Wednesday, February 16, 2005

Nukes: How Bush Makes the World More Dangerous

Stephen Walt, writing in the Boston Review brings up an issue I had been meaning to blog about: the threat of nuclear weapons, and what the US should do to address that threat. The approach taken towards Saddam Hussein, which is to invade our enemies before they actually have nuclear weapons, has a big drawback, in that some of them (North Korea, perhaps) already have nukes. And the invasion of Iraq could have the unintended side-effect of making any government that is unfriendly to the US that much more determined to get nukes, if only to protect themselves from an American invasion.

To quote Walt:
The Bush administration has been scornful of existing institutions and dismissive of other states’ opinions, emphasizing instead the unilateral use of American power to “promote liberty” and preempt potential threats. The result? America’s global standing has plummeted, and with it the ability to attract active support from many of its traditional allies. Instead, many of these states have been distancing themselves from America’s foreign-policy agenda and looking for ways to constrain its power. So-called rogue states such as Iran and North Korea have become more resistant to American pressure and more interested in acquiring the ability to deter American military action. Efforts to “promote liberty” at the point of a gun have arguably strengthened the hands of authoritarian rulers in the Middle East, Central Asia, Russia, and elsewhere. The strategy of preventive war and the goal of regional transformation led the United States into a costly quagmire in Iraq, demonstrating once again the impossibility of empire in an era in which nationalism is a profound social force. President Bush’s overall approach to foreign policy demonstrates why global hegemony is beyond our reach, and even some supporters of this strategy have begun to recognize that fact.
What is Walt's suggestion: to dedicate the power of the US to maintaining peace, promoting multilateralism, promoting international agreements. This means taking the step that is called "appeasement" by the hawks, which is to sign nonagression agreements with the evil dictatorships such as Iraq and North Korea. That doesn't mean that we abandon our efforts to promote democracy, but that military might would no longer be considered a legitimate tool for democracy promotion.
American power is most effective when it is seen as legitimate, and when other societies believe it is being used to serve their interests as well as America’s. On the other side, America’s enemies will try to rally support by portraying the United States as a morally dubious society that pursues dangerous and immoral policies abroad.
He ends with a warning:
Although geography, history, and good fortune have combined to give the United States a remarkable array of advantages, it would still be possible to squander them. Unfortunately, there is as yet no clear sign that President Bush intends to change course in his second term, which means that America’s international standing is likely to deteriorate further over the next four years. And if the United States ends up hastening the demise of its existing partnerships and creating new partnerships whose main aim is to contain us, we will have only ourselves to blame.


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