President-elect Reagan has displayed little interest in the third world, but some of his more conservative followers find it the ideal arena to begin the overhaul of US foreign policy.
As on othe issues, the Republicans are split into two camps. The old internationalists are well personified by George Shultz; the new ideologues by Sen. Jesse Helms. The competition will operate on at least two levels: within the administration between the more centrist cabinet-level officials and their more ideological juniors; and between congressional Republicans, who in opposition found the third world and foreign aid convenient whips to beat the incumbent administration, and a Reagan administration which will need a variety of economic and political tools. The Reagan foreign aid transition team headed by the president of the Heritage Foundation, a New Right think tank, leans heavily on the theories of P. T. Bauer, a British economist who favors the abolition of aid.
The Republican right's foreign policy agenda in the third world has been evident in recent years: an intenal settlement in Zimbabwe with a black facade; no Panama Canal treaty; no aid to Nicaragau, which is already written off as Marxist; no Agency for International Development assistance for land reform in El Salvador; closer ties to South Africa; aid for Savimbi's guerrillas in Angola; and severe restrictions bordering on withdrawal from the World Bank. It is radically different from present policy and thoroughly confrontational.
While such positions may arguably have served the Republicans well in congressional opposition, the style and content may backfire if transplanted to the State Department. Two lines of thought pervade these positions.
First, the third world is divided into friends and enemies, who may be fairly easily identified by their public statements and their United Nations votes. The US should aid its friends and punish its enemies. Foreign aid is primarily a device for doing just that; development goals are window dressing. Shades of John Foster Dulles! Nations, of course, do not have friends, but they do have interests, which are not clarified by this division.
Second, East-West tensions permeate the world; North-South conflict is peripheral and generally instigated by the Soviet Union. In Bauer's words, "preoccupation with the North-South confrontation has served and can only serve to divert attention from the reality and persistence of the East-West conflict." From this perspective, it is to dismiss third-world concerns and demands as empty rhetoric, and likewise ignore rapidly building global economic and environmental problems which have their initial manifestations in developing countries.
The reality of interdependence is frequently unpleasant and therefore bitterly resented by many Americans who have long thought themselves beyond history's reach. While our trade, energy, and financial relationships with the third world have grown to central importance in the last decade, our political relationships have been marked by confusion and vacillation
In the aftermath of Vietnam the Carter administration attempted a new policy that was a patchwork of human rights considerations, greater tolerance for diversity, and rhetorical sympathy for some third-world positions. Publicly labeled as foundering on the Soviet invasion of Afghanistan and the taking of American hostages in Iran, the Carter policy was long torn between rather naive pronouncements of universally applicable standards and the necessity for special security relationships with key regional powers. This laid it wide open to charges of hypocrisy.
But significant, and largely unrecognized, progress occurred in some parts of the third world: a settlement in Zimbabwe; democratic rule restored in Ghana, Nigeria, Ecuador, and Peru; new sensitivity to human rights in many countries; and remarkably high levels of economic growth until the latest oil price hikes. President Carter's failure to articulate a coherent world view that accommodated third-world change within a strong defense of Western interests against Soviet opportunism cost him dearly. Adverse third-world events, such as the overthrow of the Shah and Somoza, were blamed on American weakness, rather than viewed primarily as nationalistic struggles fueled in part by previous American intervention.
The incoming administration has major opportunities both for new approaches and for catastrophic missteps.Global economic negotiations have stalled, but the underlying causes of economic distress remain. Will the US face squarely the issue of global powerty, even if we object to the proffered solutions? If we promote capitalist, export-oriented development models such as Taiwan and South Korea, will we accept the need to open the US market to their products?If we abolish or drastically cut aid, where do we expect the poorest third-world countries to get the capital and technical know-how to stave off disaster? US leadership must consist of more than saber rattling.