The Blog


11:00 PM, Feb 23, 1997 • By AARON FRIEDBERG
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Whatever its initial intentions, as engagement proceeds, Washington will find itself increasingly tempted to "define deviancy down," overlooking Chinese behavior that would seem to demand an economically costly, politically difficult, or strategically dangerous response. The engagers think that they are lulling China and coaxing it into accepting their vision of the future. But who is lulling whom?

The Clinton administration has committed itself to two major foreign-policy initiatives: enlarging NATO and engaging China. Of these, the second is at least as important as the first; indeed, given China's dynamism and Russia's decline, it will probably turn out in the long run to be much more so. Where the debate over enlargement has been open, thorough, and spirited, however, the discussion of engagement has been cramped and constrained, and it seems now to be on the verge of premature closure. This is unhealthy, and given the stakes, the complexities, and the uncertainties involved, it is also most unwise. It may be too early to abandon engagement, but it is not too late to begin a fundamental reexamination of its premises and potential dangers.

Aaron Friedberg is director of Princeton University's Research Program in International Security.