CHAPEL HILL -- When Colin Powell was appointed secretary of state, I felt diminished anxiety about the direction of foreign policy in the new administration. Powell had seemed very cautious about use of military force to resolve international conflicts. Subsequently, we have heard a different tone of voice from President Bush that makes me fear we may once again be headed down the road to become our own worst enemy.
The president's decision not to build on the progress made by the Clinton administration in its approach to Korea is troubling. We had a window of opportunity to continue constructive talks and to support South Korea in its efforts to move from confrontation to diplomacy. Instead of pursuing what promised to be a deal to stop North Korea's production of long-range missiles, we have chosen the policy of slamming the door shut and talking tough. Thus, we also turn our backs upon a nation where over 2 million have starved to death and the economy continues to crumble.
Why should we respond in this way? At the risk of being cynical, the only convincing answer is the hope of using the North Korean threat in the forthcoming effort to persuade our nation to support massive funding for a missile defense system. Are we expected to believe that North Korea is a serious threat to the United States? Surely Kim Jong Il has more sense than to risk national suicide by attacking this country!
Something similar seems to be taking place in our relationship to China. It is significant that whereas former President Clinton called China a "strategic partner," Bush labels China a "strategic competitor." At a time when the heated rhetoric between China and Taiwan seems to be softening, we exacerbate the situation by promising more weaponry to Taiwan. Predictably, Beijing has reacted with a rise of 17 percent in military spending in its new budget.
This could be the first step down the road of another major arms race and a repeat of a great financial drain to both our "adversary" and ourselves, as was the case in our protracted competitiveness with the Soviet Union.
I believe that ultimately Taiwan and China can anticipate some acceptable form of rapprochement, if not union. Once again, I wonder if there are those who consider it advantageous to perpetuate the hostility in order to justify our own seemingly inevitable military buildup. Maybe we need an enemy.
Dare we forget President Eisenhower's farewell warning about the danger of a "military industrial complex" in America? We continue to be the No. 1 nation in the production and export of military hardware. It is a vital part of our national economy. And now we have a government that probably has placed more CEOs in positions of authority than ever before in our history.
The next big push of the new administration will be to build a missile defense system. Some of our best scientists insist that such a system would never work; yet we seem bound and determined to prove them wrong. It is strange that this would have such high priority on our national agenda at a time when a more serious danger is terrorism. Terrorism not only poses a threat of bombs or bacteria being brought across our borders, but also the possibility of nuclear bombs -- perhaps on a ship in one of our harbors. This missile shield would provide no protection.
The only protection is peace. Yet, ironically (until only recently) we have for years defaulted on our financial commitments to the United Nations. We have urged other nations to sign a Nuclear Proliferation Treaty, but have refused to sign it ourselves. And although most nations have pledged to cease burying land mines, we refuse to join them.
Furthermore, we seem to have a demonic predisposition to "shoot ourselves in the foot." We bomb Iraq at a time when most members of the international community are sympathetic to the needs of the Iraqi people and want the sanctions lifted. And we have just jeopardized our relationship with our ally, Japan, by a tragic submarine collision that could have been prevented.
I wish we were committed to better ways of reaching out to the rest of the world than through military threats and alliances. It is embarrassing that our nation gives less than one half of 1 percent of our budget for foreign aid, far less than the percentage given by most other privileged nations. Furthermore, when we say "foreign aid," we forget that much of this is military aid.
We should seek peace by sharing our wealth in other ways. One of our statesmen has proposed that we guarantee a school lunch for every child in the world. We could do it with ease. We could also respond to the devastating AIDS crisis in Africa by challenging the patents and exorbitant prices of the drugs that are so desperately needed.
Repeatedly, we are our own worst enemy.
The Rev. Robert Seymour is minister emeritus at Chapel Hill's Binkley Memorial Baptist Church.
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