U.S. Military Policy

LIMITS TO INTERVENTION

NOT since World War II have Americans been so uncertain about the proper role of the United States in the world. The broad bipartisan consensus that characterized American foreign policy for two decades after the war has been overcome by widespread, bipartisan confusion about the nature of the world, the character of the challenges that policymakers confront, and the proper employment of non-nuclear forces. Viet Nam is not the only cause of this confusion. Changes In American perceptions were evident earlier: as the fear of monolithic communism waned, hope grew that the United States and the Soviet Union could coexist peacefully; and the public showed diminishing interest in providing aid to less developed countries. But the expenditure of blood and treasure in Viet Nam has deepened fundamental doubts throughout our society-from the highest levels of government to college campuses and midwestern farms-as to whether the United States should in any circumstances become involved again in a limited war. A Time- Louis Harris Poll in May indicated that only a minority of Americans are willing to see United States troops used to resist overt communist aggression against our allies: in Berlin, 26 percent; in Thailand, 25 percent; and in Japan, 27 percent.

This pervasive uncertainty, confusion and discontent create an opportunity to reformulate the guidelines of American foreign policy and to educate the larger public about the responsibilities of the United States-their extent and their limits. The burden of this job falls primarily on the Nixon Administration, and it is clear that the President and his National Security Council have considered these problems and surveyed various alternative postures. President Nixon's July speech at Guam suggests at least the outline of a tentative doctrine. What remains is to make that doctrine more precise-a task that has apparently been begun within the councils of government. Our purpose here is to suggest ways in which it should be carried forward and considerations which should be taken into account in the process.

Register for free to continue reading.
Registered users get access to three free articles every month.

Or subscribe now and save 55 percent.

Subscription benefits include:
  • Full access to ForeignAffairs.com
  • Six issues of the magazine
  • Foreign Affairs iPad app privileges
  • Special editorial collections

Latest Commentary & News analysis