The Origins of the Present American Unilateralism
The Origins of the Present American Unilateralism
US President Bush justified the invasion and occupation of Iraq, and his support for the Israeli war against Lebanon and the Palestinian people in terms of his so-called war on terror. Observers and commentators usually describe the current confrontation context in international relations as the consequence of the September 11 tragedy.
In reality, the Iraq war and the confrontation with Syria and Iran, and the backing of Israeli wars against the Lebanese and Palestinian peoples, are embedded in new strategic directions designed to preserve the unrivalled American power status that resulted from the collapse of the Soviet Union. These policy orientations predated the September 11 tragedy and the so-called war on terror.
The September 11 tragedy facilitated the implementation and the marshalling of public support for these strategic orientations, it did not create them.
On the wake of World War II, the United States emerged as the unchallenged super power of the world. Unlike other belligerents, its territories were not occupied or devastated, its economy not ruined, and its military emerged stronger than ever. In addition, it was the only country to possess, and to use, the ultimate weapon: the nuclear bomb.
Self-assured and imperial-like, it projected its cultural and political values as the sole defining criteria of legitimacy in international relations. The Soviet Union, China, and the communist countries were declared illegitimate regimes and the task for American foreign policy was to â€˜containâ€ communism within its borders.
The logic of the containment policy led to confrontations with revolutionary movements around the world, suspected and accused of communist leanings and orientations. It also led to a fatal strategic miscalculation. Policy planners in Washington argued that if one single country in the so-called free world were allowed to fall to communism, there would be a domino effect bringing about the collapses of pro-Western regimes and the spread of the contagious communist ideology.
This logic led directly to the Korean war in the 1950s and to the Vietnam War in the 1960s. The inability to stop the revolutionary communist movement in Northern Vietnam from overwhelming the corrupt pro-Western government in South Vietnam, led to a humiliating American withdrawal.
American power, triumphant and unchallenged on the wake of World War II, seemed challengeable. A policy of dÃ©tente in the 1970s seemed to suggest a recognition on the part of Washington that there existed a rough equality of destructive nuclear power between the two superpowers. Direct confrontation was out of the question.
Under the Nixon doctrine, Washington proposed to fight communism, and nationalism, through proxy agents in various regions. The Shah of Iran was one such noteworthy agent in the Middle East. Chilean dictator Augosto Pinochet was another ally entrusted to eliminate Marxism in his country and set an example for the rest of Latin America.
With the collapse of the communist regimes and the end of the Cold War, policy planners in Washington set out to formulate new directions and chart strategic priorities for the post-Cold War era and for American priorities in it.
The foundations of Washington's vision of a New World Order can be found in two crucial documents prepared by officials from the Pentagon, the State Department and the White House at the end of the Cold War.
The Defense Planning Guidance documents provide an American blueprint for the post-Cold War era. The first is a 46-page document prepared under the supervision of Paul D. Wolfowitz, then the Pentagon's Undersecretary for policy. The second document, â€œPrevent the Emergence of a New Rivalâ€ was prepared by a committee of experts headed by Admiral David Jeremia, Assistant to the then Chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff General Colin Powell. (New York Times, March 8, 1992.)
Both documents spell out in detail various scenarios of conflicts and possible challenges to the United States' undisputed supremacy. They articulate a set of American political and military objectives and policy guidelines. As such, they provide an authoritative and clear exposition of official American thinking about how America must shape the post Cold-War era.
First, the policy planners argue that the unique position of the United States as the only superpower left after the collapse of the Soviet Union must be preserved against all challenges from anywhere in the world.
To this end, the first political and military objective of the United States in the new world order must be "to prevent the emergence of a new rival, either in the territory of the former Soviet Union or elsewhere..."
Second, the policy planners argue that American domination of the new world order must be clear, unequivocal and American leadership strong and assertive, if America is to maintain its supremacy unchallenged. To achieve this, regional powers in Europe and elsewhere must be discouraged from trying to change their present status or challenge American pre-eminence.
The United States must therefore strive to "convince potential competitors that they need not aspire to a greater role" in the new world order.
The European allies must be discouraged "from challenging our leadership or seeking to overturn the established political and economic order."
Third, the United States has in effect become the only power capable of enforcing respect for the established order. While it may not wish to act as a policeman redressing every wrong, it will nonetheless decide which wrongs may be overlooked and ignored and which transgressions must be redressed by force if necessary:
"We will retain the pre-eminent responsibility for addressing selectively those wrongs which threaten not only our interests, but those of our allies and friends, or which could seriously unsettle international relations."
First among the vital interests identified as requiring forceful action was the "access to vital raw materials, primarily Persian Gulf oilâ€¦"
Deterring challenges to American Power
The new strategic directions also emphasised that the United States must support the spread of capitalism and the move towards the generalization of market-based economies in Eastern Europe as the best way of guaranteeing that: "no hostile power is able to consolidate control over the resources within the former Soviet Union..."
American strategy in Europe must "refocus on precluding the emergence of any potential future global competitor." To this end, the United States will rely on its massive nuclear strategic arsenal and will have its strategic nuclear weapons "continue to target vital aspects of the former Soviet military establishment," because Russia will remain "the only power in the world with the capability of destroying the United States."
The United States must therefore continue its armament programmes and must strive for the "early introduction" of the global anti-missile defense system.
The Pentagon policy document also argued that although it is now commonly recognized that Western Europe is no longer threatened by any power from the East, the United States does not want to dismantle NATO, which served to institutionalize its dominant role in Europe.
As a result, the United States will oppose any European move toward greater independence vis-Ã -vis Washington and will insist that NATO continue to provide the basis of any security system in Europe and remain "the channel for US influence..."
Accordingly, the United States must "seek to prevent the emergence of European-only security arrangements which would undermine NATO..." In short, as American opposition to European-based Security initiatives at the NATO Conference in Rome in November 1991 clearly demonstrated, there would be no defence of Europe unless it was based on American doctrines and priorities.
The policy planners also argued that the United States should in fact extend its pre-eminent role in Western Europe to the former territories of the Soviet Union and to East European countries, which used to belong to the defunct Warsaw Pact.
To this effect, the United States should provide a security guarantee to Eastern and Central European countries "analogous to those we have extended to Persian Gulf states," and seek to facilitate their integration into NATO.
Asia was recognised in the policy documents as the region with the heaviest concentration of political and economic beliefs at variance with the American system. The United States intends to maintain an imposing military posture there to ensure that no regional threats are posed to its interests and friends in the region.
The United States must therefore maintain its "status as a military power of the first magnitude in the area," to prevent the emergence of any power seeking to dominate the region or to challenge the established order.
The new strategic orientations documents also pointed out that he United States would use force if necessary to prevent the proliferation of nuclear and other weapons of mass destruction particularly to countries such as North Korea, Iraq and the republics of the former Soviet Union.
In the Middle East, the overall American objective, the documents said, is to ensure that the United States "remain the predominant outside power in the region and preserve the U.S. and Western access to the region's oil."
The 1991 Iraq war demonstrated that it was "fundamentally important" to prevent any hostile regional power or alignment of powers from dominating the region. It is therefore the intention of American policy makers to continue to rely on military presence and military alliances in the region to deter any challenge to the established balance of power.
There is little mention in the American blueprint for the post-Cold War era of international law, United Nations collective security, or the important role of public diplomacy.
The emphasis is clearly and unambiguously on reliance on American military power as the principal instrument of preserving American supremacy. No mention of the United Nations even though the organization was effectively used to give legality to the US-led war against Iraq in 1991.
There is a brief mention about the fact that coalitions "hold considerable promise for promoting collective action" as in the war against Iraq, but far more significant is the emphasis the Wolfowitz document places on American ability to intervene militarily with or without international backing.
And this because of "the sense that the world order is ultimately backed by the United States," and therefore "the United States should be postured to act independently when collective actions cannot be orchestrated."
This policy orientation was dramatised in the run up to the invasion of Iraq in 2003. When the US and the UK failed to get support for a UN Security Council resolution authorising the use of force, they decided to act unilaterally and launch their planned invasion of Iraq.
In sum, American leaders, the documents maintained, "must maintain the mechanism for deterring potential competitors from even aspiring to a larger regional or global role."
Prof. Safty served as Professor of International Relations and law, Dean, School President, and Head of UN Mission. He is founding President of the Global Leadership Forum, and author/editor of 16 books, including From Camp David to the Gulf (Montreal, New York, 1993, 1997), Leadership and Democracy (New York, 2004), and the forthcoming book, the Modern Machiavellians.