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Russia: Former U.S. National Security Advisers Urge Clearer Foreign Policy

  • Robert McMahon

Four former White House national security advisers have urged the new U.S. presidential administration to articulate a coherent foreign policy on issues such as relations with Russia and nuclear weapons. The four, all Republicans, spoke on a panel in New York that examined the biggest national security challenges facing new President George W. Bush. All of them said U.S. policy regarding Russia needs to be re-appraised. RFE/RL correspondent Robert McMahon reports.

New York, 16 February 2001 (RFE/RL) -- A panel of national security advisers who served four U.S. presidents has stressed the need for the United States to define a clear new direction for its foreign policy.

The panelists are all members of the Republican Party of President George W. Bush. They made it clear during a discussion last night (15 February) at the Council on Foreign Relations in New York that they believed former President Bill Clinton, a Democrat, let foreign policy drift in key areas such as relations with Russia and nuclear disarmament.

The national security advisers on the panel -- Henry Kissinger, Richard Allen, Robert McFarlane, and Brent Scowcroft -- held office during a period that spanned the beginnings of U.S.-Soviet dtente to the end of the Cold War.

All four said U.S. policy regarding Russia needs to be re-appraised. Kissinger, adviser to President Richard Nixon, said the previous administration placed too much emphasis on Russian internal reforms. But there seems to be no clear idea, he says, on how to deal with Russia now that Boris Yeltsin is no longer president.

"What should one do about a Russia that in many respects is beginning to adopt czarist-like policies, and czarist-like institutions. What is the long-term policy of the United States?"

According to some of the panelists, on issues such as nuclear weapons the United States and Russia continue to operate under a Cold War mentality. Scowcroft, adviser to presidents Gerald Ford and George Bush Sr., said it is time for the two nuclear superpowers to inject fresh ideas into disarmament talks on issues such as offensive weapons, defensive missiles and nuclear proliferation.

"We live and we will continue to live in a nuclear age, and what we need to figure out is what is the relationship of these three aspects of the nuclear problem and how we put them together to maximize stability in a world where nuclear weapons are going to continue to be with us."

Allen, who was President Ronald Reagan's first national security adviser, noted that the current president called for a re-thinking of U.S. nuclear weapon policy during his campaign last year.

The Bush administration made its first policy speech in a multilateral forum at an international arms control conference yesterday in Geneva. But the U.S. and Chinese representatives clashed over the U.S. plans to build a national missile defense, which China says poses a risk of a nuclear arms buildup in outer space.

The U.S. ambassador to the conference, Robert Grey, said Washington's priority was to begin negotiations aimed at ceasing the production of nuclear bomb-making materials such as plutonium and enriched uranium.

The debate at the Council on Foreign Relations yesterday also touched on Russia's emergence as an energy producer for Western Europe. McFarlane, a Reagan administration security adviser, said Europe's primary source of oil -- the North Sea fields -- were being depleted. He said Russian President Vladimir Putin in recent trips to European capitals has repeatedly sought to develop a major market in Europe for Russian oil. McFarlane says a potential European dependency on Russian oil was something the Bush administration needed to consider.

"Russia is the natural source of European energy, and that will happen. But with it will come the inevitable influence, and the vulnerabilities on the European side involved in reliance upon Russian energy."

Kissinger and Scowcroft also expressed concern that the Euro-Atlantic alliance, strong during the Cold War, was weakening because of Europe's own transformation. Europe is increasingly framing policy as a single entity, and Kissinger says it is important that the Bush administration adjust its strategy toward the alliance accordingly.

Scowcroft says the new administration also needs to acknowledge that most conflicts in the world are internal. He says the U.S. response to such conflicts in recent years has been inconsistent, sometimes motivated by humanitarian concerns, as in the case of the former Yugoslavia, but other times muddled.

"We cannot go on the way we have with, for example, massive intervention in Kosovo, a tut-tut to the Russians on Chechnya, and actually pressuring the government of Sierra Leone to take the most bestial thugs possible into the government."

The panelists also agreed with Bush administration plans to review U.S. sanctions policy. They were doubtful about the effectiveness of sanctions, but all supported continuing the UN sanctions against Iraq as long as it fails to allow weapons inspectors into the country. Kissinger said the U.S. government must not bow to pressure to lift the 10-year-old sanctions against Iraq or it would face a major setback in the region.

"If the United States acquiesces in the lifting of sanctions, I think that will be considered a major American defeat in the Middle East."

The four panelists, while now out of government, have varying degrees of influence in the new administration. Scowcroft mentioned he discussed foreign policy with George W. Bush in the weeks leading up to the presidential inauguration in January.