June 14th, 2004
It has been clear for some time that at the moment the Atlantic relationship is diverging, very much like the diverging views exist on how we see a civilized and global society.
This is happening at a time when the economy of the United States is burdened with an unsustainable national and private debt, massive and unsustainable trade deficits. The social programs, health care and education are in deep trouble, while a massive drain on the treasury is taking place. With the passing of the present budget, the deficit will be pushed to about $ 400 billion or more, being 4 percent of the gross domestic product.
Looking back at the events of the last few months, we must ask ourselves is this the kind of world we wish to live in, is this a world where might is right, whereby we accept the doctrine that the United States determines if a country’s leader is to be changed. A world which is incapable of meeting the real challenges such as poverty, environment, Aids, obstacles to economic development and the spread of weapons of mass destruction.
Or, do we wish to live in a world based on international law and universal values.
The fact of the matter is that the US and its allies have occupied Iraq against the will of the international community, without any clear aggression by Iraq against the territory of another sovereign state. By doing so the United States has undermined the entire international system – its very underlying consensus based on mutual recognition of national sovereignty – by initiating the war against Iraq.
This was unprecedented since in today’s modern diplomatic system, the justification and legitimacy of wars and national self-determination all find its basis in the principle of mutual recognition of national sovereignty, which is the constitutional basis of the United Nations.
The last Gulf War was justified in terms of international norms by the fact that Iraq has invaded and annexed a sovereign state. Iraq was the aggressor and the attack was sovereign itself. Without that justification, UN backing and the coalition was not possible.
Domestic repression as seem in the case of Iraq is not a pertinent justification and neither are the possession of weapons of mass destruction, which still have to be found nor support for international terrorism, which still have to be proven – is sufficient to justify an direct attack on a sovereign state without a clear and present danger to one’s own sovereignty.
By doing so, the Bush administration has acted against universal law and the guiding principle of American democracy – the elevation of law over arbitrary power. This new pre-emptive strategy of the Bush administration can be compared with the pan-German expansionism of Wilhelm II, before 1914, unrealistic geopolitical ambitions and a pre-emptive strategy for dealing with opponents.
Bush is unleashing a class of civilizations; some others call it World War IV. That’s why I see the present US mentality more and more comparable to the imperial Germany mentality that made us a WW I, also as far as the mentality of the population is concerned, with the difference that, in the Germany of 1914 the social aspects was much more taken care of. Bismarck had already seen to that. Old age pensions, unemployment and health care were all at a much better level in the Germany of 1914 than in the present day in the US.
I believe that Bush can be best compared with Bethmann Hollweg, Reichskanzler of Preussen, while Rumsfeld reminds me Ernst Kaltenbrunner.
Hollweg followed the so-called Schieffen Plan to pre-emptively defeat Russia and attack France and created enemies faster than he could kill them. The same is presently being achieved by the Bush administration in the Muslim world. But like in ancient Rome, China and the British Empire, military pre-eminence is not a prerequisite for national security.
That is why the new strategy of the Bush administration is already compared with the pan-German expansionism of Wilhelm II, before 1914, unrealistic geopolitical ambitions and a pre-emptive strategy for dealing with opponents, but military pre-eminence is not a prerequisite for national security.
This direction the Bush administration has chosen is disturbing since during the last 50 years of treaty-based internationalism, we had coalitions grounded in institutions. The UN is based on a common set of values as laid down in the UN charter and the rule of International law.
The UN has contributed greatly to world peace and development, but it also has had its failures, the result has been half-perfect at best. But as the US and its allies will soon discover, the alternatives are much worse.
My view is that in the matter of Iraq, the United Nations would have become “irrelevant” if it had bowed to the demands of the United States. The fundamental principle of the UN charter sets forth in article 2, the fundamental principle of the member states “to refrain in their international relations from the threat or use of force against the territorial integrity or political independence of any state”. It would have violated its own charter.
The Bush’s assertion that “the Security Council has failed in its responsibilities” is at least disturbing. It presents the US as “some independent judge to the side pointing at some different entity”, a truly amazing statement. The attempted destruction of the UN, which is all the global governance we happen to have, shows the arrogance of the Bush administration.
However, the brave new world as seen by the neo-conservatives is like the Nebbesian world were American power opposes its choices to the world, where might is right and not the rule of law but the rule of the jungle are king.
I am not sure on which planet they live, because it isn’t mine.
The likes of Pearl, Wolfowitz, Cheney, Rumsfeld e.a. have the imposing ambition to remake the Middle East and to strip the UN from its political functions, since it’s interfering too much with the political decisions by the US.
The Bush administration envisages a world rested on America’s primacy, remaking the world in America’s image and run by the United Stated, backed by many states that will not interfere with it.
In this world allies are useful but not essential in protecting its global interest. It has stated this quite clearly, its intention is to maintain its overwhelming military advantage and want to prevent others from creating nuclear or other deterrent systems. Iran, Syria and North Korea are in line for regime change based on Pre-emptive strikes, but it has no legal basis to do this now by military means. Pre-emptive strike against North Korea is a terrifying concept.
It seems that in our world of today, the US administration doesn’t want no legal or institutional opposition from international institutions therefore the UN has to be made insignificant, which is the only obstacle for the Neo-conservatives looters of the world.
The message of the Bush administration is: We are the most powerful. We are also the most virtuous. And even if we are not, might makes right. Everyone else is either with us or against us.
The result of this disastrous US policy is that international institutions of our world order have suffered, it comes at a price of legitimizing war as an instrument of state policy something society has struggle against for centuries, ever since the treaty of Westphalia.
By attacking Iraq the US has swept away principles which have guided its foreign policy for more than 50 years, it has broken the rule ‘‘that democracies do not wage preventive wars’’ by doing what no other democratic state has done in the more than 200 years of the American nation’s existence.
This is unprecedented and is a fundamental change and it has damaged the reputation of the United States which was once seen as a benevolent power, is being perceived as having undermined and broken the same rules, values and institutions it was instrumental in establishing during the last 50 years.
The consequence is that America is now viewed by the world as a dangerous and unreliable partner, a country that will follow its own agenda regardless of the views and the interests of allies, no matter what the costs are.
Jack Straw the UK foreign secretary, warned “that we should all fear the consequences if America cast itself adrift in a Unipolar world”. It is my fear that for the Bush administration this has happened already.
This will ultimately lead to a new alignment in the world at large, with more weapons of mass destruction being developed or acquired by countries or terrorists organizations, since that is the only deterrence against the US imperial order.
The result of this is that we in Europe see cause to accelerate the building of our own European house. A strong Europe will enable us to spread our values and promote a better vision of world governance in which the problems of the world are addressed on multilaterism and the rule of international law.
The consequence of the US strategy based on US primacy and aggressive unilateral action is that we in Europe will have to re-examine the institutions such as NATO, EU, IMF, World Bank and even the World Trade Organization. The result will also be that EU will also use their combined economical might, including using the EURO instead of the US dollar and decrease our holdings in US treasury bills.
But for the time being and as long as the UN has universal membership and is recognized in international law as the sole authority that can legitimately authorize violence by one state against another it has become stronger. This represents a big problem for the Bush administration.
The US having acted in Iraq without international legitimacy will now have to cooperate with the members of the UN whereby agreement on the central role of the United Nations in Iraq is essential.
However it is also true that we have to reform the present institutions in order to have them meet the challenges of our world. This post-war moment will reshape our world for good or for ill, for years, maybe decades to come.
Today the US behaves as a 19th -century power – be it liberal imperialist or nationalist – of the kind once abhorred. My American friends must ask themselves whether this is the world they wish to inhibit.
William J J Houtzager