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March 18, 2004

Promoting Freedom is Premise of U.S. Foreign Policy, Diplomat Says


State Department official Richard A. Boucher

The basic premise of current American foreign policy is to promote freedom, according to a senior U.S. Department of State diplomat. “Right now, we have a big agenda: Afghanistan, Iraq and the war on terrorism for starters,” said Richard A. Boucher, assistant secretary for the Bureau of Public Affairs at the State Department.

A career diplomat, Boucher spoke briefly here March 5 on “U.S. Foreign Policy From the Middle East to Southeast Asia.” He outlined a half-dozen components of the U.S. foreign policy agenda to a packed room at 2K56 Posvar Hall.

“The war on terrorism takes up a lot of our time,” Boucher said. “It’s not just fighting and chasing down Osama bin Laden. It means seeking expanded cooperation and more shared intelligence, and also preventing terrorism and preventing countries and areas from being used to harbor terrorists.”

Boucher believes the war on terrorism is gaining momentum as other countries see benefits in uniting against a common enemy.

“One indication is that we’re getting cooperation from some unusual places, including the Sudan, Libya, Syria, Yemen,” he said. “Our common goal is to prevent future Afghanistans where terrorists can take safe harbor to train and recruit and build an organization. Al-Quaida is against everybody.”

A second component of the U.S. foreign policy agenda is trying to mediate conflicts around the world, Boucher said. “As the one remaining superpower, we carry a lot of weight, and people tend to call us,” he said. “For example, in 2002 Spain and Morocco had a brief argument over a couple islands. The EU (European Union) immediately ran to the strong defense of Spain, and so the Morocco minister called us,” resulting in a quickly negotiated settlement.

The biggest conflict, both in scope and duration, is between the Israelis and the Palestinians, he said. “We haven’t made a lot of inroads,” Boucher acknowledged. “In fact, an argument could be made that it’s gotten worse the last three years. Our policy is to get a dialogue going again, and we’re working broader, with the Arab League, for example,” to bring others’ influence to bear on the conflict. He added that efforts have been stymied by terror attacks that interrupt dialogue.

A third component is preventing the spread of weapons of mass destruction. “The president has said that perhaps the most dangerous threat in the world today is for terrorists to get or develop weapons of mass destruction,” Boucher pointed out. Generally speaking, that means to bottle up both terrorists and WMDs.

“The non-proliferation agenda includes tightening controls on shipments on the high seas, and working with countries to expand their export control systems,” to cut down on the flow of contraband.

The United States has seen some success in urging other countries to give up weapons programs entirely, he said. “Iran is at least talking about putting away their programs. Libya, in a dramatic turnaround, has [scuttled] its chemical weapons programs. This could influence in a profound way the inclination of others. The rationale is: These weapons programs are a waste of money; they don’t help people; and, in places like North Korea, they rob the country of the benefits they could enjoy if they belonged to the world community.”

Good signs in this area are the expansion of both the EU and NATO, he maintained. “NATO is about to take in seven new members, and the EU will have as many as 10 new members. Our agenda is to expand freedom. Expansion in itself expands the community of freedom,” Boucher said. To gain entrance into the EU or NATO, “many of these countries have to make changes in their judicial, economic and other systems, which also expands freedom.”

The economic component of the U.S. agenda is best manifested by the free trade agreements including NAFTA, and agreements with such places as Jordan, Singapore and Australia, he said.

“Free trade has shown itself to be a success, for example, in Jordan, where there’s been a big increase in exports and an increase of jobs, and in Morocco, which is largely agricultural but moving toward manufacturing, which is transforming their economy.”

Boucher acknowledged that there is considerable debate, likely to play a big role in the upcoming elections, over the value of free trade agreements that result in outsourcing of American jobs. “This is a political issue that affects both the domestic and international economies more in the short term. We like to say [in the State Department]: The only investment that matters in the long term is education. So we may be outsourcing jobs, but people are still coming here for education. The bottom line is that things are cheaper at Wal-Mart. You have to look at all the factors: cheaper goods here, the expansion of markets internationally.”

In addition, Boucher said, the United States has changed its policies in the recent past by directing funding to countries that are moving toward freedom and democracy. “Money will go specifically to countries that have undertaken the kind of judicial reforms, human rights reforms, and reforms to their institutional systems, primarily those in primary care. The premise is: If you throw money at mismanaged countries, you might get food there for a year, but you won’t get development.”

The last component of the agenda is the effort to combat the spread of AIDS. “The president has proposed a 5-year, $15 billion program for fighting AIDS, which is the largest amount of money every devoted to a single health threat,” Boucher said. “Indeed, HIV/AIDS is probably the single greatest threat to human beings on the planet; it ends up decimating towns and communities, and kills far more than any war.

“In summary our foreign policy is based on the premise that freedom works; it works economically. We have to protect freedom, solidify it, expand it. And in places like the Middle East, we have to sow the seeds of freedom.”

Among the questions fielded by Boucher at the March 5 discussion: The U.S. is urging all countries to eliminate WMDs. How do we justify having them ourselves?

Boucher: “If you look at the picture of how we got here, with the United States and the Soviet Union in the Cold War, our nuclear arsenal acted as a powerful deterrent, and the world was in nuclear balance. And that policy worked.

“Since the fall of the Soviet Union, we’ve decreased our nuclear weapons massively, from about 20,000 to 6,000, with plans and a treaty with Russia to get down to about 3,000.

“But that balance, and the concept of nuclear deterrence, we think, still has some justification. If you look at North Korea: They scare their neighbors; they squander their resources; they violate international law; they make everybody nervous, and they prevent themselves from gaining the benefits they would have from other countries in the world. It’s because we have weapons, they’re hesitant to use theirs.

“India and Pakistan have both tested nuclear weapons, but there have been some positive forces in those countries including trade, investment and economic relationships with other countries.

“And countries such as the Ukraine, South Africa, Argentina, Egypt — any number of countries have given up weapons programs (since the end of the Cold War).”

Regarding preventing future Afghanistans: Didn’t the United States create the situation in Afghanistan by arming rebel forces against the Soviets, and aren’t we doing the same in Iraq with the chaos there?

Boucher: “Yes, we did help arm [rebel forces] and gave money to fight the Soviets in Afghanistan. However it happened, we ended up with a terrible situation, with a place terrorists could go and train and recruit with impunity. Along the way, we learned the difficult and important lesson that we can’t wait for U.N. resolutions and we can’t wait around for countries to reform.

“Whatever the history, we have to learn from it and get it right in places like Iraq. One big difference is that now in Iraq there are 200,000 Iraqis in security positions; so we’re letting the Iraqis take responsibility.

“The biggest lesson is that we have to establish a society that doesn’t have to deal with civil war, that doesn’t have armed groups opposing each other. That’s why our goal there is to establish a democracy, where parties are represented and not fighting in the streets.”

It seems clear that the Israeli government and the Palestinian Authority cannot make peace and the situation is getting worse. For those in the Middle East opposed to peace, doesn’t it play into terrorists’ hands that the peace process is shut down every time there is a new terrorist attack?

Boucher: “So, you’re asking: Why can’t the U.S. impose peace? It doesn’t work that way. The parties have to make peace. The international community seems much better at separation than unity. The goal is to have two states living side by side in peace. We’ve come close in recent years. But then a terrorist attack, or the discovery by Israel that the PLO had a ship full of weapons sent its way, prompts Israeli retaliation and the dialogue breaks off. The key is to control terrorism. Bombs do change people’s political outlook. But the goal is not only security, it’s to have stable governments.”

You have worked under five secretaries of state. With the changing of the guard from one party to another, would you say that policies are jumbled as a result?

Boucher: “The continuity is much greater than you might imagine. For example, the first expansion of NATO came under Clinton; the second is coming under Bush; NAFTA came under Clinton; it’s been supported by Bush.”


The event was co-sponsored by the Asian Studies Center, the global studies program, the Graduate School of Public and International Affairs dean’s office, the American Muslim Council’s Pittsburgh chapter and the Consortium for Educational Resources on Islamic Studies. (See sidebar story on page 8.)

—Peter Hart

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