Nixon and Mao, China, 1972.

The Nixon Doctrine and Our Asian Commitments

Eighteen months after its enunciation at Guam the Nixon Doctrine remains obscure and contradictory in its intent and application. It is not simply that the wider pattern of war in Indochina challenges the Doctrine's promise of a lower posture in Asia. More than that, close analysis and the unfolding of events expose some basic flaws in the logic of the Administration's evolving security policy for the new decade. The Nixon Doctrine properly includes more than the declaratory policy orientation. It comprises also the revised worldwide security strategy of "1½ wars" and the new defense decision-making processes such as "fiscal guidance budgeting." These elements have received little comment, especially in their integral relation to our commitments in Asia. But the effects of this Administration's moves in these areas will shape and constrain the choices of the United States for a long time to come.

The President's foreign policy declaration of February 1970 promised that "our interests, our foreign policy objectives, our strategies and our defense budgets are being brought into balance-with each other and with our overall national priorities."[i] After a decade of burgeoning military spending and entanglement in foreign conflict, the nation has welcomed the vision of lower defense budgets balanced by a reduction in American involvement overseas, particularly in Asia, Actually, however, the Administration's new policies and decision processes do not bring about the proposed balance; in fact, they create a more serious imbalance. Essentially we are to support the same level of potential involvement with smaller conventional forces. The specter of intervention will remain, but the risk of defeat or stalemate will be greater; or the nuclear threshold will be lower. The fundamental issues of interests, commitments and alliances are not resolved.


The objectives of close-in military containment and the forward defense of our Asian allies present us with a series of bleak choices:

With regard to deterrence: (1) perpetuation of a high level of active conventional forces, conspicuously deployed or deployable; (2) fundamental and obvious reliance on nuclear weapons; or (3) acknowledgment of the higher probability of an enemy initiative.

With regard to initial defense: (1) maintenance or rapid deployment of large armies in Asia; (2) early recourse to tactical nuclear weapons; or (3) acceptance of the greater risk of losing allied territory.

With regard to terminating a war: (1) large commitments of troops and heavy casualties; (2) use of nuclear weapons, either tactical or strategic; or (3) resignation to an indefinite and wasting stalemate, tantamount to defeat.

The only solution that transcends the triangle of unsatisfactory choices is to reëvaluate our interests in Asia; restate those objectives that implicate us in the possibility of war on the Asian mainland and diminish our control over our actions; resist the grand and vapid formulas of our role in Asia-such as the existential platitude that "we are a Pacific power"-that perpetuate the illusion of paramountcy; retreat from the policy of military containment of China; and revise the alliances that have come to represent our commitment to containment.

But this course the President has consistently rejected: ". . . we will maintain our interests in Asia and the commitments that flow from them. . . . The United States will keep all its treaty commitments." Thus the root problem of the Nixon Doctrine is its abiding commitment to the containment of China. In the furtherance of this policy our government hopes to maintain all our present Asian alliances and de facto commitments, profiting from their deterrent value but avoiding their implications. Yet it also intends to scale down our conventional military capability. The result is that the Nixon Doctrine neither reduces our potential involvement in Asian conflicts nor resolves the resulting dilemma by providing convincingly for a defense that will obviate reliance on nuclear weapons.

Let us examine the prospect of the Nixon Doctrine as a relief from involvement in Asian contingencies. The trauma that has resulted from our inability to win decisively in Vietnam has caused our policy-makers to suggest a limitation of future involvement on the basis of a distinction between external or overt aggression on the one hand, and insurgency, political subversion and civil war on the other. The President attempts in this way to avoid the strategy dilemma by altering the criteria for intervention and thus understating the probability of involvement:

. . . we cannot expect U. S. military forces to cope with the entire spectrum of threats facing allies or potential allies throughout the world. This is particularly true of subversion and guerrilla warfare, or "wars of national liberation." Experience has shown that the best means of dealing with insurgencies is to preempt them through economic development and social reform and to control them with police, paramilitary and military action by the threatened government.

But this is nothing more than a postulation that the unwished contingency will not arise. The hard question remains: What if these "best means" are not successful? Under those conditions what kind of solutions does the Nixon Doctrine envisage? Might the United States be impelled to intervene with combat forces? The President states:

. . . a direct combat role for U. S. general purpose forces arises primarily when insurgency has shaded into external aggression or when there is an overt conventional attack. In such cases, we shall weigh our interests and our commitments, and we shall consider the efforts of our allies, in determining our response.

But this formula for discrimination and discretion seems both unclear and unrealistic. At what point does an insurgency become "external aggression"? A definition sometimes proposed is the introduction of enemy main-force units, rather than mere individual fillers. But, even apart from the difficult question of verification, this event might be well beyond the point where our intervention became critical to the situation. The paradox is that in critical cases we might not wish to define the situation to preclude intervention; in less than critical cases we would not need to invoke nice distinctions to justify it. In any case, relying on formulas and distinctions misses the point: it is simply not credible that we would sacrifice our still-held objectives to the vagaries of circumstance.

Indeed, as long as our policy remains the containment of China and the repression of Asian communism, we are inclined to view even largely indigenous revolutions as objective instances of the purposes of Peking or Hanoi or Pyongyang. Consequently, if an insurgency in an allied or even a neutral country began to succeed, we would probably first increase logistical aid, then extend the role of advisers and provide air support. Since such moves might bring a countervailing response from the Asian communist sponsors of the insurgency, we might have to choose between sending ground forces and allowing an ally to lose by our default. In certain extremities we might be forced to the final choice among unlimited conventional escalation, defeat of our own forces, or "technological escalation" to the use of nuclear weapons.

Thus, with our formal or implied commitments and the President's open-ended prescription, the United States might yet be drawn into a land war on the Asian mainland or have to confront equally dire alternatives. In this respect the Nixon Doctrine does not improve on the policy that led to Vietnam. And, of course, our exposure to involvement in the case of more overt aggression, such as a Chinese-supported invasion in Korea or Southeast Asia, remains undiminished.

The only proposition that has become clear about the Nixon Doctrine is that its most advertised hope of resolving the strategy problem-both reducing the forces we maintain for Asian defense and avoiding involvement in conflict-is Asianization, i.e. the substitution of indigenous forces, equipped through enlarged U.S. military assistance, for American troops. The case for expanded military assistance has been stated with unprecedented urgency by Secretary Laird in preparation for vastly increased Military Assistance Program (MAP) budget requests for 1972 and succeeding fiscal years. Secretary Laird has characterized MAP as "the essential ingredient of our policy if we are to honor our obligations, support our allies, and yet reduce the likelihood of having to commit American ground combat units."[ii]

But the Secretary recognizes the declining level of popular and Congressional support for military assistance. His solution, considered perennially within the Defense and State Departments but proposed for the first time in a Secretarial posture statement to the Congress, is that "military assistance should be integrated into the Defense Budget so that we can plan more rationally and present to the Congress more fully an integrated program." Military aid for certain "forward defense countries," including South Vietnam, Thailand and Laos, and consisting of about 80 percent of the total category "Support for Other Nations,"[iii] is already meshed into the Defense Budget. This legislative ploy has not yet been applied to Korea or Taiwan, though the reduction of our troops in Korea and the insurance of Taiwan against communist pressure depend, in the judgment of this Administration, on the freedom to substitute U.S. matériel for manpower.

To merge military assistance entirely into the regular functional appropriation categories of the Defense Budget would be to institutionalize the dual rationale for military assistance that has become traditional in debate within the Department of Defense. The first element in this rationale is the argument from "trade-off"-a calculus that compares the costs of equal units of effectiveness of U. S. and foreign troops. This is essentially an assertion of "absolute advantage" and is the basic and obvious sense of Secretary Laird's statement: "A MAP dollar is of far greater value than a dollar spent directly on U.S. forces,"

The second element is the argument from "comparative advantage," borrowed from the economic theory of international trade: "Each nation must do its share and contribute what it can appropriately provide-manpower from many of our allies; technology, material, and specialized skills from the United States." The proponents of military comparative advantage assert, by analogy, that the coöperating and specializing defense community can "consume" security at a higher level. It may be, however, that they can only consume more of the tangible intermediate trappings of security, i.e. the forces and arms. The essence of security, especially for the United States as the senior partner, might depend more on certain qualitative factors. In fact, there are several difficulties in the Administration's ostensibly neutral and technical arguments for military assistance.

First, both trade-off and comparative advantage assume and confirm the inevitability and relevance of the shared mission-that is, the forward defense of the ally's territory. But only if we cannot avoid this mission is it proper to confine the debate to the optimal distribution of roles and costs.

Second, the argument from comparative advantage, like the economic theory at its origin, stresses specialization. But the concomitant of specialization is interdependence. Thus a policy of selective reliance on allies, in order to be effective, implies automatic involvement from the earliest moments of a conflict.[iv] Third, early experience indicates that U.S. ground forces cannot simply be traded off with precisely calculated increments of military assistance. They must be politically ransomed by disproportionate grants, more conspicuous deployments and more fervent and explicit confirmations of our commitment.[v]

Fourth, from the diplomatic standpoint the substitution of massive infusions of modern arms for U.S. troops is anything but neutral. To the North Koreans and their sponsors, for example, the one and one-half billion dollars of support and new equipment we now intend to give South Korea might look very provocative and destabilizing. A new phase of the peninsular arms race could be the result, with a net loss to regional and U.S. security.

Finally, the legislative tactic of integrating the Military Assistance Program into the Defense Budget would remove military assistance as an object of the broader concerns of foreign policy and assign it to the jurisdiction of more narrowly defense-oriented Congressional committees. The debate would be less political and more technical. The focus would shift from the question of involvement to the question of relative costs. Thus Asianization, which is the keystone of the Nixon Doctrine, would substitute some Asian forces and resources, but along the same perimeter of interest. It affords a pretext for reducing expense, but it does not enhance our security or relieve us from involvement.


The basic question is whether the Nixon Doctrine is an honest policy that will fully fund the worldwide and Asian commitments it proposes to maintain, or whether it conceals a drift toward nuclear defense or an acceptance of greater risk of local defeat. The most obvious change in our military posture is that the new formula provides conventional forces to counter a major communist thrust in Asia or Europe, but not simultaneously. As the President has explained:

The stated basis of our conventional posture in the 1960's was the so- called "2½ war" principle. According to it, U.S. forces would be maintained for a three-month conventional forward defense of NATO, a defense of Korea or Southeast Asia against a full-scale Chinese attack, and a minor contingency-all simultaneously. These force levels were never reached.

In the effort to harmonize doctrine and capability, we chose what is best described as the "1½ war" strategy. Under it we will maintain in peacetime general purpose forces adequate for simultaneously meeting a major Communist attack in either Europe or Asia, assisting allies against non- Chinese threats in Asia, and contending with a contingency elsewhere.

What will be the ultimate force levels associated with the new 1½-war strategy, and how can we assess their implications for Asian defense? Peacetime forces are obviously entailed by the extent of our commitments, but in no precisely determined way. A most important intermediate term- which could account for wide differences in strategy and forces-is the probable simultaneity of contingencies.[vi] The Nixon strategy of 1½ wars is explicitly founded on the improbability of two simultaneous major contingencies. Thus demands on the planned general purpose forces are to be considered alternative rather than additive.

Can we then expect a force reduction equivalent to the requirement for defending against the lesser of the major contingencies? To support the previous strategy of 2½ wars, the Baseline (or peacetime) Force Structure was thought to provide seven active divisions for Southeast Asia, two for Korea, eight for NATO, and two and one-third for a minor contingency and a strategic reserve-a total of 19-1/3. Since the present 1½-war doctrine includes only one major contingency, in NATO or Asia, one might derive an active ground force as low as 10-1/3 divisions.

Such a literal expectation, however, is confused by the President's desire to insure "against greater than expected threats by maintaining more than the forces required to meet conventional threats in one theater-such as NATO Europe;" the fact that certain types of divisions are inherently specialized for certain geographical contingencies, so that all eight of our armored and mechanized divisions will probably remain oriented to NATO and inapplicable to Asian defense; and finally, the judgments of both the President and Secretary Laird that the force levels necessary to implement the previous 2½-war policy "were never reached."

But it seems clear that the ultimate Baseline Force Structure under the Nixon Doctrine will contain even fewer divisions for the Asian requirement than the minimal proposals for a conventional defense.[vii] The reduced conventional force is most significant as a reflection of the altered concept of Asian defense embodied in the Nixon Doctrine. The constituent propositions of this concept are: (1) the most likely threats to our Asian allies do not involve Chinese invasion, and (2) with greatly expanded military assistance our allies can largely provide the ground forces to counter such threats.

There is a third proposition, strongly implied by the logic of the problem and markedly signaled in the President's foreign policy statement: in a future Asian conflict, particularly if it does involve China, United States intervention is likely to carry with it the use of tactical nuclear weapons.

-the nuclear capability of our strategic and theater nuclear forces serves as a deterrent to full-scale Soviet attack on NATO Europe or Chinese attack on our Asian allies;

-the prospects for a coordinated two-front attack on our allies by Russia and China are low both because of the risks of nuclear war and the improbability of Sino-Soviet cooperation. In any event, we do not believe that such a coordinated attack should be met primarily by U.S. conventional forces.

Though the "coördinated" attack described by the President is improbable, it should be noted that "theater nuclear forces" are prescribed as deterrents against the single contingency of a "Chinese attack on our Asian allies." Also, there are more plausible scenarios that would, in terms of their potential to immobilize U.S. forces, be the functional equivalent of a major attack: a Soviet military build-up and political pressure in central or southern Europe; or China's rendering massive logistical support to one of her Asian allies to the point where that ally could release overwhelming forces against a neighboring country; or the imminent entry of China into a war where we or one of our allies might have provided the provocation. It is conceivable that two such lesser contingencies could arise, in Europe and Asia, and that one of them could develop to the point of a conflict. In that event we would be reluctant to consider our conventional forces for either theater available for the other. Motivated by illusions of decisive action and immunity from retaliation, we might be tempted to dispose of the Asian conflict by technological escalation.

Therefore, if we remain committed to the defense of interests in both theaters, but maintain conventional forces for only one large contingency, our strategy is biased toward the earlier use of nuclear weapons. Of course, there is no necessary continuum of escalation from conventional war to tactical nuclear war. But the 1½-war strategy provides the President with fewer alternatives and renders the resort to nuclear weapons a more compelling choice, as well as making nuclear threat a more obvious residual feature of our diplomacy.

And so the "balance" promised in the new security policy is achieved-but not by adjusting our commitments, restricting our objectives or modifying our conception of the interests of the United States. Rather, budgetary stringencies inspire a reduction in force levels; a "1½-war strategy" is tailored to fit the intractable realities; and a series of rationalizations is constructed to validate the new strategy-rationalizations that simply stipulate a reduced threat, count heavily on subsidized and coerced allied efforts at self-defense, and suggest an early nuclear reaction if our calculations prove insufficiently conservative.

Thus the Nixon Doctrine reveals an apparent contradiction between objectives and strategy. Are we seeing the beginning of a return to the defense posture of the 1950s, with unabated commitments to a collection of front-line client-states, but with limited options and a renewed flirtation with the fantasy of tactical nuclear warfare?


The new security policy not only shifts substantively down to a 1½-war strategy but also changes the model for determining defense requirements. Instead of the classic progression from the definition of foreign policy interests to the formulation of objectives, to the prescription of strategies, to the calculation of forces and their costs, we now see a constrained calculus that proceeds in reverse from limited budgets to trimmed forces to arbitrary strategies. The implications are not transmitted through the system to include a revision of objectives and interests. At best the system is balanced back from resources through strategies; the imbalance is shifted to a point between strategies and objectives.

But even the strategies and the forces may be out of balance. For the budget-constrained strategy revision is complemented by a fundamental change in the defense planning process. The previous system was requirements-oriented: there was, in theory, no prior budgetary restriction. Rather, planning began with the stated worldwide defense objective and resulted in forces and a budget which were recommended to the President and the Congress as systematically entailed by our defense objectives. Of course, the ideal system foundered on the institutional realities of weapons-systems and force creation. Indeed, the philosophy of unconstrained implementation of security objectives-"buy what you need"- encouraged inflated requirements within the framework of 2½ wars. And the attempts of the Secretary to limit forces only led the military to attempts to goldplate those prescribed forces, while keeping a ledger on the "shortfall" between the imposed strategy and the imposed force structure. But at least the direction and scope of the planning process compelled attention to the relevance and adequacy of the forces, and allowed the possibility of reasoning back from the rejection of excessive requirements to the questioning of overambitious strategies, extensive commitments and artificial interests.

By contrast, the new defense planning process begins simultaneously with "strategic guidance" and "fiscal guidance," established by the President and the National Security Council. The new procedure has attained certain efficiencies in managing the Pentagon budget cycle. But from the policy standpoint it is another matter: within the fiscal ceilings we will get the forces and weapons systems that the organization tends to produce-not the ones we might need. Of the two kinds of guidance, the fiscal is quantitative and unarguable; the strategic is verbal and elastic. If there is a coincidence of those forces and systems tailored to the fiscal guidance and those derived from the strategic guidance, it will be either accidental or contrived.

More likely, the Services will interpret the new guidance as a set of parameters within which they can promote self-serving programs. Under conditions of budgetary stringency they will skimp on manpower, supplies, war reserve stocks, maintenance and transport, while preserving headquarters, cadres of units, research and development of large new systems, and sophisticated technological overhead. In effect they will tend, as in the 1950s, to sacrifice those items that maintain balance, readiness and sustainability of effort, and to insist on those items that insure morale, careers and the competitive position of each Service.

Thus the Administration's defense planning procedure allows a second contradiction: between strategy and forces. This country may well end the 1970s with the worst of both worlds: on the one hand, a full panoply of commitments and a strategy that continues to serve an ambitious policy of containment; on the other, a worldwide sprinkling of token deployments and a force structure that is still expensive, but unbalanced, unready and irrelevant to our security.


The disabilities of the Nixon Doctrine follow from its insistence on the containment of China in face of budgetary pressures that arise not out of absolute scarcity of resources, but out of the nation's unwillingness to make large sacrifices for objectives that cannot be credibly invoked by its leadership. If the Administration is to be consistent in revising our defense posture and limiting defense budgets, it must consider a commensurate curtailment of our foreign policy objectives in Asia. Adjusting the intermediate-term strategies will not effect the reconciliation and will permit an honest implementation of the force and budget cuts.

But the Nixon Doctrine does not resolve the Asian defense problem in this fundamental way: rather, it appears as another formula for permanent confrontation with China. What are the issues that elude the perennial expressions of interest, by several administrations, in accommodating China? During the Johnson Administration the policy of containment ceded to a variant characterized as "containment without isolation." The shift, however, was accompanied by no tangible initiatives and induced no reciprocity from China. President Nixon entered office with a mandate-which he had created largely himself through his campaign emphasis-to bring about a reconciliation with China. His Administration has relaxed certain restrictions on trade and travel and revived the Warsaw ambassadorial talks. But such moves, though impressive as indications of enlightenment, do not touch on the essential concerns of China. However we ultimately conceive our interests, we might as well be realistic about the eventual price of a real accommodation with China.

This price would include three kinds of consideration: (1) diplomatic recognition and admission without qualification to the United Nations and the permanent Security Council seat; (2) affirmation of a one-China policy, even allowing the eventual accession of Taiwan to the mainland; (3) removal of the U.S. military presence on the mainland of Asia, without substituting a naval cordon, a ring of nearby island bases, a host of Asian mercenary armies, or a nuclear tripwire. The components of such a withdrawal would be: liquidation of the Vietnam war and removal of all U.S. forces there; retraction of all U.S. troops from other mainland Asian countries and Taiwan and closure of all bases; termination of military assistance to mainland states and cessation of efforts to create proxy forces to continue our mission; and dissolution of our security alliances with the "forward- defense" countries of Thailand, Taiwan and Korea.

Such a program would amount to a major diplomatic revolution. It might take a quarter of a century to implement, even with the most sophisticated public and political support within the United States. It would alienate client régimes, unsettle for long intervals our relations with the Soviets, and tax the understanding of major allies such as Japan and Australia. It would signify the renunciation of our efforts to control events in Asia; henceforth we would control only our responses to events.

But it is fair to ask whether we will not arrive at this disposition of affairs in Asia at some point, whether we will it or not. Should this occur after a quarter of a century of tension and devastation, or political man?uvre and diplomatic search? It is also fair to speculate that a more neutral, or even positive, relationship with China might give us a new scope of advantages. We might benefit eventually from a commercial relationship with China, rather than conceding the economic penetration of the mainland by Japan and Western Europe while we remain frozen in our historic impasse. We might also, simply through the dissolution of predictable enmity with China, make it more difficult for the Soviets to challenge us in other areas of the world. And we might find it useful to have a counterpoise to Japan, which is still our principal Pacific competitor, economic and potentially military, and a possible future partner of the U.S.S.R. in such common interests as counterbalancing China and developing eastern Siberia.

The tangible expression of containment is our security alliances and the other strong, though less formal, military commitments around the periphery of China. These commitments, it can be argued, create the threat to us by transforming otherwise neutral events into situations of relevance to our interests; perpetuate the confrontation with China that gives substance to the threat, by frustrating the essential motives of China; lock us into a posture of forward defense on the mainland of Asia; and dictate the requirement for large general purpose forces or equivalent means of deterrence and defense.

Our alliances in Asia do not form a coherent and comprehensive system such as NATO. Rather they are a collection of bilateral agreements, plus the multilateral SEATO pact, contracted separately from 1951 through 1962. Even the purposes served by these alliances, as seen at the time of their negotiation, were diverse. Containment of China might have been a concurrent motive, but it did not uniformly inspire the creation of the pacts. Quite apart from containing our enemies, several of the treaties exhibit motives of containing our allies as well.

The ANZUS and Philippine treaties of 1951, though signed against the backdrop of the Korean War, related more to the fear of Japan which these allies derived from World War II. The 1953 agreement with the Republic of Korea was, among other things, a price for Syngman Rhee's restraint from attempting to reunify the peninsula by force. Similarly the treaty with the Republic of China in 1955 was in part a quid pro quo for Chiang's acceptance of "re-leashing" during the Straits crisis of that year. The SEATO alliance of 1954, which extended protection to South Vietnam, Laos and Cambodia, arose less from the vision of true collective defense than the desire of the United States to have a legal basis for discretionary intervention under the nominal coloration of "united action." The bilateral U.S.Thai adjunct to SEATO, negotiated by Rusk and Thanat in 1962, reassured the Thais, during the events that led to the Laos neutralization accords, that the U.S. would respond to a threat to Thai security, regardless of the reaction of other SEATO signatories; this agreement, too, was a price to secure the acquiescence of an ally in an arrangement that suited the interest of the United States. The 1960 Security Treaty with Japan, revising the original treaty of 1951, reaffirmed U.S. administration of Okinawa and perpetuated our use of bases in the Japanese home islands, subject to prior consultation for nuclear or direct combat deployments. (The Nixon-Sato communiqué of October 1969 pledged reversion of Okinawa to Japan by 1972, a status that implies removal of nuclear weapons and submission to the "homeland formula" for consultation on the use of bases.)

Though deterrence has always been the primary function of our alliances, their military content has changed profoundly from the time they were contracted. The Dulles policy, in the pacts of 1953-55, did not emphasize the actual defense of allied territory or contemplate the dispatch of U.S. ground forces to any point where the communist powers chose to apply military force. Rather, it aimed at nuclear deterrence of overt aggression. In this concept the alliances served to establish a territorial definition. The implied countermeasure was the discretionary application of American nuclear force against communist airfields, supply centers, ports and perhaps industries and cities. The concept was not clearly resolved: it was semi-strategic and semi-tactical, partially punitive and partially for direct military effect. Also, cases short of obvious aggression, such as subversion and support for internal revolutionary struggles, were acknowledged to be imprecise and difficult. In Indochina in 1954 the Eisenhower Administration could not identify an appropriate enemy or target to fit the massive nuclear response and narrowly declined to intervene. Of course, it also sensed the lack of formal alliance protection over Southeast Asia as an impediment to intervention and moved to create SEATO within two months of the partition of Vietnam.

The refinement of tactical battlefield nuclear weapons in the middle and later 1950s made conceivable the notion of actual nuclear defense confined to the theater of conflict. The Kennedy-McNamara policy of flexible response, including counter-insurgency techniques and large balanced conventional forces, provided the practical means of containing a wider spectrum of Chinese or Chinese-supported initiatives. Thus the policy of close-in containment of China-involving the actual forward defense of allied territory-acquired its content.

There is a set of propositions that qualifies military deterrence : the more explicit and obvious our commitment, the more effective in preventing war, but the less effective in preventing our involvement in war; conversely, the more attenuated our commitment, the less certain our involvement, but the more probable a hostile initiative.

An administration with a more relaxed view of Asia might take the risk of the second proposition and look more neutrally on a communist probe. But this Administration appears likely to maintain its deterrent stance and take its chances on involvement in conflict. This would mean that it will not overtly diminish any commitment; indeed it is likely to reaffirm and reinforce any commitment that is beset by doubt. But to maintain the deterrent effect of our commitments in the face of reductions in budgets, forces and deployments, the Administration must replace deleted capabilities with some equivalent, such as increased rapid deployment ability or nuclear threat This Administration could not count entirely on the mobility of our forces, which can be evidenced only by massive exercises and adequate lift resources, which are far from certain to be appropriated. Residually, it is forced to rely on nuclear deterrence, which need only be hinted. The point is that our mode of deterrence and our provisions for defense will now progressively diverge from the preferences of our treaty partners. Our proposed substitution of technology and threat for our manpower and presence might be equivalent from our point of view, but not from that of our allies.

None of our Asian defense arrangements is specific about the tangible support that might be evoked by an act of aggression. No joint defense force with agreed war plans and command structures exists. Our military concept could become, rather than the forward defense of all territory, a mobile defense, an enclave strategy, or even a nuclear tripwire. In another dimension, our commitment might be satisfied by various types of support, such as logistical, tactical air or nuclear fire. U.S. contingency plans are essentially unilateral and subject to uncommunicated change. And implementation of all treaties refers to our constitutional procedures, which are themselves in a phase of more stringent interpretation.

Because of this scope for man?uvre or evasion, our Asian allies will be correspondingly more sensitive to interpretive commentary by U.S. officials and to shifts in our military posture. Already they sense that the substantive content of our alliances is affected by the President's choice of worldwide strategy. The selected strategy is described as defending both Europe and Asia-though alternatively. But it is clear that Europe holds priority and claims virtually as many resources as previously; the major war case associated with the reduction in active forces is Asia. Although no alliances are formally disturbed, our Asian allies, as they count our divisions and analyze our posture statements and policy declarations, have cause for concern that behind the façade of ritualistic reiteration we might have altered our capability and specific intent to fulfill our treaty commitments.

Thus we can devalue the diplomatic and deterrent effect of our alliances without even gaining immunity from involvement, simply by shifting strategies, debating criteria for intervention and making arbitrary adjustments in force levels. In view of the liabilities of this course- which is the course of the present Administration-we might as well face the problem more directly and begin to consider the broader alternatives to containment, with their full implications for our alliances in Asia.


As long as we assert interests in Asia that (1) entail defending territory, (2) could plausibly be threatened by hostile actions and (3) are evidenced by alliances that dispose us to a military response, we are exposed to the contingency of involvement. If we maintain this exposure through insistence on our present Asian commitments, while adopting budget-constrained strategies, we risk a future defeat or stalemate, or we allow ourselves to be moved toward reliance on nuclear weapons.

To avoid these alternatives, two courses are available. One is heavy dependence on allied forces to fulfill defense requirements. This is the hope of Asianization, offered prominently by the Nixon Doctrine. But this policy binds us closely to the fate of our Asian clients and diminishes our control over our involvement; and there is still the liability that U.S. forces might be required to rescue the efforts of our allies.

The other course is a process of military readjustment and political accommodation that would make it far less likely that we would become involved every time there is some slippage in the extensive diplomatic "fault" that runs along the rim of Asia. This course is arduous and complex, and as little under our unilateral and absolute control as a course of military deterrence. But the consequences of not budging from our present set of ambitions and illusions-or of trifling with the unalterable purposes of China by limiting ourselves to insubstantial diplomatic initiatives-are far bleaker.

The situation calls not for a symbolic shift in strategy-such as the 1½ -war doctrine-which is founded on the hope that the contingencies that would test it, to which we are still liable, might not occur. The situation is not amenable to purely instrumental solutions, such as the calculated equippage of allied armies or the reliance on technological escalation. The situation requires a fundamental questioning and revision of the containment of China.

The confusion that surrounds the Nixon Doctrine is appropriate to its conflicting message and incomplete intent. While pledging to honor all of our existing commitments, the President has placed them all in considerable doubt. While offering promise of avoiding involvement in future Asian conflicts, he has biased the nature of our participation. Thus, in the attempt to perpetuate our control of the destiny of Asia, the Nixon Doctrine may forfeit control of our own destiny in Asia.

[i] Richard Nixon, "U. S. Foreign Policy for the 1970's, A New Strategy for Peace" (Washington, D. C., U. S. Government Printing Office, February 18, 1970).

[ii] Melvin R. Laird, "Fiscal Year 1971 Defense Program and Budget" (Washington, D. C., U. S. Government Printing Office, March 2, 1970).

[iii] $2.443 billion out of $3.127 billion in the President's budget for fiscal year 1971.

[iv] After the decision to reduce the ceiling on U.S. troops in Korea from 63,000 to 43,000, our government moved to base permanently there a wing of F-4 fighter-bombers. An American official explained: "Our aim is to reassure the Koreans during this difficult period. Despite budgetary cuts, it shows we intend to maintain our relative air strength here. They know that the minute an air attack starts, we're involved." (The New York Times, August 17, 1970.)

[v] The Administration proposes special budget requests of $1 billion over a five-year period for Korean force modernization, in addition to about $700 million likely to be provided in the regular military assistance budget. Even then, the Republic of Korea is demanding $2-3 billion, plus public assurances of no further troop withdrawals until after five years and the actual completion of the promised modernization program.

[vi] Other sources of uncertainty and wide variation are: the readiness of our reserve divisions, the amount of available airlift and sealift, and the effectiveness of allied forces.

[vii] About five to seven divisions have been considered the minimum to blunt and delay an attack along the main access routes in Southeast Asia, then fall back to a defensible perimeter. Against a communist invasion of Korea it was thought that the South Korean army alone could hold initially north of Seoul until reinforced by Korean reserves or U.S. units to be mobilized or diverted from other requirements.

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