Tuesday, July 18, 2006

International Freeloaders

While it's easy to point fingers at the US and namely President Bush (cough Howard Dean) for current intentional woes such as the Israeli-Hezbollah spat, Iran's continued aggression and North Korea test firing missiles, the Washington Post's Sebastian Mallaby reminds us that some of the other world powers need to be held accountable as well:

So the challenge in the Middle East and beyond is to show that diplomacy can function. In the wake of the Bombay attacks, Pakistan is a good place to start: China, a traditional Pakistani ally, should join with the United States in telling Pakistan to close down its jihad network. Until now, of course, China has regarded India-Pakistan tensions as a strategic plus. But it needs to update its worldview. Trade and investment between China and India are growing, and China depends on imported oil. War in India, or the emboldening of Pakistani jihadists with links to the Middle East, is not in its interest.

But Pakistan is only a beginning. On every major security challenge, from North Korea's missiles to Iran's uranium enrichment, diplomacy is undermined by Chinese, Russian and sometimes Western European foot-dragging. These powers are happy to criticize unilateralism and belligerence at every turn. But when there's a chance to make diplomacy work, they call for U.S. leadership and hide behind the curtains.

There's a direct causal link between this freeloading irresponsibility and Israel's bombardment of Lebanon. The Chinese and Russians ensure every day that diplomacy is limp, and then they sound surprised when Israel chooses the military option.

Western Europeans lament the fact that the Bush administration, its energies sapped by the Iraq war, has not shown much appetite for the shuttle diplomacy that brokered the last Israel-Hezbollah cease-fire in 1996. But if France and others had not undermined sanctions on Iraq in the late 1990s, the case for the military alternative would have been weaker -- and the war might not have happened.

I don't think it's an earth shattering statement to say that in dealing with problems like North Korea or Iran, multi-lateralism is more likely to work than unilateralism, and that multi-lateralism is the preferred method over unilateralism, but multi-lateralism only works when you have willing partners and U.S. has not had that.