Foreign Policy Research Institute A Nation Must Think Before it Acts Editor’s Corner Fall 2013

Editor’s Corner Fall 2013

In These Pages

This issue of Orbis covers a broad array of topics associated with the international security environment.  In our lead article, Nadia Schadlow contends that America’s instruments of foreign policy are weak, which has led to the militarization of U.S. foreign policy. This is neither good for American interests nor sustainable, since many political, economic, and ideological outcomes are not attainable through the use of military force.  Yet policymakers seem to forget a critical factor: in virtually every theater of the world, local, regional, and strategic competitions affect America’s ability to exert influence through its aid and diplomacy.  Until the competitive nature of aid and diplomacy is deliberately and explicitly considered, Washington’s ability to achieve outcomes using its non-military power—often called “soft” or “smart power”—will remain fundamentally limited.

The Vietnam War continues to rage even today, as illustrated by a symposium on “Why We Lost Vietnam, Revisited,” cosponsored by FPRI and the Reserve Officers Association in Washington, D.C. in February 2013, which provides the articles for our Vietnam War cluster. Lewis Sorley, the author of well-regarded biographies of the two U.S. commanders in Vietnam, contends that when Gen. Creighton Abrams assumed command in Vietnam from Gen. William Westmoreland, the former’s superior understanding of the character of the conflict and his more effective conduct of it resulted in a “better war” that was cut short when the U.S. Congress drastically reduced materiel and financial assistance just as communist forces were receiving greatly increased support from their patrons.

Gregory Daddis and Gian Gentile take issue with Sorley’s interpretation of the Vietnam War. Daddis argues that interpreters of the war need to extricate themselves from the historical quagmire that treats Vietnam as either a mistake that deserves our condemnation or a lost opportunity that was thrown away by a feckless U.S. Congress. Gentile contends that Sorley’s treatment of Abrams feeds into the myth of the “savior general,” who can redeem bad strategy. He sees this myth reprised today in the narrative of Gen. David Petraeus, who, his advocates claim, saved the U.S. effort in Iraq by applying a population-centric counterinsurgency doctrine. Gentile contends that counter-insurgency as an operational method for achieving policy aims at a reasonable cost in blood and treasure has failed miserably, both in Vietnam and Iraq.

James Cook notes that although long-standing military alliances have always been important to the United States, some experts wonder about their future. There is no question that collective defense arrangements look different today than they did during the Cold War, so Washington faces some difficult choices as it formulates strategy and determines the number and types of collective security arrangements required in the future.

Our second cluster looks at Russia and Ukraine. Stephen Cimbala argues that the Obama Administration’s desire to push forward with strategic nuclear arms reduction negotiations with Russia faces a number of difficulties, both political and military. For example, efforts to reduce offensive nuclear weapons are complicated by U.S. and NATO plans for missile defenses deployed in Europe and by exigencies in U.S. and Russian domestic politics.  In addition, the military-technical aspects of cyber war and nuclear deterrence can no longer be treated, analytically or practically, as isolated compartments. 

Stephen Blank concludes that if Ukraine seeks extensive and intensive U.S. support without fundamental changes in its economics and politics, it illustrates that Kiev continues to operate under the delusion that it is somehow more important to the United States than it really is.  Unfortunately, there is no sign that Kiev has either heard the message or absorbed its meaning.  A failed Ukraine holds serious implications for all of Europe.

Toufiq Siddiqi focuses attention on the interplay of energy, climate change, and national security issues in Southwest Asia. In doing so, he employs a broader definition of “national security” that includes energy security, economic de-velopment, and climate change in addition to the traditional military aspects of security.

Jean-Loup Samaan argues that nuclear “opacity” in the Middle East involving Iran and Israel would act as a major driver of instability, negating conflict prevention and non-proliferation efforts. Extended nuclear opacity in the Middle East would mean no communication channel, and no declaratory policies, reinforcing a feature of deterrence that is sometimes forgotten: deterrence is not a natural state. It is socially situated and needs solid prerequisites, among them a certain level of transparency and communication.

In the final essay of this issue, Dan G. Cox takes issue with the frequent claim that U.S. foreign policy is incoherent. On the contrary, he argues that the United States has pursued a highly cohesive, highly militarized—and therefore flawed—foreign policy that he calls Liberal Imperialism.

Our review essay by Ronald Granieri discusses the United States as a global “umpire,” rather than empire.