Armitage Says Bush Wants Missile Defense System Swiftly
(Campaign adviser outlines Republican foreign policy priorities)
(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 Vice President Al Gore, it illustrates the approaches
being taken to foreign policy in the 2000 elections by the Republican
and Democratic campaigns respectively. There are no republication
restrictions on the interview, conducted by staff writer Susan Ellis.)
A Republican View: Managing Relations with Russia, China, India
An Interview with Ambassador Richard Armitage
(Armitage is a senior foreign policy and defense adviser to Governor
George W. Bush)
Question: In your view, how much of a role is foreign policy playing
in the current presidential campaign?
Armitage: Absent some major problem, I don't think foreign policy will
play a major role in this campaign, and certainly we hope that no
major problem will develop.
Q: Are there any foreign policy issues that could influence the
outcome of the election?
A: There are always things that could happen between now and the
election that could influence the outcome, and there are certainly
things that raise questions: Vice President Gore's handling of the
Gore-Chernomyrdin Commission at a time when the Russian coffers were
being drained, is one; the approach in Asia to China is another. There
are real questions about the connection between the single-minded
approach to China on the foreign-policy front and fund-raising on the
But I don't think, frankly, that these are yet major concerns in the
minds of the American people.
Q: Do you see basic philosophical differences between Republicans and
Democrats on foreign policy issues?
A: Oh, certainly. Start with trade. Republicans, and certainly George
W. Bush, are much more free trade-oriented. Governor Bush has
steadfastly supported WTO membership for China, and sees trade
liberalization as a rising tide which raises all boats. His recent
speech on the Western Hemisphere was replete with references to an
expanded trade agenda with our Southern neighbors.
I've already suggested that there is a major difference in Asia, where
Republicans, by and large, believe that our most important strategic
relationship is with Japan, and apparently Democrats see the most
important strategic relationship as being with a communist country,
Another major factor in the way that the Republicans would approach
foreign policy is the strong use of alliances. We believe in them.
George Bush believes very strongly in the need to nurture and maintain
alliances, and he believes that if you're going to rely on allies in
times of travail and difficulty, you have to respect them in times of
peace and stability. That is, it's important to maintain consistently
good relations with our friends and allies.
Finally, I think the major difference, and I would put it in a
sentence, is that George Bush is very aware of the need to be
excellent in the international arena without being arrogant. And I
don't think that's something that the present administration can
Q: What do you think is the most significant area of disagreement on
foreign policy between the two presidential candidates?
A: I think there are several differences of emphasis. For instance,
even this morning, Mr. Bush gave a major foreign policy address on the
Western Hemisphere, stating his intention to pay close attention to
important issues involving countries in our own neighborhood.
Secondly, Mr. Bush has been very keen, as I've suggested, on the need
to nurture and make more robust our alliances.
Thirdly, we have a difference of opinion with the Democrats regarding
Asia and just where our interests lie. Republicans, by and large, feel
that our interests lie in having a very close and congenial
relationship with our major democratic partner in Asia, and that is
Japan. It is the relationship with Japan, after all, that allows the
United States to effect all of our security cooperation in Asia. Our
ability to use Japanese bases allows us to have a military presence in
all of Asia, as well as to preserve peace and stability in Northeast
Asia. This relationship must be nurtured and restored. So these are
among the differences.
Q: What foreign policy issues are of key importance to the Republican
party at this time?
A: In the main, we see the key elements of Republican foreign policy
as being the management of the rise of two great powers -- China and
India -- and the further management, at least temporarily, of the
decline of another great power, the Russian Federation. And we need to
manage these three events simultaneously in a way that brings general
stability and peace and, hopefully, prosperity to all concerned. And
that's a very difficult task.
We acknowledge the desire and right of India and China to take a place
on the world stage. A benign, stable and economically healthy addition
to the world stage will be most welcome. But we want this to be
accomplished with minimum disruption to regional stability. Regarding
Russia, we understand the high gulf between her national aspirations
on the one hand and her national capability on the other. We need to
be respectful in our dealings with Russia, while being firm about the
need for political openness, including freedom of the press.
Q: What is George W. Bush's view regarding a National Missile Defense
(NMD) system and how does it differ from the Democratic position?
A: First of all, Mr. Bush has indicated that he wants to field an
effective National Missile Defense as soon as possible. I think the
major difference between ourselves and the Democrats is in the true
desire for the system. Mr. Bush wants a missile defense system to
protect our citizens. The Democrats, we feel, are doing the absolute
minimum to assuage the Congress and the American public without doing
anything really meaningful toward the creation of such a system.
Q: You spoke of the need to nurture our alliances with countries
overseas. How would a Republican administration deal with the concerns
that have been expressed by U.S. allies about an NMD system and about
the U.S. failure to ratify the Comprehensive Test Ban Treaty (CTBT)?
A: Well, these are two different things. First of all, regarding the
NMD and our allies, my first suggestion would be to change the
terminology from National Missile Defense to Allied Missile Defense. I
think if we made very clear that what protects us can in large measure
protect our allies, then there might be a little different view of
On the CTBT, the Republican view has been discussed many, many times.
We're not in the business of ratifying treaties that are unverifiable.
I think a Republican administration would be much more inclined to
negotiate a treaty that actually would hold water and might have
verification measures in it that would withstand scrutiny.
Q: How do you respond to the criticism by some Democrats that George
W. Bush lacks foreign policy experience and expertise?
A: George W. Bush has been the governor of a state. I might respond,
if I were being facetious, by saying that Vice President Gore lacks
executive expertise. After all, he's been in the U.S. Congress, which
is not an executive body, and he's been vice president, where he had
no executive duties.
But I think I would rather concentrate on the areas where George Bush
does have expertise -- that is in decision-making, not passing the
buck, and taking responsibility for his actions.
More on point, he has had, as governor of Texas, a very robust and
well-developed relationship with Mexico and countries in the Southern
Hemisphere, so to classify him as a neophyte in the world of foreign
affairs is to be unfair.
Q: Do you believe that both major political parties could do a better
job in handling foreign policy issues during presidential campaigns?
And, if so, what advice could you offer to improve the treatment of
foreign policy in U.S. elections?
A: Well, there are those who believe that foreign policy should not be
a partisan issue. I myself think that foreign policy should enjoy a
very in-depth debate just as every other issue should, whether it's
taxes or social issues or anything else.
The last truly bipartisan vote in the U.S. Congress that I remember on
a foreign policy issue was the 1964 Gulf of Tonkin resolution
authorizing presidential action in Vietnam, which didn't turn out very
well. So I don't think that we should continue to insist on
bipartisanship; these are issues that have a partisan flavor, number
Number two, I think that in order to bring the American public more
into the debate, we'd have to go back to basics and try to develop in
our schools and in our institutions of higher learning a greater
appreciation, not only for world history and foreign cultures, but for
the fact that although we're a great power and, perhaps for a time,
the most powerful nation on earth, we live in this world, we're a
citizen of the world, and we should take a greater interest in the
activities of the world. And some schools do this.
There is good news and bad news, I think, associated with this. The
good news is that in a time of relative peace our citizens concentrate
on other things, and that's good. We don't want there to have to be a
tragic world crisis in order to get people's attention. But the bad
news is that, for a time, people are occupied with other things rather
than looking at our responsibilities and duties in the world.
Q: How would you assess the American public's knowledge of and
interest in foreign affairs?
A: I think it's an interesting question. On the one hand, we've got
more Americans going abroad than ever before. We've got a very vibrant
immigrant culture developing in the United States again, yet another
wave. Birth rates are down in this country, yet we're sustaining
ourselves with valuable immigrants who bring skills, energy and
vibrancy to our society. And this is something that benefits us as a
nation and I think makes us more eclectic as a society. So from that
point of view, Americans are very involved in international affairs.
Now when it comes to specific knowledge about different foreign
countries, or certainly when it comes to linguistic ability, I think
Americans fall far short. Perhaps they ought to spend a little more
time really getting in-depth into other cultures, to include
Q: How do you view the role and character of security policy in the
elections now that the Cold War is history?
A: Well, there is a debate right now, in the security sphere, about
the state of our military. The question revolves around readiness.
There's no doubt, and I think the Democrats would agree, that the U.S.
military is the best-trained, the best-equipped military in the world.
The debate revolves around the direction in which that military is
headed. We on the Republican side feel that there's been a lapse of
readiness. We do note that in this last year of the Clinton
administration there's been an increase in the defense budget. This is
not unlike 1980, the last year of Jimmy Carter's administration. But I
don't think anybody will be particularly fooled by that.
Defense Secretary William Cohen has probably put forth very strenuous
efforts to try to bring the defense debate forward, but it wasn't
until this last year hat he was able to prevail upon the president to
put a more robust military budget in place. In previous years, you'll
notice, the direction of the budget was not very congenial to fixing
our readiness. It was not congenial at all to recapitalizing in our
procurement accounts. And the over-extension of military forces --
that is, their use in so many different places at the same time -- has
seriously hampered the training process and has harmed morale.
Beyond the immediate readiness question, there's a question of how we
transform our military and, by extension, our security policy to be
able to handle the new missions and challenges of the 21st century --
for instance, how to project power without access to forward bases;
how to conduct operations in an urban environment; how to handle
conflict in space; how to deal with information assurance and
information dominance. These are areas of great debate between
Republicans and Democrats nowadays. Therefore the debate has been
confined to arguments over readiness and has been confined to sterile
numerical indicators. Governor Bush wants to broaden the debate to
include how we can best use all the levers of our national power, not
just the Department of Defense, to bring about a more stable security
environment. And then we can get to the question of which party is
best suited to lead us to a new and stable future.
Q: What would be the top foreign policy priority of a Bush
A: Well, I think it would be, as I indicated earlier, to be excellent
in the international environment without being arrogant. It is one
thing to be, for a time, first among equals or as journalist Charlie
Krauthammer would say, the "sole superpower," one who has interests in
every part of the globe and without whose participation nothing very
meaningful can take place in any part of the globe. It's one thing to
know that is the case; it's quite another to trumpet it, saying that
we're the indispensable power.
Mr. Bush feels that we ought to be much more quiet and excellent, and
by our excellence be the "shining city on the hill," not by our
(Distributed by the Office of International Information Programs, U.S.
Department of State. Web site: http://usinfo.state.gov)