Wednesday, 16 April 2014


The Cold War was over in the late 1980s-early 1990s, but the Cold War doctrines behind which institutional structures are maintained have not gone away. Is it time to leave the Cold War doctrines behind and carve out a new realistic US foreign policy doctrine, or does the US simply continue to re-baptize existing Cold War doctrines as occasion warrants by each president with "terrorism" as a core issue? 

From President Monroe in the 1820s until Obama in the2010s, there have been a number of foreign policy doctrines. Among the most significant for US history the Monroe Doctrine and the Truman Doctrine,
basically defined the perimeters of US national security interests by providing an ideological framework and became the basis for decision making whenever it became feasible to act and deemed in the greatest interests of those making policy. All other doctrines on foreign affairs were basically extensions of modifications of those two that essentially declared the state of Pax Americana, namely, the US as a Great Power competing with Europe from Monroe to FDR, and then a Global Power competing with USSR and China from Truman to Reagan. The downfall of Communism and the global economic integration of China and Russia into the capitalist system obviated all US foreign policy doctrines, at least in theory, so a new doctrine had to be invented to reflect the present and future aspirations of the country.

The new doctrine revolved around the US campaign on 'terrorism', a nebulous term with Muslim fanatics at  its core, but in essence a generic term applied to anyone carrying out an individual or group act through unconventional means of force. Accordingly, when the unelected Western-backed right-wing of Ukraine declared the pro-Russian Ukrainians "terrorists", it was following the rhetoric invented by the US so that the Ukrainian government could reinforce its own legitimacy, demonize the pro-Russian rebels, and at the same time secure US-Western backing for its crackdown against the minority prompted by the Russian government to agitate against the majority itself lacking legitimacy that political elections provide.  

Largely a crisis created with the considerable help of the US and Europeans interested in having a foothold at Russia's doorstep, the Ukrainian crisis has many analysts wondering if there is an Obama doctrine. The question of course is how to define a US foreign policy "doctrine". Is it just another foreign policy statement applied narrowly to the specific situation only, or does it have much broader implications to the degree that it tends to be all-encompassing and universal like the Truman Doctrine redefining Pax Americana?

FOX news insisted that the "Obama Doctrine" is either to ignore a problem like Ukraine, or simply go to war; amazing statement given its assumption that this constitutes a doctrine. Needless to say, the ultra-conservative FOX news would have the US engage in perpetual conflict and dismiss diplomacy as an option even when it is obvious the end result of the military solution toward what FOX regards as America's enemies would be extremely detrimental to US interests, while yielding great profits for defense contractors; a foreign policy that both Reagan and George W. Bush pursued to the near-bankruptcy of public finances. However, the question of "doctrine" is much larger that a mere interpretation of Pax Americana; it is a statement with universal applicability for the long-term than a foreign policy tactic applied to a particular situation in a limited time span.

Does Ukraine and the Russian reaction to the crisis present the opportunity for the US to promulgate a new doctrine that replaces or supplements all previous ones? Are US national security interests at stake in Ukraine and in all former Soviet republics to the degree that Obama must lay down a set of foreign policy principles that US must back politically, economically, and militarily? If so, then does the new US doctrine explicitly state that if Russia directly or indirectly interferes in any former Soviet republic the US and NATO reserve the right to have all options, including military intervention in those republics, on the table? Does this then redefine Russia's role and its limits on spheres of influence? Does the new doctrine go as far as plainly stating that war with Russia will be an option if it violates the sovereignty of any Soviet republic, regardless of the minorities of those countries wishes to have closer ties or be integrated with Russia?

On 18 March 2014, Putin outlined a number of foreign policy pronouncements that some maintain constitute a doctrine intended to send a signal to the West. Among the points of this doctrine are the following. a. Suspicion of the West whose policy is driven by opportunistic expansionism instead of a set of principles. For this reason, the Kremlin cannot trust the West as a reliable partner, given that the goal of the US is to systematically weaken Russia through various methods. b. The rejection of Western style democracy for Russia that considers itself more Eurasian and European power and the rejection of Western-style international law intended for the strengthening of the West at the expense of the East. c. Russia has established a set of national security principles that include a safety net zone of influence made up of former Soviet republics the West has targeted for its own purposes. d. Neither the Westphalian system of national sovereignty nor the Western-dominated international organizations are credible against the reality of the West defining them to suit its own expansionist aims. e. Against the background of the relative decline of the West and ascendancy of Asia, Russia must determine for itself what constitutes a realistic regional and global power balance.

Does the Putin set of foreign policy assumptions and principles necessarily mean that the US has to respond, or should the US promulgate its own doctrine to reflect the realities of the world balance of power, including what Russia has in mind for its neighbors? The first major foreign policy declaration of the US came in the aftermath of the Napoleonic Wars and the Congress of Vienna with President James Monroe declaring the famous Monroe Doctrine that essentially sent a message to Europe about the Western Hemisphere as a domain for non-interference by extra-continental  powers. In the mid-1820s. the US hardly had the military or economic ability to impose political, economic or military hegemony, but it would head in that direction in the mid-1840s during the US-Mexico War and again in the late 1890s during the Spanish-American War when America had fully industrialized and become one of the great powers that Europeans had to take seriously.The Monroe Doctrine, with modifications in the last two hundred years, has lasted in its applicability for two centuries because it simply states that the US reserves the right to be the protector power, thus hegemonic, in the Hemisphere. This doctrine has been 5the driving engine behind US-Latin American relations, much to the US advantage but not to the republics south of the Rio Grande.

In 1947, President Harry S. Truman promulgated another major foreign policy measure (The Truman Doctrine) with universal long-term applicability that assumed global significance during the Cold War. Against the background of division of spheres of influence between East and West and the Communist revolutions in Greece and China, Truman stated in the doctrine that assumed his name that US foreign policy interests extend beyond the Western Hemisphere to include new spheres of influence - at the time Greece, Iran and Turkey - where Communism posed a threat - later Vietnam and Southeast Asia.

For an overview of the Truman Doctrine and its postwar implications see  Die Truman-Doktrin und der griechische Bürgerkrieg 1946-1949 - Jon Kofas  in Heiße Kriege im Kalten Krieg
Die Truman-Doktrin und der griechische Bürgerkrieg 1946-1949.  
Herausgeber:Greiner, Bernd; Müller, Christian Th.; Walter, Dierk
Verlag:Hamburger Edition, HIS Verlag 2006

The waning power of the US after the Vietnam War did not stop Reagan from promulgating his own doctrine as an extension of the Truman Doctrine, with greater focus on outspending the USSR militarily, while at the same time collaborating with China economically, which in essence strengthened Beijing militarily at the expense of its neighbor. The other side of the Reagan Doctrine was that the weakened USSR would automatically mean a much stronger US; something that was certainly true in limited respects after the collapse of Communist regimes, but hardly something lasting given the strong economic emergence of China.

In reinforcing the Cold War Truman Doctrine in the aftermath of the Vietnam War and the revolutions in Iran and Nicaragua, the Reagan Doctrine simply meant pouring everything the US could possibly afford into defense to eliminate its main military rival, only to rediscover, or rather recreate, another rival in the form of "global terrorism". Here too there was a need for a new doctrine under George W. Bush who presented a series of foreign policy that included preemptive strikes against America's real and potential enemies and unilateral foreign policy so that both the UN and US allies are bypassed when it comes to consultation, but not when it comes to asking them for help after the decision is made.

Given that the US created an entire institutional  domestic and foreign policy structure based on terrorism as the cornerstone of its domestic and foreign policy, largely a phantom considering that the US had collaborated with Islamic guerrilla warriors during the 1980s, and continued to collaborate with them in the Arab Spring uprisings, especially in Libya and Syria, the question is whether traditional foreign policy rivals like Russia and China take a back seat because they were good capitalists helping make billions for Western corporations? To differentiate his administration from Bush the interventionist and unilateralist, Obama made certain to publicize that he would be open to multilateral foreign policy and diplomatic solutions wherever possible. The global economic crisis combined with the massive debt Bush left for Obama to manage entailed that the US did not have the luxury of intervening freely in every part of the world to defend "national interests". Instead, the Obama team relied more on drone warfare that has been heavily criticized as causing war crimes by killing indiscriminately innocent people, but this did not require a special doctrine.

This brings us back to the Ukraine and the US and EU ambitions to integrate as much of the former Soviet territory as possible into the Western spheres of influence, largely because of their markets, energy and mineral resources. The wish list is one thing on the part of the US, but ability to achieve the goal with minimal damage to its interests and to its partners is another matter. Does the US have the ability to achieve the ambitious goal of integrating the former Soviet republics? Sending into the former Soviet republics mercenaries and others through NGOs as well as recruiting from extreme right wing groups opposing minorities may have worked in the Iran and other non-Western countries in the 1950s when the CIA was doing it, but it is much more difficult today in Ukraine, though not in Libya and Egypt.

Not just Russia but China and Iran stand in the way of US ambitions, and in the end it is these countries and not the US or EU that will prevail owing to both geographic proximity and geopolitical considerations like regional balance of power. Would it not be more realistic not to over-reach, given that intervention in Iraq and Afghanistan taught the US the bitter lesson of cost-benefit ratio was not worth the trouble just to strengthen Iran and China, while affording the US the symbolic political satisfaction of combating terrorism at its roots.

In the aftermath of the disintegration of Communist countries. the US hastily moved to promulgate an extension of the Truman Doctrine by shifting the "enemy focus" from Communists to terrorists, without ever examining if the country has the ability to carry out such an ambitious foreign policy amid decentralization of global economic power. Not taking into account the asymmetry between the vast military/intelligence spending and the declining civilian economy's ability to support such spending for the next fifty years only provides an illusion of military power and it leave the country with a much weaker middle class and working force at living standards of the 1970s.

This asymmetry can only be addressed  by seriously examining what is possible to afford as far as foreign policy ambitions. Otherwise, the US will be spending trillions and the beneficiaries will be the Chinese economy among others and a handful of US multinational corporations that hardly represent "American national security interests". Hastily putting together a "terrorism doctrine" to replace the Cold War in the absence of taking into account the shape of the economy today and in the next fifty years, without taking into account the entire social structure and not just what Eisenhower called the Military Industrial Complex dictating foreign affairs is very detrimental to the short-term and longer term US interests.

The Monroe Doctrine was not very realistic at the time it was promulgated, but it was very much so for the future as events in US-Latin American relations proved in the course of the 19th and early 20th century. The Truman Doctrine was very realistic in terms of aspirations and ability to execute for the time and for the next decade, until the Vietnam War proved the need for reexamination. The question today is whether there is any realism in the Bush doctrine that Obama has been following with some modifications.

I am not at all optimistic that this asymmetry will be addressed and a new realistic doctrine will be announced to finally replace Monroe and Truman and bring the country into the 21st century. The reason for this is that the few entrenched interests - everyone from defense contractors and Pentagon generals as well as think tanks making a living from the 'terrorism industry' - are interested in change that reflects realities of the present and realistic prospects for the future. Therefore, only a very deep crisis, economic, political, military or some combination of those will force the US to become a bit more realistic. Meanwhile, all we have is illusions feeding those who believe that Pax Americana can remain unchanged forever; illusions with incalculable costs to society  at home and to global stability.

Response to a reader about what specific doctrine would be best.

The question of what new doctrine to carve out is one that must not be drawn in haste, but after deliberation from various circles of experts who will take into account the realities of US military and economic strength right now and the projected US position in the world in the next fifty years. I deliberately stayed away from proposing anything specific,but noted some basic principles to follow, as well as what the global power structure is like currently and what it would look like in fifty years. Usually State Dept. and National Security staff work on such things, but I strongly believe it is time to consult people from various fields rooted in realism about the US role and its actual and potential power, instead of looking to ideologues to forge a new doctrine. If we merely have a repeat of the Bush doctrine, or rehashing of a previous one, there is no point to bother at all because there will be those who have an enormous stake in maintaining the status quo in its basic form.

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