February 28, 2003


It would have been much better if the US threat had not been necessary —if the threat had come, say, from France and Russia, Iraq’s chief trading partners, whose unwillingness to confront Saddam and give some muscle to the UN project was an important cause of the collapse of inspections in the 1990s. This is what internationalism requires: that other states, besides the US, take responsibility for the global rule of law and that they be prepared to act, politically and militarily, with that end in view. American internationalists—there are a good number of us though not enough—need to criticize the Bush administration’s unilateralist impulses and its refusal to cooperate with other states on a whole range of issues from global warming to the International Criminal Court.

But multilateralism requires help from outside the US. It would be easier to make our case if it were clear that there were other agents in international society capable of acting independently and, if necessary, forcefully, and ready to answer for what they do, in places like Bosnia, or Rwanda, or Iraq. When we campaign against a second Gulf War, we should also be campaigning for that kind of multilateral responsibility. And this means that we have demands to make not only on Bush and Co. but also on the leaders of France and Germany, Russia and China, who, although they have recently been supporting continued and expanded inspections, have also been ready, at different times in the past, to appease Saddam. If this preventable war is fought, all of them will share responsibility with the US. When the war is over, they should all be held to account.

The trouble with multilateralism is that it requires other nations who are both morally responsible and militarily capable. There’s a shortage of both.