Unilateralism as sole foreign-policy strategy? : American policy toward the UN, NATO, and the OPCW in the Clinton era

Kubbig,Bernd W. ; Dembinski, Matthias ; Kelle, Alexander

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URL http://edoc.vifapol.de/opus/volltexte/2008/275/
Dokumentart: Bericht / Forschungsbericht / Abhandlung
Institut: HSFK-Hessische Stiftung Friedens- und Konfliktforschung
Schriftenreihe: PRIF reports
Bandnummer: 057
Sprache: Englisch
Erstellungsjahr: 2000
Publikationsdatum: 29.01.2008
SWD-Schlagwörter: USA , Außenpolitik , Vereinte Nationen , NATO , Organisation für das Verbot chemischer Waffen
DDC-Sachgruppe: Politik
BK - Basisklassifikation: 15.87 (USA), 89.72 (Internationale Organisationen), 89.90 (Außenpolitik, Internationale Politik)
Sondersammelgebiete: 3.6 Politik und Friedensforschung

Kurzfassung auf Englisch:

The United States is currently experiencing an unprecedented renaissance of its economic power and its predominance in military technology. At the same time, over the last five years, American foreign policy in a number of key domains has caused irritation all over the world on account of its unmistakably unilateral bent—all the more so since the ‘assertive multilateralism’ of the Clinton administration that was proclaimed at the outset gave the impression of being not just an instrument of the government’s policymaking but its underlying principle. This unilateralism raises fundamental questions about the USA’s preferences in regard to foreign-policy strategies, about the status of international organizations (IOs), and about the conditions in which the United States is prepared to work together with other countries within a multilateral framework. In the area of security/arms-control policy, these questions pose themselves in particular in relation to American conduct toward three international institutions. These are: the United Nations, NATO, and the Organization for the Prohibition of Chemical Weapons (OPCW). These three bodies serve as a good means of highlighting the differences and parallels in American policy. As the Clinton era draws to a close, this study seeks to take stock of the administration’s two periods of office in a major area of policymaking, and to indicate whether the conduct of the USA toward the three selected international organizations confirms the unilateral trend observable in US foreign policy. American policy toward the United Nations is examined using the example of UN reform. We also analyze the disagreements about American participation in UN peacekeeping operations. The declared principle underlying this remains unilateral use of force by the United States as a means of enforcing its interests. In the debate about reform, the lowest common denominator between the major US actors is the need to make the United Nations more efficient—and to use the process of change to establish US influence on as firm a footing as possible. In other key areas, the administration and the Republican-dominated Congress have had entirely different views about the United Nations. This has led to an ambivalent picture of the hegemon, and to inconsistent foreign-policy strategies. The dissension over US policy toward the United Nations was exemplified particularly clearly in the matter of the reduction of the American debts. Although the Clinton administration acted unilaterally on several points (e.g. in reducing its contributions without consultation), the United States ultimately behaved as a hegemon that is open to compromise. The government campaigned for a large part of the arrears to be paid off, since the UN had satisfactorily carried out its reforms. A different position was taken by the dominant arch-conservative senators around Jesse Helms. They threatened to take the US out of the United Nations, in order to tighten up the reform conditions even more, and at the same time, year after year, they blocked funding. However paradoxical it may seem: because of the blockade policy of the majority in Congress, the American hegemon has so far been acting more like a ham-strung mediumsized power in this area of policymaking. It is not just the UN that is weakened; the reputation and influence of the United States within the United Nations are also - II - compromised at present. The establishment of power and influence that was sought via budgetary and administrative reform can currently only be achieved through the restoration of American credibility—in other words, initially by the USA’s changing from being the largest debtor to the largest and most reliable donor. By paying off part of its arrears, the United States has, after a lengthy tug-of-war, taken a first, hesitant step. An arduous path still lies ahead of it: the USA now has to persuade the General Assembly to accept its special demands and one-sided conditions. The US funding of the UN over the next few years which was laid down in law on 19 November 1999 is not a permanent solution, but a political stop-gap. The main problem of the last few years is unchanged: there is no stable internal American consensus for a constructive policy toward the UN. The conduct of the USA toward the regional organization NATO is examined via the three following aspects: a) the decision about the enlargement of the alliance; b) the discussion about the overhaul of the latter’s functions and area of competence; c) the development of a European Security and Defence Identity. Here, the United States comes across as a ‘benevolent hegemon’, whose conduct is still essentially cooperative and still adheres to multilateral principles even though ten years have passed since the end of the East–West conflict. Despite the major changes that have occurred in the alliance and its environment, US policy toward it is, overall, characterized by continuity. The United States does not see itself as a normal member of the alliance. It views itself, rather, as an irreplaceable leading power that lends the alliance cohesion, cushions internal European dissension, forges compromises on disputed issues, and acts for the good of all by pushing through decisions in borderline cases, even in the face of opposition. External observers see the American leadership as characterized by openness, dialogue, and a readiness to take account of the concerns and interests of smaller members of the alliance. Its power therefore does not express itself in unbridled dominance. However, this arrangement is increasingly coming under pressure in the American debate. Isolationist critics point to the costs of NATO involvement and to the danger of being drawn into conflicts in which the United States has no vital interests. The criticism of the unilateralists assumes that the alliance is restricting American freedom of action like a corset, without any significant reciprocal effort by the Europeans to relieve the burden on the USA. Up to now, this criticism has not been reflected in any major change in American policy on NATO. What is currently of greater political importance than the isolationist and unilateral criticism is the call of the internationalist center of the political spectrum for the alliance to be geared more strongly to American interests, because otherwise it will lose its practical relevance. Against this background, there is a danger that the foreign-policy consensus that has underpinned the hegemon’s involvement in NATO will now begin to crumble. The attitude of the United States toward the Organization for the Prohibition of Chemical Weapons (OPCW) is manifested, to begin with, in the legislation on the implementation of the Chemical Weapons Convention (CWC). This allows us to assess how far the superpower is complying with what are the binding provisions of the convention. - III - If one is to believe the political rhetoric, the United States is a cooperative member of the OPCW that vigorously supports the organization’s objectives—namely, the elimination of existing arsenals of chemical weapons and the non-proliferation of such weapons. However, US practice sometimes diverges significantly from the multilateral procedures set out in the Chemical Weapons Convention. The hegemon’s attitude here is similar to that shown to the United Nations: the unilateralism is unmistakable. During the toing and froing between the executive and the legislature, provisions were incorporated into the American ratification and implementation legislation that considerably restrict the organization’s powers within the United States. This policy of unilateral self-interest is embodied in the day-to-day cooperation with the Organization for the Prohibition of Chemical Weapons. The United States on the one hand hampered cooperation in The Hague—the organization’s base. It also put obstacles in the way of routine inspections by the OPCW team in various American chemical-weapons facilities. All in all, as far as the policy of the US hegemon toward the three selected international organizations is concerned, the picture that emerges underscores our overall assessment of an increase in unilateralism. NATO is the exception to the rule. As our analysis shows, the markedly unilateral conduct of the United States toward the UN and the OPCW on the one hand, and its cooperative policy toward NATO on the other, are a function of the peculiar characteristics of the three international organizations concerned. The UN and the OPCW are large-scale organizations, with 185 and 130 members respectively. Associated with this numerical size is a considerable ideological-cum-political disparity which keeps the influence of the USA—in so far as this is deliberately exerted—in check. We here turn to the explanatory factors for unilateralism and cooperation/multilateralism that have been suggested in the present discussion, and we assess their plausibility. We discuss the significance of four determining factors for unilateralism in relation to relevant US behavior toward the UN and the OPCW; and we consider the analytical scope of three explanatory factors for cooperation/multilateralism in relation to the essentially cooperative policy of the United States toward NATO. In conclusion, we raise the question of the permanence of the American hegemon’s basic unilateral stance. Although we are not able to give a definitive answer on this, it would appear to us that the determining factors elaborated here are likely to continue to be decisive for the foreseeable future: a revised version of the ‘assertive multilateralism’ of the first Clinton administration is not in prospect.


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