THE WHITE HOUSE
Office of the Press Secretary
For Immediate Release October 21, 1999
REMARKS BY SAMUEL R. BERGER
ASSISTANT TO THE PRESIDENT FOR
NATIONAL SECURITY AFFAIRS
"AMERICAN POWER: HEGEMONY, ISOLATIONISM OR ENGAGEMENT"
THE COUNCIL ON FOREIGN RELATIONS
AS PREPARED FOR DELIVERY
OCTOBER 21, 1999
We end this century at a unique moment for America, when our power and prosperity are greater than at any time in our history, unrivaled by any other nation. Our leadership has never been more needed, or more in demand. And so it is perplexing that America finds itself today being accused of both hegemony and isolationism at the same time.
I want to talk about that this evening - American power and how it is both perceived and used.
The contours of our power are beyond dispute. Our military expenditures now are larger than those of all other countries combined; our weaponry is a generation ahead of our nearest potential rival. Our military technology is so dominant that serious people actually lamented that we did not have enough casualties in the Kosovo conflict.
Because we are the only nation on earth able to project power in every region on earth, others look to us to deliver decisive influence where it is needed, whether that means maintaining security in Korea, helping negotiate an agreement between Peru and Ecuador, overcoming differences in Northern Ireland, invigorating implementation of the Dayton Accords, convincing Indonesia's military to accept peacekeepers to East Timor, or seeking peace between Ethiopia and Eritrea.
Our economy not only brings unprecedented prosperity to Americans; it the engine of global growth and technological change. Americans own more than half the world's computers. We are home to the world's eight biggest high-tech companies. Remarkably, in 1995, more than half of all the royalties and licensing fees in the world were paid to Americans. We may be the first society in human history where children have no idea what they will grow up to be - because it hasn't been invented yet.
Then there is the realm of culture and values. Our movies, music and media are everywhere, irritating some, delighting many more. The poster I saw most often walking through the dorms of Beijing University last year was not Mao or Deng but Michael Jordan.
More important, the ideas the world associates with us have been ascendant since communism collapsed. The financial crisis of 1998, particularly in Asia, only reinforced the lessons we've stressed since 1989 - that open markets work better in open societies and that freedom is a universal aspiration.
These trends have, to say the least, been noticed overseas. Throughout the world, our success inspires a mix of wonder and worry. In America, too, it produces contradictory reactions.
Most Americans understand that we are fortunate to be in a position of leadership, and that to maintain it we must continue to lead. Their pride in our achievements makes them not triumphant but confident in our ability to shape, with others, a better world. But there are those in our country who do not look to the world - or our ability to thrive within it -- with confidence. In fact, they are distinctly defeatist. America may be at the height of its power and prosperity, yet they see America in constant peril of losing our freedom of action.
It's not the majority view. There are leaders in both political parties who reject it. But we must face the reality that it no longer is a fringe view. In fact, it is the view of a dominant minority in the Congress.
Think of it: Nearly every other country in the world supports the nuclear Test Ban Treaty, even though they realize it has the effect of locking in America's superiority in nuclear weapons. Yet there were those who said on the floor of the U.S. Senate that the Treaty represented "unilateral disarmament" for the United States. Every member of the United Nations can see we can veto any UN action we oppose, and still act alone when the UN lacks consensus. Yet there are politicians in our country who say the UN threatens our sovereignty and dictates our policy. Developing countries are reluctant to reduce their greenhouse gas emissions because they worry that their growth will slow, whereas they can see that America has the technology to keep racing ahead. Yet our Congress is reluctant to support the Climate Change Treaty because it fears our economy - the world's technological leader -- cannot embrace technological change.
There is a wide disconnect today between how others see America's strength and how some people in our country see it. I want to look at both sides of that equation today. I'll begin with the view from beyond our shores. Then, I want to talk about the view at home.
Among our many friends and allies around the world, the dominant vision of America still is one of a country whose leadership is essential to peace and prosperity and which exercises leadership for the greater good. Europeans still seek our troops on their soil, criticize us when we don't assert ourselves, and have worked to sustain our alliance long after its original reason for being has vanished. The same is true in Asia, where some of the biggest critics of our culture, such as Singapore and Malaysia, are some of the biggest backers of our security presence.
It is quite an experience travelling around the world with the President of the United States. America is still special for most people in the world - a symbol of hope and resolve for those struggling to be free, to be at peace, or simply to have their voices heard. If you were to ask Jose Ramos Horta of East Timor what role America plays in the world; or John Hume of Northern Ireland, or Aung San Suu Kyi of Burma, or any Kosovar refugee, central European democrat, Israeli or Palestinian campaigner for peace, you would get one answer: America has and must continue to lead. If we disappoint, it's usually not from doing too much, but too little.
And yet, there is another image of America abroad -- of a country that is unilateralist and too powerful. We see that in the view expressed by the French, as only they can, that we are not merely a superpower, but a "hyperpower." We see it in the European reaction to Kosovo: relief we prevailed, but also angst over the necessarily disproportionate role America played, and among some the quest for a security identity detached from NATO. We see it in Russia's and China's reactions to Kosovo - in their fear that what we saw as a legitimate, multilateral defense of common interests and values was in fact the start of a crusade to contain their power and impose our will on the world. We see it in the dismay among our friends and allies that we do not live up to many of our international obligations, even as we demand that others do.
The perception persists among some that the United States has become a hectoring hegemon. And since perceptions do matter, this is a problem we must do what we can to resolve. Let's begin by understanding the various strands of the criticism we face.
At one extreme, we are accused of trying to dominate others, of seeing the world in zero sum terms in which any other country's gain must be our loss. But that is an utterly mistaken view. It's not just because we are the first global power in history that is not an imperial power. It's because for 50 years, we have consciously tried to define and pursue our interests in a way that is consistent with the common good - rising prosperity, expanding freedom, collective security.
Consider our economic policies. In the last few years, we have grown our economy and fought for open markets, here and abroad. Our exports have supported the creation of 1.3 million U.S. jobs. But the impact on the world also has been remarkable. Through the Asian financial crisis, the President quite deliberately undertook to keep our markets open, knowing our trade deficit would increase substantially. As a result, we made a bigger contribution than any other country toward easing the crisis and lifting its victims from poverty. Korea, for example, has gone from negative to positive growth in the last year, helped by a $31 billion swing in its trade balance. Trade with the United States accounted for 40 percent of that swing. And last year, American consumers and businesses accounted for almost half the growth in world GDP.
Think about our support for political freedom. Some people say that's forcing our values on the world. But when we promote democracy, we are promoting a system of government that allows the people of other nations to choose their own destiny according to their own values and aspirations. Ask the people of Poland and South Africa and the Philippines and they'll tell you: Dictatorship was imposed on them. Democracy was their choice.
Then there is a second kind of criticism that really reflects visceral reactions to our culture and status. I'm afraid that simply comes with the territory we momentarily and gratefully enjoy. For example, there is the slightly confused attitude of Europeans who flock to fast food outlets and then complain about the threat of "McDomination" to their "culinary sovereignty" - and of Asians who decry the superficial materialism of American culture but then compete to build the biggest skyscrapers. There is not much we can do about this except exercise a fair measure of humility and, as our Declaration of Independence says, a "decent respect for the opinions of mankind."
A third kind of criticism reflects disagreements about policy and resentment over the manner in which we pursue what we consider to be legitimate goals. For example, many countries react to our proclivity to pass judgment on their performance on everything from religious freedom to drug control, and about our imposition of sanctions on foreign companies doing business with countries that earn our opprobrium. In these areas, there is room for debate about the proper balance between isolating bad actors in the world and isolating ourselves.
Finally, from the outside looking in, there is a criticism that I believe is entirely well founded. It is inspired not by what we allegedly do to the world, but by what we fail to do with the world. It is an attack not on our wealth and power, but on the fact that despite our wealth and power, we do not pay our arrears to the UN and the development banks, or devote a higher percentage of our GDP to the reduction of global poverty, or give our President the authority to negotiate new trade agreements, or ratify the treaties we urge others to adopt. It views America as a country that demands of others what it will not give of itself.
And that critique brings me back to the first half of the equation I raised earlier - to our view as Americans of our own power. The internationalist consensus that has prevailed in this country for more than 50 years increasingly is being challenged by a new isolationism, heard and felt particularly in the Congress. The great irony today is that we owe our reputation for trying to dominate the world in no small measure to a group of people who are intent on disregarding the world.
It's tempting to say that the isolationist right in the Congress has no foreign policy, that it is driven only by partisanship. But that underestimates it. I believe there is a coherence to its convictions, a vision of America's role in the world. Let me tell you what I think they are, in simple terms:
First: Any treaty others embrace, we won't join. The new isolationists are convinced that treaties - pretty much all treaties -- are a threat to our sovereignty and continued superiority. That's what they say about the Test Ban - though it requires nothing more of us than we've already undertaken to do ourselves, though it so clearly locks in our strategic advantage. They think there is no point in trying to raise standards of international behavior, because rules can be violated, because perfect verification is impossible, because other countries can't be counted on to keep their word. Never mind that the alternative is a world with no rules, no verification, and no constraints at all.
We have a different vision - and by "we" I mean the Clinton Administration, members of Congress of both parties and countless others who want to preserve America's tradition of leadership.
We agree it would be foolish to rely on arms control treaties alone to protect our security. But it would be equally foolish to throw away the tools good treaties offer: the restraint and deterrence that comes from global rules with global backing, the ability to shine a light on threatening behavior through inspections and to mobilize the whole world against it.
The second plank of the new isolationism is this: Burden sharing is a one way street. For example, its proponents rightly insist that Europeans fund the lion's share of reconstructing the Balkans, because we carried the heaviest burden of the conflict. But then they balk at doing our part. They oppose American involvement in Africa's tragic wars, but refuse to help fund the efforts of others, like Nigeria, when they take responsibility to act. And when it comes to paying America's part of the cost of UN peacekeeping missions, they're not interested, even if it is to uphold a peace we helped to forge. This year, Congress has cut our request for peacekeeping by more than half.
We believe that is dangerous and wrong. Unless we want to be the world's policeman, we must support the institutions and arrangements through which we share the responsibilities of leadership. That's why we've maintained our commitment to a revitalized NATO, while urging our allies to take on new responsibilities, with the capabilities to match. It is why we have aided Asian nations as they step up to the challenge of stopping the violence in East Timor. It is why we have helped to launch the African Crisis Response Initiative to train African forces for peacekeeping. And it is why all Americans, whether they are internationalists or those who wish to limit our involvement, should agree it is utterly self-defeating to fail to pay our dues and debts to the UN.
The third thesis of the new isolationism: If it's over there, it's not our fight. Foreign wars may hurt our conscience, but not our interests, and we should let them take their course. That is what many said about the war in Bosnia - let it go on until they get tired of killing themselves. A part of the Congress would have let the brutal onslaught in Kosovo rage until it spread.
Let me be clear: America cannot do everything or be everywhere. But we also cannot afford to do nothing, and be nowhere. The new isolationism of 1999 fails to understand precisely what the old isolationism of 60 years ago failed to understand - that local conflicts can have global consequences. In an era of worldwide communication, we cannot choose not to see; we can only choose not to act. Sometimes that's right. But not acting must be a conclusion, not a conviction. We have learned the hard way that when the spread of conflict threatens our interests and our values, often the only realistic choice we have is between acting sooner and acting later.
The fourth plank of the new isolationism: We can't be a great country without a great adversary. Since the Cold War ended, the proponents of this vision have been nostalgic for the good old days when friends were friends and enemies were enemies. We've seen lately how easily Russo-phobia can be revived. But for the role of new enemy number one, China is most popular with some, with its growing economy, its nuclear program, its missiles aimed at Taiwan.
We should not look at China through rose colored glasses; neither should we see it through a glass darkly, distorting its strength and ignoring its complexities. Here is the China we see: A country that has lifted tens of millions of its citizens from poverty and expanded personal freedoms, but whose progress is constrained by its resistance to the political reforms necessary for its long-term growth and stability. A country that could, if it chose, pour much more of its wealth into military might and try to dominate its region, but which has not yet decisively made that choice. Our interest lies in protecting our security while encouraging China to make the right choices. We can only do that if we continue a policy of principled, purposeful engagement with its leaders and people.
The final plank of the new isolationism is: Billions for defense but hardly a penny for prevention. The President this week vetoed the Foreign Operations Bill, the vehicle for much of our international resources. It was about 40% below what America spent on international engagement in 1985, despite the fact that the world has become more, not less, complex; it is $2 billion below what the President requested. It does not fund our request for a vitally needed expansion in the effort to safeguard nuclear technology and expertise in the former Soviet Union, increasing the likelihood that deadly weapons will fall into dangerous hands. It does not fund our initiative to help relieve the debts of impoverished countries that are finally embracing freedom, increasing the likelihood of humanitarian crises that will cause instability and conflict. Astonishingly, it does not fund the commitments to the Middle East peace process growing out of the Wye Accords. Meanwhile, the Congress is trying to add $5 billion to the defense budget this year for projects our military says it doesn't need.
The President firmly believes America must have the strongest, best trained, best equipped military in the world, and has requested the first sustained increase in military spending in a decade. But he has also argued that if we underfund our diplomacy, we're going to end up overusing our military - which happens to be precisely the outcome these critics say they want to avoid. Those who fear that our military may become overextended should make it their first order of business to restore decent levels of funding to the programs that keep our soldiers out of war.
The outlines of this debate are, I believe, quite clear. The Clinton Administration believes we must use all the tools of our leadership to maintain our strength. The new isolationists would have us rely solely on our military defenses to protect our security. For example, to us, a missile defense is part of a sound national security strategy. To them, missile defense is the strategy.
In effect, they believe in a survivalist foreign policy - build a fortified fence around America, and retreat behind it. And if other nations complain that we're abdicating our responsibilities - or if they start abdicating their own -- let them, because we are stronger and richer than they are. As the President said last week, that is a recipe for a "bleak, poor, less secure world."
The outcome of this debate about our role - between leading the world and hunkering down -- is hardly academic. The Test Ban vote and the devastating cuts to our foreign affairs budget make clear that our most fundamental interests are at stake. I believe those interests are clear.
America must continue to be a peacemaker. That means seizing the historic chance in the coming year for a comprehensive settlement in the Middle East, securing the peace in Kosovo, promoting stability in South Asia and reconciliation in Northern Ireland and Cyprus.
We must keep working to integrate Russia and China into the global system as open, prosperous, and stable societies. That means, in the coming year, helping Russia stabilize its economy as it conducts its first ever democratic transfer of power. It means bringing China into the WTO on acceptable terms, while speaking plainly about the need for political change.
We must continue the struggle to stop the spread of nuclear, chemical and biological weapons, and to be especially vigilant where proliferation intersects with the threat of terrorism. That means working in the coming year with Russia to pursue deeper arms reductions, to keep weapons secure at the source, to restrain North Korea's missile program, to contain Iraq, and yes, to build a consensus for eventually ratifying the Test Ban Treaty.
We must keep building an open global economy that sustains our prosperity while leaving no one behind. That means working at the WTO Ministerial next month to launch a new global trade round, pushing for debt relief, and for higher standards on labor rights and the environment.
And we must keep America as a force for freedom in the world. That means working in the coming year to support the fragile transitions to democracy in Nigeria, Indonesia, and Ukraine.
Above all, America must remain a builder of coalitions, remembering that few of our hopes for the future will be realized if we cannot convince others to embrace them as well.
We must remember that there is a difference between power and authority. Power is the ability to compel by force and sanctions; there are times we must do so, but as a final, not a first, resort. Authority is the ability to lead, and we depend on it for virtually everything we try to achieve Our authority is built on very different qualities than our power: on the attractiveness of our values, on the force of our example, on the credibility of our commitments and on our willingness to work with and stand by others
History teaches us that this moment of preeminence for America may be fleeting. Common sense tells us it won't be self-sustaining. That may be hard for many people to imagine, in part because there is no real threat to our power in the world today. But there is a very real threat to our authority. It lies in the impulse to withdraw from the world in a way that would squander our advantages, alienate our friends, diminish our credibility, betray our values, and discredit our example. We cannot let that happen. Every chapter in American history of which we're proud was written by people who refused to let that happen.
The Senate vote on the Test Ban Treaty was a cloud, but there is a silver lining. The stakes of our engagement in the world have been made clear. The lines have been drawn. And an old debate has begun anew. I have no doubt how it will end. The American people will choose as they have chosen so many times before: to keep America engaged in a way that will benefit our people and all people. That is a goal for which this President and his Administration will work every single remaining day of our term, a goal for which I solicit your active support today.