Security or Confrontation: The Case for a Defense Policy

The Defense Department budget has become the prime target in the search for the billions of dollars necessary to solve our corrosive social problems. In the process, our over- seas commitments are also coming in for review. Reducing the drain of the Indochina war, many have hoped, would provide this fiscal dividend, bring defense spending ...

The Defense Department budget has become the prime target in the search for the billions of dollars necessary to solve our corrosive social problems. In the process, our over- seas commitments are also coming in for review. Reducing the drain of the Indochina war, many have hoped, would provide this fiscal dividend, bring defense spending down from its 1968 high of $80 billion to the halcyon $50 billion days of 1964, and deposit a $30 billion bonus in the public treasury.

The Defense Department budget has become the prime target in the search for the billions of dollars necessary to solve our corrosive social problems. In the process, our over- seas commitments are also coming in for review. Reducing the drain of the Indochina war, many have hoped, would provide this fiscal dividend, bring defense spending down from its 1968 high of $80 billion to the halcyon $50 billion days of 1964, and deposit a $30 billion bonus in the public treasury.

This has not happened, however, and as matters are going it will not happen. The dividend was and is being consumed by inflation, cost-overruns, military pay increases, modernization, and new weapons systems. There will be no escape from a $70 billion defense budget until agreement can be reached on a new and sound defense policy.

Four propositions discussed below reveal the outline and possibilities of such a policy.

First, commitments do not dictate defense budgets, and reduced commitments will not necessarily produce smaller defense budgets. The reason to re-examine our commitments is not because it will save money, but because it will make us face up to the issue of where and when to use military force. The impact of these commitments on U.S. security today is likely to be quite different from when they were first made in the 1950’s.

Second, a defense policy is required to translate foreign policy interests and commitments into the currency of force posture and defense dollars. Many of the approaches to budget cutting currently being discussed either dismiss or ignore defense policy and, therefore, provide no substantive rationale.

Third, flexible and controlled response re- mains the least risky defense policy and offers, with modifications of some earlier assumptions, a sensible basis for significant budget reductions. The updating and clarification of this doctrine can still produce the best posture for: (a) deterrence of conventional attacks by China and the Soviet Union; and (b) avoiding the choice between doing nothing or going nuclear should deterrence fail. Therefore, defense budget reductions should focus on the expensive frills and on question- able weapons systems, rather than on our limited conventional war fighting capability.

Fourth, President Nixon’s defense policy seems to be moving toward greater reliance on nuclear weapons for massive deterrence and on air and sea power for immaculate defense. This means cutting manpower, which will save some money in the next few years but which does not portend sizable budget reductions over time.

Our Commitments Must Be Reassessed

In his Foreign Policy Message of last February, President Nixon noted that when he took office his Administration "found a defense planning process which left vague the impact of foreign policy on our military posture." He went on to report that through the National Security Council a strategy was developed "which represented a significant modification of the doctrine that characterized the 1960’s." This new strategy, adopted "in the effort to harmonize doctrine and capability," involved two changes: in strategic policy, from deterrence through an assured second strike capability to the broader concept of "sufficiency"; and in conventional force policy, from a "2~ war" to a "1 ~ war" principle.*

The criticism of past planning is no doubt warranted and the concern for improvement is commendable. But the Foreign Policy Message left considerable ambiguity as to how the new military posture does a better job of meshing with our foreign interests. The Nixon Administration, it seems, has altered defense doctrine without re-examining the commitments upon which it should be based and the cases where military power may be required. Though it contained some hints to the contrary, the Message was essentially a reaffirmation of the 40-odd commitments which we have to the security of other nations throughout the world. President Nixon said: "Peace in the world will continue to require us to maintain our commitments — and we will. ”Tantalizingly and perceptively, he went on to state:

It is misleading, moreover, to pose the fundamental question so largely in terms of commitments. Our objective, in the first instance, is to support our interests over the long run with a sound foreign policy. The more that policy is based on a realistic assessment of our and others’ interests, the more effective our role in the world can be. We are not involved in the world because we have commitments; we have commitments because we are involved. Our interests must shape our commitments, rather than the other way around.

But the remainder of the Message leaves this point undeveloped. There are the usual sensible references to the need for others to do more and for a willingness to negotiate. Yet the impression is left that the United States is still prepared to use its military force against a wide spectrum of threats affecting any of its allies.

Our commitments are, in fact, a series of legal and historical abstractions obligating us, in often obscure phraseology, to come to the defense of over forty nations. But the trouble with our foreign commitments is that they ‘ Ibid., p. 7. ilbid., p. 7 (emphasis in original). . have acquired an independent life transcending the U.S. security interest that brought them into being. Collectively, our commitments remain what they have tended to become: an undifferentiated mass which defies discriminating analysis for defense planning purposes. While the President’s Message says that" ‘isms’ have lost their vitality ”e and that peace will come "from a realistic accommodation of conflicting interests, ”~ there is little evidence that with respect to U.S. commitments our government has learned to distinguish between actual threats to national security and ideological confrontations.

As a basis both for avoiding senseless confrontations and for sound defense planning, the cardinal need today is a searching analysis of what these commitments should commit us to do in the light of our genuine national interests.

The propensity to regard our commitments as 40-odd blank checks has contributed not to our security but to a defense budget disproportionate both to the military threats we face and to the domestic problems we cannot avoid. Our defense forces have achieved a size and versatility that far exceed the limited opportunities for their effective use. That is not to say that all military threats to our security have now disappeared. What little we know of the Soviet power structure and what little we can see of China’s internal struggles can give us no confidence that the foreign policy of either country will eschew the use of military force for the balance of this century. Russia and China have the man- power and means, and their motives are sufficiently obscure so that we must retain the military might to deter or to defend against their overt aggression. But as applied to our security arrangements with foreign countries, this reality means only that they must be construed in terms of the Soviet and Chinese threats. *Ibid., ~. 3. ~Ibid., p. 13~;.

Fortunately the real threats to our security are this easily identified. We are not a beleaguered outpost of freedom in a hostile world. Our foreign policy and the military force structure it connotes should thus be adjusted to correspond to a reasonable perception of the present threats. In viewing our commitments, we should also proceed on the basis that no commitment should be allowed to survive the threat which brought it into being. Our international security undertakings must not be allowed to read as committing us to protect 40-plus foreign governments against any and all of the threats that face them and them alone. Instead, each should be viewed against only those common threats from which the commitment itself derived.

Our commitments thus should be considered to be invoked only when a threat to a security partner is likely to bring Soviet or Chinese military power closer to us or to increase the chances of military confrontation with one of these other superpowers. Even if the threatened nation has no U.S. security pledge, our military response may be merited if these same consequences impend. Unless we retain the capability and the will to deal with direct Soviet and Chinese threats, further threats and aggression could be encouraged, other nations could be driven to acquire nuclear weapons in order to "protect" themselves, and our own society could be- come a cloistered citadel of fear and repression. These events would, in turn, deeply challenge our lives and our security.

A sensible view of our commitments and their bearing on the military forces we should maintain demands that we reject any unilateral peacekeeping role and any responsibility for safeguarding foreign governments in regional conflicts and internal revolts. Our military response should turn solely on a determination that a military threat exists to the United States.

Our rhetoric has consistently contributed to the illusion that we have undertaken global responsibilities for preserving the peace or I0. even the internal tranquility of other nations. In announcing our first postwar aid programs, President Truman asserted: "It must be the foreign policy of the United States to support free people who are resisting attempted subjugation by armed minorities or by outside pressures." The pragmatic premise for our 1965 intervention in the Dominican Republic was that otherwise the country would have "gone Communist." Just after announcing in Guam the doctrine of a more limited American role, President Nixon assured the rulers of Thailand that America was proud to stand with them "against those who threaten it from abroad or from within." And in defending the Cambodian incursion, he told a press conference on June 3rd of this year that precipitate withdrawal from Vietnam would destroy any American "peacekeeping role in Asia." Such language unnaturally extends the life and reach of our commitments.

Nor do our foreign commitments require that we equip ourselves to deal unilaterally with purely regional conflict. By each commitment, the parties have recognized a common threat against which a common defense will mean increased security. But where border disputes, religious hostility, or political or economic differences embroil the other party in military conflict, our unilateral intervention is not part of our commitment and it would rarely be in our interest. We have, it is true, a genuine interest in world peace and stability. Even local conflict holds the seeds of superpower confrontation and of escalating danger. But local quarrels, just as internal unrest, can be expected to prove resistant to heavy-footed outside intervention and the application of massive American fire- power. Prime Minister Lee Kuan Yew of Singapore has suggested that, while the British have historically proven to be "a good softener for hard water," he would be disposed to welcome American military help only in the case of large-scale Chinese invasion.

Cases in point mark the history of military 11. assistance to the Asian subcontinent. Once upon a time, CENTO was regarded as an indispensable factor in the containment of Communism; and military aid to India and Pakistan was deemed essential to permit their defense against Chinese or Russian attack. When, in 1965, festering religious hatreds led them to use American arms against each other, our military assistance was largely cut off. Today, the Indians receive most of their military help from Moscow while Peking, by arming the Pakistanis, contributes to what might be deemed a "self-containment" policy. There are those who deplore the resultant loss of close U.S. military relations with Pakistan. But are we sure that American security is decreased when Pakistan is on friendly terms with Communist China? The brief border battling between China and India in 1962 was resolved without U.S. military intervention and with no show of Chinese enthusiasm for taking over the Indian burden. Neither case supports the need to ring the Communist superpowers with hostile states. Blind adherence to such a cold war containment policy can only be destabilizing in the modern security environment. By evoking comparable countercommitments, it would compound the problems of world peace. Whatever one’s view on the Nigeria-Biafra tragedy, it demonstrates that abstention by either superpower can become reciprocal.

Where local differences threaten the region- al peace, U.S. military participation should not be the consequence of an American security commitment, but instead should be part of a genuinely international operation, preferably under United Nations auspices. The single exception is Israel, where the Nazi legacy to today’s world and our share in the creation of the state add up to a regional commitment of our national conscience, extrinsic though it may be to our physical security.

Commitments we have made in order to protect the security of the United States need not and must not be translated into commit- /2. commitments to the internal status quo, which, in the case of many of our security partners, has failed to meet the needs and satisfy the aspirations of their own people. Our national security does not depend upon the suppression of change in other countries, even when such change is revolutionary. As a policy, this would be the mirror image of the Brezhnev doctrine, rationalizing military intervention to preserve political empathy. Any such interpretation of our commitments could only have the effect of forfeiting any claim to influence with the emerging leaders of a changing world — and of further estranging our own youth.

None of our treaties require us to intervene in the case of purely internal threats. The President’s Foreign Policy Message usefully comments that "we cannot expect U.S. military forces to cope with the entire spectrum of threats facing allies or potential allies throughout the world," and adds: "Experience has shown that the best means of dealing with insurgencies is to pre-empt them through economic development and social reform and to control them with police, paramilitary and military action by the threatened govern- merit. ”s The discussion of this premise implies, however, that there may be some residual combat role for U.S. general purpose forces in the counterinsurgency field. Vietnam has revealed the difficulties and dangers of such U.S. military participation. Most history, including our own, would seem to show that a successful insurgency is a decision on the merits.

It must be added that national security is not served by a static view of our foreign policy commitments. The value of NATO today is not that it geographically contains the Soviet Union, but rather that it contributes to confidence and freedom of political action in Western Europe. Thus we can welcome the efforts of West German Chancellor Willy Brandt to move toward normal relations Slbid., p. 127. 13. with both Moscow and Pankow. In the current context, traditional military concern for the "southern flank" of NATO need not lead us to support a retrogressive and un- democratic regime in Greece. Similarly, the incremental value of our Spanish bases to our military capability in Western Europe would not justify a commitment to support the Franco government against democratic opponents or to protect its African interests against African challengers. Our own security is not identical with that of the present rulers of either country. Nor does the implementation of our NATO commitment require that we seek to expel the Soviet fleet from the Mediterranean or the Soviet presence from North Africa. No reasonable perception of the present military threat would justify a naval competition that could carpet the Mediterranean with wall-to-wall ships.

Our involvement in Southeast Asia may also be said to derive from an undiscriminating approach to international commitments. It is worth recalling that our original interest in the suppression of the Indochinese Communist movement was to prevent gains for the French Communists by bolstering the prestige of the French government. In the 1950’s, SEATO was created to contain Chinese expansion in Asia, just as NATO had stalled Stalin’s drive toward the Atlantic. But does continuation of the war and the death of further thousands of North and South Vietnamese contribute to the containment of China? Are expansion of the conflict and total deneutralization of Indochina helpful to American security? Would an anti-Communist bastion in the lower eastern sector of the Indochinese peninsula forestall Chinese aggression? Would it put us a step farther away from World War III? Has our insistence on the commitment outlived our perception of the threat?

Perhaps the principal lesson of the past decade is that military force is a singularly inept instrument of foreign policy and that its use must be limited to the meeting of direct military threats to American security. Except 14. in the case of such palpable threats, influence and prestige are not served by the independent exercise of our military power. They may perhaps be better advanced by that attitude of "benign neglect" which, according to Lord Durham in 1839, allowed Canada to become more competent and capable of self-government. However infelicitous this phrase may be when applied to American domestic problems, it has much to recommend itself as an attitude toward international military involvements.

Based on this analysis, a few principles could usefully clarify the nature of our commitments for both defense partners and defense planners:

1. Where the threat to the other country is purely internal, we are not obliged to and should not intervene, and thus need not maintain the capability to do so. At most, we should consider the provision of economic aid and perhaps military supplies, and then only with the greatest care to avoid frustration of the popular will.

2. In the case of insurgencies supported by economic and military aid from the Soviet Union or Communist China, our commitments, and the national interest they betoken, should dispose us to supply arms and equipment to the existing government but not to intervene with American forces. Where material assistance proves inadequate, the recipient government will have abundantly demonstrated its own inadequacy as well.

3. In the case of threats to allies from out- side powers other than China or the Soviet Union, our commitment should not automatically be called into play, and U.S. troops should be sent only as part of a truly international effort. Economic and arms aid ‘This listing of recommended responses owes much to the analytical approach taken by Messrs. Allison, May and Yarmolinsky in their article, "Limits to Intervention," Foreign Affairs, January 1970. The conclusions however are not completely parallel. should otherwise constitute the outer limit of our involvement.

4. Only where one of our security partners is in fact threatened by Russian or Chinese military force must we consider that a commitment has been invoked because our own national security interest is involved.

5. Korea remains a special case, because of prior United Nations action and the continued presence of American troops. Our Korean commitment should be brought as soon as possible into conformity with these governing principles.

This construction could eliminate both the fear of new commitments and the concern that we are already overcommitted. Commitments, if they make sense, are not a burden but a blessing.

Because they treat United States commitments in terms of our own security, these principles can provide guidelines as to how, when, and where military force and assistance ought to be employed. This is, of course, the most important issue, but it does not, in itself, tell us what size defense budget or what kind of force posture ought to be adopted. Despite the fact that U.S. troops would be used only against direct Soviet and Chinese threats, the principles listed above could justify a defense budget as high as $80 billion or as low as $40 billion. The magnitude of the defense budget depends on other factors in addition to commitments: the content of defense policy (strategy for deterrence and defense, amounts of air and sea power versus conventional fighting forces, sophistication and expense of weapons systems, etc.), the demands of non- defense national priorities, and the pressures of domestic politics.

Defense Policy Should Determine Defense Budgets

Three general approaches to the problem of adjusting defense expenditures to national priorities can thus far be identified. The first would involve the imposition of significant and necessarily arbitrary budget cuts across- I6. the-board. The second is a considerably more sophisticated but nonetheless still arbitrary approach designed to compel a more limited view of commitments by providing more limited resources. Finally, there is the possibility of an approach to the problem which would in fact address commitments in terms of defense policy, but would shape this policy to achieve the requisite economies by resort to a modern-day version of the Dulles doc- trine of "massive nuclear retaliation."

The approach which would set an arbitrary ceiling on the defense budget is based on a series of assumptions about international politics, defense planning, and domestic priorities. With respect to the international scene, its proponents recognize the unlikelihood of direct military attacks by China and Russia, and the certainty that the two Communist superpowers would have little to gain and much to lose from such ventures. More- over, they see little necessary relationship between military capability and diplomacy. They argue that within wide margins both the strategic and conventional balances are insensitive to changes in force posture. Be- cause of this, they are prepared to accept the marginally greater security risks of chopping the defense budget at about the rate of 5 to 10 percent each year for several years in both strategic nuclear and conventional force categories. One level of defense spending seems to them about as useful as another. Lastly, they point out persuasively the need for deep defense budget reductions as a way of making more money available for domestic priorities. 1°

Despite the soundness of many of its assumptions, this approach is internally inconsistent and politically unsalable. On the one hand, those who advance this view maintain that there is little basis for matching force with diplomacy. On the other, they maintain that a very large defense budget would be ~°This is, in general, the approach taken by Morton H. Halperin in his article in The Washington Post, Out- look, February I ~. 1970. 17. provocative while a very low one would be risky, that certain weapons systems such as anti-ballistic missiles (ABM’S) are destabilizing, and that the presence or absence of U.S. troops abroad is a factor in deterrence. Thus, within some margins, they recognize that force and diplomacy are inescapably tied together.

More importantly, the approach disregards the issue of defense policy. It offers no guide to the continued maintenance of deterrence. From the present vantage point, overt cross- border aggression by the Russians or Chinese does seem remote. But, in part at least, this remoteness stems from our present force posture and the present disposition of our forces. U.S. forces-in-being convey both the capability and the will to counter force with force, and these are key factors in deterrence.

An overriding shortcoming of this arbitrary budget ceiling approach, however, is that it will not work. It is unlikely to convince enough of the right people — — executive branch officials, military and Foreign Service professionals, key Congressional leaders in the armed services field, and a ground-swell of interested outsiders — that the additional risks of a lower budget are insignificant. The latest effort — the Proxmire-Mathias Amendment to cut the fiscal 1971 defense budget from $71 billion to $66 billion — failed in the Senate on August 28, 1970, by a vote of 42 to 31. What- ever its merits in assessing threats and deter- mining that deterrence can be sustained with much less than present capability, this approach will continue to look as arbitrary as in fact it is. And even if our leaders could be persuaded to make arbitrary $1 to $5 billion reductions for a few years, this would not in the short range put a large dent in the defense budget and would not succeed over the long range in holding that budget down. With the experience of the last three years to examine, it appears that key leaders in Congress and the executive branch will accept the demands of domestic priorities only up to a point. Beyond that point, they must be convinced 18. that a force posture justified only as being cheaper can keep threats and risks within secure bounds. The politics of persuasion require a more reasoned approach to defense budget cutting than one of ever lower and basically arbitrary ceilings.

A second suggested approach to reducing the defense budget shares many of the assumptions of the first. It too is arbitrary, but utilizes a different formula. Like the advocates of a lower budget ceiling, those who propose this method believe that defense expenditures should be reduced, and reduced soon, by $20 to $30 billion. They too base this belief on the assumption that threats to United States national security have been exaggerated and are not imminent. In order to achieve this magnitude of reduction in costs, they would establish an arbitrarily lower U.S. force posture.

Instead of across-the-board cuts, however, this approach would concentrate on cuts in our conventional fighting capability. The largest portion of the defense budget is, of course, the general purpose force program, and the largest single item in this program is manpower. Americans do not like being drafted, and the public resents having American can boys fight on foreign soil when, they feel, foreign boys should be fighting instead. From this standpoint, a promising path to a lower budget would be drastic slices in manpower, in ready combat divisions, and in related support.

A detailed and sophisticated version of this approach appeared in the January 1970 issue of Foreign Affairs. In an article entitled "Limits to Intervention," Graham Allison, Ernest May, and Adam Yarmolinsky have written:

The Administration should be able to establish as a target the reduction of general-purpose forces to levels that characterized the Eisenhower period. Those levels — 14 Army and Marine divisions, 16 tactical air wings, the traditional 15 attack carrier task forces, and 9 anti-submarine carrier task forces — would entail no significant reduction in the American capability 19. to meet a major European contingency, and would leave a small force for dealing with a minor contingency. If actually established, such force levels would cost approximately $30 billion per year less than present general-purpose forces (including those deployed in Vietnam), $17 billion annually less than those advocated within the military establishment for a baseline posture, and $10 billion less than those projected as a result of President Nixon’s decision to prepare for one major and one minor contingency.

The authors propound a series of presumptions which would limit the likely instances of American military intervention. They note: "Severe cutbacks in general purpose forces might.., make it easier for the President to put in effect the suggested presumptions." They do not discuss the possible implications this lower force posture may have for reliance on tactical and strategic nuclear weapons.

Just as the first approach, this second proposal does not concern itself with the content of defense policy. Instead it would rely on limiting the options of the U.S. national security establishment. Its sponsors assert: "For the critical variable is the set of expectations within the bureaucracy, and an apparent leanness in non-nuclear forces would help to persuade the bureaucracy that the President genuinely intended to stand behind the presumptions he had announced." It is difficult, however, to accept either that the bureaucracy is the "critical variable" or that "leanness" makes a tough decision significantly easier. Where the President sits is at the head of the table both within the bureaucracy and within the American political arena. When it comes to the use of force in particular, Presidents can resist their bureaucracies, as Eisenhower did over Dienbienphu in 1954, and they can lead them, as Kennedy did with Laos in 1961. The President, his views and values, will continue to be the "critical variable."

A third approach to reduced defense spend- 20. spending might be considered the modern version of "massive retaliation. ”u This view, unlike the previous two, does address the issues of defense policy. Just as the second approach, it focuses on cuts in our general purpose forces, but with precise awareness of the implications of this for the use of nuclear weapons. Supporters of this third view pro- pose a lean conventional force posture be- cause they appear to believe that some revised form of massive retaliation is the best and cheapest way to deter threats and live up to commitments.

Unlike the Dulles version, which relied on the threat to strike at the source of aggression, the new version probably implies striking at the point of aggression with maximum force. This would mean a new-found emphasis on tactical nuclear weapons both doctrinally and operationally.

A stronger case may be made for tactical nuclear weapons in Asia than in Europe. The Chinese have nothing like matching nuclear capability, while in manpower they possess vast superiority. Because the Soviets can respond in kind in Europe, and thus negate any N^TO advantage from first-use, tactical nuclear weapons there can serve only as a secondary deterrent posing the incalculable risks of escalating conflict.

While this third approach does face up to the defense problems which the other two approaches either dismiss or ignore, and while it thus provides a rationale for systematic force and budget reductions, it is only a little less dangerous than wholesale revival of its predecessor doctrine. The tactical nuclear retaliatory power which the Chinese now lack, they will achieve in time. Greater reliance in N^TO on the nuclear deterrent may frighten the Soviet Union a good bit less than it frightens our allies. As a response to limited aggression — the most likely kind — it may be doubted that Moscow or Peking would find our threat to use nuclear weapons credible a powerful presentation of this type of approach. see Hanson W. Baldwin, Strategy for Tomorrow (Hew York: Harper r~, Row, 1970). 2I. our threat to use nuclear weapons credible. Perhaps most important of all, the lending of respectability to nuclear weapons, either by word in announced policy or by deed in reducing conventional forces, lowers the nuclear threshold and magnifies the hazards in future confrontations.

None of the three approaches described above provides the means for sound defense budget reductions, because none is based on sound defense policy. Our leaders are unlikely to be convinced to act upon the first and second approaches, which assume that the defense budget can be drastically reduced because one defense policy and one force structure is as good as another. The third approach is fatally defective because it leaves the President with unacceptable choices in the event of Russian or Chinese aggression. A defense policy premised on a weakened conventional force posture may leave the alternatives of nuclear response or no response at all.

An Updated Doctrine of Flexible and Controlled Response Remains the Best Choice

Although many world conditions have changed in the last ten years, the issues of defense policy America faces today are the same that it faced in the late 1950’s and early 1960’s. The arguments for and against the various approaches are thus well worn, and the advantages of the doctrine of flexible and controlled response are still persuasive. Our overriding objective continues to be deterrence of Soviet and Chinese attacks against us and our allies. And deterrence still requires us to maintain usable and credible counterforces which, in turn, possess the varied military capability to meet threats on the level at which they are posed.

Flexible and controlled response represents the most satisfactory doctrine to attain the three principal aims of defense policy: deterrence, conventional defense should deter- 22. deterrence fail, and time for thought, negotiation and disengagement before escalation to the nuclear threshold. Accordingly, it harmonizes the commitments we seek to maintain with a credible force posture and with the threats that are most likely to present themselves.

Strategic nuclear attacks are the most un- likely threat. The United States and the Soviet Union are now in a constellation of parity, both sides possessing a secure second strike capability. Each can absorb a full first blow and in a retaliatory strike still inflict unacceptable damage on the other. As long as neither side pursues an unreachable quest for "superiority" in the form of knock-out first strike capability, there will be continued strategic stability.

A Chinese nuclear attack would seem even less likely than a Soviet one. Defense Secretary. Laird has stated that the Chinese will not have even a force of 10 to 25 intercontinental ballistic missiles (ICBM’s) before 1977. This contrasts with the present U.S. inventory of over 2,000 deliverable nuclear warheads. And recent published reports that the U.S. and the Soviet Union would be willing to limit ^BM systems to zero indicate that President Nixon no longer deems the ^BM essential against the very limited Chinese nuclear threat.

Soviet and Chinese conventional and tactical nuclear threats are much more difficult to assess. But the facts of life in the nuclear age also make highly unlikely any major attack by Russia or China against those countries to which the United States has security commitments. The immense potential for non-nuclear devastation inherent in today’s weapons, the inevitable reluctance of the European and Asian nations to provide the battlefield, and the lure of tactical nuclear weapons combine to make protracted war between the United States and the Soviet Union perhaps the least plausible of conventional contingencies. An extended major land war between China and the United States appears unthinkable, given the immense disparity 23. parity between the respective nuclear forces. A nuclear power, defending its vital interests, won’t be willing to lose a conventional war.

What is not unthinkable is the possibility of concurrent though uncoordinated conventional probes directed at Amer/can interests in Europe and Asia. These might develop quite independently through an unfortunate coincidence of tensions. Or the timing of one might be dictated by an effort to capitalize on divided American attention. But the chances of parallel though unprogrammed action by the Soviets and China should not be totally discounted in devising our conventional fighting capability. Other- wise, we forfeit the non-nuclear option if accidental timing or reckless opportunism produce concurrent Chinese and Russian military threats.

Where this analysis brings us, it must be conceded, is somewhere close to the widely discredited "2~ contingencies" principle of the McNamara Posture Statements. Indeed this number of contingencies seems a mathematical imperative unless we are to ignore either the Soviet or the Chinese conventional threat or relegate one of them to an automatic nuclear counter. The capability for handling a minor contingency appears prudent in the light of the special situations that exist and of its low incremental cost.

The interpretation of commitments which we are advocating here, however, would entail making a number of modifications in the assumptions that underlay the 2~ war principle of the McNamara years. A conventional fighting capability properly designed to meet the most likely 2~ contingencies would not at- tempt even to plan for the goal of being able to engage Russia and China simultaneously in sustained all-out war while handling a minor conflict on the side. The means to cope with any such "dispersed Armageddon" is beyond our reach, even if we were prepared to bankrupt ourselves in the effort. Moreover, a world thus in flames would be sure to trigger the strategic nuclear forces.

A defensive force structure appropriate to the military threats to our national security would not seek to match Soviet or Chinese manpower. Our forces would not be designed to ensure that no territory must ever be yielded. Nor should recognition of a continuing military threat from the Communist giants imply that we strive for forces which might enable us to contain or dissipate Soviet or Chinese "influence." As great powers, Russia and China have influence and must be expected to exercise it. Where such exercise takes a form other than military aggression, no scale of military force will be powerful enough to prevent it.

What is needed in the way of conventional fighting capability is the general purpose forces which will make possible a credible conventional response to Soviet and Chinese first steps toward conventional aggression, even if these steps are contemporaneous. We need not procure ground forces for protracted land war or naval forces for an extensive war at sea, for it is inconceivable that such forces would ever be so employed. What we can procure and maintain are the forces that will indicate our seriousness of purpose and buy time while the Soviet and/or Chinese leaders consider the consequences of pressing the attack. Theirs, not ours, would then become the sobering responsibility for unleashing forces of nuclear destruction.

It is neither possible nor useful to try and draw any single set of specifications for the defense forces which this analysis would justify. A few principles can, however, illustrate the rationale.

Our basic objective should be a force structure which guarantees the U.S. nuclear deterrent and maximizes our conventional war fighting capability. This would involve eschewing notions of "superiority" or avowed greater readiness to use nuclear weapons. It would also forgo both world-wide military readiness and continued accretion of sophisticated but unproven weaponry, while concentrating on efficiency and simplicity.

On the strategic side, we have seen how futile it is to search for superiority when the potential adversary is prepared to match missile-for-missile and megaton-for-megaton. The success of the U.S.-Soviet strategic arms limitation talks (SALT), in the form of a meaningful restriction on strategic arms, would lessen the costs and the risks of the strategic side of our defense forces. If hopes for such agreement are not realized, our goal must continue to be to protect our second strike capability — leaving the Soviet Union clear that a first strike would ensure retaliation and an unacceptable level of destruction — while avoiding exotic and expensive refinements. We might, for example, find better use for defense funds than an ABM which is not needed to deter a Chinese attack and cannot work against a Soviet one. The same can be said against maintaining very costly and in- effective air defense systems such as SAOE. Also indicated is the need to keep the new air defense system in the research and development stage until the future Soviet bomber threat can be assessed. As far as our own new long-range bomber is concerned, no compel- ling case has been made for going into production of the I3-1, and we therefore should not do so.

On the conventional side, the emphasis should be on maintenance of something close to what is called the 1965 baseline on ground combat strength and readiness. This might mean initially about 17 combat-ready divisions (14 Army and 3 Marine) and total manpower of about 2.5 million. This contrasts with the 14 combat-ready divisional structure — 2.5 million manpower base of the last Eisenhower year and the 22 divisional structure — 3.2 million manpower base for 1970. The proposed 17 division force would differ from the 1965 baseline forces by one less division in Korea and one less in active reserve in the United States. It would permit ample recognition of the continued political value of significant U.S. forces in Europe. Further troop strength cuts should be the result 26. of mutual balanced force reductions between NATO and the Warsaw Pact and improving relations between Washington and Peking.

In the meantime, we should continue to dismantle the world-wide base structure which has served to support a world-wide peace- keeping role. We need keep only those bases which are necessary for short-term conventional defense against Russia and China. The thousands of tactical nuclear weapons now deployed in Europe and in the Pacific can also be reduced. The need for Reserves and National Guard units should be re-examined in the light of the improbability of a protracted war being fought on a mobilization basis.

Tactical aircraft needs should be made commensurate with this modified version of flexible and controlled response. That would entail Air Force wings being reduced from 23 down at least to 20, Navy attack carrier-based wings from 15 to about 9, with Marine Corps wings remaining at 3. Carrier-based air wings in the Mediterranean and the North Sea would not in all likelihood be able to stay in effective range and still survive a Soviet attack. N^TO-Oriented carriers thus could bear the brunt of the suggested reductions. The very limited Chinese air and submarine threat promises more success for carrier-based air- craft operations in the Pacific, and this potential should thus be preserved. As for new tactical aircraft, it is hard to find reason for the very expensive and sophisticated F-14 and F-15 programs — with an estimated cost of $50 billion over the next ten years. A far simpler, less expensive fighter aircraft should be developed. As the number of attack carriers is reduced, anti-submarine carriers and escort ships can be mothballed.

The budgetary savings which this force posture will produce are not calculable in detail. They should save more than $10 billion from the non-Vietnam portion of the Nixon Administration’s $71 billion figure for fiscal 1971. The real gains, however, would come in future years — in the saving of massive amounts of money that would otherwise have 27. been spent. Cancellation of new production starts, it is recognized, means larger costs for operations and maintenance on the old sys- tem being continued. Modernization and thus new costs will inevitably crop up in the future. Nevertheless, adoption of a modified policy of flexible and controlled response would place an effective lid on the defense budget as well as show the way toward future cuts.

The Nixon Doctrine’s Implications For Defense Policy Are Still Unclear

What the Nixon doctrine means for defense policy cannot yet be determined from public statements. Up to the present time, the doc- trine has been described largely in terms of what the United States will not do. A new defense policy to mesh with a new foreign policy has not as yet emerged.

The enunciation of the doctrine itself has been vague, and perhaps deliberately so. At a minimum, it seems to reflect a heartening willingness to view the reach of our commitments somewhat less expansively than was the case in the recent past. But its public airing has not explained the circumstances under which we would be prepared to respond militarily and what kind of military power we would use.

Insofar as defense policy is concerned, the Nixon Administration’s major change to date has been its reduction in the number of force planning contingencies from 2~ to 1~. This might mean a thinning out of our conventional forces throughout the world, with the retention only of a minor U.S. military presence abroad. Such an interpretation is suggested by Vice President Agnew’s comments during his latest Asian trip, when he told the reporters in his party: "It is not compatible with our philosophy to have large contingents of our forces permanently stationed in any country." A month earlier, Secretary Laird said of the Nixon doctrine: "It places primary emphasis on giving our friends the nuclear shield that is necessary to 28. protect our treaty commitments, protect the national security of the United States."

Read literally, these comments would seem to suggest major reliance in the future on our nuclear forces, even to deter Soviet conventional aggression against our NATO allies. This would, indeed, be a reversion to old doctrine, the credibility of which has not improved with time.

A more plausible interpretation is that the "IN war" strategy means maintaining significant conventional forces in Europe, and putting primary reliance on nuclear weapons for an Asian contingency. The Administration has announced that present American troop levels in Europe will not change at least through 1971. In the absence of some dramatic breakthrough in our relations with the Soviet Union, or sizable mutual troop reductions between NATO and the Warsaw Pact, it is unwise to plan on removing the major part of these forces within the next several years. To do so would leave us in Europe with only the dubious comfort of a nuclear response against a power with roughly equivalent nuclear strength. The same dread equation would make it imprudent in the foreseeable future to strip our NATO forces in order to meet a conventional attack by China.

At the same time, domestic and diplomatic considerations militate against selective resurrection of "massive retaliation" as the sole means for coping with any and all Chinese threats. If we are to continue to meet our Asian commitments, after scaling them down to size, we must not put ourselves in a position of being without conventional capability. Neither our own public nor world opinion would support or excuse a nuclear reaction to limited Chinese aggression.

Compounding the uncertainty as to the defense implications of the Nixon doctrine are the nature and scope of changes to date in the defense budget. The budget has not yet reflected the deletion for planning purposes of one hypothetical "war." Secretary Laird has estimated the current annual incremental 29. cost of the Vietnam War at about $14 billion. This represents a saving of some $9 billion when compared with the incremental cost in the peak year of 1968. But it leaves the total of non-Vietnam-related out- lays at some $57 billion — a level comparable to that which existed prior to adoption of the new war strategy.

Several new defense systems of question. able purpose and efficacy have in fact been cancelled. Starts for other expensive accretions have been delayed. But there is no clear pattern to allay the fear that sophisticated weaponry may be preserved at the sacrifice of our conventional fighting forces. If our conventional military power is to remain meaningful, it must retain the capability to deal with two plausible military threats. The "improbability of Sino-Soviet cooperation ”n does not shrink these two to one but leaves them unmistakably two.

The primitive state of China’s strategic forces and Soviet nuclear sophistication work alike to foreclose the chances of nuclear attack. Conventional aggression, by either or both Communist powers, cannot as blithely be discounted. Unrest in Eastern Europe, perceived opportunities in the Middle East, instability in Asia, or internal struggles for power may impel Soviet or Chinese leaders to military adventures. Unselective implementation of the Nixon doctrine can reduce our conventional fighting strength without significantly reducing our defense budget. The limited conventional strength needed for today’s plausible contingencies is completely compatible with sizable cuts in defense expenditures. Our foreign policy commitments demand no more than the ability to cope with conceivable Soviet and Chinese threats. They also demand no less.

The Nixon doctrine declares a new course for American foreign policy. But without a defense policy to help chart that course, no one can tell us where it leads.

Leslie H. Gelb is president emeritus of the Council on Foreign Relations.

More from Foreign Policy

Russian President Vladimir Putin and Chinese President Xi Jinping give a toast during a reception following their talks at the Kremlin in Moscow on March 21.
Russian President Vladimir Putin and Chinese President Xi Jinping give a toast during a reception following their talks at the Kremlin in Moscow on March 21.

Can Russia Get Used to Being China’s Little Brother?

The power dynamic between Beijing and Moscow has switched dramatically.

Xi and Putin shake hands while carrying red folders.
Xi and Putin shake hands while carrying red folders.

Xi and Putin Have the Most Consequential Undeclared Alliance in the World

It’s become more important than Washington’s official alliances today.

Russian President Vladimir Putin greets Kazakh President Kassym-Jomart Tokayev.
Russian President Vladimir Putin greets Kazakh President Kassym-Jomart Tokayev.

It’s a New Great Game. Again.

Across Central Asia, Russia’s brand is tainted by Ukraine, China’s got challenges, and Washington senses another opening.

Kurdish military officers take part in a graduation ceremony in Erbil, the capital of Iraq’s Kurdistan Region, on Jan. 15.
Kurdish military officers take part in a graduation ceremony in Erbil, the capital of Iraq’s Kurdistan Region, on Jan. 15.

Iraqi Kurdistan’s House of Cards Is Collapsing

The region once seemed a bright spot in the disorder unleashed by U.S. regime change. Today, things look bleak.