In the wake of the disastrous G7 meeting in Canada and the successful summit in Singapore, it’s hard to know what to call U.S. foreign policy these days. It’s not just unilateralism, where Washington acts alone and allies be damned. Nor is it merely unipolarism, in...
The world of today appears to be a great deal more dangerous than the one that President Obama inherited on taking office in 2009. The Islamic State (ISIS or IS) has remade the map of a large chunk of the Middle East. Neither Iraq nor Afghanistan is any more stable or...
The continuing failures in Afghanistan and Iraq have seriously eroded public perception of U.S. military dominance. The U.S. economy has been transformed from the “engine of economic growth” into the source of the global financial meltdown. American failures to address key global issues such as poverty, disease, and global warming have tarnished our image as protectors of the weak; our inability to protect our own citizens from unexpected disasters has become an international embarrassment. By all accounts, America’s unipolar moment has passed.
One of the more interesting phenomena to emerge from the U.S. debacle in Iraq is the demise of the unipolar world that rose from the ashes of the Cold War. A short decade ago the United States was the most powerful political, economic, and military force on the planet. Today its army is straining under the weight of an unpopular occupation, its economy is careening toward recession, and the only “allies” we can absolutely depend on in the United Nations are Israel, Palau, and the Marshall Islands.
Peace operations continue to be one of the most visible areas of activity of the United Nations, one which the international organization can have a critical impact. Consider, for instance, that peacekeeping operations are growing. In October 2004, the surge in peacekeeping activity raised the number of peacekeepers to 54,200. The number of civilian police also increased to 5,900 and the civilian staff to 11,600. By the fall of 2005, the 18 operations around the world employed 83,000 troops, police, and civilian personnel – a more-or-less fivefold increase in the field personnel since 2000. By the fall of 2006, the deployment number had reached an all-time high of 93,000 men and women.
At the same time, peacekeeping operations are becoming more complex and comprehensive. In particular, with many of their tasks increasingly focusing on peacebuilding in post-conflict transitions, peace operations are now linked to longer-term development approaches, which call for integrated programs both within and outside the UN system. The UN Peacebuilding Commission was created to meet these new needs by strategically coordinating the actions of the different actors involved in peacekeeping.
As U.S. unilateralism has asserted the role of the United States as the sole global superpower, the rest of the world is exploring a variety of ways of pushing back. One is the creation of several new regional security consortiums which are independent of the U.S. One of the most important is the Shanghai Cooperation Organization (SCO), a security alliance led by Russia and China, with several non-voting members including India. Its rising economic, political and military profile this year can serve as a useful lens through which to view this geopolitical pushback. It is based on promoting a multipolar world, distributing power along multiple poles in the international system, such as the United States, Europe, Asia-Eurasia and the Middle East,1 while also promoting the multilateralism of international cooperation.2 In recent years, Russia and China have stepped up their advocacy for a multipolar-multilateral alternative.
The Iraq War tore at the already frayed fabric of transatlantic security relations. Although European countries declared their solidarity with the United States after September 11, they were increasingly uncomfortable with Washington’s emphasis on unilateralist approaches to global problems. After President Bush took office in 2001, his administration upset many European leaders by refusing to sign the Kyoto Protocol on global warming, opposing the International Criminal Court, and killing the Anti-Ballistic Missile Treaty. In October 2001, Washington was reluctant at first to use the North Atlantic Treaty Organization (NATO) in the campaign to oust the Taliban in Afghanistan. While taken aback by U.S. reluctance, NATO leaders and Europeans generally approved of the U.S.-led operation.