Foreign-policy discussions, especially when confined to TV talk shows or newspaper editorial pages, tend to take on a ritualistic flavor. People intone familiar arguments, divide into familiar sides. Rarely do they uncover each other’s core assumptions or provoke one another-or the observer-to reconsider old ideas.
Yet with Cold War verities no longer certain, serious discussion is more important than ever. To that end, Reason gathered a group of foreign policy analysts to discuss and debate what U.S. policy should be in the post-Cold War era-to address each other directly, to explore differences and find similarities, to reveal one another’s premises about the shape of things to come and American ability to alter that shape. Our goal (though not necessarily that of the participants) was not to come to any particular conclusion. It was to challenge our readers to think about their own ideas on the subject.
Thinking about foreign policy is especially difficult, and important, for people who value individual liberty. By its very nature, foreign policy involves collective, not individual, action; in the modern world, it is conducted by nationstates. In the realm of foreign policy, not only action but inaction can have serious and unforeseen consequences. Here, we begin a discussion that will continue in future issues of Reason. Our symposium was held in Washington, D.C., in early December. The participants were:
- Ted Galen Carpenter, director of foreign policy studies at the Cato institute;
- Benjamin Frankel, editor of Security Studies;
- Charles Krauthammer, a syndicated columnist who writes frequently on foreign policy;
- Joshua Muravchik, a resident scholar at the American Enterprise Institute and author of the new book Exporting Democracy;
- Daniel Pipes, director of the Foreign Policy Research Institute and author of five books on the Middle East.
Virginia Postrel: Where is the world headed in the post-Cold War era, in the absence of political or military intervention by the United States or other countries?
Charles Krauthammer: In the absence of a world order imposed by the West-because there really is no one else to impose it-I think it would be chaotic, and highly dangerous. The most salient feature of the international environment in the post-Cold War era will be the possession of weapons of mass destruction and the means to deliver them by a range of countries, some of which will be unstable, aggressive, and reckless. Saddam Hussein is a harbinger of that. He is the prototype of the threat. Oil states can accelerate history because they can acquire vast wealth and import technology in a way that other smaller countries can’t.
Ted Carpenter: The post-Cold War world is going to be a classic case of good news and bad news. The bad news is that it is going to be a terribly disorderly place regardless of what the United States does. I don’t think the United States or any other power, or probably any combination of powers, will be able to impose order on this rather fractious internarional system.
The good news is, though, that we also will not have to deal with a would-be hegemonic rival like Nazi Germany or the Soviet Union. Consequently, most of the so-called threats that we will encounter in the post-Cold War era will not be pertinent threats, but rather what the editor of Foreign Policy, Charles William Maynes, has described so appropriately as impertinent threats. That is to say annoyances, a lot of petty local and regional quarrels and conflicts that do not have a great deal of relevance to America’s own vital interests. Consequently, it is possible for the United States to adopt a rather aloof strategy.
Daniel Pipes: I think it is premature to dismiss the Soviet Union as a potential hegemonic power. While it is certainly true that there have been stunning changes in the Soviet Union in the last couple of years and that today the Soviet power projection is nothing like what it was just months ago, it is also possible that it may be transient. It may be that a strongman will emerge, military or not, and that the vast military potential that remains in the Soviet Union could be harnessed again to an ambitious program.
Joshua Muravchik: I was struck in Ted’s remarks by the absence of gradations. Is there nothing that lies between on the one hand a hegemon, or aspiring hegemon, and on the other hand the most inconsequential disturbance somewhere in some corner of the earth?
Would nuclear war between some states in the Middle East or between India and Pakistan be a matter of indifference to us? Certainly, none of the states in the Middle East or South Asia pose a hegemonic threat to us, but 1 don’t think that is the kind of thing that we would want to just shrug off.