Last Build Date: Wed, 16 Apr 2008 00:41:11 -0600Copyright: Copyright 2008
Wed, 16 Apr 2008 00:41:11 -0600In a multipolar system, no power dominates, or the system will become unipolar. Nor do concentrations of power revolve around two positions, or the system will become bipolar. Multipolar systems can be cooperative, even assuming the form of a concert of powers, in which a few major powers work together on setting the rules of the game and disciplining those who violate them. They can also be more competitive, revolving around a balance of power, or conflictual, when the balance breaks down. At first glance, the world today may appear to be multipolar. The major powers -- China, the European Union (EU), India, Japan, Russia, and the United States -- contain just over half the world's people and account for 75 percent of global GDP and 80 percent of global defense spending. Appearances, however, can be deceiving. Today's world differs in a fundamental way from one of classic multipolarity: there are many more power centers, and quite a few of these poles are not nation-states. Indeed, one of the cardinal features of the contemporary international system is that nation-states have lost their monopoly on power and in some domains their preeminence as well. States are being challenged from above, by regional and global organizations; from below, by militias; and from the side, by a variety of nongovernmental organizations (NGOs) and corporations. Power is now found in many hands and in many places. In addition to the six major world powers, there are numerous regional powers: Brazil and, arguably, Argentina, Chile, Mexico, and Venezuela in Latin America; Nigeria and South Africa in Africa; Egypt, Iran, Israel, and Saudi Arabia in the Middle East; Pakistan in South Asia; Australia, Indonesia, and South Korea in East Asia and Oceania. A good many organizations would be on the list of power centers, including those that are global (the International Monetary Fund, the United Nations, the World Bank), those that are regional (the African Union, the Arab League, the Association of Southeast Asian Nations, the EU, the Organization of American States, the South Asian Association for Regional Cooperation), and those that are functional (the International Energy Agency, OPEC, the Shanghai Cooperation Organization, the World Health Organization). So, too, would states within nation-states, such as California and India's Uttar Pradesh, and cities, such as New York, São Paulo, and Shanghai. Then there are the large global companies, including those that dominate the worlds of energy, finance, and manufacturing. Other entities deserving inclusion would be global media outlets (al Jazeera, the BBC, CNN), militias (Hamas, Hezbollah, the Mahdi Army, the Taliban), political parties, religious institutions and movements, terrorist organizations (al Qaeda), drug cartels, and NGOs of a more benign sort (the Bill and Melinda Gates Foundation, Doctors Without Borders, Greenpeace). Today's world is increasingly one of distributed, rather than concentrated, power. In this world, the United States is and will long remain the largest single aggregation of power. It spends more than $500 billion annually on its military -- and more than $700 billion if the operations in Afghanistan and Iraq are included -- and boasts land, air, and naval forces that are the world's most capable. Its economy, with a GDP of some $14 trillion, is the world's largest. The United States is also a major source of culture (through films and television), information, and innovation. But the reality of American strength should not mask the relative decline of the United States' position in the world -- and with this relative decline in power an absolute decline in influence and independence. The U.S. share of global imports is already down to 15 percent. Although U.S. GDP accounts for over 25 percent of the world's total, this percentage is sure to decline over time given the actual and projected differential between the United States' growth rate and those of the Asian giants and many other countries, a large number of which are growing at more than two or three times the [...]
Wed, 23 Jan 2008 00:25:00 -0600
• Second, foreign policy has also become less salient as the chance of war between the United States and Iran has diminished, following the recently published National Intelligence Estimate on Iran's nuclear program. The judgment by America's intelligence community that Iran has suspended its nuclear weapon development program -- and, more important, that its large-scale uranium enrichment capacity is likely years away -- postpones the day when a U.S. president may have to decide between living with or attacking a nuclear Iran.
• A third reason for the modest impact of international issues on voters' choice of the next president is another surprising development: more agreement among the leading candidates than meets the eye. There is something of a consensus, for example, emerging around the notion that the United States should remain in Iraq for some time, albeit with a reduced level of military forces.
There is also widespread acknowledgement that this country must do more both at home and diplomatically to address global climate change; that the United States must work with its European allies to prevent Afghanistan from slipping back into anarchy; and that it must take the strongest possible stand against terrorism and those who would support it in any way. No major candidate is advocating anything remotely resembling isolationism.
• Finally, and perhaps most important, the deterioration of America's economy is now overshadowing foreign policy. Recession, job loss and an inability to meet their monthly mortgage payments, not war, is what Americans fear most for 2008.
This is not to suggest that foreign policy is absent from the campaign. Along with the economy, a dominant issue on the political agenda -- particularly for Republicans -- is immigration.
Moreover, both parties are increasingly worried about globalization. With tougher economic times inevitably come tougher positions toward foreign competition and outsourcing.
There may also be latent concern about foreign policy in the attention being given to the quantity and quality of candidates' relevant experience. A desire for ''change'' is a common refrain of the American debate, but it is far from the only one.
Foreign policy could reemerge as a campaign issue if there were a dramatic overseas development. We saw this a few weeks ago, when former Pakistani Prime Minister Benazir Bhutto was assassinated. Democratic and Republican candidates alike were called upon to explain what they would be prepared to do if there were an opportunity to capture Osama Bin Laden or a need to secure Pakistan's nuclear weapons.
Likewise, Iraq could return to center stage if the positive momentum of recent months were suddenly reversed, perhaps following a new outbreak of sectarian violence.
The United States and Iran could go to war over reckless behavior by the Revolutionary Guards (as occurred recently in the Strait of Hormuz), with Iranian President Mahmoud Ahmedinejad possibly seeking to distract domestic attention from his economic failures. Order in Pakistan could break down irretrievably. A terrorist attack could remind Americans of their fundamental vulnerability. The possibilities are endless.
America's next president will face a host of pressing and difficult foreign policy challenges -- and how he or she responds will affect not only this country, but the entire world. In the meantime, though, foreign policy will have only an indirect influence on Americans' choice.
Sun, 28 Oct 2007 00:24:01 -0600
Ripeness has several elements. There must be: a formula for the parties involved to adopt, a diplomatic process to get them to that point and protagonists who are able and willing to make a deal.
It is not clear that any of these conditions exist in today's Middle East. Much has been said or written about what ''final status'' or peace between Israel and the Palestinians would look like, but important differences remain regarding borders, the status of Jerusalem and its holy places, the rights of refugees, the future of Israeli settlements and security arrangements.
Most critical, though, is the condition of local leadership.
• Palestinian Authority President Mahmoud Abbas may want to sign a peace accord with Israel, but he is in no position to do so. He has lost all authority in Gaza and has a tenuous hold over the West Bank. If Palestine were a state, it would be judged to have failed.
• Israeli Prime Minister Ehud Olmert is in a stronger but still uncertain position. His coalition government survives mainly because many members of Israel's parliament know that they would lose their seats in an early election. It is an open question whether the most that Olmert would likely be able and willing to offer would meet the least that Abbas would be able to accept.
So what, then, should be done?
• First, keep expectations modest. Calls for an agreement on the most controversial elements of a final peace settlement are unrealistic. Simply agreeing to an agenda for follow-up meetings would be an accomplishment.
• Second, this meeting must be the start of a serious process, not a one-time event. Rigid timetables should be eschewed, but no one should doubt the determination of the Quartet members to see this process succeed as quickly as possible.
• Third, Palestinians must come to associate diplomacy with improvement in their living conditions. This requires improved security and inflows of aid and investment.
• Fourth, provide a path for those who do not attend this meeting to join the process at a later date. The most critical barrier for Hamas and others should be a clear commitment to forgo armed violence in the pursuit of political ends.
• Fifth, the Palestinian leadership cannot be expected to take risks for peace without political protection. Arab governments -- led by Egypt and Jordan, but including Saudi Arabia and other members of the Arab League -- must publicly declare their willingness to support a peace that is based on coexistence with Israel.
For some, this approach will seem overly modest. But this is not yet the time for great ambition.
The context for Middle East peace has deteriorated sharply since the Clinton administration last convened the parties seven years ago.
Today's Israeli and Palestinian leaders are far weaker than their predecessors; Hamas controls Gaza; Iran is more influential; additional settlements and a fence have been built; and the United States has lost standing throughout the region.
Neglect in the Middle East is rarely benign. But new efforts must not cause more harm than good. Avoiding failure is sometimes a better objective than achieving great success. Today's diplomats could do worse than recall the warning of the French statesman Talleyrand: "Surtout, messieurs, point de zele.'' Above all, not too much zeal.