142. Editorial Note

On March 27, 1980, Secretary of State Cyrus Vance testified before the Senate Foreign Relations Committee in order to provide an overview of the Carter administration’s foreign policy. Vance noted that for the past 4 months concern had been focused on southwest Asia, Iran, the Persian Gulf, and Afghanistan. Decisions made in any of those areas, he continued, had to be placed within a broader, strategic outline. Responses needed to focus on immediate concerns, while taking into account long-term strategic interests. Vance suggested that his appearance before the Committee could serve the purpose of solidifying “broad agreement on the general course that best suits America’s interests and needs in the coming decade.” Recognizing that a full consensus proved unlikely given the complexity of an independent world, he, nonetheless, stated:

“But I do believe that despite differences on decisions that we have made and that we and others will make during the 1980s, our nation can now shape a new foreign policy consensus about our goals in the world and the essential strands of our strategy to pursue them.

“This consensus can be built around agreement on two central points.

“—First, the United States must maintain a military balance of power. Our defense forces must remain unsurpassed. Our strategic deterrent must be unquestionable. Our conventional forces must be strong enough and flexible enough to meet the full range of military threats we may face. As a global power, we must maintain the global military balance. Our strength is important to our own safety, to a strong foreign policy free from coercion, to the confidence of allies and friends, and to the future of reciprocal arms control and other negotiations. Our strength also buttresses regional balances that could be upset by the direct or indirect use of Soviet power.

“—The second central point is this: that our military strength, while an essential condition for an effective foreign policy, is not in itself a sufficient condition. We must nurture and draw upon our other strengths as well—our alliances and other international ties, our economic resources, our ability to deal with diversity, and our ideals. By drawing fully on these strengths, we can help shape world events now in ways that reduce the likelihood of using military force later. A global American foreign policy can succeed only if it has both these dimensions.

“Some have argued that a strong response to Soviet military growth and aggression is overreaction. But to disregard the growth of Soviet military programs and budgets or to explain away aggression as a defensive maneuver is to take refuge in illusion.

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“It is just as illusory, and just as dangerous, to believe that there can be a fortress America or that the world will follow our lead solely because of our military strength. America’s future depends not only on our growing military power; it also requires the continued pursuit of energy security and arms control, of human rights and economic development abroad.

“As we look to the 1980s, our first obligation is to see the world clearly. We confront a serious and sustained Soviet challenge, which is both military and political. Their military buildup continues unabated. The Soviet Union has shown a greater willingness to employ that power directly and through others. In that sense, Afghanistan is a manifestation of a larger problem, evident also in Ethiopia, South Yemen, Southeast Asia, and elsewhere.

“The world economic order is undergoing dramatic change. An energy crisis has rocked its foundations. Economic interdependence has become a daily reality for the citizens of every nation. At the same time, the assertion of national independence has reshaped the political geography of the planet. There is a profusion of different systems and allegiances and a diffusion of political and military power. Within nations, we see an accelerating rise in individual expectations.

“These challenges require a full American engagement in the world—a resolve to defend our vital interests with force if necessary and to address potential causes of conflict before they erupt. These hearings can help illuminate how best to order and serve the wide range of interests we have in a world grown increasingly complex.

“In my remarks today, I will discuss eight central American interests for the coming years. Each is broad in its own terms. But I do not believe that any of these interests can be narrowed, much less disregarded, without doing damage to the others.

“—Our most basic interest, and first priority, is the physical security of our nation—the safety of our people. This requires strong defense forces and strong alliances.

“—It also requires that we and our allies firmly and carefully manage a second area of concern: East-West relations.

“—A third area of interest—controlling the growth and spread of nuclear and other weapons—enhances our collective security and international stability.

“—Fourth, we must confront the global energy crisis and strengthen the international economy; for doing so is central to our well-being as a people and our strength as a nation.

“—A fifth interest, peace in troubled areas of the world, reduces potential threats of wider war and removes opportunities for our rivals to extend their influence.

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“—Our diplomacy in troubled regions and our ability to pursue our global economic goals are strengthened by pursuing a sixth interest: broadening our ties to other nations—with China, for example, and throughout the Third World.

“—The advancement of human rights is more than an ideal. It, too, is an interest. Peaceful gains for freedom are also steps toward stability abroad and greater security for America.

“—And finally, we cannot disregard our interest in addressing environmental and other longer term global trends that can imperil our future.”

Vance then discussed in greater detail these eight elements of a broader American foreign policy before offering his concluding remarks:

“I know that no one is more acutely aware of the breadth and complexity of our challenges than the members of this committee. We face a broad agenda. It requires constant, hard choices among compelling yet competing interests. In a dangerous world, it requires a willingness to defend our vital interests with force when necessary and a diplomacy of active and constructive engagement to reduce the dangers we may confront. It requires sacrifice in resources for our defense and help for other nations, in reduced consumption of energy, and efforts to control inflation. It will test our wisdom and our persistence.

“We will be badly served if we fail to understand a world of rapid change and shy away from its complexity. The flat truth is that complex problems can seldom be resolved by simple solutions.

“Some have said that we are trying to do too much. I say that we cannot afford to do less, in our own national interest.

“Some say that in trying to do too much, we have accomplished too little. I say that in strengthening our military posture, in reemphasizing and strengthening NATO, in negotiating the SALT II Treaty, in normalizing relations with China, in helping to achieve peace between Israel and Egypt and a framework for a comprehensive peace in the Middle East, in advancing peace in Zimbabwe, in the Panama Canal treaties, in the successful multilateral trade negotiations and other improvements in the international economic system, in closer ties to developing nations, and in promoting human rights—in all these areas, I say we are on the right road, even if it is a long and difficult one.

“Some say that in seeking peaceful change toward human justice in every area of the world, we encourage radicalism. I say that the world is changing, that human beings everywhere will demand a better life. The United States must offer its own vision of a better future, or the future will belong to others.

“Some have said that the executive and legislative branches cannot collaborate effectively on foreign policy. I say that the record over the past few years has been a good one.

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“Some say that America is in a period of decline. I am convinced they are wrong.

“There is no question that the years to come present a somber prospect. Soviet challenge in Afghanistan and beyond, energy crisis, revolutionary explosions when expectations run ahead of progress—such current events are all too likely to be harbingers of the trends of the coming decade. This is the reality we confront.

“But it is also a reality that our strengths—military, economic, and political—give us an unmatched capacity for world leadership. We can succeed if we combine power with determination, persistence, and patience. We can make progress if we promote the full range of our interests and use the full range of our strengths.” (Department of State Bulletin, May 1980, pages 16–25)

Vance later wrote that his March 27 testimony served as his “final opportunity as secretary of state to define and explain America’s foreign policy and its role in a changing world.” In assessing his appearance, he noted:

“I had hoped the March 27 hearing would spark a serious discussion in Congress, the press, and inside the administration about the way the United States should conduct itself in a world in which the many complex problems are not susceptible to solution by simple answers or the use of military power alone. I was convinced that the main lines of our foreign policy remained valid and would stand up well under a searching cross-examination. But televised hearings do not encourage such debate. The senators were more interested in the events of the moment, such as the grain embargo and energy. Senator Si Hayakawa carried this one step further by pressing me on the burning issue of collecting traffic fines from Iranian students in Washington.” (Hard Choices, pages 395–397)