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US Foreign Policy and a New Administration

US Foreign Policy and a New Administration

Thomas R. Pickering
Under Secretary of State for Political Affairs
Miller Center of Public Affairs
University of Virginia
November 7, 2000

Foreign Policy and a New Administration:
What Stays the Same and What Changes

It is truly a pleasure to be here with you today. Thank you, Ken, for that warm introduction and for all that you contribute to the public debate of foreign policy through your work at the Miller Center.

Several people on my staff are alumni of Mr. Jefferson's academical village, so I have been thoroughly indoctrinated in the traditions and virtues of this place, and am extremely pleased to be with you.

It is terrific to see so many old friends and colleagues. I hope most of you have already voted. If not, I urge you to do so. Our foreign policy does not work if our population does not participate in choosing its fundamental progenitors.

As a career diplomat, I must add that nothing I say here is designed to influence how you should vote; indeed I will be scrupulously careful to ensure my maximum ineffectiveness in that regard, something that I will hope will be a breath of fresh air after the intensity of recent weeks and months of the election campaign.

As we gather today, our country is going to the polls in an election that has been called the closest in several generations. One might be tempted to ask whether talking about foreign policy priorities would be more apt tomorrow, once we know who our next president is.

But the University of Virginia, a place that honors tradition and values scholarship, strikes me as the best place to speak about foreign affairs on Election Day. Here, better than in most places, one understands that there is a steadfastness to U.S. foreign policy. There is a unifying tendency that persists from one administration to the next.

No matter who wins tonight, much of our core foreign policy will remain on course. Indeed, the very nature of our commitments abroad and the hard realities around the world with which we must deal means that each administration can take on only a few new projects or policy shifts in foreign affairs.

Let's look first at areas that are likely to be consistent. At the top of the list is U.S. relations with other major powers, including Europe, Russia and China. The nuance and tone might shift, but the essential question of engagement remains the same. That is equally true for the Middle East. The new president will inevitably find these areas at the top of his list, and U.S. involvement by necessity will be deep and intensive.

Europe remains our single most important partner from every angle, from our work together to bring peace and prosperity to the entire continent -- a Europe whole and free -- to the major trade, investment, social, and cultural links between us, to our collaboration internationally on issues from conflict resolution to the struggle against AIDS, terrorism and narcotics.

America's partnership with Europe will remain our best prospect of solving difficult problems around the world. But we will also have to tend to areas of dispute, especially over trade. As our trade relations grow ever closer and more intensive, we can expect to see more rather than fewer differences in this area. Handling disputes well is thus important for the overall tenor of the relationship.

It also is up to the United States and Europe to deal with trade and investment disputes in a way that strengthens rather than undermines the free trade system.

Security issues will also figure prominently in our relations with Europe. Our new president will face decisions on several vital issues, including the national missile defense initiative and our position on further enlargement of NATO. At the same time, we will continue to work with our Allies on getting the European Security and Defense Initiative right. A Europe that is more capable militarily is in all our interests and is fully consistent with America's stalwart support for European integration. Europe's ability to carry out peacekeeping operations is in our national interest.

For decades, regardless of which party was in the White House, the U.S. has placed high priority on its relationship with Europe. A dozen years ago, George Bush, Margaret Thatcher, Helmut Kohl and others saw to the peaceful end of the Cold War; now, Bill Clinton, Tony Blair, and leaders across Europe, many from the center left, build a new, united and free Europe -- a Europe that at long last can include the Balkans, too.

Tomorrow morning, irrespective of our election results, we will find the United States and Europe continuing their close walk together in a partnership that remains a great force for peace, freedom and prosperity around the world.

Among the many places where the U.S. and Europe work together is Russia. Russians, like us, know that Russia's domestic reform and international role are hugely important. In our own country, there are differences of opinion about how to deal with Russia, as with China. I do not want to minimize those differences. Nonetheless, let me emphasize that there is agreement across party lines that we must indeed deal with both countries. No responsible person calls for disengagement because our national security and economic interests do not permit it.

No one wants conflict; the choices are how best to deal with Russia to build democracy, prosperity and integration into the world community.

That said, a key issue in American foreign policy is the balance between being true to all our principles and interests and not letting any one issue skew the entire relationship. This is a difficult dance. Indeed, the ordering of priorities and the emphasis on any one objective tends to be where political differences arise in the United States.

Where does human rights fit in? What about trade interests? Is trade so important that human rights be taken off the plate? Are human rights so important that they require an all or nothing approach?

Is it more significant that we are working well with Russia in Europe or that we disagree over Chechnya? That sense of tough choices holds true in the global context, but even more so in a national setting, particularly during an election campaign.

China is a particular case in point, where single issue concerns are real and significant and must be folded in with our strategic aims for an overall improving and mutually beneficial relationship with China.

In diplomacy, too, a broad view is called for because it is our job to protect U.S. interests over the long term. Russians and Americans soaring into space together is significant and symbolic. Russia, Europe and the United States working together in the Balkans and working together to help dismantle nuclear weapons matter in real, quantifiable ways to America and Americans. That must be counted and built upon, even as we face directly areas of disagreement with Russia.

Likewise, China's entry into the World Trade Organization and our cooperation on proliferation and regional security issues has a positive impact on Americans that must be counted even as we also stay faithful and firm in our belief in democracy and human rights, and keep those issues on the bilateral agenda.

A few words about the Middle East. Sadness and concern predominate as we witness violence and tension. But two words must never be employed: helpless or hopeless. Over the years, very difficult times have set the stage often and surprisingly for breakthroughs. It is not easy now, nor is the path out clear.

But the United States remains deeply committed to ending the violence, restoring calm, and bringing the parties back to the negotiating table. Our long history of work for Middle East peace has brought us a great distance toward that goal. Indeed a final status agreement has never been closer than in the period just before the recent outbreak of violence.

I believe the parties in the region, after having lived many years among them, are firmly dedicated to finding peace. The people, Israelis, Palestinians and the other Arabs, deserve it as much as any others on earth. Happily, I don't believe the region can sustain perpetual war and tension in the face of all the progress that has been made.

The visits here this week of Chairman Arafat and Prime Minister Barak reaffirm that sense of confidence. The problem still is when and how and not whether. The new president will have much to do in this region.

If relationships with major powers and key regions are likely to change little in a new administration, what are areas in which the new president is likely to find U.S. policy more open to fluctuation or still under debate?

I would like to discuss several salient issues in this regard. One is the nature of surprise in foreign affairs, the other is the broad question of the current international environment, domestic views of the U.S. role in this environment, and the readiness of our diplomatic forces. Each of these factors will help shape the foreign affairs decisions of the president.

First, let's look at the surprise element.

In a recent column in the Washington Post, Jim Hoagland noted the small role that foreign policy played in the campaign -- and he actually felt it was a good thing not to complicate diplomacy with campaign rhetoric. I agree with Jim; something I don't say too often!

He also pointed out that the foreign policy crises and opportunities a president faces are very rarely evident during the campaign. For example, questions about China and Taiwan figured prominently in the Nixon-Kennedy debates, but "it was Cuba and Berlin that shaped the Kennedy presidency."

The next president, likewise, will find opportunities and challenges in places none of us can fully predict today. With that in mind, the ability to see and seize opportunity and rise up to challenge will tend to affect the kind of foreign policy a president pursues.

Equally important is to consider the environment in which foreign policy is shaped. This is as much a measure of global change as it is of domestic temper, and it is both an existential set of facts on the ground and a dynamic which is greatly affected by the President of the United States and the choices he makes.

Since the end of the Cold War, there is an unfortunate tendency to want to define things in simple, black and white terms. The Cold War itself was not simple, except perhaps in one way: those of us who were practitioners of foreign policy in the Cold War did indeed find it easier to mobilize the American international position, monies in Congress, and support from allies if in fact a particular set of circumstances was seen as a "communist threat."

More urgent than the need to replace Cold War containment with a new, one-word description of our foreign policy is the need to understand the effects of globalization on our national interests and to develop the appropriate mindset and tactics to defend our interests.

We need to define our times in ways that give us clues about how to develop our foreign policy, what to expect down the road, and how to continue to be out in front rather than caught behind.

The dynamics of the world are increasingly speeded up. It is hard to believe that the speed of electrons dominates so much of what we have to do and how we have to react, but indeed, that is the case. In the new era, diversity, speed, new threats and new challenges will be the watchwords.

The fact that things do not fit easily in one complete box may well have to be accepted. Messiness is with us and probably will not go away -- and yet that very messiness is a source of some of the national confusion about foreign policy. On the other hand, a messy world cannot abide messy thinking. Clarity, more than ever, must be part of our approach.

Therefore, knowing what you want strategically provides a template for reacting to the world, guides planning processes, and helps shape the clear vision that is required to build public support for an initiative.

A president can and should have a firm concept of what the U.S. wants in the world -- while he or she must also be flexible enough to respond to the unpredictable.

What can be planned, what cannot? At a strategy session several years ago, Secretary Albright led a discussion about some of the new developments in the world. This was soon after Nigeria's sudden and unexpected escape from military dictatorship. One of her key decisions was that the United States should focus particular attention on four different, potentially important countries: Nigeria, Indonesia, Colombia, and Ukraine. Each was at a delicate moment in its democratic transition and the course each takes will have significant impact in its region. Once these countries were identified as priorities, the State Department changed its choices about how to allocate its resources, personnel and attention.

In that one example, you see the interplay of strategy, unexpected developments and planned response. First, strategic objectives. The United States has a widespread commitment to democracy. It is a part of our diplomacy -- a strand -- that runs throughout our history. We also have significant national interests at stake in each of these countries.

Those two sets of principles meant that we had a strategic concept by which to evaluate surprise developments in Nigeria and Indonesia, and the convergence of factors in Colombia and Ukraine which made the time ripe for strengthening democracy and the market economy in both countries and working to combat narcotics in one and weapons proliferation in the other. Identifying these countries as priority countries then gave us the decision needed to be effective in implementing our strategy.

You can't treat all foreign policy matters with equal attention; hard choices must be made. That is as true for diplomats as it is for the military. It must also be seen by a public that is increasingly concerned with single issues and ethnic politics and is influenced by the "CNN effect" in foreign affairs.

In public debate, there is often discussion about where the military ought to be deployed. It is a question that demands a correlation between our objectives, military preparedness and capability, and the nature and number of deployments. It also demands precise definition of the military goals.

In diplomacy, the correlation between deployment and resources varies in several ways from that of the military. Diplomacy is not an all or nothing prospect. When we decided to make Nigeria, Colombia, Ukraine, and Indonesia priority countries, we were not at liberty to stop dealing with other countries. We could not "pull our forces" out of neighboring countries, as it were. Instead, the shift of resources is more subtle.

There is a very simple reason for that: U.S. interests span the globe. This is especially true since the information and telecommunication revolution reshaped the world.

A country many Americans could not find on a map may well be a place where there are significant new business interests. It might also be a country with an important role to play in fighting narcotics, terrorism or AIDS, or a country that is an important contributor to peacekeeping operations or a haven to refugees. Diplomatic deployment is thus worldwide by the necessity of national interests.

In various ways in the last several years, the question is repeatedly posed about what the role of the United States ought to be in this "messy" world. Both here and abroad, it is easy to find people who will argue at either end of an extreme.

Some foreigners chafe at U.S. predominance -- militarily, culturally, economically, and diplomatically -- just as some Americans are made weary at the demands upon us.

On the other hand, there is a comparable school of opinion suggesting that we have a rare opportunity and a moral obligation to help in many trouble spots both to resolve conflict and ease human suffering, or to prevent conflict and suffering if we can.

At either end of that scale of opinions, there is a very human desire to make up a set of rules to guide our behavior and to ensure these guidelines are motivated by a dominant idea. Hence, people search for a philosophy to replace Cold War containment and ask for a checklist by which we can decide whether to get involved in a given situation or to stay out. The desire for a unified field theory for foreign policy will continue.

We are, and have been for two hundred and twenty years, engaged in a struggle between those who want to be part of the world community and see our future there, and those who would rather focus undivided attention on domestic issues.

In the new universe of globalization, in which as many as thirty percent of all our new jobs are derived from our ability to trade abroad, isolationism is not an option, nor can foreign and domestic policy be treated as separate entities.

All politics are local AND all politics are global. This should be the first principle of such a theory. We are in the world; we cannot get off.

Americans ask, where should we intervene? Too often, the question is posed with the hope of an answer that gives five simple criteria, and with genuine confusion about what intervention means.

If intervention means military action, the U.S. remains committed to two vital criteria that go back to the beginnings of our republic: force must be a last resort and the United States will only use force when it believes its most important interests are at stake.

In those rare cases when we do need to act militarily, working multilaterally with Allies and friends is the most effective and least costly strategy.

However, having a worldwide diplomacy does not equal dispersing military force everywhere. It means that a principle goal of diplomacy is to prevent conflicts before they occur or to mediate them so that we do not have to resort to the use of military force in order to protect American lives and interests.

Better diplomacy, better resource, and backed by a strong military position is the best guarantee against having to use our military in conflict.

As the Miami Herald editorialized recently, "If history teaches us anything, it's that preventive diplomacy makes much more sense -- and is much cheaper -- than military solutions. It's about time to start talking about "diplomatic readiness."

This brings me to my final point, the diplomatic tools available to the new president. Another difference between diplomacy and the military is the ease of achieving proper resources. Debates over military expenditure are grounded in quantifiable measures. Thus, while there can be genuine debate over the size of the navy or whether to fund a new fighter, the debate at least has the advantage of being about matters that are tangible. One can even go to the field and see how various models of equipment perform.

Thus in this election campaign, you see both candidates arguing for a stronger defense. The ease at which national consensus was reached on this point is particularly striking in an era in which the United States, according to an article in the New Republic, is "more powerful relative to its foes than any armed force in history -- stronger that the Roman legions at the peak of the empire, stronger than Britannia when the sun never set on the Royal Navy..."

One other difference is apparent. Military budgets are easily 16 percent of our annual spending; all of foreign affairs, including foreign assistance, is about 1%.

Diplomats from other countries bemoan the fact that American diplomacy is done on the cheap. Going to the Department of State or an embassy to witness the devastating effects of budget cuts takes a sharp eye. Some things are tangible -- such as diplomats in Ukraine working in unheated metal shipping containers.

But most of the devastation wreaked by years of neglect is not apparent because the tools diplomats use to pursue U.S. national interests and help Americans are most often in the realm of ideas, personal contact, influence, and persuasion.

Metaphorically, the ship of state may well be sinking but there is not a ship to photograph or a rusted piece of equipment to show.

Actually, I take back the last sentence. It may well be that the last existing WANG computer rests somewhere in the State Department, where budget cuts have left us woefully behind the information age curve!

If funding for international affairs was increased from a penny to just a penny and half of each tax dollar, we could make diplomacy -- our nation's first line of defense -- stronger, broader and harder to breach.

As Senator Lugar recently said, "Congress must understand that achieving our foreign policy objectives will require more money, and additional talented personnel. Our international operations are now underfunded and understaffed."

To sum up, the United States is a world power with interests in every corner of the globe. While the new president will find himself engaged immediately in our relations with major powers, he also will find his attention called to events all over the world, many as unpredictable today as the Cuban missile crisis was in 1960.

He will operate in a fast moving, interconnected world. In this environment, we are extraordinarily lucky. At this point in history, we enjoy strength, prosperity and freedom at unprecedented levels.

We have the power to help shape the world in ways that first and foremost help America and Americans, by creating more trade, more jobs, more prosperity and a more secure nation.

We can also indeed make the world a better, more democratic and peaceful place. If that is our goal, if that is our vision, then foreign policy is indeed a priority. A priority for people, finally, and national support.

Whoever is elected today will achieve much more in his presidency if he gives America the very best diplomatic tools. We are a world power, with interests and threats that span the globe. Americans know this.

The new president should build a diplomacy that is as strong and vital as this nation, its military, its economy, and its people.

Election Day more than any others is a great time for us all to think and talk about this issue.

Many thanks. I look forward to your questions.


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