All the Tsar’s Men
Why Mobilization Can’t Save Putin’s War
THE LONG VIEW
THE United States may face a dilemma over the extent and use of its military power in the event the cold war with the Soviet Union eases before major steps are taken toward general disarmament.
This dilemma was foreshadowed in President Johnson's first major policy statements. In his November message to the Joint Session of the Congress, he rededicated the government to "the maintenance of military strength second to none," and in his December address to the United Nations he stated a new national objective: "We know what we want: The United States wants the cold war ended, we want to see it end once and for all."
Another indicator of this forthcoming dilemma was in two votes by the United States Senate on September 24, 1963. In the morning of that day, the Senate voted 80 to 19 to ratify the partial test-ban treaty, and in the afternoon it voted 77 to 0 for the largest defense budget in peacetime history.
In June of 1963 President Kennedy's speech to the American University had also reflected the same two lines of U.S. policy, namely, to keep our defenses strong while seeking to improve East-West relations and stop the arms race. These were his words:
Today the expenditure of billions of dollars every year on weapons, acquired for the purpose of making sure we never need to use them, is essential to keeping the peace.
... both the United States and its allies, and the Soviet Union and its allies, have a mutually deep interest in a just and genuine peace and in halting the arms race.
Let us reëxamine our attitude toward the Cold War. . . .
We must, therefore, persevere in the search for peace in the hope that constructive changes within the Communist bloc might bring within reach solutions which now seem beyond us.
In January of this year President Johnson's State of the Union message reëmphasized the same points. On the one hand, he pledged that there would be maintained the "margin of military safety and superiority" now possessed by the United States. At the same time, he promised new steps toward the control and eventual abolition of arms and undertook that, even without agreement, the United States would "not stockpile arms beyond our needs or seek an excess of military power that could be provocative as well as wasteful."
There is no fundamental inconsistency between these two policies. Indeed, the lesson to be learned alike from those modern nations which have most successfully avoided wars-the Swiss and the Swedes-or from Roman policies in the long period of the Pax Romana, is the truth of that harsh guidance: "If you wish for peace, prepare for war."
Today it is not too difficult to explain any apparent inconsistency between these two approaches: that one complements and supports the other; and that unless we are willing to credit our rivals with superhuman qualities of goodness of nature and self-restraint, we had best not risk tempting them from a prudent path. Thus at present there is broad support for a policy which insists both on maintaining adequate military power and on simultaneously seeking out opportunities-of which the test ban, the ban on bombs in orbit, the wheat sale and the "hot line" to Moscow are examples-to move toward a lessening of tensions and the growth of increasingly normal relations between the two major blocs.
But what about tomorrow? Will we be successful in holding to both lines of policy? Will we be able to decrease our defense effort, supposing a reduction is consistent with our national commitments and national interests, without relaxing our resolve to deter aggression and international lawlessness? Or, on the other hand, will we be able to move as freely as we should toward alleviating cold war tensions, while still maintaining adequate defenses?
Unfortunately, there can be no confident answer to such questions. History does not provide much assurance regarding the ability of nations, especially democratic nations, to keep equally alert to both the possibilities for peace and the dangers of aggression. Too often the tendency has been toward an all-or-nothing approach; an approach which cannot reconcile the simultaneous existence of both danger and opportunity; an approach which leads nations to view wars as either unthinkable (and so discouraging serious attention to defenses) or inevitable (and so requiring a rigid stand against the enemy)-or even as both unthinkable and inevitable, with a consequent breakdown of any semblance of rational policy.
Indeed, even today we sense a fear that the Western democracies will not be able to follow both policy lines, causing some to argue for suppression of one or the other policy goal-not on the grounds that it is unsound, but rather that if it is pursued it will draw support away from the other. Many of those who opposed the nuclear test ban did so not on grounds that there lay in the treaty a significant military risk to the West, but rather because they feared that any easing of tensions would soon find the Western democracies inviting disaster by letting down their guard long before a real resolution of differences between the two blocs was in sight. Similarly, there are those on the other side who argue for massive cuts in defense spending, not on the basis of any serious analysis of the military threat which we must be prepared to neutralize, but simply on the grounds that only by greatly reducing defense spending, and so (in their view) removing the basis of a "cold war mentality," can the Western governments be free to move forward toward reasonable settlements with the Soviet bloc.
There are further variations of these attitudes, but in all of them the central assumption is the same: that we cannot pursue simultaneously more than one of the two goals-reducing tensions and keeping our defenses strong- not because the goals are inherently incompatible but because there are flaws in our societies which make it impossible for governments to pursue both effectively. As noted earlier, there is, unfortunately, a good deal of historical example to support this bleak view. As Walter Lippmann has pointed out (in describing the "malady of democratic states") : "The unhappy truth is that the prevailing public opinion has been destructively wrong at the critical junctures. The people have imposed a veto upon the judgments of informed and responsible officials. They have compelled the governments, which usually knew what would have been wiser, or was necessary, or was more expedient, to be too late with too little, or too long with too much, too pacifist in peace, and too bellicose in war, too neutralist or too appeasing, or too intransigent."
As a result, the best answer we can give to those who counsel that it is dangerous even to attempt a balanced policy is not that they are clearly wrong-for there is too much history which says they may be right-but that to fail to try a balanced policy is even more dangerous. We cannot afford a policy which, in effect, deliberately avoids seeking a reduction of tensions in order to keep the public alert to dangers. Nor can we afford a policy which deliberately seeks to lull the public, and ignore dangers where they exist, in order to make it easier to build support for a policy of peaceful accommodations.
I stress all this partly because it is so important that it bears frequent repeating, partly to avoid any misunderstanding about what I have in mind when I discuss, as I now propose to do, the kind of military establishment which might be appropriate for the United States should there develop a continued easing of the level of East-West tension such as we have seen during the past year. I am not talking about an inevitable major decline in U. S. defense spending, but about one that might be feasible should the present amelioration of East-West relations prove more permanent than the "Spirit of Geneva" or the "Spirit of Camp David."
I do not know how permanent the present relaxation may be, and would not attempt to predict. I do know that there is evidence that responsible leaders of both blocs are increasingly aware of the consequences of nuclear war, and of the dangers of limited wars or even of intense crises getting out of control. Consequently, it is clearly in the national interests of nations in both blocs to exercise restraint in the conduct of their foreign and military policies. For no one can foresee what might happen should any nation, through miscalculation or folly, infringe on the vital interests of another or invoke a morally binding commitment given by another nation. Recognizing, as I believe both sides do, the dangers of our situation, the need for restraint and the need to search for greater international stability, I think it at least possible, though not assured, that we shall at last find a more than temporary easing of East-West tensions.
Should that possibility develop into reality, we would not want either to see armaments continue at unnecessarily high levels, with the various dangers and instabilities that could bring, or to see a prematurely drastic cut in military preparedness, with the dangers and instabilities that could bring. And since military planning has so often been out of phase with the realities of the moment, we had better start thinking now about "after-the- cold-war" defense policies, if we are to be prepared to respond sensibly to the opportunities we hope will arise. It is in that spirit-and in the hope of stimulating attention to these issues-that I propose to discuss a possible military posture for the United States which, it seems to me, might be a reasonable one for a midway point between cold war and a genuinely peaceful world with effective international law and minimal national defense establishments.
Already there has been, in fact, a modest turndown in the arms race. In December 1963, Premier Khrushchev announced a cut of 600,000,000 rubles in the Soviet military budget for the calendar year 1964. Of course, we cannot be sure this is a genuine cut rather than an exercise of statistical legerdemain. But it did follow announcements by senior U. S. officials in the fall of 1963 that our defense budget would probably decline modestly in the years immediately ahead. The budget for Fiscal Year 1965 (which begins July I, 1964), presented to Congress in January, provided approximately $2 billion less for defense than would have been called for by continuing spending at the previous year's rate, after taking into account uncontrollable increases such as military, civilian and retirement pay. By coincidence, both the Soviet and the U. S. cuts in military spending for the next budget year come out at the same percentage: 4 percent of the base figure.
The principal U.S. budget decreases were not, however, based upon reduction in tension, but were essentially a consequence of the energetic efforts during the previous three years to close certain gaps in our defense posture. There was the fact that we were putting behind us the accumulated deficiencies in conventional force equipment inherited from the 1950s. The correction of those deficiencies had required an increase in the Army procurement budget from $1.5 billion in Fiscal 1961 to $3.2 billion in Fiscal 1964. Once this was substantially accomplished, normal programming of conventional equipment procurement could be safely resumed. More important, we are past the peak of the very large expenses involved in building up our Polaris and Minuteman missile forces. A figure of $5.5 billion was included for Polaris submarines in the Fiscal '62-'64 budgets, and $2 billion for additional Minutemen in the Fiscal '64 budget alone; and we have increased our alert-force megatonnage by over 100 percent in the past three years. As a consequence of these large increments, we were approaching the point at which further increases in strategic delivery vehicles promised little meaningful military advantage. Consequently, we had a substantial decline in the expenses of this part of the strategic force. Finally, the intensive Cost Reduction Program instituted by Defense Secretary McNamara in 1962 allowed for further significant reductions of cost.
Thus, the cut in defense expenses for 1965 does not imply a cut in the level of U.S. military preparedness. Nevertheless, this was the first real reduction in our defense spending in a decade. It reflected the conviction of senior defense officials that the level of defense expenditures in one year does not have to be regarded as the floor for expenditures in the following year.
As to the Soviet cut, we can only speculate. Indeed, because of the character of the public Soviet budget, we have no firm data on which to estimate how great a cut is really involved. It might be either more or less than the 4 percent announced, or conceivably no cut at all, although this is not likely. If the cut is roughly equivalent to that announced in the Soviet public budget, we can attribute it, in part, to factors similar to those which allowed a decrease in our own military spending: that is, in part to pressures arising from the desire to allocate a larger share of resources to other sectors of the economy and in part to a desire to take a small symbolic step to indicate that arms budgets need not inevitably spiral upwards from year to year.
The question then arises, how far the U.S. and Soviet military efforts can decline, in the absence of formal arms limitation agreements, through this kind of complementary action-what Khrushchev has called a "policy of mutual example." To the extent that the Soviet cut reflects a genuine reduction in military forces, it reduces the level of the military threat which the West must be prepared to negate, and so allows for some reduction in that countervailing effort. Similarly, to the extent that the U.S. budget decline reflects, as it does, a tapering off in the growth of our strategic nuclear forces, that presumably makes possible a decision by prudent Soviet planners to slow their own effort. The prospect of diminishing marginal returns from further force increments affects the utility of Soviet force increases at least as much as it does those of the United States, although for somewhat different reasons.
Let us assume that this process of "mutual example" continues-perhaps not in an unbroken decline in tensions, but at least with a definite trend toward less troubled relations in the military sphere and a clear, if not uninterrupted, trend downward in the intensity of military preparations on both sides, while we continue to compete vigorously in the economic and political spheres. Under such circumstances, what kind of U.S. force structure might be envisaged by the end of this decade? Our security requirements would remain, in principle, substantially as they are today. But they could lessen quantitatively in face of parallel declines in the balance of forces on both sides.
Several elements must enter into the resulting power equation:
First, the forces, including those for strategic deterrence, which the United States must possess to counter the threat represented by the Soviet forces as they then exist;
Second, the forces needed to contain whatever level of aggression the Chinese Communists and their allies are capable of mounting, bearing in mind that at some time they will have nuclear weapons; and
Third, the forces which may be required for the United States to project its power presence to deter or arrest conflict in areas where there is no confrontation of the superpowers, but where subversive insurgency, aided directly or indirectly by the Soviets or the Chinese Communists, constitutes a threat to the stability of nations aligned with the United States or looking to it for assistance. A détente with the U.S.S.R. would not necessarily cause the Soviets to relinquish their objective of supporting what Khrushchev calls "wars of liberation."
In recent years there have been a number of instances where a U.S. military presence has served to avoid or damp down conflict in parts of the world where the United States and the Soviet Union have not been directly involved. Such has been the case in South Korea since 1953, in Thailand in 1962, in Saudi Arabia in 1963 during the dispute with the United Arab Republic over Yemen, and in the recent joint U.S.-U.K. air exercises in India. The same motivation lies behind the current proposal for the Seventh Fleet to put a task force in the Indian Ocean. The British Commonwealth similarly projected its military power during the crisis over Aden in 1962 and is in the process of doing so again to counter the current Indonesian threat against Malaysia. In order to preserve peace and prevent the spread of externally supported subversion throughout Latin America, it may also be necessary in the years ahead for the United States to maintain a larger military presence in the Caribbean area. The difficulties in Panama may be only symptomatic of more serious troubles to come, particularly if Castro retains, or enlarges, his capacity to foment such troubles.
A combination of U.S. military forces tailored to the strategic situation which would prevail in the absence of major confrontations between the Soviet Union and the West could, by 1970, look something like this:
Strategic retaliatory forces. A deterrent force, consisting only of hardened and dispersed land-based and mobile sea-based missiles, with all of the vulnerable, earlier-generation missiles deactivated and all manned bombers retired from active deployment. Such a force, comprised of weapons systems invulnerable to surprise attack, would be capable of destroying the centers of Soviet and Chinese Communist society.
Continental air and missile defense forces. Only warning systems, such as the big ballistic missile detection and tracking radars in Alaska, Greenland and Scotland, and the current generation of surface-to-air missile systems for tactical deployment would be maintained. Manned interceptors with their ground-control counterparts and all other bomber defense and warning systems would be phased out unless the Soviets changed their presently indicated intention of concentrating their strategic power in missiles. There would be no production or deployment of anti-ballistic- missile systems in the absence of Soviet moves to proceed beyond experimental installations of such systems.
Reconnaissance forces. Both aircraft and satellite-based reconnaissance systems would be retained and improved to take full advantage of state-of- the-art developments, so as to provide the United States at all times with a world-wide capability for the collection of both strategic and tactical intelligence.
General-purpose forces. No significant changes would take place in this category except for a reduction of Army divisions that might be withdrawn at some stage from Korea or from Europe (if a decline in the Soviet threat there allowed). The remaining Army ground forces and the existing Marine divisions, with presently planned air support and airlift (consisting of all the Tactical Air and Military Air Transport units, plus the Marine Air wings), would be needed to deter or counter threats of aggression not directly inspired or supported by the U.S.S.R. The bulk of the U.S. forces now assigned to the Pacific Command are there primarily to meet the threat from Communist China and her satellites, plus Indonesia. Hence, in the event of a détente with the Soviet Union alone, it would not be safe to reduce U.S. force levels in the Pacific.
It should also be possible to reduce the National Guard and Reserve forces, retaining-in the case of the Army-only the high-priority divisions plus round-out units capable of quick call-up.
Such a cutback force, if made possible by a true détente between the United States and the Soviet Union, should require an annual level of defense expenditure about 25 percent under the current (Fiscal Year '64) rate, and 10 percent or so below that at the end of the Eisenhower Administration. At the new reduced levels, force strengths would be little below those prior to the 1961 build-up. The main difference between the two sets of forces would be in their mix, those postulated for 1970 being better balanced with far less emphasis on nuclear-weapon components.
The force sketched above leaves many questions unanswered. There probably would be little argument within our national security establishment about retiring the older, unprotected missiles. These weapons do not constitute, in any case, a major element of our force numerically, and are the most vulnerable and least reliable of our missiles. There would be, again, little argument about keeping intact the later-generation missile systems, such as the Minuteman and Polaris. These are the most effective elements of our strategic force, both as deterrents and as fighting weapons in time of war. It is difficult to conceive of circumstances under which it would be sound to cut back these forces in the absence of explicit, effectively policed, arms-control arrangements.
Deactivation of the bombers would raise more of an issue. Modified B-52s and the newer B-58s could probably be kept operable into the '70s. On the other hand, particularly if the Soviets were undertaking similar steps, there seems to be no compelling reason why the bombers need be kept in the active force. We would have to consider the effectiveness of a bomber reserve force, including the time required for a call-up, should that ever be necessary, and the storage arrangements (presumably reflecting a maximum practical dispersal), and the degree of assurance we could have, lacking formal inspection, of the retirement from active service of the Soviet bomber fleet. We should also take into account the effects on the military balance and on over-all stability of various alternatives, ranging from development of a next-generation strategic bomber or keeping a large part of the bomber force on active duty to a complete phase-out of a substantial share of the force. All of these questions, and many more affecting our strategic forces, will have to be looked at carefully in the years immediately ahead if we are to be ready to proceed intelligently should the opportunity for a major slowdown in the arms race develop during the latter half of this decade.
Similarly, in air defense, we would have to consider what degree of confidence we could expect to place in our estimates of Soviet retained bomber strength, if any; the significance of an interceptor force in a period when both sides are heavily armed with long-range missiles; the effect of deployment of ballistic missile defenses, given the limitations on the effectiveness of any system that could be developed in the foreseeable future; and many other questions. We might, as I have suggested, find it consistent with our interests to retain only warning systems and short-range surface-to-air missiles. As with offensive forces, we will be able to proceed with reasonable confidence only if these questions have been carefully considered prior to the time a decision must be made. It was the earlier period of study and debate which made it possible for the new Administration to move forward on its defense programs with speed and confidence in 1961. Issues such as survivability, non- nuclear options and controlled response had been extensively examined for several years prior to 1961. Since then we have been living on that intellectual capital, and we have an urgent need to replenish it.
The most difficult problems arise in trying to establish proper levels for our general-purpose forces. These do not lend themselves to the relatively precise analysis of alternatives and mixes that can be applied to strategic offensive and defensive forces. On the other hand, because they are intended primarily for non-nuclear engagements, their effect on problems of military stability in the world is less dramatic than the effect of nuclear forces. Probably it would be prudent to retain substantially the forces we now have, decreased only to the extent that Soviet reductions in Eastern Europe permitted an offsetting decline in NATO in Western Europe. Similarly, it may be possible to make reductions if, through changes in the world situation, and through the improvement in mobility which is playing such a marked role in modernizing our forces, the United States can reduce its garrison forces in Korea.
Strong efforts, meanwhile, would presumably continue in research and development, to assure that we were not left behind in major technological developments that could upset the balance of power between the blocs. Consequently, military research and development expenditures would remain high, such declines as did develop being the result mainly of savings on the large expenses of final engineering and testing of full-scale new strategic systems, rather than from a reduction in the breadth of our research programs or in pushing new frontiers of technology.
We would continue to put major effort into improvements in the command and control, reliability and flexibility of our strategic forces and would proceed with exploratory development of some new systems. But, assuming similar restraint on the other side, we could probably, without injury to our national security, exercise a good deal of restraint over the deployment of any major weapon systems beyond those already programmed.
All of this, I emphasize again, is not to lay out a plan for a military program at the end of the decade. It merely suggests the kind of program that might be adequate to meet our commitments and defend our interests, while at the same time contributing to general military stability, provided the present movement toward détente with the U.S.S.R. continues to progress in the years ahead. Under these conditions, the kind of restraint outlined here (although not necessarily the details suggested) would be in our interest, provided similar restraint were exercised by the Soviets. Greater reductions probably could not be achieved in the absence of explicit arms- control arrangements, including a substantial degree of international inspection.
What is clearest in all this is that the United States, in order to safeguard its best long-term interests in the decade ahead, must remain alert to the changing requirements-and opportunities-that will develop over the remainder of this period. The world changes fast these days, and the state of the military arts fastest of all. We can be quite sure that among the important factors in the military situation at the end of the '60s will be some which few people are seriously concerned with today. Yet our ability to safeguard the peace is going to depend in large measure on our ability to keep pace with the realities of military defense as they change over the years.
This essay selects one possible situation, and outlines one possible set of military forces that might be appropriate to it. There are other situations we should be thinking about: a hopeful world in which substantial measures toward disarmament and international inspection have begun; a more dangerous world in which the cold war is renewed in bitter form; and a world in which tensions last at about the level where they are today but complicated by various kinds of technological developments. We should be thinking about appropriate military postures in each situation, and thinking through the long-term implications of possible new ventures in armaments-such as, for example, major anti-ballistic missile deployments-so that we may try to shape the military environment that will exist at the end of the '60s and not merely stumble into it.
The power of the United States in the years ahead might take on entirely different forms and proportions than the mix of armed forces which comprises our military establishment today. New characteristics may be desirable to meet power requirements in the changed conditions that have been assumed. The most important requirement must always be "usability," but the qualities which make a military force usable may vary as conditions vary.
Our military power must be such that the President can apply the measure and kind of force appropriate to any provocation, so that he may use force, when justified, with some confidence that history will judge his actions as serving the best interests of the nation and of the world, and not merely as the trigger for massive mutual destruction. Thus, one constant will be that our military power must always provide a variety of capabilities suitable for dealing with a broad range of contingencies. Our military power must not only serve to deter but also, if deterrence fails, to defend. It may also be important that it assume a more unobtrusive character than it has in the past. Sea-based power, for example, offers political advantages not possessed by the stationing of ground troops and air units on foreign soil.
We can discern some things which will probably remain good guide-lines even amid these uncertainties. Readiness will always be an essential requirement for our future military forces. A highly advanced state of technology and a broad industrial base are no longer a sufficient foundation for the projection of armed force to back up foreign policy. Never again can this nation expect to be allowed the time to start mobilization after a crisis has already developed. Today our contingency plans call for immediate deployment of forces in being or capable of being called up within 60 to 90 days at most. This condition assumes a really ready reserve force and existing stocks of equipment. Mobilization plans for civilian training and conversion of commercial production will not suffice.
Further, there must always be a balance in the U.S. power base. We should never again have troops without modern equipment, or units immobilized by lack of airlift, or ground forces unprotected by air cover. At all times the complexion and shape of the U.S. forces must reflect the forward thrust of military technology and be sensitive to quick shifts in the power equation. In the past, our military doctrines have too often been out of focus with the political realities at the moment. This lack of balance has existed even under relatively static conditions such as we cannot hope for in the future.
In view of the prospect that such a major reshaping of the military and political situation faces the United States in the years immediately ahead, the wisdom and appropriateness of our defense policies may be tested more severely than ever before. Indeed, as suggested earlier, the need for restraint and firmness, for the pursuit of both political stability and military security, for both resistance to aggression and an unfailing search for an honorable détente-all this complexity merely reflects the complexity of the world we must live in and reminds us that the ability of democratic governments to act rationally and effectively to preserve themselves is itself in question.