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CAMPAIGN-WAR Sep-14-2004 (1,130 words) Backgrounder. With logos posted March 10 and photo posted Sept. 14. xxxn

Campaign '04: Candidates take different approaches to unilateralism

By Jerry Filteau
Catholic News Service

WASHINGTON (CNS) -- The words "unilateralism" and "multilateralism" won't make it into either presidential campaign's ads or sound bites, but Catholic peace experts say they represent an important difference between the two main candidates on questions of war and peace.

Republican President George W. Bush has a tendency toward unilateralism, while Democratic Sen. John F. Kerry espouses a more multilateral approach, according to the experts.

Catholic social teaching on international justice and peace promotes greater use of international law and international institutions as a means of protecting human rights and the common good.

The differences between the two candidates on questions of unilateralism and multilateralism are not black and white, however. "There is a different emphasis, but not much of a fundamental difference," said Gerard Powers, director of policy studies at the University of Notre Dame's Joan B. Kroc Institute for International Peace Studies.

Jesuit Father Drew Christiansen, associate editor of the national Catholic magazine America, said the issue is important, however.

He told Catholic News Service, "I think the Bush administration, as it's articulated its foreign policy ... , would be the polar opposite of the Catholic position because it rejects multilateralism for aggressive, muscular unilateralism, even with respect to our closest allies, saying no one else will determine what our interests are or what we will do. And that includes preventive war.

"Generally, the church has favored multilateralism, and particularly international law and the U.N. system as a way of doing that, knowing that the U.N. system is far from perfect," he said.

On preventive war, the Jesuit theologian said, the Bush administration and the Vatican "couldn't be in a more different position."

He added, however, "I'm not sure that the Catholic position, in terms of the actual decisions, would be any different when it comes to John Kerry, who said that he supported the war and would still go to war despite what we know now about the situation."

Powers and Father Christiansen have extensive expertise in analyzing questions of U.S. international policy in terms of Catholic social teaching and a record of nonpartisanship in their approach to issues. Both are former international justice and peace directors of the U.S. Conference of Catholic Bishops.

In "Faithful Citizenship: A Catholic Call to Political Responsibility," a guide for Catholics on political responsibility published in advance of this year's electoral campaigns, the bishops' Administrative Committee repeatedly emphasized multilateralism in the conduct of the nation's foreign policy.

The bishops warned against going it alone or defining security "primarily in military terms," even after the events of Sept. 11, 2001. "Our nation must join with others in addressing policies and problems that provide fertile ground in which terrorism can thrive," they said. "No injustice legitimizes the horror we have experienced. But a more just world will be a more peaceful world."

The document also said the United States must "work to reverse the spread of nuclear, chemical and biological weapons and to reduce its own reliance on weapons of mass destruction by pursuing progressive nuclear disarmament."

Powers said, "The importance of strengthening international law and international institutions is a key element of the church's approach to international affairs, especially since the Second World War."

The U.S. decision to invade Iraq, certainly one of the defining moments of the Bush administration, was marked by a sharp moral divergence between the president and the leadership of the Catholic Church.

As the nation prepared to go to war, the Vatican and the U.S. bishops vigorously and publicly opposed entering into such a war without exhausting the alternatives and without U.N. concurrence. In the final prewar weeks Pope John Paul II even sent a personal envoy, Cardinal Pio Laghi, to the White House to try to change Bush's mind.

Bush's 2002 National Security Strategy spelled out the U.S. policy explicitly: "We will not hesitate to act alone, if necessary, to exercise our right of self-defense by acting pre-emptively against ... terrorists."

The Kerry campaign has sharply criticized Bush's unilateralism, promising that Kerry as president would mend fences with the United Nations and rebuild the international alliances that Kerry says have been damaged by the current administration.

"The main difference between Bush and Kerry on whether to go to war with Iraq was that Kerry thought pursuing it through the U.N. Security Council should be done more aggressively or differently," Powers said. "But they both basically supported, ultimately, the right of the U.S. to use force pre-emptively, without U.N. support if necessary."

George A. Lopez, a political science professor at the University of Notre Dame and senior fellow at the Kroc Institute, told CNS that neither candidate represents "the kind of seamless garment that many of us would search for in linkages across peace and justice issues."

He said he thinks Kerry personally comes closer to Catholic positions "across the justice macro-lens" but his positions on other issues "are a bit wanting" from the standpoint of Catholic teaching.

Lopez, who has closely monitored U.S. Iraq policy for years, said he regards the current situation in Iraq as a morass that is still deteriorating. The failure to achieve the goals of the war and postwar occupation "is a fruit of the kind of unilateral approach" taken by the administration, he said.

On the other hand, he said, "Kerry has simply told us, 'I'll do it better,' but he hasn't told us (how). He's told us that, because he'll be more multilateral, the outcomes will be better, but that's not true by definition."

Whoever takes office in January will face a situation in Iraq "which is so far deteriorated and is going to be so difficult to restore that the notion of moving now to a position consistent with Catholic social teaching on peace and war is really beyond the fact," he said.

Addressing the Bush administration's overall approach to international laws and accords, Father Christiansen said, "The Catholic inclination is to strengthen international organizations and international law and the administration ... has done everything to kind of defy existing international agreements."

Lopez criticized Bush's unilateral abandonment in 2001 of the Anti-Ballistic Missile Treaty, in force since 1972, by which the United States and Russia (formerly the Soviet Union) mutually agreed not to establish a national missile defense system. Lopez acknowledged Bush's argument that the treaty was outdated but said, "not in a way that would rule out aggressive dialogue to update it."

At the same time he criticized Kerry for not articulating a clear position on the U.S. posture toward treaties. "Kerry has to make a generic case for why treaty behavior is in our national interest, whether it be the chemical weapons convention, Kyoto (a convention on the environment) or the ABM. He's got to make a claim that makes sense there," Lopez said.


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