Tuesday, December 12, 2006

What if the Chief Doesn't Have Any Capable Indians?

Kofi Annan gave his final speech to the UN at long last. In it he exhorts the United States to provide global leadership while being multilateralist. This begs a couple questions. Who's to blame when someone tries to lead when or where no one can follow? Further, when has the United States done anything by itself? I’ll deal with both in turn.

I frequently discuss our need to adapt to the changing world power structure and the increasing inability of our old allies to follow us anymore (it’s mentioned in about ¼ of my posts). Simply put, with shrinking populations, stagnant economies, massive budget liabilities, and growing unassimilated Muslim populations, Continental Europe won’t be following us anywhere anymore. They also haven’t lived up to agreements on issues with which they could help. Continental Europe isn’t even meeting its Kyoto pollution reduction requirements, and that’s its pet project. This is who we are supposed to rely on to follow us and lose export opportunities to Iran in the process? I'm obviously excluding the British here, being Anglo they are much more trustworthy and willing to help, but Eurosclerosis is spreading even on the Blessed Isle (thanks to Gordon Brown, Britain has surpassed even Germany's tax load). Asia offers more promising allies for the future but they are as yet undeveloped. Japan is the best prospect but she still has a way to go to recover from post-war de-normalization (though they have started). Australia is fast becoming our new, if diminutive, Britain. The Aussies may not have as much power but since power not used is effectively power that doesn't exist, Australia will be more important in the coming decades. India is our best chance for a powerful ally in the long-term, but they have yet to decide where they want to go in the world, and have some more economic development to go before they can start helping other peoples’ problems.

Even if the number of followers is somewhat limited, has the United States been non-multilateral? I know this comes down to semantics. Unilateral means by yourself but many take it to mean without some much higher number of allies or occasionally without UN approval. Nevertheless, when exactly have we been unilateral? Despite having a cease-fire with Saddam that he was not respecting (a casus belli), we still went through UN purgatory and got 2 resolutions prior to the 2003 invasion. We had the support of 30 some odd countries (including most of Europe), the UN, and NATO (minus France) on Iraq. On Iran we have gone through the UN, the IAEA, and the Euro-3 for some 3 years to get something done. We are now building up alliances with Arab countries to deal with Iran. With North Korea we have insisted on having the North's neighbors involved in the talks to do something about its nuclear program. To try to resolve the Palestinian issue we have worked with the Quartet. After Syria overreached in Lebanon 2 years ago we worked with France and the UN to help Lebanon form a new government. We’ve refused to do anything about Darfur, choosing instead to work with the same UN that did nothing during Rawanda and Bosnia. The list goes on and on. Given this, I think what many of the “multilateralists” mean is America isn’t doing what they want.

Essentially, what is happening here is responsibility shifting. For example, why can’t Europe do something about the slaughter in Darfur? That’d be hard and risk European oil contracts in the process. Thus the Europeans can console themselves because America isn’t doing anything either and they are the world leader so it’s not so bad. Of course, should we try to do something, Continental Europe will refuse to help on account that it isn’t multilateral, ignoring that it isn’t multilateral precisely because they refuse to help. Everyone can then go home happy, except the people of Darfur. This refusal to take responsibility is also a cause of the UN's ineffectiveness as I've written before,
"despite what the United Nations thinks of itself, international organizations are nothing in and of themselves. All such organizations are a conglomeration of different nations who have different interests and different abilities. Regardless of its structure, no international organization can do more than its most powerful members are willing or capable of doing, and no such organization can command more authority than its most powerful members are willing to give it. Simply adding more unwilling nations or establishing rules they supposedly must “obey” does not change this fact."


  1. If we didn't keep doing everything tough for Europe they wouldn't be so helpless. We should just let Europe sink or swim on their own for a time, then maybe they would understand the purpose of helping allies even when its not in their interest.

  2. kirstachub3:22 AM

    That’s a little harsh Phil. We can’t expect Europe to help us if we stop helping them. Maybe we should give Europe the responsibility to deal with some smaller problems without us. The Darfur issue mentioned in the post would be a good start. That would be something they could handle, and if they don’t then we know it’s because they chose not to. Then we should consider harsher options like that. Of course, with the Democrats controlling Washington, I doubt anything will be done like that until we can’t ignore it anymore.

  3. The old European diplomacy v USA direct action argument.
    My view is America is a youngish country that reacts to everything with force while Europe has been around much longer, has fought its wars, learnt its lessons and has matured into a more thoughtful continent that considers the consequences of its actions.
    Of course there was much resentment of the US from the WW1 & WW2 generation that America stood idly by so long and had to be dragged kicking and screaming into both World Wars.

  4. Cool, three interesting comments. I should pay more attention to these. Then I could have 3 responses and a higher comment count. Oh well, thanks to each.

    First Phil, I would think that's a bit harsh also. Ideally we want a Europe that can help us, even if it can't help as much as it could before. We also don't want to create an angry Europe that does rouse itself, against us. The last thing the world needs is Chirac and Schroeder's dream of Europe playing Greece to China's Rome to come to fruition.

    On to Kirstachub, I like that idea. We'd still have to be able to help the Europeans though. For example, only France and Britain have any transport capacity and it’s maxed out for both. Western European militaries are so underfunded they have to depend on Ukrainian Air Force planes to supply their troops in Afghanistan. The key problem is small defense budgets, and bloated elderly military payrolls across Europe. It's going to take years to fix that and Europe isn't even showing an interest in it much less doing it. Australia and lately Canada have both shown it can be done however.

    Last but not least, Lucy. I don't think the issue is age, with America being "immature" and Europe being "mature". There was a time when we were younger when we didn't partake in what we called stupid wasteful foreign interventions like those foolish Europeans. Of course we were able to enjoy that attitude because the Royal Navy kept all the problems over there, over there. Likewise, Japan also went from being uninterested in foreign struggles to very interested in the 16th Century, to uninterested in the 17th, interested again in the 19th, uninterested in the 20th, to beginning to become interested in the 21st. Japan didn't flip from old to young to old to young. What changed was the relative capability of Japan to intervene and the fact that the sea protected Japan should she become uninterested.

    Europe has also had its isolationist vs interventionist periods based on similar calculations. Today we have the capability and don't have anyone or anything else to protect us from problems over there. Europe, for the reasons I've written before, is losing the capability to intervene and at any rate has the US to keep problems from becoming a threat to it (like with the Balkans in the 90's). So we are seeing an inversion of roles. This is quite hard for people to adjust to since Europe has always (unless you happen to know someone alive 600 years ago) been the major influence in the world.

    I don't know about Europe learning from its wars, right after World War II everyone rearmed and got ready for another go. Most likely only nuclear weapons ensuring everyone's death kept it from happening. After the Cold War there was the Balkan fighting and Euro interventions around the world, like Iraq 91 and Ivory Coast 02. As for the World Wars, that was an example of countries not adapting to a changed world. We had the power to make either war much shorter than it was, but we didn't want to use it. We waited until we had to join. It was Europe's problem, let them fight it out. We made a mistake, I think we should learn from it. As Bismarck would say, it would be wise for Europe to learn from our mistake.

  5. My opinion is that the two main antagonists Germany & Japan both took a deeply pacifist view after WW2. They learnt while the UK, with its bloated sense of self esteem, has not learnt and continues to follow a path of aggression.
    America has not had its land invaded and destroyed by war, most of Europe has at some point or another which is great for focusing the mind.
    Maybe mature and immature is the wrong choice of words, experience is probably better.
    Europe has experience of War on its homefronts, something America hopefully will never experience but
    until it does, it will never know the destruction of your homeland and cannot be expected to understand the more chess-like view of Europeans.

  6. I think it’s an issue of capability vs perceived interest. If it was a case of Europe simply having destroyed itself and learned, then it should be the case for all of Europe and it should be the case for any country to have experienced a devastating war. Yet neither case is true. In Europe there is obviously Britain, but also especially France and Russia who still playing by the old rules. China was fairly devastated by WWII yet they have fought a number of wars, almost fought Russia a couple times, and are still preparing for war. The Koreas are fairly obvious.

    I don't it can be said that age or war experience is what guides countries (although it can certainly have a role in influencing the direction a country takes). After WWII Japan was truly pacifist, while Germany built up the second biggest army in NATO based on universal conscription. The Cold War ends and while Germany is now the pacifist country, Japan is expanding and improving her air force and navy. Why do two countries with very similar situations in 1945 have such a dichotomy in their behavior since. I think this is best explained by their capabilities and interests. Germany in 1955 was staring at the largest army in history across her borders. Japan was looking at a few decrepit warships. Germany was going to be the heart of any Soviet war plan, Japan, especially after the 1972 Sino-Soviet split, had little to worry about. Today, the Germans face no real military threat and are facing major budget problems with their rapidly aging population. All Europe needs to worry about is open sea lanes around the world, and like the Royal Navy before, the US Navy will oblige on that one. Japan is next to the new global power and is much better positioned to handle its old people. Unlike Europe, Japan's sea and air lanes could be cut off. So now they are becoming active.

    I believe this sort of analysis will mostly explain the actions of the various countries of the world. Of course it’s not perfect, being a human endeavor, international affairs will always have an unpredictability about them.

    Lastly, as kind of a rhetorical jab, it sounds as if, by your argument, the solution to the Mideast troubles would be to carpet bomb the region like we did Germany and Japan. After that we can do East Asia, then Africa, and lastly the America's including ourselves. Then we'd learn to stop our squabbling. Obviously, I know you mean it'd be better for everyone to learn from Europe, but the first thing you learn from history and from other peoples mistakes is this, no one ever learns from theirs' or others' mistakes (because they don't think it applies, like the 16 year old girl getting pregnant, it wasn't going to happen to her). All that can be done is to best take that into account, while still yelling from the rooftops, or blog as the case may be.

  7. I would prefer nobody bombed anyone which is my whole point.
    I am not arrogant enough to suggest Europe should be held up as a beacon of how the world should act, but i would like to see the World take our more cautious line than America & Britains shoot first and think later attitude.
    I stand by the fact that Europe was devastated twice and has learnt its lesson where the USA has not, and has not.

  8. Well I guess I'm not going to sway you and you're not going to sway me, so we'll just have to agree to disagree on this one.

  9. Agree to disagree, agreed. We do seem to of reached an impasse on this one.