An interview with Thomas Pickering.
Standing more than 6 feet tall in his black wingtips, Ambassador Thomas Pickering looms over most of his interlocutors in much the same way as he towers over the landscape of U.S. foreign policy. Over the course of what the Washington Post has called "the most dazzling diplomatic career of his generation," Pickering has, among other things, helped to conclude successfully the Gulf War, contend with the outbreak of the Palestinian intifada, face down death squads in El Salvador, and orchestrate U.S. relations with Russia through a staccato series of crises and meltdowns. Yet for all the superlatives attached to his name, Pickering remains -- by choice, perhaps -- a virtual unknown outside his profession. Here, in a May 1 conversation with FP Editor Moisés Naím, Pickering traces the trajectory of U.S. power from Cold Warrior to Benevolent Hegemon and offers his views on how that power has been wielded, shaped, expanded, and constrained.
Standing more than 6 feet tall in his black wingtips, Ambassador Thomas Pickering looms over most of his interlocutors in much the same way as he towers over the landscape of U.S. foreign policy. Over the course of what the Washington Post has called "the most dazzling diplomatic career of his generation," Pickering has, among other things, helped to conclude successfully the Gulf War, contend with the outbreak of the Palestinian intifada, face down death squads in El Salvador, and orchestrate U.S. relations with Russia through a staccato series of crises and meltdowns. Yet for all the superlatives attached to his name, Pickering remains — by choice, perhaps — a virtual unknown outside his profession. Here, in a May 1 conversation with FP Editor Moisés Naím, Pickering traces the trajectory of U.S. power from Cold Warrior to Benevolent Hegemon and offers his views on how that power has been wielded, shaped, expanded, and constrained.
Foreign Policy: Among your many assignments, you have been ambassador to Israel during the intifada, ambassador to El Salvador during its civil war, ambassador to the United Nations during the Gulf War, and ambassador to Russia during countless meltdowns. In which of your many diplomatic roles do you feel that you as an individual made the biggest difference?
Thomas Pickering: Probably at the United Nations during the Gulf War. It’s the kind of environment in which the U.S. ambassador plays a significant personal role. Working with my own team and members of the Security Council, we were able to pass the 12 resolutions on Iraq leading up to the conflict. The other area where I felt that our team in New York made a significant contribution was U.N. Security Council Resolution 687, which created UNSCOM, the commission designed to oversee the destruction of Iraq’s weapons of mass destruction.
FP: If I had told you 10 years ago when the Gulf War was "successfully" completed that Saddam Hussein would be in power in 2001, would you have been very surprised?
TP: Well, probably not. I didn’t accept the thesis that defeat in the Gulf War would naturally lead to the early, if not instant, demise of Saddam.
FP: You have said that the decisive factor in building the coalition that pushed Saddam Hussein out of Kuwait was "leadership." Do you think that the gradual collapse of the Gulf War coalition represents a failure of U.S. leadership?
TP: I think that stronger, more consistent leadership might have helped to preserve larger pieces of the coalition. But an even more important factor over the last eight years has been the failure to focus on working more closely with the Arab states, particularly in dealing with Arab public opinion. Saddam Hussein has done very well in convincing people in the region that the United States and the United Nations are to blame for the situation in Iraq, not Saddam.
FP: Ron Spiers, a former high-ranking State Department official who is described in some accounts as a mentor to you, said that you were "a classic diplomat who takes the policy and implements it with great capability and loyalty," but that you are not a guy who questions policy much. Would you agree with that characterization?
TP: I’d like to think that in critical times when new policies were being formulated or when old policies were running dry, I did play a role in seeking new formulations, new opportunities, and new openings.
FP: Give me an example of Tom Pickering as an innovator, not as an implementer of policies decided by others.
TP: It’s always hard to know whether your particular proposal produced a shift in policy. But in the last administration, for example, I played a significant role in getting the administration to look at trying at the joint court in The Hague the Libyan terrorists arrested for the Lockerbie bombing. Not a big issue, but —
FP: But it worked —
TP: Worked for one, put it that way. Another extremely important example was in El Salvador when it became clear to me that the death squad menace had become very nasty. Then Vice President George Bush was going to be traveling to Argentina for an inauguration. So I spoke with his chief of staff and suggested Bush stop off in El Salvador to read the riot act to the Salvadoran colonels and tell them that U.S. assistance would be cut off if they didn’t stop the death squad killing and terror. And Vice President Bush did it. He did it magnificently. There was almost immediately a downturn in what was happening — never perfect. But these are the kinds of policy interventions that a Foreign Service officer can help to make at the right time and the right place.
FP: Everybody recognizes you as the epitome of an excellent diplomat. What do you think you’ve done right?
TP: I tried to do a number of things I thought a diplomat ought to do well. First, to understand the situation. I learned very quickly there were two sides to every case, sometimes more, and that if you didn’t understand the case, you were less well equipped to resolve the problem. Second, I tried hard to get into the heads of my opponents to understand what was driving them. If they were driven by religious motivations, resolving the problem was going to be hard. If they were driven by practical circumstances, or even by domestic political imperatives, I could sometimes figure out how to gain my point by persuading them that a certain series of steps or a certain series of moves would be extremely useful in helping them to resolve the problem on grounds that were mutually acceptable. That isn’t rocket science, but all of us who grew up in diplomacy during the Cold War got a little hardened to the basic impossibility of resolving fundamental issues and tended then to try to develop our skills and see whether second-order problems would be susceptible to resolution.
FP: People say that talent, hard work, and loyalty played a big role in your success. But loyalty can reach a point where it obliterates independent thinking. A very senior diplomat who has worked with you for many years characterized you as someone who speaks in paragraphs of official boilerplate. He went so far as to suggest that you don’t have real opinions, that you’ve always adapted and survived by adopting and implementing the policies of whatever administration you’ve served.
TP: I think that’s unfair. When I played a role in the formulation of policy, I felt that my role was to support it. When I disagreed, I made my views known. In many circumstances I fought very hard to try to change the policy. I always felt I had the option of leaving the Foreign Service and on some occasions considered it, and I did leave on one occasion. I felt it was better to decide in each case whether my own particular views would be better served by working inside or by leaving. And I think that’s a choice that everyone who serves their country as a diplomat has to make.
FP: I’m sure you read that Tom Lippman of the Washington Post once wrote that an interview with you is the diplomatic equivalent of Chinese food: that an hour later you’re hungry again. Is your well-known ability of avoiding answering difficult questions a point of pride for you?
TP: [Laughing] No, but I think that it is extremely important in recognizing that you have a role as a government official in explaining what’s going on —
FP: But you don’t have it now. Give me an example of a policy you disagreed with that you felt that you had to implement, just waiting for the chance to change it.
TP: I had very strong feelings about Israeli treatment of the Palestinians.
FP: We’re talking 1987 or so.
TP: 1986, 1987. I made a speech in Jerusalem that resulted in my being called the unfriendly ambassador of a friendly country. In some ways, that remark was sort of an accolade, given who made it. But nevertheless, I worked very hard to make my views clear. I didn’t think we had the full support of senior members of the administration. I did what I could as an ambassador in the field to pull, push, and stretch the policy in my conversations with leading Israelis; a public expression of concern by an American ambassador in Israel is not an easy thing to achieve.
FP: Did you disagree at some point with U.S. policy toward Russia when you were the U.S. ambassador there?
TP: There were occasions when I disagreed with tactical matters; I didn’t disagree with the fundamentals of our policy toward Russia.
FP: Give me an example of a tactical disagreement.
TP: Well, it was not so much a disagreement as a discussion leading to agreement in an area of uncertainty.
FP: [Laughing] That quote is a perfect example of why people call you "the magician."
TP: [Laughing] No, I’m trying to define precisely for you the circumstances, because I think —
FP: Just listen to yourself and try to translate what you just said into plain English.
TP: In English, I mean that at the time of the Yeltsin confrontation with the communists at Russia’s parliament building in October of 1993, there were questions in the minds of a number of people in Washington about whether Yeltsin was doing the right thing. Was this something we should support? I made it very clear — for example, in a number of conversations with Strobe Talbott, the ambassador-at-large and special adviser on the new independent states — that we ought to support him. Given Yeltsin’s willingness in effect to put his future on the line with a follow-on election in the Duma, this was not a time for the United States to waffle. Going back to El Salvador, I’ll give you another wonderful example. There were times and circumstances when the Reagan administration agonized over whether the far-right leader Roberto D’Aubuisson should have a visa to visit the United States. In each of these cases, I felt it was my role and duty as the American ambassador to make my views known.
FP: In the case of D’Aubuisson, my understanding is that you wanted to prevent his meeting in Miami with some financial supporters and that you were successful.
TP: I believe in one instance I may have been successful.
FP: But as a result of your role in this and other situations in El Salvador, you faced death threats from right-wing hit squads. During your career, when was the moment when you were most afraid?
TP: I was much more concerned before I went to El Salvador than after I arrived. The stories about what was going on in El Salvador concerned me. So did the stories about differing views within the government. But a conversation I had with Secretary of State George Shultz before I went allayed my fears a great deal. I had two separate, long interviews, during which it became very clear to me that what Shultz wanted me to do in El Salvador was what I thought ought to be done in El Salvador. And subsequent to that, Shultz was extremely supportive of a wide number of things that I wanted to do. But I was more concerned before I went to El Salvador about what it would be like, perhaps, than once I got down there. When you become familiar with a situation and a place, it somehow seems —
FP: But concerned is not scared. So you have never been scared in your career?
TP: Well, fearful, but not what I would call paralyzed with fear about things, no.
FP: Let’s go back to Russia. What was the main mistake that the United States made in dealing with Russia?
TP: I think we made a number of mistakes. It was always hard to know precisely how far and how fast the Russian system could go. It was always hard for us to understand that we were not empowered to make decisions for the Russians. It was also very clear that we only understood in the broadest generalities all of the political forces at play inside Russia. We had failures of intelligence. We had failures of advice, some on the economic side and some on the political side. But you know at the end, fundamentally, Russians themselves made the big mistakes.
FP: During the presidential campaign, National Security Advisor Condoleezza Rice criticized the Clinton administration for having a "romantic" approach to Russia. How do you plead?
TP: Not guilty. I think that we had, and increasingly have, a very realistic view about what has happened in Russia. The point is — and I think that the new administration is finding this just as the old administration found — that it’s not a question of realism or romanticism but of very hard choices. And those hard choices are not presented by a script, by a drama thesis, but by what’s happening on the ground. President Clinton did beautifully in dealing with the Russians. I think he worked very hard at it, and I never saw anybody who was able to manage difficult foreign leaders as successfully as he did. I also think that in the shaking-down period of the new administration, we see basically a sense of greater understanding day by day of the complexities of the international situation, and the need to try to deal with them on a realistic basis rather than on a presumption about particular theses of romanticism, ideology, or otherwise.
FP: Let’s talk a little bit about the Middle East, where you were ambassador to Jordan and then to Israel at very defining moments. Would it be correct to view the current conflict between Israel and the Palestinians as an indictment of a peace process in which the United States plays a central, very visible broker’s role?
TP: It is not the process or the U.S. role that carries the lion’s share of the blame, but in fact the parties themselves that have not yet, I think, fully adjusted to the need to make peace. And here I would be less sympathetic to Mr. Arafat’s behavior, which is hard to understand and perhaps was motivated in part by things moving too rapidly in the direction of a peace settlement on the part of Mr. Barak. But it is hard to give good report cards to anybody. I think the peace process conducted up to the end of the last administration was a magnificent effort. It moved the ball very far forward. The end result of the failure of that effort, however, has led to a very dangerous situation.
FP: What path is open to U.S. diplomacy in the Middle East?
TP: The path that I think is open to U.S. diplomacy in the Middle East is now to recognize that significant efforts are being made by the states in the region. I think the United States should be careful about immediately taking a position in which it wants to assume the role of conductor of the orchestra as opposed to turner of the pages or the pianist or the violinist.
FP: You were of course there during the hard times of the intifada, and you met the current Israeli Prime Minister Ariel Sharon several times. Do you think Sharon will make peace?
TP: I met Sharon as a matter of habit once every two or three months. He was then the minister of industry and commerce and had well-set plans to expand the settlements and the road network in the West Bank in order to solidify what he called Israel’s security position in the area. But it went beyond merely a security position. Even at the time, he made clear to me and many others that his ambition was to be prime minister of Israel and that as prime minister, he would be the person to bring about a peace settlement. Obviously, all of us who knew him had our doubts about that message. I think we’re all willing to live in hope, but I don’t think the doubts are dispelled.
CONFESSIONS OF A HEGEMON
FP: What are the top three foreign threats to the United States?
TP: I hadn’t thought about it in such stark terms. I’d start by identifying the top economic threat to the United States — which is not necessarily a major threat to American peace and security — and that is the potential for new financial crises or collapses in various areas of the world similar to the Asian financial crisis. The second is an accidental nuclear exchange, the probability of which is way down from the Cold War. The third that I think we need to pay serious attention to is perhaps the growing realization that there are a series of major environmental threats out there that need to be dealt with; global warming, for example.
FP: Ten years ago, that same question would have elicited a geographically based answer.
TP: Yes. Russia, China.
FP: If I asked you to name three countries the United States ought to be concerned about in the 21st century, which ones would you name?
TP: I’m not being predictive or catastrophic, but Russia, China, and then the European Union as a whole — the last not as a military threat but as an economic competitor. But these are all fairly benign threats compared to the Cold War.
FP: What countries should the United States not underestimate in the 21st century?
TP: Large size. Growing economy. Significant regional military power. I wouldn’t yet characterize it as a global military power. It’s a country where a political system vastly different than our own still holds sway. And, as a result, there’s the potential for a combination of misunderstandings or potential clashes over everything from nonproliferation to trade to human rights.
FP: As you well know, the Clinton administration often referred to China as a strategic partner, whereas the Bush administration calls it a strategic competitor. Who’s right?
TP: As a good diplomat, I of course believe the answer lies somewhere in between. It’s important to look at relations with countries like Russia, China, and the European Union as a whole. With the end of the Cold War, we’re beyond the point where our relationships with very important countries, partners, allies, friends, and maybe competitors can be defined in terms of one-issue politics. So I would hope that we have seen the final death of linkage. When threatened but never imposed, it may help resolve some problems. But once imposed, linkage means that every other issue between us and China or us and Russia should be subordinate to issue X, whatever that might be — nonproliferation, human rights. It means in effect that you are losing the opportunity of multiple pressures on multiple points to achieve a series of changes over a period of time.
FP: Relatively speaking, do you think the United States has more or less freedom to exercise its power than it did a decade ago?
TP: [Chuckles] I think now we have probably as much or more power on the world stage than we’ve ever had. We are unrivaled militarily, we are unrivaled economically. At the same time, there are a broad set of countervailing considerations. We are, in the eyes of many, the hegemon. Our friends in Russia and China are strong advocates of multipolarity, which is a code name for finding ways to constrain the United States. Moreover, there is clearly not an appetite on the part of the United States to become militarily involved in many places around the world. Just look at the struggle over peacekeeping deployments in Africa, for example; or over our commitments in Bosnia and Kosovo, where we have troops on the ground; or the congressional attitude toward budgets for foreign affairs and foreign assistance. There is strong domestic resistance to active international involvement, even with us at the peak of our power. Perhaps compared to 10 years ago, at the time of the Gulf War or shortly thereafter, we now face more restraints. But at the same time, we probably have an even more significant global edge in terms of pure strategic power.
FP: Do you think that today’s network of multilateral institutions, such as the United Nations and International Monetary Fund, constrains American power or leverages it?
TP: The projection of American power is different than the projection of American interests. These organizations help because we share the bulk, if not the totality, of their interests. They don’t really hinder us in the exercise of power, because they are basically nonmilitary. One exception, of course, is the U.N. Security Council, which I think plays from time to time a difficult and unhappy role in addressing humanitarian tragedies. As long as you have one or two parties whose general view is that no humanitarian intervention is justified under any circumstances, then in these situations the Security Council will remain an imperfect instrument.
FP: When was the first time as a diplomat you realized that nongovernmental organizations (NGOs) were going to change your profession?
TP: In the early 1960s, I spent about three years working on disarmament issues, just as the Pugwash movement, a series of international meetings that brought together scientists and scholars to temper the arms race, was beginning to gather steam. Then, when I was in East Africa from 1965 to 1969, I saw a lot of NGOs become seriously involved in foreign aid and development. But I didn’t really get a whiff of their strength until I came back from Jordan in 1978 and then Secretary of State Cyrus Vance asked me to take over the Bureau of Oceans, and International Environmental, and Scientific Affairs, with which I had frightfully little acquaintance. I very quickly realized that my universe of issues was heavily influenced, if not dominated, by nongovernmental organizations — from whales to nuclear power and everything in between, including population and the development of better science relationships all around the world. And I think the most bring-it-home-to-you factor for me was when one congressman decided that he wanted to cut my budget in half. I didn’t get much support from the State Department congressional relations staff. But I was able to mobilize a whole group of NGOs that, while they spent most of their time beating up on me, suddenly realized I was the only beating-up point they had left in the State Department. [Chuckling] And so they helped me save my budget.
FP: What’s your assessment of NGOs as a force today?
TP: NGOs are here to stay. There are two or three lessons about NGOs that people are only now starting to take into account. One is that NGOs have both the weaknesses and strengths of single-issue organizations. They do not have the responsibility that the government has to look at all the issues of concern to people, to put those issues clearly before the public, and to make tough choices. No self-respecting NGO is ready to admit that the government does everything that it advocates. The NGO’s reason for existence tends to be diminished, if not eliminated, if that’s the case. NGOs always would like to push the government to do more. But second, they’re a huge and important force on government. In many issues of American policy, from human rights to the environment, NGOs are in fact the driving force, particularly in the international arena. The third lesson I would draw here is that governments don’t do a good job, generally, in dealing with NGOs — American diplomats in particular. We need more education. We need more association. We need more expertise. Many years ago the State Department developed an arm of its bureaucracy to deal with the Congress; maybe now we need an NGO arm.
BUSH II VERSUS CLINTON
FP: Dominique Moïsi, deputy director of the French Institute for International Relations, commenting about the first 100 days of President Bush’s administration, said that with the exception of the president, the Bush foreign-policy team is much better than Clinton’s. What do you think of that? With which part of that statement do you disagree —
FP: — that the team is not that good, or that the president is not that good?
TP: Some choice. Let me say this. After one test, the China aircraft collision crisis, and after a couple of sets of issues — some very good and some not very good —
FP: What are the not so good ones?
TP: Well, the not so good include the discordant noises from the administration about the future of Korean peninsula policy, which I hope will get straightened out. It’s a very important part of the world that is a strategic interest of the United States. South Korea’s President Kim Dae Jung has opened the door to the potential for serious agreements that I think have a real contribution to make to stability in that area. But it’s too early to make any conclusions about the foreign-policy team. There are three or four people confirmed in the State Department out of another 60 to go. Secondly, as I said, the president has been tested once. That’s important and obviously I think he came through very well in that test, but I don’t think that —
FP: Your point was that Clinton was so much better —
TP: Clinton was so much better? I think Bush needs an opportunity obviously to make his mark. I don’t think he did so badly up until now on the one crisis, obviously that was the real test.
FP: How much credence do you give to comments that portray President Bush as ill-suited to and not really knowledgeable about foreign affairs?
TP: I accept the fact, and I think he does, that he didn’t arrive in office as a foreign-policy wonk. But I don’t think that that means he cannot learn. I don’t think it means that a president has to be the desk officer for every situation in the world, as we all know. President Reagan was not a guru. He chose good people, and some argued that those people made strong and useful suggestions to him, which he accepted. Presidents are allowed 100 days to learn, and maybe a little more time to get their advisors into place and to get things done. So I would be charitable rather than harsh about this.
FP: In what areas of U.S. foreign policy should the world expect change, and in what areas should the world expect more of the same?
TP: That’s a very hard question. At the moment, we have seen the potential for discontinuity in policies toward China and Russia. I also think there is the potential for problems with Europe, but not nearly so much as with the other two regions. Witness the European reaction to the Bush administration’s withdrawal from the Kyoto negotiations on climate change. I’ve always felt that the realities of any given issue for successive American governments are much more important than the ideological constructs with which they come to power. And that each administration has two or three major opportunities to make significant change — Jimmy Carter on human rights, for example. But I tend to think that in general, administration in and administration out, if you were to evaluate it two or three years after the beginning of an administration, you would find 90 percent continuity and 10 percent discontinuity.
FP: The other related question is what should countries bear in mind in dealing with the United States?
TP: I think that a good understanding of the interests of the United States in any particular case is extremely helpful. And I think a policy premised on the idea that the only appropriate decision for a foreign state is to oppose the United States regardless of its own interests — which seems to be a more prevalent syndrome these days — is not the right approach.
FP: Give us an example.
TP: We always worry about the French approach to policy. Over a period of time, many of us who have always admired the French and thought that they had a tremendously important role to play in the world community have come to wonder whether to be discouraged about where they are actually heading. Their whole approach to the European security and defense initiative in the beginning seemed to bear hallmarks of some of their approach on the Balkans. Certainly their approach on Iraq seemed to bear hallmarks of this — that if it’s something the United States espoused maybe they should go back, review it, and take the opposite point of view.
FP: Anti-Americanism is not new. You have experienced it in El Salvador, Israel, and in almost all of your postings. But do you think that it has taken on a new form?
TP: We saw a great deal worse during the Cold War. We had a tendency to believe that anti-Americanism was articulated by our enemies rather than out of popular feeling. I think it’s easier now to conclude that there is a popular basis for anti-Americanism, much of it informed by the remnants of the radical left. I don’t see this as an existential set of concerns. I see a conjunction between anti-Americanism and what I would call antiglobalization, which subsumes many theses of the past, some of them eminently defensible — the defense of the poor, the struggle to deal with disease and poverty. All of those sentiments have taken new manifestations and found new targets, intermediate targets: large corporations, patent protection. But the situation isn’t out of control, though I think the anti–World Trade Organization protests in Seattle were a warning flag.
FP: Let me get some more free advice from you for countries that don’t show up prominently on the radar screen of the United States government. Can’t they get away with just about anything if they get themselves good lobbyists, perhaps some former high-ranking diplomats?
TP: The best lobbyists in the world will not get you very far if you do not have an understanding of "the situation in Washington" and where the U.S. government is headed on a particular set of questions.
FP: Wouldn’t the lobbyists provide that?
TP: Perhaps, sure. I think even better is a good ambassador. I’ve seen extremely good ambassadors from relatively small countries here in Washington do some amazing things.
FP: Give me an example.
TP: I — Let me be a little careful because I don’t want —
FP: You’re never a little bit careful. You’re always very careful.
TP: [Laughs] I worked very closely in the last administration on a particularly difficult country that had an absolutely superb ambassador here.
FP: You mean Ambassador Moreno of Colombia.
TP: Yes. And he’s a good example of how a careful, well-qualified, intelligent, and willing-to-put-himself-out guy who’s well-equipped can do an enormous amount with the administration, with the Congress, and with the media.
FP: Let’s talk briefly about Plan Colombia, another area where you were instrumental in shaping policy. Can the war on drugs be won?
TP: Obviously, you can’t eliminate drugs from the face of the earth. But you can create circumstances and conditions in both the United States and Colombia that minimize drug use and its impact on people, particularly the younger generation. Efforts to reduce domestic demand in the United States over the last eight years have produced some real reductions in cocaine use. It’s obviously important to reduce demand. But you can’t reduce demand if supply is very cheap and pushing its way into all corners of the country.
FP: But basically you think this war can be won?
TP: Yes, if you define winning the way that I have: a remarkable reduction in demand and insulating the bulk of your people from this affliction.
FP: You have also worked with many secretaries of state. Which one do you think is the most underappreciated?
TP: Hmm. Fascinating.
FP: [Laughing] I can almost hear the machinery in your brain calculating the ramifications of your answer.
TP: I’ll tell you —
FP: Remember you’re no longer in government.
TP: Oh, no, that’s fine. But I, you know, I still have to live in a society.
FP: Go ahead.
TP: Let me say that in terms of underappreciation, it may seem strange if I say it, but perhaps George Shultz. I don’t agree with everything he says now. I agreed with most of what he did and wanted to do when I worked for him.
FP: Who was the most ill-prepared secretary of state?
TP: [Laughs] That’s a very hard question. [Long pause] Um, I really — it’s a close-run kind of thing. Some of them were superbly prepared. I’m just trying to think back over the universe of people. Perhaps Nixon’s Secretary of State Bill Rogers. Although I later worked with him and appreciated the fact that he had developed a large amount of confidence, he’d had less foreign-affairs experience in my recollection when he came in than most of the others.
FP: Give us a moment that you will always remember. Picture yourself 89 years old, thinking back on your career. Give us a snapshot from your heart; some moments you feel made life worth living.
TP: Well, there were three or four, some good and some bad. Moments when I wouldn’t have traded places with anybody else despite the fact that there were difficult things going on. That was certainly October 3, 1993, in Moscow when the mob moved on the White House and a pitched battle ensued. It went on all night. I was first at home and then in the embassy, which had been first surrounded by protecting forces and then really left inside the perimeter of the White House. We were talking with some of the people on the other side, but the outcome was really quite uncertain. I think another gratifying moment was the 6 a.m. passage of the first resolution against Iraq.
FP: In the United Nations.
TP: Yeah. Where we had most, if not all, of the members of the Security Council for Resolution 660. The others were the passage — where I was present, as I said — of the resolution authorizing the use of force and in the passage of the resolution at the end of the war; setting the framework for the relationships with Iraq. In El Salvador, there were many interesting days. Certainly the Bush visit I referred to earlier was a very important turning point. The election of José Napoleón Duarte as president was an important day.
BOEING, BOEING, GONE
FP: In diplomatic terms, you have just about done it all. You are now senior vice president for international relations for Boeing. What was the appeal to you of this job?
TP: Boeing came to me and said, "We think that we can do a better job as a global company, and we’d like to have you come and work with us." I must say I knew very little about a global company, but I knew a lot about the globe and a lot about international relations. It looked like a very interesting challenge. So I’ve been focusing on how Boeing can structure itself in a way that is more conducive to success overseas — it has three very large business units that are working overseas — how it can better coordinate those efforts, and how it can develop its own business contacts, more country knowledge, and more ability both on the sales side and on the development side of new business.
FP: Back in 1952, Charles Wilson of General Motors famously told the Senate Armed Services Committee that what is good for the country is good for General Motors, and what’s good for General Motors is good for the country. Today, people say that "national corporations" are a thing of the past. To what degree are Boeing’s interests synonymous with U.S. interests?
TP: Boeing is a great company. It’s still our largest exporter and derives a great deal of income and a great deal of its business activity outside the borders of the United States. Obviously, it shares a deep interest in what’s going on around the world: things like stability; the economic development of other countries; open trading relationships; and level playing fields in trade. These kinds of things are obviously very much in the interests of both the United States and Boeing. Given the impact of globalization, we also share many of these interests with a large number of countries and governments overseas.
FP: Boeing’s archrival is Airbus. In the mid-1990s, the National Security Agency discovered that agents for Airbus apparently bribed Saudi officials in an effort to win a $6 billion contract. President Clinton personally called King Fahd and informed him of the bribes, after which the Saudis awarded the contract to Boeing and McDonnell Douglas. France complained that the U.S. used its sophisticated intelligence-gathering capability to tilt the scales unfairly in Boeing’s favor, while U.S. officials maintain that all they did was level the playing field. What do you think is the appropriate role of a state’s intelligence apparatus in international commerce?
TP: My belief is that a state’s intelligence apparatus exists to serve the interests of the state in the best of all possible worlds, and that the interests in the United States have always been defined as the interests of the U.S. government. We have not used or tried to use intelligence apparatuses to support interests or activities outside the United States government’s interests. In this particular case, and I won’t comment on the details because I just don’t know, I must have been in Russia at the time that this happened — um, the use of bribery as a form of international business activity is something that not only is against the law in the United States but is against American policy and against treaties we have negotiated within the OECD. And so leveling the playing field in that particular activity is a U.S. government interest whether it benefits Boeing or Weyerhaeuser or Alcoa or anybody else.
FP: And as you well know, another area where the playing field is not level is subsidies. Boeing has a grievance against Airbus concerning European government subsidies for the development of new products. And Airbus says that Boeing also has subsidies that are derived from its military contracts with the U.S. armed forces. How should one look at this issue?
TP: We believe that the 1994 agreement negotiated by then U.S. Trade Representative Mickey Kantor putting an end to subsidies for wide-bodied aircraft is the appropriate direction for the future. The idea that contracts for military aircraft or space equipment constitute a government subsidy is a little harder for me to fathom. Airbus, by the way, is now part of a very large European consortium that has its own military and space components. So I think the European Union and the United States share a common interest in working out these difficulties as soon as possible. The European Union has apparently reported to the U.S. government — it’s a confidential report, so we haven’t seen it — on the nature of the loan arrangements to build the A-380, the world’s largest plane to date. And we hope the U.S. government will study that with great care and come to its own conclusions. And if it believes there are subsidies — we certainly believe there is evidence that there are subsidies — we hope the U.S. government will work to level the playing field again in that area.
FP: Opponents of trade with China have criticized Boeing for pursuing profits at the expense of human rights. Congressman Frank Wolf (R-Va.) once said, "Do you think. . . the head of Boeing has done anything with regard to the evangelical house church leaders that have been arrested? Do you think that Boeing has done anything with regard to the Catholic priest who went to jail for publishing the Bible? You all probably know that Boeing has not done anything." Has Boeing done anything?
TP: Boeing’s role as a company in the United States is to make its views known to the U.S. government. I can assure you that Boeing does not support persecution of people on the basis of religious faith. The U.S. government’s role — on behalf of Boeing and all corporations, labor unions, and NGOs in the United States — is to bring these particular points home to the Chinese, whether regarding the persecution of Falun Gong or restrictions on the Catholic Church. For individual companies to represent the United States obviously is inappropriate when the U.S. government is adequately representing itself on these issues.
FP: So do you think private corporations should be intervening on issues that have nothing to do with their actual operations?
TP: I think there are serious questions about that. I have to say that in some cases where corporations have chosen in specific ways to support the U.S. government — the Sullivan principles against apartheid, for example, which advocate social and economic equality — there was value in what they were doing in those areas. I’m not sure that you can draw bright lines in every case on this set of issues. What I’m saying is that in the China case, I believe that the U.S. government has the major role that we all ought to support.
FP: That brings up the issue of sanctions and other tools used by the U.S. government to deal with countries that "misbehave." The general perception is that those tools — sanctions, certifications, and other types of measures — are fading out, are going out of fashion. Is that correct?
TP: When I came back from Moscow and joined Madeleine Albright as undersecretary of state for political affairs, there were 100 pending sanction bills in Congress. And it was seemingly true that the Congress had only one remedy for every international ill, which was to pass sanctions. Secretary Albright asked Stuart Eizenstat, who was then undersecretary for economic affairs, to take a careful look at it. In his usual thorough and exemplary way, Stu made a very careful review and in effect set out some criteria for sanctions. Over time, he and others among us talked to Congress about consequences of sanctions that were often more deleterious to U.S. businesses, some in their own districts, than they were effective in influencing foreign countries. So standards were created: Is the sanction likely to achieve its objective? Is it likely to become multilateral rather than purely unilateral, thus bringing greater weight to bear on the country whose views we want to change? Is it likely to do more harm to the United States than to the target country? Sanctions grew less and less popular as a result of this effort. Some of the champions of sanctions also retired or left Congress, but that’s not the only reason.
FP: In December 2000, Boeing won an extended contract worth $13 billion through 2007 to construct the communications architecture for America’s national missile defense system. Do you think this program will contribute to another arms race?
TP: I don’t, in large measure because I don’t think there is now an appetite to compete in a defensive arms race. The likely participants in an arms race at the moment — Russia and China — are not well equipped financially to do it, and it is a good time simultaneously to get agreements on low levels of offensive armaments.
FP: And how much do you think Bush’s pursuit of missile defense will damage U.S. relations with Russia, China, and Europe?
TP: I think that in each of these cases it’s a little different. I think he’s prepared the ground quite well in Europe and quite well in Russia. Interestingly enough, President Putin’s earlier proposal for a European-Russian missile defense system accepts at least the basic theses that seem to guide the Bush assessment on this: that there is a threat, that something can be done about the threat, and that the Anti-Ballistic Missile treaty should not be a perpetual barrier to the threat. With China, I think it’s more difficult. Fifteen years ago, China began to develop a road-mobile missile with a longer range. And it apparently has a follow-on version with an even longer range. So China realized some time ago either the inadequacy of its present intercontinental force and/or the potential for a missile defense to come along. And as you know, the Bush administration has said that they’re not interested in creating something that will in effect reduce the effectiveness of deterrence between the United States and China.
FP: How do you respond to charges that national missile defense is simply corporate welfare for defense industry behemoths such as Boeing?
TP: I think that missile defense is an extremely important issue; that the debate will continue for a significant period of time; and that it requires the full cooperation of the Congress and the president both to decide and to convince the public about the threat, about the defense system, and about the approval of large amounts of money that are to be spent. Nowhere do I see a role in this process for corporations, except to respond when the Defense Department asks for proposals to provide hardware, technology, architecture, and so on.
FP: Yes, but surely you would not disagree that it offers very profitable growth opportunities for companies like Boeing. National missile defense is good news for Boeing.
TP: Well, I think that — let me put it this way: If, in fact, the government of this country, including the legislative branch, decides that in order to protect the people of the United States they have to build a certain kind of military system or systems and that Boeing or somebody else is best equipped to bid on and get the contract on that particular issue, then it’ll be like all other military contracts. The United States government is not an eleemosynary institution that invents projects in order to make companies fat. Quite the contrary. It’s a tough and very difficult boss to work for. They get value for their money.
FP: Was it a big surprise to you to discover that such a global corporation as Boeing did not have its own international —
TP: I assumed that it did and I was surprised that it didn’t, but I was pleased that they wanted to [Laughs]. One of the things you could have defined that’s dramatically changed both the nature of diplomacy and international contacts, as well as the whole world from NGOs to companies to other organizations is in fact globalization —
FP: But you know, some people say it is just a passing fad.
TP: I think not. I think that that computer on my desk symbolizes the change. I don’t think we’re going to disinvent the computer, and I don’t think we’re going to remove it.
FP: But on balance, do you think that until now globalization has been a beneficial new trend?
TP: I’m tempted to say that for those sectors of the world community that can participate, yes. The really difficult and critical issue is the exclusion of huge sectors of the world community — that is, groups like teachers and students in primary and secondary schools in thousands of villages in India and China. We haven’t even begun to think about the shifts that are going to take place in those traditional societies. There are 800 million people in rural areas in China and almost an equal number in India. I met yesterday with a Chinese state planner who said their main problem is to find 40 million jobs for the 100 million people who are moving into their cities or being born there.
FP: But if somebody would tell you that the 1990s were the decade of global integration driven by high hopes in economics, markets, and technologies, and that 2000 to 2010 is the decade of politics, in which politics and the May Day demonstrations and Seattle and —
TP: I think they will go ahead in tandem. And I think that international leadership will determine to what degree the politics destroys the machine or the machine in effect overcomes the politics.
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