Monday, January 23, 2006

Mallaby on Rice's Transformational Diplomacy

Sebastian Mallaby really does well in Rice's Blind Spot, his latest Washington Post op/ed piece on Secretary of State Rice's new agenda for 'transformational diplomacy'. First the central bits from Rice's speech:
We are living in an extraordinary time, one in which centuries of international precedent are being overturned. The prospect of violent conflict among great powers is more remote than ever. States are increasingly competing and cooperating in peace, not preparing for war. Peoples in China and India, in South Africa and Indonesia and Brazil are lifting their countries into new prominence. Reform -- democratic reform -- has begun and is spreading in the Middle East. And the United States is working with our many partners, particularly our partners who share our values in Europe and in Asia and in other parts of the world to build a true form of global stability, a balance of power that favors freedom.

At the same time, other challenges have assumed a new urgency. Since its creation more than 350 years ago, the modern state system has rested on the concept of sovereignty. It was always assumed that every state could control and direct the threats emerging from its territory. It was also assumed that weak and poorly governed states were merely a burden to their people, or at most, an international humanitarian concern but never a true security threat.

Today, however, these old assumptions no longer hold. Technology is collapsing the distance that once clearly separated right here from over there. And the greatest threats now emerge more within states than between them. The fundamental character of regimes now matters more than the international distribution of power. In this world it is impossible to draw neat, clear lines between our security interests, our development efforts and our democratic ideals. American diplomacy must integrate and advance all of these goals together.

So, I would define the objective of transformational diplomacy this way: to work with our many partners around the world, to build and sustain democratic, well-governed states that will respond to the needs of their people and conduct themselves responsibly in the international system. Let me be clear, transformational diplomacy is rooted in partnership; not in paternalism. In doing things with people, not for them; we seek to use America's diplomatic power to help foreign citizens better their own lives and to build their own nations and to transform their own futures.

In extraordinary times like those of today, when the very terrain of history is shifting beneath our feet, we must transform old diplomatic institutions to serve new diplomatic purposes. This kind of challenge is sweeping and difficult but it is not unprecedented; America has done this kind of work before. In the aftermath of World War II, as the Cold War hardened into place, we turned our diplomatic focus to Europe and parts of Asia. We hired new people. We taught them new languages, we gave them new training. We partnered with old adversaries in Germany and Japan and helped them to rebuild their countries. Our diplomacy was instrumental in transforming devastated countries into thriving democratic allies, allies who joined with us for decades in the struggle to defend freedom from communism.
We jump in after Mallaby's run down of the fundamental change of Rice's grand strategy outlook from the 2000 Foreign Affairs article with its Big Power Politics, and third-image-realism to a second-image focus on regime type:

Well, that's quite a turnaround. But it's not a completely satisfying one, because the debate has recently moved on. Rice has caught up with the 1990s consensus that powerful states may pose less of a problem than disintegrating weak ones and that the best hope for peace in the long term is a world of stable democracies. But she's only half-acknowledging the next question: Yes, weak and autocratic states are a problem, but can we do anything about them?

The best formulation of this new debate comes from Francis Fukuyama, who famously proclaimed the universality of the democratic urge in his 1989 essay on history's end. Fukuyama certainly believes in spreading U.S. values, but he has emerged as a critic of the Iraq war because he believes its ambitions were unrealizable. The United States lacks the instruments to transform other societies, Fukuyama argues; to build nations you must first build institutions, and nobody knows how to do that. Conservatives, who have long preached the limits to what government can achieve with domestic social policies, should wake up to government's limits in foreign policy as well.

Rice shows some signs of seeing this. She is not content with the instruments of foreign policy as they exist, and her speeches last week were about fostering new ones -- a strengthened office for post-conflict stabilization and a reconfigured foreign aid program. But this only begins to confront Fukuyama's worry, which is that no amount of tinkering with the apparatus of government will make nation-building possible. Creating a functional Iraq or Afghanistan requires creating norms of work and trust and honesty, and such norms can't be conjured by outsiders, no matter how well organized they are.

This is indeed a deep philosophical question. One which at the same time goes to the heart of the differences across the political spectrum in the US today, with its distinction between those who believe politics can change things, including institutions, and those who don't profess to societal engineering in the same sense, and who have a more organic conception of what society is: one that does not rely on the state as the ultimate formatting power. Funnily enough, this distinction is not all constitutive for the political spectrum in Europe where those critical of the state are much less present: instead, there are those who support the state because they believe to have created it in their image so that it helps to uphold the organic social order (conservative paternalism) or better it (socialdemocrat paternalism).

Why is this relevant for the discussion of democracy-promoting transformational diplomacy abroad? Because it tells us something about the ideological levers and degrees of support for different positions. It can thus give us a hint about where things might go in the future.
Because the Europeans do not have an instinctual critique of the state the only challenge to Rice's transformational diplomacy will come from the American conservatives (and within the UN system from targeted elites; at the Pentagon, post-Iraq transformation means that supporting democracy has been inscribed into its basic framework of action).

Moreover, the US distinction is sounder than the European: societal institutions are, as Mallaby notes with Fukuyama, notoriously inscrutable in terms of origin - or rather, 'construction'. There is not a quick fix state-building set which requires the addition of water and stirring. Yet, when we look at the development of the modern state since the late 19th century on both sides of the Atlantic, from the American Great Society and the GI Laws, to the European Social and Christian Democrat versions there is no denying that societal institutions even in their deepest sense can be shaped over time and that politics do matter. We just have to look at the very long term, where 10 or 15 years is just a start.

So it will be exiting to follow whatever debate comes up concerning this subject in the relevant US conservative policy and academic journals -- if it doesn't show up there, it won't do so at all. The productive infight between 'blue-eyed' idealists and 'reductionist' realists may take another turn.

No comments: