TODAY, on the threshold of the 21st century, balance-of-power politics is a thing of the past; nuclear weapons are a dangerous reality; and no one is talking about another world war. However, a different kind of global struggle has begun.
The information revolution of the late 20th century has created conditions for new battles over control of lucrative markets, especially in telecommunications. And as the business world prepares for the struggles, United States officials are striving to abandon long-held notions of how the government should approach world trade. The aim is to be on the cutting edge of strategic innovation, instead of playing catch-up.
The Clinton administration is now trying to spread the message: The next millennium will require new methods if US companies are to gain the maximum advantage from market opportunities.
``We need to embrace change,'' Commerce Secretary Ron Brown told members of the American Chamber of Commerce in Dusseldorf, Germany, while making a quick European tour last week following D-Day anniversary ceremonies.
``Sometimes we seek to cling to the status quo. It's somehow more predictable.... The events of the last few years demonstrate the futility and even harm of resisting,'' Mr. Brown said, referring to the inability of Communist leaders in Central Europe and the former Soviet Union to keep power during the late 1980s and early '90s.
A cornerstone of the Clinton administration's strategy is a new attitude toward government-corporate cooperation. In the past, US companies have mostly been on their own in terms of competing for international contracts. Government agencies have been loathe to work with the private sector in promoting US business interests.
That is changing.
In recent months, US government lobbying campaigns - a phone call from President Clinton here, a visit from Brown there - have helped US companies win multibillion-dollar contracts from the Saudi Arabian government for jetliners and telephone systems.
This intervention provoked howls of protest from European leaders, who complained that the US action violated the spirit of free trade that the Clinton administration so ardently supports. Despite the protests, it appears the US government's advocacy for American business will continue.
``The bottom line is this: Working with business in the changing world is our absolute priority,'' Brown said, adding that European governments have long promoted private-sector business interests. ``When Americans start to do it, it's somehow some shocking event. Well, we're going to do more of it.''
Brown also pledged that the US will press to open up protected markets worldwide. He said the protectionism that the European Union practiced was a source of ``concern,'' but he reserved his harshest criticism for Japan.
The US and Japan have been unable to resolve a dispute about US access to Japanese markets. The Clinton administration says the Japanese government should implement measures to promote imports and close a ballooning trade surplus. Tokyo has resisted US pressure, and now Brown and other US officials have warned of a harsh response if an agreement is not reached soon.
``It'd be irresponsible for any administration to sit on its hands and do nothing,'' Brown said, referring to US efforts to pry open Japanese markets. The next round of US-Japanese trade talks is scheduled for early next month in connection with the Group of Seven summit of industrialized nations in Naples, Italy.
Brown said another key to the successful realization of the US trade goals is boosting coordination efforts among intergovernmental agencies, especially the Commerce and State departments. Previous cooperation attempts often have suffered because of ``turf battles,'' he said. He cited a US government pilot program here, called ``Showcase Germany,'' as an example of a new interagency commitment to work more effectively together.
Under Showcase Germany, US consulates in cities such as Dusseldorf, Munich, Berlin, and Frankfurt will be utilized as business centers to facilitate contacts between German and US companies, as well as to boost US corporate presence at European trade fairs.