In Pursuit of Enemies

The Remaking of U.S. Military Strategy

excerpted from the book

Rogue States and Nuclear Outlaws

by Michael Klare


If the Cold War had ended in combat, the fall of the Berlin Wall on November 8, 1989, would have been its Normandy-the day on which enemy defenses started to fragment and the ultimate triumph of the United States became inevitable. The Soviet Union itself would survive for two more years, and large numbers of Soviet and American forces would continue to eye each other warily across the East-West divide in Europe, but from that day onward, there was never any doubt about the ultimate demise of the Soviet empire...

Throughout the Cold War era, the U.S. war machine had been trained and equipped for one all-consuming mission: to deter Soviet aggression in Europe while blocking Soviet inroads into contested Third World areas. To sustain this mission, a bipartisan consensus in Congress had allocated some $11.5 trillion in military appropriations between 1947 and 1989, plus billions of dollars on such related activities as nuclear weapons fabrication, foreign military assistance, intelligence collection, civil defense preparation, and military-related research. In further support, Congress had approved a peacetime draft, the formation of numerous military alliances, and the permanent deployment of hundreds of thousands of American troops bases and garrisons abroad...

Although reluctant to admit it even to themselves, U.S. military leaders understood that for nearly half a century, they had lived in what amounted to a symbiotic relationship with the Soviet military. When the Soviet war machine grew in strength and vitality, American forces would be bolstered accordingly, with each increase in Soviet manpower matched by a corresponding increase in U.S. firepower, and each increase in Soviet firepower countered by fresh advances in U.S. technology. So long as the public perceived a significant national security threat from Soviet forces, Congress was ready to finance almost every weapon, program, or combat unit deemed necessary by U.S. strategists...

Not surprisingly, then, the end of the Cold War provided an enormous shock for American military leaders. Not only did it deprive them of an enemy against which to train and equip their forces, but it also eradicated the mental map that hitherto had explained world events and governed U.S. policymaking. "No longer could the question, 'Which course will most contribute to frustrating the Kremlin design?' be asked at every turn and be seen to yield the definitive answer on where the United States must go," observed Smith...

In the late 1980s, as [U.S.S.R. President Mikhail] Gorbachev began to promote his policies of perestroika, a number of economists in the United States spoke of an urgent need for "reinvestment," "reindustrialization," and the "revitalization" of the faltering American economy. To accomplish this transformation, they argued, more funds would have to be invested in America's domestic infrastructure-schools, roads, universities, and so on-and less in military forces and installations. This argument received further credibility from the 1987 publication of Yale professor Paul Kennedy's The Rise and Fall of the Great Powers. Comparing America's current political and economic status to that of other great empires in decline, Kennedy argued that the United States could not avert irreversible decay unless it shed some of its overseas military commitments and channeled additional resources into the reconstruction of its domestic industrial infrastructure.

The publication of Kennedy's book ignited a major debate in the United States over the tradeoffs between a costly, far-flung military establishment and a deteriorating infrastructure at home. Some pundits sought to ridicule the notion of a United States in decline, but many policymakers began to look closely at the potential economic benefits of a shift in emphasis from military preparedness to economic reconstruction. Even such former military leaders as Robert S. McNamara, the Secretary of Defense in the Kennedy and Johnson administrations, and Lawrence J. Korb, an Assistant Secretary of Defense in the Reagan administration, began to call for a significant decrease in military spending linked to fresh investment in America's health, education, and transportation systems.

When the Berlin Wall fell in November 1989, these critics, unlike U.S. military leaders, were already prepared to unveil sweeping alternatives to the nation's Cold War-oriented strategic posture. On December 11, 1989, McNamara and Korb told the Senate Budget Committee that U.S. military spending could safely be cut in half over the next five years, freeing hundreds of billions of dollars for domestic reconstruction. "By such a shift," McNamara testified, "we should be able to enhance global stability, strengthen our own security, and, at the same time, produce the resources to support a much-needed restructuring of the economy.

Although most members of Congress were not willing to approve an immediate fifty percent cut in military spending, many were ready to consider a series of smaller, but nonetheless significant, reductions in Pentagon appropriations...

Recognizing that Congress and the public would no longer support a Soviet-oriented military posture at a time of diminishing Soviet strength, [some senior] ... officers, led by General George Lee Butler of the J-5 (Strategic Plans and Policy) Directorate of the Joint Staff, set out to develop an alternative strategic outlook based on non-Soviet threats to U.S. security. In essence, they sought to reconstruct military strategy around a new guiding principle that would prove as reliable in the post-Cold War era as containment had during the Cold War period.

The quest for a new strategic posture gained momentum in November 1990 under the leadership of General [Colin] Powell, the newly appointed Chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff. A long-term Army career officer who had risen through the ranks, Powell was no stranger to Washington policymaking circles. From 1983 to 1986, he had served as Defense Secretary Caspar Weinberger's personal military assistant, and then had worked for two years in the White House as National Security Adviser to President Reagan. After returning to the Army as head of the Forces Command (the headquarters unit responsible for all U.S.-based land forces), Powell had taken over as Chairman on October 1, 1989, just five weeks before the Berlin Wall's collapse.

In the preceding years, Powell had become increasingly skeptical about the long-term prospects for a Soviet-oriented military posture. Now, with the disintegration of the Soviet bloc, he was determined to find an alternative. Invoking his authority as the nation's highest military officer, Powell ordered General Butler and his associates on the Joint Staff (the multi-service command team responsible for the development and execution of U.S. war plans) to devise a new posture that focused on threats other than those posed by the former Soviet bloc and that allowed for the preservation of a large military establishment.

General Powell's formal instructions to the Joint Staff have never been made public. One point, however, remains certain: his insistence that the United States remain a global superpower, whatever military posture was ultimately devised. "We have to put a shingle outside our door saying, 'Superpower Lives Here,' no matter what the Soviets do, even if they evacuate from Eastern Europe," he declared. According to Powell, this would require the maintenance of a powerful, high-tech military establishment equipped with a full range of modern combat systems. Although this establishment might prove smaller than that fielded during the peak years of the Cold War era, it must, he insisted, be similar to it in its basic structure and capabilities.

In attempting to satisfy Powell's requirements, the Joint Staff soon ran into a major problem: the absence of clearly identifiable enemies of a stature that would justify the retention of a large military establishment. The Soviet Union was in terminal decay, and none of its constituent parts appeared destined, at least in the short run, to serve as a suitable replacement. All other major powers were either allies of the United States, or linked to it through trade and politics. While a number of smaller states, even some guerrilla bands, could be described as potential enemies, none possessed sufficient strength for the Pentagon's strategic purposes.

One possible response to this dilemma was to describe all of these minor threats as components of a large system-wide threat to global stability-and, on this basis, to reconfigure U.S. forces to fight an infinite number of police-type, low-intensity conflicts in the Third World...

Any doubt about the need for an identifiable enemy was firmly put to rest in March 1990 by Senator Sam Nunn, chairman of the Senate Armed Services Committee and an acknowledged ally of the military establishment. In a blistering attack on the Soviet-oriented military posture still officially embraced by Defense Secretary Cheney, Nunn charged that the Pentagon's proposed spending plans were rendered worthless by a glaring "threat blank"-an unrealistic and unconvincing analysis of future adversaries...

To fill in the "threat blank" identified by Nunn, the Pentagon had little choice but to find a way to elevate some previously neglected potential threats into major adversaries.

But what countries could be selected to perform this role? Virtually the entire membership of the "Second World"-the original Soviet bloc-was seeking Western aid and advice and, in some cases, inclusion in the North Atlantic Treaty Organization. That left the two other major camps in the original Cold War triad: the First World, consisting of the advanced capitalist powers, and the Third World, the underdeveloped states of Africa, Asia, and Latin America.

While the First World contained a number of potential candidates, including Germany and Japan, no senior U.S. official was prepared to say in public that our allies might someday become our adversaries. Although it was possible to imagine a future in which the United States stood at the brink of war with either (or both) of these industrial giants, and many Americans might even be prepared to entertain such a distant possibility, it was politically inconceivable that Congress would accept such a prospect as the basis on which to maintain a large military establishment. By default ... the Pentagon was forced to select its hypothetical enemies from among Third World nations.

The United States had, of course, experienced serious conflicts with Third World nations before. Throughout the Cold War period, Washington had clashed with Third World states whose leaders were seen as allies of, or surrogates for, the Soviet Union. In most cases, these encounters had involved the delivery of military aid and training to neighboring, pro-U.S. countries, or the deployment of military advisory teams. On several occasions, however, the United States had engaged in direct military action to resist or disable such regimes: in Korea ( 1950-53), Vietnam ( 1965-73), the Dominican Republic (1965), and Grenada (1983). But if the terrain in these encounters was the Third World, the enemy, in Washington's eyes, had remained the Second World.

American involvement in Third World conflicts reached a new stage in the 1 980s, when, under the aegis of the "Reagan Doctrine," the United States provided covert assistance to anticommunist insurgents seeking the overthrow of pro-Soviet regimes in Afghanistan, Angola, Cambodia, Libya, and Nicaragua. In each of these cases, the target state involved was characterized in official rhetoric as an adversary of the United States. But, here again, as in other instances of American involvement, the real target was Moscow. According to then Secretary of State George Shultz, the ultimate goal of the Reagan Doctrine was to knock out Soviet "surrogates" in the Third World and thereby shift the global "correlation of forces" in America's favor.

Washington had independent reasons for targeting certain Third World states that it considered Moscow's allies. Some were suspected of supporting insurgent movements directed against allies of the United States; others had engaged in economic experiments considered injurious to American business interests. In all these cases, however, the military threat potential of these states-their ability to attack the United States and its principal allies-was said to be derived from their association with the Soviet Union. Left to themselves, these regimes might have been viewed as serious nuisances, but not as significant military actors. Thus, with the demise of the Soviet empire, states like Angola, Cuba, and Vietnam could hardly be viewed as major military threats to the United States.

If U.S. strategists were to identify any Third World countries as major enemies of the United States, they would have to establish a new basis-unrelated to Soviet power-on which to calculate the threat they posed. Fortunately for American military planners, the 1980s had witnessed the emergence of a new class of regional Third World powers-states with large military forces and the inclination to dominate other, weaker states in their immediate vicinity. It was this class of rising Third World powers that was chosen to replace the fading Soviet empire in Pentagon analyses of the global threat environment.

Emerging Regional Powers

Members of this new class of states [included] Argentina, Brazil, China, Egypt, India, Iran, Iraq, Israel, Libya, Pakistan, South Africa, Syria, Taiwan, Turkey, and the two Koreas...


The New Demonology

American history has a long tradition of demonizing the alien Other, extending from the vilification of native peoples during the Indian Wars to the anticommunist hysteria of the Cold War period...

To insure the survival of a large military, American leaders began constructing a new demonology based on {Weapons of Mass Destruction]WMD-equipped Third World powers...

To secure public backing for their long-range strategic plans, military officials focused increasingly on the most threatening characteristics of the least friendly powers, attempting to portray these nations' military plans as posing a clear and present danger to American security interests. At the same time, they began to ascribe to the leaders of these states violent and immoral intentions of a sort long identified with Soviet leaders. The officials hoped in this fashion to define a strategic environment that would compel legislators to relinquish dreams of a substantial peace dividend in return for enhanced national security.


Out of this process came what might best be termed the Rogue Doctrine-the characterization of hostile (or seemingly hostile) Third World states with large military forces and nascent WMD capabilities as "rogue states" or "nuclear outlaws" bent on sabotaging the prevailing world order. Such regimes were said to harbor aggressive intentions vis-a-vis their less powerful neighbors, to oppose the "spread of democracy," and to be guilty of circumventing international norms against nuclear and chemical proliferation. National Security Adviser Anthony Lake said in 1994 that "these nations exhibit a chronic inability to engage constructively with the outside world," evidenced in their "aggressive and defiant behavior" and their "misguided quest" for weapons of mass destruction.

In constructing this new demonology, U.S. officials drew heavily on the "international terrorism" literature generated during the Reagan era. The early 1980s had witnessed a number of dramatic terrorist actions against American citizens abroad, and the need to combat such violence had become a major theme in President Reagan's foreign policy discourse. In 1984, this rhetoric changed dramatically: instead of focusing on the terrorist organizations considered directly responsible for such incidents, the administration began to focus its opprobrium on "state-sponsored terrorism"-the support of terrorist activities by hostile Third World countries. "States that support and sponsor terrorist actions have managed in recent years to co-opt and manipulate the phenomenon in pursuit of their own strategic goals," Secretary of State George Shultz averred in 1984. These states, he said, sought to use terrorism "to shake the West's self-confidence and sap its will to resist aggression and intimidation."

Shultz did not identify the states in this category, but President Reagan was more forthcoming. In a much-publicized 1985 speech, he named Cuba, Iran, Libya, Nicaragua, and North Korea as the leading members of "a confederation of terrorist states." Most of the terrorists attacking U.S. citizens abroad, he argued, were "being trained, financed, and directly or indirectly controlled" by a core group of "outlaw states" seeking to undermine America's foreign policy objectives.

Reagan's speech provoked much discussion about the nature of terrorism and the appropriate manner of combating it. Some analysts questioned the concept of "state-sponsored terrorism," contending that it diverted attention from the underground organizations directly involved in terrorist activity. Others argued that Reagan's list was constructed for political reasons alone, to provide a rationale for attacking certain states considered hostile by the administration, while ignoring others, such as Iraq and Syria, that were known to be harboring terrorists but were seen by Washington as potential allies. Nevertheless, the concept of "outlaw states" engaged in pernicious anti-American behavior became a familiar theme in administration rhetoric.

As the 1980s drew to a close, U. S. officials began to describe WMD seeking Third World powers in terms previously applied to terror-sponsoring states. "A dangerous proliferation of high technology has begun," Secretary of State-designate James Baker told the Senate Foreign Relations Committee in early 1989. "Chemical warheads and ballistic missiles have fallen into the hands of governments and groups with proven records of aggression and terrorism." To counter this new peril, he argued, vigorous nonproliferation efforts were needed. From this point on, U.S. leaders increasingly employed "rogue," "outlaw," and "renegade" imagery when speaking of hostile, WMD-equipped Third World powers.

This imagery, although hastily manufactured in response to the sudden collapse of Soviet power, proved surprisingly effective, tapping into American fears of nuclear weapons and malevolent Third World leaders. The Rogue Doctrine played particularly well on Capitol Hill, where several prominent senators, including Sam Nunn of Georgia and William Roth of Delaware, had already begun describing weapons-seeking states in the Third World as an emerging peril. By the spring of 1990, senior Pentagon officials and many members of Congress had begun using a common analysis and terminology to describe the threat posed by a new type of enemy.

From 1990 on, the general model of a "rogue state" ruled by an "outlaw regime" armed with chemical and nuclear weapons became the standard currency of national security discourse. All that was required was the emergence of a specific "demon"-a particular ruler of a specific state-to bring the newly developed doctrine into vivid focus and thereby forestall an even more terrifying enemy, the Congressional advocates of a peace dividend, from launching a full-scale attack on the U.S. military establishment.

The Two-War Strategy

Having filled in the "threat blank" identified by Senator Nunn in early 1990, senior Pentagon officials began to develop a strategic blueprint to guide the development of military policy and justify the preservation of a near-Cold War military apparatus. Hoping to have a new strategic blueprint completed and ready for public airing by the early summer of 1990, Powell's staff worked throughout the winter and spring of that year to produce the necessary plans and concepts.

The Pentagon's new strategic plan now rested on the assumption that in the absence of a significant Soviet threat, the greatest danger to U.S. security would be posed by well-equipped Third World hegemons. It was further assumed that some of these countries would be tempted to attack fundamental U.S. interests in the years ahead, and that the military would be called upon to engage and defeat such states in combat. The only tasks remaining were to determine the nature and scale of the threat posed by these countries and calculate the type and number of U.S. forces that would be needed to overcome them.

From the perspective of U.S. strategists, many of the rising Third World powers bore considerable resemblance to the pre-1990 Warsaw Pact countries of Eastern Europe in that they possessed fairly large armies with substantial numbers of serviceable (if not always very sophisticated) tanks, artillery pieces, and combat planes. Many of these states also possessed ballistic missiles of one type or another, along with chemical and/or nuclear weapons. This was heartening news for American military officials, as it could be used to justify the retention of heavy tank units, artillery brigades, fighter squadrons, and other high-tech forces in the U.S. military lineup. It also provided a rationale for the preservation of a nuclear arsenal and the application of "Star Wars" technology to defenses against future Third World ballistic missile attacks.

Not all of the news was equally gratifying. At some point, U.S. officials came to realize that none of these rising powers possessed sufficient military strength to justify the retention of anything close to America's Cold War military establishment. They recognized that even the most powerful of these states could be defeated by a force of under one million U.S. soldiers, or less than half of the existing American force. An American strategy based on preparation for combat with any one of these powers would thus entail a military establishment much smaller than that fielded in the Cold War era. As this was unacceptable to Powell and his staff, they came up with a novel solution: they argued that this large field of potential adversaries might someday produce various combinations of paired enemies, and that the new strategy, therefore, would call for a U.S. capability to fight simultaneously against two such enemies. This still would not justify a force as big as that needed to defeat the Soviet Union-a force that large would never have won the support of Congressional leaders, anyway-but it would come as close to this as Powell's staff thought politically possible.

So it was decided: American forces would be reconfigured to conduct a continuing series of military engagements with rising Third World powers, whether operating singly or in pairs. This would require the maintenance of a U.S. force about three-quarters the size of that maintained during the Cold War era. In addition, the Pentagon blueprint called for a significant enhancement of America's "power projection" capability, the ability to bring U.S. military power to bear on remote and unfamiliar battlefields.

The Powell plan also incorporated certain assumptions regarding the manner in which U.S. forces would be expected to fight in future clashes with rising Third World powers. Rejecting what senior officers viewed as the incremental approach to the application of force during the Vietnam War, the new strategy called for the rapid concentration of military power and the use of superior firepower to stun and disable enemy forces at the very onset of battle. "One of the essential elements of our national military strategy," Powell explained, "is the ability to rapidly assemble the forces needed to win-the concept of applying decisive force to overwhelm our adversaries and thereby terminate conflicts swiftly." This, in turn, required the continued possession of "technological superiority" in weapons and support systems and a robust capability for "strategic mobility," or the rapid deployment of U.S. forces and equipment to distant battle zones.

On this basis, Powell and his staff began to identify the actual forces theoretically needed to implement such a strategy. Because an individual regional conflict probably would require a U.S. commitment of approximately half to three-quarters of a million soldiers, a war against two such powers presumably would require a total commitment of at least one to one and a half million troops. Adding to this the need for specialized nuclear forces and a reservoir of "contingency forces" for unforeseen emergencies, the total manpower requirement arrived at was approximately 1.5 to 1.75 million active-duty personnel-significantly fewer than the 2.1 million soldiers in the existing force, but far more than the numbers envisioned in many of the proposals for a downsized military establishment...

By retaining a significant array of heavy combat forces, the Powell plan would also insure a need for continued acquisition of new, high-tech weapons systems, thus preserving a significant portion of the military-industrial apparatus built up during the Cold War era.

Not every military contractor could be saved in this manner-with twenty-five percent fewer forces, the armed services inevitably would be forced to cancel some weapons programs-but the Base Force would still generate a substantial requirement for new aircraft, missiles, armored vehicles, and so on. Furthermore, to enhance U.S. power projection capabilities, the Department of Defense would need to procure additional cargo planes, amphibious assault vessels, supply ships, and helicopters...

Rogue States ...

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