A View from the Past on America’s Global Mission

by Peter Jenkins

I have just read for the first time President Dwight D. Eisenhower’s farewell address to the nation. I hope that readers who are familiar with the wisdom it contains will appreciate the reminders that follow, and that others will be pleased to discover that wisdom.

Mostly I shall leave readers to reflect for themselves on the contrast between the outlook on the world that President Eisenhower espoused and the outlook that the current crop of presidential candidates appears to espouse. I hope I may be forgiven, though, for interjecting a few reflection-prompts from a foreign (European) perspective.

We now stand ten years past the midpoint of a century that has witnessed four major wars among great nations. Three of these involved our own country. Despite these holocausts, America is today the strongest, the most influential, and most productive nation in the world. Understandably proud of this pre-eminence, we yet realize that America’s leadership and prestige depend, not merely upon our unmatched material progress, riches, and military strength, but on how we use our power in the interests of world peace and human betterment.

Is there still a consensus in the United States on using US power—still unmatched—in the interests of world peace and for human betterment? Is there recognition that the rest of the world welcomes US leadership when it is exercised for the betterment of all, but not when it is exercised for the advantage of minority interests? Would President Eisenhower have approved of recent interventions—covert and overt—in the internal affairs of Iraq, Libya, Syria, and the Ukraine, as being in the interests of world peace?

Throughout America’s adventure in free government, our basic purposes have been to keep the peace, to foster progress in human achievement, and to enhance liberty, dignity, and integrity among peoples and among nations. To strive for less would be unworthy of a free and religious people. Any failure traceable to arrogance, or our lack of comprehension, or readiness to sacrifice would inflict upon us grievous hurt, both at home and abroad.

Are there times during the 25 years since Americans were told that they had “won” the Cold War when the United States has treated other nations in ways that could be perceived as arrogant? Has every effort always been made to understand the interests of other states and identify courses of action that are compatible both with US interests and with the interests of others?

Crises there will continue to be. In meeting them, whether foreign or domestic, great or small, there is a recurring temptation to feel that some spectacular and costly action could become the miraculous solution to all current difficulties….

But each proposal must be weighed in the light of a broader consideration: the need to maintain balance in and among national programs, balance between the private and the public economy, balance between the cost and hoped for advantages, balance between the clearly necessary and the comfortably desirable, balance between our essential requirements as a nation and the duties imposed by the nation upon the individual, balance between actions of the moment and the national welfare of the future. Good judgment seeks balance and progress. Lack of it eventually finds imbalance and frustration.

Has this call for balance always been heeded? Are their instances in which the US reaction to foreign developments has been disproportionate? Excessively belligerent?

A vital element in keeping the peace is our military establishment….We can no longer risk emergency improvisation of national defense. We have been compelled to create a permanent armaments industry of vast proportions….We recognize the imperative need for this development. Yet, we must not fail to comprehend its grave implications. Our toil, resources, and livelihood are all involved. So is the very structure of our society.

In the councils of government, we must guard against the acquisition of unwarranted influence, whether sought or unsought, by the military-industrial complex. The potential for the disastrous rise of misplaced power exists and will persist.

In a recent lecture Ambassador (ret.) Chas Freeman said: “Almost 40 percent of the U.S. industrial base already depends in whole or in part on funding from the defense department and related military spending in other parts of the federal budget.”

Does this situation suggest that the “military-industrial complex” may have acquired unwarranted influence? Does the “war on terror” require such high levels of expenditure on defense? Might strategic stability between the US and Russia, and between the US and China be achievable at lower levels of defense spending?

Another factor in maintaining balance involves the element of time. As we peer into society’s future, we — you and I, and our government — must avoid the impulse to live only for today, plundering for our own ease and convenience the precious resources of tomorrow. We cannot mortgage the material assets of our grandchildren without risking the loss also of their political and spiritual heritage. We want democracy to survive for all generations to come, not to become the insolvent phantom of tomorrow.

No comment.

During the long lane of the history yet to be written, America knows that this world of ours, ever growing smaller, must avoid becoming a community of dreadful fear and hate, and be, instead, a proud confederation of mutual trust and respect. Such a confederation must be one of equals. The weakest must come to the conference table with the same confidence as do we, protected as we are by our moral, economic, and military strength. That table cannot be abandoned for the certain agony of the battlefield.

Has it been characteristic of US policy since the end of the Cold War to show all other nations the respect due to equals, and to adopt an inclusive, dialogue-based approach to international problem-solving? Has the United States cherished the collective security provisions of the San Francisco UN Charter? Are there any instances in which the United States has abused the UN Charter out of expediency?

Disarmament, with mutual honor and confidence, is a continuing imperative. Together we must learn how to compose differences, not with arms, but with intellect and decent purpose. Because this need is so sharp and apparent.

Has the United States exploited to the full the growing opportunity to move toward a world free of nuclear weapons without sacrificing strategic stability? Would it be sensible to engage the other nuclear-armed states in a quest for a non-nuclear basis for strategic stability before deciding to spend $1 trillion over 30 years on new nuclear weapon systems? Can emerging technologies, including cyber-weapons, pose sufficient threat to strategic assets to form a strategic deterrent that would not threaten the survival of humankind?

Peter Jenkins

Peter Jenkins was a British career diplomat for 33 years, following studies at the Universities of Cambridge and Harvard. He served in Vienna (twice), Washington, Paris, Brasilia and Geneva. He specialized in global economic and security issues. His last assignment (2001-06) was that of UK Ambassador to the IAEA and UN (Vienna). Since 2006 he has represented the Renewable Energy and Energy Efficiency Partnership, advised the Director of IIASA and set up a partnership, The Ambassador Partnership llp, with former diplomatic colleagues, to offer the corporate sector dispute resolution and solutions to cross-border problems. He was an associate fellow of the Geneva Centre for Security Policy from 2010 to 2012. He writes and speaks on nuclear and trade policy issues.



  1. Peter: Intervention in the internal affairs of Ukraine? Is that a joke. Ike would not have countenanced Russia’s interference and annexation of Crimea.

  2. I had read President Eisenhower’s farewell address, but thank you for reminding us of what a wise and farsighted president he was. As to whether some of the current leaders measure up to those principles, here is a selection of some of the policy statements of 2016 presidential candidates:

    Ben Carson:
    Military force is not off the table when it comes to Russia. (May 2015)
    Back Israel and follow what Netanyahu wants on Iran. (May 2015)
    US is exceptional, with different values than rest of world. (May 2014)

    Ted Cruz:
    Don’t let world courts bind American sovereignty. (Sep 2015)
    Move American embassy in Israel to Jerusalem. (Sep 2015)
    Carpet-bombing of Isis in Iraq and Syria (Dec 2015)
    If I am elected president, on the very first day in office, I will rip to shreds this catastrophic Iranian nuclear deal. (Sept 2015)

    Mike Huckabee:
    Reject two-state solution between Israel & Palestine. (May 2015)
    Keep the Cuban embargo; lifting it rewards Cuba. (Mar 2015)
    (The nuclear deal with Iran) threatens the survival of Western civilization… This threatens Israel immediately, this threatens the entire Middle East, but it threatens the United States of America. (Sep 2015)

    Marco Rubio:
    A gangster in Moscow is not just threatening Europe, he’s threatening to destroy and divide NATO. (Sept 2015)
    Our foreign policy as a nation is not subject to what China wants to do or Russia wants to do; we have our own foreign policy. (July 2015)
    America has acted unilaterally in the past–and I believe it should continue to do so in the future–when necessity requires. (Apr 2012)

    Hilary Clinton:
    We abandoned Egypt’s Mubarak too readily. (Jun 2014)
    Take a harder line with Russia’s Putin. (Jun 2014)
    Stand up to Putin’s bullying in Syria and elsewhere. (Oct 2015)

  3. The real difference between then and now is the much greater degree of unwarranted interference in US governance by the zionist lobby.
    Then, the US was truly independent – as evidenced by Ike’s pressuring Eden and ben gurion to withdraw troops from Suez in 1954.
    Since the murderous zionist attack on the USS Liberty, the pressure is the other way round.
    The zionist leadership in Tel Aviv tells the US Congress how to think and how to vote.
    Today’s presidential contenders – with almost no exceptions – are cozying-up to the neo-traitor interest groups in the US such as AIPAC, which I do not believe existed when Ike was POTUS.

  4. With apologies to Pete Seager: “Where have all the leaders gone, long time passing? Where have all the leaders gone, long time ago? …….gone to graveyards everyone…..when will they ever learn, when will THEY ever learn?” Any chance we can raise Ike from the dead?

  5. Thank you Mr Jenkins. As you know better than many of us president Eisenhower’s presence and involvement in WWII must have had a great impact on him and his thought process. Seeing up close the atrocities and killing of millions of people in WWII for no apparent reasons and rational must have had created many questions in his mind to which he was unable to find answers! Because of the psychological impact on him at the end he expressed his dislike for wars, for those who benefited from wars and for the military complex which supported the wars!
    Of course since president Eisenhower’s time none of the US presidents have seen nor been involved in real live wars, may be with exception of JFK. Presidents ordering military personnel to bombard other countries is definitely not like being or seeing the wars or its impact from the victims point of view. Ordering wars alone and being disconnectted from the wars may or may not have any psychological impact on the presidents mind and they bound to continue with their war mongering as we have seen it in recent years. Had the current situations in Iraq, Syria and Ukraine risen prior to WWII my guess would be that Eisenhower would have behaved just like GWB!

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