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February 1994

by Ramona Calin, MIA candidate, Columbia University, School of International and Public Affairs

Given the nature of the chaotic political framework of today's world configuration, there don't seem to exist clear, elegant solutions for today's US' interests in the world. James Schlesinger believes that "The United States has strength to spare in responding to individual challenges, yet it clearly lacks the overall strength to respond to all challenges. It should avoid the heady feeling induced by its triumph in the Cold War, that all things are now possible. It must learn, in this altered context in which there are no major rivals, to husband its strength and to choose with care those policy objectives that reflect interests sufficiently weighty that they can garner the public support to sustain them in the long run." Western analysts very often share this theory of the nice, peaceful and stable era of the Cold War. But, was the Cold War era indeed such a nice, neat epoch?

This remains a very controversial issue. In its eyes of a hegemonic democracy career, the US had the immense satisfaction of seeing the overthrow of communist governments in Eastern Europe and the demise of the Soviet Union. At that time, this represented a glorious solution for both "rescued" Eastern European peoples and the "saviour" US. The solution seemed to have appeared from the tunnel of 40 years of Yalta- negotiated Eastern European sufferance and US triumph in the age of the Cold War.

The "nice guys" won over the "bad guys" and their triumphant preaches redeemed the all-gloomy forgotten eastern part of the European continent. And all of a sudden the US confronts itself with the question of how to face this new "altered context" where the bad guy's power had strongly diminished and the US should use all its tools to continue framing the New World disorder. The world seems to have somehow adjusted itself to listen to its "wise" young saviour, to hope for its democracy recipes and its inconsistent interventions. But are all nations indeed capable or desirable to respect and accept their young fellow's example of democracy? Is US' imperialism, driven by the "Empire of Liberty concept, its idea of enlargement to propagate democratic ideas and to spread US saviour recipes a feasibility? The end of the Cold War seems to have finally represented this feasibility for a very short while. But many subjects from "the other side of the gate" seem to continue being very susceptible and question US type of recipes for democracy, freedom and welfare. As the French author Alexis de Toqueville used to write over a century and a half ago: "It is in the conduct of their foreign relations that democracies appear to me decidedly inferior to other government... A democracy can only with great difficulty regulate the details of an important undertaking, persevere, in a fixed design, and work out its execution in spite of serious obstacles. It cannot combine its measures with secrecy or await their consequences with patience.... The exercise of foreign policy requires ability to use a measured application of energy and power. Americans would never be able to do that. They will never be able to do this global exercise." To conclude, with the demise of the Soviet Union and the end of neatly defined leadership and policy doctrines, US foreign policy is left in a confusing environment.

The New World disorder becomes like a nebulous mixture of multinational entities and fast growing regional powers, as a result of mainly the new media and communications technology.

The international spread of power resulted in more regional zones of power. Nations that were propped up by Cold War relations have separated or even split. While many emerging governments are facing collapse, multinational institutions, as well as Trans - national entities are succeeding to forge economic alliances across territorial borders. In the new world, which seems to become one of complex interdependence, with a wider hierarchy of actors that doesn't want itself any longer limited to the mere role of state bureaucracy, each upcoming entity should grow able to pursue its own goal. In this amalgam of goals the outcomes will be less predictable. Multinational institutions will teach the US to re-evaluate its foreign policy and distinguish from the "us" and "the others" pattern, and try to reconcile mutual (our-and-their) interests. But where are we at today? We could place US foreign policy almost back in 1913, when before his inauguration, 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 a little doubt that President Clinton would echo this sentiment. But as Bosnia, Haiti and Russia show, there is no escape. "President Clinton seems to receive backward-looking advice, since he fails to take account of the dramatic changes in the world and the deterioration of domestic finances, opening a gap between rhetoric and performance. This damages once again American already feeble credibility. The nation is entitled to something better. The President should have the convictions and demand the real changes that he was elected to bring about." "Elected to solve the domestic crisis, neglected by his predecessor, the new president of the United States found himself confronted with a multitude of troubled spots on the planet. President Clinton indicated that he ignores neither the strategic interests, nor the economical difficulties of his planet. Could he aid the states of the former Soviet Union, as much as he deems it necessary?

He also expressed the wish to preventthe proliferation of armament. Is he ready to accelerate the reconversion of the enormous American military industry?" The contradictions start here... On one hand, President Clinton intends to put into practice ideas adapted according to "after the cold war". “Entering a new era, we need a new vision, as well as the necessary power to face the upcoming problems and threats." In his speech in front of the World Affairs Council in Los Angeles, like in many other upcoming ones, President Clinton presented a large span of objectives:

a) the promotion of democracy and of
b) the free market economy of Eastern Europe and that of the former Soviet Union,
c) the reinforcement of the democratic institutions and of the respect for human rights in Africa, Asia and Latin America;
d) the prevention of the spread of the advanced weapons
e) the intensification of the international efforts in favour of limits on environmental degradation, etc.

In order to accomplish these plans, President Clinton would need to perform an active foreign policy, which represents an important aid, as well as the occasional use of force. On the other hand, President Clinton tries to concentrate his energy and resources to revitalise the American economy. "I will sweep this economy like a laser and the foreign policy will be only determined in function of its impact to the economy" , he declared in November, 1992. This priority pushes him to limit the expenses of foreign aid and avoid the participation in long-term conflicts. A budgetary deficit of $300 milliard dollars for the fiscal year 1993, is also preventing the US from engaging itself in expensive foreign interventions. But how to reconcile these irreconcilable priorities? If President Clinton wants to properly accomplish all these foreign affairs issues, he would by no means be able to become " the laser ray" of the economy; and if he allows the economic problems to dictate their rule to diplomacy, he will not be able to attain the other above mentioned objectives. Therefore, hard choices impose themselves, while the United States are, mainly for economic reasons, less able than before to exercise their power. Should the United States do what president Grant used to believe: involve themselves military more aggressively? The Clinton administration would like to avoid the direct military intervention in the apparently unsolved crisis: these interventions will deprive considerably the new economic plan and might have negative domestic political consequences. The polls prove the fact that the US opinion wants the current administration to focus its energy on economy ".

The Americans have today even less taste for the role of a world's police man than during the cold war." But the new vision that President Clinton envisages risks to create an even stronger confusion about the role the US has played in the past, of dealing with aggressions and violence abroad. The main important task of the presidency is to define a foreign policy based on the promotion of democracy and human rights. And to accomplish this aim " We should use all our economic power, our values and if necessary, our military force" I will only make use of two very controversial examples: The crisis in Haiti is becoming more and more serious, both because of the political situation in Port au Prince, where people in the administration showed a lack a of experience of the exercise of power, and also due to the large flow of refugees trying to enter the US by boat. While preparing his campaign, President Clinton has criticised the returning of the boats to Haiti, " If I were president, I would, in absence of a clear and compelling evidence that they weren't any political refugees- give them temporary asylum until we restored the elected government of Haiti" . But confronted with a massive immigration, he had to change his policy and follow former president Bush's actions, after stating "I am appalled by the decision the Bush administration took in respect to the Haitian refugees". Although very recently, the policy towards Haitian refugees seems to have become more lenient, it is hard to predict how consistent it will be. The examples of both Haiti and Somalia may have well found conditions for humanitarian concerns, but their "handling" has proved that the US has no patience for failure and thus prefers to withdraw from an already "established" scene.Another important problem the United States needs to solve is that of the attitude towards the ethnic and religious conflicts, in parts of the world such as the Balkans, the Middle East, and the Horn of Africa. The United States are already involved in these conflicts; President Clinton and his administration need to decide on which approach he will take and how he will respect his promises. As far as the former Yugoslavia is concerned, the case of Bosnia has shown the limits, of power, both military and political in the post Cold-War era. What kind of credibility can the US hope for in a situation where its media presented a one-sided story of this never-ending crisis? By ignoring this lesson and failing to order a de novae review of the resources devoted to foreign policy- something that the European allies have not succeeded either despite their much closer proximity to the zone of stability- the US was somehow left with a somewhat comfortable excuse of merely interfering in the conflict. Where is the US morality in this crisis, where US arms supplied to the Bosnian Muslims do no more than, in the words of Foreign Secretary Douglas Hurd, "greatly increase the killing and the length of the war?" And to continue speaking of morality and its inherent total commitment definition, eliminating half measures, if the US is called upon to counter genocide in Bosnia, then they should deliver, even if that means ground troops, casualties and tremendous expenditures. Morality is also timeless. If on moral grounds, Warren Christopher rejected the safe heavens in Bosnia one week, he can not logically or credibly withdraw his objection a month later. The reason why I stressed upon these two different-in-content crisis, is that of their somewhat similarity in being acted upon in such frustrating, inconsistent ways.

The US has no patience for failures ... Advocates of placing morality at the centre of foreign policy often dismiss the issues of total commitment versus half measures 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?" The new world order referred to by former President George Bush is seen by some as a marriage of decency: democracy and human rights and real politick, a combination of tensions between real politick and idealism. These tensions between morality and practicality are far from being solved. As US interests become more global, foreign policy must inevitably look for multilateral tools to use. US-built international institutions, such as the UN, will still provide a framework for US foreign policy and values. Today's UN though, reached the fatigued days of once the League of Nations, and even with Secretary General's Boutros Boutros-Ghali "final acclaim" for restructuring, it needs a while before being able to confront its new role of a peace keeper, world guardian and succeed on field, such as it surprisingly did in Cambodia. The US plays a weighty role in peacekeeping operations.

By participating in UN peacekeeping, the US is able to promote the goals of world peace and stability through collective security - the notion that a strike against one is a strike against all- But multilateral peacekeeping under the auspices of the UN presents drawbacks as well as a good means of operating in a global set-up. The main drawbacks would be: the loss of American lives, the financial expenditure and the condition that US troops need to operate under foreign command. How could the world's sole remaining military superpower allow non-allied countries to determine US force over the planet? These realist concerns although somewhat valid are not valid enough to allow the support of uni-lateralism, instead of that of US participation in UN peacekeeping missions. The realist concerns though, should be able to overcome their isolationist concerns and balance domestic group’s interests against international group interests. The use of force might become irreplaceable in future US foreign policy. Working through the UN will diminish the necessity of aggressive action. The realists need to understand this.

Defence 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 usually predicated on real or anticipated threats to the people, not on open-ended commitments to accept responsibilities that worsen the domestic economic arena. This is another reason why the US should use force unilaterally only in cases where military aggression remains the only feasible solution to protect US' direct security, their frontiers and strong interests.

In an effort to maintain US military hegemony, President Clinton and Secretary of Defence Les Aspin have expressed their wish to set in place new armament systems, amongst which the plane/helicopter V-22 Osprey, the cargo plane C-17 and the submarine SSN-21. These systems are necessary if the United States wish to conserve their technological updating and continue to initiate themselves in the aerospacial sector. But while the presidency is hoping to spend funds to diminish credits in the field of nuclear weapons and in programs connected with NATO, the continuous augmentation of the federal deficit might determine Clinton's administration to reduce military expenses more than they might wish to. Another foreign policy objective is the prevention of the spread of advanced weapons. By becoming very active in this respect, president Clinton risks to annoy some of the principal commercial partners of the United States; he also risks to worsen relationships with Russia and China even more; these two countries might most likely refuse any new restriction of arms sales. President Clinton, as well as the Secretary of State, the Secretary of Defence and the chief of CIA are partisans of a strict action in the objective of the prevention of the advanced weapons. The President, will without any doubt, open negotiations in order to plan a deadline for the nuclear experiences, which will facilitate the renewal of the prevention treaty that will be examined in 1995. New problems risk to continue arising in the US relationship with its allies and commercial partners. As proven by the Iraqi "affair", the main difficulty lies in the fact that certain exportations have a double usage: computers, scientific technological tools could carry a double usage: both a military and a civil one. The US leaders would like to forbid the flux towards countries such as Iran and Pakistan. But the majority of Washington's allies, amongst which Japan and the NATO nations are against such restrictions, at this stage in time of economic hardship. If the US wants to preserve their policy, they might risk their commercial relationship with their main allies. The same applies to the relationship with Peking and Moscow; two capitals which are trying hard to make use of arm sales to obtain necessary tools for their development. In the past, Russia and China delivered their engines to Oriental regimes whose policy was against the Western world (Iran, Iraq, Libya, and Syria). Having reached this stage, the US confronts itself once again with the need for extended diplomatic relations, thus striking at maintaining a balance in its conflicting interests. Real politick promoters and realist arguments find it hard to adapt themselves to the idea of an eventual sometimes harmonious globally integrated world, where the US role will be that of a hegemonic mediator, as opposed to that of a mediocre "king". The US, as the most multiethnic society on the planet, has proved that it has the generous capacity to set an example that like its various citizens, nations should also be able to work together to protect world's stability, by protecting their own interests, as well as global interests. Since today's media impact became a huge tool to drive US foreign policy, although any foreign policy should have the support of the public, these policies should not be dictated by public opinion and fully controlled by media. In general, a policy created by the public opinion is more noticeable when it fails. And so many policies fail ... Therefore, there is a need for more consistent, clearer policies. The US seems to have the impression and ultimately the expectation to solve all crises. When policy fails, public's confidence diminishes. Also, public's understanding becomes more and more confused by the inconsistent coverage. On the other hand, since media is such a serious tool for foreign policy, a more spread international coverage, extended to more US readers/listeners will make the people more respondent/ interested in international concerns. While this strategy will take a long time and will bare a painstaking implementation, it will serve its purpose in the long run. Wilson's world order model has been the use of education and cultural change to promote democracy and human rights. World War 2 European destroyed economies as well as education systems were rebuilt/reinvented following this model. Today the US does have neither the capacity nor the will to rebuild the whole world. But as Professor Jack Snyder of Columbia University proposes an International Academy for Nationalities Studies, as a solution to solve nationalistic and ethnic conflicts in Eastern Europe, similar type of institutions, in different fields of application could produce a framework for less violence and warfare. If the United States will be able to accept this new role of a hegemonic mediator, then less powerful nations will be also forced to mature themselves in a globally integrated world. This will of course, be a work of generations, but a possible one. As the Mexican author and diplomat, Octavio Paz wrote in his book "The Labyrinth of Solitude" "I do not preach the return to the past, imaginary as are all pasts ... All nations must find their own modernity. They must invent it. It is a task that requires not only favourable historic and social circumstances but also an extraordinary imagination. The rebirth of imagination, in the realm of art as in that of politics, has always been prepared for and preceded by analysis and criticism. I believe that this duty has fallen to our generation and the next."

More than two generations might be required to reach this goal. But it is probably the way in which humanity might survive. The monopolist models never proved successful. Adopting the theory of the comforting Cold War peaceful era is another illusion of using the past as an invented framework for the disillusion of the present. We need a new, global system; and the US-as the only power who acquired the combination of economic, political and military power to influence the global world scene- is to accept and promote this globalism. Despite its security and geographical isolation, the US is closely connected with the rest of the world and so are its interests. In today's chaos, US interests are more than ever interconnected with the interests of all nations across the globe. Therefore, acting its role of a mediator by promoting multilateral institutions, other policy areas would be shaped as well. The US, with its unique position to influence world development should use its interests to mediate within "this altered context in which there are no major rivals".


Paz, Octavio. "Laberinto de Soledad"
Schlesinger, James. "Quest for a Post-Cold War Foreign Policy"
Alexis de Toqueville, "Democracy in America"Newspapers & Magazines The Atlantic magazine, September 1993
Washington Post, 6 November, 1992
New York Times, Speech by President Clinton, 14 August 1992 OthersBosworth, Stephen - Professor at the School of International and Public Affairs, Columbia University, New York – lectures on Foreign Policy
Klare, Michael. - Professor at Hampshire College, Amherst.
President Clinton - Electoral Campaign, May 27, 1992

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