Friday, November 19, 2004

Pro and Contra

Two different visions of the future of the world were separately articulated over the last few days. The first was delivered by Jacques Chirac, the President of France at a gathering sponsored by the London-based International Institute for Strategic Studies.

He said the West could not impose its values on the world and confuse democratisation and Westernisation. "Granted, it is still possible to organise the world based on a logic of power yet experience has taught us that this type of organisation is, by its very definition, unstable and sooner or later leads to crisis or conflict. ... It is by recognising the new reality of a multi-polar and interdependent world that we will succeed in building a sounder and fairer international order. This is why we must work together to revive multilateralism, a multilateralism based on a reformed and strengthened United Nations."

In Chirac's view the United States had tried to impose this "logic of power" on the world and stood condemned. The New York Times reported on remarks the French President had delivered earlier.

Most prominently, Mr. Chirac reiterated his view that the war in Iraq had led to an "expansion" of terrorism in the world. Though he said that France was willing to put its differences with Britain and the United States aside and look to the future by helping to rebuild a stable, democratic and sovereign Iraq, Mr. Chirac indicated that he thought the judgment of history would go against the Iraq war and vindicate those who opposed it. ...

"We have another choice," Mr. Chirac told an audience at the International Institute of Strategic Studies (remarks delivered later). "That of an order based on respect for international law and the empowerment of the world's new poles by fully and wholly involving them in the decision-making mechanisms. "Only this path," he added, "is likely to establish a stable, legitimate and accepted order in the long run." The new "poles" he spoke of are the emerging regional powers of the new century, including Europe, China, India and Brazil.

A fortnight earlier, an American Undersecretary of Defense gave a quiet interview to Radek Sikorski, at one time a deputy minister of defense himself in Poland, on the future as he saw it. Paul Wolfowitz. The full article is in the Prospect Magazine.

Export of democracy isn't really a good phrase. We're trying to remove the shackles on democracy. What you would hope is that governments can be encouraged on a path of gradual reform because that's the best way to avoid the sort of cataclysm that will come otherwise.  ... We're not trying to graft our system of government on to people who are different from us. We're trying to remove shackles that keep them from having what they want. And it's astonishing how many of them want something that's similar to what we in the west have.

Sikorski put a rhetorical question to Wolfowitz: "The US president used to be seen as the leader of the free world rather than just president of one country and America used to be seen as a benign global empire. Now, after 9/11, understandably, this is a more patriotic, perhaps even a more nationalistic country. But won't the price of running a nationalistic American empire be much higher than managing a co-operative one?" Wolfowitz responded with the most astonishing assertion of the interview, the idea that a cooperative "empire" -- if empire it could be called -- could only consist of free nations.

The premise of your question is that we're out to run an empire, but there is no American empire. Look at Japan and Korea. They were part of this so-called empire in the cold war. After the second world war and the Korean war, we invested heavily in the defence and economic systems of countries like Japan and Korea - hardly an imperial undertaking. I would submit that we have benefited enormously from their strength and their ability to stand on their own feet. They're now contributing to the rest of the world. We're so much better off with a Japan as a strong trading partner than a Japan as a basket case. If people want to redefine the word "empire" to mean this as an empire, then it's just semantics. We are not trying to control these countries so we can exploit their resources. We're trying to enable these countries to stand on their own feet and our experience says that when they do so, we're better off. It's back to the absurdity of saying we're trying to impose our ideas on other people when we want to help them become democracies. There's more legitimacy to the question of whether we are really prepared to live with what they produce when they become democratic. There's an uncertainty about the democratic process and there's always a danger that bad people will get elected. But it's a funny empire that relies on releasing basic human desires to be free and prosperous and live in peace. One of the things about this moment in history is that nobody really thinks they can produce an army, a navy or an air force that can take on the US. That should channel human competitiveness into more productive and peaceful pursuits.

History may remember Jacques Chirac as one of the most prolific institution builders of the late 20th and early 21st centuries. The European Union and the United Nations are but some of the multilateral projects he sought to strengthen in the belief they would serve as a prototype for the future ordering of the world. Wolfowitz's vision seems altogether more complex. He seems unwilling to speak of institutions outside the context of empowerment, as if to speak of instruments of governance without freedoms was tantamount to prescribing tyranny. Their difference of opinion may be rooted, not so much in an argument over bureaucratic arrangements, but in their view of the nature of man himself.