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Khalilzad, 95 (Zalmay, [director of the Strategy and Doctrine Program @ RAND & current US Ambassador to Afghanistan] "Losing the Moment? The United States and the World After the Cold War," Washington Quarterly, Spring

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Copyright 1995 The Center for Strategic and International Studies

and the Massachusetts Institute of Technology

The Washington Quarterly


1995 Spring




Losing the Moment? The United States and the World After the Cold War


Zalmay Khalilzad


THREE YEARS AFTER the collapse of the Soviet Union, the United States is heading toward squandering a oncein-a-lifetime opportunity to shape the future of the world because it still does not have a broadly agreed upon vision and a grand strategy for the new era. The United States cannot succeed in shaping the post-cold war world unless it knows what shape it wants the world to take, understands what it takes to mold international relations in accordance with that vision, and has the will to see the task through. Without a strategy, the United States will tend to lose the initiative in world affairs and be placed in a reactive mode.


The lack of vision endangers the completion of even modest tasks. An administration can neither evaluate specific policy decisions adequately, nor reach an effective consensus with respect to them, without first constructing a framework for guiding policy, setting priorities, and deciding what constitute vital U.S. interests. Absent such a framework it will be more difficult to decide what is important and what is not, to determine which threats are more serious than others, and to develop coherent approaches to respond to new challenges. Policy on many issues will be ambivalent and uncertain and will lack staying power. Short-term and parochial interests will take priority over longerterm, national interests.


Without a broadly agreed architectural framework, gaining widespread bipartisan support for policy also becomes harder, as has been evident in recent discussions of foreign and security policy. Sustaining popular support and staying the course for particular policies become harder if the costs of implementation increase but the commitment cannot be explained in terms of a national interest and a strategy on which broad agreement has been achieved.


The Search for a New Vision


Despite efforts by both the Bush and Clinton administrations, three years after the end of the Soviet Union, no grand strategy has yet jelled and there is no consensus on overarching national security objectives. It appears that the United States is still trying to get its strategic bearings.


With the disintegration of the Soviet Union, Secretary of Defense Dick Cheney's department put forward a new defense strategy -- the "Regional Defense Strategy" -- which emphasized precluding any hostile power from dominating a region critical to U.S. interests; strengthening and extending the alliances among democratic and like-minded powers; and helping reduce the likelihood of conflict by reducing the sources of instability. n1 The Regional Defense Strategy did not jell as the nation's grand strategy. There was an intense but brief debate when versions of the document were leaked. Although President George Bush appeared supportive of the concept as indicated in some of his statements, he did not try actively to build political support for it. Given the dangers involved in any systemic shift in power, President Bush managed the disintegration of the Soviet Union extremely well. But because of the deteriorating domestic economic situation during the last year of his presidency, he did not push for a broad political consensus on a new grand strategy. Besides, an election year may not be the best time for generating such a consensus.


In July 1994, a year and a half after coming to power, the Clinton administration published its National Security Strategy of Engagement and Enlargement. Like the Regional Defense Strategy of the previous administration, President Bill Clinton's document proposes strengthening and adapting the alliances among the market democracies. Similarly, it emphasizes regional threats. It goes further, however, in its emphasis on peacekeeping operations, in highlighting the importance of economic issues and the global expansion of democracy, and in its concern about environmental issues. It also emphasizes a readiness to "participate in multilateral efforts to broker settlements of internal conflicts." Similarly, it states that "our forces must prepare to participate in peacekeeping, peace enforcement and other operations in support of these objectives." Other than globalizing democracy, the document does not have a unifying concept. It does not deal with some of the tough issues such as how to hedge against Russian reimperialism and Chinese expansionism. It also does not provide a clear sense of priorities. n2


For most of his presidency, Clinton's handling of foreign and security policy has been controversial. Although the president has committed himself to building a "new public consensus" for "active engagement abroad" no determined effort toward achieving that consensus has been made so far.


Besides the problems with the content of what has been proposed and inadequate efforts to build consensus on a new grand strategy, two other broader factors have played a role in the absence of broadly agreed upon grand strategy. One is the fact that American culture is disinclined toward great strategic design. The task is made even harder by a second reason: an underlying and widely held belief that the world is more uncertain now compared to the cold war period -- making both the development and broad acceptance of a grand strategy more difficult.


But this assumption of greater uncertainty is only partially and only retrospectively correct. The cold war world was not truly much more certain than the world of today -- at least not to those who were players in the struggle. Even though the enemy was known, it was never easy to predict Soviet behavior and developments around the world. "Kremlinelegy" was an almost mystical science, and as developments showed, U.S. information and understanding of what was really happening in the Soviet Union were often well off the mark. Nor was there always a consensus over policy; there were major disagreements about issues such as arms control and Vietnam. Even so, during the Cold War the United States was relatively certain of its overall objectives and priorities among them. Now it is not. This is the critical difference between the Cold War and the current era.


The United States' Possible Visions


Given the opportunity costs, the United States should no longer delay the development of a vision and a national grand strategy. The shift in the tectonics of power confronts Washington with several options. The choice that the United States makes is not only important for setting the country's global direction for this new era, but also for the major impact it will have on the calculations of others.


As the victor in the Cold War, the United States can choose among several strategic visions and grand strategies. It could abandon global leadership and turn inward. Alternatively, it could seek to give up leadership gradually by reducing the U.S. global role and encouraging the emergence of a seventeenth- to nineteenth-century style balance of power structure with spheres of influence. Third, it could seek, as its central strategic objective, to consolidate its global leadership and preclude the rise of a global rival.




In the short run, abandoning global leadership and turning inward could be an attractive option. It would result in a significant reduction in defense expenditures -- although how much money the United States would really save over either the short or the long run should it adopt such a strategy has not been seriously studied. n3 Such a policy would also mean that U.S. servicemen and servicewomen would be less likely to be put in harm's way in places like Bosnia or Iraq, Haiti or Somalia. The reduction in defense burden could help deal with the budget deficit and improve U.S. economic competitiveness, especially because, at the same time, many foreign competitors would have to increase their defense expenditures. Ignoring foreign issues would enable the United States to concentrate on and solve its many domestic problems more effectively.


Furthermore, in many cases, allies to whose defense the United States has been committed no longer need it (e.g., the Soviet threat to Western Europe has disappeared and the current threats to Europe are much smaller by comparison) and should be able to manage on their own (e.g., South Korea has over twice the population and many times the gross national product [GNP] of North Korea). The commitment of the United States to the defense of an ally like South Korea may only serve to enable its government to spend less on defense and focus more on strengthening its economy.


Realistically and over the longer term, however, a neo-isolationist approach might well increase the danger of major conflict, require a greater U.S. defense effort, threaten world peace, and eventually undermine U.S. prosperity. By withdrawing from Europe and Asia, the United States would deliberately risk weakening the institutions and solidarity of the world's community of democratic powers and so establishing favorable conditions for the spread of disorder and a possible return to conditions similar to those of the first half of the twentieth century.


In the 1920s and 1930s, U.S. isolationism had disastrous consequences for world peace. At that time, the United States was but one of several major powers. Now that the United States is the world's preponderant power, the shock of a U.S. withdrawal could be even greater.


What might happen to the world if the United States turned inward? Without the United States and the North Atlantic Treaty Organization (NATO), rather than cooperating with each other, the West European nations might compete with each other for domination of East-Central Europe and the Middle East. In Western and Central Europe, Germany -- especially since unification -- would be the natural leading power.


Either in cooperation or competition with Russia, Germany might seek influence over the territories located between them. German efforts are likely to be aimed at filling the vacuum, stabilizing the region, and precluding its domination by rival powers. Britain and France fear such a development. Given the strength of democracy in Germany and its preoccupation with absorbing the former East Germany, European concerns about Germany appear exaggerated. But it would be a mistake to assume that U.S. withdrawal could not, in the long run, result in the renationalization of Germany's security policy.


The same is also true of Japan. Given a U.S. withdrawal from the world, Japan would have to look after its own security and build up its military capabilities. China, Korea, and the nations of Southeast Asia already fear Japanese hegemony. Without U.S. protection, Japan is likely to increase its military capability dramatically -- to balance the growing Chinese forces and still-significant Russian forces. This could result in arms races, including the possible acquisition by Japan of nuclear weapons. Given Japanese technological prowess, to say nothing of the plutonium stockpile Japan has acquired in the development of its nuclear power industry, it could obviously become a nuclear weapon state relatively quickly, if it should so decide. It could also build long-range missiles and carrier task forces.


With the shifting balance of power among Japan, China, Russia, and potential new regional powers such as India, Indonesia, and a united Korea could come significant risks of preventive or proeruptive war. Similarly, European competition for regional dominance could lead to major wars in Europe or East Asia. If the United States stayed out of such a war -- an unlikely prospect -- Europe or East Asia could become dominated by a hostile power. Such a development would threaten U.S. interests. A power that achieved such dominance would seek to exclude the United States from the area and threaten its interests-economic and political -- in the region. Besides, with the domination of Europe or East Asia, such a power might seek global hegemony and the United States would face another global Cold War and the risk of a world war even more catastrophic than the last.


In the Persian Gulf, U.S. withdrawal is likely to lead to an intensified struggle for regional domination. Iran and Iraq have, in the past, both sought regional hegemony. Without U.S. protection, the weak oil-rich states of the Gulf Cooperation Council (GCC) would be unlikely to retain their independence. To preclude this development, the Saudis might seek to acquire, perhaps by purchase, their own nuclear weapons. If either Iraq or Iran controlled the region that dominates the world supply of oil, it could gain a significant capability to damage the U.S. and world economies. Any country that gained hegemony would have vast economic resources at its disposal that could be used to build military capability as well as gain leverage over the United States and other oilimporting nations. Hegemony over the Persian Gulf by either Iran or Iraq would bring the rest of the Arab Middle East under its influence and domination because of the shift in the balance of power. Israeli security problems would multiply and the peace process would be fundamentally undermined, increasing the risk of war between the Arabs and the Israelis.


The extension of instability, conflict, and hostile hegemony in East Asia, Europe, and the Persian Gulf would harm the economy of the United States even in the unlikely event that it was able to avoid involvement in major wars and conflicts. Higher oil prices would reduce the U.S. standard of living. Turmoil in Asia and Europe would force major economic readjustment in the United States, perhaps reducing U.S. exports and imports and jeopardizing U.S. investments in these regions. Given that total imports and exports are equal to a quarter of U.S. gross domestic product, the cost of necessary adjustments might be high.


The higher level of turmoil in the world would also increase the likelihood of the proliferation of weapons of mass destruction (WMD) and means for their delivery. Already several rogue states such as North Korea and Iran are seeking nuclear weapons and long-range missiles. That danger would only increase if the United States withdrew from the world. The result would be a much more dangerous world in which many states possessed WMD capabilities; the likelihood of their actual use would increase accordingly. If this happened, the security of every nation in the world, including the United States, would be harmed.


At present, mainstream sentiment in the two major U.S. political parties rejects isolationism as a national strategy, even though both have elements favoring it. It is possible, however, that without a vision and grand strategy, the United States might follow policies that result in at least some of the consequences of a neo-isolationist strategy.


Return to Multipolarity and Balance of Power


Another option for the United States would be to rely on a balance of power to preclude the emergence of a "superpower" that could threaten U.S. security. This approach has some positive features, but it is also dangerous. Based on current realities, the other potential great powers are Japan, China, Germany (or the European Union [EU]), and Russia. In the future this list could change. A new great power -- such as India, Brazil, or Indonesia -- could emerge, or one of the existing ones -- such as Russia or China -- could decline or disintegrate and cease to be a great power.


Some argue that the world is inevitably heading toward a multiplicity of roughly equal great powers and that the United States should facilitate such a development. This approach starts from the assertion that, based on economic indices, the world already consists of several great powers and assumes that the diffusion of wealth and technology will continue. It is further assumed that, over time, the current economic powers will become political and military powers commensurate with their economic strength; they will be obliged to do so because, in the post-cold war world, others will not perceive threats in the same way and so will not be willing to run risks for them. n4


In a balance of power regime, NATO would gradually decline in importance and would ultimately disappear, or it would be subsumed, as the Russians now advocate, into a broader but less muscular organization such as the Organization on Security and Cooperation in Europe (OSCE). The U.S. presence in Western Europe would end as the West Europeans built up their capability and a balance of power emerged on the continent. The United States could affect the pace of such a development by, for example, announcing that it intended to withdraw from Europe by a specific date -- thus giving impetus to a European military buildup to balance Russia.


For such a balance of power system to work, either Germany would have to substantially increase its military power or the EU would have to strengthen its internal unity and become a kind of superstate. The United States would continue to have a vital interest in preventing the domination of Europe -- including Russia -- by a single power. So, if the Germans decided to build up militarily to a force that appeared to threaten the rest of Europe, the United States could play its part by forming alliances with any European country or countries that sought to prevent German hegemony and by maintaining adequate forces in the United States and perhaps in Great Britain. Problems unrelated to any attempt to establish hegemony over Europe, however, such as instability in the Balkans, East-Central Europe, or North Africa, would be the responsibility of the Europeans alone and the United States would not get militarily involved in conflicts in these regions.


Similarly, the United States would be unlikely to get involved militarily on the territory of the former Soviet Union; in general, it would accept a Russian sphere of influence there. The other European great powers (and perhaps also the United States) would not want Russia to reincorporate Ukraine, however, because, combined, Russia and Ukraine would have a military potential so much greater than any European state as to threaten to destroy the possibility of achieving a balance of power. Western Europe and Russia would both have interests in East-Central Europe and would have to try to work out rules for regulating their interactions.


In East Asia, the United States would similarly become a balancer against either China or a Japan that had built up its military capability. In the event of a serious imbalance between Japan and China, the United States could play a balancing role with forces based in the United States or possibly in some of the smaller states in the region. As in the case of Europe, the United States would seek to prevent the emergence of regional hegemony by shifting alliances; it would cooperate with other powers to protect common interests and be prepared to protect specific interests in the region, such as the lives and property of U.S. citizens.


In the Persian Gulf, in this framework, the United States and other major powers would oppose the domination of the region by any one power, because such a power would acquire enormous leverage over states that depend on the region's oil. At the regional level, the United States and other major powers could rely on a balance between Iran and Iraq to prevent regional hegemony. Assuming the great powers were willing to pursue a joint policy toward the Persian Gulf, the fact that the United States is relatively less dependent on the Gulf than either Western Europe or Japan would give it a strong bargaining position when the time came to allocate the burdens required by such a policy among the great powers. On the other hand, one or more great powers might be tempted to abandon the great power coalition and to support a potential hegemon in the Gulf in return for favorable access to the Gulf's resources and markets. Finally, the United States would have to be the dominant power affecting important security issues in the Americas.


Aside from the question of inevitability, a balance of power system would have certain advantages for the United States. First, the U.S. government could reduce defense expenditures (probably not by as much as with a neo-isolationist strategy) and deploy U.S. military force less often to world hot spots, because it would let other great powers take the lead in dealing with problems in their regions. Second, the United States would be freer to pursue its economic interests, even when they damaged its political relations with countries that had been, but were no longer, allies; only in the particular case that required the United States to ally with another great power to ward off a specific threat would it be constrained.


It is possible that in a balance of power system the United States would be in a relatively privileged position as compared to the other great powers. Given the relative distance of the United States from other power centers, it might be able to mimic the former British role of an offshore balancer. As in the nineteenth century, the United States and other great powers would compete and cooperate to avoid hegemony and global wars. Each great power would protect its own specific interests and protect common interests cooperatively. If necessary, the United States would intervene militarily to prevent the emergence of a preponderant power.


But there are also several serious problems with this approach. First, there is a real question whether the major powers will behave as they should under the logic of a balance of power framework. For example, would the West European powers respond appropriately to a resurgent Russian threat, or would they behave as the European democracies did in the 1930s? The logic of a balance of power system might well require the United States to support a non-democratic state against a democratic one, or to work with one undesirable state against another. For example, to contain the power of an increasingly powerful Iran, the United States would have to strengthen Iraq. The United States may, however, be politically unable to behave in this fashion. For example, after the Iraqi victory against Iran in 1988, balance of power logic indicated that the United States should strengthen Iran. However, because of ongoing animosity in U.S.Iranian relations, the nature of Iran's regime, and moral concerns, the United States could not implement such a strategy. There are many other examples. To expect such action is therefore probably unrealistic.


Second, this system implies that the major industrial democracies will no longer see themselves as allies. Instead, political, and possibly even military, struggle among them will become not only thinkable but legitimate. n5 Each will pursue its own economic interest much more vigorously, thereby weakening such multilateral economic institutions as the General Agreement on Tariffs and Trade (GATT) and the liberal world trading order in general. This would increase the likelihood of major economic depressions and dislocations.


Third, the United States is likely to face more competition from other major powers in areas of interest to it. For example, other powers might not be willing to grant the United States a sphere of influence in the Americas, but might seek, as Germany did in World War I, to reach anti-U.S. alliances with Latin American nations. Similarly, as noted above, another great power might decide to support a potential hegemon in the Persian Gulf.


Finally, and most important, there is no guarantee that the system will succeed in its own terms. Its operation requires subtle calculations and indications of intentions in order to maintain the balance while avoiding war; nations must know how to signal their depth of commitment on a given issue without taking irrevocable steps toward war. This balancing act proved impossible even for the culturally similar and aristocratically governed states of the nineteenth-century European balance of power systems. It will be infinitely more difficult when the system is global, the participants differ culturally, and the governments of many of the states, influenced by public opinion, are unable to be as flexible (or cynical) as the rules of the system require. Thus, miscalculations might be made about the state of the balance that could lead to wars that the United States might be unable to stay out of. The balance of power system failed in the past, producing World War I and other major conflicts. It might not work any better in the future -- and war among major powers in the nuclear age is likely to be more devastating.


Global Leadership


Under the third option, the United States would seek to retain global leadership and to preclude the rise of a global rival or a return to multipolarity for the indefinite future. On balance, this is the best long-term guiding principle and vision. Such a vision is desirable not as an end in itself, but because a world in which the United States exercises leadership would have tremendous advantages. First, the global environment would be more open and more receptive to American values -- democracy, free markets, and the rule of law. Second, such a world would have a better chance of dealing cooperatively with the world's major problems, such as nuclear proliferation, threats of regional hegemony by renegade states, and low-level conflicts. Finally, U.S. leadership would help preclude the rise of another hostile global rival, enabling the United States and the world to avoid another global cold or hot war and all the attendant dangers, including a global nuclear exchange. U.S. leadership would therefore be more conducive to global stability than a bipolar or a multipolar balance of power system.


Precluding the rise of a hostile global rival is a good guide for defining what interests the United States should regard as vital and for which of them it should be ready to use force and put American lives at risk. It is a good prism for identifying threats, setting priorities for U.S. policy toward various regions and states, and assessing needs for military capabilities and modernization.


To succeed in the long term in realizing this vision, the United States should adhere to the following principles as guidelines for its policies. It must:

* maintain and strengthen the "zone of peace" n6 and incrementally extend it;

* preclude hostile hegemony over critical regions;

* hedge against reimperialization by Russia and expansion by China while promoting cooperation with both countries;

* preserve U.S. military preeminence; maintain U.S. economic strength and an open international economic system;

* be judicious in the use of force, avoid overextension, and develop ways of sharing the burden with allies; and

* obtain and maintain domestic support for U.S. global leadership and these principles.


Why are these principles important and how can the United States pursue them effectively? The remainder of this article will focus on these issues.


Maintain, Strengthen, and Extend the Zone of Peace


In the course of building up the Western alliance, the United States helped create a community of nations in Western Europe and East Asia that was held together by more than just the Soviet threat. These nations shared common values, most important among them democracy and a commitment to free markets. War among these nations became unthinkable. This commonality of interests was expressed in the creation of organizations such as NATO and the Group of Seven (G-7), and in bilateral treaties such as that between the United States and Japan. Under U.S. leadership, this group of nations pursued a policy of containing the Soviet Union until its collapse; in the post-cold war era, it is clear that, given continued unity, these nations will be strong enough to overpower any threat from outside their ranks. Thus, this community of nations may be called the "zone of peace." Maintaining, strengthening, and extending the zone of peace should be the central feature of U.S. post-cold war grand strategy.


Maintaining the zone of peace requires, first and foremost, avoiding conditions that can lead to renationalization of security policies in key allied countries such as Japan and Germany. The members of the zone of peace are in basic agreement and prefer not to compete with each other in realpolitik terms. But this general agreement still requires U.S. leadership. At present there is greater nervousness in Japan than in Germany about future ties with Washington, but U.S. credibility remains strong in both countries. The credibility of U.S. alliances can be undermined if key allies such as Germany and Japan believe that the current arrangements do not deal adequately with threats to their security. It could also be undermined if, over an extended period, the United States is perceived as either lacking the will or the capability to lead in protecting their interests.


In Europe, besides dealing with balancing Russian military potential and hedging against a possible Russian reimperialization, the near-term security threat to Germany comes from instability in East-Central Europe and to a lesser degree from the Balkans. For France and Italy, the threats come from conflicts in the Balkans, Islamic extremism, and the spread of WMD and ballistic and cruise missiles to North Africa and the Middle East. For example, at present the Germans fear that conflicts and instability in EastCentral Europe might "spill out" or "spill in." Such crises could set the stage for a bigger conflict and/or send millions of refugees to Germany. The Germans are divided on how to deal with the threat from the east. For now, however, they are focused on integrating the former East Germany and favor a U.S.-led alliance strategy rather than filling the vacuum themselves, as indicated in their substantial defense cuts. This is in part because of their confidence in the United States and the common values and interests they perceive among the allies, and in part because an alliance-based policy is cheaper for Germany than a unilateral approach. But should the Germans come to believe that the alliance will not or cannot deal with threats to their interests, they might well consider other options.


In East Asia, too, Japan favors alliance with the United States to deal with uncertainty about Russia, future Chinese military capability, including power projection, and the threat of nuclear and missile proliferation on the Korean peninsula. For the same reasons as Germany, Japan currently prefers to work with the United States. But the loss of U.S. credibility could also change Japan's calculations; the test will be how well the United States deals with North Korea's nuclear program.


As long as U.S.-led allied actions protect their vital interests, these nations are less likely to look to unilateral means. This implies that the United States needs a military capability that is larger than might be required based on a definition of U.S. interests based on isolationism or the balance of power.


U.S. power and willingness to lead in protecting vital joint interests in Europe, East Asia, and the Middle East are necessary to preserve the zone of peace. In Europe these interests can be best served if NATO remains the primary entity to deal with the security challenge from instability and conflict to the south and the east and a possible revanchism in Russia. To perform this role, NATO must adapt by maintaining a robust military capability as a hedge against Russia's going bad; by preparing for the eventual membership of the nations of East-Central Europe in the alliance in coordination with EU expansion; and by developing the capability to deter and defeat threats from the south. NATO allies need to increase their ability to project power to perform these tasks. West Europeans have ample capability for self-defense but their capability for projecting power eastward or southward is far more limited. Even with increased European power projection capabilities, the United States would need to maintain a significant military force on the continent for an indefinite period -- both because of military needs and to demonstrate its commitment and resolve.


Asia has no NATO-like multilateral alliance. "The core security relationships are the U.S.-Japanese and U.S.-South Korean ties. Maintaining security ties with each other is important for both the United States and Japan, even though trade relations between the two have a greater potential to create mutual antagonism than trade relations between the United States and Germany. While North Korea remains hostile and militarily powerful and, in any case, in order to hedge against uncertainties in Russia and China, the United States needs to station sufficient force in the region to deter all three countries and, with reinforcements, defend critical U.S. interests while running only limited risks. At present the main military threat is a possible North Korean attack against South Korea. The United States and its Asian allies should explore the possibility of establishing multilateral security arrangements that can promote stability by increasing mutual trust and providing for effective burden sharing.


Within these constraints, it is in the U.S. interest and the interests of the other members of the zone of peace that the zone ultimately encompass the whole world. Unfortunately, this is not a near-term proposition. Many regions and states are not ready. The United States should seek to expand the zone selectively and help others prepare for membership.


The most important step that the United States and the other prosperous democracies can take is to assist others in adopting the economic strategies that have worked in North America, Western Europe, and East Asia and are being successfully implemented in parts of Latin America and elsewhere in Asia. Economic development and education are the most effective instruments for solving the problems of the nations outside the zone of peace.


Preclude Hostile Hegemony over Critical Regions


A global rival could emerge if a hostile power or coalition gained hegemony over a critical region, defined as one that contains economic, technical, and human resources such that a power that controlled it would possess a military potential roughly equal to, or greater than, that of the United States. It is, therefore, a vital U.S. interest (i.e., one that the United States should be willing to use force to protect) to avoid such a development. Although this could change in the future, two regions now meet this criterion: East Asia and Europe. The Persian Gulf is critically important for a different reason -- its oil resources are vital for the world economy.


In the long term, the relative importance of various regions can change. A region that is critical to U.S. interests now might become less important, while some other region might gain in importance. For example, Southeast Asia appears to be a region whose relative importance is likely to increase if the regional economies continue to grow as impressively as they have done in the past several years. The Gulf might decline if the resources of the region became less important for world prosperity because technological developments provided economically feasible alternative sources of energy.


At present, the risks of regional hegemony in Europe and East Asia are very small. This is due in large part to the alliance of the key states of these regions with the United States, which endorses the presence of U.S. forces and the credibility of U.S. commitments. It is thus vital that U.S. alliances in Europe and East Asia be maintained but adapted to meet the challenges of the new era. During the Cold War, the U.S. role in these two regions not only deterred threats from the Soviet Union but also contained rivalries. In Europe, it is not in the U.S. interest for the EU either to become a superstate or to disintegrate. The former could ultimately pose a global challenge -- Western Europe's economy is bigger than the U.S. economy. The latter could encourage mutual suspicion and contribute to renationalization and a possible repeat of the first half of the twentieth century.


At this point, the United States is the preponderant outside power in the Persian Gulf. Its position there helps to discourage the rise of a rival and will put it in a strong position to compete should one arise. U.S. preponderance serves the interests of the members of the zone of peace because it helps diminish the threat of interruption of oil supplies from the region. But the threat of hostile regional hegemony remains. The United States, with support from its allies, needs to maintain adequate military capability to deter and defeat the threat of regional hegemony from Iraq or Iran. The United States should seek greater contributions from its NATO allies and Japan in meeting the security challenges in this region. Washington and its allies must also encourage regional cooperation among the GCC states and help them cope with the contradictory pressures -- liberal and fundamentalist -- for domestic change that beset them. Given the recent progress in the ArabIsraeli conflict, U.S. security ties with Israel can help in dealing with threats from Iran or Iraq in the Gulf.


Hedge against Reimperialization in Russia


Russia is still trying to find a place for itself in the world. Although still weakening militarily and economically, as heir to the Soviet strategic nuclear arsenal it is capable of conducting an all-out nuclear attack on the United States. Consequently, it requires special attention under any circumstances. In the near term -- 10 years -- Moscow is unlikely to pose a global challenge. Even in its current weakened condition, however, Russia can pose a major regional threat if it moves toward reimperialization. This scenario has been dubbed "Weimar Russia," denoting the possibility that, embittered by its economic and political troubles and humiliations, Russia may attempt to recover its past glory by turning to ultranationalist policies, particularly the reincorporation of -- or hegemony over -- part or all of the old "internal" empire. In the aftermath of the December 1993 parliamentary elections and Vladimir Zhirinovsky's strong showing in them, many Russians indicated a strong preference for reincorporation of the so-called near abroad -- the states on the territory of the former Soviet Union. But, more recently, concerns about costs and negative international reaction have resulted in a shift in favor of hegemony -- Russian geopolitical and economic domination of weak but nominally independent states.


To avoid Russian hegemony over the near abroad, to say nothing of creating the groundwork for future cooperation on a whole range of international matters, the United States and the other members of the democratic zone of peace have a substantial interest in helping Russia become a "normal" country, that is, a country that does not hanker for an empire and whose domestic life is not distorted by overmilitarization. Ideally, it would become a prosperous, free market, Western-style democracy. Whether Russia will succeed in becoming a normal state is difficult to predict, but the stakes justify a major Western effort. Even so, the key determinant is Russian domestic politics, over which, under the circumstances, the United States can have only limited influence, and the domestic trends are not very hopeful.


As the United States encourages Russia to join the zone of peace and cooperate on specific issues based on common concerns, it is in the U.S. interest that Russia's neighbors, such as Ukraine, Kazakhstan, and Uzbekistan, be able to make any attempt by Russia to recreate the empire very costly, thereby deterring it. And should deterrence fail, such an approach would help sap its energies, undermining its prospects for becoming an effective global challenge. This does not mean that the United States needs hostile relations between these countries and Moscow; good economic and political relations between Russia and its neighbors are not inconsistent with U.S. interests. But discouraging the emergence of a very robust Commonwealth of Independent States and consolidating Ukrainian, Kazakh, and Uzbek independence should be the primary U.S. objective in dealing with these countries.


The United States and its allies have lost some opportunities here because economic problems and pressure from Russia have reduced support for independence in some of the newly independent states. To discourage Russian reincorporation of Ukraine by force, NATO must make it clear to Russia, and must convince its own publics and parliaments, including the U.S. Congress, that such an action would lead to a cutoff of economic assistance to Russia, to NATO membership for the nations of East-Central Europe on a much faster track -- perhaps at once -- than would be the case otherwise, and possibly to material support to a Ukrainian resistance movement and Russian isolation from the West. Without such preparations now, there is danger that, in the face of a possible Russian takeover of Ukraine, NATO expansion to EastCentral Europe would not be politically supported because it would appear to be too provocative. Unfortunately, at times in the past the United States has appreciated its stake in a situation too late to express its intentions clearly enough to deter an aggressor. A clear and strong Western posture now should also strengthen those Russians who do not consider reimperialization to be in their country's interests.


But this is not only a military matter. The key for Ukraine and others is to carry out economic and political reforms to increase internal stability and reduce their vulnerability to Russian interference and domination. The United States, the EU countries, and Japan have a stake in helping Ukraine and others adopt significant economic reforms. To encourage such a development, the G-7 states should be willing to meet some of the costs of the transition to a market-oriented system.


Discourage Chinese Expansionism


China is another major power that might, over the long term and perhaps sooner than Russia, emerge as a global rival to the United States. China's economic dynamism, now also being reflected in its military development, ensures that -- if domestic turmoil can be avoided -- China will become an increasingly important player on the global scene in coming decades. The country has had dramatic economic growth. Between 1978 and 1992 its GNP increased by 9 percent annually. In 1992, that rate increased to 12 percent. Its foreign trade increased from $ 21 billion in 1978 to $ 170 billion in 1992. According to the International Monetary Fund, Chinese output may have exceeded $ 1.6 trillion dollars in 1992. The World Bank gives an even higher estimate: $ 2.3 trillion. Militarily, China has been increasing its power projection capability -- both naval and air -- in part by purchasing advanced equipment from Russia. If China continues to grow at a higher rate than the United States, at some point in the next century it could become the world's largest economy. n7 Such a development would produce a significant shift in relative economic power, with important potential geopolitical and military implications.


China, however, faces significant political uncertainties in its domestic politics, including a possible succession crisis on the death of Deng Xiaoping and the centrifugal tendencies unleashed by differential economic growth among the provinces. Indeed, Chinese weakness, not excluding a possible civil war that could disrupt economic prosperity and create refugee flows, may cause significant problems for its neighbors and the world community.


Assuming these difficulties can be avoided, the world will have to deal with the fact that China is not a "satisfied" power. Among the major powers, China appears more dissatisfied with the status quo than the others. Beyond Hong Kong and Macau, which will be ceded to China by the end of the century, it claims sovereignty over substantial territories that it does not now control, such as Taiwan, the Spratly Islands and the South China Sea generally, and the Senkaku Islands between China and Japan. Although China has abandoned communism as a global ideology and seems to have accepted the economic imperative of the global economy, it is still seeking its "rightful" place in the world geopolitically. How will China define its role as its power grows beyond its territorial interests? China appears to be seeking eventual regional predominance, a prospect opposed by Japan, Russia, and several other rising regional powers such as Indonesia and India.


Even without regional domination, China might become interested in becoming the leader of an anti-U.S. coalition based on a rejection of U.S. leadership generally or as it is expressed in such policies as nonproliferation and human rights. This is evident in its assistance to Pakistani and Iranian nuclear programs. It is also clear that China is not as opposed to the North Korean nuclear program as the United States is. Some Chinese writing on strategy and international security expresses hostility to U.S. preponderance and implies the need to balance it. But China recognizes the importance of the United States -- as a market for Chinese goods and as a source for technical training and technology. Without U.S. help China is less likely to achieve its economic and military objectives.


China, however, is decades away from becoming a serious global rival either by itself or in coalition with others, and its internal political development is likely to influence the type of foreign policy it pursues. In particular, its degree of democratization is likely to determine how much money and effort China is willing to devote to improving its international standing in the light of its immense development tasks at home. This provides the United States with ample strategic warning. For the near term, economic considerations are likely to be dominant in Chinese calculations. Nevertheless, China by itself or as the leader of a coalition of renegade states could complicate U.S.-led efforts to deal with issues such as proliferation and stability in the Persian Gulf and Northeast Asia. Chinese economic success confronts the United States with a dilemma. On the one hand, it increases Chinese potential to become a global rival. On the other, it might produce democratization, decentralization, and a cooperative China.


The United States should continue to pursue economic relations with China and encourage its integration in global economic and security regimes. It should also use the leverage of economic relations, which are very important to China, to continue to encourage Chinese cooperation in restraining nuclear and missile proliferation in places like Korea and Iran. But Chinese cooperation is likely to remain limited. While the United States continues to cooperate with China, it should be cautious in transferring to it technologies that have important military implications. It should also ensure that China's neighbors, such as Taiwan and the member states of the Association of Southeast Asian Nations, have the means to defend themselves. Working with other powers, especially Japan, Korea after unification, and Indonesia, the United States should preclude Chinese regional hegemony by maintaining adequate forces in the region. Without a U.S. presence in the region, as Chinese power grows, some states in the region are likely to appease China and move closer to it, while others such as Indonesia, Japan, and Vietnam would seek to balance it.


Preserve U.S. Military Preeminence


A global rival to the United States could emerge for several reasons. Because the main deterrent to the rise of another global rival is the military power of the United States, an inadequate level of U.S. military capability could facilitate such an event. This capability should be measured not only in terms of the strength of other countries, but also in terms of the U.S. ability to carry out the strategy outlined here. U.S. tradition makes the prospect of defense cuts below this level a serious possibility: historically, the United States has made this error on several occasions by downsizing excessively. It faces the same danger again for the longer term.


The issue is not only what levels of resources are spent on defense but also on what, for what, and how they are spent. For the United States to maintain its military preeminence, in addition to meeting possible major regional contingencies (MRCs), it needs specific capability in three areas.


First, besides maintaining a robust nuclear deterrent capability because of concerns with Russian and Chinese existing or potential nuclear postures, the United States needs to acquire increased capability to deter, prevent, and defend against the use of biological, chemical, and nuclear weapons in major conflicts in critical regions. The regional deterrence requirements might well be different from those with regard to the Soviet Union during the Cold War because of the character and motivations of different regional powers. U.S. ability to prevent and defend against use is currently very limited. In the near term, therefore, to deter use of WMD against its forces and allies, the United States may have to threaten nuclear retaliation.


To counter the spread of WMD and their means of delivery (especially ballistic and cruise missiles), the United States should seek to develop the capability to promptly locate and destroy even well-protected facilities related to biological, chemical, and nuclear weapons and their delivery systems. Equally important will be the ability to defend against the use of these weapons, including both active and passive defense. Deploying robust, multilayered ballistic missile defenses is vital for protecting U.S. forwarddeployed forces and extending protection to U.S. allies, thus gaining their participation and cooperation in defeating aggression in critical regions.


Second, the United States needs improved capability for decisive impact in lesser regional crises (LRCs) -- internal conflicts, small wars, humanitarian relief, peacekeeping or peacemaking operations, punitive strikes, restoration of civil order, evacuation of noncombatant Americans, safeguarding of security zones, and monitoring and enforcement of sanctions. Given the end of the Cold War, the United States can be more selective in deciding when to become involved militarily. It has not been selective enough during the past three years. Getting involved in LRCs can erode U.S. capabilities for dealing with bigger and more important conflicts. Nevertheless, some crises may occur in areas of vital importance to the United States -- e.g., in Mexico, Cuba, South Africa, or Saudi Arabia -- and others might so challenge American values as to produce U.S. military involvement. The United States might also consider participating with allies in some LRCs because of a desire either to extend the zone of peace or to prevent chaos from spreading to a critical region and thereby threatening the security of members of the zone of peace.


At present, LRCs are treated as lesser included cases of major regional conflicts, in the same way that some thought about regional conflicts in relation to a global conflict during the Cold War. It has been suggested that the United States "underestimated and misestimated the MRC requirements during the Cold War." n8 It would be a mistake to treat LRCs the same way now, especially because in the future U.S. forces will be much smaller than in the past and will provide a smaller margin for error. Even small LRCs can impose substantial and disproportionate demands on the support elements of U.S. forces -- such as airborne warning and control systems (AWACS), SEAD (suppression of enemy air defenses), airlift, and communications. To be prepared for its MRC commitments and to have some increased LRC capabilities, the United States needs more airlift and changes in the MRC-driven training and organization of U.S. forces.


Third, it is essential to retain a mobilization base to reconstitute additional military capability in a timely fashion if things go badly in any major region. Without such a capability the United States is unlikely to be able to take prompt action, given the amount of strategic warning it is likely to receive.


To discourage the rise of another global rival or to be in a strong position to deal with the problem should one arise, focusing U.S. military planning for the future on Korea and the Persian Gulf, plus increased ability for LRC operations, is inadequate. Over time, although the threat from North Korea will probably disappear, other larger threats could emerge. As an alternative, the United States should consider moving toward sizing its forces largely by adopting the requirement that they be capable of simultaneously defeating the most plausible military challenges to critical U.S. interests that might be created by the two next most powerful military forces in the world that are not allied with the United States. Such a force should allow the United States to protect its interests in Asia, Europe, and the Persian Gulf. Such a force-sizing principle does not mean that U.S. forces have to be numerically as large as the combined forces of these two powers. It means that they should be capable of defeating them given relatively specific nearsimultaneous scenarios of great importance to the United States -- a Gulf and Asia scenario; a Europe and Asia scenario; or Asian and Gulf scenarios nearly simultaneously. Such an approach would give the United States a flexible global capability for substantial operations.


U.S. superiority in new weapons and their use would be critical. U.S. planners should therefore give higher priority to research on new technologies, new concepts of operation, and changes in organization, with the aim of U.S. dominance in the militarytechnical revolution that may be emerging. They should also focus on how to project U.S. systems and interests against weapons based on new technologies.


The Persian Gulf War gave a glimpse of the likely future. The character of warfare will change because of advances in military technology, where the United States has the lead, and in corresponding concepts of operation and organizational structure. The challenge is to sustain this lead in the face of the complacency that the current U.S. lead in military power is likely to engender. Those who are seeking to be rivals to the United States are likely to be very motivated to explore new technologies and how to use them against it. A determined nation making the right choices, even though it possessed a much smaller economy, could pose an enormous challenge by exploiting breakthroughs that made more traditional U.S. military methods less effective by comparison.


For example, Germany, by making the right technical choices and adopting innovative concepts for their use in the 1920s and 1930s, was able to make a serious bid for world domination. At the same time, Japan, with a relatively small GNP compared to the other major powers, especially the United States, was at the forefront of the development of naval aviation and aircraft carriers. These examples indicate that a major innovation in warfare provides ambitious powers an opportunity to become dominant or near-dominant powers. U.S. domination of the emerging military-technical revolution, combined with the maintenance of a force of adequate size, can help to discourage the rise of a rival power by making potential rivals believe that catching up with the United States is a hopeless proposition and that if they try they will suffer the same fate as the former Soviet Union.


Although, based on the strategy proposed here, the United States needs increased capabilities in some areas, it can cut back elsewhere and do things differently to free up resources for them. The United States still has too many bases. The country does not have the most effective process for making informed decisions for allocating resources for various types of force elements -- that is, those forces that are required for current and future objectives and operational requirements. As things currently stand there is too much duplication in some key areas and capabilities that are not as relevant now as they were before. This is especially true in the maintenance and support area. For example, the navy, the air force, and industry all provide maintenance for military aircraft engines. Greater centralization here could save significant resources. The Defense Department is still being forced to buy weapon systems that it says it does not need and will not be needed under the proposed strategy. The current acquisition system is very costly and can save resources if streamlined.


Preserve U.S. Economic Strength


The United States is unlikely to preserve its military and technological dominance if the U.S. economy declines seriously. In such an environment, the domestic economic and political base for global leadership would diminish and the United States would probably incrementally withdraw from the world, become inward-looking, and abandon more and more of its external interests. As the United States weakened, others would try to fill the Vacuum.


To sustain and improve its economic strength, the United States must maintain its technological lead in the economic realm. Its success will depend on the choices it makes. In the past, developments such as the agricultural and industrial revolutions produced fundamental changes positively affecting the relative position of those who were able to take advantage of them and negatively affecting those who did not. Some argue that the world may be at the beginning of another such transformation, which will shift the sources of wealth and the relative position of classes and nations. If the United States fails to recognize the change and adapt its institutions, its relative position will necessarily worsen.


To remain the preponderant world power, U.S. economic strength must be enhanced by further improvements in productivity, thus increasing real per capita income; by strengthening education and training; and by generating and using superior science and technology. In the long run the economic future of the United States will also be affected by two other factors. One is the imbalance between government revenues and government expenditure. As a society the United States has to decide what part of the GNP it wishes the government to control and adjust expenditures and taxation accordingly. The second, which is even more important to U.S. economic wall-being over the long run, may be the overall rate of investment. Although their government cannot endow Americans with a Japanese-style propensity to save, it can use tax policy to raise the savings rate.


Another key factor affecting the global standing of the United States is its current social crisis: the high rate of violence in cities, the unsatisfactory state of race relations, and the breakdown of families. Although it faces no global ideological rival, and although movements such as Islamic fundamentalism and East Asian neo-Confucian authoritarianism are limited in their appeal, the social problems of the United States are limiting its attractiveness as a model. If the social crisis worsens, it is likely that, over the long term, a new organizing principle with greater universal appeal will emerge and be adopted by states with the power and the desire to challenge the erstwhile leader.


Use Force Judiciously; Avoid Overextension; Share the Burden with Allies


Overextension is a mistake that some of the big powers have made in the past. Such a development can occur if the United States is not judicious in its use of force and gets involved in protracted conflicts in non-critical regions, thereby sapping its energies and undermining support for its global role. And when the United States uses force in critical regions, its preference should be to have its allies and friends contribute their fair share. Having the capability to protect U.S. vital interests unilaterally if necessary can facilitate getting friends and allies of the United States to participate -- especially on terms more to its liking. It is quite possible that if the United States cannot protect its interests without significant participation by allies, it might not be able to protect them at all. For example, in the run-up to the Gulf war, several allies did not favor the use of force to evict Iraqi forces from Kuwait. If the military participation of these allies had been indispensable for military success against Iraq, Saddam Hussein's forces might still be in Kuwait and Iraq might now possess nuclear weapons.


When it comes to lesser interests the United States should rely on nonmilitary options, especially if the stakes involved do not warrant the military costs. It has many options: arming and training the victims of aggression; providing technical assistance and logistic support for peacekeeping by the United Nations, regional organizations, or other powers; and economic instruments such as sanctions and positive incentives. The effectiveness of these non-military options can be enhanced by skillful diplomacy.


The members of the zone of peace have a common interest in the stability of Europe, North America, East Asia, and the Persian Gulf. Japan, for example, imports oil from the Gulf and exports to and invests in the other critical regions. The same is true of Europe. The U.S. global role benefits these other members as well as the United States. But there is a danger (known as the "free rider" problem) that the other members of the zone of peace will not do their fair share. This was a problem during the Cold War and it is unlikely to go away. It is a potentially important political issue in the United States, which does face a dilemma: As long as the United States is able and willing to protect common interests, other countries may be happy to rely on it, thereby keeping their political opposition under control, accepting no risk for their youth, and continuing to focus on their economies. But on the other hand, the United States would not want Germany and Japan to be able to conduct expeditionary wars. The United States will probably therefore be willing to bear a heavier military burden than its allies, but fairness and long-term public support require that this disproportion not be excessive.


A balance needs to be struck and a formula has to be found to balance each country's contribution of "blood and treasure." In the Gulf war a substantial degree of burden sharing was realized. But the allies can do more. For the long term, one possible solution is to institutionalize burden sharing among the G-7 nations for the security of critical regions, including sharing the financial costs of military operations. Questions of out-of-area responsibility are important in peacetime, both on a day-to-day basis and in times of crisis and war. Burden-sharing steps would not obviate a significant and perhaps disproportionate U.S. military role in major crises in critical regions, but this is a price the United States should be willing to pay.


Obtain and Maintain Domestic Support for U.S. Leadership


Some might argue that, given the costs involved, the American people will not support a global leadership role for the United States. It can also be argued that the public might not support the level of defense expenditure required to pursue a global leadership strategy because domestic priorities are in competition for the same dollars. Public opinion polls indicate that Americans are focused on domestic concerns. Such a perception discouraged a serious debate on national security issues in the last presidential debate.


According to a recent poll, however, Americans support both U.S. involvement in world affairs (90 percent) and also want more attention to domestic issues (84 percent). A majority of Americans support peace "through strength." n9 Whether the public would in fact support a global leadership strategy as outlined here is not known. Such a role is indeed not without costs. The cost of sustaining U.S. leadership is, however, affordable. At present the burden imposed by U.S. defense efforts, approximately 4 percent of GNR is lighter than at any time since before the Korean War. The burden will shrink further as the economy expands, and the costs of leadership can be kept at a sustainable level by avoiding overextension and by more effective burden sharing among the members of the zone of peace.


Moreover, a global leadership role serves the economic interests of the United States. For example, it can facilitate U.S. exports, as recently seen in U.S. contracts with Saudi Arabia for the sale of aircraft and the modernization of Saudi telecommunication systems. As discussed earlier, the costs of alternative approaches to U.S. global leadership can ultimately be higher. Rather than undermining domestic prosperity, such a role can in fact facilitate it. The economic benefits of U.S. leadership have not been focused on either analytically or in the statements made to the public.


Global leadership and building a more democratic and peaceful world should also appeal to American idealism, a defining American characteristic. For sustaining domestic political support, this appeal might well be as important as appeals to more selfish and material American interests. In fact, having such a lofty goal can be a spur to the kinds of social and educational reforms that are necessary, rather than being an alternative to them.




As a nation, the United States is in a position of unprecedented military and political power and enjoys a unique leadership role in the world. Maintaining this position and precluding the rise of another global rival for the indefinite future is the best longterm objective for the United States. It is an opportunity the United States may never see again.


In the long run, this situation will not last if Americans turn inward or make the wrong choices. The question is whether the country will accept its responsibility -- for reasons of selfinterest and historical necessity -- and meet the challenge of the new era with vision and resolve. The time has come for President Bill Clinton to make a compelling case for U.S. leadership and to seek to shape public attitudes. Without a vision, a strategy, and bipartisan support, he will fail to win public approval for U.S. global leadership, and his country will fail to seize this historic moment.


This article is drawn from a larger RAND study, "From Containment to Global Leadership? America and the World After the Cold War." The author would like to thank Cheryl Benard, Abe Shulsky, Andrew Marshall, David Chu, Paul Davis, Brent Bradley, Kevin Lewis, Scooter Libby, Chuck Miller, Craig Moore, Chris Bowie, Dan Drezner, and Ken Watman for their comments on the earlier drafts.



n1. Dick Cheney, Defense Strategy for the 1990s: The Regional Defense Strategy (Washington, D.C.: Department of Defense, 1993).

n2. William J. Clinton, A National Strategy of Engagement and Enlargement (Washington, D.C.: The White House, July 1994).

n3. Among the questions that would have to be addressed are: Would the defense of the United States include the defense of North America or the Americas generally? How far into the Atlantic and Pacific Oceans would the defensive perimeter extend? Would the United States need a robust anti-ballistic missile defense?

n4. Henry Kissinger, Diplomaty (New York, N.Y.: Simon & Schuster, 1994), p. 809.

n5. It is, however, an interesting question whether the governments of modern industrial democracies would be able to convince their populations to support preparations for (let alone, actually fight) major wars against each other on purely realpolitik terms, or whether ideological or nationalist motives would have to be adduced.

n6. The concept of a "democratic zone of peace" was used in U.S. Defense Department documents in 1992. See Dick Cheney, The Regional Defense Strategy (Washington, D.C.: Department of Defense, January 1993). The concept was also used by Max Singer and Aaron Wildavsky in their 1993 book, The Real World Order: Zones of Peace/Zones of Turmoil (Chatham, N.J.: Chatham House Publishers, 1993).

n7. Economist, October 1, 1994, p. 70. According to the Economist, if current trends hold by the year 2020 the Chinese economy might well be 40 percent larger than the U.S. economy.

n8. Keyin Lewis, "The Discipline Gap and Other Reasons for Humility and Realism in Defense Planning," in Paul Davis, ed., New Challenges for Defense Planning (Santa Monica, Calif.: RAND, 1994), p. 103.

n9. Times Mirror Center for People and the Press, The People, the Press and Politics (Washington, D.C., September 21, 1994), p. 37.

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