- The Empire Club of Canada Addresses (Toronto, Canada), 6 Feb 1969, p. 170-184
- Church, Senator Frank, Speaker
- Media Type
- Item Type
- The speaker's declaration of himself as an out-spoken critic of American foreign policy. The subject of Revolution and World Order. The two dominant nations in the world, the United States and the Soviet Union, suffering from a neurotic sense of insecurity. The tremendous cost of their nuclear armories. The immediate threat that each superpower perceives from the other: its ideological impact on third countries, particularly those which it regards as its protective buffers. How the various interventions of the two nations are defended not only as legitimate defensive measures but as positive services, with some examples. The fragility and shortsightedness of the policy of repressing revolution. The morality issue of repressing revolution. A third fatal defect: it goes against the American grain. The vital question and the answer: "we must and can learn to live with widespread revolutionary turmoil." Why that is so. The lack of moral or legal right of a great power to impose its will on a small country even if the latter does things which affect it adversely. Nothing new about the policy of nonintervention: the history for America. Arguments against nonintervention. Positive benefits from pursuing a policy of nonintervention. The critical factor of nationalism as the engine of change in modern history. Taking a leaf from the Chinese outlook. Guaranteeing national security. The greatest danger to American democracy. The contradictions of America's present approach to foreign policy; a few basic inferences that can be drawn from recent experience.
- Date of Original
- 6 Feb 1969
- Language of Item
- Copyright Statement
- The speeches are free of charge but please note that the Empire Club of Canada retains copyright. Neither the speeches themselves nor any part of their content may be used for any purpose other than personal interest or research without the explicit permission of the Empire Club of Canada.
- Empire Club of CanadaEmail:email@example.com
Agency street/mail address:
Fairmont Royal York Hotel
100 Front Street West, Floor H
Toronto, ON, M5J 1E3
- Full Text
- FEBRUARY 6, 1969
The New Look in U. S. Policy
AN ADDRESS BY Senator Frank Church, U.S. SENATOR FROM IDAHO
CHAIRMAN The President, Edward B. Jolliffe, Q.C.
There is no more powerful legislative body in the world than the United States, and its Foreign Affairs Committee is one of special importance. Our distinguished guest, a Senator from Idaho since the age of 33, is a member of that committee and has recently become chairman of its sub-committee on the western hemisphere, which includes Canada.
Senator Church is an outstanding member of the younger generation among American statesmen. Many will remember his stirring words as keynote speaker at the 1960 Democratic Convention which nominated Kennedy for President.
A native of Idaho, he was educated at Stanford and Harvard, served in the Second World War, practised law in Boise and led the young Democrats of Idaho while still in his twenties. In 1957 he was named by the National Junior Chambers of Commerce as one of his country's ten most outstanding young men.
In 1968 the Republican Party swept the State of Idaho, but Frank Church came back for his third term as Democratic Senator with a larger majority than ever before. A leading member of the Senate at 44, he is a man from whom much has been heard--and more will be heard in years to come, Senator Frank Church.
Thank you, Mr. President, distinguished guests, Gentlemen: I thank you first of all for the opportunity of coming and speaking to such a well-known, prominent Club. I want first of all to acknowledge the kindness and generosity of my introduction.
You might have mentioned one thing to break the ice for me, that being, that I have long been an out-spoken critic of American foreign policy.
I don't come here today to praise that policy. Neither do I come here to bury my government with any kind of verbal criticism. I would not give this speech outside my own country, except to a Canadian audience and I say that because I know that the Canadian people have the best interests of the United States fully as much at heart as the people of my own country.
My subject, as Ted has mentioned is the subject of Revolution and World Order. A few years ago at a dinner in London, I spent an evening in friendly debate with Mr. Patrick Gordon Walker as to whether the Soviet Union or the United States was the more ideological in conducting its foreign relations. The argument was a bit of a stalemate, but it left me to reflect upon another, less debatable resemblance in the current foreign policies of the two countries, the attempt of each, within its respective sphere of influence, to maintain order by preserving the status quo.
The relative tolerance or touchiness of a great power toward revolt in a country which it judges to be within its sphere is only partly governed by an objective appreciation of events. To an equal or greater extent the large nation's attitude is determined by its own subjective feeling of security, by its confidence or lack of confidence in its institutions. If it suspects that revolutionary change in a small neighbor is controlled or influenced, or even likely to work to the advantage of, a great power rival, it is likely to regard the revolutionary movement as a grave threat to its vital interests, if not indeed to its very survival.
For all their immense physical power, the two dominant nations in the world, the United States and the Soviet Union, suffer from a neurotic sense of insecurity, although neither regards itself as being in imminent danger of attack by the other. At tremendous cost their nuclear armories keep them at bay and, barring some unexpected technological breakthrough on one side or the other, the delicate equilibrium will hold, leaving the two rivals in a state of chronic but only low grade anxiety over the danger of attack by the other. It is a costly, irrational and desperately dangerous way of keeping the peace but it is all we have shown ourselves capable of thus far.
The immediate threat that each superpower perceives from the other is its ideological impact on third countries, most particularly those which it regards as its protective buffers. It is one of the supposed realities of international politics, a kind of higher law transcending such legal documents as the United Nations Charter, that great powers are entitled to have spheres of influence made up of friendly neighbors. In the case of maritime powers such as the United States, the neighborhood may extend to the fringes of distant continents but, whether or not the buffer is contiguous, the principle is the same: in order to guard itself against even the most remote or hypothetical threat to its security, a great power is held entitled to intervene in the affairs of its small neighbors, even to the extent of making the basic decisions as to how they will organize and run their own societies.
Seen in this way, the various interventions of the United States and the Soviet Union are defended not only as legitimate defensive measures but as positive services. Thus, in the case of their intervention in the Dominican Republic in 1965, American policy makers were untroubled by the fact that their intervention violated both the Rio Treaty and the Charter of the Organization of American States and that the revolution which they suppressed was on behalf of a freely elected government which had been expelled by a coup. These were judged only superficial considerations when weighed against the need to defend America from the specter of a second Cuba while rescuing the Dominicans from their foolhardy flirtation with communism.
It remained for the Russians to devise a doctrine of ideological justification for the policy of interventionism. In a document which has come to be known as the Brezhnev doctrine, the Soviet government pointed out that, in invading Czechoslovakia, the Soviet Union and its proteges were doing no more than discharging their internationalist duty toward the fraternal peoples of Czechoslovakia and defending their own socialist gains against antisocialist forces supported by world imperialism seeking to export counterrevolution. Well whether the Russians actually believed this or not, I can't say, but I can say I don't believe it. I believe that the Russians, even if they persuaded themselves otherwise, suppressed the liberal government of Czechoslovakia because they feared the contagion of freedom for the rest of their empire and ultimately for the Soviet Union itself. Nor do I believe that, in suppressing revolutions in Latin America and trying to suppress revolution in Vietnam, the United States is acting legitimately in its own self-defense. There are, God knows, profound differences between the internal orders of the United States and the Soviet Union, ours is a free society and theirs is a totalitarian society whose leaders have shown themselves to be terrified of freedom, but, in their foreign policies, the two superpowers have taken on a remarkable resemblance. Concerned primarily with the preservation of their own vast hegemonies, they have become, in their respective spheres, defenders of the status quo against the pressures of revolutionary upheaval in which each perceives little but the secret hand of the other.
Suppressing revolution in its own immediate vicinity is an easy if embarrassing task for a superpower. Suppressing it on a distant continent is more difficult, and, as we have learned in Vietnam, beating down a strongly motivated, capably led and well-organized indigenous force is a virtual impossibility. Confronted with rising nationalist movements, the superpowers, to their own astonishment, sometimes find themselves musclebound. Their nuclear power, though colossal, is so colossal as to be unusable except for keeping each other terrified. But in dealing with the unruly third world, as Mr. Kissinger has pointed out, "power no longer translates automatically into influence."
Nor, does influence translate readily into desirable or usable power. In Europe before the First World War there was a significant relationship between influence and power and between territory and power, though perhaps even then the correlation was less than it seemed. Still, by conquering territory or forming alliances, a nation could hope to gain material resources and political predominance. Accordingly, the balance of power was maintained, more or less, by isolating and denying opportunities for territorial expansion to the most powerful or ambitious nation. In our own time the balance of power is determined far more by economic and technological developments within countries than by alliances and territorial acquisition. China, for example, has gained far greater power through the acquisition of nuclear weapons than if it had conquered all of southeast Asia.
Vietnam, in this context, is a showcase of bankruptcy, a hopeless war fought for insubstantial stakes. As a war for high principle; Vietnam simply does not measure up: the Saigon government is neither a democracy warranting our support on ideological grounds nor a victim of international aggression warranting our support under the United Nations Charter. As an effort to contain Chinese power, the war in Vietnam is irrelevant as well as unsuccessful; even if a communist Vietnam were to fall under Chinese control, as I do not think it would, the gains to China would be trivial compared to those accruing from her industrialization and acquisition of nuclear weapons.
The case on which Vietnam must stand or fall, if it has not already fallen, is the theory of an exemplary war, a war fought not so much on its own intrinsic merits as to demonstrate something to the world, such as that America will always live up to its alleged commitments or that wars of national liberation cannot succeed. The stake then is ultimately a psychological one, influence conceived as power. Knocking down the case for an exemplary war is at this point very nearly belaboring the obvious. As to proving that wars of national liberation cannot succeed, all that we have proven in four years of bitter, inconclusive warfare is that, even with an army of half a million Americans, we cannot win a victory for an unpopular and incompetent regime against a disciplined, well-organized indigenous nationalist insurrectionary force, and this after the expenditure of 130,000 American lives in dead and wounded, and 100 billion dollars. In the harsh but accurate summation of a British conservative who was once a supporter of the war;
"Instead of the Americans impressing the world with their strength and virtue, they are making themselves hated by some for what they are doing, and despised by the remainder for not doing it more efficaciously."
At least two prominent members of the Nixon Administration have explicitly recognized the bankruptcy of our Vietnam strategy. Henry Kissinger writes:
". . Whatever the outcome of the war in Vietnam, it is clear that it has greatly diminished American willingness to become involved in this form of warfare elsewhere. Its utility as a precedent has therefore been importantly undermined."
President Nixon's Ambassador to the United Nations, Mr. Charles Yost, has made the point as forcefully as possible:
"The most decisive lesson of Viet Nam would seem to be that no matter how much force it may expend, the United States cannot ensure the security of a country whose government is unable to mobilize and maintain sufficient popular support to control domestic insurgency . . . . If indigenous dissidents, whether or not communist, whether or not supported from outside, are able to mobilize and maintain more effective popular support than the government, they will eventually prevail . . . ."
Vietnam is only one, albeit the most striking and costly, instance of a general, if not quite invariable, American policy of opposing revolution in the developing world. In some instances this policy has been successful, at least for the short term. With our support, repressive governments--in Brazil and Greece and a conservative government in the Dominican Republic, to cite but a few examples, have successfully held down popular aspirations for social and economic change. Through our support of reactionary governments in Latin America and elsewhere, we are preserving order in our sphere of influence, and momentarily at least excluding revolution. But it is order purchased at the price of aligning ourselves with corruption and reaction against aggrieved and indignant indigenous forces which by and large are more responsive to popular aspirations than those which we support.
This policy of preserving the status quo is an exceedingly short-sighted one. Sooner or later, there can be little doubt, the rising forces of popular discontent will break through the brittle lid of repression. So at least historical experience suggests. We did it ourselves in 1776 and much of the history of nineteenth century Europe consists of the successful rebellion of nationalist movements, German, Italian, Belgian, Greek and Slavic, against the powerful European order forged by the Congress of Vienna in 1815. In the twentieth century we have seen the great European empires, British, French and Dutch, break up in the face of nationalist rebellion in hardly more than a decade after World War I.
Since then the revolutionary tide has continued to swell across Asia, across Africa and through Latin America and it seems unlikely that even the immense resources of the United States will prove sufficient to contain the tide much longer. We have all but acknowledged our failure in Vietnam. What will we do if Souvanna Phoma's government in Laos should collapse, as it probably would if we terminated our counterinsurgency efforts and as it very well may anyway? Or if a popular rebellion should break out against the military dictatorship in Brazil? Or if a communist-socialist government should come to power in Chile through a free election in 1970 as it could? Would we send armies to these large countries as we did in South Vietnam or the small Dominican Republic? With aid and arms we have helped to delay the collapse of regimes whose very existence is an obstacle to social justice. Eventually, there seems little doubt, they will collapse, the more violently and with greater upheaval for having been perpetuated beyond their natural life span.
Thus far I have been speaking of the fragility and shortsightedness of our policy of repressing revolution. Something should be said about its morals as well. Order and stability are antiseptic words; they do not tell us anything about the way human beings live and the way they die. The diplomatic historians who invoke the model of Metternich's European order in the nineteenth century usually neglect to mention that it was an order purchased at the cost of condemning millions of people to live under the tyranny of the Russian tsar, the Turkish sultan and other ignorant and reactionary monarchs. The absolute primacy of order over justice was neatly expressed by Metternich in his assertion that, "Barbarous as it is, Turkey is a necessary evil." In a similar vein, and I hope not with equal callousness, when we speak of stability and order in developing countries, we neglect to note that in more than a few instances the order purchased by our aid and by our arms is one which binds millions of people to live under a feudalism which fosters ignorance, hunger and disease. It means blighted lives, children with bellies bloated and brains stunted by malnutrition, their parents scavenging food in garbage heaps, a daily occurrence in the slums of Asia and Latin America. Only the abstraction of diplomacy take form in high policy councils; to see its flesh and blood one must go to a Brazilian slum, or to a devastated village in Vietnam.
Besides being short-sighted and immoral, our policy of perpetuating the status quo has a third fatal defect, a defect which represents our best hope for formulating a new foreign policy; it goes against the American grain. That is the meaning of the dissent against Vietnam and of the deep alienation of so many of our youth. It is their belief in the values they were brought up to believe in, in the idea of their country as a model of decency and democracy, that has confounded the policy makers who only a few years ago were contending that we could fight a limited war for a decade or two without seriously disrupting the internal life of the United States. What they overlooked in their preoccupation with war games and escalation scenarios was the concern of millions of Americans not just with the cost but with the character of wars they fight and their consequent outrage against a war which, even at what the strategists would consider tolerable cost, has made a charnel house of a small and poor Asian country. In this moral sense there is hope, hope that we will recognize at last that a foreign policy which goes against our national character is untenable.
The question to which we then come is whether order, in the sense in which we now conceive it, is indeed a vital interest of the United States, or whether, in this revolutionary age, we can accommodate ourselves to a great deal of disorder in the world. My answer, as I am sure will be clear by now, is that we must and can learn to live with widespread revolutionary turmoil. We must because it is not within our means to stem the tide; we can because social revolution is not nearly so menacing to us as we have supposed, or at least it need not be. If we can but liberate ourselves from ideological obsession, from the automatic association of social revolution with communism and of communism with Soviet or Chinese power, we may find it possible to discriminate among disorders in the world, and to evaluate them with greater objectivity, which is to say, more on the basis of their own content and less on the basis of our own fears. We would find, I think, that some revolutionary movements, and I include communist ones, will affect us little if at all, that others may affect us adversely but not grievously, and that some may even benefit us.
All of which is to say nothing about the right of the peoples in smaller nations to settle their own affairs without interference by the great powers. There is after all no moral or legal right of a great power to impose its will on a small country even if the latter does things which affect it adversely. Americans were justly outraged by the Soviet invasion of Czechoslovakia, not primarily because we thought the Russians could have endured Czech democratization without loss to themselves, but because we thought the Czechs had a right to reform their system whether it suited the Russians or not. Ought not the same principle to apply in our relations with Latin America and, indeed, with small countries all over the world?
I believe that it should. I would go even farther and suggest that we rededicate ourselves to the good neighbor policy enunciated by President Franklin Roosevelt thirty years ago. There is, of course, nothing new about the principle of nonintervention: we have been preaching it for years. What I suggest as an innovation is that we now undertake to practise it, not only when we find it perfectly consistent with what we judge to be our interests but even when it does not suit our own national preferences. I suggest, therefore, as a guiding principle of American foreign policy, that we abstain hereafter from military intervention in the internal affairs of other countries under any circumstances short of a clear and certain danger to our own national security, and that we adhere to this principle whether others, including the Russians and the Chinese, do so or not.
Now I know that it can be argued, that we cannot be expected to refrain from interference while the Russians hold Eastern Europe in thrall and the Chinese foster wars of national liberation, in Asia and both seek opportunities to subvert noncommunist governments all over the world. Would this not throw open the flood gates to a torrent of revolutions leading to communism here, there and everywhere?
Setting aside for the moment the question of whether communist rule elsewhere is invariably detrimental to the United States, experience suggests a policy of nonintervention would not throw open the flood gates to communism. Communist bids for power have failed more often than they have succeeded in countries beyond the direct reach of Soviet military power, Indonesia and Guinea, for example. There is, of course, no assurance that an American policy of nonintervention would guarantee against new communist take-overs, obviously, our abstention from Cuba in 1959 was a factor in the success of Castro's Revolution. But neither is there a guarantee that a policy of military intervention will defeat every communist revolution, witness Vietnam. Neither approach, abstention or military intervention, can be counted on to immunize against communism for the simple reason that neither is of ultimate relevance to the conditions which militate for or against revolution in the first place.
We have in fact had positive benefits from pursuing a policy of nonintervention. There is no country in Latin America more friendly to the United States than Mexico, which expelled American oil interests forty years ago, while seemingly enthralled with Marxist doctrines, and which even now pursues an independent foreign policy including the maintenance of cordial relations with Cuba. The thought presents itself that a policy of nonintervention could now serve as well to liberate us from the embrace of incompetent and reactionary regimes, which ignore popular aspirations at home out of confidence that, if trouble develops, they can summon the American marines, while holding us in line by the threat of their own collapse.
Gentlemen, the critical factor is nationalism, which, far more than any ideology, has shown itself to be the engine of change in modern history. When an ideology is strongly identified with nationalism as communism is in Cuba and Vietnam and as democracy is in Czechoslovakia, foreign military intervention must either fail outright or, as the Russians have learned in Czechoslovakia, succeed at such cost in worldwide moral opprobrium as to be self-defeating. My own personal feeling is that, in a free market of ideas, communism has no record of achievement to commend itself as a means toward rapid modernization in developing countries. Think about it. Of the forty or fifty nations born in Africa and Asia since the end of the Second World War, only three are communist.
We could profitably take a leaf, I think from the Chinese outlook in this respect. The Lin Piao doctrine of wars of national liberation, often mistaken as a blueprint for world conquest, is in fact an explicit acknowledgement of the inability of a foreign power to sustain a revolution without indigenous support. This is what Lin Piao said:
"In order to make a revolution and to fight a people's war and be victorious, it is imperative to adhere to the policy of self-reliance, rely on the strength of the masses in one's own country and prepare to carry on the fight independently even when all material aid from outside is cut off. If one does not operate by one's own efforts, does not independently ponder and solve the problems of the revolution in one's own country and does not rely on the strength of the masses, but leans wholly on foreign aid, even though this be aid from socialist countries which persist in revolution as China, no victory can be won, or be consolidated even if it is won."
Nationalism is not only the barrier to communism in countries which reject it; it is a modifier and neutralizer of communism in those smal countries which do accept it. As Tito had demonstrated in Europe and as Ho Chi Minh has demonstrated in Asia, a strongly nationalist regime will defend its independence regardless of common ideology; and it will do so with far greater effectiveness than a weak and unpopular regime; also regardless of ideology. It is beyond question that the Tito government has been a vastly more effective barrier to Soviet power in the Balkans than the old prewar monarchy ever could have been; and, as Edwin O. Reischauer has written:
"It seems highly probable that Ho's Communist-dominated regime, if it had been allowed by us to take over all Vietnam at the end of the war, would have moved to a position with relation to China not unlike that of Tito's Yugoslavia toward the Soviet Union."
If freedom is the basic human drive we believe it to be, I submit that an act of faith seems warranted, not in its universal triumph, which experience gives us no particular reason to expect, but in its survival and continuing appeal. The root fact of ideology to which we come, perhaps the only tenet which can be called a fact at all, is that, at some basic level of being, every man and woman alive aspires to freedom and abhors compulsion. It does not follow from this, that communism is doomed to perish from the earth as a distortion of nature, or that democracy, as we know it is predestined to triumph everywhere. Political forms which seem to offend human nature have existed throughout history, and others which have seemed attuned to human needs have been known to perish. All that can be said with confidence is that, whatever is done to suppress them, man's basic aspirations have a way of reasserting themselves and, insofar as our American political forms are attuned to these basic aspirations, they are a long leg ahead in the struggle for survival.
Faith in the viability of freedom will not, in itself, guarantee our national security. But it can and should help to allay our extravagant fear of communism. It should enable us to compete with confidence in the market of ideas. It should free us from the fatal temptation of fight fire with fire by imitating the tactics of a rival who can not be sure of the viability of his ideas in an open contest. The Russians, when you come right down to it, have better reason to fear freedom in Czechoslovakia than we have to fear communism in Vietnam. Appealing as it does to basic human aspirations, the contagion of Czech liberty very likely is a threat, at least in the long run, to the totalitarian system of the Soviet Union; by no stretch of the imagination can Ho Chi Minh's rule in Vietnam be said to pose a comparable threat to democracy in the United States.
The greatest danger to our democracy, I daresay, is not that the communists will destroy it, but that we will betray it by the very means chosen to defend it. Foreign policy is not and cannot be permitted to become an end in itself. It is rather a means toward an end, which in our case is not only the safety of the United States but the preservation of her democratic values. A foreign policy of intervention and the repression of revolution in the internal affairs of other, smaller countries is a policy that must ultimately be subversive of that purpose. Involving as it does the maintenance of a huge and costly military establishment, it must also involve the neglect of domestic needs, a burgeoning military-industrial-academic complex, chronic anxiety and crisis. The United States has been engaged in more major warfare in the past twenty years than any other major power and all these things are an anathema to a democratic society. Every time we suppress a popular revolution abroad, we subvert our own democratic principles. In no single instance is the self-inflicted injury likely to be fatal, but with each successive occurrence the contradiction and hypocrisy become more apparent, and more of our people become disillusioned, more become alienated or angry, while a few are simply corrupted.
Being gradual and cumulative, the malady went largely undetected for too long to time. Now, however, a hue and cry has been raised, this is the reason for the turmoil in American today, and for that we may be grateful, because the great debate in which we are engaged can, if we wish, be corrective as well as cathartic, by laying the foundations for a new approach in our foreign relations.
The shape and content of a new foreign policy are still beyond our view. For the moment all that comes clearly into focus are the contradictions of our present approach and a few basic inferences that can be drawn from recent experience, notably: that we need not rely on military intervention to give freedom a chance of surviving in the world; that we indeed cannot do so without compromising our own freedom; and that only by being true to our traditional values and our own best concept of ourselves can we hope to play a decent and constructive role in a revolutionary age. Thank you very much.
Thanks of the meeting were expressed by Hon. A. F. Lawrence, Q.C.