Will Ukraine Wind Up Making Territorial Concessions to Russia?
Foreign Affairs Asks the Experts
UNTIL recent times the security of the United States has not been a subject of general concern. There still lingers the impression of days when the vastness of our oceanic barriers, the distribution of power in Europe, and the relative weakness of our hemispheric neighbors combined to provide us with a larger measure of unplanned national security than any other great nation has ever enjoyed for a comparable period of time. But now, in the midst of a tremendous and most costly military effort, our people naturally tend to reëxamine these past circumstances in an effort to decide to what extent they still are serviceable and dependable as bases of national policy. As a result, there has developed a widespread public conviction that in this era of mechanized warfare our geographic remoteness from other great centers of national power no longer assures us the same margin of safety as we formerly enjoyed. This has produced an unprecedented public interest in the principle of an international security organization and, in addition, a public demand that the United States shall remain, after the war, more powerful militarily than it has been in the past.
In the view of some, this latter need can be met only by maintaining incomparably the greatest army, navy and air force in the history of the world. Others have concentrated rather more upon specific suggestions, such as that we retain a great nexus of overseas bases or adopt a permanent program of obligatory military training for our young men. Whatever the particular thesis, the underlying motivation is the conviction that a World Power as great as the United States must now have carefully planned security arrangements. The question arises: What arrangements will best enable the United States to protect its people and discharge effectively its international obligations?
No one can deny the magnitude and complexity of the problem. Total security, like total war, calls for overall planning to a degree not easily reconciled with the habits and traditions of easy-going democracy. Such planning requires both an integrated foreign policy and an integrated defense policy, so that the United States will be able to mobilize its fullest national strength of manpower and industry when and as needed. This can be done without impairing the traditional values of American life only if the basic elements of policy are all properly weighed in their relationship to each other, and if this is done deliberately, in the full light of public opinion. Concentration of public and official attention on a single panacea can be as disastrous as a return to the reckless and unplanned course of action of the past.
The new conditions which affect American security are reasonably familiar. Technologically, we are far more vulnerable to attack from across our ocean frontiers than in the pre-mechanized days of the past century. The public may, of course, be too much awed by robot bombs, immense rockets carrying death through the stratosphere, and the spectacle of routine transoceanic flying. The fact remains that it is possible, as never before in history, for a state to apply immensely destructive military force instantly and at great distances from its supply arsenals and factories.
The changing political structure of the world is less obvious but equally significant. In place of half a dozen or more Great Powers, concentrated in close juxtaposition in western Europe, there are likely to be in the foreseeable future only three Powers of the first magnitude. All of them will be located outside Europe and at considerable distances from each other. Moreover, the level of front-rank world power is now so high -- no matter by what criterion it is measured -- that states with lesser resources will hardly be able to lift themselves to it by their own efforts or even in combination. It is in this new world that the United States must plan to live in safety.
What kind of military policy will best fit our needs as one of the great triumvirate? Among the elements of such a policy, universal military training is receiving the chief attention of American officials. A program for instituting it received the support of the late President Roosevelt as well as of Secretary Stimson and General Marshall. Concrete proposals have been introduced in Congress and public hearings upon them will be held shortly. In substance, they provide that all young men will become eligible at the age of 18 for a year's continuous military training. It is not proposed at present that those who have taken the course become automatically liable for compulsory military service. They will simply constitute a trained reserve of men who would be available to supplement the regular professional military forces when need arose. The probable cost of the program has not yet been discussed publicly by the War Department, but unofficial estimates run from a billion dollars a year up.
For the purposes of the present discussion, many of the arguments used in support of the program can be dismissed without extended analysis. Thus, while it undoubtedly would bring some benefits to education and public health, these would be problematical in certain cases and incidental in all. No one would seriously advocate a year of military life solely to produce these expected benefits, and few would assert that the Army and Navy would be the proper agencies to be assigned the task. Also, there is an offsetting factor in the loss which would be sustained by the young men as a result of a year's interruption in their professional preparation for their respective careers. Even if the benefits should, in fact, be considerable, they would not in themselves justify a decision so important in other respects.
The same general judgment can be made with regard to the economic issues involved. A distinction may properly be made between the direct dollar costs -- the outlay for camps, equipment, wages paid to the trainees, allotments to families placed in need because of the loss of wage-earners, etc. -- and the economic costs -- loss to national production through the withdrawal of so many young men from the labor market, etc. In each case, however, there are possible gains to be counted. Some would come, for example, through the added skills which young men would acquire in their basic training. It is hard to strike an accurate balance now, but certainly the economic advantages are not likely to be so great as to justify the program.
The debate, in other words, should turn solely on the importance of universal military training to our future national security. By this yardstick, and this alone, it should be measured, and either accepted or rejected. To this judgment the objection may be made that perhaps American participation in the future United Nations Security Organization will require that we have universal training in order to discharge our new military responsibilities under the Charter. This clearly is most doubtful. The organization outlined at Dumbarton Oaks is not designed to be able to coerce one of the major signatory Powers and cannot hope to do so. If one of these Powers should become an aggressor, it could not be dealt with save in a war of global proportions. International police action of the kind contemplated by the Charter would not come into play. In effect, the security enforcement rôle of the organization will be limited to dealing with those minor disturbances with respect to which all the member Great Powers can agree upon a common policy. Contingents of the American professional army, plus naval and air units, would provide as great a contribution as this country would have to add to those of the other major military Powers.
The indicated conclusion is that we would need universal training only for our own national defense in case we were threatened by an aggressor of great strength. The number of possible situations from which such a threat could come is limited. Conceivably, it would appear: 1, if we allowed our present enemies to regain impressive military strength, comparable to that of 1939; or 2, if there were some irreparable disagreement between ourselves and any of our present major allies. It is difficult to see how a program of universal military training bears importantly on the first of these alternatives. If there remains unanimity of policy among the Allies toward the Axis states, no such danger will arise. If this unanimity disappears, then our ability to deal with incipient threats from Germany or Japan will be a matter of political decision. A training program of the sort described would not go far to enable us to take swift action at an early stage of the developing threat. It can be justifiable only on the assumption that we shall once again allow such a threat to develop to the point where it cannot be countered except by a massive military effort. If we keep our wits about us and maintain our willingness to act at a given moment -- in other words, if we have intelligent and determined leadership and follow it -- we can protect ourselves adequately by a strong navy and air force and an army of moderate size.
The remaining possibility is, of course, the implied major premise in the minds of most proponents of universal peacetime training. There is no denying that if we should become locked in a titanic struggle with one of the other great states we would need all our own resources -- and perhaps more besides -- to win. In such an effort, a large trained reserve would contribute something of distinct value. These aspects of the problem, however, deserve careful exploration. Despite the shrinkage of our ocean barriers, the fact still remains that our conceivable opponents in this category are located about as far from the United States as is geographically possible. We shall continue in any event to have such immense naval and air strength that it seems logistically improbable that we could be overwhelmed before we had had an opportunity to train the necessary ground forces. Here again the burden of responsibility will rest upon the wisdom of our statesmen and the willingness of our people to follow them. They should be able to give ample warning of impending danger.
On the particular issue of universal obligatory training it seems clear that we must determine our proper course after we are able to estimate the postwar international political situation more accurately. The program is an implement of foreign policy; it is not, in itself, a policy. The final decision with regard to it should be made in the light of its relationship to our foreign policy as a whole.
Objection has been made to this view by persons who believe it implies that there should be no planning at all until a prospective enemy has been clearly identified and when the only question is how best to deal with him. The military services, it is said, cannot wait until such a time; it is their task to be prepared as best they can to meet all possible contingencies at any time. Actually, however, the course suggested does not provide the military technicians with an impossible task. It is unlikely, if not impossible, that our relations with one of the other Great Powers could deteriorate so rapidly that our policies could not be adapted to meet the developing situation. The enemy, in other words, would not suddenly cast aside his mask of friendship and reveal to our startled gaze his true features of hostility. International political situations do not develop in this fashion. Pearl Harbor had a long background of developing political tension and was preceded by many warning signals.
The general relationship of military policy to foreign policy deserves more attention than it generally receives. We can perhaps best explore it by attempting to estimate the probable consequences of a decision on our part to adopt a broad postwar policy of universal military training; to retain great numbers of overseas bases; and to maintain a huge navy and air force in conjunction with a much larger professional army than we have possessed hitherto.
The argument can be made that such a course would have a favorable effect on our political relations with our major allies, who would regard our changed policy as an earnest of our determination to carry our full share of responsibility in the international security organization, and to maintain an unremitting vigilance against the resurgence of our present enemies. It can be argued, also, that the new evidence of vigorous strength on our part would contribute to the maintenance of peace generally because never again would it be possible for a predatory state to hope that it could strike quickly, and present us with a fait accompli before our latent power could be mobilized.
This argument rests on the assumption that if the United States had been more fully armed in 1917 and 1941 we might not have been drawn into war. It fails to take into account the alternative view that we participated in both wars primarily because we preferred to resort to force rather than to accept the probability that otherwise the war would terminate in a way which, in the long run, would be detrimental to our essential national interests. We no longer are free to assume, even though we have great military strength, that by preventing a foreign war from coming to our shores we will have fulfilled the highest demands of national security.
This alternative view also relies on some rather tangible factors in the situation. Far from being regarded as an earnest of our good intentions, a tremendous military development might well create new suspicions and reinvigorate old ones. While there is a general belief that the United States is a Power which favors the status quo, we must not think that the assumption is held either universally or so deeply that no action on our part could jeopardize it. Our annexation of overseas bases on a lavish scale might particularly become a source of new suspicions that we have imperialistic intentions. It is necessary in each case to weigh candidly the military advantages against the possible political disadvantages. Indeed, it might even be argued with some plausibility that the best earnest of our support for the new world security organization would be our adoption of a policy which refrained from maintaining a military establishment notably larger than our effective participation in it would require. The present writer does not believe that this last suggestion is either wise or practicable. He does believe, however, that no military policy should be adopted except after careful consideration of the political factors.
The problem has its domestic ramifications, too. Would the American people regard a great armament as an indication that, officially, we had no genuine confidence in the new international organization? The result which such an attitude on the part of the major members of the League of Nations had on the effectiveness of that organization in the inter-war years should not be forgotten. If the popular reaction were that our officials regarded another global conflict as probable, if not inevitable, it would be a powerful stimulus to American isolationism. It would be all the stronger, too, because it would come at a time when the new organization was weathering the first storms of Allied disagreement over the war settlement and its aftermath.
One must also weigh the possibility that such great military power, including compulsory training, might strengthen regionalism as well as outright isolationism. For some time there have been indications that the erstwhile leaders of American isolationism will now support a policy of hemispheric defense as a means of destroying, or at least vitiating, the power of the central international organization. If the United States couples a great military program with support for an inter-American regional organization with full powers of policy-making and initiative in security matters, Americans can scarcely object in good conscience if the other great states follow the same course in regions where they have special interests. No great argument is needed to show how unfavorable such a development would be to the fundamental interests of American security. No threat to the United States will originate in this hemisphere; if our security is endangered, the threat will come from across one of our frontier oceans. If we are to be able to check the growth of threats to our security arising in either western Europe or eastern Asia at a time when they can be met with relative ease, we must be prepared to take an active interest in the political affairs of the borderlands across both oceans. This does not mean that the United States would be required to assume vast and continuous responsibilities in these regions; it means merely that we must be able to intervene, without encountering the charge of improper meddling, whenever and wherever necessary for the protection of our own interests. Only in a central international organization, in which regional agencies have a minor and subordinate rôle, could this be possible. And if the tendency of our military policy were to make this less easy, because of its regionalistic implications, then the harm might far surpass the benefit to the nation.
These considerations suggest the conclusion that the fundamentals of our future security are essentially political rather than military. Skillful statesmanship, supported by a reasonably strong force in being and backed by the immense military potential of the United States, gives us the maximum likelihood of future security. For this combination the strongest standing military force alone is not a satisfactory substitute.