The Dangerous Greening of American Foreign Policy

Published July 1, 1997

Dr. Henry Miller was trained as a physician and molecular biologist. He spent more than fifteen years as an official at the Food and Drug Administration, where he was involved with the regulation of biotechnology products and was the founding director of the agency’s Office of Biotechnology. Dr. Miller joined Stanford University in 1994, where he today serves as Senior Research Fellow at the Hoover Institution and Consulting Professor at the Institute for International Studies. Dr. Miller is the author of more than two hundred articles and three monographs on subjects related to science and technology and their regulation.

Cohen: There has been much talk lately about the “greening” of U.S. foreign policy. Can you explain what is meant by this?

Miller: It refers to the elevation–to an extent that lacks any sense of proportion, many would say–of the prominence of environmental issues in foreign policy.

In what was touted as a major policy speech in April 1997, then-Secretary of State Warren Christopher announced a new State Department policy that would make environmental concerns co-equal with national security and economic issues in United States foreign relations. Several major initiatives were part of this policy, including international agreements and conventions; strategically distributed largess from the State Department and Agency for International Development (AID); and new “environmental hubs” at selected U.S. embassies, which would promulgate the environmental gospel according to Vice-President Al Gore.

Cohen: Can you give us some concrete examples?

Miller: Let me mention two.

First, the Biodiversity Treaty, which Christopher singled out as important and which Undersecretary of State Tim Wirth characterized as having “top priority among all treaties” and agreements awaiting confirmation. This international agreement is a volatile combination of poor-quality science and flawed environmental and foreign policy that, if implemented, would be bad for the United States and disastrous for the countries of the developing world. The new State Department initiative, as it applies to the Biodiversity Treaty, would have the United States “fronting” for the United Nations and promoting it as the world’s biosafety police force for regulating biotechnology.

Second, Vice-President Gore has directed various government departments to negotiate an international agreement that would delegate to various “green” international organizations authority to regulate “hazardous chemicals.” The new “global harmonized system” for chemical classification and labeling would be an extension of an informal identification/notification arrangement originally created to protect worker safety and used among industrialized countries for many years. But the new system would have a hugely expanded scope, encompassing “all chemicals and mixtures of such chemicals, including when they are intended to be used as pesticides, pharmaceuticals, food additives, and other chemical use categories.” Products generally considered to have low intrinsic toxicity would be lumped together with pesticides and industrial lubricants. Worse still, international organizations will usurp U.S. agencies’ autonomy: The very green Environment Directorate of the Paris-based Organization for Economic Cooperation and Development would establish international standards under the agreement, and the agreement itself could be administered by a strengthened successor to the United Nations Environment Program.

Cohen: How is foreign aid being used to further these environmental goals?

Miller: Foreign aid funds are actually being used to undermine market economies abroad and put American businesses at a competitive disadvantage. In Indonesia, for example, the Agency for International Development (AID) gave more than $1.3 million to the local chapter of Friends of the Earth (virtually its entire operating budget) for its campaign against New Orleans-based Freeport-McMoRan Copper & Gold. The environmental organization accused the mining company of grossly polluting an Indonesian river, destroying crops, and inciting military attacks on civilians–but none of those accusations has been substantiated. Independent audits have suggested, to the contrary, that Freeport-McMoRan takes social responsibility seriously.

In addition, these environmental activists successfully lobbied the Overseas Private Investment Corporation, a federal agency that promotes business abroad by insuring companies against the risk of nationalization, to cancel Freeport’s $100 million policy.

Cohen: The April 1996 announcement by Secretary Christopher was a year and a half ago. Is there evidence that the State Department and other departments are taking this initiative seriously?

Miller: Various aspects of the initiative can be found at many departments and agencies. The harmonized agreement on chemicals that I just mentioned is moving ahead, for example.

Also, in April of this year–on Earth Day, appropriately–the State Department published Environmental Diplomacy, a slick 10,000-word document with forewords by Vice President Gore and Secretary of State Madeleine Albright. Its message is that environmental issues are in the mainstream of American foreign policy, because “environmental problems are often at the heart of the political and economic challenges we face around the world.” In other words, it’s not tyrannical governments, not state-sponsored genocide or terrorism, not poverty or disease, but environmental problems that define America’s foreign-policy challenges.

I find it particularly worrisome that in order to create and sustain the base of information necessary to justify his views on subjects like global climate change and biotechnology, Gore enlisted the resources of the intelligence community. In a speech at the World Affairs Council in Los Angeles last year, John Deutch, then-director of the CIA and the coordinator of all U.S. intelligence activities, signed on. “I intend to make sure that ‘environmental intelligence’ remains in the mainstream of U.S. intelligence activities. Even in times of declining budgets we will support policymakers.” Deutch also alluded specifically to using CIA assets to determine whether foreign companies were gaining unfair competitive advantage “by ignoring environmental regulations.” One envisions American spooks using spy cameras to photograph the contents of recycling bins!

Deutch is now Gore’s choice to succeed John Gibbons as President Clinton’s science advisor.

Cohen: It sounds as if U.S. foreign policy is expanding its vision of what constitutes our national interest.

Miller: Environmental Diplomacy makes that clear. According to Environmental Diplomacy, the State Department will focus its regional and bilateral environmental diplomacy on several key areas, one of which is “land use.” Critical issues include such decisions as foreign countries’ “local and national leaders weigh[ing] the competing goals of protecting a forest against providing additional croplands.” Foreign governments’ sovereign actions, we are told, “have social, environmental, and economic implications, which in turn affect our foreign policy.” Mr. Gore and Ms. Albright apparently think U.S. foreign policy should turn on other countries’ purely domestic, economic decisions–whether, for example, the French government permits the harvesting of an old-growth forest in Provence or Mexico City decides to build additional highways instead of a subway system.

Cohen: That “new vision,” as you call it, would probably seem extreme to a number of Americans.

Miller: If you think that’s extreme, you ought to read Earth in the Balance to understand the policy’s rationale. The apocalyptic central thesis of Mr. Gore’s book is that we need to take “bold and unequivocal action . . . [to] make the rescue of the environment the central organizing principle for civilization.” Throughout the book, he uses the metaphor that those who believe in technological progress are as sinister, and polluters are as evil, as the perpetrators of the Holocaust.

The Vice-President’s “vision” of what is important is one that I would guess is shared by very few Americans; the suspect in the Unabomber bombings is probably an exception. In Earth in the Balance, Gore calls our civilization “dysfunctional,” and then goes on to accuse us of having created “a false world of plastic flowers and AstroTurf, air conditioning and fluorescent lights, windows that don’t open and background music that never stops, days when we don’t know whether it has rained or not, nights when the sky never stops glowing, Walkman and Watchman entertainment cocoons, frozen food for the microwave oven, sleepy hearts jump-started with caffeine, alcohol, drugs, and illusions.” Gore analogizes this to “Nazi Germany [where] dysfunctional thinking was institutionalized in the totalitarian state, its dogma, and its war machine.”

Cohen: You’ve mentioned the United Nations’ intentions in this area. Is there also coordination with other international bodies such as the World Bank?

Miller: Environmental Diplomacy claims that the World Bank must factor “environmental implications into its lending decisions,” echoing Mr. Gore’s claim in Earth in the Balance that “[c]lassical economics defines productivity narrowly and encourages us to equate gains in productivity with economic progress. But the Holy Grail of progress is so alluring that economists tend to overlook the bad side effects that often accompany improvements.”

Cohen: What does the State Department propose is the remedy to this asymmetry?

Miller: The remedy proposed by Mr. Gore–and now by the State Department–is to redefine the relevant measures of economic activity. The purpose of this is clear: enabling governments to obscure the costs of environmental protection by calling them “benefits” and to force businesses to list wealth-creating activity as societal “costs.” But the effects will be profound: Companies around the world will see their regulatory expenses skyrocket and their markets shrink. Consumers will pay inflated prices for fewer products and higher taxes to support expanded bureaucracies.

Cohen: What about other areas, such as biotechnology?

Miller: Biotech is a good example, because it has been a particularly inappropriate victim of the environmentalists’ agenda. At a time when hunger remains a serious problem for perhaps a billion people–the real endangered species–and per-capita yields of the major cereal crops have leveled off or decreased, biotechnology holds great promise for raising productivity. Unlike many new technologies of our age, biotechnology has been available almost immediately outside the wealthier countries of the Northern hemisphere. Since it builds on traditional agriculture and microbiology to improve regionally important crops, biotechnology facilitates that highest goal of developing-world politics: self-sufficiency.

It is cruelly ironic that the State Department’s current policies “front” for and encourage United Nations’ policies that block the development of environment-friendly products and advances in agriculture. Half a dozen U.N. programs or agencies have targeted biotechnology–the use of precise, state-of-the-art techniques for genetically improving plants, animals and microorganisms–with a sweeping variety of new, unnecessary, burdensome regulations.

The U.N.’s regulatory and policing proposals–a code of conduct promulgated by the United Nations Industrial Development Organization (on behalf of three other UN agencies) and a biosafety protocol mandated by the Biodiversity Convention–have nipped this promise in the bud. Agricultural biotechnology is particularly vulnerable, because while innovation is high, market incentives are small and fragile. The new regulations’ vastly increased paperwork and costs for field testing are potent disincentives to R&D in many countries. The products of this R&D could be particularly environment-friendly–crop plants with greater yields and requiring less agricultural chemicals, biological alternatives to chemical pesticides, and various biological methods of cleaning up toxic wastes.

Cohen: How do the ongoing negotiations on a global climate treaty fit into all this?

Miller: They are another manifestation of the same kind of distorted thought process, but on an entirely different scale. As profound as the effects of “green” policies and initiatives may be on areas such as biotechnology and chemicals, the impact of an agreement that limits carbon dioxide emissions could dwarf everything else. If a treaty were both to limit emissions and make the right to release carbon dioxide a saleable commodity, such a treaty could impose a multi-trillion-dollar tax on industrialized countries (most of which would be borne by the United States). These monies would be transferred to the developing world. The effect could be a world-wide depression.