Samuel P Huntington. Foreign Affairs. Volume 76, Issue 5. September/October 1997.
The Disintegration of Identity
The years since the end of the Cold War have seen intense, wideranging, and confused debates about American national interests. Much of this confusion stems from the complexity of the post-Cold War world. The new environment has been variously interpreted as involving the end of history, bipolar conflict between rich and poor countries, movement back to a future of traditional power politics, the proliferation of ethnic conflict verging on anarchy, the clash of civilizations, and conflicting trends toward integration and fragmentation. The new world is all these things, and hence there is good reason for uncertainty about American interests in it. Yet that is not the only source of confusion. Efforts to define national interest presuppose agreement on the nature of the country whose interests are to be defined. National interest derives from national identity. We have to know who we are before we can know what our interests are.
Historically, American identity has had two primary components: culture and creed. The first has been the values and institutions of the original settlers, who were Northern European, primarily British, and Christian, primarily Protestant. This culture included most importantly the English language and traditions concerning relations between church and state and the place of the individual in society.
Over the course of three centuries, black people were slowly and only partially assimilated into this culture. Immigrants from western, southern, and eastern Europe were more fully assimilated, and the original culture evolved and was modified but not fundamentally altered as a result. In The Next American Nation, Michael Lind captures the broad outlines of this evolution when he argues that American culture developed through three phases: Anglo-America (1789-1861), Euro-America (1875-1957), and Multicultural America (1972-present). The cultural definition of national identity assumes that while the culture may change, it has a basic continuity.
The second component of American identity has been a set of universal ideas and principles articulated in the founding documents by American leaders: liberty, equality, democracy, constitutionalism, liberalism, limited government, private enterprise. These constitute what Gunnar Myrdal termed the American Creed, and the popular consensus on them has been commented on by foreign observers from Crevecoeur and Tocqueville down to the present. This identity was neatly summed up by Richard Hofstadter: “It has been our fate as a nation not to have ideologies but to be one.”
These dual sources of identity are, of course, closely related. The creed was a product of the culture. Now, however, the end of the Cold War and social, intellectual, and demographic changes in American society have brought into question the validity and relevance of both traditional components of American identity. Without a sure sense of national identity, Americans have become unable to define their national interests, and as a result subnational commercial interests and transnational and nonnational ethnic interests have come to dominate foreign policy.
Loss of the Other
The most profound question concerning the American role in the post-Cold War world was improbably posed by Rabbit Angstrom, the harried central character of John Updike’s novels: “Without the cold war, what’s the point of being an American?” If being an American means being committed to the principles of liberty, democracy, individualism, and private property, and if there is no evil empire out there threatening those principles, what indeed does it mean to be an American, and what becomes of American national interests?
From the start, Americans have constructed their creedal identity in contrast to an undesirable “other.” America’s opponents are always defined as liberty’s opponents. At the time of independence, Americans could not distinguish themselves culturally from Britain; hence they had to do so politically. Britain embodied tyranny, aristocracy, oppression; America, democracy, equality, republicanism. Until the end of the nineteenth century, the United States defined itself in opposition to Europe. Europe was the past: backward, unfree, unequal, characterized by feudalism, monarchy, and imperialism. The United States, in contrast, was the future: progressive, free, equal, republican. In the twentieth century, the United States emerged on the world scene and increasingly saw itself not as the antithesis of Europe but rather as the leader of European-American civilization against upstart challengers to that civilization, imperial and then Nazi Germany.
After World War II the United States defined itself as the leader of the democratic free world against the Soviet Union and world communism. During the Cold War the United States pursued many foreign policy goals, but its one overriding national purpose was to contain and defeat communism. When other goals and interests clashed with this purpose, they were usually subordinated to it. For 40 years virtually all the great American initiatives in foreign policy, as well as many in domestic policy, were justified by this overriding priority: the Greek-Turkish aid program, the Marshall Plan, NATO, the Korean War, nuclear weapons and strategic missiles, foreign aid, intelligence operations, reduction of trade barriers, the space program, the Alliance for Progress, military alliances with Japan and Korea, support for Israel, overseas military deployments, an unprecedentedly large military establishment, the Vietnam War, the openings to China, support for the Afghan mujahideen and other anticommunist insurgencies. If there is no Cold War, the rationale for major programs and initiatives like these disappears.
As the Cold War wound down in the late 1980s, Gorbachev’s adviser Georgiy Arbatov commented: “We are doing something really terrible to you-we are depriving you of an enemy.” Psychologists generally agree that individuals and groups define their identity by differentiating themselves from and placing themselves in opposition to others. While wars at times may have a divisive effect on society, a common enemy can often help to promote identity and cohesion among people. The weakening or absence of a common enemy can do just the reverse. Abraham Lincoln commented on this effect in his Lyceum speech in 1837 when he argued that the American Revolution and its aftermath had directed enmity outward: “The jealousy, envy, avarice incident to our nature, and so common to a state of peace, prosperity, and conscious strength, were for a time in a great measure smothered and rendered inactive, while the deep-rooted principles of hate, and the powerful motive of revenge, instead of being turned against each other, were directed exclusively against the British nation.” Hence, he said, “the basest principles of our nature” were either dormant or “the active agents in the advancement of the noblest of causes-that of establishing and maintaining civil and religious liberty.” But he warned, “this state of feeling must fade, is fading, has faded, with the circumstances that produced it.” He spoke, of course, as the nation was starting to disintegrate. As the heritage of World War II and the Cold War fades, America may be faced with a comparable dynamic.
The Cold War fostered a common identity between American people and government. Its end is likely to weaken or at least alter that identity. One possible consequence is the rising opposition to the federal government, which is, after all, the principal institutional manifestation of American national identity and unity. Would nationalist fanatics bomb federal buildings and attack federal agents if the federal government was still defending the country against a serious foreign threat? Would the militia movement be as strong as it is today? In the past, comparable bombing attacks were usually the work of foreigners who saw the United States as their enemy, and the first response of many people to the Oklahoma City bombing was to assume that it was the work of a “new enemy,” Muslim terrorists. That response could reflect a psychological need to believe that such an act must have been carried out by an external enemy. Ironically, the bombing may have been in part the result of the absence of such an enemy.
Georg Simmel, Lewis A. Coser, and other scholars have shown that in some ways and circumstances the existence of an enemy may have positive consequences for group cohesion, morale, and achievement. World War II and the Cold War were responsible for much American economic, technological, and social progress, and the perceived economic challenge from Japan in the 1980s generated public and private efforts to increase American productivity and competitiveness. At present, thanks to the extent to which democracy and market economies have been embraced throughout the world, the United States lacks any single country or threat against which it can convincingly counterpose itself Saddam Hussein simply does not suffice as a foil. Islamic fundamentalism is too diffuse and too remote geographically. China is too problematic and its potential dangers too distant in the future.
Given the domestic forces pushing toward heterogeneity, diversity, multiculturalism, and ethnic and racial division, however, the United States, perhaps more than most countries, may need an opposing other to maintain its unity. Two millennia ago in 84 B.C., after the Romans had completed their conquest of the known world by defeating the armies of Mithradates, Sulla posed the question: “Now the universe offers us no more enemies, what may be the fate of the Republic?” The answer came quickly; the republic collapsed a few years later. It is unlikely that a similar fate awaits the United States, yet to what extent will the American Creed retain its appeal, command support, and stay vibrant in the absence of competing ideologies? The end of history, the global victory of democracy, if it occurs, could be a most traumatic and unsettling event for America.
Ideologies of Diversity
The disintegrative effects of the end of the Cold War have been reinforced by the interaction of two trends in American society: changes in the scope and sources of immigration and the rise of the cult of multiculturalism.
Immigration, legal and illegal, has increased dramatically since the immigration laws were changed in 1965. Recent immigration is overwhelmingly from Latin America and Asia. Coupled with the high birth rates of some immigrant groups, it is changing the racial, religious, and ethnic makeup of the United States. By the middle of the next century, according to the Census Bureau, non-Hispanic whites will have dropped from more than three-quarters of the population to only slightly more than half, and one-quarter of Americans will be Hispanic, 14 percent black, and 8 percent of Asian and Pacific heritage. The religious balance is also shifting, with Muslims already reportedly outnumbering Episcopalians.
In the past, assimilation, American style, in Peter Salins’ phrase, involved an implicit contract in which immigrants were welcomed as equal members of the national community and urged to become citizens, provided they accepted English as the national language and committed themselves to the principles of the American Creed and the Protestant work ethic. In return, immigrants could be as ethnic as they wished in their homes and local communities. At times, particularly during the great waves of Irish immigration in the 1840s and 1850s and of the southern and eastern European immigration at the turn of the century, immigrants were discriminated against and simultaneously subjected to major programs of “Americanization” to incorporate them into the national culture and society. Overall, however, assimilation American style worked well. Immigration renewed American society; assimilation preserved American culture.
Past worries about the assimilation of immigrants have proved unfounded. Until recently immigrant groups came to America because they saw immigration as an opportunity to become American. To what extent now, however, do people come because they see it as an opportunity to remain themselves? Previously immigrants felt discriminated against if they were not permitted to join the mainstream. Now it appears that some groups feel discriminated against if they are not allowed to remain apart from the mainstream.
The ideologies of multiculturalism and diversity reinforce and legitimate these trends. They deny the existence of a common culture in the United States, denounce assimilation, and promote the primacy of racial, ethnic, and other subnational cultural identities and groupings. They also question a central element in the American Creed by substituting for the rights of individuals the rights of groups, defined largely in terms of race, ethnicity, gender, and sexual preference. These goals were manifested in a variety of statutes that followed the civil rights acts of the 1960s, and in the 1990s the Clinton administration made the encouragement of diversity one of its major goals.
The contrast with the past is striking. The Founding Fathers saw diversity as a reality and a problem: hence the national motto, e pluribus unum. Later political leaders, also fearful of the dangers of racial, sectional, ethnic, economic, and cultural diversity (which, indeed, produced the biggest war of the century between 1815 and 1914), responded to the need to bring us together, and made the promotion of national unity their central responsibility. “The one absolutely certain way of bringing this nation to ruin, of preventing all possibility of its continuing as a nation at all,” warned Theodore Roosevelt, “would be to permit it to become a tangle of squabbling nationalities …” Bill Clinton, in contrast, is almost certainly the first president to promote the diversity rather than the unity of the country he leads. This promotion of ethnic and racial identities means that recent immigrants are not subject to the same pressures and inducements as previous immigrants to integrate themselves into American culture. As a result, ethnic identities are becoming more meaningful and appear to be increasing in relevance compared with national identity.
If the United States becomes truly multicultural, American identity and unity will depend on a continuing consensus on political ideology. Americans have thought of their commitment to universal values such as liberty and equality as a great source of national strength. That ideology, Myrdal observed, has been “the cement in the structure of this great and disparate nation.” Without an underlying common culture, however, these principles are a fragile basis for national unity. As theories of cognitive dissonance suggest, people can change their ideas and beliefs relatively quickly and easily in response to a changed external environment. Throughout the formerly communist world, elites have redefined themselves as devoted democrats, free marketeers, or fervent nationalists.
For most countries, ideology bears little relation to national identity. China has survived the collapse of many dynasties and will survive the collapse of communism. Absent communism, China will still be China. Britain, France, Japan, Germany, and other countries have survived various dominant ideologies in their history. But could the United States survive the end of its political ideology? The fate of the Soviet Union offers a sobering example for Americans. The United States and the Soviet Union were very different, but they also resembled each other in that neither was a nation-state in the classic sense of the term. In considerable measure, each defined itself in terms of an ideology, which, as the Soviet example suggests, is likely to be a much more fragile basis for unity than a national culture richly grounded in history. If multiculturalism prevails and if the consensus on liberal democracy disintegrates, the United States could join the Soviet Union on the ash heap of history.
In Search of National Interests
A national interest is a public good of concern to all or most Americans; a vital national interest is one which they are willing to expend blood and treasure to defend. National interests usually combine security and material concerns, on the one hand, and moral and ethical concerns, on the other. Military action against Saddam Hussein was seen as a vital national interest because he threatened reliable and inexpensive access to Persian Gulf oil and because he was a rapacious dictator who had blatantly invaded and annexed another country. During the Cold War the Soviet Union and communism were perceived as threats to both American security and American values; a happy coincidence existed between the demands of power politics and the demands of morality. Hence broad public support buttressed government efforts to defeat communism and thus, in Walter Lippmann’s terms, to maintain a balance between capabilities and commitments. That balance was often tenuous and arguably got skewed in the 1970s. With the end of the Cold War, however, the danger of a “Lippmann gap” vanished, and instead the United States appears to have a Lippmann surplus. Now the need is not to find the power to serve American purposes but rather to find purposes for the use of American power.
This need has led the American foreign policy establishment to search frantically for new purposes that would justify a continuing U.S. role in world affairs comparable to that in the Cold War. The Commission on America’s National Interests put the problem this way in 1996: “After four decades of unusual single-mindedness in containing Soviet Communist expansion, we have seen five years of ad hoc fits and starts. If it continues, this drift will threaten our values, our fortunes, and indeed our lives.”
The commission identified five vital national interests: prevent attacks on the United States with weapons of mass destruction, prevent the emergence of hostile hegemons in Europe or Asia and of hostile powers on U.S. borders or in control of the seas, prevent the collapse of the global systems for trade, financial markets, energy supplies, and the environment, and ensure the survival of U.S. allies.
What, however, are the threats to these interests? Nuclear terrorism against the United States could be a near-term threat, and the emergence of China as an East Asian hegemon could be a longer-term one. Apart from these, however, it is hard to see any major looming challenges to the commission’s vital interests. New threats will undoubtedly arise, but given the scarcity of current ones, campaigns to arouse interest in foreign affairs and support for major foreign policy initiatives now fall on deaf ears. The administration’s call for the “enlargement” of democracy does not resonate with the public and is belied by the administrations own actions. Arguments from neoconservatives for big increases in defense spending have the same air of unreality that arguments for the abolition of nuclear weapons had during the Cold War.
The argument is frequently made that American “leadership” is needed to deal with world problems. Often it is. The call for leadership, however, begs the question of leadership to do what, and rests on the assumption that the world’s problems are America’s problems. Often they are not. The fact that things are going wrong in many places in the world is unfortunate, but it does not mean that the United States has either an interest in or the responsibility for correcting them. The National Interests Commission said that presidential leadership is necessary to create a consensus on national interests. In some measure, however, a consensus already exists that American national interests do not warrant extensive American involvement in most problems in most of the world. The foreign policy establishment is asking the president to make a case for a cause that simply will not sell. The most striking feature of the search for national interests has been its failure to generate purposes that command anything remotely resembling broad support and to which people are willing to commit significant resources.
Commercialism and Ethnicity
The lack of national interests that command widespread support does not imply a return to isolationism. America remains involved in the world, but its involvement is now directed at commercial and ethnic interests rather than national interests. Economic and ethnic particularism define the current American role in the world. The institutions and capabilities-political, military, economic, intelligence created to serve a grand national purpose in the Cold War are now being suborned and redirected to serve narrow subnational, transnational, and even nonnational purposes. Increasingly people are arguing that these are precisely the interests foreign policy should serve.
The Clinton administration has given priority to “commercial diplomacy,” making the promotion of American exports a primary foreign policy objective. It has been successful in wringing access to some foreign markets for American products. Commercial achievements have become a primary criterion for judging the performance of American ambassadors. President Clinton may well be spending more time promoting American sales abroad than doing anything else in foreign affairs. If so, that would be a dramatic sign of the redirection of American foreign policy. In case after case, country after country, the dictates of commercialism have prevailed over other purposes including human rights, democracy, alliance relationships, maintaining the balance of power, technology export controls, and other strategic and political considerations described by one administration official as “stratocrap and globaloney.” “Many in the administration, Congress, and the broader foreign policy community,” a former senior official in the Clinton Commerce Department argued in these pages, “still believe that commercial policy is a tool of foreign policy, when it should more often be the other way around-the United States should use all its foreign policy levers to achieve commercial goals.” The funds devoted to promoting commercial goals should be greatly increased; the personnel working on these goals should be upgraded and professionalized; the agencies concerned with export promotion need to be strengthened and reorganized. Landing the contract is the name of the game in foreign policy.
Or at least it is the name of one game. The other game is the promotion of ethnic interests. While economic interests are usually subnational, ethnic interests are generally transnational or nonnational. The promotion of particular businesses and industries may not involve a broad public good, as does a general reduction in trade barriers, but it does promote the interests of some Americans. Ethnic groups promote the interests of people and entities outside the United States. Boeing has an interest in aircraft sales and the Polish-American Congress in help for Poland, but the former benefits residents of Seattle, the latter residents of the Eastern Europe.
The growing role of ethnic groups in shaping American foreign policy is reinforced by the waves of recent immigration and by the arguments for diversity and multiculturalism. In addition, the greater wealth of ethnic communities and the dramatic improvements in communications and transportation now make it much easier for ethnic groups to remain in touch with their home countries. As a result, these groups are being transformed from cultural communities within the boundaries of a state into diasporas that transcend these boundaries. State-based diasporas, that is, trans-state cultural communities that control at least one state, are increasingly important and increasingly identify with the interests of their homeland. “Full assimilation into their host societies, a leading expert, Gabriel Sheffer, has observed in Survival, “has become unfashionable among both established and incipient state-based diasporas … many diasporal communities neither confront overwhelming pressure to assimilate nor feel any marked advantage in assimilating into their host societies or even obtaining citizenship there.” Since the United States is the premier immigrant country in the world, it is most affected by the shifts from assimilation to diversity and from ethnic group to diaspora.
During the Cold War, immigrants and refugees from communist countries usually vigorously opposed, for political and ideological reasons, the governments of their home countries and actively supported American anticommunist policies against them. Now, diasporas in the United States support their home governments. Products of the Cold War, Cuban-Americans ardently support U.S. antiCastro policies. Chinese-Americans, in contrast, overwhelmingly pressure the United States to adopt favorable policies towards China. Culture has supplanted ideology in shaping attitudes in diaspora populations.
Diasporas provide many benefits to their home countries. Economically prosperous diasporas furnish major financial support to the homeland, Jewish-Americans, for instance, contributing up to $i billion a year to Israel. Armenian-Americans send enough to earn Armenia the sobriquet of “the Israel of the Caucasus.” Diasporas supply expertise, military recruits, and on occasion political leadership to the homeland. They often pressure their home governments to adopt more nationalist and assertive policies towards neighboring countries. Recent cases in the United States show that they can be a source of spies used to gather information for their homeland governments.
Most important, diasporas can influence the actions and policies of their host country and co-opt its resources and influence to serve the interests of their homeland. Ethnic groups have played active roles in politics throughout American history. Now, ethnic diaspora groups proliferate, are more active, and have greater self-consciousness, legitimacy, and political clout. In recent years, diasporas have had a major impact on American policy towards Greece and Turkey, the Caucasus, the recognition of Macedonia, support for Croatia, sanctions against South Africa, aid for black Africa, intervention in Haiti, NATO expansion, sanctions against Cuba, the controversy in Northern Ireland, and the relations between Israel and its neighbors. Diaspora-based policies may at times coincide with broader national interests, as could arguably be the case with NATO expansion, but they are also often pursued at the expense of broader interests and American relations with long-standing allies. Overall, as James R. Schlesinger observed in a 1997 lecture at the Center for Strategic and International Studies, the United States has “less of a foreign policy in a traditional sense of a great power than we have the stapling together of a series of goals put forth by domestic constituency groups … The result is that American foreign policy is incoherent. It is scarcely what one would expect from the leading world power.”
Schlesinger had to recognize, however, that multiculturalism and heightened ethnic consciousness have caused many political leaders to believe this is “the appropriate way to make foreign policy.” In the scholarly community some argue that diasporas can help promote American values in their home countries and hence “the participation of ethnic disaporas in shaping U.S. foreign policy is a truly positive phenomenon.” The validity of diaspora interests was a central theme at a May 1996 conference on “Defining the National Interest: Minorities and U.S. Foreign Policy in the 21st Century.” Conference participants attacked the Cold War definition of national interest and what was described as “the traditional policy community’s apparent animosity toward the very idea of minority involvement in international affairs.” Conferees explored “the experiences of Jewish-Americans and Cuban-Americans and sought to extract lessons from the way these two groups succeeded in influencing foreign policy while others failed.” The sponsorship of this conference by the New York Council on Foreign Relations, once the capstone institution of the foreign policy establishment, was the ultimate symbol of the triumph of diaspora interests over national interests in American foreign policy.
The displacement of national interests by commercial and ethnic interests reflects the domesticization of foreign policy. Domestic politics and interests have always inevitably and appropriately influenced foreign policy. Now, however, previous assumptions that the foreign and domestic policymaking processes differ from each other for important reasons no longer hold. For an understanding of American foreign policy it is necessary to study not the interests of the American state in a world of competing states but rather the play of economic and ethnic interests in American domestic politics. At least in recent years, the latter has been a superb predictor of foreign policy stands. Foreign policy, in the sense of actions consciously designed to promote the interests of the United States as a collective entity in relation to similar collective entities, is slowly but steadily disappearing.
The Push and Pull of American Power
A decade after the end of the Cold War, a paradox exists with respect to American power. On the one hand, the United States is the only superpower in the world. It has the largest economy and the highest levels of prosperity. Its political and economic principles are increasingly endorsed throughout the world. It spends more on defense than all the other major powers combined and has the only military force capable of acting effectively in almost every part of the world. It is far ahead of any other country in technology and appears certain to retain that lead in the foreseeable future. American popular culture and consumer products have swept the world, permeating the most distant and resistant societies. American economic, ideological, military, technological, and cultural primacy, in short, is overwhelming.
American influence, on the other hand, falls far short of that. Countries large and small, rich and poor, friendly and antagonistic, democratic and authoritarian, all seem able to resist the blandishments and threats of American policymakers. On issues of protectionism, sanctions, intervention, human rights, proliferation of weapons of mass destruction, peacekeeping, and others, officials of foreign governments listen politely to American demands and entreaties, perhaps express general agreement with the ideas advanced, and then quietly go their own way. This tendency “to follow their own counsels,” Jonathan Clarke observed in Foreign Policy in 1996, “includes both great and small nations. Defying intense American pressure in 1994, tiny Singapore proceeded to cane an American teenager. Bankrupt, isolated Cuba has successfully changed American immigration policy. Poland has defied American requests not to proceed with an arms deal with Iran. Jordan has resisted American pressure to break off commercial links with Iraq … China has rebuffed American demands on human rights.” The United States has been unable to achieve its goals on trade policy with China and Japan, unable to induce Russia to restrain arms and technology transfers to China and Iran, unable to get rid of Saddam Hussein, Castro, and Qaddafi, unable to pressure Israelis and Palestinians to be more accommodating with each other, unable to induce Serbs, Croats, and Muslims to cooperate meaningfully in Bosnia, unable to secure significant economic reform in Japan. The United States still clearly is able to veto any major international action, but its ability to induce other countries to act in the way it thinks they should act is hardly commensurate with its image as the “world’s only superpower.”
What explains this apparent gap between the extent of American power and the ineffectiveness of American influence? In part, the gap is a result of comparing the resources of a country with the strength of its government. Historically the United States has been a strong country with a weak government. Apart from the military, most of the resources cited as evidence of American power are not easily subject to the control of the American government. Although its economy is the largest in the world, national government revenues are a smaller proportion of GNP (19.7 percent in 1993) than in all but two (Japan, Switzerland) of 24 high income countries. Similarly, the demands of the American government are not strengthened by the popularity of “Baywatch” and rap music. During the Cold War, major technological advances were in large part a product of the Department of Defense and its requirements. Now the military establishment is increasingly dependent on technological developments in the private sector. Antigovernmentalism is a pervasive theme in the American Creed and is not easily overcome in the absence of a foreign enemy. The impetus to balance the budget leads to major cutbacks in key elements of foreign affairs spending.
A second related explanation for the gap between resources and influence stems from the changing nature of American power. The United States is and will remain a global hegemon. The nature of that dominant role, however, is changing, as it changed for other hegemonic states. In their first phase, the influence of hegemons stems from their power to expend resources. They deploy military force, economic investment, loans, bribes, diplomats, and bureaucrats into other countries and often bring those territories and populations under their direct or indirect rule. American expansion in the 1950s and 1960s did not expand American rule, but did produce an American military, political, and economic presence in large areas of the world. In the second phase of hegemony, the power to expend is replaced by the power to attract. By the 1970s, American hegemony began to move into this phase with the outward push in the first phase of hegemonic power giving way to the inward pull characteristic of the second phase, a process that also occurred in the evolution of Rome, Byzantium, Britain, and other hegemonic powers.
In the 1990s the United States still exports food, technology, ideas, culture, and military power. It is, however, importing people, capital, and goods. It has become the largest debtor in the world. It typically takes in more immigrants than all the other countries in the world combined. Farm laborers and Nobel prize winners alike want to move to the United States. Elites everywhere want to send their children to American universities. Most of all, businesses want access to the American market. American popular culture, as Josef Joffe has observed, “is unique; its power comes from pull, not push.” American power, in short, has become in Joseph S. Nye’s term, the “soft power” to attract rather than the hard power to compel.
The power to attract depends on the willingness of foreigners to find it in their interest to send their money, goods, and children to the United States. It is, however, still power, and the typical form of power for a second-phase hegemon. This became strikingly clear in the Persian Gulf crisis. The fact that the American secretary of state had to go around the world engaging in “tin cup diplomacy,” collecting money to pay for the war, was frequently cited as compelling evidence of American decline. In fact, it was imperial behavior of a classic sort: the collection of tribute by the imperial power from its satellites and dependents. The ability to impose and collect an unanticipated levy of more than $50 billion from other countries in a few months was an extraordinary exercise of second-phase hegemonic power. In the late 1940s the United States exercised its power in the Marshall Plan by giving large sums of money to its allies. In the 1990s the United States exercised its power by collecting comparable amounts of money from its allies.
In the past, the flow of money and people out of the United States far surpassed the flow into the United States. Increasingly, however, the gap has narrowed, as other countries have developed their resources and have found it desirable to send money and people to the United States. While the United States was previously the world’s biggest creditor, by 997 its net foreign debt was more than $i trillion and was increasing at an annual rate of 15 to 20 percent, with Japan owning almost $300 billion and China more than $50 billion in U.S. treasury bonds.
Between 1963 and 1967, the outflow of foreign direct investment from the United States was more than ten times the inflow to the United States ($24.5 billion versus $2.1 billion). During the late 1970s and 1980s, however, the inflow increased dramatically and by the early 1990s exceeded the outflow ($198.3 billion in versus $168.9 billion out for 1989-93.) In the early 1960s, the number of Americans going abroad far exceeded the number of foreigners coming to the United States, an average of 6.1 million foreigners arriving each year between 1960 and 1964. By 1990-1994 the inflows and outflows were equal, an average of 44.2 million Americans going abroad each year versus 44.1 million foreigners coming to the United States.
During its first phase as a hegemonic power, the United States expended billions of dollars each year attempting to influence government decisions, elections, and political outcomes in other countries. These efforts clearly exceeded those of any other government, except possibly the Soviet Union, and almost certainly exceeded the total resources expended by foreign governments to influence American politics. Now this balance has changed dramatically, and the shoe is on the other foot. American activities designed to influence foreign governments have either stopped or been greatly reduced. Foreign aid is down and is concentrated on a few countries. Covert intervention is rare, and the money spent trying to influence elections and other outcomes in foreign countries is only a vestige of what it once was. The efforts of foreign institutions to influence American decision-making, in contrast, have increased significantly. The United States has thus become less of an actor and more of an arena.
Foreign governments and corporations now expend enormous resources on public relations and lobbying in the United States, with those from Japan, for instance, reportedly reaching $150 million a year. The governments of other foreign countries that have spent huge amounts to influence U.S. governmental decision-making reportedly include those of Saudi Arabia, Canada, South Korea, Taiwan, Mexico, Israel, Germany, the Philippines, and more recently China. Foreign governments make a point of recruiting former U.S. government officials to help them in these efforts. They have also gradually learned that the place to concentrate their attention is not on the relatively powerless State Department but on America’s extraordinarily powerful legislature.
Over the years foreign influence on American elections has undoubtedly increased. Registered foreign agents make individual contributions to candidates, with Senator John Kerry (D-Mass.), for instance, receiving $44,000 from them for his 1996 campaign, even though he refused funds from domestic PACS. Foreign influence has contributed to the defeat for reelection of several representatives whose policies went against the interests of those governments. The 1996 senatorial election in South Dakota was a contest between Indians and Pakistanis as well as between Republicans and Democrats, with the defeat of Larry Pressler producing elation in Islamabad and dejection in New Delhi. In the coming years, as their numbers, wealth, and political savvy increase, Arabs are likely to fight it out with Jews in elections across the country. The China connection of John Huang and his associates and the millions of dollars they siphoned to the Democratic Party is only the latest and most publicized example of the expenditures of foreign resources to influence American politics.
American politics attracts foreign money because the decisions of its government have an impact on people and interests in every other country. The power to attract resources is thus a result of the power to expend them, and the resource inflow is aimed at affecting the direction of the resource outflow.
There are, however, obvious qualifications to the power to ingest. Elites in other countries have to see it in their interest to provide money and resources to the United States. It is hardly surprising that some allied leaders were heard muttering about “taxation without representation” during the Gulf War collection. And those who invest in capital facilities in the United States obviously expect to exercise some influence in American politics. In addition, the principal collective good the United States provided other countries during the Cold War, protection against the Soviet Union, has disappeared, and the United States may become increasingly unable to continue to provide other collective goods, such as an open world economy and access to the American market. What happens then if the United States levies tribute to support an American-led effort to provide a collective good and no one pays? Or, in a question asked in the 1980s, what happens if the Japanese and Saudis stop buying U.S. government obligations? By the end of the Cold War the United States had gradually lost much of its power to expend resources. It entered the post-Cold War era with substantial power to attract but this too can fade. The United States may then continue to believe that like Glendower it “can call spirits from the vasty deep.” The relevant question, however, will be that put by Hotspur: “Why, so can I, or so can any man; / But will they come when you do call for them?”
Particularism vs. Restraint
American foreign policy is becoming a foreign policy of particularism increasingly devoted to the promotion abroad of highly specific commercial and ethnic interests. The institutions, resources, and influence generated to serve national interests in the Cold War are being redirected to serve these interests. These developments may have been furthered by the almost exclusive concern of the Clinton administration with domestic politics, but their roots lie in broader changes in the external and internal context of the United States and changing conceptions of American national identity.
The likelihood that these contextual factors will shift in the near future seems remote. Conceivably China could become a new enemy. Certainly, important groups in China think of the United States as their new enemy. A China threat sufficient to generate a new sense of national identity and purpose in the United States, however, is not imminent, and how serious that threat is judged to be will depend on the extent to which the Americans view Chinese hegemony in East Asia as damaging to American interests. Reviving a stronger sense of national identity would also require countering the cults of diversity and multiculturalism within the United States. It would probably involve limiting immigration along the lines proposed by the Jordan Commission and developing new public and private Americanization programs to counter the factors enhancing diaspora loyalties and to promote the assimilation of immigrants. These developments may well occur, but given the extent to which, in Nathan Glazer’s phase, “we are all multiculturalists now,” it will be a while before the recent denationalizing trends are reversed.
The replacement of particularism would require the American public to become committed to new national interests that would take priority over and lead to the subordination of commercial and ethnic concerns. At present, as polls show, majorities of the American public are unwilling to support the commitment of significant resources to the defense of American allies, the protection of small nations against aggression, the promotion of human rights and democracy, or economic and social development in the Third World. As a result the articulation of these and other broad goals by administration officials produces little follow-through, and with rare exceptions the calls of establishment figures for American leadership generate no effective action. Unable to deliver on its broad promises, American foreign policy becomes one of rhetoric and retreat, with the active energies of the administration concentrated on the advancement of particularistic concerns. Foreign governments have learned not to take seriously administration statements of its general policy goals and to take very seriously administration actions devoted to commercial and ethnic interests.
The alternative to particularism is thus not promulgation of a “grand design,” “coherent strategy,” or “foreign policy vision.” It is a policy of restraint and reconstitution aimed at limiting the diversion of American resources to the service of particularistic subnational, transnational, and nonnational interests. The national interest is national restraint, and that appears to be the only national interest the American people are willing to support at this time in their history. Hence, instead of formulating unrealistic schemes for grand endeavors abroad, foreign policy elites might well devote their energies to designing plans for lowering American involvement in the world in ways that will safeguard possible future national interests.
At some point in the future, the combination of security threat and moral challenge will require Americans once again to commit major resources to the defense of national interests. The de novo mobilization of those resources from a low base, experience suggests, is likely to be easier than the redirection of resources that have been committed to entrenched particularistic interests. A more restrained role now could facilitate America’s assumption of a more positive role in the future when the time comes for it to renew its national identity and to pursue national purposes for which Americans are willing to pledge their lives, their fortunes, and their national honor.