THE collapse of the communist bloc in Eastern Europe has ramifications that go far beyond readjustments in the United States defense budget. They go to the American position in the world and to activities designed to enhance that position. For more than forty years the thrust of American foreign policy has been driven by the cold war. The Soviet threat has been involved in almost everything the US has done overseas. Now that has been swept away. Not only can we look at the world afresh; the national interest requires that we do so.
This is more difficult than it appears at first glance. The first requirement, of course, is imagination, which is always in short supply; but there are more mundane problems too. The most important of these is bureaucratic inertia. There are dozens of activities involved, and somebody has a vested interest in continuing each of them. What follows is a random, incomplete sampling.
In the era of glasnost, the Voice of America has opened bureaus in Moscow and Warsaw. But from Munich, Radio Liberty and Radio Free Europe keep blasting away at the people behind what used to be the Iron Curtain. These radios were started in the days when the Voice of America was jammed in the Soviet bloc; Radio Liberty was aimed at the Soviet Union, Radio Free Europe at what were then the satellite nations. Originally, they were clandestinely funded by the Central Intelligence Agency (CIA) under the guise of public contributions from concerned citizens. Later, Congress brought them into the open with public money. But what purpose do they serve now?
Since 1946 the US has obligated the equivalent in 1989 dollars of $966 billion in foreign aid. Almost all of this has been generated by the cold war. Even when we hoped we were promoting economic development in India, or improving potato cultivation in Bolivia, we said we were doing it because prosperous Indians and better fed Bolivians were less susceptible to the blandishments of communist propaganda. Now we know that hungry Poles and Russians are not susceptible either.
The military equipment which the foreign aid program scattered so blithely around the world was even more directly related to the cold war. A great deal of that equipment has been used in ways we never intended, much of it by the recipients against each other. A great deal has also had the purpose of maintaining rights to American military bases in foreign countries. The importance of these bases can now be seen in a different perspective.
For years, the foreign aid program has rumbled along with a momentum of its own. For practical purposes, it is out of political control. Congress cannot face the challenge of passing an authorization act, and passes appropriations almost by rote. Any relationship between the program and the US national interest is purely coincidental. The end of the cold war removes one of foreign aid's major philosophical underpinnings.
Or consider the CIA. During the cold war, the CIA and the KGB developed what was in some respects a symbiotic relationship: the expansion of Soviet embassies in Latin America meant the CIA needed more people to watch more Russians. This no doubt worked the same way in reverse and was good for bureaucratic empire-building all around. A great deal of this can now be stopped. So can a great many of the efforts the CIA has made in the past to infiltrate dissident political groups in the third world. Third world intelligence in general may become less important and European intelligence more so. Capabilities of monitoring arms control agreements will have to be expanded.
The important international action in the near and medium term is most likely to be in Europe. The West is moving toward an integrated economy in 1992. Both West and East are groping for a new relationship with each other. However these events work themselves out, they will change the framework in which foreign policy operates.
Wise American policies can influence this marginally for good. Foolish American policies can influence it substantially for ill. Meanwhile, we need to get our own act together. Thanks to the end of the cold war, we can look at the world almost as a clean slate - albeit one which is cluttered with the remnants of outmoded programs. This is about as close as history ever comes to providing an opportunity to start over. It would be too bad to muff it.