Spain and the reconfiguration of the world order
(Published in Perspectivas Exteriores 2003, December 2003)
Prior to the terrible attacks of September 11, 2001 there were many reasons to think than not only had the Cold War order been definitely banished, but also that the unstable post-Cold War years were ending. Some analysts observed, even, at the end of the 90s, with a world devoted to suffusing civil and ethnic revolts, with a United States relatively committed to crises insurmountable without them, such as Kosovo, with a post-modern, global and promising economy for a great part of the world population, the birth of a new world order, a post-post-Cold War order, for lack of a better term.
This emerging system foresaw America clearly as a hyperpower, according to the epithet conceived at the time by Hubert Védrine, the former French minister of Foreign Affairs, but in which together with a dominating United States emerged new power poles, in particular in Europe. What is more, little thought was given then to a possible breakdown of efficiency and/or trust in most international institutions born after the World War II, but still in force. The international order was considered guaranteed by the American military power and politically by the consensus existing between partners and allies, unequal in significance and responsibility but equal before the notions of sovereignty, independence, non interference and, ultimately, one state one vote in the United Nations. What the American analyst Robert Kagan referred to already in 1998 as honorary multipolarity.
September 2001 was to represent the end of this idyllic dream of a world of equals, especially in the western hemisphere, traditionally defined, and would dramatically highlight the differences between Americans and Europeans, between Mars and Venus or between power and weakness, to use Robert Kagans most current metaphors. The United States emerged from the shock of Al Qaedas terrorist attacks with a political, moral and military imperative: to prevent something like that from ever happening again. September 11 was to radically transform North America, in a way that it would abandon to a great extent the pragmatic realism that had inspired its foreign policy for years and embrace more intense foreign actions and a long-term, politically ambitious commitment to fight against international terrorism.
George W. Bush did not arrive at the White House with an evangelizing agenda nor with the idea of sending his troops half a world away to fight in two wars, Afghanistan and Iraq. In the 2000 campaign a less turbulent world was envisioned in which, as westerners did throughout the 90s, it would be possible to choose which humanitarian intervention to carry out or not. As Condoleeza Rice wrote at that time, protecting the vital interests of the United States came first, above humanitarian interference and a wide support of peace for others. Nothing new for the realist school of thought. But the September attacks, both those on the 11th as well as the letters with anthrax on the following days, were to transform the American Presidents mind-set and that of the political universe in Washington. Bin Laden and his terrorist networks would force the United States to accept they were highly vulnerable to this type of attacks and that the only way of feeling safe from them could be achieved with global and preventive actions.
Fortunately for President Bush and his American citizens, in 2001 the armed forces in the United States had been experimenting with the so-called revolution of military affairs, technological innovations in the field of sensors, computers and command and control and systems, precision weapons and communications, so that their troops were not only able to eliminate the famous fog of war, that inherent confusion of combat so well described in the past by Clausewitz, but also to consider undertaking integrated military operations in a digital and reticular battle field, thousands of miles away from their home bases.
A new global threat, Islamic terrorism, and the determined fight against it by part of North America would become the most evident and distinguishing features of the reconfiguration of the world order at the turn of the 21st century. Although nearly all share the objective of ending terrorism, some are not as convinced by the options advocated by the United States in the war against Al Qaeda. As we have seen throughout the Iraq crisis, from Autumn 2002 to the present, Washingtons hegemonic role has not been accepted equally by its partners and allies and the new situation has led to a significant division even in such apparently solid areas such as the European Union and the Atlantic Alliance. Iraq has been, in this regard, a clarifying exercise of how rulers and the countries view the international system and its future. And their potential role within it.
Spain enters this debate with elements both significant and novel. On the one hand, in 2001 it had undergone a profound internationalization of its economy, becoming a net capital exporter, in particular through investments in the Latin American continent. With the gradual liberalization of its economy, Spain not only situates itself as an open country, but also becomes fully a part of globalization. On the other hand, its assumption of increasing responsibility in the international arena has also been accompanied at this time by the acceptance of various duties, in particular in the military field. The Spanish armed forces have become in the second half of the 90s a real instrument of the states foreign actions and have been present and active in various peace-keeping missions, particularly in Bosnia, but also in Kosovo and Macedonia.
Now then, this novel role as a medium power but present in certain aspects and with considerable intensity in specific areas of the world, is highly positive but also conveys certain risks. For example, the economic crisis in Argentina, and the well-known lack of legal guarantees for foreign investment, would make evident, at a high financial cost, how progressive internationalization makes us more interdependent and also more vulnerable in the face of events affecting others.
September 11 would also affect awareness that we live in a relatively small and interconnected world for better or worse. After a decade of dreaming about a privileged world, in which Europe lived in a type of bubble and conflicts belonged to uncivilized and archaic societies, the destruction of the Twin Towers would shatter that idyllic vision. September 11 would mark the return to politics -after a decade of seeing in globalization only its economic development aspect- and security issues -after the 90s, when the word threat had been deleted from the regular vocabulary-.
Even so, possibly the great social awakening was not determined by Bin Ladens attacks, but rather by the unpleasant and sudden realization that Moroccan troops had occupied the Isle of Perejil, in July 2002. After years of believing a military aggression against Spain was impossible, no matter how limited it may have been in this case, the nightmare came true: we either resorted to the use of force, inasmuch as negotiations reached no outcome, or we would lose international dignity and credibility. As we know, the rock was regained successfully thanks to the good work of our troops.
But Perejil would represent something even more than seeing a Moroccan aggression against national territory become a reality. It would highlight the lack of solidarity of some of our traditional allies, in particular France, who would initially veto the EUs condemnation of the Moroccan forces occupation and would determine the role the United States could play in the area in our favor. From Perejil and not Iraq arise some of the most significant misunderstandings between the Spaniards and their European partners.
And this is the climate or context with which our country arrived at the historic point when the international system clearly began to mutate, as mentioned above, due to the terrorist threat and the new American attitude, more proactive and committed. In this regard, the options available to Spain for its positioning before the emerging international order are limited by its own reconfiguration taking place at the same time. Next are described and addressed some of the key elements of this new international order.
1.- The war against terrorism has only just begun
Contemporary international terrorism, such as we have seen by Al Qaeda, has certain features from which we can presume their patience to achieve their objectives and their endurance in a hostile environment. This is essentially a phenomenon of religious fanatics, whose individual sacrifice is not considered negative, but rather their final immolation guarantees a better life beyond. What is more, the battle put on by Bin Laden does not allow contemplating a truce nor a surrender, since his struggle is conceived as a total and global confrontation, aimed at spreading his version of Islam and subduing westerners, starting with the Americans, who represent paganism and degradation. For Bin Laden there is no understanding or agreement possible. It is a question of killing off as many enemies as possible. Precisely with this objective in mind, Al Qaeda has resorted to organization structures that not only aid its globalization, but also endow it with a significant adaptation and survival capability. Few cells drag to prison more than half a dozen terrorists and the partitioning of information prevents to a great extent having the assurance and confidence that the arrests will avoid the undertaking of another attack.
Figures speak for themselves: it has been possible to capture most of Al Qaedas leaders, as well as over three thousand militants or supporters of the organization, but this has not been enough to prevent attacks such as those in Bali, Riyadh or Casablanca. Alerts from the western intelligence services have become a regular event, especially if one lives in the United States.
To this must be added the fact that inasmuch as proliferation of knowledge and technology associated to systems of mass destruction seems an unstoppable phenomenon, the possibility of an ever smaller number of people achieving a catastrophic level of destruction greatly plays down the traditional measurement of police success against terrorist commandos. Success no longer depends on the number of terrorists arrested but rather on the plans dismantled and frustrated, on ensuring new attacks do not take place and that these, if unavoidable, at least do not reach catastrophic levels of violence and destruction.
Before an apocalyptic scenario no ruler can remain undaunted. And even less so American leaders who have already suffered directly attacks of a dimension never seen before. Thus, the war or fight against terrorism, in all its areas, from financial to political, from military to intelligence, is something that will be with us for a long time, unfortunately. And this will generate certain attitudes and a political and social climate in which one or a country is either for or against terrorism and there will be no room for ambiguity or nuances.
2.- The fight against terrorism demands a new security policy
Up to now the terrorist phenomenon was considered essentially under its police and legal aspects. It was a crime and was treated as such. The need to prevent at all costs, an attack with weapons of mass destruction, either bacteriological, radiological or nuclear, calls for a revision or adaptation of traditional security policies.
To begin with, it requires a new operating understanding among the intelligence services, the states security forces and the armed forces. All these institutions play a crucial role to preserve security, but must overcome their disagreements built over time and make a joint effort against terrorism nationwide. In the international arena, adequate mechanisms and procedures must be established for information to flow where needed. What is more, collective defense organizations, such as NATO, have already begun developing their possible contribution to this global fight.
But beyond these institutional adaptations, the need to prevent an attack of apocalyptic proportions conveys the need to thwart it before it is materialized and that is why, it is necessary to change the reactive approach before delinquents or criminals and assume the need to carry out advance or preventive actions as necessary. What leader would do nothing if advised of the existence of a commando in a certain location that was known was preparing itself with biological weapons? Who would do nothing upon learning of the existence of a secret laboratory for manufacturing mass destruction systems serving terrorism?
It is obvious that a national security policy based on anticipation and prevention represents a hard blow to much of what has been built so far under the blanket of international law. But it is only common sense that it is of no use calling upon international law if there is no one left alive to interpret it. The question then would be to try to define or delimit the conditions that would amply justify preventive actions, but always bearing in mind that in a smooth situation it is practically impossible to specify all the possible scenarios. Too much coding leads to paralysis.
In any case, it seems likely that in the near future, the debate on the appropriate authority to allow or legitimize these possible actions is not going to be resolved, given the disparity of existing views and the fact that nobody, in practice, will renounce the option, possibly the only one, of self-defense against a catastrophic attack.
3.- International institutions will most likely see their operating crisis worsen
It is evident that two well-established organizations, such as the United Nations and NATO, have not known how to elegantly resolve their internal operating issues when it was most needed. Neither one is going to close down, even if only because there is no better alternative, but this does not mean their dignity will be renewed nor that they will occupy a key position in the new international and strategic environment. Albeit for different reasons.
To begin with, the United Nations has been a terrible battleground where an attempt has been made to define the role of the United States in the world. France and Germany have used -or abused- the mechanisms and procedures of the Security Council to advance their anti-American positions, without any respect for past agreements of the Council itself with regards to the Iraq of Saddam Hussein. Iraq has served as an excuse and alibi for their policy on behalf of a presumed multipolarity and to try to halt American hegemony.
In any case, what has become obvious is that with their operating rules straight out of World War II and the relations of power at that time, the Security Council tends to block up very easily, taking the Organization back practically to the times of the Soviet nyet. The problem in future is that even with the option of an in-depth reform of the decision-making system in the United Nations, it is and it would be impossible for countries to give up their current authority, serving national interests, for the sake of improved internal operations. Would France and the United Kingdom be willing to lose their voice and right of veto in the Security Council to hand it over to a hypothetical seat in the EU? Would it interest the United States? Is it viable to have an extension pleasing all which would incorporate, for example, Brazil but not Mexico, or vice versa? It is so highly complex that a reform of the Security Council does not seem viable. And lacking this required reform, trust in decision-making, as presently established, will continue to be questioned.
In its turn, NATO suffers two basic problems that are difficult, if not impossible, to solve. On the one hand is the logical loss of confidence among its members that NATO will automatically come to their defense if necessary. And this is not due to the fact that after having activated its article 5 for the first time, the collective defense clause, the Alliance was relatively ostracized, it is rather due to the sad and unfortunate episode occurring related to Turkeys request for the start of defensive planning for its territory in the event of an attack by Iraq. As we know, the French interpretation that this would mean legitimizing de facto the American intervention in Iraq blocked, with the support of Germany and Belgium, the adoption of a decision for a week, finally forcing a lack of decision in the relevant body, the Atlantic Council, and lowering the decision level to the Defense Planning Committee, where France is not present. The alleged solidarity of the Alliance members has been greatly questioned and, to date, it does not seem advisable that any member should make its defense options rely exclusively on the good will of its allies.
In any case, NATOs greatest problem is still that of its limited capacity. It is not that the United States have taken on an innovation rate impossible to reach, but rather that among the Europeans the gap is also widening and most maintain an inefficient cost structure for the demands of modern conflicts. Without a revolution in defense and military approaches of the European NATO members, the capabilities the allies can contribute in collective actions will continue being few and inefficient in many cases. We must bear in mind, for example, that the United Kingdoms effort in Iraq, extraordinary otherwise given its structure and level of forces, is most certainly the maximum this country can achieve with its current expense levels and the size of its army. And that considering that London is the one in Europe providing the most resources and taking its defense most seriously.
The combination of distrust and instability of the collective response means will make it more and more difficult to sustain combined operations with the Americans and this will lead to a greater ostracism of NATO in the military and defense planning of the United States, the only ones who have known for decades how to exercise the essential leadership of the Alliance for it to work.
4.- Europe will revolve around resentment and revenge
Europe could have been a single project, but now it is many. Donald Rumsfelds caricature of the old and new Europe has a certain ring of truth, but it tends to cover a basic fact: Iraq is not the source of divergence among Europeans, the Iraq crisis has merely given rise more sharply to these disagreements. If anything, it has accelerated and deepened them.
The essential problem in Europe lies in the progressive loss of influence and power of France and Germany, experienced with great anxiety and less acceptance by the French. During the 90s, Germany concentrated on assimilating its integration and France had neither the vision nor the resources nor the leadership to place itself alone at the head of the emerging EU. In matters such as defense the evolution of France itself is most revealing: forgetting its traditional spiel about the French-German axis being indispensable for consolidating the process of the construction of Europe. Paris will find only in London the partner it needs to give birth to the ESDP. Only after the Franco-British pact of Saint-Malo, at the end of 1998, could a policy such as the ESDP have any hope of becoming a reality.
At the same time, the economic success and achievement of the Aznar Government in Spain during the second half of the 90s led our country to begin acquiring credibility and, above all, a self-confidence that logically tends to diminish the protectorship Paris had exercised upon us. France found itself without its traditional partner, Germany, hand in hand with a London it never trusted enough, and with a growing number of second tier countries, such as Italy and now Spain, capable of contesting and complicating its traditional leadership.
This was the context of the crisis in Iraq, a crisis that France would take advantage of to rapidly reestablish its special relation with Germany, to which it binds to its anti-American position granting it for the first time in history a remarkable decision advantage amidst the future extended EU. Chirac, supported by the relaunch of the Franco-German axis, can afford to set himself up once more as the voice of Europe and serve as persecutor of heretics, in this case Spain and the other signatories of the letter of the 8, a document with which they attempted to distance themselves from the French Presidents words at the anniversary of the Elysée Treaty for their anti-Americanism.
Everything the French and the Germans have done since then can only be explained by their policy of resentment, built up over the years and the desire to find a historical vengeance that takes them back to a paradise lost, their dominating position in Europe. Thus, for example, they call on Belgium and Luxembourg for a European defense at the end of April, establishing the foundation for the creation of headquarters and planning structures, strangely enough, not just outside the Atlantic Alliance, but also outside the structures of the EU. Only the weakness of this supposedly hard core, very unbalanced with regards to its defense efforts, will make France reconsider the need to incorporate the United Kingdom, taking advantage at the same time of Tony Blairs weakness at home with regards to the euro.
Simultaneously, France and Germany continue presenting obstacles in the UN in the next calls by the United States to the international community for the stabilization and reconstruction of Iraq. They systematically refuse to adopt any resolution that does not imply transferring responsibility to the UN and a rapid yielding of power to an Iraqi government, ignoring all recommendations that such a move would sink Iraq even more into a lack of control. But their opposition is a prerequisite to act as powers once more and make America and the European scabs, including Spain, pay for their presumed arrogance.
This fixation with our country has been evident in the negotiating inflexibility with which Chirac has addressed the constitutional Treaty project and the Intergovernmental Conference. The Germans and the French consider that Spain should lose in this negotiation because they do not want to admit the concessions it received in Nice. Schroeder stokes the fire by attributing his economic crisis to his contributions to the European funds and the direct benefit that Spain obtained from them by being a recipient of cohesion funds. And Chirac plays at selectively fulfilling with Spain that agreed in Lisbon, in particular the energy interconnection and the high-speed land transport network.
It might be possible to reestablish normal relations between the Europeans and between Spain and France and Germany, but it seems unlikely. It is not a question of peoples characters, nor only of the Spanish proximity to more Atlantic or pro-American views. It is due essentially to the impossibility of accepting with normality and ease a country like ours which has grown and matured and that has things to say and wants to say them with its own mind. As long as France sees the construction of Europe in terms of an axis of two or governing bodies of a maximum of three, tension with Spain will be inevitable.
5.- The unpredictability in North Africa will not diminish
Perejil was a surprise not only because nobody expected it, but because an action of this nature was unexplainable. Even now nobody can state for certain who gave the order to invade the isle, when it was decided and what the objective was. It is not even known whether it was a move limited to Perejil or whether it represented the start of a chain of events affecting some of our territories.
But what is certain is that besides the opacity in the decision making, the internal situation in Morocco faces serious institutional and security problems. The Islamic suicide attacks in Casa Blanca have brought Islamic terrorism dangerously close to our interests and our gates, threatening, as well, peace and coexistence in Morocco. Since then also, several deadly attacks have taken place against the Jewish Moroccan community, which had never occurred before. And the election evolution has left little doubt: very soon Islamists will be a real government alternative.
If to this we add the accumulation of factors already affecting bilateral relations, particularly the migration flow towards Europe and our country, as well as, in another area, the conflictive solution to the Sahara problem, it is not surprising that the future of bilateral relations is subject to a certain tension. It would be desirable that this tension was channeled and limited through good diplomatic relations, but this does not mean we should neglect the dissuasion and force factor represented by the Spanish army in the event of having to subdue any other possible adventures.
6.- American hegemony will tend to consolidate
There is no doubt that we are living in unipolar times. The United States are the hegemonic power because with the budget they invest in defense they are the only ones truly capable of engaging and winning a traditional or modern war anywhere in the planet; but it is as well thanks to their economic dynamism and their capability to generate wealth in a sustained manner, a factor that cannot always be appreciated with the classic parameters used to measure an industrial economy, still ruling despite the fact that countries such as the United States move more in the blurry terrain of post-modern economy; they are so, also, due to the influence and attraction they have for so many layers of society, with their universities, movies, hamburgers and, in short, with what is called the American way of life.
But above all, they are the ruling power at the moment because they have the will to be so and to defend themselves from their rivals and enemies. Everything else the Americans have had since the fall and disappearance of the USSR. They just needed a universal mission and the awareness and will of having to play a sustained and consistent world role. And this concept and will is the one that has emerged in full force following September 11.
In fact, there are three important reasons why the United States will continue being the hegemonic power in the next few years, so that the new world system will have this fact as the backbone of the rearrangement of power. First of all, that this expansive and interventionist attitude, guaranteeing stability and peace in the world as a condition and at the same time subproduct of the war against terror, is based on a profound change in the values and attitudes of the American people. It is not a shift imposed by a mad president, it is the demand of a society that feels threatened and at war. And therefore, it is not something that can be changed overnight with the arrival of another president, but rather is a factor ingrained in bipartisan politics in Washington. And, above all, it is a fact that perhaps will help understand why George W. Bush has many chances of being reelected in the presidential elections of November 2004.
Secondly, with the transformation policy of its armed forces, the United States has managed to widen the gap in technology, doctrine, organization and capabilities with regards to its potential enemies as well as its allies and friends, consolidating its power even more. There is nobody on the horizon who could really consider entering into battle against American troops and come away unharmed. This is very true in the terrain of a traditional war, but all indications are that it would also be so in other less classic forms, such as guerrilla warfare, asymmetrical strategies, cyberattacks, etc.
Finally, America will consolidate its world role simply because there are no other alternatives. A world government inspired on the UN is a dream and the appearance of other political leaders does not seem likely, especially if the substitute, for its dimension, population and vision were, let us say, communist China. Actually, the only attempt to form a coalition capable of limiting American power arose during the Iraq crisis from France and it included such disparate elements as Russia and China, in an impossible Paris-Moscow-Beijing axis. And both the inefficiency and instability of the same have already been proven.
No, the controversy is not whether the United States will continue being the hegemonic power, but rather whether in the near future they will be capable of developing quasi-imperial forms in the area of security but combined with benevolence and respect for the freedom and democracy of others. That is, whether they wish and are capable of finding an imperial-type global structure but without the negative elements of coercion and extraction of wealth of classic empires.
Spain in a unipolar world
These are basically the cards Spain can play with to build its international agenda and advance its objectives and interests. Never before has it had so many opportunities but, at the same time, the external elements are not entirely favorable. Great political skill and a very clear vision will be required. If all of the above proves true, Spain will encounter difficulties and strong resistance in the European environment, concentrated essentially in France and Germany and unless these two countries also change their political majorities or leaders, it will represent a problem, as any Spanish attempt to exercise its rights and views will be counteracted with a front of resentment and rejection of what Spain has become, not for what it does or says.
Secondly, in our near environment, with regards to the Arabic and Muslim world, Morocco is not a serious nor reliable player. And not only due to the leanings of its leaders, but, above all, because it is a society full of contradictions which threatens with irrational explosions as a method for survival. On the other hand, the terrorist phenomenon seems to want to settle down in that country, with all the instability and export of violence and undesirable elements that comprises.
Only in the United States of George W. Bush, in the United States committed to a democratizing vision of the world, determined to wipe international terrorism off the face of the earth and watchful of the proliferation of weapons, does Spain find support and an ally. The problem, nonetheless, is the asymmetry of the relation. Let us consider, for example, that the United States invests in its armed forces in one year what the Spanish Ministry of Defense spends in 42. However there are other novel elements, the appreciation of like-thinking nations or, that new social, economic and political dimension of the Hispanics in the United States, erasing the traditional border between international actions and domestic policy. When the Spanish president tours New Mexico, Florida or Arizona, to mention a few specific cases, what is he actually doing? Spanish foreign policy or American domestic policy? Already clearly both things. And this opens a whole universe of possibilities never before known by the Spaniards.