In Uncertain Times

In Uncertain Times: American Foreign Policy after the Berlin Wall and 9/11

Melvyn P. Leffler
Jeffrey W. Legro
Copyright Date: 2011
Edition: 1
Published by: Cornell University Press
Pages: 232
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  • Book Info
    In Uncertain Times
    Book Description:

    In Uncertain Times considers how policymakers react to dramatic developments on the world stage. Few expected the Berlin Wall to come down in November 1989; no one anticipated the devastating attacks on the World Trade Center and the Pentagon in September 2001. American foreign policy had to adjust quickly to an international arena that was completely transformed.

    Melvyn P. Leffler and Jeffrey W. Legro have assembled an illustrious roster of officials from the George H. W. Bush, Clinton, and George W. Bush administrations-Robert B. Zoellick, Paul Wolfowitz, Eric S. Edelman, Walter B. Slocombe, and Philip Zelikow. These policymakers describe how they went about making strategy for a world fraught with possibility and peril. They offer provocative reinterpretations of the economic strategy advanced by the George H. W. Bush administration, the bureaucratic clashes over policy toward the breakup of the USSR, the creation of the Defense Policy Guidance of 1992, the expansion of NATO, the writing of the National Security Strategy Statement of 2002, and the invasion of Iraq in 2003.

    A group of eminent scholars address these same topics. Bruce Cumings, John Mueller, Mary Elise Sarotte, Odd Arne Westad, and William C. Wohlforth probe the unstated assumptions, the cultural values, and the psychological makeup of the policymakers. They examine whether opportunities were seized and whether threats were magnified and distorted. They assess whether academicians and independent experts would have done a better job than the policymakers did. Together, policymakers and scholars impel us to rethink how our world has changed and how policy can be improved in the future.

    eISBN: 978-0-8014-6081-4
    Subjects: History

Table of Contents

  1. Front Matter
    (pp. i-vi)
  2. Table of Contents
    (pp. vii-viii)
  3. Acknowledgments
    (pp. ix-xii)
    (pp. 1-12)
    Melvyn P. Leffler and Jeffrey W. Legro

    On November 9, 1989, the Berlin Wall came down. Hardly anyone had foreseen this event. When President Ronald Reagan had challenged Soviet leader Mikhail Gorbachev in June 1987 “to tear down this wall,” he never anticipated that Berliners themselves would have the opportunity and courage to bring about such dramatic change. We now know that the Wall came down as a result of accidental circumstances, a series of mistaken statements and understandings among officials of the German Democratic Republic. No one had planned for this to happen, and no one had plans to deal with a new landscape that might...

  5. 1 THE WALL COMES DOWN: A Punctuational Moment
    (pp. 13-25)
    Mary Elise Sarotte

    How did those in charge of U.S. foreign policy respond when a wall came, quite literally, tumbling down? Initially, they were as stunned by the events in Berlin on November 9, 1989, as the rest of the world. No evidence available to date suggests that any senior leader in Washington expected the opening of the inner-German border in November 1989. This opening caught the relatively new George H.W. Bush administration on the back foot, as it had been trying throughout 1989—its first year in office—to slow down what it viewed as former President Ronald Reagan’s irresponsible rate of...

    (pp. 26-43)
    Robert B. Zoellick

    This chapter, adapted from a speech, offers my perspective about strategy and policy at the end of the Cold War. Governments, of course, act as a collective. My thoughts are those of just one participant, although they were shared by others in varying degrees. Future historians and policymakers can provide a more independent assessment of the influence of these ideas and their consequences.

    By and large, historians of the end of the Cold War have concentrated on political-security matters, with a narrow geographic focus on the European and transatlantic theaters. I will include political economy dimensions as well as U.S....

  7. 3 SHAPING THE FUTURE: Planning at the Pentagon, 1989–93
    (pp. 44-62)
    Paul Wolfowitz

    In the first half of the 1980s, the ice dividing East and West seemed permanently frozen. Why did it crack open so suddenly and so peacefully? Was it the product of inevitable historical forces, such as the internal weaknesses of the Soviet empire and the economy that supported it? Did Mikhail Gorbachev’s unsuccessful attempt to adapt Soviet communism to those forces lead eventually to the peaceful end of the Cold War? Or did President Ronald Reagan’s deliberate strategy to shape those forces bring about a situation where a reformist leader such as Gorbachev could emerge? Or was it some combination...

    (pp. 63-77)
    Eric S. Edelman

    Probably no defense planning document since the end of World War II, with the possible exception of NSC-68 (which was not strictly speaking a defense document), has received as much attention and discussion as the 1992 Defense Planning Guidance. If you Google the 1992 DPG or Defense Planning Guidance you come up with over ninety-two thousand hits, one of which is a Wikipedia entry that suggests the DPG represents the “Wolfowitz Doctrine.” The PBS television show Frontline, which produced the “The War Behind Closed Doors” program, devotes several pages on its website to the 1992 DPG, links it to the...

  9. 5 A CRISIS OF OPPORTUNITY: The Clinton Administration and Russia
    (pp. 78-95)
    Walter B. Slocombe

    For the Clinton administration, the great unexpected—or, more precisely, unprecedented—international event it faced was the “radically transformed security environment” that had emerged over the last few years before it took office.¹ As a consequence of this massive change in the world, Bill Clinton expected to be the first U.S. president since Herbert Hoover who would not need to be preoccupied with foreign and security problems. After a campaign whose central theme was “It’s the economy, stupid,” he, and most of the team that joined his administration, expected foreign policy to be a far less dominating factor than it...

  10. 6 U.S. STRATEGIC PLANNING IN 2001–02
    (pp. 96-116)
    Philip Zelikow

    The two cases of adjusting to change in 1989–90 and 2001–02 were exceptional for the fluid conditions in which policies were crafted, for the high stress, and for divisions within the governing administration. Some of the same individuals turn up in both stories. Then the resemblances dwindle.

    Beginning in late March of 1989 and continuing through 1990, the U.S. government chose, as its basic goal, to support change and fashion a new international system. Many accounts of the George H. W. Bush administration, carried away with stories of its initial caution and conservatism, have fundamentally misread this period....

    (pp. 117-130)
    John Mueller

    The period after the fall of the Berlin Wall can be usefully compared with the early post–World War II period. In 1945 and in 1989, the prime immediate security problem for U.S. and allied policymakers was to integrate the losers of the previous conflict into the international community: Germany and Japan in one case, Russia and to a lesser extent China in the other. In both cases, this project was, in general, handled well—for the most part, it proved to be a triumph of enlightened self-interest.

    However, as Warner Schilling has observed, “at the summit of foreign policy,...

    (pp. 131-149)
    Bruce Cumings

    I propose to examine how sudden events, either ones that might have been expected or had a modest probability, or those that happen utterly unexpectedly, tend to fit into existing assumptions of policymakers and scholars alike, skewing their reactions to such events and biasing future policy decisions. I will also explore theories about anticipating and predicting future events, and take particular cases—the shattered world of 1945, the fall of the Berlin Wall and the collapse of the Soviet Union, 9/11, and post–Cold War North Korea—and try to explain how statesmen and scholars sought to explain these cases,...

    (pp. 150-162)
    Odd Arne Westad

    We all try to draw lessons from history. In our work, we attempt to improve what we do by understanding why things went wrong (or right) in the past. All world religions teach that we can become better men and women by learning from our mistakes, and most of political theory does the same. Liberalism is particularly insistent on both the obligation and the need to perfect the present in light of past errors—the concept of progress that is built into all kinds of liberal political systems assumes that the future is perfectible if we can draw on history...

    (pp. 163-178)
    William C. Wohlforth

    When contemplating policy responses to dramatic and unexpected developments, should policymakers heed nongovernmental experts’ advice? If so, then U.S. strategic choices after the fall of the Berlin Wall and 9/11 present something of a puzzle. For if we reduce the complex and varied U.S. policy responses to four discrete decisions—the two immediate responses (unification of Germany within NATO, intervention in Afghanistan), and the two most salient follow-on decisions (NATO enlargement to Central Europe, the invasion of Iraq)—what stands out is expert opposition. Only the invasion of Afghanistan reflected a rough consensus between the government and the relevant nongovernmental...

    (pp. 179-198)
    Melvyn P. Leffler and Jeffrey W. Legro

    Making national strategy is a byzantine business in the best of times. When dramatic events happen, when the international arena is complex and changing, when threats and opportunities are uncertain, leaders struggle to understand and react effectively. The fall of the Berlin Wall and the attacks of 9/11 opened vistas that were unfamiliar and complicated. How did U.S. leaders manage those transitions?

    In this conclusion, we aim both to clarify and analyze what the United States did and how it fared during the momentous years that followed the end of the Cold War. First, we sketch the evolution of strategy...

  16. Notes
    (pp. 199-226)
  17. Notes on Contributors
    (pp. 227-230)
  18. Index
    (pp. 231-244)