A Responsible American Foreign Policy, 18.08.2008 (Friedensratschlag)
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A Responsible American Foreign Policy (Für eine verantwortungsbewusste amerikanische Außenpolitik)

by Cornelia Beyer

Die Vereinigten Staaten können in unserer Zeit als Hegemon gelten. Das impliziert nicht nur, dass die USA überragende Macht zur Verfügung haben, sondern auch, dass sie Verantwortung tragen. Wie jedoch kann ein verantwortungsvolles Handeln der Vereinigten Staaten aussehen? Was können und sollen die USA in der Welt tun? Statt eines theoretischen Vorschlags soll hier auf eine sehr alte christliche Weisheit zurückgegriffen werden, um theoretisch sowie an praktischen Beispielen zu diskutieren, wie verantwortliches Handeln der USA in der Welt aussehen könnte.
Ohne es zu wollen hat Cornelia Beyer mit dem vorliegenden Essay indirekt auch eine erste Antwort auf den programmatischen Artikel der gegenwärtigen US-Außenministerin Condoleezza Rice gegeben, den wir an anderer Stelle publizierten: Nationale Interessen neu überdenken.
Cornelia Beyer ist Politologin an der Universität Hull, Großbritannien.



America in our age is still – and this is rarely disputed – counted as the hegemon in international affairs. This description is derived from its overarching power resources in different dimensions, such as the economy, the military, science and so forth.

A hegemon furthermore is characterized by exerting his power over others – in this case other nations of the world. This power, however, has to be implemented wisely, in order to achieve beneficial results, and to promote the overall good. The hegemon therefore has to act responsibly in using his powers. This short open letter tries to lay down some very simple recommendations for a responsible American foreign policy under a new administration.

There is an old Christian prayer which describes the essence of responsibility: “Please give me the knowledge on what I can do, on what I can’t do, and give me the wisdom to tell one thing from the other”.

Give me the knowledge on what I can do

The first part of this prayer essentially implies understanding one’s own strength. It asks for the possibility and implies the need to use one’s powers wisely. With regards to the United States, this implies that they have to find a balance between their own and others wellbeing. For this purpose, they need to understand their own and others needs and find a middleway which benefits both of them. Progress is holistic, and if the United States wants to progress further on the route to world peace and development and integration, they will need to take others with them. Progress is not possible unilaterally, at least not in the long term and not very far, as the game theoretic assumptions of stag hunt and the structural realist assumption of balancing tell us. In case that the United States disregard the wishes and needs of others, they will not make as much progress as they wish for themselves and they will anger others and mobilize them against them in the future. The practical recommendation therefore here would be to engage its friends and to cooperate with and support other nations, which are still on the way of development. To find the right balance is of course critical in this respect, how this can be achieved needs international deliberation. Some recommendations – such as 7% of GNP for international aid – are already in existence but not complied with.

Give me knowledge on what I can’t do

First of all, even the United States cannot do everything. The United States knows that and has experienced it very painfully in the aftermath of the Iraq war. Overusing its powers is not a solution for problems but bears further problems in itself.

Secondly, the United States cannot do much against everybody else. Sometimes, a strong state might be the leader and progress even if the rest of the world is still relatively undecided. However, this possibility is very critical and – again – as seen in the case of Iraq, it can bring serious problems (not only with regards to politics and global public opinion) if it is not used wisely. In essence, this second point is a call for complying with the tools (and strengthening them further) of global democracy. The United Nations could be a formidable force for peace, if they had the full support of the United States. Democracy is never easy, and it should not mean the tyranny of the majority. But international decisions that affect many other states (and under the condition of globalization most international decisions affect a lot of states and peoples) need to be carried out by consensus. This will be the largest task for the coming decades – if we wish for a more peaceful world – to lead the world to work more closely together with these international democratic forae and to learn international democratic ways to live together as states in a globalized world. Also, what we need to learn in this respect is to take responsibility for peoples within states in civil conflicts. We will have to decide how to protect them without doing more harm than good.

Thirdly, for all this being able to work, the United States needs to understand that there is a high level of need for stability, reliability and rules. Those institutions and rules that we have – in particular the United Nations and the accompanying international law – are the source of a certain stability of expectation in the world. They of course can and should be reformed, but only after international consultation and – again – under the condition of consensus, as well as gradually. Inventing a new alliance of democracies now in order to replace the United Nations will not do much good. It will only result in more instability and it will also result in a counter-alliance of excluded states in the long term with conflicts between these two to be expected and which could result in some sort of a new Cold War in the long term.

Finally, we have progressed with our knowledge and experience to such a degree that we can assume that non-violent ways of solving conflicts must be the preferred route of taking any action. Principally, and this tells us the theory of tit for tat, any non-cooperation should only be applied as a reaction to non-cooperation. This is not only an idealistic demand, it is also the most effective (!) strategy. Also, violence (which is never an ideal option) should only be applied in real defensive measures, when violence was experienced by us or others. Offensive measures will most often result in counter-violence and therefore bear conflicts that are becoming ever more costly as the benefit promised in the first place. The principal differentiation is that power should be used with or for others, not against them. Whenever power is used against others, this can be termed violence and violence against innocents is still a crime under international law. With the new debate on human rights, therefore, wars are increasingly difficult to wage as innocents are always under attack. A possible solution would be – this again sounds idealistic – to strengthen international peacekeeping troops and to solve conflicts by intermediation and buffering. Also, conflicts with pariah states such as Iran, for example, cannot be easily solved by war (remember the example of Iraq!) but can ideally be solved by integrating these states. These states are not suicidal, they do not want war. They want something, maybe more prosperity, maybe more saying in international affairs or regionally. We have to help them attain what they want – at least partly - as long as it is possible to combine it with our wishes, in order to get to peace.

Give me the wisdom to tell one from the other

The United States has a formidable pool of knowledge, in particular scientists on all topics and in all disciplines. Science in the US is of the highest standard. The United States as a world leader should make use of this knowledge to support and aid its policies, also its foreign policies. For this purpose, freedom of research has to be guaranteed. Otherwise, no real progress is ensured. Ideally, the US could implement a commission or a council to review the scientific literature and consult scientist (again, ideally also internationally) to find an acceptable scientific consensus on certain policy measures.

Also, knowledge about what is good foreign policy can only be attained in close consultation and cooperation with other nations. The US needs to understand what other nations want in order to improve its foreign policy. A diplomatic installation in Iran is a very good step on that route.

* Cornelia Beyer is lecturer in Security Studies in the Department of Politics and International Studies (Faculty of Arts and Social Sciences) of the University of Hull (Great Britain)


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