It has now been almost 20 years since the Berlin Wall came down, and almost that long since the Soviet Union became the former Soviet Union. In the 45 years before those decisive events, the democracies known as the "free world," anchored by the American-Western European alliance, worked together, under the umbrella of a policy jointly developed in the years immediately following World War II. The overriding purpose of that policy was to protect the integrity and freedom of Western Europe and to "contain" the aggressive totalitarian movement centered around Soviet Communism, in the belief that if contained, that movement would eventually collapse.
That policy worked, and it worked for four fundamental reasons: It was solidly grounded in mutual self-interest; it reflected the core values of the participating nations; it was consistently supported, at least through the first crucial twenty years, by the non-communist parties of the left as well as the right in both the United States and Western Europe; and most leaders of key participating nations were capable of recognizing real danger and putting practical consideration ahead of national jealousies and fluctuations in domestic politics.
I am not trying to overstate the coherence of Western policy during the Cold War or the alliance that implemented it. But there is no doubt that the policy was ultimately successful because on a strategic level the political leadership of the participating nations understood and agreed with it. The visible absence of such agreement today is a growing problem. It is causing the free world to sacrifice much of the moral and political capital with which it emerged from the Cold War, to miss opportunities to strengthen the prospects of peace and freedom, and to allow potentially fatal dangers to take root, fester, and grow.
The "free world" must agree on a joint post Cold War policy. This article offers some observations about how that policy should be developed and what it should seek to achieve strategically.
1. It is first necessary to recognize that the term "free world" is a meaningful concept.
It may not be useful to describe the world in Manichean terms, but there are nations which in their domestic affairs have shown a consistent commitment to freedom and human rights. There are also nations which are clearly not in this group. These latter nations are not monolithic by any means. They are not all totalitarian; some are aggressive but many are not, some are moving towards greater freedom while some - one thinks of Russia in this regard - are moving away. Some may be allies for limited purposes, but they should not be considered national partners in developing or implementing the free world's policies. No joint policy is possible unless the participating nations share a community of basic interests and values, and that will not happen unless some distinction is made between those nations that respect the traditions of Western democracy, even though they may have adopted those traditions in unique and diverse ways, and those that do not.
2. The new policy must take into account the world as it is, not as it was 20 years ago, much less 50 years ago.
The information revolution has made the world more productive, more interdependent, and more vulnerable than at any time in its past. It is no longer possible to treat any part of the world as if it does not matter. Both competition and cooperation are multilateral rather than bilateral; global rather than Eurocentric. There are a number of smaller threats to the world, and while the danger of global jihad is comprehensive, it is not represented by a single, statist entity. To put it another way, there is plenty of evil but no dominating evil empire like the Soviets.
3. It is necessary for everyone to take a practical approach to the role of the United States. Because of America's global military organization, powerful economy, postwar tradition of leadership, and the current absence of effective joint structures for decision making, the United States should be recognized as the leader in assembling and operating the new coalition.
While defining the role of the United States, it may be useful to consider the analogies for America's relationship to its allies that should not apply. America is not the free world's policeman, hired gun, or Supreme Leader; and America is especially no the father of the "free world" family. Nor are the other nations helpless children who have the right to complain all the time while taking no responsibility. Whatever role the United States has assumed in the past, in the future it should be like the Prime Minister of a strong Cabinet: first among equals, no more but no less. While every nation retains the rights of unilateral action, the United States should seek consensus on issues involving the group, while other nations should recognize that they must bear their share of the burden if they seek their share of the authority. Jealousies and misunderstandings will be inevitable but must be contained. It is counterproductive, to say the least, when nations within the free world are more worried about controlling each other than they are about dealing with threats like terrorism and genocide.
4. The regional and international institutions developed for the Cold War era will not work, at least by themselves, in the post Cold War era.
At a minimum they will need to be supplemented by new arrangements that take into account the change in realities I have discussed above. In particular, it is time to recognize that the United Nations (UN) is organically incapable of carrying out its original purposes - preventing unwarranted aggression and genocide. This is a practical rather than ideological observation. The organization of the Security Council is hopelessly out of date; it doesn't recognize the enormous influence and capability of Germany, Japan and India. More fundamentally, there is no perceived community of interest among the nations in the General Assembly and on the Security Council; this reality combined with the requirement of unanimity among permanent members, means that the UN is and will remain paralyzed even in the face of dangers and disasters which virtually the whole world recognizes as requiring action. The shameful inability of the UN to stop the slaughter in Darfur is the latest but by no means only example of its irrelevance to any enlightened international strategy. NATO may still be viable in today's world, assuming the United States and Europe can truly agree on common objectives, but NATO is not well suited to deal with current challenges. For one thing, Western Europe has steadfastly refused to invest adequately in NATO's military capabilities; for another NATO as currently constituted does not account at all for potential influence or contributions from the Asian democracies.
With these principles in mind, discussions should begin among the community of free nations, including at least the Untied States, Europe, India, and Japan. A draft mission statement for the group might be the following: to act collectively so as to prevent significant, violent disruptions to the progress of the international order towards peace and freedom. The group should adapt NATO, or create new institutions, to deal with specific issues such as genocide and nuclear proliferation. The UN would still be available as a forum for discussion but the diversity of values and interest within the body would no longer be a stumbling block to preserving the peace and protecting the helpless.
What is needed now is new wine in old bottles: a new policy developed and implemented with the same clarity and unity that characterized the leadership of the free world after World War II. That new policy is fifteen years overdue. Whether our leaders have the vision to develop it and the heart to make it work will determine the course and cause of freedom in our time.
Jim Talent served in the United States House of Representatives (1993-2001) and Senate (2002-2007). He was a member of the Senate Armed Services Committee and, for four years, Chairman of the committee's Seapower Subcommittee. He is currently a distinguished fellow in military affairs at The Heritage Foundation.
First appeared in the Conference 2007 issue of Forward, the magazine of Conservative Way Forward