Helman on Rice and the New Truman Doctrine
Ambassador Gerald B. Helman writes:
” In an op-ed piece published in the December 11 Washington Post, Secretary of State Rice provides an important statement of the Administration’s global strategic posture. She underscores its importance by comparing the international environment the Administration confronted when it took office to that faced by Truman/Acheson following World War 2 and the rise of the Soviet Union. In short, as Acheson felt that he was “present at the creation” of a new international system, Rice observes that “centuries of international practice and precedent have been overturned in the past 15 years” and thus she, as well, is at the point of a fundamental genesis. In effect, the Administration’s policies are intended to change the terms by which states conduct their relations.
While Rice does not describe the international system Truman/Marshall/Acheson/Dulles put in place, it is important to state their elements in order to better understaand the Administration’s. America’s post-World War 2 leadership faced a world that had been through almost seven years of massive warfare (some would take the starting date back to 1914) on a global scale, with civilian and military death, destruction and atrocity beyond imagination. The enemies of the victorious allies lay in ruins and occupied, Germany by four powers, Japan by the United States alone. Within months of the end of the war, the ambitions of the Soviet Union became increasingly manifest, first in political and conventional military terms, but soon in its strategic nuclear posture. The USSR rapidly developed into a power that, for the first time in history, had the capability to obliterate the US. Geographically, the area of contention was Europe but in a few short years it became global.
What the Truman generation created was an international system that combined economic development (the Marshall Plan), institution building (the United Nations, NATO) and the rules of conduct embodied in their charters, and the strategic posture of containment and deterrence backed by the real military forces of the US and its allies, and the US nuclear deterrent.
The Bush/Rice new world is one in which conflict among major powers is now unthinkable, which in turn allows the building of a lasting global stability that will amount to a balance of power “that favors freedom.” Further, the 350 year-old international state system based on the sovereignty of individual actors no longer holds. There are some states, those weak and failing, that can no longer contain the threats emerging from their territories. These, rather than strong and competitive states, are the greatest threats to our security. Thus, the fundamental character of regimes matters more than the international distribution of power. Creating democracies, particularly in the Middle East (the source of radical Islamic terrorism), is not idealism, but the only realistic response to present challenges–“stability without democracy will prove to be false stability.”
While not mentioned by Secretary Rice, it should be fair to conclude that to her new international system would be added at least two elements of the “Bush Doctrine” published in 2002, that the US retained the right to preemptive war (the basis for the invasion of Iraq) and would not allow any other power(s) to challenge the US in military strength.
The Bush Rice international system thus would consist of one in which the U.S. is accepted by all others as being the perminent dominent military actor. Whether for this or additional reasons, conflict among major states would be unlikely; these states (which would include Russia and China) would be increasingly available, under US leadership, to establish durable global stability that would amount to a balance of power favoring freedom. Those states that are weak or failing, principally in the Middle East, would forfeit the traditional protections of sovereignty so that outside powers can guide them to democracy. By thus abolishing their “freedom deficit,” the swamps of terrorism would be drained and the world’s security enhance. Within this world, the US would be able to operate largely unconstrained, employing shifting, ad hoc coalitions, monitoring and correcting as necessary national political systems and as a result preserve US security.
The Bush/Rice international system certainly is subject to criticism:
–It is unrealistic to consider Russia and China as willing actors today in establishing a balance of power “favoring freedom.”
–It is even less credible that China and Russia (and others) will be willing to concede to the US a permanent role as military and political hegemon. To the extent that the US considers itself relieved of institutional and treaty constraints, others will insist on the same freedoms. In such circumstances, bloody conflict could be as likely as cooperation.
–Weak and failed states exist, largely in Africa and recently in Afghanistan. They typically are the byproducts of failed colonialism. They do represent a danger to others because they cannot exercise the responsibilities of a sovereign to control its own territory and meet its international obligations. They are poor, sources of disease and crime and too often generate massive refugee flows. Their problems can be addressed politically, socially and economically by the an international community that organizes itself to do so through existing institutions. But Iraq was not a failed state and neither are most of the others in the Middle East. Iraq was bad and so is Iran and Syria. It is unlikely that the US will get early support for the invasion of the latter two.
–It also is seriously open to question whether democracy, in the Middle East or elsewhere, is best advanced by other states asserting the right to do so because of the diminished sovereignty of the beneficiary. The existing NGO’s that historically have promoted democracy, such as the German political foundations and those groups associated with the US National Endowment for Democracy, have over the past decades established admirable records of achievment, initially in Eastern Europe (pre-liberation) and elsewhere around the world. It’s a slow process and unlikely to be easily advanced through state intervention.
–Thus while more representative institutions may in time deny terrorism of a breeding ground, its growth will be slow. In the meantime, much more will be needed in terms of police work, public information, covert action, acquisition of intelligence and military action. This will require strong, continuing international cooperation. Insisting on the Bush/Rice international order as the framework could well get in the way.
And, finally, Secretary Rice confides that she has hung Dean Acheson’s portrait in her office, the same office that he occupied as Secretary of State. Wrong. Acheson’s office (much more impressive than Rice’s) was in what is now called “Old State.” “New State,” now called the Truman Building, was not opened until about 1960. Acheson’s office was also occupied by George Marshall and John Foster Dulles. All would certainly have been astonished at this Administration’s policies and pretensions. I can only imagine the language Acheson would have used.
That aside, the Bush/Rice world vision seems intended seriously. They owe the Congress, public and America’s allies a clearer exposition of it so that it might be properly and vigorously debated. “
Helman “was United States Ambassador to the European Office of the United Nations from 1979 through 1981.”