open letter to George W Bush
Dear Mr. Bush:
I am writing to you as a citizen of our planet and someone who beholds the last remaining superpower. Can there be any doubt that the United States plays a major role in guiding our world? Only a fool could disregard that fact. To acknowledge this is a given, even though American spokesmen are perhaps somewhat overly inclined to press the point home to the rest of the world.
For while America's role is acknowledged throughout the world, her claim to hegemony, not to say domination, is not similarly recognized. For this reason, I hope, Mr. Bush, as the new American president, that you will give up any illusion that the 21st century can, or even should, be the "American Century." Globalization is a given -- but "American globalization" would be a mistake. In fact, it would be something devoid of meaning and even dangerous.
I would go even further and say it is time for America's electorate to be told the blunt truth: that the present situation of the United States, by which a part of its population is able to enjoy a life of extraordinary comfort and privilege, is not tenable over the long run as long as an enormous portion of the world lives in abject poverty, degradation and backwardness.
For 10 years, U.S. foreign policy has been formulated as if it were the policy of a victor in war, the Cold War. But at the highest reaches of U.S. policy-making no one has grasped the fact that this could not be the basis for formulating post-Cold War policy.
In fact, there has been no "pacification." On the contrary, there has been a heightening of inequalities, tension and hostility, with most of the last directed toward the United States.
Instead of seeing an increase in U.S. security, the end of the Cold War has seen a decline. It is not hard to imagine that, should the United States persist in its policies, the international situation will continue to deteriorate.
It is also difficult to believe that, under present circumstances, relations between the United States, on the one hand, and China, India and all the rest of the earth that lives in abject poverty, on the other, could develop in a positive direction. Nor is it possible, on the basis of its present posture, for the United States to establish effective, long-run cooperation with its traditional allies, Europe first and foremost.
Already we see the outburst of numerous trade disputes, evidence of the conflicting interests separating the United States and the European Union. For example, at the recent conference in The Hague, where the participants were supposed to come up with a common policy on limiting greenhouse effects, the United States found itself largely in isolation. U.S. positions were far removed from those of all others, including the Europeans. As a result, no decision was taken. This is clearly an example of a failure of "world governance."
From the standpoint of the Old World, the post-Cold War period ushered in hopes that now are faded. Over the course of the past decade, the United States has continued to operate along an ideological track identical to the one it followed during the Cold War -- but now without a cold war.
Need an example? The expansion of NATO eastward, the handling of the Yugoslav crisis, the military theory and practice of U.S. rearmament -- including the latest and utterly extravagant Anti-Missile National Defense System, which, in turn, is based on the truly bizarre notion of so-called "rogue states."
Isn't it amazing that disarmament moved further along during the last phase of the Cold War than during the period after its end? And isn't that because U.S. leadership has been unable to adjust to the new European reality? Like it or not, that new reality has placed Europe on the world scene as a new, independent and powerful player. To continue to regard it as a junior partner, ally or no, would be a mistake. Europe's experience, including the bitter elements of it, must serve as a lesson for future relations. It can do so, however, only if America and Europe build a genuine, equal-to-equal partnership.
Finally, as concerns Russia, the fact that relations between the United States and Russia have deteriorated over the course of recent years is hardly a secret. Responsibility for this state of affairs must be shared between Russian and American leadership.
The present leadership of Russia appears ready to cooperate with the United States in framing a new agenda for relations. But it is unclear what your orientation will be. What we heard during the electoral campaign did not sound encouraging.
If we truly want to build a new world order and further European unity, we have to recognize that that will not be possible without an active role on the part of Russia. This recognition is the necessary basis for setting future Russian-American relations on the right path.
In more general terms, we need to bear in mind that the world is complicated, that it contains and expresses a variety of interests and cultures. Sooner or later, international policy, including that of the United States, will have to come to terms with that variety.
Thank you for hearing me out.
Originally published in the Washington Post, December 25, 2000.