Theodore C Sorensen. Foreign Affairs. Volume 71, Issue 4. Fall 1992.
On the morning of November 4, 1992, the first person to be elected president of the United States since the end of the Cold War will awaken to a world remarkably unlike that following any presidential election in the last half century or more.
He will be the first president to start a four-year term without any need to worry seriously about this nation facing nuclear or even armed attack, the existence of another military superpower or a challenge from a hostile global ideology. He will be the first who can rely on a virtually veto-free Security Council in a more effective, respected United Nations. For the first time a worldwide community of nations under law will appear to be within our reach. He will be truly free, in short, to use his inaugural address to outline a new course in world affairs for America.
It will be a historic opportunity.
But along with that opportunity he will face challenges that his predecessors did not face—from the integration of western Europe and the disintegration of eastern Europe; from the spread of ethnic, tribal, religious and other micronationalist clashes that are undeterred by nuclear might and unresolved by free-market and free-election doctrines; and from the difficulties of converting to a less military-oriented economy without unacceptable dislocation.
With the Cold War out of the way the next president will be obliged to face long-deferred global problems, including population growth, food and water shortages and environmental hazards that in combination could create for the next generation of Americans a very ugly and perilous way of life. To an extent not shared by his modern predecessors he will face an anxious and inward-looking American public that generally feels neither generosity nor responsibility toward the plight of other peoples. He will find it more difficult to distinguish between friend and foe, now that the clear ideological colors of the Cold War are gone; to distinguish between real dangers and mere problems, now that all kinds of nonmilitary concerns have replaced one clear overriding threat to the nation’s survival; and to distinguish between foreign and domestic issues, now that international influence depends less on military supremacy and more on market competitiveness.
In short America’s first post-Cold War president will face a world of both unmatched opportunity and unprecedented opacity. Under pressure to choose a new course for the country, with the gravest consequences attendant upon that choice, he will be standing at a crossroads, looking at conflicting signposts and holding outdated maps.
He will not be the first president this century to stand at such a crossroads. Presidents Warren G. Harding, after the election of 1920, and Harry Truman, after the election of 1948, stood at comparable intersections. In each case the United States and its military allies, during the period following the previous presidential election, had won a stirring global victory and commenced demobilization. In each case the American people were weary of crisis and eager to resume a course of domestic tranquility and prosperity. In each case the newly elected president had unusual freedom to forge a new national consensus in foreign affairs. Each of them chose very differently.
Harding, elected by a record margin, regarded his victory as a “referendum” rejecting “internationality,” as a mandate for “the resumption of our onward, normal way.” Europe and Asia were racked by debt, famine and regional disputes, by communism in Russia and by uprisings in scattered colonies. But this country, said Harding, needs “not nostrums but normalcy, … not submergence in internationality but sustainment in triumphant nationality.”
He appointed a brilliant secretary of state, Charles Evans Hughes, whose focus on international law led to a series of arms and naval limitation conferences and treaties. In the absence of political will and enforcement measures in Washington and other world capitals, all proved ultimately worthless.
In his inaugural address Harding recognized “the new order in the world” (a familiar refrain) and the need for international law and understanding. But his primary emphasis was on “the wisdom … of non-involvement in Old World affairs.”
Confident of our ability to work out our own destiny … we do not mean to be entangled. We will accept no responsibility, except as our own conscience and judgment in each instance may determine … no permanent military alliance … no political commitments which will subject our decisions to any other than our own authority.
America’s return to isolationism in the 1920s was soon symbolized and aggravated by higher tariff and immigration barriers and by the virulent anti-foreigner sentiment that raged in some regions.
Truman, barely returned by the voters in 1948 to the Oval Office that he had inherited three years earlier upon the death of Franklin D. Roosevelt, took a distinctly different course. Even before the 1948 election he had launched the Marshall Plan, embraced the United Nations and commenced the Berlin airlift, making clear America’s commitment to Western Europe’s security and to a continuing global role. Despite a large contraction of the military budget, he guided the nation’s relatively smooth conversion to a civilian base. Immediately after his election he instructed the Department of State to open negotiations for a new North Atlantic Treaty Organization. The NATO agreement, establishing this nation’s first “peacetime” military alliance, was signed in Washington only four months later.
Unlike Harding, Truman devoted all of his only inaugural address to foreign affairs. “Today,” he declared, “marks the beginning not only of a new administration, but of a period that will be eventful, perhaps decisive, for us and for the world.” He stressed, in addition to the need to negate the rising menace in Moscow, four themes of international cooperation: support for the United Nations, continuation of the Marshall Plan, the establishment of NATO and “Point Four,” a bold new program to make the benefits of American know-how available to underdeveloped countries.
Between his election and inauguration Truman had accepted the resignation of the ailing George C. Marshall as secretary of state and named a strong successor, Dean Acheson. In the four years that followed, Truman and Acheson successfully met the multiple challenges of Western postwar reconstruction, Cold War confrontation, Old World decolonization and international economic harmonization, setting the country on a course that lasted almost four decades and that would ultimately “win” the Cold War. To be sure, support from Congress and the public was enormously facilitated by the fear of a visible, powerful enemy; but the nation’s basic long-term approach of vigilance, restraint and cooperation with friends and allies had been set by the president in the first few months after his election.
Truman, like most presidents, perceived a mandate in his narrow electoral victory. But it may be difficult to discern any foreign policy mandate in this year’s election returns, regardless of who wins.
Unfortunately presidential election campaigns often have an unhealthy effect on American foreign policy. Political promises are commonly designed to appeal to local and short-term interests and to ethnic voter blocs. Foreign countries and foreign imports make handy targets for campaign oratory. The leaders of allied nations, however important in the long run, cannot carry a single U.S. district. Overseas problems, particularly if they are controversial, are often neglected or postponed until election pressures are over. In 1976, for example, Republican challenger Ronald Reagan’s campaign against President Gerald Ford helped delay both the second Strategic Arms Limitation Talks and Panama Canal treaties.
This election year has been worse than most. Logically this November’s voting should constitute another great “referendum” on new directions in American foreign policy. Instead, as of this writing, the campaign has dwelt almost entirely on domestic politics, the economy and personalities. The two presidential candidates have largely downplayed major international issues. With public opinion polls consistently showing strong support for President Bush’s handling of foreign affairs, particularly his leadership in Operation Desert Storm—a strength on which he had hoped to capitalize in the election—voters complained in the same polls that the president had spent too much time on foreign affairs and too little time on the domestic issues that were of primary importance to the country. Foreign economic, environmental and other hazards continue to threaten the nation’s well-being (less visibly than did Soviet nuclear weapons, to be sure), but only one percent of poll respondents declared foreign policy issues to be the most important matters facing the nation.
As a result President Bush curtailed some of his foreign travels and activities, for months averted his gaze from the slaughter in Sarajevo, delayed and diluted the U.S. contribution to a Russian aid package and—like his Democratic Party challenger—devoted his campaign speeches principally to domestic issues.
With the U.S. economy sluggish, the budget deficit still increasing and America’s physical survival no longer at stake, this focus on the domestic front in the country’s first post-Cold War election is not particularly surprising or troublesome. But at times only a fine line separated the Democratic Party campaign appeal to “take care of our own first” from the isolationist “America First” philosophy favoring wholesale withdrawal of U.S. forces and commitments. The presidential primaries of both parties appeared to reject outright protectionism and isolationism, making at least that much of a mandate clear. But the meaning of the November election will be harder to read.
If President Bush is reelected, one factor will in theory alter his position the day after that reelection. Under the twenty-second amendment to the Constitution, he will be a “lame duck,” ineligible to succeed himself in office after another four years.
Will this make a difference? No doubt, starting early in his term, there will be increased scrambling and angling among both Republicans and Democrats hoping to succeed him. That will make his relations with Congress, including some members of his own party, even more difficult than they already are. The reported interest of members of his own cabinet in gaining the next Republican nomination, unusual in modern politics, though once a common occurrence, could add a still sharper partisan cast to national security debates. Even without any added and early emphasis on presidential ambition Mr. Bush’s reelection is unlikely to return bipartisanship in foreign affairs to the level that generally but not inevitably prevailed in the first two decades of the Cold War.
Whether a president in his final term actually loses some of his influence with Congress and other countries, and even some of his own determination to please the electorate, is difficult to prove. He still holds the presidency with all its powers. He still occupies the “bully pulpit.” He still dispenses patronage, party funds and endorsements. He may not need to win popular or party votes ever again but he will want to win his place in history and to influence the choice of his successor.
Foreign governments occasionally try to play games with the end of a U.S. president’s term. The South Vietnamese were apparently induced by Richard Nixon’s team in 1968 to stall any peace negotiations until he took charge. Inquiries are now under way to determine whether the Iranians were induced by Ronald Reagan’s advisers in 1980 to postpone the return of U.S. embassy hostages until he took charge. Soviet leader Nikita Khrushchev claimed that he had deliberately deferred the release of downed U-2 pilot Gary Powers in 1960 until President Dwight D. Eisenhower, with whom he was feuding, was gone.
In general the last years in the presidencies of Eisenhower and Reagan, the only two presidents to have served two full terms since adoption of the twenty-second amendment, do not prove either side in this debate. President Eisenhower had his share of disappointments in 1960. His trip to Japan was canceled by an angry mob in Tokyo, and his trip to the Soviet Union was canceled by an angry Khrushchev, whose outrage over the U-2 incursion, real or feigned, also sank a much-awaited summit meeting in Paris. Nevertheless Eisenhower was able to proceed with a number of lesser trips and agreements and remained personally popular at term’s end.
President Reagan was also popular after two terms, although his last 18 months in office were marred by the Iran-contra scandal. Inasmuch as the final White House years of both Eisenhower and Reagan shattered the age record for that office, a decline in vigor rather than influence may explain their respective lack of foreign policy initiatives during those years. If President Bush is reelected, the fact that he will be commencing his last term foretells little or nothing about his effectiveness in foreign affairs during the next four years.
If Democrat Bill Clinton is elected on November 3 to replace Mr. Bush the nation will commence on November 4 that unique 11-week phenomenon known as the “presidential transition period.” To the leaders of other nations, who will have impatiently waited at least a year for the United States to complete its unduly long presidential selection process and get back to foreign policy decision-making, a further delay of 77 days before they know with whom and what they will be dealing may well seem intolerable. Many policymakers in an outgoing administration return to private life even before the new president is sworn in, and the momentum and interest of those who remain begin to sag. Secretary Acheson complained of the “virtual interregnum” of more than a year that accompanied the 1952-53 change of government. The world does not stand still during our election campaign and transition, and a widespread sense that no one is minding the store in the United States during this prolonged period can be dangerous. The growing crises in Laos during the winter of 1960 and in El Salvador during the winter of 1980 did not wait for new U.S. policymakers to be briefed and take charge.
For a new president-elect, however, the transition period seems all too brief. Unlike a newly chosen prime minister of Britain he has no previously selected, already functioning shadow cabinet, ready at a moment’s notice to assume responsibility with total confidence in the permanent career services, with automatic support from the legislative branch and with relatively few important positions to be filled. On the contrary, while still exhausted from a far longer political campaign than Britain has ever endured, a new president must select hundreds of new appointees—most of them strangers to him and to each other—and fight to secure their confirmation by the Senate. He must reexamine America’s position in the world from the vantage point of the presidency, very different from that of the candidate, and review in a new and cooler context his campaign promises for early legislative and executive action. He must prepare for the decisions and deadlines that the calendar unavoidably forces upon him soon after he takes office. Next year’s list includes new protocols to the international Global Warming and Ozone Layer agreements, the General Agreement on Tariffs and Trade, the North American Free Trade Agreement and renewal of most-favored-nation status for China.
A new president’s team needs time, even after inauguration, to move in, learn the ropes and find out more about each other, the responsibilities, personnel and other resources at its command. The working relationship between the new president, secretary of state and national security adviser also needs time to evolve.
Outgoing presidents have occasionally sought to involve their successors in some controversial international move during the transition, and incoming presidents-elect have occasionally acted to discourage one last summit or send-off for their predecessors. A 1992 transition, should President Bush be defeated, will see no such impropriety. Mr. Bush and Mr. Clinton can both be presumed to be men of goodwill, devoted to the national interest. Neither will be unclear as to who has full responsibility until January 20, 1993. The Foreign Service and other career services will accept and assist the members of the new leadership team, and in turn be accepted by them. No career ambassador is likely to be penalized (as some were in 1980-81) for having served in a policy position under the outgoing administration. Briefings for the new team will be comprehensive and objective. To be sure, the departing president may well include in his final budget submission to Congress, as so many have before him, a few hidden land mines, unachievable goals or parting jabs at his successor; but that kind of charade is neither unprecedented nor unforgivable.
Nevertheless transition periods have their dangers, particularly for a president-elect who (like Clinton, and Reagan and Carter before) is a relative newcomer to Washington. Self-appointed spokesmen for the new administration will inevitably sow confusion and concern in foreign embassies and capitals. A few self-important nominees will disdain help from more knowledgeable career officers. (The 1952-53 transition emissary from the newly appointed secretary of state, John Foster Dulles, demanded from the appropriate desk officer “all the telegrams” covering a particular country then in crisis; when asked if the secretary also wanted any background material, he stiffly replied: “No, we will provide our own background.”) Occasionally a confidential commitment is unintentionally omitted from the briefing, or a covert operation is inadequately explained (for example, the Bay of Pigs in 1960-61), thereby creating serious problems for the new administration at a later date.
A particularly dangerous practice in recent transitions has been the president-elect’s selection of his own large, aggressive transition team for each department and agency. These teams, often filled with ideologues, disappointed job-seekers and eager congressional staffers, all jockeying for power, setting their own agenda and determined to score political points, set out not to smooth the transfer of power but to conduct investigations or collect confidential documents that will confirm their worst suspicions about the departing administration. Both the president-elect and the nation would be better served if he named for each department a small, low-profile, issue-oriented, fact-finding task force whose members recognize that the election is over and wish simply to pave the way for the new secretary and then disband.
The president-elect will also need to shift gears, to remember that the political campaign is over and that he no longer needs to respond to every news media demand, criticize his predecessor or take pains to distinguish his position on every issue. Nor in world affairs would it be wise to do so.
Both Bush and Clinton have promised “change” to a frustrated electorate, without exempting world affairs from that prescription. Both have termed themselves “agents of change.” But they have been understandably vague about any specifics of change in U.S. foreign policy. Even with all the altered conditions and new opportunities noted above, the new president will not be writing on a clean slate. Continuity avoids confusion and builds consensus. Change solely for the sake of change, or solely for the sake of political appearance, is unworthy. Sudden change can be destabilizing, unsettling to allies, inconsistent with commitments and deemed further evidence of unreliability. Overly ambitious change can lead to embarrassing rejection abroad and to disillusionment at home.
Nevertheless, taking all that into account, the president elected this November, whether incumbent or challenger, will find that his unprecedented freedom to move the country in new directions is not only an opportunity but an obligation. He cannot, even if he wishes, adhere to the old foreign policy agenda, for it is now largely obsolete. Change, more fundamental than either party or any branch of government has discussed to date, will be required in virtually every aspect of national security policy. Without attempting to spell out specific details and numbers that will depend upon the next president’s personal and political predilections, it seems clear that, regardless of party, he must reexamine our nation’s course in the world in at least six overlapping areas: the approach to military matters, multilateral agencies, economic development assistance, international trade, human rights and democracy, and nonmilitary threats to security.
What is needed in each of these areas is not so much the invention of new ideas as the adoption of old ideas whose time has come—measures that do not merely prolong the status quo but ultimately transform it.
No doubt many will regard what follows as presumptuous, partisan and partial; they are right. But any foreign policy agenda offered to a future president whose identity is still unknown would be subject to the same three criticisms. The following agenda is a potential first draft, both to prod the November 3 winner and to provide him with a base upon which to build his own long-term vision of the world as it should be.
In military matters the next president will need to decide whether America should remain a global hegemonic power ready to “pay any price, bear any burden, fight any foe” or evolve into a pivotal, residual power. He will need to decide whether America should transfer to independent regional security groups the primary and initial responsibility for containing those threats to security that arise in their respective regions. This includes those organizations in which the United States has legitimate membership (NATO, the Conference on Security and Cooperation in Europe, the Organization of American States).
Under the latter scenario those regional groups, back-stopped by U.N. forces, would be supplemented by American troops only when necessary to their success and to America’s own vital interests. Consistent with this approach other leading nations would be encouraged to join and help strengthen those regional groupings in which they have a legitimate interest; our traditional concern for the stability and safety of western Europe would be extended to all of Europe, east and west; the historic turnabout represented by French-German military cooperation would be encouraged, not discouraged; and the worldwide elimination of all short-range nuclear weapons would become a priority.
Shooting last instead of first would mean transforming America’s Cold War posture of ready global intervention into one of intervening militarily abroad only in concert with other nations, only when the military personnel burden as well as the financial burden (and genuine decision-making) is shared with others, and only when the likely enduring effectiveness of such intervention makes that action worthwhile. America needs to become as skilled in the organization and enforcement of international economic and political sanctions against transgressors as it is in the deployment of military force, thereby increasing its willingness to prefer the former and defer the latter. America needs to devote as much energy to halting, through economic and political pressures and strengthened international machinery, the present “horizontal” proliferation of nuclear, chemical, biological, high-tech conventional and other weapons of mass destruction and their delivery systems, along with the technology, equipment, personnel and materiel needed to obtain them, as this country previously devoted to halting the “vertical” proliferation of such weapons in the Soviet Union. Accepting a comprehensive ban on nuclear testing would be a good start.
The next president, regardless of party, will be called on to submit a defense budget that is substantially below present levels. This is likely to involve sharply cutting back those overseas forces and major strategic weapons systems that were established primarily to prevent or resist a massive Soviet attack. America would emphasize instead a smaller, mobile conventional force, trained, equipped and ready for rapid and relatively brief Desert Storm-like deployment to meet the kind of regional aggressors, separatists or terrorists that now constitute the most likely threats the nation will face.
Such a reorientation could help win battles on the home front as well. The next president could divert the bulk of federal high-tech research and development funds from the task of increasing our military superiority to the task of enhancing our economic competitiveness; facilitate the conversion to a civilian economy of those communities and work forces now heavily dependent upon anachronistic military industries and installations; and make use of redundant Defense Department personnel and facilities in tackling the nation’s need for teachers, crime fighters, schools, housing, job training and places of detention.
The next president should take considerable comfort from the fact that the post-Cold War United Nations, in providing an essential legal umbrella for the Persian Gulf War, helping to free the hostages in Lebanon and to end the fighting in El Salvador, and moving forcefully to underpin the perilous transitions of Namibia and Cambodia, demonstrated that it can bring to the solution of global problems not only machinery and talent but also legitimacy and credibility.
During his term the United States has the opportunity to lead the way in strengthening the effectiveness and efficiency of the United Nations, particularly the Security Council (ultimately with the European Community and Japan each holding permanent seats) and the Secretariat, but also such specialized agencies as the International Atomic Energy Agency, the U.N. Development Program and UNICEF. He should be able to make more consistent use of those bodies, referring more issues to them and to the International Court of Justice, whose compulsory jurisdiction we should once again accept. The new global problems—transborder environmental, economic, health, population, refugee, drugs and human rights—can all best be tackled through these international agencies, where future costs and past experience can be shared.
America can also lead in strengthening and making better use of international financial institutions such as the World Bank, International Monetary Fund and regional development banks. The world having breathed a sigh of relief over the disappearance of Soviet vetoes blocking U.N. Security Council actions, the next president should go slow in using for political reasons his own effective veto in these international financial bodies.
The new conventional wisdom invariably emphasizes the importance of economics. The next president will recognize that, whatever other goals may have motivated Truman’s original Marshall Plan and Point Four, economic development assistance was largely a creature of the Cold War. Public and congressional support for such an economic assistance program in the shifting power patterns of the post-Cold War era is not likely to be sustained. But neither is the peace of a world community (like that of a local community) harshly divided between rich and poor likely to be sustained. Today African and other nations no longer considered useful as anti-Soviet pawns find themselves largely ignored by Washington. But over the years the multilayered U.S. Agency for International Development (USAID) bureaucracy, eager to show its flag in every corner of the developing world, has scattered its remaining funds among a variety of economic development, free enterprise development and democratization development projects with largely disappointing results.
The next president must decide whether to scale back costly country-by-country aid operations and the agency that administers them, instead leaving small emergency and discretionary funds in the hands of each American ambassador. The monies now used to support humanitarian, disaster relief and other grass-roots programs could be channeled through the World Bank and other multilateral agencies and through nongovernmental foundations and similar organizations, thus sharply reducing both tax-supported overhead and associated political payola, but still attaching basic conditions of human rights, arms reduction and accountability. (Those recipient governments instituting genuine administrative, political and economic reforms should also be forgiven all debts to the U.S. government.)
If USAID is scaled back, the bulk of the money it now handles—the “strategic” funds—could be distributed in much larger amounts in multiyear commitments as direct balance-of-payments or budgetary support to a much shorter list of recipients. Under this approach, the president and secretary of state would carefully select the most dynamic developing nations, regardless of size, that are clearly ready and willing to undertake the rapid but long-term political, economic and social development to make them strong, stable and peaceful leaders, regional models and enduring trading and political partners. These funds, along with Overseas Private Investment Corporation (OPIC) and Export-Import Bank guarantees and credits, should also be used to leverage an increased flow of private investment to the same targeted countries.
To create a viable free economy out of chaos in Russia and the other former Soviet republics, the emerging demilitarized democracies of the Commonwealth of Independent States (and not all of them will meet that standard) clearly must receive from the West more economic assistance (in addition to humanitarian aid and agricultural surpluses) than the amounts belatedly offered thus far. In return those states clearly must provide more adequate assurances than they have thus far that necessary long-term political, fiscal, monetary, military and structural reforms will be made. Both America’s security and economic interests make stability in this region a high priority.
Finally the next president must take dramatic and decisive steps—such as paying for the destruction of Russian and Ukrainian nuclear stockpiles or establishing with each nation a joint investment guarantee fund—to make sure that prolonged studies and negotiations do not in the meantime cost the Russians their newfound freedom from authoritarianism and cost the world this historic opportunity for peace. Taking care not to pay attention solely to Russia—or even solely to Moscow—providing technical assistance in building free institutions as well as factories, opening U.S. markets to their goods and sending Peace Corps volunteers to their villages, he must initiate a post-Cold War effort in the former Soviet Union that will match the post-World War II vision demonstrated by Harry Truman 44 years ago.
With regard to international trade the next president will have no choice but to formulate a coherent national strategy to make American industry competitive again in all key sectors of the world marketplace, basing that strategy on results and consequences, not on some doctrine or dogma of free or fair or managed trade.
No strategy will succeed unless the president, like his Japanese and European counterparts, can build behind it a consensus among American workers, business leaders and consumers sufficiently strong to support a new social compact—a legislated understanding under which each group shares in the costs and sacrifices of that national strategy as well as its benefits. Accepting the self-discipline necessary to improve the nation’s rate of savings, investment, productivity, quality control and functional literacy sufficiently to match those of America’s principal competitors will be far more effective than trying to discipline those competitors.
To obtain the necessary consensus the next president must ask Congress to emulate our major competitors also in providing an adequate level of job retraining, special unemployment benefits, community compensation and other forms of trade adjustment assistance for those displaced by a national trade policy.
Increasing the export of American goods instead of jobs will require new measures not only to pry open particular foreign markets aggressively but also to build demand in new potential markets, including Russia, the developing nations and newly robust economies like India, Korea and Brazil. It will require as well the restoration of the manufacturing base through the reorientation of national research laboratories to civilian purposes, the modernization of infrastructure, the encouragement of emerging technologies and the investment, educational and other measures of self-discipline noted above.
Just as Truman initiated the grand military alliance of NATO immediately after his election, to meet the overriding challenge of his time, so must the next president initiate a grand economic alliance with Japan and the European Community to meet an equally urgent challenge. Its task will be the preservation and coordination of an open, integrated global trading system facilitating the increased worldwide flow of goods, services, capital and intellectual property, free from both protectionist and predatory practices and enhancing the stability of major currencies and exchange rates. Regional trading blocs would be required to keep open markets and membership rolls; weaker economies, including the ex-Soviet states, would be assured access to the system; most important, all nations would be held to the same rules of trade, proscribing not only open and hidden barriers and distortions (including antitrust violations as well as subsidies) but also the practice of shortchanging labor, environmental, health, safety or consumer protection standards as a means of lowering costs and attracting investment.
It is in that context that the next president must complete the GATT and North American Free Trade Area negotiations, ultimately extending the latter to the entire western hemisphere. But time is short.
With respect to human rights and democracy, the next president will need to increase the transparency, integrity and consistency of U.S. policy, avoiding the double standards and hypocrisy that characterized America’s approach when the Cold War inhibited criticism of anticommunist dictators.
America no longer needs to subsidize the activities and stroke the egos of military usurpers and other despots. It can now encourage consumer boycotts of products from wayward countries; support increased U.N. fact-finding and monitoring of human rights; encourage regional organizations to isolate any member-nation failing to meet basic standards; expand programs of the U.S. Information Agency (USIA) and National Endowment for Democracy (NED) that build and promote the institutions of democracy and concern for human rights; undertake every effort to make America’s own race relations, political procedures and economic opportunity a model for the rest of the world.
Once the campaign rhetoric on human rights and democracy has faded, the next president should not be under the illusion that more far-reaching measures will be easy or automatic.
He must decide how far the nation can go in invoking human rights considerations in determining relations with both friend and foe. Clearly they can only be one factor, not the sole determinant. Nor can there be any single, simple litmus test in deciding who meets our standards, if we are to avoid the kind of cynical manipulation and denial that such a test invites.
He will wish to encourage democratization and discourage military and other dictators through trade, aid and other preferences, through the maintenance or severance of diplomatic relations and through the educational and promotional efforts of the NED and USIA. But this country cannot afford to deal only with democracies or attempt to remake the world in its own image.
He will no doubt support international economic sanctions and suspend OPIC, Export-Import and economic assistance programs when necessary to penalize those governments that engage in the worst human rights abuses. But as the cases of Haiti and Iraq remind us, he must also beware of starving people or otherwise increasing the suffering of innocent captives as punishment for the sins of their rulers.
He will be under pressure to criticize openly, and to join in U.N. Security Council resolutions condemning, any government, whether allied or adverse, that consistently mistreats legitimate protesters and ethnic minorities. But quiet diplomatic warnings may prove more effective with some governments.
He will wish to support forceful regional and U.N. actions to halt and correct wholesale deprivations of human rights. But legitimate calls for military intervention on humanitarian or democracy-saving grounds can, if caution is not used, easily evolve into another Vietnam-type conflict.
Finally, with regard to other nonmilitary threats, the next president, whoever he is, will need to recognize four basic facts:
- That nonmilitary developments can pose genuine threats to the long-term security and quality of life of American citizens as surely as armed aggression—but cannot be repelled militarily;
- That traditional concepts of national sovereignty are unable to cope with torrential transborder flows of not only money and information but also environmental scourges, AIDS and other diseases, illegal drugs, arms and immigrants;
- That no one of these threats can be ended by the United States acting alone; and
- That new international rules and institutions will be required to combat these nonmilitary threats.
The threat of environmental degradation, for example, by destroying this planet’s life support systems—air, ozone, water and natural resources—can blight entire regions and ultimately make the whole earth inhospitable for human as well as other species. America can try to make certain that new U.S.-financed technology and industrial development proceed only with adequate environmental safeguards; but America alone cannot halt the danger to its health and ecology from those noxious and toxic emissions, rain forest depredations and biodiverse species reductions that occur outside its borders.
The threat of energy dependence and depletion requires not only increased international efforts but also a firm national policy emphasizing conservation and greater attention to cheaper alternative and renewable fuels. Operation Desert Storm was only the latest chapter in the age-old story of shedding blood to control energy and other natural resources (including fresh water, which America also wastes and consumes beyond all rational proportions). Yet this country remains lax in the imposition of fuel efficiency standards and in deterring the excessive use of hydrocarbons and other nonrenewable resources.
Overpopulation with all its many offspring—large-scale unemployment, poverty, hunger, desperation, crime, environmental destruction and great waves of economic migration—is already the province of an international agency, the U.N. Population Fund; but its family planning and information programs have not been fully backed by the United States. Unless more women in the poor nations are fully educated and emancipated with regard to their reproductive systems and rights, our children will live in a world in which the industrialized countries, with most of the planet’s wealth, will have less than one-fifth of its population—a recipe for disaster.
All of these sobering global trends are illustrated in Haiti. A desperately poor, oppressed but rapidly growing population exhausted the wood fuel, topsoil and drinking water needed for survival and sought in large numbers to enter the United States illegally by means of sea voyages that proved fatal to a large proportion of those who chanced them.
Is this the future of the world?
This presentation of a presidential agenda does not imply that these measures can be promulgated by the president alone. On the contrary they require the cooperation and participation of other nations, the United Nations and, most important, the Congress. They require the support of the next president’s State Department, Defense Department and National Security Council team. Above all they require the support of the American people. Electing a president who promises change is only the first step. Americans must then display the political will to break with the old, to institute the new and to accept the risks and burdens inherent in each of these changes.
The next president, needless to say, cannot lead unless he has a vision of where to go. But neither can he lead, nor should he try to lead, unless the American people are willing to shoulder the responsibilities of leadership in the new post-Cold War world.