Monday, June 12, 2006
The US return to multi-lateralism
We have seen how the Bush administration initially pursued a unilateralist approach, annointed with hubris, in world affairs which has gotten it nowhere and has actually reversed the country's fortunes (the Iraq incursion is the primary glaring example of this). The immediate fall-out is fairly evident to anyone who has eyes – the loss of support from allies, the soaring costs of a war in Iraq that still may see that country fractured into at least three separate states, and skyrocketing oil prices. Perhaps the most damaging legacy from this unilateralist approach has been the loss of credibility which the US will have to work very hard to rebuild in a post- Bush era.
That Bush has returned to a multilateralist approach, as manifested in its dealings with Iran, is truly remarkable for an administration that has resisted any change in course. It shows precisely the extent of the damage, which has reached such proportions as to force said reconsideration of policy. Although loath to admit it, this administration's ultimate aim in the middle east has always centered (in my view) around the increasingly important energy resources that the region posesses. Advocating democracy masked a greater goal: control over the energy resources that include massive reserves of oil and natural gas.
If the citizens of the US were in denial about this aim, the rest of the world certainly wasn't. It therefore wasn't long before the rest of the world and in particular the competing interests for those massive reserves of energy were galvanized into action in order to counter Washington's moves in the energy-rich region. This occurred with the formation of the Shanghai Cooperation Organization (SCO).
SCO was created in 2001 to include Russia, several of the former soviet republics of Central Asia and China, and may yet expand to include India, Pakistan and Iran. The stated purposes of the organization are to strengthen relations among member states; promoting cooperation in political affairs, economy and trade, scientific-technical, cultural and educational spheres as well as in energy, transportation, tourism and environmental protection fields; joint safeguarding and preservation of regional peace, security and stability, among others. Western analysts have stressed that the organization represents a strategic alliance between Beijing and Moscow aimed at countering Washington's influence in a region of considerable energy resources.
Despite the timid efforts of several of the former soviet Central Asian republics at opening up to the West, this new alliance represents an effort from Moscow's (as well as China's) perspective to draw them closer to its sphere of influence. SCO bears close watching in the ever complex chess game between East and West that has broken out anew. This time, energy resources are at the center of this new game given that two interested parties (India and China) represent rapidly growing economies that will need to secure sources of energy to guarantee that they continue to grow. Given the increasing hostility of the US towards Iran, it is no surprise that the latter sought observer status in SCO along with India and Pakistan.
This scenario has forced a reconsideration of unilateralism in Washington. We have seen this played out in the new US strategy toward Iran which engages the European Union as well as Russia and China and contemplates what would have been heresy a few years ago in the Bush administration: namely direct negotiations with Iran.
In a broader sense, however, the US has other reasons to pursue multilateralism. The economy is now global and US companies depend as much on foreign operations as they do domestic ones. One simply cannot ignore world opinion when you rely on the world for your profits. Call it realpolitik with a decidedly globalized perspective. That the Bush administration has realized this (somewhat belatedly) is also evidenced in the administration's recent personnel changes.
Despite his reported aversion to Wall Street people, Bush nominated chairmen and chief executive of the globally connected Goldman and Sachs Company Henry Paulson for the Treasury Department. Some analysts have highlighted the China factor in Paulson's nomination. Together with Condoleeza Rice at the State Department, we have a decided tilt of this administration towards multilateralism both in the economic as well as the political sphere. As I said at the beginning, economics and politics are inextricably linked.
Labels: Newspaper columns