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Bush’s unilateralism aggravates world’s problems


In the 24 months of the Bush administration, America’s foreign policy has become confused and incoherent because of a new and indefensible unilateralism. The United States has more and more isolated itself from international law and from the accumulated wisdom of the arms control community.

The most recent example of the “Lone Ranger” mentality is the announcement by the White House that it will return to the idea of creating a shield in the sky against incoming missiles. This concept, created by President Reagan as “Star Wars,” has never worked and is not needed since the demise of the “Evil Empire” in 1990.

But this missile defense scheme is just the most recent instance of the United States rejecting world opinion. In 2001 President Bush announced that the United States would withdraw from the 1972 Anti-Ballistic Missile (ABM) Treaty and that the United States would once again resume nuclear explosions. In doing so the United States took a step opposed by Russia, China and most U.S. allies.

The Bush administration has also walked out of the biological weapons convention agreed to by 143 nations. Similarly, the United States refused to sign the treaty barring anti-personnel land mines even though every country in the western hemisphere except Cuba signed it along with every NATO country except Turkey.

The United States has also defied the concerns of the world on limiting the transfer of small weapons. The United States continues to be the number one manufacturer of weapons of war, including the sale of small weapons.

The unilateralism of the United States was visible once again when President Bush shocked the rest of the world by withdrawing from the Kyoto Global Warming Treaty agreed to by 178 other countries.

The United States also followed its self-proclaimed unilateralism when it refused to ratify the International Criminal Court.

The defiance of international law is also present in the new Bush doctrine of preemptive military action. The White House relies on the attacks of Sept. 11 as justification of a preemptive strike in the absence of any evidence of an imminent attack. The Bush doctrine seems to support a position that America’s unique military preeminence excuses it from obeying the rules of international law. The administration is calling for an American imperialism that must be carried out with little regard for the United Nations or the long-standing doctrines of international law.

The Bush doctrine wrongly assumes that massive military power can keep the United States safe. In the first two years of the Bush administration the military budget has been increased by some 30 percent. The defense budget has $385 billion dollars to spend -- a sum larger than all of the other nations of the world put together. The United States now spends over $1 billion dollars a day on the military!

I have followed arms control since the 1960s. I wrote a book on this subject and taught courses on it at Georgetown University for many years. Never before has an administration defied the accumulated wisdom of arms controllers and rejected the treaties agreed upon by all of the major nations.

Representatives of the president and the Pentagon have, in the name of fighting terrorism, revived some of the worst ideas engendered by the Cold War. They have intimidated the people from speaking out. The coming war in Iraq will in all probability further silence even those who know that the new military posture is not grounded in reality, but in a war-mongering crusade based on the illusion that military might can subdue the terrorists and bring peace to the world.

One can only wonder what the 1.2 billion people in 48 Islamic nations think as the United States invades Afghanistan and now Iraq. Ten or 20 years from now what will the Islamic world think of a United States that uses weapons of mass destruction to achieve supremacy?

The Bush White House has clearly misjudged the problems of the world. It has assumed that the unilateral threat and use of barbarous weapons will guarantee American supremacy and thus world peace.

The world’s problems will not be resolved by the unilateral use of force. President Carter put it well. In his speech accepting the Nobel Peace Prize he wisely saw that “the most serious and universal problem is the growing chasm between the richest and the poorest people on earth.” President Carter continued: “The results of this disparity are root causes of most of the world’s unresolved problems, including starvation, illiteracy, environmental degradation, violent conflict and unnecessary illnesses that range from Guinea worm to HIV/AIDS.”

It is painful to have to note that the Bush administration and the Pentagon have not recognized these truths and as a result are aggravating these problems by threatening violence and war.

There is no solution to this problem except a moral revolution by millions of people who are ashamed and angry at the policies their nation has advocated in the last 24 months.

Jesuit Fr. Robert Drinan is a professor at Georgetown University Law Center. His e-mail address is drinan@law.georgetown.edu

National Catholic Reporter, January 10, 2003