Address to the Council on Foreign Relations, October 21, 1999

Office of the Press Secretary

For Immediate Release October 21, 1999


OCTOBER 21, 1999

We end this century at a unique moment for America, when our power andprosperity are greater than at any time in our history, unrivaled by anyother nation. Our leadership has never been more needed, or more indemand. And so it is perplexing that America finds itself today beingaccused of both hegemony and isolationism at the same time.

I want to talk about that this evening - American power and how it isboth perceived and used.

The contours of our power are beyond dispute. Our military expendituresnow are larger than those of all other countries combined; our weaponryis a generation ahead of our nearest potential rival. Our militarytechnology is so dominant that serious people actually lamented that wedid not have enough casualties in the Kosovo conflict.

Because we are the only nation on earth able to project power in everyregion on earth, others look to us to deliver decisive influence whereit is needed, whether that means maintaining security in Korea, helpingnegotiate an agreement between Peru and Ecuador, overcoming differencesin Northern Ireland, invigorating implementation of the Dayton Accords,convincing Indonesia's military to accept peacekeepers to East Timor, orseeking peace between Ethiopia and Eritrea.

Our economy not only brings unprecedented prosperity to Americans; itthe engine of global growth and technological change. Americans ownmore than half the world's computers. We are home to the world's eightbiggest high-tech companies. Remarkably, in 1995, more than half ofall the royalties and licensing fees in the world were paid toAmericans. We may be the first society in human history where childrenhave no idea what they will grow up to be - because it hasn't beeninvented yet.

Then there is the realm of culture and values. Our movies, music andmedia are everywhere, irritating some, delighting many more. The posterI saw most often walking through the dorms of Beijing University lastyear was not Mao or Deng but Michael Jordan.

More important, the ideas the world associates with us have beenascendant since communism collapsed. The financial crisis of 1998,particularly in Asia, only reinforced the lessons we've stressed since1989 - that open markets work better in open societies and that freedomis a universal aspiration.

These trends have, to say the least, been noticed overseas. Throughoutthe world, our success inspires a mix of wonder and worry. In America,too, it produces contradictory reactions.

Most Americans understand that we are fortunate to be in a position ofleadership, and that to maintain it we must continue to lead. Theirpride in our achievements makes them not triumphant but confident in ourability to shape, with others, a better world. But there are those inour country who do not look to the world - or our ability to thrivewithin it -- with confidence. In fact, they are distinctly defeatist.America may be at the height of its power and prosperity, yet they seeAmerica in constant peril of losing our freedom of action.

It's not the majority view. There are leaders in both political partieswho reject it. But we must face the reality that it no longer is afringe view. In fact, it is the view of a dominant minority in theCongress.

Think of it: Nearly every other country in the world supports thenuclear Test Ban Treaty, even though they realize it has the effect oflocking in America's superiority in nuclear weapons. Yet there werethose who said on the floor of the U.S. Senate that the Treatyrepresented "unilateral disarmament" for the United States. Everymember of the United Nations can see we can veto any UN action weoppose, and still act alone when the UN lacks consensus. Yet there arepoliticians in our country who say the UN threatens our sovereignty anddictates our policy. Developing countries are reluctant to reduce theirgreenhouse gas emissions because they worry that their growth will slow,whereas they can see that America has the technology to keep racingahead. Yet our Congress is reluctant to support the Climate ChangeTreaty because it fears our economy - the world's technological leader-- cannot embrace technological change.

There is a wide disconnect today between how others see America'sstrength and how some people in our country see it. I want to look atboth sides of that equation today. I'll begin with the view from beyondour shores. Then, I want to talk about the view at home.

Among our many friends and allies around the world, the dominant visionof America still is one of a country whose leadership is essential topeace and prosperity and which exercises leadership for the greatergood. Europeans still seek our troops on their soil, criticize us whenwe don't assert ourselves, and have worked to sustain our alliance longafter its original reason for being has vanished. The same is true inAsia, where some of the biggest critics of our culture, such asSingapore and Malaysia, are some of the biggest backers of our securitypresence.

It is quite an experience travelling around the world with the Presidentof the United States. America is still special for most people in theworld - a symbol of hope and resolve for those struggling to be free, tobe at peace, or simply to have their voices heard. If you were to askJose Ramos Horta of East Timor what role America plays in the world; orJohn Hume of Northern Ireland, or Aung San Suu Kyi of Burma, or anyKosovar refugee, central European democrat, Israeli or Palestiniancampaigner for peace, you would get one answer: America has and mustcontinue to lead. If we disappoint, it's usually not from doing toomuch, but too little.

And yet, there is another image of America abroad -- of a country thatis unilateralist and too powerful. We see that in the view expressed bythe French, as only they can, that we are not merely a superpower, but a"hyperpower." We see it in the European reaction to Kosovo: relief weprevailed, but also angst over the necessarily disproportionate roleAmerica played, and among some the quest for a security identitydetached from NATO. We see it in Russia's and China's reactions toKosovo - in their fear that what we saw as a legitimate, multilateraldefense of common interests and values was in fact the start of acrusade to contain their power and impose our will on the world. We seeit in the dismay among our friends and allies that we do not live up tomany of our international obligations, even as we demand that others do.

The perception persists among some that the United States has become ahectoring hegemon. And since perceptions do matter, this is a problemwe must do what we can to resolve. Let's begin by understanding thevarious strands of the criticism we face.

At one extreme, we are accused of trying to dominate others, of seeingthe world in zero sum terms in which any other country's gain must beour loss. But that is an utterly mistaken view. It's not just becausewe are the first global power in history that is not an imperial power.It's because for 50 years, we have consciously tried to define andpursue our interests in a way that is consistent with the common good -rising prosperity, expanding freedom, collective security.

Consider our economic policies. In the last few years, we have grownour economy and fought for open markets, here and abroad. Our exportshave supported the creation of 1.3 million U.S. jobs. But the impact onthe world also has been remarkable. Through the Asian financial crisis,the President quite deliberately undertook to keep our markets open,knowing our trade deficit would increase substantially. As a result, wemade a bigger contribution than any other country toward easing thecrisis and lifting its victims from poverty. Korea, for example, hasgone from negative to positive growth in the last year, helped by a $31billion swing in its trade balance. Trade with the United Statesaccounted for 40 percent of that swing. And last year, Americanconsumers and businesses accounted for almost half the growth in worldGDP.

Think about our support for political freedom. Some people say that'sforcing our values on the world. But when we promote democracy, we arepromoting a system of government that allows the people of other nationsto choose their own destiny according to their own values andaspirations. Ask the people of Poland and South Africa and thePhilippines and they'll tell you: Dictatorship was imposed on them.Democracy was their choice.

Then there is a second kind of criticism that really reflects visceralreactions to our culture and status. I'm afraid that simply comes withthe territory we momentarily and gratefully enjoy. For example, thereis the slightly confused attitude of Europeans who flock to fast foodoutlets and then complain about the threat of "McDomination" to their"culinary sovereignty" - and of Asians who decry the superficialmaterialism of American culture but then compete to build the biggestskyscrapers. There is not much we can do about this except exercise afair measure of humility and, as our Declaration of Independence says, a"decent respect for the opinions of mankind."

A third kind of criticism reflects disagreements about policy andresentment over the manner in which we pursue what we consider to belegitimate goals. For example, many countries react to our proclivityto pass judgment on their performance on everything from religiousfreedom to drug control, and about our imposition of sanctions onforeign companies doing business with countries that earn ouropprobrium. In these areas, there is room for debate about the properbalance between isolating bad actors in the world and isolatingourselves.

Finally, from the outside looking in, there is a criticism that Ibelieve is entirely well founded. It is inspired not by what weallegedly do to the world, but by what we fail to do with the world. Itis an attack not on our wealth and power, but on the fact that despiteour wealth and power, we do not pay our arrears to the UN and thedevelopment banks, or devote a higher percentage of our GDP to thereduction of global poverty, or give our President the authority tonegotiate new trade agreements, or ratify the treaties we urge others toadopt. It views America as a country that demands of others what itwill not give of itself.

And that critique brings me back to the first half of the equation Iraised earlier - to our view as Americans of our own power. Theinternationalist consensus that has prevailed in this country for morethan 50 years increasingly is being challenged by a new isolationism,heard and felt particularly in the Congress. The great irony today isthat we owe our reputation for trying to dominate the world in no smallmeasure to a group of people who are intent on disregarding the world.

It's tempting to say that the isolationist right in the Congress has noforeign policy, that it is driven only by partisanship. But thatunderestimates it. I believe there is a coherence to its convictions, avision of America's role in the world. Let me tell you what I thinkthey are, in simple terms:

First: Any treaty others embrace, we won't join. The new isolationistsare convinced that treaties - pretty much all treaties -- are a threatto our sovereignty and continued superiority. That's what they sayabout the Test Ban - though it requires nothing more of us than we'vealready undertaken to do ourselves, though it so clearly locks in ourstrategic advantage. They think there is no point in trying to raisestandards of international behavior, because rules can be violated,because perfect verification is impossible, because other countriescan't be counted on to keep their word. Never mind that the alternativeis a world with no rules, no verification, and no constraints at all.

We have a different vision - and by "we" I mean the ClintonAdministration, members of Congress of both parties and countless otherswho want to preserve America's tradition of leadership.

We agree it would be foolish to rely on arms control treaties alone toprotect our security. But it would be equally foolish to throw away thetools good treaties offer: the restraint and deterrence that comes fromglobal rules with global backing, the ability to shine a light onthreatening behavior through inspections and to mobilize the whole worldagainst it.

The second plank of the new isolationism is this: Burden sharing is aone way street. For example, its proponents rightly insist thatEuropeans fund the lion's share of reconstructing the Balkans, becausewe carried the heaviest burden of the conflict. But then they balk atdoing our part. They oppose American involvement in Africa's tragicwars, but refuse to help fund the efforts of others, like Nigeria, whenthey take responsibility to act. And when it comes to paying America'spart of the cost of UN peacekeeping missions, they're not interested,even if it is to uphold a peace we helped to forge. This year, Congresshas cut our request for peacekeeping by more than half.

We believe that is dangerous and wrong. Unless we want to be theworld's policeman, we must support the institutions and arrangementsthrough which we share the responsibilities of leadership. That's whywe've maintained our commitment to a revitalized NATO, while urging ourallies to take on new responsibilities, with the capabilities to match.It is why we have aided Asian nations as they step up to the challengeof stopping the violence in East Timor. It is why we have helped tolaunch the African Crisis Response Initiative to train African forcesfor peacekeeping. And it is why all Americans, whether they areinternationalists or those who wish to limit our involvement, shouldagree it is utterly self-defeating to fail to pay our dues and debts tothe UN.

The third thesis of the new isolationism: If it's over there, it's notour fight. Foreign wars may hurt our conscience, but not ourinterests, and we should let them take their course. That is what manysaid about the war in Bosnia - let it go on until they get tired ofkilling themselves. A part of the Congress would have let the brutalonslaught in Kosovo rage until it spread.

Let me be clear: America cannot do everything or be everywhere. But wealso cannot afford to do nothing, and be nowhere. The new isolationismof 1999 fails to understand precisely what the old isolationism of 60years ago failed to understand - that local conflicts can have globalconsequences. In an era of worldwide communication, we cannot choosenot to see; we can only choose not to act. Sometimes that's right. Butnot acting must be a conclusion, not a conviction. We have learned thehard way that when the spread of conflict threatens our interests andour values, often the only realistic choice we have is between actingsooner and acting later.

The fourth plank of the new isolationism: We can't be a great countrywithout a great adversary. Since the Cold War ended, the proponents ofthis vision have been nostalgic for the good old days when friends werefriends and enemies were enemies. We've seen lately how easilyRusso-phobia can be revived. But for the role of new enemy number one,China is most popular with some, with its growing economy, its nuclearprogram, its missiles aimed at Taiwan.

We should not look at China through rose colored glasses; neither shouldwe see it through a glass darkly, distorting its strength and ignoringits complexities. Here is the China we see: A country that has liftedtens of millions of its citizens from poverty and expanded personalfreedoms, but whose progress is constrained by its resistance to thepolitical reforms necessary for its long-term growth and stability. Acountry that could, if it chose, pour much more of its wealth intomilitary might and try to dominate its region, but which has not yetdecisively made that choice. Our interest lies in protecting oursecurity while encouraging China to make the right choices. We can onlydo that if we continue a policy of principled, purposeful engagementwith its leaders and people.

The final plank of the new isolationism is: Billions for defense buthardly a penny for prevention. The President this week vetoed theForeign Operations Bill, the vehicle for much of our internationalresources. It was about 40% below what America spent on internationalengagement in 1985, despite the fact that the world has become more, notless, complex; it is $2 billion below what the President requested. Itdoes not fund our request for a vitally needed expansion in the effortto safeguard nuclear technology and expertise in the former SovietUnion, increasing the likelihood that deadly weapons will fall intodangerous hands. It does not fund our initiative to help relieve thedebts of impoverished countries that are finally embracing freedom,increasing the likelihood of humanitarian crises that will causeinstability and conflict. Astonishingly, it does not fund thecommitments to the Middle East peace process growing out of the WyeAccords. Meanwhile, the Congress is trying to add $5 billion to thedefense budget this year for projects our military says it doesn't need.

The President firmly believes America must have the strongest, besttrained, best equipped military in the world, and has requested thefirst sustained increase in military spending in a decade. But he hasalso argued that if we underfund our diplomacy, we're going to end upoverusing our military - which happens to be precisely the outcome thesecritics say they want to avoid. Those who fear that our military maybecome overextended should make it their first order of business torestore decent levels of funding to the programs that keep our soldiersout of war.

The outlines of this debate are, I believe, quite clear. The ClintonAdministration believes we must use all the tools of our leadership tomaintain our strength. The new isolationists would have us rely solelyon our military defenses to protect our security. For example, to us, amissile defense is part of a sound national security strategy. To them,missile defense is the strategy.

In effect, they believe in a survivalist foreign policy - build afortified fence around America, and retreat behind it. And if othernations complain that we're abdicating our responsibilities - or if theystart abdicating their own -- let them, because we are stronger andricher than they are. As the President said last week, that is a recipefor a "bleak, poor, less secure world."

The outcome of this debate about our role - between leading the worldand hunkering down -- is hardly academic. The Test Ban vote and thedevastating cuts to our foreign affairs budget make clear that our mostfundamental interests are at stake. I believe those interests areclear.

America must continue to be a peacemaker. That means seizing thehistoric chance in the coming year for a comprehensive settlement in theMiddle East, securing the peace in Kosovo, promoting stability in SouthAsia and reconciliation in Northern Ireland and Cyprus.

We must keep working to integrate Russia and China into the globalsystem as open, prosperous, and stable societies. That means, in thecoming year, helping Russia stabilize its economy as it conducts itsfirst ever democratic transfer of power. It means bringing China intothe WTO on acceptable terms, while speaking plainly about the need forpolitical change.

We must continue the struggle to stop the spread of nuclear, chemicaland biological weapons, and to be especially vigilant whereproliferation intersects with the threat of terrorism. That meansworking in the coming year with Russia to pursue deeper arms reductions,to keep weapons secure at the source, to restrain North Korea's missileprogram, to contain Iraq, and yes, to build a consensus for eventuallyratifying the Test Ban Treaty.

We must keep building an open global economy that sustains ourprosperity while leaving no one behind. That means working at the WTOMinisterial next month to launch a new global trade round, pushing fordebt relief, and for higher standards on labor rights and theenvironment.

And we must keep America as a force for freedom in the world. Thatmeans working in the coming year to support the fragile transitions todemocracy in Nigeria, Indonesia, and Ukraine.

Above all, America must remain a builder of coalitions, remembering thatfew of our hopes for the future will be realized if we cannot convinceothers to embrace them as well.

We must remember that there is a difference between power and authority.Power is the ability to compel by force and sanctions; there are timeswe must do so, but as a final, not a first, resort. Authority is theability to lead, and we depend on it for virtually everything we try toachieve Our authority is built on very different qualities than ourpower: on the attractiveness of our values, on the force of ourexample, on the credibility of our commitments and on our willingness towork with and stand by others

History teaches us that this moment of preeminence for America may befleeting. Common sense tells us it won't be self-sustaining. That maybe hard for many people to imagine, in part because there is no realthreat to our power in the world today. But there is a very real threatto our authority. It lies in the impulse to withdraw from the world ina way that would squander our advantages, alienate our friends, diminishour credibility, betray our values, and discredit our example. Wecannot let that happen. Every chapter in American history of whichwe're proud was written by people who refused to let that happen.

The Senate vote on the Test Ban Treaty was a cloud, but there is asilver lining. The stakes of our engagement in the world have been madeclear. The lines have been drawn. And an old debate has begun anew. Ihave no doubt how it will end. The American people will choose as theyhave chosen so many times before: to keep America engaged in a way thatwill benefit our people and all people. That is a goal for which thisPresident and his Administration will work every single remaining day ofour term, a goal for which I solicit your active support today.

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National Security Advisor at Stanford University

Brookings Africa Forum Luncheon - May 1993

Council on Foreign Relations

10th Anniversary of the Center for Democracy

Fletcher School of Law and Diplomacy

Foreign Policy Agenda for the 2nd Term

Chicago Council of Foreign Relations

Meeting New Security Challenges

The Road Forward in Bosnia

Great Lakes Naval Training Center

Insitute for the Study of Diplomacy

U.S. - Russian Business Council

Bosnia After Dayton

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1996 American Jewish Committee

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U.S. Institute for Peace, September 30, 1999

The Middle East on the Eve of The Millennium, October 20, 1999

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