Podium: Can America remain a force for freedom?

Taken from a lecture delivered by the Assistant to the President for National Security Affairs to the Council on Foreign Relations
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WE END this century at a unique moment for America, when our power and prosperity are greater than at any time in our history, unrivalled by any other nation. Our leadership has never been more needed, or more in demand.

The contours of our power are beyond dispute. Our military expenditures now are larger than those of all other countries combined; our weaponry is a generation ahead of that of our nearest potential rival. Our military technology is so dominant that serious people even lamented that we did not have enough casualties in the Kosovo conflict.

Because we are the only nation on Earth able to project power in every region, others look to us to deliver decisive influence where needed, whether that means maintaining security in Korea, helping to negotiate an agreement between Peru and Ecuador, overcoming differences in Northern Ireland, instigating implementation of the Dayton Accords, persuading Indonesia's military to accept peacekeepers in East Timor, or seeking peace between Ethiopia and Eritrea.

Our economy not only brings unprecedented prosperity to Americans; it is the engine of global growth and technological change. Americans own more than half the world's computers. We are home to the world's eight biggest hi-tech companies. Remarkably, in 1995, more than half of all the royalties and licensing fees in the world were paid to Americans. We may be the first society in human history in which children have no idea what they will grow up to be - because it hasn't been invented yet.

Then there is the realm of culture and values. Our movies, music and media are everywhere, irritating some, delighting many more. The poster I saw most often walking through the dorms of Peking University last year was not of Mao or Deng but Michael Jackson.

Throughout the world, our success inspires a mix of wonder and worry. But America must continue to be a peacemaker. That means seizing the historic chance in the coming year for a comprehensive settlement in the Middle East, securing the peace in Kosovo, and promoting stability in South Asia and reconciliation in Northern Ireland and Cyprus.

We must keep working to integrate Russia and China into the global system as open, prosperous, and stable societies. We must continue the struggle to stop the spread of nuclear, chemical and biological weapons, and be especially vigilant where proliferation intersects with the threat of terrorism. That means working in the coming year with Russia to pursue deeper arms reductions, to keep weapons secure at the source, to restrain North Korea's missile programme, to contain Iraq, and yes, to build a consensus for eventually ratifying the Test Ban Treaty.

We must keep building an open global economy that sustains our prosperity while leaving no one behind. That means working to launch a new global trade round, pushing for debt relief and for higher standards on labour rights and the environment.

And we must keep America as a force for freedom in the world. That means we must work in the coming year to support the fragile transition to democracy in Nigeria, Indonesia and Ukraine.

Above all, America must remain a builder of coalitions, remembering that few of our hopes for the future will be realised if we cannot persuade others to embrace them as well.

There is a difference between power and authority. Power is the ability to compel by force and sanctions; there are times when we must do so, but as a final, not a first, resort. Authority is the ability to lead, and we depend on it for virtually everything we try to achieve. Our authority is built on different qualities from our power: on the attractiveness of our values, on the force of our example and the credibility of our commitments.

History teaches us that this moment of pre-eminence for America may be fleeting. Common sense tells us it won't be self-sustaining. There is a real threat to our authority. It lies in the impulse to withdraw from the world in a way that would squander our advantages, alienate our friends, diminish our credibility and betray our values. We cannot let that happen. Every chapter in American history of which we are proud was written by people who refused to let that happen.