March 06, 2005

Some Q&A From Condi's Paris Speech

I'd been remiss in not blogging Condi Rice's February 8th Paris speech at the Institut d'Etudes Politiques de Paris--Sciences Po. Certainly by blog-world standards, it's now old news indeed. But I thought I'd still point out this little noticed exchange from the Q&A after the speech.

QUESTION: Good afternoon, Madame Secretary. My name is Ann Gavaeneau (ph) and I'm a fifth-year student in the Master of Public Affairs. And my question is the following: What is the American position on the form multilateralism should adopt in the future? For instance, do the United States consider it more appropriate to act through regional or ad hoc coalition such as the Caucus of Democracy Madeleine Albright launch in Poland, then to use the United Nations means of actions?

Thank you.

SECRETARY RICE: Thank you very much. We have to use all the means at our disposal. The United States is a founding member of the United Nations. We want the United Nations to be strong and active and effective. And we have taken many issues to the United Nations. For instance, the United Nations was instrumental and incredibly important in providing the resolution that now allows us to bring attention to what is happening in Lebanon in terms of Syria.

The United Nations has been critical in providing the mandate for the coalition forces that are now in Iraq as a part of a multinational force there to support the Iraqi people. The United Nations, and I must say that Mr. Valenzuela and Mrs. Pirelli of the United Nations did a wonderful job in assisting the Iraqis in their election. They were very active in Afghanistan. So on and on and on, the United Nations is both an important decision-making body and an important means for carrying out those decisions.

There are also other important fora. Sometimes we can do things through NATO. Sometimes we can do things through the OSCE. And increasingly, it is a good thing when ad hoc coalitions of countries get together on a regional basis because they have some particular interest. I'll give you three quick examples.

One is, the United States and Russia, China, South Korea, Japan are engaged with North Korea in the six-party talks, because those are the regional neighbors who most want to be sure that there is not a nuclear-armed Korean Peninsula.

That's an example of an ad hoc arrangement for a regional problem. A problem, by the way, that could have very big international implications, but where the neighborhood is trying to manage it.

A second example is that at the very beginning of the tsunami -- when the tsunami hit, the United States, Japan, India and Australia, which had navies in the area, formed a core group so that we could use that naval -- those naval assets to make sure that, at the very beginning, aid was getting to the affected areas of the tsunami.

And a third example is a very large coalition, ad hoc group, called the Proliferation Security Initiative, to which France belongs, which is an effort to interdict dangerous cargos related to weapons of mass destruction, using our international laws, using our national laws.

So we have great respect for and want to use the United Nations and the Security Council. But there are times when other mechanisms are equally important. I think we will need to be judged by how effective we are, not just by the forms that we use. [emphasis added]

Read: Substantive results over form. While perhaps a tad shocking in the land of Descartes and Pascal, I must say I like Condeleeza Rice's pragmatic, results-oriented approach. And while she certainly explains that the U.N. remains important for the U.S., she makes it clear that other mechanisms can be "equally important." She's right, of course. There is nothing sacrosanct and supreme about the United Nations. As she put plainly to a French audience that likely too often deifies the U.N. (mostly because of the perma-UNSC spot in the sun it affords Paris rather than any noble idealism) the tsunami crisis, say, was best responded to, at least in the near term, by a group of countries with standing navies in the region. North Korea points to how regional talks spearheaded by the players with the most direct interests at stake can be helpful (though results there have, um, lagged). And the PSI, of course, is wider ranging in terms of countries participating but not weighed down by General Assembly handwringing or crippling North vs. South debates. So, by all means, use NATO, the OSCE, the U.N. when helpful. But let's not hamstring ourselves at the altar of comme il faut artificial form. After all, it's the results that actually matter at the end of the day.

Posted by Gregory at March 6, 2005 11:42 PM | TrackBack (12)

"I must say I like Condeleeza Rice's pragmatic, results-oriented approach."

Well, I guess she is half-returning to her personal roots as a Brent-Scowcroft-protege realist.

Posted by: Les B at March 7, 2005 12:36 AM | Permalink to this comment Permalink

Nice post Gregory, although think of today's France as more "the land of Rousseau, de Sade, and Derrida" than "the land of Descartes and Pascal".

Posted by: PeterArgus at March 7, 2005 01:10 AM | Permalink to this comment Permalink

I love it when you bust out the francais italicise.

Good post.

More Condi, less Donald.

Posted by: praktike at March 7, 2005 01:47 AM | Permalink to this comment Permalink

Keeping in mind that Condi can only be Condi because Donald is Donald.

Posted by: Barry Meislin at March 7, 2005 08:46 AM | Permalink to this comment Permalink

"the tsunami crisis, say, was best responded to, at least in the near term, by a group of countries with standing navies in the region."

As I record what happened during the Tsunami crisis, the US actually did not get anything going over the first few days, then tried to form a coalition of countries away from the UN-OCHA office, which did a brilliant job together with NGOs, then silently disband the extra-UN coalition and leaving the field to the UN until they got around to the Poppy Bush-Clinton thingy.

The US navy did obviously a great job, but this was not down to some pragmatic streak in US foreign policy of substanse over form.

Actually, trying to run it themselves outside UN seemed more down to ideological than pragmatic reasoning.

Posted by: Kjevis at March 7, 2005 12:55 PM | Permalink to this comment Permalink

I am less optimistic about working around the existing UN than Mr. Djerejian seems to be. As long as the idea persists that the UN offers a potential, maximally multilateral, solution to any international problem, that mirage can be used against pragmatic efforts. The existence of the UN provides the prism through which, for example, the Iraq war can be viewed as "unilateral" rather than an an undertaking of America, a majority of Europe, and a substantial part of Asia.

Ms. Rice's three examples are all consensus issues, in the sense that everyone agrees tsunami victims should be helped, proliferation should be limited, and North Korea should be pacified (though there is little agreement on how). The UN cannot be used effectively against them, as it can against more controversial efforts.

Posted by: sammler at March 7, 2005 04:19 PM | Permalink to this comment Permalink

Help me out here, isn't the Paris meeting the one where Ms. Rice got all the questions in advance? Yeah, Condi always looks good when she has a script and a stylish dress. All flash and no substance. Let's see her chair a Middle East peace summit and then I'll be impressed.

Posted by: J. at March 7, 2005 06:34 PM | Permalink to this comment Permalink

Great post Gregory, and it's important for Condi to both support the UN, and support getting things done in other ways.

I wished she had mentioned the failure of the UN to stop the genocide in Sudan. As a UN critic, I think it is a good stick to use on the UN-lovers -- how many black Muslims in Sudan must be murdered before the UN calls it genocide?

"All flash and no substance" -- seems like a preference for rhetorical brilliance, like Clinton had, while avoiding looking at the admittedly complex results.

Give me Bush and Condi, pre-written speeches and consistent message, strategic actions in line with that message and results. Please, results not fancy words.

Posted by: Tom Grey - Liberty Dad at March 13, 2005 06:32 AM | Permalink to this comment Permalink
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