Accessibility links

U.S.: Washington Looks To New Year With Focus On Foreign Policy

  • Jeffrey Donovan

Americans ushered in last year focused on problems at home. But as they prepare to ring in 2002, much has changed. The U.S. government is likely to concentrate on foreign policy next year, including the war on terrorism, the Middle East conflict, and arms control.

Washington, 28 December 2001 (RFE/RL) -- The New Year in American foreign policy promises to pick up where the last one left off -- with the war on terrorism, relations with Russia and China, and the Middle East the top priorities for President George W. Bush.

But what a difference a year makes. This time last year, Americans were almost solely focused on the home front, preparing to usher in a new president after a controversial election conducted just as the country's longest economic expansion in history ground to a halt.

Bush took office in a mood that some commentators called "isolationist," vowing to disengage the country from cumbersome, expensive commitments abroad and focus on domestic interests first.

But after the 11 September terrorist attacks, Americans are looking forward to a year in which -- for now at least -- they strongly back Bush's move to make the war on terrorism and other international challenges his top priorities.

Defense Secretary Donald Rumsfeld, at a Pentagon briefing on 27 December, summed up the new "internationalist" mood prevailing in Washington.

"In the wake of 11 September, we've been awakened as a nation to the reality that the world remains a very dangerous place. To ensure peace and prosperity, we have to have the best-trained and the best-equipped armed forces on the face of the earth. That is a role that our country has to assume during this period."

RFE/RL asked one of Washington's top foreign policy and security specialists what he sees in store for U.S. foreign policy in 2002. Anthony Cordesman, now a senior fellow at the Center for Strategic and International Studies, a Washington think tank, has been a senior official at the departments of State, Energy, and Defense, as well as with the U.S. delegation to NATO.

Cordesman says that, predictions aside, there is one certainty to be expected from Washington in the coming year. "I think from the start we've had a war on terrorism in some 67 countries other than Afghanistan in dealing with Al-Qaeda. That struggle is going to go on long after Afghanistan is essentially free of both Al-Qaeda and the Taliban. So that is one element that is very predictable."

However, Cordesman says it remains to be seen in what form the war is carried out, whether by military action in other countries -- such as Somalia, Yemen, or Iraq -- or through the more likely continued legal and financial crackdowns on terrorist networks worldwide.

But the war on terrorism is hardly as simple as many Americans imagined, Cordesman says. He points to the conflicts between Pakistan and India and between Israel and the Palestinians as cases in point.

India and Israel accuse Pakistan and the Palestinians, respectively, of terrorism. But Cordesman says the U.S. needs Islamabad's help in its war on terrorism, nor can it risk alienating the Palestinians for fear of worsening the Middle East conflict and Arab public opinion of the United States.

"And this is, I think, one of the key problems that many people simply haven't realized yet; that there is not simply a bin Laden and an Afghanistan, but a really serious set of global problems where countries don't agree on who's a terrorist or the definition of terrorism, and some countries use movements that commit terrorism as political and military weapons."

Elsewhere, Cordesman believes several key points will need addressing if the U.S. and China are to continue developing their relationship. He says that although the issue of Taiwan will always be a sore point in relations, both countries share key interests in seeking global economic recovery as well as stepping up trade ties.

He adds that the United States will likely need to begin thinking about having negotiations with China on developing a strategic nuclear balance -- something it has not really had in the past.

Cordesman says this need was brought on largely by Washington's decision to withdraw from the 1972 Anti-Ballistic Missile Treaty -- a move Russia opposed, as it considered the treaty the cornerstone of international security.

Cordesman says Bush will need to spend some political capital next year on making up for that decision, if Russian-American relations are going to continue to develop in the positive direction that they took after the September attacks.

"The obvious challenges for next year are going to be whether the United States can find a way of compensating Russia for the U.S. withdrawal from the ABM Treaty -- whether we can reach a firm agreement on how to deal with the reduction of strategic nuclear weapons and whether in other areas -- like the expansion of NATO or economic relations or even things like the oil trade -- U.S. diplomacy and Russian diplomacy will focus on cooperation and not competition."

Cordesman concludes by suggesting that economic crises like the one gripping Argentina are likely to happen elsewhere also, except in the unlikely event that a strong global economic recovery takes place early next year.