In the 30 years that I have spent as a U. S. Congressman, I have considered myself mainly a hawk on national defense issues. It is my view that the communist world is deadly serious in its intent to conquer the globe. Toward that end, the communists can be counted on to probe for weaknesses on the part of Western nations. Where weaknesses can be found, the communists will move swiftly to take full advantage. I feel that our defense and foreign policy makers must always be aware of this very basic fact.

Yet, I also have a profound belief in the validity of that great fourth dimension-time. Too often we assume that what is "good" today will always be "good," and that the fixed concepts of today will always be valid. Thus, I feel strongly that we must look-not to the next five years-but to the next 50 years. We must decide the kind of world we want ours to be; then, and only then, make plans and establish agendas to accomplish our goals. In the process, we must correct errors of action and attitudes which block our path.

Simplistic? Yes-but read on.


Never have I been as concerned about our nation's defense posture and its foreign policy as I am today, on the eve of my retirement from Congress. Now is a period in our history when, it seems to me, a thorough reexamination of our posture is badly needed and long overdue. Looking at the near term, we have fallen behind the Soviet Union in some very important categories of armaments. Our economic and fiscal situation at home is becoming increasingly worrisome. We are faced with three challenges: (1) to rearm effectively enough to deter attacks; and (2) to rearm at a price our economy can support. These are not easy challenges to meet simultaneously.

The third challenge facing us is even more basic than the first two. It is to determine the purpose, or goal, of our foreign policy. What is it that we hope to accomplish in various parts of the globe? What are the physical tools needed? Can our economy support all of the activities we might find desirable, or must we set priorities among our points of concern? What can be accomplished now, and what must depend on a more protracted, sustained effort?

Defense and foreign policies must intertwine and be mutually supportive. Our nation's defense must be a part of a coherent foreign policy, and the framers of foreign policy must be constantly aware of our defense strengths and weaknesses. My definition of the term "foreign policy" is: "A plan to create and maintain a world climate in which our national way of life can survive and prosper into the indefinite future, in peace." I suggest that the most important words in that definition are "into the indefinite future, in peace."

What seems to be lacking in America's foreign policy today and in recent years is any sense of long-range planning consistent with the definition I offer. Unlike Oriental leaders, who tend to plan their societies for periods of up to 50 or 100 years, we in this country seem to rock along from year to year, crisis to crisis, with no overall plan for where we want to go and how we intend to get there.

The analogy I like to use is rudimentary, but it illustrates my point. Suppose you are climbing a hill. When you are below the brow of the hill, you have no way of knowing what is on the other side. The tendency, therefore, is to plan to cope only with what you see and proceed as best you can toward the crest. Common sense, however, tells you there is a large world beyond the crest and that, once this particular hill is traversed, there will be other obstacles to deal with. Knowing this, the prudent person will go through the physical or mental exercise of calculating what is probably on the other side of the hill-the side he cannot see. In battle, he would send a reconnaissance unit ahead for a report. Lacking those facilities, he would simply draw upon past experience and form some idea as to what he should be prepared to meet as he comes over the brow of the hill.

Unfortunately, I do not detect any coherent long-range plan for the future against which our present decisions can be measured.

When we begin to put the problems of our world into a longer time frame, solutions which had eluded us become more apparent. Matters which seem extremely important to us today fade into a lesser degree of importance rather rapidly when measured against the yardstick of an extended period of time. Even more basic is the fact that many of our policies which now seem correct are obviously incorrect when measured by the yardstick of time.


Let me give a few examples. In our present position on the hill, we see that our economy is dependent upon the use of oil as the main source of energy. Therefore, it seems vital that a foreign policy designed to maintain our national way of life ensure access to a supply of oil.

The Persian Gulf is, at the present time, the part of the world which supplies most of the oil which we and our allies use. Therefore, we jump to the assumption that defending the Persian Gulf area from any nation which might cut off that supply of oil is absolutely imperative. Thus, we decide that we must fashion our foreign policy, and therefore our military posture, to accomplish this at all costs.

Having reached this conclusion, if we are the least bit prudent, we will take a look at the magnitude of the job which we have resolved to undertake. The Persian Gulf is flanked by nations, some of which have unstable governments, demonstrably capable of irresponsible acts at any time. Even worse, farther away, but still much closer than we are, is the brooding presence of the Union of Soviet Socialist Republics, one of the world's two superpowers.

Can there be any doubt that were we to try to defend the Persian Gulf against a Soviet incursion, we would be assuming a task which could be performed only at the risk of World War III? Does anybody doubt that the magnitude of such an effort would have a devastating effect on the American economy?

Does anybody believe we would receive full support from our "allies" in Western Europe? We should remind ourselves that when we needed to transport material to Israel to save it from being overrun in the last Sinai war, practically all our "allies" in Western Europe not only would not give us facilities for landing and refueling our aircraft-many of them would not even let us fly over their territory. Can there be any doubt that if we were indeed to get into a war with Russia in the Persian Gulf that those same "allies" would be doing their very best to make some kind of a deal to acquire access to the energy which they need for their own economies, without regard to our needs or desires? I think the answer is obvious.

So, we must try to predict what might be over the brow of the hill which could either aid our efforts to defend the Persian Gulf, or lessen the necessity of keeping the oil of the Persian Gulf available to us and our "allies."

If, over the brow of the hill, there await solutions to the problems of harnessing the energy produced by the fusion of hydrogen and its isotopes, it would lessen the importance of the Persian Gulf immediately. Also, if we could anticipate a technology for producing huge amounts of energy from the rays of the sun, by the use of photovoltaic cells or by other means, again the whole imperative for obtaining energy from oil, wherever located, would be altered.

The point is that if you just look ahead at the hill, and note the need for energy in the form of oil which now exists, you come to a very dangerous conclusion-defend the Persian Gulf at all costs. If, however, you project capabilities which are not yet available, but which can be developed to produce huge quantities of energy from basic materials which are universally present, you realize that the necessity for taking terribly risky positions in the Persian Gulf area need not exist. What is required is our willingness to revise our priorities and dedicate the assets necessary to bring these new power sources on stream as soon as possible.


Take another example of the changes time can bring about. For many decades prior to World War I, Western Europe comprised the most powerful and advanced group of nations in the world. Through their empires, the nations of Europe controlled most of the earth's surface. The science and technology that came from their factories and universities fueled most of the industrial progress in the Western world.

In those days, any nation which could establish hegemony over Western Europe could, in effect, control the globe. Britain, for many years, played the game of preventing that from happening, and did so quite successfully.

Beginning with World War I, we got into the "balance of power" game also. Americans were told that they were "saving the world for democracy." Really, they were saving Europe from the domination of Germany. This was true of World War II in a large measure. It was the reason for our participation in the "cold war" against the U.S.S.R. in the late 1940s, and it is the amalgam which holds NATO together today.

Our preoccupation with Western Europe still dominates our foreign and economic policies, as well as our military posture. The North Atlantic Alliance has the purpose of counterbalancing the brooding threat of Soviet Russia and its allies in the Warsaw Pact nations. We entered NATO gladly, assuming we had no other choice. At that time, our decision was a wise one.

Yet, one wonders why we continue this preoccupation with Western Europe. The comparative power of the European nations has gone down continuously since World War II. Their former empires are now a myriad of independent nations which make up much of what we call the Third World. While the combined economies of Europe are still formidable, and their scientific know-how is impressive, they no longer constitute the overwhelming economic and military power they were prior to World War I and World War II.

A reexamination of our posture causes us to consider many things, including the military safety of our troops in Europe. Since the withdrawal of France from the NATO military structure, with the resulting unavailability of the supply lines from the French ports to bring to our troops the reinforcements, ammunition, and other materials which they need, the position of American forces in southern Germany is bothersome, to say the least.

Supply lines must now come from the German and Belgian ports directly across the North German plain. It is fairly obvious that any Russian thrust would probably come across the North German plain and, if successful, would interdict our supply lines rather early in any conflict. This might result in our 350,000 troops defending a perimeter without hope of reinforcement or resupply. This is a possible result that no American should find palatable.

When we try to defend Europe at less cost in American assets and manpower, we are often met by firm opposition. For some time the American government has sought the agreement of the nations of Europe to deploy a neutron bomb. This weapons system, if in place, would be the most effective deterrent of all to a massed land attack by the U.S.S.R.-much better than any number of allied tanks. The neutron bomb could destroy Soviet tanks and personnel without doing significant or lasting damage to the cities and populations of our allies in Western Europe. It is ideal for the purpose of deterrence. It could suffice to stop a Russian attack, making a full-fledged nuclear confrontation unnecessary. Yet the governments of Western Europe have mainly not favored its deployment.

We also realize that none of the NATO nations have volunteered to help us defend the Persian Gulf, or any other areas of the world outside of Western Europe. In fact, it seems that they are telling us that we must continue to participate in their defense (even though it is 37 years since the end of World War II), in addition to protecting the interests of the free world in all other areas of the globe. One wonders how long the American economy is supposed to support burdens such as these without greater assistance from the economies of Western Europe.

Recently, we have tried to get our "allies" not to extend credit to help the U.S.S.R. to build a pipeline to transport gas from Siberia into Western Europe. There are several reasons why we take this position. First, we are wary of the political influence Communist Russia might be able to exert on a capitalist Western Europe which would be largely dependent on Russia for energy supplies. Second, the U.S.S.R. has dedicated a huge portion of its gross national product to armament. We would like to force it to devote more assets and hard currency to other purposes-i.e., pipelines. Extending credit for purchases needed for the pipeline gives the Russians more hard resources to use for arms. Third, when you are an overextended creditor, you are at the mercy of your debtor. Many European governments and banks are already suffering from overextension of credits to the Eastern bloc.

It seems now that our "allies" will ignore these quite cogent arguments, and will proceed to aid the U.S.S.R. to build its pipeline on credit and thus continue its armament buildup. These could become the twin shackles which will bind the free economies and political independence of Europe.

We even see some of our "allies" actively aiding rebels in Central America against governments which are friendly to us. If "linkage" is to be applied to our relations with the U.S.S.R., as it should be, perhaps the same principle should apply to the actions, or lack of action, of our "allies" in various parts of the world.

I don't believe the nations of Europe are adopting the policies which they now pursue because they don't like the United States. They are doing so because, consciously or subconsciously, they perceive their own best interests to be in a closer rapprochement and détente with the U.S.S.R. than we think is safe. I believe that this changed attitude is not an aberration, but is the beginning of a new era-a new perspective. I doubt that we can stop it, and I doubt that in the long run-50 to 100 years-we need to fear it.

The peoples of Western Europe have seen communism, with all its ugliness, repression, and dinginess. They are not going to embrace it voluntarily, and I doubt that it can be forced upon them over a long period of time, even with military and police power. In fact, the worst thing that could happen to communist Russia would be to swallow capitalist Western Europe. In less than 50 years, Russia would have absorbed a lot of capitalism-Europe would still reject the dullness of communism.

Western Europe has depended on us for its defense for too long. If it really wants to resist the predatory powers of Eastern Europe, let it do so with our blessing, our aid, but not our day-to-day participation.

I can understand the continuance of our mindset toward Western Europe. We have always been European-minded, practically ever since the foundation of our nation. And yet, if we were to project the power curves of the world society and look over the brow of the hill, I think we would see that our present policies may not be calculated to put us in the best position for the indefinite future.

Our European tilt has recently led us into an awkward situation. The Argentine Republic invaded the Falkland Islands. In my opinion, that invasion was unwise, illegal, wrong and reprehensible. Great Britain has been our most dependable ally. She was our mother country, and we have emotional ties to her which will never be dissipated.

However, I suggest we may have allowed Great Britain's understandable reaction to the Falkland invasion to influence our own policy unduly. First, we seem not to have been aware that, over the brow of the hill, the nations of South and Central America are likely to be even more important to us than are the nations of Western Europe, including Great Britain. Furthermore, given the decline in British capability to project power over great distances, I think it is a fair bet that in the long run the Falkland Islands will at some time come under the sway of Argentina, if she persists. Great Britain simply will not have the economy and the resources to support a long war or a protracted occupation in force of those not-too-valuable islands. In her own interests, she should not expend the assets necessary to defend such far-flung barren areas. She probably won't. Thus, over the brow of the hill, the Falklands are probably going to belong to the Argentine Republic, whether we or the British like it or not.

It seems to me that the only way to have solved the problem was for the British to have been more forthcoming in negotiating the future of the Falklands before invasion occurred. Argentina made it apparent that she was deadly serious about regaining those islands. A compromise involving shared rights to minerals, joint use of ports, and local autonomy for the inhabitants would surely have been preferable to warfare, and probably could have been had.

In other words, it seems to me that a fair balancing of interests, looking ahead 10, 20, or even 50 years, would have indicated that the Falkland Islands are not worth the treasure which Britain will spend on them. Certainly, from our standpoint, the erosion of goodwill we have experienced vis-à-vis our Latin American neighbors is a loss we cannot yet measure. A different tilt in our foreign policy priorities might have enabled us to avoid the unfavorable results of the Falkland affair.


The nations of the Third World certainly are going to increase in importance, not only totally, but also in relative importance to the United States. We have a unique opportunity, because of our advanced science and technology, to help the Third World nations to economic and social viability.

I am not one who believes that we should give of our treasure to nations which merely have their hands out. I do believe that we can help most nations to help themselves.

In what way can we help them? The answer is that any nation can become industrialized if it has people who are willing to learn, those who are willing to teach them, access to raw materials, and energy which is available and cheap. We can help them by teaching them much of our technology, but the greatest help that we can give them is supplying access to energy. I have already mentioned that over the brow of the hill is energy produced by the fusion of the hydrogen atom, and from the sun's rays. Hydrogen and the sun's rays are available throughout the globe.

Basic to a plentiful and universal supply of energy is the fact that we have flown the space shuttle Columbia several times, and will fly it and its sister ships many times more. With craft of this type, we can do many things, including building satellites in space with photovoltaic cells which can supply electric energy from the sun directly to practically any spot on the globe. This could become the most effective aid the developed world can give to the Third World.

I do not have the temerity to offer such a satellite power system as an easy or immediate solution. The scientific, technological and production problems involved in building such satellites, placing them in geosynchronous orbit, and equipping them with efficient photovoltaic cells are themselves extraordinarily great; these have been well analyzed in a recent study by the National Research Council of the National Academy of Sciences.1 While this study projects that such a system could not be in place much before 2030, my hunch is that this underestimates what could be achieved by a crash effort.

Moreover, the deployment of such a satellite power system would require not only scientific, technological and engineering innovations, but political and legal agreements among nations which will make the "Law of the Sea" efforts seem simple by comparison. In short, it requires the dedication of assets over a long period of time which can probably be supplied only by a consortium of industrialized nations.

Yet the ability to produce power from the sun and to make it available almost anywhere in the world portends such an impact on world energy and social problems that it cannot be overlooked. A satellite power system seems the most promising large-scale approach, and I feel the United States must take the lead in beginning to solve the problems involved, and in recruiting as many adherents as possible.

I am also aware of the progress being made in producing energy from fusion of hydrogen and its isotopes. I hope an efficient system can be produced in the near future, but there are still formidable problems to be solved before fusion power can be called "within the state of the art." And the scale and sophistication of future installations for fusion power may make it less suitable for Third World needs than some means of harnessing solar energy such as the satellite power system I have described.

The bottom line for our foreign policy has to be a peaceful world. Otherwise, my definition of foreign policy makes no sense. Wars come as a result of the failure of foreign policy. Making available to every nation on earth the chance to find a way to "the good life" for its people is not necessarily a guarantee of world peace, but it will certainly help. We will still have our rapacious and irrational Hitlers, Mussolinis, Idi Amins, and Genghis Khans around the globe, but they will not be able to attract the popular support which they might otherwise have if the peoples of the globe either possess, or have in prospect, a lifestyle which is attractive to them.

It must be stressed that a nation in which our aid results only in making the rich richer, and more capable of feeding Swiss bank accounts, is not going to further our aim for a peaceful world. Yet we cannot force political, social, or economic democracy on other nations. Perhaps if we can make governments understand that our aid is provided to promote peace, and that world peace depends upon hopeful, progressive people-not just nations-we can, in time, further the adoption of those three kinds of democracy.


I have mentioned that our military posture must be a part of foreign policy. As a matter of fact, foreign policy must be made up with many considerations in mind.

The capability to produce goods and services which will keep the economy healthy through reinvestment, provide the lifestyle which our people can reasonably expect, and provide adequate military preparedness, must always have our concern. I am certainly not suggesting that we should stint on providing for the defense of our country. Defending its people and its land is the first duty of any government. I am suggesting that after this objective is attained, any further military plans and preparations must necessitate the expenditure only of those assets which can be provided without undue distress to our economy. After all, in our efforts to provide safety for our way of life, a sound American economy is absolutely indispensable. Americans have never wanted to be world policemen. We are, and should be, concerned; but we are not, and shouldn't be, meddlers or enforcers.

Let me put it another way. If we cannot defend access to places or materials without serious damage to our economy or without unacceptable risk of nuclear war, we should turn our capabilities and our assets to finding substitutes to satisfy our needs through our science and technology.

Looking at our present military posture, as previously mentioned we are now falling behind the Russians in numbers of reentry vehicles capable of carrying nuclear warheads. If we allow the Russians to continue to enjoy this advantage, there can be serious consequences. The result could be political blackmail, allowing the U.S.S.R. to gain hegemony over many parts of the world without firing a shot. Or, it could tempt them to try a first strike hoping for a nuclear victory. We must not allow either of these things to happen.

And, yet, I see little profit in meeting the Russians missile for missile. It scares the whole world to death, and really accomplishes very little in the way of providing a peaceful world. Instead, should we not consider using our advantages in science and technology, to do an end run around the Russians?

Again, we can call on the Columbia and her sisters, which are capable of putting impressive quantities of matériel into earth orbit. Satellites equipped with rays capable of incapacitating or destroying ballistic missiles before they have reached their point of descent to their targets could be developed and deployed. We could, in time, put enough of those satellites in orbit to ensure that very few, if any, Russian ballistic missiles reach their targets. Such a system would require massive dedication of our capabilities, talents, and assets, but it would require no more outlays than would continuance of the nuclear arms race.

This would be a truly defensive system. It does not add to the prospect of war. In fact, it lessens those prospects. It should reassure the people of the world that we, at least, do not intend to initiate the ultimate holocaust.

There are those who will say that our perfection of such a space-based system to kill nuclear warheads will indicate to the Russians that we are striving for a "first strike capability." This is why we must accompany the deployment of such a system with an offer to destroy all ballistic missiles we possess, if other nations do likewise. The name of the game is to prevent the first missile with a nuclear warhead from taking off from a launching pad. Once the first missile is on the way, the ball game is over for civilization as we know it. So nuclear disarmament is absolutely vital and imperative, at the proper time and with the proper surveillance.

It can also be said that a satellite system for intercepting ballistic missile warheads violates the Anti-Ballistic Missile Treaty of 1972 sharply limiting ABM deployment. It may. If so, we should recognize the changes which have occurred since that treaty was promulgated, and revise it by negotiation.

When the ABM treaty was signed and ratified, both Russia and the United States had primitive anti-ballistic missile capabilities. Neither could rely on its ABM system as an effective deterrent against nuclear strikes. Deployment would have cost billions of dollars and rubles. The best deterrent we each had was mutual assured destruction (MAD).

The MAD system has kept the peace up to now, but it is evolving into a dangerous and never-ending nuclear arms race. This "MAD mess" must be ended. Deployment and counter-deployment of more missiles cause global jitters and do not give either nation the security it wants.

Technology can be developed for a real ABM system using our capabilities in space. We should pursue that course.2

Now, let's talk about conventional war. It is extremely expensive, particularly to civilizations such as ours. The American soldier requires more of our wherewithal to train, maintain, feed, supply and pension than the soldier of any other nation. So instead of building more tanks and the other accoutrements of World War II-type armies, we should equip our conventional forces with the very latest military technology available. Unfortunately, we are not doing that because too many of the persons who make decisions like these are still thinking in terms of conventional war as it was taught to them in their earlier careers. We need to put a premium on innovation and the use of our superior scientific community and technology in conventional as well as nuclear systems.

We also need to overhaul our military procurement system to insure that we get our money's worth. There is too much gold-plating, too many cost overruns, dishonest estimates, and the like. We must find better ways to get the taxpayers' money's worth from the military-industrial complex. Our economy cannot afford to support inefficiency and absurd degrees of redundancy.


To sum up, while we stand looking at the hill, we must try to visualize those things which are probably over the brow of that hill.

We should look and plan at least 50 years ahead. We must prepare ourselves to lead the world into the use of energy from the sun and from hydrogen, not from hydrocarbons. Using oil, an extremely valuable but wasting asset, to heat boilers or drive automobiles is a profligate waste which we can no longer countenance. Oil is extremely valuable for lubrication, feedstocks, and a myriad of other uses which the whole world can enjoy. It should be conserved for future generations to use more efficiently.

The preservation of the ecology of our planet is of paramount importance. I, for one, am worried about the "greenhouse effect" which a massive increase in the carbon dioxide in our atmosphere from the burning of hydrocarbons might produce. We need to know more about this possible effect.

The development of fusion or solar energy will not only end this threat, but it will change our whole foreign policy thrust. It will open the way for us to concentrate on our relations with the other nations of the Western Hemisphere, which must be our most important friends in the years to come.

Again looking over the brow of the hill, important to our global foreign policy must be helping the Third World nations arrive at social and economic viability. I hope we will be particularly solicitous in our aid to the nations of Central and South America, without any attempt at domination. That does not mean we should neglect Africa, Asia, or the Pacific basin. As to Western Europe, those nations will always be valuable trading partners and our cultures will always be congenial one with another. In fact, it would be my hope that the nations in Western Europe would enter into a consortium with us to help provide clean, cheap and plentiful energy and technology to the nations of the Third World so that we might eventually remove most of the rational causes of their dissatisfaction. However, we should cease giving Western Europe a dominant role in our foreign policy, to our future detriment.

Further, looking over the brow of the hill, we should organize our defense forces to defend those things which are absolutely essential to the preservation of our way of life. After that, if we have slack left over in our economy (after providing for the capital infusion necessary to keep our economy viable, and to provide a lifestyle for our people which is healthy, congenial, and reasonable), then we might want to turn our attention to the defense of other interests of lower priority. However, I think it is time for us to make it clear to the Pentagon that it has no blank check, and that it, too, must take responsibility for the preservation of the American economy and the American way of life. That preservation certainly will be enhanced by the use of balanced good sense in allocating the amount of our national assets to be dedicated to military weapons systems. We must also convince the peoples of the earth that we will not assume the role of global policeman.

The last sight I see over the brow of the hill concerns the American people themselves. I now see a population that has shed many of the faulted philosophies of the last 40 years concerning the desirability of public largesse which comes to them "without cost." I think our people now realize that there is no such thing as a free lunch. Our labor unions are beginning to understand that the welfare of all of us is completely tied to the production of enough capital to keep the products of our economy competitive both in quality and in price with the rest of the world. I hope that this trend will continue, and will extend to a realization by all of us that a strong American economy is the greatest of all the bulwarks of world peace.

I see, far over the brow of the hill perhaps, but nevertheless in sight, a peaceful world with each nation having the opportunity to provide the lifestyle its people want, and in which each person may share fairly.

I may be describing heaven. I hope not.

1 This 1981 study is entitled Electric Power From Orbit: A Critique of a Satellite Power System.

2 Again, it is not my intention to minimize the scientific, technological, and diplomatic problems which must be solved before a satellite ABM, using rays, can be deployed. I am informed that with the dedication of the requisite amounts of assets, the first two difficulties can be overcome. I think we should proceed to do so-forced draft. I am also informed that the Russians are very far advanced in perfecting their ABM and anti-satellite capabilities.

I agree that there are many advantages in the present treaty controlling the military use of space. Nevertheless, we should recall that dedication to the mutual assured destruction concept was the main rationale for the ABM treaty. If, as I advocate, we "work away" from MAD, revision of the various treaties to allow us and the Russians to use advanced concepts for ABM systems should not be unreasonable. It would be my hope that the remainder of the space treaties would remain intact.


You are reading a free article.

Subscribe to Foreign Affairs to get unlimited access.

  • Paywall-free reading of new articles and a century of archives
  • Unlock access to iOS/Android apps to save editions for offline reading
  • Six issues a year in print, online, and audio editions
Subscribe Now
  • John J. Rhodes will retire in January 1983 after having served since 1953 as a Member of Congress from Arizona. He was Minority Leader of the House of Representatives from 1973 through 1980, and Chairman of the House Republican Policy Committee from 1967 to 1979, and his committee assignments have included the House Intelligence Committee and the Defense Subcommittee of the House Appropriations Committee. He also served in the U.S. Army in World War II, and as a reserve colonel graduated later from the associate course of the Army's Command and General Staff College.
  • More By John J. Rhodes