Unilateralism vs. Multilateralism

In the December 17, 2003 issue of In The National Interest, Nikolas Gvosdev argues that part of the trick of useful diplomacy is to enhance the number of shareholders in any enterprise, using power to create consensus, which can then act as a force m

In the December 17, 2003 issue of In The National Interest, Nikolas Gvosdev argues that part of the trick of useful diplomacy is to enhance the number of shareholders in any enterprise, using power to create consensus, which can then act as a force multiplier. As usual, Gvosdev has a strong point. But the thesis that the Bush administration has somehow failed to pursue such shareholders is, I believe, faulty.

From my own experience over the past decade, I believe the debate is really between two realities. There are those who want to pretend such international consensus exists (and we just have to find it), who then end up having to paper over, ignore or otherwise sweep under the rug key differences in order to "get a deal". On the other hand, there are those who recognize the hard realities of an "international community" simply unwilling to deal with some tough and seemingly intractable issues.

Much of the current debate over Kyoto, Iraq, Iran and North Korea, for example, assumes a willing and ready coalition breathlessly waiting for American requests for help. Former Vermont governor Dean spent the better part of a recent "major foreign policy speech" extolling the virtues of seeking such help through the UN and NATO, as if the current administration hasn't spent an interminable amount of effort seeking help from just these two institutions. 

 It is true, for example, that everyone appeared to sign on to the Kyoto accord of climate change in the last decade, a deal the Bush administration rejected to the dismay of the multilateralists. But Kyoto was more pretend than reality. The US Senate voted 95-0 not even to bring the treaty up for discussion because some 150 countries with 4.5 billion people were not covered by its provisions. The Russians more recently have succinctly summed up the issue by noting the treaty would condemn their country to "poverty and backwardness" by dramatically restricting economic growth. Kyoto sounded so nice, the promise of its utopian vision too much to resist among the pampered elites in Old Europe, the United States and at the UN.

Iraq, Iran and North Korea have also brought the "international community" face to face with some serious and unpleasant realities. During the eight years of the Clinton administration, "pretend" arms control deals with North Korea failed to curtail its nuclear bomb making. In Iran, the mullahs were busy stockpiling plutonium, beginning the process of building nuclear weapons, while, in Iraq, Saddam repeatedly snookered UN inspectors about programs to develop chemical weapons and nukes. All three assisted, harbored and funded-both directly and indirectly-a terrorism campaign aimed at the West, and the United States in particular, that culminated in 9/11. Where was the much vaunted "international community"?

As William Bennett told a Heritage Foundation dinner audience late this year, the "international community" was simply unwilling to honestly confront these three problems. France and Germany had substantial economic and business ties with Iraq and was unwilling to put at risk its oil concessions. The European community as a whole-specifically western Europe-- had equally strong economic ties with Iran which it saw being placed in jeopardy should the IAEA get "tough" with Iran over its nuclear weapons programs. On Korea, the Clinton administration let itself be tricked by the roving diplomatic bandit, former President Carter, who brokered a deal directly with the North's dictator Kim, stealing out from under the American administration any possible chance of shuttering and eliminating the North Korean nuclear program.

Thus, while it may have appeared in the spring of 2001 that the "international community" was dealing with these three rogue states, the reality was that the "international community" had abdicated its responsibility in this area, relying primarily on a facile and hapless Clinton administration to do its work for it. In March 2002, for example, an Arab summit in Beirut welcomed the Iraqi delegate,  perfectly willing to paper over the crimes of the Ba'athist regime. Fouad Ajami said "reconciliation was in the air".

On Korea, the Chinese were busy playing a double game of simultaneously aiding the covert North Korean program, while expressing a principled belief in a nuclear free Korean peninsula - the very objective it had been busy undermining. As for the Clinton administration, it watched the transfer of missile technology from the US to China-and from there to Iran and North Korea-with condemnatory diplomatic cables not to the Chinese, but to the Israeli government officials who brought to our attention the illegal transfers of our technology in the first place.

The Clinton administration pursued a deal to sell advanced nuclear reactor technology to the PRC, a transfer of technology that required a good housekeeping seal of approval that Beijing was not and would not transfer or sell either missile or weapons technology to other countries. At the time, we were assured such was the case. Now, however, we have learned the Chinese promised only not to build a uranium enrichment facility in Iran, for example, but explicitly told the Clinton administration that the blueprints for such a facility-which the Chinese had-would be transferred to Iran. This is, of course, the facility the Iranians are now pursuing.

During the 1990s, the Republic of Korea's diplomatic posture on North Korea was not much better than that of the Chinese. Kim Dae Jung, the Korean President, had to bribe the government of North Korea for a summit; a "sunshine policy" was adopted that shined anything but sunshine on the North Korean terrorist state; and pro-North Korean groups were allowed to take root in the south that continually undermined the very idea of effective diplomacy with regard to the North.