The New Interventionism:

Low-Intensity Warfare in the 1980s and Beyond

by Michael T. Klare and Peter Kornbluh

from the book

Low Intensity Warfare

published by KEN incorporated - Philippines, 1988, paper


Twenty-five years after the doctrine of "counterinsurgency" transformed American military thinking and swept the nation into the Vietnam War, a new strategy of intervention is ascending in Washington: the Reagan administration's aggressive doctrine of "low-intensity conflict," or "LIC" as it is known in Pentagon circles. LIC begins with counterinsurgency, and extends to a wide variety of other politico-military operations, both overt and covert. For U.S. policy-makers and war planners, however, low-intensity conflict has come to mean far more than a specialized category of armed struggle; it represents a strategic reorientation of the U.S. military establishment, and a renewed commitment to employ force in a global crusade against Third World revolutionary movements and governments.

In the mind-set of many senior officials, the decisive battle of this century is now unfolding in this "long twilight struggle" between America's LIC warriors and the revolutionary combatants of the Third World. Theirs is an outlook that identifies Third World insurgencies- and not Soviet troop concentrations in Europe-as the predominant threat to U.S. security; it is, moreover, an outlook that calls on the United States to "take the offensive"-in contrast to the passive stance of "deterrence" - to overcome the revolutionary peril. Indeed, LIC has become the battle cry of the late Reagan era-a clarion call for resurgent U.S. intervention abroad.

In justifying the new interventionism, LIC advocates invariably begin with a grim assessment of the global political and military environment. "The plain fact is that the United States is at war," military expert Neil C..Livingstone told senior officers at the National Defense University in 1983, and "nothing less than the survival of our country and way of life" is at stake in that struggle. This is not, however, warfare in the classic sense of armies fighting armies on a common battlefield. "The most plausible scenario for the future," he affirmed, is that of "a continuous succession of hostage crises, peacekeeping operations, rescue missions, and counterinsurgency efforts, or what some have called 'low frontier warfare.' " This being the case, it is essential "that the American people and our policy-makers be educated as to the realities of contemporary conflict and the need to fight little wars successfully."

Today, this outlook reflects the prevailing mind-set within the national security bureaucracy. "It is very important for the American people to know that this is a dangerous world; that we live at risk and that this nation is at risk in a dangerous world," Lieutenant Colonel Oliver North, director of the National Security Council's Counterterrorism and Low-lntensity Warfare Group, told the Joint House-Senate Select Committee on Iran and the Contras in July 1987.3 Similar views were expressed by Secretary of Defense Caspar Weinberger in his 1987 annual report to Congress: "Today there seems to be no shortage of adversaries who seek to undermine our security by persistently nibbling away at our interests through these shadow wars carried on by guerrillas assassins, terrorists, and subversives in the hope that they have found a weak point in our defenses." Unless the United States adopted a comprehensive "national strategy" to combat low-level wars, he asserted, "these forms of aggression will remain-the most likely and the most enduring threats to our security."

To meet this perceived threat, the United States has now begun to transform its national security apparatus-to rethink, reorganize, and rearm for current and future engagements in the Third World. In January 1986, Secretary Weinberger hosted the Pentagon's first "Low lntensity Warfare Conference" at Fort Lesley J. McNair in Washington, D.C. That same month, the Army/Air Force Center for Low-lntensity Conflict (CLIC) was established "to improve the Army/ Air Force posture for engaging in low-intensity conflict [and to] elevate awareness throughout the Army/Air Force of the role of military power in low-intensity conflict." In addition, a Joint Low-lntensity Conflict Project (JLIC) was established in 1985 and one year later released a two-volume, thousand-page Final Report on the concepts, strategy, guidelines, and application of low-level war-fighting doctrine. in the Third World.

These initiatives have been accompanied by a major overhaul of America's war-making capability. To provide Washington with an enhanced capacity for counter-guerrilla and "unconventional" operations, as Stephen Goose shows in Chapter 4, .the Reagan administration has ordered a 100 percent increase in the Pentagon's "Special Operations Forces" (SOF)-the Army's "Green Berets," the Navy's "SEALs" and other elite commando formations. For covert operations of the sort managed by Lieutenant Colonel North of the NSC, there is the supersecret "Delta Force," the 160th Army Aviation Task Force ("the Night Stalkers"), and other paramilitary "assets" controlled by the Central Intelligence Agency. And, for more demanding military engagements, there are the four new light infantry divisions (LlDs) established by the Department of the Army since 1984.

More important, in the Pentagon's view, is the development of an appropriate doctrine. for low-intensity operations. By focusing on the Soviet military threat in Europe, it is argued, present doctrine has left U.S. troops wholly unprepared for the unconventional challenges they are likely to face on Third World battlefields. "Given the proposition that low-intensity conflict is our most likely form of involvement in the Third World," LIC proponent Colonel John D. Waghelstein wrote in 1985, "it appears that the army is still preparing for the wrong war by emphasizing the Soviet threat on the plains of Europe." To ready U.S. forces for the "right" war, Waghelstein and other senior officers have crusaded for the rapid introduction of specialized strategy and tactics. For American troops to prevail in low-intensity warfare, Colonel James B. Motley wrote in Military Review, "the United States should reorient its forces and traditional policies away from an almost exclusive concentration on NATO to better influence politico-military outcomes in the resource-rich and strategically located Third World areas."

Because the challenge posed by Third World revolution is politics as much as it is military in nature, the U.S. response must, according to the Pentagon, be equally comprehensive. "Low-intensity conflicts cannot be won or even contained by military power alone," General Donald R. Morelli and Major Michael M. Ferguson of the U/.S. Army Training and Doctrine Command affirmed in 1984. "It requires the sychronized application of-all elements of national power across the entire range of conditions which are the sources of the conflict."

The foundation of LIC doctrine lies in the "counterinsurgency" programs the coordinated integration of economic assistance with psychological operations and security measures-developed for Latin America after the 1959 Cuban revolution, and for South Vietnam in the early 1960s. "Counterinsurgency is the old name for low-intensity conflict," according to Colonel Waghelstein, former head of the U.S. military group in El Salvador. However ... the Reagan administration has gone beyond counterinsurgency as it was seen twenty-five years ago by publicly committing the United States to a policy of undermining not just revolutionary movements coming into being, but also revolutionary regimes which already exist and are perceived as allies of the Soviet Union. A modernized version of John Foster Dulles's concept of "rollback" in a counterinsurgency guise, the "Reagan Doctrine" pro claims a "global offensive against communism at the fringes of the Soviet Empire." According to the president, "the tide of Soviet communism can be reversed. All it takes is the will and the resources to get the job done."

Under Reagan, LIC doctrine has been institutionalized in the national security bureaucracy. In early 1987, the president signed legislation that created a unified command for special operations and established a "Board for Low Intensity Conflict" within the National Security Council. It also mandated a new bureaucratic position-deputy assistant to the president for low-intensity conflict. And, in June 1987, Mr. Reagan signed a highly classified National Security Decision Directive (NSDD) that authorizes the bureaucracy to develop and implement a unified national strategy for low-intensity warfare.

"How does one begin to bring understanding to this complex issue?" asks the Joint Low-lntensity Conflict Project Final Report. The term itself derives from the Pentagon's image of the "spectrum of conflict"- a theoretical division of armed conflict into "low," "medium" and "high" levels, depending on the degree of force and violence. Guerrilla wars and other limited conflicts fought with irregular units are labeled "low-intensity conflicts" (even though the impact of such wars on underdeveloped Third World countries, like El Salvador, can be quite devastating); regional wars fought with modern weapons (such as the Iran / lraq conflict) are considered "mid-intensity conflicts"; and a global nonnuclear conflagration (like World Wars I and 11) or a nuclear engagement fall into the "high-intensity". category.

For the Pentagon, however, the definition of LIC encompasses more than a category of violence: "It is, first, an environment in which conflict occurs and, second, a series of diverse civil-military activities and operations which are conducted in that environment." So deliberately broad and ambiguous is the official description of low-intensity warfare that it embraces drug interdiction in Bolivia, the occupation of Beirut, the invasion of Grenada, and the 1986 air strikes on Libya. Also included are a wide range of covert political and psychological operations variously described as "special operations," "special activities," and "unconventional warfare."

But while military strategists depict LIC as a war for all seasons, in essence it is a doctrine for countering revolution. The "LIC pie," as Pentagon insiders call it, is largely divided between counterinsurgency and proinsurgency operations-what the /LIC Final Report describes as "diplomatic, economic and military support for either a government under attack by insurgents or an insurgent force seeking freedom from an adversary government." In other words, LIC doctrine is meant to be applied in countries such as El Salvador, Nicaragua, the Philippines, Angola, Cambodia, and Afghanistan, where the United States is either trying to bolster a client government against a revolutionary upheaval or fostering a counterrevolutionary / insurgency against an unfriendly Third World regime.


Washington's growing adherence to LIC doctrine stems from two interrelated factors. The first is a consensus among policy-makers and military planners that the United States has been preparing for an unlikely war in Europe while the "real war" for the Third World has gone unattended. In the mind-set of U.S. national security managers, the surge of revolutions, the escalation of terrorist incidents, and other forms of "ambiguous aggression" in the 1970s and early 1980s reflected not a nationalist effort to redress socioeconomic inequality in the Third World but an attempt by the Soviet Union to "nibble" away at U.S. interests on the periphery while avoiding a nuclear confrontation in Europe. Through the Kremlin's use of proxies, and the calculated exploitation of the political and economic instability endemic to many Third World societies, it was felt that the Soviets had successfully challenged U.S. credibility, authority, and, perhaps most significantly, access to raw materials and markets of considerable economic importance to the West. "We depend heavily on some of these nations for strategic minerals and energy resources," Weinberger informed Congress in 19,84. "Our economies and the economies of our allies are, therefore, especially susceptible to disruption from conflicts far from our own borders."

For many U.S. strategists, the Third World has become the primary locus of low-intensity warfare. Given the strategic importance of many underdeveloped countries, Livingstone averred, "it is mastery of this type of conflict upon which the fate of the world is likely to turn." Adherents of this view are highly critical of the military policies of the Ford and Carter periods, which placed overwhelming emphasis on the threat posed by conventional Soviet forces in Central Europe.. As the former head of the Defense Intelligence Agency, Lieutenant General Samuel Wilson summarizes this critique: "There is little likelihood of a strategic nuclear confrontation with the Soviets. It is almost as unlikely that Soviet Warsaw Pact forces will come tearing through the Fulda Gap [of West Germany] in a conventional thrust. We live today with conflict of a different sort."

This "different sort" of conflict, according to LIC planners, requires a "different sort" of U.S. response. "The roots of insurgencies are not military in origin," Secretary of the Army John Marsh explained, "nor will they be military in resolution." This analysis has led to an emphasis on nontraditional forms of coercion-economic, diplomatic, psychological, and paramilitary-what Colonel Waghelstein bluntly describes as "total war at the grass-roots level."

The deemphasis of conventional military tactics dovetails with the second major impetus for the ascendency of LIC doctrine-the search for a politically acceptable mechanism to wage war in the underdeveloped areas. Bringing the power of the United States to bear in regional Third World conflicts has been an obsession of the Reagan administration. Indeed, the administration's desire to restore intervention as a primary tool of U.S. foreign policy has dominated Washington's foreign-policy agenda over the last seven years-despite the fact that it has been constrained by the reality of an international and domestic environment inhospitable to the bald assertion of power.

To a great extent, the militant posture of the administration was a reaction to the changing international environment Reagan encountered when he assumed office in 1981. Between 1974 and 1980, a spate of revolutions had swept the Third World. Beginning with Vietnam, the wave of change brought the ouster of corrupt or colonial regimes the United States had once supported in at least a dozen countries, including Angola, Mozambique, Ethiopia, Iran, Grenada, and Nicaragua.

For the Reagan team, this accumulation of U.S. "defeats" in the Third World was a bitter pill. "The escalating setbacks to our interests abroad," Secretary of State Alexander Haig proclaimed when the administration took office in 1981; "and the so-called wars of national liberation, are putting in jeopardy our ability to influence world events." Given the long history of America's quest for world paramountcy, it was inevitable that Washington would seek to redress its losses, reassert its power, and attempt to restore its global dominion to the halcyon days of the- Cold War.

Yet any such assertion of imperial will was conditioned by the domestic repercussions of America's debacle in Vietnam. The U.S. public had lost much of its innocence during the long and futile conflict in Indochina. Despite intensive White House efforts to erase it, the "Vietnam syndrome"-a clear and pervasive reluctance of American citizens to support overt U.S. intervention in local Third World conflicts- placed severe political constraints on the use of U.S. military power abroad.

Low-intensity conflict doctrine offered the Reaganauts an irresistible solution to this dilemma. It presented the prospect of waging a war not defined as such. No draft would be necessary; few soldiers would be deployed, and even fewer would be sent home in body bags. Therein lay the great appeal of LIC doctrine: the ability to overcome the limits on American power while pursuing the counterrevolutionary goals of a president determined to restore U.S. dominion where once it had been lost.


But while the terminology and some of the tactics of current LIC doctrine may be original, much of the intent is consistent with previous episodes in American history. Under one banner or another, the United States has been waging low-level wars in the Third World for many decades-from the Philippines at the turn of the century to Nicaragua in the early 1930s. The end of World War II, moreover, ushered in a new era of low-level engagement. With the Truman Doctrine in 1946, the United States began to develop a rudimentary counterinsurgency strategy for combating Communist guerrillas in Greece. In 1947, the clandestine apparatus that had conducted "special activities" behind enemy lines during the war was reorganized under the National Security Act as the Central Intelligence Agency. Under successive administrations, the CIA became deeply embroiled in paramilitary activities in Europe, the Middle East, Southeast Asia, and Latin America.

To be sure, U.S. strategists focused most of their attention during the early Cold War period on the threat posed by Soviet conventional forces in Europe and the threat of Communist military encroachment elsewhere. Korea was the first manifestation of Washington's commitment to wage conventional conflict in the nuclear age; it was also the first manifestation of the American reluctance to embrace a protracted military campaign of unclear purpose and meaning. By the time Washington negotiated a cease-fire in 1953, most Americans were weary of the war and eager to avoid similar entanglements in the future.

To reduce military expenditures while providing a credible counterweight to Soviet conventional strength, President Eisenhower adopted the strategy of "Massive Retaliation"-a doctrine relying on the threat of a U.S. nuclear strike to prevent nonnuclear incursions by the Soviet Union in Europe and elsewhere. In accordance with this approach, Eisenhower presided over a major buildup of U.S. nuclear forces and a corresponding reduction in America's nonnuclear ground and naval strength.

Although Eisenhower quietly unleashed the CIA to overthrow nationalist governments in Iran and Guatemala, the doctrine of Massive Retaliation dominated formal U.S. strategic policy between 1952 and 1960. But Massive Retaliation did not, and could not, deter the emergence of revolutionary guerrilla upheavals in Vietnam, Algeria, Cuba, and other far-flung corners of the Third World. Political and economic instability in the underdeveloped regions was, in large part, attributable to the dissolution of colonial empires in the aftermath of World War II. Yet, U.S. policy-makers chose to portray the so-called "wars of national liberation" as Soviet-instigate proxy wars against the West meant to circumvent U.S. nuclear superiority. "Massive Retaliation as a guiding strategic concept has reached a dead end," General Maxwell Taylor wrote in his 1960 best-seller, The Uncertain Trumpet "While our massive retaliatory strategy may have prevented the Great War-a World War III-it has not maintained the Little Peace: that is, peace from disturbances which are little only in comparison with the disaster of general war.

To provide a credible, realistic response to future such "disturbances" in the Third World, General Taylor advocated a strategy of Flexible Response-the development of a large and multifunctional conventional force of unprecedented flexibility. The term Flexible Response, he noted, "suggests the need for a capability to react across the entire spectrum of possible challenge, for coping with anything from general atomic war to infiltrations and aggressions such as threaten Laos and Berlin." The new strategy, moreover, "would recognize that it is just as necessary to deter or win quickly a limited war as to deter general war."

This strategic doctrine, which theoretically incorporated a capability to engage simultaneously or serially in irregular, conventional, or nuclear warfare, was enthusiastically embraced by John F. Kennedy upon his election as president in 1960. One of Kennedy's first acts in office was to order his secretary of defense, Robert McNamara, to plan and manage an across-the-board buildup of America's conventional military forces. Seeking a vigorous response to the Cuban revolution and to mounting turmoil in Southeast Asia, he also mandated that the U.S. military, in coordination with other national security agencies, be mobilized to wage wars of suppression against revolutionary guerrilla upheavals in the Third World. in National Security Action Memorandum No. 124, signed January 18, 1962, Kennedy called for "proper recognition throughout the U.S. government that subversive insurgency ('wars of liberation') is a major form of politico-military conflict equal in importance to conventional warfare."

As a result, the U.S. Army was ordered to expand its Special Forces detachments and to step up training. in counter-guerrilla operations. Interagency committees were established to coordinate State Department, Defense Department, CIA, and USIA political, economic, and psychological operations. "Subversive insurgency is another type of war, new in its intensity, ancient in its origins," the president told West Point graduates in i962. "It requires in those situations where we must counter it . . . a whole new kind of strategy, a wholly different kind of force, and therefore a new and wholly different kind of training."

Kennedy's near-obsession with guerrilla warfare gave rise to the doctrine of counterinsurgency, which inexorably led the United States into the jungles of Indochina. Vietnam was to be the first "test case" of America's counterinsurgency capability under realistic battlefield conditions. In his last year in office,. President Kennedy authorized a buildup of Special Forces advisers, the deployment of U.S. combat aircraft, and the initiation of a broad "civic action" program in South Vietnam in order to counter stepped-up guerrilla activity by the National Liberation Front (NLF). "Here we have a going laboratory," General Taylor informed Congress in 1963, "where we see subversive insurgency, the Ho Chi Minh doctrine, being applied in all its forms."

Once Vietnam was designated as a proving ground for U.S. counterinsurgency, it became essential for Washington to avoid defeat-lest America's failure encourage leftist insurgents in other countries to employ the "Ho Chi Minh doctrine." With U.S. credibility on the line in Vietnam, the option of retreat became increasingly difficult to contemplate. As Taylor suggested in a secret 1964 memorandum to McNamara, "The failure of our programs in South Vietnam would have heavy influence on the judgements of Burma, India, Indonesia, Malaysia, Japan, Taiwan, the Republic of Korea, and the Republic of the Philippines with respect to U.S. durability, resolution and trustworthiness." Unable to resist such arguments, Kennedy, and then Lyndon Johnson, ordered more U.S. advisers and counterinsurgency teams into Southeast Asia. And when it became apparent that South Vietnamese government forces were no match for the North Vietnamese-backed NLF, five hundred thousand U.S. troops were deployed in a futile effort to rescue American "credibility. "

As casualties mounted without any corresponding sign of military success, American public opinion turned against the war. By the end of the 1960s, this opposition was variously manifested in massive student uprisings, militant resistance to the draft, a split among American elite between the prowar "hawks" and the antiwar "doves," and other symptoms of public discontent. Ultimately, the schisms at home became so volatile that most U.S. Ieaders-McNamara among them-concluded that the war was lost and withdrawal was essential. On April 15,1975, the last American helicopter lifted off the U.S. Embassy rooftop in Saigon-as North Vietnamese troops took over the city.


Vietnam inspired a deep-seated public resistance to protracted U: military involvement abroad. In a political climate hostile to war, the antiwar forces secured the passage of significant restrictions on direct U.S. involvement in future regional conflicts in the Third World. The draft was abolished. Congressional oversight of the CIA was mandated. The "War Powers Act" was passed; no longer could a president order the extended deployment of U.S. troops abroad without congressional approval.

Predictably, this domestic political backlash also contributed to the discrediting of the doctrines and a dismantling of the forces that had spearheaded the United States involvement in Indochina. The budget for the Pentagon's Special Operations Forces was cut; the ClA's paramilitary capabilities were curtailed; and counterinsurgency quickly disappeared from the Pentagon lexicon as the Department of Defense turned its attention once again to the less controversial task of enhancing U.S. capabilities in the European theater. "The lesson of Vietnam is that we must throw off the cumbersome mantle of world policeman," is the way Senator Edward Kennedy summarized the prevailing liberal postwar attitude regarding future intervention in the Third World.

Nevertheless, a small contingent of officers, analysts, and political operators inside the national security establishment, supported by a growing neoconservative movement, committed themselves to restoring the United States as the "guardian at the gate" of a global hegemonic order. Jimmy Carter's halfhearted attempt to move America beyond what he called "an inordinate fear of communism" provided the grist for a right-wing offensive mounted by such groups as the Committee on the Present Danger, the Heritage Foundation, the Hoover Institution, and Georgetown University's Center for Strategic and International Studies. Carter's foreign and military policies were characterized by weakness and vacillation, these groups argued, permitting the Soviet Union to undermine U.S. security by sponsoring revolution in the Third World. "Containment of the Soviet Union is not enough," averred a policy paper drafted by a group of would-be Reagan advisers, and published by the Council for Inter-American Security in mid-1980. "Détente is dead. Survival demands a new US foreign policy. America must seize the initiative or perish. For World War III is almost over."

To successfully wage "World War III," the proponents of low intensity warfare advocated a complete overhaul of U.S. strategies and capabilities for waging counterrevolution in the Third World. With the dynamic of revolution in Central America as a catalyst, in the early 1980s their policy recommendations began to gain widespread attention within the national security bureaucracy. In forum after forum, LIC theorists advanced their case. One 1983 conference on "Special Operations in U.S. Strategy," hosted by the National Defense University (NDU) at Fort McNair, called for the United States "to develop diverse and even novel ways to defend its economic and geopolitical interests when these are affected by unconventional conflicts." In the audience was a then unknown staff officer of the NSC, Lieutenant Colonel (then Major) Oliver North.

As the Reagan period proceeded, advocates of LIC doctrine were given ever-expanded authority to convert their theories into practice.


To sustain these campaigns abroad, and to consolidate LIC as a standard tool of U.S. intervention, U.S. policy-makers perceive an urgent need to wage a war at home-to fight for the "hearts and minds" of the American people. Given the public's continuing adherence to the "Vietnam syndrome," a political campaign to garner grass-roots support for renewed interventionism is considered an essential component of LIC doctrine. "In order to promote a broad understanding of the issues involved, a carefully created, sophisticated and ongoing public diplomacy effort is necessary," the JLIC Firzal Report avows. The need for public politicization has also been underlined by the deputy assistant secretary of the Air Force, J. Michael Kelly. "I think the most critical special operations mission we have today is to persuade the American public that the Communists are out to get us," he declared at the 1983 3 NDU conference attended by Colonel North. "If we win the war of ideas, we will win everywhere else." Clearly, the Reagan administration's heavy-handed rhetoric about Central American "freedom fighters," Nicaragua's "totalitarian dungeons," and the constant peril of terrorism is all part of this "war of ideas"-a synchronized effort to legitimize intervention as a paramount feature of America's political and military landscape.

Such efforts are considered particularly crucial because low-intensity conflict-almost by definition-entails an alliance with right-wing forces and regimes that are not known for their democratic sensibilities or respect for the rules of war. "The American view of war is generally incompatible with the characteristics and demands of counterrevolution," LIC theorist Sam C. Sarkesian observed in Air University Review. To defeat a revolutionary movement, insurgent leaders must be identified, abducted, or somehow eliminated a process that normally involves the widespread use of torture and assassination. "If American involvement [in counterrevolution] is justified and necessary," Sarkesian notes, national leaders and the public must understand that low-intensity conflicts do not conform to democratic notions of strategy or tactics. Revolution and counterrevolution develop their own morality and ethics that justify any means to achieve success. Survival is the ultimate morality.

This belief that "any means" are justified in conducting counterrevolutionary warfare is a common subtheme in current discussions of low intensity warfare. "The 'dirty little wars' of our time are not pretty," Neil Livingstone told senior U.S. officers in 1983, but if we shrink back from harsh and brutal measures, "we abrogate our ability to engage successfully in low-level conflict." Among his suggestions for success in low-intensity warfare: restrictions on media access to foreign war zones; diminished congressional "micromanagement" of LIC operations; and the employment of bounty hunters to track down and assassinate suspected terrorists. "While such recommendations would surely provoke an outcry from civil libertarians," he noted, the United States is "at war" in the Third World, "and in wartime the only thing that counts is winning."

By any standard, the most dramatic explication of this point of view was contained in Colonel North's July 1987 testimony to the select congressional committee on the Iran-contra affair. Arguing that the United States was vitally threatened by Soviet-backed forces in the Third World, North repeatedly affirmed that U.S. national security justifies the employment of covert paramilitary operations, and, to help conceal such operations from our adversaries, the calculated dissemination of false and misleading information by (and to) U.S. officials. "There is great deceit [and] deception-practiced in the conduct of covert operations," he declared. "They are at essence a lie."

To a large degree, the pervasive secrecy favored by North and his associates at the NSC was intended to avert public disclosure of controversial-and probably illegal-administration dealings with Iran and the contras. But closer analysis suggests that the emphasis on covert warfare stems from a deeper cause: the Reagan administration's growing frustration with the military contraints associated with continuing public adherence to the Vietnam syndrome

Given continuing public resistance to overt intervention abroad, it is likely that secrecy, deception, and intrigue will remain essential features of the domestic political landscape. Indeed, whatever the immediate consequences of the Iran-contra disclosures, there is no evidence that American leaders-be they Democrats or Republicans-have any intention of repudiating current LIC doctrine or of dismantling the Pentagon's "special" military forces. If anything, one can detect growing support among U.S. policy-makers for an expansion of America's LIC capabilities: witness, for instance, the bipartisan congressional support accorded the administration's plans for a multibillion-dollar buildup of U.S. special operations capabilities. Low-intensity conflict has been anointed as the paramount strategic concern of the late Reagan era, and we will feel Its repercussions for many years to come.

This being the case, the authors believe it essential that the American people become more familiar with official thinking on low-intensity warfare, and press for an open national debate on the costs and perils of LIC doctrine. Such a debate must consider two broad issues: the probable military consequences of U.S. intervention abroad, and the political and moral consequences at home.

The military debate has, of course, already been initiated by the proponents of LIC doctrine. Without a vigorous U.S. response to Soviet-sponsored expansionism, they argue, the United States will be deprived of access to critical raw materials and will ultimately experience an irreversible loss of power to the Soviet bloc. These are serious concerns, and they merit careful consideration. All too often, however, their purveyors fail to acknowledge that Soviet influence in the Third World has been declining in recent years as once-radical regimes turn to the West for capital and technology; similarly, they often overlook the fact that the United States has not experienced any significant difficulties in obtaining the strategic raw materials it requires for its high-tech industries. More than this, however, the pro-LIC argument fails to consider the perils we face by engaging in intervention, rather than by avoiding it.

In assessing these perils, it is useful to recall the paramount lesson of Vietnam: that even a "limited" deployment of U.S. military and political power has a way of expanding into a much larger commitment of American strength. ... "the slippery slope from advice and assistance to commitment of combat forces has always been steeper for the United States than for other countries." Current LIC doctrine seeks to minimize that risk by enhancing the military capabilities of host-nation forces. But such forces can fail, as they did in Vietnam, and then the pressures to salvage an American ally by deploying American forces can become overpowering. Secretary Weinberger alluded to this risk in his 1987 report to Congress: "Although we seek to counter subversion through the methods [prescribed by LIC doctrine], the United States has, in the past, responded effectively with force to blunt this kind of aggression . . and retains the capability and the will to do so again should it be deemed necessary." Surely, he added, "no one can contend that it is to our advantage to allow a communist-supported subversion to convert a friendly government into a communist enemy, and particularly not in our own hemisphere."

Such an intervention, however "low-intensity" in theory, would not be without significant costs or perils Direct U.S. involvement in a politically charged Third World conflict, would surely provoke considerable dissent at home, and possibly within the American military itself. A protracted struggle, moreover, could result in considerable American casualties and would certainly generate pressures for reinstatement of the draft. In the Third World itself' the consequences would be even more severe: American firepower would inevitably produce some civilian casualties (no matter how "surgical" the delivery of munitions), and the ravages of war would leave many people homeless, hungry, and stripped of their means of livelihood. Indeed, we can already witness the devastating consequences of "low-intensity warfare" in both El Salvador and Afghanistan. As these wars grind on, the social and economic infrastructure is shattered, thus destroying any chance of escaping from poverty and underdevelopment.

We must also recognize that the growing worldwide availability of high-tech conventional weapons is systematically eroding the gap between "low-" and "mid-intensity conflict," and likewise between "mid-" and "high-intensity conflict." As the 1987 Iraqi missile attack on the USS Stark demonstrated, our major military systems are highly vulnerable to sophisticated weapons of the sort now possessed by many Third World nations. Previously, as noted by two Army theorists in Military Review, distinctly different forces and weapons were developed for each type of warfare; today, "with the greater dispersion, increased kill probabilities and improved mobility [of modern weapons], those types of war along the spectrum of conflict may be more similar than they are dissimilar." What this means, of course, is that a war that starts out as "low-intensity conflict" can escalate overnight to the "mid" or "high" category-a risk that is particularly acute in the highly militarized Persian Gulf area. As Selig Harrison suggests in Chapter 8, moreover, low-intensity conflict can lead to a U.S.-Soviet confrontation, if intervention by one superpower invites countermoves by the other (as has occurred in Afghanistan) and triggers an uncontrolled spiral of escalation.

Turning to the domestic political consequences of the new interventionism, we can see a variety of threats to American rights and liberties. First and foremost i5 the threat to public information. LIC theorists have made no secret of their belief that an active press and Congress represent a significant obstacle to military effectiveness. "The United States will never win a war fought daily in the U.S. media or on the floor of Congress," Livingstone told senior officers at the National Defense University. Similarly, Colonel North went out of his way to justify the concealment of information-even from the appropriate committees of Congress-on covert LIC operations abroad.

But the public's access to information is only one casualty of the war at home... any sustained effort to mislead and circumvent Congress poses a serious threat to the integrity of the constitutional process. If the Executive considers itself above the law, and NSC operatives are authorized to conduct an independent foreign policy, then we can no longer rely on the checks and balances that are our ultimate safeguard against tyranny. Just how vulnerable these protections have become was dramatically revealed in Colonel North's July 10, 1987, testimony, when he disclosed that former CIA Director William J. Casey had proposed the establishment of an "off-the-shelf, self-sustaining, stand-alone entity" that could perform covert political and military operations without accountability to Congress. "If you carry this to its logical extreme," Senator Warren B. Rudman observed two days later, "you don't have a democracy anymore."

And not only democracy is at risk, but also our basic moral values. While U.S. Ieaders always claim that they seek to promote American values when authorizing military intervention abroad, the outcome is often quite another matter... U.S. support for counterrevolution inevitably risks American entanglement in the repressive behavior of Third World autocrats and their heavy-handed security forces. Once committed to the survival of these regimes, we often compound our sins by failing to curb blatant abuses or worse, by telling ourselves that occasional atrocities can be overlooked in the name of "democracy." From there, it is but a short distance to the view that any means are justified in the pursuit of victory, even the wholesale liquidation of civilian communities. Thus, however assiduously Washington seeks to minimize the risks, deepened U.S. involvement in low-intensity conflict abroad could impose intolerable strains on the moral fabric of the nation.

In their preface to the LIC Final Report, the members of the Joint Low-lntensity Conflict Project affirm that their intention was to initiate an "enlightened debate" on, the type of conflict most likely to engage American forces in the years ahead. "In this sense," they affirmed, the Final Report "is not a prescription but an invitation." In editing this book, the authors have taken up this invitation. We believe that the essays contained herein represent an important contribution to an "enlightened debate" on low-intensity conflict. But we do not believe that the debate is now concluded; there are too many aspects of low-intensity conflict-some still only dimly understood-and too many risks to leave it at that. Only through a broad and open discussion of LIC theory and practice can the American citizens make intelligent decisions on policies that are likely to affect our lives and liberties for many years to come.

US and Third World

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