Dr. Jan Winiecki
Dr. Jan Winiecki is currently a professor of international trade and finance and chair of the Department of Economics, Viadrina, European University, Frankfurt/Oder, Germany.
He has taught at universities in Poland and Denmark and served as economic adviser to the leadership of underground "Solidarity" from 1985-1989 and a member of President Walesa's Political Advisory Council in 1991.
He was president of the Adam Smith Research Center in Warsaw, Poland, from 1990-1995 and was executive director of the European Band for Construction and Development, London, England, from 1991-1993.
Dr. Winiecki has written dozens of articles on Soviet-type economies, comparative economic systems and the transition of Eastern Europe in the last 10 years from central planning to market-based economies.
He has authored 10 scholarly books, the latest being Political Economy of Reform and Change, and has recently edited Institutional Barriers to Poland's Economic Development.
Click on the links below to purchase books by Dr. Jan Winiecki
Post-Soviet-Type Economies in Transition
Political Economy of Reform and Change: a Case of Eastern Europe
The Macroeconomics of Transition: Developments in East Central Europe
Transition Economies and Foreign Trade (Routledge Studies of Societies in Transition)
Institutional Barriers to Poland's Economic Development: The Incomplete Transition (Routledge Studies of Societies in Transition, 2)
A Personal Perspective
by Jan Winiecki
One reads a lot, especially in Europe, about American unilateralism, hegemonism, or imperial policy - all terms implying negative evaluation of American strategy in the early XXI century. I have for years had a different perspective - ideological, political, and moral - of American strategy since WWII. I presented those views at various fora, more frequently after September 11, 2001. I may accept the term "American imperial hegemony" under one proviso, namely that we define the term as a "guarantor of a particular international order." The order, whose beneficiaries were at first largely the countries of the West, threatened by the aggressive Soviet Union, and later those countries of what used to be called the Third World, which decided to liberalize internally and open up to the external world. Since 1990s the list of beneficiaries was extended to ex-communist countries, which rejected a totalitarian political system and centrally administered economy, based on state ownership. The role of a guarantor of a liberal - in the European sense - international order the U.S. played - for better or worse - since WWII. It adapted its strategy to the changing international developments and - let me add that as a warning - changing moods of the American population. Within the foregoing framework (and leaving aside moods for the time being) the much criticized unilateralism should be seen as an attempt to adapt the strategy pursued so far to new international challenges and - let me stress the point - also changing willingness of some beneficiaries of the liberal international order to support the order they have been benefiting from for decades.
The U.S. Power in International Perspective
The much criticized unilateralism is an international fact. We usually read about or even more often nowadays see a variety of "intelligent" weapons the U.S. has in its armory. The military technology gap vis-a-vis others is on the increase. But all these cases of excellence say little of the relative balance of military power in today's world. Thus, the U.S. had in the year 2000, measuring in US dollars, higher military expenditures than the next 18 states. That is, in the decreasing order of military expenditures, more than China, 15 countries of the European Union, India and Russia taken together! And one can only marvel at the efficiency of these expenditures. For American supremacy has been achieved at an unbelievably low cost! In the same year the U.S. spent on the military barely 3.1% of American GDP. For comparison, according to official data, the former Soviet Union spent in 1988 on the military 15.8% of its GDP (unofficial estimates of Russian dissident economists were putting that figure at about one quarter of the then Soviet GDP!!). The underpinnings of the U.S. military prowess are a mix of the high innovativeness, always present in the U.S. economy and tied to the higher degree of freedom than elsewhere, and the capitalist market economy, again freer than elsewhere (with few unimportant exceptions). Also, the size of the U.S. military research and development is much higher than in other countries. Using the same type of a yardstick, America spends on military R&D more than the next 19 countries (the earlier mentioned 18 countries plus Japan) together. Using another yardstick, in the same year 2000, the U.S. spent more on military research than Germany and Great Britain allocated for all military expenditures in that year! In historical perspective, we have not seen such unilateral world since the time of the Roman empire. And yet one should remember that pax Romana, in contrast with pax Americana, had been to a large extent a regional international order (as Chinese and Indian civilizations remained beyond its rule - and even influence). The much more recent XIX century pax Britannica, although global in its reach, was based to a much greater extent on the classical balance of power with respect to land forces, underpinned by the superiority of England as a naval power.
Are All Empires Evil?
The term "empire" has acquired nowadays a negative connotation. But this bad opinion is more often than not unjustified, as reminded recently by Deepak Lal . Over millennia empires meant stability, meant order, and - in consequence - also economic prosperity (by the standards of the age, of course). This was true about the Chinese empire during the strong dynasties, during most of the millennium of the Roman empire, during the British empire, or during the period of the American hegemony after WWII. It is not difficult to understand why. The direct domination over the disparate lands in a large part of the world or even the implicit guarantee of intervention by the imperial power in the case of a threat to an established order signified the same rules of the game and law enforcement. The outcome was the fall in transaction costs, more trade, in consequence higher demand generating higher supply - and greater welfare for the participants. The strongest expansion of trade and prosperity took place around the Mediterranean sea during the domination of Rome from today's Britain to Egypt, and from Gibraltar to the farthest shores of the Black Sea. The fall of the Roman Empire brought in its wake the collapse of law and order in the widest sense of the term, dramatic rise in transaction costs (bearing in mind the risks to life and property of the traders), and resultant collapse of the trade and economic prosperity for many centuries. Periods of weakness of the Chinese empire, whether due to the rising strength of local warlords or due to invasions by barbarians from the North had the same effects. We had, no doubt, also evil, destructive empires in human history, thriving on cruel suppression and requisition rather than creation of wealth. The Assyrian empire of antiquity, Mongol empire of middle ages, and the Soviet Empire in our times belong to the latter category. A hypothetical victory of Soviet communism would have caused in Western Europe the decline similar to that brought about by the fall of the Roman empire.
On Moral Underpinnings of the Present Order
Thus, empires, especially those mentioned above created security and prosperity. Let me add to the foregoing comments on empires that attempts at political racketeering, based on the bad connotations of the term "empire", aimed at extracting from the West various "compensations", have generally very little - if any - moral and historical rationale. For on the question of historical West European empires, it is a well established fact that economic backwardness in the so-called developing countries had been the greater, the less contact they had with the outside world in the past (and in economic terms outside world amounted from XVII century onwards primarily the West). Also the slavery issue, used to extract various forms of benefits from the - unjustifiably - guilt-ridden West is built on very shaky grounds. For the slavery has been the cruel pattern of life since the time immemorial. And the West - and the West alone - got rid of it already at the XIX century, while elsewhere it continued unabated. In actual fact, slavery has existed in some Muslim countries until our days! These are politically incorrect and therefore rarely heard arguments, going against the present fashion (fashion, not morality!), but being unfashionable does not make them less true! It is also worth noting that the American "empire" is an empire without traditional colonies, dominions, etc. May be only American bases remind us about the British coaling stations of the XIX century, established for the dual use of the British merchant fleet and Royal Navy. In any case, Americans asked the countries for the right to establish those bases. Americans intervene, usually in the enlightened self-interest, but also mostly at the request of local states, threatened by external force or externally supported insurgency. The case of Iraq is not different. There is a number of Arab states that feel threatened by aggressive Hussein regime, which seeks success in external confrontations, unable to ensure internal prosperity. But moral underpinnings of American "empire" concern not only international, but even more its internal aspects. In the United States, more than anywhere in the West today (may be the Netherlands excepted), it is imperative for the people to be convinced that Americans are right in doing what they do. From university professors asking me whether they were right in sending aid to Polish communist government to help people under the martial law (they were wrong!) to a car driver, asking whether they are right in fighting terrorism and terrorist states (he was right!), the question of being right is paramount. And I think that as long as the majority of Americans continue to think along these lines, the American empire will be benefiting not only Americans. I this context it is worthwhile to remind you what the late Karl Popper, the most outstanding philosopher of the XX century, stated in the spring of 1991. He made his statement during the liberation of Kuwait from the Iraqi by the U.S. forces; and please remember that the earlier war against Hussein was no less hotly protested by pacifists, naive sentimentalists, and all those who prefer own comfort to elementary decency. Popper gave then the interview for the most popular German weekly, Der Spiegel ("The Mirror") and said: "We should not be afraid to wage war in the pursuit of peace... We should try to actively support pax Americana in order to make it pax civilitatis" (the peace extending to all civilization).
The Functional Approach To American Unilateralism
The next step in my exploration of what American unilateralism is likely to be as a next step in the post-WWII evolution of American strategy is to imagine a possible functioning of such a unilateral international system. And the first step to imagining the future is to look at the recent past. The easiest thing in this respect is to look at the liberal international economic system. Thus, unilateralism will be supporting what, with some zigzags, has been evolving - or reviving - since WWII, that is globalization. For globalization is simply opening up of increasingly interacting economies. This process has been going on through millennia, broken only by the intermittent periods of decline and collapse of international order. America will, then, be playing the role of similar to that of Rome at the time of pax Romana, or Great Britain in the XIX century. In the political/military area we should look at the difference between the first conflict with Iraq and the victory over Al Qaeda and supportive Taleban regime in Afghanistan, stressed by a columnist Charles Krauthammer . In 1991, President George Bush, Sr., decided not to continue the war till the victorious end, because his advisers convinced him that it would result in the withdrawal of some allies from a broad international coalition against Hussein. In other words - Krauthammer points out - the coalition defined the mission. By contrast, after the September 11 attack, President George W.Bush, .., defined the U.S. aims, and action leading to their implementation, and then asked others, convinced about the American rationale, to join the U.S. in the mission. Here - says Krauthammer - the mission defined coalition. It is not unimaginable to imagine the functioning of the unilateral international order in other cases. The already quoted Deepak Lal points to the fact that the campaign of religious hatred incited by some Muslim fanatics is not aiming at the West alone. The tension between Pakistan and India directs the attacks of religious fanatics also against India. Under the circumstances it is not unimaginable to see the emergence of a regionally defined alliance ensuring peace in the area between the exit from the Red Sea and the Straits of Malacca. For the history-conscious present writer it would be a (modified) repetition of the British policy of hiring brave Indian Gurkhas who were the mainstay of the imperial order in many colonies on the shores of the Indian Ocean. A much more complicated is the international situation in the Far East (and the North Koreans militant beggars are a minor and temporary issue there). For in the region the U.S. encounters three great regional powers: two military (Russia and China) and one economic (Japan). Complications stem from the fact that any action by any one of these three regional powers is bound to generate reactions of the other two. Whatever the U.S. does will affect the local balance; but the trilateral rivalry creates also a room for maneuver for America. Finally, we turn to the region this author comes from, that is to Europe. Unilateralism has very serious consequences for the region. This worries enormously Poland and other post-communist countries of East-Central Europe, from Estonia to Hungary, which barely began to enjoy their independence from the Russian aggressive imperialism in its Soviet guise and regarded NATO as the vital barrier to any turbulence coming from the East. European Union is important for their wellbeing, but NATO is crucial for their b e i n g independent entities. With the serious weakening of NATO as a result of French-German behavior, these countries look for supporting security measures. It is within this framework that one should interpret the signing by East-Central European prime ministers (and President Havel) of the letter supporting the U.S., devised by Western NATO allies Spain, Italy, and Britain. The post-communist countries in particular try to strengthen bilateral ties with the U.S. in the face of weakening - not by their fault - multilateral linkages.
Dubious Multinational Rationale: The Slogans and the Reality
Multilateral international cooperation can be considered at many levels. The present writer would like to concentrate on two levels: the universal cooperation as epitomized by the United Nations and the Western alliance level. Neither seems to offer - in my opinion - strong arguments against unilateralism. Let me begin with the clearest case, i.e., the case of the United Nations. Serious policy makers know that the U.N. offer nothing in terms of their contribution to the maintenance of the international order. They can act only if a few, or at best a dozen or more countries agree among themselves to undertake any action going beyond the resolution of the General Assembly. If and when these countries agree among themselves that they intend to undertake an international action, something may happen. The fact that these countries agreed to act under the banner of the United Nations gives the action, as many are inclined to think, a seal of moral approval. I beg to strongly disagree. Who would in particular be giving this "moral approval". Dozens of pocket countries governed more often than not by dictatorial and almost exclusively kleptocratic regimes? Or those countries, whose dictators or presidents have been by Libyan kudos "convinced" that Libya, a country under the very U.N. sanctions for state-sponsored terrorism, should be the chair of the Human Rights Commission? Those, who accept that Iraq, of all countries, should be the next chair of disarmament commission? Or France, receiving with honors one of the nastiest African dictators, Robert Mugabe, out of petty spite against Great Britain? The Security Council has also nothing to offer in terms of moral approval. America does not need the moral approval from the butchers of Tienanmen (whose predecessors were guilty of death of some 30 mill. Chinese, as a result of their crazy economic experiments). Or support of Russia, another paragon of moral behavior of the same sort, internationally and nationally? The U.S. can do without such "moral approval"!! I think that the United Nations in its present shape is an idea whose time had come - and gone. Classical liberals like myself give as an important recipe for both economic wellbeing and moral order, namely the proposal to reduce the role of the state. Once state has little to offer in terms of state owned property, supply contracts, concessions, etc., the level of corruption goes down. In the international arena, once the international organization ceases to offer spurious moral seal of approval, the vote buying in one form or another will decline as well. What is left to consider here is the Atlantic Alliance and its crisis. We need here a sober diagnosis, untainted by historical reminiscences of the successful past, as to why Western Europe, particularly France and Germany, behave the way they do. Burying one's head in the sand and dubious quality moralizing are not a substitute for strategy. The cowardice - it is not only the epitaph used in America - brings about sad historical connotations. Polish writer living in New York, Janusz Glowacki, when interviewed recently, commented that Europe of today is able only to keep the sleeve of its American ally (in an international brawl). There are, in my opinion, three factors determining the sorry state of Europe:
- The first is best explained by a joke I saw decades ago in The New Yorker. A psychoanalyst says to his patient who lies on the couch: "I do not see any inferiority complex. You are simply worse." The first factor, then, is envy.
- The second factor cowardice itself, based on the reasoning that if pretend that I do not see a guy over there being beaten and robbed, and even voice protest against the arrest of a bully, may be I'll survive unscathed in this unruly world. But the history of appeasement, whether earlier of Hitler, or later of Stalin (in Yalta and elsewhere) proves that the strategy is doomed to end in defeat.
- The third argument stems from the social democratic humanitarianism, which promotes the idea that problems of terrorism or despotic dictatorships threatening their own people and their neighbours can be solved through economic aid. Regardless of its popularity, this is an aberration based on ignorance and wishful thinking. For it is not in the name of better living standards that Al Qaeda and the Taleban fanatics were exterminating their opponents. Nor were Basque terrorists, living in the richest province of Spain, killing those who held differing views on the status of Basque country. Nor were Hutu exterminating Tutsi in Rwanda. Etc., etc. Money are desired by all fanatical rebels from Marxists running a narco-empire in Columbia to Muslim rebels in Philippines. But to think that fanaticism - ideological, religious, or other - can be eradicated by foreign aid is a dangerous fantasy.
Regardless of the causes, however, what we face in central Europe is a kind of strategic and moral void, which is viewed with undisguised disquiet by most policy makers and elites, particularly in most strongly affected, potential front-line post-communist countries. For much more than sybaritic, prosperous pensioners from the Western part of central Europe they may be exposed to potential consequences of the fast weakening Western alliance.
Personal View - and a Caveat
To sum up the preceding considerations I personally do not see any reason why the United States should renounce the emerging unilateralist strategy. Nor should I fear its consequences. On the contrary. Thus, the U.S. should not bother themselves with the noise coming from the morally dubious (if not odious) United Nations. Nor should they think much about the products of poisoned pens of European left leaning intellectuals. There is one caveat, however. Americans are sometimes too fickle. They invented instant coffee, instant tee, instant superficial TV commentaries, as well as many other instant solutions. America did not strive to become the dominant world power. It accepted, reluctantly and unwillingly, the leadership of the Western world in the face of communist threat after WWII. Unilateralism, has also been chosen in the face of the visible impotence of its traditional allies. If Europe needed the U.S. in solving the problems of tiny Kosovo, or even much tinier still the "Island of Goats" (as both parties were not ready to accept the European Union mediation!), then, again unilateralism may be said to have been thrust upon the United States, whose leadership simply drew logical conclusion from the state of Europe. Many countries in Europe and elsewhere are ready to ally themselves with the U.S. What they need however is stability in leadership. They would like to be sure that one or another instant opinion poll in the U.S. will not result in a dramatic strategy shift of America that will leave them exposed alone vis-a-vis the enemies of liberal international order. This seems to me the only threat to American unilateralism.
© 2002 Tocqevillian Magazine