Events

Axis of Instability: America, Britain, and the New World Order after Iraq

July 28, 2003 // 9:00am11:00am

Andrew Tyrie, an English Tory Member of Parliament, and self described conservative, provided a critique of what he saw as America's turn toward unilateralism. He expressed serious reservations about the Administration's unilateralist rhetoric, the emphasis on 'preemptive war' and regime change, and the many costs of the Administration's approach to Iraq.

The Case for Preemption: He started by restating the case made by those who had favored a preemptive attack on Iraq. First, Saddam Hussein meant to harm America and the world. Second, the neoconservatives saw toppling Iraq as a stepping stone toward Middle East peace. In their view, a malign influence flowed from Iraq to Syria to the Lebanese based Hezbollah to attacks on Israel that prevented the creation of an enduring Middle East peace. Third, there was always the risk that Hussein might establish contacts with one or more terrorist organizations. Fourth, a reconstructed, prosperous and democratic Iraq would serve as a powerful example for other Middle Eastern countries. Finally, there was a strong humanitarian case for freeing the Iraqi people from a violent, repressive and thoroughly Stalinist regime.

The Case Against Preemption: While acknowledging the strength of the pro-preemption case, Tyrie spelled out his own case against the unilateral strike on Iraq:

§ First, the planning for the war contemplated a military occupation but did not provide for an exit strategy.

§ Second, the liberation of Iraq risked radicalizing the Middle East and the Muslim population of the West.

§ Third, the unilateralist approach had created serious disunity in the Western alliance. He believed that a strong, transatlantic partnership was vital to the successful pursuit of Western as well as American objectives.

§ Fourth, the apparent overstatement of the threat created the risk of a growing distrust of democratic leadership. This lack of faith and a growing suspicion, he noted, may have a corrosive effect on the ability of democratic governments to act in the future.

§ Fifth, the unilateral stance of the United States has led to a growing anti-Americanism .

§ And finally, current estimates put the annual cost of Iraqi occupation at $50 billion per year with no end of occupation in sight.

There was no cause for pessimism among the world's democracies. In his view, freedom was on the march around the world. There is broad agreement on the policies that lead to prosperity and an international acceptance of a benign American hegemony. He believed that the United States and the United Kingdom had very similar values and concerns that benefited from a multilateralist approach and tone.

During the post-World War II era, the United States and the West had been part of a society of states that followed a doctrine of non-interference. Intervention came in the form of a proportionate response to an 'imminent threat'. Non intervention or non-interference did not suggest a passive neutrality in the face of a hostile ideology. Humanitarian intervention was still be possible where an international consensus for it could be found. Tyrie stressed that he did not support a policy freed of moral considerations.

The Bush Administration had replaced the practice of non-interference with a doctrine of preemptive strikes and regime change. He warned that the practice of preemption could set a dangerous precedent that would be misused by other countries. In attacking the border regions of Georgia, Russia may have, at least in part, sought to increase its influence over the flow of oil from the Caspian Sea. But Putin cited the arguments used by President Bush and justified the attack as a preemptive move against Chechen terrorists sheltering in Georgia. China, Israel and other countries could also use the doctrine of preemption to pursue their own, national ends.

Tyrie also feared the reactions of small countries to the doctrine of preemption and the Bush Administration's calls for regime change. He feared that the attack on Iraq coupled with the necessarily much more cautious approach to North Korea would illustrate the power of a nuclear deterrent to other countries. Rather than bringing greater security from weapons of mass destruction (WMD) Tyrie saw the doctrine of preemption as creating an incentive for states to acquire their own nuclear shield.

How would Tyrie apply his general principles and observations to the United States? Tyrie spelled out three possible policy outcomes: a kind of neo-isolationism, the unilateral application of force, and a return to multilateralism.

A Return to Isolationism? With its start as a revolutionary and rejectionist state coupled with geographic isolation, the United States retains a strong isolationism bent. Yet, not surprisingly, Tyrie saw 21st century isolationism as no choice at all. For more than fifty years, the U.S. had achieved relative security by active engagement in the world. A retreat to isolationism would leave the United States with little influence over the course of global affairs. A break with the international economy would be enormously costly. In any case, the combination of modern communications and ease of travel made isolationism virtually impossible.

Continued Unilateral Action? However, Tyrie also sees the unilateral application of force as being both unsustainable and against long-run American interests. Ad-hoc coalitions of the willing will not provide the United States with sufficient support and even the United States is not powerful enough to rely solely on unilateral action. Also, military power means little without the ability to secure post war stability. Tyrie did not think the U.S. public would tolerate the unilateral application of force that is often needed to secure stability. Eventually there would be a strong human rights reaction against any coercive use of American force much as there had been to the actions of past imperial powers.

The Challenge of Terrorism and Weapons of Mass Destruction: How then should the United States secure greater security from the potentially related threats of terrorism and weapons of mass destruction? Tyrie noted that terrorism is not new to Europe and certainly not new to Britain, which suffered from decades of attacks by the Irish Republican Army. Terrorism can have a foreign source but can also be home grown. In the last two years, the United States has suffered from both – the internationally inspired and executed attacks of 9/11 and the anthrax laced letters that, apparently, had a domestic origin.

Terrorists: Tyrie described two types of terrorists – those with a negotiable agenda (territorial freedom, preserving cultural identity and so forth) and those that sought anarchy in the name of a universalist ideology. In Tyrie's view, Al Queda had some elements of both – seeking to remove American or Western influence from the Middle East but also seeking an ideological victory of a particular version of Islam.

Terrorism would not be defeated by military means alone. The United States and the West will need to work with all states that reject non-state terror. They need to find a way to encourage revolutionary states to reject non-state terror as well. He cited the example of the Nixon/Kissinger policy of détente, which effectively 'legitimized' the Soviet Union, a state with explicitly revolutionary objectives, and helped bring it toward more normal state-to-state relations.

Conventional force will have only a limited effect. Terrorists thrive on any overreaction that alienates moderate opinion. The successful courting of moderate opinion, particularly in the Islamic world, will be crucial to fighting terrorism.

Weapons of Mass Destruction: As opposed to nuclear weapons, Tyrie downplayed the military threat posed by chemical or biological weapons had been exaggerated. They are difficult to make, store and deploy.

Nuclear weapons were a different story. The United States needed to help create an environment where many states, now considering modernization, would feel less need for nuclear weapons. Tyrie again pointed to the risks posed by North Korea whose announced determination to create or expand their nuclear arsenal had already triggered discussion in Japan about the possible need to acquire its own nuclear deterrent. He strongly supported the Nunn-Lugar program that provided funds to governments in the former Soviet Union to dismantle and destroy WMD and to find civilian projects for scientists with WMD expertise.

Return to Multilateralism: In the early 19th century, the post-1815 Concert of Europe was based on a homogeneity of values. But that era has long passed. For the future, the United States has to work within the looser international community of nations which now exists. The Bush Administration should respect the doctrine of non-interference and drop its emphasis on preemption and regime change. America should continue to assert the superiority of its values by example and not undermine them with the kind of questionable practices that are reportedly taking place at Guantanamo Bay, Cuba.

Experts & Staff

  • Christian F. Ostermann // Director, History and Public Policy Program; Global Europe; Cold War International History Project; North Korea Documentation Project; Nuclear Proliferation International History Project
  • Kristina N. Terzieva // Program Assistant
  • Emily R. Buss // Program Assistant

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