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    From the Cold War
    to the Year 2000

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HE BERLIN WALL FELL IN 1989, and in 1991 the Soviet Union simply broke apart, much as George Kennan had expected would happen if the West could hold firm to a policy of containment. The United States breathed a sigh of relief, and, once the Gulf War was over, turned its attention to domestic problems. Politicians debated how best to apply the budget savings of disarmament, which were termed the “peace dividend”: on health? education? the budget deficit? tax reduction?

Most American forces overseas in Europe and Asia were brought home. The defense budget was reduced by a third in a few years’ time. Unfortunately, appropriations for the conduct of foreign relations were cut even more. Between the height of the Cold War in the mid-1980’s and 1995 , there was a reduction of over 50 percent in constant dollars in the Function 150 Account of the U.S. Federal budget. These are the appropriations allocated to the State Department, the Foreign Service, our overseas embassies, public diplomacy, arms control, foreign aid, the Peace Corps, the Export-Import Bank, and payments to international organizations. As of Fiscal Year 1999, the budget projections of both the Congress and the Clinton Administration will force a further reduction of 12 percent in these resources over the next five years.

The result has been a retraction in American official presence abroad, in the recruitment and training of Foreign Service officers, in the basic infrastructure of American diplomacy. Between 1992 and 1997, the United States closed thirty-six overseas embassies and consulates.

Unlike multinational corporations and the Department of Defense, the State Department and embassies abroad — although their work is grounded upon information and communication — lack up-to-date information technology: teleconferencing capability, enciphered e-mail systems, ready electronic access to key information and data bases in foreign countries. A report on the advocacy of U.S. overseas interests by fourteen distinguished Americans1 has recommended an urgent appropriation of $400 million to redesign and modernize the nation’s diplomatic information technology and communications systems. While inadequate resources are the central problem, the Department of State has not been well managed. In the second half of the twentieth century, the only Secretary of State to pay sustained attention to the organization and infrastructure of American diplomacy was George Shultz.

National security is supported and defended by our diplomatic corps, our intelligence assets, and our armed forces. Their interlocking functions make up a system analogous to the meshing of land, air, and sea components within the military services. Diplomacy is prevention, our first line of defense. If we can resolve international differences through discussion and negotiation, we do not have to send our forces into battle and risk their lives. If diplomacy is weak or inadequate, troops may have to be deployed prematurely. Yet the international affairs (diplomacy) budget is treated as a domestic appropriation and as part of discretionary funding, which will remain the essential target for cuts as long as entitlement programs are not touchable and defense/intelligence are addressed separately under the “National Security” rubric.

The State Department, for budget consideration, is linked with the departments of Justice and Commerce, and so must compete with the domestic political constituencies of small business, the judiciary, law enforcement, the war on drugs, and so forth. Small wonder, in the absence of the sort of life and death threat earlier posed by the Soviet Union, and without strong presidential leadership, that appropriations for the conduct of diplomacy have plummeted since 1992.

Meanwhile, the world becomes more and more interdependent, and diplomacy is as involved with economic and social issues as it is with national security. Financial markets are intertwined, as we learned from the Asian crisis of 1997/98. The United States is the world’s largest trading nation. Exports now account for a third of America’s real economic growth, and have created one million new jobs in this country over the last few years. Overseas markets are pivotal for cereal and soybean producers of the Midwest and plains states. American consumers benefit from a diversity of foreign products; manufacturers depend on the timely arrival of components produced abroad. Cyberspace does not know national borders. The overseas travel of American businessmen, students, and tourists continues to increase (although there are no longer American consulates to support them if needed in, e.g., Lyons, Bordeaux, Genoa, or Palermo).

The timing is bad for a decline in America’s diplomatic readiness. At the dawn of the new millennium, American foreign policy seems less manageable than it was during the Cold War. The Soviet threat was a yardstick against which to measure each issue. Whether the challenge arose in Cuba, Vietnam, the Congo, Central America, the Middle East, or Afghanistan, we knew what we had to do. Advanced American technology, and dominant American military and economic power, were normally relevant to the task and could be deployed effectively. We sought, but were rarely dependent upon, the support of allies.

How has the international agenda of the United States changed? A new list of issues and problems has replaced the nuclear stand-off of the Cold War. These include:
  • The proliferation of weapons of mass destruction
  • Trade and investment (American access to foreign markets and sources of raw materials)
  • Enforcement of trading rules (intellectual property rights, dumping, non-tariff barriers)
  • Terrorism
  • International crime, especially traffic in drugs
  • Regional conflicts, often ethnic or religious, causing refugee displacements and, frequently, appalling bloodshed
  • World environment (population growth, global warming, pollution, exhaustion of natural resources)
  • Maintenance of international financial and economic stability
  • Democracy and human rights, including the role of women and minorities
  • Regulating hundreds of international activities in the age of globalization (telecommunications frequencies, air traffic control, food and drug standards, health, immigration, taxation, etc.)

Such questions seem rather more complex than the deployment of American economic strength and defense capability to block Soviet expansion. The new agenda of problems cannot be solved unilaterally by one nation, even the world’s only superpower. They require communication with other peoples, building coalitions of concerned governments, working together with others to address issues which ignore national borders. In short, they demand diplomacy.

Because the United States is the only global power, it must engage and lead. Other governments tend to wait for the superpower. For over two years we stood back and urged the Europeans to come to grips with the deteriorating situation in former Yugoslavia. They could not do so, and progress was made only when the United States finally convened the parties to a tough negotiation in Dayton. A forceful American lead was prerequisite to addressing financial crises in Mexico in 1995 and in Brazil in 1998. This does not suggest that the United States can always succeed in persuading others to follow, but without clear American involvement not much is likely to happen. In Madeleine Albright’s words, the United States has become “the indispensable nation.”

A global power should be represented in every world capital, if only by an embassy of two or three people in the smallest countries. There is no telling when a vote in the UN may prove crucial, where key minerals may unexpectedly be uncovered, where terrorists may find a haven, when access to a particular airfield may be essential, when an American tourist or an American company may desperately need help. The cost of such representation is minimal. But, at the end of the twentieth century, for lack of resources, the Department of State is closing United States embassies.

Some argue that, in a global economy with modern telecommunications, with the internet, e-mail, and CNN, we no longer need embassies. This is quite wrong. True, the president or the secretary of state can telephone any foreign leader directly. But he or she badly needs the advice of trained Americans on the ground, experts who speak the language, understand the history and culture, know foreign leaders personally and can explain their values and the political pressures they are under, can suggest which arguments — or what public statements — will be effective.

In curtailing resources devoted to foreign relations, the Administration and the Congress are reflecting a public sentiment that since the Cold War is over the United States can save money on defense and foreign affairs. The president knows better. He should be educating the American public and the Congress about where national interest lies, not adapting to public opinion polls.

Actually, in national budget terms, economizing on the conduct of relations with other countries saves little money anyway. International affairs, including foreign aid, the State Department and Foreign Service, embassies abroad, the Arms Control and Disarmament Agency, public diplomacy and the Voice of America, payments to international organizations, all together represent approximately 1.1 percent of the federal budget. We spend 0.15 percent (3/20 of 1 percent) of our Gross National Product on development assistance. We are in last place, number twenty-one out of twenty-one, among the leading industrial nations by that measure. Austria, Italy, Britain, even Portugal spend twice what we do relative to their GNP, Canada three times, France four times, and Sweden six times.2 And the United States, which has benefited more than any other power from the United Nations, is by a wide margin the farthest in arrears in payment of its dues. A demeaning picture.

In the year 2000, Americans live in a world so interdependent that the notion of isolationism as historically defined seems incongruous. International issues have become more varied and more ambiguous, demanding the steady involvement of the only global power. Terrorism, weapons of mass destruction, epidemic disease, regional confrontations, environmental destabilization, all remain dangerous, but the truly existential threat of the Cold War is past. In these circumstances, the United States, lacking strong presidential commitment, appears to engage intermittently in foreign policy. Americans have, in a sense, withdrawn into their own prosperity. Distracted, they have allowed their government representatives to deny adequate resources to the conduct of American relations with other governments and peoples.

In late 1998, following a desperate public appeal by the Joint Chiefs of Staff, the administration and the Congress began to reverse the exaggerated reductions they had made since 1991 in the national defense budget. A similar correction for the relatively deeper cuts in support of diplomacy does not seem on the horizon.



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