Anyone who listens to foreign diplomats hears a common theme: They're tired of being lectured to by American officials. They see little reason for Uncle Sam to act as the world's only tenured full professor of moral philosophy.
Within the last few months, President Clinton has lectured Pakistani leader Pervez Musharraf on the virtues of democracy, the vices of terrorism, and the immorality of attacking civilians in India-controlled Kashmir. On the latter issue, Mr. Clinton in a public address in Islamabad chastised Pakistan for supporting terrorists who kill Indians in Kashmir: "No matter how great the grievance, it is wrong to support attacks against civilians across the Line of Control." He warned that Pakistan faces further international isolation if it continues to support Islamic fundamentalists in Kashmir and Afghanistan.
Treasury Secretary Lawrence Summers has lectured the Japanese government on the virtues of the American model for the New Economy.
Sen. Jesse Helms (R) of North Carolina, chairman of the Senate Foreign Relations Committee, has lectured members of the UN Security Council on the UN's anti-US bias, its bureaucratic inefficiencies, and its unfair (to the US) dues structure.
Secretary of State Madeleine Albright has lectured China on its human rights record, Russia on its devastation of Chechnya, various African states on the necessity for reform, and many other countries who fail to live up to American standards. She seems compelled to fill out a report card for her hosts on every overseas visit.
Perhaps all this arises from having too many ex-professors in the administration. Nonetheless, when the world's only superpower publicly sets standards and others fall short when tested, it is virtually certain that its leaders are placed in a situation of either putting up or shutting up. Shutting up is not the American way. This explains why the US imposes sanctions on more foreign states than do all other nations combined. It's why Clinton so far has levied more sanctions than all other American presidents before him, combined.
An April 3 Monitor article by Scott Peterson, reported that Clinton, "for whom sanctions have all but replaced diplomacy," has "along with Congress ... been responsible for imposing more than half of the 125 or so cases of sanctions ever imposed by the US."
The percentage of the world's population under US sanctions is staggering: Seventy-five nations with more than half the world's people - including such international outlaws as Canada, Japan, and Italy - are subject to a range of penalties.
Mr. Peterson traced the roots of the US reliance on sanctions to President Woodrow Wilson (like Clinton, another lecturing ex-professor). Wilson at times penalized Mexico and various Caribbean countries for their misbehavior.
Something besides established research findings must compel the Clinton administration to employ the wholesale use of sanctions, because researchers generally agree that:
*Foreign leaders who are the targets of sanctions - whether Fidel Castro, Saddam Hussein, or Slobodan Milosevic - blame the country imposing the sanctions for their country's economic misery and avert being blamed for their own poor performance. Sanctions let incompetent dictators off the hook.
*These leaders use hostility generated by sanctions to maintain authoritarian control by emphasizing the foreign threat. Any domestic opposition to these leaders can then be labeled as actions by dupes or agents of the sanctioning state.
*Civilians, mainly women and children, suffer most from sanctions. The suffering in Iraq, for example, was so great among civilians that the UN humanitarian coordinator there, Hans Von Sponeck, resigned rather than oversee further deaths, disease, malnutrition, and collapse of social services.
*The costs incurred by the states imposing sanctions can be heavy. For example, the generally accepted figure for lost US trade due to sanctions is around $20 billion, which translates into the loss of about 220,000 well-paying jobs.
*Sanctions rarely work to overthrow foreign leaders or to reverse their objectionable policies. Sanctions on South Africa and the former Rhodesia - where elites alone could be punished - are usually mentioned as success stories, but few others can be hailed as bringing desired results.
*Sanctions do hurt the target's economy, but with counterproductive results. A weakening economy shrinks the middle class, the very socio-economic group that traditionally presses for freedom and democracy. A weaker middle class weakens civil society, which then makes the authoritarian public sector relatively stronger.
*Selective sanctions open Washington to the charge of double standards and hypocrisy. Close dependency on governments that trample certain human rights makes sanctions problematic. For example, Saudi Arabia's antidemocratic, antifemale record should bring hefty US sanctions, according to current standards, but that country is a strategic ally and has lots of oil. US sanctions on Riyad are virtually nonexistent.
The inescapable conclusion is that a lecturing foreign policy compels American officials to back the standards they enshrine in their lectures with penalties for violating those standards. It is a trap. If an American official says to a foreign leader that he or she should do X, and the leader does not do X, there is no recourse but to punish. To not punish is to appear a paper tiger, a blowhard, a fraud, and no US official would welcome those labels.
Consequently, the US accrues the reputation of a self-righteous bully. And unfortunately, many ordinary people suffer.
In an effort to get UN members to rethink the use of sanctions, Secretary General Kofi Annan recently issued a report urging that "smart sanctions" be used to punish dictators while sparing innocent civilians.
The tone of his 57-page "Millennium Report" leaves little doubt that he prefers more effective, less costly, methods - such as diplomatic isolation, media castigation, or UN condemnation - to change the improper behavior of governments.
He could have added that a bit less lecturing might help.
*Nicholas Berry is a senior analyst at the Center for Defense Information. He is co-author of 'IR: The New World of International Relations' 4th ed. (Prentice Hall, 1999).
(c) Copyright 2000. The Christian Science Publishing Society