How Does U.S. Use Its Power?

How Does U.S. Use Its Power?

July 22, 2002 8:54 am (EST)

To help readers better understand the nuances of foreign policy, CFR staff writers and Consulting Editor Bernard Gwertzman conduct in-depth interviews with a wide range of international experts, as well as newsmakers.

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From: SHOW: DIPLOMATIC LICENSE 04:00 AM Eastern Standard Time

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: If you ask Americans do you want America to rule the world, their answer is going to be no.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: We must not wait until the pages of your publications and our television screens are full of bad images.

UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: Can you believe it, that kids made all these toys? Do you ever make toys of your own? (END VIDEO CLIP)

GARRICK UTLEY, GUEST HOST: Hello and welcome to DIPLOMATIC LICENSE. I’m Garrick Utley, sitting in for Richard Roth.

There are in the world today 192 countries, at last count, big and small, rich and poor, and there among them is the United States. Is it in a class by itself? The only super power on earth? Well, yes. Is that good or bad for our world? You might say that depends on how it uses its power. That’s what we want to look at and question in our program this day. If the United States is the most dominant power since ancient Rome, what does that mean for everyone else?


UTLEY (voice over): A president speaks, and leaders in the Middle East look to him for leadership. In Central Asia, the United States builds military bases in the vanquished Soviet Union. In Afghanistan, the search for al Qaeda fighters never ends. This is more than a super power at work.

WALTER RUSSELL MEAD, COUNCIL ON FOREIGN RELATIONS: You can call it an empire, the biggest in history. No other empire has ever had the—this kind of impact that we’ve had on so many places at once.

UTLEY: Empire? That’s a word and an idea Americans are not very comfortable with. It belongs to the past, doesn’t it? Think again. What’s being called the new American empire by a growing number of historians and commentators is based on a different kind of conquest.

(on camera): For example, there is language. English as the world’s international language.

(voice-over): There is the conquest of taste; food for better or worse; popular entertainment; and music.


And information with American organizations dominating the global news flow.


UTLEY: And to what end?

MEAD: What we’re trying to do is create a power political basis with our military and an economic system that works for most people most of the time.

UTLEY: That’s different from the British on whose empire the sun never set. They and other European imperialists used their military might to rule and exploit their colonies including one called America. But just as the founding fathers broke with the old empire, they began building a new one.

The justification for conquering and settling the land was called manifest destiny, the belief that the new Americans had the right and the duty to push to the Pacific and beyond. The Panama Canal under American sovereignty for most of the 20th century was a model. It was built so that American warships could move swiftly across the world and also American trade.

(on camera): And how it has all paid off. Today the American economy is the strongest in the world and the U.S. dollar is the dominant global currency. And yet, what has made this American empire different from its predecessors is that it’s based on more than just power and prosperity, it’s also about spreading democracy and freedom.

MEAD: It’s a bigger ambition in a way than simply to create another empire. It’s an ambition to create a new age for mankind, and we may or may not succeed.

UTLEY (voice over): May or may not succeed in driving Saddam Hussein from power or in bringing Israelis and Palestinians together. For in the end, an American president is not an emperor to whom other leaders must pay tribute. The United States is not ancient Rome. Today, even the strongest is vulnerable.


UTLEY: Well, strength and vulnerability. If Americans see the world in their particular way, how do other nations view the United States and its power? Is it too much the unilateralist "we’ll do it my way" giant or a much needed leader when others are reluctant to lead?

With us now is Ambassador John Richardson, who represents the European Union at the United Nations. Mr. Ambassador, thank you for joining us. How much of this really new, the criticism many Americans are hearing, officials that the United States is going its own way, setting its own agenda, let the chips fall where it may? And how much of it is part of the traditional tension, it’s not envy at a super power?

JOHN RICHARDSON, EUROPEAN COMMUNITY AMB. TO U.N.: I think there is a change and it’s a question of degree. I think it’s right that the United States has always been about power, but also about values in the world and indeed, the relationship between Europe and the United States, which is you know very strong, very positive one, has been based on the idea of shared values.

But American power has met American leadership, and we’ve been grateful for that for a long time. What has changed, I think, is that the circumstances which we’re facing, the threats on the horizon, are different and perhaps perceptions of them are different, and we’re seeing different reactions on the two sides of Atlantic about how to go about dealing with these threats and with this new situation.

UTLEY: Well it’s like two terms we hear, long words, many syllables, unilateralism versus multilateralism. Obviously we have alliances, NATO, trade organizations, the world is tied together, and yet the criticism is that the Bush administration is too unilateralist. What do you mean by that specifically?

RICHARDSON: I think the Bush administration is after all the previous administrations and American policy for a very long time now has been to spread the rule of law and market economy around the world, and we share that and it has done so very largely by setting up a multi lateral system. The WTO is a multi lateral organization. We’re both attached to it. The United Nations is a multilateral organization. Your first ambassador was Eleanor Roosevelt.

This is an American idea, and that continues. What I think we’re seeing now is a greater emphasis, moment by the American government, on the possibility of sometimes acting alone, unilaterally if you will, rather than through the multilateral institutions and there’s something of a tension between these two ideas and of course, we’re concerned if the United States would act too often, outside of the multilateral system and in a way which we would not approve of.

UTLEY: Now, we know the points and the familiar agenda. There was the land mines treaty, the U.S. didn’t sign it. There’s the Kyoto court on the environment and most recently, the international court, which the United States has not joined, and now the United Nations just a few days ago, the United States achieving some or demanding in getting some kind of immunity or protection from prosecution for its forces in U.N. peacekeeping forces. Now, do you see merit on what the Americans are saying on this last case of the international criminal court, or is this an example of unilateralism and throwing its weight around?

RICHARDSON: I see a merging part of what the United States is saying. I think it’s correct for the United States to say that it—that since it is the power, which is most often exposed in military terms around the world, it is seen as the leader of the values that we share and because of that it is a target. It is the biggest target, and I think that’s correct.

Where I think the United States is wrong and believing about the international court we in fact go after U.S. peacekeepers. I think to be honest, that is quite ridiculous. I cannot believe that any American working for the U.S. military on a peacekeeping operation would commit crimes against humanity. And the court is full of safeguards to ensure that no case could be bought—could be brought against such an American serviceman.

UTLEY: Following up on this point about unilateralism or excessive unilateralism on the American part, let me put myself in the position of an American official who’s totally internationalist and outlook and yet, will often say well, people overseas complain about, very often about us not being leaders, then when we take a leadership role, they say we’re going too far, too fast.

Example, Middle East, the Bush administration came in—it really didn’t want to touch the Middle East, then it was forced to get involved. So there was criticism, you’re not getting involved in the Middle East peace process (UNINTELLIGIBLE) and now if you do too much, in cases like Iraq in the Middle East, boy we don’t want you to do that either. So, is it—are the Americans in an impossible situation?

RICHARDSON: I don’t think so. I think there’s a very simple recipe. If the United States doesn’t want to be in an impossible situation, that is to accept that it has a leadership role, and I think it does that usually, and to accept it and performing that leadership role, it will not necessarily always get it right on its own without consulting—obviously hold the same values and have the same interests. So the name of the game here is consultation, even if at the end of the day the United States may want to take its own decisions.

UTLEY: In the end, though, given this imbalance of power, militarily speaking, military power and therefore political power in the world if the United States possesses and will for decades to come most likely, is a lot of this criticism inevitable? Isn’t there going to be a tension no matter what the United States really does?

RICHARDSON: I don’t think that’s necessarily the case, and this comes back to what you mean by power, even by military power. A tomahawk missile isn’t going to help you to keep the peace between a warring ethnic groups in Afghanistan or in Kosovo. For that you need intelligent troops on the ground. I would point out that there are far more European troops on the ground in Afghanistan keeping the peace than there are Americans. Seventy- five percent of the troops in Kosovo are Europeans. They’re not Americans. There are different forms of power.

UTLEY: Thank you very much, Mr. Ambassador, for joining us and drawing that balance. Ambassador John Richardson of the European Union.

And here’s another comment about the United States from Chris Patten, the commissioner for external affairs for the European Union.


CHRIS PATTEN, COMMISSIONER FOR EXTERNAL AFFAIRS, EUROPEAN UNION: I think even if you’re the biggest country in the world and the most powerful country in the world, you need international cooperation to serve your own interests as well as everybody else’s.




GEORGE W. BUSH, PRESIDENT OF THE UNITED STATES: Poland has been rather a great source of stability in the neighborhood and therefore Russia feels less threatened, and I think that’s an important nuance, as we say in foreign policy. I think that’s the word, isn’t it? Nuance? Yes. Anyway…


UTLEY: President Bush with Poland’s President Aleksander Kwasniewski in Washington, D.C. this week. And speaking of nuance, it’s time now for our weekly exchange of international news, insights, delicious gossip and maybe even some nuance in the course of our conversation with Afsane Bassir Pour of the French newspaper Le Monde and at our U.N. bureau James Bone of the Times of London.

Lady and gentleman, let’s start with you, James, in the international court. We know a week ago the U.N. Security Council gave the United States most of what it wanted. That is immunity from prosecution by the court for its peacekeepers and U.N. peacekeeping efforts, particularly in the Vulcans. Who won in this, James?

JAMES BONE, TIMES OF LONDON: Well, you just got it wrong there, Garrick, because they didn’t get immunity. That’s the whole point. I mean, the Americans for years now have demanded guarantees of immunity from the court, and what they didn’t get was immunity. What they got was a promise to defer prosecution or investigation for a year. But there’s a very important difference there. The difference is this.

If somebody does something—if an American does something horrible in the first year while the deferral is in effect, the Security Council can refuse to do—extend the deferral for a further year and that American will then be subject for the act or atrocity that took place within that first year. So therefore, there is no immunity.

UTLEY: Well, but, James…



UTLEY:…just before—Afsane…


UTLEY:…James, let’s pursue this point because there’s…


UTLEY:…a lot of small print here, but it’s very important in terms of precedent with these international peacekeeping efforts. The Security Council also has the power to extend that…

BASSIR POUR: That’s right.

UTLEY:…Twelve months, 12 months, 12 months, which is de facto.

BONE: It does, but there was an argument over whether it would be automatically extended, which is what the Americans wanted in perpetuity or whether there would have to be a fresh vote each time. The result was there’ll have to be a fresh vote each time, which means first of all, either the British or the French or the Russians or the Chinese can block the extension of the deferral investigation and also the Americans have to get nine votes out of the 15. Same situation that there were to be by some remote chance and atrocity by the Americans, it’s almost impossible to imagine that that deferral would be extended by the Security Council and that American would then fall subject to the jurisdiction of the court for that atrocity.

UTLEY: Afsane.

BASSIR POUR: Yes, but they did get immunity. James is right, that they didn’t get all they wanted. They wanted generalized, perpetual immunity, not only for their own peacekeepers, but for peacekeepers of all the countries who have not ratified the status of Rome…

UTLEY: Which the United States…

BASSIR POUR:…establishing…

UTLEY:… has not done.

BASSIR POUR:…which of course they’re against, but they did get immunity…


BASSIR POUR:…for one year…

BONE: That is not correct.

BASSIR POUR:…for their…

BONE: That is not correct.

BASSIR POUR:…soldiers.

BONE: An act that takes place in year one is not immune in perpetuity from their court. It’s only immune as long as the Security Council…

BASSIR POUR: That’s what they said…


BASSIR POUR:…for one year…


BASSIR POUR:…for 12 months.

BONE:…that that act is subject to the jurisdiction of the court. There was a huge battle in the Security Council precisely that point. You shouldn’t ignore that point. The Americans wanted it said that in the first year there should be exclusive jurisdiction for the American court. That was a make or break thing for the Europeans.



BASSIR POUR:…in any case James…

BONE: Americans capitulated on that phrase exclusive jurisdiction…

BASSIR POUR:…any case, James, you know very well that the court has no jurisdiction where a country, a national—it’s given to the national of every country. I mean the Americans are going to try their own people anyway. It’s only a country that cannot or will not try a criminal…

BONE: Well, it’s not clear…

BASSIR POUR:…that will be deferred…



UTLEY: James…

BONE:…that the Americans will try their own people because the situation is a similar situation to the situation that the controversy over Henry Kissinger’s role in the Vietnam War. There are people who say Henry Kissinger should be tried for war crimes in the Vietnam War. The Americans just laugh at that. Now that’s a situation in the future, if there had been a criminal court at that time, and Vietnam had been a party and Cambodia had been a party to that court, you know, Mr. Kissinger’s travel plans would be severely circumscribed. That’s a situation the Americans are worried about.

UTLEY: Of course, there’s a real question here, James and Afsane, whether the United States overreached itself and then was forced to…


UTLEY:…step back, but this is going to go on for some time. Let’s turn our attention from this legalistic and important dispute to a very human tragedy that is taking place in southern Africa. Now we read about it for—not in southern Africa, we read about it perhaps in the fringes of the news, the famine there, the shortage of food. The U.N. Children’s Fund on Thursday came out with a statement that six million children are at risk at starvation there.


UTLEY: Let’s look at that. What—is this natural made or manmade?

BASSIR POUR: Both. Both. You have the drought, of course, and then you have what they call bad governance, good governance. You know there’s a point in case in Zimbabwe where the elections were not free and fair and where disastrous policies of the Mugabe government are contributing to the famine and then, of course, you have Angola, which is also going through a famine, but Angola is one of the richest countries in that part of the world, and it’s not using its own petro dollars to save its own people.

This puts the international community in a moral dilemma. On the one hand, they don’t agree with Mugabe and his, you know, his government, with Angola not using its own petro dollars. On the other hand, as you just pointed out, there’s six million children, you know, on the verge of dying, so we have to help them.

UTLEY: Well, James, there at the United Nations, given this moral dilemma, this catastrophe, which is staring us in the face, what do you hear diplomats there saying, because the U.N. obviously has to be deeply involved and concerned about this. Do you take initiative to a certain point? Do you go along with the African leaders and many of their problems…

BONE: Well, I mean…

UTLEY:…which are self imposed?

BONE:…the thing is, the U.N. is pretty much obliged as a humanitarian agency to bail out the countries when they get into a famine like this that’s impending, and whether or not it’s manmade, they’re going to bail out the countries. The problem is that this is the worst drought in 20 years.

So it’s a bad drought, but it’s not an unknown drought. What’s happened is it’s compounded by the land reform policies of President Mugabe in Zimbabwe, which has led to the collapse, almost total collapse, of the white-owned commercial farms, which are being seized by the war veterans. The falloff in May’s production in Zimbabwe was 67 percent over last year.

The winter wheat crop, which would normally see Zimbabwe through the winter, isn’t going to exist this year because it’s produced by the white- owned farms. Compounded that is the fact that the government has a monopoly on grain imports. The government doesn’t have any foreign exchange because there’s no exports. So the government hasn’t got money to buy food to import, to feed the population.

So then the U.N. will say well there are private sector people in Zimbabwe who have got money to buy food, let them import it, and the government is saying no because there is a white interest or anti Mugabe business interest, the government won’t let those people…

UTLEY: Well, James…

BONE:…use private money to import the food…

UTLEY: And on top…

BONE:…and therefore there’s going to be a short fall.

UTLEY: OK, you got drought. You got manmade problems there, self- inflicted, if you will, but Afsane, there are also other problems. You’ve got the AIDS.

BASSIR POUR: Absolutely, you have AIDS, which has compared to the famines of 19—no, the beginning of the ‘90s, now you have a group of people, the most productive section of society is dying off or they’re so vulnerable that, you know, they’re affected much more by the famine, so you have the grandmothers and the children who have to take the burden of the agriculture whereas the young people are just dying.

UTLEY: Quick answers from both of you, one final point on Africa. There’s now a new organization called The African Union, I believe it is, replaces the previous organization…


UTLEY:… that’s been there for decades. What’s the talk you’re hearing international circles at the U.N. about whether this is going to make a difference.

BASSIR POUR: Well, you know, I mean, they started off pretty badly by saying that the elections in Zimbabwe we were just talking about were indeed free and fair where everybody knows that they were not free and fair and that government in Zimbabwe should not be in power as it is. So for this new organization to go and endorse an election that nobody believes in, I think it’s not a very good start.

UTLEY: Finally, Afsane, a footnote to the news this week. You’re French working for Le Monde.


UTLEY: There was an assassination attempt against President Chirac during the July 14th parade, Bastille Day, right there along the Champs Elysees. They didn’t come close, but shocked a lot of persons. We had the case of an assassination in Holland, Pim Fortuyn, several weeks ago during the election campaign there. How have the French been reacting to this and is there any significance to this that Europeans see in this—these two incidents?

BASSIR POUR: Well, as you said, it was shocking, obviously for the French because it shows maybe, you know, the depth of unhappiness and also the rise of the extreme right.

But what was funny was that Chirac didn’t know about it and, you know, when he was told, he said (UNINTELLIGIBLE), oh, OK, you know, nothing, no big deal. But I was told by a very close adviser of Chirac that in fact he doesn’t like security, and when he moves around town, he doesn’t have, you know, all these escorts like you see with the American president, and he stops at every red light and pulls down his window and talks to passersby, which of course, you know, the security, it’s a nightmare for them. Now this might have changed since this last incident, but it’s a (UNINTELLIGIBLE) side of the president.

UTLEY: Reminds me of Bill Clinton’s comment when he left office after George Bush was sworn in, he was going in his motorcade to the airport to fly off as a civilian, and his motorcade had to stop for stoplights. He said, “I haven’t done this for eight years”…

BASSIR POUR: There you go.

UTLEY:…and many years before when he was governor of Arkansas either. Anyway, thank you very much, Afsane…

BASSIR POUR: Thank you.

UTLEY:…and James, for joining us today.

This week, the United Nations Security Council held a day-long meeting on Sierra Leone in Africa where the U.N. has its largest peacekeeping operation currently. U.N. and officials there in that country warn that conflict and neighboring Liberia could threaten the fragile peace and once again civilians are at risk.

Carolyn McAskie, the U.N.’s deputy emergency relief coordinator, introduced a brochure on the protection of civilians, but read the fine print.


CAROLYN MCASKIE, U.N. DEPUTY EMERGENCY RELIEF COORDINATOR: With the help of the Norwegian government, a very useful short pamphlet has been produced and but the print is so tiny, I’m wondering if the Norwegian ambassador to tell us whether the people in Norway have better eyesight than people in other parts of the world, as I need very good glasses to read it, but it’s very handy to carry around.



UTLEY: Finally here on DIPLOMATIC LICENSE, it’s time for toys. Not the toys for grownups, which are often used to show off status and wealth. No, this is about toys for children and made by children. At the U.N. headquarters in New York City there is currently an exhibition entitled “Not Sold In Stores.” True enough, and it’s organized by The Christian Children’s Fund. More than 100 toys are on display made by children who had little more than their hands and their imagination to produce this.



UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: (UNINTELLIGIBLE) some exhibit of different toys that children all around the world have made, using all sorts of material. They were in countries, a lot of them, where they couldn’t go to store and buy a doll or a sailboat or whatever toy they needed. They had to use what that had to make them.

KUL GAUTAM, DEPUTY EXEC. DIRECTOR UNICEF: There is something universal about what children want and what children play, except that some are rich and can afford very expensive computerized gadgets. Others make do with scrap material.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: The big trucks, like over there, they just make them out of wood and nail them together.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: They’re really smart because they can put—they can find just bottle caps or beer tops and make cars.

GAUTAM: Whenever we have emergency relief operation, you clear a land mine, a land with land mines, the first thing children will do, go there and play soccer. They are so creative and I think children here come and look at them and admire them because they can see that in poor countries, too, children can make toys and they can enjoy life like people do here.

UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: This one is a sailboat that’s made out of (UNINTELLIGIBLE) sandal, a bit of plastic and some sticks.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: It’s pretty amazing. I mean there’s so much of this stuff I already have, but you know you buy it from the store, but then is just handmade and no money spent.

GAUTAM: It is the natural creativity of children and their joy for play. I think that is universal. No matter which country, rich or poor, in what kind of dire circumstances, children are always ready and interested to find something fun to do.


UTLEY: And then, of course, one girl’s up and begins to buy the toys, but that’s another story.

And that’s DIPLOMATIC LICENSE for this week. I’m Garrick Utley. Thanks for joining us.

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