Defining U.S. Foreign Policy in a Post-Post-Cold War World

By Haass, Richard N. | DISAM Journal, Winter 2003 | Go to article overview

Defining U.S. Foreign Policy in a Post-Post-Cold War World


Haass, Richard N., DISAM Journal


[The following are excerpts of 2002 Arthur Ross Lecture, presented to the Foreign Policy Association, New York, New York, April 22, 2002.]

I can think of no better occasion for this discussion than the Arthur Ross Lecture. The name Arthur Ross is synonymous with philanthropy in the cause of public service. Arthur Ross has devoted his time, his energy, and yes his resources to fostering the best new thinking in the service of foreign policy for the American people. When I was at Brookings, I benefited first-hand from Arthur's generosity and vision. Thank you again, Arthur, for your commitment to making the world a better place.

I returned to government service a little over a year ago to head up the State Department's Policy Planning Staff. Now, as you know, government officials rarely, if ever, have time to ponder history or look too far ahead. The Policy Planning Staff, though, is privileged. It is part of our job to step back from the day-to-day decisions, to discern the relevant lessons of history and to apply them to shape the future.

It would be difficult for me to escape history even if I wanted to. Every day members of the Policy Planning Staff are reminded of our own history when we gather under the photographs of our predecessors. We try to heed the final guidance that Secretary of State George Marshall gave to George Kennan when he called upon Kennan to create the Policy Planning Staff fifty-five years ago. In his characteristic direct and concise manner, Marshall offered two words of advice: "Avoid trivia."

Living up to that advice remains our mission on the Policy Planning Staff. That is also my task this evening. So let me not mince words, but go right to the heart of one of the most important challenges before us today defining American foreign policy for what my boss, Secretary of State Colin Powell, likes to call the post-post-Cold War world.

To The Post-Post-Cold War World

A successful foreign policy begins with an understanding of the particular challenges of the day, one informed by a historical perspective. As the "post-post-cold war" label suggests, we can understand the challenges we confront today only if we know how we got here.

The Cold War Era

For those of us who came of age during the Cold War, its key features are etched in our memories. For almost five decades, from the late 1940s until the demise of the Soviet Union, the Cold War defined the main contours of the international landscape. It was, at its core, an ideologically charged confrontation between the West, that is, the United States and its allies, and the Soviet Union and its satellites. Americans accepted that the stakes involved were nothing less than the preservation of our way of life. Our main security relationships in both the Atlantic and the Pacific emerged in this context. The prospect of a nuclear holocaust gave both sides a stake in maintaining a stable balance of terror, a balance both codified and symbolized in a series of arms control agreements. Direct military confrontation between the two superpowers was avoided. Instead, we engaged in a long struggle on the periphery of the world in places such as Korea, Vietnam, and Central America. Eventually, the United States and i ts allies triumphed by containing the Soviet challenge until the Soviet Union collapsed under the weight of its own internal contradictions. Of course, these years were also marked by other international developments, most notably the rise of nationalism and European withdrawal from much of Africa and Asia. But it was the Cold War struggle that shaped our priorities and our responses to such developments.

The Post-Cold War Interlude

With the dissolution of the Soviet Union, we embarked on the post-cold war interlude. We see now that this was a decade of transition defined by uncertainty as we groped to determine the American role in an international system not defined by a single existential threat. …

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