In the post-cold war era, is a new cold war starting? No--at least not yet, despite all the Sturm und Drang about Russian spies in the CIA. But there is no denying that the Bear is back, roaming the world once again. The time has come for the Clinton Administration to get its foreign policy act together.
President Clinton walked through his first year pretending that the U.S. didn't need a foreign policy. He was lucky in this. Russia was preoccupied with internal change. What passed for Administration foreign policy consisted of blindly supporting Boris Yeltsin and blithely accepting a Russia-first strategy in Eastern Europe. The Administration was passive and reactive.
This was in sharp contrast to international economic policy, where Clinton deserves full credit for redefining national interest to include exports and opening overseas markets. He fought for free trade, and his advisers devised a concrete negotiating strategy for cutting the trade deficit with Japan.
But what sufficed for Year One won't do for Year Two. The rout of the reformers by the nationalists in Russia is threatening a cold war redux. In their brief period of rule, reformers focused Russia's energies on internal problems: fighting inflation, expanding the market economy, and breaking up the military-industrial complex. Had the reformers succeeded, Russia might have become an average European state (albeit a large one) with typical national interests and aspirations.
The nationalists have a very different vision for Russia. They are reviving the command economy and are projecting Russian power abroad. In Georgia, Belarus, Kazakhstan, and Ukraine, the nationalists are trying to restore the old order.
Russia is directly confronting the West in Europe. It has vetoed U.S. efforts to move Poland, Hungary, the Czech Republic, and Slovenia into NATO. It snookered NATO in Bosnia to protect their Serbian allies from attack. If Russia renews its support of the Palestine Liberation Organization and resumes arms sales to Syria, it could easily undermine peace talks.
The Clinton Administration has learned plenty over the past 12 months. A flirtation with the U.N. and multinational peacekeeping in Somalia has taught it that national interests cannot be contracted out. A request for direction on Bosnia from a disunited Europe showed the need for strong American leadership.
The shooting down of Serbian jets by U.S. forces acting under NATO is the first sign that the Administration can lead. But more must be done. The problem lies with Clinton's advisers. The foreign policy team is simply weaker than the players on the economic side. They are clever enough, but unable to articulate a coherent foreign policy. They are sincere but perhaps too trusting of Russian intentions.
This is a time for forceful leadership on the international scene. America is fighting the good fight in opening global markets, but it must also deal with the return of the Bear to the global arena. President Clinton can no longer neglect foreign policy.