Terrorisme, guerre, mondialisation, démocratie...
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Après le 11 sept. 01


Joseph S. Nye, Jr, dean of Harvard's Kennedy School of Government and author of The Paradox of American Power: Why the World's Only Superpower Can't Go It Alone (Oxford University Press), Financial Times (28-29 December 2002)
A whole new ball game

When the Bush administration issued its National Security Strategy last September, it revealed a great deal about how the world - and the administration - had changed over the past year. George W. Bush entered office committed to a realist foreign policy that would focus on great powers like China and Russia, eschewing nation-building in failed states of the less developed world. China was "a strategic competitor", not the "strategic partner" of Clinton's foreign policy, and the US would take a tougher stance with Russia. During his first eight months, Bush replaced Clinton's "assertive multilateralism" with a unilateralism that worried friend and foe alike, and which I criticised in my recent book.

Now the new strategy declares that we are menaced less by fleets and armies than by catastrophic technologies falling into the hands of the embittered few. Instead of strategic rivalry, "today, the world's great powers find ourselves on the same side - united by common dangers of terrorist violence and chaos". Not only was President Jiang Zemin welcomed to Bush's ranch in Crawford, Texas, but the strategy welcomes the emergence of a strong, peaceful, and prosperous China. And the US will increase its development assistance and its efforts to combat Aids because weak states, like Afghanistan, can pose as great a danger to our national interest as strong states. Moreover, these policies will be "guided by the conviction that no nation can build a safer, better world alone". How the world turns in a year!

The new threat

Of course, much of the traditional agenda of world politics carries on below the rhetorical surface of strategy documents. And as I know from my experience in two prior administrations, such documents are not always an accurate prediction of policy. In addition, some of the rhetoric has attracted widespread criticism. The document's trumpeting of American primacy violated Teddy Roosevelt's advice about walking softly when you carry a big stick. America will remain number one, but there was no need to rub others' noses in it. The neo-conservative promises to promote democracy and freedom struck some realists as dangerously unbounded. The statements about co-operation and coalitions were not followed by equal discussion of institutions. And the much criticised assertion of a right of pre-emption could turn out to be routine self-defence or a dangerous precedent depending on how it is implemented.

The critics notwithstanding, the Bush administration is on to something important. The distinguished historian John Lewis Gaddis has compared the new strategy to the seminal days that redefined American foreign policy in the 1940s. While that comparison may be exaggerated, the new strategy responds to deep trends in world politics that were illuminated by the events of September 11, 2001. For example, globalisation is more than just an economic phenomenon, and it had been shrinking the natural buffers that distance and two oceans provided to the United States. September 11 dramatised how dreadful conditions in poor weak countries halfway round the world can have terrible consequences for the United States.

The information revolution and technological change have elevated the importance of transnational issues, and empowered non-state actors to play a larger role in world politics. A few decades ago, instantaneous global communications were out of the financial reach of all but governments or large organisations like transnational corporations or the Catholic Church. At the same time, the US and the USSR were secretly spending billions of dollars on overhead space photography. Now commercial one-metre resolution photos are cheaply available to anyone, and the internet enabled 1500 NGOs to inexpensively co-ordinate the "battle of Seattle" that disrupted the World Trade Organization.

Most worrying are the effects of these deep trends on terrorism. Many Europeans properly point out that terrorism is nothing new, and they have successfully coped with it for decades without significant disruption of their democracies. But technology has been increasing the lethality and agility of terrorists over the past decades, and the trend is likely to continue. In the 20th century, a malevolent individual like Hitler or Stalin needed the power of a government to be able to kill millions of people. If 21st century terrorists get hold of weapons of mass destruction, that power of destruction will for the first time be available to deviant groups and individuals. This "privatisation of war" is not only a major change in world politics, but the potential impact on our cities could drastically alter the nature of our civilisation. The new terrorism is not like the IRA or ETA. This is what the new Bush strategy gets right.

Implementing the new strategy

What the administration has not yet sorted out is how to go about implementing its new approach. It is deeply divided between neo-conservative and assertively imperial unilateralists on the one hand and more multilateral and cautious traditional realists on the other. The tug of war between them is visible both in the strategy document, and in the implementation of policies on terrorism and the Middle East. The administration has not fully realised that most transnational issues are inherently multilateral, and that unilateral military power is only part of the solution. Indeed, if used inappropriately, it can cause larger problems.

North Korea and Iraq - two-thirds of Bush's "axis of evil" - are turning out to be the first big tests of the implementation of the new strategy. This autumn, North Korea admitted that it had violated the spirit of the 1994 Agreed Framework that stopped its reprocessing of plutonium and was seeking to build a nuclear weapon with enriched uranium. The Bush administration responded cautiously and in close consultation with our allies. Deterrence seemed to work, though in this case it was the capacity of North Korea to deter American military action through its conventional capacity to wreak havoc on Seoul in the event of war. The dilemma remains unresolved.

Iraq also reveals the tug of war between different strands of opinion in the administration. Last summer, Vice-President Cheney and Secretary of Defence Rumsfeld made statements disparaging the role of the United Nations and warning that the return of UN inspectors to Iraq would give "false comfort." Traditional realist Republicans like Brent Scowcroft and James Baker weighed in publicly in support of a multilateral approach, and Bush's September 12 speech to the UN represented a victory for the coalition of Colin Powell and Tony Blair.

Whether the multilateral approach will hold if diplomacy bogs down and hot weather approaches in the Gulf remains to be seen. But the Iraq case is a dramatic instance of a much deeper problem for the administration - and for the United States' understanding of its role as the world's only superpower.

The mistake of the new unilateralists

In his 2000 election campaign, George W. Bush said, "If we are an arrogant nation, they'll view us that way, but if we're a humble nation, they'll respect us." He was right, but unfortunately many regarded the first eight months of his administration as arrogantly concerned with narrow American interests, focused on military power, and turning its back on treaties, norms and international negotiations.

September 11 initially led to a change of course toward more multilateral approaches. Congress finally paid America's UN dues, and the president turned his efforts to building a coalition against terrorism. But the rapid progress of the military campaign in Afghanistan led some in the administration and some commentators to conclude that unilateralism works. The columnist Charles Krauthammer, for example, argued that the success against the Taliban government marked a victory for what he called the "new unilateralism" where the US refuses to play the role of "docile international citizen" and unashamedly pursues its own ends.

These new unilateralists make a serious mistake in focusing too heavily on military power alone. There the United States is unequalled, with a military budget equivalent to the next dozen or so countries combined. And it is true that America's military power is essential to global stability, and an essential part of the response to terrorism. But the metaphor of war should not blind Americans to the fact that suppressing terrorism will take years of patient unspectacular civilian co-operation with other countries in areas such as intelligence sharing, police work, tracing financial flows, and co-operation among customs officials. The military success in Afghanistan dealt with the easiest part of the problem, the toppling of the weak Taliban government in a poor country. But all the precision bombing destroyed only a small fraction of the al-Qaeda network which retains cells in some 60 countries. And bombing is no answer to the existence of cells in Kuala Lumpur, Hamburg or Detroit. Rather than proving the unilateralists' point, the partial nature of the success in Afghanistan illustrates the continuing need for co-operation. The best response to transnational terrorist networks is networks of cooperating government agencies.

The paradox of American power

The problem for Americans in the 21st century is that there are more and more things outside the control of even the most powerful state. Although the United States does well on the traditional measures of power, there is increasingly more going on in the world that those measures fail to capture. The paradox of American power is that world politics is changing in a way that means the strongest power since Rome cannot achieve some of its most crucial international goals acting alone. The US lacks both the international and domestic prerequisites to resolve conflicts that are internal to other societies, and to monitor and control transnational transactions that threaten Americans at home. On many of the key issues today, such as international financial stability, drug smuggling, the spread of diseases or global climate change, military power simply cannot produce success, and its use can sometimes be counterproductive. Instead, as the largest country, the United States must mobilise international coalitions to address these shared threats and challenges.

The agenda of world politics has become like a three-dimensional chess game in which one can win only by playing vertically as well as horizontally. On the top board of classic interstate military issues, the United States is likely to remain the only superpower for years to come, and it makes sense to speak in traditional terms of unipolarity or hegemony. However, on the middle board of interstate economic issues, the distribution of power is already multipolar. The United States cannot obtain the outcomes it wants on trade, anti-trust or financial regulation issues without the co-operation of the European Union, Japan and others. It makes little sense to call this American hegemony. And on the bottom board of transnational issues, power is widely distributed and chaotically organised among state and non-state actors. It makes no sense at all to call this a unipolar world or an American empire. And this is the set of issues that is now intruding into the world of grand strategy as illustrated by Bush's new doctrine. Yet the new unilateralist part of his administration still focuses solely on the top board of classic military solutions. Like children with a hammer, all problems look like nails to them.

The willingness of other countries to co-operate on the solution of transnational issues depends in part on their own self interest, but also on the attractiveness of American positions. That power to attract and persuade is what I call soft power. It means that others want what you want, and there is less need to use carrots and sticks to make others do what you want. Hard power grows out of a country's military and economic might. Soft power arises from the attractiveness of a country's culture, ideals, and policies. Hard power will always remain important in a world of nation states guarding their independence, but soft power will become increasingly important in dealing with the transnational issues that require multilateral cooperation for their solution. Yet a recent Pew Charitable Trust poll finds that American policies have led to lowered favourability ratings for the US over the past two years in 19 of 27 countries, including particularly the Islamic countries so important to the war on terrorism. The new unilateralist wing of the administration is urging policies that squander our soft power.

No large country can afford to be purely multilateralist, and sometimes the United States must take the lead by itself as it did in Afghanistan. And the credible threat of a unilateral option was probably essential to get the UN Security Council to pass resolution 1441 that brought the inspectors back to Iraq. But the US should incline toward multilateralism whenever possible as a way to legitimise its power and to gain broad acceptance of its new strategy. Pre-emption that is legitimised by multilateral sanction is far less costly and a far less dangerous precedent than when we assert that we alone can act as judge, jury and excecutioner. Granted, multilateralism can be used by smaller states to restrict American freedom of action, but this does not mean that it is not generally in American interests. Learning to listen to others and to define the national interests broadly to include global interests will be crucial to the success of the new strategy and whether others see the American preponderance it proclaims as benign or not.

The challenge for the United States will be to learn how to work with other countries to better control the non-state actors that will increasingly share the stage with nation-states. President Bush is correct that America will continue to be the only military superpower, and its military strength remains essential for global stability and as part of the response to terrorism. But to successfully implement his new strategy, he will need to pay more attention to soft power and multilateral co-operation than was true of the early stages of his administration.



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Dernière mise à jour: 04.02.2003

François Brutsch - Genève - Suisse