The Military Establishment (Or How Political Problems Become Military Problems)
When I left the Pentagon in 1966 I believed that the reforms carried out by Robert McNamara in the early sixties had tightened civilian control over the American military establishment. Today I am not so sure that their purpose coincided with their effect. Perhaps the greater efficiencies we tried to build into the system in ...
When I left the Pentagon in 1966 I believed that the reforms carried out by Robert McNamara in the early sixties had tightened civilian control over the American military establishment. Today I am not so sure that their purpose coincided with their effect. Perhaps the greater efficiencies we tried to build into the system in the Kennedy years had the perverse consequence of strengthening America's military options at the expense of her diplomatic and political flexibility. Theories of limited war and programs to widen the President's range of choice made military solutions to our foreign problems more available and even more attractive. Without question, they contributed to the size of the defense budget and to the deepening involvement in Vietnam.
When I left the Pentagon in 1966 I believed that the reforms carried out by Robert McNamara in the early sixties had tightened civilian control over the American military establishment. Today I am not so sure that their purpose coincided with their effect. Perhaps the greater efficiencies we tried to build into the system in the Kennedy years had the perverse consequence of strengthening America’s military options at the expense of her diplomatic and political flexibility. Theories of limited war and programs to widen the President’s range of choice made military solutions to our foreign problems more available and even more attractive. Without question, they contributed to the size of the defense budget and to the deepening involvement in Vietnam.
Since American foreign policy has become militarized in the three decades since Pearl Harbor, it is important to ask how and why this has occurred. The roots of the problem go back at least as far as World War II. Though we thought during the Kennedy Administration that we were taking important steps to "demilitarize the policy process," in effect if not in intention we were often only pruning the branches of the military tree. It continued to flourish, stunting the growth of the civilian organisms that grew in its shadow. In the seventies, as national priorities are reconsidered, there are new prospects for achieving a more rational military establishment and a better balance in foreign policy and domestic programs. The possibilities for change are not unlimited. But if we are to make the right choices, we need to be aware how past events and judgments have shaped our military bureaucracy. The rise in the policy-making role of our armed forces is not the result of an anti-democratic conspiracy, nor is it an event that had to take place in quite the way it did. Decisions by civilian leaders and trends in our domestic politics have combined with the bureaucratic facts of life in Washington to create the kind of military machine we have today. A review of history should make this plain, and may also suggest where we are headed.
I. The Legacy of History
The Second World War was the occasion, if not the cause, for much heavier reliance on military advice in shaping foreign policy. Before 1940, Presidents and Secretaries of State repeated ritualistically that the United States had three foreign objectives: the preservation of the Monroe Doctrine, the maintenance of the Open Door and the integrity of China, and the avoidance of entangling alliances. The Monroe Doctrine rested on an assumption that the United States would be endangered if any foreign power held part of Latin America. The Open Door doctrine contained no security component. The third principle, non-entanglement, expressed a traditional belief in George Washington’s advice that no change "in the ordinary vicissitudes…, or the ordinary combinations and collisions" of overseas powers would affect this country’s safety.
We emerged from World War II, however, with a somewhat altered set of principles. We promised to cooperate with the other victors, as we had not done after World War I. The Monroe Doctrine was reaffirmed and institutionalized by the Rio Treaty of 1947, while for the rest of the world collective security through the United Nations replaced non-entanglement. Reliance on the U.N. was, of course, less than total. When President Truman called for aid to Greece and Turkey in 1947, he did so more in the name of American security than of collective security, arguing that "totalitarian regimes imposed upon free people, by direct or indirect aggression, undermine the foundations of international peace and hence the security of the United States."
Once Eastern Europe refused to take part in the Marshall Plan, Secretaries Marshall and Forrestal argued before congressional committees that our economic aid would reduce the danger of Communist revolutions and electoral victories in Western Europe and hence make it less likely that these powers would line up against the United States in a new war.
At the height of the cold war in 1949, Secretary of State Acheson described Western Europe as America’s first line of defense. So long as it remained militarily weak, he declared, "the United States is open to attack on its own territory to a greater extent than ever before." American policy-makers began to take a similar attitude toward areas outside Europe when the Korean war began. After authorizing U.S. air and naval forces to defend South Korea, President Truman announced that the Seventh Fleet would protect Formosa, and he proposed aid to the French in their struggle against Communist led guerrillas in Indochina.
In Congressional hearings Dean Rusk, then Assistant Secretary of State for Far Eastern Affairs, argued that the Indochinese rebellion against the French was tantamount to Chinese aggression, since the rebels were supported by Peking. "If that aggression succeeds in that area," Rusk declared, "it would bring added strength and impetus to Communist aggression in other parts of the world and it would seriously affect the basic power situation upon which our own security depends." If the Chinese prevailed, they would acquire new resources — "the breadbasket of Southeast Asia." The "free world" would suffer "a sapping of sources of strength…; strength in terms of raw-materials resources; strength in terms of strategic position; and strength in terms of potential manpower." Rusk went on to claim that "the loss of the province of Tonkin, where active operations are now going on… would make it extremely difficult to retain the remainder of Indochina. The loss of Indochina would make it extremely difficult to retain Burma and Siam in the free-world system."
Subsequently, the truce line established in Korea, the Formosa Straits, and the line drawn in 1954 between Communist North Vietnam and the rest of Southeast Asia were treated as military frontiers. The United States signed mutual defense treaties with South Korea and Nationalist China. By the Southeast Asia Treaty of 1954, it committed itself to the proposition that Communist aggression against South Vietnam, Laos, Cambodia, or Thailand would "endanger its own peace and safety." When the Chinese shelled Quemoy and Matsu in 1955 and 1958, President Eisenhower and Secretary of State Dulles warned that seizure of those tiny islands situated just off the mainland harbor of Amoy might constitute a threat to the United States.
In the Middle East, the United States gravitated toward a position of defining as its vital interests the territorial and political integrity of non-Communist states. The Eisenhower doctrine of 1957 pledged U.S. aid to any government in the region menaced by Communist attack or subversion. A memorandum submitted by Secretary John Foster Dulles to the Senate Foreign Relations Committee explained the logic behind this doctrine:
The Soviet Union aspires to control the Middle East, not because it needs or is dependent upon the resources or the transportation and communications channels of the area, but because it sees control of the area as a major step toward eventually undermining the strength of the whole free world. Africa might well be the first major objective. Control of the oil of the Middle East would almost insure control of Europe… The Middle East offers an avenue for aggression against India, West Pakistan, and the Asian countries which lie to the east of them. Successful Soviet aggression in the Middle East could flow to the eastward as gains were consolidated.
Four years earlier Dulles had explained that America needed allies not only for their strength, but also "to prevent their strength from falling into Soviet hands." Subversion, he argued, posed an even greater danger than overt aggression, for successful subversion of a free government could give the Soviet Union control of a country with "its population unharmed and its industries and resources intact.”
All continents were viewed as arenas of competition. In the Western Hemisphere, the Eisenhower, Kennedy, and Johnson Administrations were prepared to act unilaterally in Guatemala (1954), the Bay of Pigs (1961), and the Dominican Republic (1965). In Africa, the U.S. government supported U.N. intervention in the Congo on premises expounded later to the House Foreign Affairs Committee by one of Kennedy’s Assistant Secretaries of State:
… when it comes down to a question of whether the Russians will put in the steel structure of government in the Congo or whether we will, I think we have to work for our doing it because of the danger to a world order of having country after country operated as responsive puppets to a central world Communist movement run out of Moscow.
II. Perceptions of the Cold War
From 1947 to the present, then, American thinking about foreign policy has been substantially military in character. The world has been conceived as a battleground between Soviet Communist forces on one side and American and "Free World" forces on the other. It has been assumed that any addition to Communist territory or any political success by Communists or Communist-sympathizers adds to the relative strength of the Soviet Union and correspondingly diminishes that of the United States. One result of this military style of reasoning is to avoid estimating a potential enemy’s intentions, but instead call attention to his capabilities and assume that he will do whatever mischief he can. Dulles took just this approach when answering a senator who had asked whether he possessed actual evidence of Soviet designs on the Middle East. "No one can reliably predict whether, and if so, when, there would be Communist armed aggression," he replied, "but three things are known: (1) the Communist capability, (2) the temptation, (3) the lack of any moral restraints."
A second military habit of thought is to emphasize readiness for the worst contingency that might arise. A central theme of American policy toward Europe since 1947 has been preoccupation with meeting the threat of a massive surprise attack by the Red Army on Western Europe. Such an approach has made it virtually impossible to test whether the U.S.S.R. might be willing to arrive at a European diplomatic settlement. Between 1950 and 1953, the Truman Administration rejected all Soviet suggestions for negotiation of an all-German peace treaty. In 1957-58 the Eisenhower Administration rejected Polish Foreign Minister Rapacki’s scheme for a denuclearized zone in central Europe. The United States did not follow up these overtures in large part because it believed that if agreements were reached, NATO would be less able to prepare for the worst contingency.
In other rimlands American diplomacy has concentrated on building up ready military force to the exclusion of almost all other considerations, political or economic. Between 1953 and 1963, more than half of all U.S. aid in Asia went to Korea, the Republic of China, and South Vietnam. Each of these three states had dictatorial governments. Though Presidents Eisenhower and Kennedy both affirmed the principle that popularly based governments possessed much greater strength in the long run, neither stressed this principle in connection with these Asian states until Kennedy in 1963 uttered some cautious criticism of the tottering Diem regime. American thinking was dominated by fear of a "worst contingency" — a full-scale North Korean, Chinese, or North Vietnamese invasion. Such an approach precluded long-run considerations of diplomacy. In part, at least, emphasis on the worst contingency became a self-fulfilling prophecy, creating pressures which helped bring about the very situation it was designed to prevent.
This is not to argue, as the historical revisionists of the New Left have done, that the menace of Soviet and Communist power in the postwar world was largely invented in Washington. That menace, or at least the fact of that power and of its expansionist character, have been real enough. At the same time, American leaders did not have to frame their reactions to Soviet hostility and ambition in so heavily military a way. Interposing American force is not the only means of protecting a friend or inhibiting an adversary. Aid to Greece and Turkey, the NATO and SEATO treaties, the Eisenhower doctrine and the interventions in Vietnam and the Dominican Republic reflect a judgment not only that the Soviets and Chinese have imperialist aims, but also that it is so important to American security to defeat those aims that the risk of war is justified, and nothing less than that risk will produce a favorable outcome.
To understand why American leaders drew these conclusions, it is important not only to recall their perception of Soviet behavior but also to recognize their extreme sensitivity to advances in military technology. On the eve of World War II, Roosevelt and his civilian advisers had believed that German bombers based in Brazil or the Azores could reach targets in the United States, and this belief heightened their concern about Nazi activity in Latin America and the Iberian peninsula. By the end of World War II, intercontinental bombers were well along toward production, and long-range guided or ballistic missiles seemed a probable next development. The sense of insecurity grew as one generation of nuclear weapons succeeded another, and tests proved the workability of a hydrogen bomb. Intelligence showed the Soviet Union rapidly catching up in nuclear technology. The possibility of direct attack by the U.S.S.R. disturbed Truman and his civilian advisers. Anxiety grew when, in the Eisenhower years, the Soviets demonstrated an intercontinental bomber fleet and a long-range missile capability.
There has been periodic fear by American leaders that the country might backslide into isolationism and that this would seriously undermine our security, since it would mean a reversion to the mistakes of the 1930’s which preceded World War II. Focusing attention on the power of new weapons and the danger of attack seemed the simplest means of mobilizing public support for a more active foreign policy. Hence exhortations from Washington warning that the people of the United States face immediate danger have been repeated in every conceivable context. Witness, for example, Administrator Robert L. Johnson’s testimony in support of the International Information Administration budget for fiscal 1954:
I think there are bonds that can be developed that are strong, and may prevent a third world war, and I think unless we win the cold war in the next two years we are apt to have a third world war. So I am anxious to use all the tools that honorable people can use to win the hearts and minds of the people of this world.
Reliance on such arguments compelled the executive branch to send representatives of the military establishment to Capitol Hill to support foreign policy recommendations. Though Truman took pains to separate the issue of subsequent military aid to Europe from the ratification of the Atlantic treaty, he arranged for both the Secretary of Defense and the Chairman of the Joint Chiefs to appear before the Foreign Relations Committee. For the first post-Korean mutual security program, thirteen out of thirty administration witnesses represented the military establishment. Annually, thereafter, about one-third of the executive branch witnesses for any aid program would come from the Pentagon. The tack taken by the executive branch responded also to the need of representatives and senators to justify themselves in the eyes of their constituents. Even if they themselves regarded the President’s policies as wise, they had to explain to voters why they accepted the risks involved in alliances and why they contributed money to foreigners.
III. The Habits of the Military Bureaucracy
Although our foreign policies might have been rationalized in military terms in any case, the actual involvement of the Pentagon and military commands in the policy-making process has had the effect of intertwining the rationale for certain foreign policies with a separate rationale for increased defense spending. It has also entailed an increase in the number and variety of military options available to Presidents in crises, probably at the expense of making other kinds of options less available or less visible. When Pentagon spokesmen address foreign policy issues, they tend to "take positions consistent with advocacy of a larger investment in military force.
Military men feared — and actually saw happen — a substantial dismantling of the American defense establishment at the end of World War II. The army dropped from over 8 million men in 1945 to below 600,000 in 1950. The chiefs of the armed services were conscious not only of the time that had been needed to build up forces for World War II but of the fact that advancing technology lengthened lead-time requirements further. B-36 bombers, ordered in 1940, were not to be operational before 1947. A Midway-class carrier would not leave the ways until two years after construction began. Fearful lest the country fail to prepare for an unforeseeable future, the officers and civilian secretaries who advised President Truman inevitably stressed the military dangers that might arise from the intransigence of the Soviet Union. Equally inevitably, men from the military establishment interpreted the Soviet moves of 1948 — the Czech coup and the Berlin blockade — as steps preparatory to aggressive war. The alternative interpretation — that the U.S.S.R. was reacting to the Truman doctrine and the Marshall Plan by building a defensive wall — did not as easily lend itself to the case for military preparedness.
At later stages, whenever issues turned on predictions of future Soviet or Chinese behavior, the military establishment, as a rule, associated itself with the direst forecasts. It was no coincidence that such forecasts in turn provided a rationale for spending money on expanding military installations and developing and producing new weapons. The converse was also true. Limitations on armament, however desirable for other reasons, represent from the military viewpoint a loss of security. Thus the Joint Chiefs of Staff in 1963 attached a set of conditions to their agreement to support the Nuclear Test Ban Treaty before Congress, and General Earle Wheeler testified that "in the purest sense of the term any agreement or treaty which limits the manner in which we develop our weapons systems represents a military disadvantage."
Secretaries of Defense have usually tried to hold down service demands for funds, and differences of opinion have sometimes arisen between civilians and professionals over the degree of danger involved in foreign developments. For example, Secretaries Gates and McNamara took a more hopeful view than the Joint Chiefs of prospects for Soviet agreement to limitations on strategic weapons. Both vetoed JCS proposals to proceed with development of full-scale antiballistic missile systems. In the late sixties, McNamara and Clark Clifford differed with the Chiefs about the extent of peril involved in ending the Vietnam War with something short of victory.
But the range of disagreement over foreign policy between Secretaries of Defense and the Joint Chiefs has usually been relatively narrow. Though civilian secretaries have fought for economies within the Pentagon, they have still had to go to the Budget Bureau, the White House, and Capitol Hill to argue for immense expenditures. These expenditures have had to be justified in terms of probable perils. Civilians in the military establishment no less than professional officers have felt a positive responsibility to take a pessimistic view of international events.
Political leaders should have been able, of course, to discount the self-interested biases of the Pentagon just as they normally discount those of the Commerce and Agriculture Departments and other special interest groups. To a limited extent, all Presidents and presidential aides have done so. But, as a rule, the White House has had to assume that Congress and the public would not make this adjustment, but would instead accept military judgment on foreign affairs as sage, detached, and disinterested. And because Presidents have been aware of the military establishment’s high prestige with Congress and the public, they have had to pay unusual deference to military opinion, even within their private councils.
The military establishment has gotten from Congress most of what it estimated as the military strength necessary to cope with the foreign contingencies which it forecast. (Not all, to be sure, for Congress has consistently shown a preference for high-technology hardware, involving contracts, profits, and jobs for constituents, as opposed to providing the armed services with less spectacular items such as more manpower, machine guns, mortars, and landing craft. The services have adjusted to this fact by stressing high-technology programs in their budgetary planning.) One result of the Pentagon’s budget successes has been to give the military an increased capacity to suggest to the President that he employ force to deal with foreign problems.
At the time of the Berlin blockade in 1948, Forrestal and the Joint Chiefs could recommend a limited range of alternatives — send tanks down the Autobahn and, if they were stopped, use SAC bombers; test whether the Soviets would stop an airlift; or get out. Despite the Korean War build-up, the Joint Chiefs of 1954 could offer Eisenhower only three choices in Indochina — the use of land based and carrier-based bombers to rescue the French, followed perhaps by landing contingents of U.S. ground forces, or the use of nuclear weapons, or taking no military action at all. In the 1960’s, on the other hand, with almost 10 percent of the Gross National Product being spent on military capabilities, including "flexible response," Presidents Kennedy and Johnson could be presented with a variety of alternative military moves suited to defending Berlin, reacting to the placement of Soviet missiles in Cuba, coping with a revolution in the Dominican Republic, or supporting Saigon against the Vietcong. Given their possession of F-105’s, F-4’s, carriers, destroyers, patrol craft, mine-layers, helicopters, "green beret" detachments, and so forth, the military was at last in a position to offer a wide variety of alternatives, a different prescription for each imaginable situation and for each of its phases.
IV. Unbalanced Options
Theoretically, the President ought to possess the widest possible range of options when dealing with any critical international problem. Having on hand a varied mixture of military forces does not make it inevitable or even necessarily more probable that he will use them. It simply provides him the opportunity to do so if he judges such action wisest. But this abstract reasoning ignores at least two realities. In the first place, any situations serious enough to entail contemplation of the use of force are almost certainly situations with built-in deadlines. The President cannot spend much time considering all imaginable courses of action; he has to focus on those few which his subordinates are best equipped to carry out. In the second place, the investment required for a wide range of ready military options diverts some resources from the preparation and multiplication of other kinds of options. Although one less well-outfitted carrier task force would not convert into one better-equipped State Department negotiating team, to the extent that both demand talent and money and talent and money are scarce, the one may be had only at the indirect expense of the other.
In practice, therefore, heavy investment in military forces, and most recently, in "flexible response," probably has increased the likelihood that a President in a crisis will consider military options above other possible options. The Cuban missile crisis provides an illustration. From the discovery of the missiles on October 14, 1962, until October 28, when Khrushchev promised to remove them, the Executive Committee of the National Security Council spent at least 90 percent of its time studying alternative uses of troops, bombers, and warships. Although the possibility of seeking withdrawal of the missiles by straightforward diplomatic negotiation received some attention within the State Department, it seems scarcely to have been considered by the President. At the same time, hardly any attention was given to possible uses of economic leverage. To be sure, any time spent on options other than a "surgical" air strike or a naval quarantine might have been time wasted. But it seems curious that nonmilitary agencies should have had so few expedients to put before the President, and it seems at least possible that this would not have been the case if State, the Treasury, the CIA and other civilian agencies had also been manned and funded for "flexible response."
The existence of a variety of military options has probably had less effect in non-crisis situations, when representatives of civilian agencies have had more leisure to reflect on what they might do if the President assigned them a task. Even in routine handling of foreign policy problems, however, the massive presence of the military establishment has very likely caused distortions. Military and civilian officers of the Pentagon necessarily concentrate on military aspects of issues that come before them. If involved in administering a foreign aid program, they tend to focus on military components. While they can consider and even urge economic development aid, they must do so in terms of its contribution to military strength. If they take part in preparing an analysis of, say, post-Franco Spain, they are inclined to emphasize security matters. Otherwise, when sitting at a table with representatives of State, CIA, the Treasury, and other agencies, they lead from a weak suit. And at most interagency meetings the military community is doubly represented, with an officer from the Joint Chiefs and a civilian from the Defense Secretary’s staff.
In sum, while the military security emphasis of post-World War II American foreign policy has been an understandable response to foreign threats, changes in technology, perceptions of the past, and predilections of Congress and the public, the extensive participation of the military establishment in the policy process has accentuated this emphasis. Foreign policy has been keyed to defense expenditures, and there has been an undue focus on force as opposed to negotiation. The military establishment’s participation in the policy process has produced an overemphasis on "worst-contingency" planning in Europe and Asia and with respect to nuclear arms. At the same time Presidents have been given a richer variety of military options than of other kinds of options.
Even if the military had not played a major policy role, however, America’s postwar foreign policy would undoubtedly have followed the same main lines that it has. For preoccupation with military security reflected the attitudes and values of civilian policymakers, and ultimately of the American people. The conspicuous role of military men and Defense Secretaries in framing and defending foreign policy was traceable in part to belief in the White House and Congress that visible military support was a political necessity. Had there been no elements in the military establishment concerned with foreign policy, Presidents and Secretaries of State would have had to invent them.
V. The Decline of Military Influence
Impelled by changes in the world around it, American foreign policy today is changing as well. There is every prospect in the seventies for a breakaway from the military-security mold of the recent past. The prosperity of Western Europe and Japan, and the sense of "nuclear complicity" between the Soviet Union and the United States have altered the global environment. Americans have grown more accustomed to the shrinkage of the world and the absence of a sense of invulnerability. A decade after the Bay of Pigs, it no longer seems that a Communist Cuba puts America’s safety in peril. Finally, and perhaps most important of all, the force of military logic and the authoritative status of military professionals, as spokesmen on foreign policy and even on military matters, have diminished.
Mere passage of time accounts for part of this last change. Only men and women of middle age have vivid memories of World War II. Many voters scarcely recall Korea. But the prolonged war in Vietnam, where predictions of victory were once so frequently expressed by high military men, has had a decisive impact on most Americans. Meanwhile, national priorities have changed very critically. The plight of the cities, the revolt of the blacks, the needs of the urban and rural poor, the restlessness of students, the pollution of the environment have all forced public attention back to home problems. Foreign policy and the military establishment have little relevance to these new issues. But the cost of the war in Vietnam has triggered concern about the extravagance of long unquestioned military policies. The spread of this concern, and the decline in respect for military views on foreign policy, is registered most visibly in public opinion polls about the war and in bipartisan opposition in Congress to the anti-ballistic missile programs of the Johnson and Nixon Administrations. Senator Richard Russell of Georgia, long considered one of the military establishment’s warmest supporters, typified the shift in outlook during a hearing in 1968. "I guess I must be an isolationist," Russell declared. "I don’t think you ought to pick up 100,000 or 200,000, or 500,000 American boys and ship them off somewhere to fight and get killed in a war as remotely connected with their interests as this one is.” Senator John C. Stennis of Mississippi, another long-time champion of the military establishment, asserted as early as 1967, "I believe that we are overcommitted… I voted glibly for things around here in the fifties to guarantee this and guarantee that. I am certainly one that did not realize how hard it was going to be to carry them out.”
Beyond criticism and disillusion about Vietnam, there is a constructive effort under way to build a foreign policy more suited to our times and situation. What seems probable at this writing is the evolution of a trinity of operating principles superficially similar to those of earlier eras but different from them in scope and substance: first, a security-based but cooperative "Monroe Doctrine" embracing the great non-Communist industrial powers — the nations of Western Europe and Japan; second, an "Open Door" doctrine entailing support for economic and political development in less-developed countries, but with no actual or implied commitment to defend their governments against domestic or foreign foes; and, finally, a new version of non-entanglement, involving abrogation or at least modification of existing treaties with the goal of ensuring that, except for the defense of Western Europe and Japan, the United States will not have to employ ground forces or any forces at all except as part of a broad-based multilateral effort.
Whether or not this forecast is accurate, the role of the military establishment in our foreign affairs is likely to diminish in the period ahead. For no event seems likely to restore the political charisma and air of infallibility which made support by military men seem almost indispensable for foreign policy decisions just a few years ago. On the other hand, even a violent swing toward isolation could not deprive the military of all of its functions in the foreign policy process. The chances are that, while military professionals and Pentagon civilians will be less prominent and less influential than during the last three decades, they will continue to have a voice in formulating options and a hand in writing some of the memoranda that are the stuff of foreign policy work in Washington.
This last prediction seems safe, partly because the military establishment has developed such strong capabilities for dealing with foreign policy issues. The professional military men upon whom Franklin Roosevelt so heavily relied had to learn about international affairs while acting as presidential advisers. Of the wartime chiefs of staff, only Leahy, who spent eighteen months as ambassador to the Vichy regime, had had any experience outside his own service. Typically, by contrast, the service chiefs and other senior officers of the present day have had prolonged involvement in foreign affairs. General Earle Wheeler became Chief of Staff of the Army after a career that included attendance at the National War College, three years of occupation service in Europe, four years with NATO, and three years on the Joint Staff.
Senior officers not only possess qualifications for work on foreign policy problems; they also have a special organizational talent. Past Presidents have come to rely on the military not by choice so much as by necessity. President Truman originally hoped to centralize foreign responsibilities in the State Department. He was forced to the regretful conclusion, however, that "there wasn’t much material in the State Department to work with." John F. Kennedy started his term with a similar notion and came to the same conclusion. He found the State Department a "bowl of jelly." Truman and Kennedy may not have judged fairly, but it is true that over the years the State Department has failed to produce what the White House has wanted. Traditionally, Foreign Service officers are skilled in reporting, representation, and negotiation. Unlike the military, they are not used to handling large organizational problems. Theirs is not the systematic, well-structured craft of the armed services, which involves plotting contingencies, analyzing alternatives, and planning detailed courses of action. Because of its more schematic habits, the Pentagon can often outperform the State Department in staff work on foreign policy problems.
Furthermore, military men are apt to retain roles in the foreign policy process simply because they have them now. The President and his staff could sharply curtail consultation with the Joint Chiefs of Staff or with the Secretary of Defense. A simple executive order could decree that the military establishment be represented in interagency groups by a civilian or an officer from the Joint Staff, but not (as at present) by both. The State Department officials who ordinarily chair such committees could invite military representatives less regularly. Commanders overseas and chiefs of military aid groups could be directed to communicate with Washington only through State Department channels. But, even if these actions were taken, the military would retain an active role in foreign policy. For consultation with the Pentagon has become an acquired habit over the years, and the habits of bureaucracies are not easily altered.
Finally, it is more than likely that the military establishment will continue to take part in policy-making because, regardless of how much our policies change, many major issues are certain to be ones on which the military cannot be denied a voice. No foreseeable set of international agreements will do away with nuclear weapons or missile systems. No detente with the Soviet Union seems likely to end the need for some form of American military presence in Europe and Asia. If there were no other reason, some forces would be called for to reassure Germany’s western neighbors and to permit the Japanese to adhere to the arms limitation clauses of their constitution. They are also a prerequisite for workable curbs on the spread of nuclear weapons.
The military establishment can, of course be ordered by the President to tailor the planning of troop and weapon levels to diplomatic ends. If opposition to military spending continues to grow in Congress, the services could find themselves in pre-1940 circumstances, with only a handful of friends on Capitol Hill. The size and composition of the forces might then be determined almost wholly by the judgment of outside civilians, as was the case with the Navy between the signing of the Washington treaty in 1922 and the beginning of rearmament in the 1930’s. Even so, generals, admirals, and civilian secretaries would have an undeniable right to be heard. Since today’s military establishment is so large compared to other foreign affairs institutions (and would remain so even if cut in half), and since it possesses staff capabilities not equaled elsewhere in the government and is inextricably meshed with the foreign affairs establishment, it seems unlikely that military views will ever again go unregarded in Washington.
Indeed, the history of the past three decades warns that the opposite danger is greater. The danger stems not so much from the military establishment as from the ways civilians use it. With the possible exception of Douglas MacArthur, no American military man has sought or exercised power in the manner of a Moltke, Schlieffen, Tirpitz, or Tojo. U.S. foreign policy has been "militarized" largely because civilians have adopted military ways of thinking about political problems. The influence of the military establishment on domestic politics and the home economy may be functions of its budget and its size. But its influence on foreign policy depends on an altogether different variable: the capacity of civilians in the executive branch, in Congress, and among the public to remember that political problems, if thought about primarily in military terms, become military problems.
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