Crisis of Command
America’s Broken Civil-Military Relationship Imperils National Security
One lesson of the last fifteen years, most conspicuous in the Viet Nam war, is that the capacity of even the strongest power to intervene effectively in other states has been eroded by time, space and history. Apparently the only state a great power can still attack with impunity is one of its allies. Even there, as the Soviet Union will no doubt discover, the costs of intervention will in time heavily outweigh the gains.
Far from encouraging the two superpowers to protect their interests or their creeds by the exercise of military force, the consequences of intervention in Viet Nam and Czechoslovakia are likely to make them much more chary of doing so in the future. Indeed, as far as Americans are concerned, Viet Nam risks causing them to revert to their post-World War I fantasy of withdrawal and isolation. The dissidence of Czechoslovakia, like that of China, is another symptom of the disintegration of the communist monolith, which will limit Russia's freedom of action.
Yet the world in the autumn of 1968, despite all the lessons of the past, is no less unstable than it was a few years ago. The appetite for ever more devastating weapons quickens the arms race at all levels and in all latitudes; détente is interrupted and Europe once more brutally shaken by the misuse of the Red Army; peace in Viet Nam seems as far off as ever and China as hostile; the interminable conflict in the Middle East threatens more than ever before to provoke new confrontations among the great powers,
We can argue about what "responsibilities" the United States or any other state must assume in face of this situation. What is not open to doubt is that the United States and the Soviet Union at least, however harshly each may condemn the Other's behavior, have an overriding national interest in restricting possible occasions for a nuclear war to the absolute minimum, since both would be likely to become main targets and suffer most. It therefore continues to be in the interests of both, as much if not more than before, to prevent or limit international violence in places where both are directly or indirectly involved and where the violence might escalate into wider hostilities and drag them both in.
To what extent does this mean that the United States has a continuing national interest, over and above an international responsibility, to check violence wherever it occurs? In other words, what is the proper mean between, on the one hand, overinvolvement, compulsive military intervention, "policing the world" and, on the other, abdication of responsibility, neo-isolationism, letting the rest of the world "stew in its own juice,?"
Two preliminary comments come to mind, First, the United States does not confront this question with complete freedom to act or not to act. Over the past twenty years it has entered into treaties and given assurances which involve explicit security commitments vis-à-vis its NATO, OAS and SEATO partners, as well as a number of individual states, such as Japan, Australia and New Zealand, Israel, the Philippines, Nationalist China, South Korea, South Viet Nam, etc. It has also assumed less explicit but significant obligations in other cases. These commitments are not necessarily assumed forever; some should no doubt be revised now, but all are, to a greater or less degree, still binding.
Second, despite its great power and an occasional tendency to use it unilaterally, the United States has on the whole since 1945 preferred to share with others its responsibilities for the maintenance of peace. It endeavored first to share with the whole United Nations and, when that proved infeasible, with the allies mentioned above, grouped in military pacts whenever possible. However, most of these pacts seem at the moment of declining validity. What are future prospects for more effective sharing of worldwide security responsibilities?
In seeking partners to carry such responsibilities the United States would naturally turn first to the Western Europeans who are our traditional friends, who have the necessary resources and talents, and who if united could be substantially equal to us in power. Unfortunately, there is grave question whether, over the next decade, they will unite sufficiently to be willing or able to carry security responsibilities outside their own continent.
They may do so. After the passing of de Gaulle the momentum toward European unity may resume and prevail. The United States should certainly encourage such movement. The experience of the last twenty years, however, makes clear the limits to what even a friendly and powerful outsider can do in this sense and the hazards of too warm an advocacy by an outsider. It is plain that European unity must grow out of European imperatives, European convictions and European will.
There seems, alas, an equal possibility that over the next decade Europe will not move significantly toward further political unity and international responsibility but that, for a time at least, resurgent nationalism and separatism may prevail. If the great European states remain separate, they all too probably may continue, at least for several years, to retract rather than enlarge their security responsibilities outside the Continent and still further divide and diminish those inside. The experience of last year in the Middle East suggests that even where their interests are deeply involved, close to but outside Europe, European states are unwilling to bear risks and burdens. Thus, unless unification proceeds more rapidly and decisively than we have a right to assume, a significant European role in maintaining international security outside the Continent seems doubtful during the next decade.
In East Asia only Japan among the non-communist states seems potentially powerful enough to play a major security role even in its own region, not to mention elsewhere. It too has the talents and resources; it is already in many ways more competent and influential than China. Yet strong psychological and political factors inside and outside Japan seem likely to inhibit it for a number of years from rearming substantially or being willing or able to play its natural part in maintaining the security of East Asia. The United States would be unwise prematurely to press it to do so.
The OAS has a limited capability to assist the United States in security matters inside the Western Hemisphere; it has none outside. There are no other states or groups of states anywhere capable of playing such a role in the near future, except to a minor extent in their immediate neighborhoods.
The United Nations has demonstrated a limited peacekeeping capability during the past twenty years. It has not fulfilled this role in the decisive way the authors of the Charter intended, but through arrangements negotiated by the Secretary-General, at the behest of the Security Council or the General Assembly, with parties to conflicts and with states willing to contribute forces, observers, funds and logistic support. Even this limited peacekeeping capacity has diminished recently: the new Afro-Asian majority in the Assembly practically excludes any peacekeeping decision by that body which is unacceptable either to the United States or to the U.S.S.R.; the Secretary-General's freedom of action has been reduced thereby as well as by the more restrictive policy toward him adopted recently by the U.S.S.R. and France; the absence of Communist China, North Viet Nam and North Korea inhibits the United Nations from undertaking peacekeeping in East Asia; and the dismissal of UNEF by the United Arab Republic reduces its capabilities in the Middle East. The United Nations is therefore in fact limited to such peacekeeping operations as may be approved not only by the Security Council-including of course the United States and the U.S.S.R.-but also by the parties most concerned in an actual or threatened conflict.
One's reluctant conclusion is that over the next decade the effective responsibility for international security may rest very largely with the United States and the U.S.S.R., either in competition or coöperation, or more likely in some untidy combination of the two.
What does this actually mean in practice?
It probably means, first, that in case serious international disorder is provoked by communist states, parties or movements, the United States, if it considers that this disorder threatens its own "vital" interests or those of an ally, will have either to work out with the Soviet Union an agreed means of checking or limiting it, or act against it more or less unilaterally with only such help as the state or states directly concerned can supply.
If the Soviet Union has itself either provoked or encouraged the disorder, it will obviously not be willing to coöperate in suppressing it, though it may join in preventing serious escalation. If the disorder has been provoked (after a Viet Nam settlement) by one of the East Asian communist states, particularly China, the Soviets may coöperate in checking it, especially if it violates international agreements they have signed, though their action may be discreet and ambiguous.
The degree to which Soviet leaders themselves will in the future encourage or support "wars of national liberation" will depend primarily on developments inside the Soviet Union. But clearly four factors already restrain them from doing so: (1) the fear that such wars may escalate; (2) the strong objection of most Afro-Asian and Latin American states to communist revolutionary movements inside independent nations; (3) the apprehension that the Chinese might gain most from such wars; (4) the decline of revolutionary fervor inside the Soviet Union and its preoccupation with preserving the status quo inside its own bloc. Indeed the intervention in Czechoslovakia, while it was clearly a victory for the reactionary Stalinists inside the Kremlin, may further inhibit Soviet involvement in "wars of liberation," both by the problems it will create within the bloc and by its impairment of the Soviet posture as a "liberator."
The Soviets will of course be more willing to coöperate in checking or limiting international disorders having no significant communist component. They have done so recently in the Cyprus conflict, the India-Pakistan war of 1965 and, to a limited extent, the post-hostilities phase of the Middle East crisis of 1967. Even in such cases, however, domestic preoccupations or conflicting interests of friends of the United States and the U.S.S.R. will often lead to differing assessments as to just when and how peacekeeping should be conducted and the lengths to which it should be carried.
The conception of Chinese national interests held by its communist leaders may still for some time reflect quite esoteric estimates of the hazards and benefits of wars not directly and immediately involving China. Since 1949, and particularly since 1953, Mao and his principal colleagues have shown remarkable prudence in this respect. For some time, however, they may be expected to encourage international violence in the belief that it will not escalate to a point involving themselves. In this judgment they may sometimes prove wrong.
The present time, when the Chinese régime is momentarily incapable of governing effectively and is hostile both to the United States and the U.S.S.R., is perhaps uniquely favorable for these two to commence more genuine coöperation. The United States should remember that if a more pragmatic régime in Peking emerges from the present turmoil it might resume coöperation with the Soviet Union and again confront the United States with a communist bloc of over one billion people; in the meantime Soviet suppression of "revisionism" in Prague may narrow the gulf between Moscow and Peking. On the other hand, Moscow is aware that if the radical Chinese Communists consolidate their power and successfully continue their nuclear weapons development, they might constitute a much more serious threat.
Nevertheless, competition with the United States has become a way of life for the Soviet leadership; they are obviously trying to close the "missile gap;" they are desperately trying to stave off disintegration or impairment of their East European empire; they are developing a greater capability to intervene with conventional military forces in areas not contiguous to their own territory; they are determined to be recognized as a "world power" on more or less the same level as the United States. To the extent they succeed, their new capabilities will tempt them to make the same mistakes the United States has made in Viet Nam and elsewhere. They have just made a tragic though traditional mistake in Czechoslovakia, Soon the question will arise whether they will perceive any better than the Americans did that their new capabilities, exercised unilaterally, are just as likely to be damaging as to be favorable to their own interests, not to mention the interests of others.
The other side of the coin of the efforts of the Soviets to achieve status and recognition is their recurrent interest (temporarily in abeyance during Viet Nam) in being in conspicuous association with the United States. "Summit meetings," "hot lines" and similar devices emphasize equality of status; they also facilitate common action in areas which have so far been very narrow but which could be widened. The appalling consequences of direct confrontation between them has long been apparent to both sides; the possible consequences of indirect and involuntary confrontation are also gradually becoming apparent. If we are right in estimating that in the coming decade limitation of international violence may be largely dependent on some coöperation between the United States and the U.S.S.R., the former should be no more inhibited in seeking it because of Czechoslovakia than the Soviet Union has been because of Viet Nam. After twenty years of bitter hostility and still unimpaired ideological incompatibility, coöperation will at best be precarious and partial. It still seems so essential, however, that the new American administration should promptly undertake to explore whether it is feasible and how extensive and reliable it might become.
The Soviet leaders should be aware, however, that, if they persist in suppressing all liberalization in Eastern Europe by force, they risk once again so antagonizing American public opinion that all coöperation between the two countries, even that which is much in the interest of both, will for a further period of time be politically out of the question. After all, the cold war was born in Eastern Europe and will have eventually to be buried there.
The main areas requiring urgent examination are: (1) the nuclear arms race and its impending escalation, which poison the relationship between the two states, limit their ability to deal with grave domestic problems and make the whole balance of international order and peace precarious; (2) the security situation in East Asia where, after Viet Nam, the two states may be able to find a limited common interest in preventing the outbreak of further hostilities from which China could profit; (3) the security situation in the Middle East where the aggravation of the Arab-Israeli conflict, the withdrawal of Britain and the increasingly active Soviet policy create a likelihood not only of more local conflict but, unless precautions are taken, of more great-power involvement
A hazard involved in such far-reaching American-Soviet consultation, and perhaps limited agreement, even for such unexceptionable ends, would be the anxiety created on the one hand in Western Europe and Japan and on the other among the "developing" states that the two superpowers were setting up a dual hegemony to police the world. Unhappily there is little likelihood that they could reach wide enough areas of agreement in the foreseeable future to give substance to such anxiety. A much greater danger would be that their agreement would fall far short even of maintaining basic international security. Nevertheless, the United States should seek at all times to bring its allies and friends into the nexus of negotiation and agreement whenever their interests are involved and they may be willing to participate and share responsibility. If any are excluded from peacekeeping, it should be only because they exclude themselves. It is the regretful thesis of this article, on the basis of the evidence so far at hand, that over the next decade many are likely to do so.
In cases, however, where the United States, the Soviets and whoever else may be willing to share responsibility are agreed that some immediate exercise of peacekeeping force is required, the appropriate instrument will usually be the United Nations. Exercise of force properly authorized and conducted by the United Nations has the sanction of more than 120 member states; it avoids unilateral intervention by either superpower, reaction by the other, or the appearance of dual hegemony by both; it can be carried out through procedures elaborated and accepted over the past twenty years. At the present time any such U.N. peacekeeping would have to be conducted under those procedures; that is to say, it would have to be sanctioned by the Security Council, would also require the consent of the government or governments within whose territory the operation is to take place, would be manned by ad hoc contingents from states other than the United States and the U.S.S.R., and would be supported by funds voluntarily contributed by a minority of U.N. members.
If, over a period of years, the two superpowers and others should decide that it is in their common interest to use the United Nations systematically for peacekeeping, it might be possible gradually to activate the more decisive procedures for the maintenance of international security laid down in the Charter, that is, to revive the Military Staff Committee and to negotiate among member states special agreements providing armed forces and facilities to the United Nations on a regular and permanent basis.
So much for the first alternative by which serious international violence might be curbed over the next decade, namely, by limited coöperation between the United States, the U.S.S.R. and others both inside and outside the United Nations. But what if even sincere and persistent efforts to work out this coöperation prove abortive? What if the legacies of the cold war prove still to dominate thought and policy on both sides?
There will certainly, at the very least, be cases in which the Soviet Union refuses to coöperate in peacekeeping, either because it or one of its friends has provoked the violence, or because it expects to extract some political capital from the conflict, or simply because it does not want to become involved. In these cases-if our conclusion is correct that no other state will be willing to play a significant security role outside Europe and Latin America during the next decade-the only alternative to permitting the violence to proceed unchecked would be unilateral intervention by the United States, assisted only by those closely involved. In the light of our recent experience, when would such unilateral intervention be justified and when would it not?
We have referred to treaty commitments which the United States must respect if it is not to lose all international credit. These commitments are not necessarily for all time. Some, such as those to SEATO and implicitly to CENTO, are in many respects out of date and in need of early review. Those to NATO and the OAS, on the other hand, while evolving, still have solid justification. Under existing circumstances the United States would no doubt have to join in resisting an attack, if requested by the party attacked, on Japan, South Korea, Taiwan, the Philippines, Thailand, Australia, New Zealand and Israel. It would also probably feel obligated to assist, though it is not clear to what degree, certain other states, such as India and Iran, if they were attacked by communist neighbors,
The most important twilight zones, where the United States most needs to clarify its obligations, interests and intentions, would appear to be Southeast Asia and the Middle East. We have already suggested that, after Viet Nam, the United States and the U.S.S.R. jointly endeavor to sort out their interests and commitments in these areas and to work toward stabilization there. While one could not be sanguine about the response, Communist China should certainly also be offered the opportunity to take part in such stabilization. What, however, if this joint reëxamination proves unproductive or, because of the limited influence of the United States and the U.S.S.R. in these areas, inconclusive?
The most decisive lesson of Viet Nam would seem to be that, no matter how much force it may expend, the United States cannot ensure the security of a country whose government is unable to mobilize and maintain sufficient popular support to control domestic insurgency. It can assist, by checking external invasion or massive aid to insurgents, but only the local government can suppress the insurgency itself. If indigenous dissidents, whether or not communist, whether or not supported from outside, are able to mobilize and maintain more effective popular support than the government, they will eventually prevail. The United States cannot prevent them even if it so desires and even if it is willing for a time to pour out lives and resources to that end. Under such circumstances, unpalatable as it may be, the United States will have to reconcile itself to the "loss" of the country in question, either to the communists or to other effective insurgents* (Of course the United States should not put itself in the position of always opposing insurgency and supporting the status quo. After all, its principles are revolutionary even if its political action outside its borders cannot often be.)
The problem of violent insurgency, wherever it arises throughout the underdeveloped world, will essentially be solved or not solved by the will and capacity of the government and the élite to meet to a sufficient degree the political and economic imperatives of their evolving society. The role of the United States, to the extent it wishes and is asked, will be to assist these governments and élites to meet these imperatives before armed insurgency has broken out or at least before it has reached unmanageable proportions. If the local government and the élite are unable or unwilling to meet these imperatives, the United States will certainly not be able to do so.
These principles of course apply to the states of Southeast Asia, including the Philippines and Indonesia, The survival of their governments will depend upon their success or lack of it in meeting the above-mentioned imperatives. They can be given, if they wish, military "guarantees" and economic aid, but their fate will be determined by their will, their capacity, their sophisticated concern for the "hearts and minds" of the people.
It seems improbable that China or North Viet Nam will undertake overt aggression against Southeast Asian states (after the end of the present conflict), at least for some time, because of domestic conditions. The United States would be justified, however, in giving new or renewed assurances of support in case of such aggression to any Southeast Asian state or group of states that asked for them. Particularly if the outcome in Viet Nam proves to be unfavorable or ambiguous, such assurances might be required to block a rapid exploitation of the "domino theory." Great care should be exercised, however, to ensure that any assurances, other than those having to do with overt invasion, are not open-ended and are strictly dependent on appropriate performance by the recipient government.
One means of reducing unilateral American peacekeeping responsibilities in Southeast Asia after a Viet Nam settlement might be what is loosely called a "neutralization" of the area. The means would be a treaty guaranteeing the independence and territorial integrity of some or all of the states there on condition of their "nonalignment" with any military bloc. Such "neutralization" would, however, hardly be meaningful unless underwritten by Communist China and North Viet Nam, which may or may not be inclined to coöperate. In any case the area's conspicuous vulnerability to communist misbehavior presents a further compelling argument, in addition to many others, that the United States should persistently seek accommodation of its differences with Peking and support all feasible means for drawing China back into the community of nations. The most obvious first means of doing so would be a change of American policy regarding Chinese representation in the United Nations.
In the Middle East the situation is different because the United Nations has long been and still is deeply involved there and because the chief great power concerned, other than the United States, is the Soviet Union rather than China. Moreover, the state in the area to which the United States is most heavily committed, Israel, has shown a remarkable capacity for taking care of itself.
Indeed the chief problem for the United States arising from the Arab- Israeli conflict is not the danger that Israel may be overrun but the fact that the rigidity of both sides perpetuates the conflict and sucks in the two superpowers. The commitment of the United States to one and the U.S.S.R. to the other has long embroiled the United States with the Arabs, and now risks embroiling it with the Soviet Union over interests not really "vital" to either side, In this sense the Middle East could, with even less reason, come to play a disastrous role between the two superpowers similar to that which the Balkans played between the two European alliances before 1914.
In view of the passionate nationalism of most of the states in the area, as well as its fragmentation and the crisscross of rivalries among the countries involved, it is most unlikely that either the Soviet Union or the United States could hope to dominate the area or any significant part of it. New intruders into the Arab world cannot expect, particularly in this day and age, to be any more permanently successful than old ones were. It can hardly be doubted that their aid will be used by their respective clients more in the interests of the clients than of the patrons.
If this analysis is correct, both the United States and the Soviets should firmly forgo unilateral military intervention in the area or indeed other competitive measures which could lead to confrontation between them. The traditional involvement of the United Nations creates a convenient cushion, to the extent they use it, between the interests of the two superpowers and their respective friends. Before new disasters occur, the United States, the U.S.S.R. and the Europeans should exert every ounce of leverage they possess to achieve whatever elements of settlement can be extracted from the Security Council resolution of last November. If multilateral peacekeeping fails again in the Middle East, there is little we can do unilaterally that would not entail greater peril than profit to ourselves and our friends.
Only a few words need to be said about the expediency of unilateral American military intervention in areas outside East and Southeast Asia and the Middle East. As far as Latin America is concerned, the machinery of the Organization of American States is available. It would seem to be a sound principle that the United States should not intervene militarily in Latin America without the approval of a substantial majority of the OAS. One can imagine cases of massive intervention by an external power, as the introduction of missiles into Cuba, which might require a response by the United States even in the absence of OAS sanction, but such cases will occur very rarely if at all. In Latin America as elsewhere, the proper emphasis of our policy will be to assist Latin American states, if they wish us to do so, in meeting the political and economic imperatives of modernization and, where necessary, in dealing with incipient insurgency. As in Southeast Asia, if and when insurgency should reach massive proportions in any country and the local government should lose the support of most of its population, it would be beyond the power of the United States to maintain the status quo,
As to Africa, while the state of the continent is in many ways tragic and violence seems almost certain to proliferate, there is little chance that American military intervention would be either attractive or useful. What can be done, the Organization of African Unity and the United Nations will have to do, though neither can do much until the developed states decide that it is contrary to their interests to permit a whole continent to stagnate.
There are at least three potential threats to international security in Africa. One would be an outbreak of violence between the "radical" and "moderate" Arab states on the North African littoral, with one side (as in the Middle East) being backed by the Soviet Union and the other by the United States and some of its European allies. A second would be the outbreak of large-scale racial war in South Africa, Rhodesia and the Portuguese colonies, A third would be a comprehensive and successful Chinese exploitation of retarded development, frustrated expectations, violence and despair. None of these eventualities seems probable within the next few years, but the existence of all of them is further evidence of the need for creating over the next decade more effective multilateral peacekeeping machinery.
To sum up, what conclusions in regard to U.S. responsibilities for the maintenance of international security during the coming decade emerge from the above analysis,?
1. There will be substantial international violence, particularly in the underdeveloped countries of Asia and Africa and perhaps in Latin America. Much of this violence may not be of overwhelming international concern, but some will involve the interests of great powers and will risk escalation into more general war.
2. Allies of the United States are likely to be unwilling or unable during this period to assume significant peacekeeping responsibilities outside of their own region. Only in Europe and Latin America will such allies be able to assume a major role in peacekeeping even inside their own region.
3. The United Nations will be able to play a significant peace keeping role only in cases where the United States and the U.S.S.R. are agreed that it shall do so.
4. Only the United States and the U.S.S.R. are therefore likely during this period to have and to be willing to exercise significant worldwide military capabilities and responsibilities. Peacekeeping during the decade may therefore be largely a factor either of com petition or coöperation between those two states.
5. To the extent that Western Europe might be united or-even disunited-that its separate states might be willing to assume some worldwide security responsibilities, it should be constantly encouraged to do so. This would apply also to Japan, if and when it chooses to rearm significantly. Even in the absence of willingness to assume such responsibilities, these states should be given the opportunity to participate in U.S. negotiations on security matters with the communist powers.
6. Despite their ideological incompatibility and their unresolved confrontations, mostly indirect, in Europe, East Asia and the Middle East, the United States and the U.S.S.R. have a strong common interest in preventing the outbreak of nuclear war, hence an interest, which is also strong but difficult to define and delimit, in checking international violence which might escalate into nuclear war. They may have a further common interest in containing any Chinese aggressiveness which might develop if and when Peking again consolidates its authority.
7. There are significant external and internal pressures operating on the Soviet Union to diminish its enthusiasm for provoking revolution and upsetting the status quo. There are also internal pressures constraining it to match the military capabilities of the United States and to compete more aggressively with it in some parts of the world.
8. All these considerations call for an urgent and vigorous effort by the United States and U.S.S.R., after a Viet Nam settlement, to reëxamine their relationship and to determine to what extent they can coöperate rather than compete in maintaining international security. They should concentrate particularly on limiting the arms race, on the two most critical areas, East and Southeast Asia and the Middle East, and on more effective utilization of U.N. peacekeeping capabilities.
9. Whatever the degree of success or failure of this bilateral reëxamination, the United States will nevertheless continue to be saddled during this decade with substantial unilateral responsibilities, arising from previous commitments or from continuing interests, for the maintenance of international security. They will apply particularly in the two above- mentioned critical areas but also to some extent elsewhere in Asia, Africa and Latin America.
10. These unilateral responsibilities should nevertheless be held within the narrowest compass consistent with existing treaty commitments and with "vital" interests strictly defined. The emphasis should be on assisting competent and representative governments to meet the political and economic imperatives of modernization, through giving them economic aid, preferably via multilateral instruments, and through limited military aid where a serious threat exists. The presumption should be against direct unilateral military intervention, unless an ally is subject to overt aggression across frontiers. Finally, the United States cannot suppress insurgency in a country whose government is itself incapable of competing with the insurgents.