Originally Published 2006-01-13 09:08:35 Published on Jan 13, 2006
When two top American diplomats speak out in quick succession about the international system, the world will take note. The op-ed by U.S. Secretary of State Condoleeza Rice in the Washington Post titled "The Promise of Democratic Peace," and the policy speech four days later by Under Secretary of State for Political Affairs Nicholas Burns at the European Institute titled "A Renewed Partnership for Global Engagement" fall into this category.
A journey into the new American century
When two top American diplomats speak out in quick succession about the international system, the world will take note. The op-ed by U.S. Secretary of State Condoleeza Rice in the Washington Post titled "The Promise of Democratic Peace," and the policy speech four days later by Under Secretary of State for Political Affairs Nicholas Burns at the European Institute titled "A Renewed Partnership for Global Engagement" fall into this category. 

Ms. Rice in her forceful article invoked imageries from the dawn of the Cold War in the dying years of the anarchic 1940s for providing an elucidation of how the U.S.' global strategic posture would look in the period ahead. She compared the present times to that faced by Harry Truman and Dean Acheson following the end of the Second World War and the phenomenal rise of the Soviet Union as a world power. Just as Acheson would have felt, in his famous words, that he was "present at the creation," Ms. Rice is convinced that she too is at the threshold of a fundamental genesis of a new international system. 

"Like Acheson and his contemporaries, we live in an extraordinary time - one in which the terrain of international politics is shifting beneath our feet and the pace of historical change outstrips even the most vivid imagination," Ms. Rice wrote. She went on to observe that the "volatile status quo" of the past 15-year period no longer served the U.S. interests. Therefore, a "realistic statecraft for a transformed world" had become necessary. 

Ms. Rice called for a change in the terms by which modern nation states conducted their international relations ever since the Peace of Westphalia in 1648 in European history - an international state system based on the sovereignty of individual actors on the world stage. According to Ms. Rice, it was the fundamental character of regimes that ought to matter most. A lasting and durable form of global stability could be built only on "a balance of power that favours freedom." The "assumptions" regarding national sovereignty "no longer hold." 

Essentially speaking, states that the U.S. considered "weak" or "failing" or where there was a "freedom deficit" would forfeit the traditional protection of sovereignty so that the international community could guide them toward democracy and freedom. The U.S. will not let arguments based on "cultural determinism" such as "Asian values or Latin culture or Slavic despotism or African tribalism" (to quote Ms. Rice) stand in its way in abolishing their "freedom deficit" so that the swamps of terrorism can be drained and global security ensured. 

Ms. Rice confidently assumed that all others in the world community would accept the U.S. as the permanent dominant global power. But she did not spell out how the U.S. would operate within this world. Will it be a largely unconstrained role, based on shifting ad hoc coalitions, with no permanent friends or allies? 

Mr. Burns' address at the European Institute filled in these critically important details. He put primacy on the U.S.' trans-Atlantic partnership with Europe as the mode in which American policies unfolded in the coming period. Europeans had "stopped talking about the absurd notion of the EU acting as a counterweight to the U.S." Both the U.S. and Europe were in a chastened mood today, realising that they were "wed together in a long-term marriage with no possibility of separation or divorce." 

Mr. Burns was alluding, on the one hand, to the disarray in the entire European project and, on the other, the realisation in Washington following the setbacks in Iraq and elsewhere in the past year or two that the American leadership role - indeed, any U.S. strategic posture of containment and deterrence backed by military force - would be untenable and unsustainable except on the basis of a recalibrated trans-Atlantic partnership that the Truman generation had charted out. 

True, trans-Atlantic partnership has undergone a fundamental shift. Mr. Burns admitted that the mission set out by Truman and Acheson stood completed with the collapse of the Soviet Union and the "realisation of a Europe, whole, free and at peace." Therefore, the entire trans-Atlantic agenda should now shift from its inward-looking preoccupations of the Cold War period to "an outward focus." This signified a profound shift since it made the trans-Atlantic partnership "increasingly a function of events in the Middle East, Asia, and Africa." 

Mr. Burns assessed that the trans-Atlantic partnership would henceforth "increasingly be responsible for the management of global problems." From Washington's viewpoint, "Europe will be our most important partner" as it battled the central security challenges of the coming period. He anticipated that in 2006, the trans-Atlantic partnership would focus on two areas. First, it would endeavour to advance the "democracy agenda" "further east" - in Russia, Ukraine, and the former Soviet republics of the Caucasus and Central Asia, the broader Middle East, Africa, and Asia. In Asia itself, the U.S. was somewhat comfortably placed since "countries like Australia, Japan and South Korea are already engaged with us and our European Allies across the globe."

However, in Asia too, the trans-Atlantic partnership had some very important unfinished business. America and Europe, Mr. Burns said, "need to develop a strategic consensus on how to engage a rising India and China" (emphasis added). There was some masterly ambiguity in what he said. Is there "freedom deficit" in India and China, or is there not? 

Mr. Burns of course spoke with total clarity about the pursuit of "Freedom Agenda" in the CIS countries, including Russia. This included "encouraging" Ukraine and Georgia to join the North Atlantic Treaty Organisation (NATO), solving regional conflicts, "engaging" Kazakhstan, Kyrgyzstan, and Tajikistan, and "demanding reform" from Uzbekistan and Turkmenistan. He thrice referred to Russia as chronically affected by "freedom deficit." 

Secondly, Mr. Burns highlighted that the NATO would form the core of the trans-Atlantic link. "Our goal in 2006 is to broaden NATO's mandate and extend its global reach." He suggested that the European countries and the U.S. being "natural allies," Europe too should "think NATO first." For, the "symbiotic defence relationship in NATO" had a strong ideological basis. "Together, we constitute a single democratic civilisation with common values. Together we constitute a quorum of democratic legitimacy." 

These major articulations of U.S. geo-strategy of course have accorded to Europe the role of a willing actor today for sub-serving the American global strategy. We must await Europe's final word on that. Meanwhile, what emerges is that Washington's objectives at this point are rather apparent. First, Washington expects Europe fully to go along with it in pressing for "regime change" in the CIS countries. The year 2005 on the whole proved to be disastrous for American diplomacy in the CIS. Ukraine's absorption into NATO has come under Russian challenge. The "tulip revolution" in Kyrgyzstan not only got out of control but raised a red alert all over CIS about the American agenda of "regime change." Kazakhstan and Azerbaijan took pre-emptive measures ahead of elections. 

The CIS countries either shut down U.S. military bases (Uzbekistan) or began charging rent as per "market rate" (Kyrgyzstan) or decided not to allow stationing of U.S. troops (Azerbaijan). The U.S. attempts to debunk the Shanghai Cooperation Organisation (SCO) and to challenge Russia's influence in Central Asia suffered a severe setback. The revival of U.S. influence would be a long haul. 

Secondly, Russia's profile as an energy supplier is growing and, along with that, its millennial traditions of statehood, culture, and its unique place in history as a Eurasian power are reviving. Russia has made it clear that it hopes to put its role as an energy supplier for the industrial world (especially Europe) as a top agenda item during its rotating presidency of G8 in 2006. For the first time in modern history, a scenario is developing where the U.S. is not in total control of the world's energy supplies - so much is going on between Russia, on the one hand, and its energy customers to its right and left, be they European consumers or China, Japan, and South Korea. 

Conceivably, the thickening energy ties between Russia and individual West European countries would eventually assume strategic overtones, and that would render the traditional trans-Atlantic partnership that the U.S. aspired to refashion around a post-Cold War NATO (under Washington's leadership) more and more diffuse with the passage of time. 

Thirdly, the compulsions of the "exit strategy" in Iraq as well as the Iran nuclear issue showed up the limits to American power while asserting its role as a military and political hegemon in the Middle East. Washington anticipates that only through greater European (and NATO) involvement its regional policies in the Middle East can break out of their present impasse. 

Of course, all aspiring (non-European) allies of the U.S. the world over would run a fine comb through the pronouncements of Ms. Rice and Mr. Burns in order to figure out where precisely they stood in a new American century. 

The author is a former Ambassador of India with extensive experience in dealing with countries of South West and Central Asia. He is presently a Visiting Senior Fellow at Observer Research Foundation, New Delhi. 

Source: The Hindu, Chennai, January 11, 2006.

* Views expressed in this article are those of the author and do not necessarily reflect those of Observer Research Foundation.
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