[Overseas view]Strength in numbers

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[Overseas view]Strength in numbers

George W. Bush last week paid what will almost certainly be his last visit to Europe while in the White House. The itinerary included a Slovenia summit with representatives of the European Union, plus meetings with leaders of France, Germany, Italy, the United Kingdom and the Vatican.

On this journey, as well as an earlier NATO summit in Bucharest last spring, there has been sustained emphasis on cooperation among allies.

This represents a basic strategic change over time in the Bush administration, directly reflecting experiences in East Asia, especially Korea, as well as Southwest Asia.

Bush is emphasizing ongoing efforts to limit Iran’s nuclear development. Diplomacy is the preferred device, and so far a direct confrontation with Tehran has been avoided. The president also has talked from time to time on the trip about employing European-American alliance diplomacy to further peace in the Middle East and pursue other broad policy challenges removed from the Atlantic region.

Two very positive points emerge from this Bush swan song. First, the trip underscores White House recognition of the importance of working with allies. Second, closely related, Bush clearly has learned the basic foreign policy fact of life that international institutions are indispensable, a point which applies as much to the United Nations and regional organizations in Asia as to NATO and the European Union.

The confident cowboy unilateralism of his first few years in the White House, including declarations that other nations were “either for us or against us,” has disappeared. The White House media message about this trip is that relations with European nations have improved considerably, indicating by implication that alliances matter after all.

This White House shift has significance with a direct bearing on developments in Korea. Former President Kim Dae-jung made a special effort to ensure he was the first foreign head of government to visit the newly inaugurated American president early in 2001. For his trouble, he was publicly scolded by Bush for being too accommodating to North Korea.

By contrast, the Bush administration now actively encourages diplomatic initiatives regarding limitation of North Korea’s nuclear capacity, and the preferred means is the six-party talks that include China, Japan and Russia along with the U.S. and South Korea.

Iran and Korea represent particularly dangerous nuclear flash points on the globe. Whatever the specific differences between these two cases, in each President Bush has chosen to give priority to collective diplomacy over unilateral military action.

Acting with allies spreads burdens and costs involved, and provides a test of advisability of proposed actions. Refusal by the alliance as a whole to join the U.S. in the 2003 invasion of Iraq was an early warning that the Bush administration was cavalierly underestimating the task.

By contrast, the global struggle against al-Qaeda involves active NATO cooperation and United Nations support. After the 9/11 terrorist attacks, French aircraft along with those of other alliance members patrolled the skies of North America. The overthrow of the Taliban and liberation of Afghanistan has been carried out under NATO auspices.

In 1954, as France was suffering defeat in Indochina, an urgent appeal was made to Washington for direct military intervention. President Dwight D. Eisenhower asked Paris to find additional NATO allies willing to participate. When none would join, Ike had a persuasive and plausible reason for abstaining as well, in hindsight a very insightful decision.

The next American administration should give high priority to strengthening our international institutional ties. Both Senators Barack Obama and John McCain have reflected this basic insight in campaign statements on foreign policy.

*The writer is Clausen Distinguished Professor at Carthage College and author of “After the Cold War.” He can be reached at acyr@carthage.edu.

by Arthur I. Cyr
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