Since the end of the Cold War, our nation has been struggling to come to terms with the role the United States should play in world affairs. It has been difficult because most of us, quite appropriately, are more worried about the state of our own communities than the state of the world. We are, understandably, less interested in redefining U. S. national interests than we are in protecting the personal security and welfare of ourselves and our families.
Now that U. S.-Russian tensions have abated, however, we have an exceptional opportunity to concentrate on issues where U. S. leadership can make a difference between whether or not future generations of Americans live in a safe and humane world and enjoy a decent quality of life. But if we do not carefully articulate our objectives--involving the American people in this discussion--the United States will lose its ability to play a responsible leadership role; and in the absence of alternative global leadership, crises around the world will continue to proliferate.
I suggest three basic principles for formulating such a policy.
First, any U. S. foreign policy must be predicated on a renewal of our domestic strength. An America that lacks economic strength and social cohesion will lose respect abroad and the ability and willingness of its own people to participate responsibly in world affairs. Foremost among the major threats to our national well-being are our enormous budget and trade deficits. These deficits--and the massive debt that has accumulated as a result of them--have sapped our economic strength and threatened our economic stability. They have hindered domestic investment, kept us from successful competition in world markets and shifted an increasing amount of influence over U. S. economic policy to foreign investors.
We have made some real progress. Last year's historic deficit-reduction act will reduce deficits from 5% of the gross domestic product in 1992 to only 2.5% next year. But more still needs to be done to eliminate government borrowing. Furthermore, we need to continue our efforts to open foreign markets to U. S. exports. Since 1984, exports have accounted for virtually all our manufacturing job growth, which has been particularly beneficial to Southern California. Because the United States has far fewer trade barriers than most countries, we will continue to benefit by negotiating free-trade agreements such as the North American Free Trade Agreement and the General Agreement on Trade and Tariffs.
Second, we must remain engaged in world affairs and not retreat into isolationism or protectionism. Absent our measured leadership, prospects for a safe, prosperous and free world will diminish, and America's future will be compromised. International developments today can affect the cost of a home mortgage, increase immigration pressures, affect the environment, create new jobs or cause unemployment. The United States is still the only nation that a majority of the peoples of the world look to for political, economic and ethical leadership. Without our consistent input, however, U. S. interests are likely to be overlooked by the international community.
At the same time, the United States should stop acting as the world's policeman. Few events abroad can affect America's core security. Without being indifferent to overseas developments, we need to react to them with far more deliberation and restraint. In general, we should not use force except to defend ourselves and our allies. In the not-too-distant past, that might have sounded almost trite--certainly obvious. But after the past two decades, it is a concept we should return to. This is not being isolationist--it is sensible, practicable, and, in the final analysis, will make us more effective when we act.
Third, U. S. leadership should be focused on building international consensus. While few international objectives can be achieved without U. S. participation, the United States can no longer achieve many of these objectives alone. We must reserve the option of independent action, but there are virtually no plausible situations--military, political or economic--where it would be more advantageous for the U. S. to act unilaterally than in concert with others. If an action is worth taking, there should be other countries willing to join the endeavor. If we go it alone, the burden falls entirely upon us, and the chances of success dwindle considerably.
Our top international goals should include helping other nations establish democratic governments, stopping the proliferation of weapons, protecting the earth from environmental degradation and slowing the world's exponential population growth that underlies virtually every environmental, developmental and national security problem facing the world today--not to mention the environmental and immigration pressures we feel locally.