Last week two events occurred that should affect the debate over national security and diplomacy at the forefront of the presidential campaign.
On Aug. 31, August Hanning, director of Germany’s Federal Intelligence Service, warned in a speech, “There is fear of a big attack on America by the terror organization al Qaeda before the presidential elections in November.”
German intelligence is rather good where militant Islamic groups are concerned, and has been of considerable value in the global war on terrorism.
On Sept. 2, the United Nations Security Council voted 9-0 (with six abstentions) for a resolution telling Syria to withdraw its forces from Lebanon and warning against foreign interference in Beirut’s presidential elections. The resolution was drafted by the United States and co-sponsored by France.
President George W. Bush has been roundly criticized for alienating U.S. allies by taking a “unilateral” approach to foreign policy. The Democrats ran a TV ad in New York City during the Republican Convention accusing Mr. Bush of launching a “go it alone war in Iraq.” The assertion runs contrary to the facts — more than 40 countries are part of the U.S.-led “Iraqi Freedom” coalition, including Japan and most the states of Europe.
The level of material contribution differs among the coalition members, but they have all provided diplomatic support that directly refutes the charge Washington has lost the respect of other countries.
To critics on the left, however, the key “allies” whose support is missing are France and Germany, who were so vigorous in their opposition to the U.S. at the U.N. regarding the invasion of Iraq. Both countries had substantial commercial ties with the dictatorship of Saddam Hussein. France (along with Russia and China) particularly wanted to position itself in future Iraqi oil development. They did not want to see Saddam overthrown.
That major countries have differing interests should not be at all surprising. But it is surprising so many commentators take a simple black-and-white view of the very complex relationships between states in the world arena. Because governments clash on one issue does not mean they cannot cooperate on others where their interests coincide. Statesmen need to be pragmatic and flexible in a dynamic world if they are to protect their country’s security. Despite intense differences over Iraq, France, Germany and the United States have continued to cooperate against common threats such as terrorism.
Cooperation has also been evident in the effort to stop the proliferation of weapons of mass destruction (WMD). The Bush administration created the Proliferation Security Initiative (PSI), announced by the president while visiting Poland in May 2003.
Based on a coalition of Australia, France, Germany, Italy, Japan, the Netherlands, Poland, Portugal, Spain, Singapore, Norway, Canada and the United Kingdom, the PSI facilitates sharing intelligence information, tracking suspicious international cargo and joint military exercises to interdict illicit shipments.
One of the great PSI success stories occurred a year ago when the trading network of Abdul Qadeer Khan, the “father” of Pakistan’s nuclear arms program, was demolished. American and British intelligence worked for years to penetrate the Khan network. Finally, in September 2003, they identified a shipment of centrifuge parts used in the enrichment of uranium.
They followed the shipment from Malaysia to Dubai, where it was transferred to a ship owned by a German company but using the Antigua & Barbuda flag of convenience. After the ship passed through the Suez Canal on its way to Libya, German authorities were contacted. They ordered the ship to an Italian port where the centrifuge parts were seized.
President Bush credited the seizure with helping convince Libya’s dictator Col. Moammar Gadhafi to end his nuclear and other WMD programs. Taking note of the example of invasion and regime change in Iraq, Col. Gadhafi agreed to allow inspections by the International Atomic Energy Agency. His entire WMD program was dismantled under the watchful eyes of the United States, England and the international community.
Too many Americans still think in terms of the Cold War as a simple bipolar confrontation between the Western democracies and the Soviet empire. But for most of the world, it was politics as usual even then, with each state pursuing its own interests and agenda. France pulled out of NATO’s integrated military structure in 1965, and developed its own nuclear weapons. And there were questions about Germany whenever the Social Democrats were in power (as they are today). But NATO held together and today plays a direct role in Afghanistan.
History reveals a kaleidoscope of diplomatic combinations. Formal alliances are rare, but “coalitions of the willing” to meet specific needs are common. As the great British Prime Minister Lord Palmerston stated in 1848: “We have no eternal allies, and we have no perpetual enemies. Our interests are eternal and perpetual, and those interests it is our duty to follow.”
All governments make “unilateral” decisions about their interests, then use diplomacy to work with other governments to advance them.
Much of the criticism of President Bush’s foreign policies betray a dangerous lack of sophistication. While political campaigns are often conducted through simple slogans, the long and intense foreign policy debate of the last two years indicates an inability of many critics to rise above the most simplistic of notions.
William Hawkins is senior fellow for national security studies at the U.S. Business and Industry Council.