- The Washington Times - Monday, February 3, 2003

Secretary of State Colin Powell spoke to the World Economic Forum last month in an effort to assure the gathered global elite that, as he put it, "America can be trusted to use its enormous political, economic, and above all, military power, wisely and fairly." In an obvious attempt to meet the objections of France and Germany to U.S. policy in Iraq, he recited history back to World War II when America "helped to rescue Europe from the tyranny of fascism … [and] stayed to help Europe regain its vitality."
Yet World War II ended more than half a century ago. It should not be surprising that the alliances forged then, and the institutions that were built on those alliances, would take on new configurations as the world situation has evolved and become more fluid.
Let's look at the pattern of alliances and alignments during the 20th century. In World War I, the United States intervened late in the conflict on the side of England, France, Italy, Japan and Russia against the Central Powers of Germany, Austro-Hungary and Turkey. Less than a quarter-century later, World War II saw the United States again allied with England, France and Russia; but Japan and Italy had joined Germany in the Axis. The Austro-Hungarian Empire had collapsed after 1918, but its remnants were either aligned with or been conquered by the Axis. Turkey stayed neutral, but China was with the Allies.
The United Nations was formed by the victorious Allies, with the U.S., England, France, Russia and China having the permanent seats on the Security Council with veto power. Like the League of Nations created at the end of World War I, the U.N. was meant to build on the status quo established by the Allied victory and prevent another world war from overturning it.
The Cold War started even before WW II was over and saw another major shift in alliances. The defeated Axis powers, after suitable regime changes, joined with the Western democracies. China, after a regime change gave it a communist leader, aligned with Soviet Russia to overturn the status quo of Western dominance.
When the Korean War broke out, President Truman went to the U.N. to rally support against communist North Korea's invasion of South Korea. The U.N. was able to function in that test case only because Soviet Russia was boycotting the Security Council and the Nationalist regime on Taiwan still held China's seat. It should also be remembered that at the time, the U.N. was not yet a "universal" organization and still had only its original 51 members, drawn mainly from the wartime coalition.
As U.N. membership expanded, its role became increasingly convoluted. During the Cold War, it was relegated to peripheral regions of the world, a series of pompous "year of the X" declarations and endless conferences that primarily benefited delegates and their entourages.
In the afterglow of the collapse of the Soviet empire, the notion of a new world order was reborn. The first President Bush turned to the U.N. for support before liberating Kuwait from Iraqi aggression, a fateful decision that haunts his son as a new crisis looms. President Clinton, believing that "for the first time in history, the world's leading nations are not engaged in a struggle with each other for security or territory" turned to the U.N. for peacekeeping.
But these hopes have been dashed as the enduring reality of world politics has made itself known again.
French and German opposition at the U.N. is not just about their economic ties to Iraqi dictator Saddam Hussein, or even to their longstanding dispute with America over policy throughout the Middle East. It is about their vision of Europe's position in the world vis-a-vis the United States. Like the Russians and the Chinese, the Europeans see American "hegemony" as a constraint on their freedom to act on their own behalf as a peer power.
In the eyes of its most determined backers in France and Germany, the European Union was created to match the power of the United States. And though it may have democratic roots, the EU as an institution has its own ideology and ambitions which set it apart from, and in some cases put it in contention with, American interests and values.
Fortunately, not every European state is at such odds with Washington. On Jan. 30, The Times of London and other newspapers printed a letter signed by the leaders of England, Spain, Italy, Denmark, Portugal, Hungary, Poland and the Czech Republic supporting the U.S. demand that Iraq disarm. President George W. Bush's expressed determination to meet the Iraq crisis with a "coalition of the willing" rather than depend on the U.N. and its divided Security Council, is the pattern American diplomats will have to become adept at managing in a dynamic world with many competing players.

William R. Hawkins is senior fellow at the U.S. Business and Industry Council.

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