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Expert:Obama administration expected to embrace multilateralism
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08:34, December 30, 2008

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The new U.S. government is expected to seek to turn the page on what many perceived to be "cowboy unilateralism" of the Bush years, by embracing multilateral cooperation, re-kindling U.S. alliances and partnerships, and engaging in sustained diplomacy within the UN framework, a U.S. expert said on Monday.

In an exclusive written interview with Xinhua, Stewart M. Patrick, senior fellow and director of the Washington-based Program on International Institutions and Global Governance, said that after President-elect Barack Obama is sworn in to succeed outgoing President George W. Bush in January, the world is expected to greet a new, different U.S. administration, and "the biggest difference will be in tone and style."

"This will include a commitment to talking not just to friends but also to adversaries, including presumably Iran and North Korea," he said. "You will see an emphasis on nonmilitary aspects of American power and influence, as well as a re-dedication of the United States to the international rule of law, typified by total rejection of torture and closing of Guantanamo."

"You are also likely to see a broader agenda than the Bush Administration's preoccupation with the 'Global war on terrorism'," he said.

The Iraq war and Guantanamo controversy hurt U.S. image abroad, according to poll respondents in 11 of the 16 countries surveyed, which gave at least a glimpse of how the world's view of the United States has been affected not only by the U.S.-led Iraq war, but also by what Bush calls the "war on terror," including the long-term detention of more than 500 terrorism suspects at Guantanamo Bay, Cuba, reports said.

The Bush Administration waged the Iraq war in 2003 without the authorization of the UN Security Council, which has the primary responsibility, under the UN Charter, for the maintenance of international peace and security.

"At the same time, you are likely to see a recognition that the world has changed since the 1990s, when the United States last espoused 'assertive multilateralism.' There will be a recognition that the world has changed and that new players, including China, are more prominent," said Patrick.

UN Secretary-general Ban Ki-moon has voiced his willingness to work closely with the incoming U.S. government to move the world into a new era of multilateralism and dialogue to address major global issues, such as the financial crisis, food crisis and climate change.

The world is facing a global financial crisis and climate change, as well as the challenge of fulfilling the world's promises on the Millennium Development Goals, which are made more difficult by food and energy price hikes. "These are profound challenges requiring collaboration and cooperation," Ban said in mid December.

"In addition, this will not be a utopian internationalism, but a quite realistic one. The Obama diplomats, including Susan Rice as UN ambassador, will be tough negotiators," said Patrick, a former U.S. State Department policy planning staff member.

Rice, the would-be U.S. ambassador to the United Nations, is expected to cajole the world body into playing a more forceful role in Sudan and Iran.

"The apparent lesson of the Bush years is that it is not enough to criticize the United Nations and to hold it to account," he said. "To advance its national interests, the United States needs to do the hard work of daily diplomacy, being willing to consult and build coalitions, and to show strong fiscal and political support for the institution, rather than allowing it to be the scapegoat for failures that are usually the result of actions of its member states."

Author of "The Best Laid Plans" released in November 2008, Patrick currently focuses his studies on U.S. policy toward global governance.


"The main priorities will be Iran, Afghanistan, North Korea and Darfur," said Patrick. "The Obama administration will work with the (UN) Security Council to ensure that Iran discontinues its nuclear program. It will seek to persuade the United Nations and its member states to ramp up their political and economic involvement in Afghanistan as the U.S. increases its presence there."

"It will work within the Security Council to press the North Koreans on verifiable nuclear disarmament," he said. "And it will seek to redouble pressure on the regime in Khartoum to bring an end to the war in Darfur and bring perpetrators to justice. In each of these areas, forging agreement among the permanent five members of the Security Council will be critical."

Meanwhile, Patrick also listed other issues which the new U.S. government would like to deal with:

-- War on terror: The new administration is likely to downgrade the heavy focus on the global war on terrorism, which often seemed the sum total of the Bush administration's foreign policy. "We will see a rededication of the U.S. to the international rule of law, including closing of Guantanamo and end to 'extraordinary rendition'."

-- Iraq: The new government is expected to undertake a "faster pull-out than Bush administration had planned."

-- Climate change: "We may see movement toward U.S. adopting a 'cap and trade' system and practical U.S. leadership at the Copenhagen summit in 2009."

-- Non-proliferation: "We are likely to see movement to ratify the Comprehensive Test Ban Treaty."

-- Middle East: The world is expected to see a "more active and sustained U.S. diplomacy on the Israeli-Palestinian peace process."

The United Nations "is also a useful instrument at times for U.S. national and broader global interests," said Patrick. "There is no alternative but to engage it and to help it live up to its founding ideals."

"It is also critical for the United States to seek common ground in particular with the other permanent members of the Security Council, particularly China and Russia, whose support will be essential to achieve peaceful and effective resolution of the most important threats to international peace and security," he added.


"The difficulties of the United Nations in handling the major crises it confronts continue to undermine its relevance internationally," said Patrick. "The UN Security Council's inability to forcefully address many of the major threats to global peace and security, from Georgia to Darfur to Somalia, undercut its credibility, which is already under strain because it seems unrepresentative in the eyes of many UN member states."

"This combination of ineffectiveness and lack of representation undermined its perceived legitimacy," he said.

The 192-member international organization is often frustrated by a lack of necessary resources and political will in tackling the major challenges concerning peace and development in the world at large.

During the past six decades since the establishment of the United Nations, reforms of all kinds have never ceased in the organization. The UN Security Council reform is a component part of the overall UN reform, and the thorniest issues such as its representative ness and the power of veto have plagued the 15-nation council for a long time.

"A main question is whether the United Nations will be at the center of new efforts to reform global governance, or whether it will remain relatively static, as major reforms increasingly occur outside the UN framework," Patrick said.

Recent events, particularly the global financial crisis, have exposed serious weaknesses in the architecture of global governance and made it essential to update existing structures to today's realities, including both the global distribution of power and the rise of transnational threats like terrorism, nuclear proliferation, and climate change, he said.

"There is a widespread recognition that many of the bedrock institutions of global governance, from the UN Security Council to the Bretton Woods Institutions to the G7/G8 (the Group of Eight major industrialized countries), are both unrepresentative and, often, ineffective," he said.

"Despite tremendous changes in the global distribution of power, including the rise of China, India, Brazil and other developing countries, many international structures continue to reflect the world that no longer exists."

"The UN Security Council and governing bodies of the World Bank and IMF (the International Monetary Fund), for instance, reflect the world of 1945," when the two institutions were founded, he said. "Likewise, the membership of the G8 is hopelessly out of date, in not including China, India, Brazil and other major emerging market economies."

"A major challenge for the United States and other governments during 2009 and later years will be to adapt these existing institutions to new power realities and challenges," he said. "This will not be an easy task."

"On the positive side, we know from history that major reform of international institutions typically comes during times of crisis and we certainly face one now," he said. "Thus the emergency summit of the G20 in Washington on Nov. 15 may be the shape of things to come, gradually replacing the G8."

"On the negative side, reform of the UN Security Council, the Bretton Woods Institutions and other bodies will be extremely difficult," he said, listing three reasons contributing to the difficulties:

First, the would-be reformers are not dealing with a "blank slate." Incorporating new players and shifting power to them means that the power of the current privileged few will be diluted; these countries will be unlikely to want to sacrifice their vested interests.

Second, regional rivalries may frustrate efforts to expand membership. When talking about the Security Council expansion, regional contenders may oppose each other in a bid to have an upper hand over rivals.

Third, there is often a real trade-off between making international organizations more representative and ensuring that they remain effective.

"When you expand membership of clubs, you increase their legitimacy," he explained. "But it becomes harder to get a strong, decisive action, particularly if the institutions are dependent on consensus to act."


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