Time for a `New Isolationism'

By Mark S. Mahaney. Mark S. Mahaney is editor of the Sais Review, the semiannual journal of international affairs published by the Johns Hopkins University Paul H. Nitze School of Advanced International Studies .. | The Christian Science Monitor, June 18, 1990 | Go to article overview

Time for a `New Isolationism'


Mark S. Mahaney. Mark S. Mahaney is editor of the Sais Review, the semiannual journal of international affairs published by the Johns Hopkins University Paul H. Nitze School of Advanced International Studies .., The Christian Science Monitor


THE collapse of the Berlin Wall, the dissolution of the Soviet Union, and the spread of democracy from Johannesburg to Santiago to Ulaanbaator - how are Americans to react to these fundamental changes? Perhaps we can begin with the realization that we have before us an incredible array of choices concerning our new "grand" strategy or national mission. The current range of foreign policy options is arguably greater than at any time in the post-World War II era.

Some political leaders fear that the American public, especially the younger generations, will choose isolationism. Their fears are justified. For with the end of the cold war, the strategic rationale for maintaining military forces capable of projecting power into every global corner has dissolved.

In the third world there exist no more credibility tests. The Persian Gulf aside, this area of the world has been of relatively minimal intrinsic value to the United States. Instead, throughout the cold war, the third world has served primarily as an arena in which to demonstrate our resolve vis-a-vis the "Red menace." Our ability and willingness to counter perceived Soviet aggression in Southeast Asia, southern Africa, and Central America supposedly demonstrated our ability and willingness to counter possible Soviet aggression in Western Europe and Northeast Asia - areas which because of their military-industrial potential were of immense intrinsic value to us.

Now, for all intents and purposes, it no longer matters what happens in Vietnam, Angola, and Nicaragua. Because no countries of any significance seek to emulate the Soviet economic and political model (whatever it is these days), all talk of dominoes is archaic. And Moscow's decreasing ability to maintain order within the Soviet Union itself renders ridiculous all fears of a globally expansive Soviet Union.

The Soviet strategic nuclear arsenal is still massive, of course. So is ours. Consequently, arms control reductions aimed at a more stable nuclear balance should continue to be a major foreign policy priority. But it is becoming almost impossible to dream up scenarios in which nuclear weapons could be used to achieve political goals.

So the post-cold-war strategic environment offers the US the option of drastically retrenching militarily. At the same time, however, we cannot revert to the extreme isolationism of the pre-cold-war era - an isolationism which forsook security alliances and multilateral commitments. …

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