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

Even outside the Middle East, this administration continues to face a daunting array of challenges. North Korea is one. The administration has made progress, albeit belatedly, in what appears to be a successful strategy of conditional engagement, linking concessions to Pyongyang to verifiable proof that its nuclear program has ended. The challenge obviously lies in the extent to which this agreement is actually implemented. What is certain, though, is that the United States and others will have to contend with a closed North Korea that possesses nuclear weapons and at least intermediate-range missiles for years to come.

Pakistan is another. Or rather "Pakistan-Afghanistan." These are two countries increasingly joined more than divided by a long border. In both countries, the challenge is to promote economic growth and political reform amidst difficult security challenges stemming from the strength of the Taliban, Al-Qaeda and local extremists. The lack of adequate military and policing capabilities limits any progress either government can expect to realize. Growing nationalism and anti-Americanism also tend to limit what the United States can accomplish. The stakes could hardly be greater, though, given that this area is now a sanctuary for the world's most dangerous terrorists and, in the case of Pakistan, home to dozens of nuclear weapons. Pakistan's political crisis, by dividing and distracting the country, will only make it more difficult for the government to confront its real enemies. On these and a host of other trouble spots, like Venezuela, Cuba, Darfur, Zimbabwe, Nigeria and Kosovo, to name a few, it is clear that the Bush Administration is going to hand off unfinished business to its successor.

This puts a tremendous premium on statecraft. It means that future administrations will have to become much more comfortable and adept at meaningful consultations and building coalitions with other states. The biggest danger is that the United States and other countries will not be able to find ways to cooperate together where they can and should because of the spillover from where they disagree. It makes for a challenge that Lord Palmerston could readily appreciate. Navigating this reality will be anything but easy given the geopolitical setting we are living in. But it will be essential if integration is to come about and if globalization is to be managed on terms we desire.


Richard N. Haass is the president of the Council on Foreign Relations. His most recent book is The Opportunity: America's Moment to Alter History's Course (PublicAffairs, 2005).


1See Richard N. Haass, "The Case for ‘Integration'", The National Interest, No. 81 (Fall 2005).

Essay Types: Essay