U.S Institute of Peace

Nancy E. Soderberg
Deputy Assistant to the President
for National Security Affairs

United States Institute of Peace
U.S. Intervention in the Post Cold War Era

July 10, 1996


Thank you, Dick (Solomon). I remember well those hard efforts on behalf of human rights in China. It was the start of a wonderful friendship which has led me here today. It’s an honor to be introduced by you today, and a pleasure to see so many friendly and familiar faces. I’m especially glad to see my former NSC colleague Stanley Roth -- currently the holder of the Olympic record in the world’s fastest transition from policy wonk to pundit. I’m hoping he’ll teach me his secrets.

I also want to thank the Institute of Peace for putting together this impressive symposium. I am aware of the high expectations associated with luncheon speakers... and I know, from having been in your position, that coffee and dessert are often more compelling than a lecture from the podium. So I have resolved to follow the speechmaking advice President Franklin Roosevelt once gave his son: “Be sincere; be brief; be seated.”

I would like to use my time with you to address American intervention in the post-Cold War era -- how we decide to get involved in matters beyond our borders.

For more than four decades, most American foreign policy was made and measured in relation to the Soviet threat. Confronted by a fierce, ideological rival -- a rival that possessed thousands of nuclear warheads -- American policymakers rallied around a single mission: containment. That banner slogan became the central organizing concept for American foreign policy in the Cold War era -- from where and when we intervened... to the creation of security alliances... to whether and to whom we gave foreign assistance.

Today, with the Cold War over, the security environment has changed. To be sure, we still face threats to our national security -- threats that demand traditional uses of American power and diplomacy. Over the last three years, we have met these familiar challenges with determination and success. But in this new world, we also face a new type of challenge that I’d like to discuss today: The new opportunities -- and new responsibilities -- America has to make a difference. No national consensus has emerged to date on what we should do in these areas. Resources are tight, and once again, some voices are preaching the path of isolation. But I believe the Clinton Administration has laid the foundation for real progress. We have worked decisively to bolster support for American leadership in the world, not only in areas of traditional concern, but in meeting the challenges of the 21st century as well.

First, let me address those challenges that reflect the traditional focus of our power and diplomacy. The President’s primary responsibility is always to protect our citizens and our shores. When matters of overriding importance to our national security and survival are at stake -- such as a direct attack on our soil, our people, or our allies -- we will do whatever it takes to defend our interests, including the use of decisive military force... with others where we can, and alone when we must.

When Saddam Hussein’s henchmen made an attempt on President Bush’s life, President Clinton took direct military action. When Iraq moved forces toward the Kuwaiti border in 1994, we sent our troops to the region and Saddam backed down. When North Korea began removing spent fuel from its nuclear reactor that same year, we broke off our negotiations and began working with our allies toward international sanctions and making plans to augment our military forces on the Peninsula. Pyongyang came back to the table, ready to talk about terminating their dangerous nuclear program.

America’s armed forces are the core of our nation’s power, and we have kept our military the best-trained, best-equipped, best- prepared in the world. We’ve strengthened and modernized our core alliances in Europe and Asia -- maintaining about 100,000 troops in each region, setting the process of NATO enlargement in motion, and forging a new security declaration with Japan. And while a long-range missile threat to our shores is unlikely to arise within the next 15 years, we are committed to developing a National Missile Defense system by 2000 that can, if needed, be deployed by 2003.

Just as we’ve strengthened our military ability to secure our interests, we’ve also focused on our diplomatic power. President Clinton has seized the opportunity the end of the Cold War presents to reduce the nuclear threat -- by pursuing the most ambitious arms control and non-proliferation agenda in history. Today, Ukraine, Belarus and Kazakstan have agreed to give up the nuclear weapons left on their soil. START I and START II will slash by 2/3 the nuclear arsenals that we and the Soviet Union held at the height of the Cold War. We secured indefinite extension of the NPT... are urging the earliest Senate ratification of the Chemical Weapons Convention... hope to sign a Comprehensive Test Ban Treaty this year... and have broadened international support for the Missile Technology Control Regime. These efforts and achievements are in the interest of every American’s security.

We’ve also led the fight against an increasingly interconnected array of forces of destruction -- like terrorists, drug traffickers, and organized criminals. These threats have little regard for national borders. No nation is immune -- and none can defeat them alone.

Since taking office, President Clinton has marshaled our resources and galvanized world efforts against these threats. He has attacked state-sponsored terrorism with stiff sanctions on rogue nations... enacted tough counterterrorism legislation that gives law enforcement the tools they need to fight terrorists at home... and mobilized the world community, from the Summit of Peacemakers in Sharm El-Sheikh to the recent G-7 summit in Lyon. But the skeletal remains of the Khobar Towers in Dhahran are a brutal reminder that our work is far from over. As the President has said, America must not and will not be driven from this battle.

We also understand the importance of engagement with the world’s other great powers -- those nations that have the greatest ability to help or hinder us in our efforts. We’ve worked steadily and intensively with Russia to help it seize the promise of a democratic future -- and last week’s run-off confirmed that the Russian people want to stay the path of reform.

We’ve fortified our strategic dialogue with China, using the best tools available -- incentives and disincentives alike -- to advance American interests. That was the purpose of Tony Lake’s trip over the last few days to Beijing. When we disagree with China, we defend our interests vigorously... and when China expanded its military exercises in the Taiwan Strait, we made clear that any use of force against Taiwan would have grave consequences. But by engaging China, we have helped achieve important benefits -- from cooperation toward a Comprehensive Test Ban Treaty to freezing North Korea’s dangerous nuclear program.

Deterring -- and defending our nation if necessary -- against attacks on our vital interests, reducing the nuclear threat, fighting forces of destruction like terrorism, and staying engaged with other great powers, are clearly the most serious foreign policy challenges... and also the most straightforward. In deciding how and when to meet them, the calculus is clear: We must and will marshal whatever resources we need to get the job done right. Protecting our most fundamental national security interests is always the primary focus and concern of any American president.

The second category of challenge is what I would call “new responsibilities and opportunities,” which demand new responses and new thinking.

Let me divide these new responsibilities and opportunities into four general areas in which we can use our influence as the sole remaining superpower: 1) to promote peace, 2) to strengthen democracy, 3) to prevent conflicts, and 4) to alleviate crises. Some would argue against our engagement in areas where there is no overriding direct threat to our interests. President Clinton sees the situation differently. During the Cold War, we resisted actions that diverted our resources from the overwhelming struggle at hand. Today, we are freed from that constraint. This does not mean we should intervene everywhere, or respond to every emergency. But as the world’s most powerful nation -- economically, militarily, and through the sheer force of our values -- we cannot simply turn our backs on tragedy or opportunity.

In choosing how and when to get involved, we must ask a number of critical questions, including the following four: Will our efforts advance American interests and ideals? Will they be successful? Are they a good use of our limited resources? And, how do our interests compare to the costs and risks? Once we have answered these questions, we must carefully decide which tools we are willing to apply -- from the power of our example, persistent diplomacy, and economic aid or sanctions to military force.

First, let me address promoting peace. The end of the Cold War has lifted the lid on religious and ethnic conflicts such as we saw in Bosnia... where ethnic hatred spiraled into a war that claimed thousands of lives, threatened stability in the heart of Europe, and did violence to the values on which America stands. Early in 1993, the President decided he would only send ground troops to Bosnia to help implement a peace agreement, because the costs of intervening as combatants were too high when balanced against our interests.

However, we used every other tool in our arsenal to search for peace, prevent the war from spreading, and ease the suffering of the Bosnian people. We imposed tough economic sanctions on Serbia... stationed troops in the former Yugoslav Republic of Macedonia to contain the spread of the fighting... provided air suport for UNPROFOR...conducted the longest humanitarian airlift in history... enforced a no fly zone... and helped to make peace between Bosnia’s Muslims and Croats.

But last summer, when Bosnia’s Serbs stepped up their brutality and another winter of disaster loomed, President Clinton launched his own diplomatic effort -- backed by military force -- to bring the warring parties to the peace table. The combination of heavy NATO air strikes and intensive American diplomacy, together with the renewed determination of our European partners and the Croat gains on the battlefield, were what made the Dayton peace conference possible.

Today, our troops are serving heroically in Bosnia -- not fighting in a war, but helping to secure the peace that American leadership helped achieve. And the success of our military operation in Bosnia has been strengthened by the lessons we learned in Somalia -- about the importance of a clear military mission, firm deadlines, and an exit strategy.

There are other areas in which the investment of American resources has gone a long way for peace. The President has worked hard to build on the efforts of previous Administrations in the Middle East, and we all admire the determined diplomacy of Secretary Christopher and his team. In the last three years, we have witnessed historic agreements between Palestinians and Israelis and between Israel and Jordan. In Northern Ireland, the President’s decision to use our leverage as a close and trusted partner of both Great Britain and Ireland has spurred unprecedented breakthroughs: a 17 month cease-fire that saved hundreds of lives and peace talks that began last month in Belfast. There remains much to be done -- beginning with the restoration of the cease-fire -- but we can be proud of the difference our engagement has made. In Cyprus, our special envoy Richard Beattie is working hard to resolve the problem. He is the first person to take on this important role since 1980, and will be traveling to the region with Ambassador Albright next week to try to build momentum toward a comprehensive settlement.

Second, let me address strengthening democracy. The rising tide of freedom around the world is helping shape a world in which America can thrive -- but it is neither inevitable nor irreversible. It needs our support and our leadership.

In Haiti, the Administration mobilized the international community to isolate the brutal dictatorship that had overthrown the legitimate government. We had important interests in shoring up democracy in our hemisphere, ending the abuse of human rights, and stemming the tide of desperate refugees... and we tried every peaceful avenue to achieve our goals. But when it became clear that peaceful means alone would not succeed, the President decided to back his diplomacy with force. When Haiti’s generals learned our planes were in the air, they stepped aside in a hurry. Our troops were able to enter Haiti peacefully, and to help the Haitian people reclaim their democracy. By defining our interests clearly and using the tools at our disposal effectively, we achieved all our goals with a minimum of violence. Today, Haiti has achieved the first democratic transfer of power in its history, and its people have a chance for a brighter future.

We have worked to promote democracy in other, though less dramatic ways, including tightened sanctions against Cuba, marshaling international condemnation of near coups in Paraguay and Sao Tome and Principe, and working in partnership with Europe to consolidate the gains of Central Europe’s new democracies. Our assistance programs are making a difference in building judicial systems, helping monitor elections and teaching political party development and promoting sustainable development. Democrats from Beijing to Bucharest and beyond look first to America for inspiration.

We are leading the effort to pressure those still bucking the tide of democracy -- such as the military rulers in Nigeria and Burma -- by isolating the leaders while trying to press them to move forward. Progress is often painfully slow, but in the end, history is on the side of democracy and we can and must push it along.

Third, as Michael Lund so thoughtfully discusses in his book, the United States can also use its influence to prevent conflicts before they erupt and become a more serious drain on our resources. I doubt many Americans are aware that we have troops on the border between Peru and Ecuador to help safeguard peace between these two friends of the United States. We helped our NATO allies Greece and Turkey avoid a conflict over the Aegean island of Imia. And we have launched an intensive diplomatic effort to prevent another Rwanda-like genocide in Burundi. In the last year alone, Ambassador Albright, Deputy Secretary Talbott, NSA Anthony Lake, Assistant Secretary Moose, Deputy Director of Central Intelligence Tenet, and now Special Representative Howard Wolpe have all traveled to the region to help promote reconciliation.

Some may argue that we should not put so much effort in a place with so little bearing on American interests. I would argue that it is a small investment compared to the one we would have to make if Burundi exploded. In Rwanda, for example, where the international community failed to act quickly enough to prevent the genocide, the United States was spurred into action as images of the atrocities captured our attention and our conscience. I am proud that the U.S. military was able to kick-start the relief effort -- delivering nearly 15,000 tons of food, medicine, and supplies to Rwanda’s refugees, and then handing the operation back to the relief community. But the crisis in Rwanda was costly, first and foremost in Rwandan lives. And no matter how admirable our intervention was, we are trying to avoid the need to repeat it in Burundi.

The fourth area of opportunity, alleviating crises-- both man- made and natural -- is a simple calculation of costs and need. In Rwanda, we could not stand by as images of the disaster poured out, when we knew we had unique abilities to help. Similarly, when complex crises from the Balkans to the Caribbean to West Africa threaten the lives of hundreds of thousands, or when earthquakes result in devastation in Japan, America can and should respond. We continue to be in the forefront of international efforts to respond to humanitarian need, contributing some $1.5 billion each year for these efforts. Moreover, this level of commitment reflects a strong executive- congressional consensus. By showing the strength to be generous and humane, we reinforce our authority as the leader of the global community.

Over the last three years, I believe this Administration has made a real difference for our people and others -- by knowing how to use the right tool at the right time, by marshaling our resources and leveraging our power. Our efforts may lack the simple clarity of the past. But that’s not necessarily bad. In today’s new world of fast-paced innovation, part of being strong means being able to adapt -- to fortify old structures to withstand modern challenges, to anticipate new problems before they arise, and to make the investments that will bring greater pay-offs, or prevent greater costs, down the line.

Whenever we are faced with pressures to act, we carefully balance our interests against the costs. But there are times when America, and America alone, can make the crucial difference between fear and hope. We must not shrink from our responsibility to lead... and those in Congress who would slash our modest foreign affairs budget are playing dangerous politics with America’s well-being.

For 50 years, our country has been the world's greatest force for freedom and progress, and it has brought us real security and prosperity here at home. If we continue to lead, if we continue to meet the peril and seize the promise of this new era, that proud history will also be our destiny. That is President Clinton’s goal -- and that is what we who work with him are determined to achieve. We don’t have magic solutions for every challenge we face. But at the end of the day, the bottom line is clear: because of our efforts, our nation is more secure, our people are more prosperous, and our values are ascendant all around the world. We are laying the foundations for the 21st century to be an American century as well.

Thank you.

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