As the U.S. presidential election draws closer, officials in Europe are looking for signs as to how the outcome will affect U.S. foreign policy, if at all. This week, on a visit to Brussels, senior advisers to both Republican Governor George W. Bush and his Democratic opponent, Vice President Al Gore, said neither man was likely to radically rearrange American foreign policy. RFE/RL Brussels correspondent Ahto Lobjakas reports.
Brussels, 14 September 2000 (RFE/RL) -- When it comes to relations with Europe, advisers close to both George W. Bush and Al Gore say differences between the two are a matter of degree -- not principle or ideology. They say both will try to further U.S. interests along lines broadly set out by outgoing President Bill Clinton.
Speaking yesterday in Brussels on how the presidential election in November will affect U.S. relations with the European Union, NATO and Russia, advisors to Republican Texas Governor George W. Bush and Democratic Vice President Al Gore played down any major differences between their candidates.
Bush advisor Charles R. Black Jr. says neither Bush nor Gore sees the need for a radical overhaul of foreign policy:
"On foreign policy, we believe the broad direction of U.S. foreign policy will not change, no matter which of these gentlemen [Bush or Gore] is elected. There's a pretty strong level of agreement on big issues in foreign policy between Gore and Bush, and both pretty much agree with the direction the Clinton administration has taken."
Black says regardless of who becomes president, the U.S. will consider its economic and political relationship with its European allies as central to foreign policy.
He says neither Bush nor Gore will jeopardize U.S. interests in trade disputes with the EU. These disputes, originally involving EU bans on the export of hormone-reared American beef and limitations on the importation of bananas from U.S. companies, now threaten to develop into a full-scale trade war, where both sides are weighing the introduction of tit-for-tat sanctions amounting to hundreds of millions of dollars.
Black says one point of difference may be that Bush, if elected, would re-appraise the need for a U.S. military presence in various hot spots, including the Balkans:
"Governor Bush wants to increase the capability and preparedness of the U.S. military, but he wants us to engage in fewer commitments and deployments around the world. In the last eight years, we've downsized our military 40 percent -- that started under President [George] Bush, by the way, it was a bipartisan move to decrease the size of our military. But our commitments and deployments around the world are three times what they were eight years ago. [George W.] Bush would like to cure that and one of the suggestions he has made is that maybe U.S. troops doing peacekeeping duties in the Balkans could be replaced by Europeans."
Black says Bush would also adopt a tougher approach on Russia. He says Bush would be inclined to view both Russia and China as "strategic competitors," rather than "strategic partners," as president Clinton has done.
Also, Bush has firmly committed himself to the deployment of a national missile defense system to shield the U.S. against missiles fired by countries, such as North Korea or Iran, opposed to U.S. interests. The proposal has been criticized by Russia and some European allies as jeopardizing progress in arms control. President Clinton recently postponed a decision on whether to continue development of the system, in effect leaving the decision to his successor.
Gore's advisor R. Scott Pastrick says it would be a mistake, however, to consider Al Gore a defense dove. Pastrick points at Gores voting record as a senator, when he supported the proposed Star Wars anti-missile system of the 1980s and U.S. involvement in the Gulf War, both against his [Democratic] party line.
The Democratic party also says Gore supports a limited national missile defense system, but adds the Gore proposal would not threaten the anti-ballistic missile treaty with Russia.
Pastrick says Gore would make a special effort to anticipate problems before they became crises through a policy of "forward engagement."
"The political and policy implications [of a possible Gore presidency] will be rooted in the vice-president's foreign policy objectives. The pursuit will be one that [Gore] is referring to as "forward engagement," which he defines as addressing problems early in their development, before they become a crisis, and addressing them at the source of the problem."
Pastrick says that Gore will rely less on the military to solve problems and more on diplomacy. He says Gore's commitments would be influenced by concern for the environment and human rights.
Both advisers say their candidates support further NATO expansion in Eastern Europe. However, neither is thought to want to rush the decision on who to include and when the expansion should continue. Both say the new president, whether Bush or Gore, would not likely make a decision on expansion before the end of his first year in office.