Each of us have a lense through which we view our world. We each have a filter that outside information must pass through as we process, and attempt to understand it. These lenses and filters are the product of our experience. I have become very interested in understanding the perspective of the “other guy” as it pertains to U.S. foreign policy.
One of the most cherished ideals of the collective American psyche is revering freedom. We champion it at every opportunity. It is a founding tenet of our representative democracy.
Do others, in different societies, with disparate experiences, crave our definition of freedom? Is it fair to project our perspective onto others?
How does the average Chinese person feel about democracy? Freedom? Do they crave stability over freedom? Even if that means an autocratic government? A prominent University of Chicago scholar, and a Dean at a major University, both Chinese, expressed this very notion to me. It is hard for someone that grew up in America to wrap our mind around that. Give me Liberty, or give me Death! Remember?
Do we really expect Russia not to be concerned when NATO is knocking on it’s doorstep? How about putting a missile shield in former satellite countries? Wouldn’t we be concerned if Russia were doing the same?
How are our actions perceived by others in the world? Extending a missile defense system into Eastern Europe makes sense to us. It keeps us safe by extending a protective shield further, and further out from our shores. Distance equals reaction time. Pretty simple stuff, right?
Well, what if you are Russian? Your empire imploded back in 1991. You are still licking your wounds from that one. The United States has not exactly been humble in it’s triumph over the Soviet Union in the Cold War. Most of your former satellites aspire to membership in NATO, or are on friendly terms with the U.S. Some are even talking about allowing U.S. missile defense technology on their territory. How would you perceive these actions? Would you be concerned about U.S. unilateralism?
I plan to spend some time researching these issues in the coming months. Understanding each other’s perspective is key to developing win-win propositions. If we are going to prevent future conflict, we need to fully understand how other countries perceive themselves, and how they interpret our actions.