Decisions taken this month in two cities seven thousand miles apart could have a deep, even profound, impact on U.S. foreign policy in the twenty-first century.
The first was the breakdown of negotiations at the WTO (World Trade Organization) conference in Seattle, where delegates from 135 countries gathered to work out the next round of tariff reductions.
The second was a decision reached in Helsinki, Finland, among fifteen members of the European Union (EU) to form a European defense force that will be independent of the NATO command structure and the United States.
The failure of the WTO conference in Seattle could result in the growth of protectionism among the worlds trading nations and harm the American standard of living. The EU effort to build its own defense capability may affect the cohesiveness of the North Atlantic Pact, which has provided security for Western Europe during the past fifty years.
The reasons for failure in Seattle include the following:
This popular reaction to the WTO was on display in the streets of Seattle this month when a peaceful demonstration turned violent after a group of self-styled anarchists went on a rampage, causing overreaction by the Seattle police force.
The television scenes reminded us of the scene in Chicago in August 1968 when a large rally of protesters tried to shut down the Democratic National Convention and precipitated a brutal police crackdown. In Seattle, when Mayor Paul Schell was asked whether the planned demonstrations there reminded him of that Chicago riot, he said no and gave this reason: "I am not Mayor Daley." His reputation quickly suffered nearly as much as the Chicago mayor's.
The criticism that European countries were not willing to reduce their large farm subsidies as the price of a new round of tariff reductions is partially true. However, the EU was prepared to reduce those subsidies in return for concessions on other issues. Those concessions apparently were not offered by the other countries.
The major question after Seattle was why Bill Clinton suddenly pulled the rug from his able negotiating team, led by Trade Representative Charlene Barshefsky. Although it was known that the administration was under much pressure from the AFL-CIO to insist on trade rules that would force developing countries such as China, India, and Pakistan to improve conditions for their workers, Clinton's public announcement that he would hold out for these concessions shocked many delegates and all but sealed the fate of the conference. The White House later denied that domestic politics was a factor.
How harmful is it that the world will not get additional trade reductions for the foreseeable future?
Optimists say there is no great harm in letting countries absorb all the changes that were forced on their economies as a consequence of previous tariff-lowering agreements. They think most people everywhere understand the advantages of free trade on lowering prices to consumers and providing good jobs in new industries that flow from global trading.
Pessimists argue that Seattle was the high water mark of international cooperation in trade and commerce and that many countries, including the United States, will now succumb to pressure from domestic constituencies that prefer protecting current jobs instead of creating new ones. They fear that current prosperity will suffer as other countries retaliate to protectionism.
The , 2000 election campaign will produce a debate on this important issue. I suspect that what Ross Perot warned about in the last two elections will resonate in the Democratic Party and that Al Gore will soon temper his previous free trade stance in order to placate organized labor and the environmental groups who oppose free trade.
The European (EU) decision in Helsinki to form a Rapid Reaction Force of 60,000 troops by 2003 is not a new idea. But the decision to move ahead with it now is indicative of a deep concern about the direction of American foreign policy.
The European NATO governments, led by France and supported by the new Schroeder government in Germany, are deeply concerned that U.S. foreign policy in the Clinton administration has moved toward a "hegemonic view of the world. It means. they complain, that Washington calls the shots on all the important international issues and the NATO allies are expected to follow obediently.
NATOs war in Kosovo last spring apparently was the trigger that unleashed a reappraisal of the EU's foreign and defense policies. Europeans resented the pressure exerted on them by Secretary of State Madeleine Albright and the White House to adopt a NATO ultimatum issued to Yugoslav president Slobodan Milosevic, to permit NATO to occupy part of his country or face intensive bombing.
Once the bombing began and Milosevic started expelling Albanians from Kosovo, European governments, with the exception of Britain, became alarmed when a ground invasion of Yugoslavia was proposed by NATO's top commander, U.S. General Wesley Clark. The German government told NATO that it would not participate in a ground war.
Europeans also worried about the dangers of alienating Russia by ignoring Boris Yeltsins warnings against starting a war in the Balkans. Their fears were reinforced in June when General Clark ordered the British commander of NATO forces, Lt. Gen. Mike Jackson, to confront 200 Russian troops that occupied Pristina airport without a NATO agreement. Fearing an armed clash with Russians, General Jackson appealed to British Prime Minister Tony Blair, who got President Clinton to overrule General Clark.
The Kosovo experience convinced European leaders, including Blair, that the EU needed an alternative to Washington's direction of security policy in Europe. The Rapid Reaction Force is the result. Europes refusal to go along with the Clinton policy at the WTO conference was another indication of dissatisfaction.
As the twentieth century draws to a close, we are seeing, I believe, a widening gulf in the Atlantic Alliance, with diverging national interests of Europe and America on display. As we move away from the dangers of the Cold War and toward a new era in international politics, Americas leadership is being questioned far more frequently, in Europe and elsewhere.
File last modified on Sunday, 22-AUG-2004 05:30 PM EST