Brynn M. Evans
EDGE - Spring Quarter 2003
Final Paper (4-units)
June 5, 2003
United States Unilateralism: A Global Threat for the 21st Century
Within the past century, the United States has established itself not only as a world leader but, since the fall of the USSR in 1990, the U.S. has become the sole superpower. U.S. economic and military might is essentially unrivaled, and its global influence permeates to other countries who strive to emulate its economic, political and cultural ways (Yu). But is the United States abusing its powers, and if so, what will be the repercussions of its actions?
After the World Wars in the early 20th century, world leaders joined together to create two temporally distinct, international bodies whose purpose was to maintain international peace and security: The League of Nations in 1920 and the United Nations in 1945. Actions taken by the U.S. today dangerously resemble the unilateral, aggressive actions taken by two powerful nations (namely Japan and Germany) in the 1930s, which led to the ultimate dissolution of the League of Nations and subsequently, caused World War II. I fear that United States policy today threatens to destroy the efficacy of the U.N. as a guarantor of peace and cooperation.
The League of Nations
The League of Nations entered into formal existence in 1920, and was intended to be an international association for the "furtherance of cooperation among nations, the settlement of international disputes, and the preservation of the peace formed after the First World War" (The League of Nations). The organization included an assembly and a council which were responsible for discussing and resolving any matter affecting peace in the world. For several years, the League effectively settled disagreements between nations. The League was responsible for the peaceful resolution between Sweden and Finland in 1920-21 and Greece and Bulgaria in 1925, for example (Columbia Encyclopedia).
However, the withdrawal of the "Anti-Comintern bloc," Germany, Italy and Japan (which were major world players at the time), led to the ultimate downfall of the organization (The League of Nations). Japan formally withdrew from the League in 1933, shortly after invading Manchuria in 1931 and not long before single-handedly inciting a war against China in 1937. Germany also withdrew from the League in 1933 just as it was beginning to militarize the Rhineland; Germany subsequently created an “anschluss” with Austria, took the Sudentenland and then all of Czechoslovakia, and finally invaded Poland (Columbia Encyclopedia). Italy overtly disregarded the League of Nation's policy when, without the approval of the League, it attacked and conquered Ethiopia to make it a part of the new Italian Empire (The League of Nations).
The blatant disregard by these nations for the goals of cooperation and security that were the cornerstone of the League, ultimately led to the failure of the League of Nations. The League faced threats to international peace throughout the 1930s that it could not resolve without support from all member nations. Japan, Germany and Italy's indifferent, non-committal attitude toward the League, along with their aggressive actions to settle important matters by themselves, and the failure of the remaining states to take firm action against them, finally disbanded the entire organization (League of Nations).
The United Nations
While the League of Nations ultimately failed, its success lay in the conceptual model it left behind which was used as a framework for creating the United Nations (U.N.) following World War II. The Charter of the United Nations was signed in San Francisco, California, on June 26, 1945, with the same purpose as the former League of Nations:
"To maintain international peace and security, and to that end: to take effective collective measures for the prevention and removal of threats to the peace, and for the suppression of acts of aggression or other breaches of the peace, and to bring about by peaceful means, and in conformity with the principles of justice and international law, adjustment or settlement of international disputes or situations which might lead to a breach of the peace"
(Charter of the United Nations, Article 1)
The organization was designed to provide a constitution for world government, encourage discussion of disputes between nations, and avoid armed force except in rare circumstances of "common interest" (Lynne; Charter of the United Nations; Palmer, p. 844). These goals were intended to encourage peace, equality, and human freedom. The General Assembly and Security Council, similar to the assembly and council from the League of Nations, are two of six main bodies in the U.N. These are the bodies that act primarily on issues of international peace and security.
Currently, there are 191 members in the United Nations (List of Member States). Unlike with the League of Nations which the United States never chose to join, the U.S. was one of the original 51 member states, and has been a member of the organization since its inception in 1945, and is one of five permanent voting members of the Security Council (About the United Nations/History).
The United States
While the United States has been involved in this cooperative, peacekeeping organization from the beginning, recently it has developed into an economic, military and technological superpower, with a reputation as an aggressor (Friedman). The last time Congress issued a formal declaration of war was December 11, 1941, starting World War II (Paul, Violating the Constitution). In all conflicts since then, including the Korean and Vietnam Wars in the mid-twentieth century, the U.S. has been acting independently and aggressively, invading other countries out of self-interest, sometimes under the pretense of a “necessary regime change,” to fight communism or to retaliate against acts of terrorism. For example, the United States has forcefully and single-handedly attacked Grenada (1983), Libya (1986), Panama (1989) and Afghanistan and Sudan (1998), to name a few (The History Guy; German TV exposes CIA; Operation Just Cause). It has established its military might all around the world, and consequently, its reputation as a bully. Much of the rest of the world uneasily accepts the premise that the United States holds ultimate superpower status, especially after the dissolution of the USSR at the end of the Cold War, but many countries are beginning to resent and even fear that unopposed U.S. political, economic and military power is a greater threat than “insignificant” dictators like Saddam Hussein. In an online TimeEurope Magazine poll from earlier this year, 86.9% of 706,842 voters felt the United States “pose[d] the greatest danger to world peace in 2003,” with 6.3% of the vote for Iraq and 6.7% for North Korea (Biggest Threat to Peace).
It is fairly realistic to fear the United States from the perspective of a country which would be incapable of standing up to the U.S. military. Today, the U.S. openly refers to those countries which pose the greatest threat (Iran, Iraq and North Korea) as the “Axis of Evil,” the next targets. The winter of 2003 proved that the U.S. is serious about going after these countries, with or without a clear reason or global support.
International opinion of the United States has been that of a “super-bully” for many years now (Paul, Clinton Turning U.S.). Given its history of aggression against foreign countries and its powerful military, “most governments worry about the...unilateralist tendencies” of the United States (Keogh). Representative Ron Paul notes that the U.S. is becoming an “international cop seeking to right wrongs in every corner of the globe...mindlessly poking its nose into every situation.” Furthermore, many in the international community fear that “Americans are claiming the right to reorder the world according to their beliefs” (Spiegel).
War In Iraq
“Operation Iraqi Freedom” is just one example of the United State’s trend toward unilateral force. Traditionally, “defense against an aggression under way, recovery of something stolen, or punishment for evil” are the three “just cause” reasons for going to war (Weigel). The United States has tried to claim these as reasons for aggression against Iraq, but the proof is lacking. For instance, Bush’s most compelling argument for war was that “Saddam Hussein possessed nuclear, chemical and biological arms – weapons of mass destruction” (Duffy). Washington used CIA intelligence before the war to prove weapons building sites existed. However, Lieutenant General James T. Conway remarked that “virtually every ammunition supply point between Kuwait and Baghdad” has been checked, and no weapons have been found (Weigel). Bush, on the other hand, claimed that the U.S. found two trailers with laboratory equipment but without any pathogens inside, nevertheless “tantamount to a discovery of weapons” (Milbank). He asserts that they will find more as time goes by – but more weapons or more abandoned laboratories? In retrospect, the supposed threat from the existence of weapons of mass destruction that the Bush administration estimated in January at approximately 38,000 liters of botulinum toxin and 500 tons of sarin, mustard and VX nerve agents” (Milbank), “appears to have been a ruse” (Zunes)!
Washington also tried to link Saddam Hussein with Al-Qaeda. Even after gathering thousands of Iraqi documents and questioning many Iraqi officials on the issue, it appears that there was no direct Iraqi support of terrorist organizations for more than a decade (Zunes). In fact, fundamentalist terrorist groups like Al-Qaeda despise Hussein for the relatively secularized and westernized, non-fundamentalist Iraqi culture he has created (McLain). Some even speculate that Osama bin Laden and Al-Qaeda were encouraging the pending U.S. attack (Paul, Violating the Constitution).
Thus, the pre-empted strike by the U.S. was not a defense against an aggression, a recovery of something stolen or a punishment for evil. Iraq apparently possessed no weapons of mass destruction. Even if weapons had been a legitimate concern, why was the Bush administration unable to convince even its closest allies in Europe that this was the real reason for going to war (U.S. Unilateralism)? Since Iraq posed no immediate threat to the United States, and maybe Europe realized this, it is quite likely that the U.S. had a hidden agenda (U.S. Unilateralism). Could this hidden agenda include setting an example for nearby countries (i.e., Syria and Iran), or using Iraq “as a launching pad for changing the status quo in the Middle East” (Speigel)?
Not only did the United States attack Iraq without clear justification, it went to war without the consent of the United Nations. The United Nations was established to resolve conflict between nations in a peaceful manner, and to find alternatives to war. Only under extreme and warranted circumstances is war an acceptable measure. Even then, “it should be a coordinated undertaking authorized by Congress and sanctioned by the member states of the United Nations, not preemptive strike initiated by the President of the United States” (Nyden). The U.S. did not have a declaration of war from Congress or majority consent from the U.N.
Opposition in Europe
Furthermore, world opinion was anti-war. In particular, the European Union was fundamentally divided along this issue, with strong backing of U.S. policy from the governments of the United Kingdom, Spain, Poland and Italy and strong opposition from the governments of France, Germany, Belgium, Switzerland and the Netherlands (Ash). The French and Germans cited several reasons for opposing a U.S.-led attack in Iraq. They did not believe another country should dictate which government controls Iraq; they believed such a strike would encourage the terrorist movement and would lend pity to Saddam Hussein for being subject to the United States, the bully; and they believed that Europe remembered war more vividly than did the U.S. and thus, was historically more opposed to action (McLain). This is not to say that the French and the Germans liked or approved of Saddam Hussein or recognized that Iraq posed a theoretical threat, but they believed that force should be a last resort (McCartney).
Despite world opinion, lack of support by the U.N. and by some of the United State’s traditional allies (France and Germany), the U.S. led a 3-week war in Iraq (March 20 – April 9, 2003), which ultimately ousted Hussein from office (Reuters; McCartney). What political repercussions will transpire for the United States and the world from such offensive action?
The United States itself faces serious consequences from the war in Iraq. Lynne believes an act of unilateral warfare jeopardizes U.S. sovereignty and “personal liberty for individual American citizens.” This will likely appear in the form of anti-American sentiment around the world (Zunes). Zunes suggests that Osama bin Laden might be most pleased with the outcome of this aggression, as the U.S. faces the prospect of “unprecedented hostility” from the international community. As a result, the United States and its citizens might be less safe than they were before the war. U.S. actions in the Middle East might help with fundamentalist (i.e., Al-Qaeda) recruitment as the Arab world confirms the hatred of the Muslim East by the Christian West (Paul, Violating the Constitution). This in turn might lead to an increased threat of nuclear proliferation and terrorism attacks when countries realize that the only way to stand up to U.S. hegemony is with asymmetrical warfare (Zunes). Chris Patten, the European Union’s External Relations Commissioner remarked that “‘invading Iraq while failing to bring peace to the Middle East would create exactly the sort of conditions in which terrorism would be likely to thrive’” (Watson).
In addition, the U.S. faces repercussions in its relations with Europe. In the span of a few months of this Iraqi-war debate, the United States has alienated many of its former “Old Europe” allies. Before the war even began, the international community recognized that the way the U.S. deals with Iraq will affect the future relationship it has with Europe, particularly with France and Germany who were leading the opposition to U.S.-led war (McLain). Today, the trans-Atlantic rift is seen as “one of the worst crises since World War II” (McCartney). The Bush administration, filled with “‘resentment and anger’ against France” (Sciolino) is already encouraging consumers to boycott French products, which in turn threatens to harm the French economy, one that is already facing recession (McCartney; Sciolino). The U.S. also publicly announces that it is trying to downgrade France’s status in international conferences, limit participation in American-sponsored meetings, and suspend cooperation in military, law-enforcement and intelligence sharing (Sciolino; Bumiller). While the Bush administration has not enumerated specific punishments for France, they report that consequences will be more than “philosophical” (Bumiller).
Though U.S.-French relations are degraded, France is making efforts to act pragmatically towards the United States. French President Jacques Chiraq views French opposition to the United States not as betrayal, “‘but the normal objection that a friend would make to another friend for the sake of a better world,’” yet also believes that America needs a counterweight (i.e., a Franco-German axis) to its “‘hyperpower’” image, to guarantee a multipolar world (McCartney; Speigel).
While U.S.-German relations have been largely overlooked in media coverage, Germany essentially holds the same views as France. For months, the Franco-German alliance had tried to prevent the U.S. from going to war in Iraq, and continues to hold similar views on the post-war issue (McCartney) – only much of Washington’s reproach has been directed against France.
The issue of relations with former European allies is more complex, however. Within Europe, this Franco-German alliance has created a great rift right through the heart of the continent. Poland and other Eastern European countries have aligned themselves with the U.S., causing friction between Eastern and Western Europe. The Bush administration is not trying to heal this split nor is it endorsing an integrated Europe. The long-term U.S.-European relationship is uncertain. How will issues within Europe resolve themselves? Some believe the split is “providing new momentum for efforts to create a common European foreign policy – which...might prevent the kind of fissures in the Western alliance created by the Iraq war” (Boston, Europe Considers). On the other hand, what kind of relationship does Europe want with the U.S. now – partnership or rivalry (Ash)? Similarly, what kind of relationship does the U.S. want? While the U.S. has the military might to win a war alone, “it needs the international community to win the peace” (Boston, Europe Shifts Focus).
United Nations Relations
Perhaps more importantly, the U.S. violated the “world constitution,” as embodied in the U.N. By circumventing the United Nations and initiating war without any consent or approval by other member states, the United States most fundamentally violated the U.N. Charter “which prohibits member countries from attempting to force a regime change among other member countries” (McLain). Article 2 states that members should settle their disputes by peaceful means, and refrain from force, and Article 33:
1. The parties to any dispute, the continuance of which is likely to endanger the maintenance of international peace and security, shall, first of all, seek a solution by negotiation, enquiry, mediation, conciliation, arbitration, judicial settlement, resort to regional agencies or arrangements, or other peaceful means of their own choice.
2. The Security Council shall, when it deems necessary, call upon the parties to settle their dispute by such means.
(Charter of the United Nations)
The United States violated these standards – it did not explore peaceful ways of resolving “issues” with Iraq, and subsequently led a highly controversial, forceful mission to overthrow the government. And it did not end up going through the Security Council. In fact, the U.S. had very little support in this war effort, either at home or internationally. Given these circumstances, such U.S. action can only be interpreted as unilateral aggression, in violation of the trust of our “Old Europe” allies and of the U.N. Charter, the international constitution.
Fall of the U.N.?
French Foreign Minister Dominique de Villepin states it correctly: “‘The United Nations cannot be ignored’” (Boston, Europe Shifts Focus). The last time countries acted outside the international governing body (the League of Nations at the time), the peacekeeping organization fell apart. In the 1930s, Japan, Germany and Italy acted out of self-interest, disregarding the mission of the League of Nations – subsequently, World War II occurred. Interestingly, the United States had never joined the League, some say causing a weakness in the organization from the beginning (The League of Nations), but the independent actions of these few powerful nations were enough to topple the League. When we examine what has been going on today, it is surprising to see the similarities between United States’ actions and that of the Axis powers before World War II.
Will the United States’ continued disregard for international cooperation through discussions and joint resolutions in the U.N. be the ultimately death knell for that organization? Will the balance of power in the world become so badly skewed that the U.S. finds itself at war with virtually the rest of the world? Will unrestrained U.S. military power, used unilaterally, cause a new nuclear arms race throughout the world? In trying to make the nation safer, through pre-emptive military force, has the U.S. made itself more hated and threatened?
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