Scholars studying international relations have long debated the extent to which domestic politics affect countries' international behavior. 1998 provided some clear indicators that political maneuvering within states profoundly shapes their international actions. Thus, efforts to enhance international security must not only balance military forces and resolve territorial disputes, but also must address domestic political interests in ways that heighten rather than lessen cooperation.
In the Middle East, the peace process fell deeper into crisis in the first half of 1998 as Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu, under pressure from right wing political supporters, slowed implementation of the Oslo Accords. Yasser Arafat in turn faced political pressure to pursue a more militant policy against Israel, either to shatter the peace process or to heighten the sense of crisis in an effort to increase international pressure on Israel. U.S. Secretary of State Madeleine Albright reportedly saw Netanyahu's actions and rhetoric as the main obstacle to progress, but was prevented by domestic politics within the U.S. from exerting greater pressure on Israel. Thus, for much of the year, partisan dynamics within countries brought the once promising peace process to the brink of collapse. Then, in October, President Bill Clinton himself welcomed the opportunity to divert public opinion from his personal scandal by intervening directly in Israeli-Palestinian negotiations at Wye River, helping these adversaries reach new agreements to implement the peace process. However, within weeks, politics forced Netanyahu to call for elections in Israel, suspending the peace process. Meanwhile, the fatal illness of Jordan's King Hussein cast a shadow over the entire region, indicating still further how domestic events affect international security.
In Northeast Asia, the Democratic Peoples Republic of Korea (North Korea) continued to suffer famine and general economic decline. When the Clinton administration received evidence of the possible construction of a new nuclear installation in North Korea, it took a harder line under pressure from Congress. The government in Pyongyang increased tensions by launching a three-staged rocket that flew over Japan. In the Republic of Korea (South Korea) domestic politics also altered the dynamic as Kim Dae Jung was elected president and formulated a new, "sunshine policy" to calm North Korea with good will. However, President Kim still had to overcome resistance within his own bureaucracy in implementing this policy. Recognizing the need to cut through political knots, President Clinton appointed a special advisor, former Defense Secretary William Perry, to consult with South Korea, Japan, and China as part of a comprehensive policy review to recommend new approaches to North Korea that could win support within each of these countries.
Domestic politics also affected much of the evolution of security policies in Europe. 1998 brought the extension of NATO membership to Poland, Hungary and the Czech Republic. NATO expansion, along with U.S. military attacks on Iraq and political-military pressure on Serbia, upset nationalist politicians in Russia who then refused to ratify the START II Treaty even though Russia's military leaders argued that the treaty was in Russia's national security interest.
The bilateral and regional conflicts touched on here - as well as in South Asia -- have the potential to exacerbate nuclear weapon proliferation and possibly cause war. These risks can be redressed many ways. In some states domestic politics will heighten the temptation to rely on technology to provide security, whether in the form of ballistic missile defenses or the proliferation of ballistic missiles themselves. Developing and deploying such technologies is not simple, but technological "solutions" are often easier and more politically rewarding than addressing the domestic and regional roots of conflict. Perhaps this explains why leaders who do break the pattern are remembered so vividly: recent leaders such as King Hussein, Yitzak Rabin, Anwar Sadat, Mikhail Gorbachev, Ronald Reagan, and Richard Nixon for his famous trip to China. It remained unanswered in 1998 whether such a statesman or woman was on the horizon.
In the absence of regional and global leadership toward common security, the Foundation has looked to nongovernmental actors to proffer constructive ideas, educate the public, and even to convene productive dialogue among representatives of contentious states in regions where nuclear dangers are high.