Sat, 16 Dec 2000

The return of 'securo-crats' in U.S.

Under George W. Bush, the United States may be more willing to act unilaterally, writes Kusnanto Anggoro, a senior researcher at the Centre for Strategic and International Studies and a lecturer in the postgraduate studies program at the University of Indonesia in Jakarta.

JAKARTA (JP): There may be an American ideal, however President-elect George Bush Jr. has no choice but adopt a different strategy from his predecessors. During the Clinton years, U.S. dominance has met with mixed emotions across the world.

In Asia, the United States is viewed as a benign balance to China's growing power, but American power has been used to force unwelcome change. Washington also failed to help when its friends were in need, as in the 1997 financial crisis. Anti-Americanism of some sort is emerging across the region, even in Okinawa, Japan, her most important ally in the region.

Nor can the President-elect exercise a similar strategy to that of George Bush Sr. The world has changed since the days of glory when the United States assembled the Gulf War coalition against Saddam Hussein. Bush Jr. will not be dealing with a compromising Mikhail Gorbachev, but a more assertive and deliberate Vladimir Putin.

The old ways of doing governmental business, forged during the Cold War, are being complicated by the forces of globalization and the rise of nationalist sentiments.

In Asia and the Pacific, the last three years have brought about more significant, yet turbulent, changes than the previous decade.

The self-confidence of Southeast Asia was shattered by the 1997 financial crisis. The Asia Pacific Economic Cooperation Forum and the Association of Southeast Asian Nations seem to have lost direction. Democracy is being tested everywhere. Leaderships are being challenged in Taiwan, the Philippines and Indonesia. Many governments are politically and economically adrift. Sensitivity and coherency are needed to control such desynchronizing challenges to the international economy and the domestic sphere.

To a large degree, Bush's overall vision suggests a United States willing to act more unilaterally than previously, and less disposed to work through international institutions, including the International Monetary Fund, the World Bank and the United Nations. Bush Jr. the presidential campaigner spoke of approaching policy with "humility" and of showing restraint in the use of American forces.

Yet, Bush Jr. the President-elect mentioned in his victory speech that "(the U.S.) will have a military equal to every challenge, and superior to every adversary". Details remain to be seen, and the U.S. will ultimately be judged by its deeds.

It is on this point that the flavor of U.S. foreign policy is about to shift. Gone are the leading figures in the Clinton administration from the world of economics, the "econocrats", the likes of Samuel R. Berger and Robert E. Rubin. The foreign policy team Bush Jr. is assembling seems to have a distinctly "securo- crat" flavor -- much more so than in any recent presidency. Just consider personalities like Richard Cheney, Gen. Colin Powell, Richard Armitage and Paul Wolfowitz.

Even the academic Condoleezza Rice, Bush's likely choice for national security adviser, gained most of her experience as Bent Scowcroft's protege on the National Security Council and worked briefly in the Pentagon.

Of course, the U.S. has been the leader of Kantian democratic peace. The White House will continue to assert American values and support countries going through the transition to democracy and the market economy.

But this will certainly not take place at the same level as during Clinton's presidency. The Bush administration will be inclined to make this more non-governmental business. U.S. non- governmental organizations and multinational corporations may become more prominent as instruments of American foreign policy, and the U.S. Congress may even talk louder.

The resurgence of these Pentagon-breeds appears to be welcomed in Japan. And while the Clinton administration was seen to have paid too much attention to China, the Taiwanese also must be equally happy.

In a presidential debate Bush Jr. not only mentioned Taiwan, but also said if China attacked Taiwan the United States must come to the island's defense. However, a tougher line toward North Korea carries the risk of disrupting the peace process on the Korean Peninsula, and could therefore create some problems with Seoul.

In all probability, the United States will continue to use incentives or rewards along with penalties or punishments to influence the behavior of difficult regimes.

The question is how Washington will decide when engagement strategies might be considered in place of, or in tandem with, more punitive measures. Washington should be more sensitive. A microscopic decision based on U.S. interests could have macropolitical consequences of epic proportions elsewhere.

By and large, the White House is likely to use more honey with Japan and Taiwan, and more vinegar with China and Myanmar. To Indonesia, the Bush presidency is a delicate paradox. The White House may be more tolerant of a slower pace of political, bureaucratic and economic reform, but more hostile toward a such nationalist ideas as forging closer security and/or defense cooperations with China and India.

A "conspiracy of consensus" of overtly nationalist policy between Merdeka Palace, the President, and Senayan, home of the House of Representatives, will not sit well with the new American "securo-crats".