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Baker Peace Conference takes serious look at U.S. foreign policy

ATHENS, Ohio (April 2, 2007) -- The future of the North Atlantic Treaty Organization and overall United States foreign policy were the focus of the 2007 Baker Peace Conference held March 29 to 30. 

Photo by Rick FaticaOn Thursday night, Brookings Institution President Strobe Talbott started the conference by telling his audience that NATO is the most successful alliance in history.

"NATO did its job," Talbott said. "With the peril of a geothermal nuclear cataclysm looming, it saved the lives of many young people."

Talbott said that although NATO enlargement is considered by many people to be a blunder, he doesn't agree with that opinion. He said the creation of NATO made the European Union possible and has created "a sea of democratic peace." He said it also has cleared the way for similar alliances to accomplish more work in the future.

"George Bush is an arch unilateralist with no regard for international law, diplomacy or alliances -- including NATO," Talbott said.

He blamed Bush for refusing help from NATO after 9/11 although it was offered and for his refusal to be associated with the International Criminal Court.

Photo by Kim Walker"Although the Iraq War is a policy disaster, U.S. attitude is worse," Talbott said. "The regard for the U.S. and its leadership is at an all-time low around the world."

Talbott admitted that he doesn't like how the Iraq War is being run, but added that the U.S. should not pull troops out of Iraq because he fears what would happen if it did. He said he hopes U.S. foreign relations will get better under the next U.S. president.

"The new administration will have a grace period with Congress and the rest of the world and I believe national leaders will follow the leadership of the next president." 

On Friday, the conference concluded with three panel discussions that addressed the topics of the use of force, U.S.-British relations and the International Criminal Court.

Ted Galen Carpenter, vice president for defense and foreign policy studies at the Cato Institute, raised the idea that European countries want the United States to be a "tethered hegemony." He defined "tethered hegemony" as an entity that takes a self-initiated active role in the world but adheres to European wishes when necessary -- two conditions that he viewed as conflicting.

Jeffrey Herf, a University of Maryland history professor, focused on radical Islam as a U.S. and world threat, comparing and contrasting it with former Soviet communism. Whereas he viewed the United States and the Soviet Union as part of the same family of rationality during the Cold War, he placed radical Islam outside of that family.

"Nuclear deterrence only works if the person it's being used against wants to stay alive," Herf said. "The promise of 'paradise' diminishes the fear of death for some extreme Islamic groups, unlike democracies and communist states where the threat of nuclear annihilation was key to their non-use in the Cold War."

Lisa Martin, a political science professor at Harvard University, talked about the concepts of self-binding and multilateralism and how the United States has fallen out of them and practiced unilateralism. Ultimately, she said, the U.S. should return to multilateralism.

Ohio University history professor John Brobst began the panel-two discussion on U.S.-British relations by saying their relationship has wellspring areas and is based on security. He admitted that the two countries also share many of the same values. "British Prime Minister Tony Blair has an American-style cabinet which isolates him from the general public," Brobst said.

Ohio University Professor of Political Science Patricia Weitsman told the audience that most people think alliances are and should be made up of countries who are friendly to each other, but that is not always the case. She said it may not be a bad idea for alliance partners to have different ideas and that the price of fighting a war together is costly and difficult.    

During panel three, which focused on the merit and usefulness of the International Criminal Court, Beth Simmons, an international affairs professor at Harvard University, detailed the difference in opinions toward the International Criminal Court between European countries and the United States. She sees the divide as a minor disagreement, but one that "is part of a perceived trend of U.S. unilateralism."

"The differences between the U.S. and European counties are all about 'how,' not 'what,'" Simmons said. "All of these countries agree that these cases of war crimes should be tried. The disagreement lies in how and where they should be tried."

William Schabas, director of the Irish Centre for Human Rights in Ireland, presented his views on the court's benefits and success. "The ICC, if nothing else, is an absolute phenomenon," he said.  "It was barely an idea 15 years ago and now is a 104-member institution. Gradually, it will dawn on U.S. policy makers that they have done more harm than good by freezing themselves out of these important proceedings."

Jeremy Rabkin, a professor of government at Cornell University, directly contradicted Schabas' views regarding the importance of the court to the United States. "America is opposed to the court because, in all honesty, it's kind of crazy," Rabkin said. "You can't make a peace deal with people who will be prosecuted the moment they lay down their arms."

Rabkin pointed out that the independent prosecutors appointed to make hard decisions about the cases often have little knowledge or experience with the countries or regions involved. 

Contemporary History Institute Chair Steven Miner was pleased with the result of this year's Baker Peace Conference. "There were some great discussions during the conference and that made it both exciting and informative," Miner said.

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Media Contact: Media Specialist Jack Jeffery, (740) 597-1793 or jefferyj@ohio.edu

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