5th August 2001
Isolationist fighting a lone battle
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NEW YORK - The London Economist last week had a catchy but pungent headline to describe the unilateralist foreign policy of President George W. Bush: "Stop the World, I want to get off."
As the world's number one economic and military power, the United States is determined to dictate the global agenda — and even walk away from international treaties it has already signed.
Last month, the truncated Yugoslavia was forced to extradite a war criminal, its former President Slobodan Milosevic, in return for millions of dollars in American economic aid symbolising the financial clout wielded by the US.
Although the economy is threatened by a recession, the US currency still remains so strong that it continues to be described in its traditionally venerable terms: "the almighty dollar."
In Sri Lanka, the US dollar may equal only Rs. 91, but in Turkey, a single dollar is fetching an incredible 1.4 million liras.
It is both a testimony to the strength of the dollar and a pitiful Turkish economy which has turned out to be an international basket case.
And so, American tourists visiting Istanbul or Ankara are being transformed into Turkish millionaires 100 times or a 1000 thousand times over — depending on the weight of their wallets.
Economic strength apart, the US is also exercising its political power in the international arena notwithstanding an overwhelming opposition to its policies, even from close allies such as the 15- member European Union.
The US continues to remain silent — or voice only tempered criticism — over the Israeli annihilation of Palestinians at a time when virtually the entire world is condemning the atrocities in the West Bank and Gaza.
Brushing aside the firestorm of criticism, the White House is bent on plodding along with its isolationist policy.
The US, in recent months, has rejected several internationally binding treaties, including a convention against landmines and a treaty establishing an International Criminal Court — both of which were negotiated during the administration of former US President Bill Clinton.
More recently, the Bush administration has abandoned the 1997 Kyoto treaty on climate change and has threatened to abrogate the 1972 Anti-Ballistic Missile Treaty. Last month, Washington also opposed the creation of a new international instrument to monitor the implementation of a 1975 UN convention banning biological weapons.
The proposed protocol, which would help UN arms inspectors verify compliance with the convention, was supported by all of the UN member states, including the EU.
But the US stood alone in opposing the proposal thereby depriving consensus and killing the protocol in the process.
The New York Times said last month that the Bush administration is even seeking legal advise to withdraw its signature from the Rome
Statute of the International Criminal Court (ICC) — even though no country has ever withdrawn its signature from any treaty in the 56- year history of the United Nations.
The outgoing Clinton administration signed the treaty on December 31, the last day for signatures although its ratification by the US Congress was still very much in doubt.
According to the Times, the opposition Democratic Party in Congress holds the view that President Bush, by rejecting important treaties, is leading Americans "into a new isolationism that will weaken their ability to pursue a broad range of global interests."
Richard Gephardt, the minority leader in the House of Representatives, says pointedly: "One nation, acting alone, cannot possibly build a lasting strategic framework to which all other nations submit."
Last week Secretary-General Kofi Annan argued that only a legally-binding UN convention can curb the spread of small arms — estimated at over 550 million — currently in circulation worldwide.
At the conclusion of a two week long Conference on Small Arms last month, the UN's 189 member states adopted a programme of action to prevent, combat and eradicate the illict trade in small arms and light weapons.
But due to strong US opposition, the conference failed to even discuss the need for a legally binding treaty.
Addressing a news conference, John Bolton, US Under- Secretary of State for Arms Control and International Security Affairs, said that one of the aspects of the draft programme of action was the commitment to engage in negotiations leading to "binding agreements."
In the UN's decision-making process, a phrase in a resolution that nobody reads gets turned into a political declaration and suddenly becomes a binding international agreement.
"You can see that from little acorns bad treaties grow," he told reporters, re-asserting US opposition to any legally binding treaties.
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