New Rules Seen for U.S. Friendship : Diplomacy: As democracy comes to Moscow, foreign nations will need more credentials than just anti-communism.
A decade ago, five years before a “people power” revolution overthrew Ferdinand E. Marcos, then-Vice President George Bush told the dictator of the Philippines: “We love your adherence to democratic principles and to the democratic processes.”
These days, the cynicism of that evening in Manila may make some Americans wince, but there was nothing particularly remarkable about it at the time. Marcos was the anti-Communist ruler of a strategically important country and, from Washington’s vantage point in 1981, that was all the credentials he and other right-wing despots needed to qualify for strong and often effusive U.S. support.
As democracy comes to Moscow, all that seems likely to change. With communism crumbling in the Soviet Union and in retreat around the world, it is no longer enough merely to be anti-Communist. President Bush has an opportunity that Vice President Bush could hardly have imagined to make democracy and human rights the basis of U.S. foreign policy.
“Anti-communism will not earn people our friendship because it isn’t anti-anything that is very threatening,” says Helmut Sonnenfeldt, a former senior official at the State Department and National Security Council. “It will not be a ticket to U.S. friendship.”
Even so, Bush is not expected to set a “democracies only” rule for U.S. diplomatic relationships.
“This Administration will still have its pragmatic streak,” says Sonnenfeldt, now a senior fellow of the Brookings Institution in Washington. “There will be standards on human rights and democracy, at least broadly defined, but I don’t think it will be rigidly ideological.”
Nevertheless, the collapse of communism may prove to be as much of a setback for anti-Communist dictators as it is for Communist despots such Cuba’s Fidel Castro. Already, Washington has begun to distance itself from Third World autocrats such as Mobutu Sese Seko of Zaire and Daniel Arap Moi of Kenya, who have enjoyed years of U.S. support despite systematic suppression of political dissent and frequent human rights violations.
At the same time, Bush has adamantly resisted demands from Capitol Hill to downgrade U.S. relations with China because of its ruthless repression of the democracy movement there two years ago. Previous Administrations described the Washington-Beijing relationship as primarily a bulwark against the Soviet Union. But Bush is determined to maintain ties with China on their own merits despite the end of the Soviet threat.
Francois Heisbourg, director of the International Institute for Strategic Studies in London, says that the United States and its West European allies are all revising their foreign aid policies to emphasize political and economic pluralism and basic human rights.
“The United States has pursued an active policy of supporting democratization in most parts of the world but there are two blind spots,” Heisbourg says. “One is China and the other is the Middle East, particularly the relationship with (President) Hafez Assad” of Syria.
Some countries obviously are too important to ignore, regardless of their political system. As the world’s most populous nation, China is one of them. And in the Middle East, Washington is courting Assad, a ruthless dictator with a long history of human rights violations, as well as the absolute monarchs in Saudi Arabia and Kuwait.
But the future seems bleak for marginal Third World regimes that relied on anti-communism as their primary asset.
Administration officials say the United States will take no overt action to bring down such regimes but will do nothing to prevent their fall.
Richard Schifter, assistant secretary of state for human rights, said that “domestic pressures” for democracy are being felt around the world, touching both former Soviet clients and right-wing dictatorships.
“Those countries that were relying heavily on the Soviet Union had their props pulled out from under them,” Schifter says. “Because they were so dependent on the Soviet Union, they could easily be pushed in the other direction.”
Reform may come somewhat more slowly, he says, to “countries that never depended on the Soviet Union but put into effect their self-sustaining authoritarian structures.” He lists Kenya and Zambia as examples of nations in that category--although he indicates that the list is far longer. In the meantime, Schifter says, the U.S. government is providing technical advice to reforming autocracies about the creation of human rights commissions and other structural changes needed to establish pluralistic political systems.
“In some of the African countries that used to be Marxist-Leninist, there is a great deal of interest in getting technical help in creating an institutional foundation for protecting human rights,” he says.
Vice President Dan Quayle, who embarked on a weeklong trip to Africa on Saturday, said he intends to stress the importance of democracy and human rights to leaders of that continent. “I will not be bashful about talking about things that are important to us,” he said. “With the changing world environment, I believe that countries that are not multi-party will eventually become multi-party. The seeds of democracy are there. . . . There may be a different time schedule. But eventually there will be change in Africa as well.”
I. William Zartman, director of African studies at Johns Hopkins University’s School of Advanced International Studies in Washington, agrees that the end of the Cold War will permit Washington to pick its friends more carefully. But he says the Administration seems to be losing interest in most of Africa, regardless of politics.
In the past, Zartman says, the United States showed an interest in Angola, Mozambique and Ethiopia, primarily because Washington wanted to dislodge Marxist governments in those states, and in Zaire and Kenya because those nations were considered anti-Communist bastions. Now, he says, “I don’t see many places south of the Sahara that have our attention.”
Former President Jimmy Carter tried, without much success, to make human rights the foundation for his foreign policy. At the time, critics accused Carter of exerting more pressure for human rights performance on friendly right-wing dictatorships than on the Soviet Union and other nations in what, at the time, appeared to be a formidable Communist bloc. Besides, Carter was told somewhat derisively, if the United States limited its friendships to nations with clean human rights records, it would have very few friends in a lonely world.
But the sweep of events in Moscow now makes a human rights-based policy a viable option.
“We are in a time of great luxury where we can elevate concerns about human rights and political freedoms to the level that our own ideals call for,” says Robert E. Hunter, a foreign affairs expert who was a member of Carter’s National Security Council staff. “During the Cold War, we often faced dilemmas that led us, for reasons of realpolitik, to compromise on our values.”
Of course, there are some areas of the world where compromises are still in vogue. In the Middle East, the United States has established a working relationship with Syria and Assad after years of accusing the Damascus regime of abusing human rights and supporting international terrorism. The end of the Cold War contributed to the Washington-Damascus rapprochement because Syria was forced to diversify its superpower contacts after years of depending on the Soviet Union for weaponry and political support. From Washington’s standpoint, Syria is an indispensable participant in the Arab-Israeli peace conference which the Administration hopes to convene.
“You don’t hear the United States talking much about human rights with Assad,” Heisbourg says. He adds that European nations, despite “a cynical streak in foreign affairs,” are now much less ready to deal with Syria than they were a decade ago.
Times staff writer Stanley Meisler contributed to this story.
Redefining Our Allies
The crumbling of communism in the Soviet Union means that U.S. foreign policy may change toward dictators whose prime virtue, from the U.S. viewpoint, has been a strong anti-Communist stance. Among those to watch:
Two leaders who have enjoyed years of U.S. support despite systematic suppression of political dissent and frequent human rights violations.
Mobutu Sese Seko, Zaire
Daniel Arap Moi, Kenya
Some countries are considered too important to ignore, regardless of their system. China is one, and the United States is courting Syria’s Hafez Assad, a dictator with a long history of rights violations.
Li Peng, China
Hafez Assad, Syria