The Best Laid Plans: The Origins of American Multilateralism and the Dawn of the Cold War

Wednesday, February 4, 2009

WARREN BASS: Thank you all for braving the arctic temperatures and coming out this evening. My name is Warren Bass. I'm the deputy editor of the Outlook section at The Washington Post. I'm delighted to be here with a colleague and a valued friend from whom I have learned much over the years, Stewart Patrick, who will have much to teach us over the next hour or so.

I've been asked to remind you to please completely turn off and potentially throw into a pot of water any of your cell phones, BlackBerrys, wireless devices, unless you have an iPhone, in which case you've been instructed to give it immediately to Stewart.

I'm also supposed to remind you that this meeting, unusually for the Council, is on the record. So anything that you say can and will be used against you by, I guess, Richard Haass.

I'm going to open the meeting by asking a few questions of Stewart. We'll talk about some of the contents of his book for about a half-hour, and we'll then turn it over to your questions. So please think about various things that might be fruitful avenues for discussion as we're chatting up here.

And I should also start by thanking Stewart not only for giving us the opportunity to come here and discuss some of these issues, but also for having written what's really an interesting and top-flight book. The Council sort of always strives to produce scholarship that sort of hits at the intersection between academic sophistication and accessibility for a general audience. That is always the aspiration. They don't always necessarily hit it as expertly as Stewart has managed to do it here.

He's managed to produce what I think is not only an interesting and challenging book but one that's highly readable. And as many of you who have tilled these fields know, writing about international institutions is pretty much where good prose goes to die. (Laughter.) Stewart has managed to steer clear of those mine fields, and we're particularly grateful for that.

The topic of the book comes at a particularly timely moment as a new administration is taking over, as the Bush administration is leaving, and the talk of revitalized international institutions is in the air, which sort of begs the question Stewart's book raises, which is how did we get these things? Where did they come from? And what was the logic behind the United States actually going ahead and creating them?

And perhaps I can just start you off by hearkening back to a place where your book begins, which is with an earlier experience that the United States government had with multinational institutions and the idea of a global government, which was with the League of Nations. This was an episode that Franklin Roosevelt was very familiar with. He had an interesting and complicated relationship with the way he thinks about Woodrow Wilson.

What did the protagonists of your book think of the League of Nations, and how did that inform their thinking about the institutions that they tried to build in its place?

STEWART PATRICK: That's a great question. First of all, I just want to thank everybody for coming out here on such a cold night. And it's great to see so many friends, and particularly those of you who purchased books already. (Laughter.) Can I say that?

It's a great question. The League -- it's ironic that Wilson, who was having suffered such a terrible defeat with the League of Nations, should have had a boomlet of great enthusiasm sort of by the mid-1930s and certainly the later 1930s with a sense that somehow the United States had missed its chance.

But I think there was an appreciative but also sort of more sober and, to some degree, skeptical attitude amongst many members of the Roosevelt administration. On the one hand, there was a sense that now, with the advent of the Second World War and the expectation the United States was going to emerge as the most powerful country, that there was, as many have called it, a "second chance" for -- Robert Divine, the historian, has called it a "second chance" for the United States to create a framework of international peace and security that would be successful.

But I think they also sobered up from sort of the more intoxicating aspects of Wilsonianism in the intervening years, and so there was an appreciation that any post-war framework of peace had to be grounded in the realities of power. It had to, unlike Wilson, be also grounded in a bipartisan view of -- it was hard-headed enough to peel away a number of the more conservative elements of American politics and really ground U.S. leadership within institutions that were also based on American might and had decent safeguards for U.S. national security and freedom of action and domestic sovereignty.

And I think the thing that's amazing about just in terms of how we got these institutions is that this was, in a sense, a reaction to the overreaching of Wilson and then the retrenchment that occurred during the inter-war years. And suddenly when the United States emerges from -- or even early on in - the Second World War, there's an expectation the United States is going to emerge as the world's most powerful country, and there's a real sense of a country coming of age and that it was important absolutely to seize this moment.

But there's nothing inevitable to why the United States chose an institutionalized vision of world order. I think that many times when people think about this, they think that it was just somehow natural on the part of the United States. But if you do some counterfactual thought experiments and you think, "Well, what would happen if the Soviet Union or Nazi Germany or even imperial Great Britain had emerged as the world's most powerful country?" the post-war world would have been far less institutionalized and it would have been a far less rule-bound order.

And what you have, really, is two factors that I point to in the book that inform what the United States did. One of them is American political culture, and particularly the Lockean liberalism that pervades the American polity. And the idea here is American exceptionalism, which is often used to hold the United States apart from international institutions, or in this case marshaled to try to remake the world in the American image as a peaceful polity under international rule of law, so that U.S. identity considerations played a part here.

But the second major thing that I'd call attention to is the fact that there were new ideas that had developed from the cataclysms of the inter-war period; you know, the fragmentation of the global economy, the rise of fascism, and the recognition that the orthodoxies of isolationism and unilateralism couldn't keep the United States safe anymore. So it's this combination of new ideas, on the one hand, and enduring identity that helps inform U.S. interests and their calculation.

BASS: Is there a precedent for this sort of thing, that great powers historically who have won not just large wars, but this happened to be the largest war in the history of warfare, is there any real precedent for great powers who are sort of deciding that a massive military victory such as the sort that the Roosevelt and Truman administrations experienced, using that as a way to create a new legal framework as a way of sort of tying down Gulliver rather than letting Gulliver run amok around the place?

PATRICK: Yeah, there really isn't so much. I mean, there are -- you know, John Ikenberry and other historians -- and John has a great book called "After Victory," which talks about the potential for restraint and the exercise of self-restraint on the part of great powers to try to lock in their advantages over time.

But the degree of American, in a sense, magnanimity during this period and the degree of American farsightedness and enlightened behavior in trying to really embed U.S. power within institutions that actually gave voice and opportunities for consultation of countries that were far weaker than it was is a major change. And the degree of institutionalization, I would say, is the most profound thing that separates this period.

BASS: I'm struck by the word that you used there, "magnanimity." Do FDR and company think that they're being magnanimous in setting this more rule-based and institutionalized world order, or do they think that they're actually being self-interested? Or do they think there's not a tension between them?

PATRICK: Yes. I think that in most cases -- you said there are a lot of them, of course -- there's a little bit of tension there for people like Sumner Welles and even, you know, Cordell Hull, who's often portrayed as sort of a liberal-minded internationalist, that are trying to have it both ways, to have their cake and eat it too, in a sense. They see that this institutionalized order is in keeping with the best of American ideals, but in a sense it hearkens back to, you know, the move from the Articles of Confederation to the U.S. Constitution.

There's a lot of historical analogies to America's own path and, in a sense, trying to, as one historian has said, to try to "Lockeanize a hitherto Hobbesian world" you know. You know, Hull talks about trying to replace -- what is it -- the "anarchy of unbridled and discordant nationalisms" with some sort of a universal framework. And in trade relations, a non-discriminatory, reciprocal framework of trade relations, it, as I said, would have been very different from the world of imperial preference and mercantilism.

But there's no question that, I mean, there's a little bit of hypocrisy here, too, at times. You know, that's the great thing about multilateralism is that it allows you to portray yourself as the benevolent hegemon while sort of hiding your more narrow pecuniary interests, you know. The winding up of the European colonial empires, which is one of the themes in the book in terms of U.S. support for national self-determination -- I mean, of course, it's quite consistent with the idea that, you know, political legitimacy comes from the consent of the governed, but it also allows U.S. companies and others to make inroads and perhaps the U.S. to have bases around the world.

So there are -- I wouldn't want to suggest that it's magnanimity divorced from calculations of sort of what's good for the United States, but I think if you have a Venn diagram of global interests and national interests, there's a much greater overlap in people's minds in this era.

BASS: This is what John Ikenberry, who you mentioned, refers to as "strategic restraint", that there's something about -- the United States affirmatively gets something out of choosing a system that isn't just based on power politics. What is the benefit for the U.S. in this, as the founders of the system see it? How do they think that strategic restraint is actually going to pay a concrete real-world dividend?

PATRICK: I'd just say that in addition to John's argument, which I believe in, I think there's also a sense that the United States would not be the United States if it did not behave this way. And you see this in, for instance, U.S. opposition during the war to spheres of influence.

It's in direct contradiction to what, you know, Churchill and Stalin were trying to work out in their famous "percentages" agreement, when they were going to divide up different parts of the world. So I think part of it has to do with American political culture and American identity, and also what Roosevelt could sell domestically, which he couldn't if it was seen as some cynical betrayal of American ideals.

But in terms of the sort of more instrumental reason for this, the book definitely takes note of a number of statements from American political leaders, and also in their private musings as well, about the need to build consensus to make American power enduring and the need for legitimacy, for the United States not to have to be facing the situation of actually imposing its will. And, you know, here obviously the juxtaposition with Soviet behavior in Eastern Europe is fundamental.

BASS: I'm also struck by your description of part of the hope of institutionalizing the world in this way is to, as you put it, remake the world in America's image. That's a striking phrase in the context of the sort of great liberals, FDR and company, remaking the world in America's image is something that we, in more recent history, associate with neoconservatism, with people like Ambassador Bolton, who was not entirely a fan of the United Nations.

Is there an idealist streak that you found back in FDR and his advisers that in some way is teased out even by some of the neoconservatives, who in other ways have profound differences with FDR?

PATRICK: Yes. I mean, the way I would describe the neoconservatives is that they're Wilsonians who don't believe in international institutions. (Laughter.) They believe in the global expansion of freedom, and I'm tempted to say whether people want it or not. But, you know, they believe in that global expansion of freedom, but they have a lack of self-restraint, or at least the notion that the United States should have self-restraint.

And I think that, you know, the limitations of that approach and the costs of that approach in terms of forcing the United States to act, you know, in a sense, to go its own way, and also limitation particularly when it comes to remaking the domestic political structures of foreign societies is there.

You can't -- the second half of the book, I should say, is -- or actually it's the last third of the book -- sort of talks about what happened when the "best-laid plans" of the post-war planners collide, in a sense, with the onset of the Cold War, you know, when the hope for "one world", or what I call the "open world", fragments into two and you're faced with "What do we do about this?"

And what's extraordinary to me -- I mean, the title, "Best Laid Plans," sort of, in a sense, suggests nothing ended up working, but that's not true. It really -- the argument of the book is that the United States, to a surprising degree, persisted in some of its liberal internationalist plans, just transferring the notion of imminence of "One World" to the notion of Free World. And under containment, you still get a tremendous amount of the same approach to international life.

But particularly on the chapter on U.S. search for sort of a liberal outcome within the post-colonial world, which focuses in particular on French Indochina, there you get a lot of sort of hubris of the ease at which this American model is going to be transferred somewhere else. That definitely comes out in a way that I think will resonate to readers when they think about more contemporary experiences of the last several years.

BASS: Speaking of some of those contemporary experiences, there has -- anyone who's sort of been following foreign policy over the past few years -- I mean, I think, very much including the Clinton administration as well as the administration that's just ended -- will notice an ambivalence about America's relationship to the U.N. in particular, but to other multinational institutions too.

Are there -- did you find roots of some of those ambivalences about these institutions being unwieldy, corrupt, inefficient, talking shops for tin-pot regimes that you're not interested in, delusions of grandeur? Did you find some of these critiques of these institutions going back into your period? And are there people around FDR who are occasionally whispering, "Maybe this isn't such a great idea"?

PATRICK: Yeah, there are some -- I forget who it is exactly at the delegation in San Francisco; the quotation where one of these people just sort of throws up his hands in disgust and says, you know, "I don't understand why these small countries keep -- they keep coming to us and, you know, belly-aching about this or that. I mean, we could just, you know, sit down at the top of the Fairmont Hotel with the Russians and the British and just be done with these people. They're sort of annoying."

And you have FDR saying to the U.S. ambassador to the Vatican, he says he thought that there should definitely be a talk shop where all of -- you know, sort of an Areopagus of the world, where everybody gets to come and discuss. But when it came to pivotal decisions, it had to be left, you know, with the Four Policemen.

In terms of the ambivalence and resulting selectivity with respect to U.S. and multilateral cooperation, I mean, there are basically -- I've described it as three major reasons for this ambivalence. The first has to be with American power. And this has been exacerbated since the advent of the Unipolar Moment. I mean, not only do we have more unilateral options or have had more unilateral and bilateral options than most other countries, but arguably because we are--sometimes self-styled--the ultimate guarantors of world order. This justifies us, in a sense, opting out of certain things that are binding on others. So, I mean, classic cases are the ICC, for instance, or the land mines treaty, et cetera, because we're exposed.

The second thing is really the constitutional separation of powers. Most other -- I mean, there's a great quote in the book, actually, of Keynes when he's basically talking to another British negotiator. He says, "You have to remember that whenever you talk to an American executive branch official, what they say binds the United States not a bit when it comes to treaties" -- (laughter) -- because -- it's a bit like negotiating with the European Union, an individual European Union country, because ultimately you have to go through the Congress. So he said, you know, what the Attlee government does, you know, that's going to bind Britain, or at least you can take it to the bank to some degree.

And then the final point -- that's a major factor in terms of treaties. So even if you get more than 50 percent of senators, if you don't get two-thirds of them, you've got a problem. Then the final point is really American exceptionalism, which cuts both ways, and it often is used to -- and you see this in human rights treaties in particular -- this notion that American constitutional traditions are going to be -- which is not unreasonable -- are going to be, you know, diluted by sort of, you know, alien or things that are, in a sense, contrary to U.S. political values and are going to violate the founding principles of our country.

And you see great examples of that are, for instance, on opposition to things like you know, an international treaty for small arms and light weapons, which would maybe violate part of the Constitution in terms of the right to bear arms, et cetera.

BASS: Let me press you for a moment about your point about these annoying small countries, as you put it. The U.N.'s institutional mechanism for dealing with that is making sure that there is a club for big powers called the Security Council and that's often where the most important action is.

There's much talk of expanding the Security Council these days, and that will certainly, I think, be something that the Obama administration will at least be thinking about. Did you find in your research, in going sort of -- in going back and mining through the origins of the U.N., did you find anything that sort of shed light on your thinking or changed the way you thought about the idea of letting some additional members into the Security Council, perhaps on a permanent basis?

PATRICK: I mean, it's interesting. I mentioned there were going to be four policemen. And, you know, the only reason there was a fourth, China, was that I think Roosevelt in particular was quite uncomfortable with the notion that there wouldn't be enough of an Asian presence in the U.N. There were no illusions of the power of the Nationalist Chinese government at that stage, much less its internal ability to control its own state. And then, of course, France, less at Roosevelt's behest than at Churchill's, was added.

You know, from the beginning, there's much frustration. There's frustration with the U.N. Security Council almost from the beginning, and part of the reason has to do, as it remains, the veto. On the other hand, as Cordell Hull stated to some U.S. congressmen who suggested that "This isn't really fair; you guys -- a veto means that -- that seems sort of discriminatory." And he said the United States wouldn't stay in the Security Council without the veto for one day. And this was the liberal Hull saying this.

So I think a lot of the frustration with the Security Council today comes from a widespread recognition -- and I think this is broad -- that it doesn't reflect -- I mean, it reflects the world in 1945 and it doesn't reflect the world of today. And yet there are incredible stumbling blocks. I mean, it's no accident that there's something called the Open-Ended Working Group on U.N. Security Council Reform. I mean, it may even be called the Permanent Open-Ended Working Group on U.N. Security Council Reform. (Laughter.) And allegedly, I guess, the U.N. General Assembly is going to be debating this topic coming up.

But, you know, the expectation -- I think the sense in many people's minds is, "Well, the Security Council is always blocked. That must be because it doesn't reflect the world as it is today. So let's expand it." You know, and there are a couple of plausible plans that came out in the run-up to the High-Level summit in 2005 -- 24 or so members; you know, four more new permanent members, perhaps, and some rotating elected members from different regions.

The difficulty is that there's a tradeoff between effectiveness and representation, arguably. And legitimacy has a couple of different components. One of them is does it represent the world as it is? The other is, can it get anything done? And so this performance component -- I mean, I think that those two things are very much in tension, when one thinks about it, much less the difficulties of persuading, you know, regional powers, regional players, like a Pakistan to accept India or an Argentina or a Mexico to accept Brazil, et cetera.

BASS: Let us do just one more question; then we'll turn it over to the audience. The other institutions that get built over the course of the book are the Bretton Woods institutions, the IMF, the World Bank and so on. Those are institutions which are, in some ways -- you talk about remaking the world in America's image. Politically they were also designed to sort of recast the world as capitalist free-trading nations in the hope that that would avert some of the economic problems that led to the Depression and brought world order to the brink in the '30s.

How do you think those institutions and the people who built them are doing at adapting for an era of globalization?

PATRICK: Great question. Not particularly well is the short answer. I do want to say something about the normative content or the purpose of those institutions, because I think it's often forgotten, with the sort of advent of the "Washington Consensus" over the last 20 years or so, and that is to remind us all, I think, that the Bretton Woods institutions were not created with the idea of simple laissez-faire capitalism.

And this is -- there was, in a sense, a projection of the New Deal regulatory state onto the world. And you see this in the major emphasis placed on, you know, issues of economic justice and social development, to some degree human rights as well, but also sort of economic components of rights in the United Nations and its affiliates -- in the broader agenda.

So, you know, I think there was a recognition that the problems of the 1930s suggested that we weren't going to get rid of capitalism, but we weren't going to leave it in "invisible hands" anymore. And I think that has some resonance in the current circumstance, one might argue.

In terms of how they're doing, you know, there's no question that the Bretton Woods institutions, they need to be -- their management structures and their governance structures and, you know, the voting weight within them need to be overhauled quite distinctly. The difficulty is that -- to reflect the increasing power of the developing world, the Gulf States and their role, China in particular, the difficulty is that when we face -- in terms of institutional reform today is that, unlike in 1935, there is no tabula rasa. You know, there is -- as Dan Drezner of Tufts University says, there is an "unclean slate."

And this makes it very difficult, because there are vested interests and it's a zero-sum game when it comes to these things. You know, if you're going to increase China's weight, Belgium is going to lose. Who cares? The Belgians do. And, you know, then perhaps the EU does as well. So there's a lot of -- there are going to be a lot of oxes that are going to be gored if this happens, and it's going to take a huge lift to try to revise these things.

I'll probably leave it there for that question.

BASS: Okay. I think we've got a great deal to chew on. And I'm now going to turn it over to your questions. You should please wait for the microphone. We've got at least one that'll be coming around, and speak directly into it. I'm going to ask you to stand, state your name and your affiliation, and please keep the questions brief and resist the urge to filibuster. And why don't we start with Ruth Wedgewood in the front row?

QUESTIONER: This is my initiation to these beautiful new buildings. It's very green -- my green footprint.

I had a question, really, about how -- I'm not a big-bang person, that the big bang necessarily leads to an inexorable physics that goes on forever. And I'm wondering how you see the continuity of this kind of glad, happy view of multilateralism, which some people see, by the way, as an attempt to keep the U.S. involved, the anti-isolationist mission of CFR, very much in accord with why we were embedding ourselves in the U.N. charter, not to restrain American power but to summon American power.

What I'm interested in is whether -- if you take the fact that after June '45, we still have to have Hiroshima and Nagasaki in August, so it's still a very traumatic world, and then the very first major venture of the U.N. General Assembly in Resolution 181, the petition plan for Israel-Palestine, is not enforced. So isn't it an aborted -- if you look at rubber on the road and how it would seem experientially to people, it's an aborted birth from the very beginning, one could argue.

PATRICK: That's a great question. Yeah, the book does not sugar-coat the U.N.'s failings, nor does it suggest that the U.N. is the only forum of multilateral cooperation. I probably didn't make that clear enough in the short sort of description of the book.

I think that there was an effort to design the United Nations in a way that -- there's no question there was an effort to design it in a way that would appeal to Americans and the American polity so that the United States would not return into isolationism. And there's many quotations, I have several in the book, from Roosevelt who was basically saying anybody who thinks that isolationism is dead in this country is crazy. And this is when, you know, the notion of membership in political public opinion polls of membership in the United Nations is sky high.

And I think, you know, going forward today, the major question -- and I think it's important to recognize that the United Nations is hardly the only multilateral entity in town. We live in a world of, as Frank Fukuyama has stated, "multi-multilateralism." You know, that's both good and bad. It provides maybe some healthy competition. I know you've written, Ruth, "let's give the U.S. some competition."

It also can encourage occasionally some unhealthy aspects of forum shopping. And there are elements of some of these ad hoc coalition approaches. "The mission determines the coalition," as our former secretary of Defense said or, you know, "a la carte multilateralism," as the head of the Council on Foreign Relations called it.

I mean, I think that the difficulty is in balancing the advantages of some of the less formal institutions which can have value, like the Proliferation Security Initiative or in the bio-health field, bio-preparedness field there's something called the Global Health Security Action Group, or used to be. I think they have another name now. And those are important.

But there is no -- and you know, the G-8 and perhaps now the G-20 are extremely important. But there is something to be said for standing, treaty-based international institutions. And granted, they have to be updated; granted, they're frustrating. There are certain aspects of deadlock within the U.N. Security Council that have been built in since the beginning as a result of the veto.

The hope is that some sense of common purpose can be derived within the U.N. Security Council framework when the stakes are high enough. And when it can't be reached, then one has to turn toward surrogate forms of legitimacy, like the United States did in Kosovo.

BASS: Kristen Silverberg.

QUESTIONER: Thanks. I had one question and one comment that --

BASS: Can you identify yourself?

QUESTIONER: Oh, Kristen Silverberg, unaffiliated recently. (Laughter.)

BASS: Tell them your last job.

QUESTIONER: Oh, I was ambassador to the European Union most recently and former assistant secretary of State. I had one question. The U.N. today is really two different kinds of institutions. It's the body that was originally envisioned, so the sort of deliberative body of member states, but then it's also this large secretariat that employs 100,000 people, that takes about $5 billion a year in U.S. taxpayer money. And a lot of the ambivalence that U.S. policymakers feel about the U.N. has to do with that part of the institution, not the body as originally envisioned.

Anyway, I was wondering if anything in your research talked about discussions at the time of the founding about the dangers of an independent or sort of free-wheeling U.N. secretariat.

And then my comment was just about your point about Security Council expansion. In my experience, the primary objectors to the Security Council as currently constituted aren't the countries who are objecting that the Security Council blocks too often. It's the countries who are objecting in fact that the Security Council does too much, that there's occasional grousing, you know, when the U.S. blocks a Gaza resolution or something like that. But mostly, it's the countries objecting to U.N. sanctions or Iran sanctions or a discussion on Burma, who are the primary objectors to the council as currently constituted.

PATRICK: Thank you very much. Great questions. In terms of -- first of all, the point you make is very important. There are many United Nations. There's the Security Council, there's the General Assembly, there are the specialized agencies, many of which we find to be tremendously valuable. And you know, one doesn't tar, you know, the U.N. Department of Public Information and UNICEF necessarily, UNHCR necessarily, WHO necessarily with the same brush. So I think that's very important.

You know, there wasn't that much, from what I saw when I was doing my research, there wasn't that much concern about the secretary-general. But I think there was also a greater understanding or a sense at that point that this official should be a "secretary" and not a "general." And I think that that has changed over time intermittently with prominent secretaries-general like Dag Hammarskjold, for instance, Kofi Annan, to some degree, Boutros-Ghali before him. I think now, you know, in Ban Ki-Moon, the United States got the person that they wanted, somebody who is workman-like, et cetera, that has a very low profile.

In terms of, you know, the management, waste, fraud and abuse, all of those things within the secretariat and the bloat that exists there, I think, really does undercut the U.N.'s reputation and its prospects on Capitol Hill as well. So it has to be at a constant battle. I'm not sure that Ban Ki-moon has taken on that agenda as strongly he might have.

In terms of -- an interesting point about obstructionism. You know, it's never going to happen without the U.S. being a driving force behind it. But you're right that it's the spoilers in many cases who are -- who are shirking. But you know, the Russians and certainly the Chinese are not enthusiastic at all about Security Council expansion, at least in the direction that we're talking about.

QUESTIONER: Charlie Brown, Institute for International Law and Human Rights and also the blog

Stewart, you alluded to the U.S.'s long love-hate relationship with the U.N. human rights institutions. And we started with Eleanor Roosevelt helping to create UDHR and then went to the Bricker Amendment and then moved on from there to different times when the U.S. helped create human rights treaties, other times when the U.S. was highly critical. And now we have moving from the Human Rights Commission, which was bad enough, to the farce that is the Human Rights Council. And yet, there is a strong belief that without working within the U.N. system, we're going to have trouble promoting human rights, especially given the track record of the Bush administration.

PATRICK: In terms of this ambivalence, I think one of the reasons is this. You know, the entire U.S. political spectrum could fit into the right half of most European countries' political spectrums. And so to a degree we're going to have more... I don't think that's necessarily a bad thing, it's just a matter of fact, from my view.

But I think that -- so especially, it's things that smack of sort of, you know, collectivism. This is before, of course, we nationalize the banking system in this country. (Laughter.) But the things that smack of, you know, socialism or collectivism or too much emphasis on, you know, economic and social rights as opposed to civil and political rights, I mean, there's no question. I mean, you see where the U.S. is falling in a lot of these things. And you know, again, given the hurdle and the sort of veto opportunities of, you know, one-third of the members of the Senate, there are major constrictions, major obstacles, constraints on U.S. joining some of these things.

As far as the Human Rights Council, you know, whether it was an improvement versus a non-improvement, I mean, it's hard to improve it from the outside, I guess, is what I would say. I'm sure Ms. Silverberg may have some differences as to whether or not that was a wise decision not to stand for election of the Human Rights Council. My expectation, although I have no inside knowledge of this, is that the Obama administration will reverse that policy.

But I think that a few sober-minded people who I've talked to, when they look at the Human Rights Council, they think it's going to be incremental improvements of it.

BASS: In the back.

QUESTIONER: Fred Tipson with U.N. development program.

Stewart, I'm sure this is a wonderful work of history. I look forward to reading it. My question is, here we are at the Council on Foreign Relations, the sort of elite of foreign affairs. And so much of the story of multilateralism is the elites deciding how the world ought to be managed. And yet, if we look back, recognizing that history doesn't repeat itself, to the '30s, the sort of domestic politics took away from the leaders of the world the agenda in places like Germany and Japan and other places. To what extent is there are story there about international institution-building and multilateralism that have to be tempered by the domestic political scene? And to what extent do you think what we're facing now is informed by what happened in the '30s? And as we approach the London conference, the G-20 conference, to what extent will politics take away some of the flexibility of the wise men who sit down at the table together?

PATRICK: You know, the analogy is, I mean, being that there was a London conference in 1933, of course, which didn't go so well on a similar topic. And I think particularly in the economic realm, you know, with "Buy America" provisions and things like that, which in hard economic times and in a major crisis, you know, it's natural for there to be -- lamentable, but natural for there to be a sort of a protectionist ethos. And so particularly in the economic realm when countries become very internally focused and you get this, you know, "sauve qui peut" or beggar thy neighbor policies, it makes -- it takes some significantly enlightened leadership at the multilateral level but also at the domestic level to actually try to explain and walk through. And I speak of someone, you know, generally against these sorts of provisions. You know, to take some enlightened leadership and a real effort to try in terms that can be broadly understood.

You know, and here, someone like Roosevelt ultimately would have been very good at these sorts of things when, you know, using analogies like, you know, defending Lend-Lease as, you know loaning a garden hose to the next-door neighbor whose house is on fire.

You know, this sort of thing is something that Obama is going to have to do. But the problem is that on the economic side, in particular, he faces some significant pressure from some of his base constituents to do this.

And a broader point about, you know, the 1930s and the rise of fascism. I mean, there's a quotation I have of Cordell Hull who said that, you know, this cycle of sort of mutually assured economic destruction, in a sense -- he didn't use those words, but he says -- he says, you know, left, you know, the peoples of the world "easy prey to desperadoes," you know, and people like, you know, the rise of Hitler, et cetera.

And I think, certainly from an event that we both attended yesterday in New York, there was a sense that it is going to get extremely ugly domestically in a lot of countries around the world as people, whose expectations of economic fortunes rising, get extremely angry. And so I think we're into a lot of political turbulence. And you know, Cordell Hull did have a great line which was perhaps not original to him, but "when goods move, soldiers don't," which is one of the titles of the chapter of the book.

QUESTIONER: Thanks, Stewart. Al Pascal, State Department.

We've talked a lot about the U.N. today. What I was particularly struck by in the book, however, is sort of how ideas and identity collide with strategic imperatives. And I think probably the best example of that is NATO. So I was wondering if you could sort of comment on the formation of NATO and how strategic imperative did collide with American culture and ideas. But also to reflect on, you know, is multilateralism a boon to U.S. strategic interests just because it's self-restraint, or is it also a force multiplier, particularly in sort of light of NATO's deployments in Afghanistan today?

PATRICK: Great question. I do have to say that Alex is an incredible editor of this book. He worked for me as a consultant when I was finishing it up. And when I saw him actually by the table, I thought maybe he was going to be signing them since he has part ownership of this product. (Laughter.) Thanks for the opportunity to speak on NATO.

You know, the point that that chapter makes is that the United States intriguingly promoted a multilateral framework for NATO. And at first glance, it's not really apparent why necessarily that would have been the institutional form that it would have taken. There were a number of different options that were on the table, including some unilateral guarantee on the order of the Monroe Doctrine, for instance, or a number of different bilateral treaties, et cetera. But often, it was over the objections of some of the European countries involved, including certainly France at the time, at least early on, insisted on a multilateral framework. The same that it does, it did it with the Marshall Plan, too, as well, which is fascinating. I mean, why would they just necessarily have done that? Probably the only time in history that a dominant power has promoted unity as opposed to division in the area of which it had major interest.

So you know, I don't want to oversell the degree of multilateralism. I see David Calleo is here. And I quote you as saying that the U.S. chose a multilateral course to hide the reality of hegemony in the trappings of pluralism. And there's an element of that. You know, round up the countries in one corral and make it a little easier to control them. And yet, it's an enlightened manner of leadership, frankly.

In terms of Afghanistan, you know, the problem is that it was a lot easier to do this when the threat perception was the Fulda Gap, a little tougher when, you know, when you have to go to the Bundestag to defend what the hell the Germans are doing over in northern Afghanistan and, you know, try to deal with the national caveats and things like that on troops around Afghanistan. So you know, whether that's a force multiplier any longer, it's hard to say.

QUESTIONER: I'm Jerry Livingston the German Historical Institute, and I work on post-war Germany. I'd like to take you back to the period 1945 to '48. How much of an effort was there really in Washington to bring the Soviet Union into this multilateralism of which you write? General Clay in Germany made a really rather strong effort up until 1947. And he was kind of pulled back by Washington, as far as I can make out. Is that true? What were the forces in Washington for and against?

PATRICK: I would say that up until maybe early 1946, I think that there was an honest effort on the part of the United States to bring the Russians into this world. And you see this even actually, you know, in the aftermath of Marshall's speech in June 1947. You know, invitations went out, including to the Russians and several members of what was becoming the Soviet bloc. That probably was with the recognition that they were going to say no because they would find it somewhat, you know, deeply intrusive.

But certainly at Bretton Woods there was effort to include the Russians. And the expectation was that the Russians, if they were made a stakeholder in the system, that there would be some elements of tempering antipathy between the two sides. And there is a chapter on the onset of the Cold War and its implications for multilateralism. And you know, ultimately, it was this sort of competing universalism and their insistence on, in a sense, a "closed world" as opposed to an "open world," at least within its special sphere that made it impossible.

In terms of the exact negotiations over and what was going on in Washington at the time with Lucius Clay and the fortunes of Germany, I would probably would defer to somebody who's even more of a specialist on that topic.

QUESTIONER: I'm John Sewell from the Woodrow Wilson Center. Stewart, you've persuaded me to buy the book so you can rest assured -- mission accomplished. I was struck by your discussion of the economic side of the post-war multilateralism. By the way, as a footnote, the Russians also were invited into the Marshall Plan and the Poles and the Czechs and others and turned it down.

If you believe John Ruggie's "Embedded Liberalism," the counterpart to liberal internationalism was a domestic social-welfare state, particularly in the U.S. which didn't have one until the New Deal and not much less in Europe which had it for a long time. And that whole panoply of institutions, the Fair Employment Act, the GI Bill, all sorts of other domestic social policies enabled people in the international field to argue that people would one way or another affect it adversely, were we going to be taken care of.

That's all evaporated completely; even, by the way, if you're a CEO of a major bank, you're going to have to take a huge salary cut.

And I'd be very curious in your reactions as you look forward to the sort of wellsprings of domestic social support for all of the multilateralism of the late 1940s and how it plays out in the period ahead of us now.

PATRICK: Very interesting comments. One thing I should note and note somewhat in the book is that by even the mid 1940s, Roosevelt and then Truman were increasingly on the defensive in terms of the New Deal instruments that had been created domestically and so in direct contrast to many European countries which were moving ahead with plans for an even more ambitious expansion of the welfare state. And you started to get this sort of bifurcation where the Brits are extremely interested in making the post-war international economic system contingent on, you know, full employment policies, et cetera and extreme intervention into the domestic economy and not really getting that in the United States.

So you do start to see a bifurcation there. But I mean, I think you can make the argument that there has been a pullback of some of the social guarantees over the years.

Going forward, what's interesting at the international level - which I'm more comfortable talking about than necessarily the direction of domestic politics in this -- is that there's, compared to even the differences in 1945, there's huge amounts of heterogeneity, especially in the last 20 years in terms of international economics. So you know, at the November 15th G-20 summit, you get not just the United States and a number of developing countries or emerging economies disagreeing with each other about these things but just huge divergence between, you know, Sarkozy and the French and what other continental states want to do in some cases and what the United States is. And I don't think that's going to change that much with the switch in administrations because, you know, the level of regulation is something some other countries are willing to accept compared to our own, which is quite different.

QUESTIONER: David Calleo from SAIS.

I wonder if you had a chance in this book to contrast at all the multilateralism of these institutions with the European ones, with the EU, the EEC and so on. I mean, you've obviously covered a vast amount as it is, but it's an interesting follow up.

PATRICK: Yeah. I mean, I do have -- the chapter, Chapter 8, I guess, which talks about "a World Economy Postponed," looks at the Washington Marshall Plan but then also at U.S. support for some of the early institutions of European integration. And you know, I don't know whether or not U.S. officials are perhaps fooling themselves more than I thought they did. But you know, they really are trying to convince themselves that this is a stepping stone, that European integration and the formation of the European Payments Union, you know, OEEC and then, ultimately, the European Coal and Steel Community and then obviously a forerunner of European Economic Community, that that is a stepping stone to global multilateralism.

And then of course, as we've seen, you know, there are a lot of trade diverting and, you know, potentially discriminatory aspects of that. But there was a sense that these are, again, a way station to global multilateralism.

And what I do point out, though, is that Europeans were hardly averse to using U.S. pressure to do these things for their own purposes. And so the European Coal and Steel Community arrived, in some ways, very much as a response to U.S. pressure, particularly on the revival of Germany. But it meets French, in particular, strategic needs. So there's a bunch in the book about Jean Monnet and what he was thinking about in terms of playing this intermediary role between the French and the Americans.

QUESTIONER: Steven Kull, Program on International Policy Attitudes. When we look back to what was happening in the mid '40s to the later '40s, the idea of the Baruch Plan, Truman talking about putting large numbers of U.S. troops under U.N. command, many members, Congress, world federalists, and sometimes it sounds like we're hearing about a "Star Trek" episode compared to the day. (Laughter.)

What was different then? Why would these ideas not be taken seriously now when they were taken so seriously then?

PATRICK: A couple of reasons. One of them is, I think, you know, some -- taking that back to Ruth's excellent question, or comment, which is, you know, having seen some of the institutions in practice is, you know, some disillusionment. I mean, we've seen the shortcomings of some of these things. I think also that there's an element in which the Cold War gave the United States a taste for hegemony in some ways that it didn't necessarily have and didn't expect to have a taste for primacy in perpetuity - 1945, 1946. There's a strong argument in the book that in laying this foundation-- and it comes through in a number of statements from major policymakers-- that the objective here is to have the emergence of competing, hopefully peacefully competing and cooperating independent centers of power around the world.

I don't want to overplay that, but there's an element in which restoring, particularly Europe, to sort of its rightful and historic place is something that shouldn't be troubling, in a sense, to Americans. And I think part of that is also, you know, perhaps at the time maybe, you know, there were elements of it that were overly romantic, the idea that you could create a group of international institutions in which nobody, including the United States, was, in a sense, free of its constraints. And that hasn't totally disappeared.

But I should say that, you know, those things were lively debated and they were defeated, you know, at the time. So it's not as if there weren't people on sovereignty grounds and freedom-of-action grounds deeply opposed to the sorts of suggestions that you mention. And this is sort of a continuation of the very sober-minded and sensible, in some ways, views of the Lodge during 1919 that if the United States is going to do this, there has to be major guarantees for its freedom of action and its domestic sovereignty.

BASS: I think we can squeeze in one last question. A timid room. (Laughter.) In that case, we will -- we can -- well, we'll take one quick one from Fred.

QUESTIONER: Just to follow up to the previous question. I mean, a world that had been traumatized the way the world had been by World War II was willing to consider just about anything at the time. But if we look at what we're facing now between climate change and the coordination of economic policies and so forth, there's no question that we need to enter a new world if we're going to resolve these issues. Now, whether that is the United Nations or whether it's some other form of multilateralism, we're going to have to give up some level of independence to get others to go along. Our real problem is not our independence. It's getting other people to do what we need them to do to solve these problems. And that's going to require some sort of multilateral commitments.

So maybe not what we've seen, maybe not what we've created, in part, by the way we've treated some of the multilateral institutions, but some form of multilateralism is going to have to be built up or we're screwed. (Laughter.) That's my view.

PATRICK: In that regard, I mean, I think that there's some -- you know, objectively, there's no question that there's a need for more effective arrangements, not a "global government" but a "global governance" in the sense of sovereign countries coming together and agreeing, in a sense, sometimes to pool sovereignty, sometimes to have some reciprocal obligations to one another, et cetera.

And you know, the reality is that some of this is already happening under the radar screen. And I think that the, for instance -- the Container Security Initiative, for instance, which is something that has, you know, U.S. Customs officials in Singapore and Rotterdam and their foreign equivalents in Long Beach, you know, actually checking out cargo and ensuring the smooth flow, et cetera. That is a non-trivial sort of pooling of sovereignties.

And I think that, you know, we're probably going to have to see -- Michael Chertoff had a very good piece in Foreign Affairs, which says, you know, let's not throw out multilateralism and international law. Let's also not pretend that it's infinitely malleable. But what we need to get towards in dealing with some of the challenges that you're talking about, and he's focusing particularly on the homeland security one -- terror, transnational terrorism, WMDs -- we need to come up with new arrangements that may require, in Richard Haass' words, "a little less sovereignty."

BASS: I think we've had a real sense of some of the expertise and judgment that you'll find in the pages of this book. Stewart, I think, will be delighted to sign a copy over to you. Christmas is just around the corner. (Laughter.) You can start to pick them up.

But please join me in thanking Stewart Patrick. (Applause.)







Top Stories on CFR


Reflections on the shortcoming of U.S. policy in Afghanistan have brought lessons that can be used to rethink American policy toward Somalia.


Since the Myanmar military seized power in February, it has overseen economic collapse, mishandled the COVID-19 pandemic, murdered hundreds of people, and set the stage for the state to fail.


The Taliban have returned to power in Afghanistan twenty years after their ouster by U.S. troops, sparking concerns that they will impose harsh rule, neglect to provide basic services, and abuse human rights.