Foreign Policy into the 21st Century: The U.S. Leadership Challenge

by Douglas Johnston, editor

Douglas Johnston, editor

Center for Strategic and International Studies (CSIS). Washington, D.C. 1996. 176 pp. Paperback. ISBN: 0892062924.

Reviewed by Andrew E. Rice

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“We move into the 21st century much too unfocused as to our nation’s role and responsibilities.” So begins this book, published in September, 1996, whose principal purpose is to identify the United States’ national interests (as they relate to international affairs), to prioritize these interests as “vital,” “important,” or “beneficial,” and then recommend policies to serve them.

It is an ambitious 160-page report, the consensus of two years of study and debate by a bipartisan steering committee and seven working groups, organized by the Center for Strategic and International Studies in Washington, and co-chaired by Zbigniew Brzezinski, Rep. Lee Hamilton (D-Ind.) and Sen. Richard Lugar (R-Ind.). Almost all of the 50-plus participants in the project were former U.S. government officials.

The book reflects the diplomatic outlook and experience of its multiple authors, with most of its recommendations falling within traditional geopolitical boundaries. Major attention is given to relations with the rising East Asian states, Europe, the Middle East, and Russia, as well as to overall international security strategies.

Many of the book’s prescriptions look ahead over a relatively short time span, but there are others that respond to a second stated purpose of the project– namely, to call attention to “those significant but ‘nonvital’ issues (often global in nature) that, if left unattended today, could become the ‘vital’ problems of tomorrow.”

The section on Asia sets out an agenda that calls for: strengthening policies and security ties with Japan; working with China to develop a mutually beneficial framework for Chinese integration into the international economic, political, and security order; reconfirming U.S. determination to see a peaceful evolution of relations between China and Taiwan; taking steps to increase stability on the Korean peninsula; and developing an integrative strategy toward South Asia. Then the report goes on to say:

“Left unmentioned in the above listing of interests and policy prescriptions is what might be catalogued as a beneficial interest, i.e., supporting initiatives to maintain the ecological health of Asia…Beijing has openly stated that it will not sacrifice economic growth for the sake of the environment…Yet, for Beijing to feed its people, it must either find a way to double its grain output over the next 20 years or be prepared to make massive purchases in the international markets. Asia’s ecological problems in the coming century are likely to prove severe, if not overwhelming, to the states in the region and will most certainly pose a special challenge to U.S. leadership.”

In the Middle East section, the report calls for continuing U.S. support for the Middle East peace process. But in a break with the accepted thinking of the recent past, although without actually naming Egypt or Israel, it holds that the United States should “reevaluate the practice of specifying precise amounts of foreign assistance for selected states.”

Two of the project’s seven working groups, those on “U.S. International Economic Interests” and on “Global Problems and Opportunities” dealt with some of the issues of particular interest to readers of Hunger Notes– development, environmental degradation, migration, and human rights. For the least developed countries, the report recommends focusing support on project assistance aimed at institution building and the creation of private sector jobs “in order to fortify civil society and the center of the political spectrum against destabilizing threats from the right and left.” To the extent possible, the report ads, this aid should be channeled through the private sector and NGOs. But these issues are touched on lightly in the book– so lightly, in fact, that although there are brief references to poverty, the word “hunger” never appears in the text.

In short, Foreign Policy into the 21st Century: The U.S. Leadership Challenge presents a generally enlightened but largely traditional diplomatic foreign policy “establishment” view of the future. To this reviewer, it gives inadequate attention to such phenomena as the growing importance of “non-state actors” in the emergence of civil society as an organized force, or the goals set by the UN global conference of the past five years. If the United States is to provide full leadership into the 21st century, it must also take account of these new global realities.

–Andrew E. Rice is Chairman Emeritus for the International Development Conference.

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