Stealth Foreign Policy

What is the foreign policy of the United States? And who’s running it?

• Is it still Clinton’s? For the moment, many Clinton administration policies remain in effect-in the Balkans, in Europe, in China, in Colombia, in Iraq, against rogue nations, and lackadaisically in those places in Africa where there was never much of a policy in the first place.

• Is it Bush’s? Flashy start notwithstanding, the top level of the president’s foreign-policy team has gone undercover for clarification after the intra-Republican flap that greeted Secretary of State Colin Powell’s first trip to the Mideast. In the face of a failing sanctions policy, Powell’s talk of "smarter" sanctions against Iraq rather than arming opposition groups unhinged some Republicans. So, who’s in charge? Powell? Condoleezza Rice? Vice President Richard Cheney? The midlevel team is in transition: sub-cabinet posts are still being filled and it will be some time, as the news reports say, before the appropriate reviews have been completed and policies confirmed or revised.

Yet even as the foreign-policy makers battle it out, a new policy is taking shape. But it’s not the State Department that is doing it. The Pentagon and Secretary of Defense Donald Rumsfeld have jumped into the opening created by the diplomats’ sluggishness or slugfest.

Take the outbreak of fighting in Macedonia: NATO has thirty-seven thousand soldiers in neighboring Kosovo, and an intervention of a fairly modest sort could quickly curb Albanian insurgents stirring up trouble both in Macedonia and Serbia. But as William Pfaff reports (page 8), the Pentagon will not budge beyond its peacekeeping duties in Kosovo and has vetoed any NATO intervention, even with European troops. Given George W. Bush’s campaign threats to pull U.S. peacekeeping troops out of Bosnia and Kosovo, perhaps we should just be grateful they’re still in place at all.

Nation-building may not be high on the Republican agenda, but NATO, with or without U.S. troops, could and should put the brakes on another, and potentially more serious, bout of interethnic warfare in the Balkans. Campaign rhetoric and our stand-back posture not only encourage irridentist dreams of a "Greater Albania," but risk the future of NATO, providing further justification and legitimation for an independent European Defense Force.

Take another instance of emerging policy making: the Koreas, North and South. The Clinton administration worked to the last for an agreement with Kim Jong II that would have ended North Korea’s efforts to develop long-range nuclear missiles and sell missile technology to Pakistan and Iran, among others. Negotiations looked promising but ran up against the clock. When South Korean President Kim Dae Jung visited Washington on March 7, his unceasing efforts for rapprochement with the North were brought up short with Bush’s adamant refusal of any immediate resumption of U.S. negotiations with the North. This was a grave disappointment to Kim, indeed, almost an insult.

Why not work diplomatically to bring North Korea out of its isolation and draw its people back from the brink of starvation? Why say no? True, the North is not wholly trustworthy, so verification mechanisms must be part of any continuing negotiations, but there was no good reason for Bush’s dismissal. There is, however, a very dubious and dangerous reason. Could it be that the administration’s enthusiasm for a national missile defense program (NMD) will hold Korea, North and South, hostage to the system’s planning and budgeting? After all, if you don’t have a rogue nation with nuclear missiles, you don’t need a system to defend against it.

That system, or better the idea of a system, left over from the Reagan years has thus far failed test after test, in particular what would seem essential, the ability to intercept incoming missiles (see, "Missile Offense," August 11, 2000). Yet Secretary Rumsfeld and his deputy Paul Wolfowitz argue forcefully in favor of it.

In an interview with the London Sunday Telegraph (March 18), Rumsfeld declared that he no longer saw "the ABM treaty as having a central role in strategic stability." Yet unilateral abrogation by the United States-necessary in order to proceed with NMD-would destabilize our relations with Russia, China, and probably Europe. Even so, the president, according to Rumsfeld, "intends to deploy missile defense." Furthermore, it would not be the limited land-based system supported half-heartedly by the Clinton administration. Wolfowitz speaks glowingly of a multi-layered system: "the best thing is to attack a missile several different ways....If you have a problem with one system, another system may work better." In other words, let’s plump for a multi-system failure.

And why must we do this? Rumsfeld argues: "There is a good deal of [nuclear] proliferation," and calculates that "any number of countries has the ability to acquire weapons of mass destruction and the ability to deliver them." Any number? No, probably no more than four or five. A nice number for arms negotiators and diplomats to get to work on.

Instead, military thinking and cold-war attitudes are rapidly shaping the emerging core of the Bush administration’s foreign policy. We will wind up arming the Iraqi opposition and create another set of outlaws like the Taliban. We will not employ NATO military force in Macedonia where it could avert a major regional war. We will deploy NMD and derail a working arms-control agreement-an agreement that should be built upon, not dismantled. In other words, our relations with other nations, friend and foe alike, will be put to the service of a missile defense that is, so far, unworkable and quite possibly unnecessary.

Sounds like Fortress America to us, and for this, you don’t need diplomats. You hardly need a foreign policy.

Published in the 2001-04-06 issue: 
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