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The Lord Byron Foundation for Balkan Studies


Implications for Russia's Relations with the West

by Professor Ronald Hatchett

Director, The Lord Byron Foundation
Director, Center for International Studies,
The University of St. Thomas, Houston, TX

Presented at the international conference on


jointly organised by

The Russian Academy of Science
The Lord Byron Foundation

January 16-18, 1996

Many Serbs I have met during the course of the conflict in former Yugoslavia have been puzzled by American policy towards this region. They Ask:

  • Why does your government say it stands for self-determination and political freedom but would deny this to the Serbs?
  • Why does your government depict the Serbs as invaders when we are only fighting to hold on to lands that have belonged to our ancestors for centuries?
  • Why does your government depict the Serbs as NAZIS when it was the Croats and Muslims that actually sided with the NAZIS during World War II?
  • Why does your government blame every civilian death or relocation of non-Serbs on Serbian genocide but ignore the deaths and dislocations of hundreds of thousands of Serb civilians in the Krajina and Bosnia?
  • How can we make your government understand the fundamental injustice of its policy towards the Yugoslav crisis?

It always seems to shock my Serb questioners when I tell them that the Clinton administration knows full well the truth about the situation in the former Yugoslavia -- who has done what to whom over the past four years and, indeed, over the past millennium, and who owned what land before the fighting began.

It is you Serbs, I tell them, who are working under a misconception because you do not understand that the declared justifications for American policy towards the Yugoslav conflict are not the actual basis of American policy. American policy towards the situation in the former Yugoslavia is based an considerations much broader than the events in the Balkans. It is concern for its global foreign policy objectives that drives American policy towards former Yugoslavia, not a search for justice for the peoples of this area.

America's Global Primary Global Foreign Policy Interests

Two overriding strategic objectives are shaping American foreign policy today. One is the concern that the United States retain its role as the perceived leader of the western world and the other is that the United States remain the preeminent economic power in the world. I believe these objectives will continue to dominate American foreign policy thinking for the foreseeable future, regardless of whether Kill Clinton or Bob Dole is in the White House.

Evolution of Clinton's approach to Foreign Policy

When Bill Clinton came into office in January 1993 he had no experience in making foreign policy. Even his top foreign policy advisors were more academic philosophers than veteran foreign policy professionals. Colin Powell, the hold over Chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff from the Bush administration, described President Clinton's early National Security Council meetings as more like "graduate student bull-sessions or think tank seminars" than structured policy making meetings. "Backbenchers sounded off with the authority of cabinet officers." [1]

President Clinton's first major public speech concerning his administration's approach to foreign policy was given to the United Nations General Assembly in September 1993.[2] In this speech he was almost euphoric in describing the new world made possible 137 the end of the cold war. He spoke of "a new era" for the United Nations which would come from "a new spirit of cooperation between the superpowers."

"Our overriding purpose", he said, must be to expand and strengthen the world's community of market based democracies." He made clear that his intent was "to work in partnership with others through multilateral organizations like the UN." He pledged American support for "the creation of a genuine UN peacekeeping headquarters with a planning staff, with access to timely intelligence, with a logistics unit that can be deployed on a moment's notice, and a modern operations center with global communications." Anthony Lake, the President's National Security Advisor, characterized the Administration's approach as "pragmatic neo-Wilsonianism." Madeline Albright, his UN ambassador, called it "aggressive multilateralism."

But as Fresident Clinton tried to put his neo-Wilsonian foreign policy into practice he became increasingly frustrated by his inability to build an international consensus around his foreign policy gambits. Few nations, even traditional allies, felt the same imperative that the Clinton administration did in dealing with the crisis over the nuclear program of North Korea or nation building in Somalia. Fewer still shared the Administration's urgency about taking military action to return exiled President Aristide to power in Haiti or applying trade sanctions against China in an effort to force it to become more democratic. President Clinton also got nowhere in trying to sell his "lift and strike" solution to the Bosnian crisis to the Europeans -- or to the American people.

By his second year in office, President Clinton knew that his neo- Wilsonian approach to foreign policy was making him a target of ridicule at home and abroad. American businessmen were educating him about the need to consider the impact on America's economy of human rights oriented foreign policy such as that directed towards China and political pundits were criticizing him for abdicating America's world leadership role to the Europeans. It was the Europeans who were engaged in the Bosnian crisis. It was the Europeans who put together the Palestinian-Israeli dialogue.

President Clinton knew that he had to do something to make himself appear to be an international leader in the eyes of the American people, especially the power brokers who finance electoral campaigns, or he and the Democratic Party would suffer the consequences at the polls. His solution was to move towards a more assertive, "America first" foreign policy.

Since the beginning of 1994, the Clinton approach to foreign policy has emphasized more traditional American themes: namely, that the world needs American leadership and that America's ability to lead depends upon its economic strength. President Clinton's earlier sentiments about all things being possible via multilateral efforts are not heard anymore. In Presidential Decision Directive 25 issued in December 1994, President Clinton officially killed his experiment with the multilateral Wilsonian approach to foreign policy. This directive restricts US participation in collective security operations and declared that "the United states does not support a standing UN army, nor will we earmark specific US military units for participation in UN operations."[3]

President Clinton now emphasizes his intention to "make sure that we [America] move into the next century still the strongest nation in the world" and "to make America the most economically competitive nation in the world."[4] He also says that his Administration "has earned a lot about how the combination of American diplomacy and American force can achieve a desired result and also develop public support within the United States for doing it."[5]

I believe that this type of thinking has more to do with explaining American policy towards the situation in Bosnia than the presumed misguided moralist approach of the Administration. Under this philosophy the Administration still works with other nations in dealing with world problems, but the intent is no longer to achieve a consensus; it is to force others to acquiesce to the American position.

NATO has felt the brunt of this new Clinton Administration foreign policy approach for almost two years now. In the Balkans the west Europeans have been repeatedly frustrated by American refusal to seek consensus. Lord David Owen has publicly expressed his anger about how the American government torpedoed peace plans he put together with UN representatives Cyrus Vance and Thorvold Stoltenburg.[6] There is also the matter of the United State's unilateral declaration in November 1994 that US forces would no longer participate in enforcing the arms embargo against the Bosnian government. Worse still NATO has watched in frustration as the United States took action (with the possible support of Turkey and Germany) to smuggle arms into Bosnia in contravention of United Nations agreed resolutions and to send several high ranking "retired" military officers -- including a former commander in chief of NATO, a former chief of staff of the US Army the former commander of ground forces in the Gulf War, a former chief of the US Defense Intelligence Agency and many others -- into Bosnia and Croatia to play an active role in increasing the intensity of the war at a time when the lives of UN peace keepers from several NATO countries were at risk in this area.[7]

Many NATO nations are now chafing under the Clinton Administration's determination to force the alliance into accepting rapid expansion of NATO into Eastern Europe.

Bob Dole's Foreign Policy Approach

Under a Bob Dole Administration, America's foreign policy approach would become even mare onerous. Instead of attacking the recklessness of the current Administration, Senator Dole criticizes it for not being tough enough! According to Dole, "U.S. foreign policy under the Clinton Administration has been marked by a lack of assertiveness, a lack of credibility, a lack of resolve -- in sum a lack of leadership. Does America want to enter the next century as a superpower? The Clinton Administration's answer is 'No'. From day one, this administration has been uncomfortable and apologetic about America's lonely superpower status."[8]

Bob Dole outlined his prescription for putting America's foreign policy on the correct track in a speech at the Nixon Center for Peace and Freedom in March 1995.[9] In this speech Dole outlined five "Realities" that would guide American foreign Policy under his Administration. The first is that the world is entering a golden age of capitalism but this does not mean automatic cooperation among all countries. There are countries who will not play by the rules so the US must be ready to defend its economic interests. Second, it is an "inescapable reality" that the security of the world's oil and gas supplies, particularly those of the Persian Gulf, will remain a vital national interest of the United States. This vital interest includes not only the producing fields but also the pipelines and other distribution means. Reality number three is that there is a danger to the US from the spread of weapons of mass destruction and the US must be prepared to use preemptive military strikes if necessary to prevent this spread. Fourth, the US must be willing to intervene in crises caused by extremist religious or ethnic factions affecting countries of special interest to the United States like Greece, Albania, Turkey, Mexico, and "ethnic turmoil in the former Soviet Union cannot be ignored." The fifth, and most dangerous, "reality" that Bob Dole says should guide American foreign policy is: "the fact that the geopolitical rivalry with Russia did not end with the demise of Soviet communism.." Communism may be dead, he says, but Russian imperialism remains a threat to US interests. Dole goes on to cite several examples of how this threat is manifesting itself today, including the continuation of "historical threats" to the near abroad and to prospective NATO members over the issue of NATO expansion, "thereby confirming the need to enlarge NATO sooner rather than later."

How the American Determination to Lead and Protect its Economic Position Affects Its Current Policy Towards Bosnia and Future Policy Towards Russia

If one looks at American policy towards the Balkans from the assumption that President Clinton's policy towards this region is driven by his primary global foreign policy concerns to maximize American leadership and economic strength, then the policy becomes somewhat more rational. The United States could not accept the EU brokered peace plans of Lisbon, Vance- Owen, and Owen-Stoltenburg because doing so would have caused Bill Clinton to be condemned at home as having abdicated America's leadership preeminence. To salvage his leadership image, President Clinton pushed aside the UN and EU in early 1994, putting together the so-called contact group approach as a multilateral effort, but one which now worked off a US State Department draft. At the same time he began to take the unilateral actions mentioned previously to directly aid the Muslim and Croat cause. The eventual result was the agreement at Dayton which President Clinton announced to the American people as if it were something America alone was responsible for. "If America does not lead," he said, "too often the job will not be done .... Europe alone could not end this war."[10]

The determination to lead explains why an agreement in Bosnia had to be on American terms, but it does not explain why the American terms favored the Muslims. The explanation for this is money.

About two years ago I was snaking the rounds in Washington trying to educate some of my former colleagues who were still in the government and working policy issues affecting the former Yugoslavia. One of my friends in the Pentagon stopped me in the middle of my harangue about the injustice of American policy towards the Serbs, in particular the depiction of Serbs as invaders of Bosnia and Croatia, and as the only perpetrators of war crimes. "Ron," he said, "don't you think we know what you are saying? The simple facts are these: we are getting incredible pressure form the Saudis and others to help the Muslim cause in Bosnia. They remind us that the Islamic world provides us with all the oil we want at relatively low prices, that Islamic states have billions of petrodollars to invest in "friendly states" and offer a potential market of over one billion people for the goods and services of "friendly countries"; and finally, that the peace process between Israel and the Islamic world "should go better if Israel's main friend was also a friend to Islamic countries. When you weigh these facts against what 8 million Serbs can do for America's interests, its clear what direction our policy is going to take."

In a recent opinion piece in The New York Times, Jacob Heilbrunn and Michael Lind of the journal The New Republic argue that the American commitment to the Islamic connection is so strong that the US design is to make the Islamic world part of a new American empire and that American support of the Bosnian Muslims is part of the implementation of this plan.[11] They argue that the US perceives its hegemony in the Islamic world to be key to offsetting the geopolitical power of a united western Europe, and economically emerging China, and a natural resource rich Russia.

What all this means for the future relations of Russia with the west is that for the foreseeable future the United States will continue to place its struggle to hold on to its leadership position in western Europe above considerations for improving relations with Russia. The viability of NATO is perceived to be necessary to America's leadership of the west. NATO is the only European organization that the US perceives that it controls. The Organization for Security and Cooperation in Europe (OSCE) is too diverse in membership and there is no special privilege for the US as in NATO, where the Commander in Chief is always an American and there is a long history of US dominance of the political activities of the alliance. For NATO to be viable, the US believes that it must look for new missions and new membership. If one looks at the NATO charter there is clearly no legally justifiable reason for NATO to be in Bosnia at the present time. Conversely, if one looks at the charter of the OSCE, there is every reason for this organization to be there. By being the champion of NATO expansion the US hopes to add supporters for a strong US role in Europe.

One of the recurring themes for some time now amongst the American foreign policy elite is that America is a European country. The Clinton Administration subscribes to this idea and uses it to justify the need for continued American leadership in NATO and for NATO's expansion eastward. Richard Holbrooke, Clinton's Assistant Secretary of State for European and Canadian Affairs, and most recent chief negotiator on the former Yugoslavia, wrote an article entitled "America, A European Power," in the March/April 1995 issue of Foreign Affairs.[12] In this article Holbrooke makes the case that America's European interests justify its call for a new security architecture in Europe of American design. The new architecture is based on an expanded NATO. Holbrooke asserts that, "The West must expand to central Europe as fast as possible in fact as well as spirit, aid the United States is ready to lead the way... Expansion of NATO is a logical and essential consequence of the disappearance of the Iron Curtain." Holbrooke says that NATO expansion is directed at extending market based democracy to former socialist states of Eastern Europe, not at countering some perceived military threat from Russia. It would seem to me, however, that if extending market based democracy was our goal we should push for expansion of the European Union into these lands as it is focused on economic and political matters, in contrast to NATO which was created as a military alliance specifically created to counter a perceived threat from a Russian dominated Soviet Union.

General George Joulwan the American Commander in Chief of NATO told the Washington Post last month that NATO's actions in Bosnia are not about the future of Bosnia but rather the future of Europe.[13] I think this is true. Bosnia is a test case for the new American designed security architecture for Europe. If American goals here are achieved at little or no cost, then the same approach will be applied elsewhere and it doesn't take much imagination to predict where. Deputy Secretary of State Strobe Talbott told the Pittsburgh World Affairs Council about three weeks ago that one of the reasons that the Clinton Administration is determined to end the crisis in Yugoslavia on American terms is: "If aggressive nationalism triumphs there, it will not only be devastating in that region, it will be ominous elsewhere as well..... Throughout the former Soviet Empire, dark forces similar to those that have convulsed the Balkans are vying with those of freedom and tolerance to fill the vacuum left by the collapse of communist rule."[14] In a speech at Indiana University, Secretary of State Warren Christopher gave some insights as to who the Administration considers to be among the possible dark forces of the old Soviet empire. According to Secretary Christopher, "Russia's conduct in Chechnya has been tragically wrong... I have urged the Russian government to end the carnage, to accept a permanent mission from the OSCE and to reach a political settlement... But its actions in Chechnya today threaten Russia's ability to emerge as a democratic, multi-ethnic state."[15]

As an American I too would like to see my country be an effective world leader. But as a political scientist I know that power can be wielded in the international arena in two ways. One way is to use situational power in which an actor coerces others to do its will by threat or use of military or economic resources. The other way is to use attitudinal power gained from one's own exemplary record of performance as a society, or superior expertise, or recognized moral standing, or charisma to convince others that one's policy is the best for the situation at hand. The latter approach may take more effort to be successful but its results will be more lasting. The problem with relying an the coercive approach that Clinton and Dole seem to favor is that sooner or later we will run out of luck and some nation or coalition of nations will not acquiesce to American strong arm leadership. The consequences then will be great for my country and the world.

[1] Colin Powell, My American Journey, (Random House: New York, 1995), p. 575.

[2] President Bill Clinton, Address to the United Nations General Assembly, September 1993.

[3] Arthur Schlesinger, Jr., Back to the Womb?, Foreign Policy, July/August, 1995.

[4] President Bill Clinton speech to the Nixon Center for Peace and Freedom, March 1995.

[5] President Bill Clinton as cited in an article by Daniel William's and Ann Devroy, "US Follows a Two-Pronged Doctrine: Force Projected Abroad for National Security Policy Goals," The Washington Post, October 16, 1994.

[6] "Clinton Prolonged the War, Owen Says," Reuters News Wire Service Report in Los Angeles Times, December 22, 1993; also see Lord David Owen interview on BBC television program Panorama in November 1995.

[7] See for example, "US to Help farm Muslim-Croat Army in Bosnia," New York Times, October 18, 1994; "US Retired General to Aide Muslim-Croat Federation," New York Times, January 23, 1995; "Europeans Charge Bosnian Army Gets US Arms," Reuters Wire Service Report, July 27, 1995; and "US Admits Advisers, Denies Aiding Croat Attacks," Reuters Wire Service Report, August 7, 1995.

[8] "Dole Foreign Policy," Associated Press Wire Service Report, Suptember 1995.

[9] Bob Dole, "Winning the Peace American Leadership and Commitment," speech to the Nixon Center for Peace and Freedom Policy Conference, March 22, 1995.

[10] President Bill Clinton, television and radio address to the American people on Bosnia, November 27, 1995.

[11] Jacob Heilbrunn and Michael Lind, "The Third American Empire," The New York Times, December 30, 1995.

[12] Richard Holbrooke, "America, A European Country," Foreign Affairs, March/April 1995.

[13] Rick Atkinson, "NATO's Gunboat Diplomacy not Assured of Smooth Sailing," The Washington Post, September 13, 1995.

[14] Deputy Secretary of State Strobe Talbott, "American Leadership and The New Europe," Address to the Pittsburgh World Affairs Council, December 14, 1995.

[15] Secretary of State Warren Christopher, "U.S. Policy Towards the New Independent States: A pragmatic Strategy Grounded in America's Fundamental Interests," Address to Indiana University, March 29, 1995.


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