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Interview: Robert Kagan and Joseph Nye Weigh the Option of a Military Campaign Against Iraq

Weekend Edition Saturday: September 21, 2002

Acting Alone on Iraq


President Bush turned up the pressure on Iraq this week. Yesterday, he sought Russian support for a tough, new resolution against Iraq in the United Nations Security Council. That resolution would require Iraq to comply with all past UN demands and give the United States and Britain authority to take military action if it didn't. The president is also asking the US Congress to authorize military force against Iraq. He says if the UN does not hold Saddam Hussein to account, then America and its allies will. Iraq denies having nuclear, biological or chemical weapons. Last week, it announced that UN inspectors could have access to suspected weapons sites. The Bush administration says this is a ploy, not a concession. Joining us now are Robert Kagan, senior associate at the Carnegie Endowment for International Peace, who's with us from Brussels.

Mr. Kagan, thank you very much for being with us.

Mr. ROBERT KAGAN (Senior Associate, Carnegie Endowment for International Peace): My pleasure.

SIMON: And Joseph Nye, dean of the Kennedy School of Government at Harvard, who joins us from Cambridge.

Mr. Nye, thank you for being with us.

Mr. JOSEPH NYE (Dean, Kennedy School of Government at Harvard): I'm glad to be with you.

SIMON: And let me ask you each in turn, Mr. Kagan first--Saddam Hussein says he's going to give international inspectors unfettered access. Is this what the Bush administration wanted or is it their worst nightmare?

Mr. KAGAN: Well, first of all, it's not clear whether he's going to give them unfettered access or not. He's made these promises before. And I think the Bush administration is rightly concerned about it. I seriously doubt that they're going to be satisfied with what may even be produced by a successful inspections regime since Saddam, once the inspectors leave, can always begin his programs again. So I think in their heart of hearts, the Bush administration would like to see Saddam Hussein out of power.

SIMON: Mr. Nye.

Mr. NYE: I tend to agree with Bob on that. I think President Bush, though, still has a lot to gain by going through with this inspections routine. What he gains is essentially broadening the coalition of people who will support him if he has to use force.

SIMON: Yeah. Mr. Nye and then Mr. Kagan, if I could put it in the bluntest terms, is an international coalition all that important for a military exercise in which, it is assumed, the United States, maybe with the participation of Britain, would have the military power to do what they want to do to change that regime?

Mr. NYE: Well, I think it's important to get the support of a certain minimum number of countries. You need Qatar and Kuwait and Turkey, obviously, but I think it's important to get more than that. As you get more, you not only get more access to bases, overflight rights and military capacity, but in addition to that, you add political legitimacy which means you reduce the political cost that you pay in the terms of opinion in other countries where you're going to need help or cooperation, let's say, in the aftermath of the campaign or in the ongoing war on terrorism against al-Qaeda.

SIMON: Now, Mr. Kagan, let me renew that question with you. What does a multilateral international coalition really mean in a crunch?

Mr. KAGAN: Well, I mean, an international coalition that goes beyond those who you need immediately, as Joe says, to be able to pull off the operation is very desirable, but it's obviously not essential. You know, the paradox here--and it's a paradox that's working in Bush's favor--is that precisely because the United States can largely go it alone, a rather, to some people anyway, surprising number of allies seems to go along as well. I mean, we're in this funny situation where the threat of unilateralism is winning a certain degree of multilateral support.

SIMON: Do the United States on one hand and the United Nations on the other--and let's put a third hand in here and say the European Union--all mean different things when they talk about multilateral?

Mr. KAGAN: Well, I think they do. And I think for European and certainly for most members of the UN Security Council outside of the United States, and certainly for Kofi Annan, multilateralism is an end in itself, not a means to an end. They believe they're trying to create an international order where no action's legitimate outside the UN Security Council. I think Americans have a very different view of multilateralism. I think they think it's desirable. They see it as a means to an end, however, and I think even people who call themselves multilateralists in the United States tend to be more American style of multilateralist than European style.

SIMON: Mr. Nye.

Mr. NYE: Yeah. I think that's correct. There are different views, but the equally important point is that it's whether you include the interests of other countries. It's not just whether you act with a lot of them, which means consulting with them, thinking of how it looks from their perspective. So there's a larger question of to what extent our unilateralism is narrow and self-interested or to what extent it serves the interests of others as well.

SIMON: Is there any difference in attitude that's derived from the fact that at least in confronting Iraq to many observers the threat that that regime could pose one day, might even now, is not multilateral in the sense that you can argue the al-Qaeda terror network obviously could pull off factions in Strasbourg, France, or in Hamburg, Germany, in addition to the US and Britain, but Saddam Hussein is likeliest to act against Israel, the United States or Britain?

Mr. NYE: Oh, I think that Saddam Hussein is able to do damage to other countries besides those three, but I think there's another dimension of multilateralism here which affects others which is Saddam Hussein is in violation of important multilateral agreements that he is assigned. For example, the Non-Proliferation Treaty, he's violated it. I think one of the clever things that President Bush did a week ago in his UN speech is put the burden of unilateralism essentially on Saddam Hussein, showing that he had violated multilateral resolutions and that the Europeans and others who were interested in multilateralism had an interest, therefore, in actually doing something about enforcing these resolutions.

SIMON: Has he made Iraq a test of the relevance and vitality of the UN, Mr. Kagan?

Mr. KAGAN: Well, it'll be interesting to see what lesson we all draw from the recent events but also events that may transpire over the next few months. It could be that people will derive the lesson that really it's not the UN Security Council that is the key force; it's really what the United States decides to do. And I think to some extent, you know, we're in an early phase of working out the relationships between institutions like the UN Security Council and alliances and other international bodies in a situation where, you know, you have this very, very dominant power, the United States. We are in a novel situation in world history where one nation has such overwhelming power and the capacity to act unilaterally in a situation like this. And I think, you know, it's going to take some time for people to get used to how it's all going to operate.

Mr. NYE: I think that's right, but I also think that there are two dimensions of power: your hard power, which is your military and economic capacity, and your soft power, your ability to attract others. In the extent to which we exercise our hard power in conjunction with multilateral institutions, we enhance our soft power. It's not one that's the substitute for the other; it's that you're better off if you have both. It's better to walk on two legs than to hop on one.

SIMON: Gentlemen, thank you both very much.

Mr. KAGAN: Thank you.

Mr. NYE: Thank you.

SIMON: Speaking with us from Brussels, Robert Kagan, senior associate at the Carnegie Endowment for International Peace, and in Boston, Joseph Nye, dean of the Kennedy School of Government at Harvard.

And the time is now 18 minutes past the hour.

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