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Bill Clinton and the new American foreign policy.

WHETHER PRESIDENT-ELECT Bill Clinton explicitly alters direction or not, American foreign policy will be significantly different beginning in 1993. The post-cold War period--one that could not begin until the Cold Warriors had left behind the reins of power--will be less ideological and global, by implication, than the years following World War II. The past focus of American and Soviet foreign policies has been on the projection of military might on behalf of a worldwide concept. Whether that concept was democracy or communism, a free market or socialist approach to economic organization, mankind was to be the beneficiary. Each side maintained that it intended to do good for all. In the post-Cold War era, nationalism--and often ethnic nationalism--will be the basis of state agendas.

The new focus of the foreign policies of the major countries will be the projection of economic power that protects the well-being of the nation. Foreign policy will become more defensive than offensive. This by no means implies isolationism, since economies clearly have been internationalized and, if the economic battleground is only on one's own physical turf, the battle already is lost. Here, a good offense will be the best defense. Both necessarily and by inclination, a focus on and expansion of the U.S. economy will be the basis of much foreign policy decision-making.

There are, of course, continuing problems in the world's trouble spots that remain for the Clinton Administration. These are, for the most part, nationalist and ethnic, but all have economic implications. The Somalia situation portends a calamitous circumstance for Clinton. An attempt to bring peace to the country will require the continuation of large U.S. military expenditures and maintenance of a structure to support a policeman's role. Rebuilding the Somalia economy, as well as its political system, will call for expenditures that reach far beyond the restricted role envisioned by the Clinton transition team. The Middle East dilemma won't go away. Religious sympathies and ethnic identities within the U.S. will continue to weigh on a Clinton Administration like they have on others, without the balancing demands of ideological diversions. Russia may prove politically (and ethnically) unstable and revert to authoritarian rule. Economic collapse may be the primary contributing factor. Massive amounts of economic aid from Europe and the U.S. may be essential to survival of what democracy and free enterprise there is in Russia.

Conflicts within and between other states of the former Soviet Union also have their basis in ethnic disputes. The splintering of former national units will have a reductionist effect on economies throughout this vast expanse. Japan may have reached an economic plateau, but the potential in China equals seven Japans. While Malays now fear the economic strength of the Chinese in Malaysia and Indonesia, the entire Southeast Asian world will have much more to worry about from an economically powerful and authoritarian China. India, freed at last from the constraints of British-instigated and Soviet-supported socialism, might equal even more than seven Japans. Long sought-after development in these two countries could flood the world with high-quality, low-cost, technologically oriented goods that might knock Americans, Japanese, and Europeans alike out of the market. In each such nation, domestic economic success is the goal, and a specifically directed foreign economic policy will be the tool.

Other problems, more directly impacting on the Clinton Administration, are the Balkan conflict and the North American Free Trade Agreement (NAFTA). The bloodshed of ethnic fighting in the former Yugoslav components has no direct bearing, economic or otherwise, on the U.S., but does appeal to the sense of humanitarianism characteristic of Democratic presidents. Clinton has given support to the concept of intervention to stem the killing and limit Serbian imperial designs. Such action will indicate, if it occurs, that neither the coherence of economic policy nor the cohesiveness of nationalism has been applied. There is nothing to be gained in a post-Cold War world by U.S. intervention. The projection of military power to Serbia only can be an economic and human resource drain, with those resources better saved for more critical and explosive trouble spots like the oil-bearing Middle East or against nuclear weapons-possessing states.

NAFTA has economic and nationalist implications that require direct and immediate attention. While recognizing that a shaky Canada (with its own ethnic divisions) is a party to the agreement as well, matters dealing with Mexican immigration to the U.S., labor and investment shifts as a result of the agreement, and protection of the environment could have catastrophic implications for the U.S.

Both in terms of contribution to GNP and export earnings, the U.S. has relied heavily on military production. During the Cold War, military products (arms and equipment) served a purpose other than providing employment. Possession provided a threat that deterred the use of similar weapons by the other side. While the U.S. has significant export earnings from weapons sales, this also ultimately runs contrary to the economist agenda. Use of such weapons will raise the threat to American businesses operating increasingly abroad and disturb the markets in which the sales of other, more enduring U.S. products might be sold. There is likely to be much more profit to the American economy from the sale of automobiles, rather than tanks or M-16s. Shifting the U.S. economic orientation away from military objectives and toward production that creates and expands markets will be a major challenge.

In concept, a Clinton foreign policy primarily would be economic in nature, dealing with other states with a domestic agenda underpinning decisions, but with an understanding that the economic system is global, not simply national. In practice, any policy will be shaped by the ethnic splintering of a non-ideological world. It has to be economics and business driven with American national interest strategically placed up front. The clash between the two priorities of economics and ethnic nationalism will test the will and capability of the new American President.
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Author:Howell, Llewellyn D.
Publication:USA Today (Magazine)
Article Type:Column
Date:Jan 1, 1993
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