Foreign policy," wrote Walter Lippmann in 1943 in an oft-quoted phrase, "consists in bringing into balance, with a comfortable surplus of power in reserve, the nation’s commitments and the nation’s power." If this balance exists, the foreign policy will command domestic support. If commitments exceed power, insolvency results which generates deep political dissension.

American foreign policy, Lippmann argued, had evolved through three phases. Insolvency and inconstancy in foreign policy coupled with dissension over foreign policy existed between 1789 and 1823. American foreign policy then became solvent; U.S. commitments were limited to the western hemisphere and underwritten by the "concert with Great Britain" and the British fleet.

In the late nineteenth century the extension of American interests and commitments in the Pacific began to erode this solvency. The U.S. defeat of Spain and acquisition of the Philippines in 1898 ended it. In Lippmann’s view, a period of foreign policy "bankruptcy" then ensued in which the United States refused to recognize and accept the consequences of its new interests. American policy during these years was based on a series of mirages: peace, disarmament, no entangling alliances, collective security. The results were Hitler’s conquest of continental Europe and the Japanese conquest of East Asia. To reverse both required a world war.

Writing in the midst of that war, Lippmann was, of course, concerned whether a new foreign policy balance could be constructed for the postwar world. American foreign policy did become solvent in the postwar years, although not exactly in the way Lippmann anticipated. That solvency was based on the overwhelming economic and military power of the United States compared to other countries, its continued close association with Great Britain and France, and the rapid recovery of Germany and Japan and eventually their equally close association with the United States. For almost a quarter-century after World War II, this combination provided what Lippmann would call a "comfortable surplus of power" abroad and a general consensus on policy at home.


This happy situation began, of course, to disintegrate at the end of the 1960s. American foreign policy became, in Lippmann’s term, insolvent, with commitments exceeding power. This shift was the product of four developments.

First and most obviously, the power of other countries increased relative to that of the United States. The Soviet Union achieved at least parity with the United States in strategic nuclear capabilities, thereby raising doubts as to the credibility of American nuclear deterrence in Europe. The Soviets created a blue-water navy and the air- and sea-lift capacity to project their forces into many regions in Africa and Asia. During the 1970s they modernized their forces in central Europe, increasing their capability to launch a short-notice attack on NATO. Soviet military spending during most of the 1970s grew at three to four percent a year; U.S. military spending declined for most of that decade. In addition new centers of economic power emerged, most notably Japan and Germany, but on a lesser scale among the newly industrializing nations of the Third World. For much of the 1970s the increased dependence of the United States and its industrialized allies on Persian Gulf oil enhanced the financial power of Saudi Arabia and other OPEC countries. The social mobilization of populations in Third World countries made it increasingly difficult for the United States and other outside powers to influence the politics of those countries.

Second, U.S. commitments in Southeast Asia declined with its defeat in Vietnam, but U.S. interests in and commitments to Southwest Asia expanded tremendously. The importance of Persian Gulf oil plus the apparent threats to the security of that oil from the Soviet Union, local states such as Iran, and terrorist and insurgent groups led in 1980 to the proclamation of the Carter Doctrine, committing the United States to use any means, including military force, to prevent the Persian Gulf area from coming under the control of an outside force. While the doctrine was ostensibly directed at the Soviet threat, U.S. interests clearly required comparable action against other threats. This policy, reaffirmed by the Reagan Administration, was the most sweeping extension of U.S. commitments in over 25 years and involved a tremendous expansion of demands on U.S. resources.

Third, one previous source of threat to the United States, China, ceased being that in the 1970s. During the decade, however, other sources of threats multiplied. In part this reflected the relative decline of U.S. power vis-à-vis other countries. It also involved, however, the emergence of new sources or potential sources of threats. These included Marxist-Leninist states in the Third World (e.g., Vietnam, Nicaragua, Ethiopia), Marxist-Leninist insurgencies in countries allied with the United States (El Salvador, the Philippines), radical Islamic states (Iran, Libya), and what seemed to be proliferating Islamic and Marxist terrorist groups. As the United States came increasingly to realize, military forces designed for the "big war" with the Soviet Union were not necessarily well prepared to deal with these lesser threats.

Fourth, the societal or domestic constraints on the development and use of U.S. power tightened significantly during the 1970s. Military spending declined, the procurement of new weapons was delayed or canceled, the quality of military personnel deteriorated. In the early 1970s much was made in intellectual and political circles of the declining utility of military force, and legislation such as the War Powers Act and the Clark Amendment attempted to limit its use. Covert action was attacked; intelligence agencies lost funds and people. The dramatic rise in congressional power over military and foreign affairs made it increasingly difficult for the executive to make commitments and to act decisively.

The relative decline in American power generated a wide range of analyses and many proposals for moderating if not reversing that decline. What is significant, however, is not the decline vis-à-vis other countries but rather the problem posed by Lippmann of the relation between American power and American commitments. Unlike the decline in relative power, the imbalance in policy can be corrected. The Lippmann gap has been and is real, but it is not unyielding. Statesmen can attack it in a variety of ways. They can attempt:

—to redefine their interests and so reduce their commitments to a level which they can sustain with their existing capabilities;

—to reduce the threats to their interests through diplomacy;

—to enhance the contribution of allies to the protection of their interests;

—to increase their own resources, usually meaning larger military forces and military budgets;

—to substitute cheaper forms of power for more expensive ones, thus using the same resources to produce more power;

—to devise more effective strategies for the use of their capabilities, thereby securing also greater output in terms of power for the same input in terms of resources.

The Lippmann gap is not unique to American history. Britain faced this problem in the 1890s and 1900s. Its leaders used a combination of diplomatic and strategic responses to narrow the gap as they perceived it. They did not, however, take the economic measures that might have eliminated it. The overall process of adaptation, Aaron Friedberg points out in his penetrating analysis, was "reflexive and largely unarticulated . . . fragmented and incomplete." They "tried everything they could think of which would shore up their position without forcing them to spend more money."

American responses to its Lippmann gap problem have so far generally tended to parallel the British pattern. These responses began under Nixon, were carried forward by Ford and Carter, and took on new dimensions under Reagan. At times, of course, reversals occurred in the process—most notably in the expansion of American commitments in the Persian Gulf—and the process is clearly "fragmented and incomplete," yet progress has been made. In the first phase under Nixon, Ford and Carter the responses were largely diplomatic; in the second phase under Reagan they also became military and strategic. A third and more difficult phase in which economic responses predominate awaits the future.

All four administrations rejected the possibility of cutting American commitments. Congress did reduce U.S. commitments in Indochina in the early 1970s, but this happened over the vigorous objections of the Nixon Administration. So far as one can gather, no administration has seriously considered a reduction in American commitments in Western Europe, East Asia or the western hemisphere. These have been assumed to be fixed and unalterable, and, as we have noted, the Carter Administration added to them new commitments in Southwest Asia.

Nixon, Ford and Carter Administration actions to deal with the Lippmann gap were heavily focused on reducing threats to those interests and on increasing the role of allied powers in protecting American interests. Among the diplomatic efforts to reduce non-Soviet threats, the opening to China by the Nixon Administration initiated what was probably the single most significant diplomatic event of the postwar years. The process of accommodation with China leading to full diplomatic relations in 1978 reduced significantly the potential threats to U.S. interests in Asia and potential demands on U.S. military power in that region. The Nixon and Ford Administrations also capitalized on Anwar al-Sadat’s perceptions of Egyptian national interest to negotiate Egypt’s realignment, a process again carried forward by the Carter Administration, reaching its culmination in the Camp David accords and the subsequent close association between Egypt and the United States. Somewhat similarly, the Carter Administration successfully concluded the efforts begun under Johnson and continued under Nixon and Ford to resolve the Panama Canal question. These diplomatic achievements significantly reduced the Lippmann gap: consider how different the world would look and what the demands would be on U.S. resources if China were threatening aggression against American interests in Asia, if Egypt were a Soviet ally and military base, and if the Panama Canal were under intermittent attack by guerrilla-terrorists.

The Nixon and Carter Administrations also attempted to increase the contributions of U.S. allies to the common defense. Early in his first term Nixon articulated what came to be known as the Nixon Doctrine, that is, that the United States should rely primarily on regional powers, such as Iran, for the maintenance of regional stability, supporting them with military and economic assistance and, if necessary, U.S. air and naval forces. Like the opening to China, this effort was continued in the Carter Administration with its emphasis on the importance of "regional influentials," a tendency which, however, also ran counter to the Administration’s concern with human rights and nuclear proliferation. The Carter Administration did nonetheless have some modest success in pressuring the NATO allies and Japan to increase their defense budgets. It also secured the agreement of the NATO allies to the "two-track" decision on intermediate-range nuclear forces (INF) which, in the absence of an arms agreement, would lead to the deployment of U.S. Pershing 2 and cruise missiles in Europe.

In another diplomatic effort, Nixon reopened arms control negotiations with the Soviet Union, which culminated in the 1972 agreements on ballistic missile defenses and strategic offensive weapons. These were carried forward in the Vladivostok and SALT II agreements of the Ford and Carter Administrations. In the present context, these can be seen as efforts to reduce Lippmannesque insolvency by reducing the costs and risks of the nuclear arms competition, Soviet incentives to threaten the United States, and Soviet capabilities to do so.


The Reagan Administration’s actions affecting the commitments/capabilities gap differed significantly from those of its predecessors. The latter had emphasized diplomacy: with allies, against potential sources of threat, and with the Soviet Union. The Reagan Administration initially stressed the military sphere: the development of U.S. military power, changes in U.S. military strategy, and the use of military force to support diplomacy. Its actions were a second phase in American adaptation to foreign policy insolvency, one which had an increasing impact on American society and politics.

Rhetorical Assertion. First, and temporarily most significant, were the Administration’s rhetorical efforts to increase American power. Until it is used, power is what people think it is, and hence perceptions of power are power. The president and other Administration officials went to great lengths to change the images of American weakness that had been prevalent in the 1970s. "America is back," was the slogan of the day. This new portrayal of a self-confident, assertive America changed Soviet, allied and U.S. estimates of U.S. power. Increases in power produced by rhetoric and public relations can be quick and cheap. They are also likely to be fragile and transitory, and the images created by Reagan Administration rhetoric did not last. The Carter Administration ended in an atmosphere of "malaise." In its seventh year the Reagan Administration seemed destined to end in a miasma of "decline," and the image of assertion had been replaced by one of deterioration.

Military Buildup. The Reagan Administration greatly accelerated the defense buildup modestly initiated by the Carter Administration. Appropriations for defense increased for six straight years—twice the length of any other peacetime buildup, and military spending more than doubled between fiscal years 1980 and 1986. This made possible the intensified modernization of the strategic forces (including the MX, B-1, cruise missiles, Stealth bomber, Trident II, D-5 missiles, and command and control facilities); the expansion of the navy and the deployment of substantial forces to the Indian Ocean and, eventually, the Persian Gulf; more rapid procurement of tanks and tactical aircraft; increases in readiness and sustainability; and substantial improvements in the quality and training of personnel. During the first years of the Reagan Administration, Congress appropriated the funds for these purposes in part as a result of the hard-sell tactics of Defense Secretary Caspar Weinberger.

Inevitably, these tactics in due course produced a reaction, and in the second Reagan term Congress cut Administration requests significantly. The defense buildup helped fuel both the sustained expansion of the economy and the budget deficit. Despite supply-side theories, the former did not produce the income to counter the latter: between fiscal years 1980 and 1986, revenues increased by less than 50 percent while expenditures increased by two-thirds. This combination produced a 200-percent increase in the annual budget deficit, a major portion of which was quite appropriately attributed to the rise in defense spending.

Balanced Strategy. Significant changes in military strategy occurred during the Reagan Administration. By the late 1970s a striking discontinuity existed in American strategy. At the strategic nuclear level, military strategy and capabilities were exclusively offensive in character. At the conventional level, strategy and capabilities were overwhelmingly defensive in character. This discontinuity made sense when the United States was substantially superior in strategic nuclear capabilities to the Soviet Union. It makes little sense under conditions of strategic parity.

As a result, by 1980 movements were afoot to revive defenses against nuclear attack; these, of course, were given a distinctive shape and thrust by the president’s Strategic Defense Initiative (SDI) proposals in March 1983. At the same time, the Defense Department emphasized the importance, in a general war, of offensive actions against the Soviet homeland, and both the army and the navy modified their existing strategic doctrines in an offensive direction with the Air-Land Battle concept and the Maritime Strategy. By its actions against Grenada and Libya the Administration also underlined its willingness, in appropriate circumstances, to use U.S. military forces offensively in the Third World. The United States thus moved toward a balanced strategy combining offensive and defensive elements at both the nuclear and the conventional levels.

To what extent do these changes ameliorate the commitments/resources gap?

The central goal of American military strategy is to deter attacks on American interests. Deterrence is most effective when it poses a credible threat of retaliation against vital interests of the attacker. A strategy of deterrence hence must be primarily offensive in concept and give priority to offensive forces. At the nuclear level this has long been the case, yet some form of strategic defense may also be desirable as a supplement to offensive forces and as a reinforcement to deterrence. A major SDI program as envisioned by the Administration would be extremely costly; a limited strategic defense need not be.

The shift in American conventional strategy in an offensive direction strengthens conventional deterrence. More offensively oriented plans for the use of conventional forces in either a general war or local conflicts are likely to require additional investments in weapons and supplies. Offensive operations, on the other hand, can be targeted against enemy weaknesses and do not necessarily require larger forces than would be needed for a defensive strategy. In fact, some evidence suggests that in Europe a conventional retaliation strategy could be implemented with smaller forces than those required to mount a successful defense along the inter-German border.

Insurgency Support. During the Reagan years selective support for anticommunist insurgencies (the Reagan Doctrine) became a feature of U.S. policy in the Third World. This practice began with help to the Afghan resistance by the Carter Administration, which was expanded by Reagan with the full support of Congress. Congress also repealed prohibitions on assistance to the rebels in Angola, and the Administration began to provide modest help to the more responsible elements of the Cambodian resistance against the Vietnamese. In addition, of course, the Administration strongly supported assistance to the contras in Nicaragua, which received intermittent and limited approval in Congress.

Support for anticommunist insurgents was a natural response to the spread of Marxist-Leninist states in the Third World during the 1970s. The Reagan Doctrine is, in a sense, the Nixon Doctrine turned upside down. Although great controversy existed over the application of the doctrine in Nicaragua, broad bipartisan support existed for aid to the insurgents in the other three cases. Many questions could be and were raised, however, about the overall desirability and ultimate effectiveness of this policy, one obvious problem being the risks to neighboring countries sympathetic to and providing refuge for the insurgents. Yet the policy also provides one cheap and easy way of containing the spread of Soviet influence and/or communism in the Third World. The Soviet army is unlikely to invade Iran so long as it is bogged down in Afghanistan, and until they pacify Cambodia the Vietnamese will think twice before getting militarily involved elsewhere. Cuban involvement in Angola means 35,000 soldiers unavailable to promote Soviet and Cuban aims elsewhere in the Third World. The Sandinistas have to give priority to containing and defeating the contras over exporting revolution to other Central American countries. The fiscal cost to the United States of supporting these insurgencies is less than $1 billion a year, about one-third of one percent of the defense budget; the payoffs in terms of containment are clearly substantial.

Compellent Diplomacy. Preceding administrations had generally attempted to reach agreements with potential adversaries by offering inducements to them to be accommodating. With one notable—and disastrous—exception (Iran), the Reagan Administration generally eschewed this course. In its diplomacy it relied not on conciliation but on compellence: that is, confronting an adversary with the virtual certainty that if he does not negotiate a satisfactory agreement, he will confront a highly unpleasant development in American military programs or in the use of American military force. Agreements can be reached as easily and perhaps more easily by making it unattractive to an adversary not to conclude an agreement than by making it attractive to him to conclude one. Agreements are, in this view, produced more by making threats than by making concessions.

The Administration employed compellent diplomacy with both the Soviet Union and Third World adversaries. The INF treaty very probably exacerbates rather than reduces the commitments/capabilities gap, but it is also widely held to be a dramatic success for Reagan diplomacy. Deployment of the Pershing 2s and ground-launched cruise missiles (GLCMs) to Europe brought the Soviets back to the bargaining table. Eventually they conceded almost every demand the Reagan Administration made of them, the only significant counter-concession by the United States being elimination of the Pershing 1A missiles in Germany.

Just why the Soviets made all the concessions they did will probably never be known with certainty; many factors undoubtedly played a role, including the turnover in Soviet leadership. Yet it is hard not to assign some and perhaps major responsibility to Soviet unhappiness at having the INF missiles, particularly the Pershing 2s, on the ground in Europe and targeted at the Soviet Union. Indeed, as a result of Soviet concessions, American arms controllers have found themselves in the embarrassing position of having to be highly enthusiastic about a treaty that apparently resulted from the application of the bargaining chip theory they have consistently denounced.

In somewhat similar fashion the Administration’s inauguration of the SDI program clearly stimulated Soviet fears that American technology might produce a defensive system that would once again make a disarming first strike a plausible and perhaps attractive option for American strategy. These concerns over the future strategic weapons balance enhanced Soviet interest in the Strategic Arms Reduction Talks and its desire to link reductions in offensive arms to limitations on defensive developments. Chemical weapons are a possible additional instance of a U.S. weapons program generating Soviet accommodation. In the early 1980s the United States began preparations for production of binary weapons, the chemical warfare budget rising steeply from less than $200 million in 1978 to over $1.1 billion ten years later. During the same period of time, the Soviets retreated from many of their positions in the Geneva chemical warfare negotiations, enhancing the prospect that a chemical warfare convention might be achieved.

The use of military force and support for military force reinforced Reagan diplomacy in the Third World. The military actions of the Reagan Administration against Libya, culminating in the air attacks on Tripoli and Benghazi in April 1986, greatly reduced if they did not end Libyan-sponsored terrorist incidents. This appears, as one careful analysis concluded, "to be a success for coercive diplomacy." Somewhat similarly, increased financial support for the contras, their higher levels of military activity, and their more extensive penetration of the Nicaraguan countryside, it seems fair to assume, had something to do with the greater willingness of the Sandinista regime in 1987 to engage in negotiations, at first indirect ones, with their opponents.

Overall, the Administration’s compellent diplomacy appears to have worked. In dealing with the Soviet Union, bargaining chips do promote bargaining and may produce bargains. The willingness to use military force, directly or indirectly, has an effect on the behavior of hostile Third World states. From the Administration’s viewpoint, its diplomatic tactics clearly reduced the threats to American interests from both these sources.

Arms Control. The Carter Administration came into office in 1977 determined to distinguish its foreign policy from the power politics of Henry Kissinger, dedicated to the pursuit of arms control, less military spending, human rights, Third World development and other "liberal" goals, and staffed in large part by people with deep ideological commitments to those goals. In short order, however, the idealism and grandiose political goals clashed with the unyielding and complex realities of international affairs and the stubborn and ponderous realities of bureaucratic decision-making. The early hopes and goals were moderated or abandoned, and the liberal ideologues changed their views, subsided into quiescence, or quit the Administration and then often criticized it for abandoning its earlier commitments. In four years the Carter Administration moved from one end of the foreign policy continuum close to the center of that continuum.

During its first four years the Reagan Administration seemed to be going through a comparable metamorphosis. It began at the opposite end of the continuum from the Carter Administration, was staffed by large numbers of neoconservative ideologues, and made every effort to distinguish its policy from the "weakness" and "failures" of its predecessor. Over time, however, with respect to the Soviet Union, China, arms control, the Atlantic alliance, the Third World, the Middle East and Latin America, Administration policy appeared in practice to be adjusting to realities, even though its rhetoric often changed at a much slower pace. As a result, 18 months after President Reagan took office, neoconservative intellectuals were already expressing their anguish over the course that policy had taken. It thus seemed that, while it had started at the opposite pole, the Reagan Administration also was moving to the center and that its foreign policy after four years would be very similar to that of the Carter Administration after four years.

After seven years this model of pragmatic adjustment still applies to some elements of Reagan Administration foreign policy. On the central issues of nuclear weapons and the Soviet Union, however, it appears to have lost its relevance. On these issues, the Reagan Administration seems not to have moved from the radical right to the pragmatic center but rather to have flipped across the entire length of the continuum from one extreme to the other.

In 1981 and 1982 the Reagan Administration frightened realistic moderates (and many allies) by its bellicosity, intense anticommunism, reliance on military means and opposition to arms control. By 1986 and 1987 it was alarming realistic moderates (and many allies) by its apparent willingness to weaken nuclear deterrence, its eagerness to reach agreements with the Soviets, and its newfound faith that the Soviets had abandoned their expansionist goals. The naïveté concerning the Soviets that President Carter abandoned in 1979 President Reagan appeared to embrace in 1987.

In the 1970s many people later prominent in the Reagan Administration warned that arms control agreements could have potentially disastrous effects in weakening deterrence and encouraging euphoria and relaxation. In the mid-1980s they seemed to be enthusiastically attempting to turn their nightmares of the 1970s into the realities of the 1990s. This reversal of position in the course of five years was breathtaking. It is difficult to think of anything approximating it in previous American diplomacy.

The transformation of the scourge of the evil empire into the apostle of Soviet-American amity generated many comments on the seeming inconsistency of the president and his Administration. "Mr. Reagan himself," as Arthur Schlesinger put it, "seems to have forsaken Reaganism." In fact, however, a common psychology underlay the Reagan postures of both 1981 and 1987, rooted in his view that while there are no easy solutions there are simple solutions. Reaganism is not a philosophy of either the right or the left. It is a simple moralism that views the world in terms of evils—the Soviet Union, nuclear weapons—whose influence, if it cannot be eliminated entirely, must be greatly reduced.

No president—indeed, no responsible person—can be happy or complacent about nuclear deterrence. Yet at its worst it is the worst policy except for all the others, and Ronald Reagan is the only president who has actively tried to do away with it. President Reagan often affirms that "nuclear war cannot be won and must never be fought." He refuses, however, to accept its inescapable corollary: therefore, nuclear deterrence cannot be abandoned and must be made credible. This results, as Henry Kissinger observed, in "the most conservative U.S. administration of the postwar era stigmatizing nuclear weapons with arguments all but indistinguishable from [those of] the Committee for Nuclear Disarmament." Nuclear aversion was clearly behind the Strategic Defense Initiative, which, the president argued, would "give us the means of rendering these nuclear weapons impotent and obsolete" and thus "free the world from the threat of nuclear war." Somewhat similarly, at Reykjavik in 1986, the president proposed to eliminate nuclear ballistic missiles in ten years and at least seemed to agree to the elimination of all strategic weapons and, according to some reports, all nuclear weapons. In the end these proclivities led to the more modest but still very meaningful agreement to eliminate shorter- and intermediate-range ground-based ballistic and cruise missiles.

Whatever its merits in terms of asymmetrical reductions and verification procedures, the INF treaty weakens NATO’s ability to deter a Soviet military attack on or military coercion of Western Europe. Secretary of State George Shultz and other Administration officials acknowledged as much when in the wake of the treaty-signing they urged increases in NATO’s conventional strength. Euphoria over the elimination of a whole class of nuclear weapons and the destruction of three times as many Soviet as American missiles rests on the assumption that nuclear weapons perform the same functions in Soviet and Western strategy. That assumption is false.

The Soviet Union does not need nuclear weapons to conquer Western Europe; NATO does need them to deter and to defeat a Soviet attack. The ultimate deterrent has always been the U.S. strategic nuclear forces at sea and in the United States. With the achievement by the Soviets of at least parity in strategic forces with the United States, the probability that the United States would use its strategic forces in response to a conventional invasion of Western Europe clearly declined. The INF deployments were designed from the start to compensate for this weakness by posing a threat of retaliation from Western Europe into Eastern Europe and the Soviet Union. These missiles, particularly the Pershings, thus became a key component in the West’s structure of deterrence.

The SS-20s, deployed in the late 1970s, were, in contrast, a holdover from previous Soviet strategy which held that a war in Europe would become nuclear almost immediately. During the past decade, however, Soviet strategy has increasingly emphasized winning through the waging of sustained conventional war. From the Soviet point of view, the SS-20s now serve little useful strategic purpose, while the Pershing 2s and GLCMs pose a serious strategic threat. Their elimination is a major strategic gain for the Soviets. The GLCMs and Pershings go from Western Europe. The T-72s, armored divisions and spetz naz units they were designed to deter remain in Eastern Europe. Europe becomes less secure with the treaty than it was with the missiles.

The gap in the structure of deterrence created by the INF treaty could be repaired by strengthening NATO conventional forces. The week after the treaty was signed Secretary Shultz told his European colleagues: "It is important for all of us to increase our contributions to NATO." The week before the treaty was signed Defense Secretary Frank Carlucci told his European colleagues that there would not be any "large-scale improvement in capability, given the constraint we all face." Shultz articulated a hope; Carlucci stated a fact. Significant increases in NATO conventional strength seem remote indeed. This enhances the salience of other ways of compensating for the effects of the treaty, such as a conventional arms agreement and a stronger British-French nuclear deterrent.


The next administration will confront the problem of moving the commitments/capabilities balancing process into its third and most difficult phase. It will need to continue and build on the diplomatic efforts of the Nixon, Ford and Carter Administrations to reduce threats to American security as well as on the Reagan Administration’s innovations in military strength, military strategy and compellent diplomacy. Its central problems, however, will be in the area of economics, which previous administrations generally avoided. More specifically, the national security agenda for the administration coming into office in January 1989 contains four major elements.

Diplomacy. The INF treaty makes negotiation of a conventional arms agreement the top priority of diplomacy with the Soviets. To reduce the Soviet threat to European security such an agreement would have to involve the actual reduction and not just redeployment of Soviet offensive forces in central Europe. Unless implementation of the INF treaty is made contingent on negotiation of a conventional agreement, however, the opportunities for compellent diplomacy are rather limited. One possible way of enhancing Soviet interest in negotiating seriously on conventional strengths would be to carry forward and develop further a more offensively oriented NATO strategy. Army and navy thinking has already moved in this direction; in a more limited way, SHAPE’s Follow-on-Forces-Attack plans also pose the threat of deep strikes into Warsaw Pact territory. Further development of allied strategy for prompt conventional offensive operations into Eastern Europe in the event of war would not only strengthen deterrence but could also provide the missing compellent to induce the Soviets to agree to conventional reductions.

In their process of adjustment at the turn of the century, British statesmen successfully reduced the threats they faced by reaching accommodations with the United States, Japan, France and eventually Russia, thus permitting themselves to concentrate their attention—and their navy—on Germany. In a bipolar world the opportunities for creative diplomacy are more limited. Yet there is one strategically located country, Iran, with which rapprochement is an appropriate long-term goal of American policy. The analysis and assumptions that lay behind the Reagan Administration’s moves in this direction in 1985 remain valid, however naïve, clumsy, deceitful and eventually illegal was its follow-through. In time the fervor for expansion of revolutionary regimes declines, and policy comes to be motivated by more practical geopolitical considerations. The Iranian regime will eventually realize that only the Soviet Union can pose a serious threat to its security and that there is much to be gained by working with the United States in meeting that threat.

Strategy. Defense spending in the next administration will not increase and may well decline. The administration will need to secure as much effective military power as it can from limited resources. It will, consequently, want to continue many of the strategic innovations of the Reagan years. It will also, however, be driven to limit its investment in strategic defenses to the research, development and procurement of defense systems that will enhance rather than replace nuclear deterrence. The role of active defenses in the protection of U.S. strategic forces, command and control, and intelligence capabilities should be a function of their effectiveness and cost compared to protecting those capabilities through hardening, mobility and/or concealment.

As is normal in downside swings of the strategy-budget cycle, the next administration will be pushed to emphasize cheaper and more cost-effective forms of military force. Less costly forms of military force are not, however, necessarily more popular forms of military force. This problem arises in at least three contexts.

First, the United States and its allies have relied on nuclear deterrence because nuclear forces are overall much cheaper than conventional forces. Expenditures for nuclear forces balloon in major periods of modernization, as in the early 1960s and late 1980s, but even then their costs do not exceed 20 percent of the defense budget. When major modernization is not under way, the costs of the strategic nuclear forces shrink dramatically. The relative inexpensiveness of nuclear forces has in the past led to an increased reliance on nuclear deterrence during the periods of reduced defense spending. The next administration will be under significant fiscal pressure to move in a similar direction. Given current investment occurring in these forces, any government would want to exploit their potentialities for deterrence and defense in every way possible.

The political leaders of the Western democracies confront a dilemma. They have to be for peace and against taxes. They thus become caught between two imperatives. The arms control imperative leads them to seek agreements reducing nuclear weapons. The budget-cutting imperative constrains their conventional forces. Budget-cutting logic means they should emphasize nuclear forces; arms control logic means they should build up conventional forces. Combined, the dual pressures reduce the likelihood that they will do either.

Second, personnel costs are the largest item in the defense budget. In periods of budgetary stringency strong pressures exist to reduce the most expensive personnel—that is, active-duty military—and replace them with civilians or reservists. The latter offer the greatest possibility for savings, and the proportion of reserve forces to active forces is likely to increase during the coming years. Over an extended period of time, conscriptees can be acquired at less cost than volunteers. At present, however, the all-volunteer force is operating effectively; quantitative and qualitative recruiting goals have generally been met. Hence there is no immediate reason to consider the reintroduction of conscription. At some point, however, both for cost reasons and, more significantly, in order to meet manpower goals, conscription may become a real issue.

Third, security assistance probably produces more significant payoffs per dollar than any other component of defense spending. Yet the security assistance budget has been regularly reduced by Congress, and over 60 percent of U.S. security assistance funds go to two countries, Israel and Egypt. In a period of budgetary stringency, however, security assistance is one way of achieving substantial results for relatively small investment. This is true both for regular security assistance to allied and friendly governments and also for assistance to anticommunist insurgencies. Appropriate assistance programs are a cheap way of extending U.S. power and influence.

In terms of securing more military output for a given fiscal and resource input, nothing is more important than restructuring the process through which resources are allocated in the Department of Defense. In the Weinberger era, the key decisions as to how increased defense funds would be spent were made by the military services. Inevitably, the services gave priority to those programs and weapons that were most important to the services, not necessarily those that would make the greatest contribution to overall U.S. strategic purposes. The problem here lies largely in the decision-making and resource allocation structure of the Pentagon. The United States has several broad strategic purposes: to deter Soviet nuclear attack on the United States and its allies; to deter and to defeat Soviet conventional attacks on U.S. allies in Western Europe and East Asia; to be able to intervene effectively to protect U.S. interests in the Persian Gulf, Latin America and elsewhere in the Third World. Service programs are justifiable only insofar as they contribute to national strategic missions. The Defense Department is organized, however, in terms of military service not mission. Hence service needs, not mission needs, predominate.

The central defense organization needs to be restructured to create and give effective budgetary power to offices primarily concerned with major strategic missions such as nuclear deterrence, NATO and East Asian defense, and regional defense and power projection in the Third World. These offices would identify the forces and programs most required to carry out their mission, and the services would then compete among themselves to provide those capabilities. Such a reorganization would ensure that major programs served critical strategic missions and would greatly facilitate the comparative evaluation of programs in terms of their relative contributions to strategic missions. The net result should be a significant increase in effective strategic output for the same resource input. The past few years have seen an increasing emphasis on mission organization in the Defense Department, and the next administration will need to carry this process forward.

Allies. The reallocation of the burden of defense between the United States and its allies has not kept up with the changes in the economic capabilities of the United States and its allies. In 1985 the U.S. GNP was 47.5 percent of the total economic product of the NATO countries plus Japan; U.S. defense spending, in contrast, was 70 percent of total allied defense spending. Somewhat similarly, with less than one-third of the total allied population, the United States contributed 40 percent of the total allied active military and civilian defense personnel. It is difficult to determine what proportion of U.S. defense expenditures goes for the defense of Western Europe. According to some estimates, however, U.S. expenditures for the defense of Western Europe may exceed West European expenditures for its own defense. The situation with respect to East Asia is clearer. The figures again are rough and debatable, but widely accepted estimates indicate that annual U.S. expenditures for East Asian security ($42-47 billion) have been about twice those of Japan ($22 billion). Security in East Asia is important to the United States and to American voters, but is it worth twice as much to us as it is to Japan and Japanese voters? Japan has the second-largest GNP and the second-largest population among the allies. Yet its defense expenditures are less than half those of Britain, France or West Germany and less than ten percent of those of the United States.

The other side to this imbalance in defense is the imbalance in economics. The U.S. trade deficit with Western Europe was expected to be $30 billion in 1987, the trade deficit with Japan about $60 billion. It cannot escape and, indeed, it has not escaped notice that in recent years total U.S. trade deficits and U.S. budget deficits have been roughly of the same order of magnitude as U.S. defense expenditures for the defense of Europe and East Asia. As one Democratic candidate for the presidency put it: "Today we maintain a global defense financed with dollars borrowed from creditors who are the very countries being protected. In 1987 we actually owe the West Europeans and the Japanese money for defending them." This situation cannot and will not last.

What are the ways of dealing with it? One possibility would be for the United States to cut back its defense programs primarily devoted to the defense of Western Europe and East Asia. West European countries and Japan could then accept the decreased allied capabilities as not incompatible with their security, or they could increase their own defense efforts to compensate for the U.S. reductions. Such increased efforts, however, are unlikely to fill the gap left by the U.S. reductions, and the collective impact of the increases by individual countries is likely to be limited by the absence of effective coordination among them. The Soviet Union could end up benefiting both from a reduced total effort and from less integration and more intensified antagonisms among the allies.

An alternative and preferable way of redistributing the burden would be for the allies to pay an increased share of the costs of the American forces protecting them. The defense of Western Europe and East Asia is in the interest of the United States. Yet the nations in those regions have an interest in and are benefiting from the U.S. defense of those regions. The United States, Peter Peterson correctly remarks, "must inevitably become a sizable net exporter of goods and services." Depending upon the dollar value assigned to them, however, the United States may already be in that position because of the services it provides, including military security, access to the American market and membership in the community of free nations which it leads. If its allies want these benefits to be continued, they should be willing to pay more for them than they have been paying. An extremely modest but symbolic step in this direction was Japan’s offer to add to its U.S. base support payments $150 million for American protection of its oil supplies coming from the Persian Gulf.

The relative decline in American power both enhances the need for the allies to increase their contribution to the common defense and reduces the ability of the United States to persuade them to do so. The allies clearly cannot and will not assume the bulk of the burden now borne by the United States. Yet they can do more than they are doing, and it is in their interest to do so. At some point Congressman Gephardt’s simple logic—why should we borrow money from them in order to defend them—will have its impact on the American public.

Economics. In their efforts to deal with the relative decline in Britain’s power at the end of the nineteenth century, British leaders reduced threats through diplomacy, revised their naval strategy, reorganized the governmental machinery concerned with security issues (creating the Committee on Imperial Defense and the General Staff), and attempted, less successfully, to secure greater contributions to the defense of the empire from India and the self-governing dominions. They did not, however, make any major effort to reallocate resources to defense purposes or to restructure and revitalize the British economy. The result was a sustained and significant deficiency in British capabilities that increased the probability of war and the costliness of that war once it came. "Outside the realm of diplomacy and strategy," Friedberg observes, "nothing had been done to alter the erosion of Britain’s industrial position. Over time this would mean (among other things) that she was less capable of waging sustained, intensive, modern warfare than several of her rivals." Preventing this decline "would have required the extraction or redirection of an increased fraction of the resources of British society. . . . Better technical education, more support for scientific research and development, greater incentives for domestic investment and increased government attempts to open foreign markets might have helped, within certain limits, to slow the erosion of England’s industrial position." The weakness of the British governmental apparatus and prevailing British ideas on limited government combined to exclude effectively these policies from the political agenda.

Britain, in short, never moved effectively into the third or economic phase of adaptation to complement the changes it had made in diplomacy and strategy. Involving as it does the allocation of burdens, the economic phase is far more difficult for any government, but particularly a democratic government, to undertake. Under the Reagan Administration the United States has expanded its military power in a way that Britain eschewed. It has not, however, generated the economic resources with which to pay for that expansion. This leaves the United States facing three economic imperatives with respect to national security.

First, there is the need, as everyone recognizes, to resolve the fiscal crisis and reduce the federal deficit. This means a firm and possibly lower ceiling on defense spending, cuts in domestic programs and entitlements, and increased revenues, which could come from a variety of possible taxes, some of which might have positive effects on investment and economic growth.

Second, the United States must, as again almost everyone recognizes, do what Britain failed to do: adopt national policies to promote higher-quality education, more rigorous standards, more widely available technical training programs, research and development, and public, corporate and individual investment in promising technologies and industries. In the longer term only programs such as these will result in increased productivity, technological innovation and beneficial economic growth. Creating these requisites of a sound economy is essential both to restore U.S. economic competitiveness vis-à-vis Japan, Europe and the newly industrializing countries and to create the economic and technological base for American military security.

Third, movement toward deficit reduction and economic renewal will in large part depend upon development of a more comprehensive and balanced approach to the problems of national security and economic development than has existed in recent years. In the aftermath of World War II, in which U.S. industrial capacity was decisive, there was widespread awareness of the close interconnection between the economic and military dimensions of national security. Early national security planning documents, such as NSC 68 of 1950, devoted much attention to the economic underpinnings of security. Questions of industrial base, economic mobilization and technological innovation were central to the discussion of security issues. Government agencies concerned with security made significant contributions to industrial development, those of the intelligence agencies to the computer industry being only the most dramatic. Over time, however, as the experience of total war faded into the background and after the emergence of a distinct defense industry or military-industrial complex following the Korean War, the connection between economic policy and national security began to weaken. National security planning documents tended to focus increasingly on purely military strategy.

The National Security Council was created in 1947 to be the forum for integrating the various elements of security policy. Its legislative mandate was and is to advise the president on "the integration of domestic, foreign, and military policies relating to the national security." Economics became, however, the weak sister and often the absent partner in the national security policymaking process. The result was less attention than should have been given both to the trade-offs between policies to promote economic strength and those designed to promote military security, and to the types of policies that may constructively contribute to both economic and military security. Reestablishing the link between these two should be high on the agenda of the next administration.


Walter Lippmann had a rationalist approach to policymaking. The political dissension that he saw resulting from foreign policy "insolvency" would be ended by identifying the policy that was "on its merits" the correct one. It was necessary, he said, to proceed with "the formulation of a policy which, because it is sound, works so well that it heals the dissension. . . . The measure of a policy is its soundness; if it is sound, it will prove acceptable."

Lippmann was, of course, wrong. Acceptable policies are produced not by the ratiocination of a Lippmann-like intellect but by the interests, interactions and compromises of highly practical politicians. What politicians see and what they can accomplish are, in turn, heavily influenced by the institutions in which they operate. For U.S. national security policy the relations between the president and Congress and between the two parties are crucial. In recent years neither of those relations has helped to promote the formulation of "sound" policies.

One of the more distressing political developments of the Reagan era has been the intensifying and unproductive competition between the president and Congress over foreign policy. In this area the Constitution is, as Edward Corwin said, an "invitation to struggle," and that can be all to the good. In recent years, however, the competition between the two branches has often not reflected the Constitution but undermined it. Both branches have increasingly ignored the rules that previously governed the struggle between them. Responding both to political pressure and to institutional imperatives, Congress has intruded deeper and deeper into the day-to-day conduct of foreign affairs, the micromanagement of defense, and the regulation of executive behavior in ways that surely would amaze the Founding Fathers. The president and executive branch have reacted by looking for escape hatches and loopholes to get around congressional legislation, by resorting to actions, most notably in the Iran-contra affair, that are illegal or of very dubious legality, and by simply defying Congress and refusing to enforce laws they did not like. The lack of restraint on both sides has not been conducive to the development of well-grounded policy. The executive needs to accept Congress as a full partner in the policymaking process; Congress needs to recognize the autonomy of the executive and the line, however fuzzy it may be, between policymaking and policy implementation.

The political structure of opinion has also not been conducive to the development of sound policy. Dissension has existed between the parties and, more important, within the parties. Within the Republican Party, right-wing militantly anticommunist extremists differ fundamentally with pragmatic moderates. Within the Democratic Party, left-wing antimilitary extremists also clash with foreign policy moderates. A moderate approach to foreign policy is supported by the great bulk of the American people and the American political and intellectual leadership. Yet in both Congress and the administration the moderates are seldom in secure control. Divided between the parties, they are frequently a minority within each party. Extremists often have been influential in the early years of each administration. In Congress, moderates within the opposition party are often eclipsed by the extremists in their party who are more virulent in their denunciation of the administration. What is required now is a bipartisan "revolt of the moderates," to use Samuel Lubell’s phrase. That can only occur, however, under the leadership of the president.

The prospects of it occurring may be better now than they have been for some while. Both the Carter and the Reagan Administrations came into office intent on differentiating their foreign policy from that of their predecessor. This tended to lead them toward one extreme or the other. On the central issues of foreign policy—the Soviet Union and nuclear weapons—however, the Reagan Administration has now embraced both extremes. Hence Reagan’s successor can best distinguish his foreign policy from Reagan’s by occupying, from the start, the realistic middle. Coping effectively with the Lippmann gap and producing a better balance between capabilities and commitments is best done by a middle-of-the-road administration. Conservative extremists are likely to expand American commitments more than they increase American power; liberal extremists are likely to reduce American power more than they reduce American commitments.

The starting point in developing a sound policy is to abandon the illusions that have often permeated American thinking about nuclear weapons and the Soviet Union. With respect to the former, President Nixon put it most realistically and succinctly: "We’ve got to disabuse ourselves of two myths. One is that we can eliminate nuclear weapons from the face of the earth. . . . The other myth is that we’re going to render nuclear weapons ‘impotent and obsolete’ with a perfect defense. Both myths have got to go." With respect to the Soviet Union, it is equally necessary to disabuse ourselves of the myths, first, that a friendly relationship can exist between that country and the United States and, second, that there is some non-disastrous way in which the United States can eliminate the Soviet Union as a threat to American security.

No single or simple solution exists to the problem of the Lippmann gap. Intelligent leaders may be able, however, to moderate and to cope effectively with the gap through a judicious combination of creative and coercive diplomacy, strategic innovation and military reform, enhanced allied contributions to the common defense, and effective measures to deal with the budget deficit and economic renewal in the context of an overall national policy for promoting economic and military security.

Implicit in Lippmann’s analysis is the assumption that "insolvency" in foreign policy is unnatural and will, unless corrected, lead to disaster. Yet by his own accounting in 1943, American foreign policy had been characterized by insolvency and dissension for half of American history. Lippmann did not consider the possibility that such may be the natural state of affairs for a democratic republic actively engaged in the world. The years of solvency from 1823 to 1898 coincided with American isolation. The later years of solvency from the mid-1940s to the late 1960s coincided with American hegemony. Neither isolation nor hegemony is natural or possible now, and some gap between capabilities and commitments may be inevitable. Washington, Adams, Jefferson and Madison could not forge a balance between power and commitments in the early years of the republic. Two Roosevelts and Wilson could not do it in the first half of this century. It remains to be seen whether future leaders will be able to do any better in coping with the Lippmann gap.

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