The global success of America under Clinton

From a lecture given by President Clinton's national security adviser, Samuel R Berger, at Georgetown University, Washington DC
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The Independent Online

No one can look at the world this week and say that because America is prosperous and at peace, we can afford to pay less attention to events beyond our shores. Today, I want to put America's role during this historic period in some perspective, to speak with you about the direction in which we have been travelling, the principles that have guided our path and the actions we have taken.

No one can look at the world this week and say that because America is prosperous and at peace, we can afford to pay less attention to events beyond our shores. Today, I want to put America's role during this historic period in some perspective, to speak with you about the direction in which we have been travelling, the principles that have guided our path and the actions we have taken.

Any honest assessment must begin with the fact that Bill Clinton was elected at a moment not only of triumph but of uncertainty for America in the world. Consider the conventional wisdom about America in autumn 1992: Time magazine asked: "Is the US in an irreversible decline as the world's premier power?" US News concluded that our victory in the Gulf war merely "postponed moves to fill the vacuum created by America's retrenchment and the collapse of the Soviet Union". In France, Le Monde published a 12-part series on America in eclipse. We were widely seen as unlikely to sustain its global engagement. We were fading competitively.

We had barely come to grips with the new challenges of a globalising world. For 50 years during the Cold War, America confidently defined its leadership in terms of what we were against. After the victory over Communism, we defined our policy in terms of what was ending - a "post-Cold War" policy. The Clinton administration's task was to renew our leadership in terms of what we were building, while restoring the domestic vitality that enables us to lead.

Historians may debate the choices we made. But there is no disputing their cumulative outcome. America today is, by any measure, the world's unchallenged military and economic power. The world counts on us to be a catalyst of coalitions, a broker of peace, a guarantor of global financial stability.

In Kosovo, we did what America should have done in Bosnia in 1992: we acted in time to return the victims of ethnic cleansing to their homes and protect south-east Europe from wider catastrophe. Remember what was happening in the former Yugoslavia eight years ago. Refugees were fleeing genocide; a wider war seemed imminent; Slobodan Milosevic was winning. People said there was nothing America could do: that's just the way those people in the Balkans are, they said.

Now, Milosevic is deposed. Democracy has conquered every piece of ground he lost - because America, our allies and, ultimately, the Serbian people did stand up and act.

The most fundamental question of all for our future in the world is whether we will continue to sustain America's leadership. We must answer "yes" not only in the abstract, but in the resources we commit to the task. America cannot be a first-rate power on a third-class budget.

Yet today, our engagement in the world is supported by less than 1 per cent of the federal budget, 50 per cent less than a decade ago. This undercuts our ability to lead. It is hard to explain to Japan, for example, why we can't fund our objective of denuclearising North Korea, when they have contributed $1bn.

It is hard to argue that we spend too much on international assistance when you consider this: we are the world's only superpower, at the zenith of our influence, yet our entire international budget for everything from diminishing the nuclear threat to preventing conflict, to fighting Aids, to advancing democracy, is about the same as the cost of constructing eight miles of highway tunnel for the Interstate 93 in Boston.

So, in the past eight years, the United States has begun to integrate our former adversaries and has brought peace to regions critical to our security. But I believe that President Clinton's most fundamental achievement is that he steered America from the Cold War era to the era of globalisation in a way that enhanced not only our power, but our authority.

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