Today, the United States has no national security strategy worthy of the name. This is a good thing for several reasons, not the least of which is that thinking up new strategies provides employment for several thousand otherwise marginal defense and policy wonks. It keeps the think tanks thinking, the grant makers granting, and the pundits both punning and ditting. And of the product usually has no discernible value, at least it’s easily recycled.
Beyond this subsidization of geostrategic chatterboxing, there are a number of valid reasons why the United States should not, at this time, try to formulate a coherent declaratory strategy.
First, we don’t know what time it is. Obviously, we live in the post Cold War World. But, most likely, we’re also living at the end of the Age of the Wars of Ideology: an era that some historians think began as far back as the American Revolution. (We started it. We finished it. What a country.) Perhaps, also, we live at the end of the Age of Neatly-Packaged Nation-State Wars, a period beginning circa 1648 and defined by the beliefs that only sovereign nation-states had the right to fight, and that certain niceties should be observed. This was a peculiarly Eurocentric notion, and it never quite worked that way, especially outside of Europe. But it did provide a set of standards that form the basis of our thinking about how wars ought to be. These standards, applicable to wars between Western-civ nation-states, are now largely OBE (Over-taken by Events).
Second, We don’t know who we’re going to fight. Democracies don’t fight each other. Further, U.S. conventional forces are so superior to those of non-democratic nation-states that they provide a dandy deterrent. We’re not about to be invaded. Most likely, future conflicts will involve other nations fighting each other, with us getting into the act either as peace keepers (“Glad you guys decided to kiss and make up.”) or peace enforcers (“Pay attention. This is how it’s gonna be.”) But, just as important, future conflicts may well involve an of thousands of subnational groups around the planet, attacking us or our friends. All that these groups, and the predator nations, have in common is that they fall into a general category perhaps best defined as Disturbers of International Good Order, known by the inevitable acronym, DINGOs. Perhaps the Age of the Wars of the DINGOs is upon us.
Third, we and the DINGOs are involved in a unique asymmetrical arms race. Today, the U.S. is, for practical purposes, out of the weapons-of-mass-destruction business. Precision-guided weaponry and so-called information warfare are the trend. Meanwhile, the planetary DINGOs labor to acquire nuclear, biological, and chemical weapons, along with crude yet serviceable delivery systems. U.S. conventional forces, properly maintained and modernized, can take on anybody in a Desert Storm-style fracas. But how do we make our power relevant to the more likely, and indeed more deadly threats? The answers are far from clear.
Fourth, some stuff you’re better off not saying. The American tradition had been to let the other guy strike first. The Clinton administration’s putative strategy, the Bottom-Up Review (BUR) assumes that, in the two major regional conflicts–Korea and Persian Gulf–we would act only after a massive cross-border invasion of air assault. We would then (shades of 1970s NATO doctrine) somehow contain the attack, reinforce, and restore the status quo ante. This is a prescription for disaster, as even the most ardent BUR-heads will admit after a couple of scotches. But a public doctrine of pre-emption would be politically unpalatable. Further, DINGO nation-states can be deterred from use of weapons of mass-destruction; they’ve got countries to lose. DINGO terrorists have no such vulnerabilities. Should their host and/or sponsor nations be held responsible for their action? Should pre-emption be doctrine here also? Or would it be preferable to wait until a nuke or anthrax cannister goes off in Manhattan, then assemble the O.J. Dream Team to defend the perps?
Fifth, we need allies without alliances. NATO-may it live long and prosper. But, to borrow an old Arab proverb, my enemy’s enemy is my friend. Sometimes. And my enemy may also be my friend. Future collaborations, against terrorists especially, should be largely ad hoc and, often, exceedingly discreet.
There are, of course, many other reasons why the U.S. should not try to enunciate a security strategy of World War II (total victory) or Cold War (containment) coherence. The American aversion to mass casualties, the role of the media, inevitable domestic turmoil–so many reasons that, to define and analyze them all would take considerable time and money.
Thinking up reasons why we don’t need a strategy–now there’s a concept for a grant.