Peace puts world leaders to test

July 04, 1994|By Paul West and Mark Matthews | Paul West and Mark Matthews,Washington Bureau of The Sun Sun staff writers Charles W. Corddry, Carl Schoettler and Dan Fesperman contributed to this article.

WASHINGTON -- Still lacking a blueprint to guide their actions, President Clinton and other leaders of the richest democracies gather in Italy this week to nail a few more planks onto the superstructure of the new world order.

Each has plans anchored in economics -- the one tie that binds them all. But as they grapple with the crisis of the moment, a falling dollar, they acknowledge they can't see yet what the larger framework for a peaceful planet should look like.

Compared with the euphoria that accompanied the destruction of the Berlin Wall five years ago, a sense of pessimism prevails about the future of global affairs.

Old ethnic hatreds and tribal rivalries are blazing out of control in Europe and Africa. Separatist movements are rising in number and strength worldwide. Even as fax machines, computers and global television pull nations closer together, the world appears to be coming apart.

"The old order has collapsed, but no one has yet created a new one," Czech President Vaclav Havel commented earlier this year. The search for a new framework, one that could guide the world into a more prosperous and secure future, has become the "historic task of our time and our generation."

As the world's only superpower, the United States is expected to be the architect of the post-Cold War world, as it was after World War II. But the outlines of a new foreign policy are still emerging, and there are widespread doubts about Mr. Clinton's ability to provide strong leadership in this turbulent period.

Mr. Clinton, who departs tomorrow on a weeklong European trip that is to include three days of summit talks in Naples, has actually developed a more coherent foreign policy strategy than is widely believed. But even he acknowledges that important gaps remain and that dealing with problems like Bosnia, Haiti and North Korea have been tougher than he imagined.

"The reality of the post-Cold War world," he said a few weeks ago, is that "we're all searching for new arrangements that work."

It all seemed so simple during those Cold War years.

For nearly half a century, there was a single, unifying goal to strive toward, a common threat to rally against. The "red menace" was the United States' foe. The policy of "containment" demanded that the United States and its allies confront Soviet expansionism in every corner of the globe.

"Containment had a durability to it," says Rep. Lee H. Hamilton, ++ the House Foreign Affairs Committee chairman, who is often mentioned as a possible successor to Warren M. Christopher as secretary of state. "It was simple: good guys vs. bad guys. It had a moral component to it. It was a theme for American foreign policy around which you could rally the American people.

"The great challenge for American foreign policy today is to come up with a kind of a theme that would rally Americans and gain their support. I don't think we have that today. I don't think it's going to be easily come by."

Highest priority

Mr. Clinton has identified the highest priority of his foreign policy: supporting political and economic reform in Russia and the other former Soviet republics.

But the administration has been struggling to find its voice as it gropes for a broader strategy. A succession of buzzwords -- "enlargement," "aggressive multilateralism" and "integration" -- has been trotted out. No resonant doctrine has been proclaimed so far. As one administration official concedes, "We haven't found the bumper-strip slogan yet."

Clinton aides, noting the years it took to produce the containment strategy, are pleading for time.

"It took Truman five or six years to prevail, and the internationalists to prevail, in that debate, and it will take a while for a new consensus to emerge around a new American foreign policy," says Anthony Lake, the president's national security adviser, speaking of the era after World War II.

Mr. Clinton and other leaders are operating in a far more complex and unstable age, however, one in which the entire world watches events unfold on live television, and perceptions can change with dizzying speed. Decades ago, leaders of the free world had more time to think before reacting to cataclysmic events. Today, they are required to react to catastrophes they learn of at the same time as the public.

"More than ever before, you are under a daily barrage of events around the world that are not only transmitted very vividly on television screens but through multiple media channels," Mr. Lake says. "The pressures are just immense to be reacting every day to rapidly changing events."

Midway through his second year in office, Mr. Clinton does have the foundation of a policy. It includes:

* Maintaining U.S. military superiority;

* Aggressively opening foreign markets to American goods;

* Promoting the spread of democracy.

But while the president has begun to assemble these "building blocks" of a foreign policy, even some in his own administration are privately critical of his failure to manage that policy more consistently.

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