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Thursday, 16 January, 2003, 02:12 GMT
Viewpoint: US should not go it alone
BBC News Online has asked a range of contributors to comment on the Iraq crisis.

Here, Joseph Nye, dean of Harvard's Kennedy School of Government, argues the case for the United States to take a patient, multilateral approach to the Iraq crisis.

The debate over whether the US should go to war with Iraq often appears to be one of hawks pitted against doves. Hawks want to use force immediately - doves never want to use force.

But here is a third position, one that is held by what I call the owls - and this makes more sense.

There are not many doves in the administration, but there is a third position, one that is held by what I call the owls

Owls are those who are willing to use force to prevent Saddam Hussein from developing nuclear weapons and to back up United Nations Security Council resolutions violated by the Iraqi leader.

But the important thing about the owls is that they are patient and multilateral - in the sense that rather than acting immediately, they take the time necessary to develop a broad, multilateral coalition.

The administration is deeply divided by positions of the multilateralists and the unilateralists.

Administration tug-of-war

A multilateral approach to Iraq I believe is in the country's best interests, and at this stage, I believe the owls are dominating.

Secretary of State Colin Powell is a good example of the owls' position - Defence Secretary Donald Rumsfeld is closer to what is being called the hawks' position.

Looking back to August 2002, there was a tug of war in the administration - Vice-President Dick Cheney said the US should not be bound by the UN. This had been a common position in the defence department.

The US should also be paying attention to what I call its 'soft power' - the ability to get what you want by attracting and persuading others to adopt your goals

But Mr Powell was supported by advisers who had been important in President Bush's father's administration, such as Brent Scowcroft and James Baker. They weighed in publicly in support of a multilateral approach.

And when the president gave his speech on 12 September, it was clear that those who said "do it through the UN" had won the day.

Now the question is: Will that hold if there is a dispute in the Security Council about what constitutes a "material breach" of resolution 1441.

Will Mr Powell continue to be the dominant force on this? I would hope that he will.

Cultural attractiveness

It is not a question of whether the US can succeed militarily. I argue in my book, The Paradox of American Power, that the US has "hard power", the military power, to prevail.

But the US should also be paying attention to what I call its "soft power" - the ability to get what you want by attracting and persuading others to adopt your goals.

Hard power is the ability to use the carrots and sticks of economic and military might to make others do what you want.

The danger of moving alone without UN support is that you might become so unattractive that you give rise to a new generation of terrorists

But soft power arises from different sources besides policies. It grows out of the attractiveness of a country's culture, its political values - whether it follows democracy and human rights - as well as its policies.

The US still has a good deal of soft power in many countries. I don't believe that American policies that have sometimes squandered that soft power have undercut the deeper sources of soft power.

The danger of moving alone without UN support is that you squander your soft power - you make yourself unattractive. In fact, you might become so unattractive that you give rise to a new generation of terrorists.

Speaking softly

No country can afford to be purely multilateralist, and sometimes the US must take the lead as it did in Afghanistan.

I believe the tough talk of the hawks probably helped Mr Powell when negotiation to get resolution 1441 passed. The latent threat that America would go it alone was probably essential.

I think this was the reason why countries which might otherwise have never agreed to the resolution realised that if they didn't agree, then the unilateralists might prevail.

So, in a sense you could argue that the unilateralists actually strengthened the hand of multilateralists.

But the US should incline towards multilateralism whenever possible as a way to legitimise its power and to gain broad acceptance of its strategy.

The hawks should heed Teddy Roosevelt's advice about speaking softly when you carry a big stick.

Joseph S Nye is the dean of Harvard's Kennedy School of Government and author of The Paradox of American Power: Why the World's Only Superpower Can't Go It Alone (Oxford University Press).

He was talking to BBC News Online's Henri Astier

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This is the most intelligent and reasoned commentary that I have read since 11 September, 2001. This thinking is truly attempting to break the cycle of violence, reaction, and counter-reaction. Certainly a refreshing change from fear and egoism. Now, if only those fear-mongering egoists would listen!
Robert, American in France

Mr Nye is quite right that George W Bush should become neither a hawk nor a dove but act like an owl who thinks more and then acts. Given that the US is the only superpower they have right to adopt the "might is right " principal but they should also understand that this philosophy remains effective only for a short period of time.
Syed Makhzan Ali, Pakistan

What is 'soft power'? I suppose it is the ability to inflict the Coca-Cola/McDonalds culture on other indigenous cultures. Heaven knows there is enough of that allowed in the UK at the expense of any of our own culture that is left! Americans are ruthlessly selfish in the pursuit of their own agenda. They are endeavouring, as the 'tough kid on the block', to inflict their second rate sub-intellectual culture on to the rest of the world. One only has to look at the intellectual level of their presidents to realise that there is something radically wrong here.
R Steward, UK

In response to Mr Steward: You use the word "impose". If you do not want to buy a Coca Cola or a meal from McDonalds then you do not have to.
Alistair Philip, UK

Patelma, Saudi Arabia

Hasn't this "soft power" been lost when the US supports Israel, even when Israel executes civilians without trial in occupied territory? Hasn't this "soft power" been lost when the US creates a quasi-legal category of "illegal combatant" for people who would otherwise be protected by the Geneva Convention? Considering that it was the Northern Alliance, and not the US Air Force that did most of work of removing the Taleban, I would say that American "hard power" is often overrated, and American "soft power" is often non-existent.
Vig, UK

As an undergraduate of the LSE from 1999-2002, I had the pleasure of reading Prof Nye's works on US foreign policy, and I fully endorse this line of thought. The right wing hawkish elements in the US are very much mistaken if they believe that pure military force alone will allow the US to make any progress either in the war against terror, or against Saddam Hussein. Indeed, if the use of brute force in the form of bombs and cruise missiles is anything to go by, the US should have won the Vietnam War, the USSR the 1980s Afghan War, and Israel should be the safest country in the world. That these cited cases turned out otherwise is vindication of a need for an alternative to military force alone. Rather than thinking in terms of 'bashing Arabs', the US is likely to make more progress if further thought is given to considering why there is so much anti-US sentiment in the Islamic world.
Erwin Tan, Singapore

Dr Joseph Nye seeks to paint a picture that it would be wise for the US to listen to the owls who want to use force against Iraq but multilaterally. Personally, I feel that position is just as evil as the position of the hawks. The reason being they both lack hard evidence as to what they claim Iraq has. But they are willing to use force because the US is a so-called superpower and so can bully nations either alone if nobody agrees with them, or use economic blackmail to get weak-minded leaders like Tony Blair to come along. The doves' way is the most sensible to take, because it tells the whole world we are a superpower but we use our power to make peace through true diplomacy and not warlike threats and name-calling. We need Jimmy Carter to show us a way out of the current quagmire. He is the only respectable American statesman any nation on earth would listen to, even Iran.
Rev. Albert Joe Pimpong , US

In response to Rev. Pimpong, I would argue that Dr. Nye's "owl" position implies that force would not be used unless the hard evidence of Iraqi weapons of mass destruction exist. The owl would listen closely to the reports of the weapons inspectors, and take the time to evaluate the resultant threat of the Iraqi weapons to the rest of the world. Only if the threat were deemed dire enough would the owl then work through the authority of the security council to achieve an agreement among the UN members that force is necessary. Rev. Pimpong's dove position is easy to talk about, i.e. let's promote discussion and try and achieve peace through diplomacy. The problem, however, is that there are some nations in this world where this approach doesn't appear to work: what seems reasonable to the western world is abhorred by others. It's an unfortunate truth that sometimes the use of force is the only solution.
Jeff Wishart, Canada

What about the Iraqi people? Does anyone care?
Manal Mukhtar, Australia

Professor Nye writes with his customary clarity, making a compelling case for coalition action. (Even Franklin Roosevelt needed Winston Churchill and Joseph Stalin.) But what he fails to acknowledge is the true failure of the administration, be they hawks, doves or owls. No one in the White House has presented clear, demonstrable proof that Iraq possesses WMD and is poised to use it. John Kennedy went before the world during the Cuban Missile Crisis and laid the proof of Soviet IRBMS in Cuba before Americans and the UN. George Bush should do no less.
Paul Huard, USA

I agree with Dr Nye's comments. He makes a good argument about the role of hawks and doves in the today's politics. A multilateralist approach is always a good one - it takes into consideration world consent. To go to war unilaterally will have tremendous drawbacks on the American cultural side, which has already made its people ignorant of others around the globe. Still a good many number of Americans understand the evils of war, irrespective of the reason behind it. Blood only spills more blood, it does not stop it.
Sanjib, US/India

Joseph Nye is one of the wisest observers of US foreign policy. The White House would do well to heed his advice.
Scott, USA

I agree, in essence, with everything Mr Nye wrote. I think that we must work within the UN as much as is possible. War should always be the very last resort. I simply have little hope that soft power can solve this problem. Make no mistake, Saddam must go one way or another.
Shawn, Eugene, OR -USA

Mr Nye's comments are rather A-typical of what many people believe to be the arrogant American view of the world. Although he makes some very valid points, and I agree that should military action have to take place, it should be through the UN. I am a believer that war is not necessary and that a diplomatic solution is not just possible, but a necessity. Mr Nye's article seems to still push forward the US's foreign policy of forcing their values and culture on other nations. Perhaps Mr Nye would do well to note that not everyone wants to adopt American values and culture.
Zak, United Kingdom

Mr Nye's opinion looks to me as being reasonable enough. I doubt, however, that it will prevail if it means adding considerable delay to the process because 1) it would be barely sustainable for the troops already dispatched and 2) the conflict would likely spill well into the upcoming presidential campaign. Also, we would wish that all UN resolutions be handled in the same way, whether they target Iraq, Israel or whoever...
P. Brison, Belgium

The problem with the argument that the hawks strengthen the doves' case, is that everyone can still see the US gun underneath the negotiating table. The US threatening to go it alone unless we fight together is likely to still cause enough resentment for a new generation of terrorists.
Glenn Herbert, England

Mr Nye misses the point. The question is not whether the US should or shouldn't act unilaterally. Leaving open the question if it is indeed powerful enough to enjoy the choice - I have my doubts - the question is whether the US has a reasonable case to adopt the self-righteous stance that the Bush administration does. Considering its recent nuclear posturing and its abject failure to reign in Israel it's hard to think so.
Matthias Vogelsanger, Switzerland

Mr Nye's comments are extremely logical, but unfortunately our government lacks humanitarian logic. Its logic consists of: oil logic, weather logic, and election logic. These are the "logics" that will determine war in Iraq.
Janet Contursi, USA

The reality of the situation is that Iraq does have WMD, and has, for the past decade, violated numerous UN rulings. What must be done, must be done. The US is the only current super power. We have a responsibility. It is not done out of fear, or egoism, or colonialism or any other 'ism'. If this man is left in power, he will bring pain and suffering to the world. If the Europeans and the US would have acted sooner, there would have been a no WWII. There would have been no Holocaust. There would have been no Israel/Palestine issue. Is the world ready to live a bunch of doves? No thanks. It is time for a hawk.
George, US

If "owls" are so wise, then they should see that this is not a war about WMD, but about economic interests. North Korea is far closer to producing nuclear weapons, has a regime that is an avowed opponent of the US, and has said it has the right to sell its weapons to other groups. So why aren't our feathered friends in Washington mobilizing off the coast of Korea? Joseph Nye's article is well and clearly written, but ultimately it suffers from the same lack of insight that the ┐hawks" in Washington have shown. The USA may be the world's only remaining superpower, but it does not have the right to dictate, out of self-interest, how the rest of the world should live. That applies to both its "soft" and its "hard" methods of coercion.
Lesley, USA

I guess it takes 10 years for Colin Powell to be an "owl" from a "hawk", since he was the joint-chief-of-staff during the 1991 Gulf War. Still, it is sensible. The more you learn, the wiser you'll get. Let's keep our fingers crossed about George W.
Sam Huang, Taiwan (now in the UK)

Wise words indeed from Mr Nye. If only George Bush had gone to Harvard and not Yale! Why is it that at the moment I find myself thanking God on a daily basis that Colin Powell allowed himself to be cajoled into the Bush administration? Without his wise view of the large world that exists outside the good old USA (or indeed maybe just Texas in Bush's case?) I fear we would all have been incinerated by the 14 September 2001. Please, please let's hope that one day Powell changes his mind and plucks up the courage to run for President - for the rests of the world's sake.
Lee, England

It is the duty of world community to stop Bush from killing innocent people of Iraq. We all knows that it will the "war for oil". Only I request all Peace Liking people of the world to play their role and raise voice against war.
Abdullah Shah, Pakistan

What hypocrites we all are. I'm always hearing critisism of the Americans, their culture and way of life yet we all aspire to be free and have as much material things as we can. Remember, if it were not for the Americans providing the military might we would not be free after WW2. Britain would not have managed on its own. We need people with the guts to get things done and there are precious few of them to be found in Europe.
W Woodward, UK

Multilateralism is not possible in a world with a single superpower, which has the will and ability to enforce it's policies globaly. A so-called "US multi-lateral approach" would simply be an illusion.
Jim Pierce, United States

The danger of moving alone without UN support is that you might become so unattractive that you give rise to a new generation of terrorists...What did the US do to give rise to the first generation?
Kevin Bruen, USA

Joseph Nye displays some age old wisdom concerning foreign policy. I'm just a little tired of these 'dated' masculine paradigms using the same political discourse of 'hawks' 'doves' and now 'owls'. What if we thought about the real political/economic motivations behind US foreign policy in the Middle East and what the perceived and real threats are in Iraq? Then who are these 'hawks' 'doves' and 'owls'? The arms industry? The oil industry? Multilateral decision making is preferable in a world where the locus of power, either soft or hard is not often in sharp focus. I will agree with Professor Nye with his observation that military might, is not enough in these 'modern' times to get what you want. Cooperation, with International Organizations and multilateral agreements are needed to convey transparency and legitimacy to the rest of the world as to the 'true' intentions of the sole superpower. If blood of innocents is to be shed, then it better be for a damn good reason in a world that is increasingly becoming aware of the concepts of democracy and human rights. The US needs to be held accountable for the principles it promotes globally.
Manova, USA

Mr Nye defines 'soft power' as including the attractiveness of Human Rights and Democracy. The US is the number one abuser of Human Rights worldwide (Amnesty International), and boasts a leader who received only 16% of the population's vote. I don't see much attraction in that.
James Pope, Spain

Read The Paradox of American Power. Professor Nye does more than just analyze US hard and soft power post-9/11. As an American, I truly hope that those of Nye's persuasion prevail in the coming months.
Brett, USA

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19 Dec 02 | Middle East
02 Jan 03 | Middle East
09 Jan 03 | Middle East
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