THE WHOLE WORLD IS WATCHING: Postwar Diplomacy

Monday, April 28, 2003

Now that the war with Iraq is over, will our strained relations with our longtime European allies and the United Nations return to "normal"? Is that even desirable? Or are we witnessing the emergence of a fundamentally new structure of international relations?

Recorded on Monday, April 28, 2003

Peter Robinson: Today on Uncommon Knowledge, the new New World Order.

Announcer: Funding for this program is provided by the John M. Olin Foundation and the Starr Foundation.

[Music]

Peter Robinson: Welcome to Uncommon Knowledge. I'm Peter Robinson. Our show today, making sense of post-war, post-Iraq war, diplomacy. Now that the war in Iraq is over, will our strained relations with certain of our long-time European allies and with the United Nations return to normal? Do we even want them to return to normal? Or are we witnessing instead the emergence in international relations of a fundamentally new structure?

Joining us, three guests. David Brooks is a senior editor at The Weekly Standard magazine. Christopher Hitchens is a journalist and author. And Jan Kavan is a member of Parliament in the Czech Republic who is also currently serving as President of the United Nations General Assembly.

Title: Goodbye to All That?

Peter Robinson: I begin by quoting George F. Will: "The crisis with Iraq became an overdue crisis of U.S. relations with the United Nations and portions of old Europe." The crises between the United States and the U.N. on the one hand and between the United States and France, Germany and other portions of Europe were bound to develop and might even prove salutary. David?

David Brooks: Well, what Will's saying is, is there really a West anymore? During the Cold War we thought there was this entity called the West and which reacted in slight, more or less uniform ways to the Soviet Union and Will is suggesting that perhaps it's no longer useful to think in those terms.

Peter Robinson: Mr. President, henceforth, Jan, but for now first question Mr. President?

Jan Kavan: I don't like the distinction between old and new Europe to start with. I don't think there is such a thing. There are differentiations between the so-called old Europe and equal number of differences among us who are now joining the European Union. Secondly I wouldn't call it a crisis. There are difficult periods between United Nations and United States now but I'm sure it will be resolved because it's in interest of both and paradoxically I even think that United Nations will come out of it fairly well, definitely as a relevant body, but it will not be immediate.

Peter Robinson: You will have to demonstrate that in the course of this program. Christopher?

Jan Kavan: Of course.

Peter Robinson: Christopher?

Christopher Hitchens: Well, I thought it was a mistake for Mr. Will to echo what was already originally a mistake for Mr. Rumsfeld, this forced distinction between old and new. For example, as someone who Jan and I both know, Jack Straw, the British Foreign Secretary, said at the U.N., I'm here to represent a very old country, old European country which was founded in 1066 by the French. Spain and the Czech Republic, which both took a position in favor, more or less, of the regime change policy, count in many ways as much older, more ancient, we might say, states, republics, countries, nations…

Peter Robinson: Right, right, right.

Christopher Hitchens: …than many of those that could be found on the other side. So I don't one can get any further with a false distinction except to say it would be good to discard it at the beginning.

Peter Robinson: Okay. Well, there is a distinction however; at least as we look at it, as it's looked at from this side of the Atlantic. I mean, to put most baldly, France and Germany and Belgium were against us Britain was with us, France, Spain and Portugal and Italy and then the, what might be called the Eastern Tier. So what's going on there?

Jan Kavan: I think that's one way of looking at it but there are many other ways of looking at it.

Peter Robinson: I mean, the old order did crack up didn't it?

Jan Kavan: In what way?

Peter Robinson: In the... (sigh). David?

Christopher Hitchens: It disassembled itself somewhat, but….

Peter Robinson: Thank you. Will you accept even that formulation? It did disassemble itself.

Jan Kavan: I would agree that it showed certain amount of disunity on one aspect, but if you look at the whole history of European Union, it was always like that. It was going from one crisis to another. And over the peak of a crisis it was able to find a common language and then it went through another crisis.

Peter Robinson: So nothing out of the ordinary has happened and American diplomacy should simply revert to normal...

Christopher Hitchens: That's a low blow.

Peter Robinson: Well, just to get you talking, Christopher.

Christopher Hitchens: Unless we do support regime change position and do so from both sides of the Atlantic, if you will, I mean my claim to be European is as good as Mr. Chirac's I would believe. A lot depended on whether or not it was true that a wind of change could be encouraged in the region, not just in Mesopotamia. Now there have been actually two important political changes…

Peter Robinson: Right.

Christopher Hitchens: …ancillary to and parallel with, there's the first I think is the decision among the Palestinian people, their very long struggle for statehood, to adopt what might be called a civil society attitude towards matters rather than the traditional nationalist rebellious style. And the second is the recent extraordinary development in Cyprus where the Turkish authorities have decided to lift the ban on travel between both sides of the island and in effect, abolish the very partition they imposed 23 years ago. Twenty-eight years ago, excuse me. The pole of attraction in both those cases, with the alternative model of behavior have been supplied by the European Union and by steady, consistent pressure from Europe.

Peter Robinson: Crisis or not. Doesn't the United States need a new European policy?

Title: New Lamps For Old

Peter Robinson: You're now advising the United States, Christopher, and you have a number of options after the war in Iraq: our diplomacy toward Europe should (a) remain unchanged, (b) remain unchanged outwardly but we should get those 70,000 troops out of Germany, let the European Union, let France and Germany move forward with their rapid deployment force, let them grow up militarily a bit?

Christopher Hitchens: Well, I think it should be a general principle that the United States' troops and bases are never present in any country that hasn't specifically asked for them.

Peter Robinson: Right.

Christopher Hitchens: Early April, I can't remember exactly the number of new peripheral European southern and eastern countries joined the EU.

Peter Robinson: How many was it?

Christopher Hitchens: Cyprus, Malta…

Peter Robinson: Ten wasn't it?

Jan Kavan: Ten are now joining.

Peter Robinson: Ten are now joining bringing the total number up to 25.

Christopher Hitchens: These are Mediterranean, Balkan and Eastern European ones. So the…

Jan Kavan: And Central Europe.

Christopher Hitchens: And Central European. So the importance, the relative importance of all these is great, these are all countries that are democracies, they have to be to join. No, I don't think the United States should have bases unless in dire emergency on the soil of any country that isn't a democracy and hasn't voted to do so. So let's not have this colonial relationship with Turkey and Saudi Arabia anymore. Let's get rid of the idea of the client state and the proxy regime. On the soil of Europe all this is now possible.

David Brooks: But to me there's a more fundamental issue here is, was this the new future? Is this a permanent breach between the United States and Europe?

Peter Robinson: Exactly.

David Brooks: And it seems to me it's possible. I'm not sure it is. It seems to me as my colleague Bob Kagan wrote, there's such a power gap between the two regions that it's inevitable that we conflict as proud Europeans try to build a counterweight. I'm more of the view that there are significant cultural gaps, that we just don't see the world in the other way. But if I were advising the United States, I would say let's try to make it not so, because a lot of what happened in Europe was people in Europe simply didn't understand us. They looked at the cowboy movies and they saw George Bush fulfilling the stereotypes. But to me the immediate job is to involve the Europeans in democracy building in Iraq so they can learn about us. They know us reasonably well, just enough to misunderstand us profoundly.

Peter Robinson: Jan?

Jan Kavan: No, I don't agree. First of all, I don't think there is anything which could be described as a permanent breach between the Europe or European Union and the U.S. I think this could be a disagreement within a family, a family which is, in fact, sharing the same values. When we joined NATO I was involved in NATO discussions on Kosovo. We didn't always agree on every aspect but at the end of the day a consensus will be reached. The same as I believe a consensus will be reached now...

Peter Robinson: But in Iraq it's precisely what didn't happen.

Christopher Hitchens: I think I have to quarrel with the idea of President Chirac's remarks being ill considered, but I think it was, the moment you're trying to identify can be given an actual date and time, it was the moment when Colin Powell realized from Monsieur Dominique de Villepin, what he hadn't realized before, that there were no circumstances in which France would agree to be satisfied. That the United States had proved its case for--there was no evidence they could prodice to persuade. We will not vote for the use of force no matter what and second, but very important, France's policy will in no case be determined by supra-national vote--our policy will always be French first. Now I don't think Powell, or many of us actually, had realized that it was that unilateralist French position.

Jan Kavan: It is described as a French unilateralist attitude. One can, if I had time, to argue at a very similar one that United State's position was equally unilateralist. They made it very clear that what they believe is in U.S. national interest would be implemented irrespective what the multilateral organization will, at the end, say…

Peter Robinson: From your point of view, the difference was we were acting to enforce U.N. resolutions and the French were acting to block them. I mean there is a distinction between being right and being wrong.

Jan Kavan: France President Chirac said that they will veto but at the end of the day United States didn't put it to a vote so on the whole, you don't know. The United States didn't put it to a vote because they calculated that they would lose, that they would not get either a moral majority…

Peter Robinson: After, as Mr. Christopher Hitchens has said, Dominique de Villepin made it very clear they wouldn't vote for it.

Christopher Hitchens: That would only be veto. Forcing the French to veto would have proved a different thing.

Jan Kavan: …but then Tony Blair was trying to save the day by inventing a new term of unreasonable veto. So if you had a so-called moral majority, the unreasonable veto, you could have ignored the fact that you couldn't get either a moral majority or an unreasonable veto. It wasn't put to a vote.

Peter Robinson: David, wrap this up.

David Brooks: To me--well I don't want to go back into the Security Council Chamber, but most countries, how they were acting, unilaterally or tri-laterally or quattro-laterally, were representing their people. George Bush had 70% of the American people supporting his position throughout the entire last six months before the conflict and then it went up to 80%. In France, I don't know what the polling was but probably 5% of the people or 10% supported George Bush, one third were rooting for Saddam against the United States. That's, to me, why this was not just a spat between diplomats on a specific issue. This was people seeing the major challenge of the past ten years and reacting in viscerally different ways and that's the worrisome part.

Peter Robinson: Next topic, one suggestion for restoring American and European unity.

Title: Let's Work Together

Peter Robinson: Mr. Timothy Garton-Ash quote, so Garton-Ash has a piece in the New York Times Sunday Magazine in which he says, "The Cold War held us all together, the Russian threat held us all together, we need a new grand project." I quote him. "Americans and Europeans have an overwhelming common interest in seeing democracy, peace and prosperity spread through the Middle East, this means trying to make progress toward secure viable states in both Israel and Palestine. The Palestinian question is now for the Arab and Muslim world and for many Europeans, the litmus test of whether the Bush administration means what it says about liberating and democratizing the Middle East rather than occupying and colonizing it." The grand new project is democracy in the Middle East and we'd better make the first move by putting pressure on Israel. What does he mean there?

David Brooks: I'd say if you're going to redefine the U.S. and Europe, you couldn't pick a worse part of the world to do it. I mean, start with New Zealand because this is a part of the world where the U.S. and Europe have traditionally seen things radically differently in public opinion polling and in policy.

Christopher Hitchens: How true is that? More American Jews support a Palestinian state than any other segment of the population.

Peter Robinson: Is that so?

Christopher Hitchens: Absolutely true. More Israeli Jews support a Palestinian state than Americans of any confession or stripe do. So there's enough consensus even to be found in opinion polls for what is the solution that everybody knows we will end up with. It's only a matter of what form of the solution, which is that of two states for two peoples. It's self-evident.

David Brooks: Listen. Here's the crux. I mean we all support a Palestinian state, we all, as you say, we all know what the solution is going to end up at '67 borders, more or less. The problem is the way the pressure you impose to get there. Many European nations, including Russia and I think France abstained, on a resolution that endorsed the use of terrorism against Israel. The U.S. will never support that policy. Several European nations have either abstained or supported that policy and that's a fundamentally different outlook. I don't know where it lies from on how to approach the Middle Eastern issue.

Christopher Hitchens: Even appalling theatrics of that kind don't cancel the fact that's well-known within the United States as well as outside it, that the U.S., while it appears to be a mediator and considers itself to be the mediator between Israel and the Palestinians, is not, shall we say, impartial or objective. The Israelis have the impression that they have a blank check from the United States no matter what the outcome of the negotiations. That's bound to taint the process.

David Brooks: Right. Well that's just…

Christopher Hitchens: The European redress seems to me to be one of the conditions under which a peace agreement could be made.

Peter Robinson: All right. So…

Jan Kavan: I would on the whole agree with David. It is a grand new project and should have been approached faster and in a more determined manner than now and I would hoping that some progress along the route proposed by the diplomatic quarter led by United States and including United Nations, could have been made even before the war against Iraq. And you would have a very different approach of some of the Arab countries to the Iraqi crisis if they felt that United States at the same time is actually trying to genuinely bring about a conclusion of the peace process in Middle East which would lead to a genuine democratic, independent Palestinian state.

Peter Robinson: Jan Kavan has suggested reforming the United Nations Security Council. What changes would he like to see?

Title: This Isn't Your Father's Security Council

Peter Robinson: Jan Kavan, I quote you: "If this war leads to anything positive, it will be that the politicians concentrate on the reform of the Security Council. The working group responsible has made no progress for more than ten years." What reforms do you--would you outline? I was about to say, do you envision, but what reforms would you make to the Security Council?

Jan Kavan: Well, first of all, the Security Council should reflect the reality of 2003 and not of 1945. And at that time, there were 51 states. Now there's 191. The Security Council doesn't reflect that new geopolitic reality and therefore it's quite understandable that as president of the general assembly, I have to deal with the hundred and ninety-one. Majority of them are from developing world, from Third World countries, who basically don't have any say in the Security Council which adds to the tension and adds to the emphasis on the fact that the Security Council correctly reflects the will of countries which won the last war but it's not really in that sense, a step towards democracy. And therefore…

Peter Robinson: You change the permanent members?

Jan Kavan: I would like to see an enlargement of the Security Council both in numbers of permanent members and non-permanent members to more correctly reflect the new reality which means I would like to see Japan on the Security Council, I would like to see…

Peter Robinson: Germany?

Jan Kavan: …countries like Germany. I think that India has a very good stake. I think all continents have to be represented.

Christopher Hitchens: Should anyone leave?

Jan Kavan: But and I think European Union should be represented but it's of course, on the European Union to decide which country or countries will represent them. And this is where the crux of the problem is. And this is…

Peter Robinson: Was that an answer to his question?

Christopher Hitchens: It wasn't a fair question to ask him. I couldn't not do it.

Jan Kavan: I noted the question and I know Christopher. On the other hand, yes, I'm chairing number of working groups trying to push through reform of General Assembly and here I think some reforms are possible. This is the most frustrating one, on the Security Council because really in ten years, there were some progress on methods of making Security Council work more transparent which I think is a good thing but no change at all on the main problem of the composition.

David Brooks: If you increased the number of permanent members, would the single veto remain in place?

Jan Kavan: No, I think that veto is another thing which should be discussed. And should be amended. I cannot envisage that countries like United States and others would actually give up the right of veto. So I'm not even proposing that. But you might have a more kind of by consensus rules where veto can be used. Certain fields like could be applied and others where it need not be.

Peter Robinson: With the President of the United Nations General Assembly seated right here, I just have to ask, what good is the UN really?

Title: The Whole World is Watching

Peter Robinson: There's all kinds of nations, many of them not remotely admirable, put together on the east side of the island of Manhattan and somehow because they gather there, there's a notion that they become moral arbiters of policy around them. So you have everyone from Vatican diplomats to Tony Blair saying we must get that second resolution if we possibly can for reasons of a moral imprimatur. But I just don't see that that follows at all.

David Brooks: Well you're talking to someone who feels he had his life saved by the United Nations. I was in Africa in a riot and some brave guys in blue vests stood up and stopped the shooting. So I do have a soft spot and there is that humanitarian side to the UN.

Peter Robinson: I asked the wrong man. Christopher…

David Brooks: Well, let me go on.

Peter Robinson: Go ahead. Go ahead.

David Brooks: Listen, I'm no big believer in that it can serve a huge political purpose. And just as a matter of practical politics, I think it will be a long time before a Democratic or Republican U.S. President goes back to the UN in similar circumstances as George Bush went to the UN. Nonetheless, 1441 I felt was a useful thing to have for the president.

Peter Robinson: Christopher?

Christopher Hitchens: You could do it this way by illustrating it in contrast to the League of Nations. What are the differences? The League of Nations was made up of the winner and loser powers of the First World War equally, sworn only to renounce forces of means of resolving disputes, nothing else. And we've no, as it were, moral difference between them and without the United States. The UN was founded by an organization says you have to have declared war on fascism before you can join. In other words, you own--diplomacy…

Peter Robinson: You have to have proven something…

Christopher Hitchens: No, diplomacy is the last resort. You have to have force first. Then you can have diplomacy. It's founded by the United States, which becomes the host country as well as one of the co-founders. And third, I think very important, all member states are not required or obliged but are strongly urged and invited to sign the Universal Declaration of Human Rights, which in the Forties Saudi Arabia refused to do and the Soviet Union refused to do. But most of the member states said yes, our signature on this is congruent with the UN Human Rights Declaration. That, to some extent, abolishes the idea of internal affairs of a state saying our sovereignty is unlimited by our membership but we agree to be judged by a certain standard as well. And we also want to apply it to others. Very slow progress has been made in this direction but some has as in the case of former Yugoslavia. What's the instance we all most regret? Most of us, that's to say, not almost but all of us most regret? It's the failure to act in Rwanda, which is, by the way, on a motion of the Czech Republic. Let's intervene quicker rather than later. And we all wish the Czech motion had carried.

Jan Kavan: I would agree to a large extent, with what Christopher said and Rwanda,1994 was clearly the greatest tragedy.

Peter Robinson: There was a peacekeeping force there, ten Belgian members were killed and the United Nations yanked them out.

Jan Kavan: But basically none of the superpowers including the regional ones showed any political will to try to solve it. And the United Nations was given a very narrow mandate. But…

Peter Robinson: What can the UN do? What good is it?

Jan Kavan: I think you used the word moral imprimatur. That's important but I think more important is that it's the only multilateral body where you have practically all the states represented. And that gives the United Nations a unique opportunity to actually give legitimacy to actions, legitimacy to developments. This is what United States I think will eventually--it will be in the interest of the United--

Peter Robinson: We have to go back. You're saying we have to go back.

Jan Kavan: --no, you don't go back because you never left. You still are in the UN. You are in the UN and I do believe that even for pragmatic reasons as you would need the new Iraqi administration to be recognized by United Nations, have that mandate. World Bank wants it. IMF wants it. You would need it to be able to use the proceeds from the sale of the Iraqi oil. That legitimacy, which the UN and only UN can give, is extremely important.

Peter Robinson: David?

David Brooks: I would just introduce the fact that I think in the U.S., the moral legitimacy of the UN is at an all-time low. In part, public opinion clearly shows people were disturbed by the way it handled the Iraqi situation. We've read about--this is not your part of the UN but the Human Rights Commission in Geneva which essentially gave Zimbabwe a clean bill of health, withdrew the rapporteur from Sudan and issued, you know, one resolution after another as usual against Israel when it's never issued resolutions against Syria, Saudi Arabia, or China. This seems like a body that is permanently biased or sees the world through 1962 colonialism goggles and is--does not have the challenges of Islamo-fascism or the new sort of totalitarianism in its mind.

Peter Robinson: Time now for final predictions.

Title: Five Year Plan

Peter Robinson: Five years from now, will the United Nations Security Council have been substantially reformed? David?

David Brooks: No.

Peter Robinson: No?

David Brooks: Because the French will veto it. I don't have a strong view but I'm guessing…

Peter Robinson: Jan?

Jan Kavan: I would like to see it at least a little bit reformed. It will not be substantially reformed but I am pretty skeptical about five years is too short a time.

Peter Robinson: Really? Christopher?

Christopher Hitchens: In five years, the need for such a reform will be plain and acknowledged by all which will be a start.

Peter Robinson: A start?

Christopher Hitchens: Yeah.

Peter Robinson: And then in the next five years?

Christopher Hitchens: It will be a big subject. Everyone will agree that it must be done. At the present, that's an occluded subject.

Jan Kavan: The need will be acknowledged even sooner but there's a big gap between acknowledgement of the need and funding…

Peter Robinson: Is that a decade-long project?

Jan Kavan: I'm not a professor. I don't like to be pulled down to dates. All I'm saying is you need a breakthrough, a political breakthrough in some of the capitals. This is not a question of the UN. This is a question of some of the capitals, in particular of countries who know that their closest rivals in their continents have a chance of getting on the council and becoming permanent members and they will not. Therefore, their closest rivals will get far more power and they don't like it. So you have to find some way of political breakthrough. That's not going to be easy.

Peter Robinson: Canny man...

Christopher Hitchens: Very canny as you say but look, who would have thought it would be the Bush Administration that would rejoin the U.S. to UNESCO, that would finally pay the dues that the U.S. owed in back payments to the UN, that would repeatedly resort to the United Nations and on a grave matter. So you never know what the future may hold.

Peter Robinson: Let me go in reverse order on this one. David has made the point that the moral legitimacy of the United Nations is extremely low in the United States. Five years from now, will the United States be more or less involved? Take the United Nations more or less seriously than at present? Christopher?

Christopher Hitchens: Well, I hope the Bush--Republican Party remembers that it did do this with UNESCO, with the UN dues and many other contributions and doesn't try and pander to the people who…it doesn't try and pander to those who have always said U.S. out of UN, UN out of U.S. This is an old John Birch Society slogan of the provincial isolationist right wing. It has to be opposed.

Peter Robinson: Right, right. But I'm asking you to make--to give me a calculation on public opinion and politics in the United States.

Christopher Hitchens: It's not just there to be observed. It's there to be molded and I hope the Bush Administration…

Peter Robinson: I see.

Christopher Hitchens: …chooses to argue with it in that manner.

Peter Robinson: President Kavan?

Jan Kavan: I think that in five years time, the atmosphere may change, emotions will come down and if this administration and the media which help to form a public opinion will approach the UN with more rational, more pragmatic understanding, realize that in fact these two can help each other tremendously. And therefore, I do believe in five years time, U.S. will be in the UN.

Peter Robinson: Final word, David?

David Brooks: I guess I would just say the bet would be that it would be not on the U.S. populist radar screen as it has been through most of its history. But if the Middle East situation is resolved then that takes out a huge thorn between the U.S. and the UN and then you could see real progress.

Peter Robinson: David Brooks, Christopher Hitchens, and President of the United Nations General Assembly, Jan Kavan, thank you very much. I'm Peter Robinson for Uncommon Knowledge. Thanks for joining us.