Office of the Press Secretary
(Hartford, Connecticut)

For Immediate Release Thursday, November 4, 1999

As Prepared for Delivery

November 4, 1999

Strengthening the Bipartisan Center:
An Internationalist Agenda for America

Two weeks ago, I gave a speech in New York at the Council on Foreign Relations about the unique and paradoxical position in which America finds itself today. Some of you may have read a few articles about it in the op-ed pages. Come to think of it, some of you may have written a few of those articles!

In the speech, I pointed out that we are at the height of our power and prosperity. We face no single, overriding threat to our existence. The ideals of democracy and free markets which we embrace are ascendant through much of the world. After 50 years of building alliances for collective defense, common prosperity, and wider freedom, we now have an unparalleled opportunity to shape, with others, a better, safer, more democratic world.

Most Americans are ready to seize that opportunity, though we sometimes differ about how. Yet there are also some who question whether we need to seize it at all. They believe America can and should go it alone -- either by withdrawing from the world and relying primarily on our military strength to protect us from its dangers . . . or by imposing our will on the world, even if it means alienating our closest allies. There are elements of isolationism in that view; for whatever its intent, its effect is to isolate America from its friends and to define America's interests in the narrowest of terms. There are clearly elements of unilateralism in it as well.

I made these arguments in my speech to stimulate a discussion about America's appropriate role in the world. It appears that I've succeeded. This is a discussion Americans need to be having -- before decisions are made that do real harm to our capacity to lead. And I'm pleased to have the opportunity to move that dialogue forward this evening with you.

First, let me make one crucial point. I have made it explicitly clear that the view with which I take issue is rejected by serious people in both political parties. Over the last six and a half years, the Administration has worked with Republicans and Democrats in the Congress to enlarge NATO and bolster democracy in central Europe, to approve aid to dismantle former Soviet weapons, to extend NAFTA to Mexico and create the WTO, to ratify START II and the Chemical Weapons Convention, to support our troops in engagements from the Balkans to the Persian Gulf, and to launch a host of other international initiatives. This week, we are working with a bipartisan coalition in the Congress to pass trade bills for Africa and the Caribbean Basin. Along the way, most of our critics have disagreed with the means we have used to pursue America's goals in the world; they have not questioned the need to pursue the goals themselves.

In some respects, the debate over the Comprehensive Test Ban Treaty was no different. Many opponents of the Treaty were motivated by serious and legitimate concerns. Most also understood that an outright rejection of the Treaty would hurt America. They urged the Senate to delay the vote, seeking time and a process that might address their questions. Yet they were thwarted by a small group of Senators who showed little concern for the will of most of their colleagues or the consequences to America of voting the Treaty down.

That same small but increasingly powerful group is responsible for the steady decline in our international affairs budget -- to the point where the gulf between America's aspirations in the world and our ability to realize them is growing.

Eight years ago, led by Senators Nunn and Lugar, the Congress initiated our effort to help safeguard nuclear weapons and expertise in the former Soviet Union. Now Congress is forcing us to choose between cutting back that effort, which is vital to our security, or slashing our support for programs to help Russians, Ukrainians, and others build more democratic societies, which is just as critical to our long term interests. For years, Congress has recognized our interest in spurring growth in poor countries that are committed to economic reform. Now it is refusing to fund a historic debt relief initiative that will do just that, an initiative we and all our G-7 partners embraced because it is morally right and economically smart. For years, Congress has supported America's partners in the Middle East peace process. Yet this year, as that process enters a critical and hopefully final stage, it has so far refused to fund the commitments we made to the Israelis and Palestinians at the Wye negotiations. Now, there are indications they may restore those funds. That is good. But not good enough. America's global leadership is not divisible.

What is more, Congress is still not meeting our obligations to the World Bank and IMF, and still conditioning the payment of our UN arrears on unrelated issues. It has cut by 60% our request for peacekeeping. Right now, from Kosovo to East Timor to Sierra Leone, the welcome advent of peace has produced the need for peacekeeping to secure it. In each place, the UN is launching missions that will save lives and prevent future crises, missions to implement agreements we in many cases helped broker and for which others will provide most of the troops. We must support these missions, not only with our UN vote, but by bearing our share of their costs. That's the only acceptable position for the world's wealthiest and most powerful nation.

I have argued that these Congressional actions do not result from simple differences over policy, or from partisanship. They reflect the coherent philosophy of a dominant minority -- which sees international spending as inherently disconnected to America's interests, views most multilateral enterprises with suspicion and considers most difficult international endeavors -- from supporting democracy in Russia to peace in the Balkans to growth in poor countries -- as likely to fail and therefore not worth trying.

That way of thinking has been with us in the United States for a long time. In recent times, we faced it in the 1950's when Senator Robert Taft challenged the internationalist wing of the Republican party, arguing that we should rely less on our allies and more on our own defenses. We saw it in the 1970's, when Congressional Democrats voted to bring our troops home from Europe, twisting legitimate concerns about Vietnam into a call to pull America out of the world.

But it is even more dangerous today -- because the need for American leadership has only grown with the end of the Cold War. America and its allies still face many dangers: some as old as ethnic conflict, some as new as cyberterrorism, some as fundamental as the risk that the democratic transitions which made this new era possible will not survive the strains of economic turmoil and political strife. That is why it is urgent that internationalists find common ground around a common agenda of our own. We must learn to recognize when our beliefs are being threatened. And we must defend them together.

What does it mean to be an internationalist in America at the turn of this century? It is to study the lessons of this century and reach the conclusion Franklin Roosevelt did in 1945: that America "cannot live alone, at peace; that our own well-being is dependent on the well-being of other nations, far away." We believe that our way of life cannot thrive in a world dominated by violence, misery, tyranny and corruption. We believe Americans benefit when nations coalesce to deter aggression, to resolve conflicts, to promote democracy, to open markets, to raise living standards, to prevent the spread of dangerous weapons, and to meet other dangers no nation can meet alone. And we believe that one key to forging such coalitions is American leadership.

The bipartisan center that believes America must play an active role has often disagreed about how we ought to play our role -- from Central America in the 1980s to Bosnia in the 1990s. But even when we differ over policy, we do not differ over purpose. And we share a conviction that America must have the means and the will to lead.

With that in mind, and to advance the critical discussion of America's role, let me suggest some of the principles that internationalists should be able to agree upon. Every one of them is being challenged today.

First, we should agree that America must have the strongest, best trained, best equipped military in the world, to deter potential adversaries and if need be defeat them. That's why the President has worked with Congress to reverse the decline in military spending over the last decade.

But we should also agree that it is just as vital to reverse the decline in spending on international affairs that began more than a decade ago. We need to invest in the programs that keep our soldiers out of war -- that prevent conflicts, promote freedom, boost prosperity, fight terrorism and drugs, meet our share of global responsibilities, and bring friends and allies to our side. We not only need a Defense Department that has the resources to respond to more than one major crisis at the same time; we need a State Department with that ability as well. Otherwise, our military will no longer be our last resort in times of crisis. It will be our only resort.

Second, we should agree that while America cannot and should not respond to every outbreak of violence and injustice around the world, neither can it afford never to respond. For local conflicts can affect our national interests and have global consequences.

Americans have long recognized this would be true of a renewed conflict in the weapon-rich and tolerance-poor Middle East, or in Korea. It could be true of a war in South Asia between nuclear-armed states. It was true of the war in the Balkans, which would have spread beyond Bosnia and Kosovo had we let it boil. It can be true when mass killing and displacement threaten to throw whole regions into chronic turmoil. Internationalists can question whether our national interests in each case justifies a particular kind of involvement -- unilateral or multilateral; military, economic, or humanitarian. But they should not question whether these interests exist.

After all, virtually every big war started as a small war that the world did not care enough to do something about. Sometimes, not acting is the right choice. But not acting must be a conclusion, not a conviction.

That puts an extra premium on a third principle we should be able to agree upon: America must be willing to act alone when our interests demand it, as we have many times in the last six and a half years. But we should also support the institutions and arrangements through which other countries help us bear the burdens of leadership. That's why we must pay our dues and our debts to the UN, and do our part when others take responsibility for making peace: whether Europeans in the Balkans or Asians in East Timor or Africans in Sierra Leone. Otherwise we will be left with a choice in future crises between doing everything ourselves and doing nothing at all.

Fourth, all internationalists agree that it was imperative for America to fight the Cold War against stifling, expansive oppression and that we always will be ready to resist threats to our freedom and way of life and that of our allies. At the same time, we should agree that America doesn't need a great enemy to be a great country. And if the end of the Cold War has given us a chance to weave our former adversaries Russia and China into the global community as stable, peaceful, open, law abiding states, we should do everything in our power to seize it.

To do that, we need to see both Russia and China with a sense of realism.

The question we face about Russia is no longer whether we will be threatened by its strength, but whether it will become too weak. Will it become unable to maintain stability and achieve prosperity at home, or to control the flow of people, weapons and technology across its borders? Will it become trapped, as it seems to be now, in cruel, unending cycles of violence in the North Caucasus that claim innocent lives and undermine the confidence of its friends? Realism tells us the road ahead is full of such obstacles for Russia and that only Russians can travel it. But it also tells us Russia has overcome enormous obstacles in ten years -- from an empire to a nation-state, from totalitarianism to democracy, from communism to a flawed but free market economy.

Internationalists can differ about the best strategies for encouraging that transformation. But we should not lose faith in our capacity, despite all the difficulties, to help achieve it, nor can we abdicate our responsibility to try. In fifty years, I seriously doubt anyone will say we did too much to support the emergence of a stable, democratic Russia. They are more likely to say we did too little.

As for China, realism cautions us to be prepared for a future in which this emerging power emerges as a threat. But we should not presuppose that outcome, or make it more likely by acting as if it has already happened. Realism also tells us to see China in all its complexity: As a country that has lifted hundreds of millions of its citizens from poverty and expanded personal freedoms, but whose progress is constrained by resistance to political reforms vital to its long-term growth and stability. The best way to promote the right outcome is to protect our security, while continuing a policy of principled, purposeful engagement with China's leaders and its people.

A fifth principle internationalists ought to agree upon is that while we should not rely on treaties alone to protect our security, it is in America's interest to establish standards of international conduct that reflect our values and play to our strengths.

More than 30 years ago, when we signed the Non-Proliferation Treaty, pessimists were sure that despite its provisions, there would be dozens of nuclear-armed nations by the year 2000. That hasn't happened, in part because of the restraint and deterrence that comes from global rules with global backing. In 1975, we signed the Helsinki Accords with the Soviet Union, a country we couldn't trust that was in violation of every article in the treaty. Yet the U.S.S.R.'s embrace of human rights, however disingenuous at the time, gave its people a powerful tool in their struggle for change.

In particular, we do not tie our hands by getting others to accept standards we already have chosen to live by ourselves. That is part of our argument for the Comprehensive Test Ban Treaty, which would help freeze the development of nuclear weapons around the world at a time when we have an overwhelming military advantage. Now, one of the great challenges for internationalists in both parties is to find the common ground on this treaty that the truncated debate in the Senate prevented. I hope we can have a process of quiet consultation in the months ahead. We must also find a way in the coming year to move forward with defenses against missile attack, while working to preserve the ABM treaty. A missile defense can be part of a sound national security strategy. But it cannot be the sum total of a strategy.

Many other ambitious tasks demand American leadership and engagement in the coming year. Most reflect the opportunities of the post-Cold War peace: forging a comprehensive peace in the Middle East and securing the peace in the Balkans; helping Russia stabilize its economy as it conducts its first democratic transfer of power; bringing China into the WTO while speaking plainly about human rights; building on hopeful developments between Greece and Turkey to make progress in the Aegean, particularly on Cyprus; securing new energy routes from the Caspian Sea that will allow newly independent states in the Caucasus to prosper; supporting extraordinarily hopeful and important democratic transitions from Nigeria to Indonesia; launching a new global trade round; enacting the African and Caribbean trade bills; pressing ahead with debt relief for countries finally embracing good government.

Others reflect new dangers and new challenges: easing tensions between India and Pakistan; helping Colombia defeat the narcotraffickers who threaten its democracy; fighting proliferation, terrorism and the nexus between them; restraining North Korea's missile program and Iran's; containing Iraq; reversing global climate change.

That is an agenda which reflects America's interests and deserves bipartisan support. The President will work hard with the Congress to make it our common agenda. And he will make the case once again that we can seize the challenges ahead only if we have the resources to match our interests, only if America remains a builder of coalitions, only if we remember that few of our hopes will be realized if we cannot convince others to embrace them as well.

Perhaps the most important principle every internationalist should agree upon is that there is a difference between power and authority. Power is the ability to compel by force and sanctions; there are times we must use it, 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 example, the credibility of our commitments and our willingness to work with and stand by others

Historians tell us that this moment of predominance for America may be fleeting. That's hard for many people to imagine, in part because there is no threat to our power in the world today. But there is a threat to our authority. It lies in the impulse of some to stand alone in 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.

The Administration has an obligation to reach out to critics who share our belief that America must lead and not stand alone. I hope they, too, will defend the common ground we share, so that the bipartisan center will hold, and America's tradition of leadership will be preserved for generations to come. I will dedicate my very best efforts to that task in the months ahead.


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