CIAO DATE: 02/01

International Spectator

The International Spectator

Volume XXXV No. 3 (July - September 2000)


Editor’s Note

The core of this issue of The International Spectator features two articles written by American scholars on the changing relations between Europe and the United States and the related need for a rethinking of the transatlantic agenda in view of its adjustment to the new realities of world politics.  John Ikenberry moves from an analysis of the factors that have complicated the partnership between the two sides of the Atlantic since the end of the Cold War. He points out that not only has the melting of the glue provided by the Soviet threat made the economic disputes between Washington and Brussels remarkably less manageable, but that rising US unilateralism, as reflected, for example, in the US failure to ratify several multilateral agreements, has alarmed European allies to the point that political relations have also come under considerable strain.  In order to preserve the Atlantic link, the first step, Ikenberry argues, should be for both sides to recognise that the political order they built is not merely a product of the Cold War, as its foundations were in fact laid before the East-West confrontation started with the goal of meeting key requirements for the stability of the international system that have lost none of their importance. What the traditional realists tend to overlook, according to Ikenberry, is that the institutionalisation of American power that has characterised transatlantic relations in the past decades, that is, its limitation through a set of common institutional practices, is exactly what has ensured its exceptional acceptability and durability. He therefore concludes that it is in the interest of both Europe and the US to reaffirm their postwar bargain, although it is also essential, in order to achieve a newly effective Atlantic pact, that they work more actively for the settlement of their disputes and the establishment of new institutions that can ensure efficacious joint leadership. In the other article of the core, David Calleo addresses the dilemmas that the post-Cold War international setting is posing to the transatlantic partnership from the angle of the evolution of the American political system. He observes that the continuous decline in US presidential power in the last four decades has reduced America’s ability to exert an effective global hegemony. With a presidency void of its erstwhile “imperial” character, US foreign policy has become much more exposed to congressional unilateralism and the pressures of various lobbies. Calleo offers an “internationalist” explanation for this trend, arguing that it is the result of the unbalanced power structure of the international system. His overall conclusion is that a stronger and more cohesive Europe, provided that it continues to follow a friendly transatlantic policy, can in turn prompt more disciplined and consistent foreign policy-making in the US.

The section on Italy’s foreign policy also contains two articles. The first, written by Roberto Aliboni and Daniela Pioppi, reviews the Öcalan affair triggered in November 1998 by the arrival in Italy of the leader of the Kurdistan Workers Party (PKK). Taking management of this case as an example of the working of Italy’s foreign policy, the authors show the many difficulties that the then D’Alema government encountered when it tried – rather ingenuously – to candidate itself as a promoter of a process of reconciliation between the Kurdish rebels and the Ankara government, in the absence of concrete solidarity on the part of the other EU states and in the face of the open hostility of both the Turkish and the US administrations. As had already happened on other occasions, Italy made the mistake of overestimating European political cooperation as well as its own room for action. But the general lesson to be drawn is that minority issues, often very intricate and difficult to manage on both the political and legal plane, require a cautious and realistic approach that takes into due account the international environment in which they manifest themselves. Indeed, as shown by Aliboni and Pioppi, the Öcalan case paradoxically turned out to be one of the major factors in convincing EU countries that they could not put off rapprochement with Turkey any longer, and that they should, at the same time, intensify their efforts to support the rights of the Kurdish people: a difficult but inescapable balancing act. The second article by Marco Pedrazzi examines Italy’s attitude towards the reform of the UN Security Council, focusing on the most recent initiatives taken by the government to prevent a change in the composition of the body that could prove detrimental to Italian interests. No doubt, Italian diplomacy has been quite effective in blocking the mere granting of the status of permanent members to a restricted group of countries – such as Japan and Germany – and in promoting the idea that the reform of the Council should have the democratisation of UN decision-making among its fundamental goals. So far, however, it has played a more obstructive than constructive role and its most recent proposal aimed at a limited increase in the number of permanent members – continues to ignore the crucial problem of raising the international responsibilities of those countries whose power has grown enormously since the end of the Second World War. Hence, as emphasised by Pedrazzi, this important chapter of Italy’s foreign policy is likely to remain open and to continue to represent a major testing ground of the country’s ability to reconcile its national interests with the promotion of reform of international institutions.

The merits and deficiencies of Italy’s foreign policy are also discussed by Patrick McCarthy in his review of the newly published yearbook, L’Italia e la politica internazionale, a joint endeavour of the two major Italian foreign policy institutes, the IAI in Rome and ISPI in Milan. The reviewer moves from the account that the book provides of Italy’s foreign action in 1999 – notably the initiatives it undertook during the Öcalan case, the Kosovo war and on various occasions in the EU context – to underline that the country’s key problem lies in its uncompleted process of internal reform which is reflected in some foreign policy weaknesses as well as the persistent tendency of the political class to give priority to domestic politics even when crucial national interests are at stake.

The Opinions section opens with an article by Ivan Krastev that offers a critical assessment of the state of debate on the future of Southeastern Europe over a year after the end of the Kosovo war. According to Krastev, the obsessive attention with which international observers follow the events on the ground disguises a discouraging lack of policy vision on how to address the fundamental problems of stability and security in the region. One positive development is that, following the experience of the Kosovo war, a key actor like the EU has assigned the Balkans top priority on its foreign policy agenda. But he emphasises that the international programmes for both democratisation and integration of the region’s states continue to be fundamentally flawed as they fail to attribute the necessary centrality to the problem of state-building and establishment of rule of law. Instead of concentrating on this problem, international actors have nurtured false hopes that, for example, the electoral processes per se can bring stability or that, in the case of some countries, there can be a relatively rapid passage from the current status of international protectorate or semi-protectorate to integration in the EU, which would imply by-passing the essential phase of building solid state institutions. Krastev suggests that in order to close the current security gap – the existence of which makes it extremely difficult, among other things, to carry out successful economic reform programmes in most countries in the region – foreign cooperation and assistance efforts should aim, first and foremost, at strengthening the state instruments that can ensure the enforcement of order based on the rule of law. In the second article of the section, Alberto Negri examines the structural factors that work against the reform course in Iran and make it unlikely that it can be pursued smoothly and without provoking major political upheavals, despite the widespread consensus it enjoys in the country displayed in practically all the last elections. He points out that the conservatives continue to control not only the decision-making system but also the economy and the society through such formidable power instruments as the Islamic foundations and that, in fact, for all the reformist fervour of President Khatami, the basic relationship between the state and the economy has remained substantially unchanged since the Shah’s time. In this situation, according to Negri, the reformists’ search for a new source of political legitimacy based on democratically established presidential and parliamentary power may prove destabilising and give rise to a serious crisis of the Iranian state of highly uncertain outcome.

“Enhanced cooperation” has become an increasingly popular catchword in the debate over the institutional reforms of the European Union which is gaining momentum as next December’s Nice summit – to be held at the end of the ongoing Intergovernmental Conference – approaches. The supporters of enhanced cooperation argue that the EU countries that are both willing and able to engage in further integration steps in any particular field should not be held back from doing so by others which do not want or are not in a position to join them. The underlying assumption is that the more integrated groups of countries can exert a pull of attraction on the others, prompting them to participate eventually in the new forms of integration. One obvious sphere of application of enhanced cooperation is European security and defence policy, given the marked differences between the EU member states’ willingness and ability to cooperate in this field. The TEPSA Europe Forum features an article by Michele Nones that examines the various mechanisms and bodies that have recently been created by select groups of European countries to promote cooperation and sinergy between national defence industries and armaments programmes. After describing the shortcomings and potential for development of those arrangements, Nones suggests a set of measures for their strengthening and for ensuring that they be progressively integrated within the EU institutional context in view of preventing the consolidation of separate groupings outside of it.

Finally, the article by Alexander Kelle provides an overview of the serious difficulties that hamper the arms control and disarmament process in the nuclear, chemical and biological fields. The state of affairs in practically all sectors is discouraging: the Conference on Disarmament continues to be deadlocked over its working agenda, which prevents, among other things, the start of any negotiation on fissile material cut-off; the Chemical Weapons Convention is being implemented in a slow and uneven way with the risk of gradual erosion of its control regime; no agreement has been reached on the criteria and procedures for the verification of compliance with the Biological Weapons Convention. In addition, the rising tensions on nuclear policy between the US, on the one hand, and Russia and China, on the other, cast a long shadow on the future of arms control. Particularly worrying are, according to Kelle, US plans for a national missile defence system, which could, if developed, act as a further disincentive for many countries to engage in new arms control measures. For this reason, Kelle insists on the need for the US to renounce its plans and work with its allies and other military powers toward a new common arms control agenda.