Close
Saved Anthologies

Foreign Affairs Anthology Series

Essays for the Presidency

Abbie Rowe / JFK Library President-elect John F. Kennedy speaks to reporters outside the White House, 1960.
Foreign Affairs From The Anthology: Essays for the Presidency
Explore the Anthology

A Democrat Looks at Foreign Policy

The past months have set before our policy-makers a map whose essential features are not unfamiliar to those who have studied or been a part of the events of the past decade, but it is also crowded with new silhouettes. There are new projections, contours and dimensions. International events in recent months have accelerated in pace and have been in a flux not yet comprehended by the leadership of our nation or taken account of in adjustments in the machinery of our foreign policy. To an observer in the opposition party there appear two central weaknesses in our current foreign policy: first, a failure to appreciate how the forces of nationalism are rewriting the geopolitical map of the world—especially in North Africa, southeastern Europe and the Middle East; and second, a lack of decision and conviction in our leadership, which has recoiled from clearly informing both the people and Congress, which seeks too often to substitute slogans for solutions, which at times has even taken pride in the timidity of its ideas.

<i>Presidential Campaign Button, 1960. (JFK Library)</i></br>"To an observer in the opposition party there appear two central weaknesses in our current foreign policy: first, a failure to appreciate how the forces of nationalism are rewriting the geopolitical map of the world … and second, a lack of decision and conviction in our leadership."
<br>Kennedy Gives His Inaugural Address, 1961. (Army Signal Corps)</i></br>"It is a temptation to write the history of the last 40 years in terms of the symmetric rise of two giant states, the U.S.S.R. and the U.S.A. But it is quite as important to see this period in terms of the decline of other states and the substitution for them of new combinations and clusters of power."
<i>Kennedy at a Press Conference, 1961. (Abbie Rowe / JFK Library)</i></br>"Our response to the Soviet challenge in Asia and the Middle East has been exaggeratedly military. However, in Asia our policy has been probably too rigid, in the Middle East too soft."
<i>Kennedy and Soviet leader Nikita Khrushchev in Vienna, 1961. (Stanley Tretick / National Archives)</i></br>"We usually attribute to the enemy camp a rigidity of outlook and method; and certainly Russian thinking is hard in texture... We deceive ourselves, however, if we believe that on this account we are the more manœuvrable and flexible in our actions."
<i>Kennedy Observes the Firing of a Polaris Missile, 1963. (Robert Knudsen / National Archives)</i></br>"Whereas the coming of the nuclear age reinforced the bipolar structure of world power, its secondary effects now stimulate a dispersion of strength and influence... Several smaller nations may soon possess nuclear tools of destruction."
<i>Opening Pitch for the 32nd All-Star Game. (Cecil Stoughton / National Archives)</i></br>"Through the world today there runs both a tide toward and away from sovereignty. Many Americans view these tendencies with equal favor, reading into the one our own Declaration of Independence and Revolution, into the other the work of our Constitutional builders of a federal state. In fact, of course, we dangerously misread the movements of our time if we set them only in the prisms of our own historic experience."
<i>Kennedy With the Shah of Iran at Camp Lejeune, 1962. (Robert Knudsen / JFK Library)</i></br>"Americans have always displayed a faith in self-enforcing moral principles... They must learn that most current issues in international politics do not encourage such unrealistic hopes."
<i>Kennedy Visits NASA, 1962. (NASA)</i></br>"The technological and scientific evaluations which have become so important an ingredient of major decisions mean that the inherent difficulties of the decisions themselves have never been greater. Matters such as our draft and conscription policy, our weapons system, disarmament, East-West trade, all require [knowledge] which few informed persons in any branch of government can fully grasp."
<i>Kennedy at the Graduation Ceremony for Cadets in Colorado Springs, 1963. (Robert Knudsen / National Archives)</i></br>Graduating Cadets "It is futile to think that we can purge our foreign policy of all ambiguities--perfectionism is an empty standard for policy when effectiveness must depend not on abstract principles alone but also on estimates of power and national interest."
<i>Kennedy Speaks on the Steps of the Michigan Union, 1960. (University of Michigan)</i></br>"But with respect to some of the major challenges in the world at the present moment there is an opportunity for the idealistic initiative of our people and the self-interest of the nation to intersect."

II

International events today are subject to a double pull—a search for political identity by the new states and the search for unity among the established states of the world. As Europe draws in upon itself toward a Common Market and greater political integration, Africa, its former colonial estate, is breaking apart into new and emergent states. Through the world today there runs both a tide toward and away from sovereignty. Many Americans view these tendencies with equal favor, reading into the one our own Declaration of Independence and Revolution, into the other the work of our Constitutional builders of a federal state. In fact, of course, we dangerously misread the movements of our time if we set them only in the prisms of our own historic experience. It is easy by a false parallelism to mistake nationalism itself for national salvation, to mistake the assertion of broad unity for its healthy substance.

Modern nationalism, too, has a twin heritage. In one of its aspects it reflects a positive search for political freedom and self-development, in another it is the residue of disintegration and the destruction of the old moorings. The cardinal result of the First World War was the political collapse of the old continental Europe; the most apparent outcome of the Second World War was the erosion of Europe overseas. It is a temptation to write the history of the last 40 years in terms of the symmetric rise of two giant states, the U.S.S.R. and the U.S.A. But it is quite as important to see this period in terms of the decline of other states and the substitution for them of new combinations and clusters of power. In this perspective we see that the United States and the Soviet Union are not only magnets which attract power; they are also, by their overarching influence, repellent forces. This has become especially clear in the events of the last year.

Whereas the coming of the nuclear age reinforced the bipolar structure of world power, its secondary effects now stimulate a dispersion of strength and influence. Great Britain has felt the need to chart an independent course in nuclear development; France is preparing to cut a separate path; China, Germany and India and several smaller nations may soon possess nuclear tools of destruction. In the period of NATO build-up the Western nations had a rough strategic agreement; today even the essential purposes of NATO have come into dispute, and on disarmament even close allies have shown a diversity of aims.

A generation ago the British Commonwealth was a bedrock fact of world politics. Today the Commonwealth has not simply widened in conception with the inclusion of new nations such as India, Pakistan and Ceylon; even among the core members the events of last fall produced a cleavage, when Canada seized the initiative in applying a brake against the British and French adventure in Egypt. India, which itself represents a pole within the Commonwealth, is the leading claimant for the rôle of a "broker" middle state in the larger bipolar struggle; she is also a centerpiece in a "middle zone" of uncommitted nations extending from Casablanca to Djakarta. These nations have gained an effective voice in the United Nations, especially in the General Assembly whose prestige we ourselves helped to enhance by Secretary Acheson's "Uniting for Peace Resolution" of 1950. Today the Arab states alone have as many Assembly seats as all the countries of Western Europe, and the steady increase in the number of U.N. members and the expanded authority of the General Assembly have more and more diluted the commanding positions of the "big" states that have permanent seats in the Security Council. Indeed, to set the constellation of power in the U.N. today against the pattern envisaged at Dumbarton Oaks and San Francisco a little more than a decade ago is to appreciate the scope and rapidity of the change which has taken place. In diplomacy as in military command there is a temptation to fight today's battles with the pattern books and position papers of yesterday's successes.

The task is to strike a realistic balance between the legitimate appeals to national self-determination which pulsate through the uncommitted world and the gravitational pulls toward unity which grow from the technological and economic interdependence of modern states. This is a very difficult exercise in political ballistics. Different parts of the world are at divergent points along the trajectory of political independence. Both democratic self-government and large supra-national mergers have preconditions—a capacity to govern and a communality of interest which cannot be created only out of military fear or idealistic impulse. Americans have always displayed a faith in self-enforcing moral principles and have hankered for apocalyptic solutions and fixed patterns; they must learn that most current issues in international politics do not encourage such unrealistic hopes. Many of the old conceptions of war and peace, friend and foe, victory and defeat, must be reshaped in the light of new realities.

III

We usually attribute to the enemy camp a rigidity of outlook and method; and certainly Russian thinking is hard in texture, its message unrelenting, its outward cast unchanging. We deceive ourselves, however, if we believe that on this account we are the more manœuvrable and flexible in our actions. At times in recent years it has been hard to distinguish Secretary Dulles' emphatic reaffirmations of the imminent collapse of Soviet totalitarianism from the wooden Marxist-Stalinist view of the essential fragility of the capitalist order. While retaining faith in our forms of government and economy, we should not underestimate the Russian capacity for feint and adjustment. While the United States was going through the giddy months after the empty triumphs of Geneva, the Russian leaders, noting the climate of Bandung and the restlessness of the "middle belt," set in motion new forces of ruble diplomacy, economic penetration and political manœuvre. Our only response to these series of actions was to continue to rely unsuccessfully on the paper defenses of the Baghdad Pact, which rested on the false assumption that there was an identity of interest among all the states of the Middle East. This period ended with Mr. Dulles' unhappy efforts to call the Russian bluff over the Aswan Dam.

In other ways, too, we have underestimated as a nation the capacity of the Russians to compete with us militarily and economically. After the war we greatly misjudged their ability to build the atomic bomb and the hydrogen bomb; we underestimated their technological manpower in numbers and quality; we had an easy confidence that we could outdo them in producing planes, missiles and heavy weapons; and we miscalculated the rate of basic economic growth and its rate of acceleration in the U.S.S.R. and China.

While underestimating the potentialities of Russian developments we held exaggerated hopes as to how Western influences could flow into cracks occurring in the Soviet and satellite structure. Hardly had we announced the intention to "liberate" the satellite states of Europe before the Berlin riots occurred. After we found ourselves unable to turn this uprising to more than slight propaganda advantage, we tended to switch to the view that the states of East Europe were closed cells. The Administration saw little hope that new generations could wrench themselves free from the Soviet spell; yet it was precisely university youth and labor unionists, both peculiarly exposed to Soviet indoctrination, who led the rebellions against domination from Moscow. Once again the United States was able to offer little assistance during the ordeal. It has been slow to exploit the possibilities opened up by the gradual detachment of Poland from Russian rule; it was hesitant on granting economic aid and cut the amount to but a fraction of need.

It is in this sort of situation that American thinking, conditioned to the notion of two world camps, most needs reorientation—to accept partial gains in order to undercut slowly the foundations of the Soviet order. For it is most unlikely that any Iron Curtain country will defect simply from East to West. The movement will be gradual, along a spectrum. It would be a kindly recognition of the changing conditions behind the curtain if the Battle Act, Surplus Disposal Act and Mutual Security Act were amended so that economic and financial assistance might be given to countries existing in a kind of Communist limbo. These legislative Acts were drawn for different conditions, in days when there was only one "flower" in the Communist garden—Stalin.

The fragmentation of authority within the Soviet orbit has been one of the main gains of the post-Stalinist era. The totalitarian succession has not passed easily from Stalin to Khrushchev. There are other Communists—Mao, Tito, Gomulka—who claim to speak with Communism's authentic voice. Nationalism is a force cutting into the Soviet world as well as the Western. What will be the full effect of the growth of these centripetal currents remains to be seen, but Mao is surely right in the belief that Moscow's once total monopoly of the gardener's craft has gone.

IV

What Walter Millis has called "the hypertrophy of war" has helped to create the loose-jointed nature of current world politics. The need to face the prospect of having to wage a limited war while holding the levers of unlimited destruction, the need to discriminate between pressures and the appropriate responses in different parts of the world, the need to keep strategy flexible without letting it become formless—these are challenges which Americans with their inclination to problem-solving and passkey formulas are not well equipped to meet. As the threat of total war has seemed to decline and as the danger we faced in 1947-48 has become less clear, the more traditional forms of diplomacy have resumed their old importance and we have again become concerned with the interstitial problems of the world community. The new situation has also brought about the reëmergence of small and middle states as important international factors and has set up a more complicated and fluid balance of power. Various states gain strength because they provide concessions for military bases or contain special resources; others such as Germany and Sweden have an industrial vigor which gives them levers of influence, not only because they can contribute to one or another power bloc but also because they can be leading exporters of both goods and expertise to the underdeveloped nations.

In Europe itself there is alike a new crystallization and a new diffusion of power. The unnecessarily forced pace of German rearmament and the cross-pressures of French politics and commitments aborted the hopes for establishing the European Defense Community. Painful as the French parliament's burial of this scheme was for much European and American opinion, the defeat for American diplomacy may have been salutary in that it destroyed false images. The countries of Europe are now more aware of the practical obstacles to integration, better appreciate the price of unity, more fully understand that concrete if gradual achievements are better than indulgence in great dreams that do not come true. The United States, too, is more aware that the drive for European integration does not represent any European fancy for imitating or being absorbed into American patterns, but in part, at least, a way to win detachment from the United States. Such revolutionary developments as the Common Market and Euratom offer two possibilities—either that the ending of old rifts will release new energies, or that the continental states will become locked in a closed system. It is time for the United States as well as Great Britain to realize that activation of the European Common Market and its companion agreements may well set in motion forces running counter to our present pattern of alliances and relationships with Europe.

Clearly one of the great successes of postwar policy has been the economic revival of Germany in a political framework with a democratic cast considerably stronger and therefore more hopeful than that of the twenties. However, partly out of appreciation and admiration for this outstanding reinvigoration of German politics, American policy has let itself be lashed too tightly to a single German government and party. Whatever elections show, the age of Adenauer is over. The biggest question in any government must now be the identity of Adenauer's eventual successor. The present Administration, like its Democratic predecessor, has riveted its policy and favor exclusively on one leader and party and made pariahs of the opposition, who will inevitably be a part of some future German government. The fidelity to the West of the Socialist opposition is unquestionable, and yet sometimes our statements and actions seem almost to equate them with the puppet régime in East Germany. In all Europe a new generation is coming to power, and it is dangerous to become alienated from them. The giants of the postwar period—Churchill, Adenauer, DeGasperi—have left their imprint. But in the last two years the French Socialist and Radical parties, British Labor, the Italian Christian Democrats, have all been experiencing the transfer of power to new leaders for whom many of the old distinctions between "Left" and "Right" have lost validity. The United States is ill-advised to chase the shadows of the past and ignore the political leadership and thinking of the generation which is now coming of age.

V

Our response to the Soviet challenge in Asia and the Middle East has been exaggeratedly military. However, in Asia our policy has been probably too rigid, in the Middle East too soft. In Asia we have shifted from a hyperbolic image of a free China to the brittle conception of a shiftless totalitarian China. Objectives have become so distorted that our State Department first adamantly opposed even the dispatch to China of newsmen whose reports might allow us to test the validity of our policy; and then set extraordinary conditions with regard to an agreement for their admission. Information and independent judgment about China are so hard to secure that it is very difficult to make an estimate of developments there. There have been—and still are—compelling reasons for the non-recognition of China; but we must be very careful not to strait-jacket our policy as a result of ignorance and fail to detect a change in the objective situation when it comes. If a low ceiling is placed on criticism, policy tends to rigidity and vested interests harden to the point where established viewpoints cannot be modified.

At the moment there is a "deëmphasis" in our Far Eastern concerns, but the presence of important new problems is only thinly concealed. Not only is there the need to reëxamine our military and political position in Korea, but the place of Japan in the Far East deserves special attention. Though many observers have assumed that the military build-up of Japan is of supreme importance, the first need is in fact to find the roads by which Japan may stage an enduring economic revival. Dependent on trade for survival, Japan must find new markets in Asia, and particularly in China. Whether or not Western countries relax their own trade barriers, the issue has important political consequences for Japan.

In the Middle East, since the war, there has been no clear overall conception of American policy. We were right to support the establishment of the state of Israel, whose democratic stamina and military effectiveness have withstood the hard tests of outside challenge and aggression. But in dealing with the other nations of the area we have wavered. In Iran we built up Mossadegh and then scaled him down. In Egypt we encouraged the formation of a revolutionary régime and belatedly restrained its excesses. We helped to make the Aswan Dam an imposing symbol of Western economic leadership and then foreclosed it. Periodically after the war we tinkered with notions of a Middle Eastern defense pact, but never were able to decide who would be defended and against whom. Toward both the Arabs and Israelis we have had an on-and-off policy. Some economic aid was provided for the Arab states, but almost half of the funds appropriated between 1951-1956 were unexpended because of the seeming scarcity of suitable projects.

In this period Middle Eastern political development has generally speaking been in mid-passage between feudal colonialism and semi-feudal independence. British economic interest and political guidance were considered predominant there and we preferred to leave the area under the umbrella of British influence and protection. Events, however, conspired to bring the influence of the United States into play. Our services were often more remedial than preventive. More than in any other area of the world, our policy in the Middle East has been a creature of crisis, jagged in its ups and downs and ambiguous in its direction. The Persian oil crisis, the Israeli war for independence, the British evacuation from the Suez area—these and other events marked a recession of British influence from the Middle East and a sudden pressure for American intervention. On each occasion the United States helped with the immediate problem but without being able to do much toward healing the underlying organic maladies. In the end, it took the British and French invasion of Suez to jolt the United States into recognizing the need for a broader-gauge and more sustained policy. There had been no lack of pointers toward what that policy might include—a multilateral regional development fund, the Jordan River scheme, a food pool making imaginative use of our agricultural surpluses, a program for Arab refugees. What was missing was active political leadership to break the paralysis of purpose.

Occurrences in the Middle East and Asia now cast their shadow over Africa. Here again a sudden inflammation of tension is to be noted, a drive to cut the cords of colonial rule and at the same time to meet the need for economic development and growth. All over the continent several revolutions are occurring at once and many ideas and influences are in collision. The rapidity of the changes makes the formulation of policy both difficult and the more necessary. Here more than almost anywhere else the modern era of communications, with its rapid cross-fertilization of ideas and the reaction of social pressures, makes attempts to segment and isolate individual political conflicts entirely futile. Americans are perhaps too inclined to take at face value cheap caricatures of British and French colonial rule in Africa. The past achievements and current progress of those nations, however, especially in Central Africa, do not make new adjustments unnecessary. When Morocco and Tunisia are free states, Algeria cannot be kept an armed camp.

There are important and subtle political and cultural differences, of course, between different parts of Africa, but the complexity of problems thereby created does not absolve the United States of the duty of interesting itself in them. The temptation is to accept the idea that since our coalition allies have a primary interest there, the United States, like it or not, had best take an enforced diplomatic holiday. In an impasse such as that created by the Algerian rebellion we are told that an American declaration of interest would be illegitimate, a rash provocation of a major ally and a gross departure from accepted standards of international conduct—this in spite of the fact that the influences of the crisis spill over into the rest of free Africa, eat into the fabric of NATO and contaminate our relationships in the United Nations.

We face here one of the harshest perplexities of our policy. The resolution of it would greatly enhance the whole position of the West in Asia and Africa. There obviously is danger in making international policy on the basis of popularity polls; some of the liberal critics of American policy toward neutrals fail to see the risks of setting policy courses by volatile barometric readings. The United States should maintain a priority among its interests and not exchange an ally for a relationship based on a fleeting friendship or a quixotic flirtation. This does not argue, however, for letting slip a main chance to win the world of uncommitted nations. A pose of benign "neutrality" or "non-intervention" will not help us to advance the cause of our NATO allies or the Western position in general. Washing one's hands of responsibility, like plans for "sanitary war" and "clean bombs," induces an illusion of antisepsis and tidy order, but it is only an illusion. The consequences of abstention can be quite as positive as those of direct action. Our policies in Indochina and North Africa since the Second World War indicate that the forces of nationalism cannot be reversed in an effort to cushion their results for an ally.

From now on, our policy in Africa must not be hinged only on metropolitan Europe. In charting it, we must not seek to use it only as a tool of anti-Communism. Neither should we seek to displace European rule where it is making visible and sustained progress in establishing the bases for political independence. And we must show special care not to give grounds for an accusation that we helped to create a free Africa merely as a new arena for economic exploitation. There is no question, for example, that the countries of North Africa should enjoy a special interdependent economic relationship with France. Independence does not require a total severance of old relations, as the newest British dominions well illustrate; what it does require is the substance and not the mere shadow of self-government.

VI

In the years immediately ahead we face a challenge in how to help the new and underdeveloped nations bear their economic burdens. Again we must strike a balance between what Denis Brogan has labelled "the illusion of American omnipotence" and a somber contemplation of the impossibility of absolute solutions.

It is sobering to realize that population curves turn steeply upwards in underdeveloped lands, that as a result the economic backwardness of much of the world is increasing, and that the process of social disintegration intensifies with the rising curve of expectations among many peoples. Old liberal bromides have no appeal to nations which seek a quick transition to industrialization and who admire the disciplined attack which Communism seems to make upon the problems of economic modernization and redistribution. The more immediately persuasive experiences of China and Russia probably approximate what lies ahead for states such as Indonesia or Egypt, suffering from deteriorating economic standards and steeply rising populations.

The United States is economically capable of increasing aid for development purposes, but it cannot scatter its assistance on each parched patch of misery and need. The first step would seem to be to make a small number of investments through aid and loans, selected with an eye to their likelihood for success. There is no need for us to be neutral as to the objectives which it should serve. Successful foreign aid must be selective; otherwise a large amount of aid goes into projects designed to enhance the prestige of the receiving government and into military panoply which may only perpetuate feudalism. The general approach furnished in the Millikan-Rostow proposals (though too much patterned on the Indian economy and perhaps too sanguine about the possibility of freeing economic assistance from political objectives) furnishes some useful guideposts, particularly in stressing the need for more durable aid commitments and for finding methods which minimize political blackmail and indiscriminate handouts. In this regard the Senate has made beginnings this year in providing a long-term basis for assistance, which has the advantages not only of permitting better planning and a more rational evaluation of the political and psychological effects of aid, but also will tend to avoid the disadvantages of making annual aid appropriations which cannot be spent effectively.

In future years, other nations can probably make larger contributions in skills and money to world-wide economic development. Germany already is a sizable foreign investor and lender, and other nations will grow in such capacity. The development of atomic power has given Great Britain the prospect of becoming a prime exporter of atomic reactors. Chances for developing oil await the French in the Sahara if they can establish a political settlement in North Africa. With opportunities like these opening up, a wider system of multi-national aid, pioneered in Asia by the Colombo Plan, can become a reality.

VII

The new dynamics in foreign relations make it all the more important to consider afresh the methods by which foreign policy is formulated and applied. In this realm there is a special danger that a received body of doctrine will continue to be accepted when it no longer retains its original meaning and validity. The phrase "bipartisanship" in particular is abused and stretched beyond logical limits. It reflects the fact that most of the great departures in American policy since the Lend-Lease Act of 1941 have had substantial support from the opposition party. It recognizes that the opposition party of today may become the governing party tomorrow and that the broad stream of national purpose should not be thrust out of its main channel for fleeting partisan advantage which will later demand payment not only in trouble for the party but damage to the country.

Bipartisanship also designates the method which enables the Government to enlist the active coöperation of the leadership of both parties and of distinguished individuals in them. Under Mr. Truman a large number of Republicans—Paul Hoffman, John Foster Dulles, John J. McCloy, John Sherman Cooper, Robert Lovett and many others—were given important foreign policy responsibilities. In Congress, too, there was shared responsibility and leadership. Yet Mr. Vandenberg himself was the first to suggest that bipartisanship was not a blanket under which to smother dissent and genuine difference. China was never "bipartisan," nor was Point Four, nor were some extensions of the aid program. European assistance and United Nations policy generally were. Today, however, there is a prevailing view in Washington that to criticize the Administration on any foreign policy count exposes at worst a moral flaw, at best political irresponsibility. The Secretary of State and the President both have fobbed off responsible critics of specific phases of our policy as being captious or ignorant. Few Democrats have served in responsible administrative posts despite the fact that the party controls Congress.

Bipartisanship cannot be permitted to be an excuse for burying dissent. Especially at a time as fluid as the present it must not become a restraining wall against the flow of fresh ideas and the expression of honest doubts. Doubtless a Congressional opposition such as the Democratic majority forms today is not wholly consistent within itself and does not provide a completely adequate set of alternatives. Thus it regrettably has suffered severe fissions in the current year in the support which it has given to the traditional policy of strong mutual security measures. Significant Democratic groups have supported excessive cuts in foreign aid, have backed restrictive trade policies and, after five years of fighting for stronger national defense policies for both ground and air, have assented to excessive reductions in our defense appropriation. Some of this backsliding has come from weariness and discontent with the results achieved by similar measures in the past, some is consequent on important changes in the American economy, some is due to political reasons—"the duty of the opposition party is to oppose." Whatever the reason for the aberrations, they do furnish ground for concern as to whether our position as a responsible Democratic opposition in the field of foreign policy may not become blurred.

Against this, however, the Democrats can place a record which refutes the conception that foreign policy is too sensitive and that its many gears are too finely meshed to make constructive initiative or criticism in Congress possible. Our current and increasingly successful policy in Indochina (never a strong feature of the State Department under either Republican or Democratic control) has its origins within Congress. The Middle Eastern Resolution was not only refined and clarified in Congressional review and debate; its meaning was for the first time made clear to its authors, who had argued that prompt and automatic passage of the original text was essential if it was to have any effective impact. A workable concept of long-range economic development grew out of the study organized by the Senate into the foreign assistance program.

There are other illustrations. But the central point is that Congress not only can enrich the content of our policy but also make more certain that responsibility in the Executive is placed where it belongs—in the White House and State Department. President Eisenhower has been in the habit of holding a light rein on the conduct of policy and of parcelling responsibility out to many officials. Because of the President's confidence in the integrity of his associates, because of the elaborate mosaic of command and review within the Executive, and because he has the assured affection of the American people, the President in some instances has tended to mistake form for performance.

The National Security Council and its companion bodies have improved the continuity and coordination of policy-making, but at a price. The massive paper work and the clearance procedure, the compulsion to achieve agreement among departments and agencies, often produce policy statements which are only a mongrelization of clashing views. Sparks of dissent and a clear confrontation of alternatives may sometimes be more useful as guides to action than an amalgam on paper of conflicting judgments. We like to believe that the National Security Council previews all likely crises and has on file studies that set forth the right responses. In reality, the anthology of decisions which the N.S.C. compiles has only contingent reliability. Despite its elegant lacework of committees and boards of review, such major crises as Dien Bien Phu and Suez do not appear to have been forecast very accurately and seem to have surprised and divided leaders of government. It is also evident that on major questions such as H-bomb testing, disarmament and even the allocation of functions to the military services for varying types of warfare the N.S.C. has failed to write the score for a united chorus of Administration officials. Indeed, there have been times in recent months when the conflict of wills and policies has been almost as apparent as in the days of F.D.R.—without the drive and direction which then came from the White House itself.

We would lose much if we scrapped the major administrative changes which have been made both under the National Security Act and by executive reorganizations.[i] But a capacity for leadership and a clear articulation of policy at the pinnacle remain an essential dynamic of our system of government. The administrative structure, however constructed or refurbished, supplies only an environment for the making of decisions. It cannot itself produce a wise decision. There is a dangerous tendency today both within our Government and in the United Nations to take too mechanistic a view of the tasks to be accomplished. Sometimes a ferment of ideas is to be preferred above fabricated harmony. It would be unfortunate if our central policy-making bodies became mere vendors of compromise.

To criticize the style of operation of this Administration raises dilemmas which are a continuing feature of our foreign policy. The technological and scientific evaluations which have become so important an ingredient of major decisions mean that the inherent difficulties of the decisions themselves have never been greater. Matters such as our draft and conscription policy, our weapons system, disarmament, East-West trade, all require a knowledge in depth of scientific gains made and scientific potentialities ahead which few informed persons in any branch of government can fully grasp. Even the President himself is torn in many directions, just as the scientists are sharply divided on many of the effects of their researches and discoveries. Yet decisions must be made today and cannot await the compilation of clinical records, based on experience, regarding all the social, political and cultural by-products of our aid and the infusion of new techniques. If Don Quixote is a poor inspiration for the makers of our foreign policy, so, too, is Hamlet.

Now that the smoke surrounding "l'affaire Gluck" has cleared, it would seem appropriate for the State Department and the Congress to consider effective steps for improving our representational responsibilities abroad. Can the United States have a really first-class career service if the most prominent posts are reserved for the politically faithful and the economically successful? And can we have an effective foreign policy if our agents are selected for qualities other than experience, judgment and responsibility? There is a definite rôle for non-career men in Foreign Service; certainly the successes of Chester Bowles and John Sherman Cooper in India and the services of David Bruce and Clare Boothe Luce in Europe indicate that on many occasions ambassadors with special skills of personality or experience or with close ties with the President may play very useful rôles, sometimes influencing events in a way that a career man might not. But it should become a maxim that no Foreign Service post should be beyond the reach of any man, career or non-career, because of inadequate allowances, and that ambassadorships should not be among the loaves and fishes customarily handed out to the party stalwarts.

Finally we return always to the growing inter-connectedness of policy. Perhaps the most dramatic illustration of this is Germany. Again and again we have seen that the discussion of any plan for German reunification involves not only the terms of such a merger, but that the achievement of it would immediately call into question the structure and strategic basis of NATO, the status of the satellite states of Europe and German rearmament. During recent months there have been influential voices arguing that the occasion was ripe for an omnibus settlement of all these points on the basis of a reunified but militarily neutral Germany. It is unlikely that the Russians are in fact willing now to make such a settlement, but it is most difficult to think what should be our attitude toward such a scheme when there is so little agreement within our Government on each of the constituent features of such a plan and its probable results.

We have been fortunate as a nation that our successes in foreign policy have been shared and are not exclusively to the credit of any one party. Likewise our failures and flaws have been shared and are not to be attributed solely to a party or adminstration. In the tests which lie ahead the problems once again are national ones and the necessary adaptations to new circumstances as they arise will not come easily for a person of any tight party persuasion. The veil of illusions hangs over each of us to some degree. The fundamental task for both parties and for all branches of Government is to understand the forces which move the future. Extended autopsies of past failures tend only to add one more layer of unreality to the basis on which we must build—the belief that China was lost because of the action of a few diplomats, for instance, rather than because of underlying revolutionary forces; or the misunderstanding of the rise of Asian or African nationalism as either a Communist or a United States conspiracy; or the idea that there are not social forces running through all the world which have a validity apart from the bipolar struggle.

Recent years have witnessed still another wholly unforeseen phenomenon in parts of India, Indonesia and other sections of Southeast Asia and Latin America—the success of Communists and their associates at the polls and through other ordinary political processes. Western policies have long been predicated upon the assumption that Communist gains would be manifested through either external military threat or intervention, or internal supervision or violence. Consequently, reassessment is urgently required for those American aid programs which have reflected an ill-conceived and ill-concealed disdain for the "neutralists" and "socialists" who—in a nation such as India—represent the free world's strongest bulwarks to the seductive appeal of Peking and Moscow.

The agenda of tasks is large. Our chief concern should be major items. We must see that our actions stimulate the healthy development of the new states even if they are neutral; that we do not encourage the prolongation of Western colonialism where it is stagnant; that the position we take against Soviet imperialism in Eastern Europe is not weakened by Western "imperialism" in Africa or Asia. This is not a sentimental attitude, but one which tries to take measure of the inevitable and come to terms with it. It is futile to think that we can purge our foreign policy of all ambiguities—perfectionism is an empty standard for policy when effectiveness must depend not on abstract principles alone but also on estimates of power and national interest. But with respect to some of the major challenges in the world at the present moment there is an opportunity for the idealistic initiative of our people and the self-interest of the nation to intersect. I am certain that a sufficient clarity of will and purpose within the Administration can gain the support of both parties and of the broad public to meet these challenges in unity.

[i] These developments have been elaborated and defended in these pages by Robert Cutler in "The Development of the National Security Council," Foreign Affairs, April 1956, p. 441-458.

Related Articles

This site uses cookies to improve your user experience. Click here to learn more.

Continue

Close We are offering free and open access for a short period of time. Read more about why we are doing this.

Days
Hrs
Min
Sec