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We have heard it now from two Administrations, two parties, in a row: yes, the Cold War is over, but the world is more dangerous, because less predictable, than it was while the Cold War was still on. The world is indeed dangerous, the author argues, but not more dangerous to the United States

by Jonathan Clarke

In Congressional testimony and public statements Secretary of State Warren Christopher has described the Bosnian crisis as a "problem from hell." His predecessors in office may be forgiven for thinking that he overstates his case. They would grant that the problem would have been more tractable had the Serbs been Communist-inspired Soviet surrogates, and therefore subject to immediate Western retaliation with scant regard paid to the ancient ethnic animosities that give us pause today. But, those predecessors might argue, the problems they themselves encountered and mastered on their watches--the rebuilding of Europe and Japan, the containment of communism, the removal of Soviet forces from Afghanistan, to name but a few examples from the past generation--were not necessarily any less complex and demanding than those that are now facing the Clinton Administration.

They would further say that their success in these areas did not come by chance but derived from their rigorous efforts to clarify where the American interest lay and then to pursue it vigorously. They would fault the Administration for an inadequate intellectual performance in defining both for itself and for the American people what it is that America stands for in the post-Cold War era.

Curiously, the Clinton Administration, bristling as it is with academic talent, has been content to live hand to mouth on foreign policy, embracing stale concepts from the bygone era of the Cold War. Despite Clinton's campaign criticism of President George Bush's lack of vision, and despite promises of "a fresh assessment" of U.S. foreign policy, the President, it seems, either doesn't comprehend or doesn't wish to grapple with the fact that in foreign policy he stands at a historic crossroads.

Unlike all his predecessors since the First World War, Bill Clinton does not face the inevitability of armed struggle against a global enemy. Military threats against the United States and its allies are at an all-time low. Compare Bosnia, a country where neither American lives nor American possessions are at stake (and which Clinton has described as his "most difficult foreign-policy problem"), with some of the lethal challenges of the recent past. Against these comparatively happy circumstances abroad, public finances at home are in terminal distress, struggling to satisfy conflicting demands.

To get away from reactive, seat-of-the-pants management of foreign affairs, Clinton badly needs to construct a new concept of America's place in the world which will allow him to protect the interests and project the values of the United States while simultaneously finding significant savings in those sections of the budget devoted to defense and international discretionary spending. To succeed in this task he will, as Hercule Poirot says, have to exercise his "gray cells." Otherwise a relentless combination of global events, CNN film crews, and syndicated columnists will imprison him and leave him and his presidency floundering.

The Neo-Cold War Orthodoxy

Professional diplomats often say that trying to think strategically about foreign policy is a waste of time. Each and every problem is different, and the best one can hope for is to muddle through--"pasted-together diplomacy," in former Secretary of State Lawrence Eagleburger's colorful phrase. Unfortunately, the Bosnian experience has demonstrated what happens when foreign policy is made on the fly: directionless vacillation between cowboy and wimp. In point of fact, a successful foreign policy requires an intellectual underpinning or mooring in a vision of the country's mission in the world. The lesson from Bosnia is that this is not merely an academic exercise but an important practical necessity. As yet there is no sign that anyone at the top of the Administration is ready to step back from all-night caucusing and take on the calm, deliberative task that would produce the required new strategic concept.

Clinton's foreign-policy team needs a fresh source of energy. To date it has failed to deliver any of the "bold new thinking" of which Christopher improbably spoke at the time of his nomination. (Quite to the contrary, in perhaps the most decisive action thus far of his tenure as Secretary of State, Christopher moved swiftly to silence the one senior State Department official, Under Secretary of State for Political Affairs Peter Tarnoff, who dared to speak, albeit tentatively and off the record, of the need to close the gap between U.S. foreign-policy aspirations and resources.) Instead, what has emerged is a defensive rehash of warmed-over ideas adding up to what might be called "neo-Cold War orthodoxy" or "sole-remaining-superpower syndrome."

The central contention of this traditionalist school is that, a few ritual genuflections in the direction of new thinking aside, it is business as usual. The United States must remain "activist" in foreign policy and prepared to intervene in any of the world's problems. To this end it must retain a large military and, in the words of Secretary of Defense Les Aspin, the readiness to "fight every day." Advocates of reform who suggest that in today's much improved security environment there is less need for American interventionism, or that military solutions are less applicable to contemporary problems, are stigmatized as isolationists or 1930s-style appeasers.

Proponents of this no-change approach have hardly been prolific writers or speakers about the fundamentals underlying their ideas, but the evidence at hand indicates that their views draw on four main theses:

* The end of the Cold War has not reduced the level of international threat. New dangers have replaced the old ones.

* The collapse of the Soviet-American superpower bipolarity has made the world a more unstable and complex place.

* Only the United States has the power to solve the problems of the world.

* The United States has a unique moral responsibility to protect humanitarian values.

These assumptions freeze U.S. foreign policy in a Cold War time warp. If they are accepted and followed, the United States will remain the world's policeman, military spending will remain high, the peace dividend will be meager, and U.S. diplomacy will too readily reach for military solutions.

Others will ask whether there are not alternative options. So far press and academic commentators, while acknowledging the need for review, have been slow to make the case for a substantively new strategic doctrine. Too many members of the foreign-policy elite have been concerned, in the words of Foreign Policy editor Charles William Maynes, to find "a new rationale for its continued relevance in high policy circles," rather than seeing that the time has come for a fresh intellectual start. Mainstream opinion has coalesced around the view of James Hoge, the editor of Foreign Affairs, that the world remains an "unsettling" and "dangerous" place. Luminaries of the Bush foreign-policy team, including Eagleburger and Bush's national security adviser, Brent Scowcroft, are banding together to advocate maintaining the Cold War establishment. The search for alternatives will therefore have to begin with a critical examination of the claims of the neo-Cold War orthodoxy.

A Discretionary Jungle

The first thesis asserts that despite the cessation of the Soviet threat, the United States still faces a hostile world. CIA Director James Woolsey has won the accolade of a cartoon in The Economist for his vivid image of the world as a "jungle filled with a bewildering variety of poisonous snakes." In the same vein Chester A. Crocker, a former assistant secretary of state, has written that "historic changes since 1989 have profoundly destabilized the previously existing order without replacing it with any recognizable or legitimate system. New vacuums are setting off new conflicts. Old problems are being solved, begetting new ones."

Before going on to look at these new problems, recall the ultimate threat that hung over the United States every day of the Cold War: total national annihilation through the doctrine of "mutual assured destruction." Now that this threat is, in the words of Senators Sam Nunn and Richard Lugar, "at an all time low," it requires a major effort of imagination to recollect that twenty-four months ago nuclear submarines roamed the ocean depths, strategic bombers were on twenty-four-hour-alert active duty, and hardened silos were on active maintenance, all to prevent the destruction of the United States in a thermonuclear holocaust.

The secondary threat from the Soviet Union during the Cold War was global opposition to American interests and values. This took the form of both armed aggression and clandestine subversion. In effect the Soviets were standing on the other side of the school yard saying, "We repudiate all that America stands for. We represent a better system, a better way of organizing society. Follow us--or else." In the face of this across-the-board challenge, the Cold War arms buildup and the containment policy were an inevitable and logical reaction.

What are the new threats to which the foreign-policy establishment has been drawing our attention so urgently? Nuclear proliferation, anti-democratic movements, Islamic fundamentalism, narcotics, ethnic tumult, international terrorism: these are real problems, real dangers, and should not be underestimated.

Close analysis, however, shows that they share an interesting element: not one carries with it the immediate physical threat of annihilation of the United States which was present every second of the Cold War. There is a discretionary quality about them. A direct Soviet attack on Germany or South Korea would have activated the treaty-defined obligation of a U.S. military response. Today we can pick and choose. The "principals committee" (consisting of the President's top national-security advisers) can discuss options for weeks, while the Secretary of State can embark on a week-long tour of European capitals to seek allied support. The leisurely six months of unopposed buildup between Desert Shield (August of 1990) and Desert Storm (January of 1991) makes the point. This is not to deny the reality of the new threats; it is simply to note that they are of a different quality. Today's threats do not present a SYSTEMIC challenge to American interests. The very existence of Soviet communism was predicated on global opposition to the United States; today's world holds no such enemy. The attempts of Charles Krauthammer and other syndicated columnists to construct a new Comintern out of Iranian-inspired Islamic fundamentalism, or of the Harvard professor Samuel Huntington and other academics to detect a new source of global conflict in a form of Bismarckian Kulturkampf between "the West and the rest," collapse under the weight of their internal contradictions.

To be sure, today's threats are not entirely toothless. The introduction of nuclear weapons to the Korean peninsula, for example, provoking as it might a copycat reaction in Japan and Indonesia, would be of great concern. But this is very different from the situation that prevailed during the Cold War. We now have no adversary who possesses the ballistic missiles, massed armor, and industrial base of the Warsaw Pact countries. The challenge to American interests is tangential or by extension. Today's discretionary problems simply do not carry the same weight as yesterday's life-threatening dangers. To argue that they do undermines the credibility of the traditionalists as architects of U.S. foreign policy for the next century.

In terms of the threat to the United States itself or its allies, the world environment is far more benign today than it was formerly. Contrary to Christopher's assertions, America's foreign-policy agenda is very far from "overflowing with crises and potential disasters." The United States does not face the rise of a dominant, hegemonic power. There is therefore much less threat-based need for the United States to become actively involved in regional conflicts. Management of these can safely be delegated to nations nearer the action, with the United States playing a supporting role.

Belgrade is not Munich

The second thesis concerns the concept of stability or order in a bipolar world and a multipolar one. Implicit in it is a remarkable reinterpretation of history. Foreign-policy experts from the Cold War era, even including such a forward-thinking writer as the former Secretary of Defense James Schlesinger, would have us believe that the Cold War was a period of "unique disciplines" inasmuch as each side recognized the constraints implicit in the other's capacity for massive retaliation.

The theory goes that during this period the superpowers contented themselves with playing, through surrogates, a bloodless and painless version of the "great game" by a mutually agreed set of Marquis of Queensberry rules that imposed limits on the potential spread of conflict. The theorists now argue that the dissolution of the fear of nuclear holocaust "has made the world safe for conventional war," and that such a war, for example in the Balkans or the Caucasus, could ignite conflict across a continent.

This analysis calls upon us to indulge in collective amnesia about the Cold War. Unfortunately, the facts cannot be forgotten so readily. The list is long and unappetizing. The Soviet Union really did try to blockade Berlin and draw Greece behind the Iron Curtain; children really did hide under their desks during the Cuban missile crisis; Soviet tanks really did roll into Prague, Budapest, and Kabul; on Soviet orders, refugees really were shot and allowed to bleed to death under the Berlin Wall; dictatorships in Cuba, Ethiopia, Angola, and Mozambique really did rise on the backs of Soviet-equipped and -trained security services; state sponsors of anti-American terrorism really were feted in Moscow; the Soviet Union really did bankroll the Communist parties of Western Europe and Latin America. None of this was a dream. To combat all this, the West really did live on the nuclear high wire. And as for conventional war during the Cold War, the history books burgeon with the records of major conflagrations: Vietnam, Biafra, Chad, the Iran-Iraq war, successive Arab-Israel wars, the India-Pakistan war, Nicaragua, El Salvador, the Indonesian confrontation, the Chinese annexation of Tibet, the ethnic massacres in Sri Lanka, the Turkish invasion of Cyprus.

The hard reality is that the Cold War was a period of sustained global instability, not one of blissful Soviet-American condominium between consenting adult partners. At the global level a change of vast significance has since taken place. The threat of nuclear self-destruction no longer hangs over the world. The disappearance of this threat has removed a huge source of instability. What people find confusing, however, is that at the sub-global or local level the world gives the appearance of being wildly unstable. Across the map more red lights seem to be blinking in such hitherto unfamiliar places as Bosnia, Armenia, Georgia, Abkhazia, Tajikistan, South Ossetia, and the Trans-Dniester Republic, among other trouble spots.

Adherents of the neo-Cold War orthodoxy misinterpret these developments as well, regarding them as denoting a more anarchic world. They seek to present these conflicts as outgrowths of a new chaos that will be deepened if Washington adopts what President Bush called a "passive and aloof" policy. In fact, though their names are exotic, these conflicts are no different in intensity from many others that have disfigured this century and, it is certain, will continue into the next. The end of the Cold War has not ended history. Rather, the breakup of the Soviet empire has stranded many population groups on the wrong side of borders that themselves emerged from the breakup in 1917-1918 of the earlier Hohenzollern, Romanoff, Hapsburg, and Ottoman empires. Sometimes border adjustment will take place without bloodshed (for example, the fusion of East and West Germany and the divorce between the Czech Republic and Slovakia), but, as often as not, conflicts will occur as people attempt to right perceived wrongs or assert ancient irredentist claims.

In assessing how to react to these problems, note that in one crucial respect they are significantly different from their Cold War predecessors. None of them--not even Bosnia or the Hindu-Muslim confrontation in India, each of which has the potential to spill across borders--threatens to become a global crisis of the sort that would necessarily embroil the United States. Strategic rocket forces are not going to move to a higher state of readiness as a result of any of these current disputes. None of them is a forerunner of the emergence of an expansionist hegemonic power, Jefferson's "force...wielded by a single hand," the threat of which--be it in Europe, Korea, or Kuwait--has traditionally motivated large-scale American intervention.

Unlike such powers as Napoleonic France and Nazi Germany, Serbia, for example, has no territorial ambitions beyond the borders of the former Yugoslavia; the Khmer Rouge does not covet the rest of Indochina. It is bad analysis to conflate minor, regionally containable problems with global threats to world peace. That sort of bloated language may belong to UN resolutions; it should find no place in American thinking. Belgrade is not Munich.

Is the World "More Complex"?

The other aspect of this second thesis is the claim that the world is a more complex place. Superficially this, too, may appear to be so. For example, instead of one nuclear power, the Soviet Union, the United States now has to deal with four: Russia, Ukraine, Belarus, and Kazakhstan. But the West is not dealing with four separate nuclear-use doctrines. Clearly, the last three former Soviet republics are using their nuclear weapons as bargaining chips in their dealings with the Western financial community. No increase in the complexity of the threat to the United States is implied.

Further, the end of the superpower rivalry has simplified the diplomacy involved in international issues. Whereas once the Middle East peace negotiations, Bosnia, or Iraq would have had to be approached through an infinitely complex minefield of Soviet-American competitiveness, now a broad international collegiality exists. This does not mean that differences of opinion will never arise (they manifestly have done so over Bosnia), but the search for solutions is no longer subordinate to superpower rivalries. The United States is comfortable with Russia's taking a leading role in the matter of Bosnia, whereas once it would have labored mightily to prevent Soviet meddling.

This means that problems can be approached much more on their merits. For example, would Syria have been willing to sit down with Israel had it not seen the collapse of its Cold War sponsor? True enough, the problems themselves remain complex--and now American policymakers have to take account of parliamentary opinion in the former Soviet republics rather than dealing with one monolithic government. In an increasingly interdependent and multilateral world many of the problems are fantastically complicated (the Stockholm International Peace Research Institute has, for example, identified thirty current territorial disputes in the Caucasus region alone), but the passing of the Cold War has stripped away one thick layer of complexity: superpower rivalry is no longer involved. Regarding national security, it is not the case that the world is more complex. Complex, yes--but not more so.

In one respect it is fair to concede that an additional level of complexity exists. This is in the field of analysis. No longer do analysts have the luxury of a single lens through which they can scrutinize the world's problems.

Rather than being one-dimensional in an anti-communist or Soviet-containment context, problems have now become multifaceted and individual. As we have seen in Bosnia, this has brought into the foreground complexities that hitherto would have been little noticed.

But this returns us to the core problem facing the Administration's foreign-policy makers: how to define American interests in a world where there is no longer a monolithic challenge to them but where the Administration is daily called upon to address disparate regional problems of uncertain relevance to American security. To say that the diagnosis is more complex does not mean that the illness is too.

The "Sole-Remaining Superpower" Syndrome

The third and fourth theses--that only the United States has the power to solve the world's problems, and that the United States has a unique moral responsibility to protect humanitarian values--both derive from the sole-remaining-superpower syndrome. Underlying both is the thought that, as George Bush said, "there is no one else." National Security Adviser Anthony Lake has spoken in a similar vein of the United States' "monopoly on power."

This outlook has resulted in an important conceptual error in our status quo foreign policy. It assumes that the mere identification of problems is enough to trigger American involvement. While paying lip service to the view that the United States cannot be the world's policeman, it blithely calls for the United States to prevent Europe from dissolving into "chaos," to offer security guarantees to Ukraine, to interpose American forces in any possible conflict between China and Japan, and to guard the Golan Heights--to name a diverse list of actual or potential commitments that were under discussion in the first six months of this year.

This approach is thorny with difficulties. The most important of these is the implicit assumption that some form of U.S. intervention, most often military, is the best or indeed a viable route toward a solution of the problem under consideration. During the Cold War, when the challenges faced by the United States or its allies were often of a military nature, recourse to arms was often necessary. The Soviets would not have left Afghanistan had not the United States armed the mujahideen. Grenada and the Caribbean generally would not be the sleepy, democratic backwater it is today if the United States had not intervened to throw out Bernard Coard and his Communist bully boys.

The world has, however, moved on. Even if for argument's sake one concedes that the United States has vital interests in every corner of the globe, today's problems are still far less susceptible to military solutions than the earlier ones were. The reason for the lack of consensus on Bosnia was not that the U.S. military could not do the job of repelling Serbian aggression but that this was only part of the job. We wanted also to persuade Serbs, Croats, and Muslims to live side by side in peace. For this purpose high-level bombing seems as inappropriate across the Atlantic as it would be in Los Angeles in mediating the feuds of the Bloods and the Crips.

American policy analysts who suffer from the sole-remaining-superpower syndrome are not alone in placing too high a value on military might. Brian Urquhart, the former UN undersecretary-general for special political affairs, advocated in The New York Review of Books the creation of a UN force to be globally deployed with rules of engagement that, unlike today's, would allow the UN troops to shoot before they were shot at. This sounds fine; it is always tempting to imagine that the man with the badge and the gun can sort things out. The scheme might even have worked in the set-piece confrontations of the Cold War, but the "internal security" character of today's problems--even those, such as Bosnia or Nagorno-Karabakh, that have a pseudo-international format but are in all essentials civil wars--makes the U.S.-marshal approach much less promising. Changing the color of the helmets or relabeling the approach as "assertive multilateralism" will not render the application of military power to civilian problems any more successful. After all, we do not argue that a firepower deficit is what keeps us from solving the problems of our inner cities.

A further example of the inapplicability of the military option may be found in connection with Islamic fundamentalism. Even if one accepts the fanciful proposition that Iranian-driven fundamentalism is the new problematic "ism" of the post-Cold War era, it is extremely doubtful that U.S. military intervention can provide any sort of solution. The West has a dismal track record in understanding Islam. Ill-considered Western support for the repressive policies of Shah Reza Pahlavi is in part responsible for the anti-Western virulence of today's regime in Tehran. A policy that offers more of the same in, say, Egypt or Saudi Arabia is courting disaster--all the more so if it risks delivering enormous stocks of state-of-the-art military equipment into the hands of fanatics.

Alas, Martin Indyk, the new director of Near East and South Asian affairs at the National Security Council, is leading policy in this direction. Indyk and, under his tutelage, Christopher even use the Cold War language of "containment" and "balance of power" to characterize the Administration's policy. There are undoubtedly many ugly aspects of Iran. But to base U.S. policy in the region on a partnership with inherently unstable conservative Arab states and to conduct a campaign of Cold War-style military confrontation against Iran is to risk replicating the Ayatollah's revolution throughout the Arab world.

A better alternative to confronting Islam as a potential military threat might be to put more resources into understanding the forces that drive the religion's advance. Perhaps they are not so different from what underlies the revival of Christian fundamentalism in the United States--namely, a search for stable values amid alienation from the harsh economic realities and materialism of the late twentieth century.

The new problems will place a premium on detailed knowledge. In the 1960s and 1970s the Ford Foundation poured a great deal of money into Chinese studies, and there emerged a generation of students who understood China. This knowledge promises to be of great benefit to relations between the United States and China, which looks to be the potential superpower of the next century. A similar program aimed at understanding Islam promises equal benefits.

More Will Than Wallet

A further problem with the status quo approach is that the sole-remaining-superpower syndrome betrays a curiously old-fashioned mindset deriving from the 1950s, when the United States produced more than 40 percent of world GDP. With the U.S. share now about 20 percent, one does not need to be a believer in Paul Kennedy's theory of "imperial overstretch" to see that the American comparative advantage is not at all what it was. The European Community, for example, now has a larger economy than the United States does. Of course, in the strictly military sphere the United States remains preeminent. In a stand-up fight, if the enemy does us the favor of running across an open field and up a hill into our artillery, as in Pickett's charge on the third day at Gettysburg, the United States is more than a match for anyone. But one theme of post-Cold War analysis is that stand-up fights will be few and far between. The radio-controlled land mine and the sniper's rifle will be the weapons of choice. Talk of a monopoly of power fails to take account of something Clinton himself has said: "The currency of national strength in this new era will be denominated not only in ships and tanks and planes, but in diplomas and patents and paychecks."

To accept responsibility for all the world's problems is to ignore the necessity for economic trade-offs. Foreign policy can no longer be formulated in a resource vacuum. In his inaugural address in 1989 President Bush said that America had "more will than wallet." Four years and a trillion dollars of additional debt later, the time has come to align policy aspirations with resource realities.

Defense spending in the United States, as in any other country, is a public-policy choice that has a very direct impact on domestic welfare. It is normally predicated on real or anticipated threats to the salus populi, not on open-ended commitments to accept responsibilities that might better fall to others. It is blindingly obvious that if the United States is willing to tax itself to take unpleasant and dangerous action that benefits other nations, regardless of whether they share in the costs, it is in the economic interest of those other nations to prolong that (for them) happy situation as long as possible.

Foreign nations are only too happy to see the United States as the protector of last resort--but too often this becomes the first resort. The willingness of the United States to assume their burdens saves them money, which they can spend on a domestic priority such as raising educational standards, an advantage that comes back to haunt the United States on the trade front. Clinton's statement that "it is time for our friends to bear more of the burden" will have little impact until America's allies see GIs leaving Europe, Japan, and Korea.

An undifferentiated list of the world's problems is not therefore a valid argument for maintaining the status quo in the foreign-policy and national-security apparatus. A rigorous effort is needed to relate the problems to U.S. interests and resources. Policy analysts have realized this. They know full well that in the absence of the Soviet threat many of the world's conflicts generate little public interest.

To compensate for this, these analysts are reviving that unlamented analytic casualty of the Vietnam War, the domino theory. State Department officials have joined forces with the columnists of The New York Times to project a seamless escalation of fighting from Bosnia into Kosovo, Macedonia, and Albania and on into a general Balkan war involving Greece, Turkey, Hungary, Bulgaria, and Romania, with Iranian mujahideen thrown in for good measure. All too soon we are back in the Sarajevo of 1914. The fact that the analysts have produced little real evidence that this progression is likely or that American involvement would be helpful rather than prejudicial to a solution has not prevented them from having an effect on policy. Clinton himself spoke of the dangers of a wider Balkan war to support his decision to install American troops in Macedonia.

Just as there are domestic problems that fall outside the purview of the federal government, so there are foreign problems that are better addressed by local or regional entities than by outsiders, who, however pure their motives, may have neither the depth of knowledge nor the commitment to the long haul to solve the problem. Indeed, they may even complicate matters. Somalia is a case in point. What sorted out as a humanitarian mission to feed the starving all too soon involved bombing sorties by U.S. helicopter gunships, and Madeleine Albright, the U.S. ambassador to the UN, had to defend the killing of Somali children by the very troops who had been dispatched to protect them. This style of "peacemaking" recalls Tacitus' description of the Roman approach in first-century Britain: "Ubi solitudinem faciunt pacem appellant"--"Where they make a desert, they call it peace."

Before active U.S. engagement or intervention is justified, a vital next stage, going beyond mere problem identification, is necessary. This is a rigorous demonstration that the problem could usefully be addressed by the U.S. military.

Why Morality Is Not Enough

The fourth thesis in support of the status quo has to do with morality. This appears under many guises, such as humanitarian relief, resistance to genocide, human rights, and support for democracy. It includes new rationales for international activism, such as the ideas of UN Secretary-General Boutros Boutros Ghali on limited sovereignty, which would facilitate outside intervention in the previously sacrosanct area of domestic affairs.

These ideas have great appeal in the United States, where the proposition that America has a special moral duty to right the wrongs of the world has been a resonant theme ever since Woodrow Wilson, in introducing his Fourteen Points to govern the Armistice settlement of the First World War, consciously repudiated the traditional but, in his view, amoral European and American practices of balance-of-power politics and pursuit of national interest. Whereas John Adams could write in 1783, "There is a Ballance of Power in Europe. Nature has formed it. Practice and Habit have confirmed it, and it must exist forever," and John Quincy Adams in his famous July 4, 1821, address could say of America that "She goes not abroad in search of monsters to destroy," Wilson took the United States into the Great War not to restore the equilibrium of Europe but to "vindicate the principles of peace and justice."

The loss of the Soviet Union as the leitmotif of American interventionism has brought morality to prominence as proponents of the Cold War orthodoxy seek to resist change. The issue for the Clinton Administration is not whether morality belongs in the foreign-policy realm but the practical choices that derive from its presence there. This is not going to be an easy circle to square. Previous Administrations have tried and come up short. Jeane Kirkpatrick's ingenious but specious distinction between different sorts of dictatorships--"ours," who are "authoritarian," and "theirs," who are "totalitarian"--comes to mind.

Alas, unless morality is anchored in some coherent concept of national interest, it is likely to prove an erratic compass. The reasons are familiar: Morality is indivisible. It does not apply selectively. If it is right to support democracy in the former Soviet republics, then it must be wrong to neglect encroachments on it in Algeria and Peru. If we demand that Hong. Kong accept Vietnamese boat people, we ourselves must do the same for Haitian ones. If it was our duty to provide succor to Somalia, we should do likewise for Sudan.

Morality demands total commitment. Half measures are not allowed. If we are called upon to counter genocide in Bosnia, we must deliver, even if that means ground troops, casualties, and tremendous expenditures. Morality is also timeless. If on moral grounds Warren Christopher rejects the concept of Muslim safe havens in Bosnia one week, he cannot credibly or logically withdraw his objection a month later.

Advocates of placing morality at the center of foreign policy dismiss these issues as irrelevant to anything except a "petty consistency." They assert that, in the manner of a hospital emergency room, it is possible to perform triage on international problems and come up with a list of priorities. This, of course, goes to the crux of the question, Where do morality and practicality meet? Morality, as a long-standing motivator in U.S. foreign policy, will necessarily point the way to areas where American values and public opinion demand activity. This is as it should be. But two things are clear:

First, triage can take place only on the basis of American national interest. If the civil war in Bosnia attracts our interest while that in Angola does not, this cannot be because killing is less morally repugnant in Africa than in Europe. It must be because the United States has a greater national-interest stake in Bosnia than in Angola. Of course, this dilutes the moral message. It is well to bear in mind Churchill's words: "The Sermon on the Mount is the last word in Christian ethics....Still, it is not on those terms that Ministers assume their responsibilities of guiding states."

Second, as discussed above in connection with military intervention, even if morality appears to make an overwhelming case for activism, it must still be balanced by considerations of effectiveness. Where is the morality if U.S. arms supplied to the Bosnian Muslims do no more than, in the words of the British Foreign Secretary, Douglas Hurd, "greatly increase the killing and the length of the war"? How are American values enhanced if, in support of human rights, trade sanctions are applied against China which bring political liberalization to a halt, snuff out the fledgling democratic movement in Hong Kong, and ultimately strengthen the Communist old guard's grip on power?

The Limits of Force

The central error the traditionalists make is to try to freeze in place the traditional politico-military approach to international problem-solving. According to this approach, although political means come first, military force is never far behind. For the reasons given above, the passing of the Cold War has rendered this thinking obsolete. The United States will be making a critical mistake if, as Albright is urging, it gives this old approach a new lease on life under UN auspices.

The major consequence of the persistence of this thinking will be to saddle the United Sates with continued excessive military costs. Although the defense establishment would have us believe that costs have been cut to the bone and that, in the words of Admiral Frank Kelso, the chief of naval operations, the military is "on the ragged edge of readiness," the reality is otherwise. Despite promised reductions in spending, the military budget will still consume more than $1.3 TRILLION over the next five years, and a further $150 billion will go for intelligence. It will take until 1998, nearly ten years after the Berlin Wall came down, before spending in terms of constant dollars returns to the levels of the late 1950s and mid-1970s. This is more than 150 percent of the combined expenditures of all the other members of NATO; in 1991 the United States spent $850 more per capita on defense than Japan. Our NATO allies are more than matching the U.S. defense reductions. Something is out of balance here.

Since units in the U.S. military have multiple tasks, it is not easy to match lines in the budget with possible scenarios. Forces in Europe, for example, can also be deployed to the Middle East. However, a generally accepted rule of thumb during the Cold War was that some 50 percent of defense expenditures was intended to deter Soviet advances in Europe. This threat has disappeared once and for all. But instead of accepting the logic of the situation, the neo-Cold War orthodoxy cleaves to its image of an unstable world bristling with new dangers and threats that only the United States is able to resist.

During the election campaign Clinton rightly decried those who wish to raid the foreign-aid and defense budgets for the sake of "domestic wish lists." It is axiomatic that security is a first charge on resources: if the nation is endangered, money must be found. But the obverse is also true. To sustain a bloated budget on the basis of an outmoded and flawed doctrine (not to mention some downright incredible scenarios, including opposing a Russian invasion of the Baltic states, penned by the Pentagon's more imaginative scribes) is equally unpatriotic.

If nothing else, Bosnia has shown the limits, both military and political, of power in the post-Cold War era. By ignoring this lesson and failing to order a de novo review of the resources devoted to foreign policy--something from which our European allies have not shied despite their much closer proximity to the zone of instability--the traditionalists are robbing the nation of a unique opportunity to make healthy, safe, and much-needed adjustments to America's role in the world. The reductions in foreign-policy spending that have taken place or are planned are real indeed but, compared with the opportunity, do not go far enough. It is not too much to look for reductions in intelligence and defense spending of 50 percent or more.

Toward a New Strategy

Where does this analysis lead on the more creative side of the equation? What are the implications for practical policy formation?

The first priority must be to adjust expectations to reality. Foreign policy is no longer where the action is. Those used to the daily red meat of the Cold War and looking for fresh sources of provender will be disappointed. Today's wars (Bosnia, Angola, Armenia-Azerbaijan, the anti-narcotics battle, among others) and today's problems (ethnic upheaval, religious intolerance, terrorism, economic imbalances, fragile democracies) do not provide the all-encompassing challenge that was inherent in totalitarian fascism and communism. The era of the crusader has passed away. The holy places are no longer in the hands of infidels. At the end of the twelfth century the warrior king Richard the Lion Heart faced a similar letdown. On his return to England, having performed dazzling fears of arms outside Jerusalem, he found the tasks of peacetime governance prosaic and unfulfilling. Preferring to search for military glory in France, he neglected his royal duties. The kingdom he bequeathed to his successor soon dissolved among the fractious baronies.

So it is today. With American ideas and values commanding unparalleled acceptance, there is simply less need for the United States to guard the frontiers against the forces of darkness. There is no evil empire. The level of threat does not call for the forward deployment of heavy-infantry divisions, which are, in any case, ill equipped to answer the more subtle questions posed by the contemporary world. Furthermore, problems at home cast an ever-lengthening shadow.

As a consequence, U.S. policymakers need to accustom domestic and international public opinion to the idea that U.S. intervention is no longer either sound policy or a first-resort option. Instead, the United States will adopt a "cooperative security" approach, in which leadership will not necessarily be in U.S. hands and responsibility will be devolved down the line to the parties or regional organizations most directly concerned.

This doctrine needs to be articulated clearly and publicly. Present policy, which asserts the leadership of the United States, as Christopher did repeatedly in repudiating Tarnoff, but which the Administration's actions cause foreign nations to suspect is weakly founded, produces two negative results: it stunts the growth of regional organizations--for example, the fledgling European Community "Eurocorps"--and thereby delays the day when they might be able to exercise real responsibility; and it saps American credibility, causing both potential aggressors and potential victims to behave unreliably. Second, the United States needs to focus on fundamentals, not symptoms, around the world. This means paying more attention to economics. The success, for example, of the democratic experiment in Russia and elsewhere in Eastern Europe depends not on politico-military artifices such as the Conference on Security and Cooperation in Europe and the North Atlantic Cooperation Council (modestly useful though these organizations are) but on whether people are able to put bread on the table. The essential kind of support is thus less glamorous than shipping Stinger missiles over the Khyber Pass, but the consequences of failure in terms of a relapse into authoritarianism are just as great.

Islamic fundamentalism, terrorism, nuclear proliferation, ethnic and religious conflict, all fish in the pond of economic disequilibrium. In Egypt fundamentalism is propagating itself primarily among the poor and dispossessed, who reach out to religion to make sense of their blighted lives. Infiltrators from Tehran may exploit this sense of deprivation--but to focus exclusively on them, as President Hosni Mubarak would have us do in his quest for aid and arms, is to treat the symptom, not the disease. In Peru an indigenous terrorist movement is taking advantage of a population alienated from the political process. Ukraine flaunts its nuclear weapons partly out of resentment over inattention from the G7 aid donors. In India chronic economic underperformance prompts Hindus to seek scapegoats in the Muslim population.

Without a successful world economy, none of these problems is soluble. Unfortunately, no agreement exists about the best path along which to ascend to general prosperity. There are as many views as there are economists. This is not the place to adjudicate their views--that must await a separate study. All that needs to be said in the foreign-policy context is that economic decisions have assumed a greater-than-ever geostrategic importance, and must be coordinated at the highest level. To take a small example, an obvious bureaucratic disconnect exists in a policy whereby with one hand the Administration dispatches ground troops to shore up Macedonia's security while with the other, at the behest of the textile industry, it applies trade sanctions that imperil that country's viability.

Third, the concept of American interests must be returned to the heart of the foreign-policy decision-making process. Reformists and conservatives can probably agree that the only sustainable basis for placing American forces in harm's way is that American national interests are at stake. There will be dispute about what these interests are. One man's genocide is another man's quagmire. In a forest of conflicting claims and counterclaims, national interests will provide a sure compass. Once again, this demands a rigorous intellectual process and will involve the jettisoning of much Cold War baggage. Where once American interests seemed under global threat and public opinion stood ready to pay the necessary price in lives and treasure, today direct threats to the United States are few indeed.

Fourth, no U.S. foreign policy can stray far from American values. But any attempt by the United States to impose its interpretation of human rights on foreign countries is likely to be fruitless. Instead, the United States should put the world on notice that the degree of cooperation between itself and foreign countries will depend crucially on their observance of normally accepted humanitarian values.

Cooperative security, the cold logic of national interest, and economics may taste like thin gruel, even if seasoned with human rights. These themes do not "stiffen the sinews" or "summon up the blood." But that is the nature of today's foreign policy. It is better to recognize this fact than to base policy on a windy rhetoric that makes unredeemable promises.

Consolation for the absence of stirring inspiration may be found in the good policy decisions that flow from these guidelines. For example, nonintervention in Bosnia would have been the obvious option from the start. If it had been clear that we were not going to intervene, this might have prompted the belligerent parties into dealing more realistically with one another, or goaded the Europeans into earlier, more decisive action. The economic theme would invigorate policy toward the lands of the former Soviet empire and assuage some of the fears about religious extremism. Concern for human rights would signal to a transgressor like China that so long as its violations continue, it will face yearly battles to retain its access to American investment and markets.

Before his inauguration in 1913, President-elect Woodrow Wilson told his friends, "It would be an irony of fate if my administration had to deal chiefly with foreign affairs." There is little doubt that President Clinton would echo this sentiment. But as Bosnia, Somalia, and Russia show, there is no escape. To enable him to bring stability and consistency to this aspect of his job, the President needs a new strategic model. At present he is receiving backward-looking advice that, because it fails to take account of the dramatic changes in the world and the deterioration of domestic finances, opens a gap between rhetoric and performance. This damages American credibility. The nation is entitled to something better. The President should have the courage of his convictions and demand the real changes that he was elected to bring about.


Copyright © 1993 by Jonathan Clarke. All rights reserved.
The Atlantic Monthly; September 1993; The Conceptual Poverty of U.S. Foreign Policy; Volume 272, No. 3; pages 54-66.

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