Air University Review, November-December 1977
Dr. Dov S. Zakheim
THE FINAL YEARS of America's Vietnam experience, coupled with the tragedy of Watergate, witnessed an ever more bitter debate about the role of the United States in world affairs as well as about the place of the executive branch in formulating that role. Both Vietnam and Watergate are now historical events, although vestiges of both are likely to affect American thinking and behavior for some time to come. Although America is now fundamentally at peace with the world and herself, the debate continues.
It is singularly significant that after years of focusing national security debates on matters relating to Southeast Asia, we now virtually ignore the region. Our major concerns, according to the Department of Defense, are Europe and Northeast Asia as well as a minor contingency "elsewhere"--probably the Middle East. We have thus shed much of our interest in that region which for a decade absorbed our major systems, our stocks of ammunition, and our thinking. Instead, we have returned to contemplate developments in those regions that have been the focus of intensive Soviet activity for that same decade, and we are now debating the significance and consequences of that activity. What are the intentions of the Soviets and their allies? What is the meaning of the Soviet strategic and conventional buildups? What is the role of our allies? Who, for what, and where, if anywhere, should we be prepared to fight next? Is our focus to be solely on the Soviets? What about their surrogates, or others who might obtain nuclear weaponry?
Thankfully, these questions and the debate in general are being posed in a manner far less frenzied than that which accompanied the great national divide over Vietnam. But the issues are no less pressing; indeed, they are more so. Vietnam, after all, was the "half war" of the two-and-one-half wars for which the United States Command Authorities planned. It is with both the full war (we now plan for one-and-one-half1) and the half war that the present debate is concerned.
Robert Pranger's book Détente and Defense, The Brookings Institution's latest volume on and entitled Setting National Priorities, and The Last Chance by William Epstein all reflect aspects of this new debate.* Each highlights different views of the evolving world order and different priorities for coping with it.
*Robert J. Pranger, editor, Détente and Defense: A Reader (Washington, D.C.: American Enterprise Institute for Public Policy Research, 1976, $4.50), 445 pages.
Henry Owen and Charles L. Schultze, editors, Setting National Priorities: The Next Ten Years (Washington, D.C.: The Brookings Institution, 1976, $6.95), xvii and 618 pages.
William Epstein, The Last Chance: Nuclear Proliferation and Arms Control (New York: The Free Press, 1976, $14.95), xxiv and 341 pages.
Pranger's reader is not meant to be a formal position paper. Nevertheless, its focus on the U.S.-U.S.S.R. competition, notably in the strategic arms arena, dominates its contents. Other areas of concern--the role of allies on both sides, the Chinese--U.S.-Soviet triptych, mutual balanced force reduction, Helsinki, and stresses in Africa and the Mideast--receive far less attention, often only passing reference. Nevertheless, all clearly impact on the prospects for détente and requirements for U.S. defense. The contrast with the Brookings volume could not be more marked. The latter stresses the dangers inherent in a Mideast conflict, which it posits may be the next immediate focus for U.S. military involvement. Epstein's preoccupation with nuclear proliferation seems lost on the editor of Détente and Defense.
In short, the book clearly does not provide the reader with the "global perspective on détente" that Pranger advertises in his introduction. (pp. 5-6) All the same, it is a valuable volume for what it does provide, namely, the setting for the present debate over détente and an insight into three specific aspects of that debate: (1) the nature of Soviet intentions and what these imply for the future course of American policy; (2) the value of détente to the United States, particularly with respect to strategic arms competition; and (3) the nature and significance of comparisons of U.S. and Soviet-related defense expenditures.
Of the three subject areas, the book's treatment of the first theme is both the most interesting and, together with the source documents on détente, probably of the greatest value. It includes a restatement by Richard Nixon of the foreign policy initiatives of his first administration as well as a contribution by Melvin R. Laird, written especially for the volume, which reassesses the foreign policy accomplishments and failings of the Nixon-Ford years. Additionally, and following the Nixon selection, the book juxtaposes a neo-cold war view of Soviet intentions with a more benign assessment of East-West relationships by placing side by side selections by Charles Burton Marshall and J. William Fulbright, respectively. These pieces are most useful because it must constantly be remembered that relatively recent disagreements about Soviet motives and U.S. responses, which stem from disillusionment with recent U.S. policy in Southeast Asia, nevertheless, have been projected backward into time to address U.S. foreign policy from Yalta onward. A historical perspective that goes beyond the mere evaluation of current trends, which are affected by the base year from which their data points are plotted, is critical to clear comprehension of both sides of the present debate. Motives are, however, unquantifiable; subjective themselves, they can only be judged subjectively. The quantitative overlay cannot and should not obscure that fact.
Immediately following the Marshall-Fulbright" exchange" is a selection from the writings of Zbigniew Brzezinski. It provides the reader with a good taste of the panoply of the new National Security Adviser's views on the proper course for American foreign policy to follow and on the shortcomings of that policy in the Nixon years. Brzezinski catalogues these shortcomings: insensitivity to the concerns of our allies; indifference to the needs and problems of Third World states; and the "historical irrelevance" of the balance of power approach to world affairs. (pp. 65-67) Brzezinski's own focus is primarily on the question of alliance relationships and how they should be improved. He sets forth his well-known "trilateralist" conception of intensive cooperation between the three pillars of the developed Western world: the U.S.A., Europe, and Japan.
Brzezinski's prescription in turn is subjected to Stanley Hoffmann's incisive criticism in the following selection. Trilateralism, according to Hoffmann, implicitly seeks to maintain American supremacy in a world characterized by hostility between the Western and Communist camps. It is noteworthy, however, that Hoffmann does not produce his own foreign policy blueprint contra Brzezinski or, for that matter, Kissinger. He suggests that the U.S. orient herself to "North-South" questions, a perspective that Brzezinski, among others, has incorporated into his own foreign policy world view. But Hoffmann does not say very much about how one goes about doing so. Likewise, he does not point to the optimum "synthesis" (his term) between what he describes as a role of American "primacy" in world affairs and one of American "modesty." One leaves the Hoffmann piece with that familiar feeling that it is far more difficult to construct a foreign policy framework than to criticize one. Nevertheless, Hoffmann's points are telling; taken in tandem with the Brzezinski contribution, Hoffmann's paper comprises the book's most valuable analytical unit.
As already noted, there is less to be gained from the book's treatment of its other two major themes: the value of détente to the United States, particularly in the strategic weapons realm, and comparisons of U.S. and Soviet expenditures on armaments. The latter may be more of a fad than an issue. It is the product of debates that took place primarily in 1975-76, when the Pentagon sought to reinforce its demands for additional resources to counter a very real Soviet arms buildup, and Pentagon critics sought to minimize the appropriation of those resources to the extent that one responsibly could in the face of that buildup. Expenditure comparisons are input comparisons. They say little about what types of war-fighting capabilities are being added to a given force; instead they indicate how much is being expended to acquire some degree of additional capability. Of necessity, these measures understate inefficiency, regardless of the monetary unit (dollars or rubles) employed to express the comparisons. They can only be one rough guide of many, and the degree of their roughness depends on the accuracy with which they are tabulated.
The debate on optimum defense budget levels has recently begun to move away from expenditure comparisons, precisely because it is clear that these measures cannot substitute for true output measures and have been accorded too much significance as input indicators. Their accuracy, as noted, is moot and discounts inefficiency; their inaccuracy does not disprove the existence or likelihood of a Soviet buildup. The value of Pranger's focus on this subject--other than to provide the reader with a picture of the quirks of recent debates on the defense budget--therefore, is somewhat problematical.
The section on the strategic competition is a useful primer for the new student of strategic policy issues but easily could have fulfilled this function with fewer pages and selections. The Nitze-Lodal-Nitze debate need not have been played out in full (Why was Mr. Nitze given the last word?), partly because it is still going on (Nitze-Warnke-NitzeWarnke. . . ). Additionally, it conveys the impression that, within the panoply of U.S. U.S.S.R. competition/ détente, strategic issues are the most critical factor today and in the future. Yet no need to subscribe to one recent appointee's belief that "nuclear weapons mean crap,"2 or to Henry Kissinger's more subtle but similar views, in order to cast doubt on the perspective that Pranger fosters. As Henry Owen states, in his contribution to the Brookings volume, "Soviet leaders can be expected to proceed with caution, constrained by the fear that large scale war would destroy everything they have built up since the revolution." (p. 45) Such caution is likely to result in Soviet probings of the American will in the nonstrategic arena, with possible conflict likewise limited to that arena. The strategic balance remains important, indeed vital, but the areas of greatest concern may lie elsewhere.
Regarding the choice of source material, in general it is a useful complement to the analytical matter. Nevertheless, one would have expected more than a single document--the Shanghai communiqué-focusing on U.S.-Chinese relations. Also, inclusion of a statement setting out Chinese objectives, in the manner of the Kissinger and Brezhnev statements appearing in the text, would have been appropriate. And the Helsinki agreements would seem to be "Basic Documents on Détente" and deserve inclusion in the chapter of that name. Or are they to be completely discounted?
IF THE focus of the Pranger American Enterprise Institute reader is somewhat narrower than might have been anticipated, the framework of the Brookings volume, Setting National Priorities, is as broad as its title implies. Indeed, its focus in the national security chapters is significantly broader than that of previous volumes in the series. The 1977 version, in fact, is far different from its six predecessors in many respects. Previous volumes were a key source of budget alternatives to those of the Nixon-Ford administrations. They employed a five-year framework, issuing counterprojections to those officially put forward. Their emphasis seemed to highlight programs and postures that were likely to find more favor with Democrats than with Republicans: more caution in approaches to cuts in domestic programs, relatively greater willingness to find economies in defense expenditures.
The creation of the Congressional Budget Office (CBO) by the 1974 Congressional Budget Act may have prompted the change in the format of the Brooking volumes. The CBO, as its first annual report to the Congress (1976) made clear,3 promised to be the key source of budget alternatives to those presented by the executive. Its status as an agency of Congress placed it in a position to analyze and produce budget options in greater detail and depth than could Brookings.
In order to maintain the impact of its previous contributions to official Washington thinking, given the new role of CBO Setting National Priorities has moved from a five-year projection format (which CBO employs) to a ten-year one. This longer-term framework is particularly welcome and useful. Insofar as policy debates tend to look past the horizon of the current year, they merely fall in line with the administration's five-year structure. Yet five years is not necessarily the ideal format for prognostication, certainly not in the national defense/foreign policy area. For example, new weapon systems in particular take a decade, or even longer, from initial development to entry into service.
Similarly, while international crises inevitably have the air of suddenness about them, they tend to be the product of many--often more than five--years' gestation. Developments in Southern Africa, for example, are the result of more than a decade's insurrection by the Rhodesian government, equally long internal strife in Angola under Portuguese rule, and the steady growth of Soviet and Chinese influence in that part of the continent for at least the same time period. A longer-term view might help to assess the likelihood and significance of these and similar developments. It might, therefore, help to point to likely trouble spots and forestall the use of improper frames of reference drawn from other scenarios. Such misapplied frames of reference were, in fact, in evidence during the debates over Angola. That situation was termed "another Vietnam" by both proponents and opponents of U.S. involvement there. Yet this phrase obscured a multitude of factors indigenous to the Angolan civil war, of which race and the participation of a variety of actors, including Chinese, Soviets, Cubans, South Africans, Zairians, represented only the most prominent differences from the Southeast Asia situation.
In adopting a broad-brush, longer-term view, Setting National Priorities provides a useful perspective for an approach to reevaluating the needs and requirements of American foreign policy. Consistent with this approach, the volume generally and sensibly avoids the budget-oriented approach of its predecessors, which is more difficult to apply to a ten-year span and is in any event best left to CBO. Nowhere is this change in, approach more marked than in the national security affairs chapters. Gone are line-item cost comparisons as well as five-year costs compared to administration "base lines." Rather, the emphasis, particularly in the chapters by Henry Owen and Barry Blechman, is on the changing nature of the worldwide military balance, the importance of different regional balances to U.S. global interests, and the ways to improve U.S. posture in those regions.
The Owen chapter provides a most useful overview of the likely structure of U.S. foreign policy in the later seventies and eighties. Owen argues that the Mideast, Persian Gulf, and perhaps Yugoslavia are likely to be the next flashpoints that could elicit U.S. military involvement in hostilities. As previously noted, he feels that the Soviet Union will move cautiously but always to its own advantage. He considers further normalization of relations with China unlikely without movement regarding Taiwan, and he posits that there is little the United States can do in Africa because a consensus on this racially oriented question will not be found domestically. These conclusions are unobjectionable, but they do not add much to the present fund of knowledge about U.S. foreign policy. They reflect a crisis-avoidance approach, which is certainly healthy, but offer little that is positive. With the exception of a fifth policy line, a phased withdrawal of the U.S. presence from Korea, they are also cautious to a fault.
Owen's message--and it is an important one--is that the United States cannot withdraw from the world, which will continue to be a dangerous place and which we will not be fully able to control. But surely there might be innovative ways for the United States to exert its influence by capitalizing on new situations and untapped resources. Owen says little about the promise that the outcome of the Lebanese war might hold for Mideast peace. Even if the war had not reached cease fire by the time of writing, some speculation might have been in order. He says nothing at all about the positive role U.S. blacks could play in stabilizing relations with Africa and working toward a settlement. Yet, are Cuba's blacks indeed to be the only active North American participants in the developing African situation? Owen also avoids the South African question almost entirely. Will we really stand by and watch a racial war take place? Risk avoidance is but the beginning of a new, more balanced foreign policy.
Blechman's lucid and thoughtful essay addresses a quite different problem: the nature and consequences of the Soviet buildup. He argues, quite persuasively, that the evolving threat requires a reassessment of United States posture in Europe and elsewhere that might lead to reductions in some geographic areas (Korea) as well as improvements in others (Europe and its surrounding seas). His chapter also addresses manpower efficiency questions, drawing attention once again to that most costly element of the U.S. defense budget. In general, his message is that spending patterns should be neither uniformly higher nor lower but geared to. changing needs. That point cannot be reiterated too often. Many arguments on both sides of the defense spending issue continue to be framed in doctrinaire terms. As Blechman concludes: " . . . the process of reducing the share of U.S. resources devoted to defense has more or less run its course. . .. This outlook may be disheartening to some Americans, but the alternative is worse." (pp. 127-28)
Philip Farley's section on nuclear proliferation provides a brief but useful overview of the history of nonproliferation efforts, the evolution of U.S. policy in this area, the shortcomings of that policy, and possible remedies as well as prospects for a regime on nonproliferation. His focus is virtually identical to that of William Epstein's considerably longer (341 pages of small print) study, The Last Chance, discussed later. Farley seeks to limit proliferation and feels that the nonproliferation effort may yet succeed. To be sure, he carefully distinguishes between nuclear potential and the inevitability of proliferation. He argues that the potential is there and that formal restraints on proliferation are quite weak. Nevertheless, Farley argues that the momentum for proliferation may not be as great as some observers imply.4 He reasons that states rationally and realistically appraise the costs and benefits of acquiring nuclear weaponry in light of their position in both regional and global balances. They are aware of the great costs of acquisition, of the vagueness of benefits, and the clear risks of further destabilizing regional balances and alienating great power protectors who provide valuable--and often critical--military and economic assistance.
Clearly, Farley's premise about the rational behavior of states with regard to acquiring a nuclear force capability may not always hold true. Some Third World governments betray attributes that are far from rational in the accepted Western sense and have sufficient resources clandestinely to acquire nuclear weapons, if not technology, to support what they might perceive as their "interests." 5 Additionally, his premise fails adequately to address the probability of a chain-reaction effect--if one state "went nuclear" and thereby altered the "rational" perceptions and calculations of its neighbors--and how that probability could be lowered. 6
Nevertheless, Farley accurately observes that the nuclear club hardly has grown in the past decade, China and India (if one counts membership in terms of explosions, "peaceful" or otherwise) being the only new members. That the club has not expanded more rapidly is the product of choices made by individual states rather than their lack of nuclear potential. Thus, there is some hope that the pace of proliferation can be maintained at its present slow pace, if not entirely arrested.
Farley appreciates the need for major superpower SALT agreements, without which, in the long term, the Nuclear Proliferation Treaty (NPT) regime cannot survive. However, he does not feel that present SALT agreements damage that regime. Indeed, as long as the superpowers evince good faith in their negotiations, the agreements will have little impact on NPT for good or ill, whose fate "will be decided on other grounds." (p. 152)
Farley's prescriptions, like his assessment of SALT, are not dramatic, but they are realistic and, hopefully, attainable. They focus less on the NPT per se than on cooperation generally. They do include support for formal instruments of the nonproliferation regime. Additionally, they call for cooperation with non-NPT states on terms similar to those prescribed by the NPT; coordination among suppliers to ensure that safeguards are not undercut; support for international measures to prevent terrorist and other subnational access to nuclear facilities and materials; and support for cooperative approaches to key stages of the nuclear fuel cycle. The latter would include expansion of U.S. uranium enrichment capacity to permit a resumption of American supplies to slightly enriched uranium to the international market. Underlying all these recommendations, and itself a proposal, is the need to foster a sense of security among smaller and more vulnerable states, by means of guarantees and cooperation that will lower the value of the nuclear option in their eyes.
Farley's chapter completes the series of chapters of Setting National Priorities that directly address national security issues. However, a word is in order on Graham Allison and Peter Sztanton's chapter on reorganizing government to manage the national security policy. If problems such as nuclear proliferation or indeed the overall future course of U.S. foreign policy are to be addressed coherently, some shift away from the present governmental structure that focuses on the Executive Office Building to the downgrading of certain cabinet departments and Congress clearly is desirable. Whether the complete diagnosis of governmental ills that the authors put forward, and the suggestions they propose based on that diagnosis indeed are correct, is, however, another matter.
For example, Congress may not need a new special committee on Interdependence--with unclear jurisdiction and no grip on the purse strings--in order to foster improved executive legislative relations. It is noteworthy that the authors hardly explore the limits on congressional participation in foreign policy formulation or their effect on the viability of their proposal for a new committee. Yet these limits may be such that a genuine informal network of contacts between President and congressional leaders, in addition to the reams of paper already available as reports, testimony, and studies may suffice to keep Congress a well-informed contributor to the foreign policy process.
Similarly, the authors' proposed abolition of the NSC and creation of an executive cabinet committee, seemingly following the model of the British cabinet, may go further than necessary for efficient organization. Cabinet officers will continue to lobby on behalf of their departments; the President will continue to need an independent analytical staff, responsible only to him. If the cabinet is properly utilized and the NSC cut down to more manageable size, as Mr. Brzezinski has ordered, there may be no need for an "ExCab" that might itself become a new NSC with an inflated staff of its own.
ExCab and the congressional committee are but two of the more innovative suggestions that Allison and Sztanton put forward. Others are equally timely and deserving of consideration. These include the proposals that cabinet officers remain longer in office and that the Department of State, if it is to function effectively, elevate the level of its focus on politico-military affairs and hire more economists. Whether any or all of these suggestions are adopted, the authors will have performed a useful service in pointing to the need for a reassessment of government mechanisms for promoting foreign and security policies in addition to that of evaluating the policies themselves.
WILLIAM EPSTEIN'S agenda in The Last Chance resembles that of Philip Farley's contribution to Setting National Priorities. It, too, traces the history of efforts to contain nuclear weapon proliferation and examines ways to enhance and sustain those efforts further. Like Farley, Epstein adopts the premise that states act rationally in their own self-interest. However, whereas Farley's presumption of rationality and his optimistic prescriptions based on that presumption are touched by a realistic view of world affairs, Epstein allows his optimism to run wild.
A member of the United Nations staff, Epstein attaches great faith in the chapter and verse of international agreements. He carefully documents those relating to nonproliferation to show where they have not been followed and chastises the major developed countries--notably the United States and U.S.S.R.--to honor both their spirit and letter. Unlike Farley, Epstein is particularly critical of the SALT agreements, which in his view foster a qualitative strategic arms competition and have become "blueprints for the continuation of the nuclear arms race by the two superpowers under agreed terms and conditions." (p. 190)
Epstein contends that the superpowers must go further than SALT to ensure the integrity of the NPT. Such an effort also would prevent small power feelings of "discrimination" that could serve as an excuse for nonadherence to NPT, as well as for nuclear tests such as India's "peaceful" blast. To that end, Epstein puts forward his own list of twelve "proposals for the future" that he feels will put a definitive end to the nuclear arms race. These include (in order of descending realism): cessation of underground tests; the phasing out of ICBMs and strategic bomber forces; a ban on new tactical nuclear weapons and a pullback of those already in existence or use; the convening of a world disarmament conference; new draft treaties for complete disarmament; and the reduction of general purpose force levels, unilaterally by the United States, if necessary. (pp. 200-05) Epstein himself admits that these proposals are unlikely to be achieved within the foreseeable future. But that observation leads him to urge scientists (presumably Americans) to stop all further work on the research and development of weapon and delivery systems. (p. 206) This suggestion is one which can in fact be implemented. It is all the more dangerous for that reason. Indeed, like the proposal for a world disarmament conference--a long-standing Soviet ploy--or for American unilateral reduction of its conventional forces, in the face of a Soviet buildup and/ or improvement in quality in most weapon system categories--the "call to scientists" seems to focus more on the imagined sins of the United States than on the motives or misdeeds of others. In doing so, it vitiates the author's credibility as an objective analyst.7
Despite its legalism, its frequently shrill tone ("Man Is an Endangered Species" is the title of the final chapter), and the air of unreality, and bias, that pervades its "proposals for the future," the Epstein volume does have much to offer. It provides the student of nonproliferation issues with a useful, detailed history of the development of the NPT regime. Additionally, it does contain an articulate description of the problems that continue to plague the effort to limit the spread of nuclear weapons.
Clearly, further steps must be taken to promote that effort. These steps perhaps need not be as radical as Epstein proposes, Nevertheless, as Farley illustrates, they do require a greater degree of cooperation among the world's leading powers. It should not be forgotten that the 1963 Partial Test Ban Treaty, perhaps the first real breakthrough in easing the Cold War, was also a key milestone in the effort to foster a regime that limited the spread of nuclear weapons. Similarly, the achievement of future milestones in furthering that regime will in fact also serve as critical indicators of the expansion and resilience of the policies of détente which both superpowers profess to pursue.
Washington, D. C.
1. See Melvin R. Laird, Annual Defense Department Report for Fiscal Year 1971, February 1970, especially pp. 1-20.
2. Quoted in C. Robert Zelnick, "M-X and the Next Arms Debate," The Washington Post, February 27, 1977, p. C2.
3. See preface by Alice M. Rivlin in Congressional Budget Office, Budget Options for Fiscal Year 1977: A Report to the Senate and House Committees on the Budget (Washington, D.C.: Government Printing Office, 1976).
4. See, for example, the arguments of Lewis A. Dunn and William H. Overholt, "The Next Phase of Nuclear Proliferation Research," Orbis, XX (Summer 1976).
5. See Lewis A. Dunn, "Nuclear 'Grey Marketeering,'" International Security, I (Winter 1977), pp. 109-12.
6. Ibid., pp. 111-12, 114-15; and Dunn and Overholt, especially pp. 505-7,509-16.
7. A more balanced presentation of many of these proposals may be found in Richard Falk, "Nuclear Weapons Proliferation as a World Order Problem," International Security, I (Winter 1977), especially pp. 85-93.
Views represented herein are entirely those of the author. The Congressional Budget Office, where he is employed, bears no responsibility for the contents of this article or the opinions of the author.
Dov S. Zakheim (D. Phil., Oxford University) is an analyst with the National Security and International Affairs Division of the Congressional Budget Office. Previously, he was a research fellow of St. Antony's College, Oxford, was associated with a London bank and taught and lectured on comparative politics and aspects of international finance to various U.S. collegiate programs in Britain. His publications include CBO papers on naval force programs as well as studies on themes in British-European community relations and the politics of the Atlantic alliance.
The conclusions and opinions expressed in this document are those of the author cultivated in the freedom of expression, academic environment of Air University. They do not reflect the official position of the U.S. Government, Department of Defense, the United States Air Force or the Air University.
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