Ex-diplomat attacks ‘self-centred’ USA

An influential author and university lecturer has criticised the United States of America for having changed little since the end of the presidential term of George W. Bush.

Thomas Nowotny, who worked as secretary of late Austrian Social Democratic (SPÖ) Chancellor Bruno Kreisky, claimed in an interview that the USA “are still very self-centred and nationalistic” under incumbent President Barack Obama.

Speaking about the two terms of Bush, who was succeeded by Obama in 2008, Nowotny told magazine profil: “It is correct that there was a gigantic setback under the Bush ammonisation – a return almost into the world of the 19th century, with a full focus on military power.”

Asked whether diplomacy had a comeback under Obama, the former Organisation for Economic Co-operation and Development (OECD) official pointed out: “Don’t overestimate that. The USA are very self-centred, very nationalistic under Obama too.”

Reflecting about the policies of Bush and other past conflicts, Nowotny said: “Wars have led to nothing. (…) North Korea has one of the biggest armies in the world – to which benefit? The Soviet Union was influential from a military point of view, but weak in cultural and economic terms – and collapsed eventually.

“Germany and Japan were very limited after 1945 as far as the capacity of their armed forces was regarded but became global leaders. There are no wars between great nations. Wars signalise weakness.”

Nowotny also warned of “fundamentalist tendencies everywhere.” He told profil: “Don’t the assassination of the Austrian archduke (heir to the throne Franz Ferdinand) in 1914 (in Sarajevo and the attacks on the World Trade Center in 2011 bear ghostlike similarities?”

The former diplomat explained: “Both incidents were considered as national traumas. (…) Both occasions sparked wars full of national enthusiasm. ‘Serbia has to die!’ and ‘Saddam Hussein – dead or alive!’ (…) No one believes in a reasonable and liberal world order anymore. Fundamentalist tendencies are registered everywhere.”

Nowotny admitted being little optimistic about chances that state leaders learned their lesson from the most recent economic crisis. “I don’t even see small steps. The only thing we got are slightly stricter financial market regulations in America and Europe – but no fundamental changes.”

He rejected claims that an even bigger economic turmoil was needed to trigger a change of mind, saying: “Reforms are only ever carried out in times of relative wealth.”

Nowotny – who said he sees a return of authoritarian nationalisms akin to developments in 1914 when World War One (WWI) broke out – also hit out at political decision-makers over reducing the funding of diplomatic activities.

“Tendencies to make such cuts are not wrong in my opinion – they are suicidal. Diplomacy has an immense symbolic function which must not be underestimated, especially in Vienna which is one of the United Nations’ (UN) headquarters,” he told profil.

The 74-year-old – whose new book “Diplomacy and Global Governance” is out now – claimed all of the problems Austrians have on their minds such as job market and economic developments, protection from terrorist attacks and environmental issues could be solved only in cooperation with countries from all over the world.

Nowotny, who teaches political sciences at the University of Vienna, said: “Austria is lacking engagement. We are proud of refraining from having any influence in Brussels.”