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Multilateralism By: Daniel J. Mitchell
The Washington Times | Tuesday, November 12, 2002


There is an ever-increasing gulf between Europe and the United States on issues such as Iraq, the United Nations, the International Criminal Court, Kyoto, and tax harmonization. In part, this represents a divergence of interests. Europe's overtaxed and overregulated economies have fallen far behind America, and it is should come as no surprise that European politicians would like to use international policies to hamstring America's dynamic economy.

But this is not just a matter of self-interest. Having just spent two of the last three weeks in Europe, I believe Europeans have adopted an almost cultlike worship of multilateralism. To Europe's bureaucratic elite, a policy is automatically correct if it is the product of international discussions, especially if the negotiations take place under the auspices of an international organization.

Because of this multilateralist mindset, there is almost no effort to defend or justify policies that result from international discussions.

Indeed, those who try to discuss whether these policies are desirable are treated as heretics because the European elites interpret open debate as an attack on the sacred process of multilateralism.

Relations between Europe and the United States have soured because European politicians and bureaucrats instinctively and reflexively oppose the concept of national sovereignty. To these self-anointed elites, the United States is acting like an international outlaw because America has the gall to make unilateral decisions.

The Iraq issue is a good example. Europeans are upset because the United States appears poised to take military action against Iraq's dictator.

But they are not defending Saddam Hussein or arguing military action is completely wrong. Instead, they claim military action is only appropriate if there is approval from the United Nations — even though this "lowest-common-denominator" process inevitably will protect the interests of tyrants and thugs.

The International Criminal Court (ICC) provides another good illustration. Europeans are furious that President Bush has withdrawn America support this supposed world tribunal, largely because the president's action is seen as a rejection of multilateralism. But the Europeans seem unwilling to respond to American concerns. Some U.S. concerns are procedural, including the lack of any accountability and the antidemocratic nature of the ICC. Other concerns are political, such as the well-placed fear the ICC will be used to persecute Israel and the United States while ignoring genuine crimes against humanity in Third World dictatorships. But regardless of the issue, Europeans have placed the ICC on an altar and dismiss all criticism. 

This worship of process over policy is very evident in the Kyoto debate.

So-called climate change models are unable to predict today's weather using data from the past, so it is quite understandable that many Americans are loathe to destroy jobs and reduce living standards because these same models think future temperatures might rise by a degree or two. Europeans have more of a "Chicken Little" approach to these issues, but the policy disagreement takes a back seat. Our friends across the pond are more upset that we are acting in a unilateral fashion. The United States is akin to a rogue regime since we refuse to let international bureaucrats dictate our economic policy.

Shifting to the issue of tax harmonization, Europe's welfare states think it is "harmful" when jobs and capital migrate from high-tax nations to low-tax nations. Using international bureaucracies like the European Union (EU) and the Organization for Economic Cooperation and Development (OECD), they want to end fiscal competition between nations, preferably by harmonizing all tax rates. But if that is too ambitious, they want an indirect form of tax harmonization known as "information exchange," which is why they are seeking private financial data on capital that has been invested in the United States. This assault on America's fiscal sovereignty — along with similar attacks on other low-tax jurisdictions like Switzerland, Ireland and the Cayman Islands — is portrayed as an effort to impose "international best practices."

Yet who anointed the EU and OECD to define good tax policy? This is a very important question since EU and OECD bureaucrats want to criminalize tax reform proposals such as the flat tax.

Some people in Europe seem to think international bureaucracies and global treaties automatically generate good policy. Indeed, they define good policy as anything that is produced by this process — a rather convenient tautology. For those who believe national sovereignty and economic self-interest still play an important role in the world community, this mystical worship of multilateralism may be America's greatest challenge.

Fortunately, President Bush has defended the United States. He has bent over backward to enlist international help in the battle against Iraq, but never surrendered our right to unilaterally defend America's interests. He has rejected the ICC and forced the EU to accommodate our demands if they want America to subsidize peacekeeping operations.

President Bush also has held firm on the Kyoto issue, and the administration recently announced that the United States would not participate in the European Union's latest tax harmonization scheme — the "savings tax directive."

Conservatives have grumbled — often with good reason — that the Bush administration has been soft in many areas. But the president's tremendous defense of our global interests overshadows the occasional domestic policy miscue. One need only imagine how Al Gore would have handled these issues to see the difference George Bush has made for America.




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