I define those vital interests as developments that could
concretely affect the security or economic future of America and
our citizens. Before giving you my list of American vital
interests, let me first touch upon the growing drift in U.S.
foreign policy since the end of the Cold War. In other words, let's
review current policy.
Clinton's foreign policy has been formulated by a group of
retreads from the Carter Administration who were uncomfortable,
unconvinced, and therefore unsuccessful in waging the Cold War
against the Soviet Union. They returned to office with Clinton and
believed that they could successfully reorient American foreign
policy to harness the American military for what they deemed to be
virtuous crusades in far-flung regions of the world. But they
neglected the fact that the American people supported distant
interventions during the Cold War only on behalf of important
American national interests, and specifically to oppose the spread
of an expansionist, ideological, totalitarian system that was
publicly committed to burying us.
American foreign policy has drifted dangerously astray,
especially since 1993. A large part of the problem is that the
Clinton Administration appears to be incapable of distinguishing
between America's vital interests and some liberal do-gooders'
marginal interests. The Administration too often has resorted to
questionable military interventions to promote its peculiar vision
of American values in such countries as Bosnia, Haiti, and Somalia,
where there were no vital American interests at stake.
The New World Order
Remember the New World Order that some American foreign policy
gurus were hoping to achieve? The rest of us ordinary folks soon
learned that it was long on new and short on order. Some of us have
called this the age of chaos.
I can almost point to the very moment when American foreign
policy began losing its purpose. It was that defining day in Moscow
-- the day when the line at McDonald's became longer than the line
at Lenin's tomb. That really happened, and when it did the
communism versus capitalism argument was over. The tenor of the
discussion in Russia went from "We will bury you" to "Do you want
fries with that?" But with it, too, went America's organizing
purpose abroad. Our prior purpose had been containment of the
Soviet Union and eventually, for us conservatives, liberation of
the captive nations.
Isolationist Right and Interventionist
Since the fall of the Berlin Wall, the United States has been
searching for an intellectual framework for its foreign policy.
A band of conservative isolationists on the fringe wants America
to withdraw from the world altogether, while a suddenly macho band
of liberal interventionists seeks to remake Haiti, Rwanda, Somalia,
and the rest of the world in its own preening self-image.
The isolationist right thinks that we have few vital interests
and so we shouldn't join alliances, which only entangle us. The
interventionist left distrusts America's power and our vital
interests and seeks to deny them by putting our troops and
interests under the authority of the United Nations. Both
approaches reflect a defeatist attitude of an America in decline --
a pessimistic attitude that America cannot hold its own in the
The fringe isolationist right hides behind protectionism, having
no confidence that the U.S. can compete in the international world
economy. The interventionist left hides behind multilateralism,
having no confidence that the U.S. can compete in values and in the
integrity of its interests.
The real problem, it seems to me, is that neither group has any
conception of America's true vital interests in the real world
Clinton's Foreign Policy
The Clinton Administration's foreign policy reminds me of the
man who said he wanted to take assertiveness training but that his
wife wouldn't let him. It variously and alternately seeks to
promote human rights, alleviate human suffering, recreate history
by undoing coups, build Western-style nations in places that have
no Western values, stop nuclear proliferation with vague
unverifiable agreements, and advance democracy and international
law while raising the planet's environmental conscience.
When not engaged in these activities, the U.S. State Department,
under mandates from earlier liberal Congresses issues reports on
America's own human rights abuses and bemoans what it calls the
historical and continuing oppression of African Americans, Native
Americans, and Women Americans. Meanwhile, the U.S. foreign aid
bill mandates that U.S. government agencies promote "harmony among
diverse racial, religious, and ethnic groups" in foreign countries
-- something we can't accomplish or even define at home. Elsewhere
in our foreign aid program, it's mandated that we must "include the
economic empowerment of women as a factor in the evaluation of
projects and programs." We're even supposed to stop discrimination
by foreign governments against people with disabilities.
Currently, the ultimate foreign policy test is not the vital
interests of the American people, but mushy compassion. I commend
to you a scathing article in the current issue of the journal
Foreign Affairs entitled "Foreign Policy as Social Work,"
which rakes the Clinton Administration over the coals for its
feel-good foreign policy. Written by Michael Mandelbaum, a foreign
policy scholar who is no conservative and initially supported the
Clinton Administration, the article lambastes the Administration
for a misconceived foreign policy that is aimed at relieving
suffering in conflict-ridden regions of the world rather than
promoting American national interests.
President Clinton presided over three failed military
interventions in his first year in office which then set the tone
and much of the agenda for this Administration's foreign policy.
- The announced intention and subsequent failure to lift the arms
embargo against Bosnia and bomb the Bosnian Serbs in May 1993;
- The deaths of 18 U.S. Army Rangers in a failed Special Forces
operation in Somalia in early October 1993; and
- The dispatch of a U.S. Navy ship carrying military trainers and
its subsequent recall due to anti-American demonstrations in
Port-au-Prince, Haiti, in mid-October 1993.
Under Clinton, American foreign policy has been transformed into
an international social welfare program. Clinton has expended
billions of dollars and scores of American lives in these naive
military interventions in Somalia, Bosnia, and Haiti -- three
countries where the U.S. has no vital interests at stake.
In Somalia, the Clinton Administration inherited a humanitarian
intervention designed to feed starving Somalians. But while
President Bush sent American troops to Somalia to feed people,
President Clinton clumsily escalated the mission into a doomed
scenario called "nation-building."
In Bosnia, Clinton has zigged and zagged so many times, nobody
is sure what U.S. policy actually is. But the same mission creep
that led to disaster in Somalia is built into the ambiguous U.S.
intervention in Bosnia.
In Haiti, Clinton has chosen to commit the U.S. to bring
stability and democracy by working with an unstable leader,
Jean-Bertrand Aristide, in a country that has never had a stable
democracy. Slowly, it is dawning even on the President that the
only way to sustain Aristide in office is to extend the stay of
U.S. troops in Haiti. Our troops have become Aristide's palace
guard. The intervention has already cost an estimated $1.9 billion.
This is the equivalent of almost $300 for each of Haiti's 6.5
The Administration is a hawk on Haiti, Somalia, and Bosnia -- in
other words, causes that require only small-scale military actions,
enjoy the cover of U.N. approval, and serve no clear-cut strategic
interest of the United States. And yet it is a dove when it comes
to standing up to North Korea, Iran, or some other hostile power
that genuinely does threaten U.S. vital interests.
That is not all.
The Clinton Administration's feel-good foreign policy focuses on
peripheral international issues, often to curry favor with
special-interest domestic political constituencies. For example,
the Administration actively has intervened in Haiti to court
These politically motivated actions are not only an unnecessary
waste. They also come at the expense of important American foreign
policy interests and defense needs. Humanitarian interventions and
nation-building experiments have diverted attention from key items
on the American foreign policy agenda.
These key items include:
- Bilateral relations with Russia, whose recent elections have
underscored a growing anti-Western backlash;
- China, which is becoming increasingly aggressive and
belligerent in East Asia;
- Iran, whose clandestine nuclear efforts and continued export of
terrorism have led Congress to seize the initiative and force the
Administration to impose trade sanctions;
- NATO, whose future now has become entangled with the future of
Bosnia, a military quagmire of uncertain resolution;
- Missile defense, a critical element of national defense that
the Administration has woefully neglected; and
- The promotion of free trade, which the Administration allowed
to fall by the wayside when it failed to gain fast-track
negotiating authority for expanding NAFTA to include Chile.
Moreover, the expanding commitment of U.S. military forces to
far-flung humanitarian and peacekeeping operations has stretched
thin our military forces around the globe. These commitments have
also undermined our ability to respond to dangerous threats to our
vital interests elsewhere. A recent article in the Washington
Times reported that Pentagon officials are concerned that the
commitment of 30,000 American troops to Bosnia and the surrounding
region will seriously undermine our ability to repel aggression in
the Persian Gulf or on the Korean peninsula -- you see, in military
and foreign policy, everything is connected to everything else.
Thus, the diversion of U.S. combat troops to peacekeeping
operations depletes our strategic reserves. It erodes military
readiness by interfering with training to sharpen warfighting
Despite the concerns of the Pentagon, the Administration is now
considering an additional peacekeeping operation -- the deployment
of U.S. troops to the Golan Heights if a peace treaty is signed by
Israel and Syria. Such a deployment is dangerous. It will be either
too small to defend itself if another Middle East war erupts or too
big, further straining our ability to meet other military
contingencies around the world.
In addition, it will be an inviting target for a group of
terrorists -- or an official party to the treaty (I refer to Syria
and not, of course, to Israel). I say inviting target because the
U.S. troops would be an especially attractive "trip wire" to bring
the U.S. into the conflict or to drive the U.S. home, out of our
more appropriate role in the Middle East.
In summary, ladies and gentlemen, America now has a foreign
policy as chaotic as the world itself. I do not believe such a
policy can possibly offer the leadership that is needed to protect
We have a policy of good intentions, as defined by a bunch of
mushy-minded liberals. But in foreign policy, good intentions are
not enough. We all know that the road to hell is paved with good
intentions. As Mandelbaum noted in his article, "While Mother
Teresa is an admirable person and social work a noble profession,
conducting American foreign policy by her example is an expensive
proposition." And, I might add, an ineffective and inefficient one
So what is to be done?
My friends, first of all, the left-liberals in America need to
get over this notion that it's somehow embarrassing or even immoral
to have vital global interests. The isolationists need to get over
the idea that, with Soviet communism gone, we no longer have global
interests. The fact is, the United States is a global power.
Responsibility as a global power requires us to behave like a
We can protect neither our interests nor our values unless we
remain a global power. As we approach the 21st century, we must
apply the lessons we learned in the 20th century: It is too
dangerous for us to hide and to put our heads in the sand.
I believe the world longs for America's leadership, the kind of
leadership that led Ronald Reagan to stand there in Berlin in 1987
and demand, "Mr. Gorbachev, tear down this wall!" Each day we find
out more and more from Soviet archives how it was U.S. strength
that freed the people of the U.S.S.R. and Eastern Europe.
I believe the world is a freer, safer, more stable place when
the U.S. is actively pursuing its own vital national interests.
Leadership that we have because we are the world's only
remaining superpower --
America's blue water Navy helps safeguard access to free trade
and natural resources not just for the U.S., but for all nations.
The guarantee of U.S. military support for the NATO alliance is
critical to Europe remaining a free and prosperous community of
nations. But that does not mean the U.S. should get involved in a
local conflicts like the one in Bosnia. Resolving that thorny
crisis is a European interest, not an American interest
Not only is the U.S. economy the world's largest, but Americans
lead the world economy as both importers and exporters.
I don't need to tell you how many students from around the
world come to America to study. When these students return home,
they take with them experiences that bolster free ideas and free
markets in their countries -- and that benefits us all.
America leads the world in inventions and innovations of all
kinds, and the whole world benefits. Look at the personal computer,
soon to be as common and affordable as the television set. This
tool empowers people everywhere to tap into the enormous wealth of
information on the Internet and to share ideas unimpeded by
America's corporations know better than anyone how important it
is to remain flexible in a global economy. Hence they are
constantly innovating, finding ways to do more, to do it better,
and to do it with fewer resources. When the world's largest economy
does these things, it is felt around the world.
You can travel anywhere in the world and see vivid signs of
American culture like popular music and movie stars. Less vivid but
more enduring, however, are the ideas of democracy and free markets
that the United States has been sharing with the other nations of
the world for over two centuries, helping to make the world safer
and more prosperous for everyone.
I believe that when America's vital interests are served, so are
the values of political and economic freedom worldwide, because to
the extent that America is a strong leader protecting its values,
those same democratic values are safer and more vital elsewhere in
Here, briefly, are what I believe America's interests to be.
VITAL INTEREST #1: Safeguard U.S.
This means, above all, to protect America's territory, borders,
Our borders are not threatened by the likes of Haitian boat
people -- a situation created by our own economic embargo of that
poor, desperate country. No, the biggest threat to the United
States remains long-range missiles armed with nuclear weapons. Our
response to this threat should include an anti-missile defense and
a broad nonproliferation policy.
The Clinton Administration vetoed Congress's defense bill
recently, largely because it contained an aggressive program for
building missile defenses for America by the year 2003. Yet
Secretary of Defense William Perry just last month finalized plans
for building a missile defense system for Israel in five years,
using existing technology. To quote Israeli Prime Minister Shimon
Peres, "it will be a great contribution to the security" of the
Middle East. But I believe it is inconsistent -- no, it is mad for
the United States to help allies to defend themselves against
missile attacks while denying our own citizens that same
A broad nonproliferation policy also should be a vital component
of American foreign policy. If diplomacy fails to discourage
hostile powers from acquiring nuclear weapons, our vital interest
could warrant the use of force -- unilaterally if necessary -- to
stop renegade nations from becoming nuclear powers. I believe the
civilized world would sigh with relief if we decided to eliminate
This also means maintenance of the necessary conventional forces
to protect our homeland.
VITAL INTEREST #2: Prevent a major
power threat to Europe, East Asia, or the Persian Gulf.
Here threats include expansionist activities by Russia against
her neighbors, an expansionist Iraq or Iran, or a nuclear-armed
North Korea. And we should not focus simply on immediate threats.
Today radical nationalism, Islamic fundamentalism, and -- although
not as threatening as its original version -- neocommunism exist in
places where the U.S. has vital interests.
Regarding Europe, it is a false economy to withdraw any more of
our 100,000 troops just because Russia is not an immediate danger.
To those who say, "Well, we'll just come back if or when Russia is
a threat again," I say, "You mean like we did in 1944 on the
beaches of Normandy?" And to those who ask, "Why should America pay
anything to defend Europe or East Asia?" I say, "We're not paying
for Europe's defense or Japan's defense. We're paying for
Far better to keep 100,000 troops in Europe to maintain the
peace than to send a million later to fight a war started in our
absence. Far better to enter into strategic alliances -- like NATO
and our mutual defense treaties with Japan and South Korea -- than
to try to go it alone.
A word about China: The rulers in Beijing must learn that it is
in the national interest of the U.S. to stay a permanent Pacific
power. This means that we will not tolerate any forcible activity
from mainland China against Taiwan. Taiwan is much more than our
7th-largest trading partner. She has also become the model for a
vigorous, democratic, free-market society in Asia. We will not
tolerate an invasion, blockade, or aggressive activity by mainland
China against Taiwan.
VITAL INTEREST #3: Maintain access to
The greatest danger here comes not from outside U.S. borders but
from inside, from those who fear America cannot compete. The
protectionists who opposed the North American Free Trade Agreement
and GATT are pessimists about America's future. They favor the
low-paying textile jobs of the past over the higher paying
technology jobs of tomorrow. They are blind to the regenerative
power of the free market, which they believe in devoutly for the
domestic economy but not for the world economy.
GATT was central to the Reagan and Bush agendas because those
administrations recognized that the U.S. is the world's largest
exporter, not just the world's largest economy. Yet some
Republicans seem to forget this, and some of them even have edged
toward playing politics with free trade. I hope those Republicans
return to the party's long tradition of seeking open markets for
the benefit of both U.S. consumers and U.S. exporters.
The Heritage Foundation supported the Clinton Administration on
the North American Free Trade Agreement, and we supported it on
GATT. We will continue to support further efforts toward expanded
free trade, such as expanding NAFTA to include Chile as the next
I have confidence that our great nation, with our great people,
can compete economically with any country. I am distressed by those
who don't have this confidence in America, that we can compete and
VITAL INTEREST #4: Protect Americans
against threats to their lives and well-being.
The U.S. has an obligation whenever possible to protect American
citizens from terrorist activity and other international criminal
activity. Yet, if a recent incident is any indication, I don't
think the U.S. State Department quite understands this elementary
Terry Anderson, who was held hostage for seven years by Lebanese
terrorists, wrote a book on his captivity entitled Den of
Lions. While he was writing it, the U.S. State Department
refused to turn over any documents it had on his captors for two
years because -- get this -- it felt compelled to protect their
privacy! The State Department said it could not give Anderson the
documents unless he received written permission from the terrorists
for the information's release.
Is it any wonder the State Department seems to have a problem
sorting out America's vital interests? As the chairman of the
Senate Foreign Relations Committee, Jesse Helms of North Carolina,
wrote to Secretary of State Christopher on the day after our
seismic November 1994 elections, "It's about time there was an
American Desk at the Department of State."
VITAL INTEREST #5: Maintain access to
The American economy depends on foreign oil, which now accounts
for more than 50 percent of America's oil consumption and is
expected to provide an increasing share of future oil consumption.
A threat to our oil supply is a threat to our national interest.
Tour the oil fields of Kuwait, as I did three months ago, and you
will see first-hand why we must maintain our access to vital
Reduced to their basics, then these are America's five vital
Assertive Multilateralism: A Liberal
Liberals, of course, often believe that where the U.S. has real
interests is exactly where we should tread the lightest because
these interests are somehow unseemly. As a result, America's
foreign policy recently has pursued what is called "assertive
multilateralism" -- a contradiction in terms if I've ever heard
Let me add that using force multinationally is no more moral
than wielding it unilaterally. The U.N. is filled with governments
and dictatorships that do not represent the wills of their people.
Why is the U.N. more moral than the U.S. Congress? Yet President
Clinton sought and received U.N. approval for invading Haiti but
skipped the U.S. Congress. I believe multilateralism is the
abandonment of America's leadership role in the world.
Now, beyond these vital interests I've just mentioned, America
has a number of other important interests, as well as many marginal
ones, constantly tugging at us. The U.S. has an important interest
in promoting democracy and free markets abroad, especially in
regions where old totalitarian or authoritarian empires have
collapsed. The more democratic the world becomes, the more peaceful
it becomes, and therefore the more congenial for U.S. values and
interests. Public diplomacy -- that is, reaching out above
governments to tell America's story to the world -- is an important
tool for promoting American interests and values.
The problem, however, is that the marginal interests -- not the
vital ones -- have been driving our foreign policy. This has
undermined U.S. credibility abroad and casts doubt on the
steadfastness of American foreign policy in many places. This
situation will not endure. I'm reminded of what Winston Churchill
said during World War II: "You can always count on the Americans to
do the right thing, but only after they exhaust all other
So, in closing, I believe the United States eventually will do
the right thing and recognize our own vital interests. We need not
deny these interests. The world need not fear them. They are a
stabilizing force for peace and prosperity. That we believe in
democracy, freedom, and the power of open markets is something of
which we should be proud, not ashamed. We should reassert this in a
positive and forthright way. Maintaining the strength and the
coherent international principles to protect those values is not a
luxury. Rather, it is an obligation of the federal government
written into our Constitution. It is the most basic obligation of
all: "to provide for the common defense... and secure the blessings
The poet Carl Sandburg wrote of American destiny that "Always
there arose enough reserves of strength, balances of sanity,
portions of wisdom to carry the nation through to a fresh start
with ever renewing vitality."
I believe America's vitality and leadership abroad will return,
but I think it will take a change of administration to accomplish
this. It is a challenge and an opportunity that we, as a great
nation, cannot afford to let pass.
Tonight I would like to outline a conservative internationalist
foreign policy anchored in the foundation of vital American