In a 49-page document issued last week, which few Americans will probably read, at least in its entirety, the president of the United States essentially turned his back on unilateralism and gave a warm embrace to multilateralism in foreign affairs.
In the "National Security Strategy of the United States of America," President Bush of course reaffirmed his commitment to the war against terrorism, and protecting the security of the American people.
But the document is littered with phrases like "strengthening alliances," "working with others," "developing agendas for cooperative action with other main centers of global power." In a preface, the president says US strength is "not founded on force of arms alone ... [I]t rests on strong alliances, friendships, and international institutions...." To solve many of our problems, such as pandemic disease, terrorism, human trafficking, and national disasters, he reasons, "effective multinational efforts are essential."
Mr. Bush's travels in recent days, and those on which he has sent Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice, offer a clue as to which countries he sees as some of the "main centers of global power." Interestingly, they are all in Asia. Bush himself went to India, which, along with China, is one of the truly spectacular emerging economic powers of our times. Although his agreement with India on nuclear power development is controversial, and yet to be endorsed by the US Congress, he is probably not far wrong in his conclusion that the US has "set aside decades of mistrust" and put "relations with India, the world's most populous democracy, on a new and fruitful path."
He also paid a briefer visit to Pakistan, without any such benign endorsement of Pakistan's nuclear program. Pakistan has admitted that some of its know-how for nuclear weapons construction has been exported to less-than-ideal countries. However, since 9/11, Pakistan's President Pervez Musharraf, at some political cost from radical Islamic factions, has opted to side with the US in the war against terrorism. He has been helpful in the hunt for Taliban and Al Qaeda operatives along Pakistan's border with Afghanistan. Pakistan is also important for the US as a Muslim, but non-Arab, country with some influence in the Islamic world.
Dr. Rice was dispatched to Indonesia, another Islamic, but non-Arab nation. Like Pakistan, Indonesia has suffered from terrorist activity by extremist Islamic groups within its borders. Like Pakistan, it can serve as an example to the Arab world of a large Muslim country that can follow Islam while pursuing a nonviolent path.
Rice was also charged with visiting Japan, a US ally of great economic importance, as well as Australia, which, though hardly a major military or economic power in the world, has been a sturdy moral force alongside the US in many campaigns and on many issues. It is increasingly a player in the affairs of Asia.
There remains China, which is recognized by most, and feared by some, as an emerging economic powerhouse in Asia. In his outline of his national security strategy, Bush says China proclaims it has made a decision to "walk the transformative path of peaceful development," but that its transition remains incomplete. Ultimately, he says, China's leaders must see that they cannot let their population increasingly experience the freedoms to buy, sell, and produce, while denying them the rights to assemble, speak, and worship.
Bush is scheduled to meet with Chinese President Hu Jintao in Washington next month for summit discussions postponed since last year. The US president will want to take up the US trade deficit with China, and China's reluctance to revalue its currency, which at its current rate provides a significant advantage to China's exports.
However, China is loath to make drastic changes at a time when it is preoccupied by internal problems. When Chinese Prime Minister Wen Jiabao presented his report at the recent meeting of the National People's Congress in Beijing, he was obliged to offer plans to cope with growing unrest in China's rural areas. While the Chinese economy has been developing with phenomenal growth, China's peasants have been bridling under corruption and maladministration by local officials as well as the extensive expropriation of land for industrial development. Demonstrations against this have numbered in the many thousands and been an embarrassment to the central government, particularly in areas close to Hong Kong, where media attention has been considerable.
While Bush will undoubtedly want to talk with President Hu about reforms in China, his newly defined policy of cooperation with other powers should therefore preclude confrontation.
• John Hughes, a former editor of the Monitor, is editor and chief operating officer of the Deseret Morning News.