Argument

An expert's point of view on a current event.

America Without the Cold War

Is the United States capable of following a foreign policy grounded in a strict definition of national interest?

ANDRE DURAND/AFP/Getty Images
ANDRE DURAND/AFP/Getty Images
ANDRE DURAND/AFP/Getty Images

The December 1989 Malta summit between Mikhail Gorbachev and George Bush opened on an unexpected, and thus far unreported, note. Gorbachev urged Bush to end his public suggestions that the East is now adopting "Western ideas." He argued that most of the ideas behind the East's reform efforts are not Western but universal. Bush later said to offi­cials in Washington that, never having thought about this problem before, he told Gorbachev that he would alter his language. After all, why make Gorbachev's task more difficult?

But semantic silence even at the presidential level cannot hide the reality that throughout the bleakest days of the Cold War it was the West that championed the ideas now being adopted in the East. It is understandable that Western leaders as well as their publics now regard the growing democratization of Eastern Europe as a vindication of Western policy.

So there is a sense of triumph in the air. The world has arrived at one of those rare moments in history when everything seems to change. Questions not seriously discussed since the end of World War II are now being constructively considered. But concern is also mounting that misjudgments in policy could return the world not to costly Cold War stability but to even more costly interwar instability.

The December 1989 Malta summit between Mikhail Gorbachev and George Bush opened on an unexpected, and thus far unreported, note. Gorbachev urged Bush to end his public suggestions that the East is now adopting "Western ideas." He argued that most of the ideas behind the East’s reform efforts are not Western but universal. Bush later said to offi­cials in Washington that, never having thought about this problem before, he told Gorbachev that he would alter his language. After all, why make Gorbachev’s task more difficult?

But semantic silence even at the presidential level cannot hide the reality that throughout the bleakest days of the Cold War it was the West that championed the ideas now being adopted in the East. It is understandable that Western leaders as well as their publics now regard the growing democratization of Eastern Europe as a vindication of Western policy.

So there is a sense of triumph in the air. The world has arrived at one of those rare moments in history when everything seems to change. Questions not seriously discussed since the end of World War II are now being constructively considered. But concern is also mounting that misjudgments in policy could return the world not to costly Cold War stability but to even more costly interwar instability.

It is time to consider in detail the conse­quences for American foreign policy of these profound changes. It is time to debate in ear­nest the very different paths the country might follow in a post-Cold War world.

In one fundamental respect the new world that is unfolding contrasts very sharply with comparable periods of major historical transi­tion. Unlike those earlier periods, no major new military threat is likely to replace the old one anytime soon. In the last half of the nine­teenth century, after the rest of Europe had finally crushed a politically and militarily dy­namic France, a powerful Germany emerged to challenge the European security system. In this century, after the entire world united to defeat Germany and Japan, an ideologically dynamic and militarily overpowering commu­nist superpower, the Soviet Union, emerged to challenge the global order.

Unlike Napoleonic France or Nazi Ger­many, the Soviet challenger to the established order has not been crushed but contained until its revolutionary dynamism has been ex­hausted. And this, too, may be a reason for believing that the future holds greater promise than the past. For then the world’s immediate security problem was solved through war, which tends to create new resentments and insecurities. This time, if the West has "won," the Soviet Union has not so much "lost" as changed direction. And for a variety of rea­sons, it seems unlikely that the Soviet leader­ship will or can reverse its current direction and revive the earlier revolutionary thrust. Yet without that impulse to revolution, the Cold War itself cannot revive; for it was this element of Soviet power that most frightened the West, which felt it was confronting not so much a nation-state as a radical ideology that could inspire the development of fifth columns a­round the world.

Meanwhile, efforts to find a new security threat in terrorism, Third World radicalism, or Japan’s growing economic power do not per­suade. Soviet officials have the power to de­stroy the American experiment. No terrorist, not even one in possession of a nuclear device, has comparable power. Nor does any Third World revolutionary state: Its only hope of acquiring such power would be to trigger a nuclear conflict between the Soviet Union and the United States.

Efforts to depict Japanese economic success as a security threat comparable to the Soviet military menace can succeed only if hysteria replaces common sense. For the Japanese do not challenge America’s survival. Indeed, Japa­nese goods and capital, if they harm individual industries, do not harm the United States. They raise Americans’ standard of living.

On the horizon perhaps there are other states that may someday pose new challenges to American power or pride. Perhaps states like Brazil or India will develop regional aspirations and capabilities that bring them into conflict with an America still trying to maintain a global reach. But it is difficult to spot a state that can challenge American preeminence in several dimensions at once — economically, mi­litarily, and politically — as Great Britain, Ger­many, and the Soviet Union have done in dif­ferent periods. So the sense of triumph or at least relief among American policy makers these days is in order.

The Lost Sextant

Yet if there is satisfaction, there is also anxi­ety. For more than 40 years the Cold War imparted a clarifying logic to American foreign policy that now will be missing. It reduced international politics to a zero-sum game that everyone could understand.

Both Cold War supporters and critics took advantage of this logic, which provided them a common language. Scholars could disagree about the importance for victory in the Cold War of the Western position in Laos or Zaire, but at least all knew they were discussing the same problem. As the Cold War ends, there­fore, American foreign policy will lose more than its enemy. It will lose the sextant by which the ship of state has been guided since 1945.

The end of the Cold War will also have institutional consequences. Particularly in the postwar period, Americans have tended to be­lieve that their system of government was a source of strength at home but a source of weakness abroad. The separation of powers provided an equilibrium to the system at home. But in foreign policy, it meant that the country could not speak with one voice. That hindered decisive action. It placed the United States at a disadvantage in dealing with those who could speak more coherently or act more expeditiously.

To compensate for this disadvantage, Americans willingly accepted severe limitations on their democratic freedoms. They tolerated, for example, a degree of secrecy and a lack of accountability in foreign policy that they would find unconstitutional at home. They allowed the nation’s foreign policy elites a measure of control over policy that is permitted in no other area of public policy. These elites complain of congressional micromanagement; but only in the field of foreign policy does the Congress repeatedly permit one administration after another to ignore laws such as the War Powers Act, spend large sums in unvouched CIA funds, and deny the public information vital to a rational discussion of particularly sen­sitive issues.

For years most Americans have been unwill­ing to examine the consequences of such prac­tices for the health of democracy itself. There was an establishment consensus that for secu­rity reasons political disputes should end at the water’s edge. Evidence of the consensus can be seen in the way both left and right have reacted when moral leaders in the United States have taken their concerns into the field of foreign policy. The establishment left applauded Mar­tin Luther King, Jr., when he assaulted racial barriers at home. When he turned against the Vietnam War as immoral and a barrier to social progress at home, concern mounted. The New York Times editors, for example, who praised his civil rights campaign at home, complained that he was "fusing . . . two public problems that are distinct and separate." The establish­ment right defends the Catholic clergy when it speaks out against abortions. It criticizes that clergy when it questions the morality of nu­clear deterrence.

But the essence of democracy is that the people should have a voice in the decisions that affect their lives and welfare, and the two most important things that any government can do to its citizens are to demand their money or their lives. In no area of government can offi­cials ultimately spend more money or end more lives than in the field of international affairs. So from the standpoint of giving citizens con­trol over the issues that truly count, debate about foreign policy should be even more vig­orous than that about domestic policy.

The end of the Cold War should bring that debate. As it proceeds, there are likely to be important institutional consequences both at home and abroad. For example, as the con­flict’s intensity continues to ebb, so should concern about security policy, which will no longer remain undisputed as a form of high politics while economic policy or multilateral commitments or legal obligations are con­stantly relegated to the realm of low politics. That shift in turn will alter the balance of power within administrations and alliances, as well as between the executive branch and the Congress.

Appointments within administrations are likely to be affected. Throughout the Cold War period the struggle within administrations be­tween those hoping for a stronger America and those hoping for a better world has been an unequal contest. In administration after ad­ministration individuals like Harold Stassen, Adlai Stevenson, Elliott Richardson, or Cyrus Vance lost ground. Individuals like John Foster Dulles, Dean Rusk, Henry Kissinger or Zbigniew Brzezinski gained ground. Since the early 1970s, there has ceased to be much of a strug­gle. On five separate occasions individuals with a military background have been selected to serve as national security adviser — two gen­erals (one appointed twice), one admiral, and one lieutenant colonel. Such patterns are un­likely to survive the Cold War’s end. The defi­nition of national security is likely to acquire new dimensions and those wielding power are likely to display a new set of qualities.

The balance of power between the executive and the legislature is also likely to shift with the Cold War’s end. For as security policy receives less attention, economic policy, environmental concerns, and human rights should achieve greater salience. In all three areas Congress is likely to play a greater role than it has in security policy. Indeed, Congress constitutionally has a special role in foreign policy that the Cold War has helped to obscure. Precisely because of the importance that security policy has en­joyed in the postwar period, there is a wide­spread belief that the Constitution accords pre­eminence to the president in the field of foreign policy. But as Arthur Schlesinger pointed out in The Imperial Presidency (1973), the Constitu­tion does not establish the president as more important than Congress in the field of foreign policy. The Founding Fathers thought that the most important foreign policy issue was likely to be commercial policy and they accorded primary responsibility for commercial policy to the Congress, not to the president.

For most of the postwar period, congression­al leaders willingly allowed the president to seize leadership in this field as well. But in the face of a declining security threat and a mount­ing trade deficit, congressional restraint was weakening by the late 1980s.

Perhaps the most important consequence of the Cold War’s end will be to deprive the American foreign policy establishment of its main organizing principle: anticommunism. For decades this principle justified every aspect of American foreign policy from the composi­tion of its alliances to the size of its foreign aid program. Almost as important, it served as a tool to discipline critics, whether in Congress or alliance councils. Deprived of this principle, American foreign policy will lack direction. It is inevitable, therefore, that the country will face a major debate over the future course of American foreign policy.

That debate has only begun and it is difficult to anticipate all of the directions in which it might move. Nonetheless, the various partici­pants in the debate seem to be struggling to maneuver into place three very different foun­dation stones on which a new foreign policy consensus might be built: national interest, democratic values, or global partnership. Each approach could provide a new logic to disci­pline American foreign policy. Two questions, however, arise: Which one of them will allow the country to deal most effectively with the real problems it faces abroad? And can anyone of them develop and sustain the popular sup­port necessary for an effective foreign policy?

A World without a Great Enemy

A foreign policy based strictly on national interest would permit a sweeping retrench­ment of the American presence in the world. With the Cold War over, no nation threatens American survival in any direct way.

There are five power centers in the world that, at least in the near term, determine the fate of the globe — China, Japan, the Soviet Union, the United States, and Western Eu­rope. A major goal of U.S. foreign policy since the end of World War II has been to block the two great communist powers, but primarily the Soviet Union, from achieving a dominant position in either Europe or Japan. In the 1970s China evolved from a hostile into a friendly power. Now in the 1990s the Soviet Union is following a similar evolution.

Neither communist giant is likely to become an enemy of the United States in any foresee­able time frame. Even the tragic events in Tiananmen Square in June 1989 do not threaten a return to U.S.-Chinese hostility. Estrangement, perhaps, but China’s long-term interests require it to develop a cooperative relationship with the United States and other major Western powers. Otherwise, China’s ef­forts to modernize will fail and, if they fail, China’s relative power position will decline steadily. Now with the dramatic reforms that have swept over Eastern Europe, the Soviet Union can no longer be regarded as a hostile power. It is in neither a position nor a mood to threaten Europe or Japan. Periods of greater tension may recur but the Cold War itself with its global character is over.

A post-Cold War foreign policy based strictly on national interest would also sharply decrease American involvement in the Third World. After all, for most of the postwar pe­riod the majority of Third World countries were of immediate interest to the United States only because of Cold War considerations. The most persuasive official defense of American involvement in the conflict in Vietnam was its relationship to the bipolar struggle; to the de­gree administration figures could plausibly link events in Indochina to the global struggle with the Soviet Union, critics were cowed. Hence the political value of touting the so-called dom­ino theory. (Perhaps one reason that critics did not remain cowed is that international realities compelled U.S. officials to send mixed signals. President Richard Nixon found himself pro­moting detente with Moscow at the same time that he was warning Americans of Soviet ex­pansion.)

American involvement in such different and insignificant states as Chad, Grenada, and Laos can only be explained by reference to the larger global struggle. Even America’s fixation with many Third World radicals is primarily explained by their security ties to the Soviet Union. Without these ties such figures would regain the obscurity they merit. If the Cold War ends, therefore, it seems to follow that most of America’s security concerns in the Third World will disappear. American ties to the Third World can be determined by eco­nomics, proximity, and sentiment.

Even some of the areas in the Third World considered strategic lose much of their signifi­cance in the absence of the superpower strug­gle. The United States has long feared the possibility of Soviet domination of the Persian Gulf states, which have nearly 60 percent of the world’s oil reserves. But if the Cold War is over, American concern should recede. Per­haps vehemently anti-Western Iran is a candi­date to replace the Soviet Union as the princi­pal threat to Western interests in the area. Certainly Iran will remain a thorn in the U.S. side for some time to come; but without a highly developed air force or navy, Iran does not have the reach of the Soviet Union even in its own region. Indeed, the outcome of the Iran-Iraq war demonstrated that control of the Gulf is beyond Iranian power. Moreover, even if Iran does seem to pose a threat to U.S. interests, an end to the Cold War should erase U.S. objections to a joint U.S.-Soviet agree­ment to protect the security of Gulf states.

Central America has always been considered an area of critical importance to the United States. But with an end to the Cold War, the question arises: From the standpoint of strict national interest, why does the United States care what kind of government the people of Nicaragua or El Salvador have or select? The only vital American interests would seem to be whether the new authority in either country can create a domestic order sufficiently attrac­tive to persuade most of the inhabitants to remain in place instead of heading for the United States. Protection of American eco­nomic interests in the region would be secon­dary since it plays such a small role in Amer­ica’s economic prosperity.

The rest of the Third World becomes a mat­ter of United Nations policy or domestic poli­ties, which includes such health-related issues as drugs or AIDS. Like other major countries the United States would have to continue to employ diplomatic resources to earn the sup­port of a majority of the Third World on multi­lateral issues of concern to the United States. And it would have to remain active in many Third World states to pursue goals that affect its domestic welfare. But these would be con­centrated in particular countries. Few of these interests would seem to require that the United States have the capability to intervene militar­ily or covertly. American policies regarding most Third World states would begin to resem­ble those of other major developed countries.

A foreign policy of strict national interest could also permit a drastic retrenchment of the U.S. military presence in the world. Over half of the American defense budget is designed to defend against a Soviet attack on Western Eu­rope-the probability of which has never been high and is now effectively zero. From the standpoint of strict national interest, the Amer­ican army could be slashed back to an expedi­tionary force designed to meet the modest mili­tary requirements involved in protecting American lives abroad, combating terrorism, and maintaining a deterrent force suitable for emergency deployment. As a hedge against Soviet recidivism, the United States might reach agreement with key European states for the pre-positioning of U.S. equipment on Eu­ropean soil. It could cooperate with its allies in providing sea and air support for Europe’s de­fense. And perhaps even a token U. S. army presence could remain on European soil. But virtually all the American troops on European soil could be brought home and disbanded.

The same point applies to Japan. Again for reasons of prudence, the United States might maintain a military alliance with Japan and reach certain understandings regarding the future. But most of the bases could be closed and the troops brought home.

The country’s nuclear forces could be pared back to a minimum deterrent since no other country’s nuclear force now threatens the survival of the United States as a political entity. The size of the U. S. deterrent and the vigor of weapons research would depend upon the cooperative measures Americans and Soviets could devise to reassure each side that the other was not cheating or on the verge of a breakout. But under almost any arrangement the number of nuclear warheads on each side could be far below the 9,000 or more that the United States and the Soviet Union could end up with should the deep cuts of START be accepted.

One possible goal might be to aim at a limit on U. S. and Soviet warheads close to the total number of warheads the French or British will jointly achieve after their current modernization — somewhere in the neighborhood of 1,500 warheads. (China is reported to have 200 warheads.) This number, in the case of the French, will still be enough to destroy two thirds of all Soviet industrial capacity. Accepting a number like 1,500 warheads, mounted on single-warhead launchers, would still leave each superpower with vastly greater conventional and nuclear power than any other nuclear state yet it would put a cap on the nuclear arms race, provide it with a certain symmetrical stability, and permit the five nuclear powers to begin negotiations to drive the limit even lower.

It is necessary to deal with the suggestion that if the Soviet threat recedes, the United States should maintain a high military profile in Europe and Asia in order to restrain Germany and Japan. Retired General and former Army Chief of Staff E. C. Meyer has suggested that in the event the Cold War is over, "the two biggest threats" become a united Germany and a militarized Japan.

Certainly one unstated purpose of the American defense arrangements after World War II was to restrain Germany and Japan. But just as the Cold War has faded, so should the fear of West Germany and Japan. Both have been among the world’s most responsible states for more than four decades. Not to acknowledge this achievement risks a popular backlash in either or both. Moreover, each has demon­strated that economic success in today’s world is a surer path to influence than a large military establishment. Without the asset of nuclear weapons, there is no way that Germany and Japan — nations of approximately 80 to 120 mil­lion people each (assuming Germany is united) — can pose a serious threat to the security (as opposed to the pride) of the postwar interna­tional order dominated by states with popula­tions two and three times as large and with a land expanse many times greater. Because Germany and Japan are worried about the reaction of their neighbors, each is probably willing to accept certain limitations on its freedom of ac­tion: Each should stick to its commitments under the nonproliferation treaty. Each should remain part of an alliance structure designed not so much to counter a real threat as to offer reassurance to all parties about the future. But unreal fear of these two constructive members of the international community should be put to rest.

The critical question is whether the United States is capable of following a foreign policy grounded in a strict definition of national inter­est. America’s relatively open political system ensures that public opinion will play a major role in the field of foreign policy. Given that role, it seems almost inconceivable that the United States could follow a foreign policy resting on a strict view of the national interest. Ethnic empathy toward various parts of the world, popular sympathies for the underdog, the political impact of economic issues activat­ing new constituencies to press Congress to become more involved in the details of foreign policy — all will make a foreign policy resting solely on national interest difficult to carry out.

There is a final objection to the first grand option. Even though the Cold War is over, history and prudence dictate that at least in its early stages the coming retrenchment not be too sweeping. Just as individuals prudently purchase insurance, so should nations.

Planting the Flag of Democracy

Some analysts argue that the export of de­mocracy should replace anticommunism as the guiding principle of American foreign policy. The operative word is "export." Virtually all American foreign policy analysts would agree that the United States should support the growth of democratic values and practices abroad. To this end they would deploy a con­siderable portion of the resources of American diplomacy, including financial support. Amer­ican administrations have spoken and will speak out in favor of democratic values and practices in other countries, have provided and will provide political backing and financial help to democratic leaders abroad, and have tended and will continue to develop closer intergov­ernmental ties with states that benefit from a democratic domestic order.

But the proponents of a new crusade for democracy are not content with mere diplo­matic or financial support for democratic forces abroad. Such a policy is too passive and it does not have the same expansionary impact on the defense budget. Ben Wattenberg, chairman of the Coalition for a Democratic Majority, a group that presses the Democratic party to adopt more conservative positions on defense issues, argues, for example, that embarking on a crusade for democracy can help persuade the American people to keep defense budgets high "to prevent Soviet imperial recidivism." For most of this school of thought the American invasion of Grenada or Panama, covert opera­tions to overthrow undemocratic governments, or direct subsidies to opposition parties in other countries are all appropriate tools in a new crusade to plant democracy’s flag around the world. Burton Yale Pines, senior vice president of The Heritage Foundation, suggests that even in the new conditions of detente between the United States and the Soviet Union, "America must be engaged or have the ability of engaging militarily almost everywhere in the world-including, obviously, Europe."

For 40 years fear of Soviet intentions per­suaded America to maintain a gigantic military machine. Will hopes for the spread of democ­racy now persuade Americans to retain a large military machine and to use it to pursue a crusade for political change?

Most Americans probably would be willing to defy international law and to support the use of military force to spread the cause of democ­racy if the cost were low. The American inva­sion of Grenada was popular with the Ameri­can people. Only 18 Americans died in that invasion, the people of Grenada seemed to wel­come their sacrifice, and the island has not been heard from since. Perhaps the U. S. inva­sion of Panama will work out in a similar fash­ion. The use of military force to overthrow a dictator and permit the development of democ­racy can violate international law yet not vio­late a basic code of decency understood by anyone in favor of democratic choice. Much depends on the casualties inflicted, the form of government implanted, and the degree of fu­ture freedom permitted. The U.S. invasion of Grenada would clearly have met these criteria if the U.S. government had not so distorted law and fact in seeking public support for its action. The jury is still out in the case of Pan­ama, but U. S. government unwillingness to confront energetically the issue of civilian casu­alties can only raise troubling questions certain to linger. In any event, even defenders of the invasion seem to agree there are few such op­portunities for success in the world.

Americans probably will also accept covert efforts to promote democracy, that is to say, other forms of interference, including violence, that are barred by international law. Specialists may point out that the cause of democracy suffered some long-run setbacks in such places as Guatemala and Iran because of earlier CIA "successes" in overthrowing governments there that happened to displease authorities in Wash­ington. The views of such specialists will carry little political weight. Most Americans, like ordinary citizens everywhere, do not have the time or background to become terribly troub­led over long-term costs. If the end is democ­racy, officials can persuade them that the end justifies the means. The average American will rely on his government to exercise good judg­ment in carrying out this policy. The more important question, therefore, is not whether the United States can embark on a democratic crusade but whether it should. There are sev­eral reasons to harbor doubt:

For the first time since 1945 there appears to be a possibility of reaching an agreement with the Soviet Union about a meaningful and con­structive code of conduct for the superpowers in international relations. To this end the So­viet Union has submitted several constructive proposals to the United Nations on measures to "enhance the role of international law." It would be worse than ironic if the opportunity to enter into a constructive agreement with the Soviet Union in the field of international law were lost because, at the very moment that the Soviet Union became more lawful, the United States decided to become more lawless.

Direct intervention in a country to favor one political party or personality over another can­not be undertaken without incurring obliga­tions that may prove difficult to fulfill. No single act did more to draw America into its disastrous commitments to the various regimes that took power in Saigon than the U. S. deci­sion to assist forces that were planning the overthrow and assassination of President Ngo Dinh Diem. Recent CIA efforts, ultimately suc­cessful, to end the prohibition against U.S. involvement in coup attempts that might end up in the assassination of another head of state bring back troubling memories.

A majority of the American people may sup­port a crusade for democracy that resorts to force or covert action; but unless administra­tions are careful to support only real democra­cies rather than false democracies, significant groups within the United States will object vehemently. A bipartisan consensus will prove impossible. America’s current involvement in Central America is an example. There is not a single true democracy in Central America ex­cept Costa Rica. All the rest are what might be called false democracies. Those elected do not exercise power. In each country except for Costa Rica the army maintains control through intimidation and violence. When administra­tion officials invoke democratic values in urg­ing continued U.S. support to such govern­ments, Americans who are knowledgeable about local conditions hesitate to support their own government. A divisive debate opens up that may paralyze U.S. policymakers.

A crusade to promote democracy assumes a degree of American omniscience that is lack­ing. Even the most knowledgeable Americans usually do not know enough about local condi­tions in other parts of the world for the United States to intervene effectively. (The recent democratic surge in Eastern Europe should humble all specialists, virtually none of whom predicted it.) Democracy, after all, is a social plant that adapts to the local political climate and tradition. As Richard Cobden, one of his­tory’s most perceptive thinkers on the issue of intervention, warned in a historic speech to the House of Commons in 1850: "[A] people which wants a savior, which does not possess an earnest and pledge of freedom in its own heart, is not yet ready to be free." In international affairs there are always dangers lurking in cate­gorical judgments. It is possible that on rare occasions a people may need a savior. Cambo­dia may need one to prevent the genocidal Pol Pot from returning to power. But, in general, the variety of democracy that America im­plants by force in other countries is likely to wither there. America can avoid serious mis­takes if it responds with financial and political help to requests from local democratic forces, which presumably know their own country better than outsiders, rather than attempting to impose its model on people who may find it inappropriate or irrelevant.

An Unexpected Partnership

To be fair to the proponents of a democratic crusade, however, it is necessary to acknowl­edge one advantage often passed over in si­lence. It would help bind the country together. For one curious feature of the superpower rela­tionship is the role that a combination of ideol­ogy and economic success plays in the internal cohesion of both societies. People of many na­tionalities chose to come to America; people of many nationalities were forced to become part of the Soviet Union. The myth in both socie­ties has been that the American way or the socialist model justifies the allegiance of diverse nationalities. The clear evidence that the West is increasing its economic lead has been ex­tremely damaging to the socialist model. Evi­dence that the Japanese form of guided capital­ism or the German path of the social market economy continues to outstrip the American economy will be very damaging to the Ameri­can faith in the "city on a hill."

Because of these important myths and their role in maintaining national cohesion, both the Soviet Union and the United States have been strong ideological powers. For it is difficult to develop an ideology that one claims is appro­priate to various nationalities brought together inside one country’s borders and not conclude that those living outside these borders, who may even share the same language and culture, would not be better off if they, too, had the benefit of the same ideology and system of government.

Gorbachev has announced that his goal is to de-ideologize international affairs. But it seems unlikely that he can ever be completely suc­cessful unless he fails at his own reform efforts. For if the Soviet Union is able to surmount its current internal crisis, it will again believe that it has a unique message, now freshly reformu­lated, to carry to the rest of the world. It is likely to convey that message much more be­nignly in the future than in the past, but it will be unable to ignore its ideological obligations completely. Nor is the United States dissimilar in this regard. Senator Bill Bradley (D-New Jersey), for one, has argued that the United States cannot be a country of small ambitions. But can any political system have a large ambi­tion that does not involve others?

Today both the American and the Soviet people are having to come to terms with their own limitations. The 1970s were a difficult decade for the United States and the 1980s were difficult for the Soviet Union. Each su­perpower has emerged from its decade of trial somewhat chastened. Each is increasingly rec­ognizing that the priority of the 1990s is to concentrate on domestic affairs. Each under­stands that as great as its power may be, in different ways each is falling behind others in critical areas, the Soviet Union quite a bit faster than the United States.

Despite this need to concentrate on domestic affairs, for the reasons already cited, each probably will be harmed internally by a total abandonment of the effort to project its values externally. Each needs to assure its citizens that their state stands for values and ideals worthy of emulation by others.

What then could satisfy the ideological need of each state yet present a constructive face to the outside world? Perhaps a partnership for peace resting on the pillars of disarmament, development, and democracy would provide the grand ambition each seems to need. Such a proposition at any time in the last 45 years would have seemed preposterous. But Gorba­chev may have made just such a partnership possible with his extraordinary address to the United Nations in December 1988. In that speech he embraced concepts of individual rights and the rule of law that make true coop­eration between the United States and the So­viet Union possible for the first time since World War II. His representatives have fol­lowed up with a series of remarkable docu­ments proposing steps within the United Na­tions that would permit the creation of a more stable and just international order.

It also may be a hopeful coincidence that, with the possible exception of Japan, all of the states in the world that can either protect or endanger world peace are entering what might be called an internal phase. China and the So­viet Union face daunting internal problems that are likely to siphon off their energies and attention for several decades. The United States must finally face up to social and demo­graphic divides — sometime in the next century the United States will cease to have a white majority — that will pose the greatest test to national unity since the Civil War. Europe must concentrate on creating a more united continent and raising Eastern Europe to the level of the West. Japan with its enormous wealth must carve out a new international role for itself but that role will be less threatening to others if Japan also attends to the major social problems it faces at home — a rapidly aging population, a deficient infrastructure for a country of Japan’s capabilities and prosperity, and a large, unabsorbed Korean minority.

This period of internal focus could be used to draw the world back to more reasonable levels of armed defense and to develop more enduring patterns of political and economic cooperation. Because of the Cold War, many countries have conducted their affairs since 1945 as though they were in a permanent state of siege. Armies have reached sizes unprecedented in peacetime. Almost as important as the resources wasted has been the political bur­den of having adopted policies capable of con­fronting the enemy both at home and abroad. The fact that a paranoid sense of national secu­rity in the Soviet Union has imposed barbaric sacrifices on the Soviet people should not ob­scure the very heavy price paid by the Ameri­can people during the Cold War in terms of excessive secrecy and lost liberties. The powers assumed by the KGB were grotesque, but those granted the CIA and the FBI were often outra­geous, as decades of scandal from Watergate to Irangate attest.

With the Cold War over, therefore, each side has an opportunity to engage in a significant degree of disarmament at home as well as abroad. Abroad, many bases can be closed, a large number of troops withdrawn, and key weapon-free zones created. At home, secrecy regulations can be reexamined, transparency promoted, and rights made more secure.

The U.S. political system, for example, should reexamine the discarded recommenda­tions of several important commissions or con­gressional committees regarding national secu­rity, covert activities, or individual liberties. In 1970, for example, a Pentagon task force re­viewing the government’s security classifica­tion system concluded that "more might be gained than lost" if the United States unilater­ally were to abolish all classifications. Al­though task force members ultimately con­cluded that implementation of their own recommendation would not be "practical," those making this astonishing judgment about U. S. classification systems included such prominent conservatives as Frederick Seitz, a former president of Rockefeller University, and Edward Teller, who helped develop the hydrogen bomb.

In the post-Cold War era both superpowers need to take steps to subject to a much greater degree of accountability and democratic con­trol the activities of their national intelligence and internal security services. CIA and KGB budgets should be made public, surveillance files on individual citizens sharply restricted or destroyed, and rules of the road negotiated to curb CIA and KGB excesses in the field of intel­ligence collection and covert operations.

Internationally, the two superpowers should recognize that their opportunity to remain politically preeminent well into the next century may lie in shoring up the very institution that at different points in the Cold War each has done so much to tear down the United Na­tions. For the established patterns of the Cold War and the U.N. Charter accord the two superpowers unusual opportunities for influ­ence in the management of a new post-Cold War security system. While three other states enjoy the privilege of veto power in the Secu­rity Council, only the two superpowers have the global reach and the technology in the skies, on land, and at sea to play a leading role in a new world security system that could be based on the U. N. Charter. The general staffs of the two superpowers, therefore, should begin discussing the future role of the super­power militaries in a post-Cold War order in­volving peacemaking, peacekeeping, and inter­national arms control verification under a U.N. umbrella.

The end of the Cold War may also make possible the imposition of certain qualitative restraints on the arms race in regions of the world like Africa and the Middle East. While the Cold War lasted, the interest of each super­power was usually to exploit each regional con­flict to achieve some gain globally. With the Cold War over, the interest of each superpower should be to end each conflict in order to elimi­nate the possibility that it could evolve in a manner that would jeopardize the central rela­tionship. Here, if one is to judge by U.S. policy toward such regional disputes as Afghanistan, Angola, Cambodia, Central Amer­ica, and the Middle East, the United States seems more frozen in the thinking of the past than the Soviet Union.

As the East-West axis in world politics ceases to have the importance it once did or at least acquires a more constructive character, the key division in world politics is likely to become the North-South divide. The reasons are the rela­tionship between poverty and people and the clash between economics and demographics.

As goods and money move among states, so will people. Borders will become more porous, not less; knowledge of others will get more accurate, not less; travel opportunities will go up, not down. Birthrates in the developing world will remain high while those in the more developed states will stay low. Opportunities will emerge where there are few people, and people will be born where there are few oppor­tunities. One way or another the people and the opportunities will come together through migration of people toward the North or the creation of more opportunities in the South.

A partnership between East and West can make it more likely that the international sys­tem will create opportunities rather than expe­rience disruptive demographic movements. Centralized planning at the micro-level of a na­tional economy, replacing the resource alloca­tion function of market pricing, has been dem­onstrated to be a spectacular failure. But judicious planning at the macro-level has proved to be a spectacular success. The economies that have made the most progress in the world in the last several decades have generally been states that have allowed a significant role for the state (or its central banking system) in de­veloping the national economy — France, Italy, Japan, Singapore, South Korea, Taiwan, and West Germany.

Yet on the global scale today little serious planning is done. Each developing nation re­mains on its own. Often at the urging of aid officials from the developed world, each un­dertakes efforts that may prove futile because too many others are planning the same strat­egy. The challenge of the 1990s is for East and West to cooperate not only in a program to bring the living standards of the East up to those of the West but to begin the very difficult conceptual work that will be required to con­struct a global plan for development — one that can provide the kind of information and infra­structure that permits private and public enter­prise to thrive everywhere. Initially, the largest contribution in terms of energy, money, and expertise will have to come from the West but the ultimate task will require the efforts of all the world’s major countries.

Is it conceivable that there could be an East­-West consensus on democracy? Until Gorba­chev, the answer could only have been no. Today the answer is less certain. The future of democracy in Eastern Europe and the Soviet Union is far from assured. Even if a return to the Cold War seems highly unlikely now that the communist ideology has lost its magnetic power, a return to authoritarian or military rule cannot be excluded. But the forces of de­mocracy in communist countries have dis­played remarkable resilience and energy. Steady acceptance in the East of the universal ideas Gorbachev discussed with Bush at Malta suggests that a convergence of views is possible even here. For it to be complete, however, the West will have to give greater prominence to economic rights than it habitually has. Ameri­cans in particular have defined democracy in recent years in a way that is too narrowly political and mechanistic. It is almost as though periodic and secret elections alone can bestow democracy on a people. But Americans are born in a rich and blessed land that has pro­vided a relatively decent living to most of its citizens. For much of American history those who found that they could not make an ade­quate living where they were had only to move West or to appeal to the government for free land under the Homestead Act.

In other words, one essential element for democracy — an economic and social order that does not intimidate and subdue was for much of American history provided free by government or nature to all who sought it. Yet in recent years, as the human rights debate has moved up on the international agenda, most Americans have forgotten the economic and social dimension of freedom.

The approach of the socialist countries to democracy, of course, has been far worse. The regimes in power appropriated the language of democracy while denying its reality. Freedoms were constitutionally guaranteed but never granted. And in return for this infringement of political liberty the population gained officially sanctioned economic rights but, over time, rel­ative impoverishment because the system did not work.

It is time that East and West unite around a common definition of democracy, and Frank­lin Roosevelt’s Four Freedoms — freedom of speech and expression, freedom of every per­son to worship God in his own way, freedom from want, and freedom from fear — are a good place to start. All four of these freedoms are stated or implied in the Universal Declaration of Human Rights.

A commitment by all to the provisions of the Universal Declaration and a pledge to work for their realization through the various bodies of the United Nations could provide the grand ambition that both the American and Soviet people seem to need. It could fulfill their mis­sionary impulse constructively and peacefully. It could enrich the lives of others and prevent the return of the Cold War not simply for the next decade but for those that follow.

On which foundation is America likely to erect its post-Cold War consensus? In any age foreign policy tends to be an accumulation of nuance and emphasis. Americans may prefer one of the three options discussed but they will construct their approach to the world with ele­ments of all three. Even during the height of the Cold War, rigorous anticommunism was not the only guide to American foreign policy. The United States provided economic assis­tance to communist Yugoslavia when it defied Stalin to embark on an independent course. It entered into a tacit strategic alliance with China in the early 1970s although the political order in China was, if anything, far more repressive than the regime of Leonid Brezhnev.

Nevertheless, preferences are important. So are paradigms. Together they provide direc­tion to a nation’s citizens, who need a frame­work with which to understand the world. Together they provide a standard to its policy­makers, who must struggle to explain depar­tures from the norm. Together they provide a guide for the media, which then have a clear benchmark against which to measure an ad­ministration’s words and deeds.

Preferences shown or paradigms selected also have political consequences. A foreign pol­icy based on a strict adherence to national in­terest could bring security at a lower cost in terms of money but perhaps a higher cost in terms of reduced vision and hardened hearts. A foreign policy based on a desire to export de­mocracy might enhance American power in the short run, but it could lead to acting with arrogance abroad that might be dangerous in the long run. A foreign policy based on a global partnership could bring cooperative efforts in the best interests of the American people, but it would come at a cost. The two patterns of diplomacy Americans have known are isola­tionism and preeminence. Either maximizes America’s ability to decide its own fate alone. Will Americans be comfortable with an ap­proach that requires them to allow others a voice in America’s future?

Some might prefer to avoid a choice. They might argue for further attempts to shore up the status quo, a version of the "status-quo plus" approach to foreign policy that the Bush administration initially hoped to pursue. But such caution would waste an extraordinary op­portunity. For the peace dividend is not just the money that will be freed up. It is also the categories of thought that will finally be opened up. It is time for a great debate on American foreign policy, and it is not possible to have a great debate without a discussion of clear options. The most precious peace divi­dend is precisely the legitimacy of this debate. The country must make the most of it.

<p> Charles William Maynes and Richard H. Ullman are co-editors of Foreign Policy magazine. </p>

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