What does interventionist foreign policy mean?

A new foreign and military policy under George Bush?

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Otfried Nassauer: "With the weapons of tomorrow in the spirit of yesterday"

On the occasion of the "Wehrkundetagung" in Munich at the beginning of February 2001, the weekly newspaper "Freitag" (www.freitag.de) published an assessment by Otfried Nassauer * about the new foreign policy of the US President George Bush Jr., who was appointed by the court. The article was entitled: "Back to the future - security policy with the weapons of tomorrow in the spirit of yesterday"

This weekend, Munich will be the venue for the 37th Armed Forces Conference of the International Conference on Security Policy, as it has been called since the end of the Cold War. This year the event is of particular importance. Donald Rumsfeld, the new US Secretary of Defense, is expected and with him information about the future security policy of the new, right-wing conservative Bush administration.

The new administration was introduced with strong words and the announcement of significant changes. Some worried brow furrowed even in the European governments about their conservative orientation. Many believe that in addition to his NMD plans, Bush could not only significantly increase military spending, but also press the European states into a drastic increase in defense burdens and even greater subordination to the American leadership role. Others fear that sensitive foreign policy relations - such as those with Russia, China and India - will be quickly and permanently damaged.

In essence, all of these concerns boil down to two central aspects: On the one hand, the new administration could change US policy so radically that the stability of the international system, which was painstakingly maintained after the end of the Cold War, would be endangered - above all through growing unilateralism . On the other hand, those aspects of future American policy that would result in changes in one's own national scope for action are watched with eagle eyes.

It is foreseeable that US foreign policy in the future will be influenced by domestic policy even more than before. While it is theoretically conceivable that the president, who has started weakened as a result of the controversial election result, tries to take control of action by quickly and radically changing directions, this approach harbors several dangers, especially in foreign and security policy: the domestic opposition could gain ground quickly and decisively; the foreign policy damage could be immense; and perhaps crucial: the financial costs of an unchecked policy of military strength are in direct competition with Bush's most important domestic election promise - a massive tax cut.

The Bush administration will therefore try to balance the expectations of its own electorate and the negative foreign policy side effects. The rhetoric will be upgraded, especially in areas with a high domestic political symbolic value for the conservative electorate. Threat scenarios, higher defense spending and national missile defense (NMD) are likely to be just as popular as a sharper tone towards Russia, China and other countries that are not considered partners. In practice, with the 2002 budget, military spending on potential future technologies and greater operational readiness of the US armed forces will increase significantly. The resurrection of research on a comprehensive, multi-stage anti-missile defense system - with considerably more funds for the space-based elements of anti-missile combat and for systems for combating missiles in the launch phase (boost phase intercept) is considered to be certain. It remains to be seen, however, whether the deployment of NMD will begin quickly and thus the ABM treaty will de facto become obsolete, or whether the whole project will be declared a bad investment by Clinton in order to gain time and political leeway for an agreement with Russia, China and other critics . However, the further development and deployment of regional theater missile defense systems tied to the theater of war is definitely to be expected - if only to involve allies in Europe and Asia even more closely in American global politics. At the same time, the arms control contractually agreed (especially with Russia) is losing its political importance, without ruling out initiatives for nuclear disarmament. In the end, the entire START process could fall victim to such an approach, while more far-reaching disarmament steps than those provided for in the treaties are being implemented in the same breath. The advantage from the point of view of the new administration: disarmament would remain reversible because it is not legally binding. In addition, the new administration would keep all options open to develop a new generation of nuclear weapons, so-called mini-nukes, with which deeply buried targets can be fought.

In the future, there is likely to be much more reluctance to intervene in the military, especially if national interests do not appear to be directly affected or if there is a threat of long deployment times for larger units. It remains to be seen whether the division of labor with Europe is based on the motto "We do combat operations from the air, you follow-up care on the ground", or whether Europeans will in future more often be faced with the decision to intervene without American support. However, the new administration will only accept moral, ethical or humanitarian reasons for propaganda purposes and not in the context of actual decision-making.

At the same time, Washington will press its European allies for higher military spending and more investment in future military technologies - also in the hope of increasing arms exports from the USA. Whether this will go hand in hand with greater European independence in deciding on military interventions has not yet been determined, especially if Washington is significantly increasing the hurdles for US forces to be deployed. In Munich, the sharp controversies about the European contribution to NATO and the NMD project will be in the foreground of public attention. The new US administration in Europe is already comparing the hesitant attitude towards missile defense with the discussions about retrofitting at the beginning of the 1980s. This makes it abundantly clear where the new administration starts: In the deepest Cold War, with recipes from Ronald Reagan's "golden days". This does not do justice to the needs of the transatlantic relationship. The really important questions are covered up: What will the future relationship, the security-political division of labor between the USA and the European Union look like? How much autonomy does the United States - and thus NATO - grant Europe's future security and defense policy? And what criteria will be used to jointly decide on the deployment of armed forces in the future?

The European states in particular are poorly prepared for this crucial, last question. Lines of argument of a value-oriented, "ethical foreign policy", embodied by politicians like Tony Blair or Joschka Fischer, only cause tired smiles from realpolitical Republicans and cannot serve as a basis for joint transatlantic action. You pose completely different questions to Europe: What are the European interests? Do these even exist? Are they the same as the US? Are the similarities big enough for joint action? Is Europe willing and able to pursue power and interest politics bluntly and realistically? Europe's answer to these questions must be found quickly. That is the real challenge posed by the new US administration.

* Otfried Nassauer is a freelance journalist and heads the Berlin Information Center for Transatlantic Security (BITS).
From: Friday, No. 6, February 2, 2001

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