- The Washington Times - Wednesday, July 18, 2001

Secretary of State Colin L. Powell told The Washington Post that "Ninety percent of my time is spent on like one-tenth of 1 percent of the world's population." That's 6 million people

Even allowing for hyperbole, the minutiae of foreign policy appears to have displaced the kind of thinking and planning that spawned the post-World War II geopolitical architecture. It was Bretton Woods, International Monetary Fund, the World Bank, the Truman Doctrine, the Marshall Plan and NATO that kept the world on an even keel during the last 50 years of the 20th century. Today, a geopolitical vision for 21st century challenges is sadly lacking.

If Mr. Powell cannot see the geopolitical forest for the small trees, his Pentagon counterpart Donald H. Rumsfeld is doing battle with his own generals and congressmen who won't let him get on with the job of preparing the U.S. for the wars of the future. Condoleezza Rice's National Security Council appears to have stepped into the over-the-horizon vacuum.

The outlines of a new global security system appear to be taking shape at the NSC. The original idea was put forward as long ago as Dec. 6, 1993, by former Secretary of State James Baker III. In an op-ed piece in The Washington Times, Mr. Baker wrote, "NATO leaders should draw up a clear map for expanding the NATO alliance eastward to include the states of Central and Eastern Europe and the former Soviet Union, especially democratic Russia. Otherwise, the most successful alliance in history is destined to follow the threat that created it into the dustbin of history."

Last Feb. 11, Vladimir Putin handed NATO Secretary General Lord Robertson a nine-page memo, in which the Russian president, for the first time, referred to the threat of "rogue" states and to the need for anti-missile protection. He suggested working closely with Europe to develop such a system. For the U.S., Mr. Putin said the threat of ICBMs from rogue states, while real, was much farther down the road. But Mr. Putin did not rule out a regional missile defense deal with NATO Europe and the United States.

On May 1, President Bush, in a speech at the National Defense University, talked for the first time of cooperating with Russia on joint defense and the need to get rid of the adversarial legacy of the Cold War.

In his first foreign-policy interview after his election victory May 13, Italy's new right-of-center Prime Minister Silvio Berlusconi said, "Why not?" when asked about the idea of Russia becoming a member of the NATO alliance.

The day after the June 16 Bush-Putin summit in Slovenia, Miss Rice was asked whether she could envision Russia as a member of the alliance. She replied: "We should not rule out anything. This is a Europe that is changing dramatically. And should Russia make important, right choices about its future, about democracy, free markets, about peaceful relations with its neighbors, Russia will be fully integrated into Europe" i.e., NATO Europe.

Little-noticed in the post-Slovenia summit lucubrations was how Mr. Bush had opened the door to Russia's joining the institutions of Europe, including NATO. As Mr. Bush recalled the meeting in his interview with Peggy Noonan, he told Mr. Putin that in the long run his greatest likely challenge is from China, not America. "I said, 'You're a European, Mr. President. You have no enemies in NATO, has been good for you, not bad. NATO doesn't create any problems for you."

On the issue of including Russia in NATO, Mr. Bush said it would be "interesting," that part of him thought, "Why not?" though "I haven't thought about the nuance of it."

Mr. Bush also said, "I found a man who realizes his future lies with the West, not the East, that we share common security concerns, primarily Islamic fundamentalism, that he understands missiles could affect him just as much as us… . Why aren't we thinking about how to fashion something different about the Bush-Putin relationship they think about positive things?"

Miss Rice and her NSC team are indeed thinking about new architecture for the 21st century. Mr. Putin wants detailed discussions with the U.S. about strategic threats to both countries now and in the coming 10 to 15 years. That is what Miss Rice was exploring in Moscow this week.

While in Washington last spring, German Defense Minister Rudolf Scharping said in a private aside "a new security system to include North America, Europe and Russia is inevitable in the next 10 years." When Mr. Putin said this week that NATO should be dissolved, he was agreeing with Mr. Scharping's view. A new security system would have to encompass a larger area than the North Atlantic.

Much was made of how Mr. Putin and China's Jiang Zemin, just before the U.S.-Russia summit, forged a cooperative pact with Central Asian states aimed at combating Islamic extremism. This was seen as part of Russia's strategy of reasserting influence in regional and global affairs. And why not? All major powers, including India, are worried about the rapidly spreading scourge of pseudo-religious terrorism. Singapore's Lee Kuan Yew, Asia's senior statesman, says it is the biggest threat on the global horizon, "and mark my words, the Muslim bomb will travel" in the years to come. India has been suggesting a strategic rapprochement with both the U.S. and Russia for the same reason. Pakistan, by President Pervez Musharraf's own reckoning, has 1.5 million extremists "1 percent of the population holding 99 percent of the people hostage."

As long as Russia is kept outside looking in, a latent adversarial relationship will persist. So will the temptation to show the world it has other options e.g., this week's friendship and cooperation treaty with China, albeit not aimed "at any third country."

Mr. Putin has told European leaders in so many words that Russia belongs with the West and is anxious to develop a common economic space with the European Union.

The whole world was in awe of U.S. superpowerdom at the end of the Cold War. But the U.S. wasted the entire decade of the 1990s when it could have been erecting with both friends and former foes new geopolitical architecture to replace the nation-building institutions of the post-World War II period. The concept of the U.S. as the world's only superpower is now a convenient way to avoid thinking about the new century's security problems. A superpower that is both risk-shy and casualty-averse has lulled itself into a false sense of security.

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