Gone to the Lake: Republicans and Foreign Policy

Gone to the Lake: Republicans and Foreign Policy

Mini Teaser: In a July 1995 speech before an enraptured audience assembled atWashington's Center for Strategic and International Studies, HouseSpeaker Newt Gingrich addressed the broad issues of post-Cold WarU.

by Author(s): Jonathan Clarke

With developments in Russia having disappointed initially optimistic
expectations, the need for serious thinking about how best to sustain
democratic gains in Central and Eastern Europe is indeed more urgent
than ever. NATO expansion, which Republicans have consistently
favored, is clearly one option for counterbalancing Russian
irredentism or neo-Soviet ambitions. But it is an option that can
only be considered seriously if its full implications are spelled out
in advance and are accepted by the American people. An extension of
NATO's Article V guarantees to the four Visegrad countries (Poland,
Hungary, the Czech Republic, and Slovakia) is not simply a paper
exercise, nor can it be created by administrative fiat. These
guarantees would commit the United States to defend these countries
against any external attack. In a very obvious way, they would bring
the Western defense perimeter significantly closer to Moscow and the
ethnic cauldron of Central and Eastern Europe.

Given the extraordinary difficulties experienced by leaders of both
parties in justifying the troop deployment to Bosnia--even
Republicans like Dole, who had argued most strongly for American
involvement as a concept did not find it easy to support it as a
reality--the basis for congressional and wider public support for
NATO expansion looks fragile. Unless this basis can be significantly
strengthened, the danger is that any extension of NATO will be an
irresponsible sham, a security system that exists only as a pious
declaration. There is an unfortunate precedent in Europe for treaty
signatories to take on obligations that they had no intention of
honoring. In 1925 the Locarno Treaty committed the British and French
to defend the Polish corridor around Danzig, a task that the British
General Staff immediately declared to be impossible.

In this regard, the traditional Republican emphasis on workability
and competence becomes both welcome and crucial. Two questions are

1. A more expansive defense doctrine implies a greater willingness to
engage American military forces overseas. Bearing in mind the
historical Republican stress on the need for a strictly
interest-defined (rather than ideals-defined) foreign policy, what
precisely is the American interest in Eastern Europe for which
American soldiers might be asked to die?

2. Extra defense commitments normally generate extra demands for
equipment and personnel. Are Republicans ready to ensure that these
extra resources are available? If so, how will they do this within a
balanced budget?

As yet, the answers to these questions have been either unavailable
or dismayingly thin, both from the administration and from aspiring
Republicans. To show that they are serious about this issue, and not
merely engaging in facile posturing, Republicans need to prove that
they have thought through the implications of the extra commitments
they are willing upon the nation.

China: Time for a Major Policy Shift?

Finally there is China, relations with which may well be the dominant
international issue of the next century. There are many scenarios for
China's future. According to World Bank projections, by 2020 the
United States and China together will have economies larger than
those of Japan, Germany, India, Brazil, Mexico, and eight other major
countries combined. If the United States and China can form a
satisfactory modus vivendi, this will provide a remarkable platform
on which global prosperity can be built. But the converse is also
true. Any sharp deterioration in relations between the two countries
will have enormous negative consequences. Unfortunately, there are
multiple reasons--Taiwan, human rights, Tibet, nuclear and missile
proliferation, and trade infractions among them--why the relationship
will probably not be a smooth one. It is unlikely, too, that the
Chinese will go out of their way to make things easy for those who
seek friendly accommodation, for, as the China scholar Orville Schell
observes, "they are playing to win."

For Republicans, the China issue is difficult. Those with specialist
knowledge like Henry Kissinger and Douglas Paal, the former National
Security Council director for Asia in the Bush administration and a
current Dole adviser, have no difficulty advocating a
non-confrontational policy of balance, caution, and restraint. They
have been less successful, however, in restraining their Republican
colleagues--Gingrich and Helms in particular--from actions that point
in the opposite direction. When, apropos the independence of Taiwan,
Gingrich blithely suggested in July 1995 that the United States
should get this behind us, he was quickly hauled back into line by
Kissinger. Gingrich's more recent attitudes, for example toward MFN
renewal, have been much more circumspect. On the other hand, in a
series of private foundation meetings, Senator Helms has pulled no
punches in advocating that Taiwan's President Lee Teng-hui be invited
to make an official visit to Washington and that Taiwanese
independence be recognized. This idea, along with a number of other
proposals designed to be unacceptable to China, were included in the
State Department appropriations bill vetoed by President Clinton in

Since 1949, China has been a highly-charged issue for Republicans and
the temptation to play politics over it is deep-seated and
understandable. During the 1992 campaign Clinton criticized Bush for
coddling the Chinese leadership, but in office his own approach has
been highly inconsistent, at once blustering and conciliatory, and it
has been an easy target for Republican critics. If, however, they
wish to be perceived as more reliable practitioners on China,
Republicans will need to be sure that they themselves have a coherent
operational alternative.

As of now, the Republicans have still to dispel the sense that they
are as confused as everyone else on this issue. When Dole finally
delivered his much-delayed speech on China policy in mid-May, one of
his advisers described it as "a straddle." As a long-term goal, the
self-determination of a democratic Taiwan is perfectly consistent
with Republican and wider American ideals. Putting this into practice
is a very different--and much more hazardous--affair. Insofar as it
addresses the issue, the Agenda for America tries to have it both
ways. It states that a one-China policy has been followed by ten
consecutive administrations and lays out a goal of a free,
democratic, and market-oriented unified China. At the same time it
says that the United States should support Taiwan's efforts to win
formal UN representation. Conspicuously absent from this analysis is
any mention of how the United States should react if China does not
find this acceptable, as it certainly will not. The March crisis in
the Taiwan Strait found the Republican leadership, including Dole, in
a belligerent mood, demanding an end to the administration's policy
of ambiguity about the American willingness to protect Taiwan from
invasion. But that raises, and leaves unanswered, the question:
Should the ambiguity be removed and all made crystal clear, where
then would the Republican leaders themselves stand on the issue?

What, in other words, is the Republican end-game with respect to
China? On the basis of support for Taiwan or on any other ground, are
they now prepared to reject the Nixonian approach of engagement (an
approach, it should be remembered, that was adopted when the Beijing
regime was vastly more repressive than it is today) in favor of
containment or confrontation? This is one plausible interpretation of
Dole's May speech. There may be excellent reason for making such a
change--or there may not. But in any case, it would constitute a huge
shift both for the United States and East Asia generally, one that
would need to be made with all due seriousness. The Clinton
administration made the mistake of talking tough when it was apparent
that it had not thought through how it would react if the Chinese too
were tough. This has severely diminished American influence with the
Chinese. If the Republicans are not tomake the same mistake, they too
need to think through whether they can turn tough talk into
action--and how doing so would fit into the overall scheme of
American interests.

Building a New Foundation

The Republican approaches to all three of these strategic issues
share a common flaw. It is not that their policies are self-evidently
without merit, but that Republicans fail to come clean about their
huge practical implications. These include an exponential increase in
defense spending, new and risky commitments in Eastern Europe, and
the reversal of a China policy that has endured since the Eisenhower
administration. To put any one of these policies into effect would
require a major restructuring of the nation's budget and foreign
policy orientation. To do all three would imply a remarkable
reordering of national priorities.

If such a radical reordering is truly needed, all well and good: Let
the Republican leadership make the case publicly and let it make
these changes a central part of the GOP platform. But a program of
this magnitude cannot be put into effect without party unity and in
the absence of public support--and neither one of these conditions
exists at present. By evading their responsibilities in these
respects, the Republicans give the impression of lacking serious
purpose. Put another way, they are falling into the same trap as the
Clinton administration: talking a big game without putting their
money where their mouth is and without being willing to put capable
players on the field.

Essay Types: Essay