The Distrastrous Foreign Policies of the US

Bill Christison joined the CIA in 1950, and served on the analysis side of the Agency for 28 years. From the early 1970s he served as National Intelligence Officer (principal adviser to the Director of Central Intelligence on certain areas) for, at various times, Southeast Asia, South Asia and Africa. Before he retired in 1979 he was Director of the CIA’s Office of Regional and Political Analysis, a 250-person unit. His wife Kathy also worked in the CIA, retiring in 1979. Since then she has been mainly preoccupied by the issue of Palestine.

Part 1: Ill-Conceived Wars Against Terrorism And Nuclear Proliferation

NOTE: Since September 11, both my wife Kathy and I have been giving talks on how the United States should change almost all of its foreign policies, i f it wants to give this globe a decent shot at a peaceful 21st century . We have discovered that most groups are happier to listen to us for 20 rather than 40 minutes, and to use the extra time for questions and discussion. It seems as though we’re always struggling to shorten the prepared part of our talks. On the other hand, people generally seem pretty enthusiastic about having us come back and talk to them more than once. So we want to try giving shorter talks limited to one subject. There is in our view so much wrong with U.S. foreign policies that we can probably go on for months, with one subject every week or so. Kathy, by the way, has a new talk on U.S. policy toward Israel and Palestine that’s already here on

Although we’ll be talking about U.S. foreign and military policies, everything we say has a direct influence on U.S. domestic policies as well. Since September 11 the Bush administration has been rapidly militarizing the country to the point that very soon the U.S. will be spending–foolishly–more on the military than all other nations of world combined. Military spending at that level will inevitably cut back the resources the U.S. can devote to domestic problems such as healthcare, education, and poverty. This imbalance is occurring, we will be told, ad nauseam, because we are at war. The real cause, however, will be the pursuit of global hegemony, empire, and domination by the United States. I hope everyone will think seriously about and make his or her own decision on whether this ultimate goal of U.S. foreign policy is either necessary or desirable, and whether it will in the end be worth the cost, both in terms of money and in terms of domestic needs that will be sacrificed.

Today, the first point I want to make requires only three words: STOP THE WAR. While a horrible crime was committed last September 11 against the United States, I believe the Bush administration has responded in the wrong way. The government could and should have responded by treating what happened as a crime, not a war. But instead, while following the now well-established precedent of skirting the Constitution by not seeking a congressional declaration of war, the U.S. government did in fact start a war.

In this war, the government has used the tactics, the massive airpower, and the other murderous accoutrements that distinguish a large-scale war from a limited and carefully targeted overt or covert police action. It has done its best to divert attention from the unknown but sizable number of civilian casualties it has caused. If the world had possessed one, I would have urged using an efficient international police force to capture criminals like Osama bin Laden. Since we don’t have such a force, I would support U.S. covert or Green-Beret-type operations to capture, but not assassinate, him. Some years ago, several CIA employees were assassinated by terrorists outside the CIA headquarters near Washington, DC, and a couple of years later, a covert operation captured the people who killed them–as far as I know without causing the deaths of innocent civilians. The perpetrators were tried, convicted, and imprisoned. That’s the kind of covert action I would approve of–again, only in the absence of a competent international police force.

The next thing President Bush has done, from September 11 right up to the present, is to show how powerful he is by deciding unilaterally what actions around the world constitute “terrorism” and what actions do not. He has made it clear, for example, that he has no intention of ever labeling as terrorism any act committed by the U.S. or Israeli governments. He also no longer criticizes Russia for killing noncombatants in Chechnya.

Bush has also framed his policy in a categorical “with-us-or-against-us” way that tries to impose his will on the rest of the world. He has emphasized that everyone in the world must “choose” between the U.S.-defined War on Terrorism and the terrorists themselves. Bush is outrageously fond of saying that “[all] nations must choose–they are with us or they’re with the terrorists.” But of course he is only thinking about those terrorists who are his “evil” enemies. This unrelenting black-and-white over-simplification of the complex issues surrounding U.S. foreign policies, including the causes and the very definition of terrorism, seems to me at best to be childish and unworthy of a president of the United States. At worst, this over-simplification is dangerous to the security of the U.S., because it practically guarantees more terrorism against the U.S. and an erosion of support among U.S. allies. Military action will not–cannot–solve the problem of terrorism more than temporarily.

In January 2002, four months after he launched the War on Terrorism, President Bush began threatening more wars–wars unrelated to terrorism. These would be preemptive wars against nations that he believed were developing nuclear or other advanced weapons. Explicitly espousing preemptive wars against such nations would be a 180-degree reversal of policy that this country has followed for the past 57 years since the nuclear age began. We rejected preemptive war against the Soviet Union in the late 1940s, and we have rejected it against China, England, France, Israel, India, and Pakistan since then. We have deliberately relied on the admittedly imperfect policies of deterrence and containment to restrain other nations from using nuclear weapons against us, and have avoided the ultimate step of actually going to war to prevent anyone from just acquiring, rather than using, nuclear weapons. I personally do not believe the United States should abandon a 57-year-old policy that has worked so far, in favor of a new preemptive-war strategy, especially since eight nations already possess nuclear weapons. The risk of uncontrollable escalation–which might well be nuclear escalation–is too great. I also oppose a policy of ever initiating a war, because this is simply immoral, as immoral as terrorists killing noncombatants.

While the U.S. has been correct in refusing to employ preemptive war against nuclear proliferation since 1945, I think it has botched–and botched badly–other aspects of its policy on the proliferation of nuclear and other advanced weapons. There never was a possibility that all other nations would forgo developing nuclear weapons unless the U.S. were willing to give up its own. But the U.S. quickly made it clear, even in the 1940s, that it would never relinquish its own nuclear capability.

Then, in the 1960s, the U.S. government engaged in some quite appalling hypocrisy. The administrations of Presidents John F. Kennedy and Lyndon Johnson each spewed out more lip service and propaganda against the further spread of nuclear weapons than any other administration before or since. But at the same time, each administration was fully aware and watched knowingly as Israel implemented, one by one, every step necessary to produce its own nuclear weapons. Although the U.S. made some pro forma attempts at the time to dissuade Israel from developing its own nuclear capability, the top levels of the U.S. government made a mockery of their stated policy against nuclear proliferation by refusing to put any meaningful political or economic pressure on Israel to stop its nuclear weapons program. For more detailed information about this, I recommend the book Israel and the Bomb, which was written by an Israeli citizen named Avner Cohen and published by Columbia University Press.

This book presents strong evidence that by some time before the 1967 war, Israel had produced a nuclear weapon it was confident would work, without testing the weapon. In the 1970s and 1980s, knowledge that Israel had accomplished this feat spread to all nations of the world, along with the assumption–probably correct–that the U.S. could have prevented it from happening if Washington had really wanted to. Ever since that time, leaders of all nations not friendly to the U.S. have believed that the United States itself, with notable hypocrisy, has been the world’s most active proliferator of nuclear weapons, most particularly with respect to Israel. The natural assumption of these leaders, in the face of such hypocrisy, was that they had no obligation to refrain from producing their own nuclear weapons. Such assumptions have affected not only Arab states like Iraq but, I am quite sure, other nations including India, Pakistan, Iran, and North Korea as well.

Given this history, I find it impossible to believe that either President Bush’s War on Terrorism, or his threats of preemptive war against Iraq and other enemies that might be developing advanced weapons, can be good for the future of either this country or the world. Terrorism will only grow worse over the long term. Internal security measures will never be more than partly successful, even as they reduce freedoms and privacy in this and other advanced nations. Year by year, hatred of U.S. policies around the world will grow. Year by year, nuclear and other advanced weapons will become easier to acquire, even by groups that may have suffered by then from preemptive U.S. military attacks, until finally some group manages to slip through the new global Maginot-Line defenses of the U.S., and use one of these weapons. What kind of terrible escalation is likely then from an unthinking adminstration bent on retaliation?

To repeat, the risks to the world arising from the present aggressive U.S. policies are too great. We certainly need to look at other reasons for hatred of us, including U.S. one-sided support for Israel with respect to Palestine, a version of globalization intended to perpetuate U.S. domination, and U.S. support around the world for far too many dictatorial and corrupt governments. But even limiting the discussion for now to the unending War on Terrorism and the threats of preemptive wars against further nuclear and other proliferation, I believe we should all, as loudly and strongly as possible, urge the U.S. government to (1) end this War on Terrorism; (2) stop all consideration of preemptive military action against Iraq or any other nation; and (3) start multilateral negotiations immediately with the goal of transferring all nuclear weapons possessed by any nation or sub-national group to the full control of a new, democratically elected international organization with its own strong police force, which would, over time, destroy these weapons.

The details of such multilateral negotiations would obviously be tough to work out. Here, in order to get a discussion started, are a few of my own ideas.

1. Create a new Global Nuclear Weapons Control Commission. Label it a U.N. body or not, as you wish. This should be a body in which no member has a veto power. This body might have eight commissioners, each chosen through international elections from a region of the world–(1) North, Central, and South America, (2) Africa, (3) Western and Eastern Europe including the Balkans, (4) Russia and other former states of Soviet Union, (5) Middle East including Israel, the Arab States, Iran, Turkey, and Afghanistan, (6) China, (7) India, Pakistan, and Sri Lanka, and (8) Japan, the Koreas, Southeast Asia, Australia, and New Zealand. I am under no illusions about the difficulties of reaching an agreement to set up such a body, or of getting rid of the veto powers held by permanent members of the present U.N. Security Council. I simply believe we must try, and that it would be tragic to fail.

2. The eight commissioners would decide all issues by majorities of five-to-three or more. Any issue that could not muster five favorable votes would be considered disapproved. To repeat, no commissioner would have a veto power. Commissioners would be subject to new elections every four years.

3. The commissioners would be provided a generous budget to set up a large and powerful staff. Part of this budget would be used to establish a highly competent and well paid staff of inspectors, who would be empowered to visit and inspect any known or suspected nuclear facility for any length of time anywhere in the world with no advance warning. Another part of the budget would be for a strong international police force to protect all nuclear weapons under the control of the Global Nuclear Weapons Control Commission.

4. On an agreed date, perhaps three years after the initial agreement, all nuclear powers, and any sub-national groups, would transfer full ownership and physical custody of all their nuclear weapons to the Commission. The Commission would immediately move these weapons under proper security to areas set up to receive them, where it would begin dismantling and destroying them. All previous possessors of nuclear weapons would at the same time close and dismantle all nuclear weapons research and production facilities on their territorities. (In the case of the U.S., this would mean closing down the Los Alamos, Livermore, and Sandia Laboratories, any facilities still providing weapons materials at Oak Ridge and Hanford, and any other weapons-related installations around the country.)

5. The Commission would then become a high-priced permanent global policeman, charged with preventing any nation or sub-national group from beginning to develop or re-develop nuclear weapons. Over time, a fairly short time, the responsibilities of the organization should be expanded to cover biological and chemical weapons.

These proposals are admittedly incomplete, and readers may agree or disagree with any of them. The real point is that we all have to try harder to generate public debate–debate about this war the U.S. has already started and other wars possibly in our future, and about the nuclear policies of the U.S. and all other nuclear powers. A clearly selfless offer by the U.S. with respect to its own nuclear weapons would go a long way toward allaying the global mistrust of U.S. non-proliferation policies that arises from 50 years of history, and I can see no way of eliminating this mistrust short of a radical proposal like this one. By proposing that the world eliminate all nuclear weapons including those in American hands, the U.S. would put immense pressure on other nations or groups possessing them. If all sides accepted the proposal, fine. If not, the U.S. would still have gained credibility. Over time, if the U.S. kept advocating the proposal, I think the chances are good that the pressures on the rest of the world would become irresistible. In addition, the prospects for terrorist groups to obtain nuclear weapons would be markedly diminished.