U.S. Hegemony and International Organizations: The United States and Multilateral Institutions

By Rosemary Foot; S. Neil MacFarlane et al. | Go to book overview

6 Looking Beyond the 'K-Word': Embedded Multilateralism in American Foreign Environmental Policy

Stephen Hopgood

President George W. Bush's announcement in March 2001 that the Kyoto Protocol was 'dead' as far as the United States was concerned makes the title of this chapter seem optimistic to say the least. That this is not so will become clear. The many pressures which now face the President on this issue render his decision to abandon, not modify, Kyoto less rather than more comprehensible. Indeed, I will argue it is a question of how and how soon, not whether, the United States rejoins the multilateral environmental fray.

The United States is neither pro-nor anti-environmental in foreign policy terms in any permanent or unanimous sense. It is split, at the very highest reaches of the state, by an enduring factional struggle between activists and sceptics based on fundamental ideological disagreements about the appropriate role the United States ought to play in international environmental politics. This dispute is not about the most effective means for securing a given end, but about the value of those ends themselves. These two groups of state officials are united against each other by their positions on three basic questions: the extent of the environmental threat, the proper relationship between state and economy, and the role that the United States, as a hegemon, ought to play in international environmental affairs. Despite these differences, activists and sceptics can and frequently do coexist within the same administration. It is the activist position, however, which has been responsible for fostering engagement in environmental multilateralism in American foreign policy since 1968.

The nature of international environmental issues has helped sustain this long-running split. Unlike policy-making during crises, where intense short-term pressures put a premium on a high degree of intra-state agreement, the problems posed by international environmental issues are long-running, complex, and highly structured. As a result, the intra-state struggle has become

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