American Strategy: A New Perspective
Escalation and the Nuclear Option
Arms and Influence
On the Uses of Military Power in the Nuclear Age
If war is too serious to be left to the generals, is strategy safe in the hands of the strategists? Nobody, to be sure, knows more about such mysteries as “deterrence,” “options,” and “escalation” than the coterie of intellectual technicians we call defense strategists. At a hundred universities and research institutes—from dingy laboratories in Manhattan to leafy retreats in Cambridge and Santa Monica—they plot the vectors of nuclear mishap and balance the threat of disaster against the opportunities of atomic diplomacy. They are the mentors to generals, the advisers to statesmen, the new elite of our global military establishment. Our reliance on them is exaggerated and seemingly inescapable, for when confronted with the awful complexity of the atom there seems nowhere else to turn but to the “experts” for advice.
Some find comfort in the rising power of defense strategists over military policy, and even over diplomacy. These strategists, trained in such traditional disciplines as economics, mathematics, and even statistics, but now turning their energies to defense theories at such places as RAND, the Hudson Institute, MIT, and the Institute for Defense Analysis, have provided the formulas for “deterrence,” “counterforce,” and “limited warfare” that roll lightly off the tongues of both generals and statesmen. They have, according to the Swiss journalist Urs Schwarz, in his useful survey, American Strategy: A New Perspective, “permitted the creation of a national defense establishment in the modern sense, directed toward the use of all the nation’s resources for the mastery of the infinitely complex problems confronting it.”
Like most of those who take the virtues of the “new strategy” for granted, Schwarz asserts rather than demonstrates, and finds great satisfaction in the fact that “American strategic thought has by now overcome the reluctance to admit power as an element of national policy.” Few would deny the truth of this observation, but many might be tempted to wonder whether American strategic thought has swung so far away from the old reluctance that it has elevated military power to the central element of national policy. When one considers how American power has been used in the military interventions of the past few years there is good reason to question the validity and the wisdom of the new sophistication in the Pentagon. One might even wonder whether the civilian defense strategists, working on government-financed contracts at scores of nominally independent research institutes that could not long survive without such contracts, have performed much of a service in applying slide rules and computers to equations of military power.
We have all learned our Clausewitz, and recite as a catechism the litany that war is a continuation of diplomacy by other means. But perhaps, with the aid of the defense intellectuals, we have learned it too well, and see war as a substitute for diplomacy—particularly where our own military power is so great as to overcome the cautions that would normally be imposed upon it by the demands of politics. To discuss strategy outside a …
This article is available to online subscribers only.
Please choose from one of the options below to access this article:
Purchase a print premium subscription (20 issues per year) and also receive online access to all all content on nybooks.com.
Purchase an Online Edition subscription and receive full access to all articles published by the Review since 1963.
Purchase a trial Online Edition subscription and receive unlimited access for one week to all the content on nybooks.com.