|For Immediate Release||November 11, 1999|
Two weeks ago, I gave a speech in New York at the Council on ForeignRelations about the unique and paradoxical position in which Americafinds itself today. Some of you may have read a few articles about itin the op-ed pages. Come to think of it, some of you may have written afew of those articles!
In the speech, I pointed out that we are at the height of our power andprosperity. We face no single, overriding threat to our existence. Theideals of democracy and free markets which we embrace are ascendantthrough much of the world. After 50 years of building alliances forcollective defense, common prosperity, and wider freedom, we now have anunparalleled opportunity to shape, with others, a better, safer, moredemocratic world.
Most Americans are ready to seize that opportunity, though we sometimesdiffer about how. Yet there are also some who question whether we needto seize it at all. They believe America can and should go it alone --either by withdrawing from the world and relying primarily on ourmilitary strength to protect us from its dangers . . . or by imposingour will on the world, even if it means alienating our closest allies.There are elements of isolationism in that view; for whatever itsintent, its effect is to isolate America from its friends and to defineAmerica's interests in the narrowest of terms. There are clearlyelements of unilateralism in it as well.
I made these arguments in my speech to stimulate a discussion aboutAmerica's appropriate role in the world. It appears that I'vesucceeded. This is a discussion Americans need to be having -- beforedecisions are made that do real harm to our capacity to lead. And I'mpleased to have the opportunity to move that dialogue forward thisevening with you.
First, let me make one crucial point. I have made it explicitly clearthat the view with which I take issue is rejected by serious people inboth political parties. Over the last six and a half years, theAdministration has worked with Republicans and Democrats in the Congressto enlarge NATO and bolster democracy in central Europe, to approve aidto dismantle former Soviet weapons, to extend NAFTA to Mexico and createthe WTO, to ratify START II and the Chemical Weapons Convention, tosupport our troops in engagements from the Balkans to the Persian Gulf,and to launch a host of other international initiatives. This week, weare working with a bipartisan coalition in the Congress to pass tradebills for Africa and the Caribbean Basin. Along the way, most of ourcritics have disagreed with the means we have used to pursue America'sgoals in the world; they have not questioned the need to pursue thegoals themselves.
In some respects, the debate over the Comprehensive Test Ban Treaty wasno different. Many opponents of the Treaty were motivated by seriousand legitimate concerns. Most also understood that an outrightrejection of the Treaty would hurt America. They urged the Senate todelay the vote, seeking time and a process that might address theirquestions. Yet they were thwarted by a small group of Senators whoshowed little concern for the will of most of their colleagues or theconsequences to America of voting the Treaty down.
That same small but increasingly powerful group is responsible for thesteady decline in our international affairs budget -- to the point wherethe gulf between America's aspirations in the world and our ability torealize them is growing.
Eight years ago, led by Senators Nunn and Lugar, the Congress initiatedour effort to help safeguard nuclear weapons and expertise in the formerSoviet Union. Now Congress is forcing us to choose between cutting backthat effort, which is vital to our security, or slashing our support forprograms to help Russians, Ukrainians, and others build more democraticsocieties, which is just as critical to our long term interests. Foryears, Congress has recognized our interest in spurring growth in poorcountries that are committed to economic reform. Now it is refusing tofund a historic debt relief initiative that will do just that, aninitiative we and all our G-7 partners embraced because it is morallyright and economically smart. For years, Congress has supportedAmerica's partners in the Middle East peace process. Yet this year, asthat process enters a critical and hopefully final stage, it has so farrefused to fund the commitments we made to the Israelis and Palestiniansat the Wye negotiations. Now, there are indications they may restorethose funds. That is good. But not good enough. America's globalleadership is not divisible.
What is more, Congress is still not meeting our obligations to the WorldBank and IMF, and still conditioning the payment of our UN arrears onunrelated issues. It has cut by 60% our request for peacekeeping.Right now, from Kosovo to East Timor to Sierra Leone, the welcome adventof peace has produced the need for peacekeeping to secure it. In eachplace, the UN is launching missions that will save lives and preventfuture crises, missions to implement agreements we in many cases helpedbroker and for which others will provide most of the troops. We mustsupport these missions, not only with our UN vote, but by bearing ourshare of their costs. That's the only acceptable position for theworld's wealthiest and most powerful nation.
I have argued that these Congressional actions do not result from simpledifferences over policy, or from partisanship. They reflect thecoherent philosophy of a dominant minority -- which sees internationalspending as inherently disconnected to America?s interests, views mostmultilateral enterprises with suspicion and considers most difficultinternational endeavors -- from supporting democracy in Russia to peacein the Balkans to growth in poor countries -- as likely to fail andtherefore not worth trying.
That way of thinking has been with us in the United States for a longtime. In recent times, we faced it in the 1950's when Senator RobertTaft challenged the internationalist wing of the Republican party,arguing that we should rely less on our allies and more on our owndefenses. We saw it in the 1970's, when Congressional Democrats votedto bring our troops home from Europe, twisting legitimate concerns aboutVietnam into a call to pull America out of the world.
But it is even more dangerous today -- because the need for Americanleadership has only grown with the end of the Cold War. America and itsallies still face many dangers: some as old as ethnic conflict, some asnew as cyberterrorism, some as fundamental as the risk that thedemocratic transitions which made this new era possible will not survivethe strains of economic turmoil and political strife. That is why it isurgent that internationalists find common ground around a common agendaof our own. We must learn to recognize when our beliefs are beingthreatened. And we must defend them together.
What does it mean to be an internationalist in America at the turn ofthis century? It is to study the lessons of this century and reach theconclusion Franklin Roosevelt did in 1945: that America "cannot livealone, at peace; that our own well-being is dependent on the well-beingof other nations, far away." We believe that our way of life cannotthrive 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 raiseliving standards, to prevent the spread of dangerous weapons, and tomeet other dangers no nation can meet alone. And we believe that onekey to forging such coalitions is American leadership.
The bipartisan center that believes America must play an active role hasoften disagreed about how we ought to play our role -- from CentralAmerica in the 1980s to Bosnia in the 1990s. But even when we differover policy, we do not differ over purpose. And we share a convictionthat America must have the means and the will to lead.
With that in mind, and to advance the critical discussion of America'srole, let me suggest some of the principles that internationalistsshould be able to agree upon. Every one of them is being challengedtoday.
First, we should agree that America must have the strongest, besttrained, best equipped military in the world, to deter potentialadversaries and if need be defeat them. That's why the President hasworked with Congress to reverse the decline in military spending overthe last decade.
But we should also agree that it is just as vital to reverse the declinein 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, fightterrorism and drugs, meet our share of global responsibilities, andbring friends and allies to our side. We not only need a DefenseDepartment that has the resources to respond to more than one majorcrisis at the same time; we need a State Department with that ability aswell. Otherwise, our military will no longer be our last resort intimes of crisis. It will be our only resort.
Second, we should agree that while America cannot and should not respondto every outbreak of violence and injustice around the world, neithercan it afford never to respond. For local conflicts can affect ournational interests and have global consequences.
Americans have long recognized this would be true of a renewed conflictin the weapon-rich and tolerance-poor Middle East, or in Korea. Itcould be true of a war in South Asia between nuclear-armed states. Itwas true of the war in the Balkans, which would have spread beyondBosnia and Kosovo had we let it boil. It can be true when mass killingand displacement threaten to throw whole regions into chronic turmoil.Internationalists can question whether our national interests in eachcase justifies a particular kind of involvement -- unilateral ormultilateral; military, economic, or humanitarian. But they should notquestion whether these interests exist.
After all, virtually every big war started as a small war that the worlddid not care enough to do something about. Sometimes, not acting is theright choice. But not acting must be a conclusion, not a conviction.
That puts an extra premium on a third principle we should be able toagree upon: America must be willing to act alone when our interestsdemand it, as we have many times in the last six and a half years. Butwe should also support the institutions and arrangements through whichother countries help us bear the burdens of leadership. That's why wemust pay our dues and our debts to the UN, and do our part when otherstake responsibility for making peace: whether Europeans in the Balkansor Asians in East Timor or Africans in Sierra Leone. Otherwise we willbe left with a choice in future crises between doing everythingourselves and doing nothing at all.
Fourth, all internationalists agree that it was imperative for Americato fight the Cold War against stifling, expansive oppression and that wealways will be ready to resist threats to our freedom and way of lifeand that of our allies. At the same time, we should agree that Americadoesn't need a great enemy to be a great country. And if the end of theCold War has given us a chance to weave our former adversaries Russiaand China into the global community as stable, peaceful, open, lawabiding 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 ofrealism.
The question we face about Russia is no longer whether we will bethreatened by its strength, but whether it will become too weak. Willit become unable to maintain stability and achieve prosperity at home,or to control the flow of people, weapons and technology across itsborders? Will it become trapped, as it seems to be now, in cruel,unending cycles of violence in the North Caucasus that claim innocentlives and undermine the confidence of its friends? Realism tells us theroad ahead is full of such obstacles for Russia and that only Russianscan travel it. But it also tells us Russia has overcome enormousobstacles in ten years -- from an empire to a nation-state, fromtotalitarianism to democracy, from communism to a flawed but free marketeconomy.
Internationalists can differ about the best strategies for encouragingthat transformation. But we should not lose faith in our capacity,despite all the difficulties, to help achieve it, nor can we abdicateour responsibility to try. In fifty years, I seriously doubt anyonewill 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 whichthis emerging power emerges as a threat. But we should not presupposethat outcome, or make it more likely by acting as if it has alreadyhappened. Realism also tells us to see China in all its complexity: Asa country that has lifted hundreds of millions of its citizens frompoverty and expanded personal freedoms, but whose progress isconstrained by resistance to political reforms vital to its long-termgrowth and stability. The best way to promote the right outcome is toprotect 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 weshould not rely on treaties alone to protect our security, it is inAmerica's interest to establish standards of international conduct thatreflect 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 dozensof nuclear-armed nations by the year 2000. That hasn't happened, inpart because of the restraint and deterrence that comes from globalrules with global backing. In 1975, we signed the Helsinki Accords withthe Soviet Union, a country we couldn't trust that was in violation ofevery article in the treaty. Yet the U.S.S.R.'s embrace of humanrights, however disingenuous at the time, gave its people a powerfultool in their struggle for change.
In particular, we do not tie our hands by getting others to acceptstandards we already have chosen to live by ourselves. That is part ofour argument for the Comprehensive Test Ban Treaty, which would helpfreeze the development of nuclear weapons around the world at a timewhen we have an overwhelming military advantage. Now, one of the greatchallenges for internationalists in both parties is to find the commonground 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 defensesagainst missile attack, while working to preserve the ABM treaty. Amissile defense can be part of a sound national security strategy. Butit cannot be the sum total of a strategy.
Many other ambitious tasks demand American leadership and engagement inthe coming year. Most reflect the opportunities of the post-Cold Warpeace: forging a comprehensive peace in the Middle East and securingthe peace in the Balkans; helping Russia stabilize its economy as itconducts its first democratic transfer of power; bringing China into theWTO while speaking plainly about human rights; building on hopefuldevelopments between Greece and Turkey to make progress in the Aegean,particularly on Cyprus; securing new energy routes from the Caspian Seathat will allow newly independent states in the Caucasus to prosper;supporting extraordinarily hopeful and important democratic transitionsfrom Nigeria to Indonesia; launching a new global trade round; enactingthe African and Caribbean trade bills; pressing ahead with debt relieffor countries finally embracing good government.
Others reflect new dangers and new challenges: easing tensions betweenIndia and Pakistan; helping Colombia defeat the narcotraffickers whothreaten its democracy; fighting proliferation, terrorism and the nexusbetween 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 deservesbipartisan support. The President will work hard with the Congress tomake it our common agenda. And he will make the case once again that wecan seize the challenges ahead only if we have the resources to matchour interests, only if America remains a builder of coalitions, only ifwe remember that few of our hopes will be realized if we cannot convinceothers to embrace them as well.
Perhaps the most important principle every internationalist should agreeupon is that there is a difference between power and authority. Poweris the ability to compel by force and sanctions; there are times we mustuse it, but as a final, not a first resort. Authority is the ability tolead, and we depend on it for virtually everything we try to achieve.Our authority is built on very different qualities than our power: onthe attractiveness of our values, on the force of example, thecredibility of our commitments and our willingness to work with andstand by others.
Historians tell us that this moment of predominance for America may befleeting. That's hard for many people to imagine, in part because thereis no threat to our power in the world today. But there is a threat toour authority. It lies in the impulse of some to stand alone in theworld 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 shareour belief that America must lead and not stand alone. I hope they,too, will defend the common ground we share, so that the bipartisancenter will hold, and America's tradition of leadership will bepreserved for generations to come. I will dedicate my very best effortsto that task in the months ahead.
President and First Lady | Vice President and Mrs. Gore
Record of Progress | The Briefing Room
Gateway to Government | Contacting the White House
White House for Kids | White House History
White House Tours | Help | Text Only
Address to the Bilderberg Steering Committee, November 11, 1999