UNITED STATES SHOULD LEAD, NOT DOMINATE
Since hegemony won't last, the United States should build global institutions
By William J. Clinton
William J. Clinton is the former president of the United States. In
this article he echoes former U.S. President Jimmy Carter's Nobel peace
prize acceptance speech last week calling on the United States not to
act unilaterally but work with the United Nations.
NEW YORK -- The United States stands at a unique moment in human history,
with our political, economic and military dominance. But within 30 years
the Chinese economy could be as big or bigger than ours. The Indian economy
could be as well if they stop fighting with Pakistan and wasting money
on armaments. Within 30 years, if the European Union continues to become
more united politically and economically, it will in turn grow more influential
politically and economically. Then, in an interdependent world, we can
lead but not dominate.
The United States will be judged based on how we used this ''magic moment.''
Did we try to drive the world into the 21st century? Did we try to force
people to live by our vision? Or did we instead try by leadership, example
and persuasion to build a world in which people will treat us in the future
the way we'd like to be treated because of how we acted at our moment
My mentor, Sen. J. William Fulbright, once said the best thing America
could do was to be ''an intelligent example of the world through material
helpfulness without moral presumption''; that ''we should make our own
society an example of human happiness, make ourselves the friends of social
revolution and go beyond simple reciprocity in the effort to reconcile
hostile worlds.'' He said he would far prefer to see us be a ''sympathetic
friend of humanity rather than its stern and prideful schoolmaster.''
Now, of what relevance is that in the present day? Does that mean America
should not have a strong military? No. Does that mean we should never
use it? When force is required to save massive numbers of lives? No. But
it does mean that we should be humble enough to remember that there are
rarely any final solutions in human affairs. Therefore, quite often the
way we do something is as important as what we do.
We must recognize that our global interdependence, while a wonderful thing
for those of us well positioned to take advantage of it, is still very
much a mixed blessing. Our openness to one another in a world full of
political, religious, economic and social divisions also increases our
vulnerability and intensifies the pain and alienation of those who feel
shut out from the blessings of interdependence. After all, on Sept. 11,
Al Qaeda used the same open borders, easy travel and access to information
and technology that we take for granted to kill 3,100 people from 70 countries,
including more than 200 Muslims.
So the question is: What is America's responsibility at this moment of
I believe it's to build a world that moves beyond interdependence to an
integrated global community of shared responsibilities, shared benefits
and shared values.
We must support the institutions of global community, beginning with the
United Nations. The United Nations is an organization still becoming,
still imperfect. We have not always done our part in it, but it is all
we have, and now that we live in an interdependent world, it must have
our full support in building an integrated global community. We must have
a sound security strategy using the power of America to prevent the actions
of and punish the people who mean us harm. And we must also remember the
example of Gen. George C. Marshall and the Marshall Plan, of Sen. Fulbright
and the Fulbright Program, and build a world that has more friends and
partners and fewer terrorists. That is the purpose of foreign aid and
debt relief, of fighting AIDS and putting all the world's children in
school. We should not be too utopian in our expectations, but always utopian
in our values and vision.
From the dawn of human society up to the present time, we have been bedeviled
by a persistent curse: the compulsion people feel to define the meaning
of their lives in positive terms with reference to those who are like
them racially, tribally, culturally, religiously, politically, and by
negative reference to those who are different. People then feel compelled
to oppress those who are different when they are small and powerless enough
not to prevent it. Increasingly wider circles of interdependence, however,
have taught people to accept the humanity of those they once degraded.
Indeed, the whole course of human history can be seen as a constant struggle
to expand the definition of who is ''us'' and shrink the definition of
who is ''them.'' From the dawn of time until the Berlin Wall fell in 1989,
it was never really possible to build a global community of cooperation,
in which we celebrate, not just tolerate, our diversity, on the simple
theory that our differences make life interesting, but our common humanity
When the United Nations was set up, global community was not possible
because of the Cold War. Then, in the 1970s, China started moving toward
the rest of the world. In 1989, the Berlin Wall fell. So we've had just
13 years to work on finding practical expressions of the dream of an integrated
community of nations.
To further that goal, we ought to be working with other countries on banning
nuclear testing, reducing global warming, establishing an International
Criminal Court and strengthening a convention against biological weapons.
I am disappointed that the current administration has withdrawn from,
or failed to strengthen, agreements in each of those areas. It sends the
wrong signal to the world just at the time when we need more and stronger
alliances to help us target terrorists and defend our nation.
But despite these setbacks, I remain an optimist. In the last 13 years,
the European Union has grown together, the United Nations has proved to
have greater capacity to deal with problems in the Balkans and elsewhere;
Russia and China have moved closer to the West; the Good Friday Accord
was adopted in Northern Ireland; we had seven years of progress toward
peace in the Middle East before Yasser Arafat rejected my last proposal,
which he now agrees all parties should embrace; and the world's wealthy
nations began to do more, with the global debt-relief initiative and increased
funding to fight AIDS.
We have no choice but to learn to live together, to choose cooperation
over conflict, to give expression to our common humanity by following
simple rules: everyone deserves a chance, everyone has a role to play,
we all do better when we work together, we're not as different as we think.
We do not yet have the institutions to run that kind of world. That is
the work of politics, and in that work there will always be differences
of opinion, conflicts of interest and values, and as we see today even
in the simple evaluation of the evidence.
But, on balance, I think the world is moving in the right direction because
it has become inconceivable that we can solve the problems of the world
without solving them together. All of us should do our part to see that
it happens as soon as possible.
(c) 2002, Global Viewpoint. Distributed by Tribune Media Services International.
For immediate release (Distributed 12/16/02)