Justice And Foreign Policy
June 19, 2007
John Feffer is a co-director of Foreign Policy In Focus at the Institute for Policy Studies and the editor of “Just Security,” an alternative foreign policy framework released this month by FPIF and IPS. Download the report here .
Contrary to what the Bush administration has been saying for the last six years, terrorism is not the only challenge facing the United States. War, poverty, loose nukes and climate change all make us feel less secure than a decade ago. Over the last few years, the United States has addressed these issues with a blunt instrument. Like a fearful homeowner, we have stocked up on guns, added locks to the doors and windows, built higher fences around the property and even taken over several of our neighbors’ houses. Such an approach only increases the fear factor. More guns, higher walls and more spending give us an illusion of security.
The Bush administration has insisted that we focus just on security. We must focus instead on a just security, because there can be no real security without justice. Current U.S. foreign policy unfortunately provides neither security nor justice:
The answer to each of these questions is clearly no. An unjust foreign policy is ultimately an ineffective foreign policy that traps us in a cycle of fear, hostility and decline. And it is also deeply unpopular. The Bush administration foreign policy has brought U.S. popularity in the world to new lows. At home, it has generated widespread dissatisfaction across the political spectrum.
We have an opportunity to transform the national conversation from the framework of fear that has prevailed since September 11 to a broader response to global ills and injustices. The growing public awareness of the climate crisis, the need to address the Middle East in a comprehensive manner, the wasteful extravagance of military spending, the continued threat of nuclear proliferation and nuclear use, and the corrosive effects of global inequality have revealed the inadequacies not only of current U.S. foreign policy but the Democratic Party’s “real security” doctrine as well.
Both parties support the preservation and expansion of U.S. military power abroad. They believe that somehow our global military presence makes us more secure. The United States annually spends nearly $300 billion on this vast global undertaking, a large portion for the occupation of Iraq. Let’s be clear. This is no defense budget. This is offense, and it is offensive to the spirit of peaceful, international cooperation.
As President Franklin Delano Roosevelt realized more than 60 years ago, the future of the United States depends on our becoming a more responsible member of the global neighborhood. We demand accountability from others, but we must also be accountable ourselves. We must reduce our reliance on guns and back away from our global garrison. We must start playing by the rules and playing well with others. We must link arms to face the challenges that cloud our common future. We must treat others as we would have others treat us. We will not feel secure until we all feel secure. That is the essence of a just security approach.
A Just Alternative
We are entering a new “multipolar moment.” The most aggressively unilateralist phase in U.S. policy is receding, and new centers of power are emerging. There is China’s multilateral diplomacy, Russia’s petropolitik, India’s economic leverage and a new generation of Latin American leadership. Beyond governments, civil society has gained a new prominence as “the other superpower.” With this new multipolarism, however, has come the potential for increased conflict in the Middle East, Africa, Northeast Asia and Central Asia. International polling suggests that citizens throughout the world expect and demand greater global cooperation to resolve these conflicts as well as pressing issues of poverty, climate change and energy security. Americans, too, are eager for a new foreign policy, both to prevent a return of unilateralism and to implement an effective alternative.
The examples of Iran and North Korea offer a stark contrast in how the current administration is dealing with the new multipolar moment.
With Iran, the U.S. government has ignored promising compromise, refused to look at regional solutions and slighted the advice of allies. Keeping “all options on the table,” which includes a preemptive nuclear strike, the administration appears eager to repeat all the mistakes of the Iraq debacle and then some. Iran is a much larger country, with much more diverse political actors and greater regional influence. Even the few allies the U.S. managed to finagle into the “coalition of the coerced” against Iraq have mostly expressed their distaste for attacking Iran. By advancing a war agenda, the administration threatens to perpetuate an even greater injustice.
With North Korea, on the other hand, the administration reversed course in early 2007 by taking negotiations seriously and compromising on the sequence of denuclearization. Not only have Washington and Pyongyang embarked on a process that could lead to diplomatic normalization but the countries in the region have also begun to discuss a regional peace mechanism. The negotiated solution to the U.S.-North Korean standoff respects international law, aims to raise the economic level of North Korean citizens and addresses unjust practices of the past such as Japan’s colonial control of the Korean peninsula. It is far from a done deal. But the negotiations show great promise for the future.
Here we have three scenarios. The United States has made grievous errors in Iraq. We are currently on a collision course with Iran. But there is hope that we will resolve our differences with North Korea in the future. Like Ebenezer Scrooge, we are visited by the ghosts of U.S. foreign policy past, present and yet to come. Which path will we take? And what foreign policy principles are available to help us make these complicated decisions? Will we make the right decision and, like Scrooge, be invited to the table to celebrate peace and prosperity, or will we remain ungenerous and alone?
We cannot turn back the clock and rewrite what happened in Iraq. But it is not too late to act. We still have time to arrest global warming and move toward nuclear disarmament. We can bridge the terrible gaps of wealth and poverty in the world. We can help bring peace to countries and regions torn by war. And we can radically reduce the impact of terrorism on innocent lives. We can still change the script. We can still come out on the side of justice.