- The Washington Times - Thursday, October 31, 2002

In his history of the Punic Wars, Brian Caven describes the change in strategic thought that took place in republican Rome in the 2nd century B.C.: "Moderation had been the keynote of Rome's traditional foreign policy, and as a result there was hardly one of her defeated enemies whom she was not obliged to fight at least a second time. The opinion was gaining ground that Rome had been too generous in the past."

Much the same change has been the hallmark of the Bush administration, with Iraq and North Korea in the role of ancient Carthage and Corinth.

Speaking loudly while carrying only a small stick has not worked with Iraq. Economic sanctions and aid to anti-Saddam Hussein dissidents have not changed the nature of the regime. By impeding Iraq's ability to rebuild its military while organizing the core of a successor government, the groundwork has been laid for change; but decisive action will be needed to get the job done.

In North Korea, the carrot was used instead of the stick. Gifts of nuclear reactors, food and fuel aid, and trade initiatives all served to reinforce the Stalinist regime, giving it more resources to pursue its agenda of nuclear weapons and military threats to Northeast Asia.

In the early days of the Bush administration, the trend was even toward applying the North Korean strategy to Iraq under the artful rubric "smart sanctions" which would relieve economic pressure on Baghdad. Not just liberal academics but business groups were anxious for this final declaration that geopolitics and security concerns would no longer dominate global relations, even when the most brutal rogue states were involved.

The danger of such a course was best said in a Kipling verse: "There is always a temptation for a rich and lazy nation to puff, and look important and to sayþ 'Though we know we should defeat you, we have not the time to meet you, so we will pay you cash to go away.' And that is called paying the Dane-geld; But we've proved it again and again, that once you pay him the Dane-geld, you never get rid of the Dane."

However, between the September 11 terrorist attacks and Pyongyang's recent admission that it never halted its nuclear weapons program, the Bush administration has realized that the world is still a dangerous place that must be dealt with from a position of strength.

There is, however, still one lingering misconception about the world that is impeding U.S. action. This is the notion that there is an "international community" which is as concerned about terrorism and rogue states as is Washington, and which can be appealed to under the concept of collective security. President Bush has tried repeatedly since September 11 to summon a universal coalition to the U.S. banner, only to find that most governments are unwilling to substitute American priorities for their own traditional concerns.

The United Nations was founded on the idea of collective security by the Allied powers that had fought against a common enemy Axis in World War II.

The rapid onset of the Cold War shattered this illusion as allies and enemies changed partners in the endless waltz of power politics.

Clashing ideological and national interests have prevented any consensus from developing over what constitutes aggression or oppression. The difference between terrorist and freedom fighter has been a matter of partisan definition from the start, while most nations have been unwilling to act on any matter unless it was in accord with their own perceived interests.

A United Nations with a universal membership has simply become the forum for every struggle on the planet. The United Nations may be a useful venue for diplomats to conduct their business of forming coalitions, but it is in no way a collective authority itself.

Even the Clinton administration came to this conclusion when trying to act in the Balkans. After years of trying to work through the United Nations, President Clinton turned to NATO to conduct the 1999 Kosovo campaign. As Gen. Wesley Clark stated in his memoir "Waging Modern War," "We wanted to make clear and unchallengeable that NATO was in charge," otherwise "we would be as powerless as UNPROFOR [U.N. Protection Force]." The Serbs understood this, and were always trying to bring the United Nations back into a dominant role.

Yet even NATO often seemed too large a coalition to handle a situation for which it had not been formed. The restraints Germany and France tried to apply to U.S. actions in the Balkans was a prelude to their current opposition to U.S. policy in the Middle East.

American foreign policy is made in Washington, not Paris or Berlin; or Moscow or even New York. Mr. Bush seemed to understand this when he challenged the members of the U.N. Security Council to join the U.S. coalition against Iraq. But the last six weeks has looked too much like the United States was asking the United Nations for permission to act. But there is no United Nations, only member states with their own agendas, many of which clash with U.S. objectives.

It is time for Mr. Bush to get back to the task of putting together an effective coalition of states that do have compatible aims in the Persian Gulf region. Such a coalition requires no "higher authority" because there is none. Its legitimacy will be established the old-fashioned way, when it wins.


William R. Hawkins is senior fellow for national security studies at the U.S. Business and Industry Council.


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