CONDOLEEZZA Rice, who will be President-elect George W. Bush's national-security adviser, describes herself as a foreign-policy "Realist."
The word has for her, a Stanford University political science professor, a specific academic meaning - one that potentially signals significant changes under a Bush administration foreign policy.
Realism is a theory of international politics. It states that power is the ultimate arbiter among states in an anarchic world. Power is defined as a state's material capability to fight and win wars. States maximize their power and power positions to ensure their security and protect their national interests. The balance of power thus becomes the central ordering principle of international politics.
Realists trace their intellectual lineage to the ancient Greek historian Thucydides, who noted in his Melian dialogue that "the strong do what they can, and the weak suffer what they must." Realists include Hobbes, Machiavelli, Bismarck, Churchill and Kissinger.
Realism claims to explain a great deal of world history and contemporary international politics. To understand how Rice's use of the theory might shape foreign policy in the Bush administration, it is important to dissect Realism's basic assumptions.
Realists see the world as a fundamentally anarchic environment with no world government to bring order to relations among states. War occurs because there is nothing to stop it. As a result, power - particularly military power - becomes the ultimate currency of all world politics. Those with power are free to act, and those without do what they can to survive. Realism dictates that leaders pay particular attention to the balance of power among the most powerful states, for this balance determines the outcome of international relations.
Realism dictates a narrow focus on the "national interest." Bush, Rice and the secretary of state designee, Colin L. Powell, have all criticized the Clinton administration's foreign policy "drift" into areas outside the "national interest." For Realists, the national interest is a narrow, objective list of items necessary to maintain national security, the U.S. position in world affairs, and the American way of life. Realists have been critical of Clinton's military interventions and foreign-policy focus in places such as Haiti and Bosnia - areas perceived as outside the national interest.
Rice's foreign-policy statements to date reflect this logic. She has indicated that the Bush administration might withdraw U.S. troops from peacekeeping missions in the Balkans, and will not intervene in peacekeeping or nation-building activities in the future. She supports a robust missile-defense system. She has indicated that the Bush administration will take a tougher line on China and Russia, criticizing the Clinton administration for aiding China's ascent through ill-advised trade agreements, technology transfers and nuclear spying.
Finally, Rice has distinct unilateralist tilt. She advocates that the United States should go it alone in foreign policy with minimal use of international organizations such as the United Nations. Allies will be welcome when they agree with the United States, but the country will not change its policies to suit their desires. Rather, strong persuasion by a strong America will ensure the allies' cooperation.
The Realist Rice may encourage numerous policy shifts. Look for a harder line toward Russia and China, with the United States viewing these countries as potential threats instead of strategic partners. Although Powell claims not to like the term "rogue states" -recently expunged by the Clinton administration in favor of "states of concern" - the new administration will seek to isolate rogues. This means tighter sanctions on Iraq and the end of cooperation with North Korea.
European leaders have indicated unease over a potential U.S. pullout from the Balkans, leaving them to do the peacekeeping while the United States waits to fight a "major" war. These issues, calling into question the future of NATO, will come to the fore as Europe continues to develop its own security and defense identity.
Missile defense could serve as a focal point of tension in these relationships. Though defended by American strategic thinkers as a protection from blackmail by "rogue states," missile defense has drawn opposition from China, Russia and Europe.
The Europeans worry that it would decouple U.S. security from European security and undermine the fundamental tenets of NATO's nuclear doctrine. Russia sees it as a violation of the 1972 Anti-Ballistic Missile Treaty that would undermine decades of arms-control agreements designed to produce a modicum of nuclear stability.