Aligning for the Future: Assertive Unilateralism or Concert of Powers? (Perspectives on the United States)

Article excerpt

US foreign policy is in the midst of an unprecedented, but incomplete, diplomatic revolution. This transformation began in earnest after the attacks of September 11, 2001, and has resulted in new levels of cooperation in a worldwide war against terrorism. Yet it has also initiated a risky process that signifies a profound change in the nature of alliance systems, as well as a fundamental reassessment of relations with former

Cold War enemies and friends.

Six interrelated factors are driving this reassessment. First, states and terrorist organizations that are willing to use tactics of asymmetrical warfare and extreme violence have emerged as new threats. Second, the post-Cold War US rapprochement with Russia has been followed by the post-September 11 emergence of Russia as a potentially close ally. Third, NATO has continued to spread into areas formerly under Soviet influence. Fourth, the revolution in military affairs and technology has given the United States clear military superiority. Fifth, the expansion of the European Union has strengthened Europe's desire to devise common foreign defense policies. Finally, a rising China is increasingly perceived as a challenge to US and Japanese interests in Asia.

On the positive side, this reassessment of US alliance options could evolve into a closer relationship between the United States, the European Union, and Russia that pools resources in order to carefully and diplomatically manage the rise of China and the emergence of other regional powers. Management of new international threats could be accomplished through concerted approaches that identify the nature of the threat and the most appropriate method of dealing with it. One option is to foster the formation of loose confederations or regional "cooperative-collective security communities" backed by overlapping US, EU, and Russian security guarantees, which would help diverse states to cooperate despite their significant political, social, and ideological differences.

More negatively, such a reassessment could degenerate into an "America first" position that ignores the nuances of multilateral diplomacy and the complexities of joint military efforts as the United States displays a more assertive unilateralism. The latter approach, based in part on superior technological prowess, would attempt to pressure unwilling states into obeying US directives. This approach might lead the United States to take precautionary measures and preemptive actions that could alienate key allies and eventually overextend US political will and resources, possibly leaving the country bogged down in regional quagmtres.

The NATO-Russia Council

Although there were belated signs of a closer NATO-Russian relationship, the September 11 attacks provided the major catalyst for the United States to move more rapidly than generally anticipated toward a full-fledged entente with Russia. At the May 2002 North Atlantic Council meeting at Reykjavaik, Iceland, NATO opted to establish the NATO-Russia Council (NRC), which is intended to engage Russia more directly in the NATO decision-making process--although Russia remains unable to set the agenda or veto NATO decisions. The three new Central European members of NATO--Poland, the Czech Republic, and Hungary--effectively blocked steps to adopt a radically new mode of NATO-Russian cooperation and pressed instead for a more "evolutionary" approach. As a result, the NRC agenda is initially limited to prove to skeptics that NATO and Russia can in fact cooperate.

Despite its initial restrictions, the NRC will ultimately need to confront the global and regional ramifications of the war on terrorism and the proliferation of weapons of mass destruction. There are more fundamental issues at stake as well, such as the future of peacekeeping in the Balkans and the nature of military cooperation between NATO, Russia, and the European Union. The NRC will also have to tackle the problems surrounding military cooperation in Kaliningrad and the Baltic states and contemplate NATO-Russian accords regarding conventional forces and ballistic missile defenses. …