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Stanford Report, October 1, 1997

Reunion panel on foreign policy: 10/1/97

Foreign policy experts emphasize U.S. still has role as global leader


As a democratic superpower, the United States has a duty to play a leading role in world diplomacy, a panel of foreign policy experts told university alumni on Friday.

"Others will follow if we lead," said former U.S. Secretary of State Warren Christopher. "It's part of the responsibility of being a superpower and a prosperous nation."

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The panel, held at Dinkelspiel Auditorium as part of Reunion Homecoming Weekend, brought together Provost Condoleezza Rice, professor of political science; William Perry, the Michael and Barbara Berberian Professor of Engineering-Economic Systems and Operations Research and the former U.S. secretary of defense; Carnegie Corporation President Emeritus David Hamburg; and Christopher (J.D. '49). Thomas Heller, the Lewis Talbot and Nadine Hearn Shelton Profesor of Legal Studies, moderated the discussion.

The lively but non-confrontational 90-minute forum, "Changing Rivals, Changing Partners: Issues of International Diplomacy," covered broad issues ranging from post-Cold War diplomacy and the expansion of the North Atlantic Treaty Organization (NATO) to China's future as a world power.

The end of the Cold War and the emergence of democracy and free market economies in Europe and Latin America are "two truly profound changes in geopolitics," Perry said. These offer opportunities that the United States should take advantage of because, he said, "democratic societies are less likely to go to war."

Perry pointed to efforts by the U.S. military to teach ex-totalitarian armies how to operate in a democracy. "The American army is regarded as a role model everywhere," he said. An example of U.S. involvement is the establishment of the Marshall Center in Germany where military officers from the former Eastern Bloc learn about democracy.

"I believe these students are going to be the leaders of their military in the 21st century," Perry said.

There is also NATO's creation of the Partnership for Peace, which brings together for peace-keeping exercises the militaries of 16 NATO-member and 27 Eurasian countries. For the last two years, Russia has also participated in peacekeeping in Bosnia, which Perry said gives it a chance to see NATO as a partner instead of an enemy. "That's a stunning development you could hardly even have contemplated a few years ago," he said.

Christopher said that diplomacy provides very few permanent, final victories, and that the United States must continue to lead in resolving conflicts. Otherwise, he said, problems in places like Haiti, Bosnia and the Middle East will not really change.

In the short term, Hamburg said, the international community needs to set up a rapid reaction force that can respond to flashpoints before they escalate out of control. In the long term, he said, the world needs to develop a mechanism for building democratic societies. "Where is the civilian equivalent of NATO?" he asked. "The world doesn't have that yet. We need to find ways to . . . help build on an international level the institutions that have been here for 200 years."

On the question of the expansion of NATO, Rice said that a thorough discussion needs to take place over how large the organization can grow and still be effective. She added that the current U.S. administration has done too much to placate Russian fears over NATO's expansion. "For most people in Russia, whether NATO expands is not an issue," Rice said. What's more important, she said, is that Russia is coping "pretty well" with the transition to democracy.

Concerning relations with China, Christopher said the United States must remain actively engaged to prevent the country from becoming an adversary. China has the resources to support a first-class military, he said, and it has a fixation that the United States wants to contain it.

While Perry disagreed with Christopher's prediction of China becoming a potential threat, he said that an adversarial relationship would have a serious, negative impact on the U.S. economy because it would lead to increased defense spending.

"Our defense budget today is 40 percent less than at the height of the Cold War in 1985-86," he said. "If China becomes a threat, we would have to increase our defense budget by $100 billion. Even in the Defense Department, that's real money."

When asked about the future, Perry said looking back over the last 10 years had taught him a lesson in humility because events turned out differently than he had expected. "I missed quite a bit," he said. For that reason, he said, countries and organizations should remain flexible to be prepared to address future crises.

Hamburg pointed to the importance of individual leaders, the role of the international community and the emergence of civil society in effecting lasting change. "You think of the transformation of the Soviet Union and the transition in South Africa from apartheid to democracy," he said. In both countries, the elements listed above played a pivotal role. "There may be lessons to be learned from this," he said.

Ten years from now, Christopher said, the environment and the proliferation of weapons of mass destruction will take on global importance. "The U.S. role will be even more important in the world," he said. "The U.S. will either lead or those questions will not be properly addressed."

Rice said that unless this country tries something foolish like balkanization America will remain a beacon as the one functioning democratic, multiethnic society. "Should the U.S. lead?" she questioned. "Yes." SR