Globalization forces us to rethink foreign policy

February 15, 2002|By Edward Goldberg

NEW YORK -- Scattered among the ruins of Sept. 11 lie our post-Cold War views of foreign policy.

In a manner similar to the decade after World War I, we had de-emphasized our concentration on foreign affairs and chosen not to fully comprehend the changes taking place in the world. With the end of the Cold War, we believed naively and arrogantly that we had won the march of history -- that metaphorically, our victory over communism represented the end of history. With the fall of the Berlin Wall, America believed that once again it had won the war to end all wars.

But history did not end on Sept. 11. It began anew. What did end was our Roaring '20s worldview. Our foreign policy failed to incorporate the full dimensions of our own creation -- globalization. Consequently, our foreign policy was not able to protect our most vital interest: American lives. We had become the masters of globalization but failed to look at the world as globalized, ignoring the effects that the homogenization of history, economics and religion would have on the rest of the world.

If the primary focus of Western political history since the 13th century has been the development of the modern nation-state, it is quite possible that we have now passed the apex of that development.

Through the Internet, capital flows, single currencies or cultural conflagration, globalization has greatly weakened the nation-state. Globalization has forced the transfer of power from countries to the marketplace and to techno-mediacrats.

It has empowered ethnic groups, terrorists and tycoons. And, as we have seen in its most perverse form, globalization has empowered fanatics who, by using the latest technology, can kill thousands.

Our foreign policy, however, and the domestic disinterest that it represented, could not see beyond the nation-state as the single most important force to be reckoned with. Caught between domestic philosophical battles and a Cold War worldview, our foreign policy failed to adapt.

The same disinterest led us to feel secure in the simplistic belief that world markets policed by American rules would protect America's vital interest.

We now have learned that although our military can defeat the Taliban, our military and security services are not enough to secure the benefits that we derive from globalization.

All-encompassing globalization, whether of terrorism, currency flows, environmental issues or even issues of steel production, has forced us to think anew about the manner in which we project and defend our fundamental interests.

In this new era, how we determine and balance our actions against the world's perception of these actions will be the major key to our continued strength and security.

Globalization has demanded that America pay more attention to foreign affairs. We can no longer view foreign policy as an adjunct part of our government, dealing in issues too complicated to discuss politically when there is no ideological enemy.

The Bush administration still has not fully recognized this. It is still basically viewing the world as if all problems can be solved through military deterrence. The administration is wonderful at building after-the-fact coalitions. But when will a broad policy that can respond to the changes in the world be created and enunciated?

Henry Kissenger has stated, "America's journey through international politics has been a triumph of faith over experience." We can no longer afford this to be the case.

America must view its practice of foreign policy as its first line of defense, and support it as such. We can build nuclear defense shields, but these shields will not shelter us from the forces of change taking place in the world today. In truth, only a pragmatic, agenda-free foreign policy can accomplish this task.

Edward Goldberg, who studies international markets and economic conditions, is president of a New York-based division of a worldwide trading company.

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