START: first Steps into a Multi-Polar World

A Step into the Right Direction

Coverage on the US Senate’s deliberations on the START treaty with Russia, signed by presidents Barack Obama and Dmitry Medvedev in April this year, seemed to suggest that the Senate wouldn’t ratify the treaty. But on Wednesday, the senators approved by 71 to 26. Once again, America’s foreign policy proved itself to be mostly bi-partisan.

There seems to have been either a lot of, or at least some strong criticism of the treaty. There were people who would urge the Senate to reject the treaty.

Senator Lindsey Graham, a Republican from South Carolina,came across as  status-aware, ahead of the vote on START:

I think I understand why the Russians don’t want to reopen the treaty. They have told us, take it or leave it. And my response to our Russian friends is, I choose to leave it at this time.

The Russians had said that they wouldn’t re-negotiate the treaty. But that was apparently a too assuming attitude in Graham’s view, a lèse-majesté against the world’s last remaining superpower. The treaty had been signed in April this year, but Graham apparently found the seven months since too short a time to digest it.

Another firm believer in American leadership is John Guardiano, who, according to his blog, worked with some of the world’s most influential think tanks and research institutes.  Obama, he says, isn’t reckless, but

neither is an internationalist who believes in the importance of American global leadership. Obama’s defense budget, moreover, reflects his unwillingness to exercise U.S. military power.

Guardiano is pursuing a Master of Arts degree in national security and strategic studies at the Naval War College. I believe that his view is one-sided. Even the greatest fans of a the idea that America should stay the old military course unabatedly, with their eyes firmly on their country’s global role, must understand that what America can do in global politics isn’t only limited by different ideas outside America, but also by the funding the American economy can provide for defense and attack, or even just for a credible threat of force, as advocated by the Bush jr. administration against Iraq, in the run-up to the invasion of the country.

The “reset” in America’s relations with Russia can only help in this field. It is hard to see how it could have been maintained without ratifying START. America will be busy enough in maintaining its military weight in East Asia, especially as it stands vis-à-vis China. Many foes, much honor may have looked reasonable to Hegel, but it can’t serve a democratically-elected government to account to its people.

Fred Barnes, executive editor of the Standard – which is hardly a “liberal” paper – doesn’t actually seem to suppose the START treaty:

The Cold War having been won (by us), an arms treaty with Russia is of minimal significance today. The Russians aren’t friendly, but they’re not an enemy who might launch a nuclear assault on the United States either. True, the treaty’s preamble includes an implied Russian threat to pull out of the agreement if the Pentagon enhances our missile defenses. But the Russians can already withdraw from the pact at any time, for any reason, as the United States did a decade ago in abrogating the ABM treaty.

Democracy’s Exigences

Nearly six out of ten Americans said that they opposed even Mr Obama’s “good” war – the one against al-Qaeda and the Taliban, the Economist wrote in August1). That doesn’t make it a duty for the American president to stop that war. There is no government by opinion polls. But the voters’ views need to be taken into account. Americans on average are hardly as focused on America’s global role as are many people outside America – and as are Americans like Lindsey Graham / John Guardiano (see above), or Sarah Palin.

What president Obama said in West Point, in December 2009, reflects a government’s duty to account to its people:

Indeed, I’m mindful of the words of President Eisenhower, who — in discussing our national security — said, “Each proposal must be weighed in the light of a broader consideration:  the need to maintain balance in and among national programs.”
Over the past several years, we have lost that balance.  We’ve failed to appreciate the connection between our national security and our economy.  In the wake of an economic crisis, too many of our neighbors and friends are out of work and struggle to pay the bills.  Too many Americans are worried about the future facing our children.  Meanwhile, competition within the global economy has grown more fierce.  So we can’t simply afford to ignore the price of these wars.
[…]
Our prosperity provides a foundation for our power. It pays for our military. It underwrites our diplomacy. It taps the potential of our people, and allows investment in new industry. And it will allow us to compete in this century as successfully as we did in the last. That’s why our troop commitment in Afghanistan cannot be open-ended — because the nation that I’m most interested in building is our own.

America alone won’t shape the world. There may be Americans who won’t like that, but that doesn’t change a thing. America should do the things it believes are right – but also, case by case, look at its allies.

What are they prepared to do in Afghanistan? Withdrawing one after another, before America does, would increase the burden on the US. If the European Union should drop its arms embargo against China, – it’s not likely to happen any time soon, but every EU member state’s initiative to that end is disturbing enough -, America may some day face European technology in an armed conflict about Taiwan. Whatever America does in a field of shared interests with others should not only depend on America’s own plans. It should also depend on the preparedness of America’s allies to do their bit.

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Note
1) The Economist, August 28, 2010, page 7

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Related
How long can India capitalize on global China angst, Post-Western World, Nov. 1, 2010
Deauville: “West could use Russian Boost”, October 18, 2010
Taiwan: “before it’s too late”, April 15, 2010
J-P Raffarin, Parliamentarians in Beijing, February 11, 2009

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