International Disputes Should Be Steered Into Legal Forums, Berger Says
America must rely more on persuasion to have its way in the world since the end of the Cold War, former National Security Advisor Sandy Berger told a student crowd in Caplin Pavilion February 26 in a visit arranged by the Law Democrats. The end of America's perilous duel with the former Soviet Union has removed many nations' need to live under the protection of the US's nuclear umbrella, Berger explained, and made them less tractable to American diplomatic interests. America must be careful now to act in accordance with international law, especially when resorting to military force.
As law students, they are getting an excellent training for the problems of foreign relations, he said. President Bill Clinton's chief advisor on foreign policy from 1996 to 2001, Berger is the first of the 16 national security advisors to serve since World War II who was trained as a lawyer. A legal education teaches one to first ascertain the facts and then apply principles, he said. "First define the problem and then go for an answer." Mistakes in our response to international problems are often a consequence of acting on false assumptions, he said.
A second reason for young lawyers to look to diplomatic careers is the general effort to resolve international disputes through international organizations and agreements. "Governments are trying to solve problems between them by bringing each other into legal regimes," he said. With the emergence of new democracies in the wake of the Soviet Union's collapse, one of the major tasks of American diplomacy will be to build respect for the rule of law in nations where it is not a well-rooted habit.
Berger took questions on the foreign policy events of his watch, particularly on decisions made about the Balkan wars of the '90s. His daughter Sarah is a first-year law student at U.Va.