Russia Thinks America Is Bluffing
To Deter a Ukraine Invasion, Washington’s Threats Need to Be Tougher
"POLICY," wrote Metternich, the Austrian minister who steered his country through 39 years of crisis by a tour de force perhaps never excelled, "is like a play in many acts which unfolds inevitably once the curtain is raised. To declare then that the play will not go on is an absurdity. The play will go on either by means of the actors or by means of the spectators who mount the stage. . . . The crucial problem [of statesmanship], therefore, resides in the decision of whether to assemble the audience, whether the curtain is to be raised and above all in the intrinsic merit of the play."
There can be little doubt that the foreign policy of the United States has reached an impasse. For several years we have been groping for a concept to deal with the transformation of the cold war from an effort to build defensive barriers into a contest for the allegiance of humanity. But the new Soviet tactics, coupled with the equally unassimilated increase in the destructive potential of the new weapons technology, have led to a crisis in our system of alliances and to substantial Soviet gains among the uncommitted peoples of the world.
It would be a mistake, however, to ascribe our difficulties to this or that error of policy or to a particular administration, although the present Administration has not helped matters by its pretense of "normalcy." To return to Metternich's metaphor: It can be argued that our policy has reached an impasse because of our penchant for happy endings; the Soviet rulers have been able to use negotiations to their advantage because we insisted on reading from an old script. As in all tragedies, many of our problems have been produced in spite of our good intentions and have been caused, not by our worst qualities, but by our best. What is at issue, therefore, is not a policy but an attitude.
It is with this attitude and its consequences in the conduct of negotiations and our policy of alliances that this article seeks to deal.
It is understandable that a nation which for a century and a half had been preoccupied with its domestic affairs should seek to apply the pattern of these to international affairs. But the very success of the American experiment and the spontaneity of our social institutions have served to emphasize the dilemma faced at some stage by every country: how to reconcile its vision of itself with the vision of it as seen by others. To itself, a nation is an expression of justice, and the more spontaneous has been the growth of its social institutions the more this is true; for government functions effectively only when most citizens obey voluntarily and they will obey only to the extent that they consider the demands of their rulers just. But to other nations, a state is a force to be balanced. This is inevitable because national strategy must be planned on the basis of the other side's capabilities and not merely a calculation of its intentions. There exists a double standard, therefore, in all foreign policy: internally, foreign policy is justified like all other policy in terms of an absolute standard; but abroad, what is defined as justice domestically becomes a program to be compromised by negotiation. If the institutions and values of the states comprising the international order are sufficiently similar, this incommensurability may not become apparent. But in a revolutionary period like the present, it affects profoundly relationships among states.
Foremost among the attitudes affecting our foreign policy is American empiricism and its quest for methodological certainty: nothing is "true" unless it is "objective" and it is not "objective" unless it is part of experience. This makes for the absence of dogmatism and for the ease of social relations on the domestic scene. But in the conduct of foreign policy it has pernicious consequences. Foreign policy is the art of weighing probabilities; mastery of it lies in grasping the nuances of possibilities. To attempt to conduct it as a science must lead to rigidity. For only the risks are certain; the opportunities are conjectural. One cannot be "sure" about the implications of events until they have happened and when they have occurred it is too late to do anything about them. Empiricism in foreign policy leads to a penchant for ad hoc solutions; the rejection of dogmatism inclines our policy-makers to postpone committing themselves until all facts are in; but by the time the facts are in, a crisis has usually developed or an opportunity has passed. Our policy is therefore geared to dealing with emergencies; it finds difficulty in developing the long-range program that might forestall them.
A symptom of our need for methodological certainty is the vast number of committees charged with examining and developing policy. The very multiplicity of committees makes it difficult to arrive at decisions in time. It tends to give a disproportionate influence to subordinate officials who prepare the initial memoranda and it overwhelms our higher officials with trivia. Because of our cult of specialization, sovereign departments negotiate national policy among each other with no single authority able to take an over-all view or to apply decisions over a period of time.[i] This results in a hiatus between grand strategy and particular tactics, between the definition of general objectives so vague as to be truistic and the concern with immediate problems. The gap is bridged only when a crisis forces the bureaucratic machinery into accelerated action, and then the top leadership has little choice but to concur in the administrative proposals. In short, we are trying to cope with political problems by administrative means.
The temptation to formulate policy administratively is ever present in a government organized, as ours is, primarily for the conduct of domestic affairs. But the spirit of policy and that of bureaucracy are fundamentally opposed. Profound policy thrives on creativeness; good administration thrives on routine--a procedure which can assimilate mediocrity. Policy involves an adjustment of risks; administration an avoidance of deviation. The attempt to formulate policy administratively leads to the acceptance of a standard which evaluates by mistakes avoided rather than by goals achieved. It is no accident that most great statesmen were opposed by the "experts" in their foreign offices, for the very greatness of the statesman's conception tends to make it inaccessible to those whose primary concern is with safety and minimum risk.
Our methodological doubt makes for vulnerability to Soviet manœuvres in two ways: on the one hand, every Soviet change of line is taken at least in part at face value, for we cannot be certain that the Soviets may not "mean" it this time until they have proved they do not; and they will try their best not to prove it until the tactic has served its purpose. On the other hand, we have found it difficult to adjust our tactics to new situations, so that we always tend to speak in the categories of the most recent threat but one. The paradoxical result is that we, the empiricists, appear to the world as rigid, unimaginative and even somewhat cynical, while the dogmatic Bolsheviks exhibit flexibility, daring and subtlety. This is because our empiricism dooms us to an essentially reactive policy that improvises a counter to every Soviet move, while the Soviet emphasis on theory gives them the certainty to act, to manœuvre and to run risks. The very fact of action forces us to assume the risks of countermoves and absorbs our energies in essentially defensive manœuvres.
The willingness to act need not derive from theory, of course. Indeed, an overemphasis on theory can lead to a loss of touch with reality. In many societies--in Great Britain, for example--policy developed from a firmly held tradition of a national strategy. Throughout the nineteenth century it was a tenet of British policy that Antwerp should not fall into the hands of a major Power. This was not backed by an elaborate metaphysics but simply by a tradition of British sea power whose requirements were so generally understood that they were never debated. It is the absence of a tradition of foreign policy which exaggerates the biases of our empiricism and makes it difficult to conduct our policy with a proper regard for the timing of measures. It causes us to overlook the fact that policy exists in time as well as in space, that a measure is correct only if it can be carried out at the proper moment. To be sure, our cumbersome administrative mechanism adds immeasurably to the problem. But in addition, our deliberations are conducted as if a course of action were eternally valid, as if a measure which might meet exactly the needs of a given moment could not backfire if adopted a year later. For this reason our policy lacks a feeling for nuance, the ability to come up with variations on the same theme, as the Soviets have done so effectively. We consider policy-making concluded when the National Security Council has come to a decision. And in fact, the process of arriving at a decision is so arduous and a reappraisal is necessarily so "agonizing" that we are reluctant to reexamine policies after they have outlived their usefulness.
But a written statement of policy is likely to amount to a truism; the real difficulty arises in applying it to concrete situations. And while we have often come up with the proper measures, we have not found it easy to adapt our approach to the requirements of the situation over a period of time. The different uses made by the Soviets of the time interval between the "summit conference" and the Geneva conference of foreign ministers illustrates this point. The Soviets established diplomatic relations with the German Federal Republic and thus placed themselves in position to deal directly with both German governments; they used the peace offensive to undermine the cohesiveness of NATO and concluded the arms deal with Egypt. By the time we returned to Geneva, we found ourselves confronted by a series of faits accomplis and the conference foredoomed.
Another factor shaping our attitude toward foreign affairs is our lack of tragic experience. Though we have known severe hardships, our history has been notably free of disaster. Indeed, the American domestic experience exhibits an unparalleled success, of great daring rewarded and of great obstacles overcome. It is no wonder, therefore, that to many of our most responsible men, particularly in the business community, the warnings of impending peril or of imminent disaster sound like the Cassandra cries of abstracted "egg-heads." For is not the attribute of the "egg-head" his lack of touch with reality, and does not American reality show an unparalleled wealth coupled with an unparalleled growth?
There has been much criticism of Secretaries Humphrey and Wilson for their defense economies. But in fairness the psychological background of their decisions should be understood; despite all the information at their disposal, they simply cannot believe that in the nuclear age the penalty for miscalculation may be national catastrophe. They may know in their heads, but they cannot accept in their hearts, that the society they helped to build could disappear as did Rome or Carthage or Byzantium, which probably seemed as eternal to their citizens. These characteristics make for an absence of a sense of urgency, a tendency to believe that everything can be tried once and that the worst consequence mistakes can have is that we may be forced to redouble our efforts later on. The irrevocable error is not yet part of the American experience.
Related to this problem is our reluctance to think in terms of power. To be sure, American expansion both economic and geographical was not accomplished without a judicious application of power. But our Calvinist heritage has required success to display the attribute of justice. Even our great fortunes, however accumulated, were almost invariably held to impose a social obligation; the great foundation is after all a peculiarly American phenomenon. As a nation, we have used power almost shamefacedly as if it were inherently wicked. We have wanted to be liked for our own sakes and we have wished to succeed because of the persuasiveness of our principles rather than through our strength. Our feeling of guilt with respect to power has caused us to transform all wars into crusades, and then to apply our power in the most absolute terms. We have rarely found intermediary ways to apply our power and in those cases we have done so reluctantly.
But international relations cannot be conducted without an awareness of power relationships. To be sure, the contemporary revolution cannot be managed merely by an exercise of force. But unless we maintain at least an equilibrium of power between us and the Soviet bloc we will have no chance to undertake any positive measures. And maintaining this equilibrium may confront us with some very difficult choices. We are certain to be confronted with situations of extraordinary ambiguity such as civil wars or domestic coups. Every successful Soviet move makes our moral position that much more difficult: Indochina was more ambiguous than Korea; the Soviet arms deal with Egypt more ambiguous than Indochina; the Suez crisis more ambiguous than the arms deal. There can be no doubt that we should seek to prevent such occurrences. But once they have occurred, we must find the will to act and to run risks in a situation which permits only a choice among evils. While we should never give up our principles, we must also realize that we cannot maintain our principles unless we survive.
Consistent with our reluctance to think in terms of power has been our notion of the nature of peace. We assume that peace is the "normal" pattern of relations among states, that it is equivalent to a consciousness of harmony, that it can be aimed at directly as a goal of policy. These are truisms rarely challenged in our political debate. Both major political parties maintain that they work for a lasting peace, even if they differ about the best means of attaining it. Both make statements which imply that on a certain magic day, perhaps after a four-power conference, "peace will break out."
No idea could be more dangerous. To begin with, the polarization of power in the world would give international relations a degree of instability even if there were no ideological disagreement, and the present volatile state of technology is likely to compound this sense of insecurity. Moreover, whenever peace--conceived as the avoidance of war--has become the direct objective of a Power or a group of Powers, international relations have been at the mercy of the state willing to forego peace. No statesman can entrust the fate of his country entirely to the continued good will of another sovereign state, if only because the best guarantee for the will remaining good is not to tempt it by too great a disproportion of power. Peace, therefore, cannot be aimed at directly; it is the expression of certain conditions and power relationships. It is to these relationships--not to peace--that diplomacy must address itself.
It is obviously to the interest of the Soviet Union to equate peace with a state of good feeling unconnected with power relationships or past usurpations, for such an attitude ratifies all its gains since World War II. By the same token, it is to the interest of the United States to leave no doubt that the tension of the cold war was produced not only by the intransigence of the Soviet tone but also by the intransigence of their measures. As long as the Soviets can give the impression that conciliatory statements by themselves are a symptom of peaceful intentions, they can control the pace of negotiations and gain the benefits of the advocacy of peace without paying any price for its achievement. If the Soviets are given the privilege of initiating negotiations when it suits their purpose and of breaking them off without any penalty, diplomacy will become a tool of Soviet propaganda. And the variety of Soviet manœuvres will in time erode the cohesion of the free world.
With this we have reached one of the major problems confronting current American diplomacy: the changed nature of negotiations in a revolutionary political order. An international order, the basic arrangements of which are accepted by all the major Powers, may be called "legitimate;" a system which contains a Power or group of Powers which refuses to accept either the arrangements of the settlement or the domestic structure of the other states is "revolutionary." A legitimate order does not make conflicts impossible; it limits their scope. Wars may arise, but they will be fought in the name of the existing system and the peace will be justified as a better expression of the agreed arrangements. In a revolutionary order, on the other hand, disputes do not concern adjustments within a given framework, but the framework itself.
There can be little doubt that we are living through a revolutionary period. On the physical plane, the power of weapons is out of balance with the objectives for which they might be employed; as a result, at a moment of unparalleled strength we find ourselves paralyzed by the implications of our own weapons technology. On the political plane, many of the newly independent Powers continue to inject into their international policies the revolutionary fervor that gained them independence. On the ideological plane, the contemporary ferment is fed by the newly awakened hopes and expectations of hitherto inarticulate peoples and by the rapidity with which ideas can be communicated. And the Soviet bloc, eager to exploit all dissatisfactions for its own ends, has given the present situation its revolutionary urgency.
This is true despite the conciliatory statements of the Twentieth Party Congress. For "peaceful coexistence" was not advanced as an acceptance of the status quo. On the contrary, it was justified as the most efficient offensive tactic, as a more effective means to subvert the existing order. The Soviet leaders gave up neither the class struggle with its postulate of irreconcilable conflict, nor the inevitable triumph of Communism with its corollary of the dictatorship of the proletariat. To be sure, war was held to be no longer inevitable, but only because soon the U.S.S.R. would possess preponderant strength. Should the policy of "peaceful coexistence" prove less fruitful than expected, we can look for other tactics. "In the world from now on," Mao has said, "neutrality is only a word for deceiving people."[ii]
These have been hard lessons to come by. Lulled by a century and a half of comparative tranquillity and without experience with disaster, we have been reluctant to take at face value the often-repeated Soviet assertion that they mean to smash the existing framework. We have tended to treat Soviet protestations as if their intent were merely tactical--as if the U.S.S.R. overstated its case for bargaining purposes or were motivated by specific grievances to be assuaged by individual concessions. There is a measure of pathos in our effort to find "reasonable" motives for the Soviets to cease being Bolshevik: the opportunity to develop the resources of their own country, the unlimited possibilities of nuclear energy or of international trade. We reveal thereby a state of mind which cannot come to grips with a policy of unlimited objectives. Our belief that an antagonist can be vanquished by the persuasiveness of argument, our trust in the efficacy of the process of negotiation, reflect the dominant rôle played in our diplomacy by the legal profession and their conception of diplomacy as a legal process.
But the legal method cannot be applied in a revolutionary situation, for it presupposes a framework of agreed rules within which negotiating skill is exercised. It is not the process of negotiation as such which accounts for the settlement of legal disputes, but a social environment which permits that process to operate. This explains why conciliatory American statements have so often missed their mark. To the Soviets, the key to their ultimate triumph resides in their superior understanding of "objective" forces and of the processes of history.[iii] Even when they accept the "subjective" sincerity of American statesmen, they still believe them powerless to deal with the "objective" factors of American society which will ultimately produce a showdown. Conciliatory American statements will appear to the Soviet leaders either as hypocrisy or stupidity, ignorance or propaganda. It is therefore futile to seek to sway Soviet leaders through logical persuasion or by invocations of abstract justice. Soviet statesmen consider conferences a means to confirm an "objective" situation. A Soviet diplomat who wishes to make concessions can justify them at home only if he can demonstrate that they resulted from a proper balancing of risks.
In short, diplomacy has a different function in a revolutionary international order. In a legitimate order, diplomacy seeks to compromise disagreements in order to perpetuate the international system. Adjustments occur because agreement is itself a desirable goal, because of a tacit agreement to come to an agreement. In a revolutionary order, on the other hand, adjustments have primarily a tactical significance: to prepare positions for the next test of strength. Negotiations in a legitimate order have three functions: to formulate by expressing agreements or discords in a manner that does not open unbridgeable schisms; to perpetuate by providing a forum for making concessions; to persuade by stating a plausible reason for settlement. But in a revolutionary period, most of these functions have changed their purpose: diplomats can still meet, but they cannot persuade, for they have ceased to speak the same language. Instead, diplomatic conferences become elaborate stage plays which seek to attach the uncommitted to one or the other of the contenders.
Nothing is more futile, therefore, than to attempt to deal with a revolutionary power by ordinary diplomatic methods. In a legitimate order, demands once made are negotiable; they are put forward with the intention of being compromised. But in a revolutionary order, they are programmatic; they represent a claim for allegiance. In a legitimate order, it is good negotiating tactics to formulate maximum demands because this facilitates compromise without loss of essential objectives. In a revolutionary order, it is good negotiating tactics to formulate minimum demands in order to gain the advantage of advocating moderation. In a legitimate order, proposals are addressed to the opposite number at the conference table. They must, therefore, be drafted with great attention to their substantive content and with sufficient ambiguity so that they do not appear as invitations to surrender. But in a revolutionary order the protagonists at the conference table address not so much one another as the world at large. Proposals here must be framed with a maximum of clarity and even simplicity, for their major utility is their symbolic content. In short, in a legitimate order, a conference represents a struggle to find formulae to achieve agreement; in a revolutionary order, it is a struggle to capture the symbols which move humanity.
The major weakness of U.S. diplomacy has been the insufficient attention given to the symbolic aspect of foreign policy. Our positions have usually been worked out with great attention to their legal content, with special emphasis on the step-by-step approach of traditional diplomacy. But while we have been addressing the Soviets, they have been speaking to the people of the world. With a few exceptions we have not succeeded in dramatizing our position, in reducing a complex negotiation to its symbolic terms. In major areas of the world the Soviets have captured the "peace offensive" by dint of the endless repetition of slogans that seemed preposterous when first advanced, but which have become common currency through usage. The Power which has added 150 million people to its orbit by force has become the champion of anti-colonialism; the state which has developed slave labor as an integral part of its economic system has emerged in many parts of the world as the champion of human dignity. Neither regarding German unity nor Korea nor the satellite orbit have we succeeded in mobilizing world opinion. But Formosa has become a symbol of American intransigence and our overseas air bases a token of American aggressiveness. We have replied to every Soviet thrust like a pedantic professor sure of his righteousness; but the world is not moved by legalistic phrases, at least in a revolutionary period. This is not to say that negotiation should be conceived as mere propaganda; only that by failing to cope adequately with their psychological aspect we have given the Soviets unnecessary opportunities.
As a result, the international debate is carried on almost entirely in the categories and at the pace established by the Soviets; the world's attention is directed toward the horror of nuclear weapons but not toward the fact of aggression which would unleash them. The Soviets negotiate when a relaxation of tension serves their purpose and they break off negotiations when it is to their advantage, without being forced to shoulder the onus for the failure. We were right to agree to the summit conference and the subsequent meeting of the foreign ministers. But it was not necessary to permit the Four-Power meetings to become an effort to turn the Soviets respectable; or for the President to give the Soviet Union a certificate of good conduct by assuring Bulganin he believed in his peaceful intentions. Nor was it wise to let the Soviet leaders build up a distinction between the President and the rest of the United States Government, so that any increase in tensions will be ascribed to the fact that the President succumbed to the pressures of his advisors or to the operation of the "objective" factors of the U.S. economy or to a change of administration. Because of our inability to raise the negotiations above the commonplace, they were conducted in a never-never land where a Soviet smile was considered to outweigh the fact of the perpetuated division of Germany and where problems were evaded simply by denying that they existed.
But could we have carried our allies and the uncommitted along on a different policy? Perhaps the best way to approach a discussion of our system of alliances is to analyze the historic rôle of coalitions. In the past, coalitions have generally been held together by a combination of three motivations: (1) To leave no doubt about the alignment of forces and to discourage aggression by assembling superior power--this in effect is the doctrine of collective security. (2) To provide an obligation for assistance. Were the national interest unambiguous and unchangeable, each Power would know its obligations without any formal pact. But the national interest fluctuates within limits; it must be adapted to changing circumstances. An alliance is a form of insurance against contingencies, an additional weight when considering whether to go to war. (3) To legitimize the assistance of foreign troops or intervention in a foreign country.
An alliance is effective, then, to the extent that its power appears formidable and its purpose unambiguous. If an alliance is composed of too many disparate elements or if its members pursue too varying aims it will not survive a real test. The legal obligation by itself will not suffice if the coalition has no common purpose or is incapable of giving its purpose a military expression. The French system of alliances between the two wars, however imposing on paper, could not survive the conflicting interests of its components and its lack of a unifying military doctrine. It is not the fact of alliance which deters aggression but the application it can be given in any concrete case.
If we examine the structure of the present system of alliances created by the United States we discover that most of the historic conditions for coalitions no longer apply, or apply in a different sense. From the point of view of power relationships none of our alliances, save NATO, adds to our effective strength. And NATO is in difficulty because we cannot give it a military doctrine which makes sense to our NATO partners. Our interest in the alliance is twofold: a, to prevent Eurasia from being controlled by a hostile Power, because if the United States were confined to the Western Hemisphere it could survive, if at all, only through an effort inconsistent with what is now considered the American way of life; b, to add to our over-all strength vis-à-vis the U.S.S.R. by obtaining overseas facilities, particularly air bases. Our empiricist bias has, however, caused us to place these objectives in the framework of a specific threat--that of overt Soviet military aggression--and to look at this threat only in terms of the total strategic relationship between us and the Soviet bloc. In these terms, Eurasia is protected not by our capability for local defense, but by our strategic superiority in an all-out war, and we have therefore tended to justify our alliances because of the overseas air bases they afford us.
An alliance is useless, however, unless it expresses a mutuality of interest between the partners. Our military policy is increasingly based on a strategy of "revenge," the objective of which is to retaliate with greater destruction than we suffer. But in all situations short of all-out war (and perhaps even then) deterrence is produced not by a capability to inflict disproportionate losses, but a capability to inflict losses unacceptable in relation to specific objectives in dispute. The Soviet successes in the postwar period demonstrate that in certain circumstances even an inferior retaliatory capability can produce deterrence. Despite our strategic superiority we refused to intervene in Indochina or expand the war in Korea, because Korea and Indochina did not seem "worth" an all-out war and because we had inadequate alternative capabilities to make the Soviet calculus of risks seem unattractive. An all-out strategy, moreover, not only increases our own inhibitions but runs counter to a coalition policy. Our allies realize that in all-out war they will add to our effective strength only by supplying facilities; they see no significance in a military contribution of their own. As long as our military doctrine threatens to transform every war into an all-out war, our system of alliances will be in jeopardy.
Our policies have, moreover, been inhibited by the notion of collective security drawn from the lessons of the 1930s, when a united front might well have deterred Hitler, and by our historical bias in favor of federal structures. We base our coalitions on the assumption that unless all allies resist any aggression anywhere no effective resistance is possible at all. But this notion of collective security has the paradoxical result of paralyzing the partner capable of resisting alone. For governments hard pressed to act in areas of direct concern to them cannot be brought to run risks outside that area, so that the effort to obtain NATO support in Asia tends to undermine the cohesiveness of NATO in Europe. Even within the purely regional alliances the combinations of purposes are extremely various. Pakistan desires arms more for their effect on India than for the protection they afford against the U.S.S.R. or China; Iraq is interested in the Baghdad Pact primarily for the military advantages it gives over Saudi Arabia and Egypt. And in neither SEATO nor the Baghdad Pact are we associated with partners with whom we share the degree of common purpose conferred by the cultural heritage that we share with our European allies.
The problems of our system of alliances can be summed up under two headings: either the alliances add little to our effective strength or they do not reflect a common purpose, or both. In such circumstances a system of collective security leads in fact to a dilution of purpose and to an air of unreality in which the existence of an alliance, and not the resolution behind it, is considered the guarantee of security. Thus, we speak of plugging gaps in defenses as if a treaty instrument were itself a defense. We will not be able to overcome these difficulties until we develop a new approach to our coalition policy, above all until we set less ambitious goals. We must confine our alliances to the purposes we and our allies share.
But can such a coalition policy be developed? The implications of the growing Soviet nuclear capability would seem to impose a measure of harmony between the interest of the United States in an over-all strategy and our allies' concern with local defense. For with the end of our immunity from nuclear attack the nature of deterrence has altered. A deterrent is effective only to the degree that it is plausible and as the Soviet nuclear stockpile grows our willingness to run the risk of an all-out war for any objective save a direct attack on the continental United States will diminish. In such a situation, deterrence with respect to the issues most likely to be in dispute is above all achieved by a capability for local defense.[iv] In the face of the horrors of thermonuclear war, it is in our interest to seek to defend Eurasia by means other than all-out war: to devise a strategy which will allow us to inflict the minimum amount of damage consistent with deterrence. The justification for our alliances, therefore, is less that they add to our over-all strength than that they give us an opportunity to apply our power subtly and with less fearful risks.
From the military point of view, our alliances should be conceived as devices to organize local defense and our assistance as a means to make local defense possible. We should make clear to our allies that their best chance of avoiding thermonuclear war resides in our ability to make local aggression too costly. They should understand that they cannot avoid their dilemma by neutrality or surrender, for if we are pushed out of Eurasia they will bring on what they fear most. Confined to the Western Hemisphere, we would have no choice but to fight an all-out war. To be sure, the Soviets have skillfully fomented neutralism by giving the impression that local resistance must inevitably lead to all-out war. But the Soviets can be no more interested than we in total war; the fear of thermonuclear extinction would provide a powerful sanction against expanding a conflict.
The corollary to a regional system of alliances, however, is willingness on our part to act alone if the over-all strategic balance is imperiled. None of our allies, with the exception of Great Britain, has the capability or the willingness to act outside its own geographical area. To ask them to do so will only undermine the domestic position of already weak governments and demoralize them further. It will lead to subterfuges and to the dilution of common action behind the form of joint communiqués. We have to face the fact that only the United States is strong enough domestically and economically to assume worldwide responsibilities and that the attempt to obtain the prior approval by all our allies of our every step will lead not to common action but to inaction. To be sure, whenever there exists a community of purpose, as for example with Great Britain in the Middle East and perhaps in Southeast Asia, we should concert our efforts. But we must reserve the right to act alone, or with a regional grouping of Powers, if our strategic interest so dictates. We cannot permit the Soviets to overturn the balance of power for the sake of allied unity, for whatever the disagreement of our allies on specific measures their survival depends on our unimpaired strength.
The military point of view must not supply the sole motivation for our system of alliances, however. In fact, in many areas, particularly those newly independent, our emphasis on the military factor is the cause of our failure to develop a sense of common purpose. We are undoubtedly right in our belief in the Soviet menace. But revolutions are not logical and the Asian revolution is interested more in internal development than in foreign affairs. Our insistence that they focus some of their energies outward appears to them as an irritating interruption of their primary concern and lends color to Soviet peace offensives. Moreover, the military contribution of both the Baghdad Pact and SEATO does not compensate for the decision of Egypt and India to stand apart and for the domestic pressures these instruments generated in some of the signatory countries.
The primary function of these pacts is to draw a line across which the U.S.S.R. cannot move without the risk of war, and to legitimize intervention by the United States should war break out. But the line could have been better drawn by a unilateral declaration. Behind this shield we could then have concentrated on the primary problem of creating a sense of common purpose by emphasizing shared objectives, primarily by striving for the grouping of Powers to assist in economic development. Had we emphasized these nonmilitary functions of SEATO, it would have been much more difficult for India or Indonesia to stay aloof. As these political groupings gain in economic strength, their own interest would dictate a more active concern for common defense; at least it would provide the economic base for a meaningful defense. A powerful grouping of states on the Russian borders is against the interests of the Soviet Union regardless of whether the purpose of this grouping is primarily military. And by the same token, such a grouping is desirable from the American point of view even if it does not go along with our every policy.
The problem of the uncommitted states cannot be solved, however, merely by an economic grouping of Powers. It is related to the whole U.S. posture. Anti-Americanism is fashionable today in many parts of the globe. As the richest and most powerful nation, we are the natural target for all frustrations. As the Power which bears the primary responsibility for the defense of the free world, we are unpopular with all who are so preoccupied with the development of their own countries that they are unwilling to pay sufficient attention to foreign threats. We should, of course, seek to allay legitimate grievances, but we would be wrong to take every criticism at face value. Many of our most voluble critics in Southeast Asia would be terrified were our military protection suddenly withdrawn. Nehru's neutrality is possible, after all only as long as the United States remains strong. A great deal of anti-Americanism hides a feeling of insecurity both material and spiritual. Popularity is a hopeless mirage in a situation which is revolutionary precisely because old values are disintegrating and millions are groping for a new orientation. For this reason, it is impossible to base policy solely on an inquiry into what people desire; a revolutionary situation is distinguished by its dissatisfactions, which join in protest against the existing order but can propose no clear substitute. This is the reason why most revolutions have been captured by a small minority which could give a sense of direction to popular resentments. In the uncommitted areas popularity may therefore be less important than respect.
In its relations with the uncommitted, the United States must develop not only a greater compassion but also a greater majesty. The picture of high American officials scurrying to all quarters of the globe to inform themselves on each crisis as it develops cannot but make an impression of uncertainty. The nervousness exhibited in our reactions to Soviet moves must contrast unfavorably with what appears to be the deliberate purposefulness of the Soviets. Moreover, for understandable reasons, many of the uncommitted nations are eager to preserve the peace at almost any price. Because of what appears to them as vacillation and uncertainty, they choose in every crisis to direct pressure against us as the more malleable of the two super-Powers. To the degree that we can project a greater sense of purpose, some of these pressures may be deflected on the Soviet bloc. A revolution like Egypt's or even India's cannot be managed by understanding alone; it also requires a readiness on our part to bear the psychological burden of difficult decisions.
We thus return to our original problem: the adequacy of American attitudes for dealing with the present crisis. This is above all a problem of leadership. For nations learn only by experience; they "know" only when it is too late to act. But statesmen must act as if their intuition were already experience, as if their aspiration were truth. The statesman is, therefore, like one of the heroes of classical tragedy who has had an intuition of the future, but who cannot transmit it directly to his fellowmen and who cannot validate its "truth." This is why statesmen often share the fate of prophets, that they are without honor in their own country and that their greatness is usually apparent only in retrospect when their intuition has become experience. The statesman must be an educator; he must bridge the gap between a people's experience and his vision, between its tradition and its future. In this task his possibilities are limited. A statesman who too far outruns the experience of his people will not be able to sell his program at home; witness Wilson. A statesman who limits his policy to the experience of his people will doom himself to sterility; witness French policy since World War I.
One of the crucial challenges confronting a society is therefore the capacity to produce a leadership group capable of transcending the experience of that society. And here our sudden emergence as the major Power in the free world presents particular difficulties. The qualities of our leadership groups were formed during the period when our primary concerns were domestic. Politics was considered a necessary evil and the primary function of the state was the exercise of police powers. Neither education nor incentives existed for our leadership groups to think in political or strategic terms. This was compounded by our empiricism with its cult of the expert and its premium on specialization. The two groups which are most dominant in the higher levels of government, industry and the law, can serve as an illustration. The rewards in industry, particularly large-scale industry, are for administrative competence; they therefore produce a tendency to deal with conceptual problems by administrative means, by turning them over to committees of experts. And the legal profession, trained to think in terms of discrete individual cases, produces a penchant for ad hoc decisions and a resistance to the "hypothetical cases" inherent in long-range planning. Our leadership groups are therefore better prepared to deal with technical than with conceptual problems, with economic than with political issues. Projected on the Washington scene, they often lack the background to cope with a developing political and strategic situation: each problem is dealt with "on its merits," a procedure which emphasizes the particular at the expense of the general and bogs down planning in a mass of detail. The absence of a conceptual framework makes it difficult for them even to identify our problems or to choose effectively among the proposals and interpretations with which our governmental machinery is overloaded.
This explains many postwar Soviet successes. Whatever the qualities of Soviet leadership, its training is eminently political and conceptual. Reading Lenin or Mao or Stalin, one is struck by the emphasis on the relationship between political, military, psychological and economic factors, the insistence on finding a conceptual basis for political action and on the need for dominating a situation by flexible tactics and inflexible purpose. And the internal struggles in the Kremlin ensure that only the most iron-nerved reach the top. Against the Politbureau, trained to think in general terms and freed of problems of day-to-day administration, we have pitted leaders overwhelmed with departmental duties and trained to think that it was a cardinal sin to transgress on another's field of specialization. To our leaders, policy is as a series of discrete problems; to the Soviet leaders it is an aspect of a continuing political process. As a result, the contest between us and the Soviets has had many of the attributes of any contest between a professional and an amateur: even a mediocre professional will usually defeat an excellent amateur, not because the amateur does not know what to do, but because he cannot react sufficiently quickly or consistently. Our leaders have not lacked ability, but they have had to learn while doing and this has imposed too great a handicap.
To be sure, many of the shortcomings of our leadership groups reflect the very qualities which have made for the ease of relationships in American society. The condition for our limited government has been the absence of basic social schisms, the regulation of many concerns not by government fiat but by "what is taken for granted." A society can operate in this fashion only if disputes are not pushed to their logical conclusions, and if disagreements are blunted by the absence of dogmatism. And in fact the fear of seeming dogmatic permeates our social scene. Most opinions are introduced with a disclaimer which indicates that the proponent is aware of their contingency and also that he claims no superior validity for his own conclusions. This produces a preference for decisions by committee, because the process of conversation permits disagreements to be discovered most easily and adjustments made before positions have hardened. Our decision-making process is therefore geared to the pace of conversation; even departmental memoranda on which policy decisions are ultimately based are written with an eye to eventual compromise and not with the expectation that any one of them will be accepted in its entirety.
It would be wrong to be too pessimistic. No one would have believed when World War II ended that the United States would assume commitments on such a world-wide scale. Our shortcomings are imposing only because of the magnitude of the threat confronting us. Moreover, the performance of the United States, for all its failings, compares favorably with that of the other nations of the non-Soviet world. Our difficulties in foreign policy are therefore only a symptom--and by no means the most obvious --of an inward uncertainty in the free world. To be sure, democracies by the nature of their institutions cannot conduct policy as deviously, change course as rapidly or prepare their moves as secretly as dictatorships. But the crisis of the non-Soviet world is deeper. The tragic element in foreign policy is the impossibility of escaping conjecture; after the "objective" analysis of fact there remains a residue of uncertainty about the meaning of events or the opportunities they offer. A statesman can often escape his dilemmas by lowering his sights; he always has the option to ignore the other side's capabilities by assuming it has peaceful intentions. Many of the difficulties of the non-Soviet world have been the result of an attempt to use the element of uncertainty as an excuse for inaction. But certainty in foreign policy is conferred at least as much by philosophy as by fact; it derives from the imposition of purpose on events.
This is not to say that we should imitate Soviet dogmatism. A society can survive only by the genius that made it great. But we should be able to leaven our empiricism with a sense of urgency. And while our history may leave us not well enough prepared to deal with tragedy, it can teach us that great achievement does not result from a quest for safety. Even so, our task will remain psychologically more complex than that of the Soviets. As the strongest and perhaps the most vital Power of the free world we face the challenge of demonstrating that democracy is able to find the moral certainty to act without the support of fanaticism and to run risks without a guarantee of success.
[i] This is true despite the National Security Council. Since the N.S.C. is composed mainly of department heads overwhelmed with administrative responsibilities, all the pressures make for a departmental outlook and a concern with immediate problems.
[ii] Quoted in Richard Walker, "China Under Communism" (New Haven: Yale University Press, 1955), p. 272.
[iii] There is no little exasperation in the Soviet replies to our repeated assertion that a change of tactics on their part implies a surrender of Marxism. Khrushchev has said (September 17, 1955), "If anyone believes that our smiles involve abandonment of the teaching of Marx, Engels and Lenin he deceives himself poorly. Those who wait for that must wait until a shrimp learns to whistle."
[iv] See the author's "Force and Diplomacy in the Nuclear Age," Foreign Affairs, April 1956.