George W. Bush, International Anarchist

MOSCOW: Russian President Vladimir Putin has been beating his big diplomatic idea with the consistency of a drum. Either the great powers forge new security and arms control agreements with which all can live, he says, or the world will face renewed instability and the specter of a new arms race. A corollary to this is his idea that either NATO transforms itself into a security structure that Russia can embrace, or suspicion will again divide Europe, causing defense spending to remain higher than anyone needs. Putin’s diplomatic ideas don’t sit easily with either his reputation in the West as a KGB apparatchik, and his internal reputation as a hardliner on defense (born of the war in Chechnya). Indeed, coming so soon after NATO planes pounded Yugoslavia, Putin's statements about Russia’s possible membership in NATO were a bombshell within Russia: “How could we possibly join NATO after that?” peaceable, ordinary Russians asked. Most in the West scoff at the suggestion. NATO with Russia as a member? Absurd. But Putin is not joking, nor is he being absurd. Indeed, with patience and persistence he is articulating a coherent vision of what the post Cold War security environment should be, and is doing so in the face of the most revolutionary proposition international diplomacy has faced since Stalin and Mao were ruling. What is that proposition and who is the revolutionary? The who is easy. In proposing to build a defensive system for the US against a rogue missile attack President Bush is not only challenging the ABM Treaty of nearly thirty years ago, not the very foundations of not only arms control alone, but of international security, indeed of diplomacy itself. Bush's argument, in essence, is that treaties and detailed arms control agreements are superfluous in a world in which Russia and America are no longer enemies. Detailed balance of power arrangements, Bush's people insist, are for rivals. Between friends, an informal understanding of what people desire is sufficient. Of course, it is not. The point of security agreements for settled democracies like those in Europe and America, as well as for infant democracies such as Russia and dictatorships like China, is to establish predictability and so reduce guessing and the risk of war. Moreover, treaties are signed not only because they provide the signatories with standards and means of verification, but also because countries outside the agreement benefit from knowing what to expect. Economists call the external benefits that contracts such as treaties provide a “reputation effect.” Its importance lies in the fact that not only signatories to an agreement are bound by it, but others outside the agreement can depend on predictable behavior by the signatories. By making diplomatic bargains explicit in this way, deviations from the agreement are more easily detected and redressed. Everyone is better off because everyone knows what is promised by a treaty. President Bush and his people want to throw these benefits away. Indeed, it is not just arms control treaties that they want to nullify and avoid, but international treaties altogether. The Kyoto protocol on global warming might require sacrifice by America’s energy guzzling consumers? Undermine it. A permanent international court might dare indict an American soldier or official for war crimes? Prevent the UN from establishing such a court. The international nuclear test ban treaty might restrict development of new weapons by the US military? Don’t sign it. The same goes for the international convention on germ warfare. Even an international treaty to control trade in hand guns was treated as beyond the pale for America, as it seemed to insult the American “right to bear arms.” What the Bush administration seeks above all else is unbounded diplomatic freedom. Of course, when it suits American interests, the US will embrace multilateral agreements. In a speech last week the US State Department’s director of policy planning, Richard Haass, even provided a name for this US attitude:;
  1. Sean Gallup/Getty Images

    Angela Merkel’s Endgame?

    The collapse of coalition negotiations has left German Chancellor Angela Merkel facing a stark choice between forming a minority government or calling for a new election. But would a minority government necessarily be as bad as Germans have traditionally thought?

  2. Trump Trade speech Bill Pugliano/Getty Images .

    Preparing for the Trump Trade Wars

    In the first 11 months of his presidency, Donald Trump has failed to back up his words – or tweets – with action on a variety of fronts. But the rest of the world's governments, and particularly those in Asia and Europe, would be mistaken to assume that he won't follow through on his promised "America First" trade agenda.

  3. A GrabBike rider uses his mobile phone Bay Ismoyo/Getty Images

    The Platform Economy

    While developed countries in Europe, North America, and Asia are rapidly aging, emerging economies are predominantly youthful. Nigerian, Indonesian, and Vietnamese young people will shape global work trends at an increasingly rapid pace, bringing to bear their experience in dynamic informal markets on a tech-enabled gig economy.

  4. Trump Mario Tama/Getty Images

    Profiles in Discouragement

    One day, the United States will turn the page on Donald Trump. But, as Americans prepare to observe their Thanksgiving holiday, they should reflect that their country's culture and global standing will never recover fully from the wounds that his presidency is inflicting on them.

  5. Mugabe kisses Grace JEKESAI NJIKIZANA/AFP/Getty Images

    How Women Shape Coups

    In Zimbabwe, as in all coups, much behind-the-scenes plotting continues to take place in the aftermath of the military's overthrow of President Robert Mugabe. But who the eventual winners and losers are may depend, among other things, on the gender of the plotters.

  6. Oil barrels Ahmad Al-Rubaye/Getty Images

    The Abnormality of Oil

    At the 2017 Abu Dhabi Petroleum Exhibition and Conference, the consensus among industry executives was that oil prices will still be around $60 per barrel in November 2018. But there is evidence to suggest that the uptick in global growth and developments in Saudi Arabia will push the price as high as $80 in the meantime.

  7. Israeli soldier Menahem Kahana/Getty Images

    The Saudi Prince’s Dangerous War Games

    Saudi Arabia’s Crown Prince Mohammed bin Salman is working hard to consolidate power and establish his country as the Middle East’s only hegemon. But his efforts – which include an attempt to trigger a war between Israel and Hezbollah in Lebanon – increasingly look like the work of an immature gambler.