Monday, June 3, 2013

NSC-68 Version 2013: Balance of Power; Part I

By: Gonzalo I. Vergara, Lt. Col., USAF (Ret.)


NSC-68 served as “America’s official statement on Cold War strategy.” (Kissinger, 1994, p. 462)  A reading of the document is marked by the ideological basis for the strategy.  As Kissinger notes, NSC-68 equated our vital interests in moral terms rather than power. (Kissinger, 1994, p. 462) 

                According to NSC-68 ("A Report to the National Security Council - NSC 68", April 12, 1950., p. 5)

The fundamental purpose of the United States is laid down in the Preamble to the Constitution:  “to form a more perfect Union, establish Justice, insure domestic Tranquility, provide for the common defence, promote the general Welfare, and secure the Blessings of Liberty to ourselves and our Posterity.”  In essence, the fundamental purpose is to assure the integrity and vitality of our free society, which is founded upon the dignity and worth of the individual.

                The adversary, the Soviet Union and world communism, was seen as the epitome of evil and threat to the peace and stability of the United States and the world.  “The issues that face us are momentous, involving the fulfillment or destruction not only of this Republic but of civilization itself.” (Gaddis, Russia, The Soviet Union, and The United States: An Interpretative History , 1978, p. 198)

As John Lewis Gaddis notes NSC-68 viewed that “”[B]y developing the moral and material strength of the free world [so] that the Soviet regime will become convinced of the falsity of its assumptions and that the pre-conditions for workable agreement can be created.”” (Gaddis, Russia, The Soviet Union, and The United States: An Interpretative History , 1978, p. 198)
“Though NSC-68 went on to describe various military and economic measures vital to building situations of strength, its central theme was neither the give-and take of traditional diplomacy nor an apocalyptic final showdown.  The reluctance to use or to threaten to use nuclear weapons during the period of American’s atomic monopoly was rationalized in a uniquely American way:  victory in any such war would produce a transitional, hence and unsatisfactory outcome.” (Kissinger, 1994, p. 463)
                “The chief purpose of NSC-68 had been to make the case for “flexible response”:  a strategy of responding to aggression wherever it took place, without expanding the conflict of backing away from it.” (Gaddis, The Cold War: A New History, 2005, p. 165)  However, President Eisenhower did not support it due to costs, instead relying on the thr
Clausewitz, however, reminds us this is precisely what a statesman who is considering war must keep in mind.  Will the war achieve the outcomes sought or will such a war leave an unstable and ultimately more dangerous situation?  (Clausewitz, 1976)
The best assessment of NSC-68 is made by Henry Kissinger:  “What is unique about this document was it coupling of universal claims with the renunciation of force. Never before had a Great Power expressed objectives quite so demanding of its own resources without any expectation of reciprocity other that the dissemination of its national values.” (Kissinger, 1994, p. 463)
In an era of uncertainty, the expression of objectives, claims and resources are key points in defining our place in the world.  In order to do so, it is not necessary for us to reinvent the wheel. NSC-68 remains a model for the United States to articulate its vision of its place in the world.



In leading up to the First Gulf War, President George H. W. Bush grandly proclaimed:
“A new partnership of nations has begun, and we stand today at a unique and extraordinary moment. The crisis in the Persian Gulf, as grave as it is, also offers a rare opportunity to move toward an historic period of cooperation. Out of these troubled times, our fifth objective—a new world order—can emerge: A new era—freer from the threat of terror, stronger in the pursuit of justice and more secure in the quest for peace. An era in which the nations of the world, east and west, north and south, can prosper and live in harmony.” (Bush, 1990)
 As events after 1990 have shown this was not to be.  The Soviet Union is gone and so is bi-polarity of power in international relations.  Some assumed the rise of a uni-polar world with the United States as the sole superpower.  Alas, such dreams of grandeur were as illusory as they were short lived.
The world is more complex and dangerous but less so in terms of the possibility of total war and destructiveness.  The Soviet Union is no longer and with it is gone the threat of total mutual assured destruction. A serious confrontation like that of 1962 during the Cuban Missile Crisis is no longer a likely probability; though the possibility however remote may still exist in terms of potential.  The United States and Russia retain sufficient weapons to annihilate each other and probably the rest of the world as well.
The problem we now face with nuclear-armed states like North Korea and possibly Iran is the possibility that in a confrontation, a weaker North Korea or Iran may opt for the grave risk of mutual devastation to unilateral defeat. 
In discussing the risk inherent in nuclear threats, Barry M. Blechman and Robert Powell wrote:
Before the introduction of ballistic missiles and long-range bombers armed with atomic weapons, battles has to be won or lost on the ground before either side considered surrendering a vital interest. Moreover, when a military verdict finally forced the issue, the only alternative  to surrender was further intolerable damage.  Military superiority was fundamentally asymmetric:  If one side had it, the other did not.  Thus, the losing side’s policymakers had only two alternatives: surrender or face continued destruction and suffering. (Blechman & Powell, p. 82)
In the present era, the set of alternatives available to the “loser” is larger. Nuclear- armed missiles and bombers that can withstand an enemy’s attack and retaliate with devastating force … have invalidated the previous asymmetry of military verdicts. Throughout any confrontation, both sides will retain the capability to destroy one another. Thus, policymakers on the losing side of a military struggle have a third alternative. At any time during a confrontation, they may attempt to coerce the opponent (and apparent victor) by beginning to implement, and thus to make credible, the threat to destroy the other’s society implicit in the existence of nuclear forces.  Of course, such a strategy would have to be pursued in full realization that the other side could respond in kind, thereby leading to mutual destruction, but the risk of mutual devastation may well seem preferable to the certainty of unilateral defeat… In short, when faced with defeat, the prospect of, at best, a negotiated settlement and, at worst, mutual defeat may appear the “least worst” choice among a set of awful alternatives.  Whether or not this third alternative exists affects profoundly the utility of military superiority, because it drastically alters the character of risk in confrontations… The crucial questions for policymakers who perceive to be superior militarily is whether the party they threaten might still choose the third alternative, preferring a grave risk of mutual devastation to unilateral defeat."  (Blechman & Powell, pp. 82-83)
The answer to this crucial question remains... elusive; but must be addressed.
For example, North Korea clearly has chosen to pursue nuclear-based security to prevent itself from being coerced politically and militarily by the United States, and gain political respect and legitimacy as a regional power.  The nuclear option is insurance against defeat and/or humiliation at the hands of the United States, South Korea, or anyone else.  It is worth pondering that as the force structure and technological capabilities that the United States displayed in recent wars are beyond the capacity of any nation in the foreseeable future, the only recourse available to a developing power is the cheaper and more accessible nuclear/ballistic missile option.
Paradoxically, our search for a conventional combat capability in order to preclude nuclear war has proven so successful, that others seek to counter this capability through nuclear forces. Iraq could have drastically altered the outcome of the war, politically in particular, had they used SCUD attacks earlier and with more powerful warheads.  Iraq's missile force structure was both logical and affordable; its poor execution and lack of punch is what rendered it ineffective.  We cannot use this lack of combat effectiveness as a planning factor, for other nations may prove better capable of effective employment.
For example, during the Falklands War, Argentina successfully used their very limited number of Exocet missiles to cause considerable damage to the British Navy.  Despite recent failures, North Korea's missiles are bound to perform better after failures are studied and corrected. Massive strikes, properly timed and combining alternate conventional, chemical, and/or nuclear warheads can create widespread damage, both in military terms and more importantly in political terms which will dictate the war's tempo and determine what outcome will follow.  Strategically, a nation equipped with a missile force which is facing a far better armed and more capable opponent will seek to retain a retaliatory capability, with a secure reserve force which will guarantee unacceptable pain, or cause sufficient doubt as to intentions and capabilities upon the enemy, thus allowing for the maximum room for political maneuver. Our future adversaries will combine mobile missiles for offensive operations, dispersing them in depth, using active deception measures for protection and ensuring its operational capacity.
On the other hand, the danger level is lesser than it once was.

I.    Major Events 1990 – 2013: Key developments reshaping the world system (Brzezinski, 2007, pp. 12-13)— updated fron Brzezinski

1.                   The Soviet Union is forced out of Eastern Europe and disintegrates.  The United States is on top of the world.

2.                   The U.S. military victory in the first Gulf War is politically wasted.  Middle Eastern peace is not pursued.  Islamic hostility towards the United States begins to rise.

3.                   NATO and the European Union expand into Eastern Europe.  The Atlantic community emerges as the pre-dominant influence on the world scene.

4.                   Globalization is institutionalized with the creation of the World Trade Organization, the new role of the International Monetary Fund with its bailout fund, and the increased anticorruption agenda of the World Bank.  “Singapore issues” become the foundation for the Doha Round of WTO negotiations.

5.                   The Asian financial crisis sets the foundation to a nascent East Asian regional community, to be characterized by Chinese dominance or by Sino-Japanese competition.  China’s admission to the WTO encourages its ascent as a major global economic player and a center of regional trade agreements with politically more assertive and impatient poorer countries.

6.                   Two Chechen wars, the NATO conflict in Kosovo, and Vladimir Putin’s election as president of Russia contribute to a rise in Russian authoritarianism and nationalism.  Russia exploits its gas and oil resources to become an assertive energy superpower. 

7.                   Facing a permissive attitude from the United States and others, India and Pakistan defy world public opinion to become nuclear powers.  North Korea and Iran intensify their covert efforts to acquire nuclear capabilities in the face of inconsistent and inconsequential U.S. efforts to induce their self-restraint.

8.                   September 11, 2001, shocks the United States into a state of fear and the pursuit of unilateral policies. The United States declares war on terror.

9.                   East Timor independence restored from Indonesia 2002.

10.               The Atlantic community splits over the U.S. war in Iraq in 2003.  The European Union fails to develop its own political identity or clout.

11.               The post-1991 worldwide impression of U.S. global military omnipotence and Washington’s illusions about the extent of America’s power have been shattered by U.S. failures in post-victory Iraq.  The United Sates acknowledges the need for cooperation with the European Union, China, Japan, and Russia regarding major issues of global security.  The Middle East becomes the make-or-break test case of U.S. leadership.

12.               Barack Obama is elected President of the United States in 2008.

13.               Russia invades Georgia in 2009.  Asserts its rights in the “near abroad.”

14.               America’s longest war:  Afghanistan 2001 - 2013.

15.               The so-called “Arab Spring” begins in December 2010 in Tunisia following the self-immolation of Tarek Bouazizi a street vendor who set himself on fire on 17 December 2010, in protest of the confiscation of his wares and the harassment and humiliation that he reported was inflicted on him by a municipal official and her aides.

16.               Egyptian strongman Hosni Mubarak is toppled in February 2011 and Libya’s Gaddafi is killed in October 2011.  In Egypt, Muslim Brotherhood candidate Mohammed Morsi wins a runoff election to become president of Egypt in 2012.

17.               World financial crisis 2007-2012; European financial crisis 2012-2013.

18.               Syria unravels beginning in 2012.

19.               North Korea explodes a nuclear device unambiguously explodes a nuclear device in 2009 and launches satellite into orbit in 2012.

20.               China’s rising does not mean that it will choose to be integrated into the global liberal economic order.  “In essence the problem is this:  A rules-based system of entities competing against each other through a commercially driven process seeks to circumscribe the role and capacity of governments (and political parties) to intervene in economic activity.  It quarantines economic activity from political interference by governments to the extent possible, and it allows the logic of commercial rather than political interests to play out.  It respects ordered but genuine markets.  The CCP ultimately seeks opposite ends.” (Lee, 2012, p. 38)  “Since retaining power remains the CCP’s paramount priority, Chinese economic entities, especially those directly owned by the state, remain latent tools not just of statecraft but also of regime security within its evolved “Leninist worldview.” (Lee, 2012, p. 38)

21.               As the U. S. succeeds in the “war on terror” in the Middle East Al-Qaeda expands into Africa.  In 2013 France intervenes in Mali and U. S. sends troops to Niger.
22.         April 2013, Boston Marathon bombing by two Chechen men.

II.  Fundamental Purpose of the United States

                NSC-68 stated:  In essence, the fundamental purpose is to assure the integrity and vitality of our free society, which is founded upon the dignity and worth of the individual.”  With this purpose in mind, “Our position as the center power in the free world places a heavy responsibility upon the United States for leadership.  We must organize and enlist the energies and resources of the free world in a positive program for peace which will frustrate the Kremlin design for world domination by creating a situation in the free world to which the Kremlin will be compelled to adjust… In summary, we must, by means of a rapid and sustained build-up of the political, economic, and military strength of the free world, and by means of an affirmative program intended to wrest the initiative from the Soviet Union, confront it with convincing evidence of the determination and ability of the free world to frustrate the Kremlin design of a world dominated by its will.” (NSC-68, 1950, pp. 64-65)

III. The New World [dis]Order

       President Bush’s vision of a new world order has been overtaken by the reality of world disorder. Building on the experience of Pakistan/Bangladesh in 1971, Yugoslavia 1991, Congo Brazzavile 1993; Rwanda 1994, and predicting events in Iraq after the U. S. invasion, Stephan van Evera observed, “Democratization of multiethnic authoritarian states can spark civil wars… [D]emocracies are less adept at aggregating interests and dampening inter-group violence than authoritarian regimes.  Hence the removal of the authoritarian lid will unleash the dogs of civil war.” (Evera S. V., 1996)

IV. Underlying Conflicts Among Nations

   In Fire In The East: The Rise of Asian Military Power and the Second Nuclear Age, an analysis of the dawning of a “second nuclear age”, (Bracken, 1999) Yale’s Paul Bracken has drawn attention to the ascent of blood-and-soil nationalism in Asia. In discussing the acquisition of nuclear technology by China, Iran, India, Pakistan and other powers on the Asian continent, he writes:
The link to nationalism makes the second nuclear age even harder for the West to comprehend. Nationalism is not viewed kindly in the West these days. It is seen as nonsensical, a throwback, and, it is hoped, a dying force in the world. The notion that the Chinese or Indians could conduct foreign policy on the assumption of their own national superiority goes against nearly every important trend in American and West European thought.
Bracken observes that successful nuclear tests in places like India and Pakistan “set off public euphoria—literally, people danced in the streets.” It was an “emotional embrace of a technology Westerners have been taught to loathe and abhor.” Americans forget how in the 1950s the atomic bomb “was an important source of American pride”, so we should not “be surprised that Asian countries today feel the same way.” Bracken thus warns:
In focusing on whether the West can keep its lead in technology, the United States is asking the wrong question. It overlooks the military advantages that accrue to societies with a less fastidious approach to violence. In such a world, the real threat to our national security may be our own lack of faith in ourselves, meaning not just faith in a God who has a special care for America, but faith in the American national enterprise itself, in whatever form. This lack of faith in turn leads to an overdependence on ever more antiseptic military technology. But our near obsession with finding ways to kill others at no risk to our own troops is a sign of strength in our eyes alone. To faithful or merely nationalist enemies, it is a sign of weakness, even cowardic
Within this context, it is worth keeping in mind Stephen van Evera’s aphorism:  “Nationalism is now and will continue to be the atomic energy of politics.” (Evera S. V., 1996)
End of Part I
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