- The Washington Times - Wednesday, November 6, 2002

When Americans voted yesterday, ballots were filled with candidates' names as well as a range of initiatives and motions to be selected or rejected. Absent on each ballot, however, was the chance to register any opinion on what may be the most important foreign policy issue facing the nation: whether the United States is better or worse off if it continues to alienate and provoke much of the rest of the world.
Everyone knows power corrupts, possibly absolutely. But Americans believe the basic values and goodness of the United States are self-evident, that this country by and large has been extraordinarily generous and courageous in defending the rights of others along with our own, and that territorial conquest beyond our borders is not on the national agenda. Hence, at a time of unrivalled American power and authority, what is the problem?
The recent meeting of the Asian-Pacific Economic Cooperation (APEC) conference in Mexico and the deliberations of the U.N. Security Council show exactly what is wrong. For many reasons, the external perception of U.S. unilateral power, inflamed by what are seen as hypocritical political positions taken by the White House or imposed by Congress (from protectionist trade policies to unflagging support of Israel at the expense of Palestine), has galvanized animosity against the United States. This animosity is currently manifested in the refusal of states to go along with the United States in its proposals for dealing with two members of the "axis of evil," Iraq and North Korea, and their nuclear ambitions.
At the APEC meeting, Japan, South Korea and China did not completely share the U.S. sense of danger about North Korea's revelations regarding its nuclear programs. The U.N. Security Council, for reasons most Americans do not understand, will not authorize force to disarm Saddam Hussein absent a casus belli. Can it be everyone else knows something we do not? Or have they got it wrong?
The Bush administration has been widely castigated overseas for "unilateral" actions rejecting or abrogating treaties perceived as useful or necessary by much of the rest of the world. The Kyoto Treaty on global warming, the International Criminal Court and the antiballistic missile treaty are the poster children for this condemnation. Yet, there is a deeply seeded and largely invisible issue here. It is America's position on nonproliferation that membership in the nuclear club should be prevented or made prohibitively expensive to the "wannabe" a position taken by virtually every administration and Congress.
Many Americans are not old enough to recall the Cold War and the strong stand of the United States against the proliferation of nuclear weapons. Indeed, critics such as India and China frequently asked in the 1960s while the nonproliferation treaty (NPT) was being negotiated, what gave the United States the exclusive right to nuclear weapons and what right precluded other states from obtaining them.
In those days, the answer was the Soviet Union. Two competing nuclear superpowers ironically kept the peace. The threat of nuclear annihilation, the great paradox of mutual deterrence actually worked. Or at least it made both sides realize that before proceeding too far in provoking the other, logic and rational thought were essential if the outcome of compromise or negotiation was preferable to nuclear war. The end of the Soviet Union diminished the basis for America's near monopoly on nuclear weapons. And American retaliation against certain proliferators, Pakistan being the most obvious target, and not against others read Israel reinforced the claim of U.S. hypocrisy by critics abroad.
Despite America's prestige of being the "world's sole remaining superpower," many states are increasingly uncomfortable with that situation and what are seen as American double standards. For example, because the NPT requires nuclear states to reduce those armaments, non-nuclear states are quietly asking why the United States has not moved more quickly to conform with its treaty obligations.
Iraq and North Korea armed with nuclear weapons are a real danger. But so are Pakistan, India and Israel. Yet, many states see those ambitions and realities as further checks on the sole remaining superpower and its influence. Iran could well be the next test case.
None of this was on the ballot box. People worry about possible war with Iraq. But mostly they are worried about issues such as the economy, job and retirement security, health care and education that directly affect them. If Americans do not increasingly come to understand that this nation is at risk because of the international animosity and disdain building against us, then, ultimately, those reactions and conditions are likely to reach back and do further damage to the domestic issues that so dominate politics.

Harlan Ullman is a columnist for The Washington Times and a senior associate at the Center for Strategic and International Studies.

Copyright © 2019 The Washington Times, LLC. Click here for reprint permission.

The Washington Times Comment Policy

The Washington Times welcomes your comments on Spot.im, our third-party provider. Please read our Comment Policy before commenting.


Click to Read More and View Comments

Click to Hide