Dubious US initiatives

CHAPTER seven of the report produced by the United States President’s Council on Sustainable Development declares that the United States is a world leader – often the world leader – whether it chooses to exercise leadership or not.

“Other nations hesitate to act to address international issues of security, development, or the environment unless the United States takes the lead.

“And issues of development, environment, and human security are as surely related globally as they are locally.”

That the United States is seeking an international leadership role in environmental issues is evident from Secretary of State Warren Christopher’s recent speech at Stanford University, California.

In a major address, which The Washington Post said Christopher and his aides planned and refined for months, the Secretary of State outlined a broad-ranging agenda which set environmentalism as a top priority in US diplomacy.

This year, the US Department of State will take additional steps to systematically protect the world’s resources, use environmental issues to promote core US interests and ensure needed expertise and financial support to countries which need them.

“Environmental forces transcend borders and oceans to threaten directly the health, prosperity and jobs of American citizens. Addressing natural resource issues is frequently critical to achieving political and economic stability and to pursuing our strategic goals around the world.

“That is why we are determined to put environmental issues where they belong: in the mainstream of American foreign policy,” Christopher said.

Since 1993, the Clinton administration has sought to restore American leadership to international environmental efforts.

Many acknowledge that the Clinton administration has been more concerned about global and regional environmental issues than either the Bush or Reagan administrations.

Among other moves, it is helping the Ukraine with environmental programmes so that there will be “no more Chernobyls”. It is also working closely with Canada and Mexico on a number of environmental projects.

The Clinton administration is also pushing for Senate ratification of the Convention on Biodiversity and the Law of the Seas Treaty.

The US is well-placed to demonstrate global leadership in dealing with environmental concerns “if only it can be consistent”, says Malaysian environmentalist Gurmit Singh.

He recollects that in 1992 the excuse given was that Congress was keen but President Bush was not. But now it is President Clinton who is keen but Congress is not.

“When shall the two meet?” asks Gurmit Singh.

The US failed to display good leadership at the 1992 Earth Summit in Rio on any of the global environmental issues including the climate treaty “in which it is doing its best to avoid a Protocol which will require developed countries to set timetables and targets for reducing greenhouse gas emissions”.

“So what leadership is the US talking about?” demands Gurmit Singh.

World Wide Fund For Nature (WWF) Malaysia notes it is encouraging that the Clinton administration plans to allocate hundreds of millions of dollars to international environmental programmes in 1997 even though Congress has reduced funds for diplomatic activities and foreign aid.

What Just World Trust (JUST) director Dr Chandra Muzaffar finds disturbing is the manner in which the Clinton Administration – as articulated in Christopher’s April 9 address – is seeking to develop environmental concerns into a tool of American foreign policy.

Chandra is alluding to the US State Department’s plan to produce an annual report on global environmental challenges starting on Earth Day next year which he sees as an attempt by the US government “to sit in judgement of the environmental performance of other countries”.

He says it wants other countries to adhere to environmental standards which the US will set.

The social activist drew an analogy with the US stand on human rights.

“This is exactly what the US government does on human rights issues. It produces an annual report which evaluates the human rights record of other countries based on its own biased approach to human rights and conditioned by its own national interests.

“This is why the US’s evaluation of the human rights practices (or rather malpractices) of its allies such as Israel or Egypt or Saudi Arabia lacks credibility.”

Chandra is curious to know whether the proposed annual environmental report be a replay of its human rights report.

If a country which is not one of the US’s close allies fails to comply with the US’s environmental standards, will it be subjected to sanctions?

Will there be some form of punishment? Will the US government view an “environmental challenge” from a not-so-friendly state as a “security threat”?

Or, is the proposed new emphasis upon environment in US foreign policy, “a crafty move to promote environmental technologies” – an area in which US companies lead the world?

In fact, Christopher was quite explicit about this aspect of US policy. “Protecting the environment also opens business opportunities. We are committed to helping US companies expand their already commanding share of a US$400 billion (RM1,000 billion) market for environmental technologies,” he said at Stanford.

Given the pronounced business motive, the new thrust in US foreign policy “is obviously an attempt to boost an economy which has yet to show a sustained recovery,” says Chandra.

He suggests a parallel to the US sale of arms around the globe. “Will there be a similar push for the purchase of environmental technologies so that US companies and the US economy will benefit, regardless of their impact upon the purchasing country?”

That the emphasis upon the environment in US foreign policy is largely self-serving is borne out by another factor.

Chandra notes that in his entire Stanford speech, Christopher made no reference at all to the need for American elites and segments of the American middle class to change their lifestyles.

The lifestyles of the rich and opulent in industrialised societies are one of the major causes of environmental degradation and resource depletion.

“When most middle and upper class American families own at least two cars and a whole variety of domestic industrial appliances which contribute to all types of environmental pollution, how can one ignore the question of lifestyles?”

Besides, the US with five per cent of the world’s population consumes at least 20 per cent of the world’s mineral and wood resources.

“One gets the impression that for the Clinton administration as it was with George Bush, the lifestyles and consumption patterns of well-to-do Americans are not negotiable'”, says Chandra.

He adds that the reluctance to subject the American way of life to critical scrutiny in the interest of creating a saner and more secure environment is symptomatic of the US elite’s approach to local and global challenges.

Chandra says Malaysia has every right to resent the US’s manipulation of environmental issues for its own interests but then, “small nations like ours should also be prepared to reflect upon our mistakes and Malaysia has committed a lot of blunders in its management of the environment.”

Therefore, it must have a comprehensive agenda for improving the environment into the 21st Century.

“After all protecting the environment is one of the sacred responsibilities entrusted to the human being by God – as all our religions tell us,” he says.

GRAPHIC: World Environment Day 1996. Part 1. (STF) – The United States recently announced its environmental initiative for the 21st century. Yet some question its motives for putting environment high on its diplomatic agenda, reports Faezah Ismail.