In the waning days of World War II, a key turning point in global affairs
occurred. The United States, as the dominant power, committed itself to a new international system whose aim was to bring the world’s nations together within a system of agreed rules and norms for collective security. The United Nations and the other global agencies that it spawned were, of course, imperfect, as are all human creations. Power imbalances, wealth gaps, and cold war rivalries often mocked the ideals on which these institutions were founded.
Nonetheless, this new framework of multilateralism marked a significant step toward genuine international cooperation as an alternative to a past dominated by nationalism, empire, and militarism. This framework is now in danger of being irretrievably undermined. There is no mandate in the United States for this radical departure. After all, candidate Bush promised in 2000 “more humility” in foreign policy, close cooperation with our traditional allies, and a commitment to the pursuit of national interests, narrowly defined. Yet since the September 11th terrorist attacks, the language of consultation and diplomacy has given way to one of command and unilateralism. The U.S. government must act resolutely to protect itself from terrorism and to bring to justice those responsible for the September 11th attacks. But the Bush policy has done more to isolate the United States than to isolate the terrorists.
By demanding the right to act unilaterally, by changing the target from the perpetrators of 9-11 to a purported “axis of evil,” by scorning both multilateral alliances and the UN system, and by refusing to comply with international law in its treatment of prisoners captured in Afghanistan and elsewhere, the Bush administration is undermining the very cause it claims to serve. World peace depends on strong collective security mechanisms. The new threat of international terrorism, the proliferation of weapons of mass destruction, and the existence of repressive, militaristic states like Iraq underscore the continuing need for multilateral responses to security threats. The U.S. military must be prepared to protect the nation against external threats.
But U.S. military might is an insufficient guarantor of national and international security. Well-funded international institutions and international cooperation in intelligence gathering, peacekeeping, and arms control are essential components to any real security. The United States should adopt a real security agenda—one that addresses the actual dangers that Americans now face—by using its leadership to mobilize international action against these global threats. Such an alternative approach would include: Renewing efforts to mobilize a global consensus and global action against all forms of terrorism at home and abroad.
Increasing our commitment to the UN security system and international law, while urging UN action against threats to the peace. Committing the United States to the fundamental principle of international justice—that no country is above international law.
Strengthening multilateral, verifiable arms control regimes that aim to curb weapons of mass destruction and their delivery systems, while at the same time promoting nuclear disarmament and international demilitarization. Exercising leadership for protection of the environment through the ratification of the Kyoto Protocol and other international environmental agreements while protecting existing multilateral environmental agreements from challenges by free trade agreements. Increasing support for the Global Fund to Fight AIDS, Tuberculosis and Malaria as well as other international efforts to respond to the AIDS pandemic.