American Force

American Force: Dangers, Delusions, and Dilemmas in National Security

Richard K. Betts
Copyright Date: 2012
Pages: 384
https://www.jstor.org/stable/10.7312/bett15122
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  • Book Info
    American Force
    Book Description:

    While American national security policy has grown more interventionist since the Cold War, Washington has also hoped to shape the world on the cheap. Misled by the stunning success against Iraq in 1991, administrations of both parties have pursued ambitious aims with limited force, committing the country's military frequently yet often hesitantly, with inconsistent justification. These ventures have produced strategic confusion, unplanned entanglements, and indecisive results. This collection of essays by Richard K. Betts, a leading international politics scholar, investigates the use of American force since the end of the Cold War, suggesting guidelines for making it more selective and successful.

    Betts brings his extensive knowledge of twentieth century American diplomatic and military history to bear on the full range of theory and practice in national security, surveying the Cold War roots of recent initiatives and arguing that U.S. policy has always been more unilateral than liberal theorists claim. He exposes mistakes made by humanitarian interventions and peace operations; reviews the issues raised by terrorism and the use of modern nuclear, biological, and cyber weapons; evaluates the case for preventive war, which almost always proves wrong; weighs the lessons learned from campaigns in Iraq, Afghanistan, and Vietnam; assesses the rise of China and the resurgence of Russia; quells concerns about civil-military relations; exposes anomalies within recent defense budgets; and confronts the practical barriers to effective strategy. Betts ultimately argues for greater caution and restraint, while encouraging more decisive action when force is required, and he recommends a more dispassionate assessment of national security interests, even in the face of global instability and unfamiliar threats.

    eISBN: 978-0-231-52188-8
    Subjects: Political Science

Table of Contents

  1. Front Matter
    (pp. i-viii)
  2. Table of Contents
    (pp. ix-x)
  3. PREFACE
    (pp. xi-xvi)
  4. PART I. THE POST–COLD WAR HIATUS
    • 1 INTRODUCTION: FROM COLD WAR TO HOT PEACE
      (pp. 3-18)

      When the United States became more secure it became more forceful. Since the Cold War ended it has spent far more than any other country or coalition to build armed forces; it has sent forces into combat more frequently than it did in the era of much bigger threats to national security; and it has done so much more often than any other country. The United States has been, quite simply, “the most militarily active state in the world.”¹ To many in the mainstream of American politics this is as it should be because the United States has the right...

    • 2 POLICY MILESTONES: COLD WAR ROOTS OF CONSENSUS
      (pp. 19-49)

      One main criticism of American overreaching since the Cold War, coming from paleoconservatives and liberal realists, is that genuine national interests do not require expensive activism, and such activism begs for pushback from foreigners who do not want Americans meddling in their business. A different criticism, from mainstream liberals, is that neoconservative zealots tore U.S. policy away from multilateralism and the binding to international institutions that made U.S. leadership both legitimate and effective in the second half of the twentieth century. Until the chastening events of Iraq, the second view was much closer to elite conventional wisdom than was the...

    • 3 CONFUSED INTERVENTIONS: PUTTERING WITH PRIMACY
      (pp. 50-80)

      The end of the Cold War freed the United States to use its power not just to prevent the spread of communism, but on behalf of the so-called international community, to set the world right where bad or ineffectual regimes were hurting their own people. But the United States, the United Nations, and the North Atlantic Treaty Organization had rocky experiences trying to do this in civil conflicts after 1990. Since U.S. aims in these cases stressed the importance of a multilateral imprimatur for action, the fate of UN and NATO missions reflects directly on U.S. policy. As it was,...

    • 4 NEW THREATS OF MASS DESTRUCTION: CAPABILITIES DOWN, INTENTIONS UP
      (pp. 81-102)

      During the Cold War weapons of mass destruction (WMD) were the centerpiece of foreign policy.¹ Chemical and biological weapons were developed and fielded in large numbers with little notice, but nuclear arms above all hovered in the background of every major issue in East–West competition and alliance relations. The highest priorities of U.S. policy could almost all be linked in some way to the danger of World War III and the fear of millions of casualties in the American homeland.

      In the hiatus after the Cold War other issues displaced strategic concerns on the foreign policy agenda, and that...

  5. PART II. HISTORY STRIKES BACK
    • 5 TERRORISM: THE SOFT UNDERBELLY OF PRIMACY
      (pp. 105-127)

      What made countering terrorism the first priority of U.S. foreign policy after September 11, 2001, was the shock, rage, and fear the attacks triggered in Americans. Intense emotional reactions obscured the limits of the threat, the difficulties in confronting some of its causes, and the full range of costs and benefits in counterterrorism strategies. Sober strategy requires sharper understanding of the connections among three things: the imbalance of power between terrorist groups and counterterrorist governments; the reasons that groups choose terror tactics; and the operational advantage of attack over defense in the interactions of terrorists and their opponents. It also...

    • 6 STRIKING FIRST: WELL-LOST OPPORTUNITIES
      (pp. 128-144)

      When the United States sends forces into combat it usually does so as an intervention, where a war is already under way between an American client and its adversary. Indeed, commentary on the use of force in the age of American global activism often carelessly uses the terms war and intervention interchangeably. Starting a war against a country that is still at peace does not come naturally and is something that the United States has rarely done. Nevertheless, the specter of weapons of mass destruction held by an aggressive tyrant provoked George W. Bush to launch a war against Iraq...

    • 7 BIG SMALL WARS: IRAQ, AFGHANISTAN, AND VIETNAM
      (pp. 145-170)

      American force comes in doses from light to large. First and preferred, if it works, is latent force: military capability unused but held at the ready, a threat that may constrain or compel adversaries without being called to the test. Second, and the mildest application of force, is covert action: secret manipulation of foreign politics that usually amounts to a shove short of violence. A step up is direct support for paramilitary operations of foreign clients such as rebels backed by the United States during the Cold War in Laos, Cuba, Tibet, Nicaragua, and elsewhere, or hands-on advice and direction...

    • 8 THE MAIN EVENTS: CHINA’S RISE AND RUSSIA’S RESURGENCE
      (pp. 171-198)

      Since the end of the Cold War U.S. defense policy has been absorbed in second-order problems of deterring or defeating medium powers such as Iraq, Iran, North Korea, and Serbia, and waging counterinsurgency and counterterror campaigns in Afghanistan, Iraq, and Pakistan, and third-order problems of peacekeeping and humanitarian intervention. The first priority of national security policy, however, is to handle discontented, nuclear-armed, major powers. The only risk of utter destruction of the United States is the risk of war with a great power. After the Cold War that risk appeared to evaporate, but it is likely to grow in the...

  6. PART III. DECISION AND IMPLEMENTATION
    • 9 CIVIL-MILITARY RELATIONS: A SPECIAL PROBLEM?
      (pp. 201-231)

      Democracy and powerful professional military organizations do not rest easily with each other. This is the premise of Samuel Huntington’s The Soldier and the State, the book that has set the terms of debate for more than half a century about proper norms of civil-military relations in the United States.¹ These norms have concerned political leaders since the earliest days of the republic, when many who shaped the institutions of American politics feared the potential influence of a standing army. Because the armed forces would have the physical power to intervene decisively in politics if not restrained by loyalty to...

    • 10 PLANS AND RESULTS: IS STRATEGY AN ILLUSION?
      (pp. 232-271)

      Strategy is the essential ingredient for making war either politically effective or morally tenable. It is the link between military means and political ends, the scheme for how to make one produce the other. Without strategy, there is no rationale for how force will achieve purposes worth the price in blood and treasure. Without strategy, power is a loose cannon and war is mindless. Mindless killing can only be criminal. Politicians and soldiers may debate which strategic choice is best, but only pacifists can doubt that strategy is necessary.

      Because strategy is necessary, however, does not mean that it is...

    • 11 A DISCIPLINED DEFENSE: REGAINING STRATEGIC SOLVENCY
      (pp. 272-283)

      Halfway through the Obama administration brakes were put on the U.S. defense budget, but only lightly. Early in 2010 Secretary of Defense Robert Gates declared the need to economize and make hard choices. He planned cuts in certain programs, but in order to free funds for others, not to reduce total military spending. Contrary to claims of right-wing critics, the administration’s FY 2011 budget requested a real increase in defense spending of more than 2 percent, and the future plan at the time still envisioned annual increases of 1 percent, not reductions. The avalanche of demands for budget cutting after...

    • 12 CONCLUSION: SELECTING SECURITY
      (pp. 284-300)

      American power reached a peak in the 1940s, was then compromised by bipolarity for almost half a century, and peaked again at the end of the twentieth century. Capability to impose preferences by force is one aspect of that power but varies according to the quality and scale of resistance. The purposes and places for which force should be committed—either passively in deterrence or actively in combat—are the main issues in national security policy.

      “National defense” is the catch-all term used to define these purposes, but it has become a legitimizing bromide rather than an accurate description. Especially...

  7. NOTES
    (pp. 301-340)
  8. INDEX
    (pp. 341-368)