Courtesy Reuters

Case for Strategic Disengagement

Characteristic of American foreign policy since World War II has been the quest for a certain minimum of world order and a practical maximum of American control. Successive schemes for the regulation of power-collective security, bipolar confrontation, and now perhaps the balance of power-have differed in their objects and style. But interventionism-structuring the external political-military environment and determining the behavior of other nations, whether in collaboration, conflict or contention with them- has been the main underlying dimension of our policy. There has been no serious substantive challenge to this premise since the eve of our entry into World War II. The last "great debate," in 1951, over the dispatch of American troops to Europe, was about implementation and constitutional procedure.

How the world might look now had the United States not exercised itself for these 30 years, and how it might look 30 years from now if we were to cease exercising ourselves, are open to conjecture. More certain are the failures of deterrence and the costs of war and readiness. These speculations and reflections are materials for a larger debate about the critical objects and operational style of our foreign policy.

It is time for such a debate. We are at a turning point in our conception of the shape of the international system and our perception of the necessities and responsibilities it imposes on our foreign policy. This is more than the feeling that any year of crisis is a turning point, and more than the hope that after the tunnel of a long and obscure war we must be emerging into a new valley. Rather, longer historical perspective and larger categories of analysis indicate that the second of the major structural systems that followed World War II-bipolar confrontation-has been played out, and a new, but severely limited, set of alternative international systems is pending as both object and determinant of American foreign policy.

The alternatives are: (1) A limited constellation of powerful nations or blocs, all fully engaged and all with a

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