Feinstein discusses our “Duty to Prevent

April West

Lee Feinstein, a deputy director of the Council on Foreign Relations in Washington, D.C., spoke on foreign policy in Wriston Auditorium Tuesday. The speech, entitled “Duty to Prevent,”
Feinstein is the deputy director of studies and senior fellow at the council. He earned a law degree from Georgetown University, bachelor’s degree from Vassar, and a master’s in political science from the City College of New York.
As stated by the Lawrence University Web site, Feinstein has written widely on national security and foreign policy issues and is a frequent guest commentator on television public affairs programs. An international lawyer who specializes in national security affairs, weapons of mass destruction and the United Nations, Feinstein served in the Clinton administration from 1994-2001.
Feinstein began by stating, “American foreign policy is the product of what we believe and what we are willing to do.” He continued, “The world today has many changes that are taking place quicker than we can understand them.”
To start his talk, Feinstein gave a brief history of American foreign policy. He discussed three phases: the post-Cold War world, the world of 9/11, and the post-9/11 world – the current phase.
George Bush Sr.’s term in office represents the post-Cold War world phase, which saw the dissolution of the Soviet Union.
The main foreign policy flaw of this time, according to Feinstein, was that doctrines were effective at describing how to work with state-to-state issues, but did not deal with collapse within states. Sending troops into Somalia was a fateful moment. “We didn’t know what we were getting ourselves into,” said Feinstein. This our first dealing with Bin Laden and with jihadism in general.
Clinton’s first term, still in the post-war phase, dealt with tactical retreat from Somalia. He did not want to make news with his foreign policy. This was also the beginning of a globalization analysis. Clinton himself gave yearly speeches to the UN on globalization. Feinstein characterized Clinton’s second term as “diplomacy backed by force.” He called it this because, within his two terms Clinton used more force than the Bush Sr. and Reagan eras combined. American interests were seen as best promoted through American leadership. The foreign policy motivation was to work with others to increase America’s role in the world. There was also a commitment at this time to enlarge NATO.
Feinstein said during this time America also began to embrace China, “date India,” and begin a “flirtation with a doctrine of humanitarian convention.”
Feintein characterized George W. Bush’s foreign policy in his first term as the “period of restoration,” or – as Feinstein called – it the “world of 9/11.” Power at this time was seen as a zero-sum game; sharing power with others was undesirable because it would only diminish.
The term “Axis of Evil” was coined by Bush during this time to refer to North Korea, Iran and Iraq. The ideology at this time was that, rather than deal with these governments, we should just replace them.
Feinstein called Bush’s second term “America unbound.” In his second inaugural address, Bush stated that the rest of the world was either with us or against us. This led to Bush’s promising that America would fight alone if necessary. Also present at this time was the thinking that we should attack before we are attacked. This phase also saw a reemergence in globalization analysis.
Also present in Bush’s second inaugural address was the promotion of democracy around the world. This was an important shift from anti-terrorism to pro-democracy. Although this was a dramatic shift for Bush, it received virtually no reaction from the American people.
These three phases are what Feinstein described as the “diagnosis” of foreign policy. Feinstein then went on to talk about his “prescription.” There are two problems today, he said: One is how to give life to doctrines that are meant only to deal with states, and the second is how to create alternatives. Feinstein’s solutions are “Responsibility to Protect” and “Duty to Prevent.”
Responsibility to Protect is an idea that is currently backed by all members of the UN. The basic premise is that what happens to oppressed peoples elsewhere is other people’s issue. A government’s first responsibility is to protect its people, and a government that fails to do so forfeits some of the privileges of sovereignty.
Feinstein conceived Duty to Prevent with a colleague. “Duty to Prevent” involves problems with the way rules are set up to deal with weapons of mass destruction. The main problem is that current doctrines assume that all states are the same. For example, North Korea and Norway are both treated the same way in terms of weapons of mass destruction.
“Closed societies need to be treated specially,” said Feinstein. “Nations have a responsibility to act quickly with problematic closed societies.”
Employing Duty to Prevent entails controlling the people who proliferate weapons of mass destruction, and using international resources to intervene quickly.
Feinstein’s talk is extremely prevalent today due to growing international concerns with weapons of mass destruction concerning Iran and North Korea, along with the threat of terrorists. “Those of us with the time and energy have a responsibility to think critically about these issues,” he said.