Foreign Policy — Projecting Power

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  • by Anup Shah
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Defense Secretary William Cohen, in remarks to reporters prior to his speech at Microsoft Corporation in Seattle, put it this way, [T]he prosperity that companies like Microsoft now enjoy could not occur without having the strong military that we have.

The defense secretary is making the case that conflicts in faraway lands such as Bosnia, Korea and Iraq have a direct effect on the U.S. economy. The billions it costs to keep 100,000 American troops in South Korea and Japan, for example, makes Asia more stable—and thus better markets for U.S. goods. The military’s success in holding Iraq in check ensures a continued flow of oil from the Persian Gulf, concluded the Associated Press dispatch reporting on Cohen's Seattle appearance [February 18, 1999].

Karen Talbot, Backing up Globalization with Military Might1, Covert Action Quarterly, Issue 68, Fall 1999

Even though the Cold War ended over a decade ago, military spending has not necessarily been reduced accordingly, in some nations. As seen in this web site's arms trade propaganda section2, the big military industries of some nations still try to convince us that there is a large enough threat on the horizon which requires continued large-scale spending.

We are told that we have weapons for purely DEFENSIVE purposes while they have expansionist motives and offensive weapons; the fact is that the West has been expansive and projected its military, political and military power around the world.

Security Politics Is a Major Threat3, PressInfo #92, Transnational Foundation for Peace and Future Research, May 9, 2000

Yet, as arms get supplied to other countries (that are sometimes used in oppressive regimes, knowingly) neighboring states may feel the need to heighten their security too. Therefore, as the military industries and supporting nations make large sales of arms supposedly to help alleviate these nations’ security worries, each nation gets a larger and larger stockpile of weapons. This surely does anything but reduce security in a region.

Image: US military power dominates air, sea and land. Source: Wikimedia Commons4

The view of many experts for some time now (long before September 11, 2001), has been that future threats (and even most current conflicts) will no longer be between states, but be internal wars, instability resulting from failed states, or acts of terrorism. That being the case, it is suggested that foreign policy and militaries should change and adapt for this. Instead, we have seen continued research and deployment of weapons and planes with the idea of defending a nation from external5 forces in mind, which is deemed as fairly unlikely and lacks consideration of alternatives to military expenditure6.

But for major powers, as has been the case throughout history, to retain their dominant position in world affairs, a strong military has been a must to keep in check any other nation or region that might have ambitions to gain power, as well. As a result, the expansion of the military and other policies relating to maintaining the dominant position is typically pursued.

Former US National Security Advisor to President Jimmy Carter, Zbigniew Brzezinski, shows that these concerns have not gone away in our modern era:

For the United States, Eurasian geostrategy involves the purposeful management of geostrategically dynamic states and the careful handling of geopolitically catalytic states, in keeping with the twin interests of America in the short-term preservation of its unique global power and in the long-run transformation of it into increasingly institutionalized global cooperation. To put it in a terminology that hearkens back to the more brutal age of ancient empires, the three grand imperatives of imperial geostrategy are to prevent collusion and maintain security dependence among the vassals, to keep tributaries pliant and protected, and to keep the barbarians from coming together.

Zbigniew Brzezinski, The Grand Chessboard: American Primacy and Its Geostrategic Imperatives, (Basic Books, 1997), p.40

This section used to be quite a long page, but is now split into the following pages that begin to explore some of these issues:

8 articles on “Foreign Policy — Projecting Power” and 1 related issue:

Military Expansion Serving Economic Objectives

This section explores how the purpose of the military of powerful nations has typically been to aid economic and imperial objectives. As seen throughout history, empires have sought to expand territorially, politically, economically and even culturally. This leads to conflicts and wars, many of which ultimately have to do with power and economics. In the modern era, this has led to the current form of globalization, which many perceive around the world to be unequal and influenced by the more powerful countries who benefit from it the most. Whether it has been the Roman Empire in the past, or what many consider to be the American Empire and its allies today, many empires also seem to exhibit similar features of power, dominance and the pursuit of policies to attempt to maintain that.

Read “Military Expansion Serving Economic Objectives” to learn more.

The Bush Doctrine of Pre-emptive Strikes; A Global Pax Americana

This section explores how the U.S. administration of George Bush Jr. has begun to push a foreign policy that reveals a desire for further expansion to project U.S. power and dominance given its position as the sole superpower in the wake of the collapse of the Soviet Empire. Organizations, some quite extreme, such as The Project for a New American Century, who have a lot of influence with the Bush Administration provide a lot of the ideas and ideology. These range from suggesting the use of nuclear weapons, to increasing and using military power, even unilaterally, regardless of international opinion. For much of the world, the nature of some of the documents and the extremism of such neo conservative organizations and people that have a lot of influence and high positions in the administration is cause of immense concern. The war on Iraq in 2003 was seen as a first move towards this Global Pax Americana.

Read “The Bush Doctrine of Pre-emptive Strikes; A Global Pax Americana” to learn more.

The Clinton Doctrine of Humanitarian Interventions

In the wake of the Kosovo conflict, then U.S. president, Bill Clinton, vowed that the U.S. would intervene wherever such gross human rights violations were being committed. This sounded very welcome and moral. However, he said it would be done without the authority of the United Nations Security Council, if need be. The problem with this is that the message to other nations is that cooperation needn't be worried about, and that unilateralism is ok. Any country could claim to attack others on such grounds and use this as an excuse, regardless of the real motives. In addition, the larger concern was that this would be used by the U.S. to selectively choose actions according to its foreign policy goals and national interests, not so much genuine humanitarian concerns.

Read “The Clinton Doctrine of Humanitarian Interventions” to learn more.

A European Defense Force

A European Defense force was a question raised and highlighted in the aftermath of the Kosovo conflict. Europe was seen as unable to portray a military power without the dependency of NATO and the U.S. in particular. As a result, some were considering a European defense force. The United States also revealed that it had to prevent Europe from creating a force that did not have U.S. influence. But this suggests more militarism and rivalry. If we remember history, the great European games led to terrible wars, including World Wars. A European defense force might seem welcome to some as a check against the sole global superpower, the U.S., but the militarism that it encompasses must be a concern too.

Read “A European Defense Force” to learn more.

Dominance and Change in the Arctic

The Arctic region has long been considered international territory. Five countries—Canada, Denmark (via Greenland), Norway, Russia, and the United States—share a border with the frozen Arctic Ocean. Some of these nations have claimed parts of the region to be their territory.

Underlying the interests in the area are potentially vast oil, gas and other resources, as well as the opening up of lucrative passages for trade and economic activity as climate change reduces the amount of ice in the region. As a result, these nations have been vying for dominance in the Arctic.

Climate change provides an additional threat — not just to the local wildlife and indigenous populations that are already seeing their surroundings change rapidly, but to the rest of the planet, too. While retreating sea ice may open up shipping routes, the regions ability to reflect sunlight back into space would diminish, further increasing climate change effects.

Read “Dominance and Change in the Arctic” to learn more.

Arms Race

An increased militarism risks resulting in an arms race as regions and neighbors strive to keep up or out do others.

Read “Arms Race” to learn more.

Foreign Policy—National Interests

Every nation has a foreign policy to ensure that its needs are represented in the global community. However, throughout history, including recently such as during and after the Cold War, power has used in the international scene to push forward national interests and agendas, sometimes without any regard to the nations and people they may directly or indirectly affect.

This has sometimes resulted in a rise in resentment against some of these nations who are then seen as bullies, getting away with many acts of hypocrisy.

In the increasingly smaller global community, national interests do not necessarily mean that they are good for the international community. It is sometimes difficult to decide when national interests and international concerns should be addressed in a balanced way.

Read “Foreign Policy—National Interests” to learn more.

Power and Empire Links for More Information

Read “Power and Empire Links for More Information” to learn more.


Read “Geopolitics” to learn more.

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