Sunday, July 6, 2008

Gorbachev: Will the U.S. be an empire or a democracy?

Former Soviet Union leader Mikhail Gorbachev, winner of the 1990 Nobel Peace Prize, asks the U.S. presidential candidates to think about whether the United States will be an empire or a democracy.
The present administration, particularly during George W. Bush's first presidential term, was bent on trying to solve many foreign policy issues primarily by military means, through threats and pressure. The big question today is whether the presidential nominees will propose a different approach to the world's most urgent problems.

I am extremely alarmed by the increasing tendency to militarize policymaking and thinking. The fact is that the military option has again and again led to a dead end.

One doesn't have to go very far to find an alternative. Take the recent developments on nonproliferation issues, where the focus has been on two countries - North Korea and Iran.

After several years of saber-rattling, the United States finally got around to serious talks with the North Koreans, involving South Korea and other neighboring countries. And though it took time to achieve results, the dismantling of the North Korean nuclear program has now begun.

It's true that nuclear issues in Iran encompass some unique features and may be more difficult to solve. But clearly threats and delusions of "regime change" are not the way to do it.

We have to look even deeper for a solution. "Horizontal" proliferation will only get worse unless we solve the "vertical" problem, i.e. the continued existence of huge arsenals of sophisticated nuclear weapons held by major powers, particularly the United States and Russia.

In recent months there seems to have been a conceptual breakthrough on this issue, with influential Americans calling for revitalizing efforts aimed at the eventual elimination of nuclear weapons. Both John McCain and Barack Obama have now endorsed that goal....

Today the United States produces about half of the world's military hardware and has over 700 military bases, from Europe to the most remote corners of the world. Those are just the officially recognized bases, with more being planned. It is as if the Cold War is still raging, as if the United States is surrounded by enemies who can only be fought with tanks, missiles and bombers. Historically, only empires had such an expansive approach to assuring their security.

So the candidates, and the next president, will have to decide and state clearly whether America wants to be an empire or a democracy, whether it seeks global dominance or international cooperation. They will have to choose, because this is an either-or proposition: The two things don't mix, like oil and water.

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