The Day After Russia Attacks
What War in Ukraine Would Look Like—and How America Should Respond
To judge from the daily news, the management of American foreign policy is the art of throwing ourselves into one crisis after another. By shifting the spotlight from one trouble spot to the next, the impression is created that the United States Government deals exclusively in short-range reactions to external emergencies.
Most of the people engaged in the management of American foreign policy, most of the time, are not working on the headline crises, but on other subjects. A round of tariff negotiations, a student exchange program, the use of surplus food for economic growth, the tedious but important process of getting to know hundreds of leading personalities in more than a hundred foreign countries, the analysis of bits and pieces of intelligence from all over the world, the selection and instruction of government delegates to 500 conferences a year-these and many, many other necessary works are also "American foreign policy."
Yet in the upper reaches of our Government, and particularly at the level of the President and his nearest echelon of advisers, the newspaper version of relative priorities is not, after all, so far from the facts. The President, the Secretaries of State and Defense, the Director of Central Intelligence and several dozen other men do spend a very large part of their time working on the crises of the moment. (This does not, paradoxically, mean that long-range policy is neglected; for it is often at moments of crisis that the most basic long-range decisions about foreign policy are made.)
The highest officials of our Government spend their time on crisis management because there is no other way for responsible men to take the responsibility for crucial decisions. For the problem of decision-making in our complicated world is not how to get the problem simple enough so that we can all understand it; the problem is to get our thinking about the problem as complex as humanly possible-and thus approach (we can never match) the complexity of the real world around us. And only the highest officials are in a position thus to maximize the complexities.
Albert Einstein is supposed to have said that every proposition should be as simple as possible-but not one bit simpler. The decision-maker in any large-scale enterprise-and a fortiori the maker of decisions in international affairs-has to immerse himself personally in the full complexity of the problem at hand. "Completed staff work" is the last thing he wants, or should want, from his advisers. For if he is to make a responsible decision, he must himself measure the options and filter the imagined consequences of each through his most dependable computer, which is his own brain.
By the same token, "contingency planning" must normally deal with many contingencies which do not, as things work out, come to pass. Last fall, countless man-hours went into contingency planning for the crises elsewhere which were thought to be the Soviets' possible reaction to a quarantine of Cuba. Yet contingency planning is never wasted-for it develops the analytical skills of the contingency planners and thus puts the Government in a more "ready" position.
The most usable end-product of planning is not a paper, but a person thoroughly immersed in the subject-a person whose mind is trained to act, having taken everything into account, on the spur of the moment. And that is why the ultimate decision-maker must himself participate in the planning exercise. A busy boxer, training for the bout of his life, cannot afford to let his sparring-partners do all his daily calisthenics for him.
The management of a foreign-policy crisis, then, is an exciting, demanding form of organized thinking, in which the maximum degree of complexity must be sifted through the minds of those few men in a position to take the ultimate responsibility for action. And as Josiah Royce said: "Thinking is like loving and dying; each of us must do it for himself."
Is there a pattern to so personal a process? At least five lessons about crisis management seem to emerge with some clarity from the talk-filled rooms where the makers of policy foregather and our destiny is shaped.
Lesson No. 1: Keep Your Objectives Limited
Somewhere in his writings Emerson advises young people to be very careful in deciding what they most want out of life-for they are likely to get it. A similar, but qualified, principle applies to American foreign policy: select your objective carefully, for if it is limited enough you are quite likely to achieve it. International politics, like local or national politics, is the art of the possible, but in international politics the price of overreaching the possible could be nuclear extinction.
In the Cuba missile crisis, the President decided that since an adverse shift in the world power balance was in the making, our basic security interests required the removal of "offensive weapons" from Cuba. That term might be subject to varying interpretations having to do with both weaponry and purpose; but clearly it covered the I.R.B.M.s and M.R.B.M.s, the I.L.- 28 medium-range bombers and nuclear warheads for these and any other weapons. For this overriding but still limited goal the President was prepared to commit U.S. power and prestige to the hilt.
Critics now say that the objective should have been broader, that the outright elimination of both the Soviet presence and Castro-Communism from Cuba should have been the objective last October. But the judgment of the moment, confirmed by the eloquent silence of those critics at the time, was that the missiles and bombers were the only threat so great as to require the immediate counter-threat of force to remove them. The Soviet troops are a dangerous nuisance, and we should and will continue our efforts to get them out. But they do not represent-as the missiles did-a fundamental change in the balance of world power. Castro, too, is a serious problem, but relief from the embarrassment of his presence in the Caribbean is not to be measured in megadeaths throughout the Northern Hemisphere. In the Cuba missile crisis, then, a limited objective was attained brilliantly- partly, at least, because it was specific, limited and attainable.
In the Congo, too, the Administration's objective was a limited one. In 1960 President Eisenhower decided to back a United Nations peace force for the Congo, instead of responding to the new Congolese Government's urgent appeal for our direct intervention. Neither then nor since has the United States Government undertaken to prevent internal trouble in the Congo except to the extent that such trouble invited foreign intervention and therefore threatened (in U.N. Charter language) the Congo's "territorial integrity and political independence." Foreign intervention in fact took place-including the returning Belgian paratroops and a large-scale attempt by the Soviet Union to establish its military presence in the Congo; and foreign funds and leadership were plainly evident in both the Communist- backed sedition of the Stanleyville régime and the secession based on copper revenues in South Katanga. But our concern with the Congo's internal troubles has been carefully limited to the original objectives by both the Eisenhower and the Kennedy Administrations.
A limited objective has likewise been the key to American policy during the recurring crises in Laos. When confronted by the Communist push in Laos in 1961, the new Administration in Washington was faced with three alternatives: to accept the huge costs and risks of holding Laos with U.S. military force, to allow the country to fall to Communist control, or to seek a settlement based on neutrality. It was decided that a neutral Laos just might have a chance, whereas the effort to affiliate Laos with the free world had helped divide the country by civil war. The resulting plan for Lao neutrality reached at Geneva still hangs in the balance as this is written. Communist intransigence still hampers both the internal politics of Laos and the inspection work of the International Control Commission. But, because the objective is limited, it has a chance of succeeding, and at the same time will test the possibility of agreements with the Communists on other matters as well.
In some crises, especially those that involve other nations in the free world and not directly the Soviet Union, the United States objective can be more limited than in Cuba or the Congo. When, for example, the French and Tunisians fell to fighting over the base at Bizerte, our considerable diplomatic efforts were bent toward the limited aim of keeping the peace. We cannot escape either our own power or our obligations under the United Nations Charter; both propel us into the middle of any dispute that threatens to disturb the peace. But in such disputes, our primary interest is in getting the disputants to talk rather than fight; any outcome agreed between the parties most concerned is usually all right with us.
Similarly, during recurrent recent "flaps" on Israel's borders and among the Arab countries, our concern is often with procedure rather than with trying to play God on the substance of local disputes. That Israel is here to stay is a basic tenet of American foreign policy; but when it comes to frontier flare-ups, our effort generally is focussed on setting up a procedure for defusing border incidents, case by case. This interest in procedure has caused the United States to initiate, or support, a whole network of U.N. tripwires and conciliation devices-the Mixed Armistice Commissions, the Truce Supervisory Organization, the U.N. Emergency Force in the Gaza Strip and along the Israeli-Egyptian frontier, a U.N. presence in Jordan, and recently, an agreement for a U.N.-inspected evacuation of foreign troops and military aid from Yemen.
In all these examples our objectives are limited, not by some absolute yardstick, but by a relative standard which matches them with our vital interests. Since our "must" list cannot include everything we would like to see happen in a turbulent world, the first task of crisis diplomacy is to decide what immediate aims are really worth the impressive resources we can deploy to achieve them.
Lesson No. 2: Decide How Far You Would Go.
Having limited his aims to match the vital interests of the United States, an American President facing a foreign-policy crisis must make another decision: how far down the road to the use of force he would, realistically, be willing to travel if things go from bad to worse. This is partly a judgment about his allies: who will be with him in the first instance-and in the last? But in the ultimate clutch would he-honestly now- order United States armed forces into action to support the policy, and if so, on what scale?
Some version of these questions must also be asked by decision-makers elsewhere, including those in the Kremlin. But in a democratic society so powerful that it must lead, not follow, the early facing of these questions is of the essence. For on matters of life and death, a democracy cannot bluff. It has to mean business.
A democratic government can-for a little while at least-cloak its tactics in official secrecy. But it does well to assume that its ultimate intentions are bound to show. Many people are looking on; many are asking questions; there is too much tradition and habit and impulse toward openness for a democracy to keep a very big secret for very long. And while this adds to the frustrations of doing business in world affairs, it is, in the end, not a price but a blessing of the system.
In the crisis over Soviet missile bases in Cuba, it was plain as day that the United States would, if need be, eliminate them by force-and alone if necessary. It was this very clarity of resolve which made our quarantine action, that relatively restrained first response, so extraordinarily effective. The Soviets had to crank into their calculations, not just the effect of a naval quarantine, but their own willingness to escalate to hostilities that might lead to nuclear war as the price of keeping their missiles on an island off Florida. Looked at this way, it simply did not seem worthwhile, and they took the missiles and bombers out.
In the Congo, it was clear from the outset that if the Soviets threatened to introduce a military presence in central Africa, we would have to reply in kind. Yet this was one of the last things we wanted to have happen-which mainly accounts for our consistent support for the alternative afforded by the United Nations.
Perhaps it will illuminate the central importance of deciding about the ultimate use of force if we note some cases closer to the other end of the crisis spectrum.
When the Indonesians and the Dutch squared off on West New Guinea last year, we looked around to see who was interested in the matter in a practical way. The Dutch were interested, not in retaining control of West New Guinea, which they had tried very hard to give to the United Nations, but in giving it up with dignity under arrangements that guaranteed to the Papuans the right of deciding their own destiny. The Australians were watching matters closely, and with deep concern. The Indonesians were anxious to take over the territory, and seemed for a time to be willing to do so by force. The Soviets clearly had an interest, as the principal supplier of military equipment to Indonesia. And we were interested, because a solution by force would have been in the interests of nobody- except perhaps the Soviets.
The problem, therefore, was to get a peaceful settlement agreed to by both Dutch and Indonesians. The Secretary-General of the United Nations chose an American diplomat to bring the parties together, and it was this mediator who finally proposed the arrangement that neither government could suggest but both could accept. The bedrock fact was this: there was no disposition, in the Netherlands or among her closest allies, to insist upon another result if that meant the use of military force.
At the extreme end of the spectrum, there is the case of Goa. The future of this Portuguese enclave in India should have been negotiated-as had already been done with the similar French and British enclaves. The Goans themselves might well have been asked what they thought about their future, but neither side was prepared to ask them. Our Government and other governments worked hard behind the scenes to get talks started and to prevent the use of force in Goa. But the Indians did not want to wait any longer, and the Portuguese did not want to talk.
When the crunch came, the United States like other governments had to face up honestly to whether it was prepared to defend Goa from the Indians, and had to concede that this would not be a prudent and sensible use of its armed forces. As an exercise in random opinion-sampling, I have asked hundreds of Americans since then whether they would have wanted to put the Marines into Goa, or even go there themselves to fight. I have yet to find a volunteer.
Since nobody was prepared to stop the Indians by force, there was no possibility of the United Nations "doing something" about Goa. We and others publicly complained, with irrefutable logic, that India's use of military force to accomplish the takeover was in flat violation of her commitments under the Charter. But we and other military powers are the Charter's teeth; in cases where we are not prepared to bite, the U.N.'s only recourse is moral suasion-and the Indians knew it.
Lesson No. 3: Creep Up Carefully on the Use of Force
The "next step" in a foreign crisis depends, then, on what limits are set to the objectives sought, and how far we are willing to go to achieve them. But even if the responsible executive decides he is willing to risk nuclear war for an objective of vital concern, it behooves him to select first the gentlest form of force that has a good chance of being effective.
The purpose of the use of force is not to kill people we fear, nor is it to provide a release for the frustrations of the user. It is to accomplish the limited objective sought in the particular case, with the least risk of escalation to more damaging forms of force.
Thus in the Cuba crisis, the advantage of a naval quarantine over an air strike was that it put the option of starting violent action up to the Soviets, and gave them 48 hours (the time it would take the nearest Soviet freighter to reach the quarantine line) to think it over. Now, with hindsight wisdom, we know that decision was right. Latent power worked so well that power in being was never engaged at all.
Responsible political leaders will always start the use of force at the cautious end of the spectrum of possibilities, for force is a one-way moving staircase: it is easy to escalate, very hard to de-escalate. Much theoretical argument and many books on thermonuclear war have partly obscured the very wide range of lesser ways to apply force. Yet it is precisely in the controlled, political use of force that we have useful current experience. We know that, once the decision is made to go much further if necessary, many moves short of war are both possible and effective. We can move military equipment around to dramatize our resolve- as in positioning tanks in Friedrichstrasse in Berlin or moving the Seventh Fleet into the Formosa Strait. We can shift ground forces into positions of readiness for quick action-as in the placement of American troops on the Thai border during last year's Laos crisis. We can inject a military force into a trouble spot to keep the lid from blowing off, and then encourage the U.N. to take a hand-as President Eisenhower did in 1958 by landing Marines in Lebanon. We can help finance and provide logistic support to a U.N. peace force, as we have done for six and a half years in the Middle East and for three years in the Congo. In the hands of rational men, the escalator to nuclear war is very long, with many steps and the opportunity for much talk along the way. The use of force in a dangerous world demands adherence to a doctrine of restraint-the cool, calm and collected manipulation of power for collective security-and the sophisticated mixture of diplomacy with that power. For until the ultimate thermonuclear button is pressed, and mutual destruction evolves from mutual desperation, force is just another manner of speaking-with a rather expensive vocabulary. But if force is to be a persuasive form of discourse, its modulations must carry not only the latent threat of more force but equally the assurance that it is under the personal control of responsible men.
Lesson No. 4: Widen the Community of the Concerned
The unilateral use of power is becoming as old-fashioned as horse cavalry. Even when the decision to employ power is essentially our own, we find it highly desirable to widen the community of the concerned-to obtain sanction for the necessary "next step" from the broadest practicable segment of the international community.
It was President Truman who made the first decision to stand against aggression in Korea, and it was ultimately American power which enabled the South Koreans to throw it back. But on the day of the President's decision the United States Government went into the U.N. Security Council and transformed our own resolve into a system of collective security. Acting under commission as executive agent of the United Nations, we later welcomed the participation of 14 other nations in the defense of Korea.
Each time action has been required to keep the lid on in the Middle East, we have helped strengthen the U.N. presence there, rather than building up our own. Even in 1958, when action seemed to be needed so quickly in Lebanon that the President sent the Army and Marines sloshing ashore, we offered from the outset to get out as quickly as a U.N. force could be mustered to take our place-and made good on this promise in less than three months. The Congo is another clear case where, presented with the option of going in ourselves or helping organize a more complicated, more widely based U.N. force, the U.S. Government of the day rapidly chose the wider over the narrower base of action.
In the Cuba crisis, the decision to apply American power was enveloped from the very outset in a plan for widening the communities of the concerned. In the hours before President Kennedy unveiled the Cuba scenario in his television speech of October 22, dozens of allies were made privy to our plan of action. While the President was speaking, a formal request for an emergency meeting of the Security Council was delivered to its president. The next morning Secretary Rusk presented to the Organization of American States in emergency meeting a proposal for collective action; and that afternoon the Rio Pact nations decided on a quarantine of Cuba and continued aerial surveillance as minimum first steps. The same afternoon, Ambassador Adlai Stevenson opened in the Security Council the case for the United States. And not until that evening, October 23, did President Kennedy, acting under the Rio Pact, proclaim the quarantine.
In the days that followed, the United Nations went to work in three different ways. It served as the forum in which we could demonstrate the credibility of our evidence about the Soviet missile sites, and explain to the world why we and our Latin American allies had to act on this evidence. Then the U.N., through the Secretary-General, served as a middleman in crucial parts of the dialogue between President Kennedy and Chairman Khrushchev which led to a peaceful solution. It was an appeal from U Thant which Chairman Khrushchev was answering when he said that his ships would not challenge the quarantine line. Finally, the U.N. was ready, at our suggestion, to provide inspectors to examine missile sites in Cuba, to make sure the missiles were gone.
Castro, as we know, would not allow U.N. inspectors into his island. But while we would have preferred to have him accept on-site inspection, his refusal to coöperate with the United Nations had useful side-effects. For Castro thus branded himself an outlaw, and convinced practically all the vocal bystanders that this was not a case of little Cuba versus the big United States; this was intransigent Cuba thumbing its nose at the world community.
The object of our policy was to get rid of those missiles and bombers, peacefully if possible. There is no doubt that debates and operations in the Organization of American States and the United Nations had much to do with the fact that most of the world came to agree with this aim, and thus helped to achieve it.
To merge our efforts with the efforts of others does not, of course, subtract anything from our "national sovereignty," nor does it inhibit something called our "freedom of action." Notions like these are a hangover from the now-obsolete assumption that, acting alone, we are sovereign and free. In these days of interdependence, a stronger case can be made for the contrary proposition: that in each crisis we are born naked-and free to use our power in concert with whatever group of nations is most relevant to the task at hand. That this is true of little countries hardly needs to be argued; it is, indeed, why most small countries are so partial to the United Nations. That it is becoming true of all countries, even the most powerful, is one of the lessons of each foreign-policy crisis in our time. The matrix of alliances and international organizations, more even than the power of individual nations, is the hallmark of modern international relations.
Lesson No. 5: The Law You Make May Be Your Own
In the ebb and flow of crisis diplomacy, those who watch the "Operational Immediate" cables and write the contingency papers are very much involved with international law, and with its unanswered questions. Laymen as well as lawyers can readily perceive how principles that are valid in one area may be silly in another, how improvised instruments tend to harden into permanent institutions, how scientific invention and technological innovation outrace man's thinking about law, how old doctrine grows obsolete and gets altered in practice. If we are to add one more "lesson from flaps we have known" it would be this: Watch carefully the precedents you set. You will have to live with the institutions you create. The law you make may be your own.
Consider what is happening to the doctrine of non-intervention in the internal affairs of other nations. The facts of modern international relations are clear: nations are deeply involved in each other's internal affairs, through aid programs and military training and fellowships for students and leaders; through the beneficent dispatch of culture and the acrimonious exchange of propaganda; through a thousand pluralistic channels ranging from trade unions to the Children's Fund. When the question comes up, we tell ourselves that this is all right as long as the government of the receiving country asks the foreigner to come and allows him to stay. But our generation has also witnessed too many perversions of this practice- who can forget the "request" from the Kadar government for the Russian tanks that crushed the freedom fighters in Hungary?-to be sure that it is the last word in law for an era of deep mutual involvement in each other's internal affairs.
Consider, further, the mutations in air and space law. The law used to be simple: you cannot fly through my air space unless I say you can. But what if I fly over your nation in outer space, above the "air"? Judging from Soviet and American practice, and from a U.S. resolution unanimously passed by the U.N. General Assembly in 1961, the doctrine of air space runs out of gas somewhere in the upper stratosphere.
How is civilized man to set standards on intervention or surveillance or on a host of other matters which differentiate the world community from a jungle? In our world, the standards are being set and international law being written more and more by the actions and reactions of international organizations. Every action in every crisis has implications for the United Nations peace system; it can be strengthened-or weakened-by the manner in which it is put to work in each crisis. So this consideration, too, must pass through the mind of the decision-maker.
Most citizens would be surprised how often, when the world thinks we in Washington are working on the next day's tactics, we are instead discussing the long-run growth of law and institutions, the issues suddenly illumined in the dead of night by the blinding light of a Cuba, a Laos or a Congo.
When we put all these lessons together, perhaps we have nothing more than another, more up-to-date, way of thinking about political leadership in its most complex form. We have said that the decision-maker in times of crisis must keep his objectives in line with his nation's vital interests, must decide how far he would go in the clutch, must use force gently while widening the community of the concerned, and must set only those precedents he would be willing to live with later.
If the known factors and the rational considerations indicate a clear preference for one policy alternative over any other, then decision-making is easy-and responsible criticism correspondingly more difficult. That is why such decisions seldom reach the Secretary of State or the President. It is when a rational weighing of measurable factors still leaves two or more reasonable options that the man who makes the ultimate decision must somehow stuff the whole problem into his own head, and add those priceless ingredients-personal judgment, sense of direction, feel for the total political environment in which the decision is made.
The fact that the most important decisions are often close decisions, that the personal judgment of political leaders is so deeply involved, makes them peculiarly easy to criticize. But the responsible critic of foreign- policy decisions must also wrap his mind around the full complexity of the problem. He too must think in terms of limited objectives; he too must decide when and where he would use force, how he would deal with allies and neutrals, what laws and institutions he is prepared to make-or break. If the critic is not willing to propose an alternative policy that meets these tests of relevance, then he is not criticizing American foreign policy but merely scratching an itch of his own.
At the moment of action the man who has to take the personal responsibility for the final decision, and face the political crossfire it may produce, is alone with his own understanding, his own moral gyroscope and his own fund of courage. It takes no courage to bluster; it takes some to stand up to a mortal threat that plainly has to be faced. But what takes the most gumption is to persevere in a decision that takes months or years to prove itself. There were moments during the chronic Congo crisis when the brickbats were very thick in Washington; but the President stuck to his position, simply because the alternative of great-power confrontation in the middle of Africa seemed even more unattractive than the swelling noise- level on his Congo policy.
The capacity to go on working with brickbats whizzing past the ears is, of course, the first qualification for public leadership in an open society. But the saving grace in the management of foreign-policy crises is this: dyspeptic criticism of a policy that turns out to be successful has a remarkably short half-life.