America's Brave New Global Game Plan

An assertive foreign policy is on Clinton's front burner

When President Bill Clinton woke Hosni Mubarak on Jan. 11 to tell the Egyptian President a deal on Israeli withdrawal from Hebron was essential, he quickly got what he wanted. Within days, the Mideast peace process was back on track. But he was also sending out an important signal: Foreign policy will be front and center during Clinton's second term.

The tempo will be fast and furious. This summer, the U.S. and its allies will make key decisions on the pace and scope of NATO's expansion. They must agree at a July 8-9 summit in Madrid on a blueprint for a new European security regime, and that means devising a fresh relationship with Russia. Clinton will have his first formal summit with Chinese leaders this year as he tries to anchor an emerging powerhouse with ambitions of its own to the world system. Meanwhile, the drive to balance the budget could force the Administration to slash Pentagon spending, profoundly affecting America's ability to project global power.

A sharper focus on global security issues won't push trade and economics off the radar screen, though. The White House will also be continuing its free- trade campaign with a push for "fast-track" authority from Congress for new open-market deals. Says a top Administration economic aide: "International economic issues are going to be at the center of the foreign policy agenda."

MAKE HISTORY? The challenge, analysts say, is for Clinton finally to come up with a game plan for the post-cold-war world. To do that, his new team will be forced to take a bolder and more strategic approach to foreign policy, in contrast to its often ad hoc decisions in the first term. Madeleine K. Albright, Secretary of State-designate, set the tone at her Jan. 8 Senate confirmation hearings. The U.S., she said, can no longer afford to be just an audience or even an actor: Instead, "we must be the authors of the history of our age."

High on the agenda is fast-track authority. That forces Congress to accept or reject without amendments trade deals the Administration negotiates. The White House will, for instance, ask for such authority to enlarge the North American Free Trade Agreement, with Chile the likely next entrant.

The issue will heat up when Chilean President Eduardo Frei meets with Clinton in Washington on Feb. 26. Key Congressional aides such as Michael Wessel, from House Minority Leader Richard A. Gephardt's (D.-Mo.) office, are stirring the pot. They are masterminding Democratic efforts to make labor and environmental protections a condition of expanding NAFTA. Administration officials worry that Latin American nations are forging their own trade blocs that will leave the U.S. out. When NAFTA was debated in 1993, "the question was whether integration was good or bad," says Deputy Treasury Secretary Lawrence H. Summers. "Now, it's a question of whether it happens with or without the U.S."

Veterans from Clinton's first term such as Summers still occupy most key posts on the foreign policy team. But if the faces remain the same, the style of U.S. diplomacy is in for a big change under Albright. Tough and blunt, in contrast to her courtly predecessor Warren M. Christopher, Albright is no slouch at backroom maneuvers, as she showed in helping oust U.N. Secretary General Boutros Boutros-Ghali. And with her knack for sound bites, she will use her new bully pulpit to sell foreign policy to an apathetic public. She will be "more effective as a champion of [foreign] policy," says Peter Rodman, a national security expert at the Nixon Center for Peace & Freedom.

Albright is already pushing to get a bigger budget for the State Dept., relentlessly squeezed under Christopher. But that could look like small potatoes against another looming budget battle with Congress over defense. Defense Secretary-designate William S. Cohen will have to deal with the problem of the growing gap, now estimated at $150 billion, between the defense budget and the cost of modernizing U.S. armed forces. Some experts argue for a smaller, better-equipped force. That would dovetail with growing political pressure to pull back troops stationed abroad. But troop cuts could pose strategic risks. Says Joseph S. Nye Jr., dean of Harvard University's John F. Kennedy School of Government and a former top Pentagon official: "Forward-positioned troops give us enormous influence in foreign policy."

That's been evident for a long time in Europe, Albright's likely initial focus. She was an early advocate of NATO expansion. To assuage Moscow's concerns, she'll support moves keeping NATO nuclear weapons out of the territories of new member nations in Central Europe as well as giving Russia access to NATO decision-making by allowing it to sit in on--but not vote at--important meetings. All this will be on the table when a group of U.S. officials, including Deputy Secretary Strobe Talbott and Vice-President Al Gore's foreign policy guru, Leon Fuerth, visit Moscow in late January, and when President Boris Yeltsin visits Washington in March.

Albright made clear at her confirmation hearing that she also recognizes the growing importance of Asia. One of her first moves may be to hire Stanley O. Roth, a senior official at the U.S. Institute of Peace, to head State's Asia shop. A veteran Capitol Hill aide, Roth served as a top National Security Council Asia hand in Clinton's first term.

But while he'll play an influential role, Roth may not be the chief architect of China policy, which has been controlled by the NSC since the agency began overseeing coordination of China policy last year. National Security Adviser Samuel R. Berger, an international lawyer who moved up from the No.2 slot, is expected to fight hard to keep that ombudsman's role. He's tried to put an end to the many conflicting signals put out by officials during Clinton's first term. A classic example was the Commerce Dept.'s pursuit of China export deals while State's human-rights watchdogs were slamming Beijing's treatment of dissidents. The NSC is credited with defusing tensions with Beijing by emphasizing areas of common concern, such as a nuclear-test-ban treaty and blocking North Korea's access to sensitive nuclear technology.

The brains behind this shared-interest strategy is Sandra J. Kristoff, who worked on Asia issues at State and the U.S. Trade Representative's office before taking a senior spot at the NSC. She'll play a key role in talks over China's entry into the World Trade Organization and flaps over nuclear proliferation. Chinese officials insist they will continue to sell potentially dangerous technology to rogue Mideast nations as long as the U.S. sells weapons to Taiwan. Beijing is "playing realpolitik," says a China specialist.

That could spell trouble for another initiative: the four-party talks on Korea. North Korea has agreed to meet with the U.S. and South Korea on Jan. 29, probably in New York. But if the talks make progress, China, the fourth party, could insist that reunification means no more American GIs in Korea. That would alter the balance of power in the area, and Washington would balk.

China's increasing importance as a trade partner will force changes in the setup at the U.S. Trade Representative's office. Acting USTR Charlene Barshefsky, who is expected to be confirmed, will likely split up the combined office that presently deals with both China and Japan. James D. Southwick will keep responsibility for Japan, keeping up pressure on a mature but insular economy to open its markets. Lee M. Sands, who currently heads the joint office, will take on China. His challenge is to deal with its peculiar blend of capitalism wrapped in communism. While seeking entry to the WTO, China will resist conforming to trading rules accepted by developed nations. Complicating matters, Senate Foreign Relations Committee Chairman Jesse Helms (R-N.C.) and his voluble spokesman Marc Thiessen will continue to orchestrate congressional efforts to keep up the economic pressure on both China and Cuba.

While the Administration heavyweights on Asia are mostly in place, the lineup for Europe is more fluid. John C. Kornblum, a career diplomat who has the Europe portfolio and has been concentrating on Bosnia and NATO, is expected to be named ambassador to Germany. Changes at the top at State also are possible. Talbott has agreed to stay on, but it's not clear for how long. Peter Tarnoff, the top political-affairs aide at State, is expected to depart. Possible picks for these jobs include seasoned pros: Morton I. Abramowitz, who heads the Carnegie Endowment for International Peace; Frank G. Wisner, ambassador to India; Thomas R. Pickering, a former ambassador to the U.N. and Moscow; and J. Stapleton Roy, ambassador to Indonesia.

LONG-LOST FRIENDS. With so many long- term decisions on the calendar, strategic planning is getting overhauled. Russia and China have developed the warmest relations in four decades, so NATO expansion, Russia policy, and China policy are all intertwined. To bolster the NSC's strategic planning, Berger has brought in James B. Steinberg, a former Rand Corp. analyst who was head of State's policy planning staff. At State, sources say, Mideast negotiator Dennis B. Ross might get a broader portfolio, including long-range strategic planning, which he did for James R. Baker III.

Then there's Vice-President Al Gore. When Clinton's second term reaches the halfway point and Gore gears up for a White House run, betting is that he will become much more visible in foreign policy. Gore's inclination is to use force when necessary as a foreign policy tool. That stance is tempered by his stands on global environmental cooperation.

The decisions Clinton's foreign policy brain trust makes now will long reverberate. If the new lineup can score even a few more successes such as Hebron, it will leave a rich legacy.

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