The free-trade global telecom pact inked in Geneva two weeks ago represents the emergence of commerce as a powerful new diplomatic tool the United States will employ to export a broad range of democratic ideals and to advance strategic geopolitical goals abroad.
What makes the U.S. particularly well positioned to capitalize on the new world order-ushered in by the collapse of communism and the ensuing embrace of laissez faire economics around the world-is America’s competitive edge in cutting-edge information-telecommunications technology.
A solid information-telecommunications infrastructure is as necessary as a sturdy transportation system of roads and bridges to a nation attempting the uneasy transition to a market economy and to a democratic-form of government.
In that regard, the U.S. wireless telecom industry-the envy of the world-will likely grow in global influence far beyond the narrow confines of commerce.
With developing nations having little if any telecom infrastructure to speak of, wireless technology is bound to be seized by government and industry leaders because networks can be built faster and less expensively than would be the case with wireline systems. Wireless also offers mobility and other operational flexibility not found in wireline networks.
That America holds both high-tech commercial and military dominance in the post-Cold War era is not lost on the Clinton administration.
Indeed, the administration’s lust for commercial inroads abroad has contributed to the highly charged controversy in which it is alleged that late Commerce Secretary Ron Brown rewarded and courted Clinton-Gore campaign donations with seats on trade missions to China, Russia, Latin America, India and South Africa, countries with emerging market economies worth billions of dollars in contracts to the U.S. telecom industry and other business sectors.
Even more serious are allegations pursued by congressional and Justice Department investigators that economic and national security may have been compromised by Democratic fund raising in the last election cycle.
Some wireless industry executives, who contributed to the Clinton-Gore campaign, accompanied Brown on trade trips. Others with the same political leaning attended coffees in return for their backing.
The United States laid the foundation for the WTO trade accord early in Clinton’s first term, when-after recognizing the huge telecom growth prospects in Asia, Latin America and other regions-he came up with a slick marketing plan for opening up those markets. Its name: the GII, the Global Information Infrastructure.
GII was coined by Vice President Gore, who seems to have a way with words such that policies are transformed into catchy marketing names, like the Information Superhighway.
The Information Superhighway is 1996 telecom reform.
The GII is the Information Superhighway gone global.
The GII marketing campaign worked like a charm. Led by U.S. trade representative nominee Charlene Barshefsky it helped engineer landmark international agreements that open 68 telecom service markets and phase out telecom equipment tariffs by the turn of the century.
In doing so, America’s economic prowess now is legitimized and recognized by member states of a new global trade dispute umpire who’s empowered to punish. Its name-the WTO, created in January 1995 as the successor to the less influential Global Agreement on Tariffs and Trade .
That planetary economic clout gives the United States enormous leverage in extract political, military, environmental and other non-telecom concessions in the world theatre.
“The United States has effectively exported the American values of free competition, fair values and effective enforcement,” Barshefsky was quoted as saying.
As such, the United States could dangle WTO membership and most-favored-nation trading status in front of China-a potential $50 billion telecom market that wireless might get half of-to negotiate human rights improvements-particularly in light of the death of Chinese revolutionary leader Deng Xiaoping and the apparent liklihood that Chinese President Jiang Zemin will carry on market-reforms started under Deng.
Despite progress on the economic front, Deng wielded power with an iron fist to crush dissent as symbolized by the bloody Tiananmen Square crack down against pro-democracy demonstrations in which 700 students were killed.
The United States, whose all-time high trade deficit of $114 billion in 1996 was dominated by a huge imbalance with China, could also choose to use the carrot and stick approach to ensure Hong Kong isn’t pummeled when China takes it over in July and to keep Taiwan out of harm’s way.
Clinton, by his own admission, has failed to better human rights in China by de-linking the issue from trade. It’s a major foreign policy shortcoming that could affect trade in the future.
The WTO has turned out to be friend as well as foe for the United States. America faces a WTO penalty because of the administration’s trade sanctions against Cuba. The United States argues it’s a national security issue outside WTO’s jurisdiction, and the administration is ignoring WTO authority.
In the meantime, Uncle Sam now carries a bigger stick in diplomatic circles. It’s shaped like a wireless antenna tower.