Monday, April 04, 2005


My GW colleague Henry Nau tries to make sense of G.W. Bush's foreign policy:
Bush is unusual. He is a conservative internationalist. Europeans have heard of liberal internationalists, such as Bill Clinton. And they know about conservative nationalists such as Pat Buchanan or Ross Perot.

But they have probably never heard of conservative internationalists. Indeed they might think, as many liberal Americans do, that the term is an oxymoron.

Well, it's not. Conservative internationalists exist in the American diplomatic tradition, and Europeans - as well as liberal Americans - should recognize this school of diplomacy even if they disagree with it.
Nau goes on to point to an emphasis on freedom over stability; a tendency toward "instinctive and self-protective" unilateralism; a skepticism toward international institutions; and a preference for "selective internationalism" as hallmarks of this conservative internationalist approach.

What does this mean for North Korea?
Bush's approach to North Korea is similar. While delaying meaningful negotiations, the United States repositioned forces in South Korea (to make them less vulnerable to a North Korean attack) and created a new negotiating setup with the six-party talks. That setup gives the allies more leverage. Even if North Korea builds more nuclear weapons, what is Pyongyang going to do with them? As long as the other five parties stick together, the weapons serve only to isolate North Korea. Look how quickly North Korea rethought its decision this past month to flaunt its nuclear weapon capability and withdraw from the talks.
I think that Nau is correct that as long as the other five parties can present a unified front, the DPRK will make little headway in its saber-rattling brinkmanship (assuming that it what North Korea thinks it is doing). The problem is, of course, that the unified front is, to some extent, a hollow facade. But the DPRK has proven to be terribly inept in exploiting differences among the five parties.

I like Nau's definition of Bush as a conservative internationalist. A reluctant Wilsonian, perhaps?

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