Exhortation: The Only Option?

Article excerpt

IN a speech in Cleveland on Jan. 13, President Clinton called on the Russians to halt the war in Chechnya. But the war continued.

The president has not been alone in his ineffectiveness. Exhortations of the United Nations Security Council and European leaders have similarly been ignored. Neither has this been true only in Chechnya; whether in Bosnia, Armenia, Rwanda, or the Middle East, warring parties rarely appear to respond to external demands for peace.

Should world leaders, especially US officials, continue to speak out when no one pays attention? Strong rhetoric that seems to bring no results weakens the credibility of the speaker, both at home and in the areas of conflict. Yet in the US, few alternatives exist.

Americans, still taking seriously the "one remaining superpower" label, expect their leaders to command others. Whatever the administration, United States leaders have little choice but to comment on distant conflicts, especially where Russia is involved. Nightly television coverage of Grozny brings the issue inescapably to the fore. Not to speak out is to risk being seen as condoning brutal actions, however remote the conflict.

But more is at stake for the US than its leaders' image or credibility. Russia remains a significant nuclear power. Its internal political developments can determine whether anticipated cooperation on such critical issues as arms control will be realized. Clinton believes that aid to Russian reform is in US interests. Attitudes toward the Chechnya battle are strongly conditioned by concern over developments within Russia.

In Washington, criticism of Russian action plays into the hands of those opposed to aid to Moscow. In Moscow, silence from Washington can be misinterpreted by hard-liners and soft-liners as indifference. Sharp criticism is likely to be seen as interference. …