26 May 2004

IISS annual survey

The IISS has released its annual survey. The full document is not available. The director's introduction is disturbing.

To summarise roughly:

  • The Iraq intervention increased the terrorist threat
  • North Korea took advantage of the Iraq intervention to advance its nuclear program
  • The Libya success (achieved by British diplomacy) is a welcome success.
  • The Iraq intervention and the war on terror have 'has sapped the US of much of its diplomatic energies with the result that there has been underinvestment in the Middle East peace process'.

The director ends by saying:

Let me add this thought by way of general conclusion. The British diplomat Harold Nicolson once noted that �although you cannot acquire prestige without power, yet you cannot retain prestige without reputation.� This is why reputation is so central to power. He went on to say that �a prestige which contains a high percentage of reputation is able to withstand a loss of power - whereas even a temporary decline in power will destroy a prestige that is devoid of reputation.�

The US today is finding it difficult to balance the exercise of its power with the retention of its prestige. Achieving that balance is essential to maintaining its capacity both to do good in the world, and create international security. The present US administration is becoming acutely aware of the fact that reputation, prestige and power can easily be squandered through mismanaged interventions and peacekeeping operations. The US is realising the awful truth that the first law of peacekeeping is the same as the first law of forensics: �every contact leaves a trace.� Unfortunately, too many bad traces have been left recently, and many good ones will be needed for the US to recover its reputation, its prestige and therefore effective power.

The grimmest part of this picture is that the US seems unaware of how much reputation it is losing in the Muslim world. Yesterday's speech by George Bush does little to address Muslim concerns and indeed does nothing but repeat details of a plan that was already known without detailing whether the transition is still to be governed by the TAL. In particular there are problems with Article 59, which mandates US command over Iraq's own forces and Articles 48 and 49 which continue CPA appointments, agencies and policies until such time as the Transitional National Assembly is elected and even then any assembly action is subject to an absolute veto by any of the three members of the presidency council. It's notable the both the UN and the Shi'a hierarchy are resisting endorsing the TAL .

The Bush administration has prduced a drastic failure in security and legitimacy in Iraq. It is hard to see how more of the same will change that.

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