438. "Das kürzeste Empire aller Zeiten" Süddeutsche Zeitung, Nr. 247 (October 27, 2003) p. 13 (Also published: "Criticizing the U.S. Empire is Not Enough" International Herald Tribune (November 13, 2003) p. 7).
Now that the American empire is collapsing around our ears, it is the turn of those who favored a multipolar world -- and one in which the United Nations plays a key role -- to show that they can do better.
Although no one in Washington has noticed it yet, the days of the American empire are numbered. The notion that one can govern the world by military might has found its limit. It is now widely understood that the United States cannot take out the North Korean regime because some of its weapons of mass destruction are in caves, beyond the reach of bombs. Trying to use force against North Korea might cause the deaths of millions of South Koreans, which forces the United States to pursue negotiations, despite noises to the contrary. The macho declaration of pre-emption is already passe.
Moreover, the U.S. armed forces are stretched thin in Iraq and Afghanistan and the American public willingness to accept more casualties and costs is rapidly fading. Far from going it alone, the United States is courting allies and friends, hat in hand, to share the burden of nation-building in these two countries. Washington felt forced to go pleading with the United Nations to grant its blessing for what needs to be done. Although it has obtained a UN resolution, it will not provide much relief in terms of funds or military forces.
All this is a long way from the posture of unilateralism, yesterday's neoconservative battle cry. Indeed, the negotiations with North Korea are taking place in close collaboration with several other key nations -- Japan, Russia, China and South Korea. It is less clear how Iran's nuclear program is going to be dealt with, but this situation, too, seems to be moving in a multilateral direction.
Finally, nation-building is not working. When the United States was unable to find weapons of mass destruction in Iraq and when the preinvasion claims of Al Qaeda connections proved to be hard to sustain, the Bush administration chose to rely more and more on what had previously been a sort of an afterthought: that the United States was out to liberate Iraq and turn it into the first shining prosperous and democratic Arab republic, a model that would change the whole Middle East. In reality, the United States has had a hard time pacifying central Iraq, and the rest of the country is run by mullahs (in the south) and Kurdish warlords (in the north), mirroring the state of Afghanistan outside of Kabul. This last rationale for the American empire is not holding either.
Those who opposed the invasion of Iraq should not gloat. Rubbing the nose of a superpower in the mess it created could push the empire to one last hurrah, to show what it can do, with results that all would regret. Indeed, now is their turn to show how a less unipolar and a more UN-driven world might work.
Here are the key missions for the "post-empire" world:
* Continue collaboration with the United States in the war against terrorism, which was from the beginning multilateral and UN-endorsed;
* Actively encourage Iran and North Korea, by use of incentives and, if need be, economic sanctions, to agree to a stronger UN role in their countries, to counter proliferation;
* Participate, under UN auspices, in limited nation-building in Iraq and Afghanistan, focusing on pacification, while insisting on the early withdrawal of all foreign powers, especially from Iraq;
* Form stronger "standby" regional forces, beginning in Africa, able to expeditiously stop genocides and civil wars before they unfold, backed up by big powers. Above all, these regional forces must be professionalized so that they themselves will cease to engage in large-scale criminal activities, such as drug dealing and rape. These humanitarian interventions are essential for the credibility of the new global order. Those who believe that everything can be fixed by negotiations should acknowledge that in situations such as we have recently seen in Liberia, the Democratic Republic of the Congo and Ivory Coast, and before that in Rwanda and East Timor, force must be applied;
* Honor commitments to increase contributions to the fight against AIDS, malaria and tuberculosis, and enhance economic development in the have-not countries, especially by lowering trade barriers;
* Take advantage of the opportunity to gradually restructure the United Nations, beginning by adjusting the composition of the Security Council to reflect the power realities of the emerging multipolar world. The UN Commission on Human Rights, which undermines the UN's credibility by including many nations that do not know of human rights, ought to be reconstituted. There is a season for everything. There was a time to criticize the American empire. For those who argue that they know better, the time has come to prove it.
* The writer is a professor at George Washington University. His book "From Empire to Community" will be published next year.