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?

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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. Monty, like you I have thought Ike’s presence in WW2 was an influence. It was not only the War but also the Depression that influenced him and so many other leaders back then. Those Republicans would be RINO’s by todays standards. When Truman was in office they tried to undo Social Security but saw how popular it was and backed down.

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