A Primer for Conservatives

March 1, 1991 Regions: Americas Tags: PostmodernismSociology

A Primer for Conservatives

Mini Teaser: The eruption of hot war in the Persian Gulf has imposed a ceasefire in the debate raging among American conservatives over the direction of American foreign policy.

by Author(s): Burton Yale Pines

Economic interdependence, moreover, is far from a new phenomenon.  In 1453, for instance, the fall of Constantinople sent ripples of economic dislocation throughout the Mediterranean world; in the sixteenth century, shiploads of gold and silver from New World mines set inflation ablaze throughout most of Europe; in 1871, property losses from the Great Chicago Fire cost London financial houses millions of dollars; and by the mid-nineteenth century, the locomotive and other inventions that carried America's Midwest grain to the world market forced Europe's farm sector to restructure.  These and scores of similar examples from distant history make the point that economic "interdependence" is as old as commerce between nations.  While it is true that international economic links have increased substantially in recent decades, they have not done so enough to make the global environment benign.  It is thus the persistently hostile world, full of dangers to American security and interests, which foreign policy must address.

Principle 5. Specific policies for specific problems should replace global foreign policy.

With no Soviet global threat, America no longer needs a global foreign policy.  No longer must Washington concern itself with just about every nation just about everywhere.  No longer must Washington embrace and aid Third World dictators simply because they act anti-Soviet.  No longer must Washington automatically worry when a country adopts a communist economic and totalitarian political system.  If Egypt or Angola or Poland or the Philippines or Zaire or Peru or other nations choose to cripple themselves, it is their problem.  It becomes America's problem only if it threatens America.

This allows Washington to construct a calculus for dealing with nations.  Such a calculus obviously would take account of such factors as a nation's traditional friendship with America, its economic value to America and, of course, its potential for endangering American interests.  How a nation ranks in this calculus would determine, by and large, the kind of attention it receives from Washington.  To be sure, the process of devising and constantly revising this calculus will at times ignite heated congressional and public debate, making America's conduct of foreign affairs less tidy than State Department professionals would like.  Yet it is such debate that educates the public about foreign policy goals and priorities and, in so doing, creates the reservoir of understanding and support that allows America to act boldly internationally when necessary.

There are, of course, problems with making lists of priorities; those near the bottom or omitted altogether could be viewed, correctly, as of scant value to America.  When Secretary of State Dean Acheson in 1950 left South Korea off his list of nations inside America's "defense perimeter," he in effect invited North Korea to attack.  But today is not 1950.  No great power is poised to gain advantage by pouncing on those omitted from America's list.  Wars between or within nations of little consequence to America should elicit nothing more from Washington than America's expression of regrets.

Principle 6. Rank the threats to America.

To create public and press understanding of American foreign policy, Washington must be explicit in describing and ranking the dangers to America.  Not all dangers warrant an American response.  Those that do include:

**Soviet missiles.

Until it is dismantled, Moscow's arsenal of nuclear-tipped missiles remains the greatest threat to America.  The most pressing task of U.S. foreign policy thus must be the elimination of this arsenal, whether it is controlled by the current Soviet state or successor regimes.  The most pressing task of U.S. military policy, meanwhile, is to deter missile attack and, more important, to protect America with a strategic defense system should deterrence fail.

**Third World missiles.

America and nations important to America are in or are coming within range of Iraqi, Brazilian, and other Third World missiles potentially armed with biological, chemical, and even nuclear warheads.  American policy thus must try to halt the further proliferation of missile technology and to penalize countries obtaining missiles.  To deter attacks, Washington must credibly threaten devastating retaliation.  Because this will not deter an irrational Third World leader, America must deploy an anti-missile defense system.

**Threats to freedom of the seas.

As a maritime nation whose enormous trade is borne mainly by ships and whose ties with its allies are mainly by sea, America must vigorously conduct policies--as it has since the Founding Fathers--that keep open the globe's sea lanes.  This requires a navy that can project decisive power on all oceans and against all coasts and that can move swiftly from ocean to ocean.  For this, permanent American control of the Panama Canal is essential.

**Domination of Europe by a hostile power.

America fought both world wars and the Cold War to prevent Europe from being dominated by one nation.  It correctly was feared that such a nation eventually would turn Europe's vast resources against America.  Though today's Europe, with its democratic institutions and emerging unified market, does not threaten us, the potential for danger remains.  It is uncertain, for example, how well some European democracies would weather severe economic setbacks.  It is uncertain how Germany would respond to chaos in the Soviet Union and the Balkans.  Uncertain too is whether Moscow, as center of a revamped USSR or simply as capital of Russia, again would try to extend its grasp westward.  Because these and other developments could endanger America, the United States must remain involved in European security arrangements.  America preferably should do this through a dramatically revamped NATO.  But if the venerable alliance cannot adapt to Europe's new situation, then America's continued role in Europe could be defined through bilateral agreements, including one with Moscow.

**Domination of East Asia by a hostile power.

With its huge window to the Pacific and its historic interest in the Orient, America cannot afford to allow East Asia to be controlled by one power.  In contrast to Europe, where emerging economic and even political integration could temper historic rivalries, East Asia remains an area of fiercely independent and potentially contentious nations.  On one matter, East Asian countries all seem to agree: only American diplomatic and military forces can preserve the equilibrium that allows East Asia to prosper.  This, of course, benefits the United States enormously.

**Terrorist attacks on Americans at home and abroad.

To fulfill government's most fundamental responsibility of protecting its citizens, Washington must have the diplomatic and military means to deter and punish terrorists who target Americans.

**Economic blackmail.

Control by one or a group of nations of oil or the other resources upon which modern economies depend threatens American living standards.  Protecting these standards, at reasonable cost, is a legitimate function of government.  Also threatened by control of vital resources is the stability of European and Asian democracies, also a matter of legitimate concern to America.  As such, Washington must craft policies and take actions to prevent nations from blackmailing America through control of resources.

Principle 7. Mexico, Russia, Israel, Japan, and China merit special treatment.

So important to America are some countries that they warrant special policies and, often, special treatment.  If there is a case for a U.S. "special relationship" with any country, it is with Mexico.  Bordering the United States for nearly 2,000 miles, rich in resources, and home to eighty-five million people, Mexico will affect the United States profoundly in the next century.  An economically thriving and politically democratic Mexico can benefit the United States enormously, just as an impoverished and chaotic Mexico can create serious economic, social, and even security problems for the United States.  Simply put, not only can we not afford an unstable Mexico, we cannot afford to squander the opportunity to help raise the Mexican economy to world-class levels.  In ways sensitive to Mexican historical grievances, Washington must work tenaciously at improving ties with Mexico.  Central to this is the special economic link that would be created by a free trade area agreement.  If extended to Canada, this would transform North America into the world's most powerful and dynamic economic unit.  Central also to Washington's relations with Mexico are U.S. economic, security, and diplomatic actions to prevent the unrest in Central America that would destabilize southern Mexico.

The Russia that could emerge from a disintegrated Soviet Union will require Washington's special attention and creativity.  With a population of at least 150 million, a vast territory, and a huge arsenal, it would be the giant of Europe in every respect save economics.  For the foreseeable future, with its nuclear arsenal, it will be the only nation literally capable of destroying much of the United States and of intimidating and devastating Western Europe.  Moscow thus will remain Washington's essential partner in arms control and weapon nonproliferation efforts.  It will remain the most important object of American efforts to implant respect for the sovereignty of other countries.  It will become, as some Russian officials hint it is ready to be, the vital partner in creating a safer world by shifting the nuclear balance from offensive to defensive weapons.  And, in the longer term, America and Russia could discover in each other--and build upon--the profound similarities noted more than a century ago by Alexis de Tocqueville.

Essay Types: Essay