or Constructive Leadership ?
from The Center for Defense Information, 1998
Presidential, Congressional, State and Defense Department
policy statements are replete with admonitions that the United
States must be "the leader of the free world." In 1993
President Bush proclaimed: "It is our responsibility, it
is our opportunity to lead. There is no one else." In 1994
President Clinton declared in the preface to his National Security
Strategy: "Never has American leadership been more essential."
Thus America has "empowered" itself with the privilege
of intervening any place in the world where others take or threaten
to take action that the US considers "wrong," even though
no significant American interest is jeopardized. The concept of
intervention to prevent "wrongs" then subtly broadens
into a moral right to dictate decisions and control events wherever
they run counter to the wishes of our government.
In turn, this combination of moral responsibility and moral
right is used to justify the "requirement" that America
indefinitely remain the world's only military superpower.
But this alleged obligation, akin to the 19th century concept
of "the white man's burden." is not altruistic. It is
the hammer of control over the behavior of others, a control that
at times verges on domination and the demand for special rights
that other states may not enjoy.
Therein lies the paradox, virtually every US government declaration
about defending American interests includes the interests of "our
friends and allies." Yet ensuring their interests implies,
indeed obligates, the US to eschew domination over them and to
not claim special rights above them.
Examples of this paradox between control and obligation abound.
Cuba The US Government does not like Castro's Cuba, although
that regime is impotent to threaten any American interest. Lacking
an excuse to attack Cuba and overthrow Castro, Congress has enacted
legislation to punish Cuba by punishing foreign enterprises that
do business in Cuba. The punishment restricts the ordinary business
activities of those firms within the US. Our friends and allies
have protested that such "extraterritorial" regulation
is a violation of international law, but to little avail.
Iran The US Government has barred American firms from doing
business with Iran because it believes Iran supports terrorism
and threatens world peace. But our allies and friends (including
Saudi Arabia, Kuwait, and Turkey) neither agree with this assessment
nor restrict trade with the Tehran regime. Unhappy with these
developments but unable to sway our allies, Congress has enacted
penalties, similar to those used against firms doing business
with Cuba, to punish multinational firms doing business with Iran.
The French--close friends since our Revolutionary War-have called
America's hand by recently negotiating a $2 billion deal with
Iran to develop its natural gas resources. Now our President must
decide whether to apply sanctions against France or find some
way to end run the very restriction he signed into law.
China The media report instances of Chinese government violations
of human rights-child labor, incarceration of democracy dissidents,
and religious and ethnic repression in Tibet. Congress responds
to the public's disgust with China's practices by passing laws
that ostensibly put pressure on China to stop its repression.
However much the US opposes these practices, such blatant attempts
to dominate China's politics are ineffective and simply antagonize
the Chinese, thereby undercutting less visible long-term diplomatic
efforts to induce change. Since 1990 the various multilateral
development banks and foundations have considered over 150 loans
to China for projects ranging from railroads to grain distribution.
Citing civil rights abuses, the US has voted "No" on
22 of these projects involving almost $2 billion and has abstained
from voting on the rest. Other member nations have refused to
follow the American lead and have approved the loans.
Mexico Even Mexico has not been exempt from US bullying. The
Foreign Assistance Act of 1961 imposes severe penalties on a nation
which the President does not certify is fully cooperating in efforts
to stop the production or flow of drugs into the US. Some in Congress
repeatedly attempt to deprive Mexico of this certification, thus
endangering our southern neighbor's government and economy. (Of
course America's insatiable appetite for drugs sucks the illegal
substances north from their Latin-American producers, affecting
the welfare of both Mexico and the US.)
The UN At the United Nations the US still refuses to pay the
$1.5 billion it owes for its share of peacekeeping costs and annual
assessments that keep the UN functioning. A carefully worded compromise
between the White House and Congress collapsed when the House,
miffed by an Administration refusal to cave in on an issue unrelated
to UN arrearage, stripped UN and International Monetary Fund money
from the Foreign Operations Appropriation bill.
World Trade Organization A distressing power play followed
the anti-Cuban legislation. For several years US diplomats and
other negotiators had worked tirelessly to broaden the free trade
provisions of the General Agreement on Tariffs and Trade (the
GATT), and to create the World Trade Organization (WTO) for settlement
of commercial disputes between trading partners. In February 1997
America's European allies lodged a complaint with the WTO over
the anti-Cuba legislation. The WTO established an arbitration
panel according to the protocol the US had previously sponsored.
But US officials pronounced the WTO "not competent"
to deal with the dispute and refused to appear before the panel.
Their reason: the challenged US law is a matter of "national
security" and foreign policy. Such a claim by "the only
remaining superpower" will inevitably encourage other countries
to make the same claim in an effort to escape WTO jurisdiction.
NATO Expansion The US consistently dominates its NATO allies.
Several members wanted the eastward expansion of the Alliance
to include states besides those (Poland, Hungary, and the Czech
Republic) proposed by the Clinton Administration. Whether or not
its reasons were valid, the US refused to change its position
to accommodate the wishes of its allies. Furthermore, despite
the objections of other NATO members, the US is insisting that
the armed forces of the new members be brought up to NATO standards,
for which realistic cost estimates are between $27 and $35 billion
over the next decade. Using the higher estimate, the US has unilaterally
"allocated" these costs as follows: US no more than
$2 billion, new members $17 billion, and current European members
$ 16 billion. In late November 1997 NATO published its own estimate
for expanding eastward. Its total was only $2 billion.
Land mines Under Canada's leadership, representatives of over
100 nations met in Oslo, Norway in the summer of 1997 to develop
a treaty imposing a worldwide ban on antipersonnel land mines.
These weapons are a terrible scourge to civilians on the many
old battlefields where they have been left behind at wars' end.
As many as 110 million land mines are buried around the world
and each year they kill or maim 20,000 people--mostly children.
Treaty negotiations were progressing rapidly until the US demanded
that American mines in Korea be excluded from the global ban for
nine years. The rationale given for the delay was the need to
develop and deploy equally effective devices to protect the 37,000
American troops stationed in South Korea. The US also demanded
that an exception for explosive devices, whose purpose is to prevent
deactivation of antitank mines, be broadened to cover America's
anti-tank mine design. Other nations refused to dilute the treaty
provisions, and the document was then approved 890. The US abstained.
In December 1997, in Ottawa, 123 countries signed the treaty;
the US did not.
Child Soldiers As many as 250,000 children around the world
are forced to serve in government and dissident armed forces.
Thousands of children have been killed. But the US is contesting
a UN effort to amend the Convention on the Rights of the Child
to raise the minimum age for recruitment and participation in
armed conflict from 15 to 18 years. The Defense Department's reason:
its present recruitment practices allow 17-year-olds to enlist
under certain conditions.
Perhaps the most striking claim for the imperative of American
control was made by the Pentagon's draft Defense Planning Guide
America must prevent other states "from challenging our
leadership or seeking to overturn the established political and
economic order.... We must maintain the mechanisms for deterring
potential competitors from even aspiring to a larger regional
or global role. "
It is ironic that America's drive for security and control
in itself generates the need to use military forces. With no overriding
single threat on which to focus, America's policy makers seem
to believe they must intervene even in situations of marginal
interest to the US. By some unknown mental process, they have
America's global military reach imposes an obligation to try
to "shape" the course of events everywhere.
The Persian Gulf is a prime example of this compulsion. The
Administration's rationale for mobilizing US air power against
Iraq was that Saddam Hussein violated UN Security Council resolutions
giving UNSCOM inspectors complete access to all Iraqi facilities
with a potential for making or storing chemical or biological
Such inspections are like the labors of Sisyphus--who was
condemned to repeatedly push a huge boulder to the top of a mountain,
only to have it roll back down every time. If inspection, bombing,
or even military action on the ground were to eradicate all its
chemical and biological weapons, Iraq would still be able to replenish
its stocks. Equipment needed to produce these weapons is small,
mobile, and easily concealed within legitimate civilian premises
or "dual use" facilities. And the weapons themselves
can easily be moved in very small packages. America's unilateral
threat to bomb Iraq into submission (opposed by China, France,
and Russia) lacked the rationale of the 1990-91 Gulf War, which
was triggered by Iraq's conquest of Kuwait and its threat to control
the supply of Mid-east oil.
The Pentagon still bases its strategy on the possible interruption
by Iraq or Iran of the flow of oil from the Gulf. But the Department
of Energy continually reminds us that any increase in the world
price of oil due to curtailment of supply will adversely affect
the economies of all countries in proportion to each country's
consumption, not the volume or source of its imports.
While the US consumes about 26% of the world's total, western
Europe's share is about 21% and Japan's is about 8%. Despite this,
these allies are getting free protection of their supply by the
US military. The cop-on-the-world-beat mentality of the Cold War
still infects US leaders, who proclaim that only America is capable
of carrying the burden of policing the Persian Gulf.
According to Pentagon accounting, the financial cost of the
1990-91 Gulf war to the US military was $61 billion, for most
of which the US Government was reimbursed by its allies. But these
amounts were merely the "incremental costs" - those
incurred only because of the massive deployment to the Gulf to
roll back the Iraqi invasion of Kuwait. What was not included
and what the Pentagon refuses to divulge are the annual "running
costs" for arming, equipping, training, and organizing the
force of 544,000 soldiers so that they were able to intervene
successfully and with relative safety. A reasonable estimate of
these running costs is about $85 billion each year. This means
that America's total financial cost of the Gulf intervention was
in the realm of $550 billion! (See Pg. 7.) Other costs were also
high: 286 Americans died in the operation and there were 3,336
other American casualties. By 1997 the annual cost per soldier
had increased somewhat, so that keeping a force of 544,000 prepared
for deployment now costs about $96 billion annually.
The more than quarter-trillion dollar annual US military budget
is justified to the American people as necessary to protect their
national interests when these are threatened anywhere in the world.
This justification is a facade. In two successive four-year defense
reviews (the 1993 Bottom Up Review and the 1997 Quadrennial Defense
Review), the Pentagon found only the same two conventional threats:
in the Persian Gulf and on the Korean peninsula. In the absence
of a real threat to significant American interests, the Pentagon
must continue to point to these areas.
The never answered question is why the US must always lead-or
even be "in charge"- against threats to world peace.
Simple geography, for instance, should engage energetic European
diplomatic and military support for the UN's suppression of Iraq's
capability to produce chemical, biological, and nuclear weapons.
Paris and Berlin are three times closer to Baghdad than are Dallas
and New York, and Moscow is even closer.. Yet, except for the
British, European support has been weak or negative, leaving the
US again to lead the charge against Saddam by itself.
On the other side of the globe, the US presence in South Korea
is a 45 year relic of the Cold War. Yet South Korea is able to
defend itself against the starving North Koreans and would quickly
become even more capable if US troops were withdrawn. It is true
that the residents and businesses of Seoul are vulnerable to North
Korea's long range artillery, but their danger is not reduced
by keeping 37,000 Americans in the line of fire. Ironically, South
Korea does not seem overly concerned-it is preparing to reduce
the size of its armed forces!
In the absence of a worthy threat, the Pentagon can sustain
its claim on national resources only by falling back on such old
saws as "secure sea lanes" and such distinctly non-military
goals as economic stability, access to raw materials, and regional
stability. This is obviously inconsistent with the growing economic
and cultural interdependence of the world's nations.
A secondary justification for the huge military budget is
to be able to intervene wherever America values are threatened.
These values are shared by most of the world's developed countries
and b many in the developing world. But there are situations where
our cherished standards are disregarded, temporarily because of
local conditions such as civil war or permanently because of authoritarian
government or local culture. In these situations many Americans
feel the US has a moral obligation to intervene--not to protect
its tangible interests but to promulgate its values.
Where And How We Are Intervening
Except for the 1990-91 Persian Gulf war, none of the post-Cold-War
American interventions was prompted by one state invading another.
All of the American expeditions were significantly limited in
duration and scope: hostage rescue, humanitarian efforts, reprisal
against terrorists or states supporting them, enforcement of sanctions
or anti-narcotics policy, or impeding illegal immigration. The
UN has tallied over 82 conflicts around the world since the fall
of the Berlin Wall, all but one of which were civil wars. Thus,
if it so chose, there would be enough opportunity for the US to
be constantly involved in settling ethnic conflicts and civil
wars. The American people do not want such a role for their military
forces. But the Pentagon, recent administrations, and Congress
continue to support a force structure that is more appropriate
to policing the entire world unilaterally than it is to supporting
multilateral efforts to restore and maintain peace when conflicts
The US military has deployed forces over 30 time since 1990.
Most occasions involved less than 1,000 troops, and few resulted
in casualties. The most significant deployment since the Gulf
War has been the 1998 preparation to bomb Iraq. Next in magnitude
has been our participation in NATO's attempt to bring peace to
Bosnia. The Somalia intervention was less demanding, Haiti was
occupied without battle, and Rwanda required only support operations
Nonetheless, the might of the US presence in these instances has
Iraq in 1998: The US threat to bomb Iraq was supported by
about 36,000 American troops. It had no humanitarian motive (but
would have caused innumerable deaths and casualties among Iraqi
civilians). It was only nominally justified as enforcement of
Bosnia: In July 1996 the US had 22,000 troops in the 58,000
strong NATO intervention force [IFOR] in Bosnia. A year later
when the follow-on stabilization force [SFOR] began operations,
the US contribution was cut to 10,500. The General Accounting
Office (GAO), working with the Pentagon, estimated that the incremental
cost to the US for IFOR/ SFOR was well over $3 billion dollars
and would reach at least $6.5 billion by the time the mandate
for SFOR expires in June 1998. These costs are minor compared
with those of the Persian Gulf War. Even adding in the costs of
having the forces capable and constantly ready to intervene, the
total US cost is about $33 billion-some 12 percent of the military
Somalia: This 1992-94 humanitarian operation required 28,000
US forces-- primarily ground troops. There were 35 killed and
153 wounded. DoD's incremental costs (calculated by GAO and verified
by DoD) were about $1.5 billion. With estimated capability-readiness
costs included, the total cost of the military operation was about
Haiti: The US deployed 21,000 troops against no organized
military opposition. Two soldiers died and three were wounded
in non-combat incidents. DoD's incremental cost (again as reported
by the two agencies) was $953 million during 1992-95. With capability-readiness
costs included, the total military cost was about $25 billion.
Rwanda: The US military incurred incremental costs of $144
million in supporting the UN's humanitarian efforts in Rwanda
and eastern Zaire in 1994-95.
Summary: Clearly, for interventions motivated primarily to
protect and spread democratic values, the heavy weapons and the
large forces the US maintains are not appropriate. America needs
a much smaller military, equipped with a more appropriate mix
of weapons suitable for intervention in far less rigorous conflicts
than all-out war. We also need a civilian organization specially
trained and appropriately equipped to organize and administer
aid programs and to enforce law and order.
Control Leaves Others Inert
The former Yugoslavia is a third situation in which the US
has marginal interests, much less than those of the powerful neighboring
states. After three years during which Bosnia's neighbors did
little to stop the ethnic slaughter, it was the US that "led
the charge." The Europeans knew that bringing peace to the
factions was not possible without strong military intervention
(as the inability of lightly armed UN forces proved). But for
45 years Western Europe has lived under America's nuclear umbrella
and relied on American conventional forces to such an extent that
it could not act unless the US did. So long as US administrations
were unwilling to send the American military to stop the fighting
in Bosnia, the Europeans were unwilling to intervene in sufficient
strength to stop the slaughter
When the US policy changed and US troops were committed to
enforcing the Dayton accord, the Europeans and Russia mustered
the will to commit significant numbers of their forces. Even so,
by Autumn 1997 it was clear there was no hope that lasting peace
could be achieved by the scheduled coalition troop withdrawal
date of June 1998. The Europeans declared that if the US withdrew
so would they - despite the likelihood that the slaughter would
resume. So President Clinton announced that American troops would
remain in Bosnia indefinitely. Once again, a region's refusal
to take responsibility for control of its own area illustrates
the trap into which the US has fallen as a result of insisting
that the whole world is our sphere of influence, our backyard,
and our duty to police- a stance that others are all too willing
to let us assume.
The Human Toll
In World War II and the Vietnam War, American troop losses
were counted by the hundreds of thousands. Such large numbers
of casualties required the drafting and training of thousands
of replacements, with the result that the total manpower involved
in these wars was considerably larger than the number confronting
the enemy in the field at any given time This has not been the
case in the 30 plus interventions since the Persian Gulf War.
Where deaths occurred, they were mercifully limited to a score
or two and other casualties were correspondingly few.
Significantly, the tolerance of the American public for troop
casualties seems far less now than it used to be. Television has
brought the fighting into our living rooms and the public will
not tolerate casualties if it does not understand why US forces
are in a battle zone. For example, in the 1992-95 Somalia intervention,
the deaths of 35 American soldiers were sufficient to turn public
opinion strongly against prolonging the occupation; the Pentagon
was forced to withdraw American forces and abandon the effort
to pacify the country. Thus the human and material resources the
public is willing to risk in supporting American values overseas
will not be nearly as great as the resources the military budget
Whereas once military power was able to shape the world and
create and sustain empires, it is highly questionable whether
military power can do so today without, in the process, destroying
the world. The fact that economics is the new playing field for
world influence presents a host of opportunities for the US Government
to exercise continuing leadership-without always flexing its military
* The combination of vast natural resources, an industrious
and innovative workforce, free enterprise, and a representative
form of government makes America a model of what is possible with
democracy, a market economy, and the rule of law.
* Our diplomatic and economic preeminence can give weight
to multilateral efforts to bring peace and economic progress to
those less fortunate. Congress should arrange to pay the $1.5
billion we owe to the UN, and should resolve that it will strongly
support future UN peacekeeping operations with money and American
personnel. The US outlays for foreign aid now make up the lowest
percentage of GDP of any industrialized country in the world.
Congress should double these appropriations to a level approximately
proportionate to Japan's outlays. At the same time it can cancel
the military aspects of the present aid program, which endanger
civilian control and may result in hostilities between and within
third world countries.
* There are now three world trading blocs: the European Union,
NAFTA, and APEC in eastern and southeast Asia. The United States
is the only nation that can weld these blocs into an integrated
world trade regime. It performed this leadership role in broadening
the GATT and creating the World Trade Organization. It can lead
the way again in broadening the WTO.
* Nuclear warheads are still attached to the intercontinental
missiles retired by the US and Russia under the present and pending
START treaties. This means that these weapons can quickly be reactivated.
The US can take the lead in removing the warheads and neutralizing
their explosive components. Such action would reassure Russia,
which now views an expanded NATO as a threat requiring it to rely
primarily on nuclear weapons for its defense.
* The plutonium in American and Russian stockpiles, and to
be removed from their nuclear warheads, is attractive to thieves
and terrorists. Our Energy Department is focusing on two disposition
technologies, which would cost between $1 and $2 billion over
the next 25 years, to treat the US stock. Although Russia's stock
is twice as large, safe disposal there would cost only $1 to $2
billion. But Russia may not have the financial resources needed,
and it is in the mutual interests of the two nations (and of the
world generally) for the US to assist. The $40 to $80 million
of US help now planned over the next 5 to 7 years is patently
inadequate; it should be increased many fold.
* NATO and its members have repeatedly declared that no European
nation will be excluded from the Alliance. Since the avowed purpose
of NATO expansion is to foster and protect democracies in eastern
Europe, the US could assure this goal by persuading its fellow
members to admit Russia to membership on an equal footing.
Conclusion: But America is not just the US Government or its
Armed Forces. It is a complex of people and institutions: universities;
business enterprises and their skilled managers and workers; research
organizations; authors, artists, and entertainers; financiers;
judges; and others. These people and organizations are world leaders
in their fields and as such expand the range of possibilities
for American leadership. A few examples illustrate their accomplishments:
* Students from around the world flock to America's universities;
* Hollywood's movies are the most popular entertainment just
* American pharmaceuticals are closing in on cures for AIDS;
* Planned Parenthood and sister organizations are fighting
* Intel and Microsoft lead the world in computer processors
* Ted Turner challenges the world's philanthropists with his
billion dollar gift to the UN.
The benefits which the work of these organizations and individuals
produce far surpass the contributions a super-powerful military
can ever accomplish.