Air Date: October 8, 1996 Program 9641

THE ISOLATIONIST PATH

Guest:
John Ruggie, author, Winning the Peace: America and World Order in the New Era

(This text has been professionally transcribed. However, for timely
distribution, it has not been edited or proofread against the tape.)

JOHN RUGGIE, author, Winning the Peace: America and World Order in the New Era: I think it's going to be very much more difficult for the United States to pursue an active internationalist policy after the Cold War. That's why I wrote the book.

KEITH PORTER, producer: US foreign policy and the path to isolationism on this edition of Common Ground.

RUGGIE: The title of my book, Winning the Peace, is taken from a fire-side chat by President Roosevelt only a few days after Pearl Harbor. In which he said, "Last time we won the war, but we lost the peace that followed. This time we have to win the peace as well."

PORTER: Common Ground is a program on world affairs and the people who shape events. It's produced by the Stanley Foundation, I'm Keith Porter.

America may be drifting down a dangerous path toward isolationism. That, according to Professor John Ruggie of Columbia University. Professor Ruggie has just written a new book titled Winning the Peace: America and World Order in the New Era. He begins the book with a tale from his own Cold War experience.

RUGGIE: I was born in Austria and lived there till I was 11. And one day when I was, I think, somewhere around seven years old, I went by train from my hometown of Graz in Austria to Vienna. And I had to pass into the Soviet Occupation Zone and I was by myself, without any parents or any other adults with me, and the Russian soldiers, the Soviet soldiers boarded the train at the appropriate place and they scared the living daylights out me. They looked very big and they wore these bulky uniforms and they were carrying rifles and all the rest of it. And I got a little scared. And the funny thing is that being scared carried over for years and years thereafter. Whenever I went near, I lived in Switzerland when I was doing my Ph.D. research and in Switzerland you cross borders every ten minutes, and every time I crossed the border my hands would start sweating. And it goes right back to that early experience. And what I found sort of, when I was writing preface, what I found so interesting by way of contrast is how I first met the other super power. Because not long thereafter there was a knock on the door of our one room flat and it was the mailman delivering a care package, or whoever it was who was delivering the care package, with blue stenciled outreached hands and from the people of the United States of America. We tore it open. It was great. There was canned meat and there was all sorts of stuff, including Hershey bars. So I say in the preface, "Some people follow the yellow brick road. I followed the Hershey bars."

PORTER: And it brought you here.

RUGGIE: Right.

PORTER: That's great. Now, in the book, a little more seriously I guess.

RUGGIE: That's pretty serious stuff.

PORTER: I agree. It's that kind of, those Cold War legends I think are amazing. They are as powerful as the stories that came out of any other period, World War II or World War I. That's kind of what I wanted to ask you about. You compare those periods, the end of World War I, the end of World War II, and the end of the Cold War. How are those three time periods similar in our century.

RUGGIE: Well they are similar in the following way. In each instance the United States has had to make, and I include today, a fundamental choice of how it wished to engage with the rest of the world, on what basis. Historically, the United States has not, had not been prior to this century much involved in the way of the world. And by the turn of the century after the Spanish American War, in particular, the rest of the world was beginning to make its presence felt and we were becoming a great power and felt, our President Roosevelt and McKinley before him, felt that the United States had to develop some doctrinal understanding how it was going to relate to the rest of the world. Was it going to be like a European power and play balance and power politics. Well, McKinley and Roosevelt tried. It didn't work. The American public simply wasn't interested in playing balance and power politics.

Woodrow Wilson comes along and tries to motivate the American public by drawing on sort of indigenous American experiences, the quest for democracy, constitutionalism, a commitment to human rights, and self determination. And in the short run he's much more successful in that there was quite a bit of support among the public for joining the League of Nations. But that, as you know, was the membership in that was voted down in a very complex parliamentary maneuver in the Senate.

After 1919 isolationism ensued and we stood by as the world headed back toward calamity. The title of my book Winning the Peace is taken from a fire-side chat by President Roosevelt only a few days after Pearl Harbor. In which he said, "Last time we won the war, but we lost the peace that followed. This time we have to win the peace as well." And Roosevelt developed a series of institutional frameworks through the international monetary fund, international trade negotiations, and the United Nations. The primary purpose of which was to anger the United States into the world order. So that the United States would be a permanent participant and not come in down the road as the world unraveling or already had unraveled, but it would be at the table all the time. That was Roosevelt's desire.

And then of course the Cold War broke out and the Rooseveltian schemes didn't go very far, but anti-Communism became the basis for American engagement. And here we are after the Cold War. In 1947, Newsweek wrote that the Truman Doctrine, which was enunciated in response to the Soviet threat, had finally put America into world politics to stay. All right, now the Cold War is over. Are we in it to stay? And if so, on what basis. Anti-Communist rhetoric no longer resonates, cause there aren't any Communists left, aside from China and they're become market-Communists very rapidly...

PORTER: And don't forget Fidel Castro.

RUGGIE: ...and Cuba. Who is sort of gnat more than a threat. So that hardly provides a basis for American engagement. There are no over-arching threats to American security. It's just in this kind of an environment no over-arching threats, no motivating ideology is the kind in which I most fear. The American people saying, "Well, why should we? We have problems at home. We need to rebuild our domestic economy, we need to retrain our labor force, we need bridges that need building, our schools are crowded, all the rest of it. Why do we care about the rest of the world. Let it take care of itself, we have problems at home."

Now my reaction to that is, of course we need to take care of our internal priorities. But if you let the world go to Hell in a hand basket, it will go to Hell in a hand basket. And the United States in the final analysis can't exclude itself from the deleterious consequences of our turning away from it. So that inevitably as conflicts break out or as terrorists' attacks continue, we are going to be drawn in. And like Roosevelt in 1945, I feel it's best to be in from the beginning so that we have a hand in shaping the course of events. As opposed to waiting for things to unravel and then sending out, you know, the 82nd airborne.

PORTER: If we wanted to, is there any way to go back to 1919? To our position in the world at that point?

RUGGIE: No.

PORTER: The way the American people apparently wanted things to be in 1919.

RUGGIE: No and we couldn't do in the inter-war period. The rest of the world didn't go away and we did have interests in the rest of world. The only thing that our neutrality laws, for example, in the 1930s assured was that we let the bad guys determine when and how we were going to intervene. There was no question that ultimately we had to intervene, because our interests were at stake. But so, you know, somebody like Hitler, or Hitler specifically could have been stopped by just about anybody in Europe in the mid 1930s and even into 1936. By 1939 he was unstoppable by anybody in Europe. Wouldn't it have been better to stop him earlier and avoid World War II altogether. It's that kind of thing that I'm arguing here in the book. The need for vigilance and engagement.

PORTER: In the book you talk about some different pathways that may lead us to neoisolationism. Talk about those paths that you see open to us if we venture down them that may lead to this neoisolationism.

RUGGIE: OK. Well one is an old sort of standby, it is the tradition of political realism. Sort of the Kissengerian approach to international politics. Says that you basically itemize your interests and you pursue your most vital interests and you pursue other lesser interests less intensely. So you have a clear hierarchy in other words. And only the most vital interests deserve our direct engagement. The problem with that is, and this happened after 1919, we set the threshold of what qualifies as a vital interest so high when there is no external threat like the Soviet Union that almost nothing qualifies. We can always say, "Well, that's an interest, but it's not really that important. There are other things at home that are more important." And it begins to sort of, whatever the reverse process is of a snowballing effect, all right, it becomes less and less likely that you will pay attention and take action. Because you set the threshold of what qualifies as a vital interest so high. That's point number one.

Point number two, we have been since the end of the Cold War suffering from the legacy of so-called Powell Doctrine.

PORTER: All or nothing.

RUGGIE: The all or nothing military doctrine. If we can't go in and wipe them out in a 100 hours, we're not going to go in because we don't want any quagmires. Well if you follow that strategy then the United States can't get involved in most of the conflicts in the world today. Because they're not of a nature that you can resolve them in 100 hours or even 100 days. They're nagging conflicts, many of them involving collapsed states, ethnic rivalries, and so-on and so-forth that take a little bit more time. So if you apply the Powell Doctrine in addition to very high thresholds of what constitutes a vital interest you might as well close up shop and throw the key away.

The third potential scenario is actually an ironic one. Because so many people believe that isolationism today is inconceivable because of economic globalization. And economic interdependence is so high that we are going to be swept into the world into participating in international management, if you will, whether we like it or not. My response to that is as far as I can see the American people, the American public at this point in time is far more concerned with the negative effects of economic globalization. In terms of wage stagnation at home, in terms of the export of jobs. The giant sucking sound of jobs heading South, as Ross Perot put it last time around in the election. We're lucky if we don't end up on a protectionist track, so far from drawing us into active engagement internationally. Economic globalization is just as likely, if not more likely, to unleash a populist protectionism in this country ,which would drive us away from international engagement rather than from active involvement.

PORTER: What I like about this analysis and what I found so interesting about it in the book too, was that in each of these scenarios that you've setup on the surface level they imply engagement. They say, "Oh sure we're going to be engaged in the world." But then you spin out the path of how that course of action takes us to a form of isolationism.

RUGGIE: That's right, that's right. And in fact if you look carefully at the isolationism of the 1930s, the one element that the various brands or component parts of the isolationist movement had in common was a commitment to protectionism, stemming from a desire to shield the United States against the adverse effects of international economic trends and a unilateralism in security affairs. A unilateralism which said no one is going to tell us when to intervene or for what purpose, only we as a nation will decide when and how to do that.

But then we go back to my threshold issue. The threshold kept rising. Italy invades Ethiopia, it's not important. Japan invades Manchuria, it's not important. Hitler starts ravaging his neighbors, it's not important. It's not a vital interest. When does it become a vital interest? Well, when the Japanese finally attacked Pearl Harbor. Two years into the war we're finally shell-shocked literally into an understanding that there was no way that we could isolate ourselves from world political developments.

PORTER: We're talking in this edition of Common Ground with John Ruggie, author of the newly released book Winning the Peace. Ruggie is the Burgess Professor of Political Science and International Affairs at Columbia University.

Printed transcripts and audio-cassettes of this program are available. Listen at the end of the broadcast for details. Common Ground is a service of the Stanley Foundation, a non-profit, non-partisan organization that conducts a wide range of programs meant to provoke thought and encourage dialogue on world affairs.

You talk a lot in the book about this intersection between traditional military security and what you've already discussed the sort of global economic issues. Tell us what you found there about the way those issues interconnect now that they didn't 50 years ago.

RUGGIE: Well I think 50 years ago they ran on separate tracks much more then they run now. The tradeoffs are much more complicated today. When you look at East Asia for example, East Asia is fastest growing economic area in the world. For us, for the United States it's economically the most, increasingly the most important area after the North American continent itself. Increasingly there are greater opportunities for us in East Asia than there are in Europe, which is a much more mature as an economy and therefore not growing as rapidly. But you look at East Asia through security lenses, it's also the most unstable area or I should say, there are other areas of the world that are unstable, unstable and able to impinge on US interests. Africa is terribly unstable, but it doesn't threaten American interests directly, typically. But East Asia certainly does.

If a war, if I had to bet, one; if a war is going to break out in the next ten years and if so where? I'm not sure what the probability is that I would assign to it, but I would bet on East Asia. The Korean peninsula, the Chinese-Taiwan issue; China borders on 15 of its neighbors, it has border disputes with most of them, it claims off-shore oil fields in the South China Sea, it's a rising power like Germany was before World War I, and we are not very good historically. We, meaning the international community at large not simply the United States at accommodating new rising powers. We don't know how to admit them into the club without there being a lot of elbow pushing and every once and awhile a real fight.

So you look at East Asia from the economic point of view; fabulous, growth opportunities, expansion, exports, all the things the Clinton administration likes to talk about. You look at it from a security point of view, potentially very unstable and could cause the whole thing to unravel. So if you're making foreign policy in that area, you cannot say, "OK, security policy is over on this side of the table. Economic policy is over on the other side of the table." The two have to be interlinked, because they impinge upon one another so closely. So the tradeoffs between the spheres are much more intense and much more important today then they were in the 1930s.

In the 1930s we had lots of economic interests in Europe, for example. And the private sector was deeply engaged in European post World War I reconstruction. It has zero impact on our political interests or engagement.

PORTER: We've talked some here about the dangers. You've warned us about the dangers of neoisolationism and its father, I guess, unilateralism, and the high threshold and the all or nothing. Let's talk about the benefits, the positive side of being actively engaged in the world on a multilateral basis. What's the upside here?

RUGGIE: The upside is in the long run, it is in the interest of the United States and of the rest of world for us to have a stable international security order. One in which major conflicts that could destabilize the international order as a whole do not occur. That disputes are settled through peaceful means or every once and awhile through the show of force. And every once in awhile by hitting somebody over the head with a two by four if you have to. So the everything in everything that we care about depends on that kind of stability in the world. Whether it's continued economic growth, whether it's our own national commitment to human rights, whether it's our own national commitment to the expansion of democracy.

And to, as I said already, economic opportunities; exports and jobs. Everything hinges on there being sort of a fundamental stability in the international order. These are all as Quint essential American objectives. They're very practical objects. Economic opportunity is a very practical objective, but we ain't going to have any. You know we didn't export a whole lot to the Bosnians while they were at war. Except before the arms that were coming in through back channels. That's fundamentally the upside is that, just like historically abroad and historically at home, stability is prerequisite for all the other things that we care about.

PORTER: Let's talk about a few current issues that come up in your book Winning the Peace, and get your thoughts on them. NATO expansion. Good thing, bad thing?

RUGGIE: A tricky thing. I have a view on NATO expansion which is somewhat different from the prevailing view in Washington. There's general bipartisan support for NATO expansion. And I'm not in principle opposed to NATO expansion either. I worry about the American led NATO expansion for which there is bipartisan support. And I'm troubled by that on several grounds. The one that has been talked about somewhat, although not a great deal in Washington, is that the more America led the expansion, is the more it poses problems for Russia, for democratic Russia, the more it offers opportunities for nationalists and communists in Russia. To argue to the domestic electorate that as far as the United States is concerned, clearly the Cold War isn't over because we're pushing the alliance that contained the Soviet Union right up now to the borders of Russia. Now, I don't think we need to do that. We don't need to encourage communists and nationalists factions in Russia in order to stabilize Central and Eastern Europe. So that's one thing that worries me.

Another thing that worries me is that it gets the Europeans, the West Europeans off the hook. I mean, damn it we helped them reconstruct after World War II. There's absolutely no reason why they can't do the same thing now, vis a vis Central and Eastern Europe. Nothing would help Poland more. Nothing would help stabilize economic transition and democratization in Poland more than a reform of the common agricultural policy of the European Union. But with all the attention focused on NATO expansion the Europeans very cleverly have managed to say, "Well, you know expanding the European Union is very complex and very costly. We can't do that before the beginning of the next century." Bologna. Expanding NATO is far more problematical. And we're allowing the West Europeans to get off the hook on something that ought to be primary duty. We ought to back them. We ought to back them certainly, but it ought not to be on our tab to the extent that it's turning out to be.

The third reason is, relates to the theme of the book in my underlying fear about neoisolationism. And that is that it's going to take some time for the United States to find its feet in the new era. And my book was, one purpose of the book was to help us find our feet in the new era. But it's going to take us some time and it's going to be, there's going to be some turmoil domestically in terms of domestic politics among conservatives and liberals, among unilateralists and multilateralists, and all the rest of it. And there are going to be things said and things done, including what are commitment to Europe should be. Are we really willing to risk New York for Warsaw. That kind of stuff. I would rather not hinge the fate of Eastern and Central Europe so closely to those political debates as is bound to happen, unless the expansion is more European led.

So the bottom line is, yes I favor an expansion of Western Security Organization into Central and Eastern Europe. But I would like for it to be more European led, less uniquely reliant on the United States. Making greater use of the West European Union, which the Europeans have designated as their common security and defense umbrella than is now the case.

PORTER: All right. One final area for you. Do the issues in Winning the Peace give us any guidance as we watch the US presidential elections play out?

RUGGIE: To some extent. I think on a semi-superficial level the administration is more in favor in engagement, particularly multilateral engagement. And the republicans are more favor of either unilateralist internationalism, i.e., the US relying on its own means to get the job down or tends in quasi neoisolationist directions. So that yes to some extent there is a replay of the argument that I talk about, which occurred in 1919 and 1945 again today between the two political parties. But as long as candidate Dole remains a leading figure in the republican party, I think he serves as a barrier against the republicans sliding too far in the direction of neoisolationism. Because he is, I think, personally an internationalist. By the same token, as long as President Clinton remains an influential figure in the democratic party the United States sense of engagement isn't likely to take on any messianic streak, because he's the ultimate pragmatist. And so we have, in fact, quite a bit of overlap in the center. What looks like at first glance clearly opposite approaches. When you look more closely, actually veers more toward a cautious centerism for the time being. Which I think is all to the good and for the moment is probably all we can expect.

PORTER: Are you all concerned about the loss, perhaps in both parties even, of internationalist viewpoint that is sort of well defined and out front?

RUGGIE: I think it's going to be very much more difficult for the United States to pursue an active internationalist policy after the Cold War. And that's why I wrote the book. What I want to stress in the book, what I wanted to stress in the book was not to allow this to get out of hand. Yes, the Cold War is over and we don't need the intense engagement that we felt it, compelled to exercise during the Cold War. But international stability is still a primary objective, not only in and of itself, but because of everything else that depends on it. And as the world's only super power, if we don't remain systematically engaged I can see an unraveling very quickly. And we would be deeply deeply remorseful, you know, a few years down the road. But we can't, one of the things about history is that can't replay the tape. It only plays once.

PORTER: That is Professor John Ruggie, author of Winning the Peace: America and World Order in the New Era. For Common Ground, I'm Keith Porter.

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