It is time for US foreign policy to abandon cold war strategies

The time has come for the US to take bold action and re-orient its outdated views on foreign policy, especially in relation to self-identified socialist countries

US President Joe Biden (Photo Courtesy: IANS)
US President Joe Biden (Photo Courtesy: IANS)

David Cavendish

Passing the 100-day mark of President Joe Biden’s administration, one word we hear often is “bold.” From the passage of the American Rescue Plan (to fight the Coronavirus), to important changes proposed in the American Jobs Plan (on infrastructure), and his American Families Plan (expand paid family and medical leave, pre-school education, free community college, etc.), the President envisions important changes in several critical areas of daily life.

What we yet see are a lot of “bold” changes in U.S. foreign policy, especially in relations with four major nations — China, Vietnam, Cuba, and North Korea. In many respects, the United States continues strategies forged during the Cold War.

After four years of Donald Trump’s “America First” foreign policy, Biden is steering U.S. foreign policy back to its previous channels. In a speech at the State Department in February, he declared, “The message I want the world to hear today: America is back. America is back… As I said in my inaugural address, we will repair our alliances and engage with the world once again, not to meet yesterday’s challenges, but today’s and tomorrow’s.”

But Biden’s idea of “tomorrow’s challenges” sounds quite old-fashioned. He reinforced his position recently at a U.S.-Japan summit, pledging at its conclusion to “renew an Alliance that has become a cornerstone of peace and security in the Indo-Pacific region and around the world.”

Among the steps the two countries will take, Japan resolved “to bolster its own national defense capabilities to further strengthen the Alliance and regional security.” For its part, the U.S. agreed to several cosmetic changes in its deployment of troops on Japanese territory.

Generally, what we heard is more of the same old, same old. Chinese actions, they charged “are inconsistent with the international rules-based order, including the use of economic and other forms of coercion.” This is language that harkens back decades.

The time has come for the U.S. to take bold action and re-orient its outdated views on foreign policy, especially in relation to the self-identified socialist countries. This could be done in a number of ways: expanding positive results previously achieved, returning to abandoned or neglected agreements, or starting work towards new understandings.

Here are a few suggestions that might be taken to improve bilateral relations with each nation.

Of these four countries, one can say that Vietnam’s relations with the U.S. are the closest to “normal.” The two maintain full diplomatic relations, and there is growing trade between them. Yet, there is still room for improvement.

In the tensions over control of islands in the South China Sea, the U.S. is trying to play Vietnamese interests against those of China. Vietnam, meanwhile, is trying to maintain a balance between Chinese and Western interests in the region.

In 2019, it issued a Defense White Paper based on a policy of “no military alliances, no siding with one country against another, no foreign military bases, and no using force or threatening to use force in international relations.”

But, it said, “depending on circumstances and specific conditions, Vietnam will consider developing necessary, appropriate defense and military relations with other countries.”

Rather than inserting itself into what is a regional dispute (as former Secretary of State Mike Pompeo did in 2019), the U.S. should avoid any sort of confrontation; it should promote peace and understanding.

Another long-standing problem between Washington and Hanoi is the matter of U.S. reparations stemming from the Vietnam War.

In 1973, President Richard Nixon promised North Vietnamese Prime Minister Pham Van Dong aid in the range of $2.25 billion for reconstruction and $1 billion to $1.5 billion for food and commodity aid. Adjusted for inflation, this would be the equivalent of $19.4 billion in 2017.

While Washington has contributed money in the fields of medical and reconstruction assistance, it has never come close to fulfilling Nixon’s promise.

The roots of the U.S. dispute with North Korea, officially the Democratic People’s Republic of Korea, or DPRK, go back to the division of the Korean peninsula at the end of World War II. Japan controlled Korea between 1910 and 1945. After the former’s defeat, Soviet troops occupied the northern half of the country and U.S. troops the southern half.

By 1950, the two halves had coalesced into two hostile countries, a socialist-oriented north and a capitalist south. Between 1950 and 1953, the United States was able to convince the United Nations to fight a war to exterminate the socialist half.

It failed, and in 1953, an armistice was agreed to, but a full peace treaty has never been signed.

In the nearly 70 years since, the U.S. has kept tens of thousands of troops stationed in South Korea. Today, the number is 28,500.

During these seven decades, the country has remained deeply divided. Until recently, there were no telephone connections, mail delivery, or visitation between the two halves.

The DPRK has long remained a target of U.S. imperialism, prompting the North Korean government to feel compelled to develop a nuclear weapons capability, and thus leading to endless tension. Trump visited the De-Militarized Zone (DMZ) between the two Koreas in 2019, but the situation in the region has not improved.

One thing that should be done is reviving the Six-Party Talks designed to eliminate North Korea’s nuclear program. Meetings among North Korea, South Korea, China, Japan, Russia, and the U.S. began in 2003 and continued until 2009. Though no comprehensive agreements were reached, some interim steps were taken to reduce tensions. If reconvened, the talks could be the setting for the U.S. to discuss seriously the reduction and eventual withdrawal of its troops from the South. There is no question that such a move would help build mutual trust and confidence among the parties.

The history of U.S.-Cuban relations since 1959 has been one in which the world’s leading imperialist power has tried to strangle the revolutionary process on the island. In the early 1960s, the U.S. severed diplomatic relations and imposed an economic blockade.

It was only during the Obama administration that limited diplomatic relations were restored and some restrictions on tourism and family separation were lifted. Obama visited Havana and met with then President Raúl Castro.

This thaw was halted by the Trump administration, and though diplomatic relations remain, the former president re-imposed a number of restrictions on bilateral relations.

What Biden must do, as a start, is to return to the status of relations that existed at the end of the Obama administration. But that’s not enough. The most important issue that cries out for change is for the U.S. Congress to end the economic blockade of Cuba, the “embargo.” It serves no one’s interest except for a few aging Cuban exiles in Florida.

In addition, Washington must end the administrative roadblocks that hamper implementation of free and open travel and tourism between the two countries and allow unfettered financial transactions between families.

It is also time to implement the agreement that was reached between the Cuban Baseball Federation and Major League Baseball, and the Major League Baseball Players Association. It would provide for an orderly system for Cuban players to play in this country, similar to agreements currently in place for players from Japan, Korea, and Taiwan.

(IPA Service)

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Courtesy: People’s World

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