Getting to No

Getting to No

Mini Teaser: The limits of using international organizations to pursue U.S. foreign policy aims.

by Author(s): James M. GoldgeierSteven Weber

LAST DECEMBER the United States was presented with two breakthroughs, each poised to advance a key U.S. foreign policy priority: the promotion of democracy and nuclear non-proliferation. In Ukraine the "Orange Revolution" thwarted a corrupt government's efforts to use a fraudulent vote count to install a hand-picked successor and brought to power as president Viktor Yushchenko, a leader committed not only to democratic reform at home but to integrating Ukraine into the Euro-Atlantic community. Iran had agreed with the EU-3 (Britain, France and Germany) to suspend temporarily its uranium-enrichment activities during negotiations over its nuclear program.

One year later, however, the United States is worse off with respect to both Ukraine and Iran. Ukraine's government did not engage in the kind of reform effort the West had hoped to see, and the Orange coalition has fractured. Negotiations with Iran collapsed in late summer, with little prospect of a deal to place significant limits on its ability to develop and eventually deploy nuclear weapons.

It appeared at the beginning of 2005 that a key component of U.S. strategy in dealing both with Ukraine and Iran would be to use the incentive of membership in major international institutions as a way to bring about positive change. Accession to the World Trade Organization (WTO), and with it normalized diplomatic relations with the Western powers (particularly an end to remaining economic sanctions), was clearly of interest to Iran, while Ukraine hoped that a clear signal on its prospective membership in both the EU and NATO would give the government the credibility it needed to pursue difficult reforms at home. Given the significant financial resources that the United States has committed elsewhere to bring about change in other states' behavior, it made sense to use international organizations to help induce change in these two countries.

Ukraine and Iran are, of course, different from each another in many respects. Ukraine has had its democratic revolution and the possibilities are real for sustained reform of the political establishment, including greater pluralism and less corruption, as well as liberalization of the economy. Iran remains an oppressive theocracy with a highly uncertain future. But a point of commonality is that, at the end of 2004, leaders in both states indicated that integration of their countries into the Euro-Atlantic community and the global economy, respectively, was a top priority.

In the case of Iran, we simply don't know how strong was the desire for integration--but it would have been a useful test of Iran's strategic calculus to probe precisely that point. It is difficult enough to negotiate with an Iran that is a major state sponsor of terrorism and under its previous government sent mixed signals on how strong was its desire to pursue a nuclear weapons program. After its 2005 elections the new hard-line government led by President Mahmoud Ahmadinejad appears less susceptible to Western carrots. But the prospect of closer integration into the global economy was never adequately deployed as a negotiating point.

In the case of Ukraine, that desire for integration with the West was very strong, and in the first months of the Yushchenko Administration it seemed strong enough to encourage the government to undertake sweeping reforms. Unfortunately, because of its constitutional and budget crises, the EU's willingness to consider Ukraine as a possible member is an even more distant prospect than it was a year ago. In turn, this has put heightened pressure on NATO to develop its own accelerated timetable for membership. But NATO has put its enlargement policy largely on hold while the alliance tries to sort out what it might be able to accomplish in the broader Middle East. In both cases, there is now a real sense that the United States and its Western partners have few positive incentives to offer either Iran or Ukraine that can lead to desirable outcomes.

There is a broader issue of foreign policy strategy at stake here. While the United States has dramatically enhanced its deployment of sticks in the post-9/11 world, it has been less imaginative and successful in its use of carrots. Even an extraordinarily powerful country needs both as tools of foreign policy if it is going to get more of what it wants from the vast variety of states that it hopes to influence in different ways. Enhancing the capability and credibility of military force is important to U.S. influence abroad. But so is America's ability to offer to other states things that they say they want and need as an inducement for them to undertake a course of action that benefits U.S. strategic interests.

It is important to be clear that carrots are not some fuzzy manifestation of "soft power." They are not designed to make people like or admire America, feel good about the United States, or want for some other vague reasons to do what we wish. Carrots are concrete, material incentives that offer the promise of benefits to states that change their behavior in directions we desire. To promise an upside benefit to an adversary may require different diplomatic moves than threatening a downside risk, but the diplomacy is just as real and can in many instances be just as effective. Surely the combination of carrots and sticks is a more potent source of influence than either alone. But we've let our stock of carrots deteriorate while we've been overly focused on sharpening our sticks.

Certainly, there are times when carrots aren't appropriate--the United States is unlikely to gain influence over North Korea by offering membership in the WTO. But most U.S. foreign policy challenges--indeed, the lion's share--can be addressed by a deft and skillful changing of the mix of incentives and constraints for countries like Ukraine, Indonesia, Brazil or Venezuela so as to nudge and cajole such midlevel regimes to agree to U.S. objectives. In the long run, preventing more problems from migrating into the category where there are "no good options" (other than the prospect of military confrontation) is as important as dealing with those countries that already are on that list.

PROSPECTIVE membership in core international organizations is one of the most interesting carrots that the United States has available to encourage states to carry out military and economic reform, respect human rights and democratize. It is useful precisely because it can be relatively cheap for us to offer and at the same time quite valuable for the party on the other side of the table.

The power of prospective membership in leading international organizations to effect positive change was seen most clearly in the last decade in central and eastern Europe. Because both NATO and the EU held open the possibility of eventual membership, there were concrete incentives for political and business elites to press for change. Indeed, when leaders in central and eastern Europe were moving too slowly on certain reforms, the EU and NATO were there to hold their feet to the fire. It is important to recall that all of these countries had parliamentary and popular opposition to developing a market economy and pursuing military reform; they also had pockets of corruption and retrograde elements in the security apparatus. But the need to fulfill the institutional criteria--the acquis communautaire of the EU and NATO's Membership Action Plan (MAP), as well as the more general commitments to democracy, human rights and a market economy demanded by each organization--took a good deal of the political heat off the elected representatives who proposed reforms because in the end the vast majority of the populations were desperate to join the West.

Essay Types: Essay