The High Cost of Failure
November 1, 1997
With Responses From
Nov 1, 1997
5 Min read time
We must demand a new national security agenda.
Randall Forsberg's article, a call to action and appeal to people of conscience, should be heeded by all who seek to insert morality, the rule of law, and humanity into our domestic and international affairs. “Toward the End of War” powerfully illuminates our extraordinary and evanescent opportunity to move humanity into an era in which the large-scale resort to violence becomes unacceptable and unavailable. This opportunity is available now, but it will dissipate quickly if we continue on our current course.
Reading Forsberg's article reminded me of the costs associated with the great silence between the end of direct U.S. military involvement in Southeast Asia and the first audible stirrings of the nuclear freeze movement. The great political movement that ended the United States' tragically misguided Vietnam adventurism declared victory and went home when it should have turned its attention to the next great challenge: ending the Cold War mentality that continued to drain tens of billions of dollars from our civilian economy with unnecessary, duplicative, or destabilizing military spending.
Only after Ronald Reagan's election to the presidency, and the broadcast of his proposal to develop and deploy a first-strike nuclear war-fighting capability, did the “movement” enliven, coalesce, and mobilize to bring a halt to that new madness.
What a frustration; what a waste. The military budget nearly doubled in a few short years; crisis instability threatened to put the world's nuclear powers into a launch-on-warning mode; and now, a decade and a half later, Russia's economy has collapsed under the weight of its military spending and the United States still suffers joblessness, homelessness, and social disruption directly attributable to the resources squandered on false priorities during that era.
Had the anti-war movement turned more quickly into a peace movement, we might have avoided that era. Instead, politicians felt no pressure during the late 1970s for further military budget cuts and the movement was too late in organizing to prevent the “baseline” from being ratcheted up to current levels. (In fact, the Reagan electoral pressure forced President Carter to significantly boost military spending on his way out the door in 1981.)
Forsberg's article starkly reminds us of the imperative of seizing the present advantage that is available to us—and of the costs of failure. In this respect, it is similar to a call that I issued in a “white paper” to a conference sponsored by the Congressional Progressive Caucus this past spring. There, I argued for progressives to lead a debate on the development of a new national security strategy.
The call to end war has many dimensions. Forsberg focuses on the opportunity to eliminate large-scale, cross-border violence and correctly points out the most compelling strategy to achieve that goal: eliminate large, comprehensive, standing armies that have the capacity for unilateral military engagement against other nations; and, by implication, rely upon international coalitions of military forces to resist aggression. She notes at different points many of the other elements necessary to ending the “culture of war”-arms control, realignment of budgetary priorities, domestic and international investments in sustainable economic development, and diplomacy and conflict resolution.
The U.S. has squandered opportunities to build an effective international architecture for nuclear and conventional disarmament.
While some may associate Forsberg's main argument only with a “peace community” approach to these issues, it bears noting that William Perry, before he was nominated to serve in President Clinton's Defense Department, offered a similar argument in a 1993 Brookings Institution publication on post-Cold War military issues. In his essay he called for significant reductions in U.S. ground forces, while maintaining air and logistics forces. Remaining U.S. military assets would then be effective only when deployed along with coalition partners in efforts to prevent or reverse aggression—they would not constitute by themselves an organic capability for a large expeditionary force. Obviously, this argument has not been guiding recent U.S. policy.
At the end of World War II—and throughout the Cold War—the United States squandered opportunities to build an effective international architecture for nuclear and conventional disarmament, comprehensive non-violent decolonization, conflict-resolution mechanisms, and international economic development strategies that would lead to more stable regional environments. Forsberg highlights the fact that nearly a decade past the end of the Cold War, we are still ignoring such opportunities. If this pattern continues, I fear we shall reap the same harvest—decades of arms races, regional and international instability, and the obscene squandering of precious national resources (in many nations) on armaments rather than productive civilian investments.
The expansion of human rights, the realization of political democracy and sustainable economic justice, the implementation of successful arms control regimes, and the enhancement of opportunities to promote or keep the peace must become the cornerstones of U.S. foreign and defense policy. A failure to pursue such an aggressive agenda—what I have elsewhere called “preventative engagement”—will threaten the very security of our nation and the future of our children more surely than any military threat that might emerge in the next decade to quarter of a century.
Rather than focusing our perennial movement energy on isolated weapons programs, progressives should, as Forsberg argues, demand a new national security agenda. We should demand energetic and imaginative responses to the opportunities that exist to make our world a more secure place: We should insist that START III negotiations begin now; we should call for restraints in U.S. arms sales and leadership in scaling them back from other countries as well; we should embrace international institutions such as the United Nations and be willing to recognize the importance of U.S. participation in peace keeping and peace promotion; we should insist on equitable funding among all three national security budget accounts—-our foreign affairs programs, our domestic investments, and our military spending. Such an agenda is large and ambitious, but it responds to the dictum laid down by the Reverend Martin Luther King, Jr.: Peace is not just the absence of war, it is the absence of conditions that give rise to violence. This is the campaign we must lead and Randy Forsberg has quite appropriately awakened us to the urgent reality of this responsibility.
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November 01, 1997
5 Min read time