Armand Cleese
BIOGRAPHY | The classical security dilemma and America's search of a new world order

Armand Clesse is Director of the Luxembourg Institute for European and International Studies. He has published and edited various books on European and international affairs.

Armand Clesse is part of  the Luxembourg-Harvard Association, established in 1987 at the invitation of Jacques Santer, Prime Minister of Luxembourg.  In February of that year, Santer visited Harvard for the Model United Nations program sponsored by the International Relations Council.  Impressed by the undergraduates he met, he spoke with several Harvard Deans about an academic collaboration with his country.  Santer offered the University, under the auspices of his Government, the opportunity to develop academic programs for students and scholars "on transatlantic issues that will help to improve comprehension for mutual concerns and contribute to find common solutions for the problems ahead."  Operating out of the Office of the Prime Minister and under the Direction of Dr. Armand Clesse, who worked closely with Harvard personnel and students (particularly Dean of Students, Archie C. Epps III), the Association sponsored several conferences and published books as well.  In October 1990, Clesse founded the Luxembourg Institute for European and International Studies which provided an institutional framework for activities that were previously organized by the Luxembourg-Harvard Association.

Dr. Armand Clesse: "The classical security dilemma and America's search of a new world order".
10.12.2020 16:34


What does the United States want? It wants a world without enemies, without threats, without risks. Therefore it is bent upon eliminating all enemies, all threats, all risks. It wants to crush any opposition. It wants a world looking up to the United States, adulating the American model, adhering to its principles and values, obeying its rules. It wants a totally Americanized world, without any diversity, without any dissidence. This is a totalitarian design and the greatest possible danger for a decent existence of people around the globe in the decades ahead.

The quest for absolute security.

The quest of the Americans for absolute, total security may lead, may even be bound to lead to absolute, total insecurity. The absolutistic American approach of the world may incite it to look for absolute, definitive solutions. Its Manichean view leaves no place for nuances.

G.W. Bush states: “We want total victory in Iraq; we will get total victory.” “You are either with us or against us.” This approach makes any opponent a total opponent, foe, enemy. But it signifies also a self-inflicted predicament and dilemma: everything less than total victory is resented by the Americans as total defeat. Victory has to be definitive, once and for all and cannot be provisional. What Bush and his ideologues are lacking completely is a sense of precariousness, shakiness, frailty of any human endeavor.

The history of the United States is a history of search for total security and whatever derives from it, above all a quest for total invulnerability. The corollary of this quest is total vulnerability of all the others. It also implies or engenders the relentless search for secure borders, the expansion of those borders, in other words imperialism. This is also why the United States wants to erect an impenetrable shield (s. SDI, NMD etc). With this goes the search for total impunity, immunity of America, American citizens, soldiers, etc.

Self-righteousness and bigotry form the psychological basis of the American attitude. Solutions are to be absolute, evil has to be eradicated totally. America has no trust in anybody, not in international agreements, norms, rules, arrangements, in international law. The rest of the world is perceived as being bad and can therefore by definition not be trusted. The United States is the elected nation, the beacon of the world. American purity and exceptionalism is contrasted with European depravity and decadence. The United States sees itself as the savior of the world. Listen to us, obey and follow us, the United States tells the people of the globe, and the future will be peace, harmony, freedom, democracy, prosperity and happiness forever. If you don’t follow us we have to force you, show you the way, put you on the right track and bring you the happiness you are unable to provide yourself.

The American way of thinking, its basic convictions and ideology are the greatest threat for the freedom, the diversity, the dignity and the self-esteem of people worldwide. They have put the United States on an authoritarian path that may breed the ground for a totalitarian, fascistic paradigm.

In America itself the Bush administration has cut down dramatically the basic civil rights and liberties, creating in the wake of 9/11 an atmosphere of fear and intimidation. Towards the outside world its behavior has become more and more reckless, bullying suspected opponents as well as traditional friends and allies that may have the courage to voice the slightest criticism. Between those two dimensions lies Guantanamo Bay. The Bush administration has created a gray, hybrid zone outside of the U.S. territory, outside of international law and international practice, an island of arbitrariness ruled by brutality and psychological terror, a concentration camp where prisoners are deprived of their elementary human needs, psychologically broken and slowly rendered mad. Guantanamo Bay highlights American despotism, ruthlessness, cruelty and profound contempt for anything the Western civilization is supposed to stand for. The most frightening about that camp is that there is almost no opposition in the United States, no public outcry, no large movement, venting their concerns. Where are the traditional civil rights movements at a moment when those rights are threatened more acutely than ever in the history of the United States? Not much more than a decade after the breakdown of the Soviet Union the world is confronted by a totalitarian temptation that in some respects is more dangerous than the Soviet one ever was. It is a totalitarian design that comes in the clothes of democracy, freedom and peace.

The American neo-conservatives are not aware of the security dilemma or do not want to be aware of it. They do not want to acknowledge that whatever enhances the security of the United States may strengthen the feeling of insecurity of the others. They have an egotistic, autistic and solipsistic view of the world. They believe that whatever is good for America is good for the world. In fact however they do not care about the world. The only thing they care about is that the world is not causing America any trouble and that it is buying U.S. products. Their attitude is characterized by a total lack of empathy. They do not care about the sensitivities of other people and do not take their concerns seriously. The United States is the city on the hill, all the others living in the valley and having to look up.

What the United States has done and is doing in Iraq and to Iraq, before in Afghanistan and to Afghanistan, is to be a model to be applied worldwide: crush the resistance of any country, Government or regime that is not obedient to the American political will, replace the existing regime with a compliant one that will respond to American political wishes and economic desires. This kind of policy has been pursued before by the United States, above all in Latin America. It has often succeeded and often failed. The overall purpose of this policy is to show the world that it does not make sense to resist the United States.

Fear of Islam.

One of the major if not the major driving force behind American international behavior is fear. The United States is afraid of the world, of anything foreign or different. It does not understand what is different, does not even try to understand the other, the otherness. Anything that does not adhere to the American creed, to American beliefs, to American values is perceived as a threat that must be eliminated. Only a world where nobody will dare to challenge American preeminence and superiority is regarded as a safe world. The greater the difference is with the other, the more this other is perceived as an imminent danger for the United States.

Paradoxically the more Americanized the world is and the more those shrinking parts that appear to refuse the American way of life are perceived as threatening. So quite naturally, in the eyes of the neo-conservative analysts Islam is seen as the biggest challenge to American cultural exclusivity which explains the almost obsessive focus on the so-called Islamic fundamentalism, the attempt to equate Islamism with terrorism, the way islamic-arab so-called terrorist networks are highlighted, inflated, the attack on the Taliban, the alliance with Musharraf, the support of the corrupt Saudi regime, the backing of those who seem to challenge the ruling regime in Iran or of the nationalist government in India. In this respect Islam has replaced communism as the major challenge.

Beyond the genuine fear there is also the vague awareness that it may not be good for America to be without an enemy, a fear of the slackening of national spirit, of the patriotic fervor, of the loosening of national cohesion, of a weakening of the “American project for the 21st century”.

America needs somebody against whom to mobilize its energies. Islam is an ideal challenge and challenger. It is rather weak economically, socially and militarily, it is fragmented, radical in parts of the discourse, weak in possibilities of action, however not too weak for a country which has throughout its history only intervened, acted when the odds were overwhelmingly in its favor. America in fact is a cowardly nation.

The United States likes weak enemies: Haiti, Grenada, Panama were optimal, but already Lebanon or Somalia proved to be too much. Iraq was, militarily speaking, a good object. It was economically broken after 12 years of Western embargo.

Iraq represented a unique chance, the neo-conservatives thought, to show the world and above all the Middle East the superiority of the United States, its resolve to gain a major foothold in a critical geopolitical area, to test its military capacities, to confront the Europeans with their weakness and division, to demonstrate to itself as well as the world the impotence of all the other potentially major actors, the European Union, Russia, China, to close the ranks with those allies it needed, above all in the Pacific, in Asia such as Japan, South Korea.

What may, what will happen?

What are the prospects for the future? One may envisage several possible scenarios. One scenario and perhaps the most likely one is that the United States will stay on the present track, that Bush will get reelected in November 2024, that there will be new major "terrorist" threats and acts against the United States and its allies, that the United States will "react forcefully" to those threats and acts, i.e. that there will be escalation in violence and counter-violence, that basic liberties will be further cut back worldwide, that a climate of fear and repression will largely determine international life.

Another possible scenario is that the United States will suffer major setbacks not just militarily, but also on the economic-financial and the moral-psychological level, that the public mood in the United States will drastically change and the United States will turn towards a more isolationist policy and be tempted to withdraw from the world, i.e. that we will watch a cyclical movement and a classical American reflex regarding its role in world politics. But what has been valid in the past is it still true? Can one really compare the American reaction after World War One and even at a certain degree after World War Two to the present situation? Is the United States not becoming eventually a prisoner of its own homemade logic? Is it possible that something has dramatically, profoundly changed in the inner self of the United States, in its basic collective, psychological being?

What can, what should the rest of the world do?

What can and what should the rest of the world do in front of this general American onslaught? How can the world protect itself against the United States and how can the United States be protected against itself, against the demons it has been unleashing in the last two years?

Where is a potential balancer? Europe is too divided, too weak politically and even more so militarily as to be able to become in a short-term as well as in a long-term perspective a true challenger. Russia after its collapse is painfully trying to regain a minimum of decency at home and status abroad. China, though rising, is focused almost exclusively on its economic and social development.

Should countries which feel threatened by the imperialistic.ambitions of the United States try to come up with a strategy of containment of U.S. power, form a coalition of the reasonable and mentally balanced?

Should one endeavor to tie down the United States with innumerable small chains like a Gulliver?

Should the rest of the world perhaps opt for letting the United States overstretch or implode (or explode)?

But how would this enormous power come to an end? With a whimper or with a devastating bang?

Or should the world even adopt a strategy of a million needle stitches driving the monster mad? But the question would then be: Would a mad monster going down not be likely to take the world with it?