The Palmerstonian Moment

The Palmerstonian Moment

Mini Teaser: Following Lord Palmerston's dictum, the United States may have neither permanent friends nor permanent enemies in the 21st century. We're left with a world of uncertainty—and opportunity.

by Author(s): Richard N. Haass

This is why it should also be stressed that not all standing bodies promise to be all that helpful. One suggestion that is not promising is the call for various assemblages of democracies to assume a more central role in U.S. foreign policy. Aside from questions of what would qualify as a democracy and how to get anything done with so many in the room, a democracy-based foreign policy makes no sense in a world in which the cooperation of non-democracies, above all China and Russia, is often essential if we are to prevent rogue states and the dark side of globalization from gaining the upper hand. A democracy-based foreign policy also makes little sense given how difficult it can be to promote successfully and how dangerous partial democracies can be in their behavior toward their neighbors and their own citizens.

Several years ago, in these pages, I discussed how a doctrine of "integration" might replace the Cold War vision of "containment" as the main organizing principle for U.S. foreign policy.1 A policy of integration would aim to create a cooperative relationship among the world's mid-level and major powers, built on a common commitment to promoting certain principles and outcomes. It would seek to translate this commitment into effective and lasting arrangements and actions wherever and whenever possible. Nomenclature aside, and whether one speaks of "stakeholders" or a modern-day "concert", the idea of integration is gaining currency. Integration is the only way to tackle the challenges of a new era, especially those generated by globalization, such as protectionism, proliferation, terrorism and climate change.


BUT COMING to terms with the foreign-policy choices demanded by a strategy of integration is not just for the United States. Other major powers will also be confronted with serious choices. Again, China is a good place to start. Traditionally, foreign policy has been approached by China's leaders through a domestic prism. The goal of foreign policy has been to create a secure environment in which domestic economic growth could occur. But Beijing is moving to an appreciation that it has a stake in the world, that what happens elsewhere affects China and that increasingly China will be held accountable for its actions. As work on a post-Kyoto framework intensifies, China will find itself on the defensive if it becomes the principal obstacle to new climate change arrangements. It is already on the defensive over the value of its currency and its failure to meet all of its trade-related obligations. Chinese officials and intellectuals are increasingly aware of China's integration into the global system-after all, any country whose economy is so dependent on imports and exports cannot help but be concerned with how the international system is organized. Questions remain, though, about the extent to which this awareness will translate into policy, and about how China's leaders will react if and when there is tension between the demands of domestic and foreign policy.

This is in contrast to more recent developments in Russia. Moscow, now flush with energy wealth, enjoys a degree of autarky on many issues and can choose more often than most to opt out of the global system. China does not have that luxury. As a result, it is less difficult to see China as an "integrated country" in the near future than Russia. Of course, Japan and many of the Europeans are already committed to the strategy of integration, since multilateral arrangements are at the core of their foreign policies, although in the Japanese case in particular there is a gap between this orientation and the narrower focus of its domestic politics, a focus that tends to limit what Japan is prepared to do in the world. India, for its part, is also increasingly integrated, but mostly in the economic realm.

This gap or lag between the realities and politics of globalization is widespread and holds for democracies (including the United States) and non-democracies alike. Lobbies and special interests continue to be less than willing to give up privileges, protected positions or preferred outcomes in the name of finding compromises with other countries. The truth is that, with all of the benefits globalization has wrought, it also brings risks and constraints. Even for superpowers like the United States, the international order brought into being by globalization limits the range of choices and options available to any one individual state to pursue its own course of action. But this is a necessary and, on balance, desirable trade-off if globalization is to be successfully managed.


IN THINKING about this agenda, however, we should not assume that we must wait until January 2009 and a new presidential administration. On the contrary, talk about President George W. Bush being a "lame duck" and therefore unable to achieve much is exaggerated. It ignores the Constitution's bias in favor of the executive when it comes to foreign policy, the potential for unexpected developments (to create opportunities or pressures to act) and the proclivities of Mr. Bush. For better or worse, he retains the ability to shape the world that will await his successor.

The Greater Middle East will continue to absorb the lion's share of the administration's attention and resources during its final year. (Iraq, ironically, may be the one matter that actually receives less attention.) We appear to be on the cusp of a consensus, a "reduction strategy", one that lies in between the surge (which appears to have improved the security situation but has not altered the underlying political dynamics of the country) and complete and sudden withdrawal (which could not only lead to chaos in Iraq but also cause the entire American position in the Middle East to be undermined). This involves a recasting of the U.S. mission toward a residual force that would aim to contain the violence, secure the borders and train Iraqi forces, in the process scaling back the U.S. combat role and relocating U.S. personnel away from Baghdad and other Iraqi population centers. This consensus may calm the debate in Washington, but it is unlikely to change the fundamentals in Baghdad and across much of central and southern Iraq, which will remain messy and violent and influenced more by militias and sects than by a national government, national forces or a national identity.

There is greater uncertainty when it comes to U.S. policy toward Iran. We may end up moving toward a situation where the United States would be faced with two choices, both highly unattractive-either having to tolerate Iran with a nuclear weapon (or the means to construct one in short order) or having to use military force to prevent or, more realistically, delay this from occurring. Either policy would run enormous risks and costs for U.S. interests in the region and beyond. The Bush Administration deserves some responsibility for this state of affairs, having allowed five years and various diplomatic openings to pass while it held out for the desirable but predictably unrealistic option of regime change. Beginning in 2005, though, Washington began to pursue a diplomatic option, but then only through the UN Security Council and contingent on a demand that Iran suspend all enrichment activity, a precondition Iran rejects. New multilateral sanctions, quite possibly without Security Council support, will be necessary to help sway the Iranian government. But so, too, is a new flexibility in Washington's stance on Tehran. The real question for the Bush Administration (or, more likely, for its successor) is whether the United States will drop its requirement that Iran first suspend its nuclear program and instead open direct talks with Tehran to negotiate verifiable limits to Iran's enrichment program, which would leave Iran well short of a nuclear-weapons capability (and outsiders the means to verify this judgment), in return for a reduction in Western economic sanctions and the provision of security guarantees. There is no guarantee Tehran would accept such a package, but it might if it faces broad international pressure and if the terms of a fair compromise are made public and resonate with the Iranian people. Regardless, this approach is worth exploring given the two costly policy paths otherwise available and the importance of demonstrating that all other options were fully explored before choosing either of them.

The administration (and Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice in particular) has decided to concentrate considerably more attention on the Israeli-Palestinian question than in the past. It is a surprising amount of activity-some might consider it to be a "Hail Mary" pass on the part of an administration that has had so many other setbacks in the Middle East-but it also rests on an assessment that Israelis and Palestinians both are desperate enough to take the steps needed to get the peace process back on track. The new emphasis also reflects a judgment that many of the Sunni regimes (including Egypt and Saudi Arabia) are sufficiently anxious about the reach of Iranian influence to play a helpful role. It is not clear, however, that Israelis and Palestinians are prepared to agree to terms the other side could accept-and even if they are, it is not clear they have the means to sell the number and scale of compromises that any accord would require to their respective domestic bases. Some "sorting out" will almost certainly be necessary from both sides before the situation moves closer to being ripe for resolution. This process could be facilitated by U.S. articulation of the basics of final status, something that would help moderate Palestinian leaders justify opting for negotiations over violence. And if a Palestinian leadership emerged that was both willing and able to compromise, the Israelis would likely follow suit. In the meantime, the United States would do well to reconsider its coolness to engaging Syria, where a leadership does exist that is strong enough to negotiate and that might be prepared to enter into a peace accord with Israel.

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