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CAMPAIGN 2004 Clark Calls for ‘New Atlantic Charter’

Author: Bernard Gwertzman, Visiting Fellow
November 20, 2003
Council on Foreign Relations


Democratic presidential candidate Wesley Clark called on Thursday for “a new Atlantic Charter” to reinvigorate the United States’ relations with its European allies.

Speaking to a meeting of the Council on Foreign Relations in New York, the former North Atlantic Treaty Organization (NATO) commander continued his broad-based attack on the Bush administration’s foreign policies.

“Simply put, this administration is wrecking NATO— and thereby doing incalculable damage to our security and well being,” he said. “They have alienated our friends, dismissed their concerns, rejected their advice, and left America an isolated nation.”

The first Atlantic Charter was launched by President Franklin D. Roosevelt and British Prime Minister Winston Churchill in 1941, and Clark pledged that, “as president, one of my first orders of business will be to sit down with our European allies to agree upon a new Atlantic Charter.” This charter, he said, will oblige the United States and European nations to make “the same commitment to give primacy to NATO” in dealing with varied international problems.

Clark was critical of the pre-emption policy put forth by the Bush administration in its official National Security Strategy.

He said he preferred a concept called “preventive engagement.”

“A Clark administration would place our work with Europe and a reinvigorated NATO as a centerpiece of U.S. policy— and then seek not to rely on pre-emptive force, but instead to use diplomatic, political, economic power and international law in preventive engagement,” he said. “We would reserve the use of force for an absolutely last resort and then act together if possible and unilaterally only if we must.”

Clark said an effort to mount cooperative efforts with U.S. allies must begin in Iraq and continue in other trouble spots. His speech devoted considerable attention to the Middle East, where Clark said greater efforts must be made to resolve the Israeli-Palestinian conflict.

“I would commit America to real Middle East diplomacy again— starting in the White House but including all levels of our government, to breathe life into the road map for peace that has veered tragically off course,” he said. “We must play a leadership role again to encourage both sides to meet their commitments. The Palestinians must start by taking decisive steps to combat terrorists and the infrastructure of terrorists. But the Israelis have responsibilities also.”

In answers to questions, he was critical of the Bush administration for relying on China as an intermediary with North Korea, and asserted that the United States should be talking “directly to North Korea” on the pressing nuclear proliferation issues.

On Iran, he said he favored the European approach of “engagement” as a way to persuade Tehran to abandon its nuclear program, but he said that it was also important to keep “pressure” on the Iranian regime, something favored by the Bush administration.

Clark seemed to lose his composure when he was asked to discuss his earlier-than-scheduled departure as NATO commander in 1999. He said that it was a matter of public record and that nothing in that record raised “any suggestions about my character and my integrity.” Retired General Hugh Shelton, who was chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff when Clark was relieved of the NATO command, had been reported as saying the reason Clark “came out of Europe early had to do with integrity and character issues, things that are very near and dear to my heart.”

Clark appeared to be responding to Shelton’s comments when he said, “Let me just underscore this. Those words, whether they were intended or not, whether they were misspoken or not, have not been retracted. And they constitute a smear, and I don’t appreciate it.” Clark, the commander of NATO when the alliance successfully prosecuted an air war against the former Yugoslavia, mentioned that example of NATO cooperation several times during his appearance at the council and contrasted it to the lack of NATO support for the Bush administration’s Iraq campaign.