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London, 6 May 1994


It is increasingly evident to even the casual observer…that something is seriously wrong with Washington’s approach to the world. Many both in the United States and abroad are beginning to perceive ominous signs of what Winston Churchill once called "the Gathering Storm" — world trends and conditions that are giving rise to ever more grave threats to our interests. Crises in Bosnia, Somalia, Haiti, the Korean peninsula and ongoing traumas in our dealings with friends in places like Tokyo and London as well as past adversaries in capitals like Moscow and Beijing, are giving rise to a new conventional wisdom that the U.S. government is in the hands of incompetents.

I am afraid I am inclined to an even more troubling explanation, however. To be sure, President Clinton’s personal qualities, predilections and shortcomings as a leader — which are ever more on display — are contributing greatly to the seeming incoherence, volatility and inconstancy of contemporary American foreign and defense policy. That said, I believe that the really decisive developments in such policy are a product of much more calculation and purposefulness than meets the untutored eye.

I would respectfully suggest that these decisive developments involve the dismantling of institutions, arrangements and capabilities upon which we in the United States — and the West more generally — relied for our security during much of the post-World War II era. Regrettably, my government is pursuing, in some cases unilaterally and in other cases in league with its allies, what might be called a "scorched-earth" approach to what are viewed as "antiques of the Cold War."

The cumulative effect of these actions will be dramatically to reduce our ability to contend with the turbulent conditions of our generation’s gathering storm. Worse yet, I believe that the effect may even be to bring that storm down on our heads.

A Bill of Particulars

The following are among the vital national security assets that the United States government — with or without the help of its allies — is busily dismantling, phasing out or otherwise devaluing:

  • the "special relationship" between the U.S. and the U.K.;

  • the readiness, modernity and power projection capabilities of the U.S. armed forces;

  • the Department of Energy’s nuclear weapons research, development and production complex;

  • the Strategic Defense Initiative;

  • the NATO alliance command and force structure;

  • a robust American "continuity of government" program;

  • the Coordinating Committee for Multilateral Export Controls (COCOM);

  • presidential authority to impose embargoes on travel and commerce with hostile states;

  • U.S. counterintelligence;

  • Radio Free Europe/Radio Liberty; and

  • the International Monetary Fund

It is perhaps ironic — but certainly no accident — that many of those in the U.S. government who are currently involved in undoing these institutions, arrangements and capabilities are individuals who vigorously opposed American policy during the Cold War. In fact, they were among those who routinely railed against these very assets during that long, "twilight struggle."

Arguably, had their advice concerning relations with the Soviet Union, reducing American forces in Europe, canceling military modernization programs, arms control, etc. been heeded at the time, the outcome might well have been different. It is certainly true though that their present policies are squandering the fruits of that victory. Worse yet, those policies will leave the United States very ill-prepared to contend in the future with the portentous developments taking shape at present in Moscow, Bosnia, the Korean peninsula and elsewhere.

* * *

The New Institutions

The possible long-term damage to U.S. interests likely to arise from the aforementioned changes to these vital institutions, arrangements and capabilities is being compounded by the Clinton Administration’s embrace of new institutions and arrangements. Most of these derive from its commitment to what might be described as "mindless multilateralism." Manifestations of this syndrome include:

  • U.N. Authorities in the Command "Loop": As noted above, the U.N. Secretary General and his designees have been permitted by the Clinton Administration to make operational decisions about — and to exercise a veto over — the use of U.S. and NATO military assets. I believe this has not only had a profoundly corrosive effect on the morale of the forces involved; it has literally put their lives at risk, both as a result of U.N. actions and inaction.

  • Dedicated U.N. Military Assets: The Clinton Administration has announced its intention to dedicate U.S. airlift and sealift resources to the United Nations. As I have indicated, both of these are in short supply in the American armed forces today; further cuts — the practical effect of assigning such assets to the U.N. — will only serve to compound present shortfalls in U.S. power-projection capabilities. What is more, if left to its own devices, the Administration would certainly like to allocate a sizeable contingent of U.S. troops to the U.N., as well.

  • Intelligence-Sharing with the U.N.: Since coming to office, the Clinton Administration has made a practice of sharing significant intelligence with the United Nations. This has compromised sensitive information and, in at least three instances, caused grievous harm to U.S. "sources and methods" of intelligence collection.

  • Embargoes: The United States is honoring an arms embargo against Bosnia that contravenes the U.N. Charter and its moral obligation not to interfere with a nation’s right of self-defense. It is also, as a result of the newly adopted legislation I mentioned a moment ago, granting the U.N. a right now denied to the President of the United States — i.e., the right to impede travel and information flows to and from sovereign nations.

The Repercussions of These Initiatives

Such initiatives do not take place in a vacuum. Just as they are being justified by the Cold War’s end, they are surely shaping the character of the post-Cold War strategic environment. The extent of the latter will largely be a function of two reactions: those of the United States’ potential adversaries and those if its friends.

Of the former it can be said that they can only be heartened and emboldened by the rapid dismantling of the sources and instruments of American and Western power. It is absolutely predictable that, far from making the world safer for freedom, democracy and free enterprise — the nominal justification for many of these steps — it will be made less so on all three scores.

With respect to our allies, it seems no less obvious that the effect of diminished American power — particularly in terms that translate into a lessening of the credibility of U.S. security guarantees — will only be to reduce U.S. influence with these nations. Many of them (notably, Japan, South Korea, Taiwan) will doubtless seek other arrangements: perhaps building up their own militaries with nuclear and other formidable weapons or by making a separate, temporary peace with emerging regional threats like China. As a practical matter, the upshot of such developments will almost surely be not only to worsen America’s military posture but also to degrade its trade and economic posture, as well.

It goes without saying, I hope, that the perceptions I mentioned at the beginning of these remarks — namely, of an American government that is feckless and unreliable — perceptions that I regret to say are as accurate as they are becoming widely held in the U.S. and abroad, only serve to compound these unpalatable trends.

Let me conclude by saying that when — as opposed to if — the United States finds itself in the future obliged to defend its interests, the legacy of the Clinton Administration’s efforts that I have outlined today will be profoundly felt: Not only will the U.S. have less capability for such unilateral action than it will need. It also will have to extricate itself from the precedents and entanglements established by these multilateral institutions and arrangements.

Center for Security Policy

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