America has lost its way in the world

There can be no hope of a peaceful planet with the US so belligerent.

AT THE end of the Cold War the United States was supreme and unchallenged, Russia was in decay, poor, disorganised, with ill-equipped military forces. At that time, many people believed the 21st century might have been the time for the human race to advance issues of decency, to establish a more permanent, international peace and really to see that relations between states would be governed by law and not by power. Instead, we have a period of tragic and serious mistakes, a period of prejudice and of refusal to learn from history.

America's leadership was critical to the establishment of the United Nations and to the establishment of a rules-based international system that would outlaw war unless necessary for self defence or sanctioned by the Security Council.

After the end of the Cold War, America could have done so much to continue the advance to an even more effective, rules-based system where law governed relations between states. Instead, today's America has pushed these high aspirations and noble principles aside and led us, step by step, to a point of crisis.

What went wrong?

After the Cold War, the neo-conservatives sought to cement American supremacy. Their underlying philosophy was to enshrine American power throughout this century and beyond, to recast the rest of the world in America's image, if necessary by force of arms. The neo-conservatives did not want the restraint of international agreements, of law or of organisation. To them, September 11, 2001, was an opportunity to free America from those restraints.

As a consequence, the United States has made mistake after mistake and made the world a more dangerous place.

The first mistake was to declare war on terrorists, as opposed to recognising that the problem was really one of intelligence, good policing, supported, as necessary, by military action.

The second mistake was to say to the world, you are with us or you are against us. There was no middle path.

The third, more serious, mistake, was not to put adequate resources into tracking down and eliminating al-Qaeda's leadership and destroying its network.

The fourth mistake was to declare an illegal war on Iraq, a massive diversion that has caused only disaster and made peace in the Middle East even more difficult.

The next mistake was not to divert adequate attention to the problems between Israel and Palestinians, to seek to divide Palestinians. Ignoring Hamas makes peace virtually impossible.

In another mistake beginning at the end of 2001, the Administration plotted, step by step to bypass the Geneva Convention, the torture convention, to free America to act as it wanted. The people participating, lawyers, politicians, bureaucrats are arguably guilty of serious war crimes.

The next mistake was to place obligations on president Pervez Musharraf that no Pakistani leader would be able to deliver. Fundamentalists have been strengthened in the North-West Territories. Pakistan is almost in a state of chaos.

Even more important than these serious errors was failure to deal with Russia from a sense of respect and recognition of Russia's traditional interests, which Russia would seek to protect.

It was the US that wished to push NATO to the boundaries of Russia, ignoring the fact that NATO's real job had been done. America wanted NATO to include Ukraine and Georgia.

President George Bush tore up international treaties, the Anti-Ballistic Missile Treaty and the Comprehensive Test Ban Treaty. His actions have, in fact, begun a new arms race.

Over Georgia, the US and the West, with rare exceptions, have ignored the trigger that began the fighting and the still-continuing problems. President Mikheil Saakashvili, who moved his troops into Ossetia, allegedly killing 2000 civilians within a matter of hours, broke an uneasy peace that had prevailed since the early 1990s.

America's rhetoric and American diplomacy, America's rearmament of Georgia's military forces, encouraged Saakashvili into believing he had American support. My opposition to this conflict is as strong as was my opposition to the war in Iraq.

We need a world in which international institutions are respected, where the Security Council can have real influence and where relations between states will be governed by the law and not by force of arms.

Europe needs to think long and hard about the development of its relations with Russia.

Sadly, the unthinking pursuit of American dominance without any real consideration of longer term consequences of actions has destroyed the reputation America had built up in the several decades after WWII.

If America is to exercise effective world leadership, it must recognise that doing it by force of arms is no longer practical or possible, it must be by wise diplomacy, by using and strengthening international structures, specially the Security Council and the International Criminal Court.

We need to re-engage the best of America, the America that in the immediate postwar years did so much to establish a law-based system to govern relations between states. Resuming that mantle can give America real influence and the rest of us the best hope for a peaceful world.

Malcolm Fraser was prime minister from 1975 to 1983.


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