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Raising standards: America's challenge in the post-Cold War world.

For America, the initial round of post-Cold War analysis and introspection has drawn to a close. The recent presidential election results validated Bill Clinton's central thesis of the primacy of economic concerns, and the corollary that domestic and international policies are not contradictory, but mutually-enabling. We have identified the primary sources of discord and deprivation in the post-Cold War disorder. The fragility of the economic and political institutions in emerging democracies has been demonstrated.

Perhaps the most startling paradox of this era is that the so-called family of nations seems to be coalescing and disintegrating at the same time. The superpower rivalry that long stunted the effectiveness of systematic global action is now behind us. At the same time, however, the liberation of Eastern Europe and the former Soviet Union has been marred by outbreaks of destructive nationalism. Rivalries and hatreds, frozen for a half-century by Cold War superpower politics, are being revived at enormous human and economic cost.

Western Europe has its own case of schizophrenia. Less than two years ago, the Treaty of Maastricht seemed the product of a victory of broad-minded multinational interest over narrow national interest. Many of the emblems of national identity - currency, tariffs, tax rates, separate environmental laws and labor guidelines - were to be cast off. With Europe in the lead, a new and sophisticated era of meganational trading blocs looked imminent. However, today many Europeans are having second thoughts. The Danes rejected Maastricht, and the French narrowly passed it. Although unification remains on track, implementation promises to be slow, with frequent compromises and a constant threat of backsliding.

Meanwhile, the old Soviet bloc is splintering. Here, the trend is not toward multinational compromise, but ultranationalist self-definition. Czechoslovakia has split; Yugoslavia is in pieces. Separatist movements are on the rise throughout the old Soviet empire. Even in Germany, the euphoria of unification has soured as economic reality has set in.

The Union of Domestic and Foreign Policy

To meet the realities of the new world, one of the top domestic and foreign policy priorities of the Clinton administration should be American competitiveness. While some view this goal as mutually exclusive to activism in world affairs, I argue that this is not only untrue - it is impossible. Paradoxically, in the modern world a president must exercise strong leadership globally to achieve major progress domestically, and vice versa. Thus the new president should refocus attention and interest on building American economic strength to promote international institution building in the areas of international economy, law and the environment.

During the 1980s, the notion that one could attract businesses by reducing taxes or eliminating environmental, health and safety regulations gained considerable currency, not only in the United States, but around the world. In the Caribbean and Latin America, a number of smaller nations, including the Cayman Islands and Panama, established banking systems designed to attract capital by protecting it from regulation. Countries like El Salvador, Mexico and China have cut corners on wages, work hours and employment of child or prison labor to produce lowest-cost goods for markets that might otherwise have purchased merchandise made in the United States.

In many cases, policies that have made it inexpensive and profitable for capital to leave the United States or other advanced industrial countries and move to less-developed countries with lower standards, have created local economic booms in those nations. This phenomenon is likely to continue as each so-called success story spawns imitators who drive standards even lower in search of a competitive edge.

Clearly, the United States should encourage the world community to pursue a global economy that does not reward the under-bidder without regard to basic environmental and labor standards. In the same way that President Carter was able to increase respect for basic human rights around the world, President Clinton should promote higher labor and environmental standards both because they are social goods in and of themselves, and because the alternative threatens U.S. and international economic security. This approach aligns economic nationalism with economic internationalism. It is not only consistent with our historic ideals and our hopes for the future; it is essential to maintaining a decent standard of living for our people.

Promotion of Democracies

The new administration has made clear its intention to promote democracy and democratic institutions around the world. A new under secretary of state will be appointed who will have this task as a major part of his portfolio. This is good news because our experience demonstrates that democracies rarely make war on each other. They seldom commit acts of terrorism, take hostages or engage in torture. In this age of instant communications, democratic leaders cannot ignore the ethical and moral standards of their own people. Democracy is about elections, but it is also about militaries that answer to civilian authority. It is about a free press, an independent judiciary, a free economy and an informed citizenry that has a voice in the policies of its own government.

Obviously, we do not have the right to impose democracy on any country. But we do have an obligation and a right to take democracy into account when transferring arms, dispensing aid, considering loan requests, setting conditions for trade or coming to a nation's defense.

Strengthening the Rule of Law

A major and often overlooked element in the promotion of democracy is the strengthening of law enforcement and judicial institutions. Crime is as much a foe of democracy as any other ideology. In many corners of the world, narcotics traffickers, arms-peddlers, terrorists, money-launderers, counterfeiters and other con artists prey upon vulnerable governmental institutions, and sometimes utilize their protection and cover to operate with impunity and profitability.

The time has come to develop a comprehensive Administration of justice program as a major new component of our foreign assistance, focusing on the whole range of law enforcement issues and every aspect of judicial and criminal institution building and reform. Eligibility for such a program could be determined by the Department of State, and implementation could be carried out by the Department of justice.

By building respect for law and human rights, the United States can maximize the replication of worldwide political, social, labor and environmental standards while minimizing the need to divert our own resources for military purposes. This will enhance our competitiveness while improving the quality of the world in which we live in a host of ways.

Seeking a Healthy Environment

A monumental achievement in the effort to raise international standards was last summer's U.N. Convention on the Environment and Development in Rio de Janeiro, better known as the Earth Summit. Merely bringing together more than 120 heads of state in one place at one time to discuss the future health and stability of the global environment should give hope to the most cynical among us that the very issues of how we use the Earth's resources will no longer be ignored.

The most important document approved at the summit was Agenda 21, a massive 400-page action plan intended to guide governments toward policies of sustainable development for the remainder of this century, and into the next. Central to the Summit and to Agenda 21 is the understanding of the inextricable linkage between development and the environment. The summit reflected a new international consensus: Addressing the problems associated with continuing poverty in less-developed countries and with maintaining relative prosperity in the developed world cannot be separated from environmental concerns.

The United States has some of the highest environmental standards in the world, and that is a source of justifiable pride. It is in our interest to encourage other nations, to emulate those standards to the maximum extent of their ability. Raising environmental standards internationally serves our interest in three ways: (1) it contributes to the solution of global environmental problems like climate change and ozone depletion that threaten our health and well-being; (2) it helps to equalize competition between companies that are obliged to meet U.S. environmental standards and those that are not; and (3) it helps to create markets for new environmental technologies and related services provided by American firms.

This last point is particularly important because environmentally friendly and sustainable technologies include some of the most exciting and growth-oriented industries in the world today. This is a $200 billion per year business headed for $300 billion by the end of the decade. It is also an area where the United States begins with a 40 percent market share and an enormous capacity to expand.

The message from the Earth Summit'is real and permanent. The world is changing, and old habits must accommodate the tenor of the times. The natural limits of our environment must inevitably affect the way we live in the world next year and next century. The days of endless, mindless consumption must come to an end. Our reliance on fossil-based fuels must decline. New technologies and whole new industries must arise out of the need for conservation, recycling, clean production and the use of renewable fuels. We may even have to learn to walk a little more.


The time has come to replace Cold War politics with sustainable development - and the promotion of democracy - as the overriding strategic rationales for our increasingly constrained foreign assistance program. Just as it makes no sense to give hand outs to dictators who will steal or misuse our aid, it makes little sense to devote our limited aid funds to projects that will assist development only in the short term.

What does assisting sustainable development mean? First, it means helping nations to develop strategies for meeting the current needs of their people without depriving their children of the resources required for their own survival. Second, it means helping nations to carry out those strategies through the intelligent use of land and water, by the development of renewable sources of power and by family planning. It is worth remembering that Somalia is suffering not only because of political anarchy, but because the fertility rate for women in that country is an astonishing 7.2.

If estimates of global population growth are accurate, the horrific sights we have seen in recent years of starvation and famine will cease altogether to be news. We will be bringing tens of millions of children into the world who will know no life except slow death. Experts predict that the world's population, which has more than tripled during this century, will double again within the next 60 years. What this trend will mean in countries like Ethiopia, Bangladesh and the Sudan is painful to contemplate.

But it will also strangle hopes for improving standards of living in a range of important middle-income countries, like Mexico, Brazil and Egypt. It will reinforce the tendency for countries to adopt - out of desperation - the beggar-thy-neighbor tax and regulatory policies that drive down standards worldwide and impact directly on U.S. competitiveness. Moreover, uncontrolled increases in population create uncontrolled assaults on the environment - as food sources are ravaged, soil eroded and exhausted, trees burned and water resources both depleted and polluted.

Multilateral Solutions

The need for multilateral approaches to multilateral problems is increasingly well understood. Efforts to raise international standards of behavior in responding to common problems have already been made, with varying degrees of success, in combating problems as diverse as ozone depletion, money-laundering and the proliferation of nuclear arms.

The United States has strong and interrelated interests in encouraging this trend toward cooperation. We will be more competitive in a world that guarantees adequate minimum-working conditions; we will be more secure in a world where the rule of law is respected; we will live longer and better in a world that takes good care of its natural environment.

Where the previous administration could claim strategic gains merely by standing aside while statues of Lenin and Stalin crashed to the ground, the Clinton team must aid in the construction of new economic and political institutions. There is no question that international awareness of the need for multilateral cooperation is high, and that the capacity for such cooperation is greater by far now than a decade, or even a generation ago.

However, the United Nations' dream of a world at peace and under rule of law still remains distant. With each passing month, our understanding of what has really changed in the world and what has not is being refined. Today, what we refer to as the international community remains more a raucous and unpredictable collection of interests than a true community. Despite our economic problems, the United States continues best positioned to lead the world in a direction that will lend greater meaning and depth to the concepts of international peace and security.
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Title Annotation:Keeping the Peace: Conflict Resolution in the Twenty-First Century
Author:Kerry, John F.
Publication:Journal of International Affairs
Date:Jan 1, 1993
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