[TODAY]Arrogance of American Unilateralism

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[TODAY]Arrogance of American Unilateralism

William Pfaff, an influential American journalist and columnist, wrote in his book, "Barbarian Sentiments": "An alliance has emerged in Washington since the Cold War's end between avowedly Wilsonian liberals, anxious to extend American influence and federate the democracies, with tougher-minded unilateralist neoconservative believers in U.S. power projection, who call for American world leadership, aggressively imposed, for world society's own good."

Wilsonism is a doctrine whose foreign policy goal is in propagating the values of Western (American) democracy throughout the world, building a coalition of democracies where possible, as well as pursuing the economic and realistic U.S. national interests.

Unilateralism is a power-based diplomacy that sustains and strengthens American hegemony by intervening in international conflicts based on a unilateral decision, not in concert with the United Nations or allies.

President Clinton called it "bold multilateralism" in 1993 when he dispatched 3,000 American soldiers as a part of an UN multinational peacekeeping force to Somalia where people were starving to death because of a civil war. He instantly withdrew all American soldiers as soon as TV stations around the world showed images of 17 bodies of American soldiers being dragged through the streets after they were killed by Somalian militiamen. There and then multilateralism gave way to unilateralism.

Irving Kristol and Robert Kagan, standard bearers of American neo-conservatism, wrote in the spring 2000 issue of Foreign Affairs magazine what may be a good definition of America's hegemonic unilateralism: "Today's international system is not built around a balance of power but around American hegemony...Since today's relatively benevolent international circumstances are the product of our hegemonic influence...American hegemony must be actively maintained." Kristol and Kagan further argue that because the United States infuses its foreign policy with an unusually high degree of morality, other nations feel they have less to fear from America's otherwise daunting power.

The Bush administration's way of pushing forward the missile defense shield is typical unilateralism. The Bush administration concluded that small scale missile attacks by rogue countries such as North Korea, Iraq and Iran are a danger to the United States and its allies. It came up with an ambitious plan to defend the United States and its allies from such missile attacks through a land-, sea- and air-based shield, and is peddling the plan to friendly nations.

It was for this purpose that Richard Armitage, deputy secretary of state, recently came to Seoul. Nevertheless, he told me that he didn't come to ask the Korean government to support the U.S. missile defense shield but to explain America's new strategy to Seoul. However, all the governments visited by American officials would understand their "explanation" as asking them to participate in and support the missile defense plan. Perhaps anticipating such sentiment by many governments, William Safire, a conservative columnist of the New York Times, is calling American unilateralism "consultative unilateralism."

What is important to us is not the definition of unilateralism or multilateralism, but the obviously inflexible perception of rogue countries by neo-conservative intellectuals whose views are reflected in the foreign policy of the Bush Administration. For example, Kristol and Kagan argue that in the post-Cold War era a principal aim of American foreign policy should be to bring about a change of regime in hostile nations - in Baghdad and Pyongyang. They said, "The most effective form of non-proliferation when it comes to regimes such as those in North Korea and Iraq is not continuing efforts to bribe them into adhering to international arms control agreements, but efforts aimed at the demise of the regimes."

Mr. Armitage, in contrast, said that the United States is not interested in changing or overturning the current regime and leadership in North Korea. Of course it was said under the condition that North Korea behaves benignly and does not pose a threat to South Korea. Nevertheless, one detects a basic discrepancy between Kristol's and Armitage's stances.

The future of South Korea's "sunshine policy" is murky because opinions about North Korea differ even within the camp of American neo-conservatism. While Kristol and his comrades in the neo-conservative camp prefer to use big sticks vis-a-vis the rogue states along the lines of hegemonic unilateralism, Armitage and company find merit in talking with North Korea as suggested by the Perry report. Even if the American Administration's policy toward North Korea settles somewhere between those two views, North Korea will be strongly pressured to give up its missiles by the United States. We are concerned at what might happen if North Korea decides to resist vigorously such pressure from Washington.


The writer is a senior columnist of the JoongAng Ilbo.

by Kim Young-hie

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