A Framework is Needed
With the end of the Cold War, the disintegration of the Soviet Union and the shrinkage and transmutation of the Soviet threat, the United States has lost the magnetic north for calibrating its foreign policy. Major decisions taken in recent years, seemingly firm in execution, rest upon an uncertain direction in underlying policy. The United States has strength to spare in responding to individual challenges, yet it clearly lacks the overall strength to respond to all challenges. It should avoid that heady feeling, induced by its triumph in the Cold War, that all things are now possible. It must learn, in this altered context in which there are no major rivals, to husband its strength and to choose with care those policy objectives that reflect interests sufficiently weighty that they can garner the public support to sustain them in the long run.
To this point the record is, at best, mixed. A plethora of foreign policy objectives has been put forward, as if all could be successfully and simultaneously pursued. We are urged to advance democracy and all its procedures, human rights, civil liberties, equality before the law, protection of minorities, self-determination, an orderly world, international law, economic growth, free markets, privatization, free trade, limits on environmental degradation, curtailment of the arms trade, prevention of the spread of advanced weapons, etc., etc. The list is almost endless. What is ignored is that some of these objectives are flatly in conflict and that all require the careful examination of trade-offs. Moreover, striking little attention has been paid to the relation between means and ends. Individual tools are assumed to achieve multiple objectives - with little heed paid to their inherent limitations. Sanctions on trade (otherwise presumed to be liberalized trade) are a perennial favorite - to be variously employed to punish aggression, punish terrorism, punish violations of human rights, restore democracy, raise labor standards, bring down (some) surviving communist states, prevent environmental degradation and so forth. In this
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