A New Type of Realism

 The form of realism that I am arguing for - call it the new unilateralism-is clear in its determination to self-consciously and confidently deploy American power in pursuit of those global ends.

 The form of realism that I am arguing for - call it the new unilateralism-is clear in its determination to self-consciously and confidently deploy American power in pursuit of those global ends. Note: global ends. There is a form of unilateralism that is devoted only to narrow American self-interest and it has a name too. It is called isolationism. Critics of the new unilateralism often confuse it with isolationism, because both are quite prepared to unashamedly exercise American power. But isolationists oppose America acting as a unipolar power, not because they disagree with the unilateral means but because they deem the ends far too broad. Isolationists would abandon the larger world and use American power exclusively for the narrowest of American interests: manning Fortress America by defending the American homeland and putting up barriers to trade and immigration. 

The new unilateralism defines American interests far beyond narrow self-defense. In particular, it identifies two other major interests, both global: extending the peace by maintaining democracy and preserving the peace by acting as balancer of last resort. Britain was the balancer in Europe, joining the weaker coalition against the stronger to create equilibrium. America's unique global power allows it to be the balancer in every region. We balanced Iraq by supporting its weaker neighbors in the Gulf War. We balance China by supporting the ring of smaller states at her periphery (from South Korea to Taiwan, even to Vietnam). Our role in the Balkans was essentially to create a microbalance: to support the weaker Bosnian Muslims against their more dominant ethnic neighbors, and subsequently to support the weaker Albanian Kosovars against the Serbs. 

Of course, both these tasks often advance American national interests as well.  The promotion of democracy multiplies the number of nations likely to be friendly to the United States, and regional equilibria produce stability that benefits a commercial republic like the United States. America's (intended) exertions on behalf of preemptive nonproliferation are clearly in the interest of both the United States and the international system as a whole. 

Critics find this paradoxical: acting unilaterally but for global ends. Why paradoxical? One can hardly argue that depriving Saddam (and potentially, terrorists) of wmd is not a global end. Unilateralism may be required to pursue this end. We may be left isolated by so doing, but we would be acting nevertheless in the name of global interests-larger than narrow American self-interest and larger, too, than the narrowly perceived self-interest of smaller, weaker powers (even great powers) that dare not confront the rising threat.

What is that larger interest? Most broadly defined, it is maintaining a stable, open and functioning unipolar system. Liberal internationalists disdain that goal as too selfish, as it makes paramount the preservation of both American power and independence. Isolationists reject the goal as too selfless, for defining American interests broadly and thus too generously.

A third critique comes from what might be called pragmatic realists, who see the new unilateralism I have outlined as hubristic, and whose objections are practical. They are prepared to engage in a pragmatic multilateralism. They value great power concert. They seek Security Council support not because it confers any moral authority, but because it spreads risk. In their view, a single hegemon risks far more violent resentment than would a power that consistently acts as primus inter pares sharing rule-making functions with others. 

I have my doubts. The United States made an extraordinary effort in the Gulf War to get UN support, share decision-making, assemble a coalition and, as we have seen, deny itself the fruits of victory in order to honor coalition goals. Did that diminish the anti-American feeling in the region? Did it garner support for subsequent Iraq policy dictated by the original acquiesce to the coalition? The attacks of September 11 were planned during the Clinton Administration, an administration that made a fetish of consultation and did its utmost to subordinate American hegemony and smother unipolarity. The resentments were hardly assuaged. Why? Because the extremist rage against the United States is engendered by the very structure of the international system, not by the details of our management of it.

Pragmatic realists also value international support, again not for moral reasons, but in the interest of sharing burdens, on the theory that sharing decision-making enlists others in our own hegemonic enterprise and make things less costly. If you are too vigorous asserting yourself in the immediate short-term, they argue, you are likely to injure yourself in the long-term when you encounter problems that require the full cooperation of other partners such as counterterrorism. . . . 

If the concern about the new unilateralism is that American assertiveness be judiciously rationed, and that one needs to think long-term, it is hard to disagree. One does not go it alone or dictate terms on every issue. On some issues such as membership in and support of the WTO, where the long-term benefit both to the American national interest and global interests is demonstrable, one might willingly constrict sovereignty. But on matters of supreme interest-national security, war-making and freedom of action in the deployment of power-America should neither defer nor contract out decision-making, particularly when the concessions involve permanent structural constrictions such as those imposed by an International Criminal Court. No need to act the superpower in East Timor or Bosnia. But there is a need to do so in Afghanistan and in Iraq. No need to act the superpower on steel tariffs . But there is a need to do so on missile defense.