The Present Danger

Friday, January 30, 1998

There have of course been profound changes with the end of the Cold War. But there is a still more profound continuity--for there is always a Present Danger. After all, no one can nowadays doubt the potential for death and damage of today's international terrorist. We ought, similarly, to have heard enough stories--most recently from none other than Russia's General Lebed, who ought to know--about "lost" nuclear weapons and materials to fear the consequences of proliferation in the wake of the collapse of the Soviet Union. The sight of Chinese troops moving into Hong Kong should have reminded us that in the Far East communism is not yet vanquished, indeed that a sinister and so far successful experiment in combining economic freedom with political servitude confronts us. And we do not yet know where it will lead.

Strong defense, supported by heavy investment in the latest technology, including ballistic missile defense, is as essential now, when we don't know who our future enemy may be, as in the Cold War era, when we knew him all too well. So we were right to preserve but widen NATO and right to resist Russian threats aimed at stopping us doing so. NATO must remain the basis for Western defense and no rival institution or alternative set of priorities be allowed to challenge that.

But NATO, unless it is to become a mere institution for collective security rather than an effective alliance, must be led. And only America--with the support of staunch allies--has the resources, the reach, and the reputation to lead it. I can't see that changing--and I am fearful of any attempt to make it change because such a change could threaten peace.

Just try to cast your mind ahead a century. Consider the number of medium-to-large states in the world that have already embarked on a free market revolution: India, China, Brazil, possibly Russia. Add to these the present economic great powers: the United States, Japan, and, if the federalists get their way, a European superstate with its own independent foreign and defense policy, separate from and perhaps inimical to the United States.

What we see in 2097 is, therefore, an unstable world, in which there are more than half a dozen "great powers"--all with their clients, all vulnerable if they stand alone, all capable of increasing their power and influence if they form the right kind of alliance, and all engaged willy-nilly in perpetual diplomatic maneuvers to ensure that their relative positions improve rather than deteriorate. In other words, 2097 might look like 1914 played out on a somewhat larger stage.

That need not come to pass if the Atlantic alliance remains as it is today. Such are the realities of population, resources, technology, and capital that if America remains the dominant power in a united West and militarily engaged in Europe, then the West can continue to be the dominant power in the world as a whole.

Understanding and accepting this will always be easier for us in Britain than for our European neighbors. The Anglo-American relationship is not some outdated romantic notion. It reflects shared history, language, values, and ideals--the very things that generate the willingness for sacrifice on which the outcome of every military venture ultimately depends.

Western cooperation will also be easier if we reassert the moral and cultural foundations of our Western world. In the Cold War years we were able to persuade our populations that our values were worth fighting for. By reiterating those values, conservatives offer the best prospect of security, stability, and peace.

The decline of the West has been predicted before, and it has not occurred. It need not occur. And it will not occur--if we keep faith.

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