16 December 2000
Missile Defense High on Bush Agenda
By Brian Murphy,
Associated Press Writer

The world according to George W. Bush during the campaign: a stronger U.S. military, a tougher line on Russia and China, a scaled-down peacekeeping role and a missile defense system to protect America, whether the rest of the globe likes it or not.

Now, as the president-elect builds his Cabinet and team of advisers, allies and foes wait to see how much of the Bush vision will become reality.

Not much, says Jonathan Stevenson, a research fellow at the International Institute of Strategic Studies in London.

``He faces a very divided Congress and one in which the Democrats are still stinging,'' Stevenson said. ``He probably will find it somewhat difficult to implement any radical changes in foreign policy terribly quickly. There will be gridlock.''

Bush, who cites Ronald Reagan and Winston Churchill as his political heroes, has called for a ``new American internationalism'' in which U.S. interests come a very firm first.

The missile defense, a costly holdover from the Reagan era, is high on Bush's agenda and could provoke his first major international showdown. Russia is deeply opposed to its development, which would breach a 28-year-old treaty. Russian leaders fear it could ignite another arms race, which their beleaguered economy can't afford.

British Foreign Office Minister Peter Hain said Saturday that his government recognizes U.S. concerns over possible threats by so-called rogue states, but hopes Bush will pay attention to other nations' concerns about the missile defense system.

``What we don't want to see is any unilateral steps by Washington which could breach the Anti-Ballistic Missile treaty, especially in terms of Russian interests,'' Hain told British Broadcasting Corp. radio.

The days of seemingly boundless friendship between the Kremlin and the White House seem unlikely to carry over to Bush and Russian President Vladimir Putin (news - web sites).

``The Bush policy will be more realistic and not have any softness toward Russia. We could say the same for Putin's policy,'' said Vladimir Kovikov, research fellow at the Russian Institute of Strategic Studies. ``They are not adversaries, but not allies either.''

The Middle East is wondering whether to expect a more detached approach, especially after the failure of President Clinton (news - web sites)'s strong personal effort to broker a peace deal between Palestinians and Israelis.

``I think we will see a different policy, not based on emotional attachment to the peace process, but with more realpolitik. ... There will be more pressure on the parties in the region to think about their own policies,'' said Gerald Steinberg, head of the conflict resolution program at Bar-Ilan University in Tel Aviv, Israel.

In Asia, the Bush policies may bite most sharply in China and Japan.

Bush supports trade deals to further open the giant Chinese market. But he has been unwavering in criticism of the ``appalling'' policies of the nation where his father - former President George Bush - was America's chief diplomat in the mid-1970s.

He has clearly defined his military and diplomatic support for Taiwan, China's rival. He has called China "an espionage threat" and denounced its population-control programs and curbs on religious freedom as "policies without reason and without mercy."

A hard line against China, however, could send shivers through the whole region.

"(Bush) has to consider having strategic cooperation with China. Without it, it will be impossible to preserve stability in the Asia-Pacific," said Yan Xuetong, an international security specialist at Beijing's Tsinghua University.

Still, the tensions aren't new, and past Chinese and U.S. governments have always worked hard to keep things under control. Both the Chinese and members of the Bush camp have expressed a desire to forge a working relationship, and at least one Bush adviser has traveled to Beijing to gauge its misgivings.

Japan will be alert for any sign that the Bush administration may intensify old trade rivalries as the U.S. economy cools. "They may begin to pick on Japan again," said Junichi Makino, an economist at the Daiwa Institute of Research in Tokyo. "They've been quiet because the U.S. economy was doing great."

Asian leaders also fear that with his narrow and disputed mandate, Bush may lack the clout to rush to their aid during fiscal and political unrest, as Clinton did for Mexico in 1994.

"He doesn't have a perceived mandate," said Desmond Supple, director of economic research at Barclays Capital in Singapore.

Bush must overcome another perception: that he lacks international experience and is too reliant on a military-minded group led by Vice President-elect Dick Cheney (news - web sites), a former defense secretary, and retired Gen. Colin Powell (news - web sites), named Saturday as Bush's choice for secretary of state.

Sen. Jesse Helms, head of the powerful Senate Foreign Relations Committee, will also have a pipeline into the White House for his hostile attitude to the U.N. bureaucracy and other international bodies.

Bush backs the Senate's rejection of the Comprehensive Test Ban Treaty - a position that has won him praise from other treaty opponents such as India.

The Balkans could be a key test of a new U.S. attitude.

Bush has pledged to reduce the present 9,000-member U.S. military contingent in Bosnia-Herzegovina and Kosovo. He says U.S. forces should be consolidated in order to fight large-scale wars where U.S. interests are directly at stake.

Bush has acknowledged that a Balkan withdrawal is not imminent, but he has made it clear that European allies should play a greater role in policing the continent. At the same time, European Union (news - web sites) leaders are seeking to create their own defense arm.

"It's an opportunity for Europe to emancipate itself, to mature," said Thanos Veremis, president of the Hellenic Foundation for Defense and Foreign Policy in Athens, Greece.

The new Yugoslav leadership is also seeking more European intervention to counterbalance the United States. But the ethnic Albanians in Kosovo are desperate for a strong American presence.

"The withdrawal of American troops would mean Kosovo would again be a flashpoint," warned Kole Berisha, vice president of Kosovo's main political party.

Some Africans fear that their continent's miseries - wars, famine, AIDS (news - web sites) - may register only a blip on the Bush radar, compared with the unprecedented interest shown by the Clinton administration.

"A Bush presidency portends a return to the blatantly anti-African policies of the Reagan-Bush years," wrote Salih Booker, director of the African Policy Information Center in Washington.

Latin America will be watching whether Bush scales back the Clinton administration's role in a Colombian drive to wipe out coca plants in the country's cocaine-producing regions.

One country that foresees no change is Cuba, which expects Bush to uphold the U.S. embargo.

"From the new boss, we expect little," said a statement read on Cuban state television.

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