U.S. Decision Making and Foreign Policy
A common observation at the outset of the post-cold war era was that nobody - not in government, not in the think-tank world, not in the activist community - had a principled, coherent vision of what exact role the United States should play in global affairs. When the vision of a role is obscure, decision-making is incomprehensible. As a new millennium begins, the problem with the U.S. global affairs agenda is different. The basic principles of a new “grand strategy” for a sound and fair USA foreign policy have been advanced by a diverse community of activists, advocacy groups, scholars, and a few policymakers. But the Democratic and Republican leadership have dismissed this visionary proposal in favor of an agenda pieced together from old policies and practices.
The prevailing U.S. foreign policy agenda, likely to continue into the next administration, is marked by five major features. It is 1. retrograde, 2. driven by special interests, 3. guided by short-term objectives, 4. interventionist and above international law, and 5. domineering. Most striking is its retrograde character. Despite all the political publicity about leading the country into the next century, Washington’s foreign policy establishment is more comfortable dredging up policy from the past than pursuing new initiatives. Examples include the resurrection of the “StarWars” missile defense system, the revival of the cold war relic NATO, and the renewal of the “open door” economic imperialism of the late 19th century, which permitted America’s forced entry into foreign markets.
A second distinguishing feature is the degree to which foreign policy is dominated not by strategists and diplomats but by special interests. Military contractors seek to keep the military budget high and arms exports rising, and pharmaceutical companies demand that poor nations use trademark drugs rather than less expensive generic ones in the name of protecting intellectual property rights. Because these special interests exercise enormous influence in the election process through campaign donations, their influence on foreign policy is likely to continue until there is significant reform of campaign finance laws.
The short-term thinking that characterizes U.S. foreign policy, particularly the global economy and environmental policies, reflects the narrow interpretation of U.S. national interests in Washington. Obscuring the benefits of a long-term strategy to foster broad-based sustainable development, the annual profit reports of U.S. corporations are given foremost consideration.
Increasingly sophisticated (but not always accurate) arms technology has allowed the United States to intervene militarily (in Panama, Iraq, Sudan, Kosovo, etc.) with little risk to U.S. troops and with little regard for international law. Emerging from the cold war with no foes, the United States now swaggers across the international arena, relying more on the politics of domination than of compromise. Its domineering presence-sparking, resentment, and damaging prospects for multilateral global governance-has not given rise to other global leaders, affirming the U.S. conceit that the 21st century will be another American century.
During the 1990s the outlines of an alternative agenda gradually came into focus. As within the official foreign policy community, there exist within the reform community many differences about tactics and even different interpretations of the operative principles. However, one would be mistaken to assume that the contrast between the official and the alternative agendas is the contrast between realism and idealism. Although the new global affairs agenda is certainly visionary, it addresses the unresolved foreign policy issues of our era in a practical way. At a time when the U.S. Treasury Department is holding the course on failed financial liberalization policies, the reform agenda offers pragmatic alternatives to address financial contagion, capital flows crises, and the chaos resulting from unregulated speculative investment. The main prescription is the highly practical suggestion that foreign economic policy be guided not by a narrow ideology benefiting a corporate elite but by its commitment to benefit the broad majority. Regarding the current political and military projections of U.S. power, the reform agenda recommends a more holistic assessment of what constitutes U.S. long-range national interests and security.
In large measure the new global affairs agenda is based on the principles first set out in the U.S. constitution, namely that the U.S. government should “provide for the common defense” and “promote the general welfare.” Rather than projecting military power abroad, the Defense Department should be primarily concerned about military threats against U.S. borders and U.S. citizens. Since the United States faces no powerful enemies, there should be a major retrenchment in the U.S. military mission and budget. Promoting the general welfare will mean a major change in direction in U.S. foreign policy-away from a narrow corporate interpretation of U.S. interests toward an assessment of potential impacts on the health, welfare, and happiness of all Americans.
But the new global affairs agenda, while wary of U.S. interventionism and considerate of the best interests of Americans, is hardly an inward-looking vision of the future. President George Washington’s advice that the United States avoid foreign “entanglements” was well-taken at the time, but today’s world is inextricably integrated. The challenge is not to untangle American people but to support the methods and institutions of global governance that foster peace and sustainable development around the globe.
Global Focus: U.S. Foreign Policy at the Turn of the Millennium, a new book produced by Foreign Policy In Focus, attempts to set forth some of the best thinking about the state of U.S. foreign policy and about an alternative agenda. This process of detailing a new global affairs agenda is considered by this book as a necessary first step. Still more challenging is the task of advancing and implementing such an agenda. Success requires efforts on multiple fronts. Perhaps most important is the educational and outreach work necessary to ensure public support for a reform agenda that posits a new, more expansive vision of U.S. national interests. Strong political leadership is also essential, but even more important will be unrelenting citizen activism that forces politicians to listen and act. Finally, little is possible without the tireless lobbying work of the advocacy organizations that, issue by issue, move the reform agenda forward in Washington.
As the millennium turns, the prospects for a new era of international peace and sustainable development seem remote. Although there are some hopeful signs, such as the rise of NGO activism and new consciousness about environmental deterioration, most indicators are negative. Issue by issue, region by region, the authors of these collected essays address the central conundrums and most pressing challenges-each pointing to the kind of responsible U.S. leadership that can help turn the world around.
Secretary of State Madeleine Albright has more than once said: the United States is the “indispensable nation.” Although the broad political, economic, and environmental context is much the same the world over, America, according to Albright, is the only country with the power and influence to shape the course of global affairs. No other country or grouping of nations has emerged to assume the kind of global leadership routinely practiced by the United States. In the last decade, America has used its superpower status to extend its economic and military dominance and has repeatedly demonstrated its willingness to use this power unilaterally to meet perceived threats to its hegemony.
To a large degree, how the U.S. government defines its “national interests” and regards its “national security” determines the way it exercises its leadership. Thus far it has opted for a narrow definition of national interests and a broad definition of national security. Increasingly, the United States regards its national interests as the economic interests of corporate America: what’s good for U.S.-based global corporations is good for America. More difficult to define is the current concept of national security, although it clearly extends far beyond the U.S. government’s sovereign right to defend national borders. During the cold war the United States defined national security largely in terms of containing communism and fortifying the “free world.”
The collapse of the Soviet Union did not result in any downsizing of national security doctrine; on the contrary, U.S. national security was globalized. Today, the major components of U.S. national security include the right to maintain overwhelming U.S. military superiority, to intervene decisively throughout the world, and to identify and target threats to global stability. William D. Hartung of the World Policy Institute concludes that the United States seeks to “retain the capability to serve as a sort of ‘globocop,’ charging to the rescue to restore order, stability, and ‘free markets’ when they are threatened by the forces of evil and chaos.”
Washington has taken advantage of the unipolar conditions of the first post-cold war decade to assert and extend its dominance rather than to support the institutions and international relations necessary to decrease dependence on U.S. might. Charles W. Maynes of the Eurasia Foundation calls this “negative leadership.” He argues that because the United States currently enjoys such a surplus of power, “it is now possible for Washington to have a very ambitious foreign policy and still remain unilateral in its approach toward the outside world. The United States is perhaps now the only country in the world that can, to a very significant measure, get its way internationally if it is absolutely determined to bend others to its will.” In the process, Washington has dashed the near-term prospects for building a world order distinguished by multilateralism and compromise. As a result, most other nations have come to resent and distrust U.S. leadership.
If U.S. policymakers and citizens are to establish a more responsible U.S. global leadership - sometimes referred to as a more “benevolent hegemony” - the first step is a major overhaul of the current working definitions of U.S. national interests and U.S. national security. Fortunately, there is a vibrant debate among activists and scholars outside the hidebound foreign policy establishment about what U.S. national interests truly are and what national security should rightly mean. In addressing such issues as the need for more effective global governance, an expanded role for nongovernmental voices in foreign policy, and the prevention of ecological collapse, citizen groups are charting the path toward a new global affairs agenda.
Foreign policy has once again become a matter of consequential dispute in American political life. But as Norman Podhoretz observed in “Strange Bedfellows: A Guide to the New Foreign-Policy Debates,” any number of well-known figures at different points on the political and ideological spectrum seem to have altered their accustomed views of the U.S. role in the world. His essay drew a taxonomy of these shifting attitudes over the last quarter-century and especially over the last few years, before articulating a position of its own (in a phrase, “post-Reagan Reaganism”) with regard to the uses of American power in the period Americans have lately entered.
Anyone with knowledge in international relations during the last two centuries would know about the centrality of the balance of power. But the recent emergence of the United States as the dominant world power constitutes a radical change from that condition. The key question the world now face is if the Americans preserve this dominance, what would be the fate of the global community?
Some conservative scholars within the State Department have been advocating recently that preserving American dominance will not only advance American national interests but will preserve peace and promote the cause of democracy and human rights. Since America’s emergence as a world power roughly a century ago, The American administration have made many errors, but as they say the intention was good. A diminution in American power or influence bodes ill for the USA, friendly nations, and noble principles.
In 1962, the United States and Britain unexpectedly clashed over the cancellation of an American missile program, Skybolt. Puzzled about how such close allies could fall so afoul of each other, President Kennedy asked a professor he admired, Neustadt, to study the matter - opening doors and files to him in Washington and even helping him in London. After reading Neustadt’s vivid report in November 1963, Kennedy gave it to his wife, remarking, “If you want to know what my life is like, read this.” Then they left for Dallas, and Neustadt’s report was locked away for 30 years. Now declassified, it offers a marvelous introduction to the personalities and the arcane issues involved, supplemented by Neustadt’s new research in the now-opened British archives. His report is both a microstudy of the details that animate real issues in government and a masterpiece of writing. It looks deeply not only into international policymaking but into the heart of relations among allies. It also offers a very timely lesson: the United States ought to favor its friends with the kind of attention it usually accords only to its enemies.
Americans very often express their pride of the U.S. leadership role in establishing the institutional structures of global governance. Recognizing the need for institutions that would foster collective security and global economic development, the United States guided the formation of the United Nations, the World Bank, and the International Monetary Fund. In addition, U.S. leadership in the aftermath of World War II was central in creating an international framework for trade that broke down mercantile structures and helped prevent mutually destructive trade wars. The failures and flaws of the post-cold war system of global governance are all too apparent, but the continuing need for structures of global governance are just as self-evident.
The cold war’s end has offered the United States a new opportunity to use its leadership to redesign the architecture of global governance to overcome structural weaknesses and meet the new challenges presented by economic globalization and the rise of civil conflicts. Unfortunately, this opportunity has thus far been squandered - on both the collective security and economic fronts. With his announcement of the creation of a “new world order” at the start of the Persian Gulf War, President Bush demonstrated the shallow, triumphal, benighted character of America’s post-cold war leadership. Initially, the Clinton administration offered hope of a more enlightened vision with its embrace of “assertive multilateralism.” In practice, however, Clinton’s version of a new U.S. internationalism became that of an “indispensable nation” that shunned or manipulated the United Nations, recklessly resorted to military responses, and blithely assumed that what was good for the U.S. economy was good for the world.
An early criticism of the Clinton administration was that it had no foreign policy vision. Some joked that the sum of Clinton’s foreign policy experience had been gleaned at the International House of Pancakes. In office, however, Clinton became the most globally traveled president in U.S. history - and the most interventionist, sending U.S. troops on more foreign missions than any of his predecessors. Yet although the Clinton administration never articulated a cohesive global affairs agenda, through its actions and policies it demonstrated a clear sense of purpose in matters of global governance - particularly on commercial and financial matters but increasingly on military and strategic fronts as well. Clinton, reflecting the prevailing conviction of the Washington foreign policy establishment, advanced an aggressive free trade agenda as the only viable set of rules for international economic engagement.
Despite experiencing some setbacks, notably the defeats of fast-track authority in 1997 and 1998, the administration relentlessly (and to a large extent successfully) promoted the extension of free trade governance, mainly through the World Trade Organization (WTO) but also bilaterally and regionally. The short-range and self-aggrandizing character of U.S. international economic leadership revealed itself at the outset of the financial crisis in Asia. Instead of using its influence to strengthen the foundations of international financial governance, Washington regarded the crisis mainly as another opportunity to break down barriers blocking the advance of U.S. capital.
The main thrust of U.S. leadership in the global economy has not been to build a framework of global decision making but to use trade agreements and the WTO to dismantle forms of national governance that regulate trade and investment flows. Although the liberalization schemes of the “Wall Street-Treasury” complex have resulted in a booming U.S. stock market and sustained growth, these are not the recipes for long-term economic stability either at home or abroad.
Before the global economy stumbles disastrously as a result of financial crisis contagion or deflation and before anti-globalization fever gives way to nationalist reaction, Washington policymakers would be wise to heed the ample warning signs and move away from what William Minter of the Africa Policy Information Center calls its “free market fundamentalism.”
The challenge is for Washington to build a new consensus on global commercial and financial engagement-one that will give governments a measure of flexibility to protect vulnerable sectors and to control destabilizing capital flows. In one of his essays, David Felix proposes a new reform agenda that would update the Bretton Woods financial architecture, “helping to restore some of the stable, equitable growth of yesteryear, while supplying some of the institutional building blocks for erecting a genuinely integrated global economy in the future.” Scholars and activists at home and abroad are supplying the blueprints for the main components of this new consensus, such as fundamental reforms of the Bretton Woods institutions and trade agreements that advance dignified jobs and healthy communities.
Yet a clear and present danger is that the United States and other developed nations will back new rules that mainly protect living standards at home while ignoring the pressing need to address the widening income and technology gap between North and South. Meeting the challenges of the global economy will mean creating a good name for global economic governance—which will never happen as long as Washington allows corporate America to dictate the rules of the world economy. As John Cavanagh of the Institute for Policy Studies notes, “Utilizing their trade associations, pressure groups, and thousands of well-paid lobbyists, corporations have been able to shape U.S. policy so they are the prime beneficiaries.”
Globalization - perceived threats of foreign workers, cheap imports, foreign capital, and so forth - has become a convenient scapegoat for the failure to build constituencies for reform of national economic policy. Clearly, there is a need for improved global economic governance that does not undermine national development strategies that are sustainable, equitable, and contribute to commonly beneficial international economic integration. At the same time, however, domestic legislation is needed that puts full employment, income distribution objectives, workers’ rights, public infrastructure investment, and educational and health services at the top of the policy agenda. For the United States, the prescription “thinking globally and acting locally” has special relevance given America’s modeling impact on the global economy. A renewed and expanded commitment to the social democratic management of the economy domestically is the essential first step for any effective new leadership role abroad.
Although the U.S. government has aggressively pursued the expansion of global economic governance through the WTO and regional integration agreements, it has been less enthusiastic about global governance that aims to maintain collective security and uphold international norms. This differentiated posture is easily explained, given that Washington believes that U.S. national economic interests-namely the welfare of U.S. corporations and investors-are well-served by the current instruments of global economic governance. It is true, of course, that occasionally the U.S. government excepts itself from the international rules in the name of national security or to protect a politically powerful economic sector. However, for the most part, the United States plays by the international economic rules that it has been so central in shaping.
In contrast, U.S. exceptionalism is the main feature of its relationship with the political manifestations of global governance. One might have logically expected that the United Nations - gridlocked for decades by the cold war - would have become a stronger international institution after the Soviet demise. But rather than acting to help realize the UN’s vast potential, Washington chose to continue its policy of working in concert with the UN only when it was convenient. Largely as a result of Washington’s disregard for UN authority and the U.S. reluctance to meet its financial obligations, the United Nations has withered rather than blossomed since the collapse of the Soviet Union.
Instead of a real commitment to construct a new world order based on multilateralism rather than superpower politics, the U.S. government has established itself as the final arbiter of international peace and security. It has appointed itself as the archangel of international peace, sweeping down against all the Lucifers of the underworld whenever it deems fit. Unlike either the gunboat diplomacy era, when the U.S. intervened abroad mostly to protect its direct economic interests, or during the cold war, when the U.S. intervened in the name of protecting the “free world” against communist advances, today Washington has assumed a grander imperial mission. The economic and political stability of the entire planet is now its purview, which includes striking down rogue angels and unleashing its holy wrath on terrorists, drug traffickers, and other threats to world order.
Recognizing that, acting alone, it cannot accomplish its mission of maintaining this post-cold war order, the U.S. government has launched a vast global network of police and military training programs while entrusting NATO with an expanded regional role.
The United States as global peacekeeper is untenable: morally, financially, and politically. Washington is not an impartial arbiter and enforcer of global peace and security. It is a globocop but a selective one. No longer does it maintain the pretension of being willing to “bear any burden” or “pay any price,” but instead has become highly selective about where and when it intervenes. Evaluations of U.S. national interests and the potential for U.S. casualties are primary considerations. Don’t count on the globocop to stop genocide in a backwater state like Rwanda, where U.S. interests are few.
As the U.S. government finds itself overextended and despised in world opinion for its superpower hubris, America’s post-World War II commitment to multilateralism in the cause of world peace should be revisited. Paying its UN dues and respecting the UN process are Washington’s required first steps. But greater leadership will be needed to meet the multiple challenges of global peace and security.
On a regional level, Washington itself must encourage the transition away from U.S. dominance by encouraging European Union governments in their new efforts to forge a common foreign policy and collective security routine, by either abolishing NATO or looking eastward to include Russia, and by promoting the establishment of an Asian common security agreement that would include both Japan and China. Globally, the challenge is to use U.S. influence to jump-start structural reform at the UN, sorely needed to make it a more credible and effective institution. In other words, U.S. leadership is required to help establish the processes and methods that will diminish its central role in global governance and make room for a multipolar world — one in which U.S. leadership is valued more for its wisdom than feared for its raw power.
Closely related to collective security governance is respect for international norms like human rights. No other country is as outspoken about civil liberties and democracy as the United States. The State Department’s annual human rights reports offer regular and often harsh criticism of abusive practices around the world, and the president and other administration officials routinely scold other heads of state for human rights abuses at summits and regional forums. However, at the same time, no other nation is so responsible for the failure of the international community to establish respect for civil liberties as a fundamental norm. After a half century, the U.S. still has not ratified one of the two Geneva human rights accords, and recently Washington has sought to undermine accords banning land mines, prohibiting the use of child soldiers, and establishing an international criminal court. Rather than being an operative principle of U.S. foreign policy, advancing human rights is part of the U.S. foreign policy toolbox, increasingly used during the past couple of decades, although only selectively and rarely against countries regarded to be strategically or economically important. The credibility of U.S. human rights policy is further undermined by U.S. unwillingness to subject itself to scrutiny of its own practices.
Although an institutional framework is critical to global governance - whether economic, political, or military - the widespread acceptance of international norms such as basic human rights and core labor rights is also a fundamental component. Rather than obstructing attempts to strengthen international norms and insisting on U.S. exceptionalism, the United States should recognize that its broader national interests would be well-served by efforts to extend these dimensions of global governance.
A critical component of the U.S. leadership challenge is to build public support for global governance. In part, this will mean giving up some U.S. control over these institutions and encouraging a new leadership role for major powers like Japan and Germany as well as Southern nations. It is likely, however, that the United States will get more than it gives in any expansion of global governance. Given its pervasive economic interests and increasing dependence on international transactions, the United States stands to benefit from the kind of global governance that keeps national economies afloat in times of crisis, encourages sustainable development, fosters equitable economic growth in the South, and keeps trade disputes from degenerating into destructive protectionism or conflict. Similarly, regional collective security arrangements — together with a more effective UN peacekeeping capacity — would free the U.S. government (and its taxpayers) to shift budget priorities from military obligations to programs that meet domestic needs and promote the general welfare of the global community.
The U.S. should also be acting globally to advance international environmental norms and to help less privileged nations meet those norms. But the key role the U.S. government and its citizens can play is to alter America’s unsustainable patterns of consumption - and in that process to advance the development of environmental technology and more sustainable systems of production.
WHO MAKES FOREIGN POLICY
Foreign policy and global affairs have never been the exclusive realm of presidents, generals, and diplomats. The outrage, concern, and vision of citizen groups have historically played a fundamental role in shaping the U.S. role in foreign affairs. As World War II raged, for example, peace organizations and churches provided the visionary and practical foundation for U.S. proposals to create the United Nations.
Though advances in communications technology and economic globalization place new constraints on national sovereignty, nonstate actors have expanded their influence in global affairs - and, in doing so, have assumed a powerful role in global governance. The emergence of nongovernmental organizations (NGOs) as visionaries and instruments of change is perhaps the most hopeful development of this new era. Progressive activists in international networks have proved to be the key actors in setting new directions regarding issues of international security (land mines treaty, small arms trade, arms sales code of conduct), human rights (child soldiers, international criminal court, truth commissions), sustainable development (rainforest conservation, climate change, trade and environment), global economy (social clauses, corporate codes of conduct, debt restructuring), and global governance (accountability, transparency). To a large degree, citizen diplomats are forging the global affairs agenda of the 21st century.
Previously operating as external pressure groups shaping foreign policy and public opinion, NGOs have become central actors in this new era. Taking to the streets, citizens of East and West Berlin tore down the iron curtain. Since then “civil society” has been demanding a place at the table in international economic, political, and military negotiations. Yet in pressing for the restructuring of international negotiations and institutions to include a formal place for nongovernmental actors, civil society proponents should recognize the attendant risks. Already, business associations, for example, have moved into the opening created by social justice and environmental NGOs, asserting that they express the demands and aspirations of civil society. With their easier access to funds, such groups may be better placed to take advantage of the “power shift” that has brought NGOs into global governance.
As NGOs press for a formal role in foreign policy decisionmaking and in international institutions - asserting that such participation will democratize global affairs - their own lack of democratic, transparent, representative structures and processes is increasingly being called into question, and rightly so. Compounding this problem is the disproportionate number and power of NGOs from the North. The power shift in this context can accentuate North-South inequities, especially when Northern NGOs and Northern governments work in concert. Although the United States is not so directly affected as less powerful states, U.S. citizens and policymakers should be concerned that NGOs can serve as a cover for privatization and weakening of state structures. Direct and indirect U.S. funding of foreign NGOs, while largely for worthy ends, may undermine local political processes and development, elevating nonrepresentative civil society organizations while sidelining political parties and popular organizations that might otherwise serve as agents of change.
Setting the directions of U.S. foreign policy in the 21st century needs to be a more inclusive process, one that takes full advantage of the visionary qualities and determination of the global NGO networks. Their close connections with the grassroots, their new internationalist convictions, and their nontraditional sense of national interests and national security make NGOs valuable collaborators in forging a new global affairs agenda.
IS THERE A THREAT TO THE U.S.
What might threaten USA leading role in the international community? Most American scholars are more confident than Henry Kissinger, especially about the threat coming from the People’s Republic of China. Just as during the cold war the problem was not Russia but Soviet Communism, in the PRC today the problem is rule by a Communist elite whose interests contradict those of its own people - and that of the U.S. (this is a scholars assertion). As the strategist Coral Bell notes in the Fall 1999 issue of the National Interest, items at issue in the “possible collision course” between Washington and Beijing include the survival of Taiwan, the fate of North Korea, the U.S. alliance with Japan, the American naval and troop presence in East Asia, the prospect of a missile-defense umbrella over Japan and Taiwan, and PRC human-rights violations, not least in Tibet. With all these very much in mind, the PRC has increased its military spending by half during a decade when the rest of the world has used the post-cold-war calm to reduce defense expenditures. Chinese rulers are rushing to build a modern force that can dominate East Asia, and are supplying outstanding developing states around the world with the latest missile and nuclear technology.
The American administration think that the Chinese regime, like all Communist regimes, is fundamentally insecure because it does not rest on popular support. Although it is trying to win a measure of legitimacy by improving living standards and allowing some additional personal autonomy, this will not work: as always with “goulash Communism,” whatever the local recipe, people will like the goulash but not the Communism. The recent crackdown on the apparently harmless Falun Gong movement and the continuing refusal to allow freedom of religion demonstrate how limited personal autonomy is likely to be and how extraordinarily insecure the government feels. As in the Soviet case, the regime will seek military power and success as a means of improving its legitimacy - and of intimidating both its own people and its Asian neighbors.
In the Chinese case, however, there is a key difference some Americans do not mention: American business is pro-Chinese in a way in which it was never pro-Soviet. Too little money was at stake in Russia. By contrast, the corporate community has persuaded itself that, despite current setbacks, there are vast fortunes to be made even in a Communist China. Consequently, those promoting a tough line toward China’s human-rights violations and its aggressive foreign policy face resistance not only in Beijing but in the U.S. Chamber of Commerce. As reaction to the recent agreement on Chinese membership in the World Trade Organization suggests, this is already causing divisions within the Republican party between the business community and all stripes of conservatives.
Pointedly acquitting Henry Kissinger of the “scurrilous charge that his ideas about China have been shaped by the commercial interests some clients of his consulting firm have there,” the American administration and indirectly also rest assured that realists like Kissinger and the hard liners will advocate containment of the Chinese if the latter “show signs of developing imperial aspirations.” But what “signs” are there, beyond the extraordinary buildup of conventional ground and naval forces as well as strategic nuclear forces, and China’s renewed threats to Taiwan?
U.S. AND SOVEREIGNTY OF STATES
An issue to which few commentators in American foreign policy have devoted adequate attention is changing notions of sovereignty. Commenting on Kosovo, one could observe American hardliners when they write: “We find it hard to quarrel with the emerging idea that the principle of sovereignty should no longer embrace the right of political leaders to butcher their own people. An example on that is “Coral Bell for he points to the “new norms,” especially concerning human rights and the environment, that “legitimate great-power intervention in the crises of lesser powers to a degree seldom envisaged in previous diplomatic history,” and optimistically concludes that “Washington’s current and immediate future generations of diplomatic strategists have as large an opportunity (and as complete a set of tactical choices) before them as those of 1946-47.” But there are real dangers here in addition to opportunities. These “new norms” can be invoked to challenge American power as easily as to justify its use.
If, for instance, a single judge in Spain can force the seizure of General Pinochet in London against the wishes of both the Spanish and Chilean governments, what have we wrought? Can a system in which sovereignty may be breached not only by great powers but by any ambitious jurist really survive, and - a no less urgent question - can it be counted on to protect the rights of Americans? The new International Criminal Court, which treats sovereignty as a mere formality, presents similar difficulties. A long list of treaties now regulates matters once thought to be questions of domestic law.
It is repeatedly worth noting that decision makers in the USA are having trouble outlining a paradigmatic foreign policy, and they are blamed for that. Recent American moves in the international community are clearly noting contradictions with their own political values. Bold cases of anomalies, inconsistencies, and many of them were manifested during the Clinton years. These contradictions though acknowledged and recognized, they have not, however, resulted in the crystallization of a foreign policy agreeable to the traditional American spirit. Whom Americans want to satisfy? God? Locke? The Founders? Americans with continuing fire in their compassionate bellies? Or maybe the old soldiers.
Americans have come now more clearly than they did when perestroika took over in the Soviet Union and annulled Lenin that the mix that harnessed the energies and direction of so many USA decision makers during the cold war - traditional isolationists, traditional interventionism, traditional anti-militarists and their opposites - is gone and is not prospectively replaceable. When all is said and done, Podhoretz, a distinguished American scholar, concludes that he would rather ally himself with an idealistic interventionism than with a prudent isolationism. But the difficulty he confronts in sorting things out and coming to this conclusion rests in part on his determination to face the comprehensive problems of foreign policy - what to do when, to whom, and under what circumstances.
That is the intellectually challenging way in making decisions in foreign policy, to seek out answers to important questions. As in, “When a nation threatens other nations, do Americans have to intervene? Or even, “When a nation threatens its own people, do American have to intervene.” Or maybe even, “When a non-democratic nation can reasonably be assumed to be developing an ABC (atomic/biological/chemical) weapons capability, do American have to intervene?” How to intervene, at risk of how much sacrifice, is a subordinate question, and of course subordinate questions generate other sub-subordinate questions. Policy makers at the State Department balks at answering categorically any of these questions, leaving the world only with inclination in favor of an interventionist over a restrictive policy.
Well, aside from intriguing into constitutional formulations, but posing one question. What are Americans going to do about Taiwan? In exploring that, perhaps light will be shed on structural questions as well. China of the new millennium will be making its claims with an arsenal of nuclear weapons and missiles and will be asserting jurisdictional sovereignty over an island that itself claims to be the legitimate government of China but that successive United States administrations, bowing to Beijing, have treated as a constituent part of China - whatever the peculiarities of a Chinese province that governs itself, has its own army and navy, and swears not to submit to the political authority of Beijing until there is a change there of counterrevolutionary dimensions.
At the same time, Americans are “pledged” to the qualified defense of Taiwan. It is fair then to ask what Americans will do if the day comes when Beijing issues an ultimatum — for instance, by demanding that Taipei must disband its military forces and receive a mainland delegation that will take effective control of the government. The American administration knows that the object of statecraft is to abort crisis, and so far this has worked - Taiwan is self-governed and Americans are at peace with China. But what will Americans do when, confident of its resources and of its cause, Beijing looks the Americans in the face and asks, Do you want Taiwan so badly as to countenance a nuclear bomb on Honolulu? The American Administration might plead that, in such a hypothetical situation, they are simply back to a reenactment of Mutual Assured Destruction. But the world community wants to hear it said: do Americans favor running the risk of nuclear war in order to preserve Taiwan’s independence?
The international environment in which the United States operates does not lend itself to programmatic statements. In the case of China, which does loom as a foreign-policy problem for the U.S. It is not the evil empire of the cold-war past, but rather a complex, turbulent society burdened with a corrupt and ideologically bankrupt regime that is, nonetheless, tolerating (or unable to resist) the gradual spread of some political as well as economic freedoms. There is nationalism and paranoia - and a tremendous desire to attend Western colleges and universities and to take advantage of the fruits of the West’s economic system. But all of this do not solve the problem of Taiwan.
In looking at the problem of Kosovo, where, on balance, military intervention stopped some truly dreadful events in their course, although it did not (and could not) bring about the multiethnic, autonomous-but-not-independent Balkan Switzerland sought by the Clinton administration. The critical judgments required in that case were prudential: what price would the United States pay for intervening, and what for refraining? Is true that the Clinton administration got it right, and its opponents, on the whole, got it wrong?
The world is a far more complicated place today than it was during the cold war.
The creative destruction of information-driven capitalism; the deeper forces of demography and Americanization; the undeniable (if not altogether desirable) increase in the power of international media and non- or supra-state actors; the working-out of the long-term consequences of the collapse of old empires; the impossible-to-anticipate shocks of disease and ecological disaster - all have created a messy world that doctrines do not fit. There are, of course, a few first principles. By and large, democracy is better than dictatorship, not only in terms of fundamental decency and civil rights but as a source of peaceful relations among states. For the application of these and a few principles like them, however, no hard and fast rules can be found.
There has been much serious and interesting debate over foreign policy among a powerful group in the USA called conservatives in recent years. It is only logical not pretend that this debate has been unaffected by political developments. For all the high-minded theoretical disputes that have filled American intellectual journals, the realist or neo-isolationist tendencies of most conservatives (Patrick J. Buchanan notwithstanding) can be traced not to 1991 and the breakup of the Soviet Union - not, in other words, to an earnest attempt to grapple with the new realities of the post-Soviet strategic environment - but to the election of Bill Clinton.
Why, for instance, was the term “international social work,” coined by a disgruntled former Clinton adviser, applied by Republicans only to interventions that occurred after 1993? Perhaps the purest form of “humanitarian” action ever conducted by the United States was George Bush’s intervention in Somalia in 1992 to stop a politically-induced famine, no one recall much conservative outrage over that deployment of American troops on a humanitarian mission. A couple of years earlier, Bush had sent thousands of American soldiers to Panama to remove the president from power and to establish a more functional American like democracy there. (Contrary to Republican revisionist history, the invasion of Panama was not aimed at protecting the Canal.) Panama was, in essence, Bush’s Haiti. Where were Republican criticisms then of American reckless adventures in “nation-building” and “democracy-promotion”? If a Republican President had taken the United States to war in Kosovo last year, I believe a majority of Republicans and conservatives would have supported him - and supported not just that specific intervention but the broad rationale for such interventions.
Now, there is much reason to prefer almost any Republican’s interventions to Bill Clinton’s, just as there was much reason to prefer Hamilton’s navy to Jefferson’s. But is the distinction really a matter of principle? Where many conservatives have erred these past eight years has been in elevating their justifiable mistrust of Clinton’s leadership in specific cases to the level of a general theory about how America ought to conduct its foreign policy.
Instead of opposing Clinton’s internationalism, such conservatives have opposed internationalism. Instead of opposing Clinton’s ineffective methods of intervention, they have opposed intervention. They have erected what they insist are enduring principles of American foreign policy - no “humanitarianism,” no “nation-building,” no exporting of democracy - for the purpose of indicting Clinton. Opponents of the conservatives say that the price of using doctrinal elephant guns to shoot a political flea is that conservatives have driven themselves into a neo-isolationist corner where they have no business being.
This may sound a bit cynical, but actually disagreements between the different groups in the USA is good news. Such politically-driven “reassessments” of American foreign policy are easily reversed.
FOREIGN POLICY PRINCIPLES
There has been and remains a legitimate theoretical debate over the principles that should guide American foreign policy in the post-cold-war era, over whether the United States should intervene abroad more or less frequently, and for what reasons. But I would suggest that the real test for conservative realists of the 1990’s vintage will come after January 2001, when Bush leads the country to war in some less-than-central part of the world out of the same uncertain mixture of principle and interest that led his predecessors into Panama, Somalia, Haiti, Bosnia, and Kosovo.
Then it will be clearer if there has been a genuine shift in conservative opinion on foreign policy, or whether what we have witnessed over the past eight years has been just another spin of the electoral wheel. Maybe, with a Republican in office, conservatives and liberals alike will return to their respective old methodology of thinking.
Scholars perplexity over the “new foreign-policy debates” is characteristically sincere and honest. In no way should it be confused with President Clinton’s phony nostalgia for the allegedly simpler days of the cold war or with presidential candidate Bill Bradley’s confidence that “Until the fall of the Berlin Wall in 1989, ... we knew where we stood on foreign policy.”
Such statements are truly astonishing from the leaders of a Democratic party which, for most of the last 25 years, had largely turned its back on the robust internationalism of Harry S. Truman, John F. Kennedy, and Senator Henry M. Jackson. Theirs was the party that voted in overwhelming numbers for the Mansfield amendment to withdraw U.S. troops from Europe, and against the Gulf war; the party whose leaders attacked Ronald Reagan for declaring that the Soviet Union was an “evil empire,” and (in an episode of lesser historical significance) the Bush Pentagon for suggesting that Americans should seek to prevent any hostile power from dominating those regions whose resources could become a source of global power.
Ironically, there is far broader consensus today on issues like the U.S. presence in Korea and Europe than ever during the cold war. Even the notion of American military superiority is taken for granted and seemingly welcomed by people who not many years ago regarded it as dangerous. This has happened partly because the Democratic party, under Clinton’s leadership, has tried to contest the foreign-policy armor won by the Republicans through the successes of Presidents Reagan and Bush, and thereby to reclaim the center of American politics. In the process opportunistically lead his party away from some of its previous stances.
While it is surprising that this consensus about American military power has developed at a time when the need for it has become less evident, perhaps the explanation is that these commitments now involve less risk and demand less courage. When Reagan denounced the Soviet Union as an “evil empire,” not only did he cause outrage among those on the Left addicted to moral equivalence, but he was attacked as a warmonger: offending the Soviet Union was a dangerous business. Confronting Saddam Hussein was problematic for President Bush because no one knew that victory would come at such a low cost. It is only recently, when confronting Iraq seems relatively easy, that everyone has become a “hawk.” The debate over Kosovo was mild compared to what it would have been had the U.S. been suffering serious losses or even facing that possibility.
Among conservatives, many are now divided by the concern that the U.S. may be undertaking commitments whose importance to the national interest is unclear and which we may abandon if they prove too costly to sustain, as Clinton did in Somalia and as even Reagan did in Lebanon. Or, if Americans persist, they may find themselves confronting horrendous costs that Americans failed to anticipate, as happened in Vietnam. In this connection, it is surprising and a bit unsettling to observe the ease with which Democrats who once embraced George McGovern now speak in a pale echo of President Kennedy’s call to “pay any price, bear any burden” in behalf of freedom. Military forces are spoken of as instruments for diplomatic signaling, and even for nation-building. Such talk should make any sensible conservative nervous, and even more so when force is actually used with the gradualism that characterized the war in Vietnam and without any sense of how to “win.”
One could add, however, that the dangers of American overextension do not seem at the open comparable to what they were in Vietnam, and most would agree with Podhoretz that it is far more dangerous to underestimate than to overestimate the risks of a major war in the future. Still, in order to complete his very useful guide for the perplexed, one would need to specify more precisely the mission he sets forth - protecting and preserving freedom, and spreading its blessings - even if doing so may create new fault lines among conservatives.
In particular, when it comes to putting American soldiers in harm’s way, there is a big difference between protecting freedom where it exists and spreading it. There are no less important differences between places like the Persian Gulf that Americans regard as could be the sources of major threats to U.S. security and places like Haiti that are not. When it comes to armed intervention, similarly, there is a difference between giving others the means to fight for themselves, as Americans should have done in Bosnia, and fighting for them. And when it comes to promoting democracy, there is a difference between defending it where it is established, as on Taiwan, and promoting it where it has not yet taken root. In the case of China, American limited influence on that country is more likely to be effective if they take the milder course that President Reagan followed in dealing with authoritarian regimes like the Philippines and South Korea than the approach he took toward our ideological rival in the cold war, the Soviet Union.
Finally, there is the inclination to analogize the present time to 1899 than, as Podhoretz does, to 1919 - in the sense that the looming danger over the next twenty years is more likely to be a resurgence of great-power conflict than the ideological fueds of Nazism and Communism that produced World War II and the cold war. But while we cannot be certain what the greatest dangers confronting the USA and the rest of the world will be, the worst imaginable indictment would be if future generations, looking back, were to conclude that our generation could have prevented a global conflict, but failed.