Civil Fights: Outsourcing foreign policy

Multilateralism used to mean simply acting in concert with like-minded allies.

October 10, 2007 21:13
Civil Fights: Outsourcing foreign policy

Putin sarkozy 224.88. (photo credit: AP)


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Speaking to The New York Times two weeks ago, a European Union official said he was convinced that if the current negotiations over Kosovo fail, the EU will recognize Kosovo's independence even without UN Security Council approval. "We can no longer accept a Russian veto on EU policy," he declared. His assessment was probably over-optimistic, since several EU members oppose recognition without UN approval. But it accurately pinpointed the flaw in the new multilateralism that has come to dominate Western thinking: It results in Western nations subordinating their own foreign policies to those of other countries, whose interests are often antithetical. In Kosovo, for instance, EU and Russian interests differ radically: The EU wants to eliminate what it sees as a flashpoint for violence, whereas Moscow wants to preserve its influence in the Balkans. Yet by refusing to do anything on Kosovo without Security Council approval, EU states have, as the official aptly said, given Russia a veto on EU policy. Europe has similarly subordinated its policy on Iran's nuclear program to Russia: Last month, Britain, France and Germany agreed to defer discussion of additional sanctions against Iran until November, solely because Russia insisted on awaiting another International Atomic Energy Agency report. In fact, France and Britain were reportedly willing to chuck Russian consent and have the EU impose its own sanctions (the US, which also attended the meeting, has already imposed all the unilateral sanctions it can). But EU sanctions would be pointless without Iran's largest European trading partner, and Germany refused to act without Security Council approval. Thus German Chancellor Angela Merkel, who has repeatedly termed Iran's nuclear program a top EU foreign policy issue, effectively outsourced decision-making on this issue to a non-EU country that does not consider it top priority at all. Indeed, unlike the EU - which believes that Iran's 18 years of concealing its nuclear program, followed by five years of fruitless negotiations and flouted Security Council resolutions after the deception was uncovered in 2002, imply that Iran might be developing nuclear weapons - Russia has repeatedly rejected this conclusion. THIS PERVERTED form of multilateralism is a new invention, a product of the post-Cold War world. Previously, multilateralism simply meant acting in concert with like-minded allies; it did not require opponents' consent as well. Thus, for instance, the West did not seek the Soviet Union's consent before stationing American forces in Europe; it sufficed that America and Europe agreed on this policy. In recent years, however, the West has replaced multilateralism with what might be termed "pan-lateralism": Agreement among allies no longer suffices; today, no action is deemed permissible unless most of the world concurs. But since individual states continue to have different foreign policy priorities, most of the world rarely even agrees on the problems, much less on the solutions. The result is that no substantive action on any issue is ever possible. THIS IS precisely what happened with Iran's nuclear program. Because Russia does not believe (or does not care) that Iran is developing nuclear weapons, it naturally opposes any sanctions biting enough to make Iran stop doing so. Such sanctions would not only be unnecessary, they would undermine a Russian interest: burgeoning Russian-Iranian trade. The EU, in contrast, believes that Iran is developing nukes, that an Iranian bomb would be disastrous, and that military action against Iran would be equally disastrous. It therefore has a vital interest in imposing economic sanctions painful enough to alter Iran's behavior. Moreover, as Iran's largest trading partner, accounting for almost a third of Teheran's trade, it has the power to impose such sanctions even without Russia's cooperation. But under the new version of multilateralism, it cannot do so. Thus Iran's nuclear program continues apace while the EU does nothing, in the vain hope that if it waits long enough, Russia will eventually change its mind. Nor is Iran an exception: The multilateralist fallacy has similarly stymied action on numerous other issues, from Kosovo to the genocide in Darfur (where Western insistence on Security Council approval has enabled China to veto any action). Indeed, the new multilateralism has been so successful at outsourcing Western foreign policy that it would seem to need no assistance. Nevertheless, a new justification for outsourcing foreign policy has also gained currency recently, which might be called the democratic fallacy. This theory, which emerged after Hamas won last year's Palestinian elections, essentially requires nations to subordinate their foreign policies to the results of other countries' elections. Thus since Hamas, for instance, was elected democratically, other nations must respect this result by granting it the same recognition and aid they granted its predecessor - even if they oppose Hamas's policies. This is so patently absurd - no nation, for instance, is obliged to give financial aid to another - that the democratic fallacy has so far gained fewer converts than the multilateralist one. Nevertheless, it has gained some: Several non-EU European countries cited it to justify recognizing the Hamas government. And in essence, the democratic fallacy is no different from the multilateralist one. The democratic fallacy holds that instead of European (or American or Israeli) voters determining their countries' policies toward the Palestinian Authority, this decision should be outsourced to Palestinian voters. That, clearly, is a travesty of democracy. Yet the multilateral fallacy equally deprives European voters of the right to determine their countries' foreign policy. The only difference is that instead of decisions being outsourced to other countries' electorates, they are generally outsourced to undemocratic regimes such as Russia and China - hardly a major improvement. It is past time for the West to reassert the fundamental principle that nations have the right to determine their own foreign policy and to further it in concert with like-minded allies; they need not and should not grant veto power to other countries whose foreign policy goals are antithetical to their own. For if it continues to outsource its foreign policy, the one sure result is that Western influence over world events will dissipate - leaving a vacuum that countries such as Russia, China and Iran will be only too happy to fill.

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