How Russia Decides to Go Nuclear
Deciphering the Way Moscow Handles Its Ultimate Weapon
Campaign Fails to Prepare Nation
THE 1992 ELECTION pushed the wider world to the periphery of American politics. Foreign policy was not much in evidence during the campaign, and for good reason: this election, more than most, turned on the state of the American economy. Yet foreign policy was actually a key to understanding the discontent pervading American politics.
Americans had wearied of the Cold War as far back as the mid-1980s. Many felt menaced less by the Soviet threat than by the nuclear risks and the exorbitant costs of deterrence. Meanwhile a long, but not especially deep, recession became in the minds of many Americans the start of a depression. If it was morning in America, Americans were suffering a hangover.
When President Bush and Congress were slow to react to America’s straitened circumstances, public frustration with politics intensified, fueling an incipient crisis in the central institution of American democracy—the two-party system. The fervor for Ross Perot was just one sign of that discontent. Most political observers ascribed public disaffection to dissatisfaction with the presidential candidates of both major parties. But those two men were, by the standards of American politics, among the most capable of their peers and predecessors. More to the point, no one stands more clearly at the center of gravity of the Republican and Democratic parties than do George Bush and Bill Clinton. Their leadership is more than titular; they embody their parties. And that was the heart of the problem: what the parties stood for in the minds of many Americans over the past half century of Cold War and what they still stand for in 1992.
Throughout the Cold War the Republican Party’s reason for existence was anticommunism. Republicans could be counted on to shield America from the Red Menace, at home and abroad. Republicans could always outdo Democrats in their fierce devotion to that cause, even though they could claim no greater success. The Republican Party stood up to the Russian bear. Now that the bear has disappeared, what else does the G.O.P. stand for?
The Democrats’ standard also seems threadbare, even as it flies in triumph. At times during the Cold War the Democratic Party’s organizing principle was domestic reform and reconstruction—and it would get on with that job if only it were not for the Russian bear. The bear’s departure drew public attention to the Democrats’ domestic projects and exposed them as tired or inadequate. Democrats had only just begun to move beyond New Dealism. They dared not discuss how to pay for the sensible forms of public investment they proposed—rebuilding America’s infrastructure and educating America’s work force for the 21st century.
For the republicans the 1992 campaign merely postponed the struggle to redefine their party. George Bush succeeded in rebuffing or coopting rivals who had new visions for the party. Now that anti-communism was over, Pat Buchanan wanted to redirect the party away from Bush’s interventionist internationalism and toward economic nationalism. But Bush branded that "America First" appeal isolationist, which it was not, and beat back Buchanan’s challenge. Housing Secretary Jack Kemp, meanwhile, wanted to domesticate the party. Rejecting laissez-faire, just-say-no Reaganism, he tried to commit the party to a modest program of domestic reconstruction. But his voice was muted inside the Bush cabinet. The struggle to redefine the Republican Party and to free it from the thrall of religious zealots will revive as soon as President Bush leaves the White House. Then Republicans will at least have the luxury of opposition and may use their period out of power to redefine their purpose.
The Democrats, back in office, have it worse. Their candidate has not prepared the electorate for the tough choices he will have to make once he begins to govern. President?elect Clinton’s campaign statements muffled the obvious—that paying for domestic reconstruction will require sacrifice, both in the form of higher taxes and fewer defense jobs. Clinton spent more time trying to protect wasteful arms procurement than detailing how to downsize defense and redirect the nation’s energies toward domestic needs. And he did not deal with the ostensible contradiction of cutting defense even as the world has grown more turbulent.
The Democrats faulted 12 years of Republican rule for America’s economic distress; the Republicans reached farther back, trying to pin the tail on the donkey. They cited the Carter years’ 15 percent inflation and 21 percent interest rates. They even tried to make the Vietnam War an issue—24 years too late. Remarkably the Democrats reacted as if they had to burnish their war record in order to win: how else to account for a leading Democratic foreign policy adviser calling the party’s platform a "put-Vietnam-behind-us document." There was even a brief burst of muted triumphalism as the two parties argued over who deserved credit for winning the Cold War.
The result was a backward?looking campaign—one that failed to prepare Americans to reorient themselves in a world transformed. And it put both parties in poor position to reconcile the philosophical differences likely to arise over that reorientation. Indeed, if public disaffection with the parties deepens, neither may be able to frame the coming debate over where and how the United States should remain involved in the world, and at what cost. In short, 1992 was the last election of the Cold War, not the first campaign into the 21st century.
Straddling Leaves No Mandate
THE BUSH PRESIDENCY largely confined itself to tidying up the details of the old agenda: accommodating German unification, concluding a chemical weapons ban, negotiating deep cuts in nuclear arms and trying to forestall their instant proliferation in the former Soviet republics. And he started a Middle East peace process by supple diplomacy that his successor would do well to sustain. Yet Bush was slow to anticipate new trouble and slower still to head it off. He failed by and large to assist eastern Europe and the Soviet Union in their perilous transitions, to devise a foreign policy squaring national self-determination with state sovereignty and minority rights, to stanch bloodletting in Bosnia and to prevent the proliferation of all arms, not just weapons of mass destruction.
Yet responsibility for the narrowness of the debate rests foremost with the Democrats. In 1992, more than ever, it was the duty of the opposition to oppose. The Democrats dared not. Like a battlefield infantry fearing the lob of enemy artillery, the Democrats adopted a "hugging tactic," maneuvering to stay as close to their opponents as possible. They dodged debate about foreign affairs and fudged differences instead of sharpening them.
To their credit the Democrats did join the Republicans on the critical issue—how to rescue America from its economic predicament. Two decades of eroding economic performance and stagnating living standards demonstrated the urgency of the need to forgo private consumption for public investment and to shift public investment away from defense and toward more productive purposes.
But by straddling the issues of new world disorder, defense and trade, candidate Clinton denied President Clinton the mandate he will need to accomplish that transformation. Clinton failed to protect himself from the untoward political repercussions of his own program. The dangers now are that either he will surprise the American people, or they will surprise him.
Though Clinton has yet to offer it, there is an answer: the foreign disturbances almost certain to occur are not likely to threaten America’s vital interests. They are best headed off by timely political and economic intervention. And any military engagement will not require remotely the scale of defense that deterring the Soviet Union demanded.
In his campaign Clinton talked about cutting an additional $60 billion from the Bush defense budget over five years. The Bush budget assumed an oversized Base Force of 1.6 million troops, set before the Soviet Union fell apart. Even the Pentagon was already contemplating deeper cuts. By emphasizing how close his budget was to Bush’s, Clinton forfeited the opportunity to say where he would amass much of the means to pay for economic revitalization. That missed opportunity opened the way for Bush television spots to raise a telling question about his opponent: "Where will he get the money?"
Clinton compounded the problem by sowing confusion about his defense?industrial policy. In an August 13 speech to the Los Angeles World Affairs Council he took issue with those in his party "who see defense cuts as largely a piggy bank to fund domestic wish lists." But he himself proposed to do just that, and rightly so: "Every dollar we save by downsizing our armed forces and defense industries will be reinvested during our transition to a post-Cold War economy."
He also advocated state action to ease the wrenching economic adjustment: civilian retraining programs for military personnel, an education fund for defense industry professionals, help in relocating unemployed defense workers in civilian jobs, financial assistance for small contractors converting to nondefense work and aid to communities adversely affected by base closings.
Clinton then turned around and attempted to prolong wasteful weapons programs that even the Bush administration had tried to cancel—the Seawolf submarine, the Ml?Al tank and the V-22 Osprey tilt-rotor helicopter. His actions would give any industrial policy a bad name: picking sure losers for the sake of a few votes.
Clinton’s pandering on defense did not stop there. He betrayed his own policy on nonproliferation by rushing to back the sale of F-15 fighter jets to Saudi Arabia and F-16s to Taiwan. His eager endorsements were sellouts of the Democratic Party’s professed nonproliferation policy: "We must press for strong international limits on the dangerous and wasteful flow of conventional arms to troubled regions."
Elsewhere Clinton’s qualified endorsement of the North American Free Trade Agreement (NAFTA) temporarily appeased organized labor and its supporters in Congress and avoided alienating blue-collar voters in northern industrial states. But it only postponed and prolonged the struggle over protectionism within the Democratic Party. And that will put President Clinton in a predicament. Protectionism is good opposition party politics; it is poor government policy. The opposition party can always out-shout and out-promise the governing party when it comes to protecting adversely affected interests on trade. But protectionism promises precious little in the way of economic expansion in the coming four years.
Worse still, protectionism blunts the thrust of the fundamental transformation that Clinton wants to undertake. To his most astute economic advisers, renewing America’s infrastructure and educating its work force are critical to improving its competitive position in the global economy and to raising America’s living standard. It will take considerable rhetorical skill to convince the American people of that connection, let alone induce them to pay for those needed investments. But if unreconstructed industries can be spared by protectionist measures, why should other Americans sacrifice in order to invest in the future?
A Policy of Democratic Realism
THE TASK of redefining the ends and means of America’s engagement with the world is essential for Clinton if he is to prepare the way for the deep defense budget cuts that will be needed to finance his domestic programs. It is urgent; Cold War verities no longer provide a sound guide or compelling justification for active international involvement.
The end of the Cold War so rearranged the map of American interests that geopolitics no longer provides the clearest clues informing foreign policy. That suggests why President Bush was so hard?pressed to make a convincing case for putting American lives at risk in the Persian Gulf without waiting longer for economic sanctions to take effect. He searched through a litany of purposes to justify his eager recourse to war—from world order interests like punishing aggression to avowedly mercantilist ones like securing oil and protecting jobs. Yet only two seemed to have much purchase—stopping Iraq from going nuclear and ousting Saddam Hussein. The first purpose required the administration to exaggerate the imminence of an Iraqi bomb and the urgency of going to war. The second proved unattainable, leading some critics to judge the president’s war policy a failure.
Military intervention in Yugoslavia proved just as difficult to justify in traditional terms—regional instability in the Balkans was no longer the stuff of world war. Yet the "ethnic cleansing" campaign and concentration camps in Bosnia-Herzegovina posed a profound challenge to Western notions of world order: Would collective security or the law of the jungle prevail across Europe? Candidate Clinton was more prepared than President Bush to help wage a collective war of conscience in Bosnia, and he rightly recognized the world order implications. "In this crisis the international community faces the first post?Cold War test in Europe of the fundamental principles that international borders will not be changed by violent means and that minority rights must be respected," Clinton said. "Its outcome will set the standard for addressing other ethnic conflicts and the effectiveness of vital international institutions, including the European Community, the Atlantic alliance and the United Nations itself."
At the same time his insistence on multilateral action provided a check against over?eager interventionism.
The debate over Yugoslavia also showed how radically the cleavage in the American political spectrum over the use of military force has shifted since Vietnam. Liberal internationalists insisted most on military intervention in Yugoslavia; conservatives like President Bush took refuge in realism, warning of the limits of power to attain ideals and of the risks of overreach.
The horrors of Yugoslavia also point up the urgency of preventive action, primarily nonmilitary, to promote a more peaceful transformation in the rest of eastern Europe and Eurasia. Much more than President Bush, Candidate Clinton sensed that need. And he found words to sell the idea of foreign aid to a skeptical American electorate: "A small amount spent stabilizing the emerging democracies in the former Soviet empire today will reduce by much more the money we may have to commit to our defense in the future."
Clinton was also quicker than Bush to recognize that state sovereignty was not sacrosanct and that national self-determination was at times worthy of more than lip service. He took Bush to task for his August 1991 "Chicken Kiev" speech to the Ukrainian parliament and for his tardiness in recognizing the Baltic republics and derecognizing Yugoslavia. But as appealing as Clinton’s attack may have sounded to ethnic audiences in America, Bush may have been wise to wait as long as he did. The fate of freedom in the former Soviet Union depends, first and foremost, on the future of Russia. A resentful and revanchist Russia could eventually endanger the liberty of its neighbors. Bush’s delay in acknowledging self-determination, even in the former Yugoslavia—where it might have been taken as a precedent—gives Russian nationalists no basis for blaming America for the loss of empire. The challenge, in short, is not only to reconcile the will of the nation with the rights of the minority but also to reconcile the claims of self-determination with the realities of power. That means melding idealism with realism.
Clinton began to reformulate the terms and limits of America’s international role in an October 1, 1992, speech in Milwaukee, calling for "a prodemocracy foreign policy." In it he sought to move beyond playing geopolitical chess and to give purpose to American power: "Our national interests oblige us to join in building a just, enduring and ever more democratic peace in the world."
But Clinton carefully avoided calling for a democratic crusade: "Every ideal, including the promotion of democracy, must be tempered with prudence and common sense. We know that ballot boxes alone do not solve every world problem and that some countries and cultures are many steps away from democratic institutions. We know there may be times when other security needs or economic interests will diverge from our commitment to democracy and human rights. We know that we cannot support every group’s hopes for self-determination." Here was a chastened Wilsonian with no expansive call to pay any price, bear any burden, fight any foe for freedom.
A prodemocratic foreign policy puts a premium on political and economic means, not military. And it is best achieved in concert with others—"a global alliance for democracy," Clinton called it. That theme comported well with others that Clinton sounded during the campaign. He called for the redirection of foreign aid and the establishment of a volunteer Democracy Corps to nurture democratic development and to promote civic education in states emerging from communism and authoritarianism.
In Los Angeles on August 13 Clinton pledged "to pursue our interests when possible through strengthened institutions of collective security." But he was careful not to restrict America’s freedom of action. As he told a New York audience on April 1, "I will never turn over the security of the United States to the U.N. or any other international organization. We will never abandon our prerogative to act alone when our vital interests are at stake. Our motto in this era will be: together when we can; on our own where we must."
Clinton’s prodemocracy foreign policy may face its sternest test in China, where the aging leaders, threatened by the regional devolution of power and even the disintegration of the state, may be tempted to use assertiveness abroad, in the Spratly Islands for instance, to rally the nation. If so, Clinton’s prodemocracy direction may turn out to be no better premise for America’s China policy than Bush’s outmoded emphasis on strategic alliance. And Clinton may again find the need to temper his idealism with realism.
Yet Clinton cannot expand democracy abroad when it remains constricted at home. The new president will need to restore constitutional checks and balances after decades of Cold War erosion that culminated in the Iran?contra and Iraqgate scandals. Clinton has nonetheless begun to shape a promising new framework for American engagement in the world. He needs to build on these beginnings, both to create a mandate for needed defense cuts and the sacrifice required to endure ensuing dislocations, and to protect his domestic agenda from disturbances abroad.
Reshaping Roles and Forces
CLINTON WILL be required to reexamine many of the basic premises that guided American defense policy?making during the Cold War. The Soviet threat has disappeared, and with it the reason for nearly all the American strategic nuclear arsenal. Perhaps the most serious potential threat to U.S. security, and that of its allies, is the proliferation of weapons of mass destruction. But America and its allies have the power to curb much of this proliferation by diplomatic and economic means. Indeed military means are not up to the task—despite America’s overwhelming Gulf War victory, it has fallen to U.N. inspectors and economic sanctions to curb Iraq’s proliferation efforts.
Similarly the old rationale for maintaining a substantial American troop presence overseas has also disappeared. The NATO allies’ need for an American security guarantee has diminished, and so too has their need for U.S. troops. Nor is there much reason to equate the U.S. troop presence in Europe with American influence, as Bush tried to do. That influence was largely a function of others’ insecurity, and now with that insecurity lessened, American influence is sure to wane as well, whether or not U.S. troops remain in substantial numbers. To justify the continued presence of U.S. troops in Europe as a means of sustaining American influence is to invite pressures for their removal.
There are good reasons to maintain a modest military presence in Europe: to reassure anxious allies that the United States is not abandoning them and to provide insurance against the unlikely prospect that security once again becomes less collective and more national. But Bush and Clinton differed on the size of that presence: Bush would leave 150,000 troops in Europe, Clinton 100,000. Both numbers seem excessive.
Similar considerations suggest the need for a residual U.S. military presence in east Asia. But U.S. forces on the Korean peninsula can be further reduced as talks between the North and South progress. Aircraft carriers need not establish a naval presence when Aegis cruisers will suffice. And the Navy’s operating tempo can safely be curtailed. As some U.S. forces return home, the key is to intensify diplomatic dialogue on security issues, perhaps through an expanded Association of Southeast Asian Nations. The region lacks a multilateral framework like NATO or the Conference on Security and Cooperation in Europe where a security dialogue could take place regularly, and it would be useful to construct such a forum.
The fundamentally transformed international environment offers the next administration unprecedented opportunity to reduce America’s armed forces, restructure roles and missions, downsize the defense?industrial base and revamp the way the Pentagon modernizes its weapons. The United States retains enough military might to take on more than two Iraqs at once. Yet neither Bush’s defense cuts nor Clinton’s reflects these excessive force levels. A prudent planner might hedge by shaping conventional forces to counter, say, one and one-quarter Iraqs. Such an aim, combined with slowed weapons procurement, would allow the defense budget to be cut by more than $60 billion a year over the next five years. Absent such reductions, defense extravagance will short?change domestic needs.
The sooner Clinton decides to shrink the Base Force and the defense budget, the better. Military professionals worry about morale in the ranks. But ask any corporate executive: nothing so damages morale as the fear that the ax may fall any day. Better to devise a clear plan for reducing the armed forces and to provide ample time and assistance for service personnel to adjust and retrain.
No potential rival can challenge America technologically; even the Soviets could not sustain the required pace of modernization. With its current technological edge the United States can afford to maintain research and development without fielding new weapons. To induce firms to undertake weapons research without building more than a few prototypes will require a fundamental restructuring of the way the Pentagon pays for technological advance. The Department of Defense can no longer afford the current pattern in which contractors absorb much of the cost of research and development in order to "buy in" to a weapons contract, only to "get well" subsequently by attaining large procurement orders or peddling arms overseas.
Procurement cutbacks will lead to drastic downsizing of the defense sector. Some defense manufacturers will be able to convert to civilian production; others are simply not equipped to meet the test of the market. Adjustment assistance, not conversion, will be needed to ease the transition for many. Arms manufacturers will talk of the need to preserve the defense-industrial base; that is the bunker from which they defend a privileged position that lays claim to America’s scarce resources. Yet few segments of that base are critical enough to warrant special protection.
The candidates ignored this fact. Instead of defining America’s defensible defense needs the candidates spent most of the campaign trying to preserve pork. President Bush exploited the defense budget for shameless vote-buying, which went well beyond the usual disbursement of previously appropriated monies to contractors. No sooner had the Pentagon decided to close down Homestead Air Force Base in Florida than a hurricane destroyed it. What did the president do? He decided to rebuild it. In the first presidential debate, when Clinton called for reducing the number of troops in Europe by 50,000, Bush turned military service into a form of workfare: "If you throw another 50,000 kids on the street because of cutting recklessly in troop levels," he said, "you’re going to put a lot more out of work."
Clinton did no better, endorsing wasteful weapons that even Bush would not buy. Contradictory pronouncements about the need to preserve the defense?industrial base only sowed doubt about Clinton’s commitment to change. In his August speech to the Los Angeles World Affairs Council, Clinton acknowledged that "we can’t keep every production line and military lab open," and he favored identifying and preserving "the core skills and industries critical for our country’s security." Yet in the next breath he painted an expansive picture of the defense?industrial base he would preserve: "We should pursue new technologies with both civilian and defense uses, and we should pursue a strong upgrade program to keep current [production] lines operating and start limited production for next generation equipment." Such pronouncements were nearly enough to make Bush’s laissez?faire defense?industrial policy almost attractive.
Overcoming Protectionism at Home and Abroad
AMONG POLITICIANS campaigning in 1992, Bush and Clinton proved less prone than most others, including business and labor leaders, to finger?pointing, foreigner?bashing and protectionism. Bush positioned himself as an unabashed free trader, while his rival embraced a more mercantilist approach. Each cast economic competition from abroad as a challenge to be met, not a threat to be resisted.
Unable to bring himself to say "industrial policy," Clinton used trade issues to shore up his case for a "comprehensive national strategy" to promote economic growth. The phrase necessarily implied substantial state intervention in the economy, which could open the way to protectionism. If Clinton’s intention is to have politics drive economics, how will he keep his most powerful backers—industry as well as trade unions—from obtaining the protectionist policies they favor? Internationalists worry that Clinton will antagonize America’s most formidable trade rivals—Japan and western Europe—and thereby jeopardize the global alliance for democracy they seek. Worse yet, they fear protectionism would spur the formation of antagonistic trading blocs around the globe.
Bush’s free-trade ideology sidestepped many difficult issues—wishing them away—but Clinton’s hands-on approach will force tough choices. Clinton’s strategy calls for raising the skills of the American work force (especially on the shop floor), stimulating corporate investment and innovation, controlling costs by promoting efficiency in health care and energy use and encouraging greater productivity and high value?added exports. Yet that plan could be threatened if Clinton allows workers’ pay and safety to erode or the environment to decline in the name of free trade. It could also be undermined if he yields to protectionist pressures.
The constituencies for Clinton’s national economic strategy have yet to coalesce—in some cases they do not exist. In order to mobilize them, Clinton will sooner or later have to antagonize those well?organized and well?financed domestic interests favoring protectionism. If he wants an open global market, not a world of closed blocs, Clinton will need to challenge the protectionism of America’s closest allies as well. Unfortunately the United States is in a weaker position to do so today than at any time in the past four decades: U.S. military might is a wasting asset (given its allies’ reduced insecurity); and America’s economic leverage—threatening to restrict access to its huge domestic market—could prove troublesome in a prolonged global recession.
Clinton split the difference and delayed addressing the rift between internationalists and protectionists in the debate over NAFTA. His endorsement appealed to internationalists, but he also insisted on negotiating supplemental agreements that would establish an Environmental Protection Commission "with substantial powers and resources to prevent and clean up water pollution," set up a second commission on labor standards and safety, and ensure better enforcement of existing laws on environmental protection and worker standards.
Such qualifications heartened protectionists seeking to block the agreement. Moreover Clinton did not reassure internationalists with his characterization of NAFTA as a hedge against the rise of rival regional trading blocs: "While we don’t know what will happen to these other regional trading blocs we know enough to know that we need stronger ties to our neighbors, both for the positive opportunity and to protect us in the event that other countries become more protectionist."
The primacy Clinton gives to economic relations implies that a strong European Community is detrimental to America insofar as it closes off markets and enables European firms to become stronger competitors. But to internationalists a cohesive EC has always implied a secure Europe. Today the desire to ward off a renewal of antagonism on the continent means more than reconciling the rest of Europe to a unified Germany; it means a looser community open to the newly liberated states to the east.
The unraveling of Europe is a cause for profound concern. In a Europe held between the superpowers, integration in the west proceeded apace and disintegration in the east was held in check. With the end of the Cold War it is no longer clear whether Europe is coming together or apart. The west European response to disintegration in the east, especially to Yugoslavia, has exposed divergence of views about foreign and security policy. Further, Bonn’s hesitation to tax western Germany for the sake of its east, and the Bundesbank’s reluctance to ease interest rates revealed a lack of community in Europe over economic policy as well.
The primacy of economics could also lead to trouble with Japan. In the face of the Soviet threat the United States was prepared to sacrifice its economic interests to spur Japan’s recovery and later to demand that Japan reciprocate. Today the United States cannot expect Japan to make such sacrifices for U.S. economic well?being. Nor can it invoke the rhetoric of burden?sharing. Japan is already absorbing nearly the full costs of maintaining the U.S. military and naval presence. Asking Japan to pay the salaries of U.S. personnel would turn American troops into mercenaries. And asking Japan to build up its own forces would add to regional insecurity.
These issues are especially worrisome. Japan and America had long suppressed their economic conflicts for the sake of security cooperation and may now lack the domestic leeway to continue doing so. Moreover, now that the American presence has lost its manifest purpose of deterring the Soviets, there is at least some reason to doubt whether its latent purpose—reassuring Japan and its neighbors—can withstand scrutiny.
It will not be easy for President Clinton to square the primacy of economics with increased security.
Preparing Now for Change
ONLY IN foreign affairs did the Clinton campaign subscribe to the political wisdom that it is too risky for a candidate to seek a mandate for major change and to prepare the American people for the unexpected. In domestic policy Clinton’s major theme—"the courage to change"—served as both a signal and a warning of a dramatic break with the past.
But to get domestic policy right, Clinton will have to get foreign and defense policy right. He must make clear the links among all these. That means preparing the American people now for the enormous change to come and guarding himself and his party against adverse consequences from abroad. Candidate Clinton passed up the opportunity to demonstrate the impact foreign affairs will have on the future of America’s defense industry and economy. He will need to prepare the American people in the interregnum and the early days of his administration. A failure to do so could short?change domestic needs and make them hostage to international disturbances, sowing disillusionment with the Democratic president’s agenda and the two-party system itself.