A Declaration of America's Interdependence

PRAGUE: Many Americans seem overwhelmed by the feeling that, because the Soviet Empire collapsed, the dangers of war can be crossed off the list of potential risks. America, they say, should pay attention to its own problems, and should not get involved in a world where its attempts to do good are rewarded with ingratitude.

Isolationism has a long tradition in America; it returns in fits and differing forms. Never in modern times, however, has isolationism protected America from danger; instead it delays engagement when conflagrations are ablaze. Eventually, America pays a thousand times more for its initial lack of interest than it would have paid had it become engaged at the outset of crisis or, better yet, even before. Americans pay for short-sightedness not only in larger expenditures, but with lives wasted unnecessarily.

Support Project Syndicate’s mission

Project Syndicate needs your help to provide readers everywhere equal access to the ideas and debates shaping their lives.

Learn more

So isolationism is shortsighted and never pays off. This is all the more true when defense of the values that America stands for is more difficult now than before. Previously, the enemy was solitary, armed to the teeth, and quite predictable. The threats looming over today's world, however, are to the threat of communism as metastasis is to an isolated tumor. For the world is awash in dangers that are diverse, decentralized (yet intertwined), and difficult to predict .

I believe that across the globe, America is a symbolic concentration of all the good and bad within our civilization -- from the fantastic development of science and technology, to civil liberty and strong democratic institutions, to the cult of perpetual economic growth and never-ending consumption, to the dictates of materialism and the voiding of human uniqueness by the uniformity of the round-the-clock noise of TV banality.

For these reasons, the ways in which America assumes its global responsibilities must embody those premises that alone may save civilization as a whole: this way should be imbued with a new spirituality, a new ethos and new ethics; exactly with the things that should be adopted by all cultures, all spheres of civilization and all nations of today's world as a condition of their survival.

What does this mean in concrete terms? For one thing, a respect for and understanding of the positive values inherent in other cultures. It also requires the courage to step out of the world of pragmatic power and defend -- non-violently -- truth and justice wherever they are violated, whether or not profitable commercial contracts are placed at risk.

As for security matters, I believe that in cases that are beyond any doubt, America, while enjoying the general support of freedom-loving people and peaceful democracies, must have the strength to intervene with force -- that is by military means -- against evil. The United States cannot and must not give up this obligation, which is a very specific and extreme manifestation of its responsibility for the world.

In the course of the Cold War America understood this, though historians argue about the situations in which it tested its competence, or the means it employed. It seems to me that after all the good and bad experiences America has had in the 20th century, it should understand that the most effective, most ethical, and in the end, the least expensive way of dealing with these challenges is to invest all its intellectual potential and a significant share of its material strength into what I call "security prevention". Of course: to predict and avert conflicts is more difficult than to engage and win them.

Enlarging the North Atlantic Alliance is part of America's reckoning with its destiny. Some Americans now maintain that NATO enlargement makes no sense. Why take in countries that were part of the Communist Empire, and therefore somewhat suspect, they say, when the West faces no serious threats? Furthermore, NATO enlargement might allegedly be resented by a certain large Euro-Asian state and would cost taxpayers money. Such thoughts -- after all we have endured in the 20th century, when more than 200 million people died in wars and oncentration camps -- are naive, short-sighted, even dangerous.

Europe is a strange continent. Today's civilization was born within it but so were two World Wars. For the first time in its history, Europe has a chance to establish its internal order on the principle of cooperation and equality of the large and the small, the strong and the weak, on shared democratic values. This is also a chance, once and for all, to put an end to the export of wars and coercion, and to become an example of peaceful collaboration.

Should Europe miss this chance, we might head for a new global catastrophe, even graver than previous ones. For reasons I have described, this time the forces of freedom would not be facing one totalitarian enemy. Here would be a strange war of all against all, war with no clear-cut fronts; war difficult to distinguish from terrorism, genocide, and organized crime; war into which the whole world would be dragged by a myriad of indirect and hidden means. I don't mean to frighten, but anybody with a little imagination and some knowledge of what has recently been going on -- for example, in Bosnia- Herzegovina -- must understand that this is not empty talk.

If the ongoing process of European integration were to stop at the gates of today's NATO, the consequences of such a rupture, regardless of the form it assumes, and regardless of whether they befall us in three years or fifteen, could cost much more than the two World Wars Europe "donated" in this century combined. After prolonged hesitation, the West took a step to avoid this threat in Madrid not long ago when it invited three former communist countries to join NATO. But this was the beginning, not the end. Any judicious person must admit that the cost is worthwhile, for the costliest preventive security is cheaper than the cheapest war.