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Prioritizing foreign policy objectives can be difficult because there are many to choose from. Many believe that the U.S. should act as the world's policeman, seek to stop human rights abuses, provide humanitarian aid, or work to build democracies. While these are certainly admirable goals, the truth is that the U.S. can often do little good, and sometimes aggravates the problem with intervention.1 The U.S. should instead work to promote both global and regional security. In the long run, this is the only way to achieve the goals mentioned above. It is the best way to promote U.S. interests. Although other domestic concerns, such as building democracies or promoting human rights, should be considered in every situation (and are often integral to the problem), when these concerns conflict with the promotion of global or regional security promoting security must come first. The U.S. must be careful not to jeopardize its attempts to promote global and regional security because of differing domestic concerns.
There is much policy overlap between pursuing regional and global security. This makes sense; in order for there to be a stabilized world, there must be stability at all levels, and regional instability can quickly lead to global instability in the increasingly globalized world.2 The overlap can be most clearly seen in the objectives behind U.S. intervention in Colombia and North Korea, the fight against drugs and the fight to stop nuclear proliferation, respectively. No one doubts that drugs have negative effects on society, and when one country, such as Colombia, produces eighty percent of the world's cocaine, drugs are very destabilizing globally.
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Like many conflicts occurring today, the fighting in Colombia began during the Cold War. The two main guerilla groups, the Revolutionary Armed Forces of Colombia (FARC) and the National Liberation Army (ELN), date back to the 1960s.4 These two groups underwent many changes, but when they entered into alliances with drug cartels, their attacks became particularly destabilizing to the region. The drug angle made the conflict more violent and complex.5 The U.S. grew interested in Colombia as part of its war on drugs, a domestic program sparked by the concerns of citizens. The U.S. was seeing rapid increases in drug-related crime, and it was believed that drug trafficking should be stopped at the source. In 1996, when Colombian President Ernest Samper was accused of taking drug money for his campaign, the United States "Decertified" Colombia. This meant that Colombia could no longer receive certain U.S. loans. Decertification is used to embarrass a country into increasing its anti-narcotic efforts. It was not effective in this case because the Colombian government was unable to handle the drug problem alone. Colombia's certification has recently been reinstated, making it easier for the U.S. to assist the Colombian government.6
Beginning in 1998, it became obvious that the conflict within Colombia was spreading to Panama, Equador, and Venezuela, threatening to destabilize the entire region. At least a million refugees had crossed the boarders of Colombia, adding to the instability.7 Fears of regional instability as well as the global impact of the continuing drug trade caused the U.S. to increase the anti-narcotic movement by about 70 percent, to $500 million a year.8 This aid was planned to be spent on radar systems, jets, helicopters, and anti-drug battalions. While the money would have been used to fight both the guerillas and the drug trade, it was restricted to the war on drugs because of fears that the Colombian army might repeat the human rights violations that it had been accused of in the past. This greatly handicapped the efforts to bring stability because of the close ties between the drug trade and the guerillas. The only way to fight one was to fight the other.9 The drug wars are still raging in Colombia today. While the United States was correct to intervene in the conflict in Colombia to promote global and regional security, it was wrong to subordinate that effort to human rights concerns.
When the United States intervened in North Korea, it was not so much in response to a particular conflict as to prevent an impending one. There has been an animosity between North and South Korea for five decades, driven by differing ideologies and belief systems. There had already been war between the two countries, and in the early 1990s, North Korea began to build up a nuclear weapons arsenal. Little was known about it, which made people all over the world uncomfortable. In 1992, North Korea stopped allowing inspectors form the International Atomic Energy Agency (IAEA) to inspect its nuclear plants.10 Then, on March 13, 1993, North Korea announced its withdrawal from the nuclear Non-Proliferation Treaty.11 This caused alarm throughout the region: Japan, China, and South Korea did not want a nuclear neighbor. There were many fears that the North Korean threat would provoke war in the area.12 The thought of a nuclear North Korea not abiding to the Non-Proliferation Treaty was globally threatening as well, because of the fear of nuclear war. In response to both of these concerns, the U.S. began a series of talks with North Korea. In exchange for light-water reactors which the U.S. and South Korea agreed to provide, North Korea agreed to allow IAEA inspectors access to some sites and reaffirmed its commitment to denuclarizing the Korean peninsula. In addition, North Korea agreed to give up its main source of power, graphite moderate reactors, from which it was very easy to extract weapons grade plutonium.13 This tentative agreement was later finalized as the Framework Agreement of 1994, in which, in exchange for North Korean nuclear freeze, the U.S. and South Korea agreed to give food and oil to the starving North Korean people, as well as to build two light-water reactors.14 At the same time, many felt that this policy was too easy on the North Koreans who had already agreed to and broken the Non-Proliferation Treaty once. In fact, it later turned out that North Korea could not be trusted, as it continued to prevent IAEA inspectors from examining its sites to verify the nuclear freeze.15 This situation raises a very important question; why did the U.S. not take stronger measures to ensure the freeze before giving food to the people? Simply put, the U.S. choose to put humanitarian aid before the promotion of global and regional security. Feeding the people of North Korea was more important than ensuring North Korean compliance. While some will argue that the U.S. had to avoid taking a strong stance against North Korea because of the nuclear threat, the truth is that the U.S. threw away much needed leverage by giving aid without demand a greater guarantee that North Korean government would keep its promises.
In both of these cases, the United States intervened at the insistence of its citizens, who recently listed stopping the flow of illegal drugs and nuclear proliferation as the two biggest foreign policy goals.16 At first, the U.S. pursued a reasonable policy to promote global and regional security and end these threats. However, as domestic concern began to focus on different objectives such as humanitarian ones, domestic pressure jeopardized the attempt to promote security. In the future, U.S. foreign policy work to promote global and regional stability before all else. While the government should be mindful of its citizens concerns, it must remember that its citizens are easily swayed by forces like the media. Citizens' decisions are often made merely by looking at the short-term effects. Yes, other objectives, such as human rights and humanitarian aid, are important, but if they jeopardize the long-term promotion of security and stability, they must put aside. There is a lesson to be learned form U.S. intervention in Colombia and North Korea. Listen to the people, but never loose sight of your goals.
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