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World: Clinton Sounds Familiar Foreign Policy Themes

  • Kevin Foley

Washington, 5 February 1997 (RFE/RL) - President Bill Clinton is asking the U.S. Congress for "the tools" to meet the diplomatic and military challenges the United States faces in the world as the 21st Century approaches.

"If America is to continue to lead the world," said Clinton, "we here who lead America simply must find the will to pay our way."

Clinton spoke Tuesday night to a joint session of the U.S. Congress in a report called the state of the union. Every U.S. president is required by the U.S. Constitution to present such a report to Congress. It was the first state of the union speech of Clinton's second and final four-year term.

Clinton, a Democrat, was overwhelmingly re-elected last November. However, he must work with a Congress that is still controlled by the Republican Party. He will be asking the Congress to provide the funds for his domestic and foreign policy initiatives this Thursday when his Administration sends its budget request to Congress for the coming financial year.

The President reminded the Congress -- and a national television audience -- that a Democratic President, Harry Truman, worked with a Republican-controlled Congress in the early years of the Cold War to preserve the peace and prosperity of the country.

"Now let us do the same," Clinton urged. "Let us do what it takes to remain the indispensable nation, to keep America strong, secure and prosperous for another 50 years."

Most of the foreign policy section of Clinton's address sounded familiar themes -- promoting democracy, building closer ties with Europe and Asia, developing stronger and more cooperative ties with Russia and China, and maintaining U.S. leadership in the world.

He told the Congress that, "50 years ago, a farsighted America led in creating the institutions that secured victory in the Cold War and built a growing world economy." Clinton said the United States now stands at another "moment of change and choice," that offers the opportunity to bring the nation another 50 years of security and prosperity.

The first foreign policy task for the United States, he said, is to help build an undivided and democratic Europe.

"To that end," Clinton said, "we must expand NATO by 1999 so that countries that were once our adversaries can become our allies." At the same time, he said NATO and the United States must build a stable partnership with a democratic Russia.

The 16-member military alliance created in 1949 plans to issue invitations for membership to some Central and Eastern European countries this summer when alliance leaders meet in Madrid. The first candidates are expected to be the Czech Republic, Hungary and Poland. NATO and the United States have made it clear that these will not be the last members, since several other countries, including Estonia, Latvia, Lithuania, Romania, Slovakia and Slovenia have expressed interest in joining as soon as possible.

Russia, however, is strongly opposed to expansion. Prime Minister Viktor Chernomyrdin warned Monday that Russia's relations with the West might worsen dramatically unless some concessions are made to Moscow. Chernomyrdin will be in the U.S. at the end of this week for a regularly scheduled meeting of the bilateral commission he chairs with Vice President Al Gore. However, the issue of alliance expansion is certain to be discussed. NATO and Russia are also trying to negotiate a new relationship based on a charter.

NATO expansion is not controversial in Congress, but there are likely to be discussions about how it will be financed and what Washington's share will be.

"An expanded NATO is good for America," Clinton said. "And a Europe in which all democracies define their future not in terms of what they can do to each other, but in terms of what they can do together for the good of all, that kind of Europe is good for America."

While Congressional support for NATO expansion is practically certain, backing for another Clinton foreign policy priority -- Senate approval of the international Chemical Weapons Convention -- is not.

"We must rise to a new test of leadership, ratifying the Chemical Weapons Convention," Clinton said. "It will make our troops safer from chemical attack. It will help us fight terrorism."

The treaty goes into force on April 29, with or without U.S. participation. The Senate must give its approval for the United States to sign on, and Clinton said that if it does not, "we will lose the chance to have Americans leading and enforcing this effort."

However, the treaty faces a tough battle in the Senate. Senate Foreign Relations Committee Chairman Jesse Helms (R-North Carolina), has stated that he will continue his opposition to approval. Helms can block debate on the issue. He is opposed to some elements of the treaty, but he also wants to use his power to bargain with the Administration for other changes he wants in the U.S. foreign policy machinery.

In a letter to Senate Majority Leader Trent Lott (R-Mississippi), Helms said he will insist upon a reorganization and a reduction of the foreign policy bureaucracy and legislation that will force a reorganization of the United Nations.

In his speech, Clinton asked the Congress to pay the country's membership arrears to the United Nations. The United States owes the world body more than $1 billion in late dues, but Helms and many other senators view the UN as a bloated bureaucracy with anti-American tendencies, and they do not want to pay up until what they consider to be reforms are made.

Clinton told the Congress, however, that, "every dollar we devote to preventing conflicts, to promoting democracy, to stopping the spread of disease and starvation, brings a sure return in security and savings." U.S. foreign affairs spending, Clinton said, is just one percent of the U.S. budget.

"A farsighted America moved the world to a better place these last 50 years," Clinton said. "And it can do so for another 50 years. But a shortsighted America will soon find its words falling on deaf ears all around the world."