Recent developments in U.S. foreign policy constitute a threat to global stability. Rather than pursue global cooperation, America has retained the unsparing Cold War methods of Third World interventionism and unilateral self-interest. The idea of promoting global stability, democracy, and international collaboration, it seems, has fallen by the wayside.
A recent example of this is the Congressional decision to triple foreign aid to Colombia’s recently elected conservative government. Colombia is in the midst of a civil war, mainly between right-wing paramilitaries, whom the government is widely accused of supporting, and leftist rebels. Both sides are guilty of atrocities. In the name of fighting the war on drugs, Congress will devote $290 million in the coming year to fumigating coca fields located mostly in rebel-held territory. According to Colombian officials, this action will undoubtedly increase tension, as well as disrupt the tenuous peace process. Congress, particularly the conservative Republican contingent, seems intent on escalating strife.
In light of America’s dubious record in South America during the Cold War, Congress should be wary of involving itself in this conflict. Of course, America’s drug problem is a grave concern. But surely government can find other methods of tackling this problem, ones that will not stain its hands with the blood of another war in Latin America.
The crippling sanctions against Cuba represent an even more blatant destabilization policy. With the demise of the Soviet Union almost a decade ago, Castro’s regime should have fizzled out by now. But since 1993, and despite over 35 years of devastating U.S. sanctions, Cuba has experienced economic growth.
The Helms-Burton Act, signed by the Clinton Administration in March of 1996, was intended to thwart this growth in an effort to finally oust the socialist government.
The act, while not achieving the desired effect of economic collapse, has certainly increased levels of poverty, disease, and infant mortality. Although Castro remains in power, Republican senator Jesse Helms, co-author of the Helms-Burton act, declares the act a success. Because of sanctions, Helms argues, “Castro’s efforts to finance Marxist insurgencies have stopped.” Is Helms serious? Is communism such a threat, even after the collapse of Cuba’s lifeline, the Soviet Union, that he can justify condemning a nation to a slow economic death? Nonetheless, Helms continues, sanctions ensure that Castro’s successors will “normalize relations with the United States for a democratic transition in Cuba.”
Unfortunately for Helms, choking a country until it yields complicitly does not promote democracy. Such tactics, as seen throughout the Cold War, are synonymous with war, murder and oppression; helping to produce the Pinochet regime in Chile and the “dirty wars” in Argentina, just to name a few.
Foreign policy towards Iraq is also directed at the eventual overthrow of a dictator, Saddam Hussein. American tactics to expedite the process pretty much follow the Cuban model: gradual economic starvation; and, of course, daily bombings. Exactly what the Clinton Administration plans to do following Saddam’s reign is another question.
An American takeover of Baghdad seems highly unlikely. But so does the possibility of a democratic takeover, considering Iraq’s democratic movement is weak, has sparse funds, and is largely based abroad. Thus, neither Middle East stability nor democracy is guaranteed by Hussein’s removal. What seems more likely is that continued American efforts will only cause further turmoil.
What is disconcerting about American policy, apart from the myriad stability concerns, is its disregard for global contention. The bombing of Iraq, for example, was a unilateral decision that ran counter to the admonitions of both the United Nations and the Security Council. Furthermore, these international bodies have pushed the U.S. for an easing of the sanctions imposed on Cuba and Iraq.
In an effort to avert severe backlash, the Clinton Administration has made a few ornamental changes in its castigation policy towards Cuba, such as raising the level of remittances that can be funneled into Cuba and allowing American companies to sell medicine there. As for Iraq, the U.S is steadfast in its assumed role as the “guardians of peace;” a role most of Europe, the Middle East, and the world would rather it gave up.
It is precisely on such occasions, government argues, that America must affirm its independence, striking paths through uncharted territory in order to stop murderous villains. Sanctions and military aggression, after all, have limited Saddam’s ability to produce chemical weapons. But has America truly earned the authority to declare itself the final authority on weapons of mass destruction? Was it not the United States that dropped the atomic bomb, the effects of which threaten newborn children to this day? Is it not the United States that is widely accused of inflicting biological damage on the Vietnamese and, consequently, its own soldiers?
Another question that arises is America’s inconsistent policy towards Saddam. From the time of the Iran-Iraq war through the mid-to-late 1980s, Saddam was considered a relatively stable ally; even as he gassed civilians in Iran and Kurds in northern Iraq. Saddam gained status as a murderer only after he became a threat to U.S. energy interests. These concerns rarely surface in discussion of foreign policy. But they are extremely important, because they undermine the Clinton Administration’s self-image as the global policymaker towards Iraq.
In placing its interests above those of the international community, America imperils the progress that has been made towards creating unified international organizations. Regrettably, the outlook for the future seems bleak. Not only has the United States refused to join the 120 nations that have signed the treaty of the International Criminal Court, but it has also rejected an edict calling for the removal of deadly land mines. The mines, many located in Southeast Asia, are American-made souvenirs dating back to the Vietnam War.
As U.S. Security Council representative Peter Burleigh said, “international law cannot be just wished away.” This comment, soaked in hypocrisy (considering the United States’ blatant dismissal of its Security Council obligations in striking Iraq), accurately describes how stability could be achieved. Stability, however, requires multilateral cooperation; not the unilateral imposition of will. It requires an active dedication to promoting peace; not self-determinism at any cost. Globalization and multilateralism may truly be objectives of U.S. foreign policy. As shown time and again, however, America may not be prepared to accept the compromises the fulfillment of such objectives entails.