An Emerging “Bush Doctrine”? “Stability” Over Freedom

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Displacing the Reagan Doctrine

The Bush Administration is being properly assailed for its decision furtively to dispatch two senior officials, National Security Advisor Brent Scowcroft and Deputy Secretary of State Lawrence Eagleburger, to treat with those in Beijing responsible for the Tiananmen Square massacre and subsequent repression. As deplorable as this action is in its own right, more troubling still is the fact that it appears to reflect a broader policy approach, an emerging "Bush Doctrine."

Put simply, such a "Bush Doctrine" seems to favor "stability" over freedom. In a sense, it is the very antithesis of the Reagan Doctrine which placed the United States squarely on the side of those around the world striving to rid themselves of the hated yoke of communism. Now, as this freedom revolt is spreading to the center of the communist world, the Bush Administration seems to be mapping out a policy that aligns itself with and may have the effect of perpetuating regimes that cling to Marxist-Leninist tenets. Consider the following manifestations of such a policy:

  • Citing its unwillingness to seek "unilateral advantage" in the unravelling situation in the Soviet empire, the United States government has for months eschewed initiatives that could accelerate that unravelling and make it more difficult to reverse, to the point of even resisting greater voluntary discipline and transparency in the conduct of East-West economic and financial relations.

  • The Bush Administration has even made a point of disassociating itself from any action that might be construed as "encouraging" communism’s setbacks. Lest it give offense to the Soviet Union — and impetus to the East German uprising against the communists — even the official American reaction to the crumbling of the Berlin Wall was astonishingly low-key.

  • Just before the Malta summit, Secretary of State Baker signalled that the United States would take a tolerant view of a Soviet domestic crackdown — provided they could be justified on the grounds of "maintain[ing] order" so as to prevent "violence and bloodshed."(1)

  • Two weeks ago, President Bush said at Malta that he intends to do "everything [he] can to help" Gorbachev, even though it is now clear that the Soviet leadership intends to resist in the Soviet Union the very structural reforms (e.g., multiparty elections and privatization) he is credited with having encouraged in Eastern Europe.

  • Last weekend, Mr. Scowcroft in his toast in Beijing said, "In both our societies, there are voices of those who seek to redirect or frustrate our cooperation. We both must take bold measures to overcome these negative forces." This statement could only have been interpreted by the Chinese tyrants as aligning the United States government with them against such "negative forces" as those demanding democracy and respect for human rights in the PRC.

  • And most recently, in East Berlin on December 12th, Secretary Baker announced that the "political signal" he intended to send by his visit with the interim communist premier of the GDR, Hans Modrow, was "the importance of the German Democratic Republic moving forward peacefully and in a stable way." While he also met briefly with members of the reform movement, the point of the Secretary’s visit seemed to be to urge on them patience and to reinforce the legitimacy he sought to impart to the government.


Arms Length Relations with Radical Reformers

If the emerging "Bush Doctrine" appears predicated on the need to encourage improved relations with communist regimes irrespective of their commitment to fundamental reform, its corollary seems to be that the United States should distance itself from those determined to bring about such reform. The Administration is especially uneasy about "radical reformers" who are insisting that processes for true democratic elections be initiated at once, that the mechanisms by which communists rule (from the overbuilt military, secret police and espionage apparatuses to the failed command economy) be dismantled and that liberty become truly the inalienable, and legally protected, right of all. Such demands are, after all, by definition "destabilizing" — at least for the ruling factions.

Why Are We on the Wrong Side?

As the West makes an ever greater investment (both capital and political) in countries under communist domination — including long-term joint ventures, large private untied loans and government-guaranteed credits, bond underwritings and, in some cases, arms control agreements — the incentive to help sustain oppressive governments grows. This insidious commonality of interest works in the following ways:


    Cover for Unilateral Disarmament

The appetite in Washington and other Western capitals for large-scale defense cuts is increasing daily, fed in part by a perceived, radical diminution in the threat and encouraged by President Bush’s determination to reduce the federal deficit without raising taxes. As most Americans still regard unilateral disarmament to be ill-advised, the Administration has seized upon the simultaneous and accelerated pursuit of several arms reduction accords as a means of making a virtue of political necessity.

Interestingly, the need to preempt congressionally imposed cuts is combining with evident concern that — notwithstanding open-ended American and West European support — Gorbachev’s days (at least as a "reformer") may be numbered. The effect of this perception is to intensify pressure for expeditious completion of strategic and conventional arms control accords.

Unfortunately, under these circumstances, the United States is proving quite prepared to abandon positions the Soviets contend are impediments to agreement (e.g., banning mobile missiles in START, not including aircraft and troops in CFE, refusing to limit short-range nuclear forces, maintaining production of chemical weapons during the period between signature of a ban and its full implementation). As a result, the Soviets who should be in the weaker negotiating position will probably be able to drive very advantageous bargains in each of the arms talks. This is consistent with past experience, notably with the INF Treaty.(2)

    Bankers Prefer Central Control

Perhaps even more significant as an impetus behind this emerging "Bush Doctrine" is the fact that some in the business sector are unhappy at the uncertainties being created as communist regimes experience fragmentation of political control and decentralization of their economies. As the Journal of Commerce reported on 13 December, "As revolutionary changes call into question the future of Eastern Europe, banks are demanding greater compensation for the risks of holding East bloc credits. ‘For thirty years, we’ve been dealing with a socialist monolith. You don’t like it, but at least you understand it,’ [one banker] in New York said. ‘Now, it’s anybody’s guess what will happen.’"(3)

In other words — as has been evident in the aftermath of the Tiananmen Square massacre — predictable, if somewhat unpalatable, communist regimes with centrally controlled economies are seen as a better risk for banking and business interests than the environment created as liberalizing forces work to bring those regimes down.(4)

    Who’s Afraid of Instability?

Finally, the Bush Administration is being propelled in its determination to give preference to "stability" over freedom by the concern that it and leading allies feel over the possibility that too much liberalization will result in the rapid reunification of Germany, the independence of the Baltic States and similar developments elsewhere. It fears that such events might so seriously traumatize the Soviet Union as to cause it to intervene — or otherwise behave in a dangerous manner. While this concern cannot be dismissed out of hand, other factors argue for a different approach.

First, concerning the "German Question," it is becoming increasingly clear that the decision concerning reunification is already out of the hands of Western and Eastern governments. Germans in both the FRG and the GDR are moving inexorably in this direction, not the least for self-evident economic reasons. Absent what would amount to a new occupation of East Germany by the Soviet Union — which each passing day makes more and more problematic for Moscow — there is little that either the USSR or the Western allies can do to prevent the German peoples’ decision to reunify.

The real issue is: On what terms will reunification take place? The Soviets clearly hope that they can drag out this process long enough to have the terms of reunification be the neutralization of both halves of Germany and the effective dismembering of NATO. It is in the West’s interest to accept rapid reunification, to have the GDR become part of the existing Federal Republic of Germany and to integrate it into the NATO framework. Were the United States even to be perceived as impeding reunification to accommodate the demands of Moscow — and, perhaps, certain Western capitals — could also estrange the peoples of both Germanies and stimulate the kind of "independence" that is most feared.

Engaging a unified Germany squarely in the camp of democratic, free market nations joined together — and armed — in a defensive military alliance is the best guarantee available of long-term stability. If the West does not move quickly and purposefully toward this goal, however, the opportunity to realize it may be lost in the quickening German slide toward disarmed neutralism and inordinately close economic ties with the East.

Second, if the Bush Administration is determined to reduce the chances of a threat to Gorbachev from the Soviet right — which it fears might result from the demands of unchecked reform movements within the USSR — the Administration’s objectives would be better served by putting all contenders for power in Moscow on notice that such an outcome would utterly undo any prospect for vital Western efforts to resuscitate the Soviet economy.

Toward this end, the United States should establish that there will be severe costs to the USSR for such behavior, costs fully comparable to those associated with any new Soviet intervention in Eastern Europe. This approach has a double advantage: 1) It lends itself more readily to American policy calibration than do the actions of courageous and often headstrong "freedom fighters." And 2) it is more consistent with American values and principles than is the practice of trying to dissuade the reformers from insisting upon their right to enjoy at once liberties we cherish domestically.

Unfortunately, the Bush Administration’s past behavior will probably complicate any effort to persuade the Soviets on this point. The minimal sanctions instituted on the PRC following the June massacre, the steady dismantling of those that were imposed, the veto of legislation that would protect dissident Chinese students in the United States and the Scowcroft trip have all signalled to the Chinese and the Soviet Union that President Bush is not disposed to permit real penalties to be exacted on communist regimes for suppressing internal dissent.

Toward a Sound "Bush Doctrine"

The Bush Administration must set American policy toward the USSR, China and communists in Eastern Europe on a different path. This will require at least three significant changes in the substance and conduct of its relationships with such regimes:

  • The Administration should abandon the practice of accommodating the needs of communist regimes which extort Western support on the grounds that otherwise "stability" or "strategic relationships" will be impaired. In particular, it can no longer permit "stability" to be defined exclusively by such regimes. For example, it is unacceptable to have the Soviet Union and its militant clients continuing activities in Central America, Africa and Afghanistan contrary to U.S. interests at the same time it becomes more reliant upon American assistance.

  • Instead, the Administration must insist on fundamental, systemic political and economic change as the price for Western assistance, assistance of the very kind now envisioned to prop up the perpetrators of the Tiananmen Square massacre and the agile Leninists in Moscow.

  • President Bush must resist the temptation to accommodate communist demands (especially for economic, financial and technological assistance) in exchange for little more than superficially cordial summits, arms control signing ceremonies and platitudinous communiques.


In exchange for redirecting its policy along these lines, the Bush Administration should be able to obtain a vastly more important prize: genuine and lasting stability. As a practical matter, this is likely to be achievable only if anti-democratic, totalitarian regimes are supplanted by democratically elected, free-market-oriented governments.

The Center for Security Policy calls on President Bush to make this objective his own and to frame a doctrine calculated to promote its realization. The first step would be to repudiate what appears now to be emerging as the "Bush Doctrine," an approach to relations with communist regimes that will only serve to postpone their fall from power.

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1. See the Center’s paper, Secretary Baker: We’ll Know Soviet Repression When We See It, 30 November 1989, No. 89-73.

2. See the Center’s analysis of the danger of negotiating under deadlines contained in The Maltese Summit: An Assessment of the Damage Done to U.S. Interests, 14 September 1989, No. 89-74.

3. Kevin Commins, "Banks Tighten East Bloc Trade Finance Terms," Journal of Commerce, 13 December 1989, p. 1.

4. See the Center’s paper "Western Corporations’ ‘Short March’ Back to China: Bad Business, Awful Public Relations, Dangerous Policy," 7 July 1989, No. 89-36.

Center for Security Policy

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