CHARLES Krauthammer was one of the first to speak of the "unipolar moment" -- the extraordinary global predominance that the United States suddenly acquired when Soviet power collapsed. He wrote in 1990, when the USSR still existed. But Krauthammer chose the word "moment" wisely. He did not doubt that in this instance, as so often before in history, predominance would give rise to challenge, and that therefore its duration could not be predicted.
He did not have long to wait. Well before that decade was out, challenges began to appear. The unipolar moment that Americans so enjoy is not, it seems, so universally celebrated elsewhere. Most of the world's other major powers -- even our friends -- have made it a central theme of their foreign policies to build counterweights to American power. In fact, their efforts in this direction constitute one of the main trends in international politics today.
Americans seem strangely oblivious to this. One reason, perhaps, is the traditional Wilsonian bent of American thinking about foreign policy: an America that sees itself as leading and acting in the name of universal moral principles has a tendency to assume that its leadership is welcomed and endorsed by everyone else. Such an America is genuinely puzzled by the idea that its assertiveness in the name of universal principles may sometimes be construed by others as a form of unilateralism. Yet unilateralism is precisely one of the charges being levied by many against the Clinton administration -- and, again, this includes some of our friends. Our assertiveness -- in any cause -- is today perceived by others as an exercise of our predominant power.
The fact is that the rest of the world is reacting to American power in a thoroughly classical, un-Wilsonian, balance of power fashion, according to which it is not motives and intentions that are decisive but comparative power. The Russians and Chinese have, for the past five years, made it a centerpiece of their foreign policies -- and of their increasingly close collaboration -- to restore what they call "multipolarity" to the international system. Our Western European friends, in the Maastricht Treaty of 1993, committed themselves to a stronger European Union not only in the economic field but also in foreign and security policy; the Kosovo war of 1999, instead of vindicating NATO and American leadership, as it was seen to do in the eyes of the administration, had the effect of accelerating efforts to build a new all-European defense organization. Other powers in the world are reacting similarly to American predominance.
Another manifestation of this phenomenon is widespread sentiment that the United Nations Security Council ought to be the principal arbiter of international security, as was envisioned in the UN Charter. Many feel especially strongly that military interventions are not generally legitimate unless carried out under a UN mandate. (We heard a lot about this during the Kosovo crisis.) One of the main motives for this attempted elevation of the Security Council is to restrain American power.
How widespread and determined is this global reaction, and how seriously should the United States take it? Is it just rhetorical emoting, among countries that know full well they still need American leadership, or does it portend the kind of counter-coalition that has often in history cut a hegemon down to size? How much of it is structural -- the natural response of others to a single power's predominance -- and how much of it is the result of specific American conduct in the recent period? What policy lessons should the United States draw from the evidence, assuming it enjoys its pre-eminent position and would like to prolong it?
The Sino-Russian Mantra
IT IS NOT hard to accumulate evidence for the proposition that much of the rest of the world sees American predominance as a problem, rather than a blessing. The mantra for this point of view is "multipolarity" -- the explicit rejection of the idea that the world ought to be, or remain for long, unipolar.
The Russians and Chinese were the first to develop this theme. This is ironic, perhaps, in that the Clinton administration for a long time congratulated itself for its "strategic partnerships" with both countries. A "strategic alliance with Russian reform" was how President Clinton characterized his policy toward Boris Yeltsin's Russia in an April 1, 1993 speech. He could visualize, or so it seemed, a natural affinity between a progressive American administration and a reformist Russian leadership. Similarly, a "constructive strategic partnership" was often said to be the aim of American policy toward China.
Yet, if there has been any consistent theme in Russian foreign policy in the post-Cold War period, it is Russia's categorical rejection of American leadership. In September 1996, then-Foreign Minister Yevgeny Primakov told the UN General Assembly that one of the basic conditions for achieving a durable peace was
"the emancipation from the mentality of 'those who lead' and 'those who are led.' Such a mentality draws on illusions that some countries emerged as winners from the Cold War, while others lost it. But this is not the case. Peoples on both sides of the Iron Curtain jointly got rid of the policy of confrontation. Meanwhile the mentality . . . directly paves the way for a tendency to establish a unipolar world. Such a world order is unacceptable to the overwhelming majority of the international community."
Boris Yeltsin likewise hailed the trend toward multipolarity that he professed to see gaining ground in the world. "This trend in universal development has been formulated by Russia", he boasted in a speech on May 12, 1998. "Most countries have agreed with it." And since, as Yeltsin insisted, attempts were still being made to foist the interests of one state on the world community, "the time has come to understand that in the present-day world, particularly in the 21st century, no state, however strong, can impose its will on others."
Whatever affinity the Clinton administration may have assumed it had with Russian "reform", Russians themselves have been thinking in more classical terms about how to define their national interests. Resisting American dominance seems clearly to be a part of that definition.
The Chinese have expressed the same passion for "multipolarity." Liu Huaqiu, a vice foreign minister serving as the chief national security adviser to the president and premier, declared in 1997 that global trends were moving in this direction, with China at the forefront:
"A multipolar world has become the growing trend, and China has developed into a main force. . . . The international status of socialist China has strengthened; its reputation has grown, and its influence has expanded. China will develop into an important role in the future multipolar world."
Not surprisingly, Russia and China have enshrined this as a central theme of their collaboration. When Chinese Premier Li Peng visited Yeltsin in Moscow at the end of December 1996, their joint communiqué declared, "The sides are unanimous that . . . a partnership of equal rights and trust between Russia and China aimed at strategic cooperation in the 21st century . . . promotes the formation of a multipolar world." And when Yeltsin visited Beijing in April 1996, the rhetoric on both the Russian and Chinese sides was extraordinary in its bluntness. The joint communiqué of that visit, signed by Yeltsin and Jiang Zemin, all but branded the United States a threat to peace: "The world is far from being tranquil. Hegemonism, power politics and repeated imposition of pressures on other countries have continued to occur. Bloc politics has taken up new manifestations." Three and a half years later, during Yeltsin's last visit to Beijing, another joint communiqué offered more of the same, only updated after Kosovo:
"Negative momentum in international relations continues to grow, and the following is becoming more obvious: The forcing of the international community to accept a unipolar world pattern and a single model of culture, value concepts and ideology, and a weakening of the role of the United Nations and its Security Council; the seeking of excuses to give irresponsible explanations or amendment to the purposes and principles of the UN Charter; the reinforcing and expanding of military blocs; the replacing of international law with power politics or even resorting to force; and the jeopardizing of the sovereignty of independent states using the concepts of 'human rights are superior to sovereignty' and 'humanitarian intervention.' The two sides agree to work together with the rest of the world to oppose the momentum presently preventing the establishment of a just multipolar structure for international relations."
Our Allies Agree . . .
MORE surprising, and perhaps more significant, than the reactions of Russia and China to American predominance is the degree to which these sentiments are also a staple of contemporary European discourse. The relationship of dependence that marked the last fifty years was the source of accumulating resentments -- on both sides of the Atlantic -- and the end of the Cold War danger has inevitably led our allies to seize the opportunity to expand their autonomy. The new European "identity", of course, is also the product of a long-standing and thoroughly positive project -- that of European integration -- which the United States has supported from the beginning. It has produced historic reconciliations on the Continent, and enormous economic progress. Yet there is no mistaking that at present Europe seeks to define its identity at least in part by differentiation from the United States. A common theme of European rhetoric, even of the friendliest of our allies, is that it is time for Europe to make itself an equal of the United States, to be a counterweight to it, to achieve greater autonomy from it, to lessen dependence on it, and so on.
Naturally, the French give this its most pointed expression. Foreign Minister Hubert Védrine has labeled the United States not only a superpower but a "hyperpower", for the unique range of its dominance in the political, military, economic and cultural realms. The need for Europe to counterbalance this power is, for France, a self-evident axiom. To a conference of French ambassadors in August 1997, Védrine declared:
"Today there is one sole great power -- the United States of America. . . . When I speak of its power, I state a fact . . . without acrimony. A fact is a fact. . . . But this power carries in itself, to the extent that there is no counterweight, especially today, a unilateralist temptation . . . and the risk of hegemony."
France's policy, he went on to say, was
"to contribute . . . to the emergence of several poles in the world capable of being a factor of equilibrium. . . . Europe is [such] an actor, a means of influence absolutely necessary for such a multipolar world to come about."
In an interview with Libération in November 1998, Védrine complained again that "a major factor in the world today" was "the overriding predominance of the United States in all areas and the current lack of any counterweight."
Building "counterweights", the "risk of hegemony" -- if anyone thought that the end of the Cold War meant the end of "old-fashioned" balance of power thinking, this is as classical as one can get.
But the French are not the only Europeans to think in these terms. In the economic realm, the strengthened economic and monetary union (EMU) brought about by the Maastricht Treaty had the explicit goal of making the EU a stronger economic bloc relative to other powers. Joschka Fischer, now the German foreign minister, summed up the significance of EMU in an address to the European Parliament in January 1999:
"The introduction of a common currency is not primarily an economic, but rather a sovereign and thus eminently political act. With the communitarization of its money, Europe has also opted for an autonomous path in the future and, in close collaboration with our transatlantic partners, for an autonomous role in tomorrow's world."
Likewise, Dutch Prime Minister Wim Kok declared in a March 1998 speech, "EMU can develop into a cornerstone for Europe's further political integration -- forming the foundation for Europe's increased power in the world."
All the more so was Europe's development of a common foreign and security policy, also mandated by Maastricht, seen as a means of making Europe into a "counterweight to the United States" -- as Wim Kok put it on another occasion. The Kosovo crisis only intensified this resolve. In late 1998, in the early days of the Kosovo diplomacy, Tony Blair -- perhaps America's closest friend among European leaders -- cited Kosovo as a reason for the European Union to develop a defense institution of its own. This represented a major reversal of British policy, which had always insisted on NATO as the exclusive organization for Western security. In a speech in Edinburgh on November 13, 1998, Blair complained that Europe had been "hesitant and disunited" over Kosovo; it was now time for it to develop a capacity for autonomous action so that it would not always be so dependent on the United States.
While the Kosovo air campaign was a remarkable demonstration of transatlantic solidarity and an American-led Alliance operation, the breathtaking scale of American technological dominance had a paradoxical if not perverse effect. For many European governments, particularly those of a Center-Left coloration, participation in an American-led war was political agony; governments were bitterly assaulted by anti-American leftists (and Gaullist rightists in France), though the anti-Milosevic cause was enough to sustain public support for the war. The conclusion drawn by many Europeans across the political spectrum was that Europe needed to accelerate its own technological development and its creation of a European defense institution, precisely so that it not be put in such a position again.Essay Types: Essay