Text: Post-Cold War U.S. Foreign Policy
He is of course a tough act to follow -- Foreign Service Officers have been trying to do that for half a century without much success. At 92 he still gives us cause for humility. Why do I feel like I'm taking my oral exams all over again!
I was told to pick any topic I wanted for this lecture. I thought and thought and read a lot from the Kennan opus. There are few subjects that Kennan has not written about with eloquence, erudition, and perception -- including sex. It was, in fact, a woman who inspired my topic. After spending a pleasant night -- at the movies, with Jane Austen -- I came up with the title "Sense and Sensibility: Making Our Way in the Post-Cold War World."
You might think that Jane Austen and George Kennan make a strange couple. But consider. Both have powerful analytical minds, both are sharp observers of their times -- though her universe was much smaller than his. Both are unblinking realists and moralists with a keen appreciation of worldly limits and flaws. And like Austen, Kennan is enjoying a revival, if "revival" describes someone who for 50 years has done more than any other person to develop the intellectual framework within which U.S. foreign policy has been made, conducted, and judged.
Kennan's resurgence probably also has to do with trying to make sense of a watershed in international affairs like the one he confronted, and made so much sense of, at the end of the Second World War.
But I would remind those of you suffering from acute "paradigm-envy" that Kennan regarded the reduction of his analysis of Soviet power and intentions to the "Containment Doctrine" to be simplistic and harmful. Paradigms aren't necessarily all they're cracked up to be. You might also take comfort from Kennan's 1954 observation "that just because the solutions of problems are not visible at any particular time does not mean that those problems will never be alleviated or confined to tolerable dimensions. History has a way of changing the very terms in which problems operate and of leaving them, in the end, unsolved to be sure, yet strangely deflated of their original meaning and their importance." Unfortunately, that is not always true soon enough to do policymakers any good.
Indeed, the press, the pundits, the political opposition, and the public do not wait for history's tender ministrations before passing judgments on an administration's foreign policy performance. It wasn't George Kennan, but (former) Secretary (of State Alexander) Haig, who remarked about Washington: "One day you're drinking the wine, the next day you're pressing the grapes!"
Consider the past five years. In 1991, George Bush was the consummate "Foreign Policy President," managing the post-Cold War transition and the Gulf War. By 1992, he was derided for miscalculations in Iraq, an abdication of leadership on Yugoslavia, and that bilious debacle in Japan.
The mood swings over the Clinton administration's foreign policy also have been dramatic. For over two years, it was reviled endlessly for Bosnia, Haiti, Somalia, muscular multilateralism, and other sins. In the past year, the nastiness stopped when the administration appeared to be on a roll: Haiti, Middle East agreements, Northern Ireland, and, most impressively, Dayton. But in the past few months of Hamas and IRA (Irish Republican Army) attacks, Chinese saber-rattling, rising Pakistan-India tensions, and the Mexican decline, the talking heads have been shaking again.
So, my fellow foreign policy wonks, it makes sense to keep a little perspective.
In taking stock of where we are in foreign policy, my sensibilities are, I suspect, like most of yours, those of a practitioner -- in 31 years as a Foreign Service Officer I got used to looking at foreign policy in terms of what do we do today. This afternoon, I will begin by making some observations about the post-Cold War world and the domestic environment for foreign policy, then I will discuss in that context the policy dilemmas posed by Russia, China and Bosnia. Finally, I will draw some conclusions about where we are headed in foreign policy. I will have to over-simplify and leave out some important issues for time's sake, like population.
Making Our Way in the Post-Cold War Policy Environment
It is only five years and two administrations since the Soviet Union collapsed. Thus far, we have had difficulty conceptualizing about this post-Cold War era and how to shape it to our benefit. We have mostly focused on discrete -- important -- issues that were inherited or have arisen.
Though we pound our chests and say we are the leader -- and indeed nothing happens unless we do lead -- we don't wield many sticks we can really use, and we often balk at paying the costs of leadership. Our military might continues to be a sustained deterrent and important in regional crises, but it seems irrelevant to most of our problems today. We bemoan the lack of consensus on post-Cold War criteria for military intervention, though there have been few cases since Pearl Harbor where the use of force has not generated great domestic debate. Our intellectuals and columnists incessantly complain about a lack of vision. But nobody provides it, including them.
But if we take a longer, historical view of our situation -- to borrow from a Hollywood adaptation of another Austen novel, "Emma," -- we are not so "Clueless" as many assert. We have begun to make our way in the post-Cold War world, although domestic politics are making it difficult to keep our footing.
First, we understand a major political fact -- though we haven't got unlimited power or all the answers, in this new era, the United States is still the preeminent power, the cutting-edge of alliances, the only mobilizer of nations, and the principal stabilizing force in the world. Indeed, for years to come, neither the European Union, nor China or Japan, nor the United Nations system, can substitute for American power and U.S.-brokered alliances.
We also have learned some important things from experience. After the First World War, we threw away our alliances. After the Second World War, we demobilized but in the face of a unifying threat quickly rearmed and developed security pacts in peacetime. Now, in the post-Cold War era, in an unprecedented preeminent power position, we have maintained our alliances and significant military and intelligence capacities in the absence both of war and of compelling threat. The intellectual markets of Washington and Tokyo periodically pronounce the U.S.-Japan alliance dead, but the alliance continues because both countries want it and feel they need it. The recent tension in the Taiwan Straits have given it another nine lives. I do not minimize the difficulty of maintaining alliance cohesion in today's circumstances. NATO's incoherence for four years over Yugoslavia shows the difficulties we can expect in keeping alliances viable and credible in an age of unclear threat.
Second, despite our occasional flirtations with trade barriers and unilateralism, as well as political weakness among the G-7 leaders, we have helped significantly to integrate the world economic system through NAFTA (North American Free Trade Agreement), the WTO (World Trade Organization), and APEC (Asia-Pacific Economic Cooperation forum). The impact of this effort goes beyond the economic benefits -- and social costs -- to us and the world. Indeed, these new mechanisms will probably be more significant than traditional national security instruments to preventing war and hostility -- but only in the long term. In the nearer term, the profound impact of globalization is creating for both developed and developing countries, not just great rewards, but also obvious strains, such as unemployment and vast income disparities, which can generate or intensify protectionist passions and internal and external instabilities. Domestic political considerations limit our ability to further expand economic integration -- like bringing Chile into NAFTA -- they even limit our ability today to talk much about NAFTA.
Third, U.S. leadership has, after many years, succeeded in institutionalizing in most of the world community the non-proliferation of nuclear weapons. That is an impressive achievement, even if there are loopholes in the various treaties and conventions and we overlook a few friendly violators. We have also gone a long way in delegitimizing in the international community other means of mass destruction, such as chemical and biological weapons. It is hard to establish and maintain the means for controlling the profusion of small-scale, but highly destructive, threats in the midst of an information explosion and erupting regional conflicts. The effort requires constancy, sophisticated monitoring, the improvement and expansion of intelligence operations, and international agreements that may promise more than they achieve. But the world is generally committed to counter-proliferation; without the United States in front, however, it will founder.
Fourth, we have, to an impressive degree, advanced the process of making humanitarianism, and in many cases the accompanying need for the difficult and derided task of nation-building, accepted elements not just of our own foreign policy, but of those of other governments and inter-governmental institutions. This trend has been helped by the vast growth of non-governmental organizations (NGOs). It has saved or improved the lives of vast numbers of people and helped contain regional conflicts. It also requires ever increasing amounts of public monies. The controversy tends to be over costly and dramatic humanitarian interventions by the military, but they are, in fact, a relatively small, portion of worldwide crisis management efforts.
Fifth and lastly, successive Democratic and Republican administrations have made democracy and human rights a basic part of our foreign policy. We have contributed to successes in Latin America, in Portugal, Spain and South Africa, in a few European countries where the Soviet empire held sway, and in Asian countries, such as South Korea and Taiwan. We have worked best in countries whose people wanted democracy but needed help, when we have made a full-fledged, wide-reaching effort, and where other Western democracies have worked with us. Our policies have developed major constituencies in many countries, not just our own, who can influence democratic governments, usually by shaming them.
Not everyone looks at the democracy and human rights dimensions of our foreign policy as an unalloyed good. Though the most outspoken advocates for human rights and democracy complain that we do not weight their considerations heavily enough, their critics charge that we do not have the luxury of sentimentality and fail to assign the proper importance to security and economic interests. Critics also disapprove of the way the Hill (Congress) rushes to pass punitive legislation -- often regardless of whether we have any leverage -- against offending countries even though such measures harm other equities or retard the democratic values we wish to promote. These concerns notwithstanding, the internal and external policies of countries are usually related and a value-laden approach is embedded in the American psyche -- even (former) Secretary (of State Henry) Kissinger concedes that a value-free, balance-of-power policy cannot be sustained by the American public.
These five broad features of our post-Cold War policy -- maintaining strong alliances, fostering economic integration, controlling weapons proliferation, humanitarianism, and the promotion of democratic values -- do not add up to a paradigm -- they also do not tell us how to deal with some sticky problems -- but they show that we are moving forward in some sensible directions. Making our way, however, is complicated by the increasing influence of domestic politics on the management of foreign affairs.
The Impact of Domestic Politics
The impact of domestic politics on foreign policy is everywhere, but it is probably strongest in democracies, because foreign policies must have the consent of the governed. Commenting on our blindness following World War I, Kennan wrote in 1950 one of his most famous remarks: "History does not forgive us our mistakes because they are explicable in terms of our domestic politics. If you say that mistakes of the past were unavoidable because of our domestic predilections and habits of thought, you are saying that what stopped us from being more effective than we were was democracy, as practiced in this country. And, if that is true, let us recognize it and measure the full seriousness of it -- and find something to do about it." Unfortunately, he did not provide a sensible solution, and neither has anyone else.
The vast international reach of the United States, the impact of globalization on our economy, and, perhaps most importantly, the end of the Cold War, which had imposed on us some discipline and a longer term perspective, have caused domestic politics to intrude increasingly into the management of foreign policy. More and more, the politics of issues tend to substitute for the issues themselves.
In today's world, the public's urgency and concern emanate from problems at home, not external threats. The public, at least according to its representatives, apparently feels that foreign policy is not important unless it helps us economically. Our leaders thus have difficulty defining long-term foreign interests and working toward them consistently. Indeed, they are often afraid to. Paradoxically, for that reason, just when our country is at its greatest strength, we forfeit opportunities to better shape international issues and institutions.
Russia, China and Bosnia
Our efforts to manage the major foreign policy issues of the day -- Russia and China, and an infinitely smaller country like Bosnia are profoundly affected by our politics, as well as by the political dynamics within those countries themselves. Let me say a few words about each of these countries.
Russia remains our central security concern, because of its size, scientific and technical capabilities, and its existing huge stock of nuclear weapons. It is not clear how Russia's external behavior will evolve, because the profound internal changes underway are far from over. How Russia defines its borders, conducts relations with its neighbors, and manages its ethnic problems -- all matters with serious security implications for Russia, its neighbors, and us -- have yet to be resolved, and any resolution is likely to be messy.
Our capacity to influence Russia's domestic direction was at its highest immediately following the collapse of the Soviet Union. Sympathetic as we wanted to be, domestic considerations precluded us from using our great resources to facilitate a better outcome. We may have missed an historic opportunity to reshape the world.
Russia has, nevertheless, made significant progress in the past five years, the West's modest assistance efforts notwithstanding. How much of that is reversible is arguable, but the possibility, quite correctly, worries us. That is what the presidential election in June is about.
What happens internally in Russia is critically important, because that will most affect Russia's external behavior. The time, however, has largely passed when we and our Western partners can greatly influence by direct economic means much of what is happening there. This is not to say that the forthcoming IMF (International Monetary Fund) loan, debt rescheduling, and the expansion of private foreign investment are not important or cannot be helpful, only that our economic abilities to influence Russia's political and economic life keep diminishing and it is up to Russia to create the right climate for foreign investment.
The fundamental policy question for us today is: How do we establish and maintain a good relationship with this country with which we engage on many fronts, directly or indirectly? Russia still remains conflicted about whether or not it belongs in the West. Russia's political elites invoke and exploit anti-Western sentiments to compete for power in a country whose sense of space has been violated and whose sensibilities have been wounded. We are not without sin, however. If we are not demonizing Russia, we are belittling it, declaring it can't get its act together and it simply isn't a player. That is short-sighted in dealing with great countries. Russians feel themselves spurned by the West without a place at the table.
In its time of troubles and formative policies, we want to see moderate forces emerge in Russia. We need to pursue important international relationships beyond Russia, but, as we do so, certainly we want to minimize any adverse affect on the positive forces for change within Russia. Even if Russia manages NATO's expansion in such a way as to limit the domestic political damage and still seek a cooperative relationship with the West, we are going to have to find more than cosmetic ways to avoid isolating Russians from Europe. It is not enough simply to tell the Russians to shut up and do what we say on NATO expansion.
The great benefits to us of expanding NATO to prevent potential conflicts between, say, Hungarians and Slovaks, are, I am afraid, not apparent to me, particularly when doing so feeds the xenophobes and demagogues within Russia and makes it harder for cooperatively minded political leaders to hold power and forge constructive relations with ourselves and the Europeans. We certainly do not help those struggling for a decent relationship with Russia's immediate neighbors. There will be some who view all this as too Russo-centric; but it isn't. If anyone thinks that Yeltsin's re-election is not important, why are those most affected -- mainly those immediate neighbors of Russia -- so worried and doing their best to help him?
Clearly, we will have continuing difficulties with Russia. Its handling of Chechnya is an abomination. Its policies in the Caucasus are often heavy-handed and its relations with Iran troublesome. We will have to be tough in contentious areas, yet cooperative within a broader policy framework. I think Kennan is right to warn us against: "creating a Russia of our own imagination to take the place of the one that did, alas, once exist, but fortunately is no more." We will need to find ways to live with a confused, chaotic, and more nationalistic Russia. For the long run, there are few, if any, more important tasks.
China is, once again, shaking the world -- but not the way it was supposed to according to Mao. Rather, it is the dream of the l9th century China Trader that is approaching reality. The Chinese are doing more than lengthening their shirttails several inches, as England's cotton merchants devoutly hoped for. They are creating an enormous market and the world is rushing in.
We tend to believe in the benign impact of globalization on China -- that economic development, growing international trade and investment, and a dynamic private sector will, over time, diminish the authoritarian bonds and lead to a more stable middle class in a freer country. Some of that is occurring. China is a freer country. But the time for political change has been too short.
China is still run by men of an earlier era, who are full of nationalist and anti-Western resentments. Keeping themselves and their decaying Party in power is, not surprisingly, their obsession, even as they struggle for power among themselves. They are trying to both engineer and contain the enormous changes that economic progress has brought. It is ultimately an impossible task. While more Chinese are living better than they have ever lived, China's social fabric is rending. Consider only the vast internal movement of peoples these past 10 years and its potential combustible impact on China's cities. Rapid growth has brought back the rampant corruption of the old China -- always an explosive issue. Who you know counts more than ever.
In watching China on and off for 30 years -- mostly off recently -- I have relied on an axiom: Never underestimate the capacity of the Chinese communist leadership to foul up. The current lot have done far better than Mao these past 15 years, but they remain out of touch. Hopefully, disaster will not occur in 1997 when one of the world's most important events takes place -- the incorporation of Hong Kong into China. It will probably be successful -- in economic terms -- but ultimately, Hong Kong will become more like Shanghai. Don't bet on Beijing keeping its distance.
For our part, we have had trouble comprehending and dealing with China for over a century. At least one reason for our intellectual failure has been that we have looked at China mostly as part of another foreign policy problem, not at the realities of a country that remains weak and troubled. For example, we normalized with China largely to help counter the Soviets and end the Vietnam War. Now, for the first time in 200 years, we have to get used to a new and worrisome phenomenon: China, The Emerging World Power. We can see that will not be easy -- it offends China's sensibilities when it is expected to play by rules it had no role in creating. The specter of Chinese nationalism and the translation of economic growth into military muscle scares a lot of people, especially in East Asia.
Nor have we made it easier for China to comprehend us. As a result of the political passions the China issue inspires in the United States, we keep sending multiple messages, which the Chinese find hard to figure out. They have trouble understanding a less than unitary state. Congress treats China differently than the Executive Branch and uses legislation to punish Beijing more than administrations have wanted. Indeed, the Taiwan dilemma for us is in part the inevitable result of the conflict between the Taiwan Relations Act and the U.S. government's three communiqu廥 with China, the last of which on arms supply to Taiwan, one can argue, we have violated. Competing political, economic, and security interests among Executive Branch agencies also result in multiple messages to China.
Our relations with Beijing have been rocky for some time. We have serious disagreements and sensitive legislation like MFN (Most Favored Nation) to manage. Taiwan is a highly emotive political issue in Beijing, whatever we may feel about China's belligerence and Taiwan's truly impressive democracy. China has made that clear for many years and Beijing did it once again in a way that surprised and rattled us. Now that the presidential election on Taiwan is over, the confrontation seems to be subsiding; much will depend on what President Lee does. But the drama is not over and tensions will not simply go away. I also have another axiom: Never underestimate the capacity of the Chinese communist leaders to retreat in the face of facts and foul-ups. They have done so since the first Taiwan Straits crisis. Our carrier deployments were a fact. So is Taiwan's booming democracy. So is China's weakness and economic dependence. So is Asia's reaction. One day, China may be powerful and confident -- or foolish -- enough not to retreat. But that day doesn't seem to have arrived.
A decent Sino-American relationship is central to stability in Asia and profoundly in our interest. We need a longer-term approach that balances our interests and our values -- our sense of the realities for ourselves and the Chinese, and our sensibilities over the nature of the regime. No easy task, certainly not in this election year, given the Congressional passions generated by the Taiwan issue. The basis of any such effort must have at least three elements:
-- A blend of the now familiar words, containment and engagement. Indeed, our policy has generally been such a blend. Since making money in China and engagement have become virtually synonymous, the engagement aspect of our relations has been far more noticeable. China is being incorporated and incorporating itself into the world. That process may be slowed down, but barring breakdown in China, it cannot be reversed either by us or the Chinese leadership. Too much money is at stake. Over the long run, economic interaction remains, whatever its limitations, the best motor for political change in China. That is one reason why it is folly to deny MFN. At the same time, we cannot avoid hedging our bets with our military presence and alliances in the area.
-- Maintaining our traditional "One China" policy that keeps exporting the Taiwan issue to the future while preserving Taiwan's democracy. This is not the most ideal solution, and it does not accord with the reality on Taiwan, but it best balances our interests and both sides can probably live with it. We should also not underestimate Beijing's and Taipei's ability to find a better relationship; they can be eminently pragmatic. From our standpoint, the future of the China-Taiwan relationship must continue to depend not on Beijing's forces, but on what happens internally in China. Taiwan has no desire to be part of present-day China.
-- Establishing a more positive, long-term relationship and doing our best to facilitate political change in China while it is still weak. More easily said than done with the present Chinese leadership. We do not want to turn Chinese enmity into a self-fulfilling prophecy by elevating China into our third defense planning scenario, as some in Congress are urging. Political change is coming in China, although we cannot bank on China changing in a positive way. We can expect to be surprised. We have to look at our overall relationship in terms of facilitating constructive change, limited as our capabilities may be. We are less likely to be able to do that and handle concrete differences if we don't talk to the Chinese continuously at a high level, even when that is politically difficult for Washington. The lack of such a continuous, high-level dialogue since Tiananmen has not been good for either country or for Taiwan. Dialogue is no panacea, but it is a necessary ingredient for better relations. At the same time, it makes little sense to concentrate our diplomacy on issues we have little chance of influencing.
Bosnia. Having spent so much time on Bosnia these past four years, I would have found an excuse to talk about it. I do this in great part because of the stakes involved. I do not refer to the moral dilemma Bosnia poses for the West, or the fear of the Albanian issue exploding, or its possible impact on nationality and religious conflict elsewhere in the world.
I refer to the fact that the United States and its NATO allies have created by the Dayton Accords a major derived interest: Not only would the failure of the Accords and renewed fighting be a moral disaster and a blight on the lives of Serbs, Croats, and Muslims for years to come -- it would sow political and psychological havoc within the Alliance and within all our publics.
In 1995, after four years, the United States reversed itself and did something it said it wouldn't do: take over the Bosnia problem. Dayton brought together the power realities on the ground with an impressive diplomatic effort. It confirmed ethnic separation but provided mechanisms and opportunities for its slow reversal and for preserving some sort of Bosnian state. But that required outside forces to establish the conditions that could make peace sustainable -- forces involving a substantial U.S. presence and that would not be treated as the Western countries treated UNPROFOR (United Nations Protection Force).
Nobody, of course, said it would be easy, given what has happened in Bosnia. Ironically, even many Muslims now prefer a rump Muslim entity to a multiethnic state. The region is full of hostilities and bitter ironies, one of which I did not fully appreciate until I visited the Krajina in March. The precipitating event of the Dayton peace process was Croatia's blitzkrieg through the Krajina and the ensuing massive ethnic cleansing. The physical destruction in the Krajina was worse than I had ever seen, including in Sarajevo -- mile after mile of devastation and desolation -- almost every building destroyed by Croatian soldiers so Serbs would not return. They are not likely to.
The establishment of peace and the painful unification of Sarajevo are, however, real achievements. Constructive political change within Bosnia, of course, will not be so easily achieved as separating the forces. Here, the prognosis is less promising, either among the parties -- particularly the Croat-Muslim Federation -- or among the Western allies, who remain divided -- as they have always been -- on what ultimately should be achieved. Whatever the rhetoric, allied commitment to providing the resources and bringing about some degree of reconciliation and reconstruction is underwhelming.
Many, perhaps most, observers persist in writing off Bosnia. I believe that is premature. In any event, without some sort of multiethnic Bosnian entity, the war will resume, the Muslims will be up against the Serbs and Croats, and we will likely see a long period of chaos or guerrilla war. Only the outside world can prevent that. But until now the domestic politics of "mission creep" have limited our ability to use NATO's powerful forces for broader purposes -- avoiding mission creep was almost the mission. Similarly, we find it politically difficult to raise the necessary resources to lubricate the peace agreement. It sometimes seems that the West wants to do just enough to ensure that it fails in Bosnia, much as Henry Kissinger characterized congressional action on aid to South Vietnam.
The present tenuous peace cannot be sustained if allied forces depart in December. Kennan has said that he favors the pull-out after one year because the political resources we would expend keeping them there would mean we would be less willing or able to accomplish other important international tasks. There is no doubt the effort would be politically costly and draining.
But until we see evidence that important, non-military elements of the Dayton accords are beginning to be implemented, that politicians who fostered ethnic violence are removed from power, that (Radovich) Milosevic and (Franjo) Tudjman are doing what they obligated themselves to do, and that some process of reconciliation has started, I believe that a significant number of allied forces needs to remain. One quid pro quo for a continued allied presence could consist of the Americans agreeing to maintain a smaller, residual force in exchange for greater civil and military contributions from the Europeans.
I am skeptical that, after having committed 60,000 NATO troops, billions of dollars, and Alliance credibility to military operations in Bosnia, it will be enough to say if we pull out and the war reignites: "Look, we did what we could, but what can you expect from these people?" I ask myself, "Will failure in Bosnia be any worse than Vietnam? Do I underestimate our ability to walk away?" Many will probably say yes. However, the members of the Alliance have been so deeply involved in the Balkans in so many different ways for so long, that I think the reverberations of failure would be greater and longer-lasting from Bosnia than they were from the war in Indochina after 50,000 American dead.
Thus, dealing with Russia, China, and Bosnia will require a willingness to incur political costs that is difficult to summon in a domestic climate that is as unforgiving of diplomatic failure as it is unappreciative of diplomatic effort. Even if we do everything right, there are no guarantees that events will break our way.
Where We Are Headed
Let me make some concluding observations.
The elements of post-Cold War foreign policy that I discussed -- maintaining strong alliances, fostering economic integration, controlling weapons proliferation, humanitarianism, and the promotion of democratic values -- do not constitute a paradigm, nor do they serve as sufficient policy guidelines for issues like Russia, China, and Bosnia, as I noted. But they do suggest that, contrary to conventional political wisdom, the American people agree on the need for what I call a "limited internationalist" foreign policy that promotes a combination of interests and values abroad. Indeed, many polls indicate that the public appears far more tolerant of international engagement than politicians think.
Take the case of multilateralism. Multilateralism is politically incorrect, but indeed all of the major foreign policy elements I noted require sustained multilateral effort. By multilateralism, I do not mean principally the United Nations and its related agencies. I mean on security matters nations acting together in alliances, coalitions, and through international mechanisms and institutions of all kinds. Multilateralism is what the public wants. They do not want the United States to be the "Lone Ranger;" but our playing sheriff is okay as long as we, and not the United Nations, round up the posse. They know that money -- or, more accurately, the lack of it -- makes multinational effort even more important. Even the Gulf War required a ratification by the United Nations for our own domestic political purposes.
Second, taking action -- invariably multilateral -- to prevent or contain regional conflicts that do not directly impinge on our conception of national interests, but which can do so, if left unattended, becomes more and more a matter of pragmatism than "do-goodism," more a matter of sense than sensibility.
Kennan has consistently argued that we must first heal ourselves at home before indulging in expansive policies overseas. He has urged us -- indeed that was the thrust of his lecture here -- to ensure that there are no political conflicts among the great powers, that nuclear proliferation is restrained, and that the global environmental crisis be confronted. Only after that is done -- and it is a plateful -- does he think we can turn our attention to less vital matters.
Kennan's pessimism, conservatism, and admonitions about the limits of American power are hard to disagree with, certainly in today's political climate. Over the past five years, in the old Realism vs. Moralism debate -- public opinion has been all over the map. One day it inclines toward Bismarck, the next day, Mother Teresa. Politicians have a hard time deciding which way to pander. It looks now as if Bismarck is gaining. We have not abandoned the Wilsonian rhetoric, but it is debased by lack of resources. The public still supports worldwide humanitarianism, but our language has become more temperate. Our actions have been sobered by bitter experience, if indeed we take any. Our military want to exit before they enter.
But given the magnitude of destabilizing humanitarian disasters, I do not think Kennan's priorities adequately serve our interests because they do not easily permit us to generate capabilities -- not necessarily military ones and rarely unilateral ones -- that prevent terrible things from happening. Man-made disasters are an ever larger part of our international scene. Treating the symptoms alone, as we invariably do, absorbs huge, ever increasing, amounts of resources and time. Prevention will require more than lip service.
Lastly, it makes no sense to let our foreign policy options be reduced to sending the Marines or (former) President (Jimmy) Carter. Whether we define our foreign policy interests narrowly or broadly, our diplomatic capacities to advance them are declining along with the resource base for foreign affairs institutions.
Why do the public and its representatives seem to hold our foreign affairs work in such contempt? Declining public interest in foreign affairs can mostly be explained by domestic priorities, although we also are witnessing a decrease in foreign affairs coverage by the media, our declining school and college attention, and our foundations fleeing international activities. But it takes politicians to convert the public's lack of interest and inchoate feelings about foreign policy into contempt for foreign affairs institutions at the national and international levels. Indeed, the decline in the whole public service is painfully evident.
I am not sure whether the Agency for International Development will be killed first by the budget process or by Senator (Jesse) Helms. Most of you know the situation better than I and feel it every day. We seem incapable of considering foreign and defense policy as a whole. As a society, we have shown a unique ability to generate billions and billions of dollars for military and intelligence purposes, but cannot use any of that for essential diplomatic activities or even manage a systematic and integrated examination of our defense, intelligence and diplomatic requirements.
Foreign policy is becoming privatized. The role of NGOs is growing as governments shed functions for budgetary reasons or avoid taking actions that are politically unpopular. Undeniably, NGOs (and business people) can play useful roles, and governments need their help -- from Bosnian reconstruction to opening the Chinese economy. But we should not elevate NGOs and governmental disengagement into foreign policy strategies in-and-of themselves. As we have seen in Bosnia, Rwanda, and Burundi to devastating effect, governments have used NGOs as substitutes for politically costly, high-level, time-consuming actions. There are things that only governments can and must do. I am the president of one NGO which badgers governments and publics on policy. I helped to create another called the International Crisis Group, whose purpose is to exert pressures to get governments -- governments -- to do in international crises what they, not NGOs, should be doing.
Can We Change?
As I said at the beginning of this lecture, I am a pragmatist by nature and training. I realize that while you can have politics without democracy, you can't have democracy without politics. Domestic political debates on foreign policy can hold policymakers' feet to the fire and help separate the forest from the trees. Politicians also have the responsibility for balancing priorities and educating the public. That is now rarely done on the international side of the ledger.
We know from experience that public sentiments shift. We do not want failure to be the corrective mechanism. In the meantime, foreign policymakers cannot simply throw up their hands. I wish I could say something useful here. I can't. My own feeling is that only radical, self-administered surgery can help restore public confidence -- incremental cuts here and there across the range of foreign activities have not been persuasive. There is a need to make it graphically clear to the public that financial constraints are forcing triage on our work abroad, that the United States risks becoming on many important issues a scold and a meddler rather than a mover and a shaker.
Everybody calls for leadership -- often as a substitute for providing it -- but they don't say what they mean by it. I will give you at least part of a definition. Leadership today means calculating our interests sharply, but not so narrowly in the name of Realpolitik and budget cuts that we miss opportunities to create longer-term stability. It also means -- from time to time at least -- resisting the temptation to play domestic politics and not being swayed by the emotions generated by them. In short, leadership in the post-Cold War world is very much the difficult and politically contentious matter of balancing "Sense and Sensibility."
I will now take my final cue not from Kennan but from Austen. In "Pride and Prejudice," one of her characters tells a young lady whose parlor singing went on and on and on: "You have delighted us long enough."