TCS Daily

Bush Identifies Tech for Building Bonds Abroad

By James Pinkerton - July 30, 2001 12:00 AM

The issue of whether or not George W. Bush is a unilateralist or an internationalist has been settled. He is both. As leader of America and leader of the Free World - oops, better make that just "the World" - Bush set out to make changes in American foreign and military policy, changes which clearly riled many at home as well as abroad. But now the outlines of a distinct Bush foreign policy - call it a synthesis of unilateralism and internationalism - are becoming clear. Those outlines include not just an emphasis on personal and commercial relationships, but also a new focus on the importance of military and technological relationships, as they, too, can bind nations together into constructive alliances and partnerships. Now the challenge to Bush is to show pundits and people that he can deliver on his 21st century techno-vision.

Critics seized upon a series of Bush decisions - standing up against the Kyoto climate change treaty, opposition to an expanded international court system, rejection of new U.N. strictures on small arms, and consideration of abandoning the Anti-Ballistic Missile Treaty - as evidence that Bush was a go-it-alone cowboy. Defenders made a strong case, to be sure, for each of those actions. Indeed, they cited many other policies, such as increased connectivity to Mexico and continued strong support for links to China (including for Chinese membership in the World Trade Organization) but to no avail. Critics said that Bush suffered from "unilateralist mindset," and so the terms of media coverage were defined; a Nexis search of the major international press found that the number of times that the "u" word was ascribed to Bush jumped from 97 in February to 229 in May.

But then came Bush's trip to Europe in June. Bush took the "u" accusation head on, saying in Brussels on June 13, "I hope the notion of a unilateral approach died in some people's minds today here. Unilateralists don't come around the table to listen to others and to share opinion. Unilateralists don't ask opinions of world leaders." As if to prove that sometimes one just can't win, three days later he had a chummy session with Russian President Vladimir Putin in Slovenia, and a new accusation arose in some quarters: that the new president was too friendly to foreigners.

But in the past month, perceptions of Bush have changed substantially. The headline in the July 23 Washington Post read, for example, "G-8 Leaders Praise 'New' Bush." Even more consequential, perhaps, has been news from the arms control front. The July 26 Washington Times bannered, "Key Democrats in Senate Support Bush on ABM." As Sen. Joe Biden (D-Del.), the chairman of the Senate Foreign Relations Committee, told the Times, "I was positively impressed by what I believe to be the president's understanding to keep Russia close" in talks about evolving toward a post-ABM world.

Indeed, the administration has gone further, introducing into the debate the prospect that National Missile Defense - or just "Missile Defense," as the increasingly p.r. savvy Bushies now call it - can actually be a source of closeness. That may seem paradoxical to those with memories of the Cold War, when the U.S. and the Soviet Union looked for every possible way to claw out some sort of strategic nuclear advantage over the other; but in a post-Cold War world, the idea of defending one's homeland or defending everyone's homeland-against rogue nations, organizations, and individuals not only makes sense, it could make for increasing international harmony.

Rep. Rob Andrews (D-N.J.), a member of the House Armed Services Committee and one of the bright young thinkers on Capitol Hill, has been mulling over the potential of a planetwide missile defense system, an umbrella that might someday provide protection to all peace-loving countries around the world. Too bold for the short term? Perhaps. But over the long term, such a system could turn missile defense into a sort of global utility, one that countries could "plug in to," and in so doing find protection.

The long-term genius of such an approach is that it "wires" countries together through technology, as well as diplomacy. And so other venues, too, might be considered as opportunities to expand international cooperation.

Space is the place, of course, where many such opportunities exist. Satellites of all kinds, from communications birds, to weather watchers to GPS providers, already offer an enormous service to humanity. And the Ikonos satellite, which offers to the public photos at one-meter resolution - and gained worldwide attention when it showed the crippled U.S. surveillance plane parked on a runway in Hainan Island, China, in April - offers yet another glimpse of a world where just about everything can be seen from the sky. What will that mean precisely? Nobody knows. But it offers the hope, at least, that fears of the unknown will be reduced for the simple reason that less is unknown. And for societies that already pride themselves on openness, it's hard to see how the visual opening of other countries can be a bad thing.

Of course, no single technology can guarantee peace. As former defense secretary James Schlesinger once said, "You can't photograph an intention."

And so in the meantime, as visionaries and dreamers see which sky-pies might come true - and some surely will - it is necessary for realists to think of other techno-entwinings that might be possible at lower altitudes. Lockheed's X-35 version of the proposed Joint Strike Fighter, for example, can fly at Mach speed and yet come to a full stop in mid-air, and then descend straight down, landing like a helicopter. And yet for all its obvious value to the Pentagon, it is also, in its way, yet another example of international cooperation. The plane is to be jointly manufactured by two American companies, Lockheed Martin and Northrop Grumman, in conjunction with a British firm, BAE Systems. As such, it recalls glorious cooperative ventures of the past, such as the Anglo-American effort to build the P-51 Mustang fighter, which took control of the skies over Nazi-occupied Europe starting in 1943, the year before D-Day.

But while the past is inspiring for the lessons it can offer, the future can be more inspiring for blessings it can confer. And the hope, of course, is that all these technologies - from the satellites already benefiting the world, to new jets and missile defense systems shared by democracies in the next few decades or so, to future space systems bringing the brilliance of discovery and exploration in the next century and beyond - will achieve the ultimate goal of a free world at peace, in which science and technology bring us closer together, even as our individual lives are made better. If Bush can do his own not-so-small part to push that vision forward, he himself will have a lot to look forward to, in terms of his presidency and his place in history.


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