Share this story
Close X
Switch to Desktop Site

American Foreign Policy Was Strong In '95, but Challenges Lie Ahead

From Bosnia to Mideast, Russia to N. Ireland, US has played central role in promoting peace

CONDUCTING American foreign policy today is hard work, especially with the decline of bipartisanship and a more-assertive Congress. Even so, the past year has seen important US foreign-policy achievements: a peace agreement in Bosnia and a revived NATO alliance; progress toward peace in the Middle East and in Northern Ireland; a permanent Nuclear NonProliferation Treaty and a continued freeze of North Korea's nuclear program.

Challenges lie ahead. Bosnia poses risks for 20,000 American troops. Haiti's stability is open to question. So is Russia's political direction. Relations with Japan and China require closer attention. Mexico's financial crisis could reignite. The US is still working to define its role in the post-cold-war world.

About these ads

Bosnia. The Bosnia peace agreement is the most significant foreign- policy accomplishment of 1995, and the deployment of US troops as part of a NATO force the most controversial. Facing a failed UN mission in Bosnia, the administration pushed for a stepped-up NATO air campaign and sponsored diplomatic efforts that produced the peace agreement signed in Paris this month. Though not ideal, the agreement serves US interests. It stops the killing, ends the longest war in Europe since World War II, maintains Bosnia as a single state, and reunifies Sarajevo. It protects human rights, allows refugees to return, and obligates all parties to cooperate with the war crimes tribunal.

I share concerns about the safety of US troops in Bosnia, but I believe the US runs greater risks if it does not participate. Without US troops, there would be no peace in Bosnia. US credibility would be damaged, and NATO would be in disarray. US leadership is key to Europe's peace and stability.

Middle East. This past year also saw progress toward peace in the Middle East, despite the assassination of Israeli Prime Minister Yitzhak Rabin. Israel and the Palestinian Authority signed a comprehensive agreement that extends Palestinian rule to the population centers of the West Bank, mandates Israeli troop withdrawals and Palestinian elections, and spells out the details of peaceful interaction between Israelis and Palestinians. The US was not directly responsible for this agreement, but it helped the parties overcome stumbling blocks at crucial stages in the negotiations. America has kept the peace process on track, particularly in recent efforts to bring Israel and Syria together for direct talks in the US.

Northern Ireland. The US helped broker and sustain last year's cease-fire in Northern Ireland, pressing for all-party talks, including direct dialogue between the British government and Sinn Fein, the political wing of the Irish Republican Army. For the first time in a generation, Ireland is at peace.

Nonproliferation. The US achieved a consensus among more than 170 governments on a permanent extension of the Nuclear Non-Proliferation Treaty, the cornerstone of efforts over 25 years to stop the spread of nuclear weapons. A permanent treaty is a big step toward a safer world. The US agreement with North Korea has meant a continued freeze on that nation's nuclear weapons program and has brought a measure of calm to the Korean Peninsula, where 37,000 US troops are stationed.

Challenges ahead. Important problems remain unresolved. Relations with Russia survived difficult tests this year, including the war in Chechnya, and disagreements over Bosnia and NATO enlargement. Russia made economic strides and held free and fair parliamentary elections. But a strong showing by Communists and Nationalists, and President Yeltsin's poor health, raise questions about Yeltsin's political future and whether Russia will pursue reform and a moderate foreign policy.

The political succession in China is also a question mark. The US has a big stake in good relations with the world's biggest country and fastest-growing economy. Yet China's record on human rights, weapons sales, nonproliferation, and trade issues still causes problems, and managing this relationship will remain difficult.

About these ads

A new US-Japan trade agreement, meanwhile, may yield millions of dollars in new American auto and auto-parts sales. But other tensions, including the future of US military bases, cloud relations. The US must balance military, political, and economic interests with this key ally.

In Mexico, loans from the US and others prevented a financial collapse that would have cost American jobs and increased illegal immigration. Yet the promise of closer US-Mexico ties will not be fulfilled until Mexico's economy and politics have stabilized, which could take years.

Haiti held successful elections, and President Aristide appears ready to leave office on schedule. But Haiti's democracy remains fragile, its economy stagnant, and some political violence continues. Whether there will be stability after US troops depart in February remains to be seen.

Despite his early inclination to shun foreign policy, President Clinton has won a series of visible accomplishments overseas and learned to project US leadership. He lacks a grand design for his foreign policy, but case by case he has achieved positive results. His foreign policy may be judged ultimately by the success or failure of the US-led NATO mission in Bosnia, but he has built a strong record of protecting and promoting US political, economic, and security interests. I judge 1995 a good year for American foreign policy.

Follow Stories Like This
Get the Monitor stories you care about delivered to your inbox.