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Converging Trends Demand a Clear US Foreign Policy

Incrreasingly, it appears that the United States of America lacks a coherent foreign policy.

Yes, there are exceptions. We do have a clear (and bi-partisan) policy on foreign trade, consisting primarily of promotion of free trade agreements and pursuit of violators of those agreements. But what is American policy on preventing nuclear non-proliferation? A recently published Defense Department report on the topic is long on analysis, but blurred on policy ideas.

What about international narcotics trafficking? The U.S. has been de-emphasizing eradication and interdiction of drug supplies, without expressing any rationale for this change beyond a desire to concentrate on domestic use, as if the two concerns were mutually exclusive.

What, in the current U.S. view, is the proper role of the United Nations? Our policy is completely reactive, with the U.S. failing either to lead reform or to pay our $1.5 billion bill. We cannot even come up with a candidate for Secretary General.

Then there is the massive issue of economic development in the less advanced countries of Africa, Latin America and Asia, a key to peace and stability in the 21st century. Are we for more government to government aid, or something else, and if something else, what?

Seven years after the fall of the Berlin Wall, one still must ask, what kind of life do we see for the former communist states–and what role do we see ourselves playing in helping them to achieve it?

Not for six decades–since 1936–has a presidential election year played out with so little attention to international affairs. Regrettably, the national Administration takes its leadership cues from polls and focus groups, which, like the weather before a hurricane, give no sign of disturbance. For the Clinton White House the significance of foreign policy pertains mainly to domestic voter groups. If there is an American strategy anymore it is a well-kept secret.

In 1936, history shows, the United States courted disaster by ignoring war threats in Europe and Asia. In 1996 we tempt fate again by not supporting development of an anti-missile weapons system and by turning our military into a social agency instead of a fighting force. On the day that an adversary shows a capacity to infiltrate our defensive perimeter or to intimidate one of our overseas bases–in Korea, for example–or simply starts a regional nuclear war, it no longer will count for much here at home that the U.S. military has been vigorous in implementing sensitivity training.

But even if we could assume a benign world for American interests and the cause of peace–and who will own up to such naiveté?–we still could not avoid the reality that global opportunities, if not necessities, are being slighted.

Luck and past foreign policy successes have combined to bring the world to a point of converging trends that Richard Judy, of the Hudson Institute, identifies and which offer great potential benefits to this generation of Americans. The most obvious is the globalization of the world’s markets for goods and services, a trend in which the U.S. is both an actor and acted upon. To put this trend in perspective, exported goods and services in 1960 amounted to only 4.9 percent of our Gross Domestic Product. But last year they came to 11 percent of GDP; and by 2010, they are expected to reach 35 percent. This trend alone is transforming our relative stake in international relations.

Perhaps even more important is the globalization of capital markets, a trend seemingly still unappreciated by many governments. “Investors worldwide are increasingly determined and able to seek the highest risk-adjusted returns on their investments,” Judy observes, and this freedom is coupled with a staggering growth of private investments–through pension funds and other sources–into economies world wide. Public investments in developing countries now represent only a third of the total, having been surpassed in recent years by private investments. Among the likely results are a closing range of interest rates worldwide, international funding of more innovations in products and services and a growing inability of national governments to thwart the discipline of the free market.

Coincident with these primarily economic trends are four others, according to Judy:

· “Globalization of institutions,” including law, representative democracy as a normative goal and acceptance in principle that “private property (will prevail) as the basic form of asset ownership.”

· “Globalization of technologies,” whether in transportation, materials science, medicine, or such softer fields as marketing and management.

· “Globalization of information,” which proceeds in part from the technological trend.

· “Globalization of culture.” To a staggering degree, the other trends of convergence support a long term change in value systems, permitting gratified expectations of common commercial practices, language (English), and even food availability and environmental standards. This is also the trend with the most dangerous and explosive potential downside, for most of the world–including even the USA–does not want to be homogenized into some one-world culture-glob. In revolt against this trend come myriad forms of paranoia and rebellion.

These global trends, therefore, may be inevitable, but our success in shaping them is not. It is folly for American officials to let public ignorance of these developments determine government policy toward them. Whether from peril or opportunity, foreign affairs is unavoidably domestic policy these days and must be recognized as a higher priority in the national debate. Where, we should be asking, do our political candidates stand?

Bruce Chapman

Cofounder and Chairman of the Board of Discovery Institute
Bruce Chapman has had a long career in American politics and public policy at the city, state, national, and international levels. Elected to the Seattle City Council and as Washington State's Secretary of State, he also served in several leadership posts in the Reagan administration, including ambassador. In 1991, he founded the public policy think tank Discovery Institute, where he currently serves as Chairman of the Board and director of the Chapman Center on Citizen Leadership.