I am not very sympathetic to fundamentalism of any sort, but the Christian fundamentalists at least, insofar as I am aware, are not killing civilians around the world. We have to face the unfortunate fact that the terrorism the world is now experiencing is driven by religious fanatics, driven by a vision of Islam that is certainly not mainstream Islam, but is Islamic in origin.

As for the suggestion that, "defining the national interest is like nailing jelly to the ceiling" - well it is not that difficult. The American interest is in a peaceful world, a world in which we can do the things we do best, which have to do with trade and the development of technology, a world in which we can export and import and in which we are not threatened. That is probably a reasonable definition of the national interest for most countries.

Then we have the suggestion that the laws must apply to everyone, as though the United States was lawless and did not believe that laws should apply to it. But it is not easy to point to examples in which the United States has acted outside the law. Even the contemplated military action in Iraq, were it to take place, would be entirely within the structure of international law. Article 51 of the UN Charter, for example, acknowledges, does not confer but acknowledges, the right of self defense.

In any case, in the special situation of Iraq we are dealing with violations of a ceasefire - and on this international law is very clear. Ceasefires cease to exist when they are contingent upon the behavior of the parties agreeing to them, and that behavior is not forthcoming. That should be clear to everyone, even to the United Nations and to the European Union. If it is not clear, the reason is because there is a lack of will and resolve on the part of the United Nations to enforce its own resolutions, and on the part of the European Union to back the United Nations in supporting its own resolutions.

President Bush was right to challenge the United Nations to take its own declarations seriously. The United Nations is in grave danger of going the way of the League of Nations, by failing to rise to an obvious challenge. When Iraq expelled the UN weapons inspectors and violated a dozen different UN resolutions, the response of the international community was to do nothing. Now we hear that we have to give Saddam a last chance. How many last chances are we going to give him? How many last chances is the United Nations going to offer to someone who is so obviously in violation of every one of its declarations.

We accept that the laws apply to us as well. But we have to recognize that international law is weak - it is not as fully developed as law within civil societies. There are no enforcement mechanisms that you can rely upon and it is the product of nations some of which are themselves law-breakers. It has its uses, but it has its limitations, too. To pretend otherwise would be a great mistake.

Some people admit that the United Nations is imperfect - but say that it is the only one we have got. But it seems to me that if you have a fire extinguisher that you know will not work, you do not approach a fire with it because it is the only one you have got - you find another way to put out the fire. The United Nations has its role and its purposes, but the mistake is in relying on it to do things that it cannot do.

Chris Patten referred to a tendency to define Europe in terms of its hostility to the United States. I am afraid there is a lot of truth in that and I would ask whether that is a healthy thing. He then wondered, in passing, whether Europe could be a serious counterweight to the United States. He began by asking whether we wanted friends and allies, or followers. Well, the concept of a counterweight suggests opposition; that Europe needs somehow to limit, to restrain the United States. That is not my idea of an ally - but it is a deep underlying theme in European thinking.

Let me turn to unilateralism and self defense. Clearly the most difficult issue straining the relationship between the United States and much of the world has to do with the American attitude towards Iraq. The charge is that if we were to act militarily, we would be acting in a unilateral manner. But everyone recognizes the right of self defense.

The question then becomes: is the danger from Saddam Hussein to the United States of such imminence that we are justified in invoking the concept of self defense with respect to any military action that we might take? We need to reflect on the notion of imminence, because everyone would agree that if you are about to be attacked and you can forestall that attack by acting first, it is entirely legitimate to act first - especially if the action you fear might involve weapons of mass destruction. But we hear the argument that the threat is not imminent.

In 1981 the Israeli air force destroyed a French-supplied Iraqi nuclear reactor, not because it was about to produce a nuclear weapon but because the nuclear fuel was about to be inserted into the reactor, and once that had been done it would have been impossible to destroy the reactor without spreading radioactive material in a populated area.

So, the Israelis conducted a bitter and difficult debate over whether to act at that point. And they acted because had they not done so then, they would have been prevented from doing so later, and in due course - probably years later - nuclear material produced in that reactor would have been available to Saddam Hussein for the construction of a nuclear weapon. So what is an imminent threat? When is it appropriate to take action? Do you have to wait until the threat announces itself with an attack and possibly an attack on a massive scale?

As for the assertion that Europe well understands the impact of September 11 on American thinking, I do not think that is right. I do not think Europe understands it very well. One of the lessons of September 11 was that it is possible to wait too long. We waited too long to deal with Osama Bin Laden.

We knew what was going on in Afghanistan and that Osama Bin Laden was planning attacks on the United States. He had already carried out a number of attacks on the United States, the feeble American response to which was almost certainly an incitement to further attacks - resulting in September 11. What we did in Afghanistan after September 11 could have been done before September 11. So we do not want to repeat the mistake of waiting too long, which is what you are now observing in American thinking about Iraq.

It is not that we are lawless or unilateralist. I would be the first to concede that we are having trouble getting others to support us in this venture. I think that is a great shame and I think some countries that are failing to support us may not fully appreciate that - if we in the end act with only a small number of countries supporting us - one of the victims will be the very United Nations that they deem so important. If the United Nations cannot live up to the challenge, if it falls to coalitions of the willing to do so, the United Nations will marginalize itself and demonstrate its irrelevance.

When we talk about unilateralism, let us remember German unilateralism. How else should one interpret Chancellor Gerhard Schreoder's statement that Germany would not participate in action against Iraq, even if the United Nations conducted an operation? Is that not unilateralism? Or French unilateralism? There is plenty of unilateralism in the world, and no one much likes it. It would be a tragedy if the United States, in defending itself and in defending the common values of all of us, were driven to acting alone or almost alone.

Let me address the impression that the United States is above the law because we have rejected a number of agreements that have either been completed or are near completion, agreements of which there is broad approval in the international community. Part of the problem was that the "globalists" - multilateralists is not quite the right word - believed that the solution to some very difficult international problems was to get all the countries of the world to accept obligations in the form of treaties and conventions. The way to deal with an outlawed country was to get it to sign up to the same rules that would be adhered to by the non-outlaws.

There is another approach to these matters, which is to say that the non-outlaw countries might from time to time get together to deal with the outlaws, and not pretend that bringing them into a set of legal obligations is the right way to manage their behavior. So the "globalist" attitude developed in the last U.S. administration has been largely rejected by this administration.

When you look at some of the agreements that the United States has rejected, I am willing to bet that there are several that no head of state or government has read. Some of them are 500 or 600 pages long. They were negotiated over a decade or more by people beavering away in Geneva, or Vienna or elsewhere, without adult supervision.

Then, when they were brought forward and scrutinized, the new administration found them wanting. We found the Protocol to the Biological Weapons Convention utterly without a verification capacity; we found Kyoto sufficiently damaging to our economic interests that something better had to be done, which was a view shared by virtually the entire U.S. Congress. A less forthright administration might simply have handed Kyoto to the Congress rather than exhibiting the candor that President Bush did when he said that we could not accept it.

As for the landmine convention, the landmines that the United States uses are self-destructing - when they are no longer necessary for the military purpose for which they are deployed, they self-destruct. Those are not the landmines that are killing children and other innocent victims. The landmines that are killing children are the mines placed there by our adversaries, who some people wrongly think are going to be restrained by a set of rules.

We have to look at these questions in a more practical way. I think that, with careful scrutiny, we can justify the U.S. stand on each and every one of the agreements we have rejected. The question is really the quality of the agreements. It is not whether the United States is somehow in a category of lawlessness because we do not subscribe to the vision of a global set of regulations that lump together in a single arrangement both the liberal democracies that are protecting the values that are important to all of us, and the rogue state that challenges those fundamental values. Some of us think that there is a better way to deal with the world.

Chris Patten: I do not feel any bitterness about the United States. I happen to disagree with what some - not all - policy-makers in the United States have been saying and doing. As we all know, not everyone in the United States agrees with Richard Perle's view of the world. For me to express some criticisms does not suggest anti-American feeling - just that I agree with much of what an awful lot of Americans have to say.

Richard Perle is too modest in saying that there is "no new school of unilateralism" in Washington or in the United States. I have read what a number of influential advisors to the Vice President and the Secretary of Defense have been saying and writing at the American Enterprise Institute and at other think tanks over the years. But I do not think that I would be having exactly the same discussion with State Secretary Colin Powell. There are different traditions in the U.S. administration, and it is not surprising if Europe feels more committed to one of those traditions than to a newer one.

Does the United States obey international rules? Let me define terms: does the United States exist under the rule of law? Absolutely. Does the United States believe in due process? Absolutely. But what are we to make of extra-territorial legislation, such as the U.S. laws targeting foreign investors in Cuba, or Libya and Iran? There is an enthusiasm for extra-territorial legislation affecting European companies, but no American Congress would dream of allowing extra-territorial legislation to affect U.S. companies.

What are we to think when the leader of the U.S. negotiating team withdraws from talks on a new Small Arms Convention - designed to try to stop weapons entering countries like Sierra Leone and the Democratic Republic of the Congo - on the grounds that the convention would undermine an American citizen's constitutional right to bear arms?

I remain convinced that the "national interest" cannot be defined without referring to international cooperation. American citizens want prosperity and security. But you cannot have prosperity and security without working with other countries, whether through the United Nations or the World Trade Organization or in other ways.

When I used the word "counterweight" in talking about Europe's role in relation to the United States, I also said "counterpart." I would never express the ambition that Europe should become a superpower. That is a crazy ambition and an exceptionally old-fashioned way of looking at the world. There are places where we are now an effective counterpart to the United States - I hope we shall be at the Doha Round of multilateral trade negotiations.


There are European forces at the moment in ten UN peace-keeping operations around the world. We are working hard - but not as effectively as we would like - with the United States in Afghanistan. We are working in the Balkans, where I think we have managed, in at least that area, to demonstrate the credibility of a common foreign and security policy.

So in all those places we are a "counterpart." But there will be occasions when we shall need to be a "counterweight," when the United States and Europe do not agree, when Europe has to take responsibility for making multilateral solutions work. That is the case with the Kyoto Protocol. Europe also wants to make the International Criminal Court work. There is no point in us haranguing the United States about that, or simply shaking our fists. We have to be an effective counterweight and actually make that aspect of multilateralism work.

We are talking about a world in which we have to look at sovereignty in a new way. We have to justify humanitarian intervention, intervention to deal with weapons of mass destruction and intervention to deal with terrorism. But if you simply do it without any reference to existing institutions, existing rulebooks, what are you left with?

If we think it is simply right to intervene to deal with a state that has weapons of mass of destruction, and is perhaps helping terrorists, and we do it without any reference to the United Nations, what do we say to India? How do we stop the Indians bombing Islamabad? India has a state next door which has weapons of mass destruction and which is manifestly helping terrorists who are causing mayhem in parts of India.

If we cannot establish international rules through the United Nations, what else is there? And if the U.S. administration does not believe that, why has it gone to the United Nations over Iraq? I do not take the cynical view that President Bush made that remarkable speech in New York in September only because his domestic political advisors told him to.

I think there is a clear understanding in the United States that in order to do what it believes is necessary in Iraq, it needs the moral authority, the legitimizing factor that is provided by working through the United Nations. I have difficulty with working without the legitimating factor provided by the United Nations, imperfect though it is.

Of course, I do not think America is responsible for a clash of civilizations. Richard Perle mentioned U.S. intervention in Bosnia; he could also have mentioned U.S. intervention to save Muslim lives in Kosovo and U.S. intervention within an international alliance in the Gulf War to save lives in an Islamic country. I do, however, think that perceived American views on Israel and Palestine are one of the reasons for some of the hostility in the Islamic world to the United States, whether that is fair or not.

But what is the biggest, the biggest and most important example of American power and American authority? It is that America has been identified for decades above all with opportunity, freedom and democracy. If you are the world leader, and that reputation starts to fray at the edges, you can be in very serious trouble.

As well as producing very warm feelings about all those attributes, if you are Number One, you also produce a lot of jealousy and resentment. We want to stop that, and we want to stop a gulf opening up with the Islamic world because otherwise we shall all have an extremely disagreeable future.

I hope that Europe can work closely with the Unites States over Iraq and Korea. I hope we can make a success of Afghanistan, and I hope that we can have a more sensible debate about Iran. I hope that we shall be able, wherever possible, to cooperate multilaterally, but where we cannot, I hope that we in Europe will take our share of the responsibility. I am confident, nevertheless, that America will continue to give the world beneficent leadership and will be the first great superpower that has ever done that.


This article was published in European Affairs: Volume number IV, Issue number I in the Winter of 2003.

  • High Skills versus Family-Based Immigration Policy: Complex Considerations.

    By Nicholas Zill

    In the current era of rapid demographic and technological change, and massive refugee flows, there has been much debate in European nations and in the US about immigration policies. One of the major points of contention is whether preferences should be given to would-be entrants on the basis of their high skills (merit-based immigration) or their family ties to individuals already residing in the country (family reunification).

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UMD Jean Monnet Research Project

Infrastructure Planning and Financing: Lessons from Europe and the United States

The University of Maryland has received a Jean Monnet grant from the EU to conduct a series of policy exchanges between Europe and the US on filling infrastructure needs and the utility of public/private partnerships as the financing mechanism. If interested in participating in or receiving more information about these exchanges, please contact Rye McKenzie (

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New from the Bertelsmann Foundation

The Bertelsmann Foundation is an independent, nonpartisan and nonprofit think tank in Washington, DC with a transatlantic perspective on global challenges.

"Edge of a Precipice" by Nathan Crist

"Newpolitik" by Emily Hruban


Summer Course