No 'North American shell'

Jeremiah Novak sees a "new vision" for US foreign policy emerging in the current presidential campaign. But there is less difference between the "trilateral" and "new continentalist" approaches than appears at first glance.

Both are rooted in the realization that "something fundamental" has changed in the relative weights of the United States and its allies in Western Europe and Japan. In colorfully exaggerated words Mr. Novak quotes from Jim Wootton -- "Europe and Japan no longer are dependencies of the US." Both approaches recognize that the perspectives and interests of the three areas are not identical.

Mr. Novak is setting up a straw man in arguing that those associated with the Trilateral Commission are all rather blindly seeking to extend "the unitary economic structure and alliance system of the cold war" through the 1970s to the 1980s. It was a sense of underlying change, and a need to respond constructively, that brought the commission into existence in the early 1970s.

Most relevant Trilateral Commission reports have indeed argued the virtues of liberal world economic arrangements but have not been blind to important trends toward regional trading arrangements, toward bilateral "deals" of various sorts, or toward a general "multipolarization" in the world economy as new "cores" emerge outside the United States.

While the differences between the two sides are less complete than appears at first glance, the differences are nevertheless significant. Politics is often a matter of priorities; and a shift of foreign policy priority by the US government toward creation of a North American Common Market and away from sustaining and strengthening the wider international economic and political framework, now under considerable challenge, would indeed be a major shift -- and one which, to my mind, would be both wrong and self-defeating.

The North American Common Market may be a new idea, but it is remarkable how the supporting arguments for it reveal American blinders of an older vintage.

First of all, this Common Market is argued for from a US perspective only, without visible reference to the opinions or interests of Canada and Mexico (or Central America and the Caribbean). An important theme in Canadian and Mexican foreign policies in the 1970s was an effort to diversify their international ties away from such thoroughgoing involvement with the United States, a theme which runs counter to the whole idea of a North American Common Market.

The "new continentalists" exaggerate the divergence of interests between the United States and its allies in Western Europe and Japan. "The definition of the interests of the alliance," as a Japanese statesman recently put it, "has to become a collective exercise" -- something to which we all have some difficulty adjusting.

"The most disturbing aspect of European attitudes toward the relationship with America," wrote a former British diplomat after a recent tour of European capitals, "was the degree to which American involvement in Europe is taken for granted . . . there is little appreciation that in the long run the political roots of America's commitment have to be nurtured by a comparable European commitment to collective security, open economic exchange, a cooperative monetary system, and some degree of broad understanding of and support for America's global responsibilities." The same could be said for Japan. The collective effort requires much of us in the United States also, however, and we will not advance the collective interest by narrowing our view and retreating into a North American shell.

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