[VIEWPOINT]A plea for a new multilateralism

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[VIEWPOINT]A plea for a new multilateralism

U. S. foreign policy and the future direction of the world order after the Sept. 11 terrorist attack was one of the major issues discussed at the dawn of the new year by newspapers looking back on 2001. The key topic raised in these discussions was the revival of Pax Americana with the United States' newly adopted unilateral foreign policy.

World peace now depends on the unrivaled power of the United States and international society is a unipolar structure with the United States in the center. In this world order, the best prescription for countries wanting a peaceful ride is not getting on the wrong side of the United States and quietly accepting the status quo.

This, however, could be a realistic but dangerous stance. The present power-based hegemony of the United States might provide short-term security, but it cannot guarantee world peace in the long run. For a stable and steady world peace, leadership must draw the willing cooperation and consensus of other countries, instead of relying only on a concentrated display of physical power by the United States. America should realize that legitimacy and leadership in international society are not gained by the assumption of hegemony and unilateral foreign policies alone, much less by the mere fact of winning a war.

Professor Joseph S. Nye Jr. of Harvard University provides a new insight into the role of the United States in the global community in his newly published book, "The Paradox of American Power: Why the World's Only Superpower Can't Go It Alone".

According to Mr. Nye, the paradox of American power is that it is too strong to be challenged by other countries, but too weak to solve unilaterally international problems like the proliferation of nuclear weapons and terrorism. He argues that the United States must step away from its hegemonic pride and unilateral decisions to gain the respect and acknowledgement of other nations in order to become a true world leader.

How can the United States do so? First of all, the United States should change its foreign policy. I express sympathy for the tremendous tragedy of Sept. 11 and I see the necessity for the attack on Afghanistan. I am also of the opinion that the war against terrorism has yet to be finished.

But this war against terrorism requires something more than a display of physical power through military actions in order to win a permanent victory. Blood only begets more blood. There must be a structural solution to stop this vicious circle of revenge for attack. The solution lies in the end of political oppression, poverty and exploitation, militaristic diplomacy and hegemony and the cultural alienation that pervades many parts of the Middle East. The United States should reorient its foreign policy towards the Mideast to encourage the spread of democracy and the improvement of the quality of life. It should also adopt a more balanced engagement with countries in the region in order to have more constructive relations with Islamic countries.

The war must not be extended beyond what is needed. The year 2002 should not be remembered as a year of wars. The necessity of a war against Saddam Hussein's Iraq should be carefully considered as well as evidence of Iraq's support of Islamic terrorists. Saddam Hussein is a member of the Baath party, an essentially anti-Islamic group, and a war on Iraq could inadvertently turn him into the hero of the Islamic world and light anti-American feelings in the Middle East. An attack against Iran should be even more carefully considered. It would jeopardize the position of President Khatami and his group of pragmatic reformists in Iran. It would also carry the danger of transforming this war against terrorism from a "clash of civilization against barbarism" into a "clash of civilizations."

The United States must first and foremost reconsider its foreign policy of "if-you're-not-with-us-you're-against-us." All countries in the world have their reasons and their sides of the story.

There are domestic and political reasons why not all the statesmen of Saudi Arabia can publicly take the side of the United States. The United States should acknowledge that. Black-and-white divisions into "our side" and "their side" could very well turn a true friend into a true enemy.

The United States should transcend this black-or-white logic and adopt an open and flexible foreign policy that could embrace any and all Islamic states.

In closing, I would like to emphasize again that a hegemonic display of power and military actions are not enough to bring world peace and stability. It is now time for cool-headed logic to take over and plan for a new policy for the well-being of international society.


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The writer is a professor of international relations at Yonsei University.

by Moon Chung-In

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