AMERICA's presidential candidates agree on the broad, steady foreign policy goals. United States national security and economic well-being are paramount. The East-West relationship must be carefully managed. Such valued principles as human rights, democracy, and the rule of law deserve strong support. Yet the US is not static. Its economy is increasingly dependent on overseas trade; its population is increasingly Hispanic and Asian. Accordingly, the presidential candidates often differ sharply on such all-important details as the strategies and priorities with which US foreign policy goals are pursued.
How can security be achieved?
The Reagan administration has seen security largely in military terms: It shored up the nation's defenses.
US-Soviet security is no longer a zero-sum game in which one power is secure at the other's expense. If ``star wars'' encourages trust in a vague continental invulnerability, it is unrealistic.
The administration views the third world primarily as an arena of superpower conflict. Anticommunist rebels in Nicaragua, Angola, Cambodia, and Afghanistan were backed.
The next administration should make a greater effort to view East-West relations in a North-South context as well. Social and economic problems, which often shape the appeal of one system over another, must be addressed.
The US must also work harder to coordinate foreign economic policy and stabilize the dollar. Washington leadership on the world debt crisis is also needed.
What should US policy priorities be?
The current administration has overexpanded US commitments, listing even Chad and Sudan among nations vital to the US national interest. The US has defense ties of some kind with about 60 nations. Some vagueness on the subject can keep adversaries guessing, but friends can also wrongly assume it means US military help in any grievance.
US voters and overseas friends deserve a clear understanding of America's defense and aid priorities. A nation with a sizable deficit and a Vietnam-wary electorate cannot avoid tough choices. Americans like to think their nation can do anything anywhere; in practice the costs and risks are too high.
Alliances with Western Europe and Japan are most vital; institutional reforms are needed to give these nations a larger role in making decisions and in bearing costs. America's open-ended military commitment in the Gulf merits review.
A new administration must reassess America's leadership role. By taking a strong, active stance in the Middle East, the US can give nations in the area someone to blame for the tough decisions they must make to get an accord. The US should also call for another world environment parley to review progress made since the UN Stockholm conference of 1972. Yet US leadership need not mean more high-profile or unilateral action; often the US can serve as a catalyst within multilateral efforts.
Who speaks for the president?
US foreign policy is clearest when a president specifies whether the national-security adviser or, preferably, the secretary of state speaks for him. An administration need not speak with a single voice, but a more harmonious chorus can help.
How closely would the candidate work with US allies and adversaries?
The Reagan administration has acquired a deserved reputation for solo action - its peacekeeping force in the Gulf, the ``rescue'' in Grenada, and the bombing of Libya. US allies were, in fact, frequently consulted; US initiatives were taken despite allied objections.
Consultation means more than explaining and mobilizing support for policies set; the concerns of allies should be taken into account. The US lead is no longer automatically followed: Witness Washington's failure to persuade Europeans to drop their Soviet gas-pipeline project.
The US should also scout out more areas for cooperation with its adversaries. Further arms cuts must be pursued. The Reagan administration's wariness of either an international peace conference on the Middle East or a global monitoring force in the Gulf, lest the Soviet role be enhanced on either front, should be reconsidered. The Soviets have their own set of interests to pursue; at times these coincide with Washington's.
How important is support of global groups such as the United Nations?
At times the US has been indifferent, even hostile, toward the world body. It has held back funding to force decisionmaking and budget reforms. Yet the UN umbrella is extremely valuable in the quest for solutions to both the Afghan and the Iran-Iraq war. The US must stand behind the rule of international law. It should sign the law-of-the-sea treaty.
What of democracy, human rights?
The question is not one of verbal support but of how much energy, money, and other leverage goes into the effort. Where the US has extensive ties, it is obliged to speak out, and occasionally to act, when principles it values are not upheld. Silence implies assent; thus the necessity of recent US criticism of Israeli tactics in quelling Palestinian protests.
The US has correctly pressed for free and fair elections in South Korea, the Philippines, Haiti, and Panama, occasionally holding back aid to add pressure. Yet elections are not the whole of democracy. Judicial reform, safeguards against human rights abuse, and strong economies are also important.
Still, the US is not within its bounds in imposing its political preferences on others; its ideologically driven military campaign in Nicaragua is an example. The administration insists that democracy there is critical to US security interests and presses for military aid to the contras against the spirit of the Arias plan and after the House voted down such aid Feb. 3. The next administration should focus less on ousting the Sandinistas and more on halting any spread of their Marxist-led revolution. Direct US talks with the Sandinistas and Soviets are the way to go.
Candidates seeking to lead America must not assume Washington will have all the best answers. Establishing peaceable world relations requires acknowledging that the US cannot do it all alone.
The last editorial in this series will appear Feb. 29.