Ginsberg Says Gore Won't Rush Unproven Missile Defense System

(Campaign adviser outlines Democratic foreign policy priorities) (2,520) (This interview appeared in the September, 2000 issue of U.S. Foreign Policy Agenda, published by the Office of International Information Programs, U.S. Department of State. Together with a companion piece by an adviser to Governor George W. Bush, it illustrates the approaches being taken to foreign policy in the 2000 elections by the Democratic and Republican campaigns respectively. There are no republication restrictions on the interview, conducted by staff writer Ralph Dannheisser.) A Democratic View: Facing Key Foreign Policy Challenges An Interview with Ambassador Marc Ginsberg (Ginsberg is senior coordinating adviser on foreign policy to Vice President Al Gore) QUESTION: In your view, how much of a role is foreign policy playing in the current presidential campaign and, more broadly, how much of a role does it ever play? GINSBERG: Generally, foreign policy does not play a significant role in presidential election campaigns, with the exception of times when there are international crises -- conflicts that concern the American people -- such as the Korean conflict in the 1950s, and, of course, the war in Vietnam. These are issues that were clearly important to the American public during elections held at those times. In this campaign, the American people are clearly focused on domestic issues. They are content with the status quo, by and large. The world is at peace, and Americans -- while stationed abroad -- are not in active ground combat, and consequently, foreign policy and national security issues are playing a peripheral role. Q: Notwithstanding that general situation, are there any foreign policy issues that could influence the outcome of this election to any degree? GINSBERG: Well, no one can predict the future. The key issue that will affect the election is the comparative experience of Vice President Gore and Senator Joseph Lieberman versus George W. Bush and Dick Cheney. On a pure empirical scale, voters need to compare the 30 years of significant national security experience that the Vice President brings to the table with Governor Bush's more limited experience in this field. Q: Beyond what you see as the experience gap, are there any foreign policy issues that divide the Democratic and Republican parties or the candidates on philosophical grounds? GINSBERG: Oh, absolutely. The Republican Party and George Bush are focused on the Cold War and on their achievements in the Gulf War. They have not focused on the challenges that we face in a post-Cold War era in which the United States now finds itself at the peak of its authority around the world in a new global age. We have challenges that we face that are what we would call transglobal, which require the United States to deal more effectively with areas of the world in potential conflict. George Bush and his party have shown no interest in addressing the new security challenges at their source. So that's the first issue. The second issue is the unilateralism of the Republican Party. The inherent inconsistencies in the Republican platform suggest that, while on the one hand George Bush talks about a policy of distinct American internationalism, on the two key issues that concern our allies and our alliances abroad and the integrity of those alliances (the Comprehensive Test Ban Treaty and National Missile Defense), George Bush is prepared to act unilaterally. This represents a fundamental disagreement between the Republican and Democratic parties. The Democrats and Al Gore are not prepared to rush headlong into a National Missile Defense system that hasn't been proven and tested. We also favor passage of the Comprehensive Test Ban Treaty. So on areas of nuclear security as well as alliance-strengthening, the Republicans are prepared to act unilaterally; the Democrats believe in engaging our allies and working together with them to address and resolve these issues. That's a clear distinction between us and them. Q: So you'd see those nuclear issues as the most significant area of disagreement? GINSBERG: Yes. Q: Agreement or disagreement aside, what foreign policy issues are of key importance to the Democratic Party at this time? GINSBERG: Well, first and foremost, the most important issue is continuing the prosperity at home by maintaining stability abroad. Our economy is increasingly dependent on stability in foreign markets and the economic prosperity of our key allies. Al Gore wants to continue to build on the track record of helping our allies resolve their international financial difficulties -- whether it be the Mexican peso crisis, whether it be the Southeast Asian financial crises, it's a way of insuring that American prosperity continues. So that's first. Second, and not any less important, is obviously maintaining American security and insuring that our military continues to remain strong, is capable of dealing with and addressing the issues that challenge the United States. In coming years, that means helping to enhance the quality of life for our men and women in uniform, ensuring that the revolutionary technology that the United States is producing in this information age is available to them and ensuring that the military is able to do the job that it's called upon to do as we address the new global issues that we face. Q: From what you've said, it appears to be your view that economic security issues have come to be at least co-equal with military security. GINSBERG: Oh, they go hand in hand. Americans will not feel secure economically or military unless we use our global leadership to prevent conflicts that undermine American security and our financial markets. We are increasingly interdependent in a globalizing era where our economic and military strengths go hand in hand. Q: Given the low profile of foreign affairs issues in election campaigns, do you think either or both parties could do a better job somehow of handling those issues during campaigns? GINSBERG: Well, I don't subscribe to the view that we have not focused on foreign policy. What I said in my earlier comments was that generally foreign policy doesn't play an important role in the campaign. The Vice President has given several major foreign policy addresses, the most important of which was in Boston in April, in which he spelled out his policy initiatives for when he becomes President. His policy of forward engagement was articulated. He also addressed the West Point graduating class, where he articulated a new policy toward America's military. George Bush has given several speeches on foreign policy. There have been some questions, of course, from the press on such issues as National Missile Defense and the Middle East peace process. So as the campaign progresses into higher gear, I'm sure that there will be more issues relating to national security and foreign policy. So, on the one hand, foreign policy is not going to be pivotal in this election, but the American people certainly remain interested in these issues and continue to ask us about them, judging by the sheer volume of media inquiries that each campaign receives. Q: How do you view the role, the character of security policy in the elections now that the Cold War is past? GINSBERG: Well, as I said earlier, the United States faces new challenges that we didn't face in the Cold War era. That's again the major difference between the Republicans, who are stuck in the mindset of the Cold War, and a Democratic party and a President and a Vice President who have been prepared to address the new security challenges that the United States faces. A perfect example is the spread of disease around the world -- AIDS in Africa. The Vice President gave a major address to the United Nations in January of this year, in which he for the first time indicated that the spread of AIDS in Africa poses a long-term national security threat to the United States. Why? It's not just a humanitarian issue that's at stake here, it's the fact that a whole generation of young African leaders is being wiped out by a disease, and that could accelerate instability on that continent. And we consider Africa to be important. There are issues of nuclear terrorism that have to be dealt with. There are issues of the environment, global warming -- issues that threaten our children and grandchildren -- that a good President, a forward-looking President, needs to address. You can't just deal with the issues of nuclear security and pretend that by dealing with these issues we've somehow been able to address all of the long-term threats that the United States faces. We are in a unique position in our history. The United States is, by far, the strongest power in the world, and a power that most countries still look to for guidance and advice and counsel and leadership. In this unique posture, we have an opportunity to help address these issues that are going to affect our children and grandchildren, and that's why it's important to engage in these global issues. And we're not just sounding an alarm. All one has to do is look at the threats on the Asian subcontinent, for example -- Kashmir. One only has to look at the threats that Taiwan faces from China. One only has to look at the evolution of the peace process in the Middle East and what will flow from that process; the consequences to American security from ethnic conflicts and hatreds; the spillover from the Cold War that has now given the United States more challenges to address; just this year, the spread of information technology and the opportunities and challenges it presents. These are all issues that a 21st century American leader is going to have to address. Al Gore has shown the leadership and the ability to not only think about these issues, but to develop new ideas and ways to address them. Q: On those lines, you've mentioned several times that Gore has the background in foreign affairs that you say Bush lacks. What do you see as the current administration's key foreign policy successes, and could you talk a bit about what role Vice President Gore played in achieving them? GINSBERG: Well, first of all, the Vice President has been a principal on the National Security Council of the United States. In addition to his 30 years of experience in Congress and the Senate on arms control issues, he conceptualized the binational commissions that were formed between the United States and South Africa, the United States and Egypt, and the United States and Russia. What were the purposes of these binational commissions? This is the type of work that goes on behind the scenes that is not trumpeted in the media that shows the sheer intellectual capacity and commitment of the Vice President to address issues that are important to the United States in the long run. For example, on our binational commission with South Africa, he's helped accelerate market reform to help open up markets for the United States and to help the South Africans transition from apartheid to democracy. The same in Egypt. He has focused his efforts to help open up the Egyptian economy for foreign investment to help stabilize Egypt, to bring more foreign investment, and ensure that America finds a real role to play in the Arab world in helping to address issues of economic development and prosperity. His track record on his role in the binational commission with Russia: he not only helped accelerate the denuclearization of nuclear threats to the United States through this commission work, but worked hard with a vast number of Russian officials and civil society to help accelerate the development of market reforms in the country. So those are important achievements. But he has worked hard, too, to close the gates of war around the world. That has been the unsung success of this administration, whether it be in Northern Ireland, in Haiti, on the Korean peninsula, in the Middle East, this administration has doggedly pursued the process of peace where ethnic conflict and civil strife threaten to boil over into national threats to the United States. We have effectively ended genocide and ethnic conflict in Africa and in Europe. This administration is very proud of its record of helping to stop the genocide that was taking place in Bosnia and in Kosovo, as well as in Africa in Sierra Leone. We could have done better, clearly, in Rwanda -- all of us admit that that was a policy that was ineffective. We worked hard to end the strife in East Timor. This is the hard, slogging work of diplomacy that this administration has a great track record on and which the Republicans only criticize, since they've never come up with any better approach. Q: Which of those has the Vice President taken a leading role in? GINSBERG: In every one of them. In every one of them. Q: You made a couple of references earlier to National Missile Defense. What is the Vice President's view on whether or not the United States should proceed with the development of an NMD system? GINSBERG: The Vice President has clearly stated that he believes that the United States faces a missile threat from rogue states, and not only from rogue states but also from terrorist organizations, and the United States needs to have an effective security deterrent to deal with those threats in the years to come. But he believes that there are four factors that need to be addressed before making a decision on National Missile Defense. First of all, the technical feasibility of the system. There's no point in having the American taxpayers spend billions of dollars on a program that is technically not feasible. No one knows yet the feasibility of such a program -- whether it would be a land-based system or a Star Wars-based system as the Republicans favor, but that's the first factor. The second factor is the threat assessment. The third is the effect that a deployment will have on arms control and our alliance system abroad, and so that has to be taken into account. The fourth factor is the cost. This is the American taxpayer's money. We have to make sure that when we spend their money, the money should be spent wisely and in a way that accomplishes the objective. We're not prepared to do what the Republicans and George Bush favor, which is to arbitrarily decide, before there has been any effective determination of the feasibility of the project, to spend $140 billion -- which would break the back of our budget -- on National Missile Defense. The threats that they claim that their system is going to address are threats based on a Cold War mentality that no longer is applicable. But what the Vice President has said is that National Missile Defense must deal, not with old threats, but with the new threats that we face. (Distributed by the Office of International Information Programs, U.S. Department of State. Web site: