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.

Four general observations can be made about the character of the problem. First is the ubiquity of the visceral reaction: "No more Viet Nams!" This simplistic formula seems to guide the prescriptions even of some past participants in government. The impulse to avoid a future Viet Nam is as powerful today as was the impulse in the 1930s to avoid another World War I or the impulse after 1945 to avoid another Munich. The temptation to leap from the flagging horse we have been riding to any horse headed in the opposite direction seems compelling.

Second is the difficulty of the problem itself: Much of the traditional rationale for the size and shape of non-nuclear forces proves on examination to be highly questionable. It is not clear that such forces contribute to deterring major non-nuclear conflicts or that such conflicts are sufficiently likely to justify their standing by in readiness. Only military planners, professionally committed to belief in the worst contingencies, today assign significant probability to a sudden Soviet march across the north German plain, a surprise attack by the Red Army on the Mediterranean flank of NATO, or even an unheralded descent by Communist China on Burma or Thailand. Equally, it is unclear what role American non- nuclear forces can play in the kinds of minor wars that do seem probable. Viet Nam hardly encourages the conviction that they are suitable instruments for coping with Insurgency in a foreign state. But the obvious alternatives to the traditional rationale do not pass muster either. One cannot say that there are no politico-military reasons for an American military presence of some sort in Europe or the Mediterranean. The ready availability of some U.S. force serves as a deterrent and therefore necessarily as a significant element in defense against possible overt attack on, say, Venezuela or South Korea. It is essential to recognize not only that no simple doctrines are readily to be discovered but that the questions themselves are not easy to understand.

Third is the impossibility of specifying any geographical area where developments are certain to be of such limited interest as never to raise the possibility that the United States should use non-nuclear force. If one could simply write off the less developed countries or Southeast Asia or Africa, the problem might be more manageable. But a reasonably thorough and unblinkered survey of the globe discloses conceivable situations in every area in which any responsible administration might have to consider introducing American forces.

Finally, there is no evidence that any set of principles can be identified which unambiguously distinguishes cases in which U.S. non-nuclear forces should and should not be used.

In attempting to design desirable, feasible guidelines for future uses of non-nuclear forces one must acknowledge that this issue is highly sensitive to the outcome of Viet Nam and the interpretation given that outcome in the United States. The argument here proceeds on the assumption that the likely settlement will be sufficiently adverse to American interests to assure disagreement both among decision-makers and among informed citizens about the degree to which we have achieved our initial objectives.

Even though there are no unambiguous guidelines, there is a fairly clear checklist of factors that would determine how any President or presidential adviser or even any responsible ob~ server would judge a case of possible intervention. These factors include:

The American sense of commitment. Commitment can be based on formal treaties, letters exchanged between chiefs of state or high government officials, historical ties, past blood shed in defense of common goals, and the like.

The American sense of interest. Since this interest ii no longer a function primarily of trading opportunities, territorial ambitions or imperialist pretensions, it is to be measured largely in terms of the sense of danger to the delicate equilibrium between the major world powers. Some situations will inevitably seem more dangerous than others, either because of possible immediate results or because of possible effects on expectations of leaders in either hostile or friendly states. National interest is also a function of substantive domestic concerns, as with the fate of Israel, or the possibility of a black-white confrontation in southern Africa.

The estimated probability of success, at various levels of cost and risk. The most attractive situation to decision-makers-and to the American public- will be one that seems to offer a high probability of success at relatively low risk.

Each of these factors involves judgment on the basis of uncertain estimates. Differences among reasonable men, especially over future dangers in acting or failing to act, are inevitable. Because of these uncertainties, there are large numbers of cases in which it is difficult to predict whether the United States would decide for or against intervention.

The uncertainties surrounding calculations about intervention are overshadowed by a second cluster of factors: the context in which the specific decision is made. This context includes:

The immediate background. A sudden event like the North Korean attack on South Korea or the collapse of the Dominican government in 1965 poses one kind of problem. A more slowly developing event like the Berlin Blockade or the North Vietnamese intervention in South Viet Nam poses another. A gradually festering situation such as that on the Israeli-Syrian frontier or in present-day Guatemala poses still another.

Comparative perspectives. Situations will vary also in similarity to past situations. The Dominican Republic in 1965 looked like Cuba in 1959. Reactions to, say, a coup in Guatemala could vary, depending on whether the situation was read as another Cuba or another Dominican Republic. A crucial question over the next few years will certainly be whether a situation does or does not look like another Viet Nam.

The historical trend. President Kennedy's decision to increase American advisers in Viet Nam seems inseparable from the sequence of events leading from the Bay of Pigs through Vienna, Laos and Berlin, There was a strong feeling that the line had to be drawn somewhere, even if that meant "the wrong war. . . ."

Congressional and public moods. Congress and the public might take one attitude toward North Korea and another toward, say, Bulgaria-not recently guilty of provocative behavior. Similarly, attitudes toward a situation in Africa could be affected by attitudes of and toward Blacks at home.


Conceding all the surrounding uncertainties, one can still distinguish three categories of cases: (1) overt aggression by a major communist power against a U.S. ally; (2) overt aggression by any state against a nation not a U.S. ally (e.g. Russia against Finland, China against India, a combination of Arab states against Israel or Jordan); (3) internal violence jeopardizing a friendly state, perhaps aided from outside but not involving significant overt action by foreign ground, air or naval units, (In the first two categories, overt aggression should be understood as comprehending any cases in which organized units of the armed forces of one nation move in significant numbers across the established frontiers of another nation; the term thus includes large-scale infiltration into insurgent-held territory and other situations sometimes described as "proxy war.")

Each category comprehends many kinds of cases. Even with regard to nations covered by the same alliance treaty, the United States does not have identical commitments. Within NATO, for example, we feel a greater sense of national commitment to Britain than to, say, Greece or even to Norway, despite our equal obligation to all. Some non-allies may have stronger moral claims than some allies. Israel, for example, certainly stands higher with the American public than Portugal or Paraguay. Persistent internal violence in South Korea would pose policy problems quite different from those presented by similar violence in Pakistan, and violence in Pakistan would wear a different appearance depending on whether outsiders numbered thousands or tens of thousands and whether they were Chinese or Russians. Even so, these categories are not only distinguishable but sufficiently different to admit differing policy guidelines.

The First Category: Overt Aggression Against An Ally. Today the Rio Treaty, the North Atlantic Treaty, the Southeast Asia Treaty, the ANZUS Pact and mutual defense pacts with Japan, Korea, Taiwan and the Philippines commit the United States to the defense of 42 nations. Auxiliary arrangements, such as U.S. patronage of CENTO, have created a number of additional commitments. None of these commitments is in perpetuity. The obligations of the United States under these arrangements are of differing degrees and kinds. Thus the Rio and NATO treaties assert that "an armed attack against any [contracting] State shall be considered an attack against all and, consequently, each of the said contracting Parties undertakes to assist in meeting the attack," while the Southeast Asia Treaty provides that "aggression by means of armed attack against any of the Parties would endanger [each Party's] own peace and safety" and each Party agrees "to meet the common danger in accordance with [its] constitutional processes." In addition, some have been amplified by unilateral Executive or Congressional declarations. The Southeast Asia Treaty obligation to Thailand was markedly strengthened, for example, by a joint communiqué issued in 1962 by Secretary Rusk and Thai Foreign Minister Thanat Khoman which stated that the United States regarded Thailand's independence and integrity as "vital to the national interest of the United States;" it held that the American commitment to Thailand under the Southeast Asia Treaty was binding, regardless of whether other signers concurred or not Statements by Secretary Dulles and a Congressional resolution of January 29, 1955, suggested that our obligation to the Republic of China included the defense of Quemoy and Matsu.

All such commitments deserve thoughtful reëxamination. Given the history of executive-legislative controversy over Viet Nam, some should be reviewed and either reaffirmed or revised in consultation with the Senate. With respect to all treaty commitments which the Government chooses to reaffirm, however, it seems appropriate that the President establish and announce a presumption that the United States will intervene on behalf of an ally which is a victim of overt aggression. Only by clearly reaffirming those commitments which are judged genuinely vital can the United States make clear that the aftermath of Viet Nam is not to be a withdrawal into a fortress America

The Second Category: Aggression Against A Non-Ally. The issue becomes more complex in cases of overt aggression against a nation not linked to the United States by a treaty of alliance. There is clearly a very considerable range of such cases in which the United States would not be prepared to intervene. If other governments judge the likelihood of American action by the three criteria of commitment, interest and risk of escalation, none will launch an overt attack on a nation friendly with the United States unless it judges the American commitment weak or the risk to the United States high. The critical question is likely to be one of U.S. interest, and that is likely to turn on whether other major powers are involved, on either side. In cases where no other major power is involved, there should be a presumption against U.S. intervention. Where the American response could be undertaken jointly with another major power, the risk of escalation might be reduced. This presumption, as stated, would not prejudice our responding to a United Nations Security Council decision to impose sanctions against an aggressor, up to and including military force.

The Third Category: Internal Disorder. Here more than elsewhere, there may be some ambiguity about what constitutes American military intervention. Various forms of intervention-e.g. diplomatic, economic, covert and military-are obviously related. Indeed, in the most visible cases-Laos and Viet Nam-military involvement has occurred in stages-from military aid missions, to arms, to advisers, to helicopters and finally to combat operations. But it is essential to draw a sharp line between official combat operations and the rest. For the admitted expenditure of American blood changes the character of subsequent choices about further investments of men and money. The term "military intervention" is therefore restricted here to cases involving either (1) the presence of American military personnel in sufficient numbers to cast doubt upon their claim to be traditional advisers, or (a) combat operations involving U.S. air or naval forces.

Before a decision on such intervention confronts the President, other government officials will have made many decisions and taken many actions that will critically affect his decision to intervene or not. Here, therefore, we must consider not only what presumptions should govern the expectations and behavior of officials, but also what procedures should be followed to place choices before the President.

Though Viet Nam provides no satisfactory and simple rules, it does suggest a number of relevant lessons. First, the effects of intervention are uncertain. Viet Nam suggests how hard it is to judge what makes for stability and instability in the developing world. Second, American power is more limited than many people have assumed. The massive application of our military power has not been able to achieve a military victory. Our best efforts have not been able to establish a stable popular government in Saigon. Third, any non-nuclear intervention in a nuclear world is likely to be a limited commitment; but once blood has been shed, it is extraordinarily difficult, especially as a matter of domestic policy, to cut losses.

These "lessons" seem all the more persuasive because the United States has no commitment to preserve any national régime. In few cases can one find a vital American interest that would be affected by a change of internal régimes. Our forces have a difficult time defeating national guerrillas that a government cannot overcome by itself. The belief that our troops and technology can be relied upon to cope with insurgency problems that national governments are unable to deal with encourages flabbiness in some existing régimes. It is highly uncertain what effect external military intervention will have on subversion, and what effect external efforts to control subversion will have on modernization. Indeed, nothing seems surer than that in some societies internal violence will be necessary for modernization.

These factors complement the overwhelming preference of the American public. Therefore, the Administration should make a serious effort to establish a strong presumption against intervention in cases of internal disorder and/or subversion, even when there is outside encouragement and aid. Such a presumption need not be inconsistent with a willingness to supply economic aid, military equipment and even, in some cases, advisers.


Difficulties present themselves in connection with all three of the proposed presumptions. It is arguable, for example, that renewed evidence of U.S. fidelity to treaty obligations could dissuade NATO allies from contributing a "fair share" to their own defense. It could also be argued that the second presumption would encourage the Arabs to attack Israel. The most persuasive counter-arguments, however, are those against a presumption of nonintervention in cases of internal disorder. It can be contended that to establish such a presumption will encourage disgruntled groups in less developed countries to attempt insurgency, and will announce to nations bent on aggression that low-level aggression pays. These objections have bite. But they ignore two further considerations.

First, expectations about American willingness to intervene will be but one factor in the decision of disaffected citizens to rebel, of revolutionaries to fight on, and of régimes like those in Peking or Hanoi to support aggression beyond their frontiers. The factors that determine a choice to pursue revolution and insurgency are overwhelmingly local, and the factors that bear on a government's decision to support insurgency beyond its borders turn on a large number of considerations other than likely U.S. reactions. Indeed, it seems very uncertain what the effect will be on potential aggressors of statements by the United States about its intentions regarding intervention. Second, reduced expectation of U.S. intervention would create incentives for national governments to set their own houses in order, to be more responsive to citizens' interests, and to shore up their own counterinsurgency capabilities. Too often American support of rightist status quo régimes has resulted in restraints upon discontented religious and ethnic minorities, thus making the country more, rather than less, vulnerable to subversion. Although much uncertainty surrounds this entire set of calculations, it seems likely that a presumption against U.S. intervention will encourage insurgency by some small amount. On the other hand, this price is small in comparison with the cost of any alternative.

A different kind of objection focuses on the likely reactions of those within the American bureaucracy who are responsible for national security. If the President attempts to establish a presumption against military intervention, will his advisers and agents coöperate? Or will they instead permit or encourage developments which might lead the President to conclude that our vital interests are involved? This is not to question the loyalty or responsibility of the national security bureaucracy, but merely to assert that their perspectives and priorities inevitably differ from those of the President. Particularly in the aftermath of Viet Nam, the concern of our foreign-policy establishment that this country do more to enhance its deterrent posture will conflict with the presumptions suggested above. The departments must, of necessity, focus on separate and therefore parochial pieces of problems, while the President must think about the whole. The departments concentrate on their jobs; it is elected officials who must strike the balance between foreign and domestic priorities.

This objection cuts deeply-but less deeply than might at first appear. If a President wanted to create a presumption for or against U.S. military intervention in certain kinds of cases, he could not accomplish it by fiat. But it should not be impossible for him to have his way. Several procedures- largely extensions of those recently put into effect-could help accomplish this objective.

Recognizing the inevitable differences between the perspectives and priorities of the President and his agents, the President's staff could supplement the supervision of cabinet officers over their own bureaucracies by carefully monitoring the work of desk officers, the cables, ambassadors' statements, military advisory activities, etc. Though this effort would meet with strong resistance and objections about undue political interference, behavior will not change without such monitoring and penalties for action contrary to national policy.

A related but distinct requirement is for competitive information, estimates and evaluations. Any single source of information, whether Foreign Service, CIA, military or whatever, is likely to present data biased toward a particular policy outcome. The odds are that multiple sources will offset rather than reinforce one another.

Efforts must also be made to find institutional ways to guarantee competition. A specific instance of this general requirement concerns military analyses, estimates and budgets. No one familiar with the development of U.S. choices in Viet Nam can underestimate the importance of more systematic analysis of proposed uses of American forces, more careful projection of enemy reactions, and an attempt to consider the consequences if less favorable projections turn out to be right, While the analytic difficulties are substantial, powerful evidence suggests that the application of techniques such as systems analysis could markedly improve both estimates and sensitivities to the consequences if favorable estimates fail. The military services should be pressed to present their proposals and projections in more systematic form, and the President should also have available independent, competing analyses. Program budgets of projected military operations, produced outside the military establishment, could provide the President with a competing angle from which to view alternative uses of military forces.

In cases where the question of non-nuclear military intervention arises, procedures should give the President an adequate map of alternative courses and arguments, as well as an understanding of the troop requirements and budgetary demands that will result in the event of various possible outcomes of a given action. They should chart the hard choices that lie ahead if the outcome is not the preferred one. They should facilitate more independent consideration of each stage of escalation or deëscalation, making the decision-makers aware of new perspectives and new arguments.

What is proposed here is clearly only an extension of procedures already in effect Existing practices may be adequate to support a policy of absolute noninvolvement in the military problems of other nations. They are probably adequate to support an activist policy of intervention-although perhaps not to deal with its consequences. But they are wholly inadequate to control all the relatively low-level actions that may embroil the United States in a foreign conflict and to provide the information necessary for presidential judgments.


How these three presumptions might be applied can be illustrated by a sensitive current case-that of Thailand. The Southeast Asia Treaty, as interpreted in the Rusk-Thanat communiqué, obligates the United States to come to Thailand's defense in the event of overt attack. The Administration should adhere to this position, pending a review of the commitment by the President in concert with the Senate Foreign Relations Committee.

Such a review might well result in revocation of the Rusk-Thanat communiqué. Not all nations in SEATO agree that members can act In the absence of unanimity, and the President and the Senate might conclude that this more restrictive interpretation accords with the text of the treaty and the intentions of its negotiators. (When recommending Senate ratification in 1954, several members of the Foreign Relations Committee made explicit their understanding that any action under the treaty would be collective.) Indeed, considering the fact that the treaty was designed to safeguard arrangements in Southeast Asia which subsequent developments have long since altered, serious review might conceivably result in revision or even renunciation of the treaty.

Even in the former case, Thailand would cease to be assured of protection by the United States, for it seems unlikely that either France or Britain would support SEATO action in Thailand's defense. Thailand would therefore revert to the status of a friendly state not safeguarded by alliance with the United States. The second presumption would then come into play. The President would indicate to the Thais, to the world, and to his own bureaucracy that, while Thailand can probably count on United States support in the event of overt Chinese attack, the Thai government should assume that American forces would not take part in combating an overt North Vietnamese attack so long as neither Chinese nor Soviet troops participated in significant numbers. Fighting North Vietnamese alone, the Thais should expect supplies and equipment; they might receive uniformed advisers; but they would be aided by U.S. combat units only if a combination of European powers or the U.S.S.R. or perhaps Japan indicated willingness to join in genuine collective action.

The foregoing paragraph should make clear the extent to which the presumptions suggested here differ from those now controlling, for at present the organs and agents of the Executive Branch assume U.S. military action to be probable in any case in which communist forces cross the frontier of a non-communist state. What is said above should also illuminate the need for measures to strengthen presidential direction and control of the bureaucracy. For there can be no question that adoption of a presumption against automatic defense of Thailand would arouse anguished and determined resistance. The diplomatic, AID, USIA and CIA missions in Bangkok and other parts of Southeast Asia, the Military Assistance Command in Thailand, the Commander in Chief, Pacific, and virtually all Asian hands in Washington would not only attempt to prevent such a change but would, for a long time afterward, make every effort to bring before the President evidence arguing for a return to previous policy. Some might even seek to contrive situations showing him the error of his way.

The same might be true, though not to the same extent, if the third presumption were applied to Thailand. The starting point is different, for the Southeast Asia Treaty does not explicitly commit the United States to defend the Thai government against internal violence. In case of threats "other than armed attack," says Article IV(2) of the treaty, the signatories are obligated only "to consult." Implicitly, any SEATO action must be a result of unanimous agreement After asserting that American commitments relating to direct aggression do not depend on accord with other SEATO members, the Rusk-Thanat communiqué spoke of "indirect aggression" and implied that America's duty to Thailand resembled its duty to Viet Nam. But, as early as 1966, the Defense Department took steps to limit American involvement in Thailand's counterinsurgency effort The Nixon Administration has said it will not be bound by American-Thai military contingency plans for dealing with cases short of armed attack. Washington has thus made the first moves toward establishing a presumption that it will not intervene in event of internal violence. It remains only for the Administration to issue further public statements and give unambiguous directives to missions in Bangkok and Vientiane, making clear that American military personnel and equipment will not be employed for counterinsurgency purposes unless and until the President issues contrary instructions.

Obviously, the introduction of these new presumptions would increase by some margin the risks to Thailand's integrity and independence. Reinterpretation, revision or abrogation of the Southeast Asia Treaty could lead some planners in Peking to view as less serious the danger that an effort to conquer Thailand would result in war with the United States. On the other hand, the presumption as we have stated it would not cause them to view the danger as negligible. In any case, we would assume that estimates of the efficacy of SEATO constitute only one among many factors influencing Chinese policy and that a change in such estimates would not in itself lead the Chinese government to choose a complex, costly and uncharacteristic course of action. Indeed, one can argue that, since China's military moves thus far have been, or at least seemed, defensive in character, we could advantageously reduce the appearance of threat to China by closing down American air bases in Thailand and withdrawing U.S. military personnel now stationed there.

More worrisome, because more likely, is the possibility that adoption of the second presumption would encourage North Vietnamese aggression against Thailand. One cannot consider this contingency without taking account of how the third presumption would affect events in Laos. At present, the United States is intervening in Laos, albeit under some camouflage, for American military personnel are performing combat missions. If the presumptions recommended here were to be put in force, American aid to the non-communist Laotians would be limited to money, matériel and, at most, provision of advice at government and army-headquarters level. Since the communist Pathet Lao receive support from organized units of the North Vietnamese army, and since the ebb or cessation of fighting in South Viet Nam will free still more North Vietnamese units, it is predictable that the result of a reduction in U.S. involvement would be a relatively early triumph by the Pathet Lao. The Kingdom of Laos would become a North Vietnamese satellite. Given kinships among tribes on both sides of the Laos- Thailand border and the presence already of communist insurgents in northern and northeastern Thailand, it is at least possible that events would so develop as to bring a North Vietnamese invasion of Thailand comparable to earlier North Vietnamese invasions of Laos and South Viet Nam.

Thailand would be at a serious disadvantage. Although its population is almost twice that of North Viet Nam, the disparity will narrow if Hanoi controls Laos and parts of South Viet Nam. More important, the Thai army is less than one-fourth the size of North Viet Nam's, and, except for one division that has served in South Viet Nam, it has no comparable combat experience. In open warfare, the Thais would probably lose, leaving the way open for a North Vietnamese march to Bangkok. Reasoning thus, one could argue that the recommended presumptions should not apply in this case and that the President should indicate his readiness to commit U.S. forces in order at least to even the odds.

There are, however, good reasons for not doing so. In the first place, the sequence of events just described is only one among many that might develop. It is by no means inevitable that large numbers of North Vietnamese would remain in Laos after communists came to power in Vientiane; certainly it seems likely that the victorious Pathet Lao would wish their allies to depart. Though judgments about the Hanoi government are notoriously susceptible to error, one can at least imagine arguments that might be used within that government to oppose any courses of action that might lead to war with Thailand-police responsibilities at home and in "liberated" Laos and South Viet Nam; lengthy and vulnerable lines of communication; relative weakness in the indigenous communist movement in Thailand; the relative absence in Thailand of any resources that would contribute to fulfilling North Viet Nam's long-delayed industrial development plans; the possibility that to attack Thailand would be to walk into an American trap (as, communists now say, the North Koreans walked into such a trap in 1950); and the danger that, in such event, North Viet Nam would lose its ability to remain relatively independent of Moscow and particularly of Peking.

At present the Thai armed forces are instruments of government, not instruments of war. They receive a relatively small share of the total budget (12 percent, as compared with 20 percent in North Viet Nam, 33.5 percent in India and 45 percent in Pakistan). The Thais might decide on a serious defense effort At the same time, or perhaps as an alternative, they might seek some accommodation with the Pathet Lao and North Vietnamese. Historically, the Thais have displayed great flexibility and skill in diplomacy. They have preserved their independence for more than seven hundred years, and there is no reason to suppose that they would show want of resource in doing so now.

Nor is there reason for believing that the Thais could not adapt to the presumption that American forces would not be available to help them combat internal violence. In fact, Thai leaders take pride in the fact that, unlike the Vietnamese, they have not become dependent on American personnel for the maintenance of internal order. Their view thus far has been that, with American funds and supplies, they can cope with any foreseeable level of domestic insurgency.

Adoption of the three proposed presumptions would obviously increase by some margin the possibility of Chinese aggression. It would increase still more the risks for Thailand of a North Vietnamese attack and of mounting insurgency, supported from outside by Chinese and/or North Vietnamese. It would make not at all unlikely a shift on the part of Thailand either to a more neutral status or to outright alignment with communist states.

Even with full recognition of these risks, and of lesser risks in other areas, adoption of the three presumptions set forth earlier appears desirable. In regard to the specific case of Thailand, these presumptions would reflect the broadest definition of American national interest that is likely to be accepted by the American people and Congress in the foreseeable future. It is improbable that the public and Congress would approve a long-term commitment of American forces to meet any contingency except perhaps an overt Chinese attack. There is no way in which a commitment of forces to combat North Vietnamese or to offset Chinese or North Vietnamese support of Thai insurgents could avoid becoming a long- term commitment unless-and perhaps not even then-the United States were to resort to forms and levels of violence never employed even in Viet Nam. If these estimates are correct, it follows that, in the Thai case as in others of less sensitivity, the President should not only adopt the recommended presumptions but make his adoption of them unmistakably clear to those who work for him.


Even if the suggested presumptions were in effect, the United States would still have obligations requiring substantial non-nuclear forces. Their adequacy could well determine the extent to which the margins of the presumptions might be tested. But the size of non-nuclear standing forces- and thus of the budget for what is identified as "general-purpose forces"- is primarily related to commitments to resist major overt aggression, and choices about the number of such contingencies. Forces that can be used to meet major contingencies can also be used in smaller contingencies. It has become as fashionable as it is obvious to assert that American non-nuclear forces can be reduced only as American commitments shrink. But this prescription neglects two further factors: contingency planning and force mixture. The Nixon Administration is reported to have examined the problem of contingency planning and to have reduced the preparedness requirement from a capability for simultaneously fighting two major wars and one minor war, to a capability for one major and one minor war at the same time. The question of the quantity and mix of forces required to deal with particular kinds of crises should be subjected to similar scrutiny.

The time is ripe for such reëvaluation for a number of reasons. First is the cost squeeze within the military budget, primarily the result of increasing unit costs and domestic needs and pressures. Second is the increasing mobility of general-purpose forces, which makes the same units available for a wide range of secondary contingencies; hence the requirements for these contingencies are not additive. Third is the fact that the chief determinant of force requirements is a psychological rather than a military variable, i.e. the conception in Russian minds of a credible American commitment to non-nuclear defense of Europe, and the conception in West European minds of a credible American deterrent, not only against attacks by the Soviet Union but against independent action by either of the two Germanys. This dual credibility at the non-nuclear level is important, both because of the political danger of unravelling NATO and the military danger of encouraging nuclear proliferation through European loss of confidence in non-nuclear defense. Recalculation of the forces necessary to meet the U.S. commitment in Europe may or may not produce a different result, but it should make the commitment more credible to the extent that the rationale is more realistic. The same sort of reevaluation could produce similarly useful results with respect to U.S. forces in Japan and Korea.

The Administration should be able to establish as a target the reduction of general-purpose forces to levels that characterized the Eisenhower period. Those levels-14 Army and Marine divisions, 16 tactical air wings, the traditional 15 attack carrier task forces, and 9 anti-submarine carrier task forces-would entail no significant reduction in the American capability to meet a major European contingency, and would leave a small force for dealing with a minor contingency. If actually established, such force levels would cost approximately $30 billion per year less than present general-purpose forces (including those deployed in Viet Nam), $17 billion annually less than those advocated within the military establishment for a baseline posture, and $10 billion less than those projected as a result of President Nixon's decision to prepare for one major and one minor contingency.[i] Of course, cuts of such magnitude may be impossible to effect, given the inevitable resistance of military interest groups and their Congressional supporters. Nor would the force mixture of the Eisenhower era be an ideal to be imitated. The security of the United States is too complex and ambiguous a notion to permit pinpointing the spot on a scale of military spending where relative risk becomes relative security. But this is not to say that "one can always squeeze another $X billion out of the defense budget." Indeed, one should assume that, unless cuts are directed to specifics, they are likely to remove more muscle than fat. Setting Eisenhower-era levels as a target, however, would compel the services and operating commands to recalculate and rejustify requirements that have escaped fundamental reëxamination since 1961.

Even cutbacks to force levels of the 1950s would not reduce the actual capability of the United States to go beyond the suggested presumptions, should the President, or the President and Congress, decide to defend non- allies, or to intervene in support of a government menaced by internal violence. The absolute minimum force needed to meet basic treaty commitments, even if the North Atlantic Treaty and the Japanese-American Mutual Security Treaty were the only two to remain in effect, would be more than adequate to cope also with at least the first stages of any secondary contingency. Severe cutbacks in general-purpose forces might, however, make it easier for the President to put in effect the suggested presumptions. For the critical variable is the set of expectations within the bureaucracy, and an apparent leanness in non-nuclear forces would help to persuade the bureaucracy that the President genuinely intended to stand behind the presumptions he had announced. On the other hand, the maintenance of ready non-nuclear forces larger than those necessary to fulfill basic treaty commitments would not only arouse skepticism about the President's seriousness but, almost inevitably, would cause bureaucratic attention to focus on alternatives involving the use of force. Further reductions and recasting of general-purpose forces are therefore a necessary corollary of the introduction of new presumptions into American foreign policy.

[i] In deriving these numbers, the authors have drawn heavily on the work of William W. Kaufmann. All of the projected savings are in 1972 prices.

You are reading a free article.

Subscribe to Foreign Affairs to get unlimited access.

  • Paywall-free reading of new articles and a century of archives
  • Unlock access to iOS/Android apps to save editions for offline reading
  • Six issues a year in print, online, and audio editions
Subscribe Now