Clinton administration

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Foreign Policy

Critics of Clinton argued that he lacked a knowledge of world affairs. In his 1992 speech at the Democrat National Convention, he devoted one minute to foreign policy issues in an oration that lasted an hour. [1] Clinton entered office after the U.S. won the Cold War, and the U.S. was the only superpower. There were no major foreign crisis during his presidency. His foreign policy was based on five principles: 1) strong alliances with Europe and Asia, 2) positive relations with former adversaries, 3) a global perspective on local conflicts, 4) the adaptation of national security priorities to incorporate technological advances, and 5) effective economic integration.[2]

Butfoy (2006) argues that in the 1990s the "revolution in military affairs" (RMA), which produced "smart" weapons like cruise missiles, came of age. This apparently transformed how America viewed the relationship between force and international relations. It looked as though technology was framing foreign policy. In particular, smart weapons enabled Clinton to combine risk minimization with an expanded security agenda. However, we should be wary of ascribing technological determinism to the conflicts of the 1990s dominated by Washington's flexing of its strategic superiority, such as its bombing of Belgrade. As shown by comparison with US strategy after the September 11, 2001 terrorist attacks, Washington's stance in the 1990s was shaped by linkages between technology and specific political circumstances. As these circumstances changed, so did the RMA's place in US efforts to shape world order.

North Korean nukes

From 1985 to 1992, N. Korea "bought time" for its nuclear weapons program by entering into a series of international diplomatic agreements under which it promised to "deweaponize" its reactors and halt further production of plutonium. By Clinton's second, however, N. Korea had violated the terms of most of the non-proliferation agreements and withdrew from the rest.

Clinton forged an agreement with Kim Il-sung that the North would temporarily halt its signed on Oct. 21, 1994 known as the "Agreed Framework."[3]

In addition to the oil supplied under the 1994 Agreed Framework, North Korea continued to the United States and other countries for free, unconditional food aid while eschewing any real reform of its Stalinist agricultural system. [4]

By 2000, the United States contribution of food and other forms of humanitarian aid to North Korea had amounted to over $61 million.

Human Rights

Supporters of human rights faulted Clinton’s ideological transition from Wilsonian idealism to realism, especially regarding China and Bosnia. They gave high marks for his efforts at pushing peace negotiations in Haiti and the Middle East, the use of economic sanctions against North Korea, India, and Pakistan, and his efforts to get a chemical weapons convention. However, they give low marks in terms of human rights for inaction on the genocide in Rwanda and the Russian repression of secessionist Chechnya.

NATO and Eastern Europe

Much attention was devoted to Eastern Europe.

Clinton actively promoted the expansion of NATO to the east, over the objections of Russia. Russia wanted to maintain some degree of control over its former satellites, and they wanted true independence. The NATO expansion was a political decision. An expanded NATO gave full play to political functions aimed at merging East European nations into NATO and bringing about their transformation into Western-style political and economic systems. NATO members will continue to work toward containing Russia if it fails to integrate itself into the West and returns to its traditional expansionist practices. The Russian transformation and NATO's adjustment influenced each other.


With the breakup of Yugoslavia civil wars erupted leading to genocide. With NATO support--but without UN approval--Clinton sent in the US Air Force to launch air strikes on Serbs in Bosnia and later deployed twenty thousand troops. The goal was to protect Muslim Bosnians from genocidal attacks from the Serbs. The policy eventually worked in Bosnia but later had to be extended to nearby Kosovo. Clinton briefly consulted Congress, but promised the troops would soon leave. They remained for years.


There was no internationally significant human rights crisis in Kosovo immediately prior to the NATO bombardment that justified its intervention on behalf of the ethnic-Albanian population. The problems of warfare that existed in Kosovo were largely a result of Clinton's support for the Kosovo Liberation Army (KLA), a narco-terrorist organization[5] linked to al Qaeda, with the intent of causing a crisis that justified intervention. The intervention was not humanitarian. NATO failed to produce evidence of massacres approaching anywhere near its claims. The intervention was illegal, destructive, and based on fraudulent claims.[6]


But for the efforts of President Clinton and his administration, and his special envoy Senator George Mitchell, the Good Friday Agreement (1998) reached between the British government, Irish republicans, and Ulster unionists would be impossible and the troubles would still be going on.

Middle East

There was little progress in the Middle East, where US support for Israel angered the Arabs. While Clinton made some accomplishments, including the 1993 Oslo Accords, the death of Israel’s prime minister Yitzhak Rabin in 1995 slowed the peace process. The election of Ehud Barak as prime minister in May 1999 appeared to give the president his last chance to achieve a foreign policy success. A meeting at Camp David between Palestinian leader Yasser Arafat and Barak in December 2000 produced a plan to create a Palestinian state in about 95% of the West Bank and Gaza. The plan was not accepted by the public on either side. President Clinton's hesitant political style was partially responsible for the lack of a lasting peace settlement.====Japan==== Relations with Japan, the main American ally in Asia, started off poorly. Yet by 2000, both sides realized how important friendship was, and this led to a redefinition and strengthening of the US-Japanese alliance. Although some changes have occurred in the asymmetry of power in the post-Cold War alliance with the relationship becoming less unequal, US interests still dominate, for the weakness of the Japanese economy limited its self confidence.


Clinton started off with heavy criticism of the lack of human rights in China. The main issue was Most Favored Nation (MFN) trade status for China, favored by China and American business and farm interests but strongly opposed by religious and human rights groups. Clinton's policy, which began with a 1993 executive order to make MFN status conditional on Chinese reforms, changed as the importance of a trade relationship with China forced the issue to be separated from the government's human rights policies.

He adjusted his China policy in 1996 and advocated dialogue and engagement; this led to improved relations. But Washington continued to criticize China on the issues of Hong Kong, human rights, trade, arms sales, Taiwan, and questionable political donations to US election campaigns. President Jiang Zemin's visit to the United States regained the momentum and led to a level of cooperation between the two countries not seen in years. The major factors affecting the relationship include: the enduring impact of the 1989 Tiananmen episode when the Communist Party crushed a democratic movement with the army; the negative coverage of China by American media, American psychological insecurity caused by the rise of China, and US domestic politics which has a love-hate relationship with China (loving to buy cheap Chinese products while watching competing American factories shut down.)


Relations with India were expected to improve following the end of the Cold War. They did not do so as both sides mishandled relations. The contradictory policies of the Clinton administration that simultaneously pressured India to liberalize its economy while criticizing New Delhi on human rights and nuclear issues undermined the very officials who strove to improve ties. In the face of criticism from Washington and opposition at home, Indian diplomats lost their enthusiasm for rapprochement. The controversy that surrounded the passage of the Brown Amendment, which restored aid to Pakistan in 1995 despite Islamabad's violation of the 1985 Pressler Amendment, is a case study of the delicate nature of the Indo-American relationship. In resurrecting Cold War rhetoric, Indian parliamentarians and American congressmen demonstrated their unwillingness to establish a new relationship. However the George W. Bush administration reversed policy and developed close, friendly ties to India.


Relations with Canada went smoothly. Thanks to the precedent set by the Brian Mulroney government and the administration of George H.W. Bush in the resolution of issues such as the acid rain problem and the Pacific salmon dispute. A friendly relationship between the Canadian prime minister Jean Chrétien and Clinton helped, as did the strong economic growth enjoyed by both countries. In addition, there were multilateral and bilateral institutions in place, such as the North American Free Trade Agreement, to resolve some major disagreements. However, the relationship faces a number of challenges in the future. While concerns about ballistic missile attacks and threats of international terrorism are priorities for Americans, Canadians do not share those concerns but view the importation of American culture into their country with trepidation, and there are no institutional structures in place to resolve disagreements on these particular issues.

Mexico and NAFTA

Clinton, with GOP help, passed a free trade agreement over the objection of most Democrats and labor unions. The implementation of the North American Free Trade Agreement (NAFTA) generated political disagreements and stress in Mexico, involving issues of economics, labor unions, environmentalism, and international power. Mexico's financial crisis of 1993-95, which led to peso devaluation and new dislocations in that country, and disputes between Clinton and the Congress also exacerbated NAFTA's implementation. Nonetheless, the positive consequences of NAFTA included increases in Mexican imports to the United States and shifts in the trade balance in Mexico's favor.


Clinton tried to contain Iraq, and used military attacks to make the point. Clinton launched a small cruise missile attack against Iraq in 1993 as a response to a suspected terrorist assassination attempt made on former President George H. W. Bush in Kuwait. In 1998, Clinton threatened military action when Iraq denied full access to UN weapons inspectors.


In Africa, Clinton expressed the exasperation of he American public after decades of single-party rule involving massive misuse and pillage of the continent's resources by local dictators. Clinton called for an end to protected European economic and commercial zones and for open competition on terms that would gradually eliminate African dependency. The Americans, in an effort to promote both democracy and prosperity, urged the African political class to create regimes in their states responsible to the people, to accept participation by opposition parties, and to install rigorous accounting and management procedures. Congress and public opinion supported the new initiatives, which involved much less public assistance to Africa and a great deal more private investment and mutually profitable trade. Essentially, American policy challenged African leaders to undertake reforms that would make them artisans of their own futures.

Al-Qaeda terrorism

The Arab terrorist group al-Qaeda conducted a World Trade Center bombing in 1993, simultaneous bombings of the US embassies in Kenya and Tanzania in 1998, and the attack on the USS Cole in 2000. Clinton bombed al-Qaeda bases in Afghanistan in response, but meanwhile 19 terrorists were plotting an even more ghastly attack on America which took place on September 11, 2001, eight months after Clinton left office.
  1. The Presidents by David Maraniss, Pg. 626
  2. Samuel R. Berger, "A Foreign Policy for the Global Age," Foreign Affairs 2000 79(6): 22-39. 0015-7120