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U.S.: Strategic Survey Focuses On Foreign Policy Challenges

The London-based Institute for Strategic Studies, in its annual report issued yesterday, focuses on the main foreign policy challenges faced by the new U.S. presidential administration of George W. Bush. Among them are Washington's relations with its European allies as well as ties with Russia, China, and Iraq. RFE/RL correspondent Jeremy Bransten discussed the report's conclusions with its deputy editor, Jonathan Stevenson.

Prague, 17 May 2001 (RFE/RL) -- In its newly released annual report titled "Strategic Survey," the London-based Institute for Strategic Studies focuses on the United States because, as it notes: "The Bush administration's world view, representing the attitude of the world's lone superpower, in effect sets the international strategic agenda to which others must react."

The Bush administration has lost no time in letting the world know that it views international affairs in terms of balance of power and will put a priority on being involved abroad when this benefits U.S. defense, political, and economic interests.

On the one hand, some have welcomed this clear-eyed vision, especially when compared to the sometimes muddled ad-hoc foreign policies of the previous Clinton administration. But as Jonathan Stevenson, deputy editor of the "Strategic Survey," told RFE/RL, the world has not welcomed the Bush administration's blunt style:

"Compared to the Clinton administration, the Bush administration is much less interested in hands-on conflict mediation and personal diplomacy and therefore steps back and looks at the larger strategic picture. This is an elegant foreign policy approach but one which, by the same token, is bound to run into difficulties in its execution. For example, earlier this year, the United States managed to alienate both Moscow and Beijing at the same time."

The Bush administration's single-minded promotion of its missile defense initiative, without consulting other countries, met with a frosty reception from the U.S.'s allies and open hostility from Russia and China. But Bush's decision to send teams of senior envoys on worldwide consultation missions last week to discuss the project shows the new administration is learning quickly, says Stevenson.

He adds that Europe's public anger at Bush's decision to pull the U.S. out of the Kyoto Protocol on limiting greenhouse-gas emissions also taught Washington a lesson in the importance of consultations:

"Europe's extremely harsh reaction to the rejection of the Kyoto treaty by the Bush administration did alert Washington to the fact that greater consultation [on missile defense] was needed at the very least before any such action was taken and that the United States ill serves itself by adopting an excessively unilateral cast."

Stevenson says Bush's joint announcement last week, with UN Secretary-General Kofi Annan, that the United States will contribute $200 million to a global AIDS-fighting fund, can be seen as an attempt to reverse that unilateralist image.

Another complication in the U.S.'s relations with its European allies is the issue of the EU's planned rapid reaction force. Promoted by Britain and France, the idea is to enable Europe to deploy an autonomous peacekeeping force to quell regional conflicts -- without obtaining U.S. authorization within the framework of NATO.

Washington has so far expressed mixed feelings about the plan. On the one hand, the United States wants European countries to assume more of the burden for regional peacekeeping operations. On the other hand, Washington fears NATO becoming overshadowed by a military force open to Europeans only.

The "Strategic Survey" says this is an area where the EU can and should take the lead in assuaging U.S. concerns, by demonstrating that it is serious about shouldering the financial burden of military operations but also that it is serious about retaining its links and compatibility with NATO.

Stevenson says Bush's statements -- before assuming office -- about withdrawing U.S. peacekeepers from the Balkans should be taken with a grain of salt. This is another area where the Bush administration has had to look beyond purely domestic interests:

"It's important not to make too much of Bush campaign rhetoric. Certainly, the administration, once it took office, backed off from campaign statements that U.S. troops would be pulled out of the Balkans. And in fact, very few have been redeployed. I think there's a recognition, that realistically -- particularly to make credible U.S. concerns about the possible impingement of the rapid reaction force on NATO -- the U.S. has to maintain a presence in the Balkans."

In another part of the world, George W. Bush picks up a policy challenge left over from his father and the Clinton administration: what to do with Iraq?

The "Strategic Survey" says that 10 years after the war to expel Iraq from Kuwait, a fresh approach needs to be taken towards Saddam Hussein. This week, in a major policy shift expected to get U.S. backing, Britain has proposed lifting UN sanctions on civilian goods entering Iraq but toughening enforcement of the arms embargo against the Saddam government. The British plan would allow all goods to enter Iraq except those on a UN list of military-related items, and it would allow the resumption of commercial and cargo flights in and out of the country.

Again, Washington's indications that it is amenable to the British plans demonstrates the Bush administration's newfound understanding of the dynamics of international relations.