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Updated June 1, 1999


Issue: National Security

International crises engage world governments in complex negotiations seeking to maintain order and prevent conflict. The United States is almost always a major player. People in other countries regularly question U.S. motives, sometimes agreeing, sometimes disagreeing, sometimes misunderstanding in the absence of accurate information. USIA conducts programs, events, and activities overseas to explain both the official American position and the thinking of American citizens to foreign audiences.

Discussion area


Hot Issues: Kosovo, Iraq

USIA conducts programs, press and video conferences between high administration officials, for example, and journalists and opinionmakers abroad, to discuss the reasons behind U.S. policy and actions.

Program outlines:

Ongoing Issues: Middle East Peace, North Korea, Congo

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Rostrum Discussion Area
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Stanford Student Examines American Foreign Policy Towrd Cuba

Hi. My name's Jesse. I'm a freshman at Stanford University and have been doing a lot of research lately about U.S. policy toward Cuba. In my research and increasing interest in this subject, I have come across two main opinions of the U.S. embargo and related actions toward Cuba:

1) anti-embargo, "keep your hands out of other countries' business, U.S.", U.S. is going about this the wrong way, embargo makes no sense and is hurting the people etc.

2) the strong right-wing, conservative/Cuban-American emigre stance-- keep the embargo, force Castro into submission, hold out longer than he does, never give in to communism, refuse to budge unless Castro budges first, "help the Cuban people" at the same time through intercultural exchanges and by ecnouraging NGO involvement in Cuba, etc.(the type of policy changes indicated by Clinton in Jan. and March)

While, at times, I myself have been passionate about ending the embargo and shedding what seemed to be a blind, stubborn, invasive, and harmful policy, and while I have, at times, thought U.S. international policy to be incredibly overbearing and controlling in terms of how it thinks other countries can or can't run their own governments (i.e. always having to act as policeman of the world, the good guy who fights evil dictatorships and communism and installs the "perfect" system of democracy in all corners of the earth), I nonetheless reserve some of my judgements in light of the fact that our representatives in Congress probably understand the grand scheme of interational politics better than the "average" citizen like myself; and even though most of them show signs of being quite ignorant of other cultures, I figure they must know what they're doing. In giving these policy makers the benefit of the doubt in terms of knowing the best international policy to take toward another country, I also like to think that they have truly good intentions-- in terms of both our own and other peoples'(of other countries)interests. If they do, then I must trust their actions toward Cuba in maintaining a policy which even well-informed economists, politicians,and other gov't officials have labeled as ridiculous and self-defeating.

Thus, I come to the question that has plagued me since I began my recent interest in U.S. foreign policy: "Why, really, does the U.S. want to install democracies in every corner of the earth? Are we really that concerned for what we consider "human rights abuses" of other peoples? Is our motivation really just to see these other people "liberated" from what we consider oppressive gov'ts-- these people which are often born under and ingrained with very different ideas of freedom in the context of very different cultures?

Obviously, there are economic reasons as well: a world order that operates along the same political and economic lines is likely to see fewer conflicts, wars etc. that could block smooth commercial interaction. Thus, a more profitable, stable world economy will result and work toward the benefit of all-- everyone under the same type of government, one that encourages independent growth, freedom of speech, room to create and to prosper by true capitalist ideals.

But, regardless of how nice this would be for the U.S. which thrives on world economic and political stability, and even for other countries too, is the whole world really ready to adopt our own personal views of government? Sure, those Cubans who become exposed to a free, capitalist system will more than likely love it and prosper under it if they are ambitious enough, but does that mean the entire country is at a point in their political/social evolution to accept that?

What about the rest of the world, where inequalities are much worse and where a socialist revolution such as the type Castro brought to Cuba is what the people most want? Do we, as THE world power, have the right to continually deny them from trying out such a system of government because we need stability and free capitalist systems with whicht to deal? Can we not grant a political system, be it socialist or communist or whatever, the freedom to fail in its own right without subversively undermining its chances from the very start? If we are so sure that such systems don't work, why not simply "let them jump" and find out for themselves? At least we wouldn't earn the enmity of that country's people while so doing.

I think an influential government like ours must take into account more than those aspects that are obvious to policy makers. There is a personal aspect, a cultural aspect, that is not always obvious, and which seems to be completely absent from the minds of many U.S. policy makers and from the policies they enact ("cultural aspect" here means a regard for the customs, beliefs and desires of the people) Of course, this lack of cultural respect may only "seem" to be the case because those who interpret U.S. policy are not informed enough and are too ignorant of the U.S.'s true motivations and of the fact that it might actually have the best interests of other peoples, such as the Cubans, in mind.

Still,these policy makers, even in all their understanding of the grand scale of international policy, should ask the average Cuban today who is suffering from shortages caused by the embargo what he/she thinks of the U.S. policy and what they would like the U.S. to do in regards to Castro. The majority of Cubans, have no desire to undo a leader who has treated them as his own children for forty years and brought significant changes to a country once ruled by corruption, REAL oppression, and extreme racial/social/economic inequalities. They would, convey the desire that the U.S. get its grubby little paws out of their country for the first time in over 100 years, and let them try something out.

Maybe they prefer to sacrifice political freedom of speech and assembly in trade for a very simple, worry-free life where medical care and education are free, where national unity is strengthened by great equality among its people, and where the beauty and uniqueness of a complex and fascinating culture is not lost to the worldly concerns characterized by capitalism and free-market economies. There are prices to be paid for everything. What one people sees as oppressive, another people sees as liberating, what one people sees as a "human right", another people sees as unnecessary. Does a homeless person in the U.S., who is excluded from the benefits of capitalism, profess that "the American system is obviously the best!"

While democracy and the many positive opportunities that come with it work for and are desired by everyone in an ideal world, the fact is that not the whole world is not American, and even communism is a quite beautiful system...in theory. People aren't the same; they aren't always ready for the same systems, and forcing them into an idealism they are not ready to accept earns you a bad rap. To truly achieve the type of global unity beneficial to all-- that which the U.S. claims to really have in mind-- we must replace pathetic and ill-intentioned measures such as Title II of Helms-Burton with SINCERE attempts to understand each other culturally, not politically. (@sulmail.stanford.edu)




Young Serbian Student Writes on War

All hell has broken loose. I still cannot get used to the bombs flying overhead. I keep telling everyone they are not aimed at us, but I am no longer sure of that myself. Most of my friends are in hiding from the bombs, as well as from draft committees who could drag them into a war no one can possibly win. I can`t even go to a shelter because pets aren`t allowed. How can I leave my dog behind?

It is really hard for me to understand why my life is on the line. I have done absolutely nothing to deserve this. Have I no basic human rights?!? I have marched against Milosevich even before I had the right to vote, and am now witnessing the bombing of the very cities which opposed him most! Why can`t people realize that these attacks just provide an ideal climate for all kinds of war crimes, bombs can`t possibly control it! Albanians are under these air strikes as well, you know.

Of course, ethnic cleansing must be stopped. But, has anything actually been done about it, apart from adding more fuel to the fire? What happens when they finally bomb us to pieces, love and mutual understanding? Hardly. As for Milosevich signing any deal with a gun to his head, that kind of peace couldn`t possibly last. That would mean that bombing people into submission is O.K., as long as you have unconfirmed reports behind you. In fact, the use of force is never justifiable. It sounds simple enough, but once you pick up a weapon all you can prove is who is the bigger bully.

Western politicians are now repeating Milosevich`s grave mistakes. Not only that, but they are playing directly into his hands, as they have been,unwittingly for many years. He adores the chaos the west provides, it justifies all his actions in the name of self defence, and he uses it to strengthen his power. The Serb people have been systematically alienated by the west for a long time. We have been isolated, blamed, sanctioned and to top it all off, attacked. It`s hard for me not to feel defensive myself.

The Serb people are the only ones who can really put a stop to Milosevich for good, and yet we are the only ones being punished. We just need half a chance to do it. Stop the bombings,hear us out,start legal proceedings instead of military ones. Start clearing up the mess in international courtrooms,with real proof,not behind closed doors.It`s the only way those responsible will be punished,and innocent civilians can live together in peace.Please help us end this madness.      (...@beotel.yu)



Official American Policy on Cuba

Hello. I would like to know why we do not have relations with Cuba? Could you please tell me why we would have relations with Russia and China who both killed millions and not with Cuba that did not. I am writing a report for school thank you. (...@erols.com)



Recent USIA Program on Y2K Issues

USIA International Visitor Program Participants View Support for Y2K Coordinators Conference at the U.N.

Emphasizing the high priority which the U.S. government and American businesses place on Year 2000 Computer Conversion efforts, USIA's New York Foreign Press Center organized a series of briefings December 9-10 timed to coincide with reporters' coverage of the December 11 United Nations Conference on Y2K. Briefings December 9 and 10 at the Securities Industry Association and the Federal Reserve Bank of New York informed 11 journalists from Japan, Korea, Finland, Spain, Canada, and Malaysia of the preparations being taken by the American securities and banking industries to handle the century date change problems. The New York Foreign Press Center also sponsored a December 10 Press Conference, attended by over 20 foreign news organizations, which featured John Koskinen, Assistant to the President and Chair of the President's Council on Y2K Conversion, Ambassador Ahmad Kamal (chairman of the U.N. Working Group on Informatics) and the 9 other members of the U.N. Y2K Conference's "Friends of the Chair" organizing group. (December 1998)

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Universal Internet Access

"(I am commenting on the question "How can use of the 'global information highway' contribute to increased international understanding?")
     In an idealistic sense, a "global information highway" would unite the nations of the world under the guidance of a high-speed communications network and allow for the quick and efficient flow of ideas between individuals and groups, regardless of geographic borders.
     Unfortunately, this idea is far from being a reality. Many third world nations have never used a telephone - something we here in America seem to have taken for granted - much less have any understanding of what the "internet" is. Until the economic and political problems of these nations are addressed, these peoples will not be able to participate in the mythical "global village."
     The problem is not restricted to third world nations, either. The same problems exist within the social strata of our own country. It is easy for college students and computer owners to access and participate in world-wide informational exchanges. The cost of accessing and publishing on the internet is comparatively inexpensive, but the cost of owning the necessary hardware is obscene. Only after shelling out two-thousand dollars for a top-of-the-line computer system can a user spend his or her $9.95 per month and share information with people from all over the world. Many Americans cannot afford to open this gateway in their homes, and the reliance shifts to the educational system to provide access to the younger generation. Furthermore, schools at the elementary through high school levels donÆt often see the funding that is necessary to give them a presence in the global information exchange."           ( @utexas.edu )

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About The Rostrum

The Rostrum (named for the speaker's platform in the ancient Roman forum) features comments to PDForum about public diplomacy and features on this site, as well as personal accounts of "citizen diplomacy."

Do you have an interesting story about dialogue between Americans and people of other countries? Send in your story to post on the Rostrum. If you see information on this website that you would like to respond to, or to debate another message, send us your comments and suggestions.

E-mail to: pdforum@usia.gov USIA is a foreign affairs agency whose purpose is to inform foreign citizens about America and its foreign policy. We regret that we are unable, therefore, to respond to general-information questions.

We welcome your comments on this website and the themes of Public Diplomacy Forum. Comments on PDForum's themes and content will be posted on this site under the appropriate thematic heading.



USIA Programs

USIA Kosovo Web Site Important Source of Information

USIA's Web site and listserv services on Kosovo, available to overseas audiences only, has attracted 115 subscribers from 22 countries. Recipients include over 25 individual or institutional readers from the Yugoslavia, Croatia, Bosnia-Herzegovina, Kosovo and Albania. Among them: leading independent media in the region; the Yugoslavian Mission in Geneva, the Albanian Ministry of Foreign Affairs; a Serbian Orthodox priest active in Kosovo peace efforts; and a well-known commentator at the Institute of International Politics and Economics in Belgrade. The list delivers key official and other texts and transcripts, including Kosovo Diplomatic Observer Mission (KDOM) reports, to reach audiences of journalists, government officials and academics. In a sign of the growing importance of the list, the editor-in-chief of Pristina's independent Albanian language daily newspaper wrote a "letter to the editor" of the listserv to refute comments in the December 6 KDOM report. In addition, a page is available with key documents translated into Albanian and Serbian.

USIA Office in Kiev's International Conference on "NATO at 50" Draws 500

Just one week after NATO's historic expansion in March, USIA's office overseas in Kiev convened an effective international conference, "NATO at 50: Prelude to the Washington Summit." The all-day event, opened by Ambassador Pifer drew an elite audience of about 500 government officials, diplomats, security experts, academics, and journalists. The conference included high level speakers from the White House, State Department, Pentagon, NATO international staff and USNATO, as well as experts and ambassadors from Russia, Poland, the Czech Republic, Hungary, and Germany. The keynote speech was given by Ukrainian secretary of defense and security Volodymyr Horbulin who provided the clearest and most thorough public exposition yet of the Ukrainian government's policy on cooperation with NATO and NATO enlargement. The topics of the conference were the new NATO, the new NATO members' experience, the NATO-Ukraine relationship, the evolving security architecture of Europe, and the Washington summit. Thanks to the presence of about sixty reporters, the event became the leading news event of the week.

Disarmament Emphasized in Ukranian Exchange Tour of U.S.

In a tour sponsored by the Defense Threat Reduction Agency, USIA's Information Officer in Kiev accompanied ten journalists, four parliamentarians, and two high-level officials on a week-long tour of American nuclear sites which showed that the U.S. is fulfilling its commitments under the START I agreement and that Ukraine is not alone in destroying strategic weapons as part of disarmament treaty commitments. The delegation watched a vivid "elimination," the chopping up of a B-52 by an enormous guillotine, and also stared into a formerly threatening Minuteman silo, now a Cold War museum.

USIA's Bucharest Office Press Support to U.S. Ambassador to NATO

During his visit to Romania to participate in the Partnership for Peace conference organized by the Ministry of Foreign Affairs, U.S. Ambassador to NATO Alexander Vershbow received press support from USIA's branch office in Bucharest. After the conference, USIS arranged for a television interview with the four major stations and immediately posted the Ambassador's conference speech on the Embassy website. During his encounters with the press, Ambassador Vershbow re-stated U.S. policy on NATO admission and Romania's candidacy, outlined U.S. expectations of the April NATO summit, and reiterated the United States's position on Kosovo. Together with Ambassador Vershbow's televised comments, U.S. Ambassador to Romania Rosapepe's recent television and print interview, and the Worldnet television interview with Deputy Secretary Talbott, the Romanian public has received, in the last two weeks, clear enunciation of the U.S. position on NATO and related political security subjects.

Recent USIA Program on Y2K Issues

USIA International Visitor Program Participants View Support for Y2K Coordinators Conference at the U.N.

Emphasizing the high priority which the U.S. government and American businesses place on Year 2000 Computer Conversion efforts, USIA's New York Foreign Press Center organized a series of briefings December 9-10 timed to coincide with reporters' coverage of the December 11 United Nations Conference on Y2K. Briefings December 9 and 10 at the Securities Industry Association and the Federal Reserve Bank of New York informed 11 journalists from Japan, Korea, Finland, Spain, Canada, and Malaysia of the preparations being taken by the American securities and banking industries to handle the century date change problems. The New York Foreign Press Center also sponsored a December 10 Press Conference, attended by over 20 foreign news organizations, which featured John Koskinen, Assistant to the President and Chair of the President's Council on Y2K Conversion, Ambassador Ahmad Kamal (chairman of the U.N. Working Group on Informatics) and the 9 other members of the U.N. Y2K Conference's "Friends of the Chair" organizing group.

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