The Present Danger

The Present Danger

Mini Teaser: A policy of boldness, twenty-first century vision.

by Author(s): Robert KaganWilliam Kristol

Relationships with tyrannical regimes, moreover, are inherently
difficult to sustain. The problem is not merely that such
relationships become distasteful to Americans. More important, in
today's environment American interests and those of tyrannical
regimes inevitably clash. For the force of American ideals and the
influence of the international economic system, both of which are
upheld by American powerand influence, tend to corrode the pillars on
which authoritarian and totalitarian regimes rest.

To bolster their legitimacy, regimes such as those in Beijing and
Baghdad therefore resort frequently to provocation, either with arms
build-ups designed to intimidate both the United States and its
allies, as in the cases of China and North Korea, or by regional
conquest, as in the cases of Iraq and Serbia. With no means of
acquiring legitimacy for their domestic policies, they, like the
Soviet rulers described by George Kennan, seek the nationalist
legitimacy that comes from standing up to an external enemy. Hence,
the Chinese government knows there can be no real "strategic
partnership" with the United States. The North Korean government
knows there can be no true "normalization" with South Korea and the
West. Saddam Hussein knows he cannot simply give up the struggle and
try to live peaceably with his neighbors and with his own people.
Slobodan Milosevic knows that he cannot truly integrate himself into
the European community. The price of such accommodations would be
most regimes' hold on power.

When it comes to dealing with such regimes, then, the United States
will not succeed in persuading them to play by the existing, which is
to say American, rules of the game. We cannot expect to limit their
acquisition or sales of dangerous weapons by relying on their
voluntary adherence to international non-proliferation agreements. We
cannot hope to stem their aggression by appealing to their
consciences and asking them to accept the "norms" of the civilized
world. For those "norms" serve as obstacles to their ambitions and
even threats to their existence. They have, and will continue to
have, a clear and immutable interest in flouting them.

Here we would do well to cast another glance backward, for this is hardly the first time we have confronted the question of how to manage relations with dictatorial adversaries. During the 1970s, the view of U.S.-Soviet relations promulgated by much of the American foreign policy establishment was that the key to peace and stability lay in an effort to reach mutual understanding with Moscow. The way to deal with the threat of apocalypse posed by the Soviet and American nuclear arsenals was through mutual arms control. The way to cope with Soviet adventurism abroad was to bind Moscow's leaders into a "web of interdependence" and thereby compel them to recognize the advantages of responsible international behavior.

These measures proved futile, as Soviet leaders could not fulfill their side of the proposed bargain without undermining their rule at home. The source of confrontation between the two sides was not mutual misunderstanding, a lack of interdependence, or the military arsenals amassed by both sides. It was the nature of the Soviet regime. When that regime came to an end, so did the arms race, so did Russian aggression beyond its borders, and so did the Cold War. This lesson can be applied to the post-Cold War era. The most effective form of non-proliferation when it comes to regimes such as those in North Korea and Iraq is not continuing efforts to bribe them into adhering to international arms control agreements, but efforts aimed at the demise of the regimes themselves.

True, the United States cannot simply wish hostile regimes out of existence. An American strategy that included regime change as a central component would neither promise nor expect rapid transformations in every rogue state or threatening power. The United States would not dispatch troops to topple every regime we found odious. But such a strategy would depart from recent American policy in fundamental ways. Instead of ending the Gulf War in 1991 after the liberation of Kuwait, an American strategy built around the principle of regime change would have sent U.S. forces on to Baghdad to remove Saddam Hussein from power, and it would have kept U.S. troops in Iraq long enough to ensure that a friendlier regime took root. Such a strategy would not only have employed ground forces in Kosovo last year but would have sent sufficient NATO forces to Serbia to topple the Milosevic regime. Those who believe such efforts would have been impossible to implement, or who caution of the difficulties of occupying and reform ing such countries, or who insist that the removal of one man provides no solution to a problem, may wish to reflect on the American experiences in Germany and Japan--or even the Dominican Republic and Panama. In any case, if the United States is prepared to summon the forces necessary to carry out a Desert Storm, and to take the risks associated with expelling the world's fourth-largest army from Kuwait, it is absurd, and in the event self-defeating, not to complete the job.

Not all regime change can or need be accomplished by military intervention. Tactics for pursuing a strategy of regime change should vary according to circumstances. In some cases, the best policy might be support for rebel groups, along the lines of the Reagan Doctrine as it was applied in Nicaragua and elsewhere. In some cases, it might mean support for dissidents by either overt or covert means, and/or economic sanctions and diplomatic isolation. These tactics may or may not succeed immediately and would have to be adjusted as circumstances changed. But the purpose of American foreign policy ought to be clear. When it comes to dealing with tyrannical regimes, especially those with the power to do us or our allies harm, the United States should seek not coexistence but transformation.

To many, the idea of America using its power to promote changes of regime in nations ruled by dictators rings of utopianism. In fact, it is eminently realistic. There is something perverse in declaring the impossibility of promoting democratic change abroad in light of the record of the past three decades. After we have already seen dictatorships toppled by democratic forces in such unlikely places as the Philippines, Indonesia, Chile, Nicaragua, Paraguay, Taiwan and South Korea, how utopian is it to imagine a change of regime in a place like Iraq? How utopian is it to work for the fall of the Communist Party oligarchy in China after a far more powerful and, arguably, more stable such oligarchy fell in the Soviet Union? With democratic change sweeping the world at an unprecedented rate over these past thirty years, is it "realistic" to insist that no further victories can be won?

If anything, we ought to be fairly optimistic that such change can be hastened by the right blend of American policies. The Chinese regime, for example, shows many signs of instability. The inherent contradiction between its dictatorial rule and its desire for economic growth so preoccupies the Beijing government that it feels compelled to crack down even on non-political sects like the Falun Gong. The United States and the West can either make it easier or more difficult for the PRC to resolve these contradictions. Our policy in this instance ought to be the latter, so that we can hasten the day when the conflicting currents of Chinese society prove beyond the capacity of its dictatorial government to manage.

But a strategy aimed at preserving American pre-eminence cannot and should not be based on any individual threat. We need not go searching for an enemy to justify the requirement for a strong military and a strong moral component in our foreign policy. Even if the threat from China were to disappear tomorrow, that would not relieve us of the need for a strong and active role in the world. Nor would it absolve us of the responsibilities that fate has placed on our shoulders. Given the dangers we know, and given the certainty that unknown perils await us over the horizon, there can be no respite from this burden.

IT IS FAIR to ask how the rest of the world will respond to a prolonged period of American hegemony. Those regimes that find an American-led world order inhospitable to their existence will seek to cut away at American power, will form tactical alliances with other dictatorships and rogue states for the common purpose of unsettling such an order, and will look for ways to divide the United States from its allies. China's proliferation of weapons and selling of weapons technologies to Iran, its provision of financial support to Milosevic, its attempt to find common ground with Russia against American "hegemonism"--all represent opportunistic attempts to undercut American dominance. Russia can similarly be expected to search for opportunities to weaken U.S. political, diplomatic and military preponderance in the world. Even an ally such as France may be prepared to lend itself to these efforts, viewing a unified Europe as a check on American power and using the UN Security Council as an arena for forging diplo matic roadblocks, along with China and Russia, against effective U.S.-led international action, whether in the Balkans or in the Persian Gulf.

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