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Rest of World Doesn't Count for Smug U.S.
Published on Sunday, July 15, 2001 in the Toronto Star
Rest of World Doesn't Count for Smug U.S.
by Richard Gwyn
 
THERE ARE two ways of reading the report out of Washington that U.S. defense policy is about to be changed so that "homeland defense" is ranked as a strategic priority for the first time.

It doesn't mean much because the previous Pentagon policy of maintaining a capability of fighting two overseas wars simultaneously - against Iraq and North Korea, say - was always more for show than for real, since the U.S. lacked the troops, the supplies and the transport for so ambitious a strategy.

Or it means quite a lot because emphasizing home defense helps justify the anti-missile program to which President George W. Bush is so committed. Hereafter, it will be a lot easier for the Bush administration to shift funds from conventional weapons to the high-tech stuff that's required to shoot down incoming missiles that might - improbably - be fired at the U.S. By"rogue" states.

Giving credence to the second interpretation, on the same day that the classified strategic document was leaked, Deputy Defense Secretary Paul Wolfowitz briefed senators on an ambitious missile-testing program that, he admitted, would put the U.S. on "a collision course" with Russia because it would require breaking the 1972 Anti-Ballistic Missile treaty.

Strategic documents of this kind always contain a lot of fine rhetoric (and even more jargon). Therefore, the administration can later interpret it any way it wants - so that either interpretation may be valid.

In a quite different way, though, this Pentagon paper matters a great deal. This is in its tone. The tone, or attitude, of this report is turned inward, toward the U.S., itself, and away from the rest of the world.

The single-most important aspect of international affairs these days has to be that the U.S. isn't very internationalist. It's not isolationist. It's just smug, self-regarding and, above all, indifferent to everything going on out there (except for specific U.S. interests, like Israel and oil security).

The change dates from Bush's arrival in office. The policy on antimissile defenses switched from doing it provided the allies, like the Europeans and Canada, could be convinced to support it, to doing it anyway, no matter how much everyone else tut-tutted.

The dramatic change was, of course, Bush's announcement that the U.S. was withdrawing from the Kyoto environmental treaty.

Across the board, indifference has now been made the foundation of U.S. foreign policy.

Last week, the same Wolfowitz told a reporter that he could foresee "where you would have to contemplate" breaking the Comprehensive Test Ban Treaty and that he wanted to improve the readiness of U.S. test sites. This treaty was adopted by the United Nations in 1996 by a vote of 158 to 3 (the U.S. included). It led to a commitment by the five acknowledged nuclear states (U.S., Russia, China, France, Britain) to "the ultimate goal of a complete elimination of nuclear weapons." The entire future of nuclear arms control is now in doubt.

This unilateralism is by no means limited to military matters. Recently, U.S. Treasury Secretary Paul O'Neill advised the member states of the OECD (the Paris-based club of industrial democracies) that the U.S. Was withdrawing from a long-negotiated plan to crack down on international tax havens. O'Neill declared: "The U.S. does not support efforts to dictate to other states what its tax rates should be" - meaning, of course, that no one should try to dictate anything to the U.S.

As well, word has come out of Washington in recent weeks that the Bush administration wants to cut back on the attempts by the World Bank and the International Monetary Fund to fight international poverty. According to some reports, White House types are seeking the resignation of World Bank president John Wolfensohn because he has been too active in trying to mitigate the effects of the Asian financial meltdown on the people there rather than concerning himself with Western banks.

Back on military matters, a senior Pentagon official has passed out the word that the U.S. opposes the attempt to improve the verification procedures of the 30-year-old treaty banning chemical weapons. The concern, apparently, is that some international inspectors might learn some of the trade secrets of American pharmaceutical companies.

The world's only superpower is now acting as if the rest of the world has no power.

There's some truth in this. But not entirely, as the U.S. will find out in four years time, when it makes its bid for the 2012 Olympic Games. Mind you, niceness didn't help Toronto.

Copyright 1996-2001. Toronto Star Newspapers Limited

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