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There is widespread agreement that the end of the Cold War was a triumph for the United States and the West; but even several years later, there is little consensus about its meaning and implications for the future. As a result, it is not surprising that we call the period in which we now find ourselves the "post-Cold War" world, defining it as much by reference to what it is not and by what is behind us, as by what it is and by what lies ahead of us. A few features of the post-Cold War environment already are clear. First and most obvious, our victory in the Cold War -- not only the fact that we won it but how we won it -- transformed what might be called our "security environment." This occurred in the fundamental sense that the very real threats to our national security interests and core values we faced for a generation have disappeared for the foreseeable future. Notwithstanding all the issues and problems we confront in the post-Cold War world, none compares to the dangers -- including the specter of nuclear annihilation -- we faced during the Cold War. The simple but remarkable fact is that, for the first time in my adult life, the United States no longer faces a direct military threat to its vital interests. Second, and perhaps less obvious, the end of the Cold War offers new possibilities. ...read more.


Given this ambivalence, it should not be surprising if the pressures to spread (if not shed) the burdens of international leadership we shouldered during the Cold War seem nearly irresistible; yet at the same time we give voice to the impulse to redress the injustices and relieve the suffering that we find in abundance in the post-Cold War world. And so we hear a cacophony of voices. On one side is a growing chorus insisting that this problem is one with which the Europeans should deal, and that one is properly the concern of the Africans, and that other one is no concern of ours. On the other side is another loud chorus insisting that as the world's leading democracy and only superpower, we cannot stand aside but must "do something" to resolve this crisis, end that conflict, rebuild this nation, or bring the blessings of democracy to that one. IS ISOLATIONISM AN OPTION? Put differently, for the first time in a generation, we face an apparent choice between international engagement and leadership on the one hand, and a retreat into isolationism and unilateralism on the other. It is, however, a false choice unless we really are prepared to squander the opportunities and responsibilities we face, and accept whatever kind of world results. Isolationism is not a real option because the world is becoming increasingly interdependent. This growing interdependence, moreover, is unstoppable. ...read more.


With courage and sacrifice, and at great cost in blood and treasure, we led the allied forces to victory in World War II. In the aftermath of that conflict, we soon faced a choice between a return to American isolationism and American leadership of the free world facing a growing Soviet menace. This time -- with the painfully learned lessons of the interwar period in mind, but primarily prodded by an aggressively belligerent Soviet Union -- bipartisan American internationalism won out and, building on that consensus, we embarked on a course that culminated in our victory in the Cold War. The simple fact is that we can no more opt out of the external world and "mind our own business" in the post-Cold War world than we could after World War I or World War II. History tells us that following the siren song of neoisolationism ultimately serves neither our interests nor our values: we may be able to postpone a foreign policy day of reckoning, but we cannot avoid it. The United States literally cannot "abdicate" its role as international leader in the post-Cold War world because there is no one else -- no other country and no institution -- that could fill the role. Although we cannot and should not make every problem our own, we need to be clear that when and where we choose not to lead, chances are that no other country or institution will fill that vacuum. Put simply, no one and nothing else will take our place, because no one and nothing else can. ...read more.

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