Accessibility links

Breaking News

U.S.: Powell Says Washington Will Go It Alone If Necessary

Secretary of State Colin Powell laid out a glowing picture of U.S. foreign policy during a lengthy hearing before a Senate panel on 5 February. As RFE/RL correspondent Jeffrey Donovan reports, Powell sees U.S. foreign policy driven by principles of self-defense that Washington will not renounce -- even in the face of strong criticism.

Washington, 6 February 2002 (RFE/RL) -- Secretary of State Colin Powell yesterday defended U.S. foreign policy from critics concerned about American "unilateralism" and vowed that Washington will not sacrifice principled action on terrorism "at the altar of multilateralism."

During a lengthy hearing on the direction of U.S. foreign policy before the Senate Foreign Relations Committee, Powell used both broad and fine strokes to paint a positive picture of U.S. action overseas at a time when friends and foes alike are uneasy about America's response to terrorism.

In particular, Powell said the U.S. is set to sign a legally binding agreement -- not merely an informal accord -- with Moscow on reducing nuclear weapons. And he said he's certain that a large number of Eastern European countries will be invited to join NATO at the alliance's Prague summit in November.

But the war on terrorism was Powell's primary focus. And he gave a warning to Saddam Hussein, urging the Iraqi president to prove that he is not developing weapons of mass destruction by allowing the return of United Nations inspectors, who left in 1998.

"The burden is upon this evil regime to demonstrate to the world that they are not doing the kinds of things we suspect them of," Powell said. "And if they aren't doing these things, then it is beyond me why they do not want the inspectors in to do whatever is necessary to establish that such activities are not taking place."

But Powell sought to allay concern among European and Russian leaders that U.S. President George W. Bush may use military force to topple Saddam Hussein.

That concern intensified after Bush said on 29 January that Washington will not remain idle while countries such as Iraq, Iran, and North Korea -- which he called an "axis of evil" -- worked toward developing weapons of mass destruction.

Powell told the Senate panel that Bush's rhetoric did not mean the U.S. is going to invade any of those countries. And he dismissed charges the U.S. is acting unilaterally, saying America spends much of its time consulting with allies, and pointing to a speech by Bush in Warsaw last summer endorsing NATO enlargement as a major contribution to security in the new Europe.

To that effect, Powell said he believes NATO will undergo a "pretty good addition" at the Prague summit, when nine countries (Albania, Bulgaria, Estonia, Latvia, Lithuania, Macedonia, Romania, Slovakia, and Slovenia) will be hoping to join the military alliance. His comments were perhaps the strongest U.S. indication to date that NATO is prepared to take in several new members.

However, the former army general warned that as a leader on the world stage, America cannot refrain from defending itself -- even if allies disagree with or decline to take part in such action.

"We believe in consultation, but we also believe in leading. We believe in multilateralism, but we also believe in sticking up for what we believe is right, and not sacrificing it [on] the altar of multilateralism, for the sake of multilateralism," Powell said. "Leadership is staking out what you believe in, and coalition-leading means leading -- and that is what this president does."

Powell said the war on terrorism -- which Bush has threatened to extend to any nation that harbors terrorists -- is similar to the Cold War. And he suggested that former President Ronald Reagan helped win that struggle by calling the Soviet Union the "evil empire" -- and that Bush is similarly correct to use the term "axis of evil" to characterize the governments of Iran, Iraq, and North Korea.

But the comparison with Reagan, who embarked on a historic military build-up to challenge the Soviet threat, goes beyond language or circumstance.

As Powell spoke, Secretary of Defense Donald Rumsfeld was defending Bush's proposed 2003 budget in a hearing before the Senate Armed Services Committee. That budget calls for an increase of 14 percent -- or $48 billion -- in defense spending.

Rumsfeld appeared to sum up the mood among Washington policy-makers with this comment on 4 February at the Pentagon: "If one thinks about the economic loss that took place on 11 September in this country and elsewhere in the world in billions and billions of dollars, it is very clear that the defense budget is cheap when one compares it to putting our security at risk, our lives at risk, our country at risk, our freedoms at risk."

Asked by senators whether his own budget at the State Department should not have received a similar boost to meet the diplomatic challenges of the war on terrorism, Powell said he could certainly use more funds but that he shared the feeling that security is of paramount importance.

However, Senator Joseph Biden, the committee's Democratic chairman, said the Bush budget focuses too strictly on traditional defense. He said the budget should allocate more funds to ensure Russian nuclear, chemical, or biological materials do not fall into the hands of terrorists. Biden called Russia's arms stockpiles a "terrorist's candy store."

Powell, however, said Washington is making great strides in relations with China and Russia, with which the U.S. has begun building a new strategic framework. He said the U.S. is prepared to sign a formal agreement with Russia on reducing nuclear weapons. Previously, Bush had sparked concern in Russia by insisting that a formal deal on the issue was not required.

But Powell said: "We do expect that as we codify this framework it will be something that will be legally binding and we're examining different ways in which this can happen. It can be an executive agreement that both houses of Congress might wish to speak on, or it might be a treaty."

Powell also said Washington would continue to make human rights, the war in Chechnya, democratization, and free-press issues a key part of its dialogue with Russia.

The secretary of state also said the U.S. will stay engaged in efforts to promote peace between Palestinians and Israelis. He said the U.S. still envisages an independent Palestinian state and called upon both sides in the conflict to take steps to reduce violence and start talking.