The Day After Russia Attacks
What War in Ukraine Would Look Like—and How America Should Respond
Mr. Harold Wilson has been leader of the Labor Party for nearly a year; in 1964 he may well become Britain's first Socialist Prime Minister in 13 years. Around his aims and methods, and in particular his expressed belief in the possibility of a new society created by technological as much as by political change, have gathered much speculation and comment. However, he is by nature cautious, anxious to nourish growing party aspirations rather than initiate controversial debate, and therefore unlikely to be hasty in making innovations in either domestic or foreign policies. It is the latter which will be considered here.
About foreign policy Mr. Wilson speaks publicly in acceptable generalities; in private he is more specific, but a consistent thread of intention, should he become Prime Minister, is hard to discern. More than most, he has pondered the ten-year strife which rent the Labor Party from 1951 to 1961. He has put a guard upon his tongue. The 1962 annual conference was notable for a virtual absence of debate about foreign affairs and defense, and Herr Willy Brandt's appearance early in the proceedings was symbolic rather than significant.
The initial 18 months of Labor in office will be mainly a bridgehead. Of more interest are the objectives Mr. Wilson wishes to achieve and the arguments he may use to justify them once the initial period is over and the first major ministerial reshuffles are made. They are already made on paper. Mr. Wilson will be occupied at first with neither measures nor men, but with machinery. As a wartime civil servant and former political head of one of Whitehall's largest departments-the Board of Trade-he regards economic administration as the necessary precursor of more radical change. Whether or not he intends to reorganize the Foreign Office and Ministry of Defense, effectively supplanting them with an enlarged Cabinet office staffed from outside the civil service and operating a modern apparatus of policy-making, remains a matter of carefully concealed doubt.
Because some of the home ministries are to be reformed in this manner-a stated objective-it should not automatically be assumed that those responsible for Britain abroad will be similarly treated. There is little doubt, however, that the present policy-making powers of the Chief of the Defense Staff and the Chiefs of Staff will be reduced. Moreover, the Foreign Office and the Service ministries are likely to lose their present supremacy in terms of prestige and share of the budget. A more substantial issue is whether Mr. Wilson will continue, as now, to rely largely on private advice in the evolution and execution of his foreign and defense policy, or, which seems less likely, establish well-equipped research and consultative organizations on the American model.
The source and quality of that private advice require some dispassionate analysis, but first it is necessary to establish Mr. Wilson's convictions about Britain's role in the sixties. As his hosts in Washington and Moscow last year discovered, he has the wit to be stimulating and articulate, without, on contentious or inherently complex subjects, being very explicit. Little is known of his intentions in foreign affairs and defense; apart from the now orthodox commitment to put an end to Britain's nuclear weapons system as speedily as possible, the public record offers slender clues. This much, however, can be said categorically: he believes that Britain's future international role is first to provide economic assistance to developing a more equitable pattern of world trade, and thus to provide a steadily rising standard of living and greater security to the have-not nations. This economic diplomacy must rest on a home base that is expanding, socially just and technologically competent.
The language of economic priorities is the language Mr. Wilson best understands and where he is more impressive and sure of his objectives. Nevertheless, some would construe them as unexceptional. After all, Mr. Maudling, the Chancellor of the Exchequer, has adopted them in the arguments he has put to the International Monetary Fund and the World Bank over the last year. But Britain's spokesmen, both in and out of office, can only exhort; they cannot demonstrate that Britain is ready to play a part in stabilizing international trade. Britain's industrial, investment and technological base is not strong compared with that of the United States or Western Europe. And the precise point, so far as Wilson is concerned, is that significant improvement will come only when Britain drastically reduces her defense expenditures.
At present these are running at approximately £1.9 billion annually, absorbing between 7 and 8 percent of the Gross National Product. In the United States or the Soviet Union this may not be considered a high proportion. It is not rising, while, slowly, the G.N.P. is increasing. Since President Kennedy took office, however, the United States G.N.P. has increased by the amount of the whole British G.N.P. This type of statistic is as significant for Mr. Wilson and his notions of feasible British foreign policy as that which shows British aid to underdeveloped countries to have been more than offset since the Korean War by successive falls in the prices of primary products and increased costs of goods from the Western Hemisphere. Mr. Wilson, with some reason, believes that his kind of imbalance is a bigger threat to international security than fifty varieties of Communist penetration. Now it may be argued that 7 or 8 percent of the G.N.P. devoted to defense is not only less than comparable American or Soviet figures, but is rather a trivial sum for a state which hopes to stay in the world league. However, in a revealing aside made by Mr. Wilson while in the United States last year, he declared that his Britain had no such aspirations and that in any case military strength could no longer satisfy her.
Moreover, the 1.9 billion figure for defense represents a quarter to a third of the whole budget in any one year-a fact which reinforces Mr. Wilson's genuine dislike of what he regards as misapplied resources and his followers' objections to defense spending per se, entangling alliances, incomprehensible strategies and expensive British commitments in Arabia and Asia. Even the rising French defense budget, devoted to the ideal of complete independence, is only a fifth of the whole. It is the British taxpayer, the elector, who suffers, or so it is said, by so heavy an arms burden. Reduce it, and many benefits will flow to a Labor Government. A second term, from 1969 to 1974, might even be possible, to complete the technological revolution and eradicate the canker of class.
Conservative Governments which have been in power since 1951 have regularly reduced taxation before elections, and Sir Alec Douglas-Home can hardly afford to be an exception. But they have not reduced defense budgets. Nor of course did the 1951 Labor Government; it increased it because of the Korean War, coupled with the Malayan emergency (absorbing 40,000 conscripts) and the beginning of the nuclear weapons program, costing £1 billion. Wilson resigned in consequence; the Labor Party was defeated as a result.
In the last ten years the sum spent on defense has risen by more than a fifth. Nuclear weapons account (as their proponents in Britain so often remind us) for "only" 13 to 15 percent of this budget. But the increasingly expensive (and unsuccessful) system of volunteer regular recruitment costs more than twice as much as conscription-nearly 60 percent; 200,000 skilled workers are engaged in defense contracts of one sort or another; the Atomic Weapons Research Establishment, Aldermaston, employs approximately 5,000 with degrees or specific technical qualifications-a number which will not significantly decrease unless the Polaris submarine program is scrapped as a result of renegotiating the Nassau Agreement. If the submarines are built, a further £500,000,000 must be found, although the number of shipyards benefiting will be few; if the T.S.R.-2 aircraft is built in quantity, another £400,000,000, although only one airframe and one engine firm stand to gain.
If the defense budget is reduced by a Labor Government, the commitments must be also. Yet Mr. Wilson has publicly supported NATO, has pressed for strong conventional forces there-which, as we see, are the really expensive element-and has said that Britain "must be strong east of Suez." This is an emotive rather than a precise description of commitments which absorb 25 percent of the entire budget now, and which are likely to require a steadily rising percentage in the future.
The solution to the problem of reconciling commitments and resources may be sought in that blessed word "independent," a nostrum for all evils, as General de Gaulle would have us believe. The illusion of independence in foreign policy-it is, after all, not the same as influence, in which France is singularly lacking-is that states can ignore the realities of power. The fact of the matter is that in today's strategically unique balance of power and deterrence, only weak states can indulge in the illusion. They may not realize that doing so could be an unfortunate catalyst of conflict; equally, of course, they may realize it, and attempt to create a catalytic situation deliberately. I suggest that Britain has unwittingly adopted the first course, France under de Gaulle has consciously chosen the second. My conclusions will attempt to show that Britain, under a Labor Government, can either continue as now; adopt the de Gaulle method by openly rejecting the current American strategy for Europe; or fashion a foreign policy and defense budget which implies a degree of influence, while accepting that today virtually all options are indivisible.
The method adopted here for determining the more probable courses open to Mr. Wilson is to examine the various kinds of advice which he receives now, and in particular to concentrate on those advisers who seem most influential because their views on strategy happen to coincide pretty closely with Mr. Wilson's on economic priorities. Their advice forms an intellectually able, but to my mind unacceptable, case against Britain's commitments in general and against those to European security in close association with the United States in particular. It has a wholesale quality, which provides little or no opportunity for Britain to exercise influence through providing credible, if limited, military strength in Europe; nor does it sufficiently distinguish between American objectives in that theater and those elsewhere.
To call this advice neutralist is not automatically to condemn it. To say it is motivated by a belief in comprehensive, inspectable disarmament is to applaud the sentiment only to question the methods considered feasible and the economics likely to result. To label it "Little England," as do some intemperate critics on the right, is to ignore the fact that insularity has always distinguished British foreign policy, and under the guise of an illusion does so today. To say that the Campaign for Nuclear Disarmament is its source is to accord that movement a totally unwarranted measure of success, although it must be admitted that it has made some inroads into an intelligent socialist appreciation of international problems, due to the serious lack of communication between those who are equipped to argue the facts of our nuclear environment and the Labor Party as a whole.
Mr. Wilson receives advice from two main groups. One is the group which supports only a gradual reduction of commitments, believes genuinely in those expensive "adequate conventional forces" to which so much lip service is paid, and argues for the closest possible relationship with the United States, specifically for the preservation of European security through a strategic détente that rests on a mutually accepted balance between conventional defense and nuclear deterrence. This group also accepts American control of the nuclear armory of NATO as more likely not only to advance such a détente but to see that it presages an eventual settlement of the German problem. In a word, American power is accepted; the notion of Western Europe as a power in other than an economic sense is denied.
All official Labor Party spokesmen adhere to this group, which is led by Mr. Patrick Gordon Walker and Mr. Denis Healey, respectively shadow foreign secretary and minister of defense, and likely to hold those offices in the first 18 months of a Wilson Cabinet. On the basis of the advice which he has received, Mr. Gordon Walker, although a loyal critic of independent nuclear systems, has hitherto been unwilling to accept the distinction between multilateral forces and multilateralism. He is also overly optimistic about regular recruitment and somewhat sanguine about the feasibility and credibility of conventional strength deployed in the Indian Ocean and the Far East and operating on the American concept of amphibious task forces. But his orthodoxy has the merit of honesty, and his lack of strategic expertise is more than compensated for by Mr. Healey's acknowledged eminence in this field.
Were Mr. Wilson to heed his shadow ministers he would find himself spending a great deal on defense and earning a considerable amount of American good will. British commitments, whether reduced by further decolonization in Africa and the Caribbean, or by the gradual transfer of responsibilities to other members of the Commonwealth, would neither be lightly regarded nor feebly supported. But if "adequate conventional forces" were provided for Europe and elsewhere, savings on research, development and production of nuclear weapons would be rapidly absorbed. British commitments need men; these are not being recruited in adequate numbers, as even official spokesmen now admit. For this reason much comment in that part of the British press which is devoted to a serious appraisal of foreign and defense policies is constrained to question whether the gradualist approach will be adopted. Such comment, being free of contemporary strategic jargon, can concentrate on concrete situations rather than abstract propositions; it questions whether the Labor Party's adamant refusal to consider the merits of selective military service allows its current statements about defense to be taken seriously.
The arguments of the second group appear to demonstrate quite convincingly not merely how, but why, large savings in defense expenditure are possible and desirable, and how independence can be secured and commitments reduced. It is perhaps misleading to call Professor P. M. S. Blackett, Mr. Philip Noel-Baker and Mr. Wayland Young (Lord Kennet) a group. But the close similarity of their ideas, the brilliance with which they are argued and the receptivity they enjoy suggest something more than coincidence. Whatever may be one's considered opinion about the soundness of these views in relation to Britain's international responsibilities, we cannot afford to treat them lightly.
The Labor Party is not so well dowered with brains that it can disregard the knowledge and experience of two Nobel prize winners and a most gifted and lucid exponent of strategy and disarmament. Mr. Noel-Baker is also shadow minister for disarmament, and though derisive remarks are sometimes heard that constituting a ministry does not produce a solution, Mr. Wilson intends to prove these critics wrong. By reputation alone, Mr. Noel-Baker was the obvious choice for the post. His work for disarmament needs no comment, except to emphasize that he is a committed proponent of comprehensive schemes and a bitter opponent of partial measures; he regards the test ban treaty as no more than a pis aller.
Professor Blackett's influence on strategic thought has been profound. His rejection of multiple options, the controlled response and the counterforce doctrine-which many American strategists believe to be his own brain- children-excites fears and despondency in Washington. A lifelong Socialist, Professor Blackett is one of Mr. Wilson's few confidants, forming with Mr. Richard Crossman a singularly fertile source of ideas, which he admires and values. Mr. Crossman is shadow minister of science; it is a reasoned calculation that he will eventually succeed Mr. Gordon Walker as foreign secretary.
Mr. Young occupies a position midway between the other two. He has played a prominent part, like Professor Blackett, in successive Pugwash conferences; in the House of Lords, where he speaks from the Opposition benches, he has advanced some bold views on the nature of deterrence; as rapporteur for the Western European Union defense committee he has made perceptive analyses of decision-making and control. In the press and in private debate he is a severe critic of American defense policy and strategy, rejecting therefore the idea that they should govern in NATO. He stresses the argument that a counterforce strategy predicates an arms race and that insistence on an inspectable disarmament treaty is used to conceal a real American reluctance to have one at all.
This is the group whose views and advice are valued by Mr. Wilson because of a harmony of strategic and economic beliefs, together enshrined in what may be called the illusion of independence. But the strategic case must be analyzed to enable us to assess whether, simplified for the elector, it can promise economy and justify renouncing international obligations. Essentially, the Blackett case consists of the following propositions: The United States and the Soviet Union both have a capacity for overkill. A stable balance is therefore possible and could validate a genuine search for comprehensive disarmament down to the level of invulnerable, inspectable, retaliatory finite deterrents. Large savings in defense expenditure would result, and resources could be released for more rational purposes. The United States strategy propagated by Mr. McNamara of threatening the enemy with defeat rather than annihilation clashes, however, with the Soviet strategy of relying on the reverse proposition. Since the latter requires a smaller nuclear armory, it encourages a belief in finite deterrence and the hope that the arms race may be all but ended. Moreover, since it poses a bigger threat it implies a greater readiness on the part of the Soviets than of the United States to negotiate rather than destroy, whether in a "controlled" manner or not. United States strategy therefore tends to destabilize and inhibits disarmament hopes. Britain should reject it and free herself from the cord that binds her to America. Failure to do so means the loss of independence and increases the risk of war for Britain, since it is the acts of the United States, not of its weaker brethren, which would be the catalyst; guarding against this also forces Britain to spend expensively on her own nuclear weapons.
How true is all this? First, the case concentrates almost exclusively on nuclear strategy and, in so far as it gives a role to the conventional element, ignores its cost. No attention is given to the real as compared with the theoretical facts of the nuclear stalemate, in which the U.S. President and the Soviet Premier now spend more time warning their own than the other's citizens of the effects of nuclear war; if ever there was a "no win" analyst of nuclear war it was President Kennedy. Thus the improbability of nuclear war is not admitted; nor is allowance made for the American insistence on providing further safeguards by centrally controlling the West's nuclear armory, by acknowledging the inadequacies of massive deterrence and emphasizing the dangers inherent in proliferation. As a result, the Blackett case gives little or no attention to the curious phenomenon that as nuclear war becomes less likely, non-nuclear conflict remains possible in Europe and more than probable in other areas of latent or actual insecurity. The cost of providing deterrents or limitations to this threat is not allowed for. Perhaps the most precise criticism which can be made against the case-for all the elegance of its arguments and the justness of some of its rebukes-is that it is already overtaken by events.
However, a more fundamental criticism is that a totally false notion is advanced as to what constitutes a catalyst of war; thus an impracticable policy is provided for Britain to escape from this supposed dilemma. Counterforce is held to be destabilizing and to menace the security of Britain-or of any other ally of the United States. Why should a counter- city strategy be considered stable? It would be as logical to argue that the threat to initiate any nuclear exchange was a deterrent; indeed official British nuclear strategy, wedded to "independence" from the United States, predicates just that. The doctrine of massive retaliation was rightly attacked by Professor Blackett because it was not only immoral but incredible; it was an ugly mixture of bullying, bluff and irrelevance. But why should counterforce be attacked for lacking these vices? It is disturbing to see such indifference to the fact that the really dangerous catalysts of European war are weak nuclear states and exigent conventional forces, which make considered development of anything other than a nuclear strategic détente difficult, if not impossible.
As Mr. Alastair Buchan and Mr. Philip Windsor so cogently argue,[i] a catalytic state of this kind-as Britain is now-is certainly independent in the sense that it can frustrate the search for détente. It can do so because it cherishes the illusion that independence and sovereignty are the same; or, like France, it can virtually blackmail negotiations by threatening first-strike, or "demographic," strategies-surely one of the most intolerable euphemisms for wanton and wholesale destruction ever coined. But it is important to note that whatever the motive the result is the same, which is doubtless why, despite the specific issue of the Common Market, there is much rapport now between official British and French strategists. And, by only an apparent paradox, these views turn out to be in practice indistinguishable from Professor Blackett's. Whether it is de Gaulle advocating the status quo or Professor Blackett and his confrères advocating total disengagement-which they do-the result is the same: hostility to a bipolar relationship between the United States and the Soviet Union predicating a European settlement, and thus indifference to the part Britain can play in ensuring that this fact of power is not made an excuse for arbitrary decisions or coercive policies.
This digression from an examination of Mr. Wilson's motives and possible choices has been made in order to indicate what I believe to be the dangers of following advice which promises only an illusory independence but contributes nothing to international stability. Now in conclusion we must consider which course is likely to be adopted. It is the comparison with France which may provide the clue. De Gaulle, for all his defiance, cannot escape the dilemma of geography; indeed his realization of the fact explains his attitude. France cannot defend herself. Only the United States can defend her. What France can do is to make this difficult and expensive- and dangerous, mindful as the United States now must be of its own vulnerability. De Gaulle knows full well that, force de frappe or no, it is American military strength in NATO and the credibility of its strategy which enables him to posture. His "independence" is strictly by courtesy of the Pentagon.
Britain is not in this position. She could disengage from Europe; there are many in Britain who urge it and there are no elements in current defense policy which contradict it. Unfortunately, the British Army of the Rhine, dependent so heavily on tactical nuclear weapons, hardly reflects belief in the strategy of the controlled response. Mr. Wilson, inheriting an indifference to European security and attracted by economy, could justify expunging this commitment by simplifying the Blackett argument to the point where it appeared that Britain was in pawn to America.
I am not suggesting this will happen, only that it might, and implying that it would be unfortunate, to say the least, if it did. What forces are there, then, to see that it does not, bearing in mind the burden of conventional forces and the apparent impossibility of conscription? The question can be answered only by estimating the probability of crises peculiar to Britain and the nature of her relations with allies. It would be absurd to pose a crisis to clinch an argument; but should a Labor Government be forced to tackle, say, a worsened conflict with Indonesia, the lack of Britain's real independence might be dramatically revealed. A Gordian knot might of course be cut; the Malaysian emergency is not yet on the Malayan scale of 1948-1958. But it is substantial and by nature protracted. When Gurkha troops can no longer buttress Britain in this area, the emergency will be very difficult to conclude satisfactorily.
The other factor which could prove decisive, should Mr. Wilson become Prime Minister, is his natural wish to be in close rapport with Washington and to develop an already promising relationship with the Social Democrates of West Germany. In neither quarter is the French line of policy favored. A British version of it, sundering all ties, would cause something more than sharp protests. But initially the point which Britain's allies would make is that today we are all in pawn to each other; this is a fact, whether it be considered desirable or not. A hopeful sign perhaps, amid a good deal of ambiguity about what Mr. Wilson really intends, is that the Labor Party and S.P.D. are now sitting down together for the first time to decide what contribution the two countries can make to providing the adequate military strength for European security on which all hopes for détente, settlement and disarmament must eventually rest.
In the long run, however, it must be the Labor Party itself, educated in the realities of power and the rapid change in nuclear strategies, and rejecting the fiction of entire independence, which must evolve a sensible compromise between economy and responsibility. If Mr. Wilson will bend his considerable energies to that educative process-which is long overdue-and not heed the voices calling for Britain's abstention in the international debate, he may find a compromise that forms a coherent and viable policy.
[i] Arms and Stability in Europe." New York: Praeger, 1963.