political revue

Year XLIV, 2002, Number 1, Page 35



United States foreign policy shows a great continuity, which in actual fact transcends the changes of administration. Even when it seems that a new presidency wants to start the elaboration of a new American world strategy, it is reduced, in fact, to attempting to make tendencies developed in the previous years more explicit and structured. This principle also goes for the present administration. Although the attitude of Bush seems so different from that of his predecessor, the reality is that he is confronting the problems relating to the foreign and security policy of the United States with the same formula that Clinton had immediately after the end of the cold war. The difference is that Clinton was able to exploit the fact of still not being pressured by urgency, and therefore he could afford not to make definitive choices. But after ten years of American unipolarism in the world, during which the USA have, on the one hand, sought to confirm their hegemony, using the instruments of military and political superiority, but have at the same time struggled to find a precise and consistent strategy that would unify the different elements of their politics, it has become inevitable to seek to define the American doctrine suited to the new phase of international relations. Bush therefore inherited the problem of clearly establishing American priorities in the world, first of all the alliances, the enemies and the dangers for national security, and then the arms and defence policy.
The fact of having underlined the continuity between Clinton’s and Bush’s approaches, which therefore only superficially differ in their conception of America’s role in the world, does not mean that different attitudes in tackling the matter are not possible, as shown by the Bush administration’s internal dialectic itself. It does mean, however, that the international framework of power relations brings any alternative in American foreign policy back to the problem of how to reinforce American hegemony and that the differences are only to do with wrapping this will in a more internationalist and democratic ideology or with emphasizing its unilateral and imperialist aspects. These are differences, above all, that diminish more and more, since the compulsion of the imperialist and unilateral spur becomes ever greater with the power vacuum created at the end of the cold war — a vacuum that, at the moment, no-one, apart from the USA, is able to fill. It is in this way that the first steps of the Bush administration frightened the world: a hail of refusals of treaties and international protocols, from the Kyoto protocol on the environment, to that pertaining to the restrictions on light arms trafficking, to that aiming to introduce control mechanisms in the context of the Convention on bacteriological weapons, to that for the banning of nuclear testing, right up to the announcement of the US withdrawal from the ABM Treaty in order to be able to instigate the national missile defence project (NMD). All this was decided in the name of national interest and imposed on the rest of the world with the arrogance of one who knows he cannot be stopped. These moves by America have provoked a lot of worry in Europe, in Russia and in China, they have increased the sense of trouble and hostility towards American superpower in many areas of the world and are strongly criticized by a section, even if a minor one, of American public opinion itself, which is perhaps the most lucid and consistent in denouncing the imperialist drifts of the country, but have not provoked any reaction capable of stopping them. The iron logic of the power that can only be matched by a countering power, which at the moment does not exist, makes it so that the United States cannot listen to the voice of those, especially at home, who demand not to continue down the imperialist road — which, in perspective, can only put world security and therefore American power itself into crisis — instead demanding to contribute to the birth of a more balanced world order, the birth of new poles of responsibility in the world in order to share the weight of world leadership and to increase the possibilities for international stability, and to free a part of the country’s energies spasmodically involved in the military effort to favour projects of civil and social development. The brake for the American drift can only come from the outside, from the actual appearance on the international stage of new forces able to confront the United States and to take on autonomous initiatives; until these appear the alternatives do not have any space.
The State of the Union Address recently held by Bush is a test of this. In one way, the dramatic events of September the 11th have facilitated the decisions to the American administration, thanks to the fact that they created a strong sense of alarm in public opinion and, consequently, strongly increased the approval the President enjoys and cemented the spirit of the country into a new nationalist fervour. What appeared in the eyes of public opinion in the country, after the attempt, is that the United States, although deeply hurt and shaken, were able to demonstrate their power to the world: They have strongly employed their military supremacy, redesigning the front of their strategic alliances, acting unilaterally, without bothering with the agreement of international organizations, and have been able to defend American interests globally. In this climate Bush’s appeal to continue the war on terrorism to the bitter end could only win enormous domestic consensus of opinion, thus creating the climate for the approval of choices in the fields of foreign policy, security and defence that in reality were already the intentions of the administration well before the attack on the Twin Towers and the Pentagon, but that without them it would have been much easier for public opinion at home to objectively evaluate and criticize them.
In fact, in the scenario drawn by Bush in his speech, the only variations in the tendency already demonstrated at the beginning of his mandate are the accent on the privileged relations with Russia, China and India (“a common danger is erasing old rivalries. America is working with Russia, China and India, in ways we have never before, to achieve peace and prosperity”), and the impression of having decided to return to the priority of the Asian chequerboard, that some months ago he seemed to want to put into second place after the pan-American framework. In essence, the United States renounce the temptation of isolationism and accept to take on the role of world leadership that the relations of force dictate to them; but in doing so, they choose without hesitation the way of hegemony and unilateralism, of the identification of national interest with the assertion of their own crushing superiority, alone against everyone, without partners or true allies. The budget proposals that will have to be discussed by Congress, the declarations of the Secretary of Defence Donald Rumsfeld on the new military strategy, the indiscretions that have come out in the Pentagon report already approved by the White House and submitted to Congress at the beginning of January greatly confirm this. It is worth trying to briefly examine them in order to better evaluate the Americans’ options.
The budget presented by Bush is centred on military expenditures. Inverting (and exploiting) the trend of the Clinton Presidency years, that had levelled the public deficit and even reached a notable surplus, the current plan expects a return to public finance deficits, that in the predictions could be gradually levelled out over the next four years. For defence an increase of 15 per cent is expected, much of which will be destined to internal security (whose costs will double, reaching almost 38 billion dollars) and to the missile defence shield project (where a further 7,5 billion are due). It is the most conspicuous increase in military expenditures in the last forty years, that will ultimately further increase the gap between the USA and the rest of the world; the budget for American defence will thus now surpass the sum of those of the fourteen greatest military powers in the world. To make this development in defence expenditures compatible with the maintenance of the program of strong reductions of taxes already announced by Bush in his electoral program, the budget foresees cuts in many areas of public expenditure not linked to defence, among which education and health, where unproductive costs are sought to be eliminated. This has provoked a strong reaction especially in the ranks of the opposition, and many retain that a part of the proposals advanced in this direction will be rejected; we can foresee, therefore, a situation in which, on the one hand, it will be difficult to contain the deficit within the figures expected, also because they are based on overly optimistic projections (here the administration is accused by many parties of masking the existence of public debts with accounting tricks worthy of the Enron case), and on the other there is no will or project to confront the knots of public expenditure long held to be priorities (such as social security for example).
The problem is not minor, not only because these choices could have serious repercussion on the development of the American economy in the medium term, but more especially because the terrorist attacks suffered by the United States, including the Anthrax case, have highlighted the serious weakness of the structures of the American federal state, and the proposals contained in this budget show that the awareness of the necessity to tackle the problem has still not matured. On the internal security front alone a great development is called for, especially one directed to the security of frontiers and transport and the defence against attacks using biological weapons. However, neither is the traditional role that characterizes the American view of the state, limited to the defence of citizens, questioned again, nor are important interventions foreseen that strengthen those state areas weakened from years of progressive dismantling of the federal structures. Just as an example, after September the 11th, the republican right, supported by Bush, rejected the democratic project of giving official federal status to 28.000 badly paid and even more badly prepared private agents that airports use to guarantee security; just as it is not the intention of the federal power to create a national identity card, despite its strong favour in public opinion. The dominant idea continues to be not so much that of a reinforcement of the role of the federal state, as much as an increase in the participation of the private sector and local communities in the effort of collective security; without however considering either the problems of coordination that at present exist between the federal level and local communities (for example, in the dramatic moments immediately following the attacks, Mayor Giuliani had to implore Washington until the FBI agreed to collaborate with the New York police), nor the impotence of the federal level in promoting serious reforms in areas of national interest, like for example health (whose structural weaknesses were dramatically highlighted during the Anthrax case). America’s strategic choices therefore risk putting a heavy cost on the development of US state life and it is foreseeable that in the medium term they are a strong factor in the weakening of American power itself.
The stress Bush puts on the reinforcement of US military supremacy seems to involve, in turn, a series of risks of international regression that are destined to turn against American security itself. Last January the 31st, Rumsfeld illustrated for the first time in public the USA’s new military doctrine to spearhead the “war against the terrorism”. After having explained that the old doctrine, born out of the cold war, that was based on the ability to lead two conflicts at once, now had to be replaced, Rumsfeld affirmed that the United States “today should get organized in order to have a deterrence capability on four important fronts. This deterrence capability should be supported by the ability of defeating two aggressors at once, and of being in a position to lead simultaneously a wide scale counter-offensive and to occupy the capital city of an enemy and install a new regime there” (Le Monde, 1-2-2002). How America can be in a position to employ such power, was understood a few weeks later after some indiscretions pertaining to the Nuclear Posture Review leaked out to American newspapers. This was a report, secret in theory, that the Pentagon prepared for the White House and that Bush has already passed to Congress in the first days of January for them to have a look at. In this report (that has provoked harsh reactions in every country, especially in China, and in world public opinion — Le Monde defined it “a document worthy of a state prey to panic” — with the exception, obviously, of the 15 countries of the European Union, that have avoided comments with the excuse that it still was not an official text) the Pentagon seeks to put the basis of the new American military strategy in a global situation. Here, because there is no longer a definite enemy to confront, there is a need to face more insidious and unpredictable enemies, that try to both equip themselves with weapons of mass destruction that could threaten the American territory, and to challenge the security of the United States on the basis of the techniques of “asymmetrical warfare” that allow, indeed, terrorist attacks of every kind, including acts of piracy and computer sabotage, extremely difficult to anticipate and able to have devastating effects on the country. The strategy therefore goes from Mutual Assured Destruction (MAD), on which deterrence at the time of the cold war was based, to a sort of unilateral assured destruction, in which the United States should show themselves to be in a position to hit whoever threatens their interests absolutely effectively and credibly (which implies, amongst other things, low losses of human life on the American side). This result is attainable, according to the report, on the basis of a “new triad”, that sees a decrease in the number of nuclear weapons — but with the prediction of a partly new use, which we will come back to —, a new generation of advanced conventional weapons and a new system of defence against the weapons of mass destruction, including missiles.
As regards the reduction in the number of atomic weapons, the United States hope to be able to negotiate with Russia, the only other country that possesses a large nuclear arsenal, a cut that would bring the number of warheads from the present 6000-7000 to 2200 and then to 1500 over ten years. Americans however want to stipulate an agreement in which warheads are dismantled but not destroyed, to retain the possibility of rebuilding their arsenal in case new and unexpected threats emerge that make it necessary. Clearly it is a clause that creates serious problems for the Russians, interested in decreasing their respective arsenals, especially in the way in which such measures are accompanied by the definitive elimination of nuclear weapons considered excessive. In this way the United States certainly do not ease relations with a country which is not only considered no longer a threat, even if obviously we cannot exclude the idea that it can return to being one, but one that could even have a very important role in the support of the struggle against international terrorism. Beyond words, America does not therefore seem bent on seeking to build a real partnership with Russia.
With China the situation is even more ambiguous, because beyond the strategic alliance linked to the war in Afghanistan, the United States neither renounce feeding Chinese susceptibility as regards Taiwan (contravening it both in the agreements taken on the sale of weapons, and creating, certainly not by chance, diplomatic incidents), nor deny considering China a dangerous antagonist in the medium term, due to its capacity of developing strategic objectives capable of threatening the security of the United States and its military supremacy in Asia. In this sense Bush maintains an absolute continuity with Clinton that, in a report five years ago, which was then a secret, named the Presidential Decision Directive (PDD-60), foresaw precisely a shift in the strategic attention from Russia to China and was introducing for the first time the identification of five rogue nations indicated also by Bush (Iraq, Iran, North Korea, Libya and Syria) as possible objects of an American attack. Even for the previous administration, nuclear arms (that Clinton himself was wanting to reduce drastically) were the cornerstones of the Armerican security system. Bush just considers a greater number of possibilities in which they could be used, compared to Clinton. In the Nuclear Posture Review, in fact, the possibility of a first pre-emptive strike is not excluded, especially with the utilization of the mini-bomb (the Bunker-Buster) in mind, which fuels the dream of surgical bombing that minimizes human losses (especially on the American side). They are in fact weapons able to penetrate deep into the ground and destroy the hidden arsenals of the potential enemy. In this way the Pentagon renounces the international agreements that ensure atomic weapons are not used against countries that not have them, and unduly claims the right to choose without any constraints how to guarantee security.
Even if actually the difficulty of identifying the potential dangers that can jeopardize American security make the definition of an effective military strategy complex, the fact remains that the options that the United States are heading towards, that confirm the will to impose on the rest of the world their own supremacy and their own strategy, can only feed international tension. Hence they can trigger off a new nuclear race and ultimately make the threat to the United States themselves stronger. It is difficult in fact to believe, despite the display of force, that the United States can really shelter themselves from the risks of an “asymmetrical conflict” and moreover, as many observers stress, the diplomatic cost that America will pay for these projects will be extremely high, and will certainly not contribute to making it stronger.
The missile defence project also threatens to have a similar effect. Even in this case, Bush picks up again a project that was begun in Eisenhower’s time. The idea of being able to stop enemy missiles and even make the American territory absolutely invulnerable belongs to the realm of dreams that every President seeks to realize. But despite the enormous technical progress, this remains just a dream, and to pursue it can only have two effects: to give Americans themselves the illusion of being stronger and more secure and, simultaneously, to push other countries towards a race for rearmament that can only make the international situation more unstable and increase tensions. It is clear, in fact, that such a system of defence, however much perfected (and the problems are so many and so big as to make us believe that it is impossible to perfect it truly to satisfaction) will only be seen to be really effective when it actually stops enemy missiles, which are an unknown entity by definition. The success of tests, in this light, is only a very partially significant result, because the tricks for evading the Missile Shield are almost infinite, and the factor of surprise and unpredictability especially constitute a risk that, by definition, cannot be completely assessed beforehand. Therefore, such a system of defence will have the effect of being taken seriously enough by the enemy potential to trigger off a counterbalancing race for rearmament, but at the same time will not be able to make America, who will never be certain of its chances of success, feel calm.
We then have to add that, clearly, this shield will be no use against a massive attack, as could come, for example, from Russia, but is destined to act as deterrent against so-called rogue nations. Now, it is obvious enough that in a conflict with these countries it is much safer to directly destroy their nuclear arsenal on the ground, without waiting for them to get to launch missiles against the United States, or their allies or even only their own neighbours. The defence system thus conceived therefore seems to be a choice based on ideological motives, rather that on a rational strategy. In fact, if the hope that make America more secure appears to be unfounded, the costs to pay in terms of the increase in international tension and investments foregone in more crucial sectors (among which, for example, intelligence) are instead very real. Once again it seems that in the United States the most extremist current is emerging and the temptation to display their force and technological supremacy to the rest of the world is gaining the upper hand over political arguments and the pursuit of American interest as it is more lucidly understood. America, in this way, seems to want to exorcise or hide, especially to herself, her own inability, or better still impotence, in the face of world instability.
Faced with this political weakness by America, which is marked moreover by an increasing divergence in terms of military power with respect to the rest of the world, countries like Russia and China, although reacting with ill-concealed worry, can offer no alternative, because they are still too busy in their own process of consolidation and reinforcement. Europeans, in turn, show that they are not able to intervene with independent initiatives. Indeed, things being as they are, their role and weight becomes ever more marginal strategically speaking. The meagre importance — and the meagre respect — that the United States attribute to the Europeans is evident; with lashing imagery (reported by Le Monde last 10 March) an American diplomat thus summarized the manner in which the situation is seen in the United States: “The US fights, the UN feeds, the EU funds”. It is no coincidence, therefore, that Bush did not even mention the Atlantic Alliance in his State of the Union Address, nor that he did not have any need for NATO during the war in Afghanistan. The gap between American and European military capacity continues to increase, so much so that the American ambassador to NATO, Nicholas Burns, recently declared that without drastic interventions to reduce capability gap existing at present, there is a risk that the alliance “is so thrown off balance as to hinder us, in future, from fighting together” (New York Times, 16th of March 2002).
But the problem is not military. It is true that Europeans spend a lot less and a lot more badly than Americans on defence; and is true that the weakness of the European states from the technological and operational point of view is enormous. But the reason for this situation is political: if Europeans saw it as vital to modernize their own military forces they could even do it separately and within the present Union. Certainly, it would always be a modernisation directed toward complementarity with the USA, therefore not thought of as independent European defence, but nevertheless, it would already be a considerable improvement strictly from the point of view of operating capacity. But the point is that Europeans do not see their military sector as being vital, and therefore do not invest in this field, because they do not see themselves as having such international responsibilities as to necessitate an army worthy of this name.
Europeans are paying for the division that hinders any vision and political project of theirs. They choose to be financiers, however, although naturally in a manner subordinated to American political decisions, thus raising the spectre of that policy of cooperation and support to development that would be in the very DNA of a Europe capable of action. But they are unable to do any more than that. Security policy cannot be separated from foreign policy, and foreign policy can neither be set by a bickering confederation nor by 15 insignificant little states. For Europe to have defence worthy of this name it should first make itself into a state and take on ipso facto its international responsibility, that is to say become an independent pole of world policy; this is the only alternative to the present situation and the only real contribution Europeans can give to world peace and to the United States themselves, to stop the inevitable process of degeneration that they are undergoing.
To do this states that started the European process of integration more than fifty years ago by now need to have the courage to put the problem of the transfer of national sovereignty to a European federal state on the table; the time available to complete this step, before the crisis overwhelms the present balance, is probably about to expire. We should all be aware of this and know that whoever wants peace today should struggle more than ever for the founder states of the European Community to take on the initiative to found the first nucleus of the European federal state.
Luisa Trumellini

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