Tag Archives: Bush

Telling Muslims To ‘Do One’ Is Not Pragmatism

A pragmatist would work to understand the drivers for jihadism and extreme Islamism. Telling Islamists to fuck off does not feature, and it will not work.


carlsberg dont do freedom of speech


This is a response to ‘Innocence of Muslims’ ‘offends’ Muslims: ‘Well So Fucking What?


In 2006 Karl Rove, the Bush-era White House Deputy Chief of Staff, delivered a speech denoting the achievements of American conservatives. He argued that the most important distinction between conservatives and liberals was the former’s desire for revenge:

Conservatives saw the savagery of 9/11 and the attacks and prepared for war; liberals saw the savagery of the 9/11 attacks and wanted to prepare indictments and offer therapy and understanding for our attackers.

For Rove, any attempt to comprehend the reasons for 9/11 was illogical and unnecessary: America had been attacked and the only possible response was war. It was unthinkable for the Republican to consider why terrorism had struck American shores in such a destructive and horrific fashion. By responding with the invasions of the Middle East, especially Iraq, the West acted to further catalyse anti-Western sentiment, grievances, and ultimately terrorism. In short, the response distinctly lacked any semblance of pragmatism.

Peter Kelly’s recent piece considering the film ‘Innocence of Muslims’ shares this quality. The inference that protesters should be taking offence over the poor quality of the film rather than its content is as laughable as it is perverse, but the all the more serious issue is the representation that his arguments represent pragmatism: they do not.

Kelly argues that the statements made by Morsi and Karzai are “beyond wrong, they are dangerous”. Seemingly therefore, no national leader should take into account domestic political considerations and constraints when responding to an issue. Is this a pragmatist speaking?

The statements by both Morsi and Karzai are intended to allay further protests. Each leader’s respective country has recently undergone drastic and strenuous political changes, both leaders suffer from challenges to their leadership, and both preside over populations that have proven to be easily fired up. Is it more pragmatic to deliver a message in the hope that it will minimize further protests and casualties (likely targeting foreigners), or to persevere with a message that would only work to antagonize, irrespective of its (neo-liberal) ideological ‘correctness’?

Kelly goes on to denounce claims that the US embassy in Cairo’s statement was pragmatic, yet he fails to locate the statement within the broader timeline of the protests. The statement in question was made before both the murder of Christopher Stevens and members of his staff in Libya, as well as the storming of the US embassy in Cairo. It was not a response to the violence but an attempt to allay violence and protests given the effects of previous similar productions attacking Islam. One would hope that should Kelly inhabit the role of UK ambassador at some point during his career he would take every possible precaution to ensure the safety of his staff, even if by doing so his ideological message is weakened. When there is a threat to diplomatic personnel it is irresponsible and illogical to put politics before life. The US embassy’s statement was entirely pragmatic in that it attempted to ensure the safety of its staff. Would a pragmatist not have taken such a route?

The all the more deplorable position presented however, is that of a Manichean framework through which to view this issue. In much the same way that the Bush administration and al Qaeda promoted an “Us versus Them” vision of the post-9/11 world, Kelly asserts that either we “bend over and give over our rights” or we tell Islamists to fuck off. Such a binary only serves to consolidate the hand of those that hold values antithetical to the modern universalist values of freedom of speech, of equality, of political freedoms. The combating of such ideologues does not occur by presenting the wider population with the choice of ‘you’re either with us or against us’. If we tell the Muslim world to ‘do one’ every time we have a cultural conflict, well, is the result not obvious?

In The Art of War, the military strategist Sun Tzu wrote:

If you know the enemy and know yourself, you need not fear the result of a hundred battles. If you know yourself but not the enemy, for every victory gained you will also suffer a defeat. If you know neither the enemy nor yourself, you will succumb in every battle.

The Rove/Kelly vision argues against knowing your enemy and reacting on the basis of ideological foundation. A pragmatist would work to understand the drivers for jihadism and extreme Islamism, working to spread modern universalist values by taking into account, and working against, the factors that aid and abet it. Telling Islamists to fuck off does not feature, and it will not work.


Photo credit: sjgibss80

The Sustained Role Of The US In European Security

Does the United States still have an important role to play in the security of Europe or has the rationale of the transatlantic relationship changed in recent years?
{Department of War Studies, King’s College London}


Security guard


[dropcap]P[/dropcap]rior to the fall of the Soviet Union in 1989, the relationship that Europe held with the United States was an essential component in the security of Europe. Yet, in the aftermath of the Warsaw Pact’s disintegration, some analysts had already written the obituary of the Atlantic alliance, prescribing a growing divergence in transatlantic relations and casting doubt upon the role of the United States in Europe’s security.[1] The neo-realist view is that the security collaboration across the Atlantic should have concluded with the end of the Cold War.[2]This argument has been made consistently throughout the years succeeding the fall of the Soviet bloc but the transatlantic relationship has maintained its position as the most important relationship in the world. However, the rationale of the relationship has changed in two fundamental ways: first, the removal of the Soviet threat altered NATO’s agenda and second, the United States’ challenge for its European allies to take more responsibility for their own defence has caused the latter to re-evaluate the balance of the alliance.

Despite the modified rationale of the relationship, this article will argue that the underlying principles of the partnership, the common threats that confront it and a conscious European effort to close the capability gap all indicate that the United States will continue to play a substantial role in the security of Europe for the foreseeable future. The first section will analyse how the shared values and economic interdependence of the transatlantic partnership remain central reasons that the United States will still contribute to the security of Europe. The second section will examine the changing focus of NATO and the common threats that the transatlantic partners face and will continue to counter. The third section will argue that the European members of NATO must increase their commitment to the partnership if America is to remain influential in European security.[3] The final section will summarise and conclude the key points that have been argued in this article.

Underlying Principles and the Transatlantic Economy

The association between the United States of America and Europe runs much deeper than a mere relationship of utility and convenience. Common values of freedom, justice and liberty have laid the foundations of the transatlantic partnership for over sixty years and institutions such as NATO form the glue that binds the Atlantic partnership together. An American dominated NATO remains the vehicle for transatlantic security and defence co-operation and a commitment to protect the values of the alliance was re-iterated in NATO’s most recent Strategic Concept document.[4] The rationale of the transatlantic relationship did indeed alter with the dissolution of the Soviet Union but the fundamental principles which formed the bedrock of the transatlantic link remain intact. Presently, Europe represents a zone of peace and democracy and, despite the lack of a common external enemy in the modern security environment, the same remains true today: the United States still has a substantial role to play in European security affairs since the values which underpin the relationship remain as established today as they ever have been. Hillary Clinton added strength to this claim in her recent speech in Paris, outlining that the United States will continue to ensure that peace and security is maintained in Europe for the foreseeable future as the transatlantic bond is an illustration of their shared values.[5]

Nevertheless, it has not been a smooth ride for the relationship since the fall of the Berlin Wall; the advent of the Iraq War in 2003 particularly raised divided opinion on both sides of the Atlantic. Commentators proclaimed that the division over the Iraq War was the biggest crisis in the relationship’s history [6] whilst George W. Bush’s public approval ratings in Europe plummeted to levels never seen before.[7] However, the crisis has been successfully surmounted and today, the transatlantic link remains unbroken, which begs the question: how has the relationship survived despite the worst crisis in its history? It is hard to disregard the fact that a change of leadership aided an improvement in relations after Bush’s tenure; the arrival of Barack Obama at the Oval Office evidently rejuvenated public opinion towards the United States on the European side of the Atlantic whilst Nicolas Sarkozy’s rise to office brought France back into NATO’s integrated military command in 2009.[8] Although did the relationship ever really look in danger of coming to an end? Stanley Sloan has deliberated with the notion that NATO and the transatlantic partnership may be a ‘permanent alliance’ based upon its shared values, history and respect for sovereignty and, even if the partnership may not be everlasting, it is hard to see it coming to an end anytime soon.[9] The alliance has weathered many storms such as the Suez crisis in 1956, Bosnia in the 1990s and the more recent war on terror and the fact that it has remained intact throughout is a testament to its resiliency. Therefore, it is logical to deduce that the United States will continue to hold an important role in the defence of Europe in the near future because of the bond that is shared across the Atlantic.

Additionally, the transatlantic economy is vastly interdependent as the financial crisis of 2008 evidently demonstrated. Through the deep economic integration between both sides of the Atlantic, it is estimated that approximately fifteen million jobs are created and five trillion dollars in commercial sales is generated annually[10]; the economic importance of the transatlantic relationship is obvious as it still accounts for over half of global GDP despite the global recession.[11] As the largest and most significant economic partnership in the world it would surely be too great a risk for the United States to not play a considerable role in European security; the transatlantic economy is so intertwined that it is not purely European interests that are at stake in the security of Europe but also American interests. In this light, the neo-liberalist viewpoint that the transatlantic nations will continue to co-operate on security issues as a result of parallel security aims, common economic interests and comparable ideals and political identities becomes a reasonable assumption.[12] This section has demonstrated how shared economic interests and the underlying principles of the transatlantic relationship will keep the United States significantly involved in European security, the next section will argue that common security interests will maintain America’s role in the security arena of Europe.

Common Security Interests

In modern times, European integration and the enlargement of NATO and the European Union has assembled a Europe that is as stable as it has ever been in its history; the notion of a war on the continent now borders on the absurd. With the dissolution of the Soviet Union, the main threat to Europe’s security since the signature of the North Atlantic Treaty in 1949, NATO’s raison d’être had vanished and the alliance had to establish a new justification for its existence. So, after the Balkan wars of the 1990s, the attacks of 9/11 and with a seemingly secure Europe, a NATO dominated by the United States consequently undertook a new global agenda to combat modern security threats that may endanger its member states.[13] This transformation process has been a success and a recent survey confirmed that a majority of respondents from the US (77%) and Europe (62%) agree that NATO must be equipped to operate in the global arena to facilitate the protection of its members.[14]

Yet, several analysts have questioned the commitment of the US to the security of Europe for the reason that they are currently focusing their attention upon defence issues that lay outside of European territory.[15] It is true that NATO is presently concentrating its efforts upon global issues such as Iran, terrorism, Afghanistan and anti-piracy efforts in the Horn of Africa and there are certainly differing threat perceptions within NATO over where the alliance’s focus should be. For example, the Baltic States are more concerned with the threat of an aggressive Russia on their doorstep rather than global security issues. However, the view that these global issues are not of significant importance to the security of Europe is myopic as these issues unquestionably threaten the security of Europe, if albeit, indirectly. The fact that, internally, Europe is as safe as it has ever been means that the foremost threats to its security are now emanating from outside of its borders; this does not suggest that the United States will have an insignificant involvement in its defence.

Common threats that populate the modern security environment are diverse in the challenges that they present to the alliance and consist of concerns such as economic security (as mentioned above), the Middle East peace process, energy security, cyber warfare, violent extremism, rogue states and nuclear proliferation.[16] Moreover, in spite of Obama’s recent ‘reset’ policy, Russia’s attack on Georgia in 2008 provided a stark reminder of the potential threat that the former Soviet Union poses to European security and that it cannot be taken for granted. Together with a volatile and nuclear armed North Korea now under the control of the youthful Kim Jong-un, an Iran intent on the development of nuclear arms and fertile terrorist hotbeds such as Somalia, Pakistan and Afghanistan still prevalent, it is clear that the world is not a safe place. For that reason, George Robertson, the former NATO-Secretary General, is realistic when adopting the view that the West ‘still has business in confronting the dark side of globalisation’.[17]

In light of these security threats, the US cannot afford to significantly reduce their involvement in the security of Europe and, regardless of the various criticisms thrown at them, the missions in Libya and Afghanistan illustrate what the alliance can achieve when the US and its European allies co-operate on security matters; this is precisely why NATO remains the most relevant and necessary military alliance today.[18] A strong and stable Europe is in America’s economic and security interests and the common threats that America and Europe both face reasonably suggest that, through NATO, the United States will indeed remain an important player in European security for a considerable time to come.  The next section will analyse how the European members of NATO rely on an alliance dominated by the US and how they must increase their contribution to the alliance if they wish to maintain American interest in the security of Europe.

Rebalancing The Alliance

The United States is the most powerful nation in the world and it is logical for European nations to have aligned themselves with such a force to ensure their security in a hostile and ever-changing security environment. Yet, European reliance upon US resources has become excessive; in 2010 the United States contributed an enormous 72.4% of the total NATO budget compared to 50% ten years prior.[19] The transatlantic alliance is undoubtedly top-heavy with Britain, France and Germany combined only contributing 14.52% of the total NATO budget in the same year whilst the other twenty three NATO members supplied a mere 13% of the budget.[20] Distinguished figures on both sides of the Atlantic have been critical of Europe’s dependence upon the United States’ resources and have warned of the possibility that the United States may reconsider its role in European security unless the European allies endeavour to visibly close this apparent capability and commitment gap.[21]

Jaap de Hoop Scheffer has referred to NATO as a ‘timeless alliance’ yet if the European members of NATO are not assertive, American support in the security affairs of Europe may dwindle.[22] To lose the vital support of the most valuable member of the alliance would only be to the detriment of European security and for this reason, the majority of the European members of NATO desire to maintain America’s considerable involvement in their security affairs and view the alliance as a way of sustaining US focus upon their defence.[23] Subsequently, as a result of the United States’ intense participation in European security to date, there appears to be an embedded European complacency that their American partner will constantly support Europe in its security affairs. Thus, the burden-sharing debate, which has been prevalent throughout the alliance’s history, has been growing louder by the year.

In an age of austerity, where the impact of the global economic crisis is being felt around the world and the United States is winding down two expensive wars in Iraq and Afghanistan, American support is not guaranteed.[24] The United States cannot achieve its foreign policy goals unaided anymore and, with the rise of China in mind, Barack Obama has been increasingly multilateral in his search for partnerships in the world.[25] Nonetheless, American politicians have been quick to quell fears that the United States has become less committed to Europe and have provided assurances that Europe and its security does indeed remain a priority despite defence cuts.[26] Still, American policy towards Europe has certainly changed. On his first trip to Europe, President Obama asserted that the United States were no longer ‘looking to be patrons of Europe’, but to be ‘partners of Europe.’[27] Washington wishes that its European allies began to pull their weight in the relationship and shoulder their fair share of the burden if they are to keep playing such a pivotal role in Europe’s defence.

It is necessary that Europe becomes more self-sufficient if they are to deal with their own security problems. The recent Libya campaign, for example, confirmed the wide capability gap between the United States and the European participants.[28] Yet, the fact that America pulled back and left Britain and France to take the lead role in this successful mission marked the instigation of the change that Washington wishes to see in the relationship. As Lord Robertson affirmed, Obama has ‘forced the European nations to confront their own destiny’[29] and it is how the Europeans continue to react to this challenge that will somewhat determine how important a role the United States’ will play in its security. If the European allies make a conscious effort to rebalance the alliance and the Americans begin to see a return for their input then any possible friction within the alliance over the burden-sharing debate will surely evaporate and the United States will continue to contribute significantly to the security of Europe.


It is realistic to conclude that the United States does still have an important role to play in the security of Europe in spite of changes to the rationale of the relationship. The arguments put across in this article to support this claim are numerous. The underlying principles and history that have shaped the partnership represent a relationship not of mere pragmatism but of a much deeper value that will ensure the two sides of the Atlantic are forever associated. In addition, the transatlantic link is institutionally and economically entrenched meaning that it would be damaging to the American economy to diminish their part in the protection of Europe. The alliance has proven its resiliency and withstood numerous crises including its most notable crisis over the Iraq War and it will surely continue to survive these predicaments in the near future. Despite the defeat of the Soviet threat it was founded to offset, NATO has managed to successfully transform its agenda and adapt to the modern security environment and the second section demonstrated that there are a plethora of common security threats that the transatlantic partners will persistently counter together despite the diverse threat perceptions and strategic cultures within Europe. The fact that NATO provides America legality for its actions abroad, combined with these common security threats, point towards the United States remaining the key player within NATO and therefore maintaining an important role in European security.

The danger is that American support in European security affairs will decline if the European allies do not react to the burden-sharing dilemma assertively and with haste because the transatlantic alliance is undoubtedly top-heavy. If the European allies want to eradicate this friction within the relationship and preserve American influence in European security affairs then they have to address the current imbalance within the alliance; Libya was a positive start and if they continue in the same vein then the United States will undoubtedly continue to play a substantial role in European security. To summarise, the rationale of the relationship may have changed but the values and interdependent economies of the partnership, the institutional links, common security threats and NATO’s new global agenda all indicate that the United States is likely to retain an important role in the security of Europe.

[toggle title=”Citations”]

[1] Robert Kagan famously asserted that ‘Americans are from Mars and Europeans are from Venus’. Kagan (2004), p.3; Kissinger, ‘The End of NATO’, The Washington Post, (1990), p. 23; Krauthammer (2002), ‘Re-Imagining NATO’, Washington Post, p. A35.

[2] Simoni (2011), p. 27; Mearsheimer (1990).

[3] The case for greater US-EU cooperation will not be developed here.

[4] NATO Strategic Concept 2010.

[5] Clinton Speech, Paris, (2010).

[6] Allin (2004), p. 663; Sloan (2010), p. 253.

[7] ‘Global Public Opinion in the Bush Years (2001-2008)’, Pew Research Centre (2008).

[8] ‘Obama More Popular Abroad’, Pew Research Center (2010); Kaufman (2011), p. 77; Transatlantic Trends (2010), p.5.

[9] Sloan (2010), p. 281.

[10] Hamilton & Quinlan (2011), p. 13; Shapiro and Witney (2009), p. 24.

[11] Hamilton & Quinlan (2011), p. 20.

[12] Mix (2011), p.6; Simoni (2011), pp. 24-7.

[13] See Aybet and Moore (2010).

[14] Transatlantic Trends 2010, p. 6.

[15] Guérot (2011), pp. 55-6; Kuykendall (2010), p.111.

[16] NATO Strategic Concept 2010.

[17] Robertson speech, Chatham House (2011).

[18] Transatlantic Trends 2011 survey showed that NATO is still seen as essential by 62% of both EU and U.S. respondents.

[19] NATO Defence Expenditures (1990-2010).

[20] Ibid.

[21] Gates speech, London (2011); Major speech, Chatham House (2011); Rasmussen speech, Warsaw (2011).

[22] Scheffer speech, Chatham House (2009).

[23] Alcaro (2011), p. 20.

[24] Jones (2011), p. 152.

[25] Kuykendall (2009), p. 110.

[26] Clinton, Foreign Policy (2011); ‘Obama to recall US troops from Europe’, Financial Times, 9 April 2011; Panetta speech, Carnegie Europe (2011); Lindley-French (2010), p. 50.

[27] Obama speech, Strasbourg (2009).

[28] Panetta speech, Warsaw (2011).

[29] Robertson speech, Chatham House (2011).


Multilateral Diplomacy In A Post-9/11 World.

How valuable is multilateral diplomacy in a post-9/11 world?
{Department of War Studies, King’s College London}



[dropcap]M[/dropcap]ultilateral diplomacy is academically defined as diplomacy conducted via conferences attended by three or more states on the basis of generalised rules of conduct[1], while a UN envoy has defined it in simpler terms, depicting the diplomatic form as ‘a bunch of countries pushing their own barrows, but in the one room.’[2] The rise of multilateral diplomacy can be traced back to the nineteenth century when the Concert of Europe sat around the table together at the Congress of Vienna. Yet, this mode of diplomacy developed in its full form in the twentieth century with the creation of the League of Nations in the aftermath of the First World War and with the United Nations, the embodiment of multilateral diplomacy, born after the Second World War. Today, the United Nations has a worldwide membership and the global landscape is peppered with economic and regional institutions that are multilateral in nature, such as the World Trade Organisation, the International Monetary Fund, the European Union and the G20.[3]However, the multilateral structure has been confronted with a multitude of challenges since the inception of the United Nations in 1945 and the relevance of both multilateral diplomacy and the UN has been vigorously debated, which begs the question: is multilateral diplomacy still relevant in a post 9/11 world?

This article will argue that, in an increasingly interdependent and globalised world, multilateral diplomacy is of value more so than ever before in its history. The UN, if reformed accordingly, will continue to be used as a viable multilateral channel to counter fresh global challenges which confront not just a few states but all states. In which case, multilateral diplomacy will indeed continue to hold importance and utility in a twenty-first century world. The first section will argue that, after a period of American unilateralism in the aftermath of the 9/11 terrorist attacks, the arrival of Barack Obama at the Oval Office has rejuvenated multilateral diplomacy and substantially restored UN credibility. The second section will posit that the effects of globalisation have preserved multilateral diplomacy as an essential tool for the international community in adapting to the global issues of the twenty-first century. The third section will acknowledge that the UN is not perfect and that reform in the Security Council and its peacekeeping missions would restore the standing of the institution as the effective multilateral vehicle for the powers of the world and consequently increase the value of multilateral diplomacy. The final section will summarise and conclude the key points that have been argued in this article.

US Foreign Policy: From Unilateralism to Multilateralism

At the turn of the last century, 189 world leaders convened at the Millennium Summit and approved the Millennium Declaration which outlined eight specific goals that the United Nations was to achieve by 2015.[4] Yet, just a year later the 9/11 terrorist attacks tilted the world upon its head. The Security Council was rallied into action after the attacks and unanimously backed the United States against the threat which had caused so much devastation.[5] However, a wounded United States became increasingly relentless and unilateral in their ‘War on Terror’; when the Security Council refused to authorise a US attack upon an allegedly nuclear-armed Iraq, the United States, led by George. W. Bush, launched the assault anyway without UN approval.[6] This has been referred to as the ‘crisis of multilateralism’, as the United States undermined the very institution of which it is the biggest financial contributor and the most influential player.[7] If the founding member of the UN was refusing to follow the guidelines of the institution then why should other states follow the rules? This act set a worrying precedent for the rest of the world and, as Kofi Annan asserted, ‘undermined confidence in the possibility of collective responses to our common problems’.[8] Other instances of American unilateralism are Bush’s abstention from the Human Rights Council, his refusal to sign the Kyoto Protocol and the US departure from the Comprehensive Test Ban Treaty. The United States was losing sight of the benefits that multilateral diplomacy has to offer.

However, the arrival of Barack Obama at the Oval Office has revived multilateral values within US foreign policy. The Obama administration has realised that it must now engage with the UN and this has marked a ‘transitional moment in the history of multilateralism’.[9] In his 2010 National Security Strategy, Obama acknowledged the fact that the US had been successful after the Second World War by pursuing their interests within multilateral forums such as the United Nations and not outside of them.[10] The global financial crisis of 2008 and the European Union’s sovereign debt crisis have demonstrated just how interdependent the economies of the western world are and these crises have created an age of austerity in which multilateralism is needed more than ever before.[11]  The US has overstretched its resources and is now currently winding down two wars in Afghanistan and Iraq; they have realised that they simply do not have the means to conduct their foreign affairs exclusively anymore.

Clear indications of Washington’s improved multilateral engagement with the UN since Obama’s inauguration, and the changing attitude in US foreign policy, are the economic sanctions negotiated over Iran, Obama’s decision for the US to join the Human Rights Council and, more specifically, its participation in the recent Libya mission. In Libya, the US provided support for the mission, yet played a subdued role in the campaign, allowing its European counterparts to take the lead. In contrast to his predecessor, Obama is displaying pragmatism rather than sentimentalism in his search for partners, making alliances in order to adapt to the emerging multipolar world; this is typified by Obama’s recent visit to the Asia-Pacific and his tour of South America (Brazil, Chile and El Salvador) in 2010. For the time being, US unipolarity looks to be a thing of the past; its foreign policy is changing from Bush’s unilateralism at the start of the century to a more multilateral approach at the beginning of a new decade under Obama.[12] This is the correct precedent that the most powerful nation in the world should be setting for other states to follow. The fact that the US is now engaging with the UN to counter global problems has restored the credibility that the UN had lost after the Iraq debacle and, by setting this example, other nations will follow suit and the international community as a whole can only benefit. From this change in US foreign policy, it is clear that multilateral diplomacy is of more value today than it was a decade ago.

Multilateral Diplomacy in a Globalised World

Towards the end of George W. Bush’s second term in office, Ban Ki-moon asserted that the forthcoming period would be the ‘most intense period of multilateral diplomacy ever in the United Nations’ history’.[13] The Secretary-General’s claim is debatable but there are substantial reasons to believe that this statement is likely to prove accurate. As the world becomes smaller through advances in technology and communications, and the more interdependent the world becomes, the further multilateral diplomacy will develop as a vehicle for international cooperation on major global issues. Regional multilateralism is beginning to develop further with the creation, in the last decade, of organisations such as the African Union and the Eurasian Union, the continued enlargement and integration of the European Union after 9/11, and established organisations such as NATO and the Arab League remaining prevalent.[14] Growing regional organisations in the multilateral system such as the EU can be of useful assistance to the United Nations and both have already outlined their will to cooperate.[15] A fully integrated and stable Europe which specialises in soft power can only be an advantage to the multilateral system and the international community. Additionally, other regional organisations have cooperated together to produce flourishing results, such as the Arab League’s recent coordination with NATO allies on the successful Libya campaign.

It is this need to cooperate in an increasingly globalised arena that ensures that multilateral diplomacy still holds value in today’s world. 9/11 symbolised the era of globalisation and the borderless evils that it has bred. The attackers used the internet, mass travel and the attack itself was covered across the world by the mass media. International threats now permeate the unregulated global space and are no longer conscious of territorial borders; issues such as disease, famine, terrorism, transnational crime, cyber warfare, nuclear proliferation, migration, economic security and climate change all rank high on the international agenda.[16] These global issues are precisely why the United Nations requires assistance from regional organisations and are consulting with non-state actors from civil society more frequently. Since 9/11, international institutions have played an important role in multilateral counter-terrorism, energy security and nuclear non-proliferation, whilst non-state actors have assisted with the reconstruction efforts of areas struck by disaster or war and have supported scores of people affected by disease and famine.[17] Participants in multilateral diplomacy are evidently rising and, as a result, it is becoming increasingly polygonal as the threats that now confront the world affect the security of humanity as a whole and not solely the security of states.

Multilateral diplomacy looks set to continue in importance because of these threats and also because of an emerging multipolar world. The world is now moving away from US hegemony and the emerging states of Brazil, China, Turkey, South Africa and India are becoming important regional powers. Therefore, it is reasonable to assume that ad-hoc coalitions of the willing are to decrease in importance as states will have to accommodate the new power centres of a multipolar world. In a recent speech, Paddy Ashdown made the intriguing point that the emergence of a multipolar world in the twenty-first century will bear some resemblance to the nineteenth century ‘Concert of Europe’ whereby states will have to cooperate with each other upon common interests and not upon mere common values.[18] On his first trip to Europe, President Obama outlined this idea, asserting that the United States were no longer ‘looking to be patrons of Europe’, but to be ‘partners of Europe.’[19] Major powers will become increasingly pragmatic in their diplomatic relations and will have to work outside of fixed alliances to achieve their economic and foreign policy aims. Consequently, it is reasonable to assume that multilateral diplomacy will be nothing short of essential in an increasingly multipolar world.

United Nations Reform

With the United States now working multilaterally through the UN and with the onset of a multipolar world, it appears that multilateral diplomacy will continue to be relevant in the twenty-first century, with the United Nations as the foremost institution for international cooperation. However, the United Nations is not perfect and for multilateral diplomacy to be effective and efficient in an increasingly challenging environment, the UN must embark upon a programme of comprehensive reform. The Security Council is especially outdated and reform of the Council has been debated at length with many proponents for modifying the most powerful UN organ.[20] The fundamental purpose of the Security Council is to ensure the ‘maintenance of international peace and security’ and the permanent members of the Security Council consist of China, Russia, France, Britain and the US (otherwise known as the P5).[21]  This power arrangement represents the world in which the Security Council was created, and there have been calls for the Security Council to be enlarged to represent the real distribution of power in the world today, with the emerging nations of Brazil, China, Turkey, South Africa and India specifically referred to.[22]. It can also be argued that France, Britain and Russia are shadows of their former selves and that Japan and the EU deserve a seat on the Council as Japan is one of the biggest financial contributors to the UN’s budget and, if the EU was to be given a seat, Britain and France would retain influence within the council.

However, there remains a lack of consensus over the exact countries to bestow membership upon and what power these countries will hold within the Council itself[23], and there has also been much proposed reform which has failed to enact real change to the formation of the Security Council such as the Razali Paper.[24] Reform is especially difficult to achieve as all of the P5 retain the power to veto any modification to the Council and, understandably, none of the members wish to relinquish the power in their hands. Nevertheless, reform to the Security Council is essential to maintaining its authority and credibility in a burgeoning multipolar world. The Security Council has had its successes; the fact that a quarter of all Security Council resolutions in the UN’s history were implemented from 2001 to the present, that the Anglo-French led mission in Libya was successful[25], and that the sanctions placed upon Iran through the International Atomic Energy Agency were pushed through with the coordination of the P5+1 group[26], illustrates that the Security Council continues to be of use in a modern world that is more demanding than ever.[27] Yet, this does not negate the fact that reform to the Security Council by enlarging its membership to become more representative of the world today would make it more credible and effective.

Reform to the UN’s peacekeeping operations is a necessity also; the value of multilateral conflict prevention is evident as there are presently sixteen UN peacekeeping operations situated on four continents and there have been some notable successes in Namibia, Nicaragua and El Salvador.[28] These successes have been tempered by a number of UN failures in its peacekeeping mandate, specifically in the 1990s. In 1994, the Security Council refused intervening action in the Rwandan Civil War and approximately 800,000 people (a mixture of Tutsis and Hutus) were killed. This led to UN admittance that their reaction had been a failure. This, combined with the UN failure to intervene in the 1995 Sbrenica massacre and the placing of food aid in the hands of warlords in Somalia in 1993, offers evidence for the need of swifter multilateral action and emphasises the fact that the UN must reform its peacekeeping operations to provide quicker warning and response times.[29]  The Brahimi Report asserted that a lack of a standing army in the UN was hindering its response time to atrocities.[30] The notion of a standing army in the UN is plausible but it is a simple fact that powerful states need to contribute more to the UN’s peacekeeping operations; such contributions would ensure that the failures of the 1990s would not be repeated. As stated above, the UN is not perfect; there is always room for improvement and if reforms to the Security Council and the UN’s peacekeeping operations serve to make these divisions of the UN more efficient and effective, the credibility of the institution in the international community would be greatly improved and this would only serve to increase the value of multilateral diplomacy.


It is realistic to conclude that multilateral diplomacy remains relevant in a post 9/11 world and will continue to do so for the foreseeable future. Multilateral diplomacy, especially through the United Nations, plays a crucial role in the global interaction of sovereign states and non-state actors. After 9/11, multilateralism undoubtedly experienced a period of crisis with the onset of the Iraq War yet, today, Barack Obama has shifted US foreign policy from a unilateral to a multilateral stance in light of the economic downturn and the emergence of a multipolar world. This position has restored UN credibility and revitalised multilateral diplomacy. The increasingly global nature of the threats that the world faces and the interdependency that is present amongst states mean that multilateral diplomacy remains, and will continue to remain, relevant in the twenty-first century. The Libya campaign and the efforts to counter Iran’s nuclear threat are perfect examples of multilateral diplomacy being used effectively in a post 9/11 world. Furthermore, with reform to the United Nations, by increasing and altering the membership of the Security Council in order to represent the current global hierarchy, and by learning from past failures and by increasing commitment to ensure fast and responsive peacekeeping operations, the UN will be in better shape to deal with the problems of the globalised world. By taking all of these factors into account, it is therefore logical to concur with G. R. Berridge that ‘multilateralism is here to stay’.[31]

[toggle title=”Citations”]

[1] Berridge and James (2003); Keohane (1990), p. 732; Ruggie (1993), p. 11.

[2] Downer diary, Spectator Magazine (2011).

[3] The United Nations Today (2008), p. xvii.

[4] UN Millenium Declaration (2000).

[5] Resolution 1368 (2001).

[6] See Ikenberry (2003), and Glen (2006), p. 312; Also, the Security Council did approve the US occupation of Iraq after the fighting had ended with Resolution 1483 (2003).

[7] Hutchings speech (2003).

[8] Newman, Thakur, Tirman (2006a), p.1.

[9] Forman (2009), p. 1; Brimmer speech, Brookings (2011).

[10] National Security Strategy (2010).

[11] Hamilton and Quinlan (2011).

[12] Obama speech, Strasbourg (2009).

[13] Ban Ki-moon press conference (2007).

[14] Mylonas and Yorulmazlar (2012).

[15] EC Commission, The European Union and the United Nations: The Choice of Multilateralism, (2003).

[16] Abbot, Rogers, Sloboda (2006).

[17] Romaniuk (2010).

[18] Ashdown speech (2011).

[19] Obama speech, Strasbourg (2009).

[20] Wilenski (1993), p. 442; Annan (2005); Weiss (2003).

[21] UN Charter, Chapter V, Article 24.

[22] Slaughter, Foreign Policy (2011).

[23] Muldoon (1999), pp. pp. 7–77.

[24] Razali Paper (1997); Weiss (2003), p. 149.

[25] Resolution 1970 (2011); Resolution 1973 (2011); Quarterman (2011).

[26] P5+1 members consist of US, Russia, China, France, Britain and Germany; Resolution 1929 (2010); Duss (2011).

[27] Forman (2009), p. 3.

[28] Current UN peacekeeping operations, of note, in Kosovo, Sudan, Haiti, Liberia, Côte d’Ivoire, Democratic Republic of Congo and Afghanistan.

[29] Tanner (2000), p. 557.

[30] Brahimi Report (2000).

[31] Berridge (2005), p. 170.


Obama: The Foreign Policy Presidential Choice

The decision is not between Obama & Romney, but between a first-term president and one in his second. 



[dropcap]M[/dropcap]atters of foreign policy do not tend to be first on the list of a voter’s priorities coming up to an election, especially in times of economic turmoil. When US voters go to the polls in November they will be asking themselves when unemployment is going to fall, whether the health care system will continue to be of benefit to them and how much money they will have in their pockets once they retire. Perhaps, then, the sensible move on the part of the contenders is to downplay talk of foreign issues and concentrate on the economy.

However, history has taught us that many a presidency has come to be defined by a set of decisions related to manoeuvrings on the world stage. Kennedy’s record was arguably saved from the humiliation of the Bay of Pigs by his firmness during the Cuban Missile Crisis. What respect George Bush Sr. may have lost in failing to capture Saddam Hussein in the first Gulf War, he made up for with his role in German unification in the early 90’s.

Are we asking the right question?

In the run up to November’s vote, it is perhaps unhelpful to ask whether Barack Obama or Mitt Romney would best serve the US’s interests on the world stage. The question people ought to be asking is whether a first term president is preferable to one in his second term. This is the case for two main reasons. Firstly, a president’s first term in office has always been more about dealing with the footprint left by the previous administration than about imposing his own foreign policy vision. Secondly, foreign policy is by nature reactionary. No matter how concise a doctrine exists at the outset, there are certain events that one can simply not prepare for.

To argue the first case, we need only go back four years when Obama officially inherited two wars from George Bush Jr. It was clear, despite his commendable desire to ease tensions with Iran, that his Middle Eastern policy was going to be dictated by how the wars in Iraq and Afghanistan played out. It is certainly no secret that Iranian involvement in the Iraq War was one of the biggest obstacles the President was going to have to overcome if peace between Tehran and Washington was reachable. U.S officials insist that the training of militant Shiite groups in Iraq by Iranian forces has been a huge challenge for the US army. Iran views Iraq not only as a buffer zone against a possible Israeli aerial assault, but as a sphere of influence through which the Islamic Republic can spread its brand of conservative Shiite Islam. Furthermore, George Bush’s invasive presence in Afghanistan was always going to make Obama’s relationship with Tehran one on a permanent knife edge.

The fact that foreign policy is by nature reactionary is also no great revelation. Unfounded conspiracy theories aside, the Bush Administration could no better predict the events of 9/11 any more than Roosevelt could have predicted the attack on Pearl Harbour. The US’s role in foreign wars tends to be sparked by unforeseen events. These events also tend to determine the strength of alliances. The Arab Spring, the foreign policy head scratcher of 2011, saw the US call for two former allies to step down in the name of democracy, when once they saw them as instigators of peace and regional stability.

This is not to say that Obama and Romney do not differ in their approach to foreign policy. The GOP candidate has expressed concern over Obama’s approach to China, refusing to press hard enough on human rights issues and the amount of US debt China currently holds. Mr Romney has also suggested branding Beijing a ‘currency manipulator’, sparking perhaps unnecessary tension with the Asian power. There are also concerns that Obama’s baby steps towards neutrality over Israel and Palestine would be reversed by a Republican President.

Second time lucky?

A controversial theory in foreign policy, and one this article endorses, is that a Commander in Chief is less restrained in his second term than in his first and is therefore the sensible choice in terms of global peace and stability. One main feature of foreign policy, as opposed to domestic policy, is that it seems to transcend Republican/Democrat divides and becomes less about left and right wing philosophy and more about populism versus prudence. Bush Jr. went from the hawkish categorisation of the ‘Axis of Evil’, to complying with the wishes of the UN over Syria and Iran. Reagan also went from talks of ‘Evil Empire’ to forming a compromise with the Soviets over nuclear proliferation. In contrast, Clinton’s second term was arguably less ‘dovish’ than his first, with military missions in the former Yugoslavia, a region which desperately needed international interference.

Following on from this, one useful indication of a need for change in the Oval Office is whether a President has been allowed to successfully achieve his foreign policy goals. Despite sorry levels of global popularity, Bush was always the sensible choice in 2004 given the unfinished to-do list he had left in the Middle East. Where ever your political allegiances lie, in terms of foreign policy, an incumbent is always the safer pair of hands.