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U.S.: Bush Said To Have Unilateralist Foreign Policy

  • Andrew Tully

Critics say the administration of U.S. President George W. Bush is pursuing a unilateralist foreign policy. They cite the decision not to ratify the Kyoto treaty on the global environment, America's withdrawal from the Anti-Ballistic Missile Treaty with Moscow, and now, the U.S. role in dismissing the heads of two international agencies. Others, however, say the Bush policy is too complex to be reduced to simple unilateralism.

Washington, 25 April 2002 (RFE/RL) -- Critics of the administration of U.S. President George W. Bush say its successful efforts to remove two men as the heads of international agencies is further evidence that Washington is pursuing a unilateralist foreign policy.

On 22 April, the United States succeeded in securing the dismissal of Jose Bustani of Brazil as the director-general of the Organization for the Prohibition of Chemical Weapons (OPCW), which represents 145 nations and is responsible for overseeing the destruction of the world's chemical weapons stockpiles and production facilities.

A week earlier, it won the removal of Robert Watson, an American, as chairman of the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change. The agency, established 14 years ago by the UN and the World Meteorological Organization, studies man-made climate change and publishes information about it.

Bustani's case was more prominent because of Washington's public complaints that he had mismanaged the international agency. In a ballot at the OPCW headquarters at The Hague, 48 of the 100 delegations eligible to vote favored ending Bustani's term, and seven voted to keep him. Forty-three countries abstained.

Speaking in Washington on 23 April, the day after the vote, State Department spokesman Richard Boucher said the U.S. government had hoped Bustani would resign quietly. But he did not, Boucher said, and so the Bush administration had no choice but to seek his ouster publicly.

"We have expressed before our view that the organization needs to be preserved, it needs to be effective, it needs to fulfill its responsibilities under the Chemical Weapons Convention. Our view is that it has not done so under Mr. Bustani and that therefore he must be replaced immediately because this is an organization that's gone into serious crisis because of his mismanagement."

Meanwhile, environmentalists say pressure from the oil industry was behind the U.S.-led drive to deny Watson re-election as head of the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change. Washington says it voted in favor of Indian challenger Rajendra Pachauri because he was qualified and represented a developing country. The Bush administration noted that 75 other member nations of the agency voted as the U.S did.

U.S. administration critics both in the United States and abroad say the American-inspired dismissals of Bustani and Watson constitute only the most recent evidence that the Bush administration is pursuing its own goals regardless of the wishes of other countries, including allies.

These critics also cite Bush's rejection of the Kyoto climate treaty, his unilateral withdrawal from the Anti-Ballistic Missile Treaty with Moscow and his stated intention not to ratify the Comprehensive Test Ban Treaty. And in the cases of Bustani and Watson, they say, the American administration is using America's status as the only global superpower to impose its will on the rest of the world.

Such accusations do not reflect the record of the Bush administration, according to Jack Spencer, an analyst of international and security issues at the Heritage Foundation, an independent policy research center in Washington.

Spencer told RFE/RL that Bush and his chief diplomat, Secretary of State Colin Powell, have never ignored the concerns of other nations, particularly those of allies, and have worked hard to reach a consensus on every issue.

"If it can't come to that consensus, it will act in the interest of the nation. However, that's never been the case. People seem to think for some reason that if France doesn't agree, it's [a U.S. decision is] unilateral. In each of those instances, we've had many nations to go along with all of these, these foreign policy decisions."

Spencer also rejected the notion that Washington is using its power unfairly to impose its will on others. He noted that in the Bustani and Watson cases, the U.S. was only one of several votes to remove the men from their posts. In fact, Spencer says, many countries vote in such forums with the U.S. out of respect, not pressure.

"The United States is -- regardless of the rhetoric of some other nations, it really is a respected country around the world. And other countries really do follow the United States in what it needs, what it desires, because normally the policy of the United States is for the betterment of certainly democracies in general."

James Lindsay disagrees. Lindsay -- an international affairs analyst at the Brookings Institution, another Washington policy center -- says he believes that Washington was indeed using its influence, particularly in the dismissal of Bustani from the OPCW. Lindsay said in an interview with RFE/RL that no other country can match the U.S. for influence over such international agencies.

"Probably not, because if you look at the chemical weapons-convention [OPCW], the United States contributes something on the order of 22 percent of its funding. That gives it a lot of say [influence]. And also, it's clear that the United States is essential to making the chemical-weapons convention work, which gives it even more say [influence] with people."

Lindsay also says he believes the Bush administration has what he calls "unilateralist tendencies" in foreign policy, but he does not believe the Bustani and Watson cases are evidence of that. Like Spencer, Lindsay notes that other countries voted to remove the two men from the agencies.

According to Lindsay, the U.S. decision to withdraw from the Anti-Ballistic Missile Treaty (ABM) was not unilateralist for two reasons. First, he says, the treaty permits either side to withdraw at any time. And second, Lindsay notes that the only other party to the treaty, Russia, did not object very strenuously to the U.S. withdrawal.

But Lindsay says Bush was certainly acting unilaterally when he decided not to ratify the Kyoto treaty, which calls on industrial countries to limit emissions of air pollutants. The American president says the restrictions would hurt the nation's economy. Many analysts have said the treaty can never be effective without full U.S. support.

Arthur Helton says he believes that whether the Bush administration is unilateralist is probably a matter of perception. Helton -- a foreign policy specialist at the Council on Foreign Relations, a New York think tank -- told RFE/RL that even if Bush has the best intentions, leaders of other countries, even America's allies, may misinterpret him.

"Clearly, America is in a situation where these kinds of acts can be seen as unilateral that can clearly end up creating problems in terms of international cooperation and how we [the U.S.] are regarded around the world."

Helton says Bush and Powell must be careful to make their intentions clear, especially to America's allies, so that multilateral decisions are based on mutual respect, not fear of pressure from a superpower. According to Helton, the Bush administration is probably taking full advantage of its superpower status to influence other countries. But he stresses that it is too early to decide whether Bush is a unilateralist president. That, he says, will be a task for future historians.