U.S. must protect interests The choices are not going it alone or doing nothing

October 22, 1995|By Bob Dole

IT IS NOW A CLICHE THAT America is the world's only superpower.

But Americans would do well to reflect on how we got to this point -- and on how unprecedented our status is in American history.

It is vital, for instance, to recognize that international organizations -- whether the United Nations, the World Trade Organization or any others -- will not protect American interests.

Only America can do that.

International organizations will, at best, practice policymaking at the lowest common denominator -- finding a course that is the least objectionable to the most members. Too often, they reflect a consensus that opposes American interests or does not reflect American principles and ideals.

The choices facing America are not, as some in the Clinton administration would like to portray, doing something multilaterally, doing it alone or doing nothing. The real choice is whether to allow international organizations to call the shots -- as in Somalia or Bosnia -- or to make multilateral groupings work for American interests -- as in Operation Desert Storm.

Subcontracting American foreign policy and subordinating American sovereignty encourage and strengthen isolationist forces at home -- and embolden our adversaries abroad.

The United States should not look to the United Nations first, but to itself and its allies -- preserving alliances inherited from the Cold War and leading to create new ones where necessary.

Who could doubt that NATO has the power to address the tragic aggression against Bosnia? Instead, a misnamed "United Nations Protection Force" provided convenient hostages to the aggressors, protecting them from NATO power.

Substituting the judgment of international civil servants for NATO military professionals has severely damaged the credibility of the Atlantic alliance.

We ought not confuse U.S. hopes and desires with U.S. interests.

Such U.N. affairs as pollution or overpopulation in West Africa or South Asia are problems, but their effect on American interests is peripheral, at best.

Famine and disease in Somalia or Rwanda are tragic. And America should help in humanitarian disasters, consistent with our resources and in a manner that does not undermine our military readiness. But events in Rwanda or Somalia have a marginal -- at most -- impact on American interests.

Just as hopes and desires about the world have clouded American attention, American resources have been misallocated.

For example, nearly $2 billion will be spent on occupation and nation-building in Haiti, where American interests are marginal. Yet only a small fraction of that amount has been spent supporting a free market and democratic transition in the strategically critical country of Ukraine.

And defense dollars are spent on environmental projects and defense "conversion," while military readiness, modernization and personnel lack sufficient funding.

The Clinton administration has displayed a basic discomfort with American military power -- unless that power is exercised pursuant to United Nations authorization.

In Haiti, the 1823 Monroe Doctrine was replaced with the doctrine of unilateral action only after multilateral approval.

An unfortunate precedent has been set in seeking prior U.N. support for what an American president proclaimed was in America's interests -- interests that should not be second-guessed, modified or subject to the approval of international organizations.

We need to rely on our own military capabilities and not place our trust solely in multilateral regimes to ensure our security.

For example, effective ballistic missile defenses would do more to enhance American and allied security by providing real protection against limited and accidental enemy strikes than would nonproliferation policies, which rely on the goodwill and cooperation of others to halt the spread of nuclear technology and weapons of mass destruction to rogue states.

After the disaster in Mogadishu on Oct. 3-4, 1993, some observers concluded the American public will no longer tolerate casualties.

In fact, the Somalia syndrome stems from the shock of seeing American bodies dragged through the dust when the American people thought Operation Restore Hope was about feeding the hungry -- not about nation-building or enforcing U.N. arrest warrants.

American lives should not be risked -- and lost -- in places such as Somalia, Haiti and Rwanda with marginal or no American interests at stake. Such actions make it more difficult to convince American mothers and fathers to send their sons and daughters to battle when vital interests are at stake.

The American people will not tolerate American casualties for irresponsible internationalism. And like overreliance on the United Nations, such adventures ironically end up reinforcing isolationism and retreat.

Bob Dole, a Republican from Kansas, is the Senate majority leader and a candidate for the U.S. presidency. This article is adapted from a longer version in Foreign Policy magazine.

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