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The Good Friday Agreement: Ending War and Ending Conflict in Northern Ireland

The Good Friday Agreement: Ending War and Ending Conflict in Northern Ireland

The 1998 Agreement that ended Northern Ireland's bloody civil war has often been attributed to many of the remarkable individuals involved in the peace process. But how much of a difference did they really make? James Steinberg explores this question by…

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                                    [post_content] => Twenty years ago, Northern Ireland’s bloody civil war ended with the signing of the “Good Friday” Agreement.[1] The scale of the conflict may seem small in terms of absolute numbers of those killed and wounded when compared to larger tragedies of the 20th century.[2] Nevertheless, its duration, spanning nearly 30 years from the onset of the “Troubles” until the Agreement was signed in 1998, and its pervasive impact — not just on Northern Ireland, but on the Republic of Ireland, the United Kingdom, and even the United States — more than justifies the importance attached to the achievement of peace. Since 1998, implementing the Agreement has proved difficult and the peace remains fragile, tested now by the fallout from Britain’s “Brexit” vote. Yet, the Agreement remains one of the most important examples of how a decades-long sectarian conflict can come to an end.[3]

There have been many books and articles written by participants, journalists, and academics that have sought to describe the process leading up to the Agreement and to explain why it came about.[4] Peace, like victory, has a thousand fathers, and studies of the peace process have identified a wide range of factors that arguably contributed to the outcome. Why then yet another article on this topic? My contribution seeks to “bridge the gap” between two complementary perspectives: the viewpoint of a diplomat deeply involved in the negotiations and that of a teacher and scholar of international relations and conflict resolution.[5] My goal is twofold: to help practitioners think about how to orchestrate the various tools of diplomacy in support of current and future peacemaking efforts,[6] and to contribute to the long-standing academic debate among historians and political scientists about causal explanations in international relations. In particular, I want to examine the interaction between structural factors (such as demographics, economics, and the end of the Cold War), the peace process, and efforts made by key individuals involved in the process.

In any analysis of this kind, the question of agency looms heavily. The Northern Ireland peace process involved many remarkable, dynamic individuals, in and out of government, who populate the narrative. It is relatively easy to describe the decisions these individuals made, while it is somewhat more complex to explain their motivations and calculus (although memoirs abound, there is always danger that the accounts are self-serving).[7] More challenging is the question of how much, if any, difference these individuals made, or whether the deeper economic and social forces at work would have led to an end of the conflict independent of the peace process itself. The very vividness of the first-hand accounts of events and the colorful personalities of the central players may contribute to over-attribution of causality. Almost every major actor in the drama has, at one point in time, been “nominated” as the “indispensable” figure in making the Agreement possible, from David Trimble and John Hume, who were jointly awarded the Nobel Peace Prize, to Gerry Adams and his co-negotiator Martin McGuiness, George Mitchell, Tony Blair, Bertie Ahearn, Bill Clinton, Monica McWilliams, May Blood (of the Northern Ireland Women’s Coalition), and even the shadowy MI5 agent who helped broker key talks between the Irish Republican Army (IRA) and the British government in the early 1990s.

For this reason, I begin my analysis by examining the broader, structural factors, before delving into the specifics of the negotiators and the negotiation. I then turn to the motivations and goals of the principal actors: the political parties in Northern Ireland, civil society, and the three governments involved (the United Kingdom, Ireland, and the United States).[8] Next, I look at the negotiating process leading up to the 1998 Agreement. Finally, my analysis turns to some conclusions about how to assess the impact of the various factors and the potential implications of that analysis for future peace processes.

The Historic, Economic, and Social Context

The conflict in Northern Ireland — the Troubles — in its violent form spanned three decades, from about 1968 to 1998. It led to the loss of thousands of lives and even more casualties, affecting Catholics and Protestants; paramilitaries and civilians in the North; British security forces serving in Northern Ireland, England, and on the European continent; and British civilians who were victims of IRA attacks in England. The violence caused billions of dollars of economic harm and left deep social and psychological scars. It had its roots in the complex history of Ireland’s relationship with Great Britain, especially the settlement that led to the Anglo-Irish Treaty of 1921 and the partition of the island into the Irish Free State and the “province” of Northern Ireland, the six northern counties on the island that opted out of the Irish Free State under the provisions of the treaty. The source of the Northern Ireland conflict was, in part, political — the legacy of the dispute among Irish nationalists about whether to accept, even temporarily, the partition of Ireland. It was also social and economic. While Catholics made up most of the island, Protestants composed the majority in the six Ulster provinces. For historic and geographic reasons, the counties of Ulster were more industrialized and prosperous than the more rural south, and wealth and political power was largely controlled by Protestant elites.[9] Thus, class, religious and ethnic distinctions, as well as a legacy of de jure and de facto religious discrimination against Catholics in the North all combined to set the stage for sectarian strife. But just as the violence erupted in the 1960s, societal and economic forces began to change this equation. Differential birth rates and patterns of emigration led to a relative increase in the Catholic population of Ulster. Immediately after the partition in 1921, the percentage of Catholics in Ulster was just under 35 percent,[10] but by the time of the 2001 census the proportion had risen to 40.2 percent, compared with 45.6 percent non-Roman Catholic Christians.[11] Equally important, Catholics make up an even greater share of the younger population, a plurality in all age groups up to 39 in the 2011 census, with predictable consequences for the future makeup of the Northern Ireland electorate. The growing Catholic population meant that Catholics — if they chose to participate — would have a growing voice in the politics of the province, even under a pure majoritarian governance model without a formal power-sharing arrangement. Thus, provincial self-governance provided, at least in theory, an alternative, or complementary strategy to empowering the Catholic/nationalist community in Ulster. Perhaps even more significant, it opened up the prospect that at some time in the foreseeable future, a majority in the North might favor leaving the United Kingdom and joining the South, a possibility that both the Irish and British governments foresaw and implicitly endorsed by enshrining the principle of “consent” in the Anglo-Irish Agreement of 1985.[12] [quote id="1"] Changes in the economic fortunes of the two parts of the Irish island also had an impact on the course of the conflict and the eventual peace agreement. During the second half of the 20th century, the economy of the Irish Republic was transformed, fueled to a considerable degree by the entry of Ireland and the United Kingdom into the European Union in 1973.[13] This trend began to take effect in the 1980s and accelerated in the 1990s with the emergence of high rates of growth in the South, earning the Republic the sobriquet “Celtic Tiger.” At the same time, demographic and economic forces, combined with negative impact from the Troubles on investment prospects in Ulster, led to a relative decline in the economic performance of the North.[14] The result was a growing convergence in living standards between the two parts of Ireland. By 2018, GDP per capita in Northern Ireland was less than half that of the Republic, although this figure, in part, reflects the outsized role of multinationals in the South. But even by more conservative estimates, the standard of living today is at least relatively comparable, North and South.[15] The improved economic fortunes of the South enhanced the attractiveness of the Republic as an economic partner for Northern Ireland, especially among the business community, increasing interest in cross-border cooperation. This was particularly true for border districts, which were among the poorest parts of both North and South. This trend accelerated with completion of the Single European Act in 1993, which both deepened economic ties among E.U. members and diminished the significance of the border between the North and South.[16] It is also important to consider how the wider international environment might have contributed to achieving peace in Northern Ireland. Some have suggested that the end of the Cold War reduced the salience of the U.S.-U.K. relationship and thus opened the door for greater U.S. engagement — including American President Bill Clinton’s willingness to incur British Prime Minister John Major’s anger by granting Sinn Fein President Gerry Adams a visa to visit the United States. To some extent, progress in solving other, arguably more difficult, conflicts — including the Oslo Agreement between Israel and the Palestinians and the Dayton Agreement, which ended the fighting in Bosnia — put pressure on the Northern Ireland protagonists to take similar “risks for peace.” Finally, growing international attention to the problem of terrorism posed challenges to the IRA’s ability to arm itself through ties with other terrorist organizations, such as Spain’s Basque separatists and Columbia’s Revolutionary Armed Forces, as well as through its previously vital ties to Libya under Muammar Qaddafi’s rule.[17]

The Actors

The Northern Ireland Political Parties The political landscape in Northern Ireland leading up to the 1998 Agreement consisted of two key parties on the Catholic side — the republican Sinn Fein (the political wing of the IRA) and the nationalist Social Democratic and Labour Party[18] — and two on the unionist side — the Ulster Unionist Party and the Democratic Unionist Party[19] — along with smaller loyalist parties associated with Protestant paramilitaries,[20] and one non-sectarian party, the Alliance Party. The Catholic Side Sinn Fein, as a party, has its roots in the struggle for Irish independence in the early 20th century, but its deep involvement in Northern Ireland dates from the 1960s, and particularly from the 1969 party conference when the IRA split between the “official” wing,[21] which favored peaceful political measures to protect Catholics rights and bring about the unification of Ireland, and the “provisional” wing, which sanctioned the use of violence (both to protect the Catholic community and to force the British to abandon Northern Ireland). The “provos” viewed efforts to introduce reform measures in the North or power sharing as simply a means to perpetuate British colonial rule.[22] In the early 1980s, Sinn Fein shifted to a dual-track strategy known as “the ballot box and the Armalite”[23] — participating in parliamentary and local elections (IRA hunger-striker Bobby Sands was elected to the British Parliament in 1981) while continuing its campaign of violence. The Social Democratic and Labour Party (SDLP), formed in 1970 out of several smaller parties, was also committed to a united Ireland, but foreswore the use of force and focused much of its attention on the civil and political rights of Catholics under British rule. The SDLP believed that simply forcing the British out would not solve the problem — without the support of the unionist community, unification would simply continue the violent civil war (albeit under Irish rather than British sovereignty). The party emphasized the necessity for the Republic of Ireland to play a formal role in decision-making for the North. The SDLP saw this as a way  to give expression to nationalists’ sense of Irish “identity,” to complement their British “citizenship” as residents of the United Kingdom. The two parties (and their charismatic leaders, Adams and John Hume, respectively) were political rivals in the 1980s, contesting local elections in the North. Although Sinn Fein had some electoral success in its early efforts, its share of the nationalist vote fell throughout the 1980s and early 1990s, and, despite early fears, Sinn Fein was not successful in overtaking the SDLP until after the signing of the 1998 Agreement.[24] During the late 1980s, Sinn Fein’s views about the long-term prospects for achieving republican goals through violence began to shift. Analysts and historians have offered a number of complementary explanations for this crucial development. These include the “Ulsterization” of security, which reduced the number of British military targets and forced the IRA to attack indigenous Northern Irish security personnel;[25] the increasing effectiveness of British intelligence and security operations; and the inherent tensions in the “ballot box and Armalite” strategy, as IRA attacks, especially those resulting in non-combatant causalities, cut deeply into Sinn Fein’s electoral support, both in the north and south of Ireland.[26] Adams publicly described this evolving perspective in an interview in 1988, in which he seemed to rule out the prospect of a military solution to the conflict.[27] This set the stage for a series of meetings between Adams and Hume leading, in 1993, to a joint agreement which included two key provisions:
As leaders of our respective parties we have told each other that we see the task of reaching agreement on a peaceful and democratic accord for all on this island as our primary challenge. We both recognise that such a new agreement is only achievable and viable if it can earn and enjoy the allegiance of the different traditions on this island, by accommodating diversity and providing for national reconciliation.[28] (emphasis added)
The discussions between Sinn Fein and the SDLP took place in parallel with secret discussions between Sinn Fein and the British government.[29] This signal from Sinn Fein (and thus implicitly from the IRA itself) helped trigger a series of events — including the Downing Street Declaration and the decision by Clinton to grant Adams a visa to visit the United States, both discussed below — that were crucial to the 1998 Agreement. Most importantly, they led to the IRA ceasefire of 1994. Although this was not the first announced ceasefire, and although it did not last (the 1996 Canary Wharf bombing brought it to an end), it was seen both then and subsequently as a decisive shift in the trajectory of the conflict. Sinn Fein’s turn toward taking a political approach was, in part, a response to the improved prospect that its goal of unification might be achieved through peaceful means. It may also be attributed to backlash against IRA violence and Sinn Fein’s continued electoral difficulties.[30] One of the key barriers to including Sinn Fein in the peace process was the nature of its ties to the IRA, the paramilitary organization responsible for most of the attacks on British and Ulster security forces and loyalist paramilitaries, as well as a number of high-visibility attacks in England, including a failed assassination attempt on Prime Minister Margaret Thatcher that killed one of her aides. The exact nature of the ties between the two groups was (and remains) hotly disputed, both in the lead-up to the Agreement and its implementation. Sinn Fein leaders always insisted that the two were separate and that Sinn Fein could not speak for the IRA.[31] To some extent, this was a kind of deniability designed to give the IRA flexibility to explore what was possible using Sinn Fein as a “cut out”  to explore possible outcomes of the negotiations without actually committing the IRA to accepting the political route.[32] At the same time, there is good reason to believe that at crucial moments the Sinn Fein leadership did not have sufficient clout within the IRA to bring about Sinn Fein’s preferred outcomes, particularly on the issue of the IRA decommissioning its arms.[33] But here, too, it is impossible to rule out the judgment that this was a familiar negotiating ploy designed to persuade the other parties (unionists, Dublin, London, and Washington) that Sinn Fein had reached the end of its flexibility. Reg Empey, a key Ulster Unionist Party negotiator and unionist member of parliament, called the argument that Sinn Fein and the IRA were distinct a “charade.”[34] The Unionist/Protestant Parties The dominant Protestant party in Northern Ireland for much of the 20th century was the Ulster Unionist Party (UUP), which, as the name makes clear, had as its central tenet preserving the union with the United Kingdom. Led from the mid-1970s to the mid-1990s by James Molyneux, a strong figure who served as a member of parliament in Westminster, the UUP held uncompromising attitudes on the important issues facing Ulster: It opposed greater involvement and a greater voice for Catholics through power sharing in Ulster institutions (including in the short-lived provincial parliament, created in 1973), reforming the Royal Ulster Constabulary (seen by many Catholics as a sectarian force), and giving the Republic of Ireland a role in Northern Ireland affairs.[35] Although the UUP had strong ties to the Conservative (Tory) Party in Great Britain, there were also tensions, stemming from history, cultural differences, and economics, as well as an abiding fear that unionism was more important to the UUP (and Northern Ireland Protestants generally) than it was to Tories. This fear was stoked by the Anglo-Irish Agreement of 1985, which opened the possibility that Ulster’s ties to the United Kingdom could be sacrificed through the political process.[36] The 1990 statement by Northern Ireland Secretary of State Peter Brooke that “The British government has no selfish strategic or economic interest in Northern Ireland” further stoked these fears.[37] [quote id="2"] This unionist anxiety about depending on Westminster to protect their interests led to increasing unionist focus on autonomy and self-governance for Northern Ireland, in contrast to the arguments of “integrationists” like Enoch Powell, who argued that Ulster should be governed directly from Westminster, no different than the rest of the United Kingdom.[38] Some unionists placed their hopes on Tory Prime Minister John Major’s dependence on the votes of unionist members of parliament to maintain his parliamentary majority following the 1992 elections. That hope was undercut first by Major’s decision to support the Anglo-Irish “Frameworks” document of 1996, seen by unionists as a sellout to the Irish, and later by Labour’s victory in 1997. The unionists’ desire to achieve greater control over their destiny played a crucial role in the final decision to accept the 1998 Agreement, as Empey later explained:
We had been dying death by a thousand cuts for 30 years. Unionism had been excluded from the decision-making process since 1972. Throughout that period, direct rule [by the U.K. government in London] had worked against Unionism. Policy decisions had been taken on a whole range of issues that were not in the interest of Unionism.[39]
The growing focus on autonomy as a way to protect unionist/Protestant interests in Northern Ireland played an important role in the rise of David Trimble as the head of the UUP. Although Trimble had a long history in unionist politics, he was largely overshadowed by other prominent UUP leaders, both among unionist members of parliament and constituency figures. His involvement in the Drumcree Orange Order parade in 1995 propelled his rise to the top, burnishing his apparently hardline unionist credentials by ostentatiously defying the British attempt to limit a Protestant parade through a Catholic neighborhood.[40] This association helped sustain his credibility with unionists, who, during the negotiations, were required to abandon traditional “red lines,” including participating in talks with Sinn Fein in 1997 without prior decommissioning and, ultimately, signing the 1998 Agreement without decommissioning. Although Trimble secured a majority of his party’s council in support of the Agreement, the decision triggered a split within the UUP and ultimately contributed to the UUP’s electoral eclipse by the Democratic Unionist Party (DUP). The second leading party on the unionist side was the DUP, formed in the 1970s. Led by the fiery Presbyterian minister, Reverend Ian Paisley, the DUP was even more rigid in rejecting any accommodation with either the nationalists in Northern Ireland (especially through power sharing) or with the Irish government in the South. The DUP largely boycotted the peace negotiations, in part because it insisted on a complete and credible renunciation of violence and prior decommissioning before sitting down with any of the parties linked to paramilitaries (republican or loyalist). Ironically, following the Agreement, the longest period of stable devolved government in Northern Ireland came during a time when the DUP shared power with Sinn Fein (2010–17).[41] The other key parties on the Protestant/unionist side were those associated with the loyalist paramilitaries. They were, in many respects, the counterparts of Sinn Fein/the IRA. These included the Progressive Unionist Party, headed by David Ervine and associated with the paramilitary Ulster Volunteer Force, and the Ulster Democratic Party, headed by Gary McMichael and associated with the Ulster Defence Association. Although the loyalists were, during the 1970s and 1980s, the most militant of the Protestant groups, they also suffered the most from the fighting — and their decision, much like that of the IRA, to turn from violence to political negotiations gave significant momentum to the peace process. The first evidence of this new orientation emerged in the form of a split between the two principal loyalist groups, the Ulster Defense Association, which remained committed to violence, and the Ulster Volunteer Force, which began to advocate for negotiations. Ultimately, both groups declared a ceasefire shortly after the IRA ceasefire of Aug. 31, 1994, and, in the ensuing years, became an important advocacy group within the Protestant/unionist movement at difficult moments in the negotiations.[42] Non-Sectarian Involvement The Alliance Party was founded in 1970 as a pro-union, but non-sectarian, party. The Alliance was the only political party that sought votes from both the nationalist and unionist constituencies.[43] It received an estimated seven to 10 percent of the vote in the 1980s and 1990s and it participated in the Northern Ireland Forum (from which the participants in the negotiations for the 1998 Agreement were chosen) and won six seats in the first Northern Ireland Assembly election. Its leader, Lord John Alderdice, was an active participant in the all-party negotiation. One Alliance official later described the party’s contribution as a “weathervane” — making sure that proposals were neither too pro-union nor too pro-nationalist and advocating for the integrity of the process, particularly the commitment to exclusively peaceful means.[44] Civil Society Groups A variety of civil society organizations functioned as peace advocates and ultimately were involved in the talks that led to the Agreement through the election of representatives from the Northern Ireland Women’s Coalition to the Northern Ireland Forum and, as a result, the formal peace talks. These groups frequently complained that their representatives were excluded from key discussions, both formal and informal. It is hard to assess their specific impact on the signing of the 1998 Agreement. To some extent, they represented a concrete expression of underlying public sentiment, which yearned for an end to the violence, that would have had an impact on the traditional political leaders even in the absence of the groups’ formal participation in the talks. Some analysts have argued that civil society organizations contributed by acting as honest brokers, broadening the agenda, and building public support for the Agreement’s subsequent ratification and that their involvement helped make the Agreement more durable.[45] Skeptics like Fred Halliday, however, have challenged the importance of civil society in the Northern Ireland peace process:
[W]hen it comes to internal conditions, the central issue remains the intentions of the main military and political players….Protest, denunciation, scorn may play a role, but this is not enough to sway the ‘hard’ men and women….it comes through a decision by the nasty people that it is, at that particular moment, more advantageous to pursue peace than war.[46]
Religious leaders were involved at various stages of the peace process, beginning as early as the 1960s, though as institutions they largely resorted to exhortation. Individual clergy, notably one Catholic priest, Father Alec Reid, did at times play a significant role.[47] The referendum that followed the signing of the Agreement revealed the differences between the two communities — while virtually all nationalists/Catholics voted to approve the Agreement, only about half of unionists voted “yes.” In the subsequent decision to go into government without decommissioning, the UUP ruling council split 58-42. But even on the Catholic side, a small splinter maximalist group, the “Real IRA,” continued to oppose the Agreement, including through the use of violence. The Governments The British Government During the early years of the Troubles, the British government’s strategy centered around a strong commitment to the “union” and a conviction that peace could only be achieved through a tough security posture. This approach was crystallized when Edward Heath’s Tories replaced the Labour government of Harold Wilson in 1970.[48] In an attempt to quell the violence, in 1972 Heath abolished the Protestant-dominated Parliament of Northern Ireland, known as the “Stormont” Assembly,[49] which had exercised limited self-government in Northern Ireland since partition. In 1973, the British government proposed a new approach, the Sunningdale Agreement, returning most of the previous powers (other than security) to a reformed Northern Ireland Assembly, which would take decisions under a power-sharing arrangement between unionists and nationalists. Sunningdale also included a role for the Republic of Ireland in the form of North-South bodies designed to foster cooperation across the island. Each of these elements were to feature prominently, 25 years later, in the 1998 Agreement. While Sunningdale was narrowly embraced by the UUP under its leader Brian Faulkner (as well as by the SDLP), grass roots unionist opposition crushed the agreement and pushed Faulkner from his leadership role. Heath’s successor, Conservative Prime Minister Margaret Thatcher, was strongly unionist both by personal inclination and by Tory politics. Her hardline instincts were reinforced by the 1984 IRA attack on the Tory party conference in Brighton in which she narrowly escaped and a key advisor was killed.[50] Nonetheless, Thatcher’s decision to conclude the 1985 Anglo-Irish Agreement without consulting unionist leaders was, in retrospect, a pivotal moment toward launching the peace process. Although her goal was to gain Irish support for a tougher crackdown on the IRA, her willingness to accept an Irish role in Northern Ireland affairs stunned unionists and helped fuel a sense that devolution (regional self-government) and power-sharing, rather than dependence on Westminster, was a more reliable means of protecting unionist interests. Thatcher’s successor, John Major, was less personally wedded to unionism, and some credit him with making the major decisions — including the Downing Street Declaration and the Anglo-Irish Frameworks document[51] — that ultimately led to the 1998 peace agreement. Major indisputably demonstrated considerable courage in engaging with his Irish counterparts (and indirectly with the IRA). But these actions further deepened unionist suspicions, and Major’s dependence on unionist votes for holding onto his parliamentary majority constrained his room to maneuver, which led him to emphasize a permanent cessation of violence and prior arms decommissioning as pre-conditions for Sinn Fein entering peace talks, tests that nearly collapsed the process. It was thus somewhat ironic that the 1997 election of Prime Minister Tony Blair, from the more traditionally “green” Labour Party, helped pave the way for the 1998 Agreement. Although unionists historically mistrusted Labour, Thatcher’s and Major’s actions had damaged unionist faith in the Tories. Moreover, during his first weeks in office, Blair made a major effort to demonstrate his support for the “consent” principle, which was fundamental to the unionist approach.[52] In addition, Blair’s broad support for devolution (for Scotland and Wales as well as Northern Ireland) helped ease unionist fears that self-government for Northern Ireland was a first step toward leaving the Union or being given second-class status within the United Kingdom. The Irish Government The issue of Northern Ireland has played an outsized role in Irish politics. The identities of the major political parties in the South were built on their approach to unification. Fianna Fail, the party of Eamon de Valera, rejected the partition of Ireland and the continued ties to the Irish crown in the 1921 Anglo-Irish Treaty, which created the Irish Free State. Fine Gael was the heir of Michael Collins and the pro-Treaty forces, who acquiesced in the exclusion of the six northern countries from the Irish Free State. Fianna Fail’s subsequent 1932 electoral triumph led to the enshrinement of a constitutional claim (in the 1937 Constitution) of sovereignty over the entire island of Ireland, a key point of contention in the 1998 negotiations until the very end. Fine Gael, by contrast, took a much harder anti-IRA line, opposing direct talks with Sinn Fein or the IRA. Although the centrality of the Northern Ireland issue came, over time, to define the two parties less and less, there remained a perception that Fianna Fail was more nationalist. This was reflected in the approach of Fianna Fail Taoiseach Charles Haughey and, later, Albert Reynolds (who replaced Haughey in 1992), who worked hard to get Sinn Fein into the peace process. By contrast, Fine Gael Taoiseach John Bruton (1995–97) took a tougher line on decommissioning that was much closer to the British view and was considered more sympathetic to the unionist view on the importance of consent.[53] [quote id="3"] Initially, the elevation of Fianna Fail’s Bertie Ahearn in 1997 seemed to presage a throwback to greater support for more maximalist demands of Sinn Fein and the SDLP, although Ahearn made gestures designed to reassure unionists.[54] This more traditional Fianna Fail approach was reflected in the draft agreement Blair and Ahearn presented to the peace conference in the crucial final days of negotiation, which leaned heavily toward the nationalists’ insistence on strong and quasi-independent North-South institutions. The tabling of this draft nearly caused the talks to collapse. However, in the face of unionist revolt, Ahearn agreed, against the advice of his aides, to radically dilute these provisions in order to secure unionist agreement — a decision which has led some to nominate Ahearn as yet another candidate for the “indispensable actor” award.[55] The United States Two competing forces shaped U.S. policy toward Northern Ireland during the early years of the Troubles. On the one hand, the United States and the United Kingdom shared a strong political bond, with historic roots reinforced by the Cold War. These ties inclined Washington to defer to London on what the United Kingdom saw as a domestic conflict. Pulling in the opposite direction was a large and active Irish Catholic diaspora that sympathized with the plight of the Catholics in Northern Ireland. Irish Americans were largely in favor of Irish unification, though divided between those who came to support Sinn Fein/the IRA (IRA sympathizers in the United States provided substantial financial and material support to the group)[56] and those who opposed violence and supported the SDLP. The latter group had strong adherents in the U.S. Congress (including leaders such as House Speaker Tip O’Neill and Sen. Ted Kennedy) but the executive branch largely prioritized U.S.-U.K. ties. Clinton had no prior involvement in the issue before taking office, but, in an unscripted moment during the presidential campaign, indicated his openness to granting a U.S. visa to Adams, who had been denied entry in the past because of his links to the IRA.[57] As a result, unionists were apprehensive when Clinton was elected. Despite the campaign statement and the presence on Clinton’s National Security Council staff of former Kennedy aide Nancy Soderberg, during his first months in office, Clinton initially adopted the pro-British line of the State Department, which opposed granting Adams a visa without the IRA first renouncing violence. But in January 1994, Clinton decided to grant the visa at the urging of Irish Taoiseach Reynolds, members of Congress (including Kennedy, who himself changed his position at the urging of Hume), and Clinton’s White House staff. Clinton had been persuaded that it was more likely to achieve an IRA ceasefire by granting the visa without pre-condition, a judgment that seemed to be vindicated by the IRA ceasefire in August 1994, although at the time Major was furious with Clinton.[58] U.S. involvement following the issuance of the visa followed two tracks. First, there was an effort to promote economic development and investment in Northern Ireland to demonstrate the benefits peace could confer to both communities.[59] This was followed by more direct diplomacy through the appointment of former Senator George Mitchell to lead the negotiations and Clinton’s own personal involvement. During his dramatic visit to Belfast at Christmas 1995, Clinton went out of his way to emphasize his consultations with Trimble, leading one former unionist member of parliament, Roy Bradford, to observe at the time that the visit “significantly changed the feeling among unionists that the American agenda is exclusively nationalist.”[60] Clinton’s willingness to lend support to unionist positions came into play again in the peace process end game, when, in a phone call with Trimble, Clinton backed up Blair’s commitment to “bring down” the power-sharing agreement if the IRA did not begin decommissioning following Sinn Fein’s entry into government.

The Peace Process

The Formal Process During the early 1990s, momentum began to build for launching a formal peace process for the first time since the failed Sunningdale conference of 1973. Initial talks began in 1991 (the inter-party or Brooke-Mayhew talks) involving the moderate parties — the two main unionist parties (the UUP and DUP), the SDLP, and the Alliance Party — and excluding the parties associated with the paramilitaries — Sinn Fein and the loyalist parties. The British government began a secret back channel dialogue with Sinn Fein in 1990 but the initiative failed and was shelved in 1993 because the British government insisted on a permanent end to violence as a condition of Sinn Fein’s participation in the peace process.[61] Following a wave of violence in October 1993, and with talks on the brink of collapse, the governments of the United Kingdom and the Republic of Ireland issued the Downing Street Declaration in December 1993. The declaration addressed a number of the key principles to govern any settlement and opened the door for Sinn Fein to participate in formal talks following a renunciation of violence, including a “handing over of arms.”[62] In response, the IRA, in August 1994, announced “a complete cessation of military operations,” but the two governments insisted that the action was insufficient and that the IRA had to commit to a permanent renunciation of violence and arms decommissioning to participate in negotiations. In an effort to break the stalemate, the two governments established an international body, chaired by Mitchell, to look into the decommissioning issue. The group produced a report that concluded that the IRA/Sinn Fein would never accept decommissioning as a pre-condition,[63] but proposed instead that all parties be required to affirm a set of principles (“the Mitchell Principles”), which included, inter alia, a commitment to total disarmament. The report provided the British government a way out of the decommissioning stalemate, and the governments in London and Dublin announced that they would convene talks in June 1996 that would be open to all parties that accepted the Mitchell Principles (but without a decommissioning pre-condition). They did insist that the IRA restore its ceasefire (which the group had broken in February 1996) in order for Sinn Fein to participate, which happened in 1997. The process of selecting delegates was a complex formula based on elections to a Northern Ireland Forum for Political Dialogue. Delegates to the negotiations were chosen by members of the forum in a way that ensured the negotiations would be dominated by the major parties but would also guarantee the participation of smaller parties, including those associated with the loyalist paramilitaries, as well as women, Labour, and the Alliance Party.[64] The process included arrangements for expelling any party that violated the conditions of entry. The hardline unionists (the DUP and the United Kingdom Union Party) walked out at the outset, in part, in protest of the selection of Mitchell to chair the negotiations. But the UUP stayed in, partially because it didn’t trust the British government to protect its interests.[65] The hardline unionists walked out again when Sinn Fein was admitted to the talks in July 1997. Mitchell believes that their absence gave the moderate UUP room to negotiate, and that, had they stayed, an agreement might not have been possible.[66] The talks were divided into three strands: The first, chaired by the United Kingdom, was focused on governance issues for Northern Ireland. The second strand was focused on relations between Northern Ireland and the Republic, and was chaired by Mitchell and Harri Holkeri, a former Finnish prime minister.[67] The third was focused on Irish-U.K. relations, and was chaired by the two countries’ governments. Decisions were taken on the basis of “sufficient consensus.” For Strands Two and Three, this required a majority of each side (unionist and nationalist) separately, plus an overall majority of all delegates, as well as agreement by the two governments. Strand One had similar requirements, except the Irish government had no vote.[68] This arrangement meant that, at least theoretically, the UUP and SDLP could do a deal without either Sinn Fein or the DUP. Blair and Adams met following Sinn Fein’s entry into the talks, the first time a Sinn Fein leader had met with a British prime minister in 76 years.[69] The negotiations were protracted and by late 1997 were largely at a stalemate. This was followed by a rash of sectarian killings, which threatened to derail the process.[70] In January 1998, the British and Irish governments tabled a short document that had been negotiated with Trimble.[71] In March 1998, Mitchell announced a deadline of April 9 for conclusion of the talks. The choice of date was not entirely arbitrary, as the legislation that established the forum was due to expire in May 1998.[72] In addition, Mitchell believed that the agreement had to be completed, and a ratifying referendum held, before the “marching season” in July, a time of high tensions in Northern Ireland.[73] The parties reached an agreement on Good Friday, April 10, 1998, after side interventions by Blair (in the form of a written letter) and Clinton (in the form of a telephone call with Trimble) designed to assure the unionists that the agreement would not be implemented if the IRA failed to move forward with decommissioning. All told, the formal talks lasted 21 months. The Informal Negotiations The formal peace process unfolded in parallel with a complex set of inter-related secret and informal negotiations. These included talks between the British and Irish governments; between the British and Sinn Fein/the IRA; and between the Irish and various parties, including Sinn Fein, the SDLP, and the unionists. They also included dialogue that took place in Washington in connection with various parties’ visits to the United States and frequent contacts in Northern Ireland between U.S. diplomats and all the Northern Ireland parties.[74] Notably, there were almost no secret negotiations between the Northern Ireland parties themselves, with the notable exception of the Hume-Adams dialogue in the late 1980s. The secret talks allowed the parties to escape the pre-conditions barriers that impeded public dialogue with “terrorists,” but at the same time, the periodic exposure of the secret talks did pose challenges to the governments’ credibility and angered the moderate parties who felt their anti-violence stance was undermined by the governments’ willingness to negotiate with parties associated with active paramilitaries. The Agreement and Its Aftermath The Agreement mirrored the three-strand approach of the negotiations. Strand One established the Northern Ireland Assembly and Executive. “Key decisions” could only be taken by “cross-community” consent defined as:
  1. either parallel consent, i.e., a majority of those members present and voting, including a majority of the unionist and nationalist designations present and voting; or
  2. a weighted majority (60 percent) of members present and voting, including at least 40 percent of each of the nationalist and unionist designations present and voting.
The Executive is run by the first minister and deputy first minister, jointly elected on a cross-community basis under the same rules for making key decisions in the Assembly. The jurisdiction of the devolved government was initially based on areas previously within the scope of the Northern Ireland government departments but could be enlarged with the approval of the Northern Ireland Assembly. Strand Two represented the North-South dimension: It created the North–South Ministerial Council and the North–South Implementation Bodies. The Agreement provided three different mechanisms for “all-island” actions: through the adoption of common policies, through coordinated policies implemented separately by the Northern Ireland and Irish governments, and through actions by North-South “implementation bodies.” To provide nationalists some confidence that the North-South dimension would not be subject to a unionist veto, the Agreement provided that the council had to agree on at least 12 “matters” for cooperation through cross-border institutions, drawn from a list of permissible subjects.[75] [quote id="4"] Strand Three established the East-West dimension: the British-Irish Council and the British-Irish Intergovernmental Conference. The council consists of the two national governments plus the devolved governments of Northern Ireland, Scotland, and Wales, with a focus on “practical co-operation” on issues within the competence of the devolved governments, while the intergovernmental conference involves only the two national governments and was designed to give the Irish government a voice on non-devolved issues, in particular, security issues. The Agreement resolved the constitutional issues by enshrining the principle of consent: opening the prospect of unification with the South but only with the consent of a majority of the North. The Republic of Ireland agreed to amend its constitution to eliminate claims to sovereignty over the North,[76] while the British government repealed the 1920 Government of Ireland Act, which, in fact, provided a British veto over the status of Northern Ireland. The Agreement protected the option of dual citizenship for residents of Northern Ireland, irrespective of whether, in the future, Northern Ireland remained in the United Kingdom or became part of Ireland. It additionally included human rights provisions that specifically addressed some of the major Catholic concerns, including the establishment of a Northern Ireland Human Rights Commission. There were also hortatory provisions on issues such as economic development and linguistic diversity. The Agreement largely sidestepped several of the substantive issues underlying the conflict. Although recognizing the importance of reconciliation and the need to address victims of violence, the Agreement established no mechanisms for this purpose. It deferred to subsequent decisions by the Independent International Commission on Decommissioning on matters relating to the timing and modalities of decommissioning.[77] Similarly, the parties deferred to a newly created Independent Commission on Policing with regard to questions of policing and justice. Finally, the Agreement included no timetable for the withdrawal of British security forces and emergency powers. The implementation of the Agreement has faced significant challenges over the past two decades.[78] During the first decade following the signing of the Agreement, the British government twice had to restore direct rule, in 2000 and 2002, the second time for a period of five years. The first devolved government was led by the moderate parties (the UUP and SDLP) but subsequent elections have promoted Sinn Fein and the DUP to the fore. On the plus side, paramilitary violence has largely disappeared, though dissident groups remain a threat, and the British no longer play a direct security role. For an extended period following the Hillsborough Agreement (2010), when the two communities finally agreed on important issues not addressed in the 1998 Agreement (especially policing and criminal justice), the institutions were functioning reasonably well. The Northern Ireland economy received a significant boost in the first decade following the Agreement, notably in lowered unemployment rates. Since the 2008­–09 recession, growth has been much lower, but comparable to the rest of the United Kingdom.[79] Notably, the difference in unemployment rates between Catholics and Protestants has narrowed dramatically. But political scandal in 2017 led to institutional paralysis, which remains unresolved.[80] Inter-communal mistrust remains high, and volatile issues including language, parades, and symbols continue to be flash points. Despite intensive discussions since the Agreement was signed, there is still no agreed mechanism to address historical legacy issues. Brexit further complicates the prospects for the future. The DUP supported Brexit while a modest overall majority — 56 percent — opposed it. Sinn Fein has called Brexit “the most serious threat in the history of the peace process.”[81]

Who and What Made the Agreement Possible?

We are now in a position to take on the difficult question of judging the importance of three factors — circumstance, people, and process — in achieving the 1998 Agreement. There has been considerable debate about and attention given to the importance of individuals to the successful conclusion of the Agreement. Many of the participants themselves are quite explicit in crediting the efforts of individuals. For example, in an article written after the signing of the Agreement, Trimble singled out Blair, Ahearn, and Mitchell for credit.[82] Mitchell, in turn, focused on Blair and Ahearn,[83] as well as David Ervine, head of the Progressive Unionist Party.[84] Analysts, too, have weighed in, crediting, inter alia, Adams, Major, and Reynolds.[85] One well-connected BBC commentator later claimed that Father Alec Reid’s role was “absolutely critical” to the peace process.[86] In addition, analysts have focused on the personal relationships between key actors in the peace process, both positive and negative, as well as lack of relationships, as important factors. For example, Clinton’s strong ties with Blair facilitated coordination, in contrast with his frosty relationship with Major. Major’s strong personal relationship with Irish Taoiseach Albert Reynolds contributed to their ability to manage the sharp substantive differences between the two countries’ priorities.[87] Indeed, many assessments of why the process succeeded focus on trust-building exercises such as the extended Adam-Hume dialogue of 1988–93 and the decision to move the talks from Northern Ireland to the U.S. ambassador’s residence in London after the Agreement was signed but before it was implemented (providing a sharp contrast with tensions arising from the lack of personal contact or direct talks between the parties during the negotiations that produced the Agreement).[88] Clinton’s various meetings — with Trimble in Belfast during his 1995 visit and with all the key leaders during the annual St. Patrick’s Day events in Washington D.C. — and especially his close ties with Blair, all seem to have contributed to the successful outcome as well. But subsequent difficulties with implementing the Agreement raise questions about just how much trust was generated, and, therefore, how much it might have contributed to the Agreement in the first place. Of course, there is no definitive answer to the agency question, to the counterfactual “but for” claim.[89] There seems little doubt, for example, that Adams’ belief in the efficacy of political action rather than violence and Trimble’s willingness to engage in power sharing represented breaks from the past that were staunchly opposed by others in their parties until the very end (and beyond). At the same time, the two men’s rise to positions of power reflected broader forces. In the case of Sinn Fein/the IRA, Adams’ interest in pursuing a political solution was strengthened by the public backlash against violence, particularly after British security forces withdrew from the front lines. Indeed, it can be argued that Adams only turned to the political solution once the “ballot box and Armalite” strategy had failed. For Trimble, political changes at Westminster, which had nothing to do with Northern Ireland, left Northern Ireland’s unionists more isolated and dependent on themselves to protect their interests through devolution. In that sense, both Adams and Trimble had the fortune of being at the right place at the right time to assume leadership. Similarly, those who would give the laurel to Blair and Ahearn can argue that they succeeded in achieving, in relatively short time, what Major and his various Irish counterparts failed to accomplish. Yet, it is also possible to argue that what constrained Major, and what empowered Blair, was the size of the parliamentary majority — a fact that had little or nothing to do with their Northern Ireland policies.[90] Major has also been singled out for his willingness to engage both with Dublin and Sinn Fein, but here, too, his choices were highly constrained. While the security strategy had blunted the IRA’s efforts, there was widespread belief within British security circles (parallel to thinking in Sinn Fein) that force alone could not bring the conflict to an end. One way to try to answer this question of agency is to examine SDLP leader Seamus Mallon’s widely-quoted aphorism that the 1998 Agreement was “Sunningdale for slow learners.”[91] The implication of his statement is that, had “faster” learners been around in 1973–74, power sharing and North-South cooperation based on the principle of consent might have succeeded much earlier and the war might have ended much sooner.[92] Yet, it is hard to see in the context of the violence of the first years of the Troubles that there was much that unionist leader Brian Faulkner, or any other unionist leader, could have done to rally unionist support for power sharing, or that a different British prime minister (much less a different Taoiseach), through force or guile, could have countered the ferocious unionist opposition to the Sunningdale agreement. Similarly, it is difficult to see who within the IRA could have carried the day in favor of accepting the legitimacy of a reconstituted Northern Ireland Assembly and the unionist veto over Irish unification. (It is notable that Adams himself was propelled into a leadership role by his critique of the IRA’s 1975 ceasefire.)[93] Finally, there seems to have been no plausible Tory leader (much less one from Labour) who could have pushed the deal through over the violent unionist opposition. In other words, Sunningdale failed, not because of poor leadership (or “slow learners”), but because circumstances were not propitious for an agreement that embodied the key principles of consent, power sharing, and cross-border institutions. Put another way, the structural changes that were just beginning to work themselves out following the onset of the Troubles were a necessary condition to the acceptance of the framework that was on offer, but they were rejected by both Sinn Fein/the IRA and the unionists in 1973. [quote id="5"] At the same time, it is possible to imagine that the 1998 Agreement might have failed. It is plausible that crucial decisions in the run-up to the Agreement might have gone a different way — Ahearn’s decision to revise the agreement he had reached only days before on the North-South institutions, Trimble’s willingness to accept Blair’s promise on decommissioning, or Mitchell’s decision to impose a firm deadline. In other words, the structural forces may have been necessary, but alone they were insufficient to account for the fact that the Agreement happened when it did, in the precise shape that it took. Of course, all of the central actors faced considerable constraints on their freedom of action. For example, Trimble spent an extraordinary amount of time and effort dealing with internal dissension within his party, and on several occasions was forced to renegotiate after finding that he could not sell a proposed deal to them. Adams, too, emphasized the constraints he faced from other leaders and the rank and file.[94] Even Hume faced internal dissension when he launched his dialogue with Adams. It is reasonable to assert that these protestations also reflected a well-known negotiating tactic — “My hands are tied.” But it is also true that many of these leaders made important choices along the way that built sufficient credibility with their constituents to give them the necessary leeway. This was dramatically illustrated following the brutal IRA attack on a loyalist headquarters in Belfast’s Shankill Road on Oct. 13, 1993. Adams’ appearance as a pall bearer at the funeral of one of the IRA gunmen led many to believe that his action would kill any hopes for making progress toward peace. Yet, two months later, Adams used his credibility with the IRA to persuade its Army Council not to reject publicly the Downing Street Declaration, issued just two months after the bombing. Both governments later acknowledged that Adams’ failure to participate in the funeral would have irreparably damaged his credibility with the IRA.[95] More broadly, Adams and McGuinness demonstrated extraordinary dexterity in managing the almost unimaginable process of bringing the IRA leadership to accept the unthinkable changes in republican orthodoxy embodied in the 1998 Agreement. Similarly, Northern Ireland Secretary of State Mo Mowlam’s audacious decision in January 1998 to meet with the loyalist prisoners at the Maze Prison is frequently credited with saving the process, despite the outcry of the UUP.[96] Even Trimble’s notorious “dance” with the DUP’s Ian Paisley at Drumcree can be seen in this light.[97] As Martin Mansergh, senior advisor to several Fianna Fail Taoiseachs during the peace process, observed, “the thin centrist strand made a valuable contribution but was not nearly strong enough to support a settlement on its own.”[98] The inclusion of parties associated with hard-line positions complicated their interactions with each other and with the governments but strengthened their legitimacy with their bases when the time came to do a deal. This argues strongly for the importance of individual choice. Perhaps the best way to characterize the role of agency is to say that circumstance dealt each of the major players a reasonably favorable hand which facilitated agreement, but that each played the hand quite skillfully.[99] Each saw, earlier than many others, the path forward that led to the Agreement. It is certainly possible to imagine that others who might plausibly have been in their place — even those who shared the same basic approach to the conflict — might not have sealed the deal when it came about. At the same time, the very fact that the Agreement ultimately found implementation through a pact that featured Paisley as first minister is a reflection of the power of the forces pushing to end the fighting. Agency played an important role in the timing and precise terms of the Agreement, but arguably a much less significant one in the broader turn away from violence. A similar analysis applies to assessing the role of process — both formal and informal — in ultimately reaching the Agreement. At its core, the most significant feature of the process was the focus on inclusivity,[100] especially the controversial decision to involve the parties associated with the paramilitaries before they unequivocally and demonstrably renounced violence, rather than seeking to achieve an agreement involving only the “constitutional” parties. From the early days of the Troubles through the early 1990s, both the British and Irish governments had pursued a different approach, seeking to marginalize the paramilitaries and limit the negotiations to the constitutional parties.[101] By almost all assessments, the very presence in the negotiations of individuals strongly associated with the “guns” — McGuinness (Sinn Fein/the IRA), Ervine (Progressive Unionist Party), and Gary McMichael (Ulster Democratic Party) — which caused such heartburn for more traditional political leaders, proved central to bringing about an agreement that would stick. Thus, Major’s reluctant decision to find a way to begin inclusive talks following the Mitchell report proved vital. A related feature of the process that was instrumental was the sequencing — the willingness to move the process forward without a firm commitment to a permanent ceasefire and at least initial steps toward the paramilitary groups decommissioning their arms. The decision to move from pre-conditions to “conditions subsequent” was another feature that distinguished this negotiation from the Sunningdale agreement and unblocked the stalemate that plagued the process during most of the Major years. The decision seems vindicated not only by the successful conclusion of the negotiations, but also by the subsequent IRA decommissioning and the relative low level of defection by dissatisfied members of the paramilitaries. It is not hard to imagine that a deal done by the SDLP and the UUP alone might have met serious resistance from the IRA and the loyalists, though of course, the declining effectiveness of violence, apparent by the late 1980s, might have tempered the scale and duration of the backlash. At the same time, the inclusion of such diverse perspectives had an impact on the content of the Agreement in two important respects. First, the parties’ mutual suspicions drove them toward a consociational model that blocked vetoes. This reduced the risk of either party being outvoted and thus made the Agreement more palatable to their respective constituencies.[102] But this came at the cost of possible paralysis. Left on their own, an agreement involving only the UUP and SDLP might well have tilted the balance toward a more flexible approach. Second, the deep divisions even within the two camps led the parties to defer important decisions on key substantive issues ranging from the future of policing to the role of the North-South bodies, setting the stage for the predictable crises that followed. A number of commentators have focused on the role of civil society in bringing about the Agreement, both as an outside force pressing the parties and as formal participants in the negotiations. It is difficult to assess how much the grass roots peace movement helped to build opposition to violence and thus facilitate the paramilitaries’ decision to give it up. Peace groups had been active throughout the Troubles, for example, in the women’s movement in the 1980s, with only limited success in bringing an end to the fighting. Several commentators have focused on the formal role of civil society organizations in the process. Maria Power, for example, concludes that “the negotiations leading up to the agreement demonstrated the centrality the peacebuilding or community-relations sector had in conflict resolution.”[103] Others give more measured judgments: “[W]hile the contribution of the [civil] sector was not crucial to the eventual outcome of the political negotiations in 1998, it was nonetheless positive and significant.”[104] These assertions are difficult to assess, most importantly because the formal process itself was relatively less important compared with the proliferation of secret channels and private negotiations, which excluded civil society. Other features of the process seem less consequential. On the whole, the formal processes, especially the Stormont negotiations, played a very modest role at best. The combination of the setting, which was sterile and forbidding,[105] and the parties’ unwillingness to deal with each other face-to-face in public settings, relegated the formal sessions to play acting, mostly designed to reassure the parties’ constituents that they were holding fast to their uncompromising positions. Even in private, the parties rarely engaged with each other directly. This accentuated the importance of the governments (primarily the United Kingdom and Ireland, but, at critical moments, the United States as well) and Mitchell as go-betweens. Much has been written about the role of Mitchell and his two colleagues as third-party mediators. On the substance of the negotiations themselves, the three chairs played relatively modest roles compared with the British and Irish governments. Indeed, during the crucial final days of the negotiations, Mitchell reluctantly gave the parties a draft proposal on Strand Two, drafted by Blair and Ahearn, against his own judgment since he believed the provisions were anathema to unionists and would torpedo the negotiations.[106] As noted above, much of the negotiations took place outside the formal process, where the role of the three chairs was limited. Nonetheless, Mitchell’s personal integrity, reputation for impartiality, and patience played a valuable role in keeping the negotiations going. Similarly, the availability of the de Chastelain commission as a third-party means of validating decommissioning was critical to its attainment. One area where the formal process arguably did make a difference was the use of deadlines, particularly to bring the negotiations to a conclusion. Mitchell imposed a two-week deadline in March 1998 ahead of marching season, which triggered an intense period of engagement leading to Mitchell’s tabling of a “composite” document on April 6, including the abortive British-Irish proposal on Strand Two, which triggered the final crisis of the negotiations.[107] By contrast, the open-ended nature of the process following the first IRA ceasefire contributed to its breakdown in early 1996.

Lessons for Practitioners: What Does This Mean for Future Peace Negotiations?

The Importance of “Ripeness” and How to Recognize It The experience of Northern Ireland strongly underscores a major factor highlighted in the literature on conflict resolution — the importance of ripeness.[108] The very fact that the parties adopted in 1998 what they had rejected in 1973 strongly suggests that changed circumstances played a critical role. But this observation is of limited value to the practitioner without some guidelines for assessing when circumstances are “ripe.” While policymakers are often limited in what they can do to create the conditions that make a conflict ripe for settlement,[109] it is a vital tool of statecraft to be able to spot an opportunity when it is emerging. It is equally important to understand when a conflict is not ripe for negotiation: It can be argued that the premature effort leading to the Sunningdale agreement in 1973 actually contributed to prolonging the conflict. Should this have been apparent to the British government at the time? One lesson of the Northern Ireland experience is that the secret channels developed in the late 1980s and earlier 1990s played a crucial role in providing the governments and the political parties themselves an opportunity to judge whether the circumstances were ripe for agreement before launching a speculative — and perhaps counterproductive — public negotiation. There were risks involved in secret diplomacy. The desire to preserve secrecy led the governments perilously close to public dishonesty, which, when exposed, endangered their credibility. Nevertheless, the groundwork that this diplomacy laid ultimately reduced the risks that each side took by engaging in the process. These secret contacts allowed the key parties to explore the implications of flexibility and to adapt their positions without the risk of embarrassment if the gambits proved unsuccessful and the other side unforthcoming.[110] [quote id="6"] Some commentators have focused on the idea of “stalemate” as a central characteristic of ripeness. Here, it is true that Sinn Fein had concluded that it could not “bomb” its way to Irish unification. British officials, especially in the security community, similarly concluded that despite the growing efficacy of their efforts in the late 1980s and early 1990s, the IRA could not be “defeated.” Thus, some have argued that the more effective British security policies of the late 1980s and early 1990s worked to create a stalemate ripe for settlement. But it seems unlikely that stalemate by itself would have brought about the 1998 Agreement. The return to violence in the mid-1990s (after the initial ceasefire declaration in 1994), suggests that many in the IRA still considered violence (or at least the threat of violence) an important element of leverage in the negotiations. Similarly, some in the unionist community (dissenters within the UUP as well as the DUP and United Kingdom) were not convinced of the need to compromise. For this reason, I think it is more useful to see the Agreement as a result of the fact that each side could see the agreement as a “win” (at least in relative terms) rather than a product of a stalemate from which they sought to extricate themselves. Another feature of ripeness goes to the question of how the parties assess the impact of the passage of time on their chances of achieving their goals. The parties in this case reached an agreement because their assessments of time converged. The unionists believed that time was not on their side — that demographics and the politics of the United Kingdom were steadily eroding their leverage. So they accepted a power-sharing arrangement, which they had firmly rejected as a matter of principle for decades, and acquiesced in the idea that sovereignty might be transferred from the United Kingdom to the Republic by a popular vote. In return, they got the Republic of Ireland to amend its constitution to repeal its claim of sovereignty over the six counties and secured a more limited form of North-South institutions. Trimble articulated this view in a speech shortly after the conclusion of the Agreement:
A number of responses were possible to the changed situation [the Hume-Adams process leading Sinn Fein to pursue the political track]… . I remember a parliamentary colleague saying…we should revert to saying No all the time… . The important point that I draw from this, generally speaking, is that it is not enough to be passive, to adopt a tactic or an approach that consciously or deliberately leaves the decision in the hands of other people. It is not always the way you like and you can never be certain exactly how it is going to work out.[111]
Sinn Fein, too, was influenced by its assessment of the future. On the one hand, its leaders believed they had extracted most of what they could get from the use of violence. They also feared that they would be unable to sustain the IRA’s ceasefire much longer if they failed to produce a result through negotiations. But they also perceived that by making key concessions (e.g., abandoning their insistence that Britain renounce sovereignty over Northern Ireland and accepting the principle of consent), they could turn the passage of time in their favor by achieving an agreed unification through the ballot box. Thus, both unionists’ fears about the future and republicans’ hopes for it led each side to conclude that this agreement, with all its painful compromises, was better than walking away and taking a chance on the future. This sense of ripeness helps explain why the terrorist attacks that plagued the peace process throughout the 1990s (the IRA Shankill Road bombing in 1993 and the subsequent loyalist revenge attacks or the Canary wharf and Manchester bombings in 1996, for example) did not derail the talks. Once the parties had made the strategic decision to seek peace, violence actually seemed to have served as an impetus rather than a barrier to compromise.[112] Understanding each party’s assessment of the impact of time can help the peacemaker both decide when to intervene and how to use these assessments to achieve an agreement. The Dayton Accords, which ended the Bosnian War, are instructive. It was at the moment that the Serb forces saw the tide of battle turn against them, but before the Bosnians and Croats had the means to defeat the Serbs on their own, that the United States had maximum leverage in bringing about an agreement. The Impact of Process on the Shape of the Outcome Many have held up the process leading to the 1998 Agreement as a model of successful conflict resolution. Whether the process contributed to the success depends, of course, on the definition of success. There is little doubt that the Agreement has led to a decrease in intercommunal violence. Including the paramilitaries made it less likely that they would attack the process or the agreement that the process produced. Equally important, it gave them a stake in taking on dissidents who wanted to challenge the Agreement. Although splinter groups persisted on both the republican and loyalist sides, their impact has been marginal. But this process decision has come at a cost. Because the process helped lead to a consociational agreement that protects the rights of the two communities but deferred tackling many of the underlying sources of conflict (e.g., policing, economic equality, etc.), the peace continues to be fragile, sectarian tensions remain high, and the institutions created by the agreement are barely functional, at best.[113] These concerns were raised by many of the civil society participants during the negotiations, but their voices were marginalized in favor of the priority attached to getting the men with the guns to lay down their arms. In this respect, there are important resemblances to the way in which the Dayton process shaped the substance of the Dayton Accords, which ended the fighting in Bosnia. Both processes included the hard men who had stoked the conflict, resulting in agreements that, in somewhat similar ways, froze sectarian identity in the framework of the settlement and thus perpetuated the underlying conflict. In both cases, hopes that the passage of time and public pressure would lead to an evolution of the political arrangements away from their sectarian roots have been disappointed. Of course, including former paramilitaries in peace negotiations does not guarantee this kind of result. In South Africa, the Africa National Congress party and the apartheid government created more unitary structures in their peace agreement, which included explicit elements of reconciliation. Nonetheless, it seems fair to say that the shape of the peace process in South Africa contributed both to the success of the agreement and its limitations. The lessons of these cases are clear: Practitioners need to consider the potential long-term costs of a peace process that focuses primarily on the short-term goal of ending the fighting. One commentator has called this the choice between a “no more shooting” and “no more fighting” type of agreement.[114] Empowering the Peacemakers The analysis of the role of agency in the Northern Ireland peace process suggests that people do matter. However, the practitioner’s tools for creating “peacemakers” is limited. But practitioners can help support the people who have both the inclination and the capacity to make the choices for peace. Throughout the Northern Ireland peace process, the governments involved made conscious efforts to support those whom they believed wanted to, and were capable of, making the deal — from Clinton granting Adams a visa to his embrace of Trimble during his visit to Belfast, to Mo Mowlam’s visit to the Maze prison to meet with loyalist paramilitaries. Of course, these kinds of efforts require finesse. Sometimes embracing a peacemaker can backfire —arguably Clinton’s support for Shimon Peres after Yitzhak Rabin’s assassination did Peres more harm than good. In Northern Ireland, there was considerable wariness about outside parties — whether from Dublin, London, or Washington — attempting to influence events in Ulster. In some cases, such outside involvement ended up raising suspicions, rather than enhancing the authority those outsiders sought to promote. Third Party Guarantors For the Agreement to work, it was critical for the unionists to believe that, whatever long-term risks they might run in terms of demographics, etc., the IRA’s cessation of violence — and the resort to exclusively peaceful means — was not simply tactical. To some extent, unionists saw decommissioning as reducing the IRA’s capability to return to war. But most recognized that the IRA might easily replace any arms it destroyed. More important was the unionist belief that, because the IRA had so strongly resisted decommissioning in the past, an agreement to decommission was a real sign of peaceful intent. For that very reason, however, the IRA was unwilling to take even modest steps on decommissioning until the deal was complete. [quote id="7"] The success in breaking this stalemate — and the unionists’ ultimate willingness to accept decommissioning as a subsequent condition of the Agreement — highlights the importance of credible interlocutors and third-party guarantors. Only when Blair gave Trimble his personal assurance that he would eject Sinn Fein from the Northern Ireland Executive if the IRA failed to decommission (a commitment reiterated by Clinton in the closing hours), did Trimble agree to go along.[115] The British government had helped earn that credibility through its actions, for example, when Mowlam temporarily ejected Sinn Fein from the talks in February 1998 after a series of killings linked to the IRA, at the risk of collapsing the talks. Trimble’s willingness to accept the procedures for decommissioning depended on the credibility of a report from an independent commission rather than relying on the word of “interested parties.”[116] Sequencing The challenge posed by decommissioning was, perhaps, the most consequential of a recurring set of problems surrounding sequencing. By the early 1990s, the contours of the Agreement had emerged, but issues of sequencing proved a major obstacle to progress. Whether Sinn Fein’s participation in talks should follow or precede a ceasefire or whether Adams’ visa to the United States should be made conditional on a cessation of violence are just two examples. As late as 1995, Northern Ireland Secretary of State Patrick Mayhew’s insistence that some act of decommission precede Sinn Fein’s entry into the talks (even after the IRA had entered into a ceasefire) nearly collapsed the whole project.[117] Willingness to accept a condition subsequent rather than a pre-condition was a major test of how much each side was willing and able to take risks for peace. Sinn Fein, in particular, insisted that it needed prior actions by the British and Irish governments to permit it to move forward. The problem of sequencing in regards to decommissioning returned following the conclusion of the 1998 Agreement, when the question arose of whether decommissioning had to precede Sinn Fein taking its place in the Northern Ireland Executive. This impasse was again resolved in a review conducted by Mitchell, which led to the pre-condition being dropped.[118] As Quentin Thomas, a senior British civil servant, observed, “the question is whether one accentuates the positive and seeks to bring people in when they appear at the door of democracy and want to join talks. Or whether you hold them there and subject them to some examination to see whether their shoes are clean.”[119] Perhaps Clinton’s decision was the easiest, as he had the least to lose if the IRA returned to violence after Adams was issued the visa. But even there Clinton risked causing complications in the U.S.-U.K. relationship. Practitioners face strong pressure to impose pre-conditions to negotiations. They fear that entering into open-ended negotiations may be perceived as a sign of weakness and may subject them to domestic criticism for abandoning important red lines.[120] Yet, the imposition of pre-conditions often becomes a straightjacket, as the other side is unlikely to give up valuable leverage without some confidence in the overall shape of the outcome. The secret negotiations in the lead-up to the Agreement helped reduce the danger that Sinn Fein/the IRA would simply pocket dropping the pre-conditions, but in the end the British and Irish governments understood that the only possibility of reaching an agreement was to take that risk. It was crucial that the governments establish credibility that they would enforce the conditions after the Agreement was signed. Practitioners can draw an important lesson from this on how to avoid the pre-condition trap. Substance The parties involved in the peace process made little effort to resolve the substantive issues that divided them. The constitutional and process issues that formed the heart of the Agreement largely involved broad issues of principles. By contrast, the substantive concerns — policing, criminal justice, social welfare — were areas where the details were as important as the principles. For these kinds of issues, the parties chose to defer resolution by handing the problem to independent commissions (for things like decommissioning and policing), to the Assembly (on devolved issues), and to the British and Irish governments (on non-devolved issues). The last minute snag on Strand Two illustrates the problem of dealing with detail. The Irish government and the nationalists wanted strong substantive commitments on the scope of North-South bodies, but in the end had to settle for broad language and hope that the specifics could be agreed to later.[121] This approach facilitated concluding the Agreement at the expense of littering the landscape with landmines that have continued to dog its implementation. Thus, practitioners face a choice in deciding whether to tackle detailed issues of substance similar to the issue of inclusivity — whether to seize a short-term gain (e.g., stopping the fighting) at the risk of long-term costs (e.g., perpetuating underlying sources of conflict).

Conclusion

The 1998 Agreement came at a time of considerable post-Cold War optimism about the prospects for resolving long-standing political conflict, from the Middle East to the Balkans to Colombia. The passage of time has tempered those hopes, as many conflicts have proved resistant to settlement, and even those agreements that have remained intact have largely proved disappointing in bringing about true reconciliation. The 1998 Agreement certainly falls into that category, but the brutal violence has not re-emerged. As the international community contemplates future peacemaking efforts, in Afghanistan, Yemen, South Sudan, and beyond, the Northern Ireland peace process continues to offer important lessons to scholars and practitioners alike.   Hon. James B. Steinberg is professor of social science, international affairs, and law at Syracuse University and previously served as dean of the Maxwell School, from July 2011 until June 2016, and dean of the Lyndon B. Johnson School of Public Affairs at the University of Texas at Austin from 2005 to 2009. His government service includes deputy secretary of state (2009–11), deputy national security advisor (1996–2000) and director of the State Department Policy Planning Staff (1994–96). Recent publications include, “China-Russia Cooperation: How Should the US Respond,” in Richard J. Ellings and Robert Sutter, eds., Axis of Authoritarians (National Bureau of Asian Research 2018); “US versus China: A Technology Cold War,” Nikkei Asian Review, March 19, 2019; and A Glass Half Full? Rebalance, Reassurance and Resolve in the US-China Relationship (Brookings Institution Press, 2017) and Strategic Reassurance and Resolve: US-China Relations in the 21st Century (Princeton University Press, 2014) (both with Michael O’Hanlon).   Image: Robert Paul Young [post_title] => The Good Friday Agreement: Ending War and Ending Conflict in Northern Ireland [post_excerpt] => [post_status] => publish [comment_status] => open [ping_status] => closed [post_password] => [post_name] => the-good-friday-agreement-ending-war-and-ending-conflict-in-northern-ireland [to_ping] => [pinged] => [post_modified] => 2019-05-21 07:05:21 [post_modified_gmt] => 2019-05-21 11:05:21 [post_content_filtered] => [post_parent] => 0 [guid] => http://tnsr.org/?p=1453 [menu_order] => 0 [post_type] => post [post_mime_type] => [comment_count] => 0 [filter] => raw [meta] => [lead] => The 1998 Agreement that ended Northern Ireland's bloody civil war has often been attributed to many of the remarkable individuals involved in the peace process. But how much of a difference did they really make? James Steinberg explores this question by examining the interaction between structural factors, the peace process, and efforts made by key individuals involved in the process. He also looks at what lessons this history holds for future peace negotiations. [pubinfo] => [issue] => [quotes] => Array ( [0] => Array ( [author] => [style] => left [text] => The source of the Northern Ireland conflict was, in part, political — the legacy of the dispute among Irish nationalists about whether to accept, even temporarily, the partition of Ireland. It was also social and economic.  ) [1] => Array ( [author] => [style] => right [text] => The unionists’ desire to achieve greater control over their destiny played a crucial role in the final decision to accept the 1998 Agreement... ) [2] => Array ( [author] => [style] => left [text] => Although the centrality of the Northern Ireland issue came, over time, to define the two parties less and less, there remained a perception that Fianna Fail was more nationalist.  ) [3] => Array ( [author] => [style] => right [text] => The Agreement resolved the constitutional issues by enshrining the principle of consent: opening the prospect of unification with the South but only with the consent of a majority of the North. ) [4] => Array ( [author] => [style] => left [text] => Perhaps the best way to characterize the role of agency is to say that circumstance dealt each of the major players a reasonably favorable hand which facilitated agreement, but that each played the hand quite skillfully. ) [5] => Array ( [author] => [style] => right [text] => While policymakers are often limited in what they can do to create the conditions that make a conflict ripe for settlement, it is a vital tool of statecraft to be able to spot an opportunity when it is emerging.  ) [6] => Array ( [author] => [style] => left [text] => Practitioners need to consider the potential long-term costs of a peace process that focuses primarily on the short-term goal of ending the fighting.  ) ) [style] => strategist [type] => Strategist [style_label] => The Strategist [download] => Array ( [title] => PDF Download [file] => ) [authors] => Array ( [0] => 20 ) [endnotes] => Array ( [title] => Endnotes [endnotes] => [1] As with almost every issue, large and small, involving Northern Ireland, even terminology is controversial and tinged with partisan overtones. In the United States, the Irish Republic, and among Northern Ireland nationalists, the agreement is commonly referred to as the “Good Friday Agreement.” Among unionist, it is often called the “Belfast Agreement.” In this essay I will use the “1998 Agreement” or simply the “Agreement,” to describe the outcome of the peace process. [2] Approximately 3,500 people were killed during the Troubles. Of these, a little more than 1,500 were from the Catholic community in Northern Ireland, 1,250 from the Protestant community, and the rest (around 700) from outside Northern Ireland (including British security forces). See, “Statistical Breakdown of Deaths in the ‘Troubles,’” Wesley Johnston, accessed May 8, 2019, http://www.wesleyjohnston.com/users/ireland/past/troubles/troubles_stats.html. [3] This paper largely focuses on the events leading up the 1998 Agreement, but, in order to assess what happened and why, I touch briefly on subsequent developments, without going into detail into the many follow-on negotiations involving the Agreement’s implementation. [4] This paper draws on a number of these studies, as well as my own personal involvement, beginning in the 1980s as an aide to Sen. Edward M. Kennedy, and, more substantively, as director of policy planning at the State Department (1994–1996) and deputy national security advisor to President Bill Clinton (1996–2000). The studies include Eamon Mallie and David McKittrick, Endgame in Ireland (London: Hodder and Stoughton, 2001); Thomas Hennessey, The Northern Ireland Peace Process: Ending the Troubles (New York: Palgrave, 2001); George J. Mitchell Making Peace (New York: Alfred A. Knopf, 1999); Cathy Gormley-Heenan, Political Leadership and the Northern Ireland Peace Process (New York: Palgrave McMillan, 2007); Maria Power, ed., Building Peace in Northern Ireland (Liverpool: Liverpool University Press, 2011); Tim Pat Coogan, The Trouble: Ireland’s Ordeal 1966-1996 and the Search for Peace (Boulder, CO: Roberts Reinhardt Publishers, 1996); Paul Bew, Peter Gibbon, and Henry Patterson, Northern Ireland 1921-2001: Political Forces and Social Classes (London: Serif, 2002); Paul Bew, The Making and Remaking of the Good Friday Agreement (Dublin: Liffey Press, 2007); Ed Moloney, A Secret History of the IRA (New York: W.W. Norton, 2002). [5] At least one other scholar-participant has written extensively about the peace process: Paul Bew, long-time professor of Irish Politics at Queens University, Belfast, was an advisor to David Trimble. [6] The idea for this essay arose out of a RAND conference designed to help those involved in the Afghanistan peace process think about lessons learned from past peace conferences. I am grateful to RAND for its support of the initial research on this project. [7] In addition to George Mitchell, see, for example: Alastair Campbell, The Blair Years: Extracts from the Alastair Campbell Diaries (London: Hutchinson, 2007); Gerry Adams, An Irish Journal (Kerry: Brandon, 2001); Gerry Adams, Hope and History: Making Peace in Northern Ireland (Kerry: Brandon, 2004); David Trimble, To Raise Up a New Northern Ireland (Belfast: Belfast Press, 2001); Kate Fearon, Women’s Work: the Story of the Northern Ireland Women’s Coalition (Belfast: Blackstaff Press, 1999), as well as the memoirs of President Clinton, Prime Minister Major, Northern Ireland Secretary of State Marjorie “Mo” Mowlam, etc. [8] Some might fairly argue that I have left out one key group of actors — the civil servants and policy advisors (including government ministers) who played a role that was somewhat independent of their political masters. This group includes important figures such as Peter Brooke, Quentin Thomas, Jonathan Powell, and Mo Mowlam on the British side; Martin Mansergh, Sean O’Huiginn, and Paddy Teahon on the Irish side; and Tony Lake and Nancy Soderberg in the United States — to name just a few — as well as the advisors to the various parties in Northern Ireland. For a rich, first-hand account of the role of officials on the British side, see Graham Spencer, ed., The British and Peace in Northern Ireland, (Cambridge, UK: Cambridge University Press, 2015). [9] Within the Protestant community there were significant class and social differences. Although the dominant forces in Northern Ireland were Protestant, many Protestants were also poor or marginalized, and these differences accounted in part for the divisions and strains within the unionist community, a dimension richly documented in Dean Godson’s biography of David Trimble: Himself Alone: David Trimble and the Ordeal of Unionism (London: Harper Collins, 2004). [10] 1926 census. Hennessey puts the Catholic percentage at about 33 percent at the time of partition. Hennessey, The Northern Ireland Peace Process, 2. [11] “2001 Census, Key Statistics, Table KS07a,” Northern Ireland Statistics and Research Agency, accessed May 16, 2019,  https://www.nisra.gov.uk/sites/nisra.gov.uk/files/publications/2001-census-results-key-statistics-report-tables.pdf,;  See also “Background Information on Northern Ireland Society,” Conflict Archive on the Internet, accessed May 16, 2019, https://cain.ulster.ac.uk/ni/religion.htm, for the long term trends. In the most recent census, Catholics now make up 45 percent of the population, while Protestants make up 48 percent. “2011 Census: Religion in Northern Ireland,” Northern Ireland Statistics and Research Agency, https://www.ninis2.nisra.gov.uk/public/census2011analysis/religion/religionCommentary.pdf. Charles Landow and Mohammed Aly Sergie, The Northern Ireland Peace Process, Council on Foreign Relations, last updated March 12, 2019, https://www.cfr.org/backgrounder/northern-ireland-peace-process. [12] “If in the future a majority of the people of Northern Ireland clearly wish for and formally consent to the establishment of a united Ireland” the two governments “will introduce and support in the respective Parliaments legislation to give effect to that wish.” To be clear, even those sympathetic to the nationalist cause did not believe that demography would change the outcome quickly. Bew, The Making and Remaking of the Good Friday Agreement, 28. [13] Andy Bielenberg and Raymond Ryan, “Irish Economic Development: Past, Present, Future?,” Irish Examiner, May 20, 2013, https://www.irishexaminer.com/business/irish-economic-development-past-present-future-231714.html; “Economies of Ireland, North and South, Since 1920,” Encyclopedia of Irish History and Culture, accessed May 8, 2019, https://www.encyclopedia.com/international/encyclopedias-almanacs-transcripts-and-maps/economies-ireland-north-and-south-1920. [14] John Bradley, “The History of Economic Development in Ireland, North and South,” Proceedings of the British Academy, no. 98 (1999): 35–68, https://www.thebritishacademy.ac.uk/sites/default/files/98p035.pdf. [15] Peter Donaghy, “Is Northern Ireland Dramatically Poorer than the Republic?,” Slugger O’Toole, March 26, 2018, https://sluggerotoole.com/2018/03/26/is-northern-ireland-dramatically-poorer-than-the-republic/. [16] The importance of single market and more broadly the E.U. dimension was reflected in John Hume’s first draft of what became the Downing Street Declaration. Mallie and McKittrick, Endgame in Ireland, 111. It’s worth noting that the challenge Brexit now poses to this “economics will drive politics” approach to all-island integration was foreshadowed in the divergent decisions of Ireland and the United Kingdom on the single currency. See Bew, The Making and Remaking of the Good Friday Agreement, 26. [17] For an extensive treatment of the IRA-Libya connection, see Moloney, A Secret History of the IRA, especially the “Prologue.” [18] The term “republican” relates back to the divisions within the anti-British forces during the establishment of the Irish Free State in 1920. Republicans rejected the residual links to Great Britain retained in the Anglo-Irish Treaty of 1921. Their efforts were partially vindicated by the creation of the Republic in 1949, which not only broke the formal ties to the United Kingdom but also included a constitutional claim, under Articles 2 and 3, to the counties of Northern Ireland. The repeal of these provisions was central to unionist support for the 1998 Agreement. [19] There was a third, smaller mainstream party, the United Kingdom Union Party, largely the platform for a prominent, anti-agreement Protestant member of parliament from Northern Ireland, Robert McCartney. [20] The DUP was affiliated with the paramilitary Ulster Volunteer Force, which, together with the Progressive Unionist Party, was affiliated with the Ulster Defence Association. The perspectives of the loyalist parties are discussed in more detail below. [21] The “official” wing was heavily influenced by Marxist theory, and focused on the class conflict that it believed united the North and South rather than on the political identity of being “Irish,” which had spawned the IRA at the beginning of the 20th century. See Moloney, A Secret History of the IRA, 56–79. [22] Hennessey, The Northern Ireland Peace Process, 44. [23] The phrase was coined by IRA director of publicity, and long-time Adams ally, Danny Morrison in 1981: “Will anyone here object if with a ballot paper in this hand and an Armalite in this hand, we take power in Ireland?” Moloney, A Secret History of the IRA, 203. [24] In the first elections contested by both the SLDP and Sinn Fein in the early-to-mid-1980s, the SDLP led Sinn Fein by 5–6 percentage points. That margin grew to around 10 to 12 percent in the late 1980s and early 1990s. Sinn Fein finally overtook the SDLP in local elections and in elections to Westminster in 2001, in elections to the Stormont Assembly in 2003, and in European elections in 2004. For complete Northern Ireland elections results, see: “Election Results in Northern Ireland Since 1973,” Elections: Northern Ireland Elections, accessed May 8, 2019, https://www.ark.ac.uk/elections/gallsum.htm. [25] Hennessey focuses on the “Ulsterization” of security in the North, which led to a reduced British military presence. This had the effect both of removing a major nationalist grievance and forcing the IRA to focus its violence on “Irish,” albeit Protestant, victims, rather than what they considered the colonial oppressor. Hennessey, The Northern Ireland Peace Process, 39. [26] Others, especially Moloney, argue that Adams’ decision to move Sinn Fein to a political approach was part of a long-term plan conceived much earlier and which became more explicit around 1983–84. Moloney, A Secret History of the IRA, 240. Moloney also notes the decline in the Sinn Fein vote compared with the SDLP beginning with the 1984 European Parliament elections and accelerated by the signing of the Anglo-Irish Agreement as well as the increasing effectiveness of British security operations and the electoral backlash stemming from a number of botched IRA operations. Moloney, A Secret History of the IRA, 326–49. The Enniskillen bombings, which led to the death of a number of non-combatants at a Remembrance Day event in 1987 was a particular turning point. Sinn Fein/IRA leader Martin McGuinness himself later observed, “Obviously it was going to deal a damaging blow to Irish Republicanism.” Mallie and McKittrick, Endgame in Ireland, 63. [27] Hennessey, The Northern Ireland Peace Process, 41. [28] “John Hume/Gerry Adams Joint Statement,” Sinn Fein, April 23, 1993, https://www.sinnfein.ie/contents/15217. [29] For accounts of these discussions and the importance of maintaining confidential channels throughout the conflict, see: Peter Taylor, Provos: The IRA and Sinn Fein (London: Bloomsbury, 1997) chap. 22; and Mallie and McKittrick, Endgame in Ireland, chap. 5. [30] The backlash also had its roots in the British strategy to move away from using British forces to provide security in favor of Northern Ireland security personnel, in particular the Royal Ulster Constabulary. The IRA could argue that violence against British forces was an attack on an “occupying force,” but attacks on the constabulary represented the killing of fellow Irish citizens. It should be noted that some skeptics have suggested that Sinn Fein/the IRA never really embraced the political track, but rather, cynically backed the process leading up to the Agreement and ultimately the Agreement itself on the expectation that unionists would ultimately reject it, allowing Sinn Fein to revert to it traditional unification objectives after having demonstrated that compromise with Unionism was futile. See: Bew, The Making and Remaking of the Good Friday Agreement, 30–31. Moloney disagrees, arguing that while IRA leaders Adams and McGuiness continued to make arguments of this kind to hardliners in the IRA, in fact, they had “made the choice for peace.” Moloney, A Secret History of the IRA, chap. 17. [31] Most in the unionist community and in Great Britain believed that Adams was a member of the IRA’s governing Army Council, an assertion consistently denied by Adams. McGuiness’ links to the IRA were clearer. Moloney makes the most detailed case in support of the argument that Adams played a central, formal role in the IRA from the earliest days of the Troubles until the Agreement itself, although even by Moloney’s account, there seemed to be a substantial disconnect between Adams’ evolving political strategy and the active (and politically damaging) actions of the IRA in the late 1980s and early 1990s, such as the use of “human bombs.” Moloney, A Secret History of the IRA, 347–49. [32] This was most obvious at the time the all-party talks began in 1997, when Sinn Fein accepted the Mitchell principles, allowing Sinn Fein to enter the talks, while at the same time the IRA indicated that it “had problems” with some aspects of the principles, thus preserving ambiguity about whether it had accepted exclusively peaceful means: “The Sinn Fein position actually goes beyond the Mitchell Principles. Their affirmation of these principles is therefore quite compatible with their position. As to the IRA's attitude to the Mitchell Principles per se, well, the IRA would have problems with sections of the Mitchell Principles. But then the IRA is not a participant in these talks.” “Mitchell Principles Problematic – IRA,” Irish Times, Sept, 12, 1997, https://www.irishtimes.com/news/mitchell-principles-problematic-ira-1.105491. [33] In A Secret History of the IRA, Moloney catalogues the serious challenges to Adams’ strategy during the key months leading up the Agreement. [34] Mallie and McKittrick, Endgame in Ireland, 281. [35] For a rich history of the evolution of the UUP during this period, see Godson, Himself Alone. [36] The Anglo-Irish Agreement had a complex impact on subsequent events. As noted above, it did appear to contemplate a political process that could lead to a united Ireland, as well as conceded a role for the South in Northern Ireland affairs. At the same time, this possibility was undercut by Thatcher’s own hardline unionist sensibilities, reflected in the her famous “out, out, out” speech of 1984, in which she ruled out the three solutions for Northern Ireland proposed by the Irish government — unity, federation, or joint authority (between the United Kingdom and Ireland). Thatcher justified the concessions in the Anglo-Irish Agreement as a way to gain Irish support for tougher security measures against the IRA. Hennessey, The Northern Ireland Peace Process, 26. [37] Mallie and McKittrick, Endgame in Ireland, 72. [38] Hennessey argues that Molyneux did not share this distrust, despite the Downing Street Declaration, quoting Molyneux’s statement, “There is no possibility of us being betrayed.” Hennessey, The Northern Ireland Peace Process, 92. But the subsequent release of the British-Irish Framework Documents in 1995, which proposed to create North-South bodies with more than consultative powers, badly undercut Molyneux’s credibility and helped lead to his replacement by Trimble. Hennessey, The Northern Ireland Peace Process, 97. [39] Mallie and McKittrick, Endgame in Ireland, 251. [40] Trimble had earlier established his unionist bona fides by helping to bring down the Sunningdale Agreement in 1974, an earlier attempt at resolving the Northern Ireland conflict. Mitchell, Making Peace, 174. Trimble himself has argued, “I am a product of the destruction of Stormont,” — the decision of the British government to abolish the Protestant-dominated Stormont Assembly, first by direct British rule and then by a power-sharing arrangement with nationalists. Godson, Himself Alone, 25. [41] Although the UUP held a plurality of unionist votes in the first election for the Northern Ireland Assembly, the DUP supplanted the UUP in the second election in 2003 and its margin over the UUP has grown since then. “Election Results.” UUP’s troubles were earlier apparent in the 1999 European parliamentary elections, where it was outpolled by the DUP. [42] Mallie and McKittrick, Endgame in Ireland, 179–80. Hennessey argues, “The UFF [Ulster Freedom Fighters] and UVF [Ulster Volunteer Force] support for the peace process was the decisive difference. It robbed extreme Unionism of a cutting edge.” The Northern Ireland Peace Process, 90. [43] Mitchell, Making Peace, 44. [44] See Brian Eggins, History and Hope: The Alliance Party in Northern Ireland (Dublin: The History Press, 2015) fn. 162. [45] See Jamille Bigio and Rachel Vogelstein, “Women’s Participation in Northern Ireland Peace Negotiations Made Them Less Likely to Fair,” The Hill, April 13, 2018, https://thehill.com/opinion/international/383059-womens-participation-in-peace-negotiations-in-northern-ireland-made. [46] Fred Halliday, “Peace Processes in the Late 20th Century,” in A Farewell to Arms: From “Long War” to Long Peace in Northern Ireland, ed. Michael Cox, Adrian Guelke, and Fiona Stephens (New York: Manchester University Press, 2000), 285. See also the essays in Power, Building Peace in Northern Ireland. [47] Moloney offers a detailed look at the role of the Catholic Church and key clergy. [48] That said, even under the Tories, there were periodic efforts to talk directly with the IRA, including the secret 1972 Cheyne Walk talks between Secretary of State for Northern Ireland William Whitelaw and an IRA delegation, including Gerry Adams, which led to an early, but brief ceasefire. [49] One of the early Northern Ireland Prime Ministers, James Craig, called it “a Protestant Parliament and a Protestant state.” Godson, Himself Alone, 26. [50] Prior to taking office in 1979, her Northern Ireland advisor, Airy Neave, had been killed by a splinter republican paramilitary group, the Irish National Liberation Army. [51] The British and Irish governments issued l “Frameworks for the Future” in February 1995, with proposals on all three strands of the talks. Unionists most strongly objected to provisions that allowed the two governments to decide on the authority of a future North-South body, without the prior consent of a future Northern Ireland Assembly. See Hennessey, The Northern Ireland Peace Process, 92–99. [52] Specifically, Blair indicated his support for the “triple lock” — the requirement that any change in the status of Northern Ireland required the agreement of the parties in the North, the public in the north through a referendum, and the approval of the British parliament. Hennessey, The Northern Ireland Peace Process, 104. [53] Albert Reynolds dubbed Bruton “John Unionist.” Moloney, A Secret History of the IRA, 435. It was during the administration of an earlier Fine Gael prime minister, Garrett Fitzgerald, that Ireland first accepted the idea that unification should only come about with the consent of the people of Northern Ireland, leading to the Anglo-Irish Agreement of 1985. [54] After taking office, Ahearn announced “irrendentism is dead.” Hennessey, The Northern Ireland Peace Process, 106–107. [55] Hennessey observed, “It is doubtful that any of his Fianna Fail predecessors would have had the vision to do this.” The Northern Ireland Peace Process, 167. [56] Irish American support for the IRA, including money and weaponry such as the notorious “Armalite” (AR-15), is discussed in detail in Moloney, A Secret History of the IRA, 114–15. [57] Mallie and McKittrick, Endgame in Ireland, 150. [58] Shane Hickey, “Major Was Furious with Clinton for Granting Adams a Visa,” Irish Times, Dec. 28. 2018, https://www.irishtimes.com/news/politics/major-was-furious-with-clinton-for-granting-adams-a-visa-1.3738286. [59] This initially took the form of the Northern Ireland Investment conference in Belfast chaired by George Mitchell and U.S. Commerce Secretary Ron Brown. [60] Roy Bradford, “Straws in the Wind Show Signs of Hope and Change,” Irish Times, Jan. 3, 1996,  https://www.irishtimes.com/culture/straws-in-the-wind-show-signs-of-hope-and-change-1.18637. [61] Hennessey, The Northern Ireland Peace Process, 70–74. Moloney argues that the secret process dates back to indirect contacts between Adams and Northern Ireland Secretary of State Tom King in 1986 or 1987. Moloney, A Secret History of the IRA, 247. Notably Moloney argued that Adams acted without the approval of the IRA Army Council. [62] Hennessey, The Northern Ireland Peace Process, 81–83. [63] Mitchell reached this conclusion after consulting with the head of the Royal Ulster Constabulary, Hugh Annesley. This conclusion was shared by Chilcot: “if you set a long time condition, a period of rehabilitation in which no violence took place, it would not happen.” Mitchell, Making Peace, 79. [64] Mitchell, Making Peace, 42–45. [65] Mitchell, Making Peace, 50, 60. [66] Mitchell, Making Peace, 110. [67] The third international chair was John de Chastelain, former chief of Canada’s defense staff. [68] Hennessey, The Northern Ireland Peace Process, 102. [69] Hennessey, The Northern Ireland Peace Process, 113. [70] As a result of the violence, the governments voted to expel, at least temporarily, both the Ulster Democratic Party (linked to the loyalist paramilitary Ulster Freedom Fighters) and Sinn Fein. Although the decision risked collapsing the talks, in the end, it buttressed the credibility of the condition subsequent approach by demonstrating the government’s willingness to carry out its threats against non-compliant parties. Mitchell, Making Peace, 134–42. [71] Hennessey, The Northern Ireland Peace Process, 115–18. The document, called “Propositions on Heads of Agreement,” included almost all of the key features that ended up in the final Agreement. [72] Mitchell, Making Peace, 103; Mallie and McKittrick, Endgame in Ireland, 22. [73] Mitchell, Making Peace, 143–46. [74] Among the most consequential of the secret talks were the meetings between Sinn Fein and a British MI5 agent, “Fred,” which led to the Peter Brooke statement that Britain had “no strategic interest” in Northern Ireland, and to the Sinn Fein-Reynolds meeting. See Mallie and McKittrick, Endgame in Ireland, chap. 6. Another important secret channel was between the Irish and loyalist paramilitaries, fostered by a former unionist leader, Roy Magee. Mallie and McKittrick, Endgame in Ireland, 140. [75] Agriculture, education, transport, environment, waterways, social security/social welfare, tourism, E.U. programs, inland fisheries, aquaculture and maritime, health, accident and emergency services, and urban/rural development. [76] The amendment was approved by referendum in both parts of Ireland in May 1998. [77] Interestingly, the approach used by the Decommissioning Commission drew on the experience of disarming the Kosovo Liberation Army. See Mallie and McKittrick, Endgame in Ireland, 276. [78] For a summary of developments since the Agreement, and on-going issues, see Kristin Archick, Northern Ireland: Current Issues and On-Going Challenges in the Peace Process, Congressional Research Service, March 12, 2018, https://fas.org/sgp/crs/row/RS21333.pdf. [79] Archick, Northern Ireland, 19 [80] Ben Kelly, “Why Is There No Government in Northern Ireland and How Did Power-sharing Collapse?” The Independent, April 30, 2019, https://www.independent.co.uk/news/uk/politics/northern-ireland-talks-latest-power-sharing-deal-stormont-sinn-fein-dup-a8893096.html. [81] Connla Young, “Sinn Fein Say Good Friday Agreement Facing Its Biggest Threat,” Irish News, May 14, 2019, https://www.irishnews.com/news/2017/12/04/news/sinn-fe-in-say-good-friday-agreement-facing-its-biggest-threat-1202189/. [82] Gormley-Heenan, Political Leadership and the Northern Ireland Peace Process, 37, quoting David Trimble, “The Belfast Agreement,” Fordham International Law Journal 22, no. 4 (1999), https://ir.lawnet.fordham.edu/ilj/vol22/iss4/2/. Moloney argues, in A Secret History of the IRA, that Adams’ triumph was part of a long-term strategic plan that took years to bring to fruition. It may well be that, unlike Trimble, Adams was guided by a masterplan. But the fact that it took Adams 25 years to realize this goal suggests that favorable exogenous factors, as well as Adams’ efforts, were necessary for the plan to succeed. [83] Mitchell credits Ahearn’s willingness to reopen the “Strand Two Agreement” (against the advice of his aides), which he had reached with Blair just days before the Good Friday Agreement: “Had Ahearn insisted on the Strand Two provisions he had worked out with Blair, there would not have been a Good Friday Agreement.” Mitchell, Making Peace, 171. [84] Gormley-Heenan, Political Leadership and the Northern Ireland Peace Process, 37–38, quoting George J. Mitchell “Toward Peace in Northern Ireland,” Fordham International Law Journal 22, no. 4 (1999), https://ir.lawnet.fordham.edu/ilj/vol22/iss4/2/. [85] Thus, Moloney, in arguing that the credit belongs to Adams, asserts, “The Irish peace process was a not a spontaneous phenomenon, tossed around by forces outside its control, nor was it forced upon its architects by the fortunes of war. The process was like a precooked dinner whose basic menu had largely been decided long before most of the diners knew the meal was planned.” Moloney, A Secret History of the IRA, xvi. At other points, Moloney indulges in what feels like a parody of the “Cleopatra’s nose” version of counterfactual analysis: “If Annie Adams [Gerry Adams’ mother] had not insisted on making the move to Ballymurphy [an IRA stronghold in West Belfast], the IRA might never have been led by Gerry Adams, and Irish history would now look very different.” Moloney, A Secret History of the IRA, 46. [86] Peter Crutchley, "IRA Ceasefire 20 Years On: The Priest Who Brokered the Peace," BBC News, Aug. 31, 2014,  https://www.bbc.com/news/uk-28812366. This view is echoed by Moloney: “To say that Father Alec Reid is the unrecognized inspiration of the peace process would be an understatement.” A Secret History of the IRA, 223. [87] Mallie and McKittrick, Endgame in Ireland, 115. [88] Mallie and McKittrick, Endgame in Ireland, 218. One British government official observed, “The body language changed after Winfield. Before that it was always stiff and stilted, but afterwards they no longer seemed stiff and stilted in each other’s presence. Winfield was the psychological breakthrough.” Mallie and McKittrick, Endgame in Ireland, 264. [89] The narrative presented in the earlier sections of this essay is a form of “process tracing,” which helps clarify the key decisions and those responsible for the decisions. By itself, however, this approach can’t really answer “what mattered” — either as necessary or sufficient cause. For this reason, counterfactual analysis is particularly useful. For a discussion of some of the considerations and difficulties, see Jack S. Levy, “Counterfactuals, Causal Inference, and Historical Analysis,” Security Studies 24, no. 3 (September 2015): 378–402, https://doi.org/10.1080/09636412.2015.1070602; Francis J. Gavin, “What If? The Historian and the Counterfactual.” Security Studies 24, no. 3 (September 2015): 425–30, https://doi.org/10.1080/09636412.2015.1070610; and Neil J. Roese, ed., What Might Have Been: The Social Psychology of Counterfactual Thinking (London: Psychology Press, 1995). [90] See for example Mallie and McKittrick’s judgment: “The election of 1997 transformed the peace process.” Endgame in Ireland, 213. [91] See Mary Holland, “A Very Good Friday,” Guardian, April 11, 1998, https://www.theguardian.com/uk/1998/apr/12/northernireland. [92] Hennessey challenges at least part of the claim, arguing that the 1998 Agreement had a much weaker North-South dimension which allowed for unionist acceptance. Thomas Hennessey, “‘Slow learners’? Comparing the Sunningdale Agreement and the Belfast/Good Friday Agreement,” in Sunningdale, the Ulster Workers' Council Strike and the Struggle for Democracy in Northern Ireland, ed. David McCann and Cillian McGrattan (Manchester: Manchester University, 2017). [93] See Moloney, A Secret History of the IRA, 142. [94] This was particularly true on the issue of decommissioning, where Adams repeatedly insisted on the limits of his influence over the IRA. His position was corroborated by the British head of the Northern Ireland police (the Royal Ulster Constabulary), Hugh Annesley, who, when asked by Mitchell at a key juncture in 1995 whether Adams could get the IRA to decommission before an agreement, replied, “No, he couldn’t do it even if he wanted to. He doesn’t have that much control over them.” Mitchell, Making Peace, 30. [95] Moloney, A Secret History of the IRA, 414–16. [96] Mallie and McKittrick, Endgame in Ireland, 221–23. [97] Godson describes the episode in detail. Godson, David Trimble and the Ordeal of Unionism. [98] Martin Mansergh, “Forward,” in Lessons from the Northern Ireland Peace Process, ed. Timothy J. White (Madison: University of Wisconsin Press, 2013), ix. [99] Gormley-Heenan examines this problem at some length. Political Leadership and the Northern Ireland Peace Process, 91–96. [100] Inclusivity has several different meanings in the context of these negotiations. The term was sometimes used to refer to the inclusion of the full range of stakeholders, including civil society, but was also used more narrowly, by Sinn Fein and the loyalists, to refer to the protagonists in the conflict. See for example, Timothy J. White, “Lessons from the Northern Ireland Peace Process: An Introduction,” in Lessons from the Northern Ireland Peace Process, 7. Broad inclusivity of civil society was valuable but it was the inclusion of the former paramilitaries that was crucial. See Paul Dixon, “The Victory and Defeat of the IRA,” in Lessons from the Northern Ireland Peace Process. [101] Mitchell, Making Peace, 19. This is an important difference between the 1998 Agreement and Sunningdale. [102] Whether the agreement is truly a consociational agreement is a matter of much debate among political scientists, see White, “Lessons from the Northern Ireland Peace Process: An Introduction,” 4; and articles cited in footnote 2. [103] Power, Building Peace in Northern Ireland, 8. [104] Feargal Cochrane and Seamus Dunn, People Power? The Role of the Voluntary and Community Sector in the Northern Ireland Conflict (Cork: Cork University Press, 2006), 173. [105] Mallie and McKittrick, Endgame in Ireland, 216. [106] See Hennessey, The Northern Ireland Peace Process, 164–65 and Mitchell, Making Peace, 173. “As I read the document I knew instantly that it would not be acceptable to the Unionists.” Godson, Himself Alone, 327. As noted above, the ensuing crisis was only resolved when Ahearn agreed to walk back the draft and dilute the provisions opposed by the unionists. [107] In fact, the deadline actually slipped by a day; on the evening of the formal deadline the talks were still at an impasse. Mitchell, Making Peace, 177. The deadline also helped Adams gain IRA assent to enter the talks — his critics feared that an open-ended negotiation predicated on a continued IRA ceasefire would be used as a British ploy to weaken the IRA’s operational capacity as well as its rank and file support. See Moloney, A Secret History of the IRA, 471. [108] The classic statement is presented by William Zartman in “Ripeness: The Hurting Stalemate and Beyond,” in International Conflict Resolution After the Cold War, ed. Paul C. Stern and Daniel Druckman (Washington, DC: The National Academies Press, 2000), https://doi.org/10.17226/9897. As noted below, the approach I suggest here relies less on Zartman’s idea of a “hurting stalemate” and more on the perception by both sides of a positive gain. [109] But not impossible. Arguably the decision to arm the Bosnians and bomb the Serbs during the Bosnia conflict, and the bombing of the Serbs in Kosovo, helped produce circumstances that made those conflicts “ripe” for settlement. See Zartman, “Ripeness,” 244. [110] Gormley-Heenan, Political Leadership and the Northern Ireland Peace Process, 14, quoting Paul Arthur, Peer Learning: Northern Ireland as a Case Study (New York: Carnegie Corporation, 1999), 10. “The participants shared a concern that something needed to be done and that at the very least they should explore each others’ options. Track two presented the best opportunities to do so. The absence of the media, the physical location, the neutral back up support, all were as far removed as possible from the rawness of Northern Ireland’s political arena.” [111] Mallie and McKittrick, Endgame in Ireland, 257. See also, Hennessey, The Northern Ireland Peace Process, 19. [112] Mallie and McKittrick, Endgame in Ireland, 129. [113] See Timothy J. White, “The Role of Civil Society in Promoting Peace in Northern Ireland,” in Building Peace in Northern Ireland, ed. Maria Power, 38–40. [114] See Maria Power, “Introduction,” in Building Peace in Northern Ireland, 4. [115] On Blair’s decommissioning side letter, see Hennessey, The Northern Ireland Peace Process, 169–70. [116] This view of the role of third parties is, thus, distinct from the focus on third parties as “neutral” mediators. What mattered most here was not neutrality but that third parties could offer something of value to the parties themselves. This more traditional understanding of the role of neutral actors in peace processes was illustrated by the creation of the Independent Commission on Policing, which produced a blue print for policing reform — something the parties themselves were unable to accomplish. [117] Mitchell, Making Peace, 25. [118] The IRA completed decommissioning in 2005. [119] Mallie and McKittrick, Endgame in Ireland, 205. [120] For a discussion of the problem of “open” diplomacy (without preconditions) see Oriana Skyler Mastro, The Costs of Conversation (Ithaca: Cornell University Press, 2019). [121] Mitchell, Making Peace, 175. ) [contents] => Array ( [title] => [contents] => ) [thumb] => medium [heading] => h1 [widget] => main [show_download] => 1 ) ) [1] => Array ( [acf_fc_layout] => wgt_featured_articles [wgt_type] => manual [qty] => 3 [posts] => Array ( [0] => Array ( [post] => WP_Post Object ( [ID] => 1415 [post_author] => 49 [post_date] => 2019-02-06 11:43:29 [post_date_gmt] => 2019-02-06 16:43:29 [post_content] => “I am sorry to report that I do not like this manuscript much.” As academics, we have all received such a note (and if you haven’t yet, you will at some point). And the negative reactions to our papers and books don’t ever go away, no matter how long you are in the profession or how distinguished your title. This was the first line of a referee report I received just last month for my latest book manuscript. There is probably no harder part of scholarly life than sending our work out for anonymous peer review. We pour our heart and soul into our work, nurturing, digging, re-shaping our articles and books until we believe they are perfect. We carry around the arguments we make and the evidence we’ve collected in our heads throughout the day, evaluating them at all hours, from when our heads hit the pillow at night to when we get into the shower the next morning. As scholars, our arguments and research both reflect who we are and how we see the world. While we are intellectuals and pretend we are completely objective, we (understandably) become deeply and personally attached to our work. Our articles and books are like our children — we love them fiercely and, at times, irrationally, often blind to the flaws that others see. This is what makes receiving negative reviews so unsettling, especially for the young scholar. Stay in the business long enough, and you collect stories. Years ago, I submitted an article, “The Myth of Flexible Response,” to a prestigious journal. One “anonymous” review was by someone who said he was involved in the Kennedy administration policy process I was writing on and suggested that I had no idea what I was talking about. The review was handwritten and the journal forgot to remove the initials — “CK” — at the end of the document. Since I had based much of my argument on the papers of Carl Kaysen and was quite familiar with his handwriting, the review was not especially anonymous. The journal passed on the piece. Another review, which I later learned was written by our most accomplished Cold War historian (Note: No matter how hard we try not to, we all attempt to figure out the identity of our reviewers), asked, “Are we sure the author does not suffer from dyslexia?” I have countless more stories like this, but simply recalling them is generating a cold sweat! At the Texas National Security Review, we have and will continue to think long and hard about how to encourage best practices in the review process. We have incorporated a number of measures, including paying our reviewers on a sliding scale depending upon how comprehensive the review is and how quickly it is returned. This has made these reviews even more rigorous than the typical review. Believe me, I know. You may have noticed that I did not write an introduction for the last issue. You may have also noticed that an article of mine appeared in our pages. This generated a whole lot of discussion and concern in our journal — how would it look for a new journal to publish an article by the chair of the editorial board? Did we have a process in place to treat my article in as demanding, ethical, and thorough a way as anyone else’s? To my (not always pleasant) surprise, we did. I can honestly say that my article went through the most rigorous review process I have ever experienced in over two decades of academic life. There were four anonymous reviews, each well over two pages long, as well as intense internal review. All of the reviews were sharp and penetrating, with a raft of (not always welcome) suggestions, but one in particular was especially harsh. I confess I may not have handled the criticism in the most mature way. I pouted and suggested I might pull the piece and send it somewhere else, arguing that I had gotten to a point in my career where I shouldn’t have to deal with this. Who was the “obvious” idiot TNSR had found to stand in judgment of my “obvious” expertise? It was not my best moment, to say the least. Ryan Evans — who in addition to being the publisher is also one of my best friends — never blinked. My piece, he stated calmly, would have to address all the criticisms if TNSR was to publish it. And no, I would never find out who had reviewed my piece. After putting the article aside for a few weeks, I swallowed my pride and went through the critiques line by line and made the changes. Ryan and his outstanding team of editors worked with me closely to improve the effort. The piece was much better for it. And I still have no idea who the reviewers were, though I am grateful for their extraordinary willingness to offer me honest criticism and helpful recommendations (although reviewer number four would be an unlikely addition to my holiday card list, as petty as that may be!). I tell this story for a few reasons. First, the process of being evaluated and assessed never ends, no matter how long you stay in the academy. It is important for young people entering the academy to know this. Criticism hurts deeply and often feels unfair. To have your best work dismissed by an unknown, anonymous voice can be devastating. The key is to remember that, no matter how unpleasant, the reviewer took the time to read your manuscript and take it seriously. No matter how painful and even wrong-headed, almost every review I’ve received has been useful, if only to help me better understand how my arguments and evidence are received. Bear in mind, too, that just because an article is rejected does not mean it is wrong or the scholarship poor. As I think about my own work, it is often the pieces that were rejected once or twice (and in one case, four times before being published) that ended up being much better and more influential works than the pieces that sailed through review on a first pass. While you should take criticism seriously, if you believe in your ideas, arguments, and evidence, and have pursued your quest with rigor, honesty, and integrity, then never give up. Keep plodding, never let the critics get you down, and keep improving and pressing. Do this and you will get published and your work will — eventually — be recognized. The second reason I have related this story is because TNSR is new and is working to establish its reputation as the best venue for rigorous, innovative scholarship on the most pressing questions of strategy, statecraft, and international relations. We want to be accessible and engage the world beyond academics, to include policymakers, without sacrificing the highest standards of scholarship. It is very easy for a new journal to be seen as an outlet for insiders or close friends. The great journal International Security is often — and to my mind, quite unfairly — seen as an outlet reserved largely for scholars within a certain self-contained network in security studies. It was very important to us that we implement the most demanding standards for review so that we could establish the highest scholarly credentials. My painful, if ultimately enormously helpful, experience with the TNSR review process convinced me we are doing well on this score. The third reason I mention this is that we all wonder about the efficacy and fairness of the current system. Is the double-blind, peer-reviewed process that has become the norm the best way to advance knowledge? Is the current system too easily gamed, or does it encourage scholars — especially young thinkers at the height of their intellectual powers — to be risk-averse, to play small-ball, to write papers and books with the goal of getting through review, rather than expanding our understanding of the world? We all know the reasons we have the current system, but I think it is fair to ask whether it can be improved. Isaac Newton and Albert Einstein transformed our understanding of the world without it. Is double-blind peer review the worst way of evaluating scholarship, except all the others? Or are there ways we can improve the system? At TNSR we don’t know the answer but are very interested in hearing from our audience — both readers and authors. We are willing to break current norms and practices if and when we find better ways of doing things. We encourage you to send us your thoughts. The final reason is a plea to all future reviewers, for this journal and all others: Be comprehensive, be rigorous, but don’t be a jerk. The benefits of anonymity are obvious, but so, too, are the pitfalls. We live in an age where our social media culture often prizes snark over substance, the witty cut over the empathetic suggestion, the pithy phrase over deep reflection. When writing a review, try to imagine the scholar on the other side of the process, a person who has no doubt invested a good part of their heart, soul, and mind in the work you are reading. This is not a plea to go easy — quite the contrary. At TNSR, we want our reviewers to bring their sharpest, most constructive insights, criticisms, and recommendations. Many reviewers, however, often forget the constructive part. If you are recommending a rejection, ask yourself, was your decision made because the ideas, methods, and evidence are lacking, or because it doesn’t comport with your long-held views (or those of your discipline or field)? Early in my career, I learned from my mentor, Marc Trachtenberg, that evidence and arguments that challenge your deepest beliefs are “like gold in your hands” — they should be embraced, encouraged, and relished. That is how we become smarter. We aren’t in this business to reify our own opinions, but to gain better understanding of enormously complex, often consequential issues. Does the article or book you are reviewing give us more purchase on a new question, new insight, even if the answer does not comport with how you understand the world? Will publication lead to energetic debate and discussion, even if you are somewhat skeptical of the claims? And if the answers to these questions are “yes,” are your critiques and suggestions oriented toward strengthening the piece, to helping the author make their strongest argument in the best possible way? Does your review offer helpful advice, demonstrate empathy, and provide the author with guidance that can help them move their project forward? And if the answers to these questions are “no,” might it be time to ask yourself some hard questions about who you are and why you are in this business? Truth be told, following the adage “don’t be a jerk” involves no sacrifice of standards or smarts or rigor. Quite the contrary, in fact. Rest assured that the excellent scholarly contributions in this volume went through such a process, and that we at TNSR are committed to embracing the highest standards of scholarly review. Enjoy!   Francis J. Gavin is the chairman of the editorial board of the Texas National Security Review. He is the Giovanni Agnelli Distinguished Professor and the inaugural director of the Henry A. Kissinger Center for Global Affairs at SAIS-Johns Hopkins University. His writings include Gold, Dollars, and Power: The Politics of International Monetary Relations, 1958–1971 (University of North Carolina Press, 2004) and Nuclear Statecraft: History and Strategy in America’s Atomic Age (Cornell University Press, 2012). [post_title] => Reviewing Blues [post_excerpt] => [post_status] => publish [comment_status] => open [ping_status] => closed [post_password] => [post_name] => reviewing-blues [to_ping] => [pinged] => [post_modified] => 2019-05-24 11:30:55 [post_modified_gmt] => 2019-05-24 15:30:55 [post_content_filtered] => [post_parent] => 0 [guid] => http://tnsr.org/?p=1415 [menu_order] => 0 [post_type] => post [post_mime_type] => [comment_count] => 0 [filter] => raw [meta] => [lead] => The chairman of our editorial board, Frank Gavin, introduces Vol. 2, Iss. 2 of TNSR and discusses the joys and pains of the review process, giving some advice for both reviewers and those submitting their work for review. [pubinfo] => [issue] => Vol 2, Iss 2 [quotes] => [style] => framing [type] => Framing [style_label] => The Foundation [download] => Array ( [title] => PDF Download [file] => 1470 ) [authors] => Array ( [0] => 49 ) [endnotes] => Array ( [title] => Endnotes [endnotes] => ) [contents] => Array ( [title] => [contents] => ) ) ) [1] => Array ( [post] => WP_Post Object ( [ID] => 1298 [post_author] => 264 [post_date] => 2019-02-02 05:00:38 [post_date_gmt] => 2019-02-02 10:00:38 [post_content] => Public policy is traditionally thought of as the work of governments, however, private actors — including universities, health care providers, and a range of other private infrastructure operators — have long played important roles in shaping both society and national security. And while these institutions have typically operated under regulatory frameworks that set basic operating standards and compel information sharing with governments, they also make important choices on their own that affect millions of lives. Now, tech companies are counted alongside these institutions, but with a scope that is far wider — spanning the globe and crossing innumerable governmental jurisdictions — even if it is effectively virtual and doesn’t involve driving specific healthcare decisions or determining security at a particular power plant. Such dynamics raise important questions both for how governments should interact with tech companies to set behavioral guidelines as well as for the companies themselves, which will inevitably determine how to manage social challenges outside of a strict regulatory framework. One of the most important of these policy areas is counter-terrorism. Private actors have long taken part in counter-terrorism efforts: Banks, critical infrastructure operators, and airlines are important elements in societal efforts to protect against terrorism. But terrorist use of the Internet has brought an entirely new class of private actors to the forefront of the fight. Social media companies, both individually and in concert with one another, have developed robust operations to prevent terrorists from abusing their platforms. Like all counter-terrorism programs, these efforts are imperfect, but they represent a significant new component of the societal response to terrorist violence. As the head of Facebook’s effort to counter abuse by terrorists and hate organizations, I have a unique vantage point on the intersection of social media and counter-terrorism, and the following essay, though it does not argue for Facebook’s position on any particular issue, certainly reflects my experience at the company. For the most part, tech companies have voluntarily initiated their counter-terrorism efforts. Nonetheless, there is an ongoing debate about what governments should require of private companies when it comes to matters of counter-terrorism. But focusing on regulation as the primary mode through which society can address terrorist activity online is misplaced. Indeed, the singular focus on government as the only actor in counter-terrorism operations online is outdated. Many tech companies actively counter terrorists online — and the effects of that work are almost certainly broader and more important to overall online counter-terrorism efforts than anything required by government regulation. The question of whether or not governments should require tech companies to conduct counter-terrorism operations is, of course, politically important. However, the voluntary efforts made by these companies are likely to have a far greater impact on addressing the problem of terrorist exploitation of the Internet. For example, in the first nine months of 2018, Facebook removed 14.3 million pieces of content related to the Islamic State, al-Qaeda, and their affiliates, only 41,000 of which were flagged by external sources, primarily regular users. The overwhelming majority of the content removed came as a result of Facebook’s voluntary internal efforts. Regardless of the future regulatory environment, these efforts are likely to remain critical. This is why the most important counter-terrorism questions involving Internet technology companies are what the scope of those voluntary activities should be and the best ways to implement them. [quote id="1"] Despite the importance of company actions, counter-terrorism experts tend to focus their recommendations narrowly to government actors rather than addressing tech companies directly. One reason for this is that very few counter-terrorism policy professionals have experience working in social media companies, whereas many of them have experience working in government. These individuals therefore have relevant domain expertise about violent groups and about how government counter-terrorism efforts function, but they have little knowledge about corporate policymaking processes, the backend of web technology, or operating at the scale of today’s social media companies. Companies, for their part, have been too slow to disclose information about their counter-terrorism efforts, which is crucial to closing the knowledge gap and enabling the counter-terrorism policy community to offer more useful guidance. The failure of tech companies to be more transparent about their ongoing efforts also reinforces the outdated belief among counter-terrorism policy experts that they are not taking any action or simply do not care about the problem. The counter-terrorism policy community has been understandably slow to recognize the shift within tech companies to more aggressively address terrorist content online, in part, because these companies were late to address the threat. During that period of prevarication, counter-terrorism policy experts urged companies to do more and, in many cases, urged governments to force companies to do more. But in the wake of the Islamic State of Iraq and the Levant’s (ISIL) aggressive exploitation of the Internet, many companies began to tackle the problem, and thus the important questions facing the counter-terrorism policy community have shifted. Rather than continuing to simply call for companies to do more, it’s important for the counter-terrorism policy community to speak directly to the policymakers inside companies to inform and influence how they approach counter-terrorism. Leaders at all levels inside tech companies are making critical decisions about how to define, identify, and take action against terrorist actors. These decisions have tremendous reach and, in many cases, are without precedent. Counter-terrorism policy experts should tailor analysis and recommendations to these decision-makers within tech companies and to the challenges they face. In order to do that, policy experts and policymakers need a shared lexicon for understanding the ways that terrorists use the Internet and how that manifests on different types of digital platforms. They also need a shared understanding of the scope of the policy questions faced by tech companies and the tradeoffs inherent in those policy choices. This essay endeavors to provide both, with the hope that the framework will help policymakers in technology companies, improve interactions between tech companies and the traditional national security community, and inform government policymakers considering how to structure a productive regulatory framework. This essay does not argue that certain solutions are better across the board than others, but it does highlight key questions, illustrate tradeoffs, and encourage the counter-terrorism policy community to address some of the specific questions faced by people working on counter-terrorism inside social media companies.

The Problem: How Do Terrorists Use the Internet?

While it is tempting to think of terrorists as using the Internet as if it were a monolithic entity, such thinking is counterproductive. The reality is that terrorists use a wide range of different digital platforms for different purposes. Analysts know this, of course, and should lean into this granularity to drive a much more nuanced conversation about the threat posed by specific online behavior on particular platforms, and the techniques companies can employ to manage it. The following is both a typology for thinking about terrorist use of the Internet and a lexicon for breaking down the activities terrorists engage in on various types of technology platforms. Terrorist Functions Online Generally speaking, terrorists use the Internet in much the same way as other people: They send messages, coordinate with people, and share images and videos. The typology below attempts to describe terrorist behavior online in terms of the generic functions the underlying technology facilitates. So, instead of “attack planning” or “propaganda distribution,” the framework below uses terms like “content hosting” and “audience development.” Here’s why: Technology companies never build products to facilitate “attack planning,” but they do think about how to enable “secure communication.” To build a terminology bridge between the counter-terrorism and tech communities, we need language that speaks to how generic Internet functionality that is usually used for positive social purposes can be abused by bad actors.[1] Content Hosting Modern terrorist organizations produce a wide range of propaganda in the form of imagery, videos, and audio files. Prior to broadband Internet, this sort of material was distributed manually, either in the form of printed material or pressed into video tapes, cassettes, or DVDs. Since the advent of broadband, terrorist organizations have moved those repositories online, first via file-sharing sites where users could download media and, subsequently, via services that enable large-scale file-sharing and video-streaming. Groups like ISIL still use a variety of cloud services as media repositories and consistently use video-streaming services to distribute propaganda material. Others, like Hamas and the Atomwaffen Division, have their own websites. Not every Internet platform is well suited for hosting content. Video and audio streaming sites are used for this purpose, as are cloud-based file repositories. Some offer unique capabilities including the ability to livestream video from a phone or camera. Social media platforms that facilitate easy video and image hosting can also be used for this purpose. Audience Development Terrorists need an audience for all sorts of reasons: to directly engage the population they want to influence, to attract media attention in order to indirectly engage the population they want to influence, and to identify potential recruits. ISIL famously used Twitter for this purpose in 2014 and 2015 because the platform offered a vast audience for ISIL’s sophisticated propaganda and easy access to journalists who, in writing about that propaganda, served as inadvertent enablers. Terrorist groups think about audience development differently depending on their goals, their ideology, and their theory of victory. Although ISIL is ideologically rigid, it imagines itself as the vanguard of a vast populist movement, whereas ISIL's ideological cousin, al-Qaeda, is less ideologically stringent but conceives of its near-term audience more narrowly. These differences influence the groups' respective rhetoric but may also drive the type of digital platform each uses for developing its audience. Organizations like ISIL aim to recruit en masse, but smaller organizations looking to establish an elite core of actors may instead concentrate on audience development within a target population. Despite the glaring lack of studies comparing how terrorists use social media versus mass media, traditional mass media is likely still a critical method for conducting audience development. Nonetheless, new digital platforms are clearly useful to these groups. Brand Control Terrorism has famously been called “propaganda of the deed.” The desire of terrorist groups to control their political messages creates a need for well-branded information conduits that can be used to validate the initial distribution of propaganda. Thus, spokespeople, dedicated media production houses, and reliable information-distribution channels online are critical. Modern terrorist groups have used dedicated web forums (e.g., al-Hesbah), official web pages (e.g., Atomwaffen, Hamas, and Hezbollah), Twitter handles, and, most recently for ISIL, Telegram channels to help cue to their target audience that the materials being distributed there are authentic. Maintaining brand control requires consistency, which gives technology platforms a particularly important role to play in disrupting this effort among terrorist groups. Secure Communication Despite occasional “lone wolf” attacks, terrorist violence is usually conceived of, planned, and executed as part of a group. As such, secure communications between conspirators are paramount. The ubiquity of encrypted messaging tools has lowered the bar for communicating securely and thus prompted increased scrutiny of platforms that provide encrypted services. However, terrorists have long used a variety of techniques to ensure secure messaging on the Internet. Al-Qaeda famously employed “email dead drops,” in which users would share account log-in information and leave messages for one another as drafts, thereby avoiding scanning while messages were in transit. Obscurity is often a tool for security: It can be facilitated via fake accounts, multiple accounts, and secret web forums only accessible to invited members. Counter-terrorism professionals might breach these techniques, if they know where to look. Steganography, or the practice of leaving a hidden message in plain sight, is often overlooked. Such messaging might come in the form of using a pre-determined but innocuous code word to send a message or obliquely referencing some shared experience to authenticate oneself online. For example, consider senior al-Qaeda commander Atiyah abd al-Rahman's instruction in 2005 to the commander of al-Qaeda in Iraq, Abu Mus'ab al-Zarqawi, on how to identify one another on Islamist chat forums: “I am ready to communicate via the Internet or any other means, so send me your men to ask for me on the chat forum of Ana al Muslim, or others. The password between us is that thing that you brought to me a long time ago from Herat.”[2] American officials ultimately captured Atiyah's letter to Zarqawi, but they likely did not know what Zarqawi's present to Atiyah had been and thus would be unable to determine which chat thread on a crowded forum was important. Community Maintenance Terrorist groups often rely on “in-group” social dynamics to reinforce antipathy to “out-group” members. As such, restricted spaces where propaganda can be shared, watched in unison, and discussed, are often critical. In the real world, terrorist groups use meetings, meals, religious sermons, and rallies to build this sort of in-group cohesion. Online, closed groups in messaging applications, restricted spaces on social media platforms, and branded online forums serve to separate in-group participants from outsiders. In some cases, community maintenance can be accomplished in more open digital environments using symbols and phrases that denote in-group membership. Making such public signs is much easier, however, after the basic in-group lexicon has been established in more closeted environments. These closed spaces also offer a way to reinforce and normalize an ideological worldview that endorses violence as a means to an end. This function may be particularly important for less institutionalized radical movements, such as white supremacists, as opposed to the more structured organizations jihadists tend to create. Such environments serve not only active terrorists, but also a circle of potential supporters who may some day serve as recruits. Dedicated salafi-jihadi and white supremacist web forums are often used for this purpose, but closed groups in social media platforms or messaging applications are also used. Financing Sustained terrorist campaigns cost money. Digital tools offer mechanisms for both fundraising and financial transfers. The core problem with electronic money transfers is security, which has driven many terrorists to use cash or to transfer money via criminal networks, in the form of illicit goods, or through traditional money-changing networks like hawalas. But some groups do use electronic transfers, either hoping to avoid scrutiny via obscurity or, in recent years, by using crypto-currencies. In the digital space, terrorist groups may use traditional financial senders such as Western Union, electronic transfers between banks and online payment systems (e.g., Paypal or Venmo), direct fundraising for charities, or person-to-person transfers using platforms like GoFundMe or Messenger Payments. Terrorists may also facilitate financial transfers online by sharing account numbers and digital passwords for more traditional exchanges. Information Collection and Curation Terrorist groups also use the Internet to collect information. Militants use online mapping tools to plan attacks, monitor news, and identify potential recruits. Various platforms can be used for these purposes, including social media, traditional media, search engines, and specialized tools for identifying critical infrastructure and other sensitive targets. All of these tools are used by everyday people to find grocery stores, old friends, and the quickest ways to get across town. What About the Platform? It is important to recognize that some online platforms are better suited for some of the functions listed above than others, which means that terrorists often use multiple platforms for their activity online. For example, in 2014, Twitter was widely used by ISIL for audience development and brand control, but because Twitter does not allow users to upload long videos or create content repositories, ISIL propagandists used YouTube, Justpaste.it, or other platforms for content hosting. They would then post links to the content hosting site on their chosen audience-development platform. Likewise, a terrorist might use Facebook for audience development, but convince a target for recruitment to shift to Telegram to communicate securely if the recruit showed promise. There are broader ways to think about platform preferences as well. For example, community maintenance does not require a mainstream social platform because adherents are already interested in the group’s ideology and therefore are likely willing to adopt a new tool. But audience development requires utilizing platforms with an audience or active users already in place. Telegram, for example, has become a key tool for many terrorist organizations, but it is effectively only useful for brand control, community maintenance, and secure communication. It is not ideal for audience development or content hosting. [quote id="2"] The challenge for my platform, Facebook, is that a user can credibly perform all of these functions there. This is primarily a testament to Facebook's success at building a suite of tools that everyday users want to use. But it creates challenges because that suite of tools can be used in various nefarious ways by bad actors. Consider the following assets Facebook provides: no platform has a bigger user-set for audience development; it is easy to create specialized groups for community maintenance purposes; most (but not all) forms of media can be uploaded for content hosting; and persistent accounts can be used for brand control. Among other implications, this suite of functionality means Facebook needs a wide range of countermeasures to prevent misuse. Just as platforms vary in their utility for various functions, terrorist groups vary in the value they place on specific functions. Al-Qaeda has always conceptualized itself as a smaller, more elite organization than ISIL, thus it was slow to abandon the use of web forums that were well suited to community maintenance and brand control, even after the rise of social media networks. ISIL, by contrast, long aimed to build a broad social movement and encourage so-called lone wolf attacks. Compared to al-Qaeda, it historically risked its brand control as a result of focusing so heavily on audience development and content hosting, relying on platforms like Twitter, Facebook, and YouTube. For example, ISIL has embraced unofficial media groups producing pro-Islamic State propaganda more so than al-Qaeda. Over time, ISIL came to understand the importance of brand control and has embraced Telegram as a core tool for achieving that goal. Policymakers, in both government and corporate settings, and the wider counter-terrorism policy research community must understand how terrorists use specific platforms in order to effectively prescribe countermeasures. For example, platforms used for content hosting should prioritize mechanisms to identify terrorist propaganda — various techniques for content matching are likely to prove useful. But these techniques will not be as important for platforms used to maintain a group’s community, communicate securely, and organize financing. For those platforms, identifying behavioral signals or information-sharing with partners may be more important. Platforms that support numerous functions will need to develop a variety of techniques. There is no one-size-fits-all solution to this problem and the counter-terrorism policy community must not make the mistake of suggesting otherwise. Tech company decision-makers are well aware of the differences between platforms and, in a very different way, so too are the terrorist groups that use them.

Counter-Terrorism Questions for Technology Companies

Companies developing a counter-terrorism policy need to build a strategy that is adaptable enough to keep pace with changing dynamics in the real world and evolving technical realities. They must consider the tactical implications both to terrorists and to their far more numerous benign users. They also must consider how their choices will impact more traditional counter-terrorist actors, whether in government or nonprofits. The purpose of this section is to focus on some of the key challenges counter-terrorism policymakers at technology companies face. It is crucial for counter-terrorism policy experts to understand the variety of factors that shape how a company responds to terrorism on its platform. These factors vary widely, and include the following: Against this backdrop, online platforms must make a series of strategic policy choices and operational decisions for addressing terrorist activity online, with far-reaching policy impacts. The purpose of describing these issues is not to argue for any one particular solution. Rather, it is to illustrate how these choices may manifest for policymakers within tech companies so that the traditional counter-terrorism community can consider and, hopefully, better advise this new crop of policymakers emerging within tech companies. This list of questions, and potential solutions, is not intended to be comprehensive. However, it is illustrative of the key strategic and operational issues and potential solutions facing technology companies as they construct counter-terrorism strategies. Strategic Choices How to Determine Who Is a Terrorist? One of the most fundamental policy decisions technology companies face is how to determine who is a terrorist. There are several options, each with its own pros and cons. One option is to rely on international designation lists, such as those maintained by the United Nations or European Union. This approach allows companies to lean on institutions that theoretically reflect the global community’s collective wisdom and allows a technology company to avoid making decisions that may be perceived as political. The problem with this approach is that international organizations, and the lists they generate, in reality reflect a politicized consensus developed after much political wrangling. Moreover, the lists are updated very slowly, and often reflect a lowest-common-denominator approach. This generally means that such lists include the most prominent global terrorists but exclude militant groups that receive less global attention or are only relevant in specific locales. Companies that want to address a wider range of terrorists using their platforms might instead decide to rely on designation lists maintained by various governments around the world. This approach avoids the lowest-common-denominator issue and can align a company with legal authorities around the globe. The problem is that some government actors designate non-violent political groups as terrorists, so this approach may lead a company to censor groups based on a regime’s political agenda. A company may try to rely only on terrorism lists from specific governments, for example, from their home country or from other democratic states. But this approach forces companies to determine which countries are suitably democratic. In addition to risking that a government will block a particular service from operating in its jurisdiction, this approach would also mean that companies, not political institutions, would be making key decisions globally about which governments are legitimate. A final option is that companies can designate terrorist organizations themselves. This approach offers companies a mechanism to resist government pressure to crackdown on peaceful opposition groups, but it requires companies to do extensive analytical work, come up with a clear definition of terrorism, and assert a designation role traditionally reserved for governments. How to Structure Basic Content Standards? It may seem easy for a company to simply “prohibit terrorism” on their platform, but putting in place a robust policy is far more complex. Companies must, for example, determine whether to construct restrictions at a content, account, or user level, as well as what sort of engagement with terrorist content or groups is acceptable and what is not. Content-level restrictions proscribe support for terrorism within individual pieces of material online. “Content” differs by platform, but on Twitter it would be a tweet; on Facebook, a post, comment, or similar piece of user-generated information; and on YouTube, a single uploaded video. Even at the content level, companies must determine what sort of material violates their rules. One mechanism is simply to prohibit formal propaganda produced or explicitly designed to advance the message of a terrorist or terrorist group. This is a powerful approach against groups like ISIL that produce a high volume of branded formal propaganda, but it is less valuable to counter informal propaganda, which is common among a range of terrorists, including white supremacists and localized ISIL supporters in some areas of the world. However, targeting informal propaganda may create implementation challenges as this material is more difficult to identify. Removing content produced by terrorist organizations may seem straightforward, but companies must also determine how far to take that approach. For example, should they remove praise and support for terrorist groups, even if it seems to come from people without any official ties to the group or people who support a group’s political goals but not its violent tactics? Removing such support from social media will tend to produce more equity across organizations, including those with less formal support structures, but it also generates ambiguity. What exactly does “praise” mean? Does it apply even when the terrorist group is doing something seen as positive for a community — for example, providing disaster relief or negotiating a ceasefire? This approach may also implicate regular users in complex political situations who may express support for a group widely understood globally as a terrorist organization, like Hezbollah, that nonetheless maintains local political legitimacy. Companies must also determine whether to allow some content from terrorist groups on their platforms in specific circumstances. This might come in the form of political campaigning by groups like Hezbollah or the Milli Muslim League, or Sinn Fein during an earlier time period. Platforms may also choose to allow terrorist content when it is shared for purposes of counter-speech — pushing back against the narrative of terrorist groups — or by mainstream media or academics. Content clearly condemning terrorism, raising awareness about terrorism, or advancing the study of these groups has obvious social value, but allowing even this content carries risks. Adversarial terrorist groups may use such policy carve-outs to obfuscate their true intent when posting content, and terrorist supporters may still engage dangerously with content when it is shared by a legitimate actor for legitimate purposes. Moreover, any complexity in a policy regarding terrorist propaganda will slow enforcement decisions. [quote id="3"] Some companies may determine that it is inefficient or ineffective to simply prohibit terrorist content from being shared on their site. Rather, they deem it better to remove accounts that represent terrorist entities or that demonstrate support for terrorism. The most straightforward way to do this is simply to remove an account after a certain number of content violations. The benefit of this approach is simplicity. It also ensures the account is judged directly on its own online behavior. Some companies may want to assess accounts using a broader set of indicators to determine whether removal is warranted. This might include the account’s IP address, its engagement with other dangerous accounts, patterns of friending behavior, or other account-level metadata, as well as technical signs gathered with anti-spam techniques that indicate an account was created disingenuously or reflects a previously removed account. Importantly, metadata-based tools may work even when content is encrypted, making them potentially very valuable for encrypted platforms. The most aggressive approach to imposing content standards focuses on the user directly. This means that a real-world person is simply not allowed to use a platform, regardless of who they interact with or what they post. This approach is straightforward for notorious terrorists like Osama bin Laden but is more complicated when it comes to more obscure terrorists like, for example, members of the Kurdistan Worker’s Party. User-level restrictions also raise important practical questions. Should a prohibition extend only to leaders of a terrorist organization or to all members? How should those categories be defined and what is the evidentiary standard for determining whether someone falls into either category? Moreover, even in the best of circumstances, a company will not be able to create, or reasonably enforce, a comprehensive list of the world's terrorists. Despite this final problem, establishing stringent restrictions at the user level does offer a consistent standard for removing terrorist users on a given platform if the company becomes aware of them. How to Manage Government Content Removal Orders? Governments often report content to social media companies if they deem it illegal or unacceptable per the company’s terms of service. The differences between the two types of requests are important and result in very different kinds of referrals to a technology company. The former, if legitimate, is a legal order that carries the weight of law and usually comes from a judge. The latter is simply an administrative referral that may come from a communications regulator or Internet referral unit. Companies must determine how to respond to these referrals, with each approach carrying pros and cons. Legal Orders The simplest approach for social media companies is to abide by government declarations that the flagged content on their platform is illegal and remove it. This approach may appeal to smaller companies in particular that do not have the resources to make in-house judgments about potential terrorist content or a legal team to validate that an order is legally binding. The downside, however, is that it risks potentially allowing governments to censor unpopular political views online. It also raises the possibility of companies erroneously taking action on orders from entities that do not actually have the legal standing to order content removal. A company may also simply decide to ignore government legal orders. This approach limits, for example, the ability of authoritarian governments seeking to censor content, but raises the possibility of missing genuinely dangerous content on the platform. It also increases the risk that a government may sanction or block that platform, which obviously has important implications both for the business and for the ability of citizens to express themselves. This approach does not require extensive resources, however, which is a major advantage for companies with limited capacity. A middle-ground approach is to review all government referrals against the company's own terms of service, assuming they exist. This limits the risk of both facilitating government censorship and leaving up dangerous content, but it requires time and internal resources that may only be available to larger companies. It could also lead to the company opposing a government legal order, which may involve extensive litigation or result in the platform being blocked in that country. Tech companies may also try to apply a legitimacy standard to take into account human rights and adherence to rule-of-law in an effort to distinguish legitimate legal orders from illegitimate ones. In order to operationalize this approach, companies would likely have to evaluate orders at the country level — meaning orders from certain countries would be respected while orders from other countries would be ignored. They would also assess the legal validity of the order itself. This approach will inevitably create controversy when a company rejects certain legal orders while accepting others. Administrative Referrals Companies have similar options for responding to administrative referrals from governments, although the legal implications here are obviously different. As knowledge about terrorist use of the Internet has grown more prominent, both states and bodies like the European Union have developed specialized programs to identify terrorist content online and refer it to tech companies. Some companies may treat government referrals in the same way they do legal orders and remove the content in question immediately. This approach is valuable for small companies with limited capacity, but opens the door to extensive, and potentially politicized, government censorship because such administrative orders do not require legal review. Likewise, companies could decide to ignore government referrals entirely, either by refusing to accept such referrals or deciding not to act on such information. This would limit the ability of a government to use companies as a means of exercising censorship, but creates the genuine risk of missing dangerous content since governments — which maintain expertise on terrorism — are more likely than regular users to refer actual terrorist content to companies. [quote id="4"] A middle-ground approach would require reviewing government referrals against the company's own terms of service. This limits the risk of government censorship and of leaving up dangerous content, but it requires time and internal resources that, again, may only be available to larger companies. Companies may also decide to split the difference and abide by legal orders to remove content but review administrative referrals against their terms of service. These more nuanced approaches typically require more sophistication from the company, including legal, policy, and operations teams working in concert at a global level. This kind of coordination may be feasible for larger companies but is very difficult for smaller platforms. When a company receives a legal order or referral from a government, it must also determine whether removals should be applied only within the boundaries of that country or globally. Removing content globally will likely satisfy the government more fully and avoids the odd scenario of data accessibility varying by location or via a Virtual Private Network. But this approach effectively gives any country the ability to project its own legal framework onto other countries, which may result in content that is legal in many places being removed because of the dictates of more repressive systems. Only removing content locally prevents governments from imposing a global censorship regime based on local law. But this creates obvious workarounds through Virtual Private Networks or other techniques that will allow the proscribed content to still be accessed within the country demanding removal. Reviewing referrals against internal terms of service helps obviate this issue because if the content does violate a company's terms of service, it is reasonable to apply that decision globally. Operational Choices The policy choices discussed above are foundational, but good outcomes require more than just policy — that policy must be applied effectively. The operational counter-terrorism choices facing technology platforms vary dramatically. They depend on the nature of the product itself, how terrorists use the product, and the resources a company has to invest in countering the problem. And, as with many problems, it is not always clear that throwing more resources at combatting terrorist activities online will dramatically improve outcomes. The broader counter-terrorism community often fails to consider the operational tradeoffs facing companies developing online counter-terrorism programs. This problem is heightened by the techno-utopianism long touted by Silicon Valley, which has created the misconception that simple technical solutions exist for most problems. Unfortunately, that does not reflect reality. In truth, decision-makers inside tech companies must balance different counter-terrorism priorities and make bets on the utility of investing in various programs with uncertain outcomes. The operational issues facing tech companies can be broken down into four broad categories:
  1. How to find potential terrorist material?
  2. What to do when potential terrorist material is found?
  3. Should appeals be allowed and, if so, how should they work?
  4. Should counter-speech efforts be supported? If so, how?
At a high level, these questions may seem simple. In practice, they are more complex. The most important, over-arching operational challenge for tech companies is scale. Facebook took action on 14.3 million pieces of content related to ISIL or al-Qaeda in the first nine months of 2018, finding 99 percent of that content itself. Facebook’s policy team writes exacting rules and rigorous implementation guidelines for identifying and removing content but does not take part in most removals. Instead, machine-learning classifiers and a team of more than 15,000 reviewers — 200 of whom are specialists on terrorist groups and other dangerous organizations — take action on content. But achieving consistency and accuracy is challenging when these processes play out globally with all the complexities of culture, language, and political context, not to mention simple human error. Even if mistakes only occur in a small percentage of cases, the massive scale of the Internet means there will nevertheless still be a high number of errors. Likewise, sometimes seemingly obvious solutions do not pan out. Facebook, for example, allows users to report terrorist material they encounter, but this is a very inefficient way to find terrorist content. Only 41,000 of the 14.3 million pieces of content against which action was taken were the result of reports that originated outside Facebook. Though it might seem like Facebook should prioritize user reports of terrorist content, the reality is that these reports often simply point to content that users do not like rather than to actual terrorist content. Flagging content internally is a far more accurate and efficient way to identify terrorist content online. This creates what amounts to a customer-service problem: Facebook obviously wants to be responsive to the concerns of users, but focusing on external reports — from both users and governments — means focusing on the lowest scale, least precise methods of identifying terrorist content. How to Find Potential Terrorist Content? The best methods for identifying terrorist content largely depend on how a platform defines terrorism and the content that violates its standards, as well as how the platform itself is built. It is useful to think about detection methods as falling into two sub-categories: human approaches and automated approaches. Human approaches have the advantage of flexibility: People can adjust what they are looking for and quickly identify new behavioral patterns by terrorists. Automated techniques are valuable in that they scale to a global audience. However, they are not as nimble as human approaches and can potentially be circumvented by adaptive adversaries. Many of the bigger tech companies, Facebook included, utilize both human and automated techniques. Human Approaches As discussed above, referrals of terrorist content from governments and inter-governmental organizations can be fruitful. Relative to user reports, government referrals are generally precise — meaning they actually point to terrorist content — but they are low in volume. A company may use government reports to identify and remove terrorist content, and in doing so may mitigate external pressure from those governments, but this approach is extremely limited in scope. Moreover, government referrals almost always focus on content hosting, audience development, and brand maintenance functions. Governments may be aware of other activities conducted by terrorists online, but generally do not want to squander valuable intelligence sources or reveal the methods they use to identify such behavior. Tech companies may also work with external teams to identify terrorist content. For example, YouTube uses a “Trusted Flagger” program while Facebook contracts with a range of vendors to provide targeted referrals of terrorist content.[3] A company could decide to provide specialized tools or API access to facilitate the work of such partners. Like government referrals, referrals from these external teams tend to be high quality. Importantly, they can usually be produced in higher volume than government referrals. Nonetheless, these reports are still relatively small in scale and tend to focus solely on content hosting and audience development functions of terrorist groups. [quote id="5"] For many technology platforms, user reports are a critical way of maintaining a relationship with users concerned by material they see on the platform. These reports provide a method of redress that, at best, provides both useful information to the platform and gives the user a sense of ownership and responsibility. In the real world, counter-terrorism programs remind citizens, “If you see something, say something.” User reports reflect the same general instinct online. Moreover, users in the aggregate see far more content than either governments or external teams. The problem with user reports is twofold: First, users often report benign content or information they simply do not like. This means that the platform must invest significant resources to identify which reports are useful, a process that is costly, time-consuming, and may distract from higher-value efforts. Second, users must be motivated to report things. This is unlikely in closed spaces where terrorists conduct community maintenance or communicate securely because only individuals likely to support the terrorist cause will be present in such spaces. The human approach does not always rely on external information sources. Platforms can also use internal teams of specialists to identify terrorist content. These teams may have better technical tools than outside sources, which allows them to identify a wider range of terrorist behavior than the content hosting and audience development identified by governments, users, and external teams. Nevertheless, they cannot match the scale of user reports, let alone the scale of automated techniques described below. Given the limitations on how much content these internal experts can identify, platforms have to determine whether investing in these teams makes sense or whether employee time should be reserved for other tasks. Automated Approaches There are many automated methods that can be used to identify potential terrorist content, and all of them have costs and benefits. Some are only useful with certain types of content while others are unreliable unless used in conjunction with human reviewers. While such techniques are critical to a robust counter-terrorism effort online, they are not foolproof. Content matching is one of the simplest automated detection techniques available. This approach creates a “digital fingerprint” of known bad files, whether images, video, audio, or text. These digital fingerprints, known as “hashes,” manifest as unique strings of numbers, letters, and symbols that correspond to a given file. Those hashes can then be matched against hashes created when content is uploaded to a particular platform. Many hashing techniques allow a company to catch an image or video that has been altered, but these techniques do sometimes miss content that a human being would recognize as fundamentally the same. Content matching is particularly effective in countering terrorist groups that regularly release formal propaganda. The technique does have limitations, however: It requires creating hashes from content uploaded to a platform and will not work on content that has been encrypted. It also does not work for newly created content, whether live-streamed or otherwise produced in the real world and then uploaded. Content matching also requires making a range of policy choices, most notably setting thresholds for how similar a piece of content must be to another known piece of bad content to which it has been algorithmically matched in order for it to be removed or reviewed. Setting a lower threshold will capture more bad content but is more likely to result in false positives, while setting a higher threshold will result in fewer false positives but is more likely to miss some terrorist content. Optical recognition technology allows platforms to scan for logos, weapons, and other potentially worrisome indicators in an image or video — even if the overall image or video does not match a known digital fingerprint. This technique is more sophisticated than content matching and thus harder to deploy for small companies. Like content matching, optical recognition also generates confidence scores that rate the likelihood that something identified by the algorithm is, in fact, worrisome. However, this technology can only scan content that has been uploaded to a platform, requires extensive training data, and will not work on encrypted content. Many terrorist organizations use hashtags to identify their content or insert propaganda into mainstream conversations. ISIL, for example, often coordinates “raids” using hashtags on specific platforms. Platforms can identify these hashtags in various ways, for example, by monitoring terrorist communications where hashtags are discussed, by systematically identifying hashtags commonly associated with terrorist content and then using them to search for other content, or by identifying key themes and issues targeted by terrorist actors and searching for related hashtags. The benefit of hashtag tracking is that it allows quick tactical disruption of terrorist propaganda distribution. But hashtags are used on some platforms more than others and can easily be changed by terrorist organizations. Hashtag-based detection also requires strong coordination with a team of human experts to be sustainable. [quote id="6"] Text classification, another automated approach to flagging terrorist content, uses machine learning techniques to identify text that is similar to content already determined to support terrorists. Text classification can be very useful for detecting potential terrorist content, but because of nuances in language it may not be precise enough to reliably delete content without some human oversight. Such approaches also require a large corpus of training data, which may be difficult to acquire for smaller companies. All of the approaches above rely on assessments of content itself, which is only possible if it is not encrypted. But some platforms may be able to identify dangerous accounts based on account-level behavior, such as having relationships with suspect accounts, using worrisome IP addresses, using bots to auto-create accounts, or acting in conjunction with other accounts that have demonstrated similarly problematic behavior. Because platforms differ, these behavioral signs are likely to vary significantly by platform. One advantage of this behavioral approach to tracking and countering terrorist activity online is that it can be used on some encrypted platforms because it does not rely on content. But such an approach can generate high rates of both false positives and false negatives — and those rates cannot be verified in an encrypted setting. Most techniques to identify terrorist content are implemented by single companies on their own platform. However, some companies have begun sharing signals of potential terrorist content with one another. The most notable example is the Global Internet Forum to Counter Terrorism's  hash-sharing database, which allows companies to benefit from their colleagues' work in other companies.[4] This is particularly important when terrorist groups use multiple platforms in coordination with one another. Such collaboration offers small companies a quick way to develop a relatively sophisticated counter-terrorism program, but it is not a panacea for the reasons described above. The most sophisticated efforts to identify terrorist content rely on machine learning that looks at a variety of signals to determine whether a piece of content supports terrorism. These techniques develop a confidence score indicating the likelihood that a piece of content supports terrorism. These tools are very powerful because they can holistically assess content. However, they require extensive training data as well as difficult policy decisions to set thresholds for taking action based on the confidence scores produced by the algorithm. These tools must also be carefully maintained to sustain accuracy, which means human beings continuing to train and retrain existing algorithms. In short, even the most sophisticated machine-learning techniques require continued human maintenance to work as intended. What to Do After Finding Potential Terrorist Content? In the real world, deciding how to take action on content depends on various factors, including the context under which it was uploaded and the confidence with which an algorithmic classifier suggests it supports terrorism. This paper does not capture all of that variation. It does, however, describe an assortment of actions that can be taken and discusses the variety of circumstances in which those actions might be used. Inherent to this discussion is the notion that terrorist content might be shared for legitimate reasons by academics, activists decrying extremism, or journalists. The notion that there are legitimate reasons to share terrorist propaganda significantly distinguishes this kind of content from other types of harmful content found online, most notably child pornography. Legal regimes proscribe sharing or possessing such content regardless of circumstance. As a practical matter, this means that reviewing terrorist material by a company often requires a more nuanced assessment of context than when it comes to child pornography, which can slow down the review process and increase the likelihood of human mistakes. This section is therefore broken into two parts: first, a discussion of the relative pros and cons of allowing human beings or automation to “decide” when to take action on a given piece of digital material; and, second, to assess those actions themselves. Human Beings and Automation Human beings assess context far better than computers, particularly when considering the linguistic breadth of the Internet and cultural specificities related to terrorism. Companies can hire people with specialized language and cultural skills, who can apply some level of judgment or cultural nuance in reviewing content. But human judgment carries costs as well. Many companies simply do not have the resources to hire large teams of human reviewers, and those that do must struggle to ensure that those teams apply policy consistently at scale. Moreover, human beings are fallible, they get tired, they have personal biases, and the work of reviewing the intense content that terrorist groups often produce can be exhausting and disturbing. Automation avoids many of these pitfalls: Computers do not get tired or make “mistakes” in the traditional sense. Algorithms, perhaps counterintuitively, also have some advantages for small companies because, once trained, they do not require the large human teams necessary for human review. But automated systems are only as good as the training data and labeling exercises used to program and maintain them. A poorly trained algorithm may have a systemic bias around certain types of content or certain organizations and, as a result, can produce false positives and false negatives, just as humans do. This carries real risk: Counter-speech campaigns sometimes purposefully emulate the visual style and language of terrorist propaganda, which might confuse some automated detection techniques, but not a human being. In other words, enabling an algorithm to remove content does not obviate the need to make difficult policy decisions. It just changes how those policy choices manifest. A policymaker must decide whether the computer should remove content when the confidence indicates a particular likelihood that it supports terrorism. Is a 95 percent likelihood the right threshold? How about 90 percent? Eighty percent? Fifty percent? Those decisions all lead to the inevitable result that benign content will be removed erroneously. The question is how many of those “false positives” are acceptable. Ultimately, people set these standards, not computers. What Actions Should Companies Take? In addition to determining who or what should make the final decision about a suspected account or piece of content, companies must also determine what action to take. The simplest choice is to remove the flagged content or account. Removal is also appealing because it constitutes a consistent and visible action against terrorist material. However, when it comes to account removals, companies must determine how many instances of content violation should trigger removal. Should it be one? What about false positives? That could lead to immediate account removal. Perhaps it should be two or three? Or five or 10? Should some violations be deemed more egregious than others, or is every instance of support for terrorism equal? If removal does not seem appropriate, platforms can instead limit the visibility of the content or account. This may be a useful tactic in situations when a human or algorithm is not completely confident that the material in question supports terrorism. Such limitations could even be employed on a temporary basis until a more definitive judgment can be made. Once again, these techniques, especially the more nuanced ones, will be much easier to implement for larger companies than smaller ones. [quote id="7"] The Global Internet Forum to Counter Terrorism maintains a database of more than 100,000 visually distinct images and 10,000 visually distinct videos that can be used by participant companies to identify dangerous material on their own platforms. But companies must decide whether to utilize this database. It may seem like a no-brainer, but smaller companies have to make difficult decisions about where to apply limited engineering resources. Even if they decide to focus on counter-terrorism, they may determine that other techniques will be more fruitful and so decide not to spend the resources to contribute to this hash-sharing database. Finally, companies must determine whether to refer a potentially dangerous account or piece of content to law enforcement. Not every violation of a company's terms of service deserves law enforcement attention and companies have obligations to protect user information, except in extenuating circumstances. So, companies must determine a standard for when to refer an account to law enforcement. Should they limit such referrals to accounts associated with specific groups? Should they have clear evidence of an imminent attack? What does “imminent” really mean? Should they refer individuals coordinating propaganda? Should they provide information about individuals when the only reasonable real-world action would have to come from the military rather than law enforcement? How certain should a company be that the account-holder in question poses an actual threat? Should Appeals Be Allowed? Even the best policies are still fallible because there will always be errors that result from both false positives and false negatives. A company must, therefore, decide whether and how to allow for redress by users. Appeals systems create policy questions of their own, however. How long should a user have to appeal? How difficult should it be to appeal? Should the user be able to introduce new evidence to an appeals process in order to justify that their intent in posting violating content was actually benign? Should the same review teams that made the potential error assess the appeal, or should companies establish an independent review body? These tricky questions are made harder because appeals of decisions involving terrorist content put a company in the uncomfortable position of potentially communicating directly with a terrorist group or their agents during the course of the appeal. Indeed, at the scale of the Internet, not only are erroneous removals inevitable, so too is the erroneous reinstatement of terrorist content and accounts after having been removed correctly. A company must decide whether the risk of inadvertently reinstating terrorist behavior is worth the value of giving the larger digital community the ability to seek redress. Should Companies Support Counter-speech Efforts? If So, How? Counter-speech programs have a long and complex history in counter-terrorism. Critics question their effectiveness and suggest that efforts to “counter violent extremism” are used as cover to monitor minority communities.[5] And yet, the promise of counter-speech efforts that proactively turn people away from radicalization is compelling. Many Internet companies were founded to empower and promote speech, thus counter-speech work has an obvious appeal compared to censorship. The challenge for technology platforms is twofold: Tech companies cannot communicate credibly directly against violent extremist organizations, and companies often have legal and political incentives not to favor one political ideology over another. Nevertheless, there are a range of options for supporting counter-speech efforts short of simply producing and distributing messages directly. The simplest approach is that companies can support civil society groups — students, non-governmental organizations, and activists — to develop their own campaigns against extremism. This might mean providing financial support but could also include providing training and resources as well. Offering advertising credits is a simple way to empower non-profits to expand their reach. Tech companies may also decide to introduce counter-speech to users when they engage with particularly worrisome content or concepts online. The Jigsaw Redirect program, for example, introduces counter-speech messages when users search for terms that suggest they are interested in extremist groups.[6] Finally, tech companies might also develop ad-targeting tactics for non-profits engaged in counter-speech efforts just as they would with a small business trying to reach new customers. The challenge in this case is determining which users are potentially at risk of radicalization, which could easily lead to bias.

Conclusion

This essay has developed a new typology for thinking about how terrorists use the Internet and has illustrated some of the strategic- and operational-level decisions that policymakers at technology companies face as they develop counter-terrorism programs. In doing so, it hopefully has established parameters that will help produce fruitful conversations between the traditional counter-terrorism policy community and a new crop of policymakers within technology companies. It is worth briefly pointing out some areas this essay has not addressed: This discussion has not, for example, wrestled with how companies should communicate with their users about counter-terrorism work, transparency more generally, the value of various metrics for measuring success, structures and dynamics for sharing information with academics and other researchers, or the utility (or lack thereof) of broader concepts like deterrence in digital counter-terrorism. This essay has only partially raised critical issues like encryption and the persistent tension between privacy and security. It does not wrestle with the specific challenges raised by a host of emerging technologies, including crypto-currencies, live-streaming, online video gaming, and virtual reality. It also sidesteps an issue that can be central for tech companies developing counter-terrorism programs: the perception that an aggressive program against non-state militant actors effectively benefits state actors. This is a key issue, but one that is outside the scope of this paper and has already been widely discussed in other venues. Regardless, the counter-terrorism policy community can and should productively weigh in on all of these issues. [quote id="8"] Indeed, the counter-terrorism research community should not accept the categorizations in this paper as fixed. They should be interrogated and improved on. That said, any critique must account for the tradeoffs inherent in choosing specific counter-terrorism approaches and the differences between technology platforms and the companies that run them. Failure to acknowledge, for example, that scanning content contains privacy tradeoffs, that growing review teams leads to management challenges and inconsistent enforcement, that small companies have vastly different capabilities than large ones, and that specific technical solutions are better suited for some platforms facing specific types of counter-terrorism challenges than others may produce satisfying rhetoric, but little else. Counter-terrorism policymaking online, like most policymaking, is about balancing tradeoffs. The counter-terrorism community must acknowledge those tradeoffs to productively influence real-world decision-making. The importance of having constructive discourse about digital threats cannot be overstated. The tech community was regrettably slow in taking counter-terrorism efforts seriously. But basing policy recommendations on that historical tardiness rather than on the contemporary challenge of how best to respond is worse than unhelpful — it is counterproductive. The largest technology platforms have made great strides countering terrorist content and, although they can still do better, have genuinely committed to addressing the problem. In order to improve, they need specific guidance from the counter-terrorism policy community on how to improve. Researchers simply demanding that tech companies “do more” is no longer helpful. It suggests limited practical knowledge about the issues and should be seen for what it is — a surface-level political argument rather than useful policy guidance. Of course, outdated policy analysis can also spill into counterproductive regulatory efforts. Regulatory policy that explicitly constrains or implicitly disincentivizes voluntary counter-terrorism efforts by tech companies — even if it compels some forms of productive engagement between companies and government — risks making the terrorism environment online worse, not better. Perhaps even more importantly, smaller technology platforms are carefully watching the engagement between larger platforms and the policy community. As large platforms push terrorists deeper into the shadows of the web, smaller platforms will be a more important part of the counter-terrorism effort. It should be everyone's goal to bring these platforms into the conversation, not scare them away. We must convince them that such engagement is productive rather than just an exercise in exposing a digital platform to criticism or penalty. Digital counter-terrorism efforts are daunting and therefore humbling. The scale of the challenge is massive, and every success is mitigated by adaptive adversaries working to circumvent new rules and enforcement efforts. Tech companies should have humility in the face of such a monumental challenge and reach out to the traditional policy and counter-terrorism community for advice and guidance. Policymakers and academics must have a sense of humility as well. Studies of terrorism online are hampered by incomplete data and usually only measure content-hosting and audience-development functions, which can mislead the public and policymakers about where companies should focus their efforts. To put it bluntly, researchers cannot reliably measure how much content terrorists post online because of the confounding effect of platform countermeasures. Researchers do not see what terrorists post. Rather, they see what is left after platform countermeasures are employed. For the major platforms, this is usually a small subset of what was posted originally, and it means that there is a fundamental bias in nearly all studies of terrorist content online. This bias was not nearly as severe in the years before platforms began to respond to ISIL’s broad exploitation of their platforms, but that situation has now changed. If counter-terrorism analysts fail to mention this dynamic in their research, they mislead themselves and their readership about what terrorists are doing online and what platforms are doing to counter terrorist activity. At the same time, companies need to be more transparent about their policies and their enforcement of those policies. Whenever possible, they should provide access to data that researchers cannot otherwise get a hold of. But researchers must recognize that such sharing creates privacy risks of its own and, in some cases, is directly restricted by existing privacy constraints on tech companies. Tech companies and researchers should also endeavor to utilize shared terminology and conceptual frameworks, such as the typology presented above. Digital counter-terrorism efforts will not and should not be driven primarily by governments, even in a more aggressive regulatory environment. Regulation may eventually set some baselines for these efforts but treating regulation as a panacea is a mistake. Indeed, regulatory efforts that compel companies to focus on narrow aspects of the problem may actually create more problems than they resolve. Regardless, companies will continue to be primary actors in the counter-terrorism effort. The operative question is not whether they should work to improve, it is how, precisely, they should go about doing so. Counter-terrorism researchers should recognize this, and tailor their recommendations not just to regulators working to set baselines, but to the corporate policymakers who want to do far more than the bare minimum.   Brian Fishman leads efforts against terrorist and hate organizations at Facebook. He is the author of The Master Plan: ISIS, al-Qaeda, and the Jihadi Strategy for Final Victory (Yale University Press, 2016), and is the former director of research at the Combating Terrorism Center at West Point. The views expressed in this paper are Mr. Fishman’s alone. [post_title] => Crossroads: Counter-terrorism and the Internet [post_excerpt] => [post_status] => publish [comment_status] => open [ping_status] => closed [post_password] => [post_name] => crossroads-counter-terrorism-and-the-internet [to_ping] => [pinged] => [post_modified] => 2019-05-24 11:47:14 [post_modified_gmt] => 2019-05-24 15:47:14 [post_content_filtered] => [post_parent] => 0 [guid] => http://tnsr.org/?p=1298 [menu_order] => 0 [post_type] => post [post_mime_type] => [comment_count] => 0 [filter] => raw [meta] => [lead] => Brian Fishman, who leads the effort against terrorist and hate organizations at Facebook, argues that counter-terrorism researchers need to tailor their recommendations to the corporate policymakers inside tech companies who want to do far more than the bare minimum. [pubinfo] => [issue] => Vol 2, Iss 2 [quotes] => Array ( [0] => Array ( [author] => [style] => left [text] => Counter-terrorism policy experts should tailor analysis and recommendations to these decision-makers within tech companies and to the challenges they face. ) [1] => Array ( [author] => [style] => right [text] => Policymakers, in both government and corporate settings, and the wider counter-terrorism policy research community must understand how terrorists use specific platforms in order to effectively prescribe countermeasures.  ) [2] => Array ( [author] => [style] => left [text] => Removing content produced by terrorist organizations may seem straightforward, but companies must also determine how far to take that approach.  ) [3] => Array ( [author] => [style] => right [text] => When a company receives a legal order or referral from a government, it must also determine whether removals should be applied only within the boundaries of that country or globally.  ) [4] => Array ( [author] => [style] => left [text] => A company may use government reports to identify and remove terrorist content, and in doing so may mitigate external pressure from those governments, but this approach is extremely limited in scope.  ) [5] => Array ( [author] => [style] => right [text] => Most techniques to identify terrorist content are implemented by single companies on their own platform. However, some companies have begun sharing signals of potential terrorist content with one another.  ) [6] => Array ( [author] => [style] => left [text] => How certain should a company be that the account-holder in question poses an actual threat? ) [7] => Array ( [author] => [style] => right [text] => The tech community was regrettably slow in taking counter-terrorism efforts seriously. But basing policy recommendations on that historical tardiness rather than on the contemporary challenge of how best to respond is worse than unhelpful — it is counterproductive.  ) ) [style] => strategist [type] => Strategist [style_label] => The Strategist [download] => Array ( [title] => PDF Download [file] => 1469 ) [authors] => Array ( [0] => 264 ) [endnotes] => Array ( [title] => Endnotes [endnotes] => [1] For other frameworks, see: The Use of the Internet for Terrorist Purposes, (United Nations Office on Drugs and Crime: New York, 2012), https://www.unodc.org/documents/frontpage/Use_of_InternetInternet_for_Terrorist_Purposes.pdf; Maura Conway, “Determining the Role of the Internet in Violent Extremism and Terrorism: Six Suggestions for Progressing Research,” Studies in Conflict & Terrorism 40, no. 1 (Spring 2017): 77–98, https://doi.org/10.1080/1057610X.2016.1157408. [2] “Atiyah’s Letter to Zarqawi,” Dec. 11, 2005 (10 Dhu al-Qida 1426), Combating Terrorism Center Harmony Programhttps://ctc.usma.edu/harmony-program/atiyahs-letter-to-zarqawi-original-language-2/. [3] For more information, see: “YouTube Trusted Flagger Program,” Help Center, YouTube, accessed March 10, 2019, https://support.google.com/youtube/answer/7554338?hl=en; Monika Bickert and Brian Fishman, “Hard Questions: Are We Winning the War on Terrorism Online?,” Facebook Newsroom, Nov. 28, 2017, https://newsroom.fb.com/news/2017/11/hard-questions-are-we-winning-the-war-on-terrorism-online/. [4] For more information, see the Global Internet Forum to Counter Terrorism website: http://www.gifct.org/. [5] For a useful review of the various critiques of countering violent extremism programs, see: Robin Simcox “Can America’s Countering Violent Extremism Efforts Be Salvaged?,” War on the Rocks, Dec. 17, 2018, https://warontherocks.com/2018/12/can-americas-countering-violent-extremism-efforts-be-salvaged/. [6] For more information on the Jigsaw Redirect program, see, https://redirectmethod.org/. ) [contents] => Array ( [title] => [contents] => ) ) ) [2] => Array ( [post] => WP_Post Object ( [ID] => 1253 [post_author] => 258 [post_date] => 2019-02-26 05:00:21 [post_date_gmt] => 2019-02-26 10:00:21 [post_content] => How dangerous are nuclear crises? What determines who wins and who loses? And what dynamics underpin how they unfold? Recent tensions between North Korea and the United States have exposed disagreement regarding these questions. While some analysts view escalations in rhetoric and hints of war between the United States and North Korea as “disastrous” and “so dangerous,”[1] others suggest there is little to worry about and that the “threat of war with North Korea may sound scarier than it is.”[2] This disagreement about how to understand nuclear crises is also reflected in academic debates. Different scholars offer interpretations of nuclear crises that appear to be at odds with each other. For some, the threat of nuclear use is generally so remote that nuclear-armed states can enter a crisis with little fear of it crossing the nuclear threshold. For others, nuclear escalation is highly plausible and the presence of nuclear weapons profoundly affects the way crises play out. Policymakers seeking to pursue their political goals within a nuclear crisis or reduce the risk of nuclear escalation will thus find little guidance in the existing scholarship. We argue that different interpretations of nuclear crises are not — as they initially appear — mutually exclusive. Rather, nuclear crises have different dynamics depending on two variables: the incentives to use nuclear weapons first in a crisis and the extent to which escalation is controllable by the leaders involved. Identifying these variables is not new: First-use incentives and crisis controllability are widely understood to be factors that affect how nuclear crises play out. However, they have not previously been incorporated into a single framework that can shed light on the heterogeneity of nuclear crises. Variation across these two dimensions generates four models of nuclear escalation, which correspond to established ways of thinking about nuclear crises. We label these models the “staircase” model, the “stability-instability” model, the “brinkmanship” model, and the “firestorm” model. In contrast to recent literature, we argue that no one model of nuclear crisis is “correct” — different models simply apply in different circumstances. In specifying the various types of nuclear crisis more clearly and the dimensions that underpin them, we offer a way to unite divergent interpretations of nuclear crises within a broader framework. In doing so, our framework helps make sense of inconclusive empirical findings in the international relations literature. For example, different studies have found nuclear weapons to have either no, limited, or substantial effects on the outcomes of crises.[3] Because different nuclear crises operate according to different logics, it is unsurprising that existing findings are sensitive to differences in methodological approach, case selection, modeling strategies, or coding choices. Finally, the framework provides analysts and policymakers with a tool to assess the relative dangers of potential future nuclear crises, the feasibility of signaling political interests or resolve within a crisis, and the advantages of nuclear superiority. We first review the research on nuclear crises, highlighting tensions between existing studies. We then develop our framework, describing the two variables and four models of nuclear crisis and discussing the implications of each for the dynamics of this type of crisis. We demonstrate the utility of this framework by showing how it sheds light on the Kargil War between India and Pakistan, the Cuban Missile Crisis, the Doklam crisis between India and China, and current tensions between the United States and North Korea. We conclude with implications for current and future research.

Our Understanding Of Nuclear Crises

In this study, we employ the definition of crisis used by the multi-decade International Crisis Behavior project: A nuclear crisis is an interaction between two nuclear-armed states in which there is a “change in type and/or an increase in intensity” of disruptive or hostile behaviors with a “heightened probability of military hostilities” that “destabilizes their relationship” and begins with a “disruptive act or event.”[4] Studying nuclear crises is fraught with the same methodological challenges as studies of other crises short of war, including deciding which cases to examine, grappling with selection effects, and identifying appropriate counterfactuals.[5] Despite these challenges, the significance of nuclear crises to contemporary international politics is widely understood. Matthew Kroenig, for example, writes that “the nuclear crisis [is] the primary arena in which nuclear-armed states settle important international disputes.”[6] Indeed, for many, the replacement of great power wars with nuclear crises is one of the defining features of the post-1945 international system.[7] Despite a shared recognition of the importance of nuclear crises, there is little agreement on the dynamics that underpin them. Scholars tend to view “nuclear crises” as a group of events that share an underlying logic, but disagree about what that logic is.[8] For example, according to advocates of the theory of the “nuclear revolution,” nuclear weapons suppress the temptation to escalate crises at all levels. The destructive capacity of nuclear weapons casts a long shadow over all interstate crises, restricting the range of behaviors that states can reasonably engage in.[9] As John Mearsheimer notes, “Nuclear weapons, because of the horror associated with their use, really are the ultimate deterrent” and make “states more cautious about using military force of any kind against each other.”[10] For scholars of the nuclear taboo or advocates of the “stability-instability paradox,” however, the difficulty of credibly threatening to use nuclear weapons, and the bright line distinguishing nuclear use from non-nuclear use, ought to reduce the influence that nuclear weapons have within a crisis.[11] Recent empirical scholarship also suggests that crises operate according to a certain logic, while disagreeing as to what that logic is. For example, Kroenig argues that a state with nuclear superiority is more likely to achieve its goals in a nuclear crisis, while Todd Sechser and Matthew Fuhrmann conclude that nuclear weapons do not help states compel others to do what they want during crises.[12] This disagreement is concerning for several reasons. First, policymakers (or anyone, for that matter) seeking to understand how nuclear crises unfold, how dangerous they might be, and how one might pursue a state’s political interests within such a crisis, will struggle to gain insights from a literature that offers contradictory findings and implications. Second, by seeking a single logic that explains nuclear crises, existing work downplays the variety among them.[13] A simple historical reading, for example, suggests profound differences between the dynamics underpinning the 1995 Taiwan Straits crisis, the various Berlin crises, the war in Angola, and the 1970 Cienfuegos submarine base crisis, all of which are typically identified as “nuclear crises.”[14] Indeed, common understandings of the different dangers involved in different crises — that the Cuban Missile Crisis, for example, was the “most dangerous” Cold War crisis — reflect a heterogeneity that existing theories do not account for.

Models of Nuclear Crises

In this section, we describe two variables that affect the ways in which nuclear crises unfold: the strength of incentives to use nuclear weapons first in a crisis, and the degree to which the actors involved are able to control escalation of the crisis. These two variables are determined by the objective features of a given crisis, although we incorporate the possibility that the crisis participants’ perceptions of these variables may diverge from reality in ways that influence how they behave. Incentives for first nuclear use and the degree of controllability are well understood to affect how a nuclear crisis plays out, however, they have not previously been incorporated into a single framework that sheds light on the diversity of nuclear crises. Examining these two dimensions leads to four possible “ideal type” models of nuclear crisis: the “staircase” model, the “brinkmanship” model, the “stability-instability” model, and the “firestorm” model. These models, in turn, correspond to prominent ways that scholars and analysts have thought about nuclear crises. The framework demonstrates that different models of nuclear crisis should be expected to operate under different circumstances. This insight holds important implications for how to understand existing scholarship on nuclear crises, as well as variation among these crises across time. Table 1 summarizes the indicators of the variables that we examine in the case studies below. Each of these variables is itself the aggregation of other variables. Grouping them in this way, however, allows us to impose some conceptual order on the ways in which nuclear crises can vary, and thus begin to shed light on the diversity of this class of events. Table 1: Indicators of the Two Variables [table id=13 /]   The first variable we examine is the extent to which either side faces incentives to use nuclear weapons first in a crisis. This variable asks whether the crisis is one in which either side would gain substantial advantages from using nuclear weapons first. Such incentives may emerge in at least two distinct ways. First, the dynamics of a possible nuclear war may mean that first nuclear use could meaningfully affect the final outcome of the conflict. In particular, if there is a large disparity in capabilities between the nuclear forces of the participants in the crisis, there will be stronger incentives for both sides to use nuclear weapons first. For the weaker state, having a vulnerable and small nuclear force may generate doubts about the ability of that state’s nuclear arsenal to survive a first strike, thereby creating pressure for states to “use them or lose them,” and incentivizing aggressive nuclear postures and first nuclear use. As Peter Feaver argues, a state with a vulnerable nuclear arsenal has an “incentive to posture its forces for an early use in a crisis, before its nuclear option is curtailed.”[15] For the state with the more powerful arsenal, meaningfully limiting damage through engaging in offensive nuclear counterforce missions might be tempting, as might be the possibility of a splendid first strike — the ability to completely take out an opponent’s nuclear capabilities.[16] Crises characterized by significant nuclear asymmetry — in particular, where one side plausibly lacks a secure second strike capability — will therefore feature greater incentives to use nuclear weapons first than crises characterized by a greater degree of symmetry, in which meaningful damage limitation and/or a splendid first strike are less plausible. Second, nuclear first use may be threatened as part of the bargaining process within a crisis or war. Crises in which one (or both) states has a nuclear posture designed to credibly threaten the first use of nuclear weapons — what Vipin Narang refers to as an “asymmetric escalation” posture — will be characterized by greater incentives to use nuclear weapons first.[17] [quote id="1"] These two factors contributing to incentives for first use are objective features of a given crisis. However, they can only affect the dynamics of a crisis if they are perceived to exist by the leaders involved. If leaders do not perceive that first use could provide significant political advantages in a crisis or conflict, those incentives will not affect crisis dynamics. We therefore code crises in which either side lacks a secure second strike capability and/or has an asymmetric escalation posture and in which one or both leaders perceive that nuclear first use may offer substantial political benefits within the crisis as being characterized by incentives to use nuclear weapons first. That is to say, crises in which either side has and perceives incentives for nuclear first use are coded as having incentives for first nuclear use. The second dimension is the extent to which a crisis is controllable by the actors participating in the crisis. Controllability refers to the ability of leaders to make conscious and strategic decisions to determine the level of escalation in a given crisis. It is important to note that crisis controllability does not refer to the level of escalation that occurs. A crisis can escalate to (and beyond) the nuclear threshold in a controlled fashion, i.e., in a process in which each leader makes a conscious and deliberate strategic calculation to escalate at every stage. Controllability instead refers to the process by which escalation occurs — to whatever level.[18] We code crisis controllability on the basis of a number of features of a crisis. These features are not intended to be an exhaustive list of factors contributing to crisis controllability, but rather a series of indicators that can be observed and that influence crisis controllability in important ways. First, different states have different command and control arrangements, which means that leaders exercise different levels of control over nuclear use.[19] For example, a crisis in which both leaders have exclusive authority to make decisions about nuclear use, and robust institutions exist that enforce that authority even in crisis situations, thereby minimizing the risk of accidental or inadvertent use, is more controllable than one without such checks. Second, clear and mutually understood red lines for nuclear use, if they exist, can increase controllability, since they reduce the likelihood that a state will accidentally cross another state’s red line for nuclear use.[20] Third, if a state’s conventional forces are likely to target forces relevant to the adversary’s ability to use nuclear weapons, or if forces relevant to conventional and nuclear operations are likely to interact with each other in a crisis or military operation, crisis controllability will likely be lower.[21] Fourth, states have varying abilities to communicate with each other during crises: A crisis in which the two states have well-established avenues through which to communicate, or in which a third party can reliably convey information between two states in a crisis, may be more controllable than crises in which states communicate through unreliable or ad hoc channels or exclusively through public signaling. Further, the ability to communicate is not simply institutional: For example, certain pairs of leaders may better understand or empathize with each other than others, improving crisis controllability.[22] It is worth noting four potential objections at this point. First, it might be objected that the two variables are not independent of each other. For example, one reason why a crisis might lack controllability is if there are incentives to use nuclear weapons first and battlefield commanders are therefore given pre-delegated authority to use nuclear weapons.[23] However, the relationship between these two variables is not determinative (as discussed above, there are many other sources of crisis controllability), and one can conceive of crises that are controllable — where there is firm control over nuclear assets, clear red lines, etc. — but in which incentives to use nuclear weapons first are nonetheless strong. These two dimensions are therefore appropriately considered separately because each exerts an independent effect on the character of nuclear crises. A second potential criticism is that neither variable accounts for how high the stakes of the crisis are: Shouldn’t the stakes involved affect the way a crisis plays out? As we discuss below, the stakes of the crisis can be incorporated within our framework. This is because we expect that states would be willing to enter different types of crises to protect different interests. For example, because stability-instability crises pose relatively little risk of nuclear escalation, we expect that policymakers will be more willing to enter them even over relatively unimportant stakes. By contrast, firestorm crises have a much higher risk of nuclear escalation, and we therefore expect that policymakers would only enter such crises if the most vital national interests were at risk. This has implications for understanding existing, contradictory empirical findings, which we discuss more fully in the following sections. Third, some might ask if these are the only two variables that matter. Probably not. As mentioned above, this framework represents a first step in exploring the variation among nuclear crises, but additional variables likely affect how individual crises play out, including perceptual, bureaucratic, normative, and technological variables. Exploring whether adding additional variables sheds greater light on the heterogeneity of nuclear crises would be a valuable avenue for future research and one that we return to in the conclusion. A fourth objection could concern the fact that these variables are determined by objective features of a given crisis, which may be imperfectly known or misperceived by participants at the time of the crisis: Is this not problematic for our analysis? The framework we offer allows for an initial disaggregation of nuclear crises that permits us to begin exploring their diversity and includes leaders’ perceptions of incentives for nuclear first use. This represents an advance on prior literature, but is only a first step. While these objective features of the crisis should be expected to exert a profound influence on the nature of the crisis, even if they are not known or fully understood by policymakers, further incorporation of policymakers’ perceptions and misperceptions could add richness to our framework and would be a productive next step. Indeed, policymakers’ misperceptions of (or uncertainty about) these variables may add explanatory power to our framework by allowing us to better account for miscalculations that states make within crises. For example, Pakistan might have been less willing to provoke the Kargil War had it known that the crisis would be primarily determined by the conventional balance of forces, which favored India. As shown in Figure 1, these two variables create a conceptual space within which existing models of nuclear crisis can be situated. We highlight four models that correspond to the quadrants of this conceptual space. Of course, each model represents an “ideal type.” More types of crisis exist in the conceptual space between these four possibilities.   Figure 1: Models of Nuclear Crises     The four models we identify offer very different interpretations of nuclear crises. Indeed, they suggest different answers to four basic questions about such crises: How likely is nuclear use within a crisis? Does the conventional or nuclear balance have a stronger effect on the outcome? Is nuclear superiority valuable within a crisis? And how feasible is signaling within a crisis? Table 2 summarizes the differences between these four models. The following sections of the paper describe these differences in more detail.   Table 2: Answers to Key Questions About Nuclear Crises [table id=16 /] Stability-Instability Crises Crises that are controllable and have limited incentives for nuclear first use are “stability-instability” crises. This model approximates Glenn Snyder’s view of nuclear weapons. Snyder famously suggested that “the greater the stability of the ‘strategic’ balance of terror, the lower the stability of the overall balance at its lower levels of violence. …Thus firm stability in the strategic nuclear balance tends to destabilize the conventional balance.”[24] Jervis describes the same idea: “To the extent that the military balance is stable at the level of all-out nuclear war, it will become less stable at lower levels of violence.”[25] We should not expect nuclear powers, according to this view, to fight all-out nuclear wars, but they may engage in more lower-level conflicts. Similarly, for scholars who argue that a powerful taboo inhibits nuclear use, crises between nuclear states will be characterized by a clear prohibition against nuclear use, and relative freedom to engage in conventional escalation.[26] The possibility of nuclear escalation within stability-instability crises is low. Even in stability-instability crises that escalate significantly, actors are likely to remain confident that the nuclear threshold will not be breached. Since the risk of nuclear use is low and relatively constant across crises of this sort, we expect the nuclear balance to be unrelated to the outcomes of stability-instability crises, and nuclear weapons will not regularly enter the calculations of leaders in these crises. The outcomes of stability-instability crises will instead be determined by other factors, such as the conventional military balance. Finally, signaling is feasible within stability-instability crises, since the two sides can calibrate their forces and level of conventional escalation to send signals about their political interests. However, since nuclear use is viewed by both sides as unlikely, making nuclear threats will not generally be credible within this type of crisis. Stability-instability crises are therefore relatively safe, at least in terms of the risk of nuclear escalation, and we therefore expect to see statesmen being more willing to enter this type of crisis than others that pose greater risk of nuclear escalation. We also expect stability-instability crises to be relatively common within datasets of crises, a point that has implications for interpreting contradictory empirical findings in existing literature. We argue below that the recent Doklam crisis between India and China is best categorized as a stability-instability crisis. Staircase Crises We term a crisis that is controllable but in which there are incentives for nuclear first use as a “staircase” crisis. This model approximates the view of escalation that Hermann Kahn offers in his book, On Escalation, and emphasizes deliberate, calibrated escalation. Despite the deliberate and conscious way in which escalation occurs according to this model, escalation to and beyond the nuclear threshold is possible given that states may have incentives to use nuclear weapons first, or to use them in a deliberately limited way. In Kahn’s formulation, the first use of nuclear weapons can serve a range of political purposes, including “redressive, warning, bargaining, punitive, fining, or deterrence purposes.”[27] Even apparently accidental nuclear use may, in fact, be deliberate, resulting from a desire to “give the impression that [nuclear] use was unintentional.”[28] In short, according to the staircase model of nuclear escalation, deliberate first nuclear use is highly plausible. [quote id="2"] What determines victory in a staircase crisis? All staircase crises have a nuclear dimension: Escalation to the nuclear level is always feasible and may be deliberately chosen, making nuclear use plausible. However, we expect the degree to which nuclear weapons weigh on the minds of participants in staircase crises to vary according to the level of escalation reached: Because of the significance of nuclear use and the many less escalatory options states typically have available to them before resorting to this extreme level of force, a staircase crisis is unlikely to suddenly escalate across the nuclear threshold without prior conventional escalation. For this reason, staircase crises that do not escalate close to the nuclear level may be determined almost entirely by the conventional balance of power, while those that escalate closer to, or beyond, the nuclear threshold are likely to be determined more by the nuclear balance. Because crises that operate according to the staircase model are, by definition, characterized by high levels of controllability, escalation and de-escalation within such a crisis is possible: Escalation levels can be controlled and calibrated, and signaling by using both nuclear and conventional forces is feasible. Lastly, because a staircase crisis may be determined by the nuclear balance, and because limited nuclear use is plausible, both nuclear superiority and limited nuclear options may well be of value to states engaging in a crisis of this sort. Indeed, calls for “escalation dominance” by policymakers — that is, the ability to deter an adversary at every rung of the escalation ladder — draw implicitly on the staircase model since they assume that escalation occurs as a conscious and strategic choice at each level of escalation. Staircase crises are dangerous and states are therefore unlikely to enter them over trivial matters, although they may be willing to enter them when important national interests are at stake. We would therefore expect staircase crises to be rarer than stability-instability crises, but more common than firestorm crises. We argue below that the 1999 Kargil War between India and Pakistan is best categorized as a staircase crisis. Brinkmanship Crises We label crises that are characterized by limited incentives to use nuclear weapons first and low levels of controllability as “brinkmanship” crises. This model approximates the views of Thomas Schelling, who emphasized the political utility of “threats that leave something to chance” under circumstances in which deliberate first nuclear use is not credible.[29] Similarly, scholars of the “nuclear revolution,” such as Kenneth Waltz, Charles Glaser, and Robert Jervis, also view nuclear crises in this way, although such scholars tend to be more cautious than Schelling about the possibility of using the political leverage that comes from the manipulation of nuclear risk. In this model, states may take steps to escalate a conflict, but those steps are unlikely to involve deliberate first nuclear use, which is not typically credible in brinkmanship crises given low incentives to use nuclear weapons first. As Schelling argued, “There is just no foreseeable route by which the United States and the Soviet Union could become engaged in a major war.”[30] Similarly, for scholars of the “nuclear revolution” school, because achieving a reliable first-strike counterforce capability is extremely difficult compared to the relative ease of achieving a second-strike capability, the incentives for using nuclear weapons first in a crisis are small. States will not lose the ability to retaliate by delaying the use of nuclear weapons, and can still cause enormous destruction even after absorbing a first strike. The lack of incentives for nuclear first use, however, “does not mean that a major nuclear war cannot occur.”[31] Schelling describes the process of escalation as one in which “either side can take steps—engaging in a limited war would usually be such a step—that genuinely raise the probability of a blow-up. …What makes [these steps] significant and usable is that they create a genuine risk…that the thing will blow up for reasons not fully under control.”[32] For Schelling, this possibility is what gives nuclear-armed actors political leverage even in the absence of incentives for nuclear first use. For scholars in the “nuclear revolution” camp, the possibility of uncontrolled nuclear escalation is why nuclear-armed states should avoid challenging each other’s vital interests. What dynamics underpin a brinkmanship crisis? First, as with the staircase model, all brinkmanship crises involve some risk of nuclear escalation. However, nuclear escalation is only likely as part of a process of uncontrolled escalation. What determines the outcome of a brinkmanship crisis? Because the manipulation of the risk of uncontrolled escalation is the primary source of political leverage within brinkmanship crises, outcomes are determined by “competitions in risk taking” and by the “balance of resolve” rather than by the conventional or nuclear balance (the conventional or nuclear balance could affect crisis outcomes by affecting resolve).[33] Signaling and escalation are possible, but we should expect significant conventional escalation within brinkmanship crises to be accompanied by fear that uncontrolled nuclear escalation might occur. Nuclear crises of this sort are therefore dangerous for statesmen to enter into, but they may be willing to do so when the stakes are high, i.e., to secure important national interests. We should therefore expect that brinkmanship crises will occur less frequently than stability-instability crises, but more frequently than firestorm crises, as we discuss next. We argue below that the Cuban Missile Crisis unfolded according to this logic. Firestorm Crises We label crises where there are both incentives for nuclear first use and low levels of controllability as “firestorm” crises. A firestorm crisis is the most dangerous and volatile type of crisis: Both deliberate and uncontrolled escalation to the nuclear level might occur even in the absence of significant prior escalation. The fear of a firestorm crisis has played an important role in public discourse and policy discussions throughout the nuclear age. For example, the fear of nuclear “sneak attacks” had strong domestic political salience during the early years of the Cold War.[34] Indeed, early U.S. assessments of the political implications of nuclear weapons viewed them as offensive weapons that would be used to land the first blows of any potential third world war. The desire to prevent a “nuclear Pearl Harbor” was one motivation for the United States abandoning its isolationist tendencies in the aftermath of World War II. Similarly, “worst-case” scenarios in which “rogue states” acquire nuclear weapons draw on the possibility that irrational or religiously motivated states might attack other states out of the blue — for example, that Iran might seek to “wipe Israel off the map” if it acquired nuclear weapons. How do firestorm crises unfold? First, the possibility of nuclear escalation is high: A firestorm crisis could escalate at any moment and without significant prior escalation, which, in turn, encourages crisis participants to be deeply fearful and increases the temptation to take pre-emptive action. Signaling is likely to be difficult given the instability of such a crisis and the speed with which it can escalate. Indeed, crisis participants should be well aware that early blows in any crisis might in fact be nuclear. Because this type of crisis is prone to escalate to the nuclear level swiftly, the nuclear balance is likely to ultimately determine the outcome to a greater degree than the conventional balance. Thus nuclear superiority may be useful to states. Crises of this sort are extremely dangerous, and we therefore expect that statesmen will only enter them to achieve absolutely vital national interests. Because of these dangers, we also expect that firestorm crises will be the most rarely observed type of nuclear crisis. We argue below that future crises between the United States and North Korea would likely unfold according to this model’s logic.

Historical Crises: The Cuban Missile Crisis and the Kargil War

We first examine the utility of our typology using the 1962 Cuban Missile Crisis between the United States and Soviet Union, and the 1999 Kargil War between India and Pakistan. In each case, we analyze incentives for first nuclear use and crisis controllability to show which model of nuclear crisis best applies, and the insights that it provides into the crisis. We use these cases because both are widely considered among the most important in the history of nuclear crises, both involved national interests that participants considered important, both involved an attempted fait accompli by one side followed by efforts by the other to reverse it,[35] and both crises reached high levels of military escalation. Furthermore, recent work on nuclear crises explicitly seeks to account for the dynamics of these two cases with a single explanation.[36] As a result, we might expect that these two crises would be more likely than most pairs of nuclear crises to share similar dynamics. If we can show that even these two crises — ostensibly more similar than many others — differed in ways that our framework sheds light on, it would provide significant validation for our approach. The Kargil War The disputed region of Kashmir has been a source of friction between Pakistan and India since their partition in 1947.[37] Control over the territory is split, with a Line of Control (LoC) demarcating the territorial status quo. India has long viewed the territory as an integral part of the Indian Union, while the Pakistani government contends that Kashmir’s accession to India was unlawful and has sought the eventual “liberation” of Indian Kashmir. In May 1999, one year after Pakistan and India publicly tested nuclear weapons, the Pakistani North Light Infantry, backed by guerrillas, mounted an incursion along the LoC, with the aim of presenting India with a fait accompli.[38] Initial Indian attempts to dislodge Pakistani troops proved ineffective, and the Indian government granted Gen. Ved Prakash Malik, Chief of the Army Staff, the right to employ airpower in support of ground operations.[39] On May 26, the Indian military forces initiated a combined air and ground campaign resulting in intense combat.[40] By early July, Pakistan was on the brink of defeat. Pakistan’s Prime Minister, Nawaz Sharif, travelled to Washington D.C. to meet with U.S. President Bill Clinton, who demanded that Pakistan unconditionally withdraw and restore the ante bellum status quo. Sharif conceded to Clinton’s demands, calling for the withdrawal of all troops from the disputed region on July 12.[41] Coding the Kargil War The Kargil War was characterized by incentives to use nuclear weapons first. Specifically, Pakistan’s nuclear posture threatened first nuclear use in order to compensate for its relatively weak conventional military force.[42] Facing a conventionally stronger enemy, Pakistan had adopted a nuclear posture that integrated nuclear weapons into its military forces in order to credibly threaten a first strike against advancing Indian conventional forces.[43] At the time of the Kargil War, Pakistan had the capability to use nuclear weapons. The 1998 tests had confirmed its nuclear status, and by May 1999, Pakistan had credible delivery systems: several dozen tactical nuclear warheads that could be mated with missiles, a smaller number of short- and medium-range ballistic missiles, and delivery-capable aircraft.[44] Both Pakistani and Indian leaders recognized Pakistan’s incentives for nuclear first use. Upon the initiation of Indian air attacks, the Pakistani foreign secretary publicly warned New Delhi that his country “would not hesitate to use any weapons in [Pakistan’s] arsenal to defend [its territorial] integrity.”[45] According to Bruce Riedel, a senior adviser to Clinton, U.S. intelligence was aware that the Pakistani army was readying its nuclear-tipped missiles in preparation for an Indian attack across the border.[46] Indian leaders also understood Pakistani incentives for making the first nuclear move.[47] When Malik told Prime Minister Atal Bihari Vajpayee that opening a second front at the border might be militarily necessary, Vajpayee looked shocked and responded, “but General Sahib, they have a nuclear bomb!”[48] Indian National Security Advisor Brajesh Mishra confirmed this fear, stating that while the Indian leadership was “95 percent sure” that its army would not need to cross the LoC, the use of “nuclear weapons would have been risked if we did.”[49] Reports of Pakistani nuclear mobilizations exacerbated these fears. During the crisis, India received intelligence reports indicating Pakistani missiles were “being readied for possible launching,”[50] and the chief of the Indian army staff after the Kargil War, Gen. Sundararajan Padmanabhan, stated that Pakistan had “activated one of its missile bases and…threatened India with a nuclear attack.”[51] Because of these reports, some of India’s missiles were “dispersed and relocated,” and India’s nuclear forces placed on “Readiness State 3,” which involved the assembly and deployment of nuclear warheads near delivery vehicles.[52] [quote id="3"] Despite incentives for nuclear first use, the Kargil War was relatively controllable for four reasons: India’s strong command and control institutions, relatively clear Pakistani red lines that India did not seek to cross, a limited geographic zone of conflict that reduced the risk of conventional and nuclear forces interacting, and well-established avenues of crisis communication. This controllability was enhanced by the active involvement of the United States in the crisis, providing additional avenues of communication and clarifying the red lines of both sides.[53] Only Pakistan’s delegative command and control institutions indicate a lack of controllability in the crisis. First, consider Pakistani and Indian command and control institutions, which have contrasting implications for controllability. On the Pakistani side, delegative command and control increases the credibility of nuclear first use and thus increases the deterrent power of Pakistan’s nuclear weapons, but also raises the risk of accidental nuclear use and reduces crisis controllability.[54] Indian command and control, by contrast, increases the controllability of a crisis. Indian leaders, fearful of granting the military too much influence over nuclear matters, have consistently maintained high levels of control over the decision to use nuclear weapons. Indian nuclear weapons are maintained in a manner that limits inadvertent or unauthorized use: The civilian department of atomic energy controls fissile materials, while delivery vehicles are held in separate locations and controlled by the military.[55] Second, Pakistani red lines for nuclear use were relatively clear. Specifically, as long as Indian forces did not cross the LoC, the risk of Pakistani nuclear use would remain low. The Pakistani army’s director of strategic plans division, Khalid Kidwai, had publicly outlined scenarios in which first use would occur: “If India conquered a large part of Pakistan’s territory, destroyed a large part of its military forces, strangled Pakistan economically or caused large scale internal subversion in Pakistan.”[56] Former Pakistani President Pervez Musharraf claims that whenever he met with a foreign leader, “I asked him to convey my message…that if [Indian] troops took even a step across the international border of the LoC…it will not remain a conventional war.”[57] This message was well understood by Indian leaders. As we discuss further below, India was careful not to cross Pakistan’s key red line for nuclear use, even though it would have been to their military advantage to do so. Third, the limited geographic range of the conflict meant that the likelihood of nuclear and conventional forces interacting was low. While both sides took steps to increase the alert status of their nuclear forces, neither sides’ nuclear forces, nor the command and control centers necessary to use nuclear weapons, were close to the conflict zone. As long as India eschewed opening a second front in the war, or invading Pakistani territory, the possibility of Indian conventional forces placing Pakistani commanders under pressure to “use or lose” their nuclear assets was low. Fourth, the existence of official and back-channel negotiations between India and Pakistan, along with the involvement of numerous outside countries — the United States, China, Russia, France, the United Kingdom, and Saudi Arabia — seeking to facilitate a negotiated solution also enhanced controllability. Regular calls between Indian and Pakistani leaders, a hotline link between the two directors of general military operations, and the additional channels of communication provided by outside parties created many opportunities for de-escalation during the crisis.[58] Predictions The Kargil War was characterized by incentives for first nuclear use and high levels of crisis controllability, and is therefore best understood as a staircase crisis. Based on this assessment, what dynamics should we expect to see in the case? First, because the crisis did not come close to the nuclear threshold, we should expect that the conventional balance would determine the outcome of the war, rather than the nuclear balance or balance of resolve. Second, the primary danger of nuclear use should be expected to have come from deliberate first nuclear use rather than uncontrolled escalation. Third, signaling should have been feasible within the crisis.[59] As predicted, the conventional military balance does appear to explain the outcome of the conflict: Pakistan was on the verge of conventional military defeat when Pakistani leaders acceded to U.S. demands to withdraw their forces, and once India was able to build up its forces sufficiently, it experienced increasing success in pushing Pakistani forces back toward the Line of Control.[60] This occurred despite India restraining its conventional operations in various ways in order to prevent crossing Pakistan’s red lines for nuclear use. By contrast, and as anticipated by the framework we offer, neither the nuclear balance nor the balance of resolve appears to satisfactorily explain India’s ability to prevail in the crisis. The balance of resolve likely favored Pakistan given its consistently more risk-acceptant and revisionist foreign policy preferences, as evidenced by Pakistan’s decision to initiate the crisis in the first place. The nuclear balance was highly ambiguous at the time of the war and it is unlikely that either side could have known its opponent’s nuclear capabilities with much certainty. The Kargil War took place in the immediate aftermath of both countries conducting nuclear tests. Assessments at that time acknowledged the difficulty of estimating the India-Pakistan nuclear balance, with continued debate about whether India’s thermonuclear test “fizzled,” how much fissile material both states possessed, and how many weapons both sides had developed.[61] Even Kroenig, who argues that India had nuclear superiority and that this mattered in the crisis, acknowledges that “it is difficult to know the precise nuclear balance of power” in this case.[62] Indeed, the evidence that Kroenig uses to support his claim that the balance of nuclear power mattered for the outcome is that Pakistan ultimately backed down in the crisis, and that Indian officials stated subsequent to the war that Pakistan would be hurt more by a nuclear exchange than India. However, Indian officials would have strong incentives to make such public statements about the effects of a hypothetical nuclear exchange whether or not they were true.[63] Moreover, Pakistan’s behavior in the crisis is also consistent with the conventional balance determining the outcome. Overall, it is hard to make a strong case that nuclear superiority played a key role in determining the outcome of the Kargil War. The key danger of nuclear use was seen by participants on both sides to be Pakistan’s deliberate first use rather than uncontrolled or unauthorized nuclear use. As mentioned above, a key dynamic of the conflict was India ensuring that its forces did not cross the LoC to avoid provoking Pakistan’s deliberate first use of nuclear weapons. Upon granting the Indian army authority to use Indian air force assets at the end of May, the Indian government stipulated that “the air force refrain from crossing the LoC in pursuit of its goals.” India was clear that the Indian army not enlarge “the theater of operations beyond the Kargil sector or…attack Pakistani forces, staging posts, and lines of communications across the LoC, despite the fact that this…entailed the acceptance of heavier casualties.”[64] This restriction remained in place despite substantial Indian casualties and the fact that it would have been tactically useful for India to enlarge the conflict zone to spread out Pakistani forces.[65] This restraint is especially notable given previous Indian responses to Pakistani incursions in both 1965 and 1971, when Indian forces showed little hesitation in invading Pakistan.[66] Both sides in the war were also able to signal their limited intentions, as our framework would anticipate in a staircase crisis. On the Pakistani side, the military took a number of measures to signal limited intentions: Pakistan withheld reserve forces, refrained from the use of air power across the LoC, and did not attempt to cut off the Indian highway in Kargil on the assumption that taking such action “would have far-reaching strategic effects” and risk Indian escalation.[67] Similarly, Pakistan made clear nuclear threats to signal to India that they should avoid broad retaliation. On the Indian side, policymakers deliberately chose not to open a second front of the war or cross the LoC, signaling their limited political goals and lack of interest in a broader war. Overall, therefore, viewing the Kargil War as a staircase crisis accounts for the key dynamics of the case. Cuban Missile Crisis The 1962 Cuban Missile Crisis is widely considered the most dangerous crisis of the Cold War. After detecting the movement of Soviet ships toward Cuba and the development of missile sites, President John F. Kennedy called up 150,000 reservists and issued statements on Sept. 4 and Sept. 13, 1962, warning that the United States “would do whatever must be done” to protect its security.[68] On October 22, Kennedy announced that a naval quarantine would be established around Cuba.[69] Soviet leader Nikita Khrushchev responded by issuing a stern note to Kennedy and instructing Soviet ships headed for Cuba to run the blockade. By October 26, however, Khrushchev’s resolve had waned. Kennedy received a letter from Khrushchev offering to remove the missiles from Cuba in exchange for an end to the blockade and a U.S. assurance that it would not invade Cuba, with a second letter the next day adding a further condition: the removal of U.S. Jupiter missiles from Turkey. Kennedy publicly accepted the terms of the first letter, while in private agreeing to Khrushchev’s demand to remove the Jupiter missiles.[70] On October 28, Khrushchev notified the United States that he had ordered work on the Cuban missile sites to cease and all equipment shipped back to the Soviet Union. The blockade was lifted on November 20, marking the end of the crisis. Coding the Cuban Missile Crisis We argue that the Cuban Missile Crisis was not characterized by incentives for deliberate first nuclear use, despite the United States possessing significant nuclear superiority. In the early 1960s, the United States could have launched 1,000 to 2,000 nuclear warheads at the Soviet Union, the majority of which would have been delivered by over 500 bombers and 200 intercontinental ballistic missiles. The Soviet Union, on the other hand, had only 160 bombers to carry around 260 nuclear warheads, 38 intercontinental ballistic missiles, and 48 nuclear-missile-armed submarines.[71] Despite America’s nuclear superiority, it was not clear that either a disarming first strike or politically meaningful damage limitation was possible. The U.S. government did not know where all of the Soviet warheads were located, and there were concerns that U.S. forces were too inaccurate to successfully target the Soviet arsenal. According to Secretary of Defense Robert McNamara, by 1962 the United States knew that it could not deliver a “splendid first strike,” and that a U.S. first strike “would have led to unacceptably high casualties both in Europe and in the United States” and “destroyed us as well as the Soviets.”[72] McNamara’s recollection is consistent with a briefing that Kennedy received in 1961 from the Chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff, which assessed that “under any circumstances—even [in the case of] a pre-emptive attack by the U.S.—it would be expected that some portion of the Soviet long-range nuclear force would strike the United States.”[73] [quote id="4"] Whether such advantages were perceived as politically meaningful within the Cuban Missile Crisis itself is debateable. Certainly, several key U.S. leaders believed that nuclear superiority conferred political advantages to the United States within the crisis.[74] However, this superiority was not absolute, and, crucially, the key leader — Kennedy — was skeptical both that U.S. nuclear superiority granted such benefits and that nuclear first use would offer the United States meaningful damage limitation, stating, “What difference does it make? They’ve got enough to blow us up now anyway.”[75] Similarly, the Soviet Union had little incentive to use nuclear weapons first. A first strike by the Soviets aimed at damage limitation was implausible: A speech delivered by Deputy Secretary of Defense Roswell Gilpatric on Oct. 21, 1961, confirmed that the Soviet Union was behind the United States in the nuclear arms race, and that the United States could endure a Soviet surprise attack and still inflict mass damage on the Soviet Union.[76] U.S. superiority was not, however, sufficient to cast doubt on the Soviets’ own ability to inflict significant destruction on the United States after absorbing a first strike. Moscow was therefore unlikely to face pressures to “use them or lose them” during a crisis. “Missiles are not cucumbers,” Khrushchev quipped, “one cannot eat them and one does not require more than a certain number in order to ward off an attack.”[77] The Cuban Missile Crisis was, however, characterized by low controllability. Indeed, each of our four indicators of this variable suggests low levels of crisis controllability. First, both U.S. and Soviet command and control institutions governing nuclear weapons suffered from significant shortcomings. On the U.S. side, a series of breakdowns of command and communication could have led to accidental nuclear use or other actions that could have triggered escalation. As Scott Sagan concludes, Kennedy “did not…have unchallenged final control over U.S. nuclear weapons.”[78] For example, navigational errors by U.S. pilots led one B-52 to come close to penetrating Soviet airspace and possibly coming within range of Soviet interceptors.[79] Similarly, the U-2 incident at the height of the crisis could easily have led to nuclear escalation: After the American U-2 reconnaissance plane strayed into Soviet airspace, U.S. F-102s armed with nuclear-tipped missiles and possessing the authorization to use them were sent to defend the U-2 from Soviet fighter jets. At that point, the “decision about whether to use a nuclear weapon was in the hands of a pilot.”[80] Beyond these institutional deficiencies, many of the safety features that now exist to prevent accidental explosions had not yet been developed. Benoît Pelopidas notes that in the early 1960s, merely “pull[ing] the arming wires out of a Mark 7 nuclear warhead” would trigger the arming sequence, and that “if the X-Unit charged, a Mark 7 could be detonated by its radar, by its barometric switches, by its timer, or by falling…and landing on a runway.”[81] Moreover, readiness was privileged over safety during the Cuban Missile Crisis. For example, when Strategic Air Command went to DEFCON 2, safety rules had not yet been approved for the B-53 gravity bomb. Strategic Air Command (with the support of the Air Force Chief of Staff) nonetheless requested approval for these non-approved bombs to be loaded onto bombers.[82] Command and control arrangements on the Soviet side also led to the possibility of unauthorized nuclear use. Most notably, Soviet submarines were loaded with nuclear-tipped torpedoes and at least one captain reported that the Cuban Missile Crisis represented his first experience on board a ship carrying nuclear weapons.[83] The authorization to use nuclear weapons appears to have been granted to commanders and included the instructions, “if you get…a hole in your hull… use the nuclear weapons first, and then you will figure out what to do after that.”[84] The Soviets may also have believed that their submarines were less likely to provoke escalation than they really were since the Soviet leadership was unaware that the deployed submarines were the noisier and slower diesel submarines in their fleet that were more likely to be located. Indeed, nuclear launch came close to occurring: The commander of one submarine, which was being targeted with depth charges by U.S. anti-submarine warfare ships, interpreted the explosions of the depth charges as an attack and ordered his officers to ready the submarine’s nuclear torpedoes for use, apparently screaming that “we will die but we will sink them all.”[85] America’s understanding of these risks was limited. The United States was unaware that Soviet submarines were armed with nuclear missiles, and lacked certainty about Soviet command and control more broadly. During a conversation with Secretary of State Dean Rusk, Secretary of Defense Robert McNamara acknowledged not knowing “what kinds of communications the Soviets have with those sites…what kinds of control they have over the warheads.”[86] Second, the U.S. and Soviet red lines for nuclear escalation were unclear to both sides at the outset of the crisis. The Soviet Union misjudged America’s red lines by placing missiles in Cuba in the first place. Khrushchev initially believed that once the missiles were installed in Cuba the United States would be unwilling to risk war to remove them.[87] This belief was overturned, however, as Khrushchev became deeply concerned by U.S. mobilizations and nuclear alerts, writing to Kennedy on October 26 of the tightening “knot of war” and the difficulty of de-escalating hostilities.[88] Khrushchev’s concern increased further on October 27 with news that a Soviet commander in Cuba had shot down an American U-2 plane without his authorization, and that Cuban leader Fidel Castro was advocating a nuclear strike against the United States.[89] Similarly, the United States was unsure what military actions might trigger Soviet escalations: U.S. officials were divided over the significance the Soviets attached to missiles in Cuba, and what the Soviets might be willing to risk to avoid removing them. Similarly, U.S. officials assumed that the Soviet Union would respond if the United States attacked Cuba but were unsure what form those reprisals would take and whether they might lead to general war or a more limited Soviet response. Indeed, officials in the Executive Committee of the National Security Council made a range of arguments regarding the relative likelihood of different Soviet responses should the United States invade Cuba[90] Third, conventional and nuclear forces interacted during the crisis on multiple occasions in ways that reduced the controllability of the crisis and raised the risk of nuclear use. As discussed above, Soviet submarines could have launched nuclear weapons while under pressure from conventional U.S. anti-submarine warfare assets unaware that they were engaging nuclear-armed Soviet submarines. On the U.S. side, the F-102s sent to retrieve and escort the U-2 inadvertently flying into Soviet airspace could have launched their own nuclear weapons while under pressure from Soviet fighters. This interaction between nuclear and conventional forces raised the risk of inadvertent escalation and reduced the controllability of the crisis. Fourth, crisis communication between the United States and Soviet Union was widely recognized to be problematic, leading to the establishment of the U.S.-Soviet “hotline” in 1963. Official messages took six hours to deliver, while unofficial channels were prone to miscommunication. The confusion that resulted from contrasting letters sent by Khrushchev on October 26 and 27 exemplifies the problematic nature of crisis communication. Kennedy received a letter offering to remove the missiles from Cuba and to cease further shipments in exchange for ending the quarantine and a non-invasion pledge. This message took twelve hours to receive and decode. By the time a reply had been drafted, a second letter had arrived in which Khrushchev added a further condition: the removal of Jupiter missiles in Turkey. Puzzled by the shifting demands, Kennedy publicly accepted the terms of the first letter, while privately agreeing to remove the Jupiter missiles.[91] Predictions The Cuban Missile Crisis exhibited few incentives to use nuclear weapons first and low levels of crisis controllability. It is therefore best understood as a “brinkmanship” crisis. What dynamics should we therefore expect to see in this case? First, we should expect the crisis to have been primarily characterized by the manipulation of risk, with the conventional or nuclear balance affecting the crisis outcome in less direct ways. Second, the primary danger of nuclear use should be expected to have come from uncontrolled nuclear escalation rather than deliberate first nuclear use. Third, signaling should have been feasible within the crisis.[92] These predictions are, indeed, confirmed. First, scholars have often been skeptical that U.S. nuclear or conventional military superiority in the region affected the outcome in a direct way, and if it did affect the outcome, that it did so by affecting U.S. resolve and willingness to manipulate risk.[93] There is indeed evidence that some of Kennedy’s advisors believed that U.S. nuclear superiority should factor into their calculations.[94] However, as discussed above, Kennedy himself seems to have been disinclined to draw comfort (or courage) from U.S. nuclear advantages. Historians have largely shared this assessment: Marc Trachtenberg concludes that “there is no evidence that President Kennedy and his advisers counted missiles, bombers, and warheads, and decided on that basis to take a tough line,” while James Cameron shows that, despite Kennedy having come to power railing against the (fictional) missile gap with the Soviet Union, once in office, he viewed U.S. nuclear superiority as largely useless.[95] As veterans of the crisis McNamara, Rusk, McGeorge Bundy, Ted Sorensen, Roswell Gilpatric, and George Ball later commented, “American nuclear superiority was not in our view a critical factor…Not one of us ever reviewed the nuclear balance for comfort in those hard weeks. The Cuban missile crisis illustrates…the insignificance of nuclear superiority.”[96] Although the United States succeeded in achieving its goals once the crisis had begun, and is therefore often (and reasonably) understood to have “won” the crisis,[97] the actual result of the crisis — a quid pro quo that left the Soviets better off than the pre-crisis status quo[98] — seems inconsistent with both American strategic nuclear superiority as well as U.S. conventional superiority in the region. Instead, as Schelling argues, the crisis is best understood as a case of states manipulating risk: “The Cuban Crisis was a contest in risk taking, involving steps that would have made no sense if they led predictably and ineluctably to a major war, yet would also have made no sense if they were completely without danger.”[99] Our argument does not require nuclear superiority to have had no effect during the crisis. For example, as discussed above, nuclear superiority could affect risk tolerance or resolve within the framework of brinkmanship crises. Nonetheless, the brinkmanship model accurately captures the key dynamic — the manipulation of risk — of the Cuban Missile Crisis. [quote id="5"] Second, historians, political scientists, and participants in the crisis agree that the primary danger of the Cuban Missile Crisis was uncontrolled escalation rather than deliberate first nuclear use. As a group of former officials from the Executive Committee of the National Security Council later recalled, “The gravest risk in this crisis was not that either head of government desired to initiate a major escalation but that events would produce actions, reactions, or miscalculations carrying the conflict beyond the control of one or the other or both.”[100] Similarly, scholars have repeatedly emphasized the importance of luck in preventing nuclear war during the Cuban Missile Crisis. For example, Sagan writes that “good luck [was] involved in avoiding accidental war in October 1962”, while Dean Acheson concluded that the peaceful resolution of the crisis came down to “dumb luck.”[101] Len Scott and Steve Smith write that “the fact that the crisis did not lead to nuclear war was due…to good luck,” while Pelopidas concludes that the “peaceful outcome cannot be reduced to successful, fully informed crisis-management.”[102] The brinkmanship model, by emphasizing the dangers of uncontrolled escalation, sheds light on why luck was required to peacefully negotiate the Cuban Missile Crisis. Third, as anticipated, both sides engaged in signaling and escalation using conventional military forces and the alerting of nuclear forces, behaviors that the brinkmanship model would anticipate. American officials “were willing during the crisis to accept a certain risk of nuclear war; and…the risk of nuclear war was consciously manipulated.”[103] Military deployments and alerts were ordered less because of their narrow military utility but more as measures to signal U.S. intentions and raise the risk of war. For example, McNamara argued that the point of the blockade “was not to shoot Russians but to communicate a political message from President Kennedy to Premier Khrushchev.”[104] Throughout the crisis, the United States used escalatory measures as signaling mechanisms: When Kennedy addressed the nation on October 22, for example, U.S. nuclear forces were placed on DEFCON 3 alert, Polaris submarines moved out of their ports to pre-assigned stations, and U.S. military commands throughout the world increased levels of readiness for war.[105] On October 24, Kennedy made the unprecedented decision to raise the nuclear threat level to DEFCON 2 — one level short of general war.[106] On October 27, Minuteman solid fuel missiles were placed on alert at Malmstrom Air Force Base in Montana.[107] As Gen. David Burchinal, the director of plans on the Air Staff, recalled in an oral history, “All these moves were signals the Soviets could see and we knew they could see them.”[108] Overall, viewing the Cuban Missile Crisis as a brinkmanship crisis accurately captures key dynamics of the case.

Contemporary and Future Crises: Doklam and U.S.-North Korea

Our framework therefore sheds light on prominent historical crises. Accounting for the heterogeneity of nuclear crises allows us to understand key differences between the Cuban Missile Crisis and the Kargil War better than a single model of nuclear crisis. What, then, does the framework offered here suggest about more contemporary crises? In this section, we briefly use our framework to shed light on the 2017 Doklam crisis between India and China and a potential U.S.-North Korean crisis. The Doklam Crisis The 2017 Doklam crisis between India and China — a standoff over disputed territory where the borders between China, India, and Bhutan intersect — would be classified as a stability-instability crisis according to our framework.[109] First, neither side had strong incentives for first nuclear use: Both India and China had relatively small nuclear arsenals, geographically large territories and dispersed populations, longstanding no-first-use policies, and nuclear postures that are designed to credibly threaten retaliation in the aftermath of a nuclear attack rather than first use.[110] Second, the crisis was characterized by high levels of controllability: Neither sides’ nuclear weapons were close to the conflict zone, both countries’ nuclear postures made unauthorized or accidental nuclear use unlikely, high levels of communication between the two sides existed throughout the crisis, and each country’s declaratory no-first-use policy made it highly unlikely that either side would accidentally stumble over the other’s red lines for nuclear use.[111] Indeed, viewing the crisis as a stability-instability crisis appears to correctly account for key dynamics of this case. Despite the relatively high levels of military escalation — hundreds of troops were deployed to the region — there was little fear by either side that nuclear weapons would be used. Signaling took place using conventional troop deployments but without using nuclear threats. The outcome of the crisis — a return to the status quo desired by India and Bhutan — appears consistent with the conventional balance given India’s “unique hard power advantages in the Himalayan region.”[112] Finally, viewing the Doklam standoff as a stability-instability crisis provides an explanation for why China was prepared to provoke a crisis with another nuclear-armed state over relatively low stakes: Stability-instability crises are relatively “safe” in terms of the risk of nuclear escalation, and states should therefore be willing to provoke them to secure even relatively limited interests. A Possible U.S.-North Korean Crisis Finally, what does our framework suggest about a potential U.S.-North Korea crisis? Both sides in a potential U.S.-North Korea nuclear crisis might be incentivized to use nuclear weapons first.[113] This is both because North Korea appears to be adopting an asymmetric escalation posture and because of the significant disparities between the nuclear capabilities of the two sides, which means that North Korea plausibly lacks a secure second-strike capability. For North Korea, using nuclear weapons early in a conventional conflict might be the only way to prevent a conventional defeat by a far more powerful enemy or to make the United States think twice about pursuing regime change.[114] As Vipin Narang argues, North Korea’s nuclear strategy appears to be one of asymmetric escalation: threatening nuclear first use to degrade a conventional invasion while retaining longer-range nuclear missiles to deter nuclear retaliation by the United States. Narang notes that,
faced with the prospect of a U.S.-led invasion, Pyongyang’s conventional inferiority requires it to degrade the United States’ ability to sustain the attack against it. This means it essentially has no option but to use nuclear weapons first against targets such as Andersen Air Force Base in Guam, which stations American bombers, and a variety of allied bases in Japan and South Korea. North Korea has to use nuclear weapons there because it does not have enough conventional warheads to damage the bases meaningfully; a conventional response would not slow or stop a U.S. onslaught.[115]
The United States may also face temptations for first nuclear use.[116] A nuclear counterforce strike might be crucial to removing North Korea’s ability to retaliate against South Korea or Japan (or the United States): The imperative to destroy North Korean offensive capabilities could thus lead to the temptation to use nuclear weapons first and early in a conflict. As David Barno and Nora Bensahel argue, only a “surprise nuclear strike provides a decisive option. There is simply no other way to destroy North Korea’s nuclear capabilities while minimizing the risk of massive conventional or nuclear retaliation.”[117] Barry Posen, in arguing against a U.S. war with North Korea, acknowledges that “a surprise American nuclear attack would offer the greatest chance of eliminating the North Korean nuclear arsenal and of preventing a conventional counterattack,” making it a potentially attractive option if war was deemed inevitable or necessary by U.S. planners.[118] Moreover, recent scholarship has suggested that some impediments to U.S. nuclear use may be weaker than anticipated. For example, the U.S. public may, in fact, be willing to endorse nuclear use under a wide range of scenarios.[119] Similarly, Daryl Press and Kier Lieber argue that a nuclear counterforce attack against North Korea could potentially be conducted with minimal casualties and limited environmental consequences.[120] In short, both sides in a potential U.S.-North Korean crisis could plausibly perceive incentives for first nuclear use. Furthermore, a crisis between the United States and North Korea would likely have low levels of controllability:[121] The robustness of North Korea’s command and control systems is unknown and would likely be aggressively targeted in the initial stages of any military confrontation; there are few institutionalized avenues for crisis negotiation or communication between the two sides; North Korea’s or America’s red lines for nuclear use are unclear and ambiguous; and while any nuclear use would likely be limited on the U.S. side given the small geographic territory of North Korea, North Korea’s small arsenal makes it more likely that it would have to quickly use all weapons at its disposal in order to try to respond to any U.S. first strike.[122] If our assessment of incentives for first use and controllability are correct, a potential crisis between the two countries would likely unfold according to the logic of the firestorm model — the most volatile and dangerous of the four models and one in which sudden and significant escalation across the nuclear threshold is possible. U.S. policymakers should therefore be under no illusions that a conventional war with North Korea will reliably remain conventional — rapid nuclear escalation is highly possible. Given the costs of such a war, avoiding any crisis with North Korea that could quickly escalate should be a higher priority for U.S. policymakers than if a potential U.S.-North Korean crisis were likely to unfold according to one of the other models of nuclear crisis.

Conclusion

Nuclear crises do not operate according to a single logic. Instead, the presence of incentives to use nuclear weapons first in a crisis and the degree of crisis controllability significantly affect both the way in which nuclear crises unfold and the dynamics that underpin them. Furthermore, historical crises exhibit variation on these dimensions, suggesting that the varieties of nuclear crises we identify above are not merely of hypothetical interest. In our concluding remarks, we highlight some implications and contributions of our argument. First, the framework offered here provides a simple way to assess the relative danger and likely dynamics of a potential nuclear crisis in a way that may be useful for analysts and policymakers. This framework would suggest, for example, that any crisis between the United States and North Korea would be more likely to lead to nuclear escalation and be more volatile than a crisis between the United States and China, in which there would be fewer incentives for either state to use nuclear weapons first and higher levels of controllability. Similarly, nuclear superiority may grant the United States benefits in a crisis with certain opponents, such as North Korea, but offer limited benefits in a crisis with another state, like Russia. Such insights are likely to be more tailored and, therefore, more useful to policymakers than inferences drawn from analyses that do not take into account the variation among nuclear crises. Second, our framework has implications for scholars conducting both theoretical and empirical research on nuclear crises. Theoretically, it demonstrates that seemingly divergent understandings of nuclear crises can be incorporated within a broader framework that specifies the circumstances under which each type of crisis should be expected to occur. This framework also allows scholars to make better sense of the historical diversity of nuclear crises and of conflicting findings by scholars. It makes sense that the Cuban Missile Crisis and Kargil War unfolded according to different logics. Similarly, we should not expect that other events commonly coded as nuclear crises, such as the 1970 Cienfuegos Crisis, the 2001 Indian parliament attack, or the various Berlin crises, should have unfolded in the same way. [quote id="6"] For empirical scholars, the framework may provide a way to make sense of apparently contradictory findings. Conclusions drawn from one or two cases should not necessarily be expected to apply to crises of a different type.[123] For quantitative researchers, because different types of crises may be represented to varying degrees in different datasets, it is not surprising that scholars drawing on different sources reach different conclusions. For example, the disagreement between Kroenig and Sechser and Fuhrmann over the role nuclear weapons play in nuclear crises might be accounted for if the Militarized Compellent Threat dataset that Sechser and Fuhrmann use contains a greater number of stability-instability crises (in which nuclear weapons should be expected to be unrelated to conflict outcomes) and fewer staircase or firestorm crises (in which nuclear superiority may be consequential) than the International Crisis Behavior dataset that Kroenig employs.[124] More broadly, crisis dynamics should differ systematically across different types of crises. Seeking to find, for example, the average effect of variables on crisis outcomes may be unrepresentative of the likely effects in any given crisis. Scholars should therefore be cautious about drawing conclusions about a specific crisis from scholarship that analyzes all nuclear crises without taking this variation into account.[125] Finally, the framework presented above opens up a number of avenues for future research. First, we only offered an initial examination of the utility of our framework using four cases. Future work could more systematically assess the extent to which our variables explain variation across all nuclear crises, and the relative frequency with which different types of crises occur. Second, the framework offered here provides an initial effort to explore the heterogeneity of nuclear crises. Further disaggregating nuclear crises could reveal additional insights. For example, it would be useful to incorporate literature on psychological biases and misperceptions into our framework to further problematize policymakers’ perceptions of the concepts we identify.[126] Third, it would be valuable to explore in greater depth how knowledgeable policymakers are about various features of our framework. One could imagine, for example, that some factors, like the conventional balance or an adversary’s nuclear force posture, may be more easily known by decision-makers than others, such as an adversary’s threshold for nuclear use. Similarly, it would be interesting to explore the implications when adversaries lack a common understanding of the features of a nuclear crisis — when “mismatches” emerge in adversaries’ assessments — and whether these beliefs can change over time. There may also be other variables that profoundly affect the dynamics of nuclear crises that could be profitably added to our framework to produce a richer understanding of these cases. Finally, while this paper focuses on the dynamics of nuclear crises rather than the substantive issues that underly them (for example, disputed territory in the Doklam Crisis or Kargil War, or Soviet missiles in Cuba in the Cuban Missile Crisis), it is possible that crises in the nuclear age may occur over different issues than in prior eras. Further research exploring the extent to which nuclear weapons affect the issues that states compete over would be theoretically and empirically useful. Thus, while our study offers an initial framework to allow scholars, analysts, and policymakers to begin incorporating the historical richness of nuclear crises into their analyses, it is far from the last word on the subject. Much more remains to be done to fully understand the complexity and variety of nuclear crises, and the different risks and dangers that they involve.   Acknowledgements: For helpful suggestions and comments, we thank the anonymous reviewers and editors at the Texas National Security Review. We also thank Stephen Biddle, Austin Carson, Cosette Creamer, Fiona Cunningham, Raymond Duvall, Rebecca Hersman, Sumit Ganguly, Francis Gavin, Charlie Glaser, Avery Goldstein, Brendan Green, Sameer Lalwani, Austin Long, Sean Lynn-Jones, Martin Malin, Ronald Krebs, Andrew Kydd, Nicholas Miller, Alex Montgomery, Reid Pauly, Benoît Pelopidas, Joshua Rovner, Elizabeth Saunders, Jennifer Spindel, Stephen Walt, Jessica Weeks, Sharon Weiner, Ketian Zhang, and audiences at George Washington University, Harvard Kennedy School, Princeton University, Sciences Po, the Stimson Center, the University of Minnesota, the University of Wisconsin, and annual meetings of the International Studies Association and the American Political Science Association. For excellent research assistance, we thank Sooyeon Kang.   Mark S. Bell is an assistant professor of political science at the University of Minnesota. Julia Macdonald is an assistant professor of international relations at the Josef Korbel School of International Studies, University of Denver.   Image: U.S. Air Force [post_title] => How to Think About Nuclear Crises [post_excerpt] => [post_status] => publish [comment_status] => open [ping_status] => closed [post_password] => [post_name] => how-to-think-about-nuclear-crises [to_ping] => [pinged] => [post_modified] => 2019-05-24 11:40:10 [post_modified_gmt] => 2019-05-24 15:40:10 [post_content_filtered] => [post_parent] => 0 [guid] => http://tnsr.org/?p=1253 [menu_order] => 0 [post_type] => post [post_mime_type] => [comment_count] => 0 [filter] => raw [meta] => [lead] => How dangerous are nuclear crises? What dynamics underpin how they unfold? Recent tensions between North Korea and the United States have exposed disagreement among scholars and analysts regarding these questions. We reconcile these apparently contradictory views by showing the circumstances in which different models of nuclear crises should be expected to hold. Nuclear crises should be expected to have different dynamics depending on two variables: the incentives to use nuclear weapons first in a crisis and the extent to which escalation is controllable by the leaders involved. Variation across these two dimensions generates four types of nuclear crises: “staircase,” “stability-instability,” “brinkmanship,” and “firestorm” crises. These models correspond to well-established ways of thinking about nuclear crises, but no one model is “correct.” Different models should be expected to apply in different cases, and nuclear crises should therefore be interpreted differently according to which model is most appropriate. We demonstrate the utility of our framework using the cases of the 1962 Cuban Missile Crisis, 1999 Kargil War, 2017 Doklam Crisis, and ongoing U.S.-North Korean tensions. [pubinfo] => [issue] => Vol 2, Iss 2 [quotes] => Array ( [0] => Array ( [author] => [style] => left [text] => A crisis can escalate to (and beyond) the nuclear threshold in a controlled fashion, i.e., in a process in which each leader makes a conscious and deliberate strategic calculation to escalate at every stage. ) [1] => Array ( [author] => [style] => right [text] => Staircase crises are dangerous and states are therefore unlikely to enter them over trivial matters, although they may be willing to enter them when important national interests are at stake. ) [2] => Array ( [author] => [style] => left [text] => Both Pakistani and Indian leaders recognized Pakistan’s incentives for nuclear first use.  ) [3] => Array ( [author] => [style] => right [text] => U.S. superiority was not, however, sufficient to cast doubt on the Soviets’ own ability to inflict significant destruction on the United States after absorbing a first strike.  ) [4] => Array ( [author] => [style] => left [text] => The brinkmanship model, by emphasizing the dangers of uncontrolled escalation, sheds light on why luck was required to peacefully negotiate the Cuban Missile Crisis. ) [5] => Array ( [author] => [style] => right [text] => This framework would suggest, for example, that any crisis between the United States and North Korea would be more likely to lead to nuclear escalation and be more volatile than a crisis between the United States and China... ) ) [style] => scholarly [type] => Scholarly [style_label] => The Scholar [download] => Array ( [title] => PDF Download [file] => 1465 ) [authors] => Array ( [0] => 258 [1] => 259 ) [endnotes] => Array ( [title] => Endnotes [endnotes] => [1] Ankit Panda and Vipin Narang, “Why Trump’s Threat of ‘Fire and Fury’ Against North Korea Is So Dangerous,” The Diplomat, Aug. 11, 2017, http://thediplomat.com/2017/08/why-trumps-threat-of-fire-and-fury-against-north-korea-is-so-dangerous/. [2] Max Fisher, “Trump’s Threat of War with North Korea May Sound Scarier than It Is,” New York Times, Aug. 9, 2017, https://www.nytimes.com/2017/08/09/world/asia/trump-north-korea-nuclear-war.html. [3] See for example, Marc Trachtenberg, “The Influence of Nuclear Weapons in the Cuban Missile Crisis,” International Security 10, no. 1 (Summer 1985): 137–63, doi.org/10.2307/2538793; Richard K. Betts, Nuclear Blackmail and Nuclear Balance (Washington, DC: Brookings Institution, 1987); Rosemary J. Foot, “Nuclear Coercion and the Ending of the Korean Conflict,” International Security 13, no. 3 (1988/1989): 92–112, doi.org/10.2307/2538737; John Mueller, “The Essential Irrelevance of Nuclear Weapons: Stability in the Postwar World,” International Security 13, no. 2 (1988): 55–79, doi.org/10.2307/2538971; Kyle Beardsley and Victor Asal, ‘‘Winning with the Bomb,’’ Journal of Conflict Resolution 53, no. 2 (2009), 278–301, doi.org/10.1177/0022002708330386; Matthew Kroenig, “Nuclear Superiority and the Balance of Resolve: Explaining Nuclear Crisis Outcomes,” International Organization 67, no. 1 (2013): 141–71, doi.org/10.1017/S0020818312000367; Matthew Kroenig, The Logic of American Nuclear Strategy: Why Strategic Superiority Matters (New York: Oxford University Press, 2018); Todd S. Sechser and Matthew Fuhrmann, “Crisis Bargaining and Nuclear Blackmail,” International Organization 67, no. 1 (2013): 173–95, doi.org/10.1017/S0020818312000392; Nuclear Weapons and Coercive Diplomacy (New York: Cambridge University Press, 2017). [4] Michael Brecher and Jonathan Wilkenfeld, A Study of Crisis (Ann Arbor: University of Michigan Press, 1997), 4–5. We focus on crises between pairs of nuclear-armed states, although whether the framework we propose also applies to crises between nuclear and non-nuclear states would be an interesting avenue for future research. [5] See, for example, James Fearon, “Selection Effects and Deterrence,” International Interactions 28, no. 1 (2002): 5–29, doi.org/10.1080/03050620210390. [6] Kroenig, “Nuclear Superiority and the Balance of Resolve,” 142. [7] See, for example,, Stanley Hoffman, The State of War: Essays on the Theory and Practice of International Politics (New York: Praeger, 1965), 236; John Lewis Gaddis, The Long Peace: Inquiries Into the History of the Cold War (New York: Oxford University Press, 1987). [8] See, for example, Barry Nalebuff, “Brinkmanship and Nuclear Deterrence: The Neutrality of Escalation,” Conflict Management and Peace Science 9, no. 2 (1986): 19–30, doi.org/10.1177/073889428600900202; Betts, Nuclear Blackmail and Nuclear Balance; Robert Powell, “Nuclear Brinkmanship with Two-Sided Incomplete Information,” American Political Science Review 82, no. 1 (March 1988): 156–178, doi.org/10.2307/1958063; Robert Powell, “Nuclear Brinkmanship, Limited War, and Military Power,” International Organization 69, no. 3 (2015): 589–626, doi.org/10.1017/S0020818315000028; Richard Ned Lebow, Nuclear Crisis Management: A Dangerous Illusion (Ithaca, NY: Cornell University Press, 1987); Scott D. Sagan, The Limits of Safety: Organizations, Accidents, and Nuclear Weapons (Princeton, NJ: Princeton University Press, 1993); Beardsley and Asal, ‘‘Winning with the Bomb,’’ Kroenig, “Nuclear Superiority and the Balance of Resolve,” Sechser and Fuhrmann, “Crisis Bargaining and Nuclear Blackmail”; Todd S. Sechser and Mattew Fuhrmann, Nuclear Weapons and Coercive Diplomacy (New York: Cambridge University Press, 2017); Benoît Pelopidas, “The Unbearable Lightness of Luck: Three Sources of Overconfidence in the Manageability of Nuclear Crises,” European Journal of International Security 2, no. 2 (2017): 240–62, doi.org/10.1017/eis.2017.6. [9] See, for example, Bernard Brodie, ed., The Absolute Weapon: Atomic Power and World Order (New York: Harcourt Brace, 1946); Robert Jervis, “Why Nuclear Superiority Doesn’t Matter,” Political Science Quarterly 94, no. 4 (1979): 61733, doi.org/10.2307/2149629; Robert Jervis, The Illogic of American Nuclear Strategy (Ithaca, NY: Cornell University Press, 1984); Robert Jervis, The Meaning of the Nuclear Revolution (Ithaca, NY: Cornell University Press, 1989); Charles L. Glaser, “Why Even Good Defenses May Be Bad,” International Security 9, no. 2 (1984): 92–123, doi.org/10.2307/2538669; Charles L. Glaser, Analyzing Strategic Nuclear Policy (Princeton, NJ: Princeton University Press, 1990); Kenneth N. Waltz, The Spread of Nuclear Weapons: More May Be Better, Adelphi Paper no. 171 (London: International Institute for Strategic Studies, 1981); Kenneth N. Waltz, “Nuclear Myths and Political Realities,” American Political Science Review 84, no. 3 (September 1990): 730–45, doi.org/10.2307/1962764; John J. Mearsheimer, “Nuclear Weapons and Deterrence in Europe,” International Security 9, no. 3 (1984): 19–46, doi.org/10.2307/2538586. For recent critiques of the theory of the nuclear revolution, see Daryl G. Press and Kier A. Lieber, “The New Era of Counterforce: Technological Change and the Future of Nuclear Deterrence,” International Security 41, no. 4 (2017): 9–49, doi.org/10.1162/ISEC_a_00273; Brendan R. Green and Austin Long, “The MAD Who Wasn't There: Soviet Reactions to the Late Cold War Nuclear Balance," Security Studies 26, no. 4 (2017): 606–41, doi.org/10.1080/09636412.2017.1331639; Mark S. Bell, “Nuclear Opportunism: A Theory of How States Use Nuclear Weapons in International Politics,” Journal of Strategic Studies 42, no. 1 (2019): 3–28, doi.org/10.1080/01402390.2017.1389722. [10] Mearsheimer, “Nuclear Weapons and Deterrence in Europe,” 20; John J. Mearsheimer, The Tragedy of Great Power Politics (New York: Norton, 2001), 129 (emphasis added). [11] Nina Tannenwald, The Nuclear Taboo: The United States and the Non-Use of Nuclear Weapons Since 1945 (New York: Cambridge University Press, 2008); Glenn Snyder, “The Balance of Power and the Balance of Terror,” in Balance of Power, ed. Paul Seabury (San Francisco, CA: Chandler, 1965). [12] Kroenig, “Nuclear Superiority and the Balance of Resolve”; Kroenig, The Logic of American Nuclear Strategy; Sechser and Fuhrmann, “Crisis Bargaining and Nuclear Blackmail”; Sechser and Fuhrmann, Nuclear Weapons and Coercive Diplomacy. These debates echo prior disagreements. See, for example, Trachtenberg, “The Influence of Nuclear Weapons in the Cuban Missile Crisis”; Betts, Nuclear Blackmail and Nuclear Balance; Mueller, “The Essential Irrelevance of Nuclear Weapons.” [13] Partial exceptions include Betts, Nuclear Blackmail and Nuclear Balance; and Robert Powell, “The Theoretical Foundations of Strategic Nuclear Deterrence,” Political Science Quarterly 100, no. 1 (1985): 75–96, http://doi.org/10.2307/2150861, which distinguish between crises that exhibited different levels of risk and different types of nuclear threat, respectively. [14] See, for example, Kroenig, “Nuclear Superiority and the Balance of Resolve,” 154. [15] Peter D. Feaver, “Command and Control in Emerging Nuclear Nations,” International Security 17, no. 3 (1992/93): 165, doi.org/10.2307/2539133. For a critique of the concept of “use them or lose them,” see Kroenig, The Logic of American Nuclear Strategy, 137–42. [16] For recent debates on the feasibility of damage limitation and counterforce, see Charles L. Glaser and Steve Fetter, “Should the United States Reject MAD? Damage Limitation and U.S. Nuclear Strategy Toward China,” International Security 41, no. 1 (2016): 49–98, doi.org/10.1162/ISEC_a_00248; Press and Lieber, “The New Era of Counterforce.” [17] Vipin Narang, “Posturing for Peace? Pakistan’s Nuclear Postures and South Asian Stability,” International Security 34, no. 3 (2009/10): 38–78, doi.org/10.1162/isec.2010.34.3.38; Vipin Narang, Nuclear Strategy in the Modern Era: Regional Powers and International Conflict (Princeton, N.J.: Princeton University Press, 2014). [18] For a critique of the claim that nuclear crises can ever be controllable, see Pelopidas, “The Unbearable Lightness of Luck.” [19] Feaver, “Command and Control in Emerging Nuclear Nations;” Narang, Nuclear Strategy in the Modern Era. [20] This factor can be hard to observe empirically, since red lines need not be publicly articulated if they are implicitly understood, and publicly articulated red lines are not necessarily clear or may not be believed by other states. For recent work on red lines, see, Daniel W. Altman, Red Lines and Faits Accomplis in Interstate Coercion and Crisis (Ph.D dissertation, Massachusetts Institute of Technology, 2015); Daniel W. Altman and Nicholas L. Miller, “Red Lines in Nuclear Nonproliferation,” Nonproliferation Review 24, no. 3-4 (2017): 315–42, doi.org/10.1080/10736700.2018.1433575; Dan Altman, “Advancing without Attacking: The Strategic Game Around the Use of Force,” Security Studies 27, no. 1 (2018): 58–88, doi.org/10.1080/09636412.2017.1360074. [21] Barry R. Posen, Inadvertent Escalation: Conventional War and Nuclear Risks (Ithaca, NY: Cornell University Press, 1991); Caitlin Talmadge, “Would China Go Nuclear? Assessing the Risk of Chinese Nuclear Escalation in a Conventional War with the United States,” International Security 41, no. 4 (2017): 50–92, doi.org/10.1162/ISEC_a_00274. [22] See, for example, James G. Blight and Janet Lang, “When Empathy Failed: Using Critical Oral History to Reassess the Collapse of U.S.-Soviet Détente in the Carter-Brezhnev Years,” Journal of Cold War Studies 12, no. 2 (2010): 29–74, doi.org/10.1162/jcws.2010.12.2.29. [23] See Narang, Nuclear Strategy in the Modern Era. [24] Snyder, “The Balance of Power and the Balance of Terror,” 198–99. [25] Jervis, The Illogic of American Nuclear Strategy, 31. For an empirical test of the implications of the stability-instability paradox, see Mark S. Bell and Nicholas L. Miller, “Questioning the Effect of Nuclear Weapons on Conflict,” Journal of Conflict Resolution 59, no. 1 (2015): 74–92, doi.org/10.1177/0022002713499718. [26] Tannenwald, The Nuclear Taboo. [27] Herman Kahn, On Escalation: Metaphors and Strategies (London: Pall Mall Press, 1965), 45. [28] Kahn, On Escalation, 44. [29] Thomas C. Schelling, The Strategy of Conflict (Cambridge, MA: Harvard University Press, 1960); Thomas C. Schelling, Arms and Influence (New Haven, CT: Yale University Press, 1966). For other interpretations of nuclear crises using the brinkmanship framework, see, Nalebuff, “Brinkmanship and Nuclear Deterrence,” Trachtenberg, “The Influence of Nuclear Weapons in the Cuban Missile Crisis,” Kroenig, “Nuclear Superiority and the Balance of Resolve”; Kroenig, The Logic of American Nuclear Strategy. [30] Schelling, Arms and Influence, 94. [31] Schelling, Arms and Influence, 94. [32] Schelling, Arms and Influence, 104. [33] An extreme version of this argument is offered by Barry Nalebuff, who argues that because nuclear crises involve competitions in risk-taking, and crisis participants will generate as much risk as is required to communicate their political interests and resolve, crisis outcomes are independent of a state’s military or nuclear position or posture. See Nalebuff, “Brinkmanship and Nuclear Deterrence.” For the argument that nuclear superiority is important within the brinkmanship framework because it affects resolve, see Kroenig, “Nuclear Superiority and the Balance of Resolve.” [34] Technically, one could see sneak nuclear attacks under the staircase model if the incentives for first use were strong enough to outweigh even high levels of controllability in incentivizing a state to cross the nuclear threshold as a first move in a crisis. We thank an anonymous reviewer for this point. [35] On faits accomplis in international politics, see Schelling, Arms and Influence, 44–45; Alexander L. George and Richard Smoke, Deterrence in American Foreign Policy: Theory and Practice (New York: Columbia University Press, 1974), 536–40; Daniel W. Altman, “By Fait Accompli, Not Coercion: How States Wrest Territory from their Adversaries,” International Studies Quarterly 61, no. 4 (2017): 881–91, doi.org/10.1093/isq/sqx049. [36] See, for example, Kroenig, “Nuclear Superiority and the Balance of Resolve,” 150–51; Kroenig, The Logic of American Nuclear Strategy, 84–94, 106–113; Powell, “Nuclear Brinkmanship, Limited War, and Military Power,” 590–91; Sechser and Fuhrmann, Nuclear Weapons and Coercive Diplomacy, 147–55, 200–210. [37] On the Kashmir dispute see Alastair Lamb, Kashmir: A Disputed Legacy, 1946-1990 (Oxford: Oxford University Press, 1991); Lars Blinkenberg, India-Pakistan: The History of Unsolved Conflicts (Odense: Odense University Press, 1997); Robert Wirsing, India and Pakistan, and the Kashmir Dispute: On Regional Conflict and Its Resolution (New York: St. Martin’s Press, 1998); Sumit Ganguly, Conflict Unending: India-Pakistan Tensions Since 1947 (New York: Columbia University Press, 2002). [38] S. Paul Kapur, “India and Pakistan’s Unstable Peace: Why Nuclear South Asia is Not Like Cold War Europe,” International Security 30, no. 2 (2005): 137, doi.org/10.1162/016228805775124570; Christopher J. Watterson, “Competing Interpretations of the Stability-Instability Paradox: The Case of the Kargil War,” Nonproliferation Review 24, no. 1–2 (2017): 90–91, doi.org/10.1080/10736700.2017.1366623; Sumit Ganguly, “Nuclear Stability in South Asia,” International Security 33, no. 2 (2008): 45–70, doi.org/10.1080/10736700.2014.1072991. For more details on the war, see P.R. Chari, Pervaiz Iqbal Cheema, and Stephen P. Cohen, Four Crises and a Peace Process (Washington, DC: Brookings Institution Press, 2007), chap. 5; S. Paul Kapur, Dangerous Deterrent: Nuclear Weapons Proliferation and Conflict in South Asia (Stanford, CA: Stanford University Press, 2007), chap. 6; Bruce Riedel, American Diplomacy and 1999 Kargil Summit at Blair House (Philadelphia: University of Pennsylvania Center for Advanced Study of India, 2002); Ved Prakesh Malik, Kargil: From Surprise to Victory (Delhi: Harper Collins, 2006); Peter R. Lavoy, ed., Asymmetric Warfare in South Asia: The Causes and Consequences of the Kargil Conflict (New York: Cambridge University Press, 2009). [39] Narang, Nuclear Strategy in the Modern Era, 268–69. [40] S. Paul Kapur, “Ten Years of Instability in a Nuclear South Asia,” International Security 33, no. 2 (2008): 73–74 doi.org/10.1162/isec.2008.33.2.71; Chari, Cheema, and Cohen, Four Crises and a Peace Process, 121–22. [41] Sumit Ganguly and Harrison Wagner, “India and Pakistan: Bargaining in the Shadow of Nuclear War,” Journal of Strategic Studies 27, no. 3 (2004): 490, doi.org/10.1080/1362369042000282994; Ganguly, “Nuclear Stability in South Asia,” 58. [42] As discussed above, only one side in the crisis has to have incentives for nuclear first use for the crisis as a whole to be characterized by incentives for first use. [43] Narang “Posturing for Peace?” 56, 66; Narang, Nuclear Strategy in the Modern Era, 259. In 1999, India had an active-duty force double that of Pakistan, enjoyed a 2:1 advantage in combat aircraft, and a 1.7:1 advantage in main battle tanks. Taken at face value, these figures somewhat overstate the degree of India’s conventional military advantage over Pakistan given that India must focus significant military attention on the Sino-Indian border in addition to the India-Pakistan border. Nonetheless, there is little question that India had the capability to assemble a larger conventional military force on the Pakistani border than Pakistan would be able to. Because of this imbalance, even though Pakistan had a local tactical advantage in Kashmir due to the Pakistani military’s early defensive positioning and the region’s difficult terrain, India retained the ability to deploy a superior conventional force to the region. Kapur, “India and Pakistan’s Unstable Peace,” 139; “Central and South Asia,” The Military Balance (London: International Institute for Strategic Studies, 1999), 151–70, doi.org/10.1080/04597229908460132; Anthony H. Cordesman and Arleigh Burke, The India-Pakistan Military Balance (Washington, DC: Center for Strategic and International Studies, 2002). [44] Narang “Posturing for Peace?” 57. Indeed, Pakistan may have had the ability to deliver nuclear weapons by aircraft as early as 1995. See Narang, Nuclear Strategy in the Modern Era, 267; Watterson, “Competing Interpretations of the Stability-Instability Paradox,” 91–92. [45] Quoted in P.R. Chari, “Reflections on the Kargil War,” Strategic Analysis 33, no. 3 (2009): 363, doi.org/10.1080/09700160902790019. See also Chari, Cheema, and Cohen, Four Crises and a Peace Process, 139–41. [46] Riedel, "American Diplomacy and the 1999 Kargil Summit at Blair House," 11. [47] Ganguly and Wagner, “India and Pakistan,” 492; Ganguly, “Nuclear Stability in South Asia,” 59; Sumit Ganguly and Devin Hagerty, Fearful Symmetry: India-Pakistan Crises in the Shadow of Nuclear Weapons (Seattle: University of Washington Press, 2005), 161. [48] Quoted in Narang, Nuclear Strategy in the Modern Era, 272. Malik confirms that Pakistani nuclear weapons ruled out full-scale conventional war with Pakistan. See Kapur, “Ten Years of Instability in a Nuclear South Asia,” 79. [49] Narang, Nuclear Strategy in the Modern Era, 272. [50] Quoted in Narang, Nuclear Strategy in the Modern Era, 270–71. [51] Quoted in Chari, “Reflections on the Kargil War,” 363. [52] Quoted in Narang, Nuclear Strategy in the Modern Era, 270–71; Chari, “Reflections on the Kargil War,” 363; Raj Chengappa, Weapons of Peace (New Delhi: Harper Collins, 2000), 437. [53] On the role of the United States in the crisis, see Peter R. Lavoy, “Why Kargil Did Not Produce General War: The Crisis-Management Strategies of Pakistan, India, and the United States,” and Bruce Riedel, “American Diplomacy and the 1999 Kargil Summit at Blair House,” both in Asymmetric Warfare in South Asia, ed. Lavoy. [54] Narang, Nuclear Strategy in the Modern Era, chaps. 3, 10. [55] Narang, Nuclear Strategy in the Modern Era, 101. [56] Quoted in Ganguly and Wagner, “India and Pakistan,” 483. [57] Quoted in Narang, Nuclear Strategy in the Modern Era, 268. [58] John H. Gill, “Provocation, War and Restraint Under the Nuclear Shadow: The Kargil Conflict 1999,” Journal of Strategic Studies (2019): 701–26, doi.org/10.1080/01402390.2019.1570144; Lavoy, “Why Kargil Did Not Produce General War.” [59] We leave aside assessing the prediction of the model regarding the probability of nuclear use, since this is hard to evaluate within a single case. [60] As discussed previously, Pakistan may have been less willing to enter into the war had it known that the outcome would be determined by the conventional balance. Pakistan may have miscalculated the effects of nuclear signaling on Indian decision-makers and underestimated the number of conventional forces that India would marshal in response. Incorporating these miscalculations into the framework we offer would be a productive avenue for future research. [61] For differing assessments, see David Albright, “India's and Pakistan's Fissile Material and Nuclear Weapons Inventories, End of 1999,” Institute for Science and International Security, Oct. 11, 2000, https://www.isis-online.org/publications/southasia/stocks1000.html; Robert S. Norris, William M. Arkin, Hans M. Kristensen, and Joshua Handler, “India’s Nuclear Forces, 2002,” Bulletin of the Atomic Scientists 58, no. 2 (2002): 70–72, doi.org/10.1080/00963402.2002.11460559; Robert S. Norris, William M. Arkin, Hans M. Kristensen, and Joshua Handler, “Pakistan’s Nuclear Forces, 2001,” Bulletin of the Atomic Scientists 58, no. 1 (2002): 70–71, doi.org/10.1080/00963402.2002.11460540; Hans M. Kristensen and Robert S. Norris, “Global Nuclear Weapons Inventories, 1945–2013,” Bulletin of the Atomic Scientists 69, no. 5 (2013): 75–81, doi.org/10.1177/0096340213501363. [62] Kroenig, The Logic of American Nuclear Strategy, 107. [63] Kroenig, The Logic of American Nuclear Strategy, 108–110. [64] Quoted in Narang, Nuclear Strategy in the Modern Era, 271. [65] Chari, “Reflections on the Kargil War,” 362; Ganguly and Wagner, “India and Pakistan,” 491. [66] Chari, Cheema, and Cohen, Four Crises and a Peace Process, 139; Kapur, “India and Pakistan’s Unstable Peace,” 147. [67] Quoted in Watterson, “Competing Interpretations of the Stability-Instability Paradox,” 97. This restraint presents a puzzle for the stability-instabilty model of nuclear crises, of which the Kargil War is often believed one manifestation. Instead of escalating further, as would be expected by the stability-instability logic, Pakistan chose to acquiesce rather than open additional fronts and divert the superior Indian forces. Under the staircase model, however, this behavior makes more sense. See Chari, “Reflections on the Kargil War,” 364. [68] Ernest R. May and Philip Zelikow, eds., The Kennedy Tapes: Inside the White House During the Cuban Missile Crisis (New York: W.W. Norton and Company, 2002), 189. [69] Michael Beschloss, The Crisis Years: Kennedy and Khrushchev 1960-63 (New York: Harper Collins, 1991), 414, 423–35; Aleksandr Fursenko and Timothy Naftali, ‘One Hell of a Gamble:’ Castro, Kennedy, and the Cuban Missile Crisis, 1958-1964 (London: John Murray, 1997), 206, 227. [70] David Holloway, “Nuclear Weapons and the Escalation of the Cold War, 1945-1962,” in The Cambridge History of the Cold War, volume 1, ed. Odd Arne Westad and Melvin Leffler (Cambridge, MA: Cambridge University Press, 2010), 393–94. [71] Daryl G. Press, Calculating Credibility: How Leads Assess Military Threats (Ithaca, NY: Cornell University Press, 2005), 121. [72] McNamara quoted in Press, Calculating Credibility, 124. [73] Quoted in Press, Calculating Credibility, 123–24. At this meeting, Kennedy did raise the possibility of a surprise nuclear strike against the Soviets, commenting that since “the use of nuclear weapons was bound to escalate...we might as well get the advantage by going first.” Quoted in Francis J. Gavin, Nuclear Statecraft: History and Strategy in America’s Atomic Age (Ithaca, NY: Cornell University Press, 2012), 37. In the end, these deliberations amounted to little in terms of U.S. defense planning and by mid-1962 there is little evidence that Kennedy considered a first strike against the Soviet Union feasible. [74] See, for example, Kroenig, “Nuclear Superiority and the Balance of Resolve,” 150–51; Kroenig, The Logic of American Nuclear Strategy, 84–106. [75] Quoted in Trachtenberg, “The Influence of Nuclear Weapons in the Cuban Missile Crisis,” 148. See also James Cameron, The Double Game: The Demise of America’s First Missile Defense System and the Rise of Strategic Arms Limitation (New York: Oxford University Press, 2018), chap. 1; Dean Rusk, Robert McNamara, George W. Ball, Roswell L. Gilpatric, Theodore Sorensen, and McGeorge Bundy, “The Lessons of the Cuban Missile Crisis,” Time Magazine, Sept. 27, 1982, 85; Schelling, Arms and Influence, 94. [76] Betts, Nuclear Blackmail and Nuclear Balance, 105. [77] Gavin, Nuclear Statecraft, 68. [78] Sagan, The Limits of Safety, 72–73. [79] Sagan, The Limits of Safety, 74. [80] Pelopidas, “The Unbearable Lightness of Luck,” 246; Sagan, The Limits of Safety, 135–38. [81] Pelopidas, “The Unbearable Lightness of Luck,” 246–47; Eric Schlosser, Command and Control: Nuclear Weapons, the Damascus Accident, and the Illusion of Safety (London: Penguin, 2013), 261. [82] Sagan, The Limits of Safety, 72–73. [83] Svetlana Savranskaya, “New Sources on the Role of Soviet Submarines in the Cuban Missile Crisis,” Journal of Strategic Studies 28, no. 2 (2005): 238, doi.org/10.1080/01402390500088312; Scott D. Sagan, “Nuclear Alerts and Crisis Management,” International Security 9, no. 4 (1985): 112–18, doi.org/10.2307/2538543. [84] Savranskaya, “New Sources on the Role of Soviet Submarines,” 240. [85] Savranskaya, “New Sources on the Role of Soviet Submarines,” 247. [86] Trachtenberg, “The Influence of Nuclear Weapons in the Cuban Missile Crisis,” 154. [87] Anatoly Dobrynin, In Confidence (New York: Random House, 1995), 52; Sergei Khrushchev, Creation of a Superpower (Philadelphia, PA: Penn State University Press, 2000), 565; Oleg Troyanovsky, “The Making of Soviet Foreign Policy,” in Nikita Khrushchev, ed. William Taubman, Sergei Khrushchev, and Abbott Gleason (New Haven, CT: Yale University Press, 2000), 236. [88] Within our framework, it is plausible that U.S. alerts and mobilizations may have led Khrushchev to better understand U.S. red lines over the course of the crisis, contributing to its resolution. [89] Fursenko and Naftali, ‘One Hell of a Gamble’, chap. 19; Sheldon M. Stern, The Week the World Stood Still: Inside the Secret Cuban Missile Crisis (Stanford, CA: Stanford University Press, 2005), 157. [90] Trachtenberg, “The Influence of Nuclear Weapons in the Cuban Missile Crisis,” 153–54. [91] Holloway, “Nuclear Weapons and the Escalation of the Cold War,” 393–94. [92] Again, we leave aside assessing the prediction of the model regarding the probability of nuclear use, since this is hard to evaluate within a single case. [93] See, for example, Trachtenberg, “The Influence of Nuclear Weapons in the Cuban Missile Crisis”; Cameron, The Double Game, chap. 1; Rusk et al., “The Lessons of the Cuban Missile Crisis,” 85; Schelling, Arms and Influence, 94. For the argument that U.S. nuclear superiority affected U.S. resolve, see Kroenig, “Nuclear Superiority and the Balance of Resolve,” 150–51. [94] Kroenig, “Nuclear Superiority and the Balance of Resolve,” 150–51; Kroenig, The Logic of American Nuclear Strategy, 84–106. [95] Cameron, The Double Game, chap. 1. [96] Rusk et al., “The Lessons of the Cuban Missile Crisis,” 85. These statements should be taken with a grain of salt given the political context in which they were made: by officials from a former Democratic administration opposed to the Reagan administration arms buildup. [97] See, for example, Kroenig, “Nuclear Superiority and the Balance of Resolve.” [98] In exchange for the removal of missiles from Cuba, the Soviet Union received two new concessions from the United States: the withdrawal of Jupiter missiles from Turkey and a commitment not to invade Cuba. [99] Schelling, Arms and Influence, 94. [100] Rusk et al., “The Lessons of the Cuban Missile Crisis,” 85. [101] Sagan, The Limits of Safety, 154. For a thorough examination of the role of luck in the Cuban Missile Crisis, see Pelopidas, “The Unbearable Lightness of Luck.” [102] Len Scott and Steve Smith, “Lessons of October: Historians, Political Scientists, Policy-Makers, and the Cuban Missile Crisis,” International Affairs 70, no. 4 (1994): 683, doi.org/10.2307/2624552; Pelopidas, “The Unbearable Lightness of Luck,” 244. [103] Trachtenberg, “The Influence of Nuclear Weapons in the Cuban Missile Crisis,” 140. [104] Sagan, “Nuclear Alerts and Crisis Management,” 110. [105] Michael Dobbs, One Minute to Midnight (New York: Alfred A. Knopf, 2008), 51–52. [106] Sagan, “Nuclear Alerts and Crisis Management,” 109. See also “Strategic Air Command Operations in the Cuban Missile Crisis of 1962,” Strategic Air Command Headquarters, History and Research Division, Historical Study no. 90, volume 1 (1963), https://nsarchive2.gwu.edu/nsa/cuba_mis_cri/dobbs/SAC_history.pdf. [107] “Strategic Air Command Operations in the Cuban Missile Crisis,” 97. [108] Quoted in Trachtenberg, “The Influence of Nuclear Weapons in the Cuban Missile Crisis,” 157. [109] For analyses of various aspects of the Doklam crisis, see Simon Denyer and Annie Gowen, “Who Blinked in the India-China Military Standoff,” Washington Post, Aug. 30, 2017, https://wapo.st/2wRCH4x?tid=ss_tw&utm_term=.75e6447451b4; Ankit Panda, “The Political Geography of the India-China Crisis at Doklam,” Diplomat, July 13, 2017, http://thediplomat.com/2017/07/the-political-geography-of-the-india-china-crisis-at-doklam/; Ankit Panda, “Disengagement at Doklam: Why and How Did the India-China Standoff End,” Diplomat, Aug. 29, 2017, http://thediplomat.com/2017/08/disengagement-at-doklam-why-and-how-did-the-india-china-standoff-end/. [110] Narang, Nuclear Strategy in the Modern Era, chaps. 4 and 5. [111] Narang, Nuclear Strategy in the Modern Era. [112] Panda, “Disengagement at Doklam.” [113] Van Jackson, On the Brink: Trump, Kim, and the Threat of Nuclear War (New York: Cambridge University Press, 2019), 197. [114] Vipin Narang, “Why Kim Jong Un Wouldn’t be Irrational to Use a Nuclear Bomb First,” Washington Post, Sept. 8, 2017, http://wapo.st/2gRxIdm?tid=ss_tw&utm_term=.20ae71c09a9b; Jackson, On the Brink, 158, 197. See also Keir A. Lieber and Daryl G. Press, “The Nukes We Need: Preserving the American Deterrent,” Foreign Affairs 88, no. 6 (November/December 2009): 39–51, https://www.jstor.org/stable/20699714. [115] Narang, “Why Kim Jong Un Wouldn’t be Irrational to Use a Nuclear Bomb First,” [116] On U.S. senior policymakers’ public support for preventive war options, see Jackson, On the Brink, 137, 158–61, 163. [117] David Barno and Nora Bensahel, “The Growing Danger of a U.S. Nuclear First Strike on North Korea,” War on the Rocks, Oct. 10, 2017, https://warontherocks.com/2017/10/the-growing-danger-of-a-u-s-nuclear-first-strike-on-north-korea/. [118] Barry R. Posen, “The Price of War With North Korea,” New York Times, Dec. 6, 2017, https://www.nytimes.com/2017/12/06/opinion/north-korea-united-states-war.html. [119] Daryl G. Press, Scott D. Sagan, and Benjamin A. Valentino, “Atomic Aversion: Experimental Evidence on Taboos, Traditions, and the Non-Use of Nuclear Weapons,” American Political Science Review 107, no. 1 (2013): 188–206, doi.org/10.1017/S0003055412000597; Scott D. Sagan and Benjamin A. Valentino, “Revisiting Hiroshima in Iran: What Americans Really Think About Using Nuclear Weapons and Killing Noncombatants,” International Security 42, no. 1 (2017): 41–79, doi.org/10.1162/ISEC_a_00284. [120] Lieber and Press, “The New Era of Counterforce,” 31. [121] For example, Jackson notes that a U.S.-North Korea crisis would be “much less controlled” than the Cuban Missile Crisis — a crisis already coded as having low controllability in our framework. Jackson, On the Brink, 159. [122] On these points, see Jackson, On the Brink, 164–65, 197, 207. [123] See, for example, Trachtenberg, “The Influence of Nuclear Weapons in the Cuban Missile Crisis”; and Foot, “Nuclear Coercion and the Ending of the Korean Conflict.” [124] Kroenig “Nuclear Superiority and the Balance of Resolve”; Sechser and Fuhrmann, “Crisis Bargaining and Nuclear Blackmail.” Kroenig proposes a different explanation for the differences in their findings based on selection effects. See Kroenig, The Logic of American Nuclear Strategy. [125] For a similar point on the literature on the causes of nuclear proliferation, see Mark S. Bell, “Examining Explanations for Nuclear Proliferation,” International Studies Quarterly 60, no. 3 (2016): 527, doi.org/10.1093/isq/sqv007. [126] See, for example, Robert Jervis, Perception and Misperception in International Politics (Princeton, NJ: Princeton University Press, 1976); Robert Jervis, Ned Lebow, and Janice Stein, Psychology and Deterrence (Baltimore, MD: Johns Hopkins University Press, 1985); Keren Yarhi-Milo, Knowing the Adversary: Leaders, Intelligence, and Assessment of Intentions in International Relations (Princeton, NJ: Princeton University Press, 2014). ) [contents] => Array ( [title] => [contents] => ) ) ) ) ) [2] => Array ( [acf_fc_layout] => wgt_featured_articles [wgt_type] => manual [qty] => 3 [posts] => Array ( [0] => Array ( [post] => WP_Post Object ( [ID] => 1273 [post_author] => 262 [post_date] => 2019-02-28 06:00:51 [post_date_gmt] => 2019-02-28 11:00:51 [post_content] => A crowd gathered on the shores of Beirut’s Green Beach on Feb. 26, 1984 to watch as the last company of U.S. Marines departed from Lebanon. Remnants of a 1,800-strong peacekeeping mission, the Marines had arrived 18 months earlier to help restore stability and encourage the withdrawal of Israeli and Syrian forces from the country. The Reagan administration maintained that the peacekeepers’ presence was vital to national reconciliation and ending Lebanon’s civil war, and their operations had steadily expanded as the security situation in the country deteriorated. Then, on Oct. 23, 1983, a suicide bomber affiliated with a pro-Iranian Shia faction detonated his truck within the Marine barracks at Beirut International Airport, killing 241 Americans.[1] The memory of the attack hung over the troops four months later, and their redeployment was widely seen as a retreat. “No more wounded, no more killed,” one gunnery sergeant explained to a New York Times reporter, summarizing the prevailing sentiment. “All these people want us to do is go home.”[2] Nearly three decades later, the image of the withdrawing marines has been fixed in the minds of academics, policymakers, and the general public alike as an integral element of the popular refrain that U.S. foreign policy is constrained by an extreme sensitivity to casualties.[3] Like the Nixon administration in Vietnam and the Clinton administration in Somalia, the argument goes, the Reagan administration was driven from Lebanon because policymakers feared the political repercussions of mounting losses. More generally, scholars still differ over whether the withdrawal was a shrewd political calculation designed to safeguard the president’s re-election chances, an impulsive reaction to a human tragedy, or a strategic course correction that foreshadowed Defense Secretary Caspar Weinberger’s eponymous doctrine on the use of force. But they all agree, as Israeli historian Benny Morris writes, that the “massive loss of life … instantly broke Washington’s resolve.”[4] Yet, these conventional arguments cannot explain the timing or the character of the U.S. departure from Lebanon. In fact, they obscure more than illuminate how policymakers responded to an unanticipated high-casualty event. Drawing upon newly accessible government records, this article argues that the Beirut barracks bombing did not, as is widely believed, precipitate a decision to withdraw. Although the attack strengthened a pre-existing movement for withdrawal, it did the same for a second, more influential faction within the administration that pushed successfully for an expansion and hardening of U.S. military involvement in Lebanon even as popular and congressional opposition to the intervention mounted. Ultimately, only the collapse of the Lebanese national army in early February 1984 — an event unrelated to the October truck attack — compelled Ronald Reagan to accept the mission’s failure and order the marines to redeploy. Our findings imply that policymakers’ responses to casualties are conditioned by their existing theories about an operation’s probability of success or failure. We find that individual policymakers who already opposed the U.S. intervention in Lebanon interpreted the violence of the barracks attack as evidence for their previously established views on the feasibility (or infeasibility) of the peacekeeping mission. Similarly, the attack hardened the position of intervention advocates, who continued to push for an expansion in U.S. military involvement despite the mounting human and political danger. In both instances, public attitudes toward the intervention did not determine policymakers’ support for expanding, maintaining, or terminating the peacekeeping mission. We therefore conclude that the barracks bombing was not the determining factor in the U.S. withdrawal from Lebanon as many have presumed. Rather than lend clarity about the appropriate course of action, the bombing heightened divisions within the administration as policymakers integrated the attack into their pre-existing but competing theories of success (or failure) of the Lebanon mission. This article addresses two related questions: First, why did the United States withdraw from Lebanon? Second, and more broadly, how did policymakers use new information from Beirut in decisions about expanding, maintaining, or terminating the intervention? The opening two sections briefly survey the literature on the relationship between casualties, public opinion, and U.S. foreign policy, highlighting how elite decision-makers weigh public pressure and interpret new information from the field when considering withdrawal from limited military interventions. The third section details alternative explanations for the U.S. response to the barracks bombing. Next, we outline the counterfactual method we employ to identify, construct, and assess alternative causal pathways for explaining the withdrawal. A brief history of the U.S. military withdrawal from Lebanon constitutes the fifth section, followed by a counterfactual assessment to test our theory and assess American decision-makers’ calculations between the October 1983 bombing and the Marines’ departure in February 1984. Finally, the conclusion returns to the question of why the Reagan administration terminated the peacekeeping mission and considers the implications this case has on popular, scholarly, and policy debates about military withdrawals.

Weighing the “Bodybag Effect”[5]

The history of the Reagan administration’s intervention in Lebanon has played a fundamental role in shaping popular and academic attitudes toward the effect that casualties have had on U.S. foreign policy and the role of public opinion in crafting that policy. The barracks bombing was the U.S. military’s first major casualty event since the end of the Vietnam War, and for some it played into a growing literature highlighting the public’s power to curtail military commitments when confronted with evidence of growing human costs.[6] Weinberger’s 1984 announcement of a new military doctrine defining, among other criteria, the need for “reasonable assurances” of public support for future interventions seemed to provide additional confirmation of this thesis. Media and academic discourses about Lebanon conform closely with the theory that the barracks bombing catalyzed the Marines’ departure.[7] Three decades later, Beirut remains a popular case study of the effects of casualties on U.S. foreign policy, contributing to a vast literature that frames public opinion as the “essential domino” in decisions to maintain, expand, or terminate military interventions.[8] In one camp, scholars have expanded upon John Mueller’s landmark theory of a reflexive and casualty-sensitive American electorate, contending that popular support for an intervention declines — and the risk of political backlash grows — as the costs of an intervention accumulate.[9] Conversely, a second school of thought emphasizes the public’s capacity to make rational calculations and weigh the costs of an intervention against its perceived strategic importance and the odds of success. Informed by the United States’ post-Cold War humanitarian operations and the wars in Iraq and Afghanistan, this literature suggests that a variety of contextual factors, including the type of operation, elite framing of the conflict, and the perceived probability of victory, help inform the public’s tolerance for casualties and provide opportunities for decision-makers to sustain costly interventions under certain circumstances.[10] [quote id="1"] Both views are united, however, by the common position that popular attitudes function as a strong brake on the use of force.[11] If the public is willing to punish elected leaders for the costs of a military intervention, the argument goes, U.S. presidential administrations can be expected, once presented with evidence of declining popular support, to terminate interventions in hopes of avoiding an electoral backlash. The Beirut example has emerged as a common demonstration of this dynamic. Researchers have seized upon the fact that the Reagan administration announced its withdrawal shortly after the president formally declared his intention to run for re-election. Yet, the complete history of the U.S. experience in Lebanon challenges both of these public opinion models. Closer analysis of public and White House polling data reveals that national attitudes did not decline uniformly in response to the barracks attack. To the contrary, support for the U.S. intervention in Lebanon grew in the wake of the bombing and continued to fluctuate over the intervention’s remaining four months. Even as public attitudes soured over the winter of 1983–84, the decline in support was neither as precipitous as is commonly argued nor as influential. Indeed, when the White House announced its decision to withdraw in early February 1984, public support for the intervention was “not significantly different from what it was in early October 1983, before the truck bombing occurred.”[12] Moreover, the Reagan administration continued to expand and harden U.S. military involvement in Lebanon for several months after the tragedy, even as the perceived danger of future losses increased. Rather than distance himself from a growing political liability — as both the reflexive and rational public models anticipate a savvy political leader would do — the president vociferously defended the intervention both in public and private. And even as the announcement of his re-election campaign neared, and despite worsening poll numbers, Reagan continued to tie himself to the imbroglio.

Weighing a Strategic Course Correction

A second popular interpretation of the withdrawal from Lebanon upholds the case as a rare example of prudent course correction. Skeptical of the peacekeeping mission, those subscribing to this explanation argue that the bombing forced Reagan to acknowledge that the costs of maintaining the intervention outweighed the anticipated benefits. Avoiding the temptation to double down on a losing mission, the president chose to cut his losses and terminate the mission before additional American lives were lost.[13] This view hews closely to theoretical arguments within the literature on bargaining models of war, especially notions of Bayesian updating.[14] Such updating occurs when rational political actors combine new information from the field with prior expectations to adjust their outlooks on the future. In the context of a military operation, positive information like a battlefield success might encourage policymakers, governments, or populations to expand their political objectives or to adjust their strategy to seek desired ends more efficiently. If new information suggests that an adversary is stronger than expected or that the costs of success are higher than anticipated — a devastating attack on one’s military forces, for example — decision-makers should narrow their objectives and begin seeking an end to the operation. These calculations depend largely on the actor’s prior assessments; even the most damning information from the battlefield may only slowly overcome deeply held expectations that events will ultimately work out as originally anticipated.[15] Nonetheless, a Bayesian perspective suggests that new negative information from the field should reliably and consistently degrade expectations for, and thus approaches to, an intervention. At first glance, this framework provides an appealingly simple explanation for the Reagan administration’s behavior in the wake of the Beirut barracks bombing: Since the cost of the intervention — namely, the loss of 241 Americans — and the expectation of future attacks exceeded the benefits of maintaining the mission, withdrawal was consequently in order. A surprise injection of negative information from the field precipitated careful strategic reassessment. Yet, a closer examination of the Reagan administration’s deliberations reveals that policymakers did not uniformly interpret the attack and update their expectations as the Bayesian model might predict. Instead, officials retreated into their pre-established camps and offered two diverging understandings of the tragedy’s significance. Opponents of the U.S. military intervention, notably Defense Secretary Weinberger and Chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff Gen. John W. Vessey Jr., seized upon the Marine losses as a confirmation of their prior belief that U.S. objectives in Lebanon could not be achieved at an acceptable cost. Most interestingly, however, advocates of the intervention drew the inverse conclusion, construing the bloodshed as evidence that the U.S. military presence was vital to preserving hopes for a negotiated settlement to the Lebanese civil war. President Reagan, Secretary of State George Shultz, and National Security Adviser Robert “Bud” McFarlane each upheld the bombing as an additional reason to maintain — or even expand — U.S. involvement in the country and reassert Washington’s resolve.[16] Reagan reassured the American people that “The multinational force was attacked precisely because it is … accomplishing its mission.”[17] If neither pressure from a casualty-adverse public nor reflexive strategic reassessment explains the Reagan administration’s reaction to the bombing and the decision-making surrounding the ultimate withdrawal, what does?

Theories of Success, Theories of Failure

The divergent interpretations of the bombing were largely conditioned on policymakers’ previous beliefs regarding the efficacy and value of the U.S. intervention in Lebanon. We call these views their “theory of success” or “theory of failure.” We use theory of success and theory of failure in reference to the causal logic underpinning why a particular action is expected to lead, or not lead, to a desired political objective.[18] Beliefs of this kind animate each facet of policymakers’ deliberations — including definition of priorities, assessment of risk, and evaluation of potential instruments of power — by providing a unifying framework to bind specific decisions to more general political aims.[19] Functionally, theories of success determine the shape of action, providing the sinew connecting a government’s efforts with its goals. In the case of the U.S. intervention in Lebanon, policymakers’ established theories of success or failure informed their immediate reaction to the barracks bombing and their policy recommendations in the months that followed. Unlike in pure Bayesian models, the attack produced a range of interpretations among decision-makers because this new information was filtered through the lens of their prior views. Those who supported the intervention and believed that the United States could still achieve its aims viewed the attack as further evidence of the need to maintain or expand the peacekeeping mission. Conversely, those who opposed the deployment of U.S. forces to Lebanon saw the casualties as confirmation of the intervention’s futility and as an additional reason to disengage. Everyone agreed the bombing was a tragedy, but not everyone took the attack as evidence that the United States had faced a setback calling its mission into question. Indeed, by providing added evidence for their preferred courses of action, and thereby deepening the fractures within the administration, the bombings increased the “stickiness,” or durability, of policymakers’ theories of success (or impending failure). Thus, the outcome of the Reagan administration’s deliberations in the months after the barracks bombing was not pre-ordained by the scale of the losses or expectations of domestic political backlash. It was, however, increasingly influenced by theories U.S. leaders already held about the mission. A counterfactual analysis of the events leading to the U.S. military withdrawal from Lebanon reveals an alternative explanation for the administration’s ultimate decision to disengage from the country. Until the very end, optimists like Reagan and Shultz maintained their conviction that the Marine presence would help bring stability to the troubled region, even as the security situation in Lebanon deteriorated and negotiations faltered. Only in early February 1984, when a series of local crises threatened and ultimately overwhelmed the Lebanese Armed Forces, did the Cabinet finally form the consensus necessary to persuade Reagan to order the redeployment. The collapse of the Lebanese forces provided conclusive evidence that the president’s theory of success, which posited that the Lebanese government could, with sufficient U.S. support, reassert control without a wider American ground presence, was no longer viable. What occurred was not a thoughtful withdrawal or a maneuver to placate domestic electoral pressures in the face of disconfirming evidence. Rather, confronted with the decision to either terminate or massively escalate U.S. involvement, Reagan finally conceded defeat.

A Counterfactual History

To assess the effect that the Marine barracks bombing had on U.S. policy in Lebanon, we combine historical analysis of the Reagan administration’s internal deliberations with counterfactual examination of three inflection points that occurred between the Oct. 23, 1983, attack and the Feb. 7, 1984, decision to terminate the peacekeeping mission. Once derided by historians and political scientists alike, counterfactual analysis offers a powerful qualitative tool to test theories of causality.[20] Because it challenges researchers to envision alternative unrealized futures, counterfactual analysis also illuminates flaws in established narratives and provides a safeguard against confirmation bias, making it a valuable method to re-evaluate the popular Lebanese example. By comparing possible outcomes against actual events, we seek to “weigh” the bombing’s significance as a driver of U.S. decision-making and to judge the effect of public opinion and rational strategic reassessment on the administration’s decision-making. To control against indefensible extrapolations, we draw upon multiple related analytical frameworks.[21] We blend inductive historical and theory-guided analysis to “describe, explain, interpret, [and] understand a single case as an end in itself.”[22] We employ theory as a guide to identify causal pathways and to help select likely or feasible counterfactual scenarios. Deep analysis of the historical record is also necessary to identify potential turning points, assess realistic alternatives, and weigh the probability of potential consequences. As a historically-minded political scientist and a historian versed in political theory, we aim to conduct an interdisciplinary study that draws equally from both traditions. [quote id="2"] Toward this end, we conducted archival work to build a rich case study of decision-making with regard to Lebanon between October 1983 and February 1984.[23] Declassified government records, oral histories, memoirs, and contemporary news reporting allowed us to reconstruct the Reagan administration’s internal debates and to trace changes in that debate across time.[24] By carefully following a causal chain from origin to outcome, we can identify policymakers’ assumptions, isolate points of contention, and delineate a range of alternative outcomes that were possible at the time.[25] Tracing the decision-making process this way serves as a check against common cognitive distortions like hindsight bias, or the tendency to see past occurrences as obvious and the future as predictable. It also forms a foundation from which to build realistic alternatives.[26] In identifying turning points during this period for counterfactual comparison, we prioritized instances in which: (1) the Reagan administration engaged in a high-level debate over whether to expand, contract, or terminate the peacekeeping mission in Lebanon; (2) the ultimate outcome was contingent on specific, isolatable variables (e.g., the presence of an individual or the occurrence of an event); and (3) an alternative could be extrapolated with minimal speculation. To avoid what historian Francis Gavin has termed the “fallacy of focusing on the last out,” we also selected examples from across the four-month period in question.[27] Broadening our temporal lens allows us to account for fluctuations over time, to consider cumulative effects, and to build a rich causal narrative that accounts for individual learning, the dynamics of decision-making, and the “stickiness” of theories of success or failure over time. Three moments satisfied our criteria. First, the October 23 bombing, which required many things to go right for the attackers, including acquiring the explosives and securing a determined suicide bomber, and many to go wrong for the United States and its allies, namely, an overabundance of intelligence and the inability to interdict the truck.[28] Second, the botched December 3 raid against Syrian targets that led to the death of one American pilot and the capture of a second. And third, the mass defection of the Lebanese Armed Forces in February 1984, an outcome contingent on the success of a risky anti-government offensive. In evaluating each example, we define a clear counterfactual antecedent (e.g., the Lebanese forces did not collapse), a set of hypothesized consequences (e.g., the U.S. decision to stay), and a causal path (e.g., because the Lebanese government remained stable, American officials could still argue for supporting it).[29]

Withdrawing from Lebanon, a Brief History

Lebanon forced its way onto the Reagan administration’s agenda in April 1981, when a confrontation between Israeli-backed Christian militants and Syrian deterrent forces stationed in the Bekaa Valley nearly provoked a fifth Arab-Israeli war. To avert a regional conflict, the president dispatched career diplomat Philip Habib to broker a new framework delineating Syrian, Palestinian, and Israeli zones of operations in Lebanon. Habib’s tireless mediation succeeded in defusing a series of confrontations over the next 16 months. Nevertheless, Israeli preparations for a major ground offensive continued despite U.S. protests.[30] On June 6, 1982, the long-planned Israeli invasion began. Within one week, the Israel Defense Forces had laid siege to Beirut in an effort to evict and destroy the Palestine Liberation Organization and thereby secure Israel’s northern border region. After inconclusive negotiations, the Reagan administration announced in July of that year that the president had agreed, in principle, to deploy U.S. marines to Lebanon. In August, the first contingent disembarked in Beirut as part of the Multinational Force tasked with overseeing the evacuation of Palestinian and Syrian fighters from the city.[31] Despite the ferocity of the fighting in Lebanon, the congressional reaction to Reagan’s commitment of U.S. forces was mixed. Senate Majority Leader Howard Baker expressed private reservations, and the House Foreign Affairs Committee convened an emergency session to review the administration’s proposal.[32] The White House averted more sustained opposition, however, by insisting on its intent to comply with the provisions of the War Powers Act. Under the terms of the Lebanese government’s invitation, U.S. forces were authorized to participate on a “limited and temporary basis” not to exceed 30 days, and they were equipped with unloaded weapons consistent with a non-combat mission. “I want to emphasize that there is no intention or expectation that U.S. Armed Forces will become involved in hostilities,” Reagan wrote to Congress, underscoring that Habib had secured guarantees from all armed parties in the city.[33] The first marines arrived ashore on Aug. 24, 1982. The Palestine Liberation Organization evacuation was completed quickly and without incident, and on September 8 — nearly two weeks before the mission’s scheduled end — the Pentagon announced the Marines’ early departure. They sailed from Lebanon two days later under banners reading “Mission Accomplished Farewell.”[34] Their withdrawal proved premature. Within days, President-Elect Bashir Gemayel, leader of Lebanon’s far-right Christian Phalange militia, was assassinated and the Israel Defense Forces re-entered Beirut, where they allowed Maronite fighters to massacre hundreds of Palestinian refugees.[35] Horrified by the carnage, and eager to dispel accusations of U.S. complicity, Reagan ordered the Marines to return to Beirut as part of a reconstituted multinational force tasked with three expanded political objectives: (1) to facilitate the withdrawal of Syrian and Israeli forces from Lebanon; (2) to strengthen the Lebanese national army; and (3) to assist the central government’s efforts to restore stability.[36] Over the next year, Reagan authorized gradual expansions in the Marine mission even as negotiations for the withdrawal of foreign forces stalled and efforts to strengthen the Lebanese Armed Forces faltered.[37] Determined to dispel the memory of Vietnam, and confident in what he saw as America’s unique obligation to promote peace abroad, Reagan envisioned the troops playing an indispensable role in promoting a lasting peace in Lebanon. His convictions were encouraged by optimistic assessments from Shultz, his secretary of state, and National Security Adviser William Clark. Reagan approved Lebanese government requests to expand the Marines’ patrol zone and launch an ambitious military modernization program over the fall of 1982.[38] By January 1983, the marines could be seen serving alongside Lebanese soldiers at observation posts and checkpoints throughout the capital.[39] These new responsibilities chipped away at U.S. claims of neutrality in the country’s civil war, eroding Lebanese popular support for the peacekeeping presence and bringing American diplomats and marines into the crosshairs. Attacks on the Multinational Force ticked upward in February and March, compelling the Marines to tighten coordination with Lebanese government forces.[40] On April 17, 1983, Shia militants supported by both Iran and Syria detonated a car bomb outside the U.S. embassy in Beirut, killing 58.[41] The attack precipitated a final push to secure an Israeli-Lebanese withdrawal arrangement, but the resulting written agreement was stymied by Syrian opposition.[42] Denouncing the continued U.S. presence, Syria increased its support for Druze and Shia factions in the mountainous Shouf District overlooking Beirut, intensifying a simmering standoff over Phalange encroachment.[43] As the fighting spread over the summer, attacks on Americans spiked. From August 4 to September 7, clashes killed four marines and wounded another 28, more than a threefold increase in total casualties over the previous 10-month period.[44] A series of pitched confrontations in September between the Lebanese Armed Forces and militias in the mountains prompted expansions to the rules of engagement for U.S. forces, which now directly supported the government of Lebanon with artillery and naval fire.[45] [quote id="3"] By the fall of 1983, progress toward all three U.S. objectives in Lebanon had stalled. Congress authorized an 18-month extension to the Marines’ mandate in September, but public attitudes toward the already-unpopular intervention declined as the security situation worsened — by mid-September only 17 percent of adult Americans favored continued U.S. participation.[46] Intelligence analysts cautioned that the opportunity for a negotiated withdrawal of foreign forces had passed and that Lebanon’s de facto partition was all but inevitable. “All the indicators are now moving the wrong way on our policy commitment,” CIA analyst Graham Fuller warned the agency’s deputy director, John McMahon. “We must be ready to face the fact that we have reached the end of the road.”[47] Policymakers recognized that they had arrived at a decision point, but they disagreed bitterly over how, or whether, a continued U.S. military presence could accelerate a negotiated settlement in Lebanon. In one camp, Defense Secretary Weinberger and Chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff Gen. Vessey, who had opposed the decision to deploy the Marines a year earlier, pushed Reagan to draw down the U.S. presence, arguing that the administration’s initial theory of success was, by now, strategically bankrupt. The intensifying conflict, they argued, demonstrated the mission’s futility and increased the odds of a miscalculation or confrontation that might alienate Arab opinion and strain the U.S. military’s limited resources in the region.[48] “Our whole policy, including the MNF presence and the buildup of the [Lebanese Armed Forces], was premised on achieving a diplomatic success. … Absent this, there was no military action that could succeed, unless we declared war and tried to force the occupying troops out of Lebanon,” Weinberger later wrote. “Our position was becoming increasingly dangerous, and was in fact useless.”[49] Yet Secretary of State Shultz, National Security Adviser Clark, and Bud McFarlane, who replaced Clark in early October 1983, contended that the administration’s objectives remained within reach. This camp expressed confidence in America’s capacity to promote peace in Lebanon, and espoused a theory of success in which the peacekeepers’ presence would bolster confidence in the Lebanese government, encourage Israeli and Syrian concessions, and accelerate the process of national reconciliation. Appealing to Reagan’s fear that his predecessors, cowed by the U.S. failure in Vietnam, had neglected American alliances and undermined the country’s reputation, they upheld Lebanon as a litmus test for American power in the world. The conflict, this camp argued in memoranda and private conversations, was both a “historic opportunity” to secure America’s position in a strategic region and a gamble that placed U.S. “credibility as a great power [at] stake.”[50] The world was watching to see what the United States would do when tested, and Shultz, Clark, and McFarlane urged the president to deploy additional marines as part of an expanded mission to support the Lebanese Armed Forces in reasserting government control beyond the capital.[51] The impasse deepened the administration’s internal fractures, and the debate stretched on without resolution into October. As governor of California and later as president, Reagan frequently demonstrated a willingness to cut his political losses and reverse course on a range of domestic matters, a strategy that his advisers described as “damage limitation” and that commentators viewed as a signature “tactical realism.”[52] He worried about escalating the crisis, and he listened to Weinberger’s warnings. Yet Shultz, Clark, and McFarlane’s arguments appealed to the president’s deeply held conviction that diplomacy worked best when backed by demonstrations of strength. Reagan still believed that the United States could secure a negotiated withdrawal of Syrian and Israeli forces from Lebanon, and he continued to view the Marine presence as an important symbol of American staying power. But Reagan was characteristically disinclined to mediate between his advisers, and he deferred the question of whether to augment the peacekeeping mission during repeated National Security Planning Group meetings in early October.[53] As a result, the national security leaders were already deeply divided over Lebanon when news of the barracks bombing reached Washington. The Marine Barracks Bombing — Oct. 23, 1983 Early on the morning of Oct. 23, 1983, Marine sentries stationed at Beirut International Airport observed a yellow Mercedes truck circling a public parking lot south of their compound. The Marines had suffered an unusual spate of casualties over the previous two weeks, and the sentries had been instructed to watch for suspicious vehicles. But there had been so many warnings — and the details were so sparse — that the guards dismissed the circling truck until, at 6:22 a.m., the driver picked up speed and turned toward the compound. As the marines scrambled to load their weapons, the driver maneuvered past the guard post and crashed into the barracks building, where he detonated the truck’s explosive load. The blast leveled the structure, killing 241 Americans.[54] The attack shocked the Reagan administration. McFarlane, a week into his new role as national security adviser, recalled that the president was stricken by early reports of American casualties. But Reagan’s grief was soon replaced by anger. “Those sons of bitches,” he swore as the first reports of casualties trickled back to Washington. “Let’s find a way to go after them.”[55] Within days, the intelligence community had gathered conclusive evidence of Syrian and Iranian culpability, including intercepted communications and an eye witness who shadowed the explosive-laden truck after it left the Iranian embassy in Beirut.[56] “If there ever was a 24-karat gold document, this was it,” a participant close to the process recalled. “This was not something from the third cousin of the fourth wife of Muhammed the taxicab driver.”[57] But while McFarlane, Shultz, and the National Security Council staff pressed for rapid reprisals to deter further attacks,[58] Weinberger and Vessey urged the president to defer a decision until after a scheduled trip to East Asia in early November.[59] If advocates of the Multinational Force viewed the bombing as evidence of the need for a peacekeeping force in Lebanon, the Department of Defense interpreted the attack as further confirmation that the Marines’ objectives were unattainable and feared that a confrontation might drag the Marines deeper into a quagmire. Dismissing the intelligence linking Syria and Iran to the attack, Weinberger and Vessey insisted that there was still insufficient evidence to justify military action.[60] Emboldened, the defense secretary renewed his campaign to persuade the president to bring the marines home.[61] In retrospect, these officials’ reactions to the Beirut bombing were emblematic of a pattern of behavior that persisted over the course of the Marine mission in Lebanon. Rather than re-evaluate their positions, policymakers instead sought to fit the new information into their pre-established theories of the intervention’s viability. New information often served to reinforce their arguments, worsening divisions within the administration and decreasing the possibility of compromise or consensus. When reports from the field did not conform with their prior expectations, Weinberger and others disputed the news and doubled down on their already established positions. The defense secretary eventually succeeded in persuading Reagan to defer a decision on retaliation until he returned to Washington in mid-November. Yet, the president’s confidence in the Marines’ mission in Lebanon deepened in the days after the bombing. In conversations with his advisers and public statements, Reagan underscored the importance of maintaining the course, cautioning his advisers that adversaries were watching the administration’s next steps.[62] Within days, he approved a series of presidential directives reasserting the importance of a U.S. military presence in Lebanon and modifying the Marines’ rules of engagement to allow U.S. forces to support Lebanese Armed Forces operations outside Beirut, including positions “in danger of being overrun by hostile forces.”[63] Notably, these directives were based on drafts circulated in advance of the October 23 bombing and were signed after only minor corrections.[64] In addition, he dispatched Marine Commandant P.X. Kelley to assess efforts to fortify American positions and evaluate whether additional security measures were needed.[65] With these actions, Reagan demonstrated his intention to maintain the U.S. presence in Lebanon, regardless of the risks. “What the President did not want to do, above all, was … to be seen as running away,” recalled McFarlane. “To the contrary, the barracks bombing seemed to strengthen his resolve to stay.”[66] [quote id="4"] Reagan was not alone in this view. Neither Shultz nor McFarlane wavered in his support for the intervention, and both pushed the president to demonstrate his continued commitment to the cause.[67] Even the president’s political advisers, typically sensitive to partisan winds, urged continuity. “Stability in the Middle East — and progress toward peace there — is vital to world peace,” Edwin Meese III, one of the president’s closest confidants, wrote to Reagan the day after the bombing, reiterating the president’s concern that the U.S. commitment to Lebanon had become a litmus test of America’s reliability as an ally. “If we are driven out of Lebanon, the radicals, the rejectionists, the violent will have won,” he warned, suggesting that a failure of resolve would be interpreted as a green light to challenge U.S. interests elsewhere.[68] Shultz echoed Meese’s warning in nearly identical terms during briefings on Capitol Hill, adding that “the presence of our Marines has been a crucial pillar of the structure of stability that is needed to make a political solution possible.”[69] Implicit in both arguments was an understanding that the attack threatened to derail the administration’s broader effort to establish a reputation for resolve, one manifested in the figure of the marines themselves.[70] The documentary evidence reveals that concern for public attitudes played almost no role in decision-makers’ arguments for retaliation or the president’s decision to defer military action. Official deliberations, whether during National Security Council meetings or in written memoranda, concentrated on the continued prospect of success and the effects that both retaliation and withdrawal could have on U.S. credibility abroad. In fact, Reagan dismissed media speculation that the bombing would harm his political future as the work of “whining” journalists, suggesting it was a ploy to retaliate for the Defense Department’s decision to limit access to Grenada, where U.S. troops had landed on October 25. “The press is trying to give this the Vietnam treatment but don’t think the people will buy it,” he wrote in his diary.[71] To the contrary, Reagan believed that the American public would support the Marines’ mission if they understood its global importance and were presented with evidence that progress was being made. “We must show that the cause was worth dying for,” he insisted to his advisers.[72] A presidential directive elaborated on this logic, forecasting that the appearance of passivity — particularly during an election season — would undermine American security interests and encourage foreign adversaries by signaling that the administration was vulnerable at home.[73] To avert this outcome, Reagan hand-drafted an address, televised on Oct. 27, 1983, making the case for continuing the peacekeeping mission.[74] Staring straight into the camera, he rebuffed accusations that his administration lacked a coherent strategy and emphasized his confidence in the prospects for success, insisting that the goal of a stable and secure Lebanon remained within reach so long as the “physical presence of the marines lends support to both the Lebanese government and its army.” The efforts of the Multinational Force had already moved Lebanon a step closer to stability and order, he argued, claiming that “with our assistance and training” the Lebanese government had “set up its own army … able to hold the lines and maintain the defensive perimeter around Beirut.”[75] Yet, Reagan did more than seek to justify his administration’s past actions. He also used the speech to outline a powerful argument for expanding the U.S. role in Lebanon, a process laid out in a classified directive he signed the next day.[76] Emphasizing the Middle East’s strategic importance, he described Lebanon as the fulcrum of his administration’s efforts to roll back Soviet influence, preserve and expand the Middle East peace process, and restore American credibility abroad. The crisis in Lebanon, he argued, reflected a broader, global struggle to rebuild American power and persuade the country’s enemies that the United States remained willing to use force despite its humiliation in Vietnam. “If terrorism and intimidation succeed … [i]t won’t just be Lebanon sentenced to a future of chaos,” he warned. The strength of the United States rested, he argued, in its willingness and ability to assume the risks inherent to promoting stability. “We’re not somewhere else in the world protecting someone else’s interests; we’re there protecting our own,” he cautioned.[77] Reagan’s gamble paid off. The president’s address produced, in his words, a “complete turnaround” in popular attitudes, and Republican National Committee polling showed general support for the administration’s efforts in Lebanon lasting through early November.[78] The administration’s favored pollster, Richard Wirthlin, emphasized the upward trend, noting that surveys indicated two-thirds of the electorate agreed that “Americans should not be driven out of Lebanon.” These surveys also showed that the U.S. public was in “strong agreement” with the president’s assertion “that the U.S. peacekeeping force in Lebanon was attacked precisely because it was doing its job” and generally supported a long-term U.S. role in Lebanon. Although “the vast majority of the electorate express concern that the situation in Lebanon might plunge the U.S. into another Vietnam, there is also a strong feeling that the outcome there is important to the defense interests of the United States,” Wirthlin’s report concluded, affirming Reagan’s impulse. “The idea of yielding to terrorist action is offensive to the American public, even to save American lives,” it added.[79] Notably, White House confidence in the administration’s ability to either shape or withstand changes in public attitudes held even as media speculation intensified in November over the Lebanon imbroglio’s potential effect on the president’s re-election chances. White House staffers chafed, for instance, at a November 30 Washington Post article conjecturing that mounting political pressure would force an early withdrawal, dismissing the suggestion in a Senior Staff Action Items List as not only “inaccurate” but also “harmful to our policy objectives.”[80] That neither Weinberger nor other Defense Department officials emphasized the danger of declining popular support in their arguments against the intervention provides additional evidence that this factor held little sway over the White House deliberations. The most serious outstanding question was whether and how the United States would strike back. A Botched Raid — Dec. 3, 1983 Little serious discussion of withdrawing from Beirut occurred in the days and weeks after the barracks attack. Instead, attention remained focused on whether to retaliate against the perpetrators of the bombing who had been linked to Iranian bases in the Bekaa Valley. Deliberations resumed on November 14, when Reagan returned to Washington from a lengthy trip to East Asia. Over the next two days, he and his advisers debated the wisdom of launching a joint operation with the French against two Iranian installations linked to the attack. The administration was divided along familiar lines: Shultz and McFarlane, now backed by Director of Central Intelligence William Casey, urged the president to order a strike, arguing that retaliation was the only way to protect the negotiating process and deter future attacks. However, Weinberger, worried that further escalation might trap the Marines in Lebanon, dug in his heels. Stressing the danger of collateral damage that could erode local support for the peacekeeping mission and imperil U.S. diplomats and servicemembers in the country, he persuaded Reagan to defer his decision for two more days.[81] On November 16, Reagan and his advisers gathered to make a decision. What exactly happened in this meeting remains mired in controversy. Some participants later claimed that Reagan approved a joint strike with the French, only to have his order ignored by his defiant defense secretary. For his part, Weinberger maintained that Reagan either never issued an order or retracted it in a private call later that evening.[82] Whatever the reason for U.S. inaction, the French decision to act alone on the morning of November 16 resolved the administration’s internal debate. With its intended targets destroyed, and without alternative locations to strike, the Defense Department canceled its reprisal plans in favor of defensive initiatives to mitigate future attacks and prepare the Lebanese Armed Forces for an eventual transfer of responsibility.[83] [quote id="5"] Scholars have seized on the U.S. failure to retaliate as evidence that the Reagan administration was already preparing to draw down operations. Indeed, Weinberger and Vessey redoubled their campaign to withdraw the Marines in the wake of the French strike and urged the president to reverse his decision to authorize more permissive rules of engagement.[84] But analysis of the Reagan administration’s decision-making in November reveals that this encouragement was not indicative of a wider policy shift. Buoyed by optimistic assessments from Shultz and McFarlane, who continued to advocate for an assertive U.S. presence in Lebanon, the president overruled his military advisers and signed a second directive reiterating the importance of “aggressive self-defense.”[85] Anticipating future casualties, he also ordered the Defense Department to “develop target data and arrangements” to facilitate “a future attack on short notice against suitable targets” and authorized new defensive measures to harden the Marines’ position.[86] “I happen to believe taking out a few batteries might give [the Syrians] pause to think,” he remarked in a diary entry on Dec. 1, 1983.[87] The president, sticking with his long-held theory of success, was confident that a demonstration of resolve would promote progress in Lebanon. Reagan’s words were tested only two days later, when a Syrian anti-aircraft unit fired at U.S. reconnaissance planes over eastern Lebanon.[88] It was not the first Syrian attempt to target U.S. aircraft — a similar incident on November 10 had prompted Weinberger to assure the media that such events were not “unusual or surprising”[89] — but this incident coincided with the president’s approval of new rules of engagement authorizing the Marines to practice “vigorous self-defense.”[90] A plan for rapid retaliation was therefore ready when news of the attempted downing reached the president. Without any of the hesitation that had characterized his earlier deliberations, Reagan, frustrated by the Syrians’ continued intransigence and determined to demonstrate America’s commitment to Lebanon, wasted little time ordering the Defense Department to plan and execute a retaliatory airstrike.[91] The president, Secretary of the Navy John Lehman later explained, was certain that the United States “would kick the shit out of the Syrians.”[92] Early the next morning, 28 bombers took off from the U.S.S. Kennedy and U.S.S. Independence with orders to strike three Syrian sites near Beirut, including a surface-to-air missile installation, an ammunition depot, and a radar system. The mission was straightforward, but a combination of miscommunications, technical challenges, and human errors caused the operation to go awry. Aided by Soviet surveillance, Syrian forces quickly identified, tracked, and fired on the U.S. planes, destroying two aircraft and killing one pilot. A second pilot, Lt. Robert Goodman Jr., was captured and detained by the Syrians for nearly a month, until the Rev. Jesse Jackson, an outspoken critic of the Reagan administration, flew to Damascus to negotiate his release.[93] The operation was an unequivocal failure. As Defense Intelligence Agency analysts summarized, “the damage inflicted by the airstrikes probably will not cause the Syrians to alter their present policies” on withdrawal and is “unlikely to deter Syria and its Lebanese allies from attacking US reconnaissance aircraft and marine positions.”[94] McFarlane had stuck to his theory of success during the weeks of deliberation after the barracks bombing, but the failed December raid forced him to re-evaluate his support for the Marine mission. The national security adviser’s endorsement of the U.S. intervention had been premised on his confidence that the United States could, with sufficient application of military pressure, force Syria to make concessions for the simple reason that Damascus could not afford a direct confrontation. McFarlane recognized that the Defense Department’s opposition precluded any possibility of a larger military operation, but he had held out hope that targeted reprisals, with their implicit threat of escalation, might serve as a reasonable alternative.[95] Meanwhile, reconciliation negotiations among Lebanon’s diverse factions had stalled, threatening to spark a new bout of major fighting that was likely to overwhelm the already strained Lebanese army and reverse the limited gains painstakingly made over the previous year. “There were three loci of that strategy,” he concluded, “and in each one we appeared to be failing.”[96] McFarlane’s reversal broke the deadlock and provided the Defense Department with an opportunity to initiate an interagency discussion of possible withdrawal options. Throughout December, an interagency working group prepared a detailed plan of action to transition authority to the Lebanese government and gradually draw down the U.S. military presence. The proposal envisioned an accelerated training program to expand the Lebanese Armed Forces’ area of operations and allow the Marines to move to more defensible positions along the southern border, where they would operate under expanded rules of engagement and continue to respond aggressively to any threats to their presence. With the enticement of an American withdrawal — the working group decided against setting a strict deadline — and the threat of a long-term U.S.-Israeli presence in Lebanon, U.S. negotiators hoped to extract concessions from the Syrians and secure at least some of Washington’s objectives.[97] These preparations for an incremental drawdown in U.S. military involvement coincided with a decline in public support for the peacekeeping mission. The “comfortable margin of approval” Reagan had secured with his October address winnowed over time, and by December 12 campaign pollsters began to warn of “a sharp reduction in the number of Americans who approve of the job the President is doing in Lebanon.” The downward trend mirrored a simultaneous “dramatic shift” in public approval of the president’s handling of foreign affairs, with a majority of Americans reporting for the first time that they disapproved of his response to the Beirut barracks bombing.[98] Sensing an opportunity, Reagan’s political challengers seized on the failed raid as evidence that the administration was driving the United States toward war. Reagan looked “trigger-happy and reckless,” according to Sen. Alan Cranston, one of five Democratic Party challengers.[99] Yet, neither McFarlane’s reversal nor the turn in public opinion compelled Reagan to change course. Although the president intended to launch his re-election campaign shortly after the new year, he appeared unfazed by the prospect of an electoral backlash. Just as he had in the immediate aftermath of the barracks bombing, Reagan dismissed public criticism of his administration’s policy as slander by a hostile press corps, and he insisted that the United States had an obligation to maintain its peacekeeping efforts until internal stability was established and the withdrawal of foreign forces secured.[100] He had great faith in the psychological power of the Marine presence and still believed that a few well-placed shells from the U.S.S. New Jersey’s 16-inch guns would force a political resolution.[101] In short, his theory of success remained unchanged. The president’s confidence in his chosen path in Lebanon was sustained by optimistic assessments from Shultz, who maintained that U.S. objectives were viable and that congressional and public support for the intervention could be secured through concerted outreach. Reagan and Shultz had grown closer over the fall, and the president took to meeting privately with his secretary of state to discuss each week’s events. Although they discussed a range of topics, Shultz’s advice followed a general theme: the need to stay firm and demonstrate American mettle. Even as Syrian opposition hardened and factional fighting around Beirut intensified, Shultz maintained that the United States could achieve its objectives if it persevered and presented a unified, unyielding front.[102] Reagan agreed. “We see pretty much eye to eye on our problems in Lebanon,” he noted in his diary.[103] Thus, while the Defense Department prepared plans for withdrawal, the president continued to authorize plans to harden and expand U.S. involvement in Lebanon. On Dec. 5, 1983 — just a day after the failed air raid — Reagan overruled, for a second time, his military advisers’ recommendations and signed a presidential directive explicitly reaffirming his decision to modify the rules of engagement for the deployed marines. This time, he stipulated that the Marines be provided naval surface and tactical air support to carry out “vigorous self-defense” against either the source of enemy fire or “discrete military targets in unpopulated areas which are organizationally associated with the firing units.”[104] To reassure European partners, he dispatched Shultz to Brussels a few days later with a message affirming America’s commitment to Lebanon and orders to discuss plans to strengthen the peacekeeping mission’s support for the Lebanese government.[105] U.S. forces would remain in the country, despite the danger, until a political resolution was reached or “there was such a collapse of order that it was absolutely certain no solution to the problem” in Lebanon would be reached, he told reporters later in the month. He remained confident, however, that success was possible, adding that “we’re making more progress than appears on the surface.”[106] The Deterioration of the Lebanese Armed Forces: Feb. 4–7, 1984 The fractures within the Reagan administration deepened in December and January. “There seem to be at least two opposing hypotheses about how we are doing,” one National Security Council staffer wrote, summarizing the prevailing sentiment.
One is optimistic in flavor; it assumes that things are naturally falling into place and that with a little perseverance we will be able to achieve our broad objectives. … The other is fundamentally pessimistic, assuming that the situation continues to be structured unfavorably, and that the most that we can hope for is an implicit set of understandings between Israel and Syria … and a face-saving way to get out of Lebanon.[107]
Indeed, evidence that the administration’s efforts were failing continued to accumulate. On December 23, the CIA published a Special National Intelligence Estimate summarizing the intelligence community’s assessment of the quandary. “Despite recent air attacks and naval gunfire on Syrian positions,” the report noted, “Syria appears unwilling to back down.” Although the State Department theorized that robust American action would inspire political progress, the report argued that Syrian President Hafez Assad appeared confident that he could “afford to pay a higher price than either the United States or Israel” and predicted that he would respond to any effort to expand U.S. involvement with a new round of terrorist attacks. Worse still, the intelligence estimate forecast that further U.S. reprisals would exacerbate Lebanon’s confessional polarization, opening new opportunities for Syria to exploit local grievances against the government and quickening the country’s partition.[108] The report concluded that a continued U.S. military presence could only worsen the crisis, not resolve it.[109] The same day the CIA published its intelligence estimate, an independent Defense Department investigation released its findings from a two-month inquiry into the October barracks bombing.[110] The Long Commission, named for its chairman, Adm. Robert Long, identified systemic failures across the command chain but concluded that the tragedy was a direct result of the peacekeepers’ mandate.[111] Weinberger, who had requested the investigation in part to bolster his arguments for withdrawal, seized upon its conclusions as further evidence of the mission’s futility.[112] As he explained in a letter to Reagan summarizing the findings, the investigation confirmed “the near impossibility of carrying out the assigned mission without risking such a catastrophe.”[113] The administration’s best option, he insisted, would be to withdraw. The commission was one more tool the secretary of defense used to propagate his theory of failure regarding Lebanon, though its report offered few details about how and when a withdrawal should take place even as it questioned the wisdom of the deployment. [quote id="6"] Weinberger’s message was soon amplified on Capitol Hill, where congressional critics of the intervention seized on the Long Commission’s findings as evidence that Reagan was driving the United States toward war with Syria.[114] Even once-sympathetic leaders, such as Charles H. Percy, chairman of the Senate Foreign Relations Committee, and House Speaker Tip O’Neill, who had helped the White House avert a War Powers Act debate over the Marines’ deployment, returned home for the holiday recess to find constituents angry and confused about the purpose of the Marines’ mission. Although Congress would not resume session until January 24, allies on the Hill cautioned that the Democratic leadership was already preparing to reopen the War Powers debate.[115] All the while, popular support for the intervention continued to plummet. The media reported extensively on the Long Commission’s findings and the administration’s infighting, compounding the sense that the White House had stumbled into a quagmire.[116] Approval of the president’s overall performance in Lebanon sank 10 points over four weeks, dropping to 33 percent by January 30. For the first time since the Marines’ deployment 18 months earlier, a White House-commissioned poll found a majority of Americans favored “an immediate withdrawal of all U.S. forces” over the status quo.[117] Yet, none of these things — not the intelligence community’s dreary assessment, the Long Commission report, or the popular and congressional uproar — persuaded Reagan to change course.[118] Three days after the Long Commission report was released, the president convened a news conference to silence rumors that his administration was preparing to leave Lebanon. “If there is to be blame, it properly rests here in this office and with this president,” he told reporters, putting his reputation on the line. But he refused to second-guess the value of the Marine presence, chiding naysayers for not realizing the “problem … will not disappear if we run from it.” Reiterating the message he had espoused in the days after the bombing, he asked the American public to allow the marines time to complete their mission, which had already, he stressed, helped to protect the Lebanese government, strengthen its army, and “lay the foundation for a future peace.” It would be hard, he acknowledged, but America’s goals in Lebanon were worth the cost.[119] This was more than savvy political rhetoric. Reagan’s public statements were consistent with his long-held theory of the mission and his personal conviction that the crisis presented a test of American resolve. His political aides, worried that a congressional standoff might harm the president’s re-election campaign, implored Reagan to distance himself from the operation. By late January, White House Chief of Staff James Baker, who previously had supported the decision to intervene, had gone so far as to urge the president to disengage the United States from the messy conflict.[120] But Reagan was determined to see the mission through. Encouraged by optimistic reports from his new special envoy to the Middle East, Donald Rumsfeld, and conversations with Shultz, the president resolved to buy time for the ongoing negotiations to succeed.[121] Reagan also recognized, however, that he could no longer ignore the criticism mounting on Capitol Hill. To stave off a War Powers Act debate, he dispatched senior officials to build support for an open-ended U.S. military role in Lebanon, following a political strategy first employed in the wake of the October bombing. Throughout January, McFarlane, Shultz, Undersecretary of State Lawrence Eagleburger, and even Reagan himself met with leading members of both houses of Congress to stress the importance of the Marines’ mission and push back against calls for a precipitous withdrawal.[122] Their efforts were persuasive: As House Minority Leader Robert H. Michel told reporters after one session, he was “satisfied with what I have heard today that what we’re doing is the right thing.”[123] Reagan had won other tough congressional battles, and he saw no reason why a reasonable compromise could not be secured. To further assuage congressional concerns, and to refute allegations that the administration planned to deploy U.S. troops indefinitely, Reagan directed Shultz, Weinberger, and Vessey on January 26 to prepare a timetable for the phased drawdown of the marines deployed in Lebanon. Six days later, he signed a national security directive approving, in principle, preparations to replace the Marines with a smaller, more mobile anti-terrorist force operating under more permissive rules of engagement. Paired with an accelerated military modernization program for the Lebanese Armed Forces, the residual force was intended to demonstrate U.S. staying power and maintain the administration’s ability to strike at Syrian or surrogate forces as needed. To further enhance the safety of the marines in the interim, the directive granted U.S. naval forces the authority to provide gunfire and air support against any units conducting a hostile attack on U.S. or Multinational Force personnel and facilities, stretching the definition of self-defense.[124] Still, the president was not ready to abandon his goals in Lebanon. Shultz continued to stress the dangers of a premature withdrawal, warning that the United States would send the wrong message to adversaries if it cut and ran. Reagan agreed, and he instructed Rumsfeld to fly to Beirut for consultations, insisting the drawdown plan could not be implemented unless the Lebanese government approved.[125] Determined to maintain the administration’s flexibility to defend U.S. interests in Lebanon by force if the need arose, the White House continued to fight a House resolution calling for withdrawal. Meanwhile, the State Department and National Security Council staff explored a range of options to increase pressure on Syria and improve U.S. targeting abilities.[126] Looking back on the February 1 decision to approve, in principle, a smaller replacement force, Rumsfeld compared the administration’s options to those of a pilot of a damaged plane: “We could either crash land with a precipitous withdrawal or gradually reduce our presence in a controlled landing.”[127] In this, the intervention’s advocates were aided by an inadvertent gift from the Joint Chiefs of Staff who, for reasons that remain unclear, dallied in preparing timetables for withdrawal, even as Weinberger urged them to set a deadline for the Marines’ immediate departure.[128] Against this backdrop, Reagan’s request for withdrawal options appears to have been part of a political strategy designed to preserve the administration’s maneuverability by pre-empting a congressional effort to impose a strict deadline for the Marines’ departure. In comments to the media, Reagan continued to resist calls to set a timeline, claiming that the Marines would remain in Lebanon until the withdrawal of foreign forces had been secured and the Lebanese government proved capable of maintaining security independently. “As long as there is a chance for peace, the mission remains the same,” he snapped at reporters on February 2, just days after announcing his re-election campaign. His critics “may be willing to surrender, but I’m not.”[129] Just as Reagan announced his intention to stay in Lebanon, the National Salvation Front, a coalition of anti-government militias, launched a coordinated assault on Lebanese army positions in and around Beirut.[130] By February 3, the coalition had seized control of Beirut’s southern district and made significant gains in the capital’s eastern and center sectors. That day, Nabih Berri, leader of the Amal militia, called on all Muslim leaders to resign from the government and for all nationalist soldiers in the Lebanese Armed Forces to abandon their posts. Others had issued similar calls to little avail, but the message was now underscored by the country’s heaviest fighting since 1976. An entire brigade deserted at once, allowing Shia and Druze militias to occupy West Beirut. Soon after, the militias seized the finance ministry and national radio station, wresting control from the few remaining government units. As the militias advanced, desertion rates skyrocketed. Within a week, the Lebanese army was shattered.[131] After months of debate, the collapse of the Lebanese army provided decisive evidence that the U.S. strategy in Lebanon had failed. The reconstruction of the Lebanese Armed Forces had formed the foundation of the Reagan administration’s strategy since September 1982, and its collapse provided critics of the intervention with concrete evidence that U.S. objectives in Lebanon were no longer viable. Amid reports of escalating fighting, McFarlane convened a meeting of the National Security Policy Group on February 7 to discuss the prospect of a complete and rapid withdrawal of U.S. forces. The conversation was dominated by the intervention’s critics. Shultz, now the Multinational Force’s lone advocate in the Cabinet, was in Grenada, and Reagan, his attention now focused on his re-election campaign, was stumping through the Southwest. Undersecretary of State Eagleburger fought a losing battle to keep the Marines in Beirut, but he was overruled quickly by Weinberger and Vice President George H.W. Bush, who chaired the session in the president’s absence. An early supporter of the intervention, Bush had been affected deeply by the October bombing.[132] He visited the marines shortly after the attack, an experience he described as “one of [the] most difficult and emotional assignments” of his long career. He returned to Washington convinced that future attacks were likely, that the Lebanese government was unable or unwilling to manage the problems ahead, and that a plan for the withdrawal of U.S. forces was needed urgently.[133] Sensitive to the limitations of his office, Bush usually demurred from intervening in other Cabinet members’ debates, but he now backed Weinberger’s recommendation to disengage. That afternoon, he called Reagan to report that all except the State Department believed the Marines should redeploy from Lebanon.[134] [quote id="7"] The collapse of the Lebanese Armed Forces cast the president’s options in a new light. Without a local partner, Reagan’s preferred strategy of gradual, incremental pressure paired with an accelerated training program was no longer feasible. He was left with only two options: a massive expansion of the U.S. ground commitment in Lebanon, a prospect that would shatter the illusion that the Marines were neutral in the civil conflict and provoke a grueling fight with Congress over presidential war powers, or a rapid withdrawal of U.S. forces. Even in the best of circumstances, Reagan, wary of repeating the errors of Vietnam, had little stomach for the first option. Now, after months of resistance, he bowed to his advisers’ apparent consensus and agreed to bring the marines home.[135] Preparations for a complete and rapid disengagement were completed quickly. On February 9, the Marines began to evacuate support elements and equipment from the Beirut airport, and the final withdrawal commenced on February 18. At 6 a.m. on Feb. 26, 1984, control of the Marines’ final position was turned over to the Lebanese Armed Forces.[136] The next day, administration officials announced that the United States would no longer play an active role in efforts to promote political reconciliation in Lebanon. An announcement soon followed that military equipment deliveries would be suspended.[137] Eighteen months after it had started, and four months after the deadly truck bombing, the U.S. intervention in Lebanon ended, its aims unmet.

Three Counterfactuals

This new history of the final months of the U.S. intervention in Lebanon reveals that Reagan’s faith in the Marines’ mission was remarkably resilient. Even as public attitudes toward the intervention soured — and the announcement of his re-election campaign neared — the president continued to support proposals for an open-ended U.S. military presence in Lebanon. Bolstered by optimistic assessments from Shultz and others, Reagan retained trust in his established theory of success: that U.S. troops would stabilize the country, revitalize the central government, and bring a peaceful resolution to the Lebanese conflict. Even as U.S. public and congressional support waivered, Reagan remained confident in his ability to sustain the operation, and he dismissed signs of a future political backlash as media manipulation. Only in February 1984, when the collapse of the Lebanese government and the disintegration of its armed forces made clear that success was unlikely, did Reagan ultimately relent to the Defense Department’s pressure to withdraw. In short, the outcome of the Reagan administration’s deliberations in the months following the barracks bombing was in no way preordained by the scale of the Marines’ losses or expectations of political backlash. Indeed, the barracks bombing may have had the immediate counterintuitive effect of hardening the president’s resolve. Consider what might have unfolded had the Marine sentries disabled the truck before it reached the gates of the barracks, or if the detonator had failed. What if the driver, confronted with certain death, had instead driven away? The similarities between the policymakers’ deliberations before and after the bombing suggest that the Reagan administration likely would have defaulted to maintaining the status quo. For weeks before the attack, Reagan’s foreign policy team had grappled with the question of whether to sustain the Marine mission in Lebanon or withdraw forces offshore. Just as they were after the bombing, senior officials had been divided into two factions: One, led by Shultz and McFarlane, advocated expanding the Marines’ responsibilities; and a second, led by Weinberger and Vessey, pushed for rapid disengagement. They presented contradictory assessments of the situation and the prospects for success. Their arguments before the bombing differed little from their arguments in the wake of the attack: While the State Department, worried about Syria’s assertiveness, pushed for limited strikes to encourage concessions and establish clear “red lines,” the Defense Department remained fundamentally pessimistic about prospects for a negotiated settlement. The National Security Policy Group failed to reach consensus at meetings on October 14 and 18, and preparations for a third session to review the rules of engagement were underway when the barracks were attacked.[138] Had the third meeting occurred, and had the bombing not taken place, the discussion likely would have remained gridlocked. Weinberger and Vessey still would have opposed the mission as unsustainable, while the rest of the president’s senior national security aides would have continued pushing for an expansion. In the absence of a cataclysm like the Beirut barracks bombing, Reagan would probably have continued to postpone a decision on whether to expand or terminate the U.S. intervention. While he remained committed, in principle, to achieving America’s objectives in Lebanon, the president was preoccupied in October by preparations for a U.S. invasion of Grenada and heightened tensions with the Soviet Union.[139] Reagan’s distaste for mediating between his advisers, particularly over issues unrelated to U.S.-Soviet relations, is well recorded. Moreover, he had already avoided repeated efforts to redefine the U.S. mission in Lebanon despite sustained pressure from his closest advisers. Indeed, the president had approved only two significant modifications in the Marines’ posture over the mission’s first 13 months: the first, in April 1982, was implemented in the wake of the deadly embassy bombing, and the second, in September 1983, came only after McFarlane submitted dire reports (mocked by other officials as a “Sky is Falling” approach) suggesting the imminent collapse of the Lebanese government. Rather than precipitating a withdrawal, the October 23 bombing may have had the unexpected consequence of hardening the U.S. military presence in Lebanon. By heightening the Multinational Force’s perceived significance — and magnifying the perceived credibility costs of withdrawal — the attack dramatized Shultz and McFarlane’s warnings and convinced Reagan of the need to demonstrate resolve. Indeed, the bombing, in which an unknown assailant killed sleeping peacekeepers, played into Reagan’s theory of the conflict as a test of U.S. ability and willingness to promote peace, and it deepened his conviction that his administration had both a moral and a strategic imperative to act. In an alternative scenario in which the bombing failed, the president’s waning interest may have sapped his resistance to Defense Department proposals to dial down U.S. operations incrementally. A similar dynamic had allowed Weinberger to order the Marines’ premature withdrawal in September 1982. Having succeeded in this tactic before, the defense secretary likely would have attempted it again as the deployment faded against the backdrop of success in Grenada and an upcoming election campaign. This possibility challenges the notion that the bombing catalyzed a decision to terminate the American mission, and it suggests that U.S. losses may have compelled the intervention’s established advocates to accept a higher risk of future casualties. Consider a second counterfactual: Would a more successful (and less costly) raid in December have altered the timing or character of the U.S. withdrawal? At minimum, such an operation would have confirmed America’s presumed air superiority, strengthened Shultz’s hand in the event of future reprisals, and offered temporary encouragement to Reagan. Had it succeeded in coercing Syria to suspend its harassment of U.S. forces, as past punishments had, it may also have delayed McFarlane’s defection. As a demonstration of American military might, it may also have rallied the public and bolstered support for the intervention, thereby mitigating, or even reversing, the December polling results. On the other hand, a successful operation might have strengthened Weinberger and Vessey’s arguments against expanding the Marines’ ground presence by demonstrating that offshore naval assets offered a sufficient deterrent against Syrian obstructionism. The raid may, therefore, have provided the Defense Department with additional evidence that the administration could redeploy the Marines offshore at little reputational cost. Ultimately, a successful air raid is unlikely to have changed the trajectory of U.S. policy toward Lebanon significantly. It may have sustained McFarlane’s support, but it would not have altered the overall balance of opinion within the administration, where senior officials were wedded to their established theories of the mission’s success. Yet, this counterfactual does highlight how the negative repercussions of the botched raid were insufficient on their own to compel the withdrawal of the Marines. That dubious credit belongs to another event. Finally, imagine what might have occurred if the Lebanese Armed Forces had repelled the February offensive. By that point, U.S. policymakers harbored few illusions about the Lebanese Armed Forces’ strength, which was weakened by endemic corruption, virulent sectarian divisions, and poor leadership and training. Nevertheless, Reagan and Shultz had held out hope that, with sufficient U.S. support, it might still serve as a stabilizing force. Looking back years later, U.S. Ambassador to Lebanon Robert Dillon stressed that “the Army was one of the few places where there was still cooperation between Maronites, Shiites, Sunnis, Druze, Greek Catholics and others,” even if the balance of power was misaligned. With sufficient training and better leadership, U.S. officials hoped, the Lebanese military could overcome its internal divisions and serve as a beacon for national reconciliation.[140] [quote id="8"] Two scenarios are therefore conceivable. In the first, Reagan, reluctant to abandon a partner that he had, only days earlier, publicly pledged to support, might have expanded U.S. assistance to the Lebanese Armed Forces, just as he had in previous instances when he feared they were nearing exhaustion. In September 1983, for instance, he authorized the use of U.S. naval gunfire in support of embattled Lebanese units fighting in the Shouf, and noted the army’s resurgence with pride in his nightly diary entries.[141] So long as there appeared to be a viable ally on the ground, Reagan believed his objectives were feasible and progress was being made, albeit incrementally. And so long as a semblance of a central government apparatus remained, he retained hope that the United States might promote national reconciliation without incurring direct responsibility for the resolution of the Lebanese factions’ grievances. Alternatively, the intensity of the fighting in February might have persuaded the president that the Marines were, as Weinberger and Vessey had long argued, ill-equipped to implement their mission in an increasingly hostile environment. Yet, even if the National Salvation Front offensive had compelled Reagan to consider withdrawal, the Lebanese Armed Forces’ success in repelling the attackers would have bolstered McFarlane’s plan to taper operations gradually. Such an event would have dramatized advocates’ claims that the Marines were indispensable to the goal of stabilizing Lebanon and appealed to the president’s desire to kick the “Vietnam Syndrome” and demonstrate the value and reliability of partnering with the United States.[142] Confronted with a choice between rapid disengagement and a phased transfer of responsibility, Shultz and Eagleburger would have thrown their support behind the national security adviser, establishing a majority opinion that Reagan would have been unlikely to refute. In this scenario, the U.S. departure from Lebanon would have stretched into the spring and been paired with an accelerated training effort to prepare the Lebanese Armed Forces to assume the Marines’ former positions. The timing and character of the withdrawal would have been quite different. Of course, none of these possibilities came to pass and therefore we cannot know for certain what this alternative history may have yielded. Nonetheless, analysis of the historical record provides strong evidence to reconsider the causal link between the Marine barracks bombing and the ultimate U.S. departure from Lebanon. Instead, the record suggests that the loss of a viable local partner was the true motivation for the ultimate decision to leave Beirut. 

Conclusion

This new history of the U.S. military withdrawal from Lebanon challenges the common emphasis on casualties as the determining factor in American decisions to correct course or terminate military interventions. Contrary to established narratives, neither the October 1983 truck bombing nor the perceived fluctuations in public attitudes toward the peacekeeping mission in Lebanon were significant factors in the Reagan administration’s decisions of whether, when, or how to end the peacekeeping mission. The loss of 241 marines heightened policymakers’ perceptions of the human and political costs of a continued military presence in Lebanon, but it also deepened divisions within the administration over future U.S. involvement in the country. In particular, the attack emboldened those who opposed the effort, most notably Defense Secretary Weinberger and Chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff Vessey, who interpreted the bloodshed as evidence of the mission’s futility. Yet, their attempts to disengage the United States from Lebanon were blocked by the intervention’s erstwhile advocates, in particular Secretary of State Shultz and National Security Adviser McFarlane, who saw the violence as further evidence of the importance of the Marine presence. Confronted with a divided Cabinet, Reagan chose to maintain, harden, and even, at times, expand U.S. military involvement, decisions that were in line with his prior views about the efficacy and significance of the peacekeeping mission. In other words, the bombing caused two parties in the administration to double down on their pre-existing theories of success or failure in Lebanon. The implications of this corrective should not be exaggerated. The Reagan administration’s experience cannot prescribe future decisions, and it cannot alone disprove the role of domestic political pressure in other cases of U.S. intervention. Moreover, the limited character of the Lebanese intervention, which involved a relatively small number of U.S. forces, likely informed public and congressional attitudes toward government decision-making. Future research is needed to determine whether public opinion may play a greater role in influencing the timing and character of a decision to terminate missions that involve larger troop deployments or more sustained operations. Nonetheless, by highlighting the tendency of scholars to over-emphasize the effects of public opinion in this popular case study, this new history may also be relevant to other lines of inquiry in the literature on peacekeeping and war termination, the efficacy of limited interventions, and elite views of public opinion. For instance, the new evidence of policymakers’ divergent reactions to the Beirut barracks bombing suggests a need to modify Bayesian learning models to better reflect the empirical record of individual and group decision-making. Our findings indicate that such modifications may be found in the literature on anchoring, motivated, and attribution biases.[143] Bringing these strands of research together may yield a more comprehensive theory about how entrenched values, beliefs, and psychological traits inform elite learning and decision-making during military interventions.[144] Additionally, the Lebanon example may inform policymakers’ efforts to manage future crises by promoting systematic questions for probing the progress of an intervention and processing new information from the field. Such questions may be essential at a time when the increasing frequency of sub-state conflicts may spur additional U.S. force commitments.[145] In particular, this history demonstrates the importance of bringing assumptions about how and why a military intervention is likely to proceed to the fore; articulating clear theories of success; and developing processes to test, update, and revise these theories over time. Policymakers must define early on, and clearly, what success or failure looks like and identify demonstrable metrics that align with the ultimate political goals of an intervention. Conversely, leaders must also consider what information from the field, if it were to appear, would indicate that the political objectives cannot be met. Integrating these considerations into contingency and operational planning would, in turn, aid policymakers’ ability to evaluate new information and help to structure analysis of an intervention’s execution, especially if revisited frequently over the course of a military deployment. The U.S. government does have tools for probing assumptions and evaluating change over time. But answering the questions above requires more than designating a red team or devil’s advocate, tactics often implemented in government but ones that are frequently ineffective due to an air of defeatism, bureaucratic isolation, or Peter and the Wolf-like disregard.[146] To promote clearer thinking will require encouraging the next generation of foreign policy professionals to develop the analytical skills and historical sensibility to wield established tools more effectively.[147] As the United States confronts the prospect of future intervention scenarios, there is an urgent need to rethink how to train the next generation of policymakers to better challenge assumptions during debates, to process information during crises, and to think systematically about policy consequences. A careful study of the U.S. experience withdrawing from Lebanon offers a modest step toward this ambitious goal.   Acknowledgements: The authors would like to thank the Johns Hopkins University–SAIS Kissinger Center, the Boston International Security Graduate Conference, and the Middle East Studies Association for their kind invitations to present earlier versions of this project. Our colleagues at each event offered invaluable feedback. In particular, we benefited from insightful comments from James Benkowski, Alex Bick, Hal Brands, Chris Crosbie, John Gans, Frank Gavin, Julie Garey, Jeffrey Karam, Akram Khater, Alice Pannier, Sarah Parkinson, Elizabeth Saunders, and James Wilson, as well as two anonymous reviewers and the editorial team at TNSR.   Alexandra T. Evans is a postdoctoral fellow with the Clements Center for National Security at the University of Texas at Austin. She received her PhD in history at the University of Virginia in 2018. A. Bradley Potter is a PhD candidate at Johns Hopkins University, School of Advanced International Studies (SAIS) and a predoctoral research fellow in the International Security Program at the Belfer Center for Science and International Affairs in the Harvard University John F. Kennedy School of Government.   Image: Marine Corps. [post_title] => When Do Leaders Change Course? Theories of Success and the American Withdrawal from Beirut, 1983–1984 [post_excerpt] => [post_status] => publish [comment_status] => open [ping_status] => closed [post_password] => [post_name] => when-do-leaders-change-course-theories-of-success-and-the-american-withdrawal-from-beirut-1983-1984 [to_ping] => [pinged] => [post_modified] => 2019-05-24 11:34:45 [post_modified_gmt] => 2019-05-24 15:34:45 [post_content_filtered] => [post_parent] => 0 [guid] => http://tnsr.org/?p=1273 [menu_order] => 0 [post_type] => post [post_mime_type] => [comment_count] => 0 [filter] => raw [meta] => [lead] => Why did the United States withdraw from Lebanon in February 1984? How did new information shape policymakers’ proposals to expand, maintain, or terminate the intervention? Drawing upon declassified records, we challenge the conventional narrative that the October 1983 barracks bombing precipitated the American withdrawal from Beirut. Rather than encouraging a consensus around the need to terminate the mission, the significant casualties strengthened senior leaders’ determination to stay the course and deepened the divisions within the Reagan administration. Ultimately, only the collapse of the Lebanese national army in early February 1984 — an event unrelated to the October truck attack — forced the intervention’s advocates to adjust their expectations for the mission’s success and compelled Ronald Reagan to order the Marines’ redeployment. By demonstrating the durability of established theories of success and their effect on the interpretation of new information, this history of the Reagan administration’s deliberations over the winter of 1983–84 provides insight into presidential decision-making and contributes to our understanding of elite support for costly but limited U.S. military interventions. [pubinfo] => [issue] => Vol 2, Iss 2 [quotes] => Array ( [0] => Array ( [author] => [style] => left [text] => Closer analysis of public and White House polling data reveals that national attitudes did not decline uniformly in response to the barracks attack.  ) [1] => Array ( [author] => [style] => right [text] => Everyone agreed the bombing was a tragedy, but not everyone took the attack as evidence that the United States had faced a setback calling its mission into question.  ) [2] => Array ( [author] => [style] => left [text] => Determined to dispel the memory of Vietnam, and confident in what he saw as America’s unique obligation to promote peace abroad, Reagan envisioned the troops playing an indispensable role in promoting a lasting peace in Lebanon.  ) [3] => Array ( [author] => [style] => right [text] => Rather than re-evaluate their positions, policymakers instead sought to fit the new information into their pre-established theories of the intervention’s viability. ) [4] => Array ( [author] => [style] => left [text] => The president, sticking with his long-held theory of success, was confident that a demonstration of resolve would promote progress in Lebanon. ) [5] => Array ( [author] => [style] => right [text] => Yet, none of these things — not the intelligence community’s dreary assessment, the Long Commission report, or the popular and congressional uproar — persuaded Reagan to change course. ) [6] => Array ( [author] => [style] => left [text] => After months of debate, the collapse of the Lebanese army provided decisive evidence that the U.S. strategy in Lebanon had failed. ) [7] => Array ( [author] => [style] => right [text] => So long as there appeared to be a viable ally on the ground, Reagan believed his objectives were feasible and progress was being made, albeit incrementally. ) ) [style] => scholarly [type] => Scholarly [style_label] => The Scholar [download] => Array ( [title] => PDF Download [file] => 1468 ) [authors] => Array ( [0] => 262 [1] => 263 ) [endnotes] => Array ( [title] => Endnotes [endnotes] => [1] A near-simultaneous attack on the French military headquarters in Beirut would bring the day’s death toll to 299. For a description of the attack, see: Benis M. Frank, U.S. Marines in Lebanon, 19821984 (Washington, DC: History & Museums Division, U.S. Marine Corps, 1987), 1–3, 93–96; Timothy J. Geraghty, Peacekeepers at War: Beirut 1983The Marine Commander Tells His Story (Washington, DC: Potomac Books, 2012), 91–95. [2] Michael Kennedy, “U.S. Shelves New Aid for Lebanon: Last Marines Leave Beirut for Safety of Ships,” Feb. 27, 1984, Los Angeles Times. [3] Surveying the literature on U.S. casualty sensitivity, Louis Klarevas notes that the concept of public opinion as the “‘essential domino’ of American foreign policy took on a more permanent and overt cast” after the U.S. withdrawal from Lebanon. See: “The ‘Essential Domino’ of Military Operations: American Public Opinion and the Use of Force,” International Studies Perspectives 3, no. 4 (2002): 418–19, https://doi.org/10.1111/1528-3577.t01-1-00107. [4] Benny Morris, Righteous Victims: A History of the Zionist-Arab Conflict, 18812001, Reprint (New York: Vintage, 2001), 552. See also: Charles F. Brower IV, “Stranger in a Dangerous Land: Reagan and Lebanon, 1981–1984,” in Reagan and the World: Leadership and National Security 1981–1989, ed. Bradley Lynn Coleman and Kyle Longley (Lexington: University Press of Kentucky, 2017), 238, 256–87; David C. Brooks, “Cutting Losses: Ending Limited Interventions,” Parameters 43, no. 3 (Autumn 2013): 102–03, https://ssi.armywarcollege.edu/pubs/parameters/issues/Autumn_2013/9_Brooks.pdf; Gail E.S. Yoshitani, Reagan on War: A Reappraisal of the Weinberger Doctrine, 19801984 (Texas A&M University Press, 2011); Robert Timberg, The Nightingale’s Song (New York: Simon & Schuster, 1998), 342–44; H.W. Brands, Into the Labyrinth: The United States and the Middle East, 1945–1993 (New York: McGraw-Hill, 1994); Robert J. Lieber, “The Middle East,” in Looking Back on the Reagan Presidency, ed. Larry Berman (Baltimore: Johns Hopkins University Press, 1990), 50–70; Andrew J. Bacevich, America’s War for the Greater Middle East: A Military History (New York: Random House, 2016), 73–75. For domestic political explanations, see: William B. Quandt, Peace Process: American Diplomacy and the Arab-Israeli Conflict Since 1967, 3rd ed. (Brookings Institution Press and University of California Press, 2005), 259; Peter L. Hahn, Crisis and Crossfire: The United States and the Middle East Since 1945 (Washington, D.C.: Potomac Books, 2005), 80; William B. Quandt, “Reagan’s Lebanon Policy: Trial and Error,” Middle East Journal 38, no. 2 (Spring 1984): 237–54, https://www.jstor.org/stable/4326797. This argument was disseminated widely at the time as well. See: Francis X. Clines, “James Baker: Calling Reagan’s Re-Election Moves,” March 20, 1984, New York Times. Douglas Kriner’s work is a rare exception in that he acknowledges the administration’s intention to expand, rather than retract, U.S. involvement in the wake of the bombing. See: Douglas L. Kriner, After the Rubicon: Congress, Presidents, and the Politics of Waging War (University of Chicago Press, 2010), 193–231. [5] Lawrence Freedman, “Victims and Victors: Reflections on the Kosovo War,” Review of International Studies 26, no. 3 (2000): 338, http://dx.doi.org/10.1017/S0260210500003351. [6] John E. Mueller, “Trends in Popular Support for the Wars in Korea and Vietnam,” American Political Science Review 65, no. 2 (June 1971): 358–75, https://www.jstor.org/stable/1954454; Mueller, War, Presidents and Public Opinion (New York: Wiley, 1973); Jeffrey Milstein, “The Vietnam War from the 1968 Tet Offensive to the 1970 Cambodian Invasion,” in Mathematical Approaches to Politics, ed. H.R. Alker Jr., K.W. Deutsch, and A.H. Stoetzel (New York: Elsevier Scientific, 1973); Klarevas, “The ‘Essential Domino’ of Military Operations,” 418–19.
[7] For recent illustrative examples in the public discourse, see: Peter Beinart, “Think Again: Ronald Reagan,” Foreign Policy, June 7, 2010, https:// foreignpolicy.com/2010/06/07/think-again-ronald-reagan/; Micah Zenko, “When Reagan Cut and Run,” Foreign Policy, Feb. 7, 2014, https:// foreignpolicy.com/2014/02/07/when-reagan-cut-and-run/; Anthony Elghossain, “The Unlearned Lessons of the Beirut Barracks Bombing,” New Republic, Nov. 7, 2018,  https://newrepublic.com/article/152071/unlearned-lessons-beirut-barracks-bombing.
[8] Klarevas, “The ‘Essential Domino’ of Military Operations,” 418–19. [9] See, for instance: Edward N. Luttwak, “Where Are the Great Powers?” Foreign Affairs 73, no. 4 (July/August 1994): 23–28, https://www.foreignaffairs.com/articles/1994-07-01/where-are-great-powers-home-kids; “Toward Post-Heroic Warfare,” Foreign Affairs 74, no. 3, (May/June 1995): 109–22, https://www.foreignaffairs.com/articles/yugoslavia/1995-05-01/toward-post-heroic-warfare; and “A Post-Heroic Military Policy: The New Season of Bellicosity,” Foreign Affairs 75, no. 4 (July/August 1996): 33–44, https://www.foreignaffairs.com/articles/north-america/1996-07-01/post-heroic-military-policy-new-season-bellicosity; John Mueller, “The Iraq Syndrome,” Foreign Affairs 84, no. 6 (November/December 2005), https://www.foreignaffairs.com/articles/north-korea/2005-10-01/iraq-syndrome. [10] Although the scope and emphasis varies across theories, the notion of a deliberative and discerning American public underlines each of the following: Eugene R. Wittkopf, Faces of Internationalism: Public Opinion and American Foreign Policy (Durham, NC: Duke University Press, 1990); Bruce W. Jentleson, “The Pretty Prudent Public: Post Post-Vietnam American Opinion on the Use of Military Force,” International Studies Quarterly 36, no. 1 (March 1992): 49–74, https://doi.org/10.2307/2600916; John R. Zaller, The Nature and Origins of Mass Opinion (Cambridge University Press, 1994); Alvin Richman, “When Should We Be Prepared to Fight?” Public Perspective 6, no. 3 (April/May 1995): 44; Bruce W. Jentleson and Rebecca L. Britton, “Still Pretty Prudent: Post-Cold War American Public Opinion on the Use of Military Force,” Journal of Conflict Resolution 42, no. 4 (August 1998): 395–417, https://doi.org/10.1177/0022002798042004001; Christopher Gelpi, Peter D. Feaver, and Jason Reifler, “Success Matters: Casualty Sensitivity and the War in Iraq,” International Security 30, no. 3 (Winter 2005/06): 7–46, https://doi.org/10.1162/isec.2005.30.3.7; Scott Sigmund Gartner, “The Multiple Effects of Casualties on Public Support for War: An Experimental Approach,” American Political Science Review 102, no. 1 (February 2008): 95–106, https://www.jstor.org/stable/27644500; Christopher Gelpi, Peter D. Feaver, and Jason Reifler, Paying the Human Costs of War: American Public Opinion and Casualties in Military Conflicts (Princeton, NJ: Princeton University Press, 2009). For the role of political elites and the media in shaping popular attitudes, see: James Burk, “Public Support for Peacekeeping in Lebanon and Somalia: Assessing the Casualties Hypothesis,” Political Science Quarterly 114, no.1 (Spring 1999): 53–78, https://doi.org/10.2307/2657991; William A. Boettcher and Michael D. Cobb, “Echoes of Vietnam? Casualty Framing and Public Perceptions of Success and Failure in Iraq,” Journal of Conflict Resolution 50, no. 6 (December 2006): 831–54, https://doi.org/10.1177/0022002706293665; Adam J. Berinsky, “Assuming the Costs of War: Events, Elites, and American Public Support for Military Conflict,” Journal of Politics 69, no. 4 (November 2007): 975–97, http://web.mit.edu/berinsky/www/war.pdf; Scott S. Gartner, “On Behalf of a Grateful Nation: Conventionalized Images of Loss and Individual Opinion Change in War,” International Studies Quarterly 55, no. 2 (June 2011): 545–61, https://www.jstor.org/stable/23019702; Matthew A. Baum and Philip B.K. Potter, War and Democratic Constraint: How the Public Influences Foreign Policy (Princeton, NJ: Princeton University Press, 2015); Alexandra Guisinger and Elizabeth N. Saunders, “Mapping the Boundaries of Elite Cues: How Elites Shape Mass Opinion Across International Issues,” International Studies Quarterly 61, no. 2 (2017): 425–41, https://doi.org/10.1093/isq/sqx022. [11] Because of the character of the U.S. intervention in Lebanon, in which the debate concentrated on casualties rather than lost treasure, we evaluate only the impact of human losses. For a theory of public responses to financial costs, see: Benny Geys, “Wars, Presidents, and Popularity: The Political Cost(s) of War Re-Examined,” Public Opinion Quarterly 74, no. 2 (Summer 2010): 357–74, https://dx.doi.org/nfq001. [12] Burk, “Public Support for Peacekeeping in Lebanon and Somalia,” 65–67. Here, we expand upon Burk and Douglas Kriner’s earlier work, which used public polling and survey data, by evaluating polling data and reports commissioned by the White House, Reagan’s re-election campaign team, and the Republican National Committee. These are available in boxes 685 and 687 of the Edwin Meese collection at the Hoover Institution Library and Archives in Stanford, California. See also: Kriner, After the Rubicon, 193–231. [13] Aspects of this argument are reflected in: Beinart, “Think Again: Ronald Reagan”; Zenko, “When Reagan Cut and Run.” [14] For a useful overview of the logic behind bargaining models of war and their reliance on the logic of Bayesian updating, see: Dan Reiter, “Exploring the Bargaining Model of War,” Perspectives on Politics 1, no. 1 (2003): 27–43, https://www.jstor.org/stable/3687811; James D. Fearon, “Rationalist Explanations for War,” International Organization 49, no. 3 (1995): 379–414, https://www.jstor.org/stable/2706903. Relevant to our argument, recent research has adopted Bayesian models focused on different political actors updating expectations as they relate to war termination. See: Sarah E. Croco, Peace at What Price? Leader Culpability and the Domestic Politics of War Termination (Cambridge: Cambridge University Press, 2015); Elizabeth A. Stanley, Paths to Peace: Domestic Coalition Shifts, War Termination, and the Korean War (Stanford, CA: Stanford University Press, 2009); Dan Reiter, How Wars End (Princeton, NJ: Princeton University Press, 2009). [15] On this point, see: Robert Jervis, Perception and Misperception in International Politics, New Edition (Princeton, NJ: Princeton University Press, 2017), xlvii–lii. Related work by Jeffrey Friedman suggests that political actors rationally may stick to their military approach despite negative battlefield information if this information is consistent with their initial expectations. If a president expects to incur significant casualties before ultimately achieving success, then the realization of those casualties should not necessarily dissuade him from pressing on. Still, this model requires an actor to hold a consistent set of expectations, present at the start of an intervention and maintained throughout, and the theory does not refute the need for consistent evaluation of new information. See: Jeffrey Friedman, “Cumulative Dynamics and Strategic Assessment: U.S. Military Decision Making in Iraq, Vietnam, and the American Indian Wars” (PhD diss., Harvard University, 2013). [16] Our study’s dependent variable is the status of U.S. forces from Lebanon. Our intervening variable is the “theory of success” or “theory of failure” applied to the American military presence in Lebanon. Our independent variable is new information from the field. Information is filtered through the various theories of success and theories of failure held by different camps within the administration, making the intervening variable the one of most interest. Casualty-sensitivity arguments use public opinion as the intervening variable of interest while strategic course correction, as presented here, has new information directly leading to a choice about withdrawal. [17] Ronald Reagan, “Address to the Nation on Events in Lebanon and Grenada,” broadcast speech, Oct. 27, 1983, https://www.reaganlibrary.gov/research/speeches/102783b. [18] We adjusted the more common term “theories of victory” in order to include all aspects of a state’s power brought to bear during an intervention. On theories of victory, see: Eliot A. Cohen, Supreme Command (New York: Free Press, 2002) 33; J. Boone Bartholomees, “Theory of Victory,” Parameters 38, no. 2 (Summer 2008): 25–36, https://ssi.armywarcollege.edu/pubs/parameters/Articles/08summer/bartholo.htm. [19] Eliot A. Cohen, “What’s Obama’s Counterinsurgency Strategy for Afghanistan?” Washington Post, Dec. 6, 2009, http://www.washingtonpost.com/wp-dyn/content/article/2009/12/04/AR2009120402602.html. [20] Here, we join a burgeoning effort to reevaluate the methodological utility of rigorous counterfactual analysis. See: Francis J. Gavin, “What If? The Historian and the Counterfactual,” Security Studies 24, no. 3 (2015): 425–30, https://doi.org/10.1080/09636412.2015.1070610; Jack S. Levy, “Counterfactuals, Causal Inference, and Historical Analysis,” Security Studies 24, no. 3 (2015): 378–402, https://doi.org/10.1080/09636412.2015.1070602; Richard Ned Lebow, Forbidden Fruit: Counterfactuals and International Relations (Princeton, NJ: Princeton University Press, 2010); Fredrik Logevall, Choosing War: The Lost Chance for Peace and the Escalation of War in Vietnam (Oakland, CA: University of California Press, 2001), 395–415; James D. Fearon, “Counterfactuals and Hypothesis Testing in Political Science,” World Politics 43, no. 2 (1991): 169–95, https://www.jstor.org/stable/2010470. [21] We draw primarily on those proposed by Jack Levy, who compiled and adapted several earlier studies of counterfactuals. See Levy, “Counterfactuals.” [22] Jack S. Levy, “Case Studies: Types, Designs, and Logics of Inference,” Conflict Management and Peace Science, 25, no. 1 (2008): 1–18, https://doi.org/10.1080/07388940701860318. For an application of this method to counterfactuals, see: Levy, “Counterfactuals,” 383. [23] Archival records were collected between June 2014 and May 2018 from the Ronald Reagan Presidential Library and Museum, George H.W. Bush Presidential Library and Museum, Princeton University Department of Rare Books and Special Collections, Hoover Institution Library and Archives, National Records and Archives in College Park, MD, and George Washington University’s National Security Archive. The U.S. State Department’s Virtual Reading Room, the CIA Records Search Tool (CREST) database, and the Association for Diplomatic Studies and Training’s oral history collections were also invaluable. [24] Levy, “Counterfactuals,” 385–86. [25] In so doing, we borrowed from the political scientific method of process tracing and the historical subdisciplines of diplomatic and military history. Alexander L. George and Andrew Bennett, Case Studies and Theory Development in the Social Sciences (Cambridge, MA: MIT Press, 2005), 6. [26] Lebow, Forbidden Fruit, 38. [27] Gavin, “What If?” 428. [28] For a comprehensive assessment from an American perspective, see: “Report of the DOD Commission on Beirut International Airport Terrorist Act, October 23, 1983,” Dec. 20, 1983, https://fas.org/irp/threat/beirut-1983.pdf. [29] Levy, “Counterfactuals,” 388–89; Lebow, Forbidden Fruit, 54. [30] John Boykin, Cursed Is the Peacemaker: The American Diplomat Versus the Israeli General, Beirut 1982 (Belmont, CA: Applegate Press, 2002); Fadi Esber, “The United States and the 1981 Lebanese Missile Crisis,” Middle East Journal 70, no. 3 (Summer 2016): 441–43, https://doi.org/10.3751/70.3.15. [31] In addition to the U.S. contingent, France and Italy contributed forces to the first Multinational Force. For discussion of Israeli and Palestinian military operations, see: Rashid Khalidi, Under Siege: PLO Decisionmaking During the 1982 War, 2nd ed. (New York: Columbia University Press, 2014); Ze’ev Schiff & Ehud Ya’ari, Israel’s Lebanon War (New York: Simon & Schuster, 1984). For U.S. negotiations, see: Boykin, Cursed Is the Peacemaker. [32] Kriner, After the Rubicon, 198. [33] Letters to House Speaker Thomas O’Neill and President Pro Tempore of the Senate Strom Thurmond from President Reagan, Aug. 24, 1982, Box 91451, I290676, National Security Council System Files, Ronald Reagan Presidential Library and Museum (hereafter Reagan Library). The Marines’ commander, Col. James Mead, reiterated the point in comments to reporters, emphasizing that he did “not anticipat[e] any need for us to use our weapons. We came here as peace-keepers.” See: Loren Jenkins, “800 Marines Take Positions In Beirut Port,” Washington Post, Aug. 26, 1982, https://www.washingtonpost.com/archive/politics/1982/08/26/800-marines-take-positions-in-beirut-port/fb0bd991-2f57-4fbe-947a-6f5de9e80c04/. [34] Boykin, Cursed Is the Peacemaker, in particular 60–265. [35] Schiff and Ya’ari, Israel’s Lebanon War, 254–56. On the Israel Defense Forces’ reentry, see: Cable from Embassy Beirut to Department of State, “Draper Mission: IDF Military Actions in Beirut Sept. 15,” Sept. 15, 1982; Cable from Embassy Tel Aviv to Department of State, “The IDF in Beirut: Foreign Ministry Views,” Sept. 15, 1982; Cable from Washington to Embassy Tel Aviv, “Secretary’s Meeting with Israeli Ambassador on IDF Move into West Beirut,” Sept. 16, 1982, all accessed in State Department Virtual Reading Room. Evidence of the massacres reached Washington at 5:45 a.m. on Sunday, Sept. 18, after embassy officials gained entrance to the camps and transmitted a live report of the devastation over transmitter radio. [36] France and Italy agreed to contribute forces to the second Multinational Force. In addition, the British contributed a symbolic force. While representatives of the four peacekeeping missions met regularly to coordinate their efforts, share intelligence, and mediate disputes, each operated autonomously and under national command. Cable from Department of State to Embassy Beirut, “Draper Mission: Exchange of Notes on Participation of US Forces in Second Beirut MNF,” Sept. 23, 1982, Box 90317, Arab-Israel Peace Process/Cables Sept 1982 (2/4), Geoffrey Kemp Files, Reagan Library; Robert C. McFarlane, Special Trust (New York: Cadell & Davies, 1994), 211; Caspar Weinberger, Fighting for Peace: Seven Critical Years in the Pentagon (New York: Warner Books, 1990), 138–52. [37] In a demonstration of its confidence in the administration’s policy, the State Department initially predicted that a complete withdrawal of all foreign forces could be achieved within two months. Memorandum for William Clark from L. Paul Bremer, “Diplomatic Strategy—Approximate Timetable,” Nov. 4, 1982, Box 91286, National Security Decision Directive 64 (1), National Security Council Executive Secretariat records (hereafter NSC Executive Secretariat records), Reagan Library. See also: Memorandum for Shultz from Clark, “Next Steps in Lebanon,” Nov. 8, 1982, Box 4, Chron September 1982 [09/16/1982–09/22/1982], Robert C. McFarlane Files, Reagan Library. [38] Memorandum for Reagan from Clark, “President Gemayel’s Request for the Deployment of MNF Mobile Patrols into East Beirut,” Oct. 30, 1982, Box 90496, Middle East—MNF [Multinational Force], Kemp Files, Reagan Library; “Announcement on Participation of U.S. Marines in MNF Patrols in East Beirut,” c. Oct. 30, 1982, Box 4, Chron-November 1982 (McFarlane)(1), McFarlane Files, Reagan Library. For an insightful evaluation of the military modernization effort, see: Mara E. Karlin, Building Militaries in Fragile States: Challenges for the United States (Philadelphia: University of Pennsylvania Press, 2017), 108–205. [39] Frank, U.S. Marines in Lebanon, 36–70; For an assessment of the Lebanese army, see: Joseph A. Kechichian, “The Lebanese Army: Capabilities and Challenges in the 1980s,” Conflict Quarterly 5, no. 1 (Winter 1985): 15–39. [40] Frank, U.S. Marines in Lebanon, 55–59. [41] Situation Report, “Embassy Explosion,” April 18, 1983, Beirut Explosition [Sic] April 18–May 12 1983(1), NSC Executive Secretariat Cable Records, 1982–1985, Reagan Library. The attack decimated the embassy’s CIA station, crippling American intelligence efforts in Lebanon. For a thoughtful assessment of its impact, see: Kai Bird, The Good Spy: The Life and Death of Robert Ames (New York: Crown, 2014), 304–18. [42] Cable from Draper, "Habib/Draper Mission: Test [sic] of Israel-Lebanon Agreement,” May 13, 1983, State Department Virtual Reading Room. [43] Cable from Embassy Tel Aviv, “Meeting with Defense Minister Arens—Deepening Israeli Concern about Syrian and PLO moves in Lebanon,” May 12, 1983, State Department Virtual Reading Room; Memorandum for William Casey and John McMahon from Graham Fuller (NIO/NESA), “US Vulnerability in Lebanon,” May 6, 1983, CREST. On Syria’s motivation, see: Patrick Seale, Asad of Syria: The Struggle for the Middle East (London: I.B. Taurus, 1988), 394–96. [44] David Crist, The Twilight War: The Secret History of America’s Thirty-Year Conflict With Iran (New York: Penguin, 2012), 129–35. [45] National Security Decision Directive 103, “Strategy for Lebanon,” Sept. 10, 1983, and “Addendum to NSDD 103 On Lebanon of September 10, 1983,” Sept. 11, 1983, CREST; Paper, “Near-Term Lebanon Strategy,” Sept. 6, 1983, CREST; Memorandum for Reagan from Clark, Sept. 3, 1983, Box 91306, NSPG0068 and 0068A 03 Sept 1983 (1), NSC Executive Secretariat Records. [46] Memorandum from Richard Wirthlin, “The Situation in Lebanon,” Sept. 21, 1983, Box 688, Folder 13, Meese Collection, Hoover Institution. On congressional and popular attitudes toward the intervention from September 1982 through October 1983, see: Kriner, After the Rubicon, 200–9. [47] Memorandum for the Acting Director of Central Intelligence from Graham E. Fuller (NIO/NESA), “Downward Spiral in Lebanon,” Aug. 16, 1983, CREST. For later warnings, see: “Talking Points on Lebanon for the DCI,” Oct. 3, 1983; Special National Intelligence Estimate, “Prospects for Lebanon” (SNIE 36.4-83), Oct. 11, 1983, CREST, https://www.cia.gov/library/readingroom/docs/CIA-RDP85M00363R000701600031-8.pdf. [48] Weinberger, Fighting for Peace, 160 n7; Diary of Deputy Secretary of State Kenneth Dam, Oct. 23, 1982, State Department Virtual Reading Room; Gail E.S. Yoshitani, “National Power and Military Force: The Origins of the Weinberger Doctrine, 1980–1984” (PhD diss., Duke University, 2018), 203. Weinberger proposed that the marines be kept on Navy ships 400 to 500 yards offshore. They would be safer but still available to support President Gemayel if necessary. See: Ralph A. Hallenbeck, Military Force as an Instrument of U.S. Foreign Policy: Intervention in Lebanon, August 1982February 1984 (New York: Praeger, 1991), 91–92. [49] Weinberger, Fighting for Peace, 155–57; Caspar Weinberger, interview, Frontline, PBS, undated. [50] A desire to demonstrate resolve and build Arab partners’ confidence in the United States motivated the decision to intervene in Lebanon. The Reagan administration anticipated that progress in Lebanon would revitalize the peace process and encourage strategic cooperation against the Soviet Union and other radical forces in the region. Memorandum for Secretary of State George Shultz from National Security Adviser William Clark, “Next Steps in Lebanon,” Nov. 8, 1982, Box 4, Chron September 1982 [09/16/1982–09/22/1982], McFarlane Files, Reagan Library; Memorandum for Reagan from Clark, “National Security Planning Group Meeting,” April 22, 1983, CREST. [51] Memorandum, “Lebanon: Litmus Test for U.S. Credibility and Commitment,” Oct. 18, 1983, Box 91290, National Security Decision Directive 103 (1), NSC Executive Secretariat National Security Decision Directive Records, Reagan Library; Memorandum for Reagan from Shultz, “Our Strategy in Lebanon and the Middle East,” attached to Memorandum for Reagan from Clark, Oct. 13, 1983, Box 91306, NSPG0072 14 Oct 1983, NSC Executive Secretariat Records. [52] Hedrick Smith, “Reagan’s Crucial Year,” New York Times Magazine, Oct. 16, 1983, https://www.nytimes.com/1983/10/16/magazine/reagan-s-crucial-year.html. [53] Ronald Reagan, The Reagan Diaries, vol. 1 (New York: Harper Collins, 2009), 275–76; Ronald Reagan, news conference, Oct. 19, 1983, https://www.reaganlibrary.gov/research/speeches/101983e. [54] A near-simultaneous attack on the French military headquarters in Beirut would bring the day’s death toll to 299. For a description of the attack, see: Frank, U.S. Marines in Lebanon, 1–3, 93–96; Geraghty, Peacekeepers at War, 91–95. For initial reaction, see: CIA report, “Terrorism Review,” Oct. 27, 1983, CREST; Cable, “Major Bomb Attack on U.S. and French Contingent—Situation as of 0830 Local,” Box 91353, Lebanon Bombing/Airport Oct. 23, 1983, NSC Executive Secretariat Country Files, Reagan Library; Defense Intelligence Agency (DIA) Spot Report, Oct. 23, 1983, Box 110, Lebanon Situation (10/23/1983), NSC Executive Secretariat Cable Files; Cable, “Lebanon Situation/DIA INTSUM NBR 8 (As of 231600Z Oct 83),” Oct. 24, 1983, CREST. [55] Quoted in: Timberg, The Nightingale’s Song, 337. See also: McFarlane, Special Trust, 263. For a similar, albeit less colorful, vow, see: Memorandum of Telephone Conversation between Reagan and French President François Mitterrand, Oct. 24, 1983, Box 52, Memorandums of Conversation — President Reagan (October 1983), NSC Executive Secretariat Subject File, Reagan Library. [56] DIA Spot Report, Oct. 23, 1983; Note for McFarlane from Howard Teicher attributing blame for Beirut International Airport attack, Oct. 27, 1983, and Telegram from Edward W. Hickey Jr. to McFarlane, Oct. 27, 1983, Box 91353, Lebanon Bombing/Airport Oct. 23, 1983, NSC Executive Secretariat Country Files; Memorandum for Reagan from Gen. P.X. Kelley, “Visit to Beirut, 25-26 October 1983,” Nov. 2, 1983, Box 2, Security for the U.S. Multinational Forces (MNF) Contingency in Beirut, John Poindexter Files, Reagan Library. For a thorough accounting of the unclassified and declassified evidence linking Iran and Syria to the attack, see: David C. Wills, The First War on Terrorism: Counter-Terrorism Policy During the Reagan Administration (Lahnham, MD: Rowman & Littlefield, 2003), 69–71; Crist, Twilight War, 134–42. [57] Quoted in: Crist, Twilight War, 142. [58] Memorandum for McFarlane from Teicher, “Draft NSDD on Lebanon and Middle East,” Oct. 26, 1983, Box 91354, Lebanon Chronology (1), NSC Executive Secretariat Country Files; Action Memorandum, “Deterrent Action Against Perpetrators of 23 Oct Bombing US Marines in Beirut,” Nov. 4, 1983, Box 23315, 8391354, NSC Executive Secretariat System File, Reagan Library; Wills, First War on Terrorism, 65; Crist, Twilight War, 144–47. [59] Wills, First War on Terrorism, 65–73. Reagan’s determination to strike lasted through Nov. 7, when he wrote in his diary that “we have a fix on a headquarters of the radical Iranian Shiites who blew up our Marines. We can take out the target with an air strike & no risk to civilians.” A 7 a.m. National Security Council meeting the next day, however, led him to change his mind, and he reported to his diary that he’d decided “we don’t have enough intelligence info yet.” Reagan, Diaries, 284–85. [60] Milton Coleman, “Identity of Attackers Eludes U.S. Probers,” Washington Post, Nov. 7, 1983,  https://www.washingtonpost.com/archive/politics/1983/11/07/identity-of-attackers-eludes-us-probers/26304c1f-7705-49c3-9ba3-f91f34c3f189/. [61] Weinberger and Vessey also sought to undermine popular support for retaliation by sowing uncertainty about the quality of U.S. intelligence. During a Meet the Press interview on Nov. 6 — days after he reviewed the signals intelligence linking the Iranian embassy to the bombers — Gen. Vessey insisted that U.S. analysts “really don’t know who did it.” Crist, Twilight War, 140. [62] Talking Points on Lebanon, c. Oct. 24, 1983, Box 91353, Lebanon Bombing/Airport Oct. 23 1983, NSC Executive Secretariat Country Files; “Presidential Remarks: Regional Broadcasters Luncheon, Monday, October 24, 1983,” Box 1, Airstrike 12/04/1983, Philip Dur Files, Reagan Library. The president’s confidence stretched through his departure for Asia in early November. See: Message from Reagan for Margaret Thatcher, Nov. 6, 1983, 8391397, Office of the Assistant to the President for National Security Affairs Files, Reagan Library. [63] National Security Decision Directive 109, “Responding to the Lebanon Crisis,” Oct. 23, 1983; National Security Decision Directive 111, “Next Steps Toward Progress in Lebanon and the Middle East,” Oct. 28, 1983, both in Box 91354, Lebanon Chronology (1), NSC Executive Secretariat Country Files, Reagan Library. [64] Memorandum for Shultz, Weinberger, Casey, Vessey from McFarlane, “National Security Decision Directive on Lebanon and the Middle East,” Oct. 29, 1983, Box 91354, Lebanon Chronology (1), NSC Executive Secretariat Country Files, Reagan Library. [65] See also: National Security Decision Directive 111; Memorandum for McFarlane from Teicher, “Draft NSDD on Lebanon and Middle East,” Oct. 26, 1983; Memorandum for McFarlane, “Additional Security Measures at Beirut International Airport,” c. Oct. 23, 1983, all in Box 91353, Lebanon Bombing/Airport Oct. 23 1983, NSC Executive Secretariat Country Files. [66] McFarlane, Special Trust, 268. [67] McFarlane, Special Trust, 268–69; Memorandum for Reagan from McFarlane, “NSDD: Lebanon and the Middle East,” Oct. 28, 1983, Box 91354, Lebanon Chronology (1); Memorandum for Reagan from Shultz, “Sentiment in Congress with Respect to the Bombing in Beirut and our Policy in Lebanon,” Oct. 26, 1983, 91666, Howard Teicher Chron. October 1983, Howard Teicher Files, Reagan Library. For a summary of the State Department’s position, see: “Testimony of Rear Admiral Jonathan T. Howe” (director of the State Department Bureau of Politico-Military Affairs), Nov. 2, 1983, Box 8, National Security Decision Directives (NSDD) 109/111–Lebanon and the Middle East, Dur Files, Reagan Library. [68] Memorandum for Reagan and Adm. John Poindexter from Edwin Meese III, “The Stakes in Lebanon,” Box 91353, Lebanon Bombing/Airport Oct. 23, 1983. [69] Excerpted in “‘We Will Stay, And We Will Carry Out Our Mission,’” Washington Post, Oct. 25, 1983, https://www.washingtonpost.com/archive/politics/1983/10/25/the-beirut-massacre/7831420f-de61-4681-b6a9-c9c6a40b8235/. [70] We use the term “credibility” as Reagan and many of his advisers did at the time: to suggest that one’s past actions might influence an adversary’s expectation for future actions. This definition differs from most scholars’ use of the term and instead equates to the notion of “reputation for resolve.” See: Keren Yarhi-Milo, Who Fights for Reputation: The Psychology of Leaders in International Conflict (Princeton, NJ: Princeton University Press, 2018), 5–11; Shiping Tang, “Reputation, Cult of Reputation, and International Conflict,” Security Studies 14, no. 1 (2005): 38, https://doi.org/10.1080/09636410591001474. [71] Reagan, Diaries, 281. [72] Quoted in Crist, Twilight War, 141. [73] National Security Decision Directive 111, Oct. 28, 1983. [74] Reagan, Diaries, 280–81. [75] Reagan, Diaries, 280–81. [76] National Security Decision Directive 111, Oct. 28, 1983. [77] Reagan, “Address to the Nation on Events in Lebanon and Grenada,” Oct. 27, 1983. For his intentions, see: Reagan, Diaries, 280–81. [78] Reagan, Diaries, 280–81. Some have suggested that the rally in public support for the president’s policy was a side effect of the U.S. invasion of Grenada and not the president’s rhetoric. See: Kriner, After the Rubicon, 212. The timing of the two events makes it difficult to assign responsibility. Ultimately, the president believed his rhetoric had bolstered public attitudes, and he interpreted the polling bump as evidence that he could weather future criticism. [79] Memorandum from Richard B. Wirthlin to Meese, James Baker, and Michael Deaver, “Lebanon,” Nov. 9, 1983, Box 688, 1, Meese Collection, Hoover Institution. [80] “Senior Staff Meeting Action Items, 11/30/83,” Box 73, 1, James A. Baker III Papers (MC #197), Box 73, Princeton University. [81] For a summary of the National Security Council position, see: Memoranda, “Points To Be Making Before Congress,” c. Nov. 10, 1983, and “Improving Security Training Readiness and Visibility of the MNF,” c. November 1983, both in Box 7, Lebanon (6), Fortier Files, Reagan Library. The National Security Council and State Department went so far as to draft a presidential statement, letters to regional leaders and NATO allies, and an information cable for all diplomatic posts detailing a naval airstrike on the Bekaa Valley training site. See: Box 91306, National Security Planning Group 0076 23 11/07/1983 [Iran-Iraq; October 1983 Lebanon Marine Bombing] (1 of 2), NSC Executive Secretariat Records. For the Pentagon’s opposition and a summary of the debate, see: McFarlane, Special Trust, 268–69; Crist, Twilight War, 144–45; Wills, First War on Terrorism, 73. For Reagan’s resolve, see: Reagan, Diaries, 288. [82] For a balanced review of the available evidence supporting both claims, see: Crist, Twilight War, 147; Wills, First War on Terrorism, 73–75. In his diary entry that day, Reagan noted that U.S. officials “contacted [the] French about a joint operation in Beirut re the car bombings” but does not specify his decision. Reagan, Diaries, 288. Weinberger goes even further in his memoir, where he omits any discussion of retaliation and alleges that he learned of the potential for a joint operation when the French minister of defense called to report that a unilateral French airstrike was imminent. Weinberger, Fighting for Peace, 161–62. [83] Note from McFarlane, “Decision Memo on Next Steps in Lebanon.” The president reported a similar decision in a letter to Downing Street. See: Message from Reagan for Thatcher, Nov. 19, 1983, Chron File 8391397, Office of the Assistant to the President for National Security Affairs Files, Reagan Library. [84] See, for instance: Memorandum for Weinberger from John A. Wickham Jr. (acting chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff), “NSDD-111 on Lebanon and the Middle East,” Nov. 4, 1983, Box 91354, Lebanon Chronology (1); George P. Shultz, Turmoil and Triumph: My Years as Secretary of State (New York: Scribner, 1993), 228; Donald Rumsfeld, Known and Unknown: A Memoir (New York: Penguin Random House, 2011), 14–16; Weinberger, Fighting for Peace, 166; Crist, Twilight War, 150. The Defense Department’s concerns were debated publicly. Michael Getler, “Lebanon Role Worries U.S. Military,” Washington Post, Dec. 18, 1983. [85] McFarlane wrote to Reagan shortly after the French operation: “There has been progress, and the trends suggest more progress is in the offing.” Quoted in Crist, Twilight War, 150. The National Security Council staff concurred, warning the national security adviser that “our continuing failure to conduct military action against terrorists in Lebanon will erode our credibility in the Middle East and beyond.” Memorandum for McFarlane from Teicher, “Weekly Report,” Nov. 18, 1983, Box 6, Chron (Official) November 1983, McFarlane Files, Reagan Library; Shultz, Turmoil and Triumph, 228. For similar arguments, see: “Talking Points for Robert McFarlane,” Dec. 1, 1983; Memorandum for McFarlane from Kemp, “NSPG Meeting,” Dec. 1, 1983; Note for McFarlane from Poindexter, Nov. 30, 1983, Box 91306, NSPG 0077 14 Nov 1983, NSC Executive Secretariat National Security Planning Group Records, Reagan Library. [86] Note from McFarlane, “Decision Memo on Next Steps in Lebanon.” The president reported a similar decision in a letter to Downing Street. Message from Reagan for Thatcher, Nov. 19, 1983, Chron File 8391397, Office of the Assistant to the President for National Security Affairs Files, Reagan Library. [87] Reagan, Diaries, 293. [88] Timothy Naftali, Blind Spot: The Secret History of American Counterterrorism (New York: Basic Books, 2005), 135. [89] Quoted in: Thomas L. Friedman, “Damascus Says Its Guns Fired At U.S. Planes,” New York Times, Nov. 11, 1983, https://www.nytimes.com/1983/11/11/world/damascus-says-its-guns-fired-at-us-planes.html. [90] Reagan approved the changes during a National Security Council meeting on Dec. 1 but did not sign the directive until Dec. 5. National Security Decision Directive 117, “Lebanon,” Dec. 5, 1983, https://www.reaganlibrary.gov/sites/default/files/archives/reference/scanned-nsdds/nsdd117.pdf; Wills, First War on Terrorism, 76. [91] Weinberger, Fighting for Peace, 166. [92] John F. Lehman, Command of the Seas (New York: Scribner, 1988), 322. Notably, Lehman had opposed Vessey and Weinberger and had supported retaliation for the barracks bombing. [93] Geraghty, Peacekeepers at War; Memoranda for Reagan from McFarlane, “Ground and Air Situation in Lebanon 5 December 1983, 0930,” and “Lebanon: Details of Weekend Strikes and International Relations,” Dec. 5, 1983, RAC Box 8, Lebanon Documents (2 Dec 83 (Rumsfeld Cables) I (4), National Security Council Crisis Management Center Records, Reagan Library. For a firsthand account of the confusion aboard the carriers, see: George C. Wilson, “The Day We Fouled Up the Bombing of Lebanon,” Washington Post, Sept. 7, 1986, https://www.washingtonpost.com/archive/opinions/1986/09/07/the-day-we-fouled-up-the-bombing-of-lebanon/90b613a9-8fdd-4a8f-9261-40e53f4183c1/. [94] National Intelligence Daily for Dec. 5, 1983, CREST [95] In the days before the Dec. 3 raid, McFarlane had sought to leverage his personal relationship with the president to force the Joint Chiefs in line with his position on Lebanon. By all accounts, the meeting failed. Note for McFarlane from Poindexter (Eyes Only), Nov. 30, 1983, and “Talking Points for Robert McFarlane,” Dec. 1, 1983, both in Box 91306, NSPG 0077 14 Nov 1983, NSC Executive Secretariat National Security Planning Group records. [96] McFarlane, Special Trust, 272. [97] Memorandum for McFarlane from Fortier, “Lebanon Political-Military Working Group,” Dec. 8, 1983, RAC Box 7, Lebanon (6), Fortier Files, Reagan Library; Note from McFarlane, “Informal Group on Lebanon,” Dec. 10, 1983, Box 6, Chron (Official) December 1983 (3), McFarlane Files, Reagan Library; Memorandum for McFarlane from Fortier, Dur, and Kemp, “Working Luncheon on Lebanon,” Dec. 16, 1983, Box 7, Lebanon (7), Fortier Files, Reagan Library; Draft Memorandum for the President from John M. Poindexter, “Informal Discussion Papers on Lebanon Strategy,” c. January 1983, Box 7, Lebanon (9), Fortier Files, Reagan Library; Cable to Donald Rumsfeld from the State Department, “Short-Term Strategy for Lebanon,” Dec. 28, 1983, Box 7, Lebanon (8), Fortier Files, Reagan Library. A resulting non-paper is described in additional detail in Weinberger, Fighting for Peace, 168–69. [98] Memorandum for Meese, Baker, and Deaver from Wirthlin, “The Situation in Lebanon,” Dec. 12, 1983, Box 685, Meese Collection, Hoover Institution. Republican National Committee pollsters concluded that Reagan’s address had “reversed” public opinion, with 58 percent of Americans surveyed after the speech reporting that they approved of the U.S. mission in Lebanon. [99] The media reported heavily on the airstrikes and their aftermath. See, for example: “Five Democratic Candidates Criticize Reagan For Air Strikes,” New York Times, Dec. 5, 1983, https://www.nytimes.com/1983/12/05/world/five-democratic-candidates-criticize-reagan-for-air-strikes.html; Steven V. Roberts, “Critics in Congress Declare Reagan Is Heading for War,” New York Times, Dec. 6, 1983, https://www.nytimes.com/1983/12/06/world/critics-in-congress-declare-reagan-is-heading-for-war.html; Hedrick Smith, “Lebanon Rekindles U.S. Foreign Policy Troubles,” Dec. 11, 1983, New York Times, https://www.nytimes.com/1983/12/11/weekinreview/lebanon-rekindles-us-foreign-policy-troubles.html. [100] Reagan, Diaries, 294–95; “Shultz Defends U.S.-Israel Policy as Cease-Fire Holds in Lebanon,” Associated Press, Dec. 11, 1983; Steven R. Weisman, “Reagan Predicts Role Till Beirut Stands or Falls,” New York Times, Dec. 15, 1983, https://www.nytimes.com/1983/12/15/world/reagan-predicts-role-till-beirut-stands-or-falls.html. [101] Reagan, Diaries, 298–99. Reagan mentioned the New Jersey often in his diary, praising its perceived ability to police the ceasefire in Lebanon. [102] Shultz, Turmoil and Triumph, 228–31; Memorandum for Reagan from Shultz, “Deputy Secretary Dam’s Meeting with Speaker O’Neill and his Ad Hoc Group on Lebanon,” Jan. 4, 1984, Box 91666, Chron–Howard J. Teicher, January 1984 [1], Teicher Files, Reagan Library; Memorandum for Reagan from McFarlane, “Putting the Marines Back Aboard Ships,” Dec. 21,1983, The Reagan Files, https://www.thereaganfiles.com/831221-secdef-to-rr.pdf; Reagan, Diaries, 298, 301. For more on the Shultz-Reagan relationship, see: Leslie H. Gelb, “Shultz, With Tough Line, Is Now Key Voice in Crisis,” New York Times, Nov. 7, 1983, https://www.nytimes.com/1983/11/07/world/shultz-with-tough-line-is-now-key-voice-in-crisis.html. [103] Reagan, Diaries, 295, 298–300. [104] National Security Decision Directive 117, “Lebanon,” Dec. 5, 1983. [105] Alex Brummer, “Shultz says US sticks to Lebanon role,” Guardian, Dec. 6, 1983; Lou Cannon and David Hoffman, “Use of Force Viewed Necessary for Solution,” Washington Post, Dec. 8, 1983; David Ignatius, “Europeans in Peacekeeping Force Seem Willing to Back U.S. Strategy in Lebanon,” Wall Street Journal, Dec. 8, 1983. [106] Weisman, “Reagan Predicts Role Till Beirut Stands or Falls”; Shultz, Turmoil and Triumph, 228–29. In his weekly radio address a few days earlier, Reagan pledged to “redouble” U.S. efforts to resolve the situation in Lebanon, vowing that the Marines would withdraw only “once internal stability is established and the withdrawal of all foreign forces is secured.” See: Reagan, “Radio Address to the Nation on the Situation in Lebanon,” Ronald Reagan Presidential Library and Museum, Dec. 10, 1983, https://www.reaganlibrary.gov/research/speeches/121083a. [107] National Security Council, “Taking Stock in Lebanon,” Dec. 15, 1983, Box 7, Folder “Lebanon (9),” Fortier Files, Reagan Library. [108] “Confessional” refers to the factional communities within Lebanon, which were divided along important historical, social, and religious bonds of affiliation. [109] Special National Intelligence Estimate (SNIE), “Implications of the Military Balance of Power in Lebanon,” SNIE 11/35/36-38, Dec. 23, 1983, CREST, https://www.cia.gov/library/readingroom/docs/CIA-RDP86T00302R000701080010-8.pdf. [110] On the Long Commission’s origins and composition, see: Jordan Tama, Terrorism and National Security Reform: How Commissions Can Drive Change During Crises (New York: Cambridge University Press, 2011), 75–88. [111] “Report of The DOD Commission on Beirut International Airport Terrorist Act, October 23, 1983”; Memorandum for Reagan from McFarlane, “Long Commission report on October 23 Bombing,” Dec. 23, 1983, RAC Box 7, Lebanon (8), Fortier Files, Reagan Library. [112] Tama, Terrorism and National Security Reform, 79–80. [113] Memorandum for Reagan from Weinberger, “Long Commission report on October 23 Bombing,” Dec. 23, 1983, RAC Box 7, Lebanon (8). [114] For more on the congressional reaction, see: Tama, Terrorism and National Security Reform, 81–85; Kriner, After the Rubicon, 218–20. [115] Margaret Shapiro and John Goshko, “Reagan Moves to Bolster Hill Support on Lebanon,” Washington Post, Jan. 5, 1984; Philip Taubman, “O’Neill Considers Backing a Change in Marine Mission,” New York Times, Dec. 30, 1983, https://www.nytimes.com/1983/12/30/world/o-neill-considers-backing-a-change-in-marine-mission.html; Memorandum and Attachments from McFarlane for Reagan, “NSPG Meeting on Next Steps in Lebanon, Tuesday, January 3, 1984, White House Situation Room,” Reagan Files; David C. Martin and John Walcott, Best Laid Plans: The Inside Story of America’s War Against Terrorism (New York: Harper & Row, Publishers, 1988), 147; Shultz, Turmoil and Triumph, 229. [116] Tama, Terrorism and National Security Reform, 82–84. [117] Memorandum by Wirthlin, “The Situation in Lebanon,” Jan. 30, 1984, Box 685, 11, Meese Collection, Hoover Institution. [118] Reagan described a meeting to discuss the Long Commission report as an “easy” day, noting he was only “worried about the effect of this on families that lost loved ones.” Reagan, Diaries, 301–2. For his views on public polls, see page 311. [119] Reagan, "Remarks and a Question-and-Answer Session with Reporters on the Pentagon Report on the Security of United States Marines in Lebanon," Ronald Reagan Presidential Library & Museum, Dec. 27, 1983, https://www.reaganlibrary.gov/research/speeches/122783a. [120] Lou Cannon and Carl M. Cannon, Reagan’s Disciple: George W. Bush’s Troubled Quest for a Presidential Legacy (New York: Public Affairs, 2008), 151–52; Kriner, After the Rubicon, 224–25. [121] Reagan, Diaries, 298, 301, 304–5; Shultz, Turmoil and Triumph, 228–31. [122] Memorandum for Reagan from Shultz, “Deputy Secretary Dam’s Meeting with Speaker O’Neill and his Ad Hoc Group on Lebanon,” and Memorandum for Reagan from McFarlane, “Ken Dam’s Meeting with Speaker O’Neill and Other House Leaders,” c. Jan. 6, 1984, both in Box 91666, Chron–Howard J. Teicher, January 1984 [1]; Memorandum for McFarlane from Fortier, “Your Hill Briefings on Lebanon,” Jan. 3, 1984, RAC Box 7, Folder Lebanon (9), all Fortier Files, Reagan Library. Memorandum and Attachments for Reagan from McFarlane, “NSPG Meeting on Next Steps in Lebanon, Tuesday, January 3, 1984, White House Situation Room,” Reagan Files. National Security Council staff followed up with meetings and background papers to clarify U.S. policy and explain the “consequences of a precipitous withdrawal.” Memorandum for McFarlane from Fortier, “Maintaining the Speaker’s Support on Lebanon,” Jan. 5, 1984, RAC Box 7, Lebanon (9); Memorandum for McFarlane from Teicher, “Weekly Report,” Jan. 27, 1984, Box 91666, Chron–Howard J. Teicher, January 1984 [1], Teicher Files, Reagan Library. [123] Shapiro and Goshko, “Reagan Moves to Bolster Hill Support on Lebanon.” [124] Memorandum for the Secretary of State, Secretary of Defense, Director of Central Intelligence, Director of the Office of Management and Budget, and Chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff from Robert McFarlane, “Next Steps in Lebanon,” Feb. 1, 1984, CREST, https://www.cia.gov/library/readingroom/docs/CIA-RDP10M00666R000200480001-7.pdf; Shultz, Turmoil and Triumph, 230. [125] Reagan, Diaries, 312; David Hoffman, “Administration Credibility Under Strain: Plans, Pronouncements on Mideast Contradictory,” Washington Post, Feb. 12, 1984. [126] Cable from Donald Rumsfeld to Lawrence Eagleburger, “Next Steps in Lebanon,” Jan. 31, 1984; Cable from Donald Rumsfeld to Bud McFarlane, James Poindexter, and Lawrence Eagleburger, “Middle East Mission–Draft NSDD–Rumsfeld Comments,” Jan. 31, 1984, all in the Rumsfeld Papers, http://papers.rumsfeld.com/library/. Each were marked "eyes only." [127] Rumsfeld, Known and Unknown, 28. [128] In his memoir, the defense secretary goes on at length about his efforts to hurry the Joint Chiefs. Weinberger, Fighting for Peace, 168–69. [129] Quoted in: Rich Jaroslovsky and Albert Hunt, “Digging In: Reagan Toughens Line on Troops in Lebanon And Chides His Critics,” Wall Street Journal, Feb. 3, 1984. For illustrative examples demonstrating Reagan’s consistency, see: Benjamin Taylor, “Reagan Shrugs Off Lebanon Pullout Call,” Boston Globe, Feb. 2, 1984; Leslie H. Gelb, “Aides Say Reagan Foreign Policy Will Survive Democrats’ Attacks,” New York Times, Feb. 3, 1984, https://www.nytimes.com/1984/02/03/us/aides-say-reagan-foreign-policy-will-survive-democrats-attacks.html; “Reagan, O’Neill Trade Barbs Over Lebanon Troops,” Chicago Tribune, Feb. 4, 1984, . [130] Edgar O’Ballance, Civil War in Lebanon, 1975–92 (New York: St. Martin’s Press: 1998), 136; Elie A. Salem, Violence and Diplomacy in Lebanon: The Troubled Years, 1982–1988 (London and New York: I.B. Tauris Publishers, 1995), 135–46; Rumsfeld, Known and Unknown, 27; Reagan, Diaries, 306–7. [131] This assessment draws on: O’Ballance, Civil War in Lebanon, 137; Oren Barak, The Lebanese Army: A National Institution in a Divided Society (Albany: SUNY Press, 2009), 131; Yosef Olmert, “Lebanon,” Middle East Contemporary Survey 8 (1986): 551; Omri Nir, Nabih Berri and Lebanese Politics (New York: Palgrave MacMillan, 2011), 50–52; and Fawwaz Traboulsi, A History of Modern Lebanon (London: Pluto Press, 2012), 231. [132] Lou Cannon, President Reagan: The Role of a Lifetime (New York: Simon & Schuster, 1991), 436. [133] George H.W. Bush, All The Best, George Bush: My Life in Letters and Other Writings (New York: Scribner, 1999), 331. The importance of the moment was evident to those observing Bush in the field. Marine commander Timothy Geraghty later recalled that while presenting Purple Hearts to wounded men, the vice president “was obviously moved by their sacrifice.” Geraghty, Peacekeepers at War, 111–12. [134] Shultz, Turmoil and Triumph, 230–31; Wills, First War on Terrorism, 8; Howard Teicher and Gayle Radley Teicher, Twin Pillars to Desert Storm: America’s Flawed Vision in the Middle East from Nixon to Bush (New York: William Morrow, 1993), 291. [135] Shultz, Turmoil and Triumph, 230–31; Wills, First War on Terrorism, 8; Teicher and Teicher, Twin Pillars to Desert Storm, 291. Whether Reagan understood that he had authorized the complete and rapid withdrawal of U.S. forces, rather than the phased transition outlined in the Feb. 1 National Security Decision Directive, is unclear. Although transcripts of Bush’s call to Reagan remain classified, evidence that similar proposals were studied in the days after the National Security Policy Group decision suggest the president may have held out hope of maintaining a limited military presence in Beirut. Indeed, White House press guidance distributed over the next several days described the administration’s decision as a phased drawdown that would stretch “over the next several months depending on the situation.” Memorandum to Shultz, Weinberger, and Vessey from McFarlane, “Memorandum for the Record: Decisions Taken and Actions Required at SSG Meeting Thursday, February 9, 1984–5:15-7:25 p.m.,” Box 91834, William Burns Files, Reagan Library; “Senior Staff Meeting Action Items, 2/08/83,” and “Senior Staff Meeting Action Items, 2/09/83,” Box 72, Action Items 1984 January–June, James A. Baker Papers, Princeton University Library. [136] Frank, U.S. Marines in Lebanon, 135–38. [137] Karlin, Building Militaries in Fragile States, 143–44. [138] For an illustration of the continuities, see: Memorandum for Reagan from Shultz, Oct. 5, 1983; Memorandum for Reagan from Clark, Oct. 13, 1983; and Memorandum for Reagan from McFarlane, Oct. 17, 1983, Box 91306, NSPG0073 18 Oct 1983, NSC Executive Secretariat records; Memorandum for McFarlane from Weinberger, “US Policy in Lebanon and the Middle East,” Oct. 21, 1983, RAC Box 7, Lebanon (5), Fortier Files, Reagan Library. [139] Some have speculated that the administration’s concurrent intervention in Grenada, which commenced two days after the bombing, was designed to distract the public from the disaster in Beirut. This theory ignores the facts that the president had authorized the Grenada operation before the attack in Lebanon and that lead military elements were already en route to the island when the bombing occurred (which complicated efforts to relieve the shaken marines in Beirut). If Operation Urgent Fury’s success may have dampened the public’s reaction to the bombing in Lebanon, it was by chance, not design. [140] Interview of Robert S. Dillon by Charles Stuart Kennedy, May 17, 1990, Association for Diplomatic Studies and Training. For the importance placed on the U.S. modernization effort, see: Karlin, Building Militaries in Fragile States, chap. 4. [141] National Security Decision Directive 103 and “Addendum to NSDD 103 On Lebanon of September 10, 1983”; Reagan, Diaries. [142] Kiron K. Skinner, Annelise Anderson, and Martin Anderson, Reagan, In His Own Hand: The Writings of Ronald Reagan that Reveal His Revolutionary Vision for America (New York: The Free Press, 2001), 481. [143] For a discussion of relevant psychological biases, see Jack Levy, “Psychology and Foreign Policy Decision-Making,” in The Oxford Handbook of Political Psychology, ed. Leonie Huddy, David O. Sears, and Jack S. Levy (Oxford: Oxford University Press, 2013); Daniel Kahneman, Thinking, Fast and Slow (New York: Farrar, Straus and Giroux, 2011); Rose McDermott, “The Psychological Ideas of Amos Tversky and Their Relevance for Political Science,” Journal of Theoretical Politics 13, no.1 (2001): 5–33, https://doi.org/10.1177/0951692801013001001; James M. Goldgeier and Philip E. Tetlock, “Psychology and International Relations Theory,” Annual Review of Political Science 4, no. 1 (2001): 67–92, https://doi.org/10.1146/annurev.polisci.4.1.67. [144] For an excellent example, see Yarhi-Milo, Who Fights, in particular chap. 7. [145] James D. Fearon, “Why Do Some Civil Wars Last So Much Longer Than Others?” Journal of Peace Research 41, no. 3 (2004): 275–301, https://doi.org/10.1177/0022343304043770; James D. Fearon and David D. Laitin, “Ethnicity, Insurgency, and Civil War,” American Political Science Review 97, no. 1 (2003): 75–90, https://cisac.fsi.stanford.edu/publications/ethnicity_insurgency_and_civil_war. [146] For a history of the perils and promise of red teaming and other related practices, see Micah Zenko, Red Team: How to Succeed by Thinking Like the Enemy (New York: Basic Books, 2015). [147] Francis J. Gavin, “Thinking Historically: A Guide for Strategy and Statecraft,” War on the Rocks, Nov. 17, 2016, https://warontherocks.com/2016/11/thinking-historically-a-guide-for-strategy-and-statecraft/. ) [contents] => Array ( [title] => [contents] => ) ) ) [1] => Array ( [post] => WP_Post Object ( [ID] => 1069 [post_author] => 9 [post_date] => 2019-02-20 12:37:45 [post_date_gmt] => 2019-02-20 17:37:45 [post_content] => The Trump era has upended many aspects of U.S. statecraft, not least among them America’s China policy. For 25 years after the Cold War, the United States executed a largely bipartisan approach to managing a rising China. This strategy was based on the idea that a combination of persistent engagement and prudent hedging would ultimately socialize Beijing into the American-led international order. In recent years, however, that strategy unraveled as China became more repressive internally and grew stronger and more assertive externally. In response, the Trump administration has proclaimed the “responsible stakeholder” strategy dead and argued that Washington must get serious about competing with Beijing. Yet, competition is not an end in itself. Despite the emerging consensus that Washington’s old strategy has failed, there is little agreement on what should replace it. What, exactly, does America seek to achieve vis-à-vis China? Should U.S. leaders indefinitely contain Chinese geopolitical influence? Force the “breakup or mellowing” of Chinese power? Pursue a grand bargain with the Chinese Communist Party? These are fundamental questions, which the administration has yet to answer. There are four basic options for resetting America’s China policy: accommodation, collective balancing, comprehensive pressure, and regime change. These options are ideal-types: They illustrate the range of possible approaches and capture distinct analytical logics about the nature of the China problem and the appropriate response. At one extreme, Washington could seek an accommodation with Beijing in hopes of striking a grand bargain and establishing a cooperative long-term relationship. At the other extreme, the United States could seek regime change or even precipitate a military showdown to prevent China from growing more powerful. Both of these options assume that America must take urgent action to “solve” the China challenge. Yet, neither of these approaches is realistic, and, in fact, each is downright dangerous. The real debate involves the two middle options: collective balancing and comprehensive pressure. Collective balancing would rely on U.S. cooperation with allies and partners to prevent China from constructing a regional sphere of influence or displacing the United States as the world’s leading power. Comprehensive pressure would go further, attempting not simply to counter-balance Chinese influence overseas but to actively erode China’s underlying political, economic, and military power. These options, in turn, rest on different fundamental assumptions. Collective balancing accepts that Chinese power is likely to expand but assumes that it is possible to prevent Beijing from using its power in destabilizing ways. Comprehensive pressure assumes that China’s power must be limited and even diminished, despite the risk that doing so will sharply escalate tensions. Probing the logic of these strategies, and assessing their various strengths and weaknesses, is critical to going beyond “competition” and adopting a new approach. The alternative — practicing tactics without strategy — is no way to confront the daunting geopolitical challenge that China presents.

The Rise and Fall of the Responsible Stakeholder

For decades, U.S. leaders undertook a largely consistent, bipartisan approach to China. The United States sought to integrate China into the global economy by opening its markets and welcoming China into the World Trade Organization. Washington also pushed Beijing to assume a greater role in regional and global affairs. U.S. leaders hoped that their efforts would illustrate the benefits of membership in the existing order and induce China, as Robert Zoellick explained in 2005, to “work with us to sustain the international system that has enabled its success.”[1] In the meantime, the United States committed to maintain the military capabilities and alliances necessary to dissuade China from taking a more confrontational path.[2] The responsible-stakeholder paradigm offered a coherent “theory of victory”: It identified a desired outcome and employed all elements of American power to bring about that outcome. Over time, the strategy produced greater Sino-American cooperation on a range of issues, from counter-piracy to climate change. It is increasingly clear, however, that the responsible-stakeholder strategy failed. Two of its core assumptions now appear misplaced: the idea that China’s intentions would become more benign over time, and the belief that Washington had the power to keep Chinese ambitions in check until that shift occurred. What happened instead was that, as China rose, the Chinese Communist Party became more willing to use its newfound power in coercive and disruptive ways.[3] Confounding Western hopes that China would liberalize, the Chinese Communist Party embraced more repressive policies, especially after Xi Jinping became general secretary in 2012. Meanwhile, Beijing sought to control the Indo-Pacific region by coercing its neighbors, undermining U.S. alliances, practicing mercantilist policies, steadily increasing its presence and influence in the South China Sea, and modernizing its military. In the Indo-Pacific and beyond, moreover, China has engaged in a range of behaviors that challenge American interests: supporting authoritarian regimes, engaging in widespread corruption, pursuing predatory trade practices and major geo-economic projects meant to project Chinese influence further afield, seeking to stifle international criticism of its human rights abuses, practicing massive intellectual property theft, and striving for technological dominance in critical emerging fields, such as artificial intelligence. Recently, China’s confidence has been on display, with Xi stating in 2018 that “no one is in a position to dictate to the Chinese people,” after declaring in 2017 that China is ready to “take center stage in the world.”[4] Rather than becoming a responsible stakeholder in a U.S.-led system, China appears increasingly determined to compete with Washington for primacy in the Indo-Pacific and beyond. These more assertive policies have been made possible by China’s surprisingly rapid growth. Between 1990 and 2016, China’s constant-dollar gross domestic product increased roughly twelve-fold and its military spending grew ten-fold.[5] The People’s Liberation Army rapidly developed the tools — anti-ship missiles, quiet submarines, advanced fighter aircraft, and integrated air defenses — needed to contest American supremacy in the Western Pacific and give China greater ability to shape events in its region and beyond. Surging national wealth also led to an explosion of Chinese trade, lending, and investment abroad, which enabled far more ambitious geo-economic statecraft. All told, this expansion of Chinese national power is unprecedented in modern history. It has dramatically narrowed the gap between China and the United States and made it far more difficult for Washington to shape Beijing’s behavior. [quote id="1"] No strategy can survive the invalidation of its central premises: By the end of the Obama presidency, the responsible-stakeholder concept was living on borrowed time. The Trump administration drove the final stake through the concept in its 2017 National Security Strategy. The document slammed Beijing for attempting to “shape a world antithetical to U.S. values and interests” and declared the failure of China’s “integration into the post-war international order.”[6] In particular, China’s behavior increasingly threatens three enduring U.S. interests. First, the United States seeks to maintain a favorable balance of power in the Indo-Pacific region and to deter a military conflict — over Taiwan, Korea, or maritime Asia — that could undermine the regional order and cost American or allied lives. Second, U.S. leaders have an interest in ensuring an open international economy conducive to American prosperity and competitiveness. Third, the United States seeks to preserve an international environment in which democracy, human rights, and the rule of law can flourish, and it seeks to strengthen — where possible — the prevalence of those practices abroad. As Chinese power has grown and Chinese behavior has become more assertive, U.S. policymakers have come to see all three of these interests as being imperiled. So far, however, the Trump administration’s efforts to protect these interests have been inconsistent. The administration levied tariffs on Chinese goods, attacked China’s “predatory economics,” announced a strategy to preserve a “free and open” Indo-Pacific region, and unveiled a national defense strategy focused on countering China.[7] But these moves were accompanied by a warm, sometimes fawning, personal relationship between President Donald Trump and Xi, by persistent hopes that Beijing would help deliver an agreement to denuclearize North Korea, and by speculation that the Trump administration might yet resolve its trade disputes with China through some sort of economic grand bargain. Meanwhile, the U.S. withdrawal from the Trans-Pacific Partnership left the United States without a credible strategy for combating China’s regional economic influence, and separate trade disputes with Japan and South Korea rattled some of Washington’s key regional relationships. These conflicting actions feed the perception that Trump is an unreliable partner, not just for China but for allies as well. In short, the responsible-stakeholder strategy may be dead, but U.S. leaders have not settled on an alternative. In conversations with experts, we have found that most scholars and policymakers fall into one of four camps, based largely on assumptions about China’s intentions, regional reactions, and the sustainability of U.S. primacy. These four ideal-type options are outlined in Figure 1 below and assessed in the sections that follow.   Table 1: Four Possible China Strategies [table id=12 /]  

The Risks of Accommodation

Although the Trump administration has pushed the relationship toward greater competition, some experts believe that the United States and China should manage their differences by striking a “grand bargain.” Charles Glaser suggests that the United States should end its commitment to Taiwan in exchange for China peacefully resolving its maritime disputes and accepting a long-term U.S. military presence in the Indo-Pacific.[8] Lyle Goldstein argues that the two countries should work together to encourage the development of “cooperation spirals.” Chinese leaders, for their part, have touted “win-win” solutions and a new model of great-power relations.[9] The attraction of accommodation is obvious. If successful, it would avoid the costs associated with prolonged political, economic, military, technological, and ideological competition, and it would facilitate compromise on issues such as climate change, where joint U.S.-Chinese action is sorely needed. The logic of this approach is equally straightforward: If the United States has failed to shape Chinese behavior through a combination of engagement and hedging, then it should seek to defuse the emerging confrontation before the balance of power becomes even less favorable. Unfortunately, accommodation is a bad bet for several reasons. First, the United States cannot simply “make a deal” on many core issues since those issues have to do with the territory and interests of U.S. allies and partners. Washington does not itself claim the Senkaku/Diaoyu Islands, Scarborough Shoal, or Taiwan, so it cannot relinquish those claims. Entering negotiations with Beijing over the heads of leaders in Tokyo, Manila, and Taipei would undermine the U.S. network of alliances and partnerships. U.S. leaders would thus find it difficult to strike a grand bargain unless they are also willing to entertain withdrawing from the Indo-Pacific. Second, neither U.S. nor Chinese leaders can have much confidence that a bargain struck now would hold in the future. At times of flux in the international hierarchy, established powers often hesitate to conclude grand bargains because they fear that the rising power might simply seek to renegotiate the deal later, when the balance has shifted further in its favor. So even if the United States cut a deal that satisfied China in the short term, there is little guarantee that Beijing would remain satisfied if its influence continued to grow. In fact, accommodation could incentivize greater Chinese revisionism by signaling declining U.S. willingness to defend its interests or by giving Beijing control of valuable territory — such as Taiwan — that could serve as a springboard to future aggression.[10] Chinese leaders are also likely to be skeptical of a grand bargain given that the United States has walked away from major agreements signed in recent years — most notably the Iran nuclear deal and the Paris climate accord. Finally, perhaps because of the reasons listed previously, leaders in Washington and Beijing appear averse to a grand bargain. Although Trump vaguely floated the idea in the months after his election, and there remains the possibility of a broad economic deal to deescalate the bilateral trade war, his administration recently and publicly dismissed a broader strategy of accommodation aimed at a comprehensive settling of differences.[11] Future U.S. administrations are likely to do the same, given that both Republicans and Democrats have strongly criticized China’s security activities, economic practices, and human rights violations. Meanwhile, Xi Jinping has provided few indications that he is willing to make serious compromises in pursuit of a deal. Quite the opposite: His recent speeches on both foreign and domestic policy have been strident and confident.[12] Even if a grand bargain is theoretically possible, it is probably not in the cards.

The Dangers of Regime Change

If the quest for a comprehensive settlement of differences is likely to prove quixotic, so is another extreme option rooted in a sense of great urgency: bringing the competition to a head in hopes of conclusively resolving the China problem. If aggression and expansion are baked into China’s authoritarian system, and if China’s rulers can sustain high levels of economic growth and political stability long enough to make a serious bid for geopolitical dominance in the Indo-Pacific and beyond, there is potentially an argument for adopting drastic measures to avert this outcome. If a confrontation between Washington and Beijing is inevitable, this thinking goes, better to have that confrontation while it can still be won. To this end, U.S. officials could seek regime change in Beijing through covert action or all-out economic warfare. The United States could even provoke a military showdown in the hopes of crippling and perhaps destroying the Chinese Communist Party. Radical as it sounds, such now-or-never thinking has influenced U.S. policy debates before. During the late 1940s, an array of American strategists and informed observers argued that Washington should wage preventive war against the Soviet Union before Moscow acquired the bomb. The Truman administration rejected this option, but it pursued provocative policies of destabilization — such as fomenting violent resistance in Eastern Europe and the Soviet Union — meant to weaken and perhaps cripple the Soviet empire before it became even more dangerous.[13] These policies largely failed, however, and the idea of forcing a showdown with China also suffers from fatal defects. [quote id="2"] First, although Beijing is sure to be a formidable competitor, it would have to become far more powerful — and aggressive — to constitute the sort of existential threat that would justify such an extreme response. And while China may grow stronger, its own internal vulnerabilities — a growing debt burden and accumulating economic challenges, an aging population and festering social instability, as well as simmering ethnic tensions — suggest that its continued ascent is not foreordained.[14] Forcing an all-out confrontation would be a strategy born of panic, not realism. Second, such an aggressive American strategy would almost certainly backfire. It is doubtful that the United States could overthrow the Chinese Communist Party short of major war — after all, U.S. sanctions have failed to topple far weaker governments — and efforts to do so might provoke Beijing to lash out. Even if the United States succeeded in deposing the party, there is no guarantee that a new government would be better. The collapse of Communist Party rule could lead to the rise of a radical nationalist military clique just as easily as it could the emergence of a stable democracy. Nor would the emergence of such a democracy necessarily solve America’s problems. Young democratic governments are often more warlike than their predecessors, and any successor regime would have good reason to be angry with the United States.[15] Provoking war with Beijing would risk even more cataclysmic effects: heavy American casualties and equipment losses, severe economic costs, cyber attacks against critical domestic infrastructure, and the potential for nuclear escalation.[16] Starting such a war would also rupture American alliances and levy intense global condemnation upon the United States. Even if America were to win a military conflict, any such victory would be Pyrrhic in the extreme, for it would jeopardize the very security and influence a more competitive strategy is meant to protect.

Collective Balancing

If U.S. leaders accept that China poses a formidable challenge without a decisive solution, they are left with two primary options: collective balancing and comprehensive pressure. Where these two strategies differ is in their approach to the changing balance of power. Comprehensive pressure seeks to reverse the ongoing power shift. Collective balancing accepts that shift as a fact of life — and does not attempt to significantly disrupt the economic relationship with China — but maintains that Beijing can be deterred by a coalition of like-minded states. China has already surpassed the United States in GDP (adjusted for purchasing power parity), but advocates of collective balancing assert that America still has the upper hand. After all, the United States retains treaty alliances with more than half of the world’s 20 largest economies and has close partnerships with many others. Talk of U.S.-China rivalry therefore misses the larger point: The competition is not between China and the United States but between a comparatively isolated China and a broad-based, U.S.-led coalition. Accordingly, the center of gravity for a strategy of collective balancing is the alignment decisions of states in the Indo-Pacific region. If Indo-Pacific countries align with the United States in a firm balancing coalition, then Washington would have the political, economic, and military power to resist Chinese efforts to alter the status quo in destabilizing ways. And if China cannot dominate the Indo-Pacific, it would not be able to mount a serious hegemonic challenge to the United States. Beijing would not be able to dictate the terms of trade in the region in a way that gives it decisive economic advantages over the United States; it would not have the regional springboard necessary to project significant military power on a truly international scale. In other words, by keeping China constrained and off-balance within the Indo-Pacific, collective balancing prevents China from reshaping the world beyond the Indo-Pacific.[17] As the logic of collective balancing would predict, Beijing’s coercive actions already appear to be facilitating greater cooperation among some regional states, such as Japan, India, and Australia, while also causing those and other countries to seek closer security relationships with the United States. Time is therefore on America’s side, advocates of collective balancing argue, so long as the United States adequately supports and encourages the resistance that Chinese assertiveness provokes. And if the United States and its allies and partners hold the line and show that China cannot overturn the regional and international order, Beijing may eventually adopt more acceptable policies Collective balancing, then, would hinge on America’s ability to maintain a coalition of countries sufficient to deter or counteract Chinese revisionism. Doing so would require undertaking an array of enhanced measures to demonstrate that Washington can prevent Beijing from dominating the region politically, economically, and militarily, and to assure regional states that the United States will reliably back countries that stand up to Beijing. In practice, this would necessitate significant investments in new U.S. military capabilities to reverse the deteriorating regional balance of power. The United States would also support countries from Japan to Vietnam as they develop their own anti-access/area denial capabilities to keep China at bay. Washington would use military sales, training, exercises, and other tools to bolster countries confronting Chinese coercion. U.S. leaders would simultaneously intensify efforts to provide Indo-Pacific states with alternatives to deepening economic dependence on China by rejoining the Trans-Pacific Partnership (or a similar replacement) and working with key allies and partners to offer loans and capital to vulnerable countries. Good first steps include the recently passed BUILD Act, which will substantially increase U.S. development financing in the Indo-Pacific, and the U.S.-Australia-Japan Trilateral Partnership for infrastructure development.[18] Collective balancing would also feature stronger efforts to delineate acceptable Chinese behavior from unacceptable activity, and to inflict harsher penalties on Beijing when lines are crossed. To date, many U.S. positions regarding China have been murky, such as Washington’s ambiguous approach to application of the U.S.-Philippines Mutual Defense Treaty.[19] China has often challenged these commitments using “gray zone” coercion — incremental expansion designed to probe when and where Washington is willing to stand by its commitments. Instances of the United States failing to help its friends beat back gray-zone coercion — such as the Scarborough Shoal incident in 2012 — have undermined perceptions of U.S. reliability in the region and discouraged allies and partners from taking a harder line toward Beijing.[20] Conversely, since President Barack Obama stated that the Senkaku Islands fell within Article 5 of the U.S.-Japan Security Treaty in 2014, Beijing has avoided a major confrontation.[21] [quote id="3"] Collective balancing thus requires closer cooperation with allies and partners to determine and demonstrate the extent of U.S. commitments. Lingering questions about U.S. alliance guarantees — namely, whether the U.S.-Philippines Mutual Defense Treaty covers the islands and reefs that Manila controls in the South China Sea — would be clarified, with the understanding that the risk of giving America’s friends license to engage in irresponsible behavior is dramatically outweighed by the danger that unchecked Chinese salami-slicing would hollow out America’s alliances on the installment plan. Any Chinese efforts to acquire control of new or disputed territory, or to restrict freedom of navigation or overflight, would need to be met with a forceful response. Diplomatic or economic costs would also have to be imposed for other destabilizing actions, such as deploying additional military capabilities to man-made Chinese islands or declaring an Air Defense Identification Zone covering the South China Sea. By showing that Washington is fully committed to sharper competition with China, advocates of collective balancing argue, this strategy would rally the region and ensure that Beijing faces a multilateral coalition it cannot overwhelm. Yet, a strategy of collective balancing has weaknesses. First, even a stronger American approach might not be sufficient to pull together a diverse region and prevent China from altering the status quo in significant ways. Close U.S. allies — namely South Korea and Japan — remain at odds due to historical animosities.[22] Similarly, despite their common interest in resisting Chinese aggrandizement, the other South China Sea claimants are more divided than they were five years ago. China has proven adept at splitting regional organizations, such as the Association of Southeast Asian Nations, by bribing or bullying vulnerable states.[23] If China’s economic and military power grows, so will its ability to peel off weaker members of any balancing coalition. Rather than hanging together, regional states might end up hanging separately. Second, if China can sustain robust economic growth, even a multilateral balancing strategy may ultimately be untenable. Former Treasury Secretary Lawrence Summers predicts that China’s economy will be twice the size of America’s by 2050.[24] Well before that, China may attain sufficient military power to make U.S. (or U.S.-plus-allied) intervention in areas such as Taiwan prohibitively expensive.[25] If the balance continues to shift, problems of collective action would plague opponents of Chinese expansion, shrinking the number of regional states willing to stand up to Beijing. And if a changing balance of power makes the Chinese leadership more accepting of risk, even an impressive balancing coalition may not be sufficient to deter greater aggressiveness. Put simply, it may prove impossible to accept the ongoing U.S.-China power shift while still maintaining an acceptable regional balance. Third, key Trump administration policies have undermined America’s alliance edge. The alignment decisions of regional states would take center stage in a collective-balancing approach, and the wisdom of U.S. policies would be viewed through this lens. Yet, the administration’s withdrawal from the Trans-Pacific Partnership damaged U.S. relationships in the region, leaving many countries more dependent on and vulnerable to China. Trump’s application of tariffs on steel and aluminum for purported national security reasons has hurt many allies and partners. Finally, as the Trump administration’s first secretary of defense, James Mattis, suggested in his resignation letter, Trump does not appear to believe in “maintaining strong alliances and showing respect to those allies.”[26] In all these ways, the administration has made it more difficult to execute a strategy of collective balancing.

Comprehensive Pressure

The limitations of collective balancing raise an obvious question: What if cooperation with allies and partners proves insufficient to check China’s momentum and preserve peace in the Indo-Pacific? After all, America has long sought to inhibit the malign expression of Chinese power but has had diminishing success as Beijing’s capabilities and ambitions have grown. The RAND Corporation reports that the military balance in the Western Pacific is rapidly nearing a series of “tipping points” at which America’s superiority and ability to deter Chinese aggression against Taiwan or even in the South China Sea might rapidly erode.[27] China also has extensive economic ties with all the countries of the Indo-Pacific, including every U.S. ally. If these trends continue, holding the line may prove impossible: The United States could find itself in the position of Germany’s Kaiser Wilhelm II before World War I, lamenting that his allies and partners were dropping away “like rotten pears.”[28] And because collective balancing deals only with the outward manifestations of Chinese power — as opposed to putting greater pressure on the underlying sources of that power — it takes a great deal of U.S. leverage off the table. Consequently, it might be necessary for the United States to take a sharper posture toward China by adopting a comprehensive pressure strategy reminiscent of Washington’s containment of Moscow during the Cold War. In some ways, a comprehensive pressure strategy would look a lot like collective balancing. It would include intensified military, diplomatic, and geo-economic initiatives meant to stymie China’s bid for primacy in the Indo-Pacific and perhaps beyond. In addition, comprehensive pressure would feature initiatives meant to give the United States greater strategic autonomy vis-à-vis China and to reduce Chinese power over time. At a minimum, the United States would disentangle itself from China in sectors where the existing level of economic interdependence threatens America’s ability to resist Chinese advances — for example, by ending the practice of sourcing critical components of U.S. military capabilities from Chinese companies.[29] At a maximum, comprehensive pressure might entail weakening China’s economy by imposing broad-based tariffs, excluding China from trade agreements, restricting allied trade with and investment in China, and undermining China’s role in global supply chains.[30] Comprehensive pressure could also feature efforts to politically and ideologically undermine the Chinese Communist Party. This could include sanctions against Chinese leaders involved in repression, stronger condemnation of Chinese human rights violations, and even attempts to undermine the legitimacy of the regime by releasing files on corruption by top party leaders and their families. It might also involve efforts “to introduce new information into relatively closed societies,” as a recent report by the Center for Strategic and Budgetary Assessments suggests.[31] The goal would not be to overthrow the regime but, rather, to weaken China’s geopolitical potential by diverting its attention and resources to domestic challenges. A proposal with parallels to containment immediately meets with derision from some American critics (and Chinese spokespersons), who argue that the strategy reeks of “Cold War thinking.” Yet, there are real advantages to this approach. If the United States cannot effectively fight a prolonged war against China because — as a recent Defense Department report explains — the Pentagon relies on Chinese suppliers for “a number of critical energetic materials used in munitions and missiles,” then Sino-American economic integration has gone too far.[32] There is no question, moreover, that China’s economic and political strains constitute strategic vulnerabilities that the United States could exploit for competitive advantage, just as America used economic denial and ideological warfare to weaken the foundations of the Soviet empire during the Cold War. Although the Trump administration’s approach to China has been muddled, the administration has undertaken some initiatives consistent with a comprehensive pressure strategy. Most notably, the administration has attempted to address the glaring contradiction at the heart of America’s post-Cold War strategy toward China: the fact that the United States has long sought to contain China’s ability to challenge the American-led world order while simultaneously helping China build the economic and military wherewithal to mount such a challenge. In a stark change of approach, a faction within the administration has supported the president’s trade war with China not as a bargaining tactic but as a way of weakening China’s economy.[33] Furthermore, Vice President Mike Pence’s October 2018 speech on China, which indicted Beijing for an array of foreign and domestic misdeeds, seemed designed as a call to arms in the manner of Winston Churchill’s 1946 “Iron Curtain” speech or Harry Truman’s 1947 “Truman Doctrine” address. Likewise, Secretary of State Mike Pompeo used the anniversary of the Tiananmen Square massacre to highlight the coercive nature of the Chinese Communist Party and proclaim American solidarity with Chinese citizens seeking greater political freedoms and human rights.[34] [quote id="4"] Yet, the Trump administration’s periodic embrace of tougher China policies has triggered three core criticisms. First, embracing comprehensive pressure means pushing U.S.-China relations into a new and potentially more dangerous phase. The United States would no longer be able to claim the moral high ground by saying that it does not oppose China’s emergence on the world stage. Instead, it might face accusations of being the more aggressive party in the dispute. This approach would certainly increase the difficulty of cooperation on issues such as climate change and management of future economic crises. Beijing, moreover, would probably not remain passive while the United States applied pressure. It might respond in ways that would further ratchet up tensions and raise the chances of outright conflict. Given that China’s long-term power trajectory is deeply uncertain in light of looming political, economic, and demographic challenges, prudence may counsel delaying such a decisive rupture in the relationship for as long as possible.[35] Second, although some U.S. allies — such as Japan — might quietly applaud the shift in U.S. policy, many others would hesitate to embrace such an approach. Most U.S. allies and partners would fear that Washington was forcing them to choose sides in a U.S.-China confrontation. They might well resist a strategy that requires them to significantly constrict their economic dealings with their largest trading partner, especially given their vulnerability to Chinese economic coercion and political meddling. If the United States goes too far, too fast, it might inadvertently damage relationships that will be critical to keeping China’s ambitions in check. Third, domestic politics in the United States may not be ready for comprehensive pressure. Hawkish rhetoric toward China is becoming ever more commonplace among U.S. officials and politicians, but the American technology and financial sectors (as well as U.S. universities) are still heavily invested in Beijing.[36] Opposition from allies and domestic critics might be overcome, of course. And if, as seems increasingly likely, China emerges in the coming decades as a global military challenger as threatening as the Soviet Union once was, then the United States will probably have to move to a more confrontational policy eventually. But doing so would require, at a bare minimum, concerted public education and diplomatic campaigns laying out the case for why such a stark shift in policy is merited. If the Trump administration pivots to comprehensive pressure without laying the groundwork at home and abroad, the result could be to weaken American competitiveness rather than to strengthen it.

Toward a Collective Pressure Strategy

Dealing with an increasingly confident, assertive China is arguably the most difficult geopolitical challenge America has faced in a generation. It will prove more difficult still if Washington cannot decide what it is ultimately trying to accomplish. We have outlined four strategies: accommodation, collective balancing, comprehensive pressure, and regime change. The extreme strategies of accommodation and regime change are overly risky and likely to fail, perhaps catastrophically. The middle two strategies, collective balancing and comprehensive pressure, are more promising, but each still involves significant challenges and risks. So how should America proceed? It bears repeating here that these strategies are ideal-types. They illustrate the range of options and clarify the logics and assumptions underpinning them. But they are not straightjackets, and a real-world strategy might end up occupying the space between certain options or even combing aspects of them. This is particularly likely because the real world is messy and the future is hard to foresee. Both collective balancing and comprehensive pressure rest on plausible logics, but they hold different assumptions about the sustainability of U.S. primacy. Informed experts hold diverse opinions on this topic, so we can only make informed guesses about which will ultimately be borne out by events. Political and diplomatic constraints complicate things further. Even if one believes, for example, that comprehensive pressure is the ideal strategy, it may not be possible to get the domestic and international buy-in necessary to make that strategy effective, at least in the short term. Strategic analysis requires clearly delineating options and the ideas behind them, but strategy must be implemented even when clarity is wanting. For these reasons, we favor a hybrid approach fusing elements of collective balancing and comprehensive pressure. This strategy, which we call collective pressure, would seek to build a coalition of allies and partners strong enough to deter or simply hold the line against Chinese revisionism until such a time as the Chinese Communist Party modifies its objectives or loses its grip on power. If China continues to challenge critical elements of that order, and if Chinese power continues to grow in dangerous ways, the United States would gradually intensify the pressure. It would lead the coalition in efforts to reduce China’s geopolitical, economic, and ideological influence; weaken its power potential; and exacerbate the strains under which Beijing operates. The first step in such a strategy would be a massive transparency campaign designed to publicize the Chinese Communist Party’s coercive activities, unfair economic practices, growing military capabilities, political repression, and human rights violations. A transparency campaign would aim to make clear that the United States remains a friend of the Chinese people but is concerned about the party’s covert, corrupt, and coercive behavior. Most importantly, such a campaign is essential to building both the international support necessary for effective balancing and the domestic support necessary for a stronger pressure campaign. [quote id="5"] The second step in a collective-pressure strategy would be a concerted effort to rally a broad, winning coalition in the Indo-Pacific and beyond. Changing the alignment decisions of regional states is difficult given relative power trends. It would, therefore, require a new U.S. approach. Simply highlighting Beijing’s malfeasance is not enough. Washington must provide an attractive and reliable alternative. To this end, the United States would clarify its alliance commitments, including to the Philippines; reenergize efforts to build greater regional military capability; rejoin the Trans-Pacific Partnership; and actively support efforts by regional states to defend their sovereignty. Rather than criticizing allies and partners, this approach would seek to attract and empower America’s friends. A third step — essential to accomplishing the second — would be to situate the United States itself to compete more effectively with China. Washington should refocus its military, particularly the U.S. Navy and Air Force, on preparing for potential contingencies with China. This includes making critical investments in long-range strike, undersea warfare, active and passive missile defenses, shore-based anti-ship missiles, and other capabilities that will be critical to defeating Beijing’s anti-access/area denial strategy and honoring U.S. security commitments in a crisis. Meanwhile, the United States would move to protect against Chinese intellectual property theft (or impose greater economic and diplomatic costs in response to such theft) and avoid defense industrial dependence on China. The U.S. government would also need to improve interagency processes to address cross-cutting challenges, such as China’s United Front activities and support for authoritarian governments abroad.[37] Finally, the United States would undertake a bipartisan public education campaign about the need to take the China challenge seriously by reinvesting in American education and innovation. As with the other options, a hybrid strategy of this sort carries risks. Even a modest shift toward comprehensive pressure would raise bilateral tensions and force difficult discussions with some international partners and domestic stakeholders. And because this strategy is still rooted in collective balancing, it carries some of the risk inherent in that approach, especially the possibility that Washington will find it impossible to build a coalition sufficient to deter Chinese revisionism. A hybrid strategy, critics could claim, would be akin to leaping halfway across a chasm. Yet, a strategy of collective pressure also addresses some of the weakness in each of the ideal-type approaches it combines. Although collective pressure assumes that the Chinese Communist Party is unlikely to become a responsible stakeholder, it leaves the door open for Beijing to adopt more cooperative approaches, or for dynamics within China to bring about a mellowing of its external behavior. Moreover, this strategy would still be rooted in America’s greatest asymmetric advantage — its global network of allies and partners — but does not rely on them entirely. It also has the benefit of gradually making American officials — and American society — accustomed to a harder-edged strategy, rather than asking them to make that shift suddenly. Implementation of collective pressure would be metered by how far and how fast critical domestic and international audiences can be persuaded to go. Ultimately, if Beijing grows significantly more accepting of risk and its power markedly increases, then collective pressure leaves the door open for a toughening of China policy — and prepares the ground for doing so. A hybrid approach is thus appealing because it offers greater competitive pressure than a pure strategy of collective balancing can provide, while avoiding the most escalatory, diplomatically counterproductive, and politically divisive elements of comprehensive pressure. Reasonable observers can disagree about where to strike the balance between collective balancing and comprehensive pressure. They may even prefer altogether different strategies. What is essential now is that this debate be more structured and rigorous than it has been to date. Competition itself is not a strategy. Advocates of any strategy should make clear what they aim to achieve, how they intend to do it, and what the accompanying risks are. We believe a collective-pressure strategy offers the best way forward. But regardless of the approach advocated, it is past time to stop circling the China problem and start a more analytically rigorous debate over what to do about it.   Hal Brands is the Henry A. Kissinger Distinguished Professor of Global Affairs at the Johns Hopkins School of Advanced International Studies, a senior fellow at the Center for Strategic and Budgetary Assessments, and a Bloomberg Opinion columnist. His most recent books are American Grand Strategy in the Age of Trump and The Lessons of Tragedy: Statecraft and World Order (co-authored with Charles Edel).   Zack Cooper is a research fellow at the American Enterprise Institute, an associate at Armitage International, and an adjunct assistant professor at Georgetown University. He is writing a book on strategic competition that explains how militaries adapt during periods of rise and decline.   Image: FutureAtlas.com [post_title] => After the Responsible Stakeholder, What? Debating America’s China Strategy [post_excerpt] => [post_status] => publish [comment_status] => open [ping_status] => closed [post_password] => [post_name] => after-the-responsible-stakeholder-what-debating-americas-china-strategy-2 [to_ping] => [pinged] => [post_modified] => 2019-05-24 11:40:50 [post_modified_gmt] => 2019-05-24 15:40:50 [post_content_filtered] => [post_parent] => 0 [guid] => http://tnsr.org/?p=1069 [menu_order] => 0 [post_type] => post [post_mime_type] => [comment_count] => 0 [filter] => raw [meta] => [lead] => Now that the responsible stakeholder approach to China is essentially defunct, how should America respond? There are four options — accommodation, collective balancing, comprehensive pressure, and regime change. [pubinfo] => [issue] => Vol 2, Iss 2 [quotes] => Array ( [0] => Array ( [author] => [style] => left [text] => Rather than becoming a responsible stakeholder in a U.S.-led system, China appears increasingly determined to compete with Washington for primacy in the Indo-Pacific and beyond. ) [1] => Array ( [author] => [style] => right [text] => Forcing an all-out confrontation would be a strategy born of panic, not realism. ) [2] => Array ( [author] => [style] => left [text] => Collective balancing, then, would hinge on America’s ability to maintain a coalition of countries sufficient to deter or counteract Chinese revisionism. ) [3] => Array ( [author] => [style] => right [text] => Consequently, it might be necessary for the United States to take a sharper posture toward China, by adopting a comprehensive pressure strategy reminiscent of Washington’s containment of Moscow during the Cold War. ) [4] => Array ( [author] => [style] => left [text] => Although collective pressure assumes that the Chinese Communist Party is unlikely to become a responsible stakeholder, it leaves the door open for Beijing to adopt more cooperative approaches, or for dynamics within China to bring about a mellowing of its external behavior. ) ) [style] => strategist [type] => Strategist [style_label] => The Strategist [download] => Array ( [title] => PDF Download [file] => 1466 ) [authors] => Array ( [0] => 9 [1] => 113 ) [endnotes] => Array ( [title] => Endnotes [endnotes] => [1] Robert Zoellick, “Whither China? From Membership to Responsibility,” Remarks to the National Committee on U.S.-China Relations, Sept. 21, 2005, https://www.ncuscr.org/sites/default/files/migration/Zoellick_remarks_notes06_winter_spring.pdf. [2] The logic of post-Cold War strategy toward China is discussed in Kurt Campbell and Ely Ratner, “The China Reckoning: How Beijing Defied American Expectations,” Foreign Affairs 97, no. 2 (March/April 2018), https://www.foreignaffairs.com/articles/china/2018-02-13/china-reckoning; Hal Brands, “The Chinese Century?” National Interest no. 154 (March/April 2018), https://nationalinterest.org/feature/the-chinese-century-24557. [3] On Chinese assertiveness, see Nien-Chung Chang Liao, “The Sources of China’s Assertiveness: The System, Domestic Politics or Leadership Preferences?” International Affairs 92, no. 4 (July 2016): 817–33, https://doi.org/10.1111/1468-2346.12655. [4] Quotes from Gordon Watts, “President Xi Warns ‘No One Will Dictate to Chinese People,’” Asia Times, Dec. 18, 2018, https://cms.ati.ms/2018/12/president-xi-warns-no-one-will-dictate-to-chinese-people/; “Xi Jinping: ‘Time for China to Take Centre Stage,’” BBC.com, Oct. 18, 2017, https://www.bbc.com/news/world-asia-china-41647872. See also Elizabeth Economy, The Third Revolution: Xi Jinping and the New Chinese State (New York: Oxford University Press, 2018); China Military Power: Modernizing a Force to Fight and Win (Washington, DC: Defense Intelligence Agency, 2019); Aaron L. Friedberg, The Authoritarian Challenge: China, Russia, and the Threat to the Liberal International Order (Washington, DC: Sasakawa Peace Foundation, 2017), https://www.spf.org/jpus-j/img/investigation/The_Authoritarian_Challenge.pdf. [5] The figures can be found at World Bank, “GDP (constant 2010 US$),” https://data.worldbank.org/indicator/NY.GDP.MKTP.KD?locations=CN-RU; and Stockholm International Peace Research Institute, Military Expenditure Database, https://www.sipri.org/sites/default/files/1_Data%20for%20all%20countries%20from%201988%E2%80%932017%20in%20constant%20%282016%29%20USD.pdf, both accessed January 2019. [6] National Security Strategy of the United States, December 2017, https://www.whitehouse.gov/wp-content/uploads/2017/12/NSS-Final-12-18-2017-0905.pdf. [7] “Advancing a Free and Open Indo-Pacific Region,” U.S. Department of State, Nov. 18, 2018, https://www.state.gov/r/pa/prs/ps/2018/11/287433.htm; “Summary of the 2018 National Defense Strategy of the United States of America,” U.S. Department of Defense, January 2018, https://dod.defense.gov/Portals/1/Documents/pubs/2018-National-Defense-Strategy-Summary.pdf. [8] Charles L. Glaser, “A U.S.-China Grand Bargain? The Hard Choice between Military Competition and Accommodation,” International Security 39, no. 4 (Spring 2015): 49–90, https://doi.org/10.1162/ISEC_a_00199. [9] Lyle Goldstein, Meeting China Halfway: How to Defuse the Emerging US-China Rivalry (Washington, DC: Georgetown University Press, 2015). [10] See, on the general logic of this assertion, Robert Gilpin, War and Change in World Politics (New York: Cambridge University Press, 1983), 194. [11] Josh Rogin, “Pence: It’s Up to China to Avoid a Cold War,” Washington Post, Nov. 13, 2018, https://www.washingtonpost.com/news/josh-rogin/wp/2018/11/13/pence-its-up-to-china-to-avoid-a-cold-war/. Also see Ely Ratner, “There Is No Grand Bargain With China,” Foreign Affairs, Nov. 27, 2018, https://www.foreignaffairs.com/articles/china/2018-11-27/there-no-grand-bargain-china. [12] Chris Buckley and Steven Lee Myers, “4 Takeaways from Xi Jinping’s Speech Defending Communist Party Control,” New York Times, Dec. 18, 2018, https://www.nytimes.com/2018/12/18/world/asia/xi-china-speech-takeaways.html. [13] See Marc Trachtenberg, “A ‘Wasting Asset’: American Strategy and the Shifting Nuclear Balance, 1949–1954,” International Security 13, no. 3 (Winter 1988/89): 5–49, https://www.jstor.org/stable/2538735. [14] For example, Nicholas Eberstadt, China’s Demographic Outlook to 2040 and Its Implications (Washington, DC: American Enterprise Institute, 2019), https://www.aei.org/wp-content/uploads/2019/01/China%E2%80%99s-Demographic-Outlook.pdf. [15] Edward D. Mansfield and Jack Snyder, “Democratization and the Danger of War,” International Security 20, no. 1 (Summer 1995): 5–38, http://muse.jhu.edu/article/447386. [16] Providing for the Common Defense: The Assessment and Recommendations of the National Defense Strategy Commission (Washington, DC: U.S. Institute of Peace, 2018), https://www.usip.org/sites/default/files/2018-11/providing-for-the-common-defense.pdf. [17] This interpretation of the relationship between regional hegemony and global primacy follows John Mearsheimer, The Tragedy of Great Power Politics (New York: Norton, 2014). [18] On the importance of the BUILD (Better Utilization of Investments Leading to Development) Act and reforming U.S. development finance efforts, see Daniel Kliman, “To Compete with China, Get the New U.S. Development Finance Corporation Right,” Center for a New American Security, Feb. 6, 2019, https://www.cnas.org/publications/commentary/to-compete-with-china-get-the-new-u-s-development-finance-corporation-right. [19] Gregory Poling and Eric Sayers, “Time to Make Good on the U.S.-Philippine Alliance,” War on the Rocks, Jan. 21, 2019, https://warontherocks.com/2019/01/time-to-make-good-on-the-u-s-philippine-alliance/. [20] Ashley Townshend, “Duterte Deal with China over Scarborough Shoal exposes US failure,” CNN, Oct. 31, 2016, https://www.cnn.com/2016/10/31/opinions/philippines-china-us-scarborough-shoal-south-china-sea/index.html. [21] Zack Cooper, “Flashpoint East China Sea: Potential Shocks,” Asia Maritime Transparency Initiative, Center for Strategic and International Studies, April 27, 2018, https://amti.csis.org/flashpoint-east-china-sea-potential-shocks/. [22] “Japanese PM Abe’s Adviser Says China Could Gain, US Lose from Japan-South Korea Feuds,” Straits Times, Jan. 24, 2019, https://www.straitstimes.com/asia/east-asia/japanese-pm-abes-adviser-says-china-could-gain-us-lose-from-japan-south-korea-feuds. [23] Brahma Chellaney, “Divided Asean Spins Its Wheels as Great Powers Become Back-Seat Drivers in Southeast Asia,” South China Morning Post, Aug. 19, 2018, https://www.scmp.com/news/china/diplomacy-defence/article/2160250/aseans-limits-are-display-effort-build-robust-southeast. [24] Lawrence H. Summers, “Can Anything Hold Back China’s Economy?” Washington Post, Dec. 3, 2018, https://www.washingtonpost.com/opinions/can-anything-hold-back-chinas-economy/2018/12/03/9140fc06-f726-11e8-8c9a-860ce2a8148f_story.html?utm_term=.489611680d48. [25] Eric Heginbotham et al., The U.S.–China Military Scorecard: Forces, Geography, and the Evolving Balance of Power 1996–2017 (Santa Monica, CA: RAND Corp., 2015), https://www.rand.org/pubs/research_reports/RR392.html. [26] James Mattis, “Resignation Letter as Secretary of Defense,” Defense Department, Dec. 20, 2018, https://media.defense.gov/2018/Dec/20/2002075156/-1/-1/1/LETTER-FROM-SECRETARY-JAMES-N-MATTIS.PDF. [27] Heginbotham et al., U.S.-China Military Scorecard. [28] Trachtenberg, “Wasting Asset,” 41. [29] See Derek Scissors and Daniel Blumenthal, “China Is a Dangerous Rival, and America Should Treat It Like One,” New York Times, Jan. 14, 2019, https://www.nytimes.com/2019/01/14/opinion/us-china-trade.html; Assessing and Strengthening the Manufacturing and Defense Industrial Base and Supply Chain Resiliency of the United States, Department of Defense, September 2018, https://media.defense.gov/2018/Oct/05/2002048904/-1/-1/1/ASSESSING-AND-STRENGTHENING-THE-MANUFACTURING-AND DEFENSE-INDUSTRIAL-BASE-AND-SUPPLY-CHAIN-RESILIENCY.PDF. [30] For consideration of the range of options, see Aaron Friedberg, “A New U.S. Economic Strategy toward China?” Washington Quarterly 40, no. 4 (Winter 2018): 97–114, https://doi.org/10.1080/0163660X.2017.1406710. [31] Thomas Mahnken, Ross Babbage, and Toshi Yoshihara, Countering Comprehensive Coercion: Competitive Strategies Against Authoritarian Political Warfare (Washington, DC: Center for Strategic and Budgetary Assessments, 2018), 6061; Hal Brands and Toshi Yoshihara, “Waging Political Warfare,” National Interest no. 159 (January/February 2019). [32] Assessing and Strengthening the Manufacturing and Defense Industrial Base and Supply Chain Resiliency of the United States, Defense Department. [33] David Chance and Roberta Rampton, “‘Death by China’ Economist Ascendant as Trump Pushes Tariffs, Hits China,” Reuters, March 8, 2018, https://www.reuters.com/article/us-usa-trade-trump-navarro-analysis-idUSKCN1GJ2TU. [34] Brendan Cole, “Mike Pompeo Tells China to Own Up to How Many It Killed in Tiananmen Massacre,” Newsweek, June 4, 2018, https://www.newsweek.com/mike-pompeo-tells-china-own-how-many-it-killed-tiananmen-massacre-956468. [35] Daniel Blumenthal, “The Unpredictable Rise of China,” Atlantic, Feb. 3, 2019, https://www.theatlantic.com/ideas/archive/2019/02/how-americans-misunderstand-chinas-ambitions/581869/. [36] Zack Cooper and Annie Kowalewski, “The New Washington Consensus, ” Asan Forum, Dec. 21, 2018, http://www.theasanforum.org/the-new-washington-consensus/. [37] Alexander Bowe, “China’s Overseas United Front Work,” U.S.-China Economic and Security Review Commission, Aug. 24, 2018, https://www.uscc.gov/sites/default/files/Research/China%27s Overseas United Front Work - Background and Implications for US_final_0.pdf. ) [contents] => Array ( [title] => [contents] => ) ) ) [2] => Array ( [post] => WP_Post Object ( [ID] => 823 [post_author] => 49 [post_date] => 2019-01-08 05:00:20 [post_date_gmt] => 2019-01-08 10:00:20 [post_content] => Nuclear weapons, and the role they play in American grand strategy, are an issue of fundamental importance.[1] Any use of these fearsome tools of destruction, whether intentionally or by mistake, would be catastrophic. Nuclear weapons also buttress much of American grand strategy — explicitly and more often implicitly — to a far greater extent than is acknowledged. The mere existence of these weapons shapes strategy, statecraft, and the international system in profound, powerful, and often puzzling ways. Despite the obvious importance of the bomb, its role is largely taken for granted by the American public, even among foreign policy experts. The purpose of nuclear weapons in American grand strategy draws little focused attention, much less probing questions. There are discussions about aspects of U.S. nuclear policy: debates over whether the U.S. nuclear deterrent should be modernized, what the consequences would be if a particular arms-control agreement is signed or abandoned, or worries about the possible nuclearization of a “rogue” state. These discussions, however, are episodic. They tend to fade quickly from headlines and only rarely do they bring to the surface underlying assumptions about the role of nuclear weapons in U.S. grand strategy. Academic discussion of the bomb has its own challenges. Within the most influential school of thought in security studies, nuclear weapons’ effect on foreign policy and international relations is largely understood as a settled question. This is not to suggest that there is consensus among academics: More so than many fields of inquiry, nuclear studies is plagued by intellectual stove-piping, methodological disputes, and disciplinary divides. Within these academic worlds, moreover, much of the debate over nuclear issues focuses on peripheral questions and is often divorced from the realities of policymaking. Most tellingly, discussions of nuclear weapons are rarely connected to larger questions surrounding American politics, policy, and purpose in the world. Most of these disputes center on competing versions of the past. And the academic discipline of history — the field that could arbitrate these disagreements — marginalizes the study of nuclear weapons and rarely contributes to these debates. This article seeks to disturb this complacency about the role of nuclear weapons in U.S. grand strategy to explore important questions: What is the rationale for these weapons, and how do they advance America’s interests in the world? Unfortunately, much of the conventional wisdom surrounding these issues is incomplete, unfalsifiable, and, at times, simply wrong. This is not the result of a lack of effort or intellect in the academy. To be clear, the body of scholarly work on nuclear weapons is enormous and impressive. Rather, the nature of nuclear weapons and the unusual and unexpected role of the bomb in American grand strategy have often been perplexing, hard to measure and assess, and even contradictory. This has led to confusion and unproductive — sometimes sharp — disagreements among scholars of nuclear weapons and international relations. Decision-makers often share this confusion. To better understand the purpose and consequences of nuclear weapons in American grand strategy, this essay interrogates many widely held assumptions and beliefs, with a goal of updating the intellectual architecture undergirding analysis of the role of the bomb. In the process, this article makes five arguments. Argument One: The leading and theoretical approach to nuclear politics — known as the nuclear-revolution school — has failed to predict and explain critical aspects of U.S. nuclear policies, including nuclear strategy and nonproliferation. The most important insight from this approach is correct: that few if any political objectives were worth the extraordinary costs of a thermonuclear war. The theory, however, does not offer much insight into almost eight decades of U.S. “exceptional” behavior with the bomb — or policies at odds with the predictions of the nuclear-revolution framework. Argument Two: Our understanding of the history of U.S. nuclear weapons policies, and the bomb’s role in American grand strategy, is often incomplete, misleading, and even wrong. Much of this stems from a shameful lack of attention to the subject by academic historians, leaving largely unchallenged a decades-old, stylized narrative crafted by participants and scholars of security and strategic studies who lack access to key archival sources. America’s nuclear past is more complex than the conventional wisdom allows. There are at least four complementary and competing strands of U.S. nuclear history — intellectual, rhetorical, operational, and presidential — that should be recognized and reconciled. Furthermore, U.S. nuclear history should be understood as distinct from, if inextricably interwoven with, other powerful streams of world history since 1945, including the Cold War, decolonization, and globalization. Argument Three: The inadequacies of theory and history in explaining the policies of the United States are not surprising, since the nature of nuclear statecraft presents severe methodological and rhetorical challenges to getting the “right” answer. Furthermore, nuclear weapons raise profound moral considerations, making it difficult to distinguish between scholarly arguments and advocacy. These challenges demand intellectual humility and are ignored at great peril. Argument Four: Emerging challenges — technological, geopolitical, and normative — will make questions of nuclear weapons and American grand strategy both more difficult and more consequential in the years and decades to come. Some of these forces make the use of nuclear weapons increasingly unthinkable, while others appear to make the bomb’s use more likely, both with consequences for American grand strategy. The tensions and contradictions in U.S. policy — between nuclear activism and nuclear abstinence — will make an already difficult situation increasingly unsustainable in the future. Argument Five: America’s often puzzling nuclear policies are best understood through a grand-strategic lens. What does such a framework reveal about the United States? While American nuclear policies have often appeared uncertain, ambiguous, and inconsistent, when assessed over time it is clear that the United States has persistently used nuclear weapons to achieve one overriding grand-strategic goal: to “resist” the elements of the “nuclear revolution” that limit America’s freedom of action in the world and expose it to vulnerability. This was true during the Cold War and after the Cold War ended, and it remains true to this day. Washington has sought to eliminate its vulnerability and promote freedom of action through policies and behaviors that often appear to be in tension or even contradictory. Academics have often missed this important point, which is often intuitively understood by American policymakers. How did the United States pursue this grand-strategic goal? At times, the U.S. government pursues nuclear activism by treating nuclear weapons as the most important element of its grand strategy. It did this, for example, by prizing nuclear superiority and by adopting strategies to use these weapons early and first in a crisis. At other times, Washington has pursued policies of nuclear abstinence, highlighting how unusable and even repugnant nuclear weapons are and encouraging other states to eschew their benefits. Many times, American grand strategy has been to pursue both, seemingly incompatible, positions. This split was driven less by strategic ambiguity than real uncertainty about the best path forward and a desire to fully cover its bet. When it comes to activism or abstinence, the United States, like a switch-hitter in baseball choosing between batting left or right, chooses the option with the greatest odds of achieving its grand-strategic goals.

I. The Wrong Revolution?

How should nuclear weapons affect U.S. strategy and statecraft? What does the leading theory — the nuclear-revolution school — say about how American grand strategy should be influenced by the bomb? Under the nuclear-revolution framework, assessing the purpose and consequences of the bomb through a grand-strategic lens can make for an awkward fit. After all, grand strategy is about making choices: what means and instruments, including war, states and their leaders select to achieve desired ends in geopolitical competition in international relations. It reflects “a purposeful and coherent set of ideas about what a nation seeks to accomplish in the world, and how it should go about doing so.”[2] Grand strategies vary enormously over time, location, individuals, and regimes. The United States has pursued a variety of grand strategies since its founding, and debate is fierce over what grand strategy it should pursue today and what means it should employ. The nuclear-revolution school argues that the bomb severely constrains and limits — and at times eliminates — the grand-strategic choices that were available to states and statesmen in the past. Robert Jervis, the leading thinker in the nuclear-revolution school, has argued that “[f]orce and the threat of it cannot support foreign policy in the same way that it did in the past.”[3] Historian Lawrence Freedman agrees, suggesting that the notion of a nuclear strategy “is a contradiction in terms.”[4] What is the “nuclear revolution” framework, and what predictions and explanations does it offer? While scholars differ on some aspects,[5] Stephen Walt has nicely defined its broad outlines:
As refined by scholars like [Bernard] Brodie, Thomas Schelling, Glenn Snyder, Robert Jervis, Kenneth Waltz, and Stephen Van Evera, nuclear weapons are said to provide states with the ability to protect their sovereignty and independence not via direct defense but rather through deterrence.
According to the “logic of the ‘nuclear revolution,’ therefore, states with second-strike capabilities were secure against attack and didn’t need to worry very much about their sovereignty or independence.” The nuclear revolution “means that ‘nuclear superiority’ was a meaningless concept. … A handful of survivable weapons makes it very unlikely that another state will attack you directly or try to invade and take over your country.”[6] According to Jervis, the leading scholar in this tradition, nuclear weapons “can kill but not influence.”[7] Nuclear weapons even “eliminate the security dilemma,” the phenomena that many scholars believe drove international conflict for centuries, making cooperation among states more likely.[8] Nor can they be used for much else besides deterrence. As Todd Sechser and Matthew Fuhrmann argue in a recent study, “For all the money spent on atomic bombs, they have bought precious little coercive leverage for states.”[9] [quote id="1"] The nuclear revolution should have had important consequences for proliferation dynamics, nonproliferation policies, and alliances. Joshua Rovner explains that according to the nuclear-revolution view, “if nuclear weapons were great for deterrence but lousy for battle, then Washington should have been sanguine as new countries went nuclear. It might even have been optimistic, since proliferation would, under this theory, lead countries to become cautious.”[10] Even if the United States wanted to stem the spread of nuclear weapons, however, the effort would be futile. According to Kenneth Waltz, “[I]f countries feel insecure and believe that nuclear weapons would make them more secure, America’s policy of opposing the spread of nuclear weapons will not prevail.”[11] Waltz, the most influential international relations theorist of modern times and one of the more extreme advocates of the nuclear-revolution framework, went further still, arguing that nuclear weapons “make alliances obsolete.”[12] The mere presence of the bomb would override the grand-strategic choices made by a particular state or leader. “Nuclear weapons can carry out their deterrent task no matter what other countries do.”[13] The key insight of this framework is that the bomb is a defensive weapon of such powerful force that it transforms strategy and statecraft, constraining the grand-strategic options available to states and leaders before the nuclear age, regardless of a state’s history, geography, culture, or regime type. According to Waltz, “American estimates of what is required for deterrence were absurdly high.” In other words, “not much is required to deter.”[14] Summing up the conventional wisdom among scholars in this tradition, Charles Glaser and Chaim Kauffman argue that the nuclear revolution reveals that “this technology so heavily favors defense that when all the major powers have nuclear weapons variation in other factors becomes relatively unimportant.”[15] According to Stephen Van Evera, “the nuclear revolution gave defenders a large military advantage,” so large that conquest “became virtually impossible.”[16] John Mearsheimer similarly concludes that “there is no question ... the presence of nuclear weapons makes states more cautious about using military force of any kind against each other.”[17] How well did the theory of the nuclear revolution do in predicting American nuclear weapons policy and explaining the role of the bomb in U.S. grand strategy? The framework’s key point — that nuclear weapons made total, thermonuclear war a horrifying absurdity to be avoided at all costs — is of course a profound insight. As the historian John Lewis Gaddis argued during the Cold War, “It seems inescapable that what has really made a difference in inducing this unaccustomed caution has been the workings of the nuclear deterrent.”[18] Yet, the implications of this incontrovertible truth for American grand strategy are both contested and uncertain. Did the United States accept mutual vulnerability with nuclear-armed adversaries, as the theory would have predicted? Was the bomb understood only as a defensive weapon to defend American sovereignty and territorial integrity? Were American leaders nonplussed as other states expressed interest in the bomb, and, even if concerned, did they recognize and accept that there was little they could do to stop proliferation? Did alliances become less important, and was the United States less likely to use force of any kind? Perhaps most critical, did the United States behave like any other state in the system, bowing before the constraints the nuclear revolution imposed on its strategy and statecraft? Taken to its logical end, this school of thought suggests that many states should seek nuclear weapons and that the United States should or could do little to stop other states from pursuing and attaining their own bomb. When building arsenals, the ease of securing a second-strike capability meant that seeking quantitative or qualitative advantages beyond a certain point would be a foolish goal for a state: At best it would be wastefully expensive; at worst, destabilizing and dangerous. According to the theory, strategic stability, both in dyadic competitions and on a broader, horizontal scale, should emerge naturally from the nuclear revolution.[19] Nor should the particular circumstance, history, leadership or regime type, or interests of the nuclearizing state affect the powerful, system-wide effects of these weapons. Or so went the story largely crafted by American academics specializing in security and strategic studies.[20] As Rovner has noted,
If the nuclear revolution affected grand strategy, the United States should have settled for a small arsenal for the sole purpose of deterrence. It would never have sought to integrate nuclear and conventional forces, because nuclear weapons were fundamentally different in that they could never be used. U.S. leaders should have recognized that defenses against nuclear attack were futile, and avoided pouring time and money into such efforts. And they should have managed the process of proliferation so that states, great and regional powers alike, enjoyed the security benefit of a reliable second-strike capability. None of these things happened.[21]
Why not? Exceptional, but Not for the Reasons Many Think The nuclear-revolution framework provides a powerful lens to understand two of the most important aspects of world politics since 1945: the disappearance of great-power war and the non-use of nuclear weapons against adversaries after the United States dropped atomic bombs on Hiroshima and Nagasaki, Japan, in August 1945. It is less helpful in explaining other aspects of U.S. grand strategy in the nuclear age. U.S. behavior and policies diverged from expectations of the nuclear-revolution school in at least three ways. The first involves American leaders’ interest in making nuclear weapons such a core element in U.S. grand strategy. According to the nuclear-revolution school, the most powerful role of nuclear weapons is as “invasion insurance,” or to prevent the conquest of sovereign territory. Whatever the fears raised by the Japanese attack of Pearl Harbor, the United States has faced almost no threat of conquest since the Civil War ended in 1865. A United States without nuclear weapons — in 2019 or in 1955 or 1975 or any other year — faced almost zero threat of conquest. Rarely has a state had less need for the bomb to guarantee its immediate territorial integrity, sovereignty, and security.[22] Yet, no state has invested greater resources in developing and deploying nuclear weapons, nor has any other state relied more heavily on nuclear weapons to implement its grand strategy. The United States has spent astronomical sums on nuclear weapons since 1940, dwarfing the expenditures of other rivals.[23] It plans to spend an additional $1.3 trillion over the next few decades.[24] This is not to suggest that it is surprising the United States pursued and developed the bomb, or even that it pursued a survivable nuclear capability. What is surprising, however, is the central and expensive role that nuclear weapons have played in American grand strategy. Advocates of strategic stability and the nuclear-revolution framework, to say nothing of the historians of American grand strategy before 1950, would likely struggle to explain the United States’ experiments with “nuclear sharing” with its allies, its willingness to use nuclear weapons first in a conflict, and pre-delegating authority to launch the bomb to military commanders in the field.[25] Second, extraordinary new scholarship is making it increasingly clear that the United States never permanently abandoned its efforts to achieve nuclear superiority.[26] For a decade and a half after the United States lost its nuclear monopoly, it strove diligently to build far more deliverable nuclear weapons than any other country.[27] It is true that the United States began to accept quantitative equality with its primary adversary, the Soviet Union, by the late 1960s and 1970s. Two points are in order. First, the United States accepted parity only reluctantly. As James Cameron astutely observed, “Nixon hated MAD, believed its logic was defeatist and naïve, yet he signed agreements that enshrined it at the heart of the United States’ relations with the Soviet Union.”[28] Mired in a disastrous war in Southeast Asia and facing both economic and domestic political constraints on military spending, the United States pulled in its horns. Second, while American policymakers accepted quantitative parity, they still sought qualitative primacy over U.S. adversaries. How did the United States seek this superiority? Concurrent to American policymakers negotiating and accepting the Strategic Arms Limitation Talks (SALT I and SALT II) and the Anti-Ballistic Missile treaties, the U.S. government undertook a massive, extraordinary effort to develop and deploy more sophisticated nuclear weapons and systems to support them. This allowed the United States to exploit its natural advantages over the Soviet Union. As John Mauer has argued,
American leaders raced the Soviets in military technologies where the United States was perceived to enjoy significant advantages, while simultaneously entangling the Soviet Union in an arms control regime that would limit areas of Soviet strength. By combining arms racing and arms control, the United States pursued a holistic offset strategy.[29]
As historians Niccolo Petrelli and Giordana Pulcini reveal, between 1969 and 1976 the Nixon and Ford administrations “actively sought to transcend nuclear parity.”[30] In the years after quantitative parity was accepted, the United States developed and deployed a number of technologically sophisticated and expensive capabilities, including the Pershing II, MX, Trident D-5, as well as cruise missiles. It also invested enormous resources into missile defense; anti-submarine warfare (i.e., targeting and eluding Soviet nuclear submarines); and command, control, communications, and intelligence capabilities.[31] As Austin Long and Brendan Green demonstrate in their path-breaking work, the United States “invested massive resources into intelligence capabilities for a first strike, including successful innovation in tracking submarines and mobile missiles.”[32] These expenditures were oriented toward systems whose characteristics and capabilities, such as speed, stealth, intelligence, and accuracy, were best suited to a nuclear posture that focused on counterforce, damage limitation, and even preemptive uses. In other words, the nuclear forces built in the decades after the SALT and ABM treaties made little sense if the United States had fully embraced the consequences of mutual vulnerability spelled out by the nuclear-revolution school. This is certainly how the Soviet Union perceived these efforts. Because of the “development of American counterforce capabilities,” Soviet leaders “were uncertain they could indefinitely maintain a secure second strike in spite of their strenuous efforts.”[33] [quote id="2"] This interest in maintaining superior nuclear capabilities continued after the Cold War ended.[34] As a 2003 RAND report observed,
The force is larger than it needs to be if deterrence by threat of nuclear retaliation is the sole objective of U.S. nuclear strategy. Even a mildly expanded target base that included selected targets in emerging nuclear powers as well as chemical and biological weapons facilities in a larger set of countries would not necessarily require the sort of force that the United States plans to maintain. What the planned force appears best suited to provide beyond the needs of traditional deterrence is a preemptive counterforce capability against Russia and China. Otherwise, the numbers and the operating procedures simply do not add up.[35]
It has been argued that bureaucratic and organizational politics were the primary drivers of these expensive, risky, and politically polarizing nuclear postures.[36] Organizational and bureaucratic factors no doubt played some role, but the fact that the search for qualitative superiority has spanned decades, encompassing multiple administrations and great shifts in global politics, undermines such interpretations. As Green and Long argue, “In sum, it was international politics, not domestic politics, which killed hopes for nuclear stability.”[37] Why did the United States seek nuclear primacy? This relates to the third point: The United States asked more of its nuclear weapons in its grand strategy than any other nuclear state.[38] Most states seek nuclear weapons to protect themselves from invasion and conquest. This is a scenario the United States has not had to worry about, and even if it did, such protection would not require the massive, sophisticated nuclear forces and related systems the U.S. government built. Instead, the United States employed its nuclear forces to achieve far more ambitious, historically unprecedented goals. From the early 1950s onward, the United States pursued an audacious strategy of relying on its massive nuclear capabilities to both protect far-flung allies from nuclear attack or conventional invasion while also inhibiting the nuclear desires of those same allies. As Green and Long demonstrate, “Successive administrations discovered that the threat of retaliation and the existential risk of nuclear escalation posed by stability doctrines were not a sufficient military solution for their perceived geopolitical challenges.”[39] There has long been a tension between the goal of strategic stability and extending deterrence to America’s allies. As analysts from RAND pointed out in 1989, there was a clash between the “objectives of enhancing first[-]strike stability, on the one hand, and extending deterrence and limiting damage, on the other,” such that the more robust the Soviets believed stability was “the less they might hesitate to precipitate a deep crisis by engaging in serious aggression.”[40] As Earl Ravenal explained in 1982, extending deterrence demanded expensive and potentially destabilizing counterforce capabilities, employed in first-strike strategies. “Such a damage[-]limiting attack, to have its intended effect, must be preemptive.”[41] Permanently extending deterrence while inhibiting proliferation have been cornerstones of American grand strategy for so long it is easy to forget how historically unusual, difficult, and demanding this ambition is. There was, of course, great tension between the goal of a preemptive strategy and strategic stability. Counterforce strategies were not about mutual vulnerability, Ravenal makes clear:
[C]ounterforce and first nuclear strike are mutually dependent. A first strike implies counterforce targeting, since the only initial attack that makes sense is a damage-limiting strike, the destruction of as much of the enemy’s nuclear force as possible. And counterforce targeting, in return, implies a first strike, a preemptive attack, because a second strike against the enemy’s missiles is useless to the extent that one’s missiles would hit empty holes.
As an assistant to Defense Secretary Robert McNamara told a reporter in the mid-1960s, “There could be no such thing as primary retaliation against military targets after an enemy attack. If you’re going to shoot at missiles, you’re talking about first strike.”[42] To be clear, this is not to argue that American leaders seriously contemplated a first strike or even made full-out efforts to acquire meaningful first-strike forces.[43] While American presidents refused to accept qualitative parity with the Soviet Union and pursued expensive and arguably dangerous counterforce options, they also shied away from seeking a full-scale, first-strike capability. One of the great unanswered questions of the nuclear age involves what U.S. leaders thought they were getting with this qualified superiority.[44] Strategies of inhibition required strategic forces that went far beyond mutual vulnerability, but such postures might dangerously undermine strategic stability.[45] One promising explanation is Glenn Kent and David Thaler’s idea of “optimum instability” — developing enough counterforce to make the other side think you might go first in a crisis but without making your adversary think you are eager to do so. “Indeed, one might argue that an optimal amount of first-strike instability is possible: that is, enough to deter the Soviets from generating a major crisis (say, by invading Western Europe), but not enough to allow a major crisis to spiral out of control.”[46] This aggressive posture was pursued, in large measure, to inhibit the development of independent nuclear weapons programs among ostensible allies. The United States went to great lengths to prevent what otherwise might have been a natural development in world politics: the emergence of independent, capable states acquiring their own nuclear weapons. Nuclear weapons would, after all, effectively guarantee their possessors against invasion and conquest for the first time — ever. Rare was the state in history that turned away from an effective military technology or turned over its security to another state. Washington, however, aggressively pursued a wide range of policies to achieve inhibition, including threats of force or abandonment, forward deployed forces, enacting sanctions, selling arms, and encouraging treaties and norms.[47] To achieve its goals of inhibition, the United States often cooperated with its most bitter ideological and geopolitical adversary, the Soviet Union, at the expense of U.S. partners and allies.[48] It is easy to lose sight of how strange, even radical, these grand-strategic choices were when they were developed in the 1950s and the extent to which they remain so today. There is little in the nuclear-revolution theory that can explain the cost, number, and technological sophistication of America’s nuclear weapons systems, nor the aggressive postures in which they were employed. Imagine explaining in the early 20th century that the United States was going to risk a global war that would kill tens of millions of people to defend a conventionally indefensible portion of a city — West Berlin — 100 miles within enemy territory that had no geostrategic value whatsoever. Imagine that everyone would think this was normal (and call it “extended deterrence”). Imagine the weapons and military strategy necessary to convince an adversary that was far closer, that had superior conventional arms, and that, arguably, had more at stake that this was a credible commitment. Try to imagine a parallel in world history for this situation before 1950. Then think about how the strategists who constructed these theories did so based largely on their view of how this story unfolded between 1958 and 1963. The United States, which had little need for nuclear weapons to prevent an invasion or nuclear attack upon its homeland, built, at great expense, the largest and most sophisticated nuclear forces in the world and placed them within forward-leading and often preemptive strategies, backed by military technologies that potentially undermined strategic stability. American leaders worked feverishly, often with adversaries, to prevent the rise of independent nuclear-weapons states — ally, enemy, or neutral — and this remains a cornerstone of U.S. grand strategy. These strategies were exceptional. In one sense, however, nuclear weapons did revolutionize American grand strategy. Before 1949, the United States had no permanent peacetime alliances. America demobilized during peacetime, and it typically pursued slow strategies of attrition when conflict did arise. Congress was widely perceived as the more powerful foreign policy actor during peacetime, while military leaders were afforded little leeway. All of that changed dramatically after the early 1950s, across administrations and shifts in the structure of the international system.[49] Since then, the United States has developed strategies, on semi-permanent alert status, that escalate quickly — even preemptively — with nuclear weapons, and it has concentrated enormous power to initiate war into the hands of the American presidency, all on behalf of defending a sprawling set of countries around the world. Simply put: There was a (thermo-) nuclear revolution that shaped American grand strategy — but it was a much different revolution than the conventional wisdom puts forward.

II. Missing Histories

What is the history of U.S. nuclear weapons and their role in American grand strategy?  Careful assessment of what is known — and whether these accounts accurately capture the past — is critical. Most theories and policy analysis are based on assumptions and beliefs about what happened in the past. Unfortunately, less is known about U.S. nuclear history and its role in American grand strategy than is presumed, and what many people do know is often overly simplistic, misleading, or otherwise problematic. Why is this the case? The major works that cover the history of U.S. nuclear weapons policy were, for the most part, written some time ago — before many primary documents were released. These works were often penned not by historians but by policy participants, scholars of strategic and security studies, or analysts outside of the academy. Many of these works are excellent first cuts at history.[50] Most, however, are older, do not engage recent archival finds, and often accept the logic of the nuclear-revolution school to explain U.S. policy. [quote id="3"] What of the discipline of academic history? To be sure, impressive international research has been conducted into various elements of global nuclear history, especially the issues surrounding various state decisions about whether to build a bomb.[51] There are also excellent monographs exploring particular aspects of U.S. nuclear history.[52] Writ large, however, treatment of American nuclear weapons history has been episodic rather than systematic. This is part of a larger, and unfortunate, decades-old trend within history departments. As Hal Brands has argued, “The historical profession in the United States has simply deprioritized the study of statecraft and international relations, at least as those subjects were conventionally understood.”[53] This is especially true in nuclear history, where there is almost no participation by scholarly historians on these contested issues. The academic discipline of history
has largely abandoned studying important issues such as international security and nuclear weapons and is in the midst of a four-decade, slow[-]motion act of collective suicide. There simply is not, nor will there be anytime soon, a critical mass of diplomatic and military historians available to research these important questions or make use of these amazing materials.[54]
Even when scholarly historians do focus on issues of foreign policy or international relations, nuclear questions often get short shrift. Large, synthetic accounts of the Cold War either accept the nuclear-revolution framework or do not break new ground on nuclear issues.[55] Arguably far more is known about the development of U.S. human rights policies, for example, or the role of race and gender in American foreign policy, than about how U.S. decision-makers have discussed and debated the purpose and consequences of the bomb in its relations with the world. Given the extraordinary importance and potential consequences of American nuclear weapons policies, and the massive increases in primary documents available to researchers, the failure of the American historical profession to support and undertake this work is shameful. The Challenge of Nuclear History What would a comprehensive history of U.S. nuclear weapons policy and its role in grand strategy look like? To be fair, undertaking historical work on nuclear issues is particularly difficult. There are the methodological challenges that will be laid out in the next section: assessing historical evidence and making causal claims is difficult when the issues at stake — deterrence, assurance, credibility, and resolve — are unobservable. Speeches and written evidence are often hard to interpret. Top-secret deliberations often reveal American presidents taking contradictory approaches or blowing off steam. U.S. officials’ public pronouncements are frequently intended to convey signals to various audiences and may not represent operational policy. Furthermore, the decisions behind nuclear policies and strategies are some of the government’s most carefully guarded activities, and access to top-secret documents is heavily restricted. While the situation has improved considerably in recent years, archival materials on nuclear policy are notoriously difficult to declassify, and even when they are released, they are often heavily redacted. With important pieces of evidence unavailable, constructing an all-inclusive, seamless narrative remains enormously challenging. A larger question looms: What does it mean to talk about nuclear history? The history of nuclear weapons was once told as the history of the Cold War, and vice-versa. It is now understood that they were not the same. Sometimes nuclear history and Cold War history overlapped, while at other times they moved on independent paths, so much so that it is often hard to determine whether nuclear weapons prevented the bipolar competition from breaking out into war or dangerously exacerbated underlying tensions. A history that conflates Cold War and nuclear dynamics could not, for example, fully explain why the United States cooperated with the Soviet Union to deny their respective allies nuclear weapons.[56] Alliances once ascribed solely to Cold War dynamics, in Europe, the Middle East, and Asia, have not only persisted since that struggle ended but have broadened and deepened in ways that show that nuclear considerations (among other non-Cold War factors) were always at their root. It is essential to disentangle the interconnected but distinct histories of the nuclear age and the geopolitical and ideological rivalry between the superpowers.[57] The Cold War was not, however, the only powerful historical force interacting with, shaping, and being shaped by nuclear history. Decolonization, whose deep roots in imperialism and resistance date back centuries, had an enormous influence — in many cases, more than the Cold War — shaping nuclear decision-making in Great Britain, France, Israel, South Africa, India, and Pakistan, as well as others that decided not to acquire the bomb. Other factors, such as regional dynamics and the effects of globalization, influenced America's grand strategy and approach to nuclear weapons. Disentangling competing global histories since the end of World War II is a difficult but necessary task when trying to understand how nuclear weapons influence international relations. There is also the question of periodization and chronology. Is the nuclear age one continuous stream, beginning in August 1945 — if not earlier — and continuing to the present? Or are there sharp breaks dictated by key technological advances such as the development of thermonuclear weapons or intercontinental ballistic missiles? Important political events had profound consequences for nuclear history: the emergence of Soviet nuclear parity and the negotiation of major arms-control treaties, the end of the Cold War, and the collapse of the Soviet Union. Is there such a thing as a second nuclear age, and, if so, how is it different from the first? Defining nuclear history and its scope is difficult; calculating how American grand strategy incorporates and reacts to these shifts even more so. Competing Histories The most important historical challenge is reconciling contending and often contradictory narratives that chronicle the past. This is especially true when trying to understand the American experience with the bomb. There are at least four competing histories of how nuclear weapons influenced U.S. grand strategy and vice-versa: intellectual, rhetorical, operational, and presidential. Assessing which of these strands is most important, and how they interact with each other, is challenging. The first strand is the intellectual history of the United States. For many within the security studies community, the most familiar strand is what might be called the “Wizards of Armageddon” story. In this tale, smart strategists, typically civilians from universities and think tanks like the RAND Corp., wrestled with and explained to the wider world the new realities created by nuclear weapons. In the process, great thinkers such as Bernard Brodie, Thomas Schelling, Albert Wohlstetter, and others made sense of “the unthinkable,” created modern deterrence theory, transformed U.S. policy and grand strategy, and probably prevented World War III. This history is both familiar and comforting — to the extent that nuclear history can be comforting — because it explains the rise of the field of security studies and provides the intellectual architecture for the ideas behind nuclear peace. Because a key part of the stylized telling is how the wizards transformed American policy (and saved the world!), it also suggests that scholarly ideas matter to policymakers. As Marc Trachtenberg points out, however, analysis of the civilian nuclear strategists often suffered from being both “apolitical in substance” and “ahistorical in method.”[58] Bruce Kuklick is even more harsh: The strategists “professed deep understanding” but actually “groped in the dark” and their ideas “had little causal impact.”[59] The problem is that as history, the story of the “Wizards of Armageddon” is, at best, overstated and misleading; at worst, it bears little relation to what actually happened.[60] The second history is rhetorical. Through speeches and published documents, the United States government has used public declarations to indicate its views on nuclear weapons. Prominent examples include Eisenhower administration Secretary of State John Foster Dulles’s “massive retaliation” speech given at the Council on Foreign Relations in 1954, Defense Secretary Robert McNamara’s University of Michigan commencement address in 1962 laying out the flexible-response doctrine and his 1967 doctrine on missile defense, Nixon administration Defense Secretary James Schlesinger’s announcement of a new doctrine in January 1974, or the discussion surrounding President Jimmy Carter’s Presidential Directive 59.[61] Understandably, these public declarations are analyzed to better understand the role of nuclear weapons in American grand strategy. Interpreting policy rhetoric is always challenging, however, especially when nuclear strategy is involved. These speeches and documents were often vehicles to send signals to a variety of audiences — domestic, allied, and adversarial — that involved assurance, reassurance, inhibition, and deterrence missions.[62] Cameron notes that American policymakers frequently played a “double game,” struggling to “balance the demands of presenting a front of strategic coherence” when, behind the scenes, things were far more complicated and uncertain.[63] Many public missions and messages of nuclear strategy were at cross purposes. For example, “the rhetoric of flexible response … was convenient to top U.S. policymakers for reasons that had little to do with enhancing deterrence or winning a nuclear war.”[64] And, as will be discussed further, nuclear rhetoric is often imprecise, unrealistic, and easily drained of meaning. [quote id="4"] The third strand is the operational history of the United States and nuclear weapons. The United States devoted enormous resources to develop certain kinds of nuclear weapons systems, deployed in surprising ways and places, as part of often-extraordinary strategies. It is critical to understand what weapons were developed and why, where and how they were deployed and targeted, and in what strategies. This history is closely guarded, but these operational decisions appear to have been driven by a complex brew of technological factors, alliance relations, and geopolitical competition, as well as bureaucratic and organization interests and domestic political considerations. The intellectual history, as told by the “Wizards of Armageddon,” and the rhetorical history laid out by political leaders often bears little resemblance to the acquisition, deployment, and use plans developed as core parts of U.S. grand strategy. As the historian David Alan Rosenberg argues, “nuclear strategy does not, in reality, consist of concepts or even policy statements. It consists of concrete decisions regarding war plans, budgets, forces, and deployments.”[65] The fourth strand of history is both the most important and the most obscure: presidential history. The structure, laws, and customs of war-making in the United States combined with the unique characteristics of nuclear weapons provides the president extraordinary power and singular responsibilities over nuclear weapons.[66] What a president thought about nuclear weapons — whether and under what circumstances he might threaten or even use nuclear weapons — is of fundamental importance. How can scholars get at these beliefs and how they informed decisions?[67] How did such beliefs change over time — both across and within administrations? How did thinking about nuclear use — or avoiding nuclear use — shape particular decisions about larger issues surrounding U.S. foreign policy and grand strategy? Even when the question of using nuclear weapons was not explicit, it no doubt cast a shadow over multiple policies. Understanding and reconstructing this past is extraordinarily difficult.[68] What is one to make, for example, of Nixon’s loose rhetoric about nuclear use in private, when his actions and policies often revealed quite careful and responsible considerations? Or Dean Acheson’s advice to President John F. Kennedy that he never reveal whether or not he would use nuclear weapons? As former Secretary of Defense Robert McNamara told Rosenberg,
nuclear strategy…is determined by the President’s views and intentions, not by policy or planning documents, or even force structures. The President alone determines how nuclear war will be fought, by virtue of his position in a highly centralized command and control structure.[69]
Reconstructing America’s nuclear past and explaining how it both shaped and was shaped by U.S. grand strategy is a daunting task. It demands integrating all four strands of this history, while deconflicting contradictory elements and assessing what forces and factors are most important. It also requires figuring out how nuclear history interacts with, and is distinct from, other powerful historical forces as varied as regional rivalries, decolonization, and the Cold War. This task is made all the more difficult by the challenges laid out in the next section: Ultimately, the past scholars and analysts are exploring is a history that never happened and thus cannot be observed, analyzed, or measured — the history of thermonuclear war.

III. A Loss for Words?

It should not be surprising that neither international relations theory nor history has satisfactorily explained the role of nuclear weapons in American grand strategy. Two reasons for this are baked into the nature of the nuclear enterprise. First, nuclear weapons present profound and often unsettling moral challenges that can make discussing their role in grand strategy difficult and divisive. It can also cause scholarship to bleed into advocacy. Second, there are profound methodological challenges in trying to understand the role of nuclear weapons. When scholars analyze the role of nuclear weapons in American grand strategy, we are most interested in phenomena that have not occurred, such as thermonuclear war, and policy outcomes that are difficult to observe and measure — such as deterrence, assurance, and resolve — or even to prove operative. These challenges pull in different directions. Analysts understandably hold strong views about nuclear weapons, which drives them to speak with authority and passion about the role and purpose of the bomb in American grand strategy. Yet, many of these deep-seated beliefs are difficult, even impossible, to prove with history or with theory. A debate that should be marked by humility and respect is often polarizing and unproductive. Talking About the Unthinkable The moral problem surrounding nuclear weapons is basic and unsettling. How should one speak about and analyze something that is unthinkable: detonating nuclear weapons against another nation? Use of these weapons would be catastrophic. It would reflect a historic failure of policy and, in many cases, would amount to mass murder. Yet, the threat to use these weapons in a variety of scenarios — including many that do not involve an attack upon the United States or an adversary’s use of nuclear weapons — has been the backbone of American grand strategy for decades. The language used to discuss these dilemmas rarely captures the magnitude of nuclear decision-making, and both academic and policy discourse often drift into a world of insider jargon and toothless acronyms that mask the extraordinary potential consequences of this debate. More than 30 years ago, Carol Cohn highlighted “the elaborate use of abstraction and euphemism, of words so bland that they never forced the speaker or enabled the listener to touch the realities of nuclear holocaust that lay behind the words.”[70] As Michael Quinlan wisely recommended, “thinking about nuclear weapons must be constantly on the alert — the more so in the absence of historical experience to anchor and calibrate discussion — to probe behind words and customary expressions so as to recall the underlying realities.”[71] The colorless language used to describe elements of this strategy and the underlying threat of nuclear confrontation that undergirds it — deterrence, credibility, signaling, escalation — is often eerily disconnected from the realities behind the words. Nina Tannenwald observed a “disconnect between how ordinary people” thought about nuclear weapons and how academic deterrence theory discussed these issues. “These game theoretic analyses, I found, had little to say about issues of revulsion and morality.”[72] Reid Pauly has termed this “rhetorical evaporation” — whereby the words policymakers and scholars use to describe U.S. nuclear policies are drained of meaning.[73] This rhetorical evaporation goes to the heart of a grand-strategic problem the United States has faced since the start of the thermonuclear age: The most important goal of American nuclear weapons policy is to guarantee that they are never used. This policy tautology was bound, over time, to undermine the threat needed to project deterrence and arguably has driven the United States to greater and more strenuous actions to demonstrate the credibility of an action no one really believes it would take. The lack of clarity about language and meaning surrounding the purposes of nuclear weapons has consequences for policy. An October 2016 report by the Center for Strategic and International Studies connected poor morale and dysfunction among American officials responsible for nuclear weapons to the difficulties of clearly communicating what role the bomb served in American grand strategy. Looking over years of nuclear policies, the report pointed out that “a coherent narrative about the fundamental role of U.S. nuclear weapons has not been sufficiently stated and promulgated” to those in the military responsible for nuclear weapons. The report criticized how U.S. nuclear weapons policy “is described in highly sophisticated strategic logic that is not very accessible to the general public or the junior nuclear personnel.” It is filled with “concepts and jargon that are not routinely defined and explained” and focuses on “what nuclear weapons will not do,” supplemented by “descriptions of decline, reduction, and diminishment.”[74] The inability to connect these fearsome weapons to explicit U. S. interests in a convincing manner arguably plays into a culture burdened by accidents and scandal.[75] The lack of clear language to describe a willingness to do the unthinkable, in order to avoid the unthinkable, is only one challenge. It would be impossible to wrestle with these issues without engaging deep moral considerations, a stance which presents difficulties for a purely “social scientific” approach. The lines between analysis and advocacy are often easily — if understandably — blurred.  Robert Jervis, the father of the nuclear-revolution framework, admirably has acknowledged that mutual second-strike capabilities may not “have been as secure as I and most others believed” in the 1980s. In May 2018, he explained:
Although I stand behind the arguments I made in The Illogic of American Nuclear Strategy and The Meaning of the Nuclear Revolution, and believe that they represent a significant scholarly contribution, they were also interventions in a fierce political debate. … I was trying to persuade as well as analyze.[76]
This moral and rhetorical challenge is especially pointed for the United States. One can imagine, for example, a state using nuclear weapons as a last resort to repel a more powerful enemy that seeks to conquer its territory. The United States, however, fields nuclear weapons to achieve a variety of goals that fall well below the level of existential, including extending deterrence over allies while inhibiting their nuclear ambitions and seeking coercive advantages during crises with adversaries. These goals require more nuclear weapons in far more aggressive strategies than simply deterring invasion or nuclear attack upon the American homeland. Relying on such profoundly powerful instruments to achieve less-than-existential goals inevitably generates credibility issues. How believable are American nuclear policies? The United States has worked hard to ameliorate these credibility concerns over the years using a variety of tactics, including diplomacy and consultation with allies, nuclear sharing, developing and deploying counterforce delivery capabilities, and a willingness to use nuclear weapons first, in addition to foreign policy and military commitments that would, in a non-nuclear world, be puzzling at best.[77] Given nuclear weapons’ fundamental role in American grand strategy, will these words, commitments, weapons, and strategies remain convincing and credible in years to come? Within decades after the close of World War II — a horrendously violent war of savage conquest and genocide — analysts began to doubt that the United States would use nuclear weapons against a bitter ideological and geopolitical rival committed to its downfall. In today’s far different world, marked by relative peace, stability, and the apparent disappearance of war between the great powers, does anyone — ally or foe — know the circumstances that would prompt the United States to use nuclear weapons? Does Russia or China believe that the United States would use nuclear weapons in response to an attack on Estonia or Taiwan, for example? How and in what ways will that matter for the future of American grand strategy? Measuring the Unobservable, Observing the Immeasurable The second, and bigger, challenge to understanding nuclear weapons and U.S. grand strategy is the methodological conundrum. The most important question surrounding nuclear weapons involves a non-event: understanding why there has never been a thermonuclear war and what lessons can be derived from this non-event to keep this streak going, preferably forever. As John Lewis Gaddis pointed out while the Cold War was still ongoing, “Anyone attempting to understand why there has been no third world war confronts a problem not unlike that of Sherlock Holmes and the dog that did not bark in the night: how does one account for something that did not happen?”[78] What factors start or prevent thermonuclear war are arguable since one has never taken place. Nuclear deterrence and assurance, in all their forms, are ultimately connected to estimates about the causes and likelihood of thermonuclear war that are difficult, if not impossible, to calculate. Social science relies on observations and measurements to identify patterns and causal paths in order to generate theories that drive predictions and inform policies. History requires accumulating, sorting, and making sense of evidence about things that happen in the world. How do you generate reliable theories, histories, and policy recommendations about phenomena for which there are few or no observations or measurements? Analysts have used a variety of plausible proxies, such as how nuclear weapons affect state behavior, both in normal circumstances and crises, but the insights of such approaches have limits. It is hard enough for scholars to find consensus on things that actually happened, such as the origins of World War I.[79] Developing a consensus about a non-event one cannot observe, measure, or assess is obviously harder. [quote id="5"] This challenge plagues any assessment of U.S. nuclear postures and their role in grand strategy. Desired outcomes such as deterrence, extended deterrence, assurance, re-assurance, and credibility are elusive and can be proven only ex post, if at all. As Quinlan notes, “We have no further empirical data about how events may run if nuclear weapons are used, or if nuclear powers come seriously to blows with one another without such use.”[80] Even if deterrence and credibility could, somehow, be observed and measured, they are characteristics and phenomena driven by intangible qualities such as fear, uncertainty, and resolve. These psychological factors depend far more on context and circumstance than the material factors that make up much of international politics. Furthermore, these are human characteristics and it is unclear how to aggregate such feelings from the level of individuals to the policies and behaviors of institutions and states. These challenges affect understanding of other important nuclear behavior, such as why states that our theories would have expected to develop nuclear weapons — a wide-ranging group that might have included Australia, Brazil, Egypt, Indonesia, Japan, Sweden, Switzerland, and Yugoslavia — never developed the bomb. Decisions against doing things — not to detonate a nuclear device during a war, not to acquire nuclear weapons — are difficult to fully assess.[81] Even though many of these phenomena are elusive, analysts intuit that nuclear weapons cast a powerful shadow over foreign policy and grand strategy. Nuclear weapons obviously matter enormously, even if precisely how cannot always be proven. Consider the heated controversy over whether and how nuclear superiority — if it could be properly measured — is important to outcomes in the world. Perhaps the best that can be done is to acknowledge, as Philip Zelikow writes, that “U.S. nuclear superiority mattered. And, at some level, it also didn’t. At times both of these propositions were, at one and the same time, true.”[82] These challenges — linguistic, moral, and methodological — should not prevent the development of rigorous theories and histories of nuclear weapons and American grand strategy. If anything, they invite working harder to surface underlying assumptions and rigorous examination of both the deductive and inductive foundations of these arguments. What is most important here is to better recognize the challenges and barriers to certainty and proceed with humility in the face of daunting questions that have profound policy consequences. As Quinlan notes, the “limitation in our knowledge ought to instill in all who make predictive statements about these issues a degree of humility not always evident.”[83] American grand strategy with nuclear weapons is based on a variety of deeply held assumptions that have rarely been tested and are difficult to prove.

IV. Worse Before It Gets Better

The incomplete understanding of nuclear history and dynamics has consequences for present and future American grand strategy. If these theories and histories are problematic or questionable, it may affect how to evaluate nuclear policies and grand strategies that are chosen in the future. Even if little changed in the contemporary nuclear landscape, it is critical to have a far better, more comprehensive understanding of the past. The circumstances and environment in which nuclear decisions are made will change enormously in the years to come. Four trends stand to be especially consequential. The Return of Geopolitics The first trend is geopolitical. World politics is changing in at least three ways that might influence how nuclear weapons and U.S. grand strategy interact. First, the structure of world politics has shifted from bipolarity during the Cold War to unipolarity in the years since the demise of the Soviet Union to the possible emergence of multi-polarity or even, as Richard Haass has dubbed it, non-polarity. Contemporary analysts and decision-makers have no experience with nuclear dynamics in such a transformed international system. Will states increase their desire for and efforts to acquire the bomb? Would states be more willing to threaten and even use nuclear weapons in a post-bipolar and post-unipolar world? This relates to the second change: the increased geopolitical assertiveness of America’s primary nuclear-armed competitors, China and Russia.[84] Both countries are modernizing their nuclear forces (albeit at different paces and in different ways), and both have made efforts to reexamine their nuclear doctrines. There are dangerous scenarios — such as a crisis over Taiwan, a clash over disputed territories in the South China Sea, or an attack on a NATO member in the Baltics — in which nuclear weapons might plausibly be engaged, either on purpose or inadvertently. Third, U.S. allies and adversaries, as well as neutral countries, will continue to make their own choices about nuclear capabilities based in part on their beliefs about the role of nuclear weapons in American grand strategy. This can take many forms. Changes in the international environment or American grand strategy, perceptions of declining U.S. credibility or power, intensifying regional rivalries, or technological developments might contribute to shifts in the global nuclear landscape. The use of nuclear weapons by regional adversaries — India and Pakistan, for example — might entangle the United States and its nuclear forces in unforeseen and unwelcome ways. Smaller, arguably less responsible countries such as North Korea or Iran could expand their nuclear programs. Geopolitical shifts are taking place today under a U.S. administration whose policies on nuclear weapons and grand strategies can most generously be described as erratic; meanwhile, America’s role in the world, regardless of who is in the White House, is uncertain. Brave New World The second trend affecting nuclear weapons and American grand strategy is technological. As Keir Lieber and Daryl Press argue in their path-breaking research, “Changes in technology … are eroding the foundations of nuclear deterrence.”[85] Three forces in particular are expected to have important consequences for nuclear weapons’ role in American grand strategy: first, changes in nuclear technology and the systems that support nuclear weapons; second, emerging technologies such as cyber and artificial intelligence; and third, the blurring of the once-stark line between nuclear and non-nuclear capabilities. Changes in nuclear technology have had and will continue to have profound consequences for American grand strategy. The nuclear-revolution school often portrays the bomb in a binary fashion: as a technology that, once achieved, needs little change or improvement. In this thinking, what matters is whether or not one possesses a bomb, not what kind one has, where it is held, or how it is delivered or supported. Analysts often forget, however, three crucial characteristics about nuclear weapons. One, as Michael Horowitz has written, “nuclear weapons and missiles are relatively old technologies,” within the reach of many if not most modern states.[86] Next, nuclear weapons are not a static technology but one that has changed and will continue to shift over time. Finally, nuclear bombs are only one aspect of the technology that affects American grand strategy. Enormous changes to intelligence, surveillance, and reconnaissance; command, control, and communications; and the capabilities to deliver nuclear bombs have had and will continue to have profound consequences for nuclear strategy and statecraft. As Lieber and Press point out, synergistic revolutions in computing power and remote sensing make nuclear forces “far more vulnerable than before.”[87] These changes will intensify in the decades to come. The United States has committed to spending more than $1 trillion on modernizing its capabilities — a remarkable commitment in a time of competing demands. Much of this modernization, moreover, focuses on advancing characteristics — accuracy, speed, stealth, and miniaturization — that could make nuclear weapons appear more usable in a crisis. This massive, multi-decade investment began during the previous U.S. administration, despite being seemingly at odds with President Barack Obama’s 2009 pledge “to seek the peace and security of a world without nuclear weapons.”[88] [quote id="6"] In addition, technologies are emerging that may influence and potentially shape the future nuclear environment. Cyber, artificial intelligence, robotics, unmanned aerial vehicles, hypersonic and directed energy, nanotechnology, and as-yet-undeveloped technologies will have unknown effects. A recent RAND study, for example, warned that “artificial intelligence (AI) might portend new capabilities that could spur arms races or increase the likelihood of states escalating to nuclear use — either intentionally or accidentally — during a crisis.”[89] Cyber presents similar challenges. As a recent Chatham House report explained,
During peacetime, offensive cyber activities would create a dilemma for a state as it may not know whether its systems have been the subject of a cyberattack. This unknown could have implications for military decision-making, particularly for decisions affecting nuclear weapons deterrence policies. At times of heightened tension, cyberattacks on nuclear weapons systems could cause an escalation, which results in their use.[90]
These capabilities would have direct bearing on the role and use of nuclear weapons in American grand strategy. Meanwhile, the United States has already developed impressive non-nuclear and non-kinetic weapons capable of carrying out missions that were once the sole provenance of the bomb, including holding an adversary’s nuclear capabilities at risk. This shift has the potential to blur the line between conventional and nuclear war. As Rovner points out, there is an increasing worry that “inadvertent escalation may occur when conventional attacks put the adversary’ s nuclear force at risk.”[91] Caitlin Talmadge argues that American military action could easily be misunderstood by China as a direct threat to its retaliatory capabilities, and so “Chinese nuclear escalation in the event of a conventional war with the United States is a significant risk.”[92] New technologies, combined with how the United States has prosecuted its recent wars, may leave a nuclear adversary uncertain as to whether its nuclear forces are being targeted for elimination, possibly inciting “use it or lose it” pressures. Michael Kofman controversially suggests that, “The Pentagon remains wholly committed to the fantasy of having conventional wars with nuclear states, where they will let us win, accepting defeat without a nuclear exchange.”[93] How should one think about conventional capabilities — or non-kinetic tools — that potentially blunt or eliminate a country’s ability to use its nuclear weapons? How to define and respond to a cyberattack that undermines a country’s secure deterrent yet did not kill or injure a single person? Much existing analysis of the role of nuclear weapons assumes a stark divide between nuclear and non-nuclear conflict, a distinction that may become dangerously cloudy over time. According to Andrew Krepinevich, “The firebreak between conventional and nuclear war is slowly disappearing.”[94] As a recent study explained,
The future of nuclear deterrence is complicated further by the proliferation of conventional military technologies that may undermine traditional modes of escalation management, and as a consequence, nuclear stability. Much attention has already been given to the possible effects of several such technologies, to include stealthy unattended ground sensors, uninhabited aerial vehicles, micro-satellites, and ballistic missile defenses. Comparatively little attention, however, has been given to the possible implications of autonomous systems and artificial intelligence for nuclear stability.[95]
As James Acton perceptively notes, the “emerging interactions between nuclear and nonnuclear weapons … may prove to be a defining risk of the current nuclear age.”[96] Un-usability and Its Consequences The third trend is global public opinion. While the major nuclear powers are modernizing their forces, much of the rest of the world has been clamoring for a reduction — indeed elimination — of nuclear weapons. As Nina Tannenwald explained in her magisterial study, The Nuclear Taboo, outside of the nuclear powers, “nuclear deterrence has not been viewed as a legitimate practice for most of the other states of the world.”[97] This is not new. Since the start of the nuclear age, many non-state actors and governments have lobbied fiercely for nuclear reductions and disarmament. Nearly three decades after the Cold War ended, however, much of the non-nuclear world questions why more progress has not been made toward ridding the world of the bomb. As Heather Williams, Patricia Lewis, and Sasan Aghlani make clear, “civil society groups and the majority of states have not yet given up on nuclear disarmament.”[98] Pope Francis has declared that “Nuclear deterrence and the threat of mutually assured destruction cannot be the basis for an ethics of fraternity and peaceful coexistence among peoples and states.”[99] In 2017, the U.N. General Assembly passed a treaty prohibiting nuclear weapons. This emerged in large part from the popular global campaign to highlight the humanitarian impact of nuclear weapons. Conversations about nuclear weapons take a much different form in Sydney, Rio de Janeiro, Cape Town, or Vienna than they do in Washington, D.C. It is hard to assess how and to what extent emerging global norms will shape U.S. policies in the years to come. Tannenwald has identified the power of the nuclear taboo on state behavior, and John Mueller has highlighted the rise of powerful norms on issues such as slavery and dueling that could eventually affect not simply nuclear use but also nuclear possession. Norms and public opinion may not be determinative, but they also cannot be ignored. Tannenwald’s work suggests that even in states with nuclear weapons “national leaders do take the notion of world opinion seriously.”[100] There may come a time when the majority of the world sees merely possessing nuclear weapons, let alone using them, as wrongheaded and immoral. This relates to a fourth trend: the consequences for American grand strategy of the decreasing credibility of threats of nuclear use that undergird nuclear deterrence. Short of a “bolt from the blue” nuclear attack by an adversary — and possibly even then — how does one evaluate and assess the credibility of U.S. threats to use nuclear weapons? The probability of an invasion of the United States has not increased. The credibility issues surrounding U.S. nuclear guarantees to allies — a deep challenge even during the Cold War — may increase over time. Tannenwald captures this dynamic well:
Even though US leaders came to believe that nuclear weapons should not really be used, they were not willing to give up nuclear deterrence. But they were caught in the paradox recognized early on by nuclear strategists: making deterrence credible (especially in the face of the threat of mutual assured destruction) required convincing the adversary that the United States would actually use such weapons. As such threats became less credible over time for both deterrence and normative reasons, more numerous and more elaborate strategies were sought in an effort to bolster credibility.[101]
There is conflicting evidence about Americans’ willingness to support the use of nuclear weapons. A report chaired by the former commander of America’s strategic nuclear forces posited that “There is no conceivable situation in the contemporary world” where it would be in either Russia’s or the United States’ “national security interest to initiate a nuclear attack against the other side.”[102] Important studies suggest that Americans would support nuclear use under certain circumstances,[103] while other evidence suggests that in simulated crises it has always been difficult to get approval to use nuclear weapons.[104] If elite wargames designed and played by Thomas Schelling, Henry Kissinger, and others in the 1960s found it extremely difficult to get players to initiate a nuclear war, even when the games were rigged to make nuclear use easier, how likely are scholars today to get anyone to think about using nuclear weapons? That nuclear use is becoming increasingly unthinkable is obviously a good thing. If the bomb is unusable, however, an American grand strategy that relies heavily upon nuclear weapons to achieve many of its key missions may be increasingly untenable. Collectively, these trends should make understanding the role of nuclear weapons in U.S. grand strategy even more difficult in the years to come — and more critical.

V. Resisting the Revolution, or Revolution à la carte

Why is a grand-strategic lens the best way to understand nuclear weapons and their consequences, especially in the case of the United States? And how best to understand the role and purpose of nuclear weapons in American grand strategy? There are two criticisms of using a grand-strategic approach to America’s nuclear weapons policies. First, some are skeptical of the concept of grand strategy, arguing that it falsely conveys a picture of policy coherence.[105] This lack of coherence marks U.S. policy in particular.[106] Second, as discussed above, many believe the transformative power of nuclear weapons reduces and even eliminates the choices that leaders and states can make. The power of nuclear deterrence and the reality of mutual vulnerability remove many of the grand-strategic options and maneuvers available to states in nuclear competition, tying the hands of leaders. While there is some merit to these critiques, they are not ultimately convincing. Although it is unable to overcome all of the methodological, linguistic, and normative challenges surrounding nuclear behavior, grand strategy does recognize an obvious, but often overlooked, point: that nuclear weapons are, first and foremost, tools for states to accomplish their goals in the world. These goals, and the capabilities to achieve them, vary significantly across time, countries, leaders, and circumstance. A grand-strategic frame best captures such variance, as well as the radical uncertainty, risk profiles, trade-offs, moral challenges, and unintended consequences that policymakers face when deciding about an unknowable future.[107] Grand strategy recognizes the “crucible of uncertainty and risk” where decisions are made.[108] [quote id="7"] What insights might a grand-strategic lens provide about the role of nuclear weapons in U.S. policies? Considered broadly, the most important observation is that the United States never fully accepted the consequences of the nuclear revolution. In fact, the United States has, from the start of the nuclear age, worked eagerly to resist and overcome many of the revolutionary consequences of the bomb. It has done so with one overriding goal: to escape vulnerability — to the extent possible — and to obtain and maintain the greatest freedom of action it could to pursue its grand-strategic interests in the world.[109] This should not surprise anyone. Since 1945, the United States has been the leading power in the international system, at times possessing conventional military, economic, and cultural-ideological capabilities far in excess of any other state. Creating strategic stability, maintaining the international status quo, and avoiding war were not the only goals of American grand strategy since 1945, nor were they always the most important objectives. Many times, the United States wanted to avoid being deterred and constrained by the bomb.[110] Nuclear deterrence, remember, looks one way to a status quo, medium-size state that lacks global ambitions and whose primary concern is to avoid being invaded, conquered, or intimidated. It looks different to the most powerful state in the system, one facing no risk of invasion or conquest and whose conventional military and economic strength, absent nuclear deterrence, would allow it great freedom of action (and far less vulnerability) in the world. It is natural that the United States would seek to resist deterrence and get around the constrictions the bomb effectively places on its freedom of action. It was not always obvious, however, how this extremely ambitious goal could be achieved. American policymakers faced fateful choices, and few actions were pre-ordained. In the years after World War II, for example, American leaders could have invested their enormous political capital in pursuing nuclear disarmament or international control of the bomb.[111] At the other extreme, the United States might have launched preventive attacks against the Soviet Union and its nascent nuclear capabilities, while threatening to do the same to any other country that attempted to develop nuclear weapons.[112] Both options were at least discussed and ultimately dismissed. In later years, American leaders could have developed policies that relied less on extended nuclear deterrence by building up conventional forces that matched those of the Soviet Union in Central Europe. Or U.S. policymakers might have encouraged Western European and Asian allies to acquire and develop their own nuclear capabilities, which would have guaranteed their security without an expensive American military commitment that exposed the United States to attack. During the 1970s and 1980s, the United States could have abandoned arms-control efforts and engaged in a quantitative arms race with the Soviet Union; or American presidents might have avoided massive investments in qualitative improvements in nuclear capabilities and simply embraced parity and mutual vulnerability. These were plausible options available to U.S. presidents for how nuclear weapons would be incorporated into grand strategy. How were these choices made, and how should the alternatives be evaluated? This question should be the focus of renewed research by historians and international relations scholars attempting to understand and evaluate America’s choices with the bomb. While one purpose of America’s grand strategy is to overcome the constraints of nuclear deterrence, this goal was pursued in ways that often appear to be in tension, even contradiction, with each other. At times, U.S. leaders pursued what might be labeled “nuclear activism” — the idea that nuclear weapons are crucial instruments of statecraft and that advantages in capabilities versus adversaries were both achievable and would translate into important policy outcomes in the world. This can be seen in America’s persistent and expensive efforts over the past eight decades to develop and deploy sophisticated nuclear systems in forward-leaning strategies on behalf of expansive grand missions like extended deterrence. It can also be seen in the extraordinary U.S. efforts to prevent other states from acquiring nuclear weapons. At other times, the U.S. government advocated forms of “nuclear abstinence.” Strategic stability, mutual vulnerability, and both vertical and horizontal arms control were actively encouraged. The United States went further at points, denigrating the political utility of nuclear weapons and suggesting that the burdens, costs, and dangers of the bomb were not worth it and that the world might be better off free of all nuclear weapons. For much of its nuclear history, however, the United States has put forward both nuclear activism and abstinence, as it does when it seeks strategic nuclear advantages in order to limit the spread of nuclear weapons to its friends and allies. What explains this apparent contradiction? Perhaps the best way to understand these tensions and contradictions — seeking both nuclear primacy and non-proliferation, embracing the first use of nuclear weapons while advocating a world free of them — is to imagine American policymaking as akin to the choice of a switch-hitter in baseball, deciding whether to bat right-handed or left-handed. In the end, it simply chooses the side that offers the best chance for success, defined as reducing U.S. vulnerability and increasing its freedom of action in the world. Sometimes, the choice of whether to bat left or right is obvious, whereas, at other times it has not always been clear which side — nuclear activism or abstinence — would provide the best outcomes for the United States. On the one hand, nuclear weapons provided American leaders with certain advantages. The United States developed nuclear weapons first, and for most of the nuclear age it has possessed superiority, often enormous superiority, in qualitative capabilities — if not always quantity — over any of its competitors, an advantage that is likely to persist. Nuclear weapons have, arguably, allowed the United States to pursue strategies that may have otherwise been too difficult or expensive, such as the defense of Western Europe against the Soviet Union’s large and close armies after World War II. On the other hand, the risks of a nuclearized environment are terrifying. In an international system based on deterrence, the bomb could be used by others to constrain the United States and dilute the effect of other forms of American power. As Jervis pointed out, “One could argue that it is only nuclear weapons that stand between the US and world domination, at least as far as the use and threat of force are concerned.”[113] The United States, obviously, does not reject every aspect of the nuclear revolution. After almost a half-century of murderous conflict and world war during the first half of the 20th century, the stabilizing and peace-inducing qualities of nuclear deterrence were no doubt welcome, including by American leaders. Rather, American policymakers often reject and try to overcome those aspects of nuclear weapons power that they don’t like, while maintaining those that advance their interests. Through nuclear activism and abstinence and everything in between, the United States takes an à la carte view of the nuclear revolution. Did these choices make for wise grand strategy? As explained above, it is difficult to identify and assess the causal effects of nuclear weapons on important outcomes in American foreign policy and world politics. Answering these and similar questions requires engaging counterfactual reasoning while at the same time making assumptions about the purpose and effects of nuclear weapons.[114] These conjectures are almost impossible to test and verify. Perhaps great-power war would have decreased, if not disappeared, in a non-nuclear world, driven out by the increased lethality of war, demographics and interdependence, or shifting norms.[115] Maybe in a non-nuclear world, Berlin’s political status would have been easily resolved or would have been the cause of a third world war.[116] Perhaps it was the expense of the arms race that accelerated Soviet decline, or perhaps the communist state would have collapsed from its internal rot regardless of what nuclear weapons system or strategies the United States did or did not deploy. In a postwar world with a less engaged, more restrained United States, more independent nuclear-weapons states may have emerged, with uncertain consequences. [quote id="8"] The nuclear revolution — and America’s responses to it — also may have transformed other elements of U.S. grand strategy in ways that are underappreciated. The power of nuclear deterrence and the dangers of escalation in the nuclear age may have shifted by who, how, and for how long the United States prepares to fight with conventional weapons. American leaders have been obsessed with demonstrating resolve and credibility since 1945, including pursuing military action in areas of the world where it was difficult to identify vital U.S. interests. Would the United States invest blood and treasure in Southeast Asia, for example, in a world without nuclear weapons? Would it still have fought two costly wars in Iraq? Even where nuclear weapons are not explicitly engaged, they cast a long shadow over grand-strategic decisions. Even with all these caveats, and recognizing numerous self-inflicted wounds and disastrous military interventions, one can imagine grand-strategic choices surrounding nuclear weapons with far worse outcomes. After all, the United States prevailed in its Cold War struggle against the Soviet Union without a nuclear exchange or great-power war. It maintains extraordinary power and influence in a world where the streak on nuclear non-use has continued and where, despite dire predictions to the contrary, the number of nuclear-weapons states remains in the single digits. It is not hard to construct plausible alternative histories with far graver outcomes. That said, it is right to ask whether the United States’ heavy reliance on the bomb in its grand strategy has outlived its utility.

Conclusion

The cover of a recent Foreign Affairs asked, “Do nuclear weapons matter?” As the introduction to the issue explained, “[T]hey are purchased, deployed, and discussed on separate tracks from the rest of the foreign policy agenda, and they are largely ignored, with little apparent consequence.”[117] This essay makes clear that this lack of scrutiny courts trouble. There is much we do not know about the purpose and effects of America’s nuclear posture, and much of what we think we know deserves rigorous interrogation. Without a doubt, many other pressing and significant issues confront American policymakers, world leaders, and scholars. Nevertheless, no discussion or debate about United States grand strategy — to say nothing of the future prospects for and the shape of world order — can proceed without coming to terms with the nuclear question. As Beatrice Fihn pointed out, “if there’s nuclear war, there’s no other agenda to talk about.”[118] What is the future role of nuclear weapons in American grand strategy? Significant changes in technology, geopolitics, and global public opinion present American decision-makers with crucial questions. Should the United States continue to rely so heavily on nuclear weapons to underwrite grand-strategic missions beyond defending the homeland? Will the United States be forced to overcome its “credibility gap” by continuing to massively invest in capabilities and postures, nuclear and non-nuclear, that decrease American vulnerability to nuclear attack, while increasing U.S. abilities to preempt threats? Or should the United States encourage nuclear abstinence in an effort to remove the constraining effects on its own freedom of action while inhibiting new, independent nuclear programs? Will other capabilities — conventional, space, or cyber — augment or replace the role of nuclear weapons? In all likelihood, the answer will continue to be “all of the above,” as American grand strategy retains its confusing, frustrating balance between relying heavily on nuclear deterrence while trying mightily to overcome its constraints. In shaking our complacency about American grand strategy and the bomb, we need a vigorous debate and discussion that interrogates many of our deeply held assumptions and convictions. For example, perhaps it is worth considering whether a grand strategy that seeks a world with fewer nuclear weapons, or even none at all, might advance U.S. interests the most. Can the United States find a way to retain the advantages that nuclear weapons have provided in the past, while limiting and even eliminating the challenges of a grand strategy centered upon the bomb in the future? As farfetched as that may seem, the United States has long reveled in opposing constraints imposed from the outside, while pushing its own revolutionary ideas on the world. Few could have predicted that the United States would have resisted the nuclear revolution as successfully as it has. Might a far-sighted United States grand strategy accomplish what is often seen as both impossible and irresponsible: eliminating the role of nuclear weapons in international relations, while advancing American interests in the world? Francis J. Gavin is the Chairman of the Editorial Board of the Texas National Security Review. He is the Giovanni Agnelli Distinguished Professor and the inaugural director of the Henry A. Kissinger Center for Global Affairs at SAIS-Johns Hopkins University. His writings include Gold, Dollars, and Power: The Politics of International Monetary Relations, 1958–1971 (University of North Carolina Press, 2004) and Nuclear Statecraft: History and Strategy in America’s Atomic Age (Cornell University Press, 2012). Image: U.S. Department of Energy [post_title] => Rethinking the Bomb: Nuclear Weapons and American Grand Strategy [post_excerpt] => [post_status] => publish [comment_status] => open [ping_status] => closed [post_password] => [post_name] => rethinking-the-bomb-nuclear-weapons-and-american-grand-strategy [to_ping] => [pinged] => [post_modified] => 2019-04-10 13:36:06 [post_modified_gmt] => 2019-04-10 17:36:06 [post_content_filtered] => [post_parent] => 0 [guid] => http://tnsr.org/?p=823 [menu_order] => 0 [post_type] => post [post_mime_type] => [comment_count] => 0 [filter] => raw [meta] => [lead] => Nuclear weapons have long played a central but often unappreciated role in American grand strategy. In spite of the unimaginable consequences of their use in war, we know far less about how the bomb shapes U.S. national security and world politics than we should. Both our leading theories and histories have failed to fully explain important choices American leaders have made about the bomb over the past eight decades. This is less a failing of scholarship and more a reflection of the steep methodological, linguistic, and normative barriers to understanding nuclear strategy and statecraft. This challenge will only deepen, as new geopolitical and technological forces return the critical question of the purpose and consequences of nuclear weapons to the heart of the debate about the future of America’s grand strategy. [pubinfo] => [issue] => Vol 2, Iss 1 [quotes] => Array ( [0] => Array ( [author] => [style] => left [text] => The nuclear-revolution school argues that the bomb severely constrains and limits — and at times eliminates — the grand-strategic choices that were available to states and statesmen in the past. ) [1] => Array ( [author] => [style] => right [text] => Rarely has a state had less need for the bomb to guarantee its immediate territorial integrity, sovereignty, and security. ) [2] => Array ( [author] => [style] => right [text] => Unfortunately, less is known about U.S. nuclear history and its role in American grand strategy than is presumed, and what many people do know is often overly simplistic, misleading, or otherwise problematic. ) [3] => Array ( [author] => [style] => left [text] => The intellectual history, as told by the “Wizards of Armageddon,” and the rhetorical history laid out by political leaders often bears little resemblance to the acquisition, deployment, and use plans developed as core parts of U.S. grand strategy.  ) [4] => Array ( [author] => [style] => right [text] => How do you generate reliable theories, histories, and policy recommendations about phenomena for which there are few or no observations or measurements?  ) [5] => Array ( [author] => [style] => left [text] => The nuclear-revolution school often portrays the bomb in a binary fashion: as a technology that, once achieved, needs little change or improvement.  ) [6] => Array ( [author] => [style] => right [text] => Considered broadly, the most important observation is that the United States never fully accepted the consequences of the nuclear revolution.  ) [7] => Array ( [author] => [style] => left [text] => Even where nuclear weapons are not explicitly engaged, they cast a long shadow over grand-strategic decisions. ) ) [style] => scholarly [type] => Scholarly [style_label] => The Scholar [download] => Array ( [title] => PDF Download [file] => 1288 ) [authors] => Array ( [0] => 49 ) [endnotes] => Array ( [title] => Endnotes [endnotes] => [1] The ideas for this paper were first discussed at the September 2017 Nuclear Studies Research Initiative workshop in Greenbriar, West Virginia. I am grateful to all the participants for their feedback and especially grateful to Janne Nolan for hosting the event. I would also like to thank Hal Brands, Natalie Britton, Ryan Evans, Austin Long, Joshua Rovner, Philip Zelikow, and four anonymous reviewers for their excellent suggestions. [2] Hal Brands, What Good Is Grand Strategy? Power and Purpose in American Statecraft from Harry S. Truman to George W. Bush (Ithaca, NY: Cornell University Press, 2014), 3. [3] Robert Jervis, The Meaning of the Nuclear Revolution: Statecraft and the Prospect of Armageddon (Ithaca, NY: Cornell University Press, 1990), 8. [4] Lawrence Freedman, The Evolution of Nuclear Strategy (New York: Palgrave Macmillan, 2003), 458. [5] While there are a range of perspectives within the nuclear-revolution framework, most derive and share the assumptions of defensive realism, which may be the most predominant theoretical approach to international relations within the field of American political science. For an interesting take on efforts by different realist camps to understand the effects of nuclear weapons on world politics, see Zanvyl Krieger and Ariel Ilan Roth, “Nuclear Weapons in Neo-Realist Theory,” International Studies Review 9, no. 3 (Autumn 2007): 369–84, https://www.jstor.org/stable/4621831. [6] Stephen M. Walt, “Rethinking the ‘Nuclear Revolution,’” Foreign Policy, Aug. 3, 2010, https://foreignpolicy.com/2010/08/03/rethinking-the-nuclear-revolution/. [7] Robert Jervis, The Illogic of American Nuclear Statecraft, (Ithaca, NY: Cornell University Press),12. [8] Charles L. Glaser, Analyzing Strategic Nuclear Policy (Princeton, NJ: Princeton University Press, 1990), 95. [9] Todd S. Sechser and Matthew Fuhrmann, Nuclear Weapons and Coercive Diplomacy (Cambridge, UK: Cambridge University Press, 2017), 6. The classic work arguing that nuclear weapons are ineffective for coercion is by Richard K. Betts, Nuclear Blackmail and Nuclear Balance (Washington, D.C.: Brookings Institution Press, 1987). [10] Joshua Rovner, “Was There a Nuclear Revolution? Strategy, Grand Strategy, and the Ultimate Weapon,” War on the Rocks, March 6, 2018, https://warontherocks.com/2018/03/was-there-a-nuclear-revolution-strategy-grand-strategy-and-the-ultimate-weapon/. [11] Scott D. Sagan and Kenneth N. Waltz, The Spread of Nuclear Weapons: An Enduring Debate (New York: W.W. Norton, 2012), 37. [12] Kenneth N. Waltz, “The Emerging Structure of International Politics,” International Security 18, no. 2 (Fall 1993): 73, https://doi.org/10.2307/2539097. [13] Kenneth N. Waltz, “Nuclear Myths and Political Realities,” American Political Science Review 84, no. 3 (September 1990): 732, https://doi.org/10.2307/1962764. [14] Sagan and Waltz, The Spread of Nuclear Weapons, 21–22. [15] Charles L. Glaser and Chaim Kauffman, “What Is the Offense-Defense Balance and Can We Measure It?” International Security 22, no. 4 (Spring 1998): 5–6, https://doi.org/10.2307/2539240. Italics added. [16] Stephen Van Evera, Causes of War: Power and the Roots of Conflict (Ithaca, NY: Cornell University Press), 178. [17] John J. Mearsheimer, The Tragedy of Great Power Politics (New York: W.W. Norton, 2001), 129. [18] John Lewis Gaddis, “The Long Peace: Elements of Stability in the Postwar International System,” International Security 10, no. 4 (Spring 1986): 121, https://doi.org/10.2307/2538951. [19] Highlighting an irony: If the nuclear revolution was so obvious, powerful, and irresistible, why do analysts have to spend so much time telling policymakers to pursue the policy (or not fight against it) if it was the natural consequence of the revolution? [20] There were, of course, exceptions to this view. Among the original strategists, Albert Wohlstetter was often critical of the focus on mutual assured destruction, as was Herman Kahn. For an overview of the early debates, see Fred Kaplan, The Wizards of Armageddon (New York: Simon & Schuster, 1983). Later critics of this view included Colin Gray and Keith Payne. See especially Colin S. Gray and Keith Payne, “Victory Is Possible,” Foreign Policy, no. 39 (Summer 1980): 14–27, https://www.jstor.org/stable/1148409. [21] Rovner, “Was There a Nuclear Revolution?” [22] Protecting the territorial sovereignty of the homeland is obviously not the only U.S. national interest. The United States fought two world wars, in large part to prevent any state from consolidating Europe and using it as a base to threaten the Americas. The United States has been obsessed with expelling great-power influences from its hemisphere and guaranteeing that conflict takes place far away from its homeland. Historically, however, that is a rare luxury for a great power — even Britain and Japan, as well as the continental great powers, have had to worry far more about invasion of the homeland. And the United States developed nuclear weapons during World War II because of fears that Nazi Germany was developing the bomb. [23] Between 1940 and 1996, the United States spent $5.5 trillion on nuclear weapons. Stephen I. Schwartz, “The Hidden Costs of Our Nuclear Arsenal: Overview of Project Findings,” Brookings Institution, June 30, 1998, https://www.brookings.edu/the-hidden-costs-of-our-nuclear-arsenal-overview-of-project-findings/. [24] The Congressional Budget Office estimates the cost of operating and modernizing U.S. nuclear security forces at more than $1.2 trillion over the next 30 years. See: Congressional Budget Office, Approaches for Managing the Costs of U.S. Nuclear Forces, 2017–2046, October 2017, https://www.cbo.gov/system/files?file=115th-congress-2017-2018/reports/53211-nuclearforces.pdf. [25] On nuclear sharing, see Marc Trachtenberg, A Constructed Peace: The Making of the European Settlement, 1949–1963 (Princeton, NJ: Princeton University Press, 1999), passim. The best work on pre-delegation remains Peter Feaver, Guarding the Guardians: Civilian Control of Nuclear Weapons in the United States (Ithaca: Cornell University Press, 1992). [26] See the path-breaking scholarship of Keir Lieber, Daryl Press, Brendan Green, Austin Long, Niccolo Petrelli, and Giordana Pulcini, among others, cited throughout this essay. Two excellent forthcoming works will also provide comprehensive insight on this history: Brendan Green, “The Meaning of the Nuclear Counterrevolution: Arms Racing and Arms Control After MAD” (book manuscript in progress); and Timothy McDonnell, “The Sources of US Nuclear Posture, 1945 to Present” (PhD diss., MIT, 2018). [27] David Alan Rosenberg, “The Origins of Overkill: Nuclear Weapons and American Strategy, 1945–1960,” International Security 7, no. 4 (Spring 1983): 3–71, https://doi.org/10.2307/2626731. [28] James Cameron, The Double Game: The Demise of America’s First Missile Defense System and the Rise of Strategic Arms Limitation (New York: Oxford University Press, 2017), 5. [29] John D. Maurer, “The Forgotten Side of Arms Control: Enhancing U.S. Competitive Advantage, Offsetting Enemy Strengths,” War on the Rocks, June 27, 2018, https://warontherocks.com/2018/06/the-forgotten-side-of-arms-control-enhancing-u-s-competitive-advantage-offsetting-enemy-strengths/. [30] Niccolo Petrelli and Giordana Pulcini, “Nuclear Superiority in the Age of Parity: US Planning, Intelligence Analysis, Weapons Innovation and the Search for a Qualitative Edge, 1969–1976,” International History Review 40, no. 5 (2018), https://doi.org/10.1080/07075332.2017.1420675. [31] For excellent details on the characteristics of these systems and their influence on the strategic balance, see especially Austin Long and Brendan Rittenhouse Green, “Stalking the Secure Second Strike: Intelligence, Counterforce and Nuclear Strategy,” Journal of Strategic Studies 38, no. 1–2 (2015), https://doi.org/10.1080/01402390.2014.958150; Keir Lieber and Daryl Press, “How Much is Enough? Testing Theories of Nuclear Deterrence,” unpublished manuscript, found at http://politics.virginia.edu/wp-content/uploads/2015/11/Lieber-Press-VISC.pdf, cited with permission of author; and Petrelli and Pulcini, “Nuclear Superiority in the Age of Parity.” The best work on U.S. efforts on antisubmarine capabilities remains Owen R. Cote Jr.’s The Third Battle: Innovation in the US Navy’s Silent Cold War Struggle with Soviet Submarines (Newport, RI: Naval War College, 2003). [32] Long and Green, “Stalking the Secure Second Strike,” 41. [33] Brendan R. Green and Austin Long, “The MAD Who Wasn’t There: Soviet Reactions to the Late Cold War Nuclear Balance,” Security Studies 26, no. 4 (2017): 608, https://doi.org/10.1080/09636412.2017.1331639. [34] Keir A. Lieber and Daryl G. Press, “The New Era of Counterforce: Technological Change and the Future of Nuclear Deterrence,” International Security 41, no. 4 (Spring 2017), https://doi.org/10.1162/ISEC_a_00273. [35] Glenn Buchan, David M. Matonick, Calvin Shipbaugh, and Richard Mesic, Future Roles of U.S. Nuclear Forces: Implications for U.S. Strategy (Santa Monica, CA: RAND Corp., 2003), 92, https://www.rand.org/pubs/monograph_reports/MR1231.html. Italics in original. [36] For a thorough exploration and ultimate rejection of the argument that an overly aggressive nuclear strategy was driven by “Pentagon bureaucrats and military officers pursuing organizational or service agendas, rather than national interest” — or what he calls “‘pathological posture’ theory” — see Timothy McDonnell, “The Sources of US Nuclear Posture, 1945 to Present” (PhD diss., MIT, 2019). [37] Brendan Rittenhouse Green and Austin Long, “The Geopolitical Origins of US Hard-Target-Kill Counterforce Capabilities and MIRVS,” in The Lure and Pitfalls of MIRVs: From the First to the Second Nuclear Age, ed. Michael Krepon, Travis Wheeler, and Shane Mason (Washington, DC: Stimson Center, 2016), https://www.stimson.org/sites/default/files/file-attachments/Lure_and_Pitfalls_of_MIRVs.pdf; and Petrelli and Pulcini, “Nuclear Superiority in the Age of Parity.” [38] This is not to say there is not variation in the nuclear strategies, as Vipin Narang lays out brilliantly in his book about regional nuclear strategies. In addition to assured-retaliation postures, regional nuclear powers can choose catalytic or asymmetric escalation postures, both of which imply first use. See Vipin Narang, Nuclear Strategy in the Modern Era: Regional Powers and International Conflict (Princeton, NJ: Princeton University Press, 2014). [39] Green and Long, “The Geopolitical Origins of US Hard-Target-Kill Counterforce Capabilities and MIRVs,” 21. [40] Glenn A. Kent and David E. Thaler, First Strike Stability: A Methodology for Evaluating Strategic Forces (Santa Monica, CA: RAND Corp., 1989) 5, https://www.rand.org/content/dam/rand/pubs/reports/2008/R3765.pdf. [41] Earl C. Ravenal, “Counterforce and Alliance: The Ultimate Connection,” International Security 6, no. 4 (Spring 1982): 26–43, https://doi.org/10.2307/2538676. [42] Henry L. Trewhitt, McNamara: His Ordeal in the Pentagon (New York: Harper and Row, 1971), 115. [43] For insight on how American policymakers explored and assessed pre-emptive nuclear options, see Francis J. Gavin and Mira Rapp-Hooper, “The Copenhagen Temptation: Rethinking Prevention and Proliferation in the Age of Deterrence Dominance,” unpublished paper, available at https://www.tobinproject.org/sites/tobinproject.org/files/assets/Gavin%26Rapp-Hooper_US_Preventive_War_Thinking.pdf. [44] Logically, it would seem debatable that possessing increased potential for damage limitation well short of perfect first-strike capabilities would increase U.S. willingness to risk nuclear war to protect allies and enhance extended deterrence and even coercive leverage. Yet, the historical record demonstrates that American leaders were willing to pay quite a bit — financially, politically, and in terms of risk — to acquire these capabilities and, perhaps more important, that the Soviet Union and U.S. allies took these efforts seriously. [45] Francis J. Gavin, “Beyond Deterrence: U.S. Nuclear Statecraft Since 1945,” in Linton Brooks, Francis J. Gavin, and Alexei Arbatov, Meeting the Challenges of the New Nuclear Age: U.S. and Russian Nuclear Concepts, Past and Present (Cambridge, MS: American Academy of Arts and Sciences, 2018), https://www.amacad.org/content/publications/pubContent.aspx?d=43051. [46] Kent and Thaler, First Strike Stability, 5. See also Brendan Rittenhouse Green and Austin Long, “Correspondence: The Limits of Damage Limitation,” International Security 42, no. 1 (Summer 2017), https://doi.org/10.1162/ISEC_c_00279. [47] Francis J. Gavin, “Strategies of Inhibition: U.S. Grand Strategy, the Nuclear Revolution, and Nonproliferation,” International Security 40, no. 1 (Summer 2015): 9–46, https://www.mitpressjournals.org/doi/pdf/10.1162/ISEC_a_00205. [48] Andrew J. Coe and Jane Vaynman, “Collusion and the Nuclear Nonproliferation Regime,” Journal of Politics 77, no. 4 (2015): 983–97, https://doi.org/10.1086/682080. [49] For excellent insight on the challenges this new environment presented to traditional constitutional practices in United States national security decision-making, see Matthew Waxman, “NATO and War Powers: Remembering the ‘Great Debate’ of the 1950s," Lawfare, July 11, 2018, https://www.lawfareblog.com/nato-and-war-powers-remembering-great-debate-1950s; Matthew C. Waxman, “The Power to Threaten War,” Yale Law Journal, no. 123 (2014), https://ssrn.com/abstract=2316777. [50] Exemplary works in this category include McGeorge Bundy, Danger and Survival: Choices About the Bomb in the First Fifty Years (New York: Random House, 1988); George Bunn, Arms Control by Committee: Managing Negotiations with the Russians (Stanford, CA: Stanford University Press, 1992); Gregg Herken Counsels of War (New York: Knopf, 1985); Kaplan, The Wizards of Armageddon; Richard Rhodes, Arsenals of Folly: The Making of the Nuclear Arms Race (New York: Alfred A. Knopf, 2007). Specialists in security studies and strategic studies demonstrate great appreciation for history, though they rarely pursue exhaustive, multi-archival work on their own and do not claim to do scholarly history. The best works in this tradition include the following: Richard Betts, Nuclear Blackmail and Nuclear Balance (Washington, D.C.: Brookings Institution Press, 1987);  Lawrence Freedman, Evolution of Nuclear Strategy (London: Palgrave Macmillan, 4th edition, 2019); Charles Glaser, Analyzing Strategic Nuclear Policy (Princeton, NJ: Princeton University Press, 1990); Robert Jervis, The Meaning of the Nuclear Revolution (Ithaca: Cornell University Press, 1989); Scott Sagan, Moving Targets: Nuclear Strategy and National Security (Princeton, NJ: Princeton University Press, 1990). It is no overstatement to say that those in security and strategic studies would be thrilled if the scholarly history profession in the United States would devote more intellectual resources to mine the extraordinary increases in archival materials made available in recent years. That said, some of the best work with primary materials has been done by scholars in this field, including Brendan Green, Keir Lieber, Austin Long, and Daryl Press. [51] What follows is just a sample of this excellent new work on national nuclear programs, much of it supported by the path-breaking Nuclear Proliferation International History Project: https://www.wilsoncenter.org/program/nuclear-proliferation-international-history-project. On Australia, see Christine M. Leah, Australia and the Bomb (New York: Palgrave MacMillan, 2014); on Brazil, see Carlo Patti, “Origins and Evolution of the Brazilian Nuclear Program (1947–2011),” Nuclear Proliferation International History Project, Nov. 15, 2012, https://www.wilsoncenter.org/publication/origins-and-evolution-the-brazilian-nuclear-program-1947-2011; Avner Cohen, The Worst-Kept Secret: Israel’s Bargain with the Bomb (New York: Columbia University Press, 2010); on Italy, see Leopoldo Nuti, “Italy’s Nuclear Choices,” UNISCI Discussion Papers, no. 25 (January 2011), https://revistas.ucm.es/index.php/UNIS/article/viewFile/UNIS1111130167A/26876; on Japan, see Fintan Hoey Sato, America and the Cold War: U.S.–Japanese Relations, 1964–72 (New York: Palgrave MacMillan, 2015); on Pakistan, see Feroz Khan, Eating Grass: The Making of the Pakistani Bomb (Stanford, CA: Stanford University Press, 2012); on Romania, see Eliza Gheorghe, “Atomic Maverick: Romania’s Negotiations for Nuclear Technology, 1964–1970,” Cold War History 13, no. 3 (2013), https://doi.org/10.1080/14682745.2013.776542; on South Korea, see Se Young Jang, “Dealing with Allies’ Nuclear Ambitions: U.S. Nuclear Non-proliferation Policy toward South Korea and Taiwan, 1969–1981” (PhD diss., Graduate Institute of International and Development Studies, 2015); on Sweden, see Thomas Jonter, “The Swedish Plans to Acquire Nuclear Weapons, 1945–1968: An Analysis of the Technical Preparations,” Science & Global Security, no. 18 (2010): 61–86, http://scienceandglobalsecurity.org/archive/sgs18jonter.pdf; on West Germany, see Andreas Lutsch, “The Persistent Legacy: Germany’s Place in the Nuclear Order,” Nuclear Proliferation International History Project (NPIHP), Woodrow Wilson International Center for Scholars, NPIHP Working Paper no. 5, May 19, 2015, http://www.wilsoncenter.org/publication/the-persistent-legacy. [52] To give three examples: For an excellent history of U.S. arms-control policy during the Nixon presidency, see Cameron, The Double Game; for an excellent study of America’s early nuclear strategies, see Edward Kaplan, American Strategy in the Air-Atomic Age and the Rise of Mutually Assured Destruction (Ithaca, NY: Cornell University Press, 2015); for an excellent history of U.S. nuclear nonproliferation policies, see Shane Maddock, Nuclear Apartheid: The Quest for American Atomic Supremacy from World War II to the Present (Chapel Hill: University of North Carolina Press, 2010). [53] Hal Brands, “The Triumph and Tragedy of Diplomatic History,” Texas National Security Review 1, no. 1 (December 2017), https://repositories.lib.utexas.edu/bitstream/handle/2152/63939/Vol-1-Issue-1-Brands.pdf?sequence=2&isAllowed=y. Even when there are diplomatic historians, there is almost no incentive for them to work on U.S. nuclear weapons policy. “Yet the turn toward diplomatic history as cultural, social, or gender history often pulled the field in a very different direction, one that dramatically deemphasized matters of foreign policy as it was traditionally understood?” See also Hal Brands and Francis J. Gavin, “The Historical Profession is Committing Slow-Motion Suicide,” War on the Rocks, Dec. 10, 2018, https://warontherocks.com/2018/12/the-historical-profession-is-committing-slow-motion-suicide/. [54] Francis J. Gavin, “What We Talk About When We Talk About Nuclear Weapons: A Review Essay,” H-Diplo Roundtable, June 15, 2014, https://networks.h-net.org/node/28443/discussions/31776/h-diploissf-forum-“what-we-talk-about-when-we-talk-about-nuclear. [55] The exception is Marc Trachtenberg’s path-breaking account of the first decades of the Cold War, which brilliantly integrates nuclear strategy into an understanding of U.S. grand strategy. Marc Trachtenberg, A Constructed Peace: The Making of the European Settlement, 1949–1963 (Princeton, NJ: Princeton University Press, 1999). [56] Gavin, “Strategies of Inhibition.” [57] For one excellent example that reveals the deep interconnections between Cold War geopolitics, imperialism and decolonization, international economics and globalization, and nationalism and regional rivalries, see Philip Zelikow and Ernest May, Suez Deconstructed: An Interactive Study in Crisis, War, and Peacemaking (Washington, DC: Brookings Institution Press, 2018). [58] Trachtenberg, History and Strategy, 46. [59] Bruce Kuklick, Blind Oracles: Intellectuals and War from Kennan to Kissinger (Princeton, NJ: Princeton University Press, 2006), 15–16. “Yet my philosophers in government knew and understood little, and had little influence qua intellectuals, except to perform feats of ventriloquy.” [60] For an excellent analysis, see Janne Nolan, Guardians of the Arsenal: The Politics of Nuclear Strategy (New York: Basic Books, 1989). [61] John Foster Dulles, “The Strategy of Massive Retaliation,” speech before the Council on Foreign Relations, Jan. 12, 1954, http://msthorarinson.weebly.com/uploads/4/1/4/5/41452777/dulles_address.pdf; Robert McNamara, “No Cities” commencement address in Ann Arbor, Michigan, July 9, 1962, http://www.atomicarchive.com/Docs/Deterrence/Nocities.shtml; Robert McNamara, speech on anti-China missile defense and U.S. nuclear strategy, Sept. 19, 1967, https://www.nytimes.com/1967/09/19/archives/text-of-mcnamara-speech-on-antichina-missile-defense-and-us-nuclear.html; “Nixon’s Nuclear Doctrine,” New York Times, Jan. 15, 1974, https://www.nytimes.com/1974/01/15/archives/nixons-nuclear-doctrine.html; “The Carter Transformation of Our Strategic Doctrine,” memo from National Security Adviser Zbigniew Brzezinski to President Jimmy Carter, Aug. 26, 1980, https://www.archives.gov/files/declassification/iscap/pdf/2011-064-doc33.pdf. [62] For an excellent synthesis of how policymakers wrestle with domestic politics in nuclear decision-making, see Elizabeth N. Saunders, “The Domestic Politics of Nuclear Choices: What Have We Learned?” (unpublished paper). [63] Cameron, The Double Game, 7. [64] Francis J. Gavin, Nuclear Statecraft: History and Strategy in America’s Atomic Age (Ithaca, NY: Cornell University Press, 2012), 31. [65] David Alan Rosenberg, “Reality and Responsibility: Power and Process in the Making of United States Nuclear Strategy, 1945–68,” Journal of Strategic Studies 9, no. 1 (1986): 35, https://doi.org/10.1080/01402398608437247. [66] For a recent overview — with recommendations for how these procedures should be changed — see Richard K. Betts and Matthew C. Waxman, “The President and the Bomb: Reforming the Nuclear Launch Process, Foreign Affairs 97, no. 2 (March/April 2018), https://www.foreignaffairs.com/articles/united-states/2018-02-13/president-and-bomb. [67] As Timothy McDonnell argues, “presidents, defense secretaries and other members of the president’s civilian executive team drive US nuclear posture, making posture decisions that they believe will advance American interests. At the same time, nuclear policy is a tough business, fraught with uncertainty and existential risk.” Timothy McDonnell, “The Sources of US Nuclear Posture, 1945 to Present,” (PhD diss., MIT, in progress). [68] For an excellent effort to make sense of the often contradictory policies and rhetoric of President Dwight D. Eisenhower on nuclear weapons, see Andrew P.N. Erdmann, “‘War no longer has any logic whatever’: Eisenhower and the Thermonuclear Revolution,” in Cold War Statesmen Confront the Bomb, ed. John Lewis Gaddis, (Oxford: Oxford University Press, 1999), 87­–119. [69] Rosenberg, “Reality and Responsibility,” 48. McNamara’s view is obviously in slight tension with Rosenberg’s argument. [70] Carol Cohn, “Sex and Death in the Rational World of Defense Intellectuals,” Signs 12, no. 4 (Summer 1987): 490, https://www.jstor.org/stable/3174209. [71] Michael Quinlan, “Thinking About Nuclear Weapons,” Royal United Services Institute, Whitehall Paper 41, online edition 2005, http://fisherp.scripts.mit.edu/wordpress/wp-content/uploads/2017/03/Thinking-about-Nuclear-Weapons-RUSI-WHP41_QUINLAN1.pdf. [72] Nina Tannenwald, The Nuclear Taboo: The United States and the Non-Use of Nuclear Weapons Since 1945, (Cambridge: Cambridge University Press, 2007), ix. [73] Reid Pauly, “Stop or I’ll Shoot, Comply and I Won’t: The Dilemma of Coercive Assurance in International Politics” (PhD diss., MIT, in progress). [74] Rebecca K.C. Hersman, Clark Murdock, and Shanelle Van, The Evolving U.S. Nuclear Narrative: Communicating the Rationale for the Role and Value of U.S. Nuclear Weapons, Center for Strategic and International Studies, October 2016, http://nuclearnarrative.csis.org/report/. [75] See, for example, Patrick Malone, “Repeated Safety Lapses Hobble Los Alamos National Laboratory’s Work on the Cores of U.S. Nuclear Warheads,” The Center for Public Integrity, June 18, 2017, https://apps.publicintegrity.org/nuclear-negligence/near-disaster/; Editorial, “What the Air Force Can Learn from the Nuclear Cheating Scandal,” Washington Post, April 6, 2014, https://www.washingtonpost.com/opinions/what-the-air-force-can-learn-from-the-nuclear-cheating-scandal/2014/04/06/e1a24a0e-bba5-11e3-9a05-c739f29ccb08_story.html?noredirect=on&utm_term=.96d83a6d39a4. [77] Of course, the United States has also tried to demonstrate credibility by fighting wars that otherwise make little geostrategic sense from a narrow, traditional, non-nuclear “self-interest” perspective, such as in Korea in the early 1950s and in Southeast Asia in the 1960s and 1970s. One might ask how U.S. decision-making toward limited wars would have proceeded in a world without nuclear weapons, where the demands of credibility are, presumably, smaller. [78] Gaddis, “The Long Peace,” 100. [79] Francis J. Gavin, “History, Security Studies, and the July Crisis,” Journal of Strategic Studies 37, no. 2 (2014): 319–33, https://doi.org/10.1080/01402390.2014.912916. [80] “Even propositions about the achievement of nuclear weapons in deterrence lack hard evidence, since such propositions are essentially about alternative history — about what would have happened had matters been other than they were.” Quinlan, “Thinking About Nuclear Weapons,” 5. [81] The nuclear-revolution framework would have predicted that these states would acquire nuclear weapons. Some excellent work exists on states that decided not to go nuclear. On Sweden, for example, see Thomas Jonter, The Key to Nuclear Restraint: The Swedish Plans to Acquire Nuclear Weapons During the Cold War (London: Palgrave Macmillan, 2016). On Australia, for example, see Leah, Australia and the Bomb. [82] Philip Zelikow, “Review,” HF-Diplo Roundtable Reviews XV, no. 1 (2013), https://issforum.org/roundtables/PDF/Roundtable-XV-1.pdf. [83] Quinlan, “Thinking About Nuclear Weapons,” 5. [84] The Trump administration focused on the return of great-power geopolitical competition in both its National Security Strategy and its National Defense Strategy: National Security Strategy of the United States (Washington, DC: White House, 2017), https://www.whitehouse.gov/wp-content/uploads/2017/12/NSS-Final-12-18-2017-0905.pdf; Summary of the 2018 National Defense Strategy of the United States of America (Washington, DC: Department of Defense, 2018),  https://dod.defense.gov/Portals/1/Documents/pubs/2018-National-Defense-Strategy-Summary.pdf. [85] Lieber and Press, “The New Era of Counterforce,” 9. [86] Michael Horowitz, “How Surprising Is North Korea’s Nuclear Success? Picking Up Where Proliferation Theories Leave Off,” War on the Rocks, Sept. 6, 2017, https://warontherocks.com/2017/09/how-surprising-is-north-koreas-nuclear-success-picking-up-where-proliferation-theories-leave-off/. [87] Lieber and Press, “The New Era of Counterforce,” 10. [88] Ian Traynor, “Barack Obama Launches Doctrine for Nuclear-Free World,” Guardian, April 5, 2009, https://www.theguardian.com/world/2009/apr/05/nuclear-weapons-barack-obama. [89] Edward Geist and Andrew J. Lohn, How Might Artificial Intelligence Affect the Risk of Nuclear War? (Santa Monica, CA: RAND Corp., 2018), 1, https://www.rand.org/pubs/perspectives/PE296.html. [90] Beyza Unal and Patricia Lewis, Cybersecurity of Nuclear Weapons Systems Threats, Vulnerabilities and Consequences, Chatham House, January 2018, https://www.chathamhouse.org/sites/default/files/publications/research/2018-01-11-cybersecurity-nuclear-weapons-unal-lewis-final.pdf. [91] Joshua Rovner, “Two Kinds of Catastrophe: Nuclear Escalation and Protracted War in Asia,” Journal of Strategic Studies 40, no. 5 (2017), http://dx.doi.org/10.1080/01402390.2017.1293532 [92] Caitlin Talmadge, “Would China Go Nuclear? Assessing the Risk of Chinese Nuclear Escalation in a Conventional War with the United States,” International Security 40, no. 4 (Spring 2017): 90, https://doi.org/10.1162/ISEC_a_00274. [93] Michael Kofman, “Searching for Strategy in Washington’s Competition with Russia,” War on the Rocks, Jan. 30, 2018, https://warontherocks.com/2018/01/searching-strategy-washingtons-competition-russia/. [94] Andrew F. Krepinevich, Jr., “The Eroding Balance of Terror: The Decline of Deterrence,” Foreign Affairs 98, no. 1 (January/February 2019): 66. [95] Michael C. Horowitz, Paul Scharre, and Alex Velez-Green, A Stable Nuclear Future? The Impact of Automation, Autonomy, and Artificial Intelligence, (Philadelphia: University of Pennsylvania, 2017). [96] James M. Acton, “Technology, Doctrine, and the Risk of Nuclear War,” American Academy of Arts and Sciences, 2018, https://www.amacad.org/content/publications/pubContent.aspx?d=43140. [97] Tannenwald, The Nuclear Taboo, 19. [98] Heather Williams, Patricia Lewis, and Sasan Aghlani, “The Humanitarian Impacts of Nuclear Weapons Initiative: The ‘Big Tent’ in Disarmament,” Chatham House, March 2015, 17, https://www.chathamhouse.org/sites/default/files/field/field_document/20150331nuclear.pdf. [99] Quote from Williams, Lewis, and Aghlani, "The Humanitarian Impacts of Nuclear Weapons Initiative," 13. [100] Tannenwald, The Nuclear Taboo, 49. [101] Tannenwald, The Nuclear Taboo, 370. [102] Gen. (Ret.) James Cartwright, chair, “Global Zero U.S. Nuclear Policy Report: Modernizing U.S. Nuclear Strategy, Force Structure and Posture,” Global Zero, May 2012, 2, https://www.princeton.edu/sgs/faculty-staff/bruce-blair/gz_us_nuclear_policy_report.pdf. [103] Daryl G. Press, Scott D. Sagan, and Benjamin A. Valentino, “Atomic Aversion: Experimental Evidence on Taboos, Traditions, and the Non-Use of Nuclear Weapons,” American Political Science Review 107, no. 1 (February 2013): 188-206, https://doi.org/10.1017/S0003055412000597. [104] Reid Pauly, “Elite Aversion to the Use of Nuclear Weapons: Evidence from Wargames,” International Security (forthcoming). [105] For a summary of this critique of grand strategy, see Francis J. Gavin’s review of Hal Brands, What Good is Grand Strategy: Power and Purpose in American Statecraft from Harry S. Truman to George W. Bush for H-Diplo, Oct. 17, 2014, https://issforum.org/roundtables/7-2-what-good-is-grand-strategy#Review_by_Francis_J_Gavin_MIT. [106] Walter A. McDougall, “Can the United States Do Grand Strategy,” Telegram: Foreign Policy Research Institute, April 13, 2010, https://www.fpri.org/article/2010/04/can-the-united-states-do-grand-strategy/. [107] Francis J. Gavin and James B. Steinberg, “Mind the Gap: Why Policymakers and Scholars Ignore Each Other, and What Should Be Done About It?” Carnegie Reporter 6, no. 4 (Spring 2012). [108] Steve Coll, “Comment: Table Talk,” New Yorker, Feb. 6, 2012, https://www.newyorker.com/talk/comment/2012/02/06/120206taco_talk_coll. [109] Matthew Kroenig argues that nuclear states seek freedom of action in Exporting the Bomb: Technology Transfers and the Spread of Nuclear Weapons (Ithaca, NY: Cornell University Press, 2010). For an excellent overview of how U.S. grand strategy has, since the earliest days of the republic, unilaterally gone on the offensive in an effort to eliminate vulnerability, see John Lewis Gaddis, Surprise, Security, and the American Experience (Cambridge, MA: Harvard University Press, 2005). [110] As Richard K. Betts has pointed out, what may be good for the “system” — stability — may not be what the United States prefers. “If nuclear spread enhances stability, this is not entirely good news for the United States, since it has been accustomed to attacking small countries with impunity when it felt justified and provoked.” See Betts, “Universal Deterrence or Conceptual Collapse? Liberal Pessimism and Utopian Realism,” in The Coming Crisis: Nuclear Proliferation, U.S. Interests, and World Order, ed. Victor A. Utgoff (Cambridge, MA: MIT Press, 2000), 65. [111] “The Acheson-Lilienthal & Baruch Plans, 1946,” State Department Office of the Historian, https://history.state.gov/milestones/1945-1952/baruch-plans. [112] “If we were ruthlessly realistic, we would not permit any foreign power with which we are not firmly allied, and in which we do not have absolute confidence, to make or possess atomic weapons. If such a country started to make atomic weapons we would destroy its capacity to make them before it had progressed far enough to threaten us.” Memo from Gen. Leslie Groves, wartime commander of the Manhattan Project, in January 1946, cited in Marc Trachtenberg, “A Wasting Asset: American Strategy and the Shifting Nuclear Balance, 1949–1954," International Security 3, no. 3 (Winter 1988/1989): 5, https://www.jstor.org/stable/2538735. [113] Robert Jervis, “Foreword,” in Global Nuclear Disarmament: Strategic, Political, and Regional Perspectives, ed. Nik Hynek and Michal Smetana (London: Routledge, 2016), https://www.researchgate.net/publication/304989752_Global_Nuclear_Disarmament_Strategic_Political_and_Regional_Perspectives_-_FOREWORD_by_Robert_Jervis. [114] For the importance of counterfactuals for hypothesis testing, see James D. Fearon, “Counterfactuals and Hypothesis Testing in Political Science,” World Politics 43, no. 2 (January 1991): 169–95, https://doi.org/10.2307/2010470; Francis J. Gavin, “What If? The Historian and the Counterfactual,” Security Studies 24, no. 3 (2015): 425–30, https://doi.org/10.1080/09636412.2015.1070610. [115] The most convincing version of this argument was made by John Mueller, Retreat from Doomsday: The Obsolescence of Major War (New York: Basic Books, 1989). [116] I explore these possibilities in Nuclear Statecraft, 57–74. [117] Gideon Rose, “Introduction,” Foreign Affairs 97, no. 6, (November/December 2018), https://www.foreignaffairs.com/articles/2018-10-15/do-nuclear-weapons-matter. [118] Joshua Keating, “The ‘Toxic Masculinity’ of Nuclear Weapons: An interview with Beatrice Fihn, executive director of the Nobel Peace Prize–winning International Campaign to Abolish Nuclear Weapons,” Slate, Nov. 12, 2018, https://slate.com/news-and-politics/2018/11/ican-beatrice-fihn-nuclear-weapons-prohibition-treaty-interview.html. ) [contents] => Array ( [title] => [contents] => ) ) ) ) ) [3] => Array ( [acf_fc_layout] => wgt_newsletter [mc4wp] => 61 ) [4] => Array ( [acf_fc_layout] => wgt_textblock [main_title] => Latest Roundtables [intro_title] => What is a Roundtable? [intro_text] => Roundtables are where we get to hear from multiple experts on either a subject matter or a recently published book. These collections of essays allow for detailed debates and discussions from a variety of viewpoints so that we can deeply explore a given topic or book. ) [5] => Array ( [acf_fc_layout] => wgt_featured_roundtables [wgt_type] => auto [qty] => 3 [posts] => ) ) ) [queried_object_id] => 2 [request] => SELECT wp_posts.* FROM wp_posts WHERE 1=1 AND wp_posts.ID = 2 AND wp_posts.post_type = 'page' ORDER BY wp_posts.post_date DESC [posts] => Array ( [0] => WP_Post Object ( [ID] => 1273 [post_author] => 262 [post_date] => 2019-02-28 06:00:51 [post_date_gmt] => 2019-02-28 11:00:51 [post_content] => A crowd gathered on the shores of Beirut’s Green Beach on Feb. 26, 1984 to watch as the last company of U.S. Marines departed from Lebanon. Remnants of a 1,800-strong peacekeeping mission, the Marines had arrived 18 months earlier to help restore stability and encourage the withdrawal of Israeli and Syrian forces from the country. The Reagan administration maintained that the peacekeepers’ presence was vital to national reconciliation and ending Lebanon’s civil war, and their operations had steadily expanded as the security situation in the country deteriorated. Then, on Oct. 23, 1983, a suicide bomber affiliated with a pro-Iranian Shia faction detonated his truck within the Marine barracks at Beirut International Airport, killing 241 Americans.[1] The memory of the attack hung over the troops four months later, and their redeployment was widely seen as a retreat. “No more wounded, no more killed,” one gunnery sergeant explained to a New York Times reporter, summarizing the prevailing sentiment. “All these people want us to do is go home.”[2] Nearly three decades later, the image of the withdrawing marines has been fixed in the minds of academics, policymakers, and the general public alike as an integral element of the popular refrain that U.S. foreign policy is constrained by an extreme sensitivity to casualties.[3] Like the Nixon administration in Vietnam and the Clinton administration in Somalia, the argument goes, the Reagan administration was driven from Lebanon because policymakers feared the political repercussions of mounting losses. More generally, scholars still differ over whether the withdrawal was a shrewd political calculation designed to safeguard the president’s re-election chances, an impulsive reaction to a human tragedy, or a strategic course correction that foreshadowed Defense Secretary Caspar Weinberger’s eponymous doctrine on the use of force. But they all agree, as Israeli historian Benny Morris writes, that the “massive loss of life … instantly broke Washington’s resolve.”[4] Yet, these conventional arguments cannot explain the timing or the character of the U.S. departure from Lebanon. In fact, they obscure more than illuminate how policymakers responded to an unanticipated high-casualty event. Drawing upon newly accessible government records, this article argues that the Beirut barracks bombing did not, as is widely believed, precipitate a decision to withdraw. Although the attack strengthened a pre-existing movement for withdrawal, it did the same for a second, more influential faction within the administration that pushed successfully for an expansion and hardening of U.S. military involvement in Lebanon even as popular and congressional opposition to the intervention mounted. Ultimately, only the collapse of the Lebanese national army in early February 1984 — an event unrelated to the October truck attack — compelled Ronald Reagan to accept the mission’s failure and order the marines to redeploy. Our findings imply that policymakers’ responses to casualties are conditioned by their existing theories about an operation’s probability of success or failure. We find that individual policymakers who already opposed the U.S. intervention in Lebanon interpreted the violence of the barracks attack as evidence for their previously established views on the feasibility (or infeasibility) of the peacekeeping mission. Similarly, the attack hardened the position of intervention advocates, who continued to push for an expansion in U.S. military involvement despite the mounting human and political danger. In both instances, public attitudes toward the intervention did not determine policymakers’ support for expanding, maintaining, or terminating the peacekeeping mission. We therefore conclude that the barracks bombing was not the determining factor in the U.S. withdrawal from Lebanon as many have presumed. Rather than lend clarity about the appropriate course of action, the bombing heightened divisions within the administration as policymakers integrated the attack into their pre-existing but competing theories of success (or failure) of the Lebanon mission. This article addresses two related questions: First, why did the United States withdraw from Lebanon? Second, and more broadly, how did policymakers use new information from Beirut in decisions about expanding, maintaining, or terminating the intervention? The opening two sections briefly survey the literature on the relationship between casualties, public opinion, and U.S. foreign policy, highlighting how elite decision-makers weigh public pressure and interpret new information from the field when considering withdrawal from limited military interventions. The third section details alternative explanations for the U.S. response to the barracks bombing. Next, we outline the counterfactual method we employ to identify, construct, and assess alternative causal pathways for explaining the withdrawal. A brief history of the U.S. military withdrawal from Lebanon constitutes the fifth section, followed by a counterfactual assessment to test our theory and assess American decision-makers’ calculations between the October 1983 bombing and the Marines’ departure in February 1984. Finally, the conclusion returns to the question of why the Reagan administration terminated the peacekeeping mission and considers the implications this case has on popular, scholarly, and policy debates about military withdrawals.

Weighing the “Bodybag Effect”[5]

The history of the Reagan administration’s intervention in Lebanon has played a fundamental role in shaping popular and academic attitudes toward the effect that casualties have had on U.S. foreign policy and the role of public opinion in crafting that policy. The barracks bombing was the U.S. military’s first major casualty event since the end of the Vietnam War, and for some it played into a growing literature highlighting the public’s power to curtail military commitments when confronted with evidence of growing human costs.[6] Weinberger’s 1984 announcement of a new military doctrine defining, among other criteria, the need for “reasonable assurances” of public support for future interventions seemed to provide additional confirmation of this thesis. Media and academic discourses about Lebanon conform closely with the theory that the barracks bombing catalyzed the Marines’ departure.[7] Three decades later, Beirut remains a popular case study of the effects of casualties on U.S. foreign policy, contributing to a vast literature that frames public opinion as the “essential domino” in decisions to maintain, expand, or terminate military interventions.[8] In one camp, scholars have expanded upon John Mueller’s landmark theory of a reflexive and casualty-sensitive American electorate, contending that popular support for an intervention declines — and the risk of political backlash grows — as the costs of an intervention accumulate.[9] Conversely, a second school of thought emphasizes the public’s capacity to make rational calculations and weigh the costs of an intervention against its perceived strategic importance and the odds of success. Informed by the United States’ post-Cold War humanitarian operations and the wars in Iraq and Afghanistan, this literature suggests that a variety of contextual factors, including the type of operation, elite framing of the conflict, and the perceived probability of victory, help inform the public’s tolerance for casualties and provide opportunities for decision-makers to sustain costly interventions under certain circumstances.[10] [quote id="1"] Both views are united, however, by the common position that popular attitudes function as a strong brake on the use of force.[11] If the public is willing to punish elected leaders for the costs of a military intervention, the argument goes, U.S. presidential administrations can be expected, once presented with evidence of declining popular support, to terminate interventions in hopes of avoiding an electoral backlash. The Beirut example has emerged as a common demonstration of this dynamic. Researchers have seized upon the fact that the Reagan administration announced its withdrawal shortly after the president formally declared his intention to run for re-election. Yet, the complete history of the U.S. experience in Lebanon challenges both of these public opinion models. Closer analysis of public and White House polling data reveals that national attitudes did not decline uniformly in response to the barracks attack. To the contrary, support for the U.S. intervention in Lebanon grew in the wake of the bombing and continued to fluctuate over the intervention’s remaining four months. Even as public attitudes soured over the winter of 1983–84, the decline in support was neither as precipitous as is commonly argued nor as influential. Indeed, when the White House announced its decision to withdraw in early February 1984, public support for the intervention was “not significantly different from what it was in early October 1983, before the truck bombing occurred.”[12] Moreover, the Reagan administration continued to expand and harden U.S. military involvement in Lebanon for several months after the tragedy, even as the perceived danger of future losses increased. Rather than distance himself from a growing political liability — as both the reflexive and rational public models anticipate a savvy political leader would do — the president vociferously defended the intervention both in public and private. And even as the announcement of his re-election campaign neared, and despite worsening poll numbers, Reagan continued to tie himself to the imbroglio.

Weighing a Strategic Course Correction

A second popular interpretation of the withdrawal from Lebanon upholds the case as a rare example of prudent course correction. Skeptical of the peacekeeping mission, those subscribing to this explanation argue that the bombing forced Reagan to acknowledge that the costs of maintaining the intervention outweighed the anticipated benefits. Avoiding the temptation to double down on a losing mission, the president chose to cut his losses and terminate the mission before additional American lives were lost.[13] This view hews closely to theoretical arguments within the literature on bargaining models of war, especially notions of Bayesian updating.[14] Such updating occurs when rational political actors combine new information from the field with prior expectations to adjust their outlooks on the future. In the context of a military operation, positive information like a battlefield success might encourage policymakers, governments, or populations to expand their political objectives or to adjust their strategy to seek desired ends more efficiently. If new information suggests that an adversary is stronger than expected or that the costs of success are higher than anticipated — a devastating attack on one’s military forces, for example — decision-makers should narrow their objectives and begin seeking an end to the operation. These calculations depend largely on the actor’s prior assessments; even the most damning information from the battlefield may only slowly overcome deeply held expectations that events will ultimately work out as originally anticipated.[15] Nonetheless, a Bayesian perspective suggests that new negative information from the field should reliably and consistently degrade expectations for, and thus approaches to, an intervention. At first glance, this framework provides an appealingly simple explanation for the Reagan administration’s behavior in the wake of the Beirut barracks bombing: Since the cost of the intervention — namely, the loss of 241 Americans — and the expectation of future attacks exceeded the benefits of maintaining the mission, withdrawal was consequently in order. A surprise injection of negative information from the field precipitated careful strategic reassessment. Yet, a closer examination of the Reagan administration’s deliberations reveals that policymakers did not uniformly interpret the attack and update their expectations as the Bayesian model might predict. Instead, officials retreated into their pre-established camps and offered two diverging understandings of the tragedy’s significance. Opponents of the U.S. military intervention, notably Defense Secretary Weinberger and Chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff Gen. John W. Vessey Jr., seized upon the Marine losses as a confirmation of their prior belief that U.S. objectives in Lebanon could not be achieved at an acceptable cost. Most interestingly, however, advocates of the intervention drew the inverse conclusion, construing the bloodshed as evidence that the U.S. military presence was vital to preserving hopes for a negotiated settlement to the Lebanese civil war. President Reagan, Secretary of State George Shultz, and National Security Adviser Robert “Bud” McFarlane each upheld the bombing as an additional reason to maintain — or even expand — U.S. involvement in the country and reassert Washington’s resolve.[16] Reagan reassured the American people that “The multinational force was attacked precisely because it is … accomplishing its mission.”[17] If neither pressure from a casualty-adverse public nor reflexive strategic reassessment explains the Reagan administration’s reaction to the bombing and the decision-making surrounding the ultimate withdrawal, what does?

Theories of Success, Theories of Failure

The divergent interpretations of the bombing were largely conditioned on policymakers’ previous beliefs regarding the efficacy and value of the U.S. intervention in Lebanon. We call these views their “theory of success” or “theory of failure.” We use theory of success and theory of failure in reference to the causal logic underpinning why a particular action is expected to lead, or not lead, to a desired political objective.[18] Beliefs of this kind animate each facet of policymakers’ deliberations — including definition of priorities, assessment of risk, and evaluation of potential instruments of power — by providing a unifying framework to bind specific decisions to more general political aims.[19] Functionally, theories of success determine the shape of action, providing the sinew connecting a government’s efforts with its goals. In the case of the U.S. intervention in Lebanon, policymakers’ established theories of success or failure informed their immediate reaction to the barracks bombing and their policy recommendations in the months that followed. Unlike in pure Bayesian models, the attack produced a range of interpretations among decision-makers because this new information was filtered through the lens of their prior views. Those who supported the intervention and believed that the United States could still achieve its aims viewed the attack as further evidence of the need to maintain or expand the peacekeeping mission. Conversely, those who opposed the deployment of U.S. forces to Lebanon saw the casualties as confirmation of the intervention’s futility and as an additional reason to disengage. Everyone agreed the bombing was a tragedy, but not everyone took the attack as evidence that the United States had faced a setback calling its mission into question. Indeed, by providing added evidence for their preferred courses of action, and thereby deepening the fractures within the administration, the bombings increased the “stickiness,” or durability, of policymakers’ theories of success (or impending failure). Thus, the outcome of the Reagan administration’s deliberations in the months after the barracks bombing was not pre-ordained by the scale of the losses or expectations of domestic political backlash. It was, however, increasingly influenced by theories U.S. leaders already held about the mission. A counterfactual analysis of the events leading to the U.S. military withdrawal from Lebanon reveals an alternative explanation for the administration’s ultimate decision to disengage from the country. Until the very end, optimists like Reagan and Shultz maintained their conviction that the Marine presence would help bring stability to the troubled region, even as the security situation in Lebanon deteriorated and negotiations faltered. Only in early February 1984, when a series of local crises threatened and ultimately overwhelmed the Lebanese Armed Forces, did the Cabinet finally form the consensus necessary to persuade Reagan to order the redeployment. The collapse of the Lebanese forces provided conclusive evidence that the president’s theory of success, which posited that the Lebanese government could, with sufficient U.S. support, reassert control without a wider American ground presence, was no longer viable. What occurred was not a thoughtful withdrawal or a maneuver to placate domestic electoral pressures in the face of disconfirming evidence. Rather, confronted with the decision to either terminate or massively escalate U.S. involvement, Reagan finally conceded defeat.

A Counterfactual History

To assess the effect that the Marine barracks bombing had on U.S. policy in Lebanon, we combine historical analysis of the Reagan administration’s internal deliberations with counterfactual examination of three inflection points that occurred between the Oct. 23, 1983, attack and the Feb. 7, 1984, decision to terminate the peacekeeping mission. Once derided by historians and political scientists alike, counterfactual analysis offers a powerful qualitative tool to test theories of causality.[20] Because it challenges researchers to envision alternative unrealized futures, counterfactual analysis also illuminates flaws in established narratives and provides a safeguard against confirmation bias, making it a valuable method to re-evaluate the popular Lebanese example. By comparing possible outcomes against actual events, we seek to “weigh” the bombing’s significance as a driver of U.S. decision-making and to judge the effect of public opinion and rational strategic reassessment on the administration’s decision-making. To control against indefensible extrapolations, we draw upon multiple related analytical frameworks.[21] We blend inductive historical and theory-guided analysis to “describe, explain, interpret, [and] understand a single case as an end in itself.”[22] We employ theory as a guide to identify causal pathways and to help select likely or feasible counterfactual scenarios. Deep analysis of the historical record is also necessary to identify potential turning points, assess realistic alternatives, and weigh the probability of potential consequences. As a historically-minded political scientist and a historian versed in political theory, we aim to conduct an interdisciplinary study that draws equally from both traditions. [quote id="2"] Toward this end, we conducted archival work to build a rich case study of decision-making with regard to Lebanon between October 1983 and February 1984.[23] Declassified government records, oral histories, memoirs, and contemporary news reporting allowed us to reconstruct the Reagan administration’s internal debates and to trace changes in that debate across time.[24] By carefully following a causal chain from origin to outcome, we can identify policymakers’ assumptions, isolate points of contention, and delineate a range of alternative outcomes that were possible at the time.[25] Tracing the decision-making process this way serves as a check against common cognitive distortions like hindsight bias, or the tendency to see past occurrences as obvious and the future as predictable. It also forms a foundation from which to build realistic alternatives.[26] In identifying turning points during this period for counterfactual comparison, we prioritized instances in which: (1) the Reagan administration engaged in a high-level debate over whether to expand, contract, or terminate the peacekeeping mission in Lebanon; (2) the ultimate outcome was contingent on specific, isolatable variables (e.g., the presence of an individual or the occurrence of an event); and (3) an alternative could be extrapolated with minimal speculation. To avoid what historian Francis Gavin has termed the “fallacy of focusing on the last out,” we also selected examples from across the four-month period in question.[27] Broadening our temporal lens allows us to account for fluctuations over time, to consider cumulative effects, and to build a rich causal narrative that accounts for individual learning, the dynamics of decision-making, and the “stickiness” of theories of success or failure over time. Three moments satisfied our criteria. First, the October 23 bombing, which required many things to go right for the attackers, including acquiring the explosives and securing a determined suicide bomber, and many to go wrong for the United States and its allies, namely, an overabundance of intelligence and the inability to interdict the truck.[28] Second, the botched December 3 raid against Syrian targets that led to the death of one American pilot and the capture of a second. And third, the mass defection of the Lebanese Armed Forces in February 1984, an outcome contingent on the success of a risky anti-government offensive. In evaluating each example, we define a clear counterfactual antecedent (e.g., the Lebanese forces did not collapse), a set of hypothesized consequences (e.g., the U.S. decision to stay), and a causal path (e.g., because the Lebanese government remained stable, American officials could still argue for supporting it).[29]

Withdrawing from Lebanon, a Brief History

Lebanon forced its way onto the Reagan administration’s agenda in April 1981, when a confrontation between Israeli-backed Christian militants and Syrian deterrent forces stationed in the Bekaa Valley nearly provoked a fifth Arab-Israeli war. To avert a regional conflict, the president dispatched career diplomat Philip Habib to broker a new framework delineating Syrian, Palestinian, and Israeli zones of operations in Lebanon. Habib’s tireless mediation succeeded in defusing a series of confrontations over the next 16 months. Nevertheless, Israeli preparations for a major ground offensive continued despite U.S. protests.[30] On June 6, 1982, the long-planned Israeli invasion began. Within one week, the Israel Defense Forces had laid siege to Beirut in an effort to evict and destroy the Palestine Liberation Organization and thereby secure Israel’s northern border region. After inconclusive negotiations, the Reagan administration announced in July of that year that the president had agreed, in principle, to deploy U.S. marines to Lebanon. In August, the first contingent disembarked in Beirut as part of the Multinational Force tasked with overseeing the evacuation of Palestinian and Syrian fighters from the city.[31] Despite the ferocity of the fighting in Lebanon, the congressional reaction to Reagan’s commitment of U.S. forces was mixed. Senate Majority Leader Howard Baker expressed private reservations, and the House Foreign Affairs Committee convened an emergency session to review the administration’s proposal.[32] The White House averted more sustained opposition, however, by insisting on its intent to comply with the provisions of the War Powers Act. Under the terms of the Lebanese government’s invitation, U.S. forces were authorized to participate on a “limited and temporary basis” not to exceed 30 days, and they were equipped with unloaded weapons consistent with a non-combat mission. “I want to emphasize that there is no intention or expectation that U.S. Armed Forces will become involved in hostilities,” Reagan wrote to Congress, underscoring that Habib had secured guarantees from all armed parties in the city.[33] The first marines arrived ashore on Aug. 24, 1982. The Palestine Liberation Organization evacuation was completed quickly and without incident, and on September 8 — nearly two weeks before the mission’s scheduled end — the Pentagon announced the Marines’ early departure. They sailed from Lebanon two days later under banners reading “Mission Accomplished Farewell.”[34] Their withdrawal proved premature. Within days, President-Elect Bashir Gemayel, leader of Lebanon’s far-right Christian Phalange militia, was assassinated and the Israel Defense Forces re-entered Beirut, where they allowed Maronite fighters to massacre hundreds of Palestinian refugees.[35] Horrified by the carnage, and eager to dispel accusations of U.S. complicity, Reagan ordered the Marines to return to Beirut as part of a reconstituted multinational force tasked with three expanded political objectives: (1) to facilitate the withdrawal of Syrian and Israeli forces from Lebanon; (2) to strengthen the Lebanese national army; and (3) to assist the central government’s efforts to restore stability.[36] Over the next year, Reagan authorized gradual expansions in the Marine mission even as negotiations for the withdrawal of foreign forces stalled and efforts to strengthen the Lebanese Armed Forces faltered.[37] Determined to dispel the memory of Vietnam, and confident in what he saw as America’s unique obligation to promote peace abroad, Reagan envisioned the troops playing an indispensable role in promoting a lasting peace in Lebanon. His convictions were encouraged by optimistic assessments from Shultz, his secretary of state, and National Security Adviser William Clark. Reagan approved Lebanese government requests to expand the Marines’ patrol zone and launch an ambitious military modernization program over the fall of 1982.[38] By January 1983, the marines could be seen serving alongside Lebanese soldiers at observation posts and checkpoints throughout the capital.[39] These new responsibilities chipped away at U.S. claims of neutrality in the country’s civil war, eroding Lebanese popular support for the peacekeeping presence and bringing American diplomats and marines into the crosshairs. Attacks on the Multinational Force ticked upward in February and March, compelling the Marines to tighten coordination with Lebanese government forces.[40] On April 17, 1983, Shia militants supported by both Iran and Syria detonated a car bomb outside the U.S. embassy in Beirut, killing 58.[41] The attack precipitated a final push to secure an Israeli-Lebanese withdrawal arrangement, but the resulting written agreement was stymied by Syrian opposition.[42] Denouncing the continued U.S. presence, Syria increased its support for Druze and Shia factions in the mountainous Shouf District overlooking Beirut, intensifying a simmering standoff over Phalange encroachment.[43] As the fighting spread over the summer, attacks on Americans spiked. From August 4 to September 7, clashes killed four marines and wounded another 28, more than a threefold increase in total casualties over the previous 10-month period.[44] A series of pitched confrontations in September between the Lebanese Armed Forces and militias in the mountains prompted expansions to the rules of engagement for U.S. forces, which now directly supported the government of Lebanon with artillery and naval fire.[45] [quote id="3"] By the fall of 1983, progress toward all three U.S. objectives in Lebanon had stalled. Congress authorized an 18-month extension to the Marines’ mandate in September, but public attitudes toward the already-unpopular intervention declined as the security situation worsened — by mid-September only 17 percent of adult Americans favored continued U.S. participation.[46] Intelligence analysts cautioned that the opportunity for a negotiated withdrawal of foreign forces had passed and that Lebanon’s de facto partition was all but inevitable. “All the indicators are now moving the wrong way on our policy commitment,” CIA analyst Graham Fuller warned the agency’s deputy director, John McMahon. “We must be ready to face the fact that we have reached the end of the road.”[47] Policymakers recognized that they had arrived at a decision point, but they disagreed bitterly over how, or whether, a continued U.S. military presence could accelerate a negotiated settlement in Lebanon. In one camp, Defense Secretary Weinberger and Chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff Gen. Vessey, who had opposed the decision to deploy the Marines a year earlier, pushed Reagan to draw down the U.S. presence, arguing that the administration’s initial theory of success was, by now, strategically bankrupt. The intensifying conflict, they argued, demonstrated the mission’s futility and increased the odds of a miscalculation or confrontation that might alienate Arab opinion and strain the U.S. military’s limited resources in the region.[48] “Our whole policy, including the MNF presence and the buildup of the [Lebanese Armed Forces], was premised on achieving a diplomatic success. … Absent this, there was no military action that could succeed, unless we declared war and tried to force the occupying troops out of Lebanon,” Weinberger later wrote. “Our position was becoming increasingly dangerous, and was in fact useless.”[49] Yet Secretary of State Shultz, National Security Adviser Clark, and Bud McFarlane, who replaced Clark in early October 1983, contended that the administration’s objectives remained within reach. This camp expressed confidence in America’s capacity to promote peace in Lebanon, and espoused a theory of success in which the peacekeepers’ presence would bolster confidence in the Lebanese government, encourage Israeli and Syrian concessions, and accelerate the process of national reconciliation. Appealing to Reagan’s fear that his predecessors, cowed by the U.S. failure in Vietnam, had neglected American alliances and undermined the country’s reputation, they upheld Lebanon as a litmus test for American power in the world. The conflict, this camp argued in memoranda and private conversations, was both a “historic opportunity” to secure America’s position in a strategic region and a gamble that placed U.S. “credibility as a great power [at] stake.”[50] The world was watching to see what the United States would do when tested, and Shultz, Clark, and McFarlane urged the president to deploy additional marines as part of an expanded mission to support the Lebanese Armed Forces in reasserting government control beyond the capital.[51] The impasse deepened the administration’s internal fractures, and the debate stretched on without resolution into October. As governor of California and later as president, Reagan frequently demonstrated a willingness to cut his political losses and reverse course on a range of domestic matters, a strategy that his advisers described as “damage limitation” and that commentators viewed as a signature “tactical realism.”[52] He worried about escalating the crisis, and he listened to Weinberger’s warnings. Yet Shultz, Clark, and McFarlane’s arguments appealed to the president’s deeply held conviction that diplomacy worked best when backed by demonstrations of strength. Reagan still believed that the United States could secure a negotiated withdrawal of Syrian and Israeli forces from Lebanon, and he continued to view the Marine presence as an important symbol of American staying power. But Reagan was characteristically disinclined to mediate between his advisers, and he deferred the question of whether to augment the peacekeeping mission during repeated National Security Planning Group meetings in early October.[53] As a result, the national security leaders were already deeply divided over Lebanon when news of the barracks bombing reached Washington. The Marine Barracks Bombing — Oct. 23, 1983 Early on the morning of Oct. 23, 1983, Marine sentries stationed at Beirut International Airport observed a yellow Mercedes truck circling a public parking lot south of their compound. The Marines had suffered an unusual spate of casualties over the previous two weeks, and the sentries had been instructed to watch for suspicious vehicles. But there had been so many warnings — and the details were so sparse — that the guards dismissed the circling truck until, at 6:22 a.m., the driver picked up speed and turned toward the compound. As the marines scrambled to load their weapons, the driver maneuvered past the guard post and crashed into the barracks building, where he detonated the truck’s explosive load. The blast leveled the structure, killing 241 Americans.[54] The attack shocked the Reagan administration. McFarlane, a week into his new role as national security adviser, recalled that the president was stricken by early reports of American casualties. But Reagan’s grief was soon replaced by anger. “Those sons of bitches,” he swore as the first reports of casualties trickled back to Washington. “Let’s find a way to go after them.”[55] Within days, the intelligence community had gathered conclusive evidence of Syrian and Iranian culpability, including intercepted communications and an eye witness who shadowed the explosive-laden truck after it left the Iranian embassy in Beirut.[56] “If there ever was a 24-karat gold document, this was it,” a participant close to the process recalled. “This was not something from the third cousin of the fourth wife of Muhammed the taxicab driver.”[57] But while McFarlane, Shultz, and the National Security Council staff pressed for rapid reprisals to deter further attacks,[58] Weinberger and Vessey urged the president to defer a decision until after a scheduled trip to East Asia in early November.[59] If advocates of the Multinational Force viewed the bombing as evidence of the need for a peacekeeping force in Lebanon, the Department of Defense interpreted the attack as further confirmation that the Marines’ objectives were unattainable and feared that a confrontation might drag the Marines deeper into a quagmire. Dismissing the intelligence linking Syria and Iran to the attack, Weinberger and Vessey insisted that there was still insufficient evidence to justify military action.[60] Emboldened, the defense secretary renewed his campaign to persuade the president to bring the marines home.[61] In retrospect, these officials’ reactions to the Beirut bombing were emblematic of a pattern of behavior that persisted over the course of the Marine mission in Lebanon. Rather than re-evaluate their positions, policymakers instead sought to fit the new information into their pre-established theories of the intervention’s viability. New information often served to reinforce their arguments, worsening divisions within the administration and decreasing the possibility of compromise or consensus. When reports from the field did not conform with their prior expectations, Weinberger and others disputed the news and doubled down on their already established positions. The defense secretary eventually succeeded in persuading Reagan to defer a decision on retaliation until he returned to Washington in mid-November. Yet, the president’s confidence in the Marines’ mission in Lebanon deepened in the days after the bombing. In conversations with his advisers and public statements, Reagan underscored the importance of maintaining the course, cautioning his advisers that adversaries were watching the administration’s next steps.[62] Within days, he approved a series of presidential directives reasserting the importance of a U.S. military presence in Lebanon and modifying the Marines’ rules of engagement to allow U.S. forces to support Lebanese Armed Forces operations outside Beirut, including positions “in danger of being overrun by hostile forces.”[63] Notably, these directives were based on drafts circulated in advance of the October 23 bombing and were signed after only minor corrections.[64] In addition, he dispatched Marine Commandant P.X. Kelley to assess efforts to fortify American positions and evaluate whether additional security measures were needed.[65] With these actions, Reagan demonstrated his intention to maintain the U.S. presence in Lebanon, regardless of the risks. “What the President did not want to do, above all, was … to be seen as running away,” recalled McFarlane. “To the contrary, the barracks bombing seemed to strengthen his resolve to stay.”[66] [quote id="4"] Reagan was not alone in this view. Neither Shultz nor McFarlane wavered in his support for the intervention, and both pushed the president to demonstrate his continued commitment to the cause.[67] Even the president’s political advisers, typically sensitive to partisan winds, urged continuity. “Stability in the Middle East — and progress toward peace there — is vital to world peace,” Edwin Meese III, one of the president’s closest confidants, wrote to Reagan the day after the bombing, reiterating the president’s concern that the U.S. commitment to Lebanon had become a litmus test of America’s reliability as an ally. “If we are driven out of Lebanon, the radicals, the rejectionists, the violent will have won,” he warned, suggesting that a failure of resolve would be interpreted as a green light to challenge U.S. interests elsewhere.[68] Shultz echoed Meese’s warning in nearly identical terms during briefings on Capitol Hill, adding that “the presence of our Marines has been a crucial pillar of the structure of stability that is needed to make a political solution possible.”[69] Implicit in both arguments was an understanding that the attack threatened to derail the administration’s broader effort to establish a reputation for resolve, one manifested in the figure of the marines themselves.[70] The documentary evidence reveals that concern for public attitudes played almost no role in decision-makers’ arguments for retaliation or the president’s decision to defer military action. Official deliberations, whether during National Security Council meetings or in written memoranda, concentrated on the continued prospect of success and the effects that both retaliation and withdrawal could have on U.S. credibility abroad. In fact, Reagan dismissed media speculation that the bombing would harm his political future as the work of “whining” journalists, suggesting it was a ploy to retaliate for the Defense Department’s decision to limit access to Grenada, where U.S. troops had landed on October 25. “The press is trying to give this the Vietnam treatment but don’t think the people will buy it,” he wrote in his diary.[71] To the contrary, Reagan believed that the American public would support the Marines’ mission if they understood its global importance and were presented with evidence that progress was being made. “We must show that the cause was worth dying for,” he insisted to his advisers.[72] A presidential directive elaborated on this logic, forecasting that the appearance of passivity — particularly during an election season — would undermine American security interests and encourage foreign adversaries by signaling that the administration was vulnerable at home.[73] To avert this outcome, Reagan hand-drafted an address, televised on Oct. 27, 1983, making the case for continuing the peacekeeping mission.[74] Staring straight into the camera, he rebuffed accusations that his administration lacked a coherent strategy and emphasized his confidence in the prospects for success, insisting that the goal of a stable and secure Lebanon remained within reach so long as the “physical presence of the marines lends support to both the Lebanese government and its army.” The efforts of the Multinational Force had already moved Lebanon a step closer to stability and order, he argued, claiming that “with our assistance and training” the Lebanese government had “set up its own army … able to hold the lines and maintain the defensive perimeter around Beirut.”[75] Yet, Reagan did more than seek to justify his administration’s past actions. He also used the speech to outline a powerful argument for expanding the U.S. role in Lebanon, a process laid out in a classified directive he signed the next day.[76] Emphasizing the Middle East’s strategic importance, he described Lebanon as the fulcrum of his administration’s efforts to roll back Soviet influence, preserve and expand the Middle East peace process, and restore American credibility abroad. The crisis in Lebanon, he argued, reflected a broader, global struggle to rebuild American power and persuade the country’s enemies that the United States remained willing to use force despite its humiliation in Vietnam. “If terrorism and intimidation succeed … [i]t won’t just be Lebanon sentenced to a future of chaos,” he warned. The strength of the United States rested, he argued, in its willingness and ability to assume the risks inherent to promoting stability. “We’re not somewhere else in the world protecting someone else’s interests; we’re there protecting our own,” he cautioned.[77] Reagan’s gamble paid off. The president’s address produced, in his words, a “complete turnaround” in popular attitudes, and Republican National Committee polling showed general support for the administration’s efforts in Lebanon lasting through early November.[78] The administration’s favored pollster, Richard Wirthlin, emphasized the upward trend, noting that surveys indicated two-thirds of the electorate agreed that “Americans should not be driven out of Lebanon.” These surveys also showed that the U.S. public was in “strong agreement” with the president’s assertion “that the U.S. peacekeeping force in Lebanon was attacked precisely because it was doing its job” and generally supported a long-term U.S. role in Lebanon. Although “the vast majority of the electorate express concern that the situation in Lebanon might plunge the U.S. into another Vietnam, there is also a strong feeling that the outcome there is important to the defense interests of the United States,” Wirthlin’s report concluded, affirming Reagan’s impulse. “The idea of yielding to terrorist action is offensive to the American public, even to save American lives,” it added.[79] Notably, White House confidence in the administration’s ability to either shape or withstand changes in public attitudes held even as media speculation intensified in November over the Lebanon imbroglio’s potential effect on the president’s re-election chances. White House staffers chafed, for instance, at a November 30 Washington Post article conjecturing that mounting political pressure would force an early withdrawal, dismissing the suggestion in a Senior Staff Action Items List as not only “inaccurate” but also “harmful to our policy objectives.”[80] That neither Weinberger nor other Defense Department officials emphasized the danger of declining popular support in their arguments against the intervention provides additional evidence that this factor held little sway over the White House deliberations. The most serious outstanding question was whether and how the United States would strike back. A Botched Raid — Dec. 3, 1983 Little serious discussion of withdrawing from Beirut occurred in the days and weeks after the barracks attack. Instead, attention remained focused on whether to retaliate against the perpetrators of the bombing who had been linked to Iranian bases in the Bekaa Valley. Deliberations resumed on November 14, when Reagan returned to Washington from a lengthy trip to East Asia. Over the next two days, he and his advisers debated the wisdom of launching a joint operation with the French against two Iranian installations linked to the attack. The administration was divided along familiar lines: Shultz and McFarlane, now backed by Director of Central Intelligence William Casey, urged the president to order a strike, arguing that retaliation was the only way to protect the negotiating process and deter future attacks. However, Weinberger, worried that further escalation might trap the Marines in Lebanon, dug in his heels. Stressing the danger of collateral damage that could erode local support for the peacekeeping mission and imperil U.S. diplomats and servicemembers in the country, he persuaded Reagan to defer his decision for two more days.[81] On November 16, Reagan and his advisers gathered to make a decision. What exactly happened in this meeting remains mired in controversy. Some participants later claimed that Reagan approved a joint strike with the French, only to have his order ignored by his defiant defense secretary. For his part, Weinberger maintained that Reagan either never issued an order or retracted it in a private call later that evening.[82] Whatever the reason for U.S. inaction, the French decision to act alone on the morning of November 16 resolved the administration’s internal debate. With its intended targets destroyed, and without alternative locations to strike, the Defense Department canceled its reprisal plans in favor of defensive initiatives to mitigate future attacks and prepare the Lebanese Armed Forces for an eventual transfer of responsibility.[83] [quote id="5"] Scholars have seized on the U.S. failure to retaliate as evidence that the Reagan administration was already preparing to draw down operations. Indeed, Weinberger and Vessey redoubled their campaign to withdraw the Marines in the wake of the French strike and urged the president to reverse his decision to authorize more permissive rules of engagement.[84] But analysis of the Reagan administration’s decision-making in November reveals that this encouragement was not indicative of a wider policy shift. Buoyed by optimistic assessments from Shultz and McFarlane, who continued to advocate for an assertive U.S. presence in Lebanon, the president overruled his military advisers and signed a second directive reiterating the importance of “aggressive self-defense.”[85] Anticipating future casualties, he also ordered the Defense Department to “develop target data and arrangements” to facilitate “a future attack on short notice against suitable targets” and authorized new defensive measures to harden the Marines’ position.[86] “I happen to believe taking out a few batteries might give [the Syrians] pause to think,” he remarked in a diary entry on Dec. 1, 1983.[87] The president, sticking with his long-held theory of success, was confident that a demonstration of resolve would promote progress in Lebanon. Reagan’s words were tested only two days later, when a Syrian anti-aircraft unit fired at U.S. reconnaissance planes over eastern Lebanon.[88] It was not the first Syrian attempt to target U.S. aircraft — a similar incident on November 10 had prompted Weinberger to assure the media that such events were not “unusual or surprising”[89] — but this incident coincided with the president’s approval of new rules of engagement authorizing the Marines to practice “vigorous self-defense.”[90] A plan for rapid retaliation was therefore ready when news of the attempted downing reached the president. Without any of the hesitation that had characterized his earlier deliberations, Reagan, frustrated by the Syrians’ continued intransigence and determined to demonstrate America’s commitment to Lebanon, wasted little time ordering the Defense Department to plan and execute a retaliatory airstrike.[91] The president, Secretary of the Navy John Lehman later explained, was certain that the United States “would kick the shit out of the Syrians.”[92] Early the next morning, 28 bombers took off from the U.S.S. Kennedy and U.S.S. Independence with orders to strike three Syrian sites near Beirut, including a surface-to-air missile installation, an ammunition depot, and a radar system. The mission was straightforward, but a combination of miscommunications, technical challenges, and human errors caused the operation to go awry. Aided by Soviet surveillance, Syrian forces quickly identified, tracked, and fired on the U.S. planes, destroying two aircraft and killing one pilot. A second pilot, Lt. Robert Goodman Jr., was captured and detained by the Syrians for nearly a month, until the Rev. Jesse Jackson, an outspoken critic of the Reagan administration, flew to Damascus to negotiate his release.[93] The operation was an unequivocal failure. As Defense Intelligence Agency analysts summarized, “the damage inflicted by the airstrikes probably will not cause the Syrians to alter their present policies” on withdrawal and is “unlikely to deter Syria and its Lebanese allies from attacking US reconnaissance aircraft and marine positions.”[94] McFarlane had stuck to his theory of success during the weeks of deliberation after the barracks bombing, but the failed December raid forced him to re-evaluate his support for the Marine mission. The national security adviser’s endorsement of the U.S. intervention had been premised on his confidence that the United States could, with sufficient application of military pressure, force Syria to make concessions for the simple reason that Damascus could not afford a direct confrontation. McFarlane recognized that the Defense Department’s opposition precluded any possibility of a larger military operation, but he had held out hope that targeted reprisals, with their implicit threat of escalation, might serve as a reasonable alternative.[95] Meanwhile, reconciliation negotiations among Lebanon’s diverse factions had stalled, threatening to spark a new bout of major fighting that was likely to overwhelm the already strained Lebanese army and reverse the limited gains painstakingly made over the previous year. “There were three loci of that strategy,” he concluded, “and in each one we appeared to be failing.”[96] McFarlane’s reversal broke the deadlock and provided the Defense Department with an opportunity to initiate an interagency discussion of possible withdrawal options. Throughout December, an interagency working group prepared a detailed plan of action to transition authority to the Lebanese government and gradually draw down the U.S. military presence. The proposal envisioned an accelerated training program to expand the Lebanese Armed Forces’ area of operations and allow the Marines to move to more defensible positions along the southern border, where they would operate under expanded rules of engagement and continue to respond aggressively to any threats to their presence. With the enticement of an American withdrawal — the working group decided against setting a strict deadline — and the threat of a long-term U.S.-Israeli presence in Lebanon, U.S. negotiators hoped to extract concessions from the Syrians and secure at least some of Washington’s objectives.[97] These preparations for an incremental drawdown in U.S. military involvement coincided with a decline in public support for the peacekeeping mission. The “comfortable margin of approval” Reagan had secured with his October address winnowed over time, and by December 12 campaign pollsters began to warn of “a sharp reduction in the number of Americans who approve of the job the President is doing in Lebanon.” The downward trend mirrored a simultaneous “dramatic shift” in public approval of the president’s handling of foreign affairs, with a majority of Americans reporting for the first time that they disapproved of his response to the Beirut barracks bombing.[98] Sensing an opportunity, Reagan’s political challengers seized on the failed raid as evidence that the administration was driving the United States toward war. Reagan looked “trigger-happy and reckless,” according to Sen. Alan Cranston, one of five Democratic Party challengers.[99] Yet, neither McFarlane’s reversal nor the turn in public opinion compelled Reagan to change course. Although the president intended to launch his re-election campaign shortly after the new year, he appeared unfazed by the prospect of an electoral backlash. Just as he had in the immediate aftermath of the barracks bombing, Reagan dismissed public criticism of his administration’s policy as slander by a hostile press corps, and he insisted that the United States had an obligation to maintain its peacekeeping efforts until internal stability was established and the withdrawal of foreign forces secured.[100] He had great faith in the psychological power of the Marine presence and still believed that a few well-placed shells from the U.S.S. New Jersey’s 16-inch guns would force a political resolution.[101] In short, his theory of success remained unchanged. The president’s confidence in his chosen path in Lebanon was sustained by optimistic assessments from Shultz, who maintained that U.S. objectives were viable and that congressional and public support for the intervention could be secured through concerted outreach. Reagan and Shultz had grown closer over the fall, and the president took to meeting privately with his secretary of state to discuss each week’s events. Although they discussed a range of topics, Shultz’s advice followed a general theme: the need to stay firm and demonstrate American mettle. Even as Syrian opposition hardened and factional fighting around Beirut intensified, Shultz maintained that the United States could achieve its objectives if it persevered and presented a unified, unyielding front.[102] Reagan agreed. “We see pretty much eye to eye on our problems in Lebanon,” he noted in his diary.[103] Thus, while the Defense Department prepared plans for withdrawal, the president continued to authorize plans to harden and expand U.S. involvement in Lebanon. On Dec. 5, 1983 — just a day after the failed air raid — Reagan overruled, for a second time, his military advisers’ recommendations and signed a presidential directive explicitly reaffirming his decision to modify the rules of engagement for the deployed marines. This time, he stipulated that the Marines be provided naval surface and tactical air support to carry out “vigorous self-defense” against either the source of enemy fire or “discrete military targets in unpopulated areas which are organizationally associated with the firing units.”[104] To reassure European partners, he dispatched Shultz to Brussels a few days later with a message affirming America’s commitment to Lebanon and orders to discuss plans to strengthen the peacekeeping mission’s support for the Lebanese government.[105] U.S. forces would remain in the country, despite the danger, until a political resolution was reached or “there was such a collapse of order that it was absolutely certain no solution to the problem” in Lebanon would be reached, he told reporters later in the month. He remained confident, however, that success was possible, adding that “we’re making more progress than appears on the surface.”[106] The Deterioration of the Lebanese Armed Forces: Feb. 4–7, 1984 The fractures within the Reagan administration deepened in December and January. “There seem to be at least two opposing hypotheses about how we are doing,” one National Security Council staffer wrote, summarizing the prevailing sentiment.
One is optimistic in flavor; it assumes that things are naturally falling into place and that with a little perseverance we will be able to achieve our broad objectives. … The other is fundamentally pessimistic, assuming that the situation continues to be structured unfavorably, and that the most that we can hope for is an implicit set of understandings between Israel and Syria … and a face-saving way to get out of Lebanon.[107]
Indeed, evidence that the administration’s efforts were failing continued to accumulate. On December 23, the CIA published a Special National Intelligence Estimate summarizing the intelligence community’s assessment of the quandary. “Despite recent air attacks and naval gunfire on Syrian positions,” the report noted, “Syria appears unwilling to back down.” Although the State Department theorized that robust American action would inspire political progress, the report argued that Syrian President Hafez Assad appeared confident that he could “afford to pay a higher price than either the United States or Israel” and predicted that he would respond to any effort to expand U.S. involvement with a new round of terrorist attacks. Worse still, the intelligence estimate forecast that further U.S. reprisals would exacerbate Lebanon’s confessional polarization, opening new opportunities for Syria to exploit local grievances against the government and quickening the country’s partition.[108] The report concluded that a continued U.S. military presence could only worsen the crisis, not resolve it.[109] The same day the CIA published its intelligence estimate, an independent Defense Department investigation released its findings from a two-month inquiry into the October barracks bombing.[110] The Long Commission, named for its chairman, Adm. Robert Long, identified systemic failures across the command chain but concluded that the tragedy was a direct result of the peacekeepers’ mandate.[111] Weinberger, who had requested the investigation in part to bolster his arguments for withdrawal, seized upon its conclusions as further evidence of the mission’s futility.[112] As he explained in a letter to Reagan summarizing the findings, the investigation confirmed “the near impossibility of carrying out the assigned mission without risking such a catastrophe.”[113] The administration’s best option, he insisted, would be to withdraw. The commission was one more tool the secretary of defense used to propagate his theory of failure regarding Lebanon, though its report offered few details about how and when a withdrawal should take place even as it questioned the wisdom of the deployment. [quote id="6"] Weinberger’s message was soon amplified on Capitol Hill, where congressional critics of the intervention seized on the Long Commission’s findings as evidence that Reagan was driving the United States toward war with Syria.[114] Even once-sympathetic leaders, such as Charles H. Percy, chairman of the Senate Foreign Relations Committee, and House Speaker Tip O’Neill, who had helped the White House avert a War Powers Act debate over the Marines’ deployment, returned home for the holiday recess to find constituents angry and confused about the purpose of the Marines’ mission. Although Congress would not resume session until January 24, allies on the Hill cautioned that the Democratic leadership was already preparing to reopen the War Powers debate.[115] All the while, popular support for the intervention continued to plummet. The media reported extensively on the Long Commission’s findings and the administration’s infighting, compounding the sense that the White House had stumbled into a quagmire.[116] Approval of the president’s overall performance in Lebanon sank 10 points over four weeks, dropping to 33 percent by January 30. For the first time since the Marines’ deployment 18 months earlier, a White House-commissioned poll found a majority of Americans favored “an immediate withdrawal of all U.S. forces” over the status quo.[117] Yet, none of these things — not the intelligence community’s dreary assessment, the Long Commission report, or the popular and congressional uproar — persuaded Reagan to change course.[118] Three days after the Long Commission report was released, the president convened a news conference to silence rumors that his administration was preparing to leave Lebanon. “If there is to be blame, it properly rests here in this office and with this president,” he told reporters, putting his reputation on the line. But he refused to second-guess the value of the Marine presence, chiding naysayers for not realizing the “problem … will not disappear if we run from it.” Reiterating the message he had espoused in the days after the bombing, he asked the American public to allow the marines time to complete their mission, which had already, he stressed, helped to protect the Lebanese government, strengthen its army, and “lay the foundation for a future peace.” It would be hard, he acknowledged, but America’s goals in Lebanon were worth the cost.[119] This was more than savvy political rhetoric. Reagan’s public statements were consistent with his long-held theory of the mission and his personal conviction that the crisis presented a test of American resolve. His political aides, worried that a congressional standoff might harm the president’s re-election campaign, implored Reagan to distance himself from the operation. By late January, White House Chief of Staff James Baker, who previously had supported the decision to intervene, had gone so far as to urge the president to disengage the United States from the messy conflict.[120] But Reagan was determined to see the mission through. Encouraged by optimistic reports from his new special envoy to the Middle East, Donald Rumsfeld, and conversations with Shultz, the president resolved to buy time for the ongoing negotiations to succeed.[121] Reagan also recognized, however, that he could no longer ignore the criticism mounting on Capitol Hill. To stave off a War Powers Act debate, he dispatched senior officials to build support for an open-ended U.S. military role in Lebanon, following a political strategy first employed in the wake of the October bombing. Throughout January, McFarlane, Shultz, Undersecretary of State Lawrence Eagleburger, and even Reagan himself met with leading members of both houses of Congress to stress the importance of the Marines’ mission and push back against calls for a precipitous withdrawal.[122] Their efforts were persuasive: As House Minority Leader Robert H. Michel told reporters after one session, he was “satisfied with what I have heard today that what we’re doing is the right thing.”[123] Reagan had won other tough congressional battles, and he saw no reason why a reasonable compromise could not be secured. To further assuage congressional concerns, and to refute allegations that the administration planned to deploy U.S. troops indefinitely, Reagan directed Shultz, Weinberger, and Vessey on January 26 to prepare a timetable for the phased drawdown of the marines deployed in Lebanon. Six days later, he signed a national security directive approving, in principle, preparations to replace the Marines with a smaller, more mobile anti-terrorist force operating under more permissive rules of engagement. Paired with an accelerated military modernization program for the Lebanese Armed Forces, the residual force was intended to demonstrate U.S. staying power and maintain the administration’s ability to strike at Syrian or surrogate forces as needed. To further enhance the safety of the marines in the interim, the directive granted U.S. naval forces the authority to provide gunfire and air support against any units conducting a hostile attack on U.S. or Multinational Force personnel and facilities, stretching the definition of self-defense.[124] Still, the president was not ready to abandon his goals in Lebanon. Shultz continued to stress the dangers of a premature withdrawal, warning that the United States would send the wrong message to adversaries if it cut and ran. Reagan agreed, and he instructed Rumsfeld to fly to Beirut for consultations, insisting the drawdown plan could not be implemented unless the Lebanese government approved.[125] Determined to maintain the administration’s flexibility to defend U.S. interests in Lebanon by force if the need arose, the White House continued to fight a House resolution calling for withdrawal. Meanwhile, the State Department and National Security Council staff explored a range of options to increase pressure on Syria and improve U.S. targeting abilities.[126] Looking back on the February 1 decision to approve, in principle, a smaller replacement force, Rumsfeld compared the administration’s options to those of a pilot of a damaged plane: “We could either crash land with a precipitous withdrawal or gradually reduce our presence in a controlled landing.”[127] In this, the intervention’s advocates were aided by an inadvertent gift from the Joint Chiefs of Staff who, for reasons that remain unclear, dallied in preparing timetables for withdrawal, even as Weinberger urged them to set a deadline for the Marines’ immediate departure.[128] Against this backdrop, Reagan’s request for withdrawal options appears to have been part of a political strategy designed to preserve the administration’s maneuverability by pre-empting a congressional effort to impose a strict deadline for the Marines’ departure. In comments to the media, Reagan continued to resist calls to set a timeline, claiming that the Marines would remain in Lebanon until the withdrawal of foreign forces had been secured and the Lebanese government proved capable of maintaining security independently. “As long as there is a chance for peace, the mission remains the same,” he snapped at reporters on February 2, just days after announcing his re-election campaign. His critics “may be willing to surrender, but I’m not.”[129] Just as Reagan announced his intention to stay in Lebanon, the National Salvation Front, a coalition of anti-government militias, launched a coordinated assault on Lebanese army positions in and around Beirut.[130] By February 3, the coalition had seized control of Beirut’s southern district and made significant gains in the capital’s eastern and center sectors. That day, Nabih Berri, leader of the Amal militia, called on all Muslim leaders to resign from the government and for all nationalist soldiers in the Lebanese Armed Forces to abandon their posts. Others had issued similar calls to little avail, but the message was now underscored by the country’s heaviest fighting since 1976. An entire brigade deserted at once, allowing Shia and Druze militias to occupy West Beirut. Soon after, the militias seized the finance ministry and national radio station, wresting control from the few remaining government units. As the militias advanced, desertion rates skyrocketed. Within a week, the Lebanese army was shattered.[131] After months of debate, the collapse of the Lebanese army provided decisive evidence that the U.S. strategy in Lebanon had failed. The reconstruction of the Lebanese Armed Forces had formed the foundation of the Reagan administration’s strategy since September 1982, and its collapse provided critics of the intervention with concrete evidence that U.S. objectives in Lebanon were no longer viable. Amid reports of escalating fighting, McFarlane convened a meeting of the National Security Policy Group on February 7 to discuss the prospect of a complete and rapid withdrawal of U.S. forces. The conversation was dominated by the intervention’s critics. Shultz, now the Multinational Force’s lone advocate in the Cabinet, was in Grenada, and Reagan, his attention now focused on his re-election campaign, was stumping through the Southwest. Undersecretary of State Eagleburger fought a losing battle to keep the Marines in Beirut, but he was overruled quickly by Weinberger and Vice President George H.W. Bush, who chaired the session in the president’s absence. An early supporter of the intervention, Bush had been affected deeply by the October bombing.[132] He visited the marines shortly after the attack, an experience he described as “one of [the] most difficult and emotional assignments” of his long career. He returned to Washington convinced that future attacks were likely, that the Lebanese government was unable or unwilling to manage the problems ahead, and that a plan for the withdrawal of U.S. forces was needed urgently.[133] Sensitive to the limitations of his office, Bush usually demurred from intervening in other Cabinet members’ debates, but he now backed Weinberger’s recommendation to disengage. That afternoon, he called Reagan to report that all except the State Department believed the Marines should redeploy from Lebanon.[134] [quote id="7"] The collapse of the Lebanese Armed Forces cast the president’s options in a new light. Without a local partner, Reagan’s preferred strategy of gradual, incremental pressure paired with an accelerated training program was no longer feasible. He was left with only two options: a massive expansion of the U.S. ground commitment in Lebanon, a prospect that would shatter the illusion that the Marines were neutral in the civil conflict and provoke a grueling fight with Congress over presidential war powers, or a rapid withdrawal of U.S. forces. Even in the best of circumstances, Reagan, wary of repeating the errors of Vietnam, had little stomach for the first option. Now, after months of resistance, he bowed to his advisers’ apparent consensus and agreed to bring the marines home.[135] Preparations for a complete and rapid disengagement were completed quickly. On February 9, the Marines began to evacuate support elements and equipment from the Beirut airport, and the final withdrawal commenced on February 18. At 6 a.m. on Feb. 26, 1984, control of the Marines’ final position was turned over to the Lebanese Armed Forces.[136] The next day, administration officials announced that the United States would no longer play an active role in efforts to promote political reconciliation in Lebanon. An announcement soon followed that military equipment deliveries would be suspended.[137] Eighteen months after it had started, and four months after the deadly truck bombing, the U.S. intervention in Lebanon ended, its aims unmet.

Three Counterfactuals

This new history of the final months of the U.S. intervention in Lebanon reveals that Reagan’s faith in the Marines’ mission was remarkably resilient. Even as public attitudes toward the intervention soured — and the announcement of his re-election campaign neared — the president continued to support proposals for an open-ended U.S. military presence in Lebanon. Bolstered by optimistic assessments from Shultz and others, Reagan retained trust in his established theory of success: that U.S. troops would stabilize the country, revitalize the central government, and bring a peaceful resolution to the Lebanese conflict. Even as U.S. public and congressional support waivered, Reagan remained confident in his ability to sustain the operation, and he dismissed signs of a future political backlash as media manipulation. Only in February 1984, when the collapse of the Lebanese government and the disintegration of its armed forces made clear that success was unlikely, did Reagan ultimately relent to the Defense Department’s pressure to withdraw. In short, the outcome of the Reagan administration’s deliberations in the months following the barracks bombing was in no way preordained by the scale of the Marines’ losses or expectations of political backlash. Indeed, the barracks bombing may have had the immediate counterintuitive effect of hardening the president’s resolve. Consider what might have unfolded had the Marine sentries disabled the truck before it reached the gates of the barracks, or if the detonator had failed. What if the driver, confronted with certain death, had instead driven away? The similarities between the policymakers’ deliberations before and after the bombing suggest that the Reagan administration likely would have defaulted to maintaining the status quo. For weeks before the attack, Reagan’s foreign policy team had grappled with the question of whether to sustain the Marine mission in Lebanon or withdraw forces offshore. Just as they were after the bombing, senior officials had been divided into two factions: One, led by Shultz and McFarlane, advocated expanding the Marines’ responsibilities; and a second, led by Weinberger and Vessey, pushed for rapid disengagement. They presented contradictory assessments of the situation and the prospects for success. Their arguments before the bombing differed little from their arguments in the wake of the attack: While the State Department, worried about Syria’s assertiveness, pushed for limited strikes to encourage concessions and establish clear “red lines,” the Defense Department remained fundamentally pessimistic about prospects for a negotiated settlement. The National Security Policy Group failed to reach consensus at meetings on October 14 and 18, and preparations for a third session to review the rules of engagement were underway when the barracks were attacked.[138] Had the third meeting occurred, and had the bombing not taken place, the discussion likely would have remained gridlocked. Weinberger and Vessey still would have opposed the mission as unsustainable, while the rest of the president’s senior national security aides would have continued pushing for an expansion. In the absence of a cataclysm like the Beirut barracks bombing, Reagan would probably have continued to postpone a decision on whether to expand or terminate the U.S. intervention. While he remained committed, in principle, to achieving America’s objectives in Lebanon, the president was preoccupied in October by preparations for a U.S. invasion of Grenada and heightened tensions with the Soviet Union.[139] Reagan’s distaste for mediating between his advisers, particularly over issues unrelated to U.S.-Soviet relations, is well recorded. Moreover, he had already avoided repeated efforts to redefine the U.S. mission in Lebanon despite sustained pressure from his closest advisers. Indeed, the president had approved only two significant modifications in the Marines’ posture over the mission’s first 13 months: the first, in April 1982, was implemented in the wake of the deadly embassy bombing, and the second, in September 1983, came only after McFarlane submitted dire reports (mocked by other officials as a “Sky is Falling” approach) suggesting the imminent collapse of the Lebanese government. Rather than precipitating a withdrawal, the October 23 bombing may have had the unexpected consequence of hardening the U.S. military presence in Lebanon. By heightening the Multinational Force’s perceived significance — and magnifying the perceived credibility costs of withdrawal — the attack dramatized Shultz and McFarlane’s warnings and convinced Reagan of the need to demonstrate resolve. Indeed, the bombing, in which an unknown assailant killed sleeping peacekeepers, played into Reagan’s theory of the conflict as a test of U.S. ability and willingness to promote peace, and it deepened his conviction that his administration had both a moral and a strategic imperative to act. In an alternative scenario in which the bombing failed, the president’s waning interest may have sapped his resistance to Defense Department proposals to dial down U.S. operations incrementally. A similar dynamic had allowed Weinberger to order the Marines’ premature withdrawal in September 1982. Having succeeded in this tactic before, the defense secretary likely would have attempted it again as the deployment faded against the backdrop of success in Grenada and an upcoming election campaign. This possibility challenges the notion that the bombing catalyzed a decision to terminate the American mission, and it suggests that U.S. losses may have compelled the intervention’s established advocates to accept a higher risk of future casualties. Consider a second counterfactual: Would a more successful (and less costly) raid in December have altered the timing or character of the U.S. withdrawal? At minimum, such an operation would have confirmed America’s presumed air superiority, strengthened Shultz’s hand in the event of future reprisals, and offered temporary encouragement to Reagan. Had it succeeded in coercing Syria to suspend its harassment of U.S. forces, as past punishments had, it may also have delayed McFarlane’s defection. As a demonstration of American military might, it may also have rallied the public and bolstered support for the intervention, thereby mitigating, or even reversing, the December polling results. On the other hand, a successful operation might have strengthened Weinberger and Vessey’s arguments against expanding the Marines’ ground presence by demonstrating that offshore naval assets offered a sufficient deterrent against Syrian obstructionism. The raid may, therefore, have provided the Defense Department with additional evidence that the administration could redeploy the Marines offshore at little reputational cost. Ultimately, a successful air raid is unlikely to have changed the trajectory of U.S. policy toward Lebanon significantly. It may have sustained McFarlane’s support, but it would not have altered the overall balance of opinion within the administration, where senior officials were wedded to their established theories of the mission’s success. Yet, this counterfactual does highlight how the negative repercussions of the botched raid were insufficient on their own to compel the withdrawal of the Marines. That dubious credit belongs to another event. Finally, imagine what might have occurred if the Lebanese Armed Forces had repelled the February offensive. By that point, U.S. policymakers harbored few illusions about the Lebanese Armed Forces’ strength, which was weakened by endemic corruption, virulent sectarian divisions, and poor leadership and training. Nevertheless, Reagan and Shultz had held out hope that, with sufficient U.S. support, it might still serve as a stabilizing force. Looking back years later, U.S. Ambassador to Lebanon Robert Dillon stressed that “the Army was one of the few places where there was still cooperation between Maronites, Shiites, Sunnis, Druze, Greek Catholics and others,” even if the balance of power was misaligned. With sufficient training and better leadership, U.S. officials hoped, the Lebanese military could overcome its internal divisions and serve as a beacon for national reconciliation.[140] [quote id="8"] Two scenarios are therefore conceivable. In the first, Reagan, reluctant to abandon a partner that he had, only days earlier, publicly pledged to support, might have expanded U.S. assistance to the Lebanese Armed Forces, just as he had in previous instances when he feared they were nearing exhaustion. In September 1983, for instance, he authorized the use of U.S. naval gunfire in support of embattled Lebanese units fighting in the Shouf, and noted the army’s resurgence with pride in his nightly diary entries.[141] So long as there appeared to be a viable ally on the ground, Reagan believed his objectives were feasible and progress was being made, albeit incrementally. And so long as a semblance of a central government apparatus remained, he retained hope that the United States might promote national reconciliation without incurring direct responsibility for the resolution of the Lebanese factions’ grievances. Alternatively, the intensity of the fighting in February might have persuaded the president that the Marines were, as Weinberger and Vessey had long argued, ill-equipped to implement their mission in an increasingly hostile environment. Yet, even if the National Salvation Front offensive had compelled Reagan to consider withdrawal, the Lebanese Armed Forces’ success in repelling the attackers would have bolstered McFarlane’s plan to taper operations gradually. Such an event would have dramatized advocates’ claims that the Marines were indispensable to the goal of stabilizing Lebanon and appealed to the president’s desire to kick the “Vietnam Syndrome” and demonstrate the value and reliability of partnering with the United States.[142] Confronted with a choice between rapid disengagement and a phased transfer of responsibility, Shultz and Eagleburger would have thrown their support behind the national security adviser, establishing a majority opinion that Reagan would have been unlikely to refute. In this scenario, the U.S. departure from Lebanon would have stretched into the spring and been paired with an accelerated training effort to prepare the Lebanese Armed Forces to assume the Marines’ former positions. The timing and character of the withdrawal would have been quite different. Of course, none of these possibilities came to pass and therefore we cannot know for certain what this alternative history may have yielded. Nonetheless, analysis of the historical record provides strong evidence to reconsider the causal link between the Marine barracks bombing and the ultimate U.S. departure from Lebanon. Instead, the record suggests that the loss of a viable local partner was the true motivation for the ultimate decision to leave Beirut. 

Conclusion

This new history of the U.S. military withdrawal from Lebanon challenges the common emphasis on casualties as the determining factor in American decisions to correct course or terminate military interventions. Contrary to established narratives, neither the October 1983 truck bombing nor the perceived fluctuations in public attitudes toward the peacekeeping mission in Lebanon were significant factors in the Reagan administration’s decisions of whether, when, or how to end the peacekeeping mission. The loss of 241 marines heightened policymakers’ perceptions of the human and political costs of a continued military presence in Lebanon, but it also deepened divisions within the administration over future U.S. involvement in the country. In particular, the attack emboldened those who opposed the effort, most notably Defense Secretary Weinberger and Chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff Vessey, who interpreted the bloodshed as evidence of the mission’s futility. Yet, their attempts to disengage the United States from Lebanon were blocked by the intervention’s erstwhile advocates, in particular Secretary of State Shultz and National Security Adviser McFarlane, who saw the violence as further evidence of the importance of the Marine presence. Confronted with a divided Cabinet, Reagan chose to maintain, harden, and even, at times, expand U.S. military involvement, decisions that were in line with his prior views about the efficacy and significance of the peacekeeping mission. In other words, the bombing caused two parties in the administration to double down on their pre-existing theories of success or failure in Lebanon. The implications of this corrective should not be exaggerated. The Reagan administration’s experience cannot prescribe future decisions, and it cannot alone disprove the role of domestic political pressure in other cases of U.S. intervention. Moreover, the limited character of the Lebanese intervention, which involved a relatively small number of U.S. forces, likely informed public and congressional attitudes toward government decision-making. Future research is needed to determine whether public opinion may play a greater role in influencing the timing and character of a decision to terminate missions that involve larger troop deployments or more sustained operations. Nonetheless, by highlighting the tendency of scholars to over-emphasize the effects of public opinion in this popular case study, this new history may also be relevant to other lines of inquiry in the literature on peacekeeping and war termination, the efficacy of limited interventions, and elite views of public opinion. For instance, the new evidence of policymakers’ divergent reactions to the Beirut barracks bombing suggests a need to modify Bayesian learning models to better reflect the empirical record of individual and group decision-making. Our findings indicate that such modifications may be found in the literature on anchoring, motivated, and attribution biases.[143] Bringing these strands of research together may yield a more comprehensive theory about how entrenched values, beliefs, and psychological traits inform elite learning and decision-making during military interventions.[144] Additionally, the Lebanon example may inform policymakers’ efforts to manage future crises by promoting systematic questions for probing the progress of an intervention and processing new information from the field. Such questions may be essential at a time when the increasing frequency of sub-state conflicts may spur additional U.S. force commitments.[145] In particular, this history demonstrates the importance of bringing assumptions about how and why a military intervention is likely to proceed to the fore; articulating clear theories of success; and developing processes to test, update, and revise these theories over time. Policymakers must define early on, and clearly, what success or failure looks like and identify demonstrable metrics that align with the ultimate political goals of an intervention. Conversely, leaders must also consider what information from the field, if it were to appear, would indicate that the political objectives cannot be met. Integrating these considerations into contingency and operational planning would, in turn, aid policymakers’ ability to evaluate new information and help to structure analysis of an intervention’s execution, especially if revisited frequently over the course of a military deployment. The U.S. government does have tools for probing assumptions and evaluating change over time. But answering the questions above requires more than designating a red team or devil’s advocate, tactics often implemented in government but ones that are frequently ineffective due to an air of defeatism, bureaucratic isolation, or Peter and the Wolf-like disregard.[146] To promote clearer thinking will require encouraging the next generation of foreign policy professionals to develop the analytical skills and historical sensibility to wield established tools more effectively.[147] As the United States confronts the prospect of future intervention scenarios, there is an urgent need to rethink how to train the next generation of policymakers to better challenge assumptions during debates, to process information during crises, and to think systematically about policy consequences. A careful study of the U.S. experience withdrawing from Lebanon offers a modest step toward this ambitious goal.   Acknowledgements: The authors would like to thank the Johns Hopkins University–SAIS Kissinger Center, the Boston International Security Graduate Conference, and the Middle East Studies Association for their kind invitations to present earlier versions of this project. Our colleagues at each event offered invaluable feedback. In particular, we benefited from insightful comments from James Benkowski, Alex Bick, Hal Brands, Chris Crosbie, John Gans, Frank Gavin, Julie Garey, Jeffrey Karam, Akram Khater, Alice Pannier, Sarah Parkinson, Elizabeth Saunders, and James Wilson, as well as two anonymous reviewers and the editorial team at TNSR.   Alexandra T. Evans is a postdoctoral fellow with the Clements Center for National Security at the University of Texas at Austin. She received her PhD in history at the University of Virginia in 2018. A. Bradley Potter is a PhD candidate at Johns Hopkins University, School of Advanced International Studies (SAIS) and a predoctoral research fellow in the International Security Program at the Belfer Center for Science and International Affairs in the Harvard University John F. Kennedy School of Government.   Image: Marine Corps. [post_title] => When Do Leaders Change Course? Theories of Success and the American Withdrawal from Beirut, 1983–1984 [post_excerpt] => [post_status] => publish [comment_status] => open [ping_status] => closed [post_password] => [post_name] => when-do-leaders-change-course-theories-of-success-and-the-american-withdrawal-from-beirut-1983-1984 [to_ping] => [pinged] => [post_modified] => 2019-05-24 11:34:45 [post_modified_gmt] => 2019-05-24 15:34:45 [post_content_filtered] => [post_parent] => 0 [guid] => http://tnsr.org/?p=1273 [menu_order] => 0 [post_type] => post [post_mime_type] => [comment_count] => 0 [filter] => raw [meta] => [lead] => Why did the United States withdraw from Lebanon in February 1984? How did new information shape policymakers’ proposals to expand, maintain, or terminate the intervention? Drawing upon declassified records, we challenge the conventional narrative that the October 1983 barracks bombing precipitated the American withdrawal from Beirut. Rather than encouraging a consensus around the need to terminate the mission, the significant casualties strengthened senior leaders’ determination to stay the course and deepened the divisions within the Reagan administration. Ultimately, only the collapse of the Lebanese national army in early February 1984 — an event unrelated to the October truck attack — forced the intervention’s advocates to adjust their expectations for the mission’s success and compelled Ronald Reagan to order the Marines’ redeployment. By demonstrating the durability of established theories of success and their effect on the interpretation of new information, this history of the Reagan administration’s deliberations over the winter of 1983–84 provides insight into presidential decision-making and contributes to our understanding of elite support for costly but limited U.S. military interventions. [pubinfo] => [issue] => Vol 2, Iss 2 [quotes] => Array ( [0] => Array ( [author] => [style] => left [text] => Closer analysis of public and White House polling data reveals that national attitudes did not decline uniformly in response to the barracks attack.  ) [1] => Array ( [author] => [style] => right [text] => Everyone agreed the bombing was a tragedy, but not everyone took the attack as evidence that the United States had faced a setback calling its mission into question.  ) [2] => Array ( [author] => [style] => left [text] => Determined to dispel the memory of Vietnam, and confident in what he saw as America’s unique obligation to promote peace abroad, Reagan envisioned the troops playing an indispensable role in promoting a lasting peace in Lebanon.  ) [3] => Array ( [author] => [style] => right [text] => Rather than re-evaluate their positions, policymakers instead sought to fit the new information into their pre-established theories of the intervention’s viability. ) [4] => Array ( [author] => [style] => left [text] => The president, sticking with his long-held theory of success, was confident that a demonstration of resolve would promote progress in Lebanon. ) [5] => Array ( [author] => [style] => right [text] => Yet, none of these things — not the intelligence community’s dreary assessment, the Long Commission report, or the popular and congressional uproar — persuaded Reagan to change course. ) [6] => Array ( [author] => [style] => left [text] => After months of debate, the collapse of the Lebanese army provided decisive evidence that the U.S. strategy in Lebanon had failed. ) [7] => Array ( [author] => [style] => right [text] => So long as there appeared to be a viable ally on the ground, Reagan believed his objectives were feasible and progress was being made, albeit incrementally. ) ) [style] => scholarly [type] => Scholarly [style_label] => The Scholar [download] => Array ( [title] => PDF Download [file] => 1468 ) [authors] => Array ( [0] => 262 [1] => 263 ) [endnotes] => Array ( [title] => Endnotes [endnotes] => [1] A near-simultaneous attack on the French military headquarters in Beirut would bring the day’s death toll to 299. For a description of the attack, see: Benis M. Frank, U.S. Marines in Lebanon, 19821984 (Washington, DC: History & Museums Division, U.S. Marine Corps, 1987), 1–3, 93–96; Timothy J. Geraghty, Peacekeepers at War: Beirut 1983The Marine Commander Tells His Story (Washington, DC: Potomac Books, 2012), 91–95. [2] Michael Kennedy, “U.S. Shelves New Aid for Lebanon: Last Marines Leave Beirut for Safety of Ships,” Feb. 27, 1984, Los Angeles Times. [3] Surveying the literature on U.S. casualty sensitivity, Louis Klarevas notes that the concept of public opinion as the “‘essential domino’ of American foreign policy took on a more permanent and overt cast” after the U.S. withdrawal from Lebanon. See: “The ‘Essential Domino’ of Military Operations: American Public Opinion and the Use of Force,” International Studies Perspectives 3, no. 4 (2002): 418–19, https://doi.org/10.1111/1528-3577.t01-1-00107. [4] Benny Morris, Righteous Victims: A History of the Zionist-Arab Conflict, 18812001, Reprint (New York: Vintage, 2001), 552. See also: Charles F. Brower IV, “Stranger in a Dangerous Land: Reagan and Lebanon, 1981–1984,” in Reagan and the World: Leadership and National Security 1981–1989, ed. Bradley Lynn Coleman and Kyle Longley (Lexington: University Press of Kentucky, 2017), 238, 256–87; David C. Brooks, “Cutting Losses: Ending Limited Interventions,” Parameters 43, no. 3 (Autumn 2013): 102–03, https://ssi.armywarcollege.edu/pubs/parameters/issues/Autumn_2013/9_Brooks.pdf; Gail E.S. Yoshitani, Reagan on War: A Reappraisal of the Weinberger Doctrine, 19801984 (Texas A&M University Press, 2011); Robert Timberg, The Nightingale’s Song (New York: Simon & Schuster, 1998), 342–44; H.W. Brands, Into the Labyrinth: The United States and the Middle East, 1945–1993 (New York: McGraw-Hill, 1994); Robert J. Lieber, “The Middle East,” in Looking Back on the Reagan Presidency, ed. Larry Berman (Baltimore: Johns Hopkins University Press, 1990), 50–70; Andrew J. Bacevich, America’s War for the Greater Middle East: A Military History (New York: Random House, 2016), 73–75. For domestic political explanations, see: William B. Quandt, Peace Process: American Diplomacy and the Arab-Israeli Conflict Since 1967, 3rd ed. (Brookings Institution Press and University of California Press, 2005), 259; Peter L. Hahn, Crisis and Crossfire: The United States and the Middle East Since 1945 (Washington, D.C.: Potomac Books, 2005), 80; William B. Quandt, “Reagan’s Lebanon Policy: Trial and Error,” Middle East Journal 38, no. 2 (Spring 1984): 237–54, https://www.jstor.org/stable/4326797. This argument was disseminated widely at the time as well. See: Francis X. Clines, “James Baker: Calling Reagan’s Re-Election Moves,” March 20, 1984, New York Times. Douglas Kriner’s work is a rare exception in that he acknowledges the administration’s intention to expand, rather than retract, U.S. involvement in the wake of the bombing. See: Douglas L. Kriner, After the Rubicon: Congress, Presidents, and the Politics of Waging War (University of Chicago Press, 2010), 193–231. [5] Lawrence Freedman, “Victims and Victors: Reflections on the Kosovo War,” Review of International Studies 26, no. 3 (2000): 338, http://dx.doi.org/10.1017/S0260210500003351. [6] John E. Mueller, “Trends in Popular Support for the Wars in Korea and Vietnam,” American Political Science Review 65, no. 2 (June 1971): 358–75, https://www.jstor.org/stable/1954454; Mueller, War, Presidents and Public Opinion (New York: Wiley, 1973); Jeffrey Milstein, “The Vietnam War from the 1968 Tet Offensive to the 1970 Cambodian Invasion,” in Mathematical Approaches to Politics, ed. H.R. Alker Jr., K.W. Deutsch, and A.H. Stoetzel (New York: Elsevier Scientific, 1973); Klarevas, “The ‘Essential Domino’ of Military Operations,” 418–19.
[7] For recent illustrative examples in the public discourse, see: Peter Beinart, “Think Again: Ronald Reagan,” Foreign Policy, June 7, 2010, https:// foreignpolicy.com/2010/06/07/think-again-ronald-reagan/; Micah Zenko, “When Reagan Cut and Run,” Foreign Policy, Feb. 7, 2014, https:// foreignpolicy.com/2014/02/07/when-reagan-cut-and-run/; Anthony Elghossain, “The Unlearned Lessons of the Beirut Barracks Bombing,” New Republic, Nov. 7, 2018,  https://newrepublic.com/article/152071/unlearned-lessons-beirut-barracks-bombing.
[8] Klarevas, “The ‘Essential Domino’ of Military Operations,” 418–19. [9] See, for instance: Edward N. Luttwak, “Where Are the Great Powers?” Foreign Affairs 73, no. 4 (July/August 1994): 23–28, https://www.foreignaffairs.com/articles/1994-07-01/where-are-great-powers-home-kids; “Toward Post-Heroic Warfare,” Foreign Affairs 74, no. 3, (May/June 1995): 109–22, https://www.foreignaffairs.com/articles/yugoslavia/1995-05-01/toward-post-heroic-warfare; and “A Post-Heroic Military Policy: The New Season of Bellicosity,” Foreign Affairs 75, no. 4 (July/August 1996): 33–44, https://www.foreignaffairs.com/articles/north-america/1996-07-01/post-heroic-military-policy-new-season-bellicosity; John Mueller, “The Iraq Syndrome,” Foreign Affairs 84, no. 6 (November/December 2005), https://www.foreignaffairs.com/articles/north-korea/2005-10-01/iraq-syndrome. [10] Although the scope and emphasis varies across theories, the notion of a deliberative and discerning American public underlines each of the following: Eugene R. Wittkopf, Faces of Internationalism: Public Opinion and American Foreign Policy (Durham, NC: Duke University Press, 1990); Bruce W. Jentleson, “The Pretty Prudent Public: Post Post-Vietnam American Opinion on the Use of Military Force,” International Studies Quarterly 36, no. 1 (March 1992): 49–74, https://doi.org/10.2307/2600916; John R. Zaller, The Nature and Origins of Mass Opinion (Cambridge University Press, 1994); Alvin Richman, “When Should We Be Prepared to Fight?” Public Perspective 6, no. 3 (April/May 1995): 44; Bruce W. Jentleson and Rebecca L. Britton, “Still Pretty Prudent: Post-Cold War American Public Opinion on the Use of Military Force,” Journal of Conflict Resolution 42, no. 4 (August 1998): 395–417, https://doi.org/10.1177/0022002798042004001; Christopher Gelpi, Peter D. Feaver, and Jason Reifler, “Success Matters: Casualty Sensitivity and the War in Iraq,” International Security 30, no. 3 (Winter 2005/06): 7–46, https://doi.org/10.1162/isec.2005.30.3.7; Scott Sigmund Gartner, “The Multiple Effects of Casualties on Public Support for War: An Experimental Approach,” American Political Science Review 102, no. 1 (February 2008): 95–106, https://www.jstor.org/stable/27644500; Christopher Gelpi, Peter D. Feaver, and Jason Reifler, Paying the Human Costs of War: American Public Opinion and Casualties in Military Conflicts (Princeton, NJ: Princeton University Press, 2009). For the role of political elites and the media in shaping popular attitudes, see: James Burk, “Public Support for Peacekeeping in Lebanon and Somalia: Assessing the Casualties Hypothesis,” Political Science Quarterly 114, no.1 (Spring 1999): 53–78, https://doi.org/10.2307/2657991; William A. Boettcher and Michael D. Cobb, “Echoes of Vietnam? Casualty Framing and Public Perceptions of Success and Failure in Iraq,” Journal of Conflict Resolution 50, no. 6 (December 2006): 831–54, https://doi.org/10.1177/0022002706293665; Adam J. Berinsky, “Assuming the Costs of War: Events, Elites, and American Public Support for Military Conflict,” Journal of Politics 69, no. 4 (November 2007): 975–97, http://web.mit.edu/berinsky/www/war.pdf; Scott S. Gartner, “On Behalf of a Grateful Nation: Conventionalized Images of Loss and Individual Opinion Change in War,” International Studies Quarterly 55, no. 2 (June 2011): 545–61, https://www.jstor.org/stable/23019702; Matthew A. Baum and Philip B.K. Potter, War and Democratic Constraint: How the Public Influences Foreign Policy (Princeton, NJ: Princeton University Press, 2015); Alexandra Guisinger and Elizabeth N. Saunders, “Mapping the Boundaries of Elite Cues: How Elites Shape Mass Opinion Across International Issues,” International Studies Quarterly 61, no. 2 (2017): 425–41, https://doi.org/10.1093/isq/sqx022. [11] Because of the character of the U.S. intervention in Lebanon, in which the debate concentrated on casualties rather than lost treasure, we evaluate only the impact of human losses. For a theory of public responses to financial costs, see: Benny Geys, “Wars, Presidents, and Popularity: The Political Cost(s) of War Re-Examined,” Public Opinion Quarterly 74, no. 2 (Summer 2010): 357–74, https://dx.doi.org/nfq001. [12] Burk, “Public Support for Peacekeeping in Lebanon and Somalia,” 65–67. Here, we expand upon Burk and Douglas Kriner’s earlier work, which used public polling and survey data, by evaluating polling data and reports commissioned by the White House, Reagan’s re-election campaign team, and the Republican National Committee. These are available in boxes 685 and 687 of the Edwin Meese collection at the Hoover Institution Library and Archives in Stanford, California. See also: Kriner, After the Rubicon, 193–231. [13] Aspects of this argument are reflected in: Beinart, “Think Again: Ronald Reagan”; Zenko, “When Reagan Cut and Run.” [14] For a useful overview of the logic behind bargaining models of war and their reliance on the logic of Bayesian updating, see: Dan Reiter, “Exploring the Bargaining Model of War,” Perspectives on Politics 1, no. 1 (2003): 27–43, https://www.jstor.org/stable/3687811; James D. Fearon, “Rationalist Explanations for War,” International Organization 49, no. 3 (1995): 379–414, https://www.jstor.org/stable/2706903. Relevant to our argument, recent research has adopted Bayesian models focused on different political actors updating expectations as they relate to war termination. See: Sarah E. Croco, Peace at What Price? Leader Culpability and the Domestic Politics of War Termination (Cambridge: Cambridge University Press, 2015); Elizabeth A. Stanley, Paths to Peace: Domestic Coalition Shifts, War Termination, and the Korean War (Stanford, CA: Stanford University Press, 2009); Dan Reiter, How Wars End (Princeton, NJ: Princeton University Press, 2009). [15] On this point, see: Robert Jervis, Perception and Misperception in International Politics, New Edition (Princeton, NJ: Princeton University Press, 2017), xlvii–lii. Related work by Jeffrey Friedman suggests that political actors rationally may stick to their military approach despite negative battlefield information if this information is consistent with their initial expectations. If a president expects to incur significant casualties before ultimately achieving success, then the realization of those casualties should not necessarily dissuade him from pressing on. Still, this model requires an actor to hold a consistent set of expectations, present at the start of an intervention and maintained throughout, and the theory does not refute the need for consistent evaluation of new information. See: Jeffrey Friedman, “Cumulative Dynamics and Strategic Assessment: U.S. Military Decision Making in Iraq, Vietnam, and the American Indian Wars” (PhD diss., Harvard University, 2013). [16] Our study’s dependent variable is the status of U.S. forces from Lebanon. Our intervening variable is the “theory of success” or “theory of failure” applied to the American military presence in Lebanon. Our independent variable is new information from the field. Information is filtered through the various theories of success and theories of failure held by different camps within the administration, making the intervening variable the one of most interest. Casualty-sensitivity arguments use public opinion as the intervening variable of interest while strategic course correction, as presented here, has new information directly leading to a choice about withdrawal. [17] Ronald Reagan, “Address to the Nation on Events in Lebanon and Grenada,” broadcast speech, Oct. 27, 1983, https://www.reaganlibrary.gov/research/speeches/102783b. [18] We adjusted the more common term “theories of victory” in order to include all aspects of a state’s power brought to bear during an intervention. On theories of victory, see: Eliot A. Cohen, Supreme Command (New York: Free Press, 2002) 33; J. Boone Bartholomees, “Theory of Victory,” Parameters 38, no. 2 (Summer 2008): 25–36, https://ssi.armywarcollege.edu/pubs/parameters/Articles/08summer/bartholo.htm. [19] Eliot A. Cohen, “What’s Obama’s Counterinsurgency Strategy for Afghanistan?” Washington Post, Dec. 6, 2009, http://www.washingtonpost.com/wp-dyn/content/article/2009/12/04/AR2009120402602.html. [20] Here, we join a burgeoning effort to reevaluate the methodological utility of rigorous counterfactual analysis. See: Francis J. Gavin, “What If? The Historian and the Counterfactual,” Security Studies 24, no. 3 (2015): 425–30, https://doi.org/10.1080/09636412.2015.1070610; Jack S. Levy, “Counterfactuals, Causal Inference, and Historical Analysis,” Security Studies 24, no. 3 (2015): 378–402, https://doi.org/10.1080/09636412.2015.1070602; Richard Ned Lebow, Forbidden Fruit: Counterfactuals and International Relations (Princeton, NJ: Princeton University Press, 2010); Fredrik Logevall, Choosing War: The Lost Chance for Peace and the Escalation of War in Vietnam (Oakland, CA: University of California Press, 2001), 395–415; James D. Fearon, “Counterfactuals and Hypothesis Testing in Political Science,” World Politics 43, no. 2 (1991): 169–95, https://www.jstor.org/stable/2010470. [21] We draw primarily on those proposed by Jack Levy, who compiled and adapted several earlier studies of counterfactuals. See Levy, “Counterfactuals.” [22] Jack S. Levy, “Case Studies: Types, Designs, and Logics of Inference,” Conflict Management and Peace Science, 25, no. 1 (2008): 1–18, https://doi.org/10.1080/07388940701860318. For an application of this method to counterfactuals, see: Levy, “Counterfactuals,” 383. [23] Archival records were collected between June 2014 and May 2018 from the Ronald Reagan Presidential Library and Museum, George H.W. Bush Presidential Library and Museum, Princeton University Department of Rare Books and Special Collections, Hoover Institution Library and Archives, National Records and Archives in College Park, MD, and George Washington University’s National Security Archive. The U.S. State Department’s Virtual Reading Room, the CIA Records Search Tool (CREST) database, and the Association for Diplomatic Studies and Training’s oral history collections were also invaluable. [24] Levy, “Counterfactuals,” 385–86. [25] In so doing, we borrowed from the political scientific method of process tracing and the historical subdisciplines of diplomatic and military history. Alexander L. George and Andrew Bennett, Case Studies and Theory Development in the Social Sciences (Cambridge, MA: MIT Press, 2005), 6. [26] Lebow, Forbidden Fruit, 38. [27] Gavin, “What If?” 428. [28] For a comprehensive assessment from an American perspective, see: “Report of the DOD Commission on Beirut International Airport Terrorist Act, October 23, 1983,” Dec. 20, 1983, https://fas.org/irp/threat/beirut-1983.pdf. [29] Levy, “Counterfactuals,” 388–89; Lebow, Forbidden Fruit, 54. [30] John Boykin, Cursed Is the Peacemaker: The American Diplomat Versus the Israeli General, Beirut 1982 (Belmont, CA: Applegate Press, 2002); Fadi Esber, “The United States and the 1981 Lebanese Missile Crisis,” Middle East Journal 70, no. 3 (Summer 2016): 441–43, https://doi.org/10.3751/70.3.15. [31] In addition to the U.S. contingent, France and Italy contributed forces to the first Multinational Force. For discussion of Israeli and Palestinian military operations, see: Rashid Khalidi, Under Siege: PLO Decisionmaking During the 1982 War, 2nd ed. (New York: Columbia University Press, 2014); Ze’ev Schiff & Ehud Ya’ari, Israel’s Lebanon War (New York: Simon & Schuster, 1984). For U.S. negotiations, see: Boykin, Cursed Is the Peacemaker. [32] Kriner, After the Rubicon, 198. [33] Letters to House Speaker Thomas O’Neill and President Pro Tempore of the Senate Strom Thurmond from President Reagan, Aug. 24, 1982, Box 91451, I290676, National Security Council System Files, Ronald Reagan Presidential Library and Museum (hereafter Reagan Library). The Marines’ commander, Col. James Mead, reiterated the point in comments to reporters, emphasizing that he did “not anticipat[e] any need for us to use our weapons. We came here as peace-keepers.” See: Loren Jenkins, “800 Marines Take Positions In Beirut Port,” Washington Post, Aug. 26, 1982, https://www.washingtonpost.com/archive/politics/1982/08/26/800-marines-take-positions-in-beirut-port/fb0bd991-2f57-4fbe-947a-6f5de9e80c04/. [34] Boykin, Cursed Is the Peacemaker, in particular 60–265. [35] Schiff and Ya’ari, Israel’s Lebanon War, 254–56. On the Israel Defense Forces’ reentry, see: Cable from Embassy Beirut to Department of State, “Draper Mission: IDF Military Actions in Beirut Sept. 15,” Sept. 15, 1982; Cable from Embassy Tel Aviv to Department of State, “The IDF in Beirut: Foreign Ministry Views,” Sept. 15, 1982; Cable from Washington to Embassy Tel Aviv, “Secretary’s Meeting with Israeli Ambassador on IDF Move into West Beirut,” Sept. 16, 1982, all accessed in State Department Virtual Reading Room. Evidence of the massacres reached Washington at 5:45 a.m. on Sunday, Sept. 18, after embassy officials gained entrance to the camps and transmitted a live report of the devastation over transmitter radio. [36] France and Italy agreed to contribute forces to the second Multinational Force. In addition, the British contributed a symbolic force. While representatives of the four peacekeeping missions met regularly to coordinate their efforts, share intelligence, and mediate disputes, each operated autonomously and under national command. Cable from Department of State to Embassy Beirut, “Draper Mission: Exchange of Notes on Participation of US Forces in Second Beirut MNF,” Sept. 23, 1982, Box 90317, Arab-Israel Peace Process/Cables Sept 1982 (2/4), Geoffrey Kemp Files, Reagan Library; Robert C. McFarlane, Special Trust (New York: Cadell & Davies, 1994), 211; Caspar Weinberger, Fighting for Peace: Seven Critical Years in the Pentagon (New York: Warner Books, 1990), 138–52. [37] In a demonstration of its confidence in the administration’s policy, the State Department initially predicted that a complete withdrawal of all foreign forces could be achieved within two months. Memorandum for William Clark from L. Paul Bremer, “Diplomatic Strategy—Approximate Timetable,” Nov. 4, 1982, Box 91286, National Security Decision Directive 64 (1), National Security Council Executive Secretariat records (hereafter NSC Executive Secretariat records), Reagan Library. See also: Memorandum for Shultz from Clark, “Next Steps in Lebanon,” Nov. 8, 1982, Box 4, Chron September 1982 [09/16/1982–09/22/1982], Robert C. McFarlane Files, Reagan Library. [38] Memorandum for Reagan from Clark, “President Gemayel’s Request for the Deployment of MNF Mobile Patrols into East Beirut,” Oct. 30, 1982, Box 90496, Middle East—MNF [Multinational Force], Kemp Files, Reagan Library; “Announcement on Participation of U.S. Marines in MNF Patrols in East Beirut,” c. Oct. 30, 1982, Box 4, Chron-November 1982 (McFarlane)(1), McFarlane Files, Reagan Library. For an insightful evaluation of the military modernization effort, see: Mara E. Karlin, Building Militaries in Fragile States: Challenges for the United States (Philadelphia: University of Pennsylvania Press, 2017), 108–205. [39] Frank, U.S. Marines in Lebanon, 36–70; For an assessment of the Lebanese army, see: Joseph A. Kechichian, “The Lebanese Army: Capabilities and Challenges in the 1980s,” Conflict Quarterly 5, no. 1 (Winter 1985): 15–39. [40] Frank, U.S. Marines in Lebanon, 55–59. [41] Situation Report, “Embassy Explosion,” April 18, 1983, Beirut Explosition [Sic] April 18–May 12 1983(1), NSC Executive Secretariat Cable Records, 1982–1985, Reagan Library. The attack decimated the embassy’s CIA station, crippling American intelligence efforts in Lebanon. For a thoughtful assessment of its impact, see: Kai Bird, The Good Spy: The Life and Death of Robert Ames (New York: Crown, 2014), 304–18. [42] Cable from Draper, "Habib/Draper Mission: Test [sic] of Israel-Lebanon Agreement,” May 13, 1983, State Department Virtual Reading Room. [43] Cable from Embassy Tel Aviv, “Meeting with Defense Minister Arens—Deepening Israeli Concern about Syrian and PLO moves in Lebanon,” May 12, 1983, State Department Virtual Reading Room; Memorandum for William Casey and John McMahon from Graham Fuller (NIO/NESA), “US Vulnerability in Lebanon,” May 6, 1983, CREST. On Syria’s motivation, see: Patrick Seale, Asad of Syria: The Struggle for the Middle East (London: I.B. Taurus, 1988), 394–96. [44] David Crist, The Twilight War: The Secret History of America’s Thirty-Year Conflict With Iran (New York: Penguin, 2012), 129–35. [45] National Security Decision Directive 103, “Strategy for Lebanon,” Sept. 10, 1983, and “Addendum to NSDD 103 On Lebanon of September 10, 1983,” Sept. 11, 1983, CREST; Paper, “Near-Term Lebanon Strategy,” Sept. 6, 1983, CREST; Memorandum for Reagan from Clark, Sept. 3, 1983, Box 91306, NSPG0068 and 0068A 03 Sept 1983 (1), NSC Executive Secretariat Records. [46] Memorandum from Richard Wirthlin, “The Situation in Lebanon,” Sept. 21, 1983, Box 688, Folder 13, Meese Collection, Hoover Institution. On congressional and popular attitudes toward the intervention from September 1982 through October 1983, see: Kriner, After the Rubicon, 200–9. [47] Memorandum for the Acting Director of Central Intelligence from Graham E. Fuller (NIO/NESA), “Downward Spiral in Lebanon,” Aug. 16, 1983, CREST. For later warnings, see: “Talking Points on Lebanon for the DCI,” Oct. 3, 1983; Special National Intelligence Estimate, “Prospects for Lebanon” (SNIE 36.4-83), Oct. 11, 1983, CREST, https://www.cia.gov/library/readingroom/docs/CIA-RDP85M00363R000701600031-8.pdf. [48] Weinberger, Fighting for Peace, 160 n7; Diary of Deputy Secretary of State Kenneth Dam, Oct. 23, 1982, State Department Virtual Reading Room; Gail E.S. Yoshitani, “National Power and Military Force: The Origins of the Weinberger Doctrine, 1980–1984” (PhD diss., Duke University, 2018), 203. Weinberger proposed that the marines be kept on Navy ships 400 to 500 yards offshore. They would be safer but still available to support President Gemayel if necessary. See: Ralph A. Hallenbeck, Military Force as an Instrument of U.S. Foreign Policy: Intervention in Lebanon, August 1982February 1984 (New York: Praeger, 1991), 91–92. [49] Weinberger, Fighting for Peace, 155–57; Caspar Weinberger, interview, Frontline, PBS, undated. [50] A desire to demonstrate resolve and build Arab partners’ confidence in the United States motivated the decision to intervene in Lebanon. The Reagan administration anticipated that progress in Lebanon would revitalize the peace process and encourage strategic cooperation against the Soviet Union and other radical forces in the region. Memorandum for Secretary of State George Shultz from National Security Adviser William Clark, “Next Steps in Lebanon,” Nov. 8, 1982, Box 4, Chron September 1982 [09/16/1982–09/22/1982], McFarlane Files, Reagan Library; Memorandum for Reagan from Clark, “National Security Planning Group Meeting,” April 22, 1983, CREST. [51] Memorandum, “Lebanon: Litmus Test for U.S. Credibility and Commitment,” Oct. 18, 1983, Box 91290, National Security Decision Directive 103 (1), NSC Executive Secretariat National Security Decision Directive Records, Reagan Library; Memorandum for Reagan from Shultz, “Our Strategy in Lebanon and the Middle East,” attached to Memorandum for Reagan from Clark, Oct. 13, 1983, Box 91306, NSPG0072 14 Oct 1983, NSC Executive Secretariat Records. [52] Hedrick Smith, “Reagan’s Crucial Year,” New York Times Magazine, Oct. 16, 1983, https://www.nytimes.com/1983/10/16/magazine/reagan-s-crucial-year.html. [53] Ronald Reagan, The Reagan Diaries, vol. 1 (New York: Harper Collins, 2009), 275–76; Ronald Reagan, news conference, Oct. 19, 1983, https://www.reaganlibrary.gov/research/speeches/101983e. [54] A near-simultaneous attack on the French military headquarters in Beirut would bring the day’s death toll to 299. For a description of the attack, see: Frank, U.S. Marines in Lebanon, 1–3, 93–96; Geraghty, Peacekeepers at War, 91–95. For initial reaction, see: CIA report, “Terrorism Review,” Oct. 27, 1983, CREST; Cable, “Major Bomb Attack on U.S. and French Contingent—Situation as of 0830 Local,” Box 91353, Lebanon Bombing/Airport Oct. 23, 1983, NSC Executive Secretariat Country Files, Reagan Library; Defense Intelligence Agency (DIA) Spot Report, Oct. 23, 1983, Box 110, Lebanon Situation (10/23/1983), NSC Executive Secretariat Cable Files; Cable, “Lebanon Situation/DIA INTSUM NBR 8 (As of 231600Z Oct 83),” Oct. 24, 1983, CREST. [55] Quoted in: Timberg, The Nightingale’s Song, 337. See also: McFarlane, Special Trust, 263. For a similar, albeit less colorful, vow, see: Memorandum of Telephone Conversation between Reagan and French President François Mitterrand, Oct. 24, 1983, Box 52, Memorandums of Conversation — President Reagan (October 1983), NSC Executive Secretariat Subject File, Reagan Library. [56] DIA Spot Report, Oct. 23, 1983; Note for McFarlane from Howard Teicher attributing blame for Beirut International Airport attack, Oct. 27, 1983, and Telegram from Edward W. Hickey Jr. to McFarlane, Oct. 27, 1983, Box 91353, Lebanon Bombing/Airport Oct. 23, 1983, NSC Executive Secretariat Country Files; Memorandum for Reagan from Gen. P.X. Kelley, “Visit to Beirut, 25-26 October 1983,” Nov. 2, 1983, Box 2, Security for the U.S. Multinational Forces (MNF) Contingency in Beirut, John Poindexter Files, Reagan Library. For a thorough accounting of the unclassified and declassified evidence linking Iran and Syria to the attack, see: David C. Wills, The First War on Terrorism: Counter-Terrorism Policy During the Reagan Administration (Lahnham, MD: Rowman & Littlefield, 2003), 69–71; Crist, Twilight War, 134–42. [57] Quoted in: Crist, Twilight War, 142. [58] Memorandum for McFarlane from Teicher, “Draft NSDD on Lebanon and Middle East,” Oct. 26, 1983, Box 91354, Lebanon Chronology (1), NSC Executive Secretariat Country Files; Action Memorandum, “Deterrent Action Against Perpetrators of 23 Oct Bombing US Marines in Beirut,” Nov. 4, 1983, Box 23315, 8391354, NSC Executive Secretariat System File, Reagan Library; Wills, First War on Terrorism, 65; Crist, Twilight War, 144–47. [59] Wills, First War on Terrorism, 65–73. Reagan’s determination to strike lasted through Nov. 7, when he wrote in his diary that “we have a fix on a headquarters of the radical Iranian Shiites who blew up our Marines. We can take out the target with an air strike & no risk to civilians.” A 7 a.m. National Security Council meeting the next day, however, led him to change his mind, and he reported to his diary that he’d decided “we don’t have enough intelligence info yet.” Reagan, Diaries, 284–85. [60] Milton Coleman, “Identity of Attackers Eludes U.S. Probers,” Washington Post, Nov. 7, 1983,  https://www.washingtonpost.com/archive/politics/1983/11/07/identity-of-attackers-eludes-us-probers/26304c1f-7705-49c3-9ba3-f91f34c3f189/. [61] Weinberger and Vessey also sought to undermine popular support for retaliation by sowing uncertainty about the quality of U.S. intelligence. During a Meet the Press interview on Nov. 6 — days after he reviewed the signals intelligence linking the Iranian embassy to the bombers — Gen. Vessey insisted that U.S. analysts “really don’t know who did it.” Crist, Twilight War, 140. [62] Talking Points on Lebanon, c. Oct. 24, 1983, Box 91353, Lebanon Bombing/Airport Oct. 23 1983, NSC Executive Secretariat Country Files; “Presidential Remarks: Regional Broadcasters Luncheon, Monday, October 24, 1983,” Box 1, Airstrike 12/04/1983, Philip Dur Files, Reagan Library. The president’s confidence stretched through his departure for Asia in early November. See: Message from Reagan for Margaret Thatcher, Nov. 6, 1983, 8391397, Office of the Assistant to the President for National Security Affairs Files, Reagan Library. [63] National Security Decision Directive 109, “Responding to the Lebanon Crisis,” Oct. 23, 1983; National Security Decision Directive 111, “Next Steps Toward Progress in Lebanon and the Middle East,” Oct. 28, 1983, both in Box 91354, Lebanon Chronology (1), NSC Executive Secretariat Country Files, Reagan Library. [64] Memorandum for Shultz, Weinberger, Casey, Vessey from McFarlane, “National Security Decision Directive on Lebanon and the Middle East,” Oct. 29, 1983, Box 91354, Lebanon Chronology (1), NSC Executive Secretariat Country Files, Reagan Library. [65] See also: National Security Decision Directive 111; Memorandum for McFarlane from Teicher, “Draft NSDD on Lebanon and Middle East,” Oct. 26, 1983; Memorandum for McFarlane, “Additional Security Measures at Beirut International Airport,” c. Oct. 23, 1983, all in Box 91353, Lebanon Bombing/Airport Oct. 23 1983, NSC Executive Secretariat Country Files. [66] McFarlane, Special Trust, 268. [67] McFarlane, Special Trust, 268–69; Memorandum for Reagan from McFarlane, “NSDD: Lebanon and the Middle East,” Oct. 28, 1983, Box 91354, Lebanon Chronology (1); Memorandum for Reagan from Shultz, “Sentiment in Congress with Respect to the Bombing in Beirut and our Policy in Lebanon,” Oct. 26, 1983, 91666, Howard Teicher Chron. October 1983, Howard Teicher Files, Reagan Library. For a summary of the State Department’s position, see: “Testimony of Rear Admiral Jonathan T. Howe” (director of the State Department Bureau of Politico-Military Affairs), Nov. 2, 1983, Box 8, National Security Decision Directives (NSDD) 109/111–Lebanon and the Middle East, Dur Files, Reagan Library. [68] Memorandum for Reagan and Adm. John Poindexter from Edwin Meese III, “The Stakes in Lebanon,” Box 91353, Lebanon Bombing/Airport Oct. 23, 1983. [69] Excerpted in “‘We Will Stay, And We Will Carry Out Our Mission,’” Washington Post, Oct. 25, 1983, https://www.washingtonpost.com/archive/politics/1983/10/25/the-beirut-massacre/7831420f-de61-4681-b6a9-c9c6a40b8235/. [70] We use the term “credibility” as Reagan and many of his advisers did at the time: to suggest that one’s past actions might influence an adversary’s expectation for future actions. This definition differs from most scholars’ use of the term and instead equates to the notion of “reputation for resolve.” See: Keren Yarhi-Milo, Who Fights for Reputation: The Psychology of Leaders in International Conflict (Princeton, NJ: Princeton University Press, 2018), 5–11; Shiping Tang, “Reputation, Cult of Reputation, and International Conflict,” Security Studies 14, no. 1 (2005): 38, https://doi.org/10.1080/09636410591001474. [71] Reagan, Diaries, 281. [72] Quoted in Crist, Twilight War, 141. [73] National Security Decision Directive 111, Oct. 28, 1983. [74] Reagan, Diaries, 280–81. [75] Reagan, Diaries, 280–81. [76] National Security Decision Directive 111, Oct. 28, 1983. [77] Reagan, “Address to the Nation on Events in Lebanon and Grenada,” Oct. 27, 1983. For his intentions, see: Reagan, Diaries, 280–81. [78] Reagan, Diaries, 280–81. Some have suggested that the rally in public support for the president’s policy was a side effect of the U.S. invasion of Grenada and not the president’s rhetoric. See: Kriner, After the Rubicon, 212. The timing of the two events makes it difficult to assign responsibility. Ultimately, the president believed his rhetoric had bolstered public attitudes, and he interpreted the polling bump as evidence that he could weather future criticism. [79] Memorandum from Richard B. Wirthlin to Meese, James Baker, and Michael Deaver, “Lebanon,” Nov. 9, 1983, Box 688, 1, Meese Collection, Hoover Institution. [80] “Senior Staff Meeting Action Items, 11/30/83,” Box 73, 1, James A. Baker III Papers (MC #197), Box 73, Princeton University. [81] For a summary of the National Security Council position, see: Memoranda, “Points To Be Making Before Congress,” c. Nov. 10, 1983, and “Improving Security Training Readiness and Visibility of the MNF,” c. November 1983, both in Box 7, Lebanon (6), Fortier Files, Reagan Library. The National Security Council and State Department went so far as to draft a presidential statement, letters to regional leaders and NATO allies, and an information cable for all diplomatic posts detailing a naval airstrike on the Bekaa Valley training site. See: Box 91306, National Security Planning Group 0076 23 11/07/1983 [Iran-Iraq; October 1983 Lebanon Marine Bombing] (1 of 2), NSC Executive Secretariat Records. For the Pentagon’s opposition and a summary of the debate, see: McFarlane, Special Trust, 268–69; Crist, Twilight War, 144–45; Wills, First War on Terrorism, 73. For Reagan’s resolve, see: Reagan, Diaries, 288. [82] For a balanced review of the available evidence supporting both claims, see: Crist, Twilight War, 147; Wills, First War on Terrorism, 73–75. In his diary entry that day, Reagan noted that U.S. officials “contacted [the] French about a joint operation in Beirut re the car bombings” but does not specify his decision. Reagan, Diaries, 288. Weinberger goes even further in his memoir, where he omits any discussion of retaliation and alleges that he learned of the potential for a joint operation when the French minister of defense called to report that a unilateral French airstrike was imminent. Weinberger, Fighting for Peace, 161–62. [83] Note from McFarlane, “Decision Memo on Next Steps in Lebanon.” The president reported a similar decision in a letter to Downing Street. See: Message from Reagan for Thatcher, Nov. 19, 1983, Chron File 8391397, Office of the Assistant to the President for National Security Affairs Files, Reagan Library. [84] See, for instance: Memorandum for Weinberger from John A. Wickham Jr. (acting chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff), “NSDD-111 on Lebanon and the Middle East,” Nov. 4, 1983, Box 91354, Lebanon Chronology (1); George P. Shultz, Turmoil and Triumph: My Years as Secretary of State (New York: Scribner, 1993), 228; Donald Rumsfeld, Known and Unknown: A Memoir (New York: Penguin Random House, 2011), 14–16; Weinberger, Fighting for Peace, 166; Crist, Twilight War, 150. The Defense Department’s concerns were debated publicly. Michael Getler, “Lebanon Role Worries U.S. Military,” Washington Post, Dec. 18, 1983. [85] McFarlane wrote to Reagan shortly after the French operation: “There has been progress, and the trends suggest more progress is in the offing.” Quoted in Crist, Twilight War, 150. The National Security Council staff concurred, warning the national security adviser that “our continuing failure to conduct military action against terrorists in Lebanon will erode our credibility in the Middle East and beyond.” Memorandum for McFarlane from Teicher, “Weekly Report,” Nov. 18, 1983, Box 6, Chron (Official) November 1983, McFarlane Files, Reagan Library; Shultz, Turmoil and Triumph, 228. For similar arguments, see: “Talking Points for Robert McFarlane,” Dec. 1, 1983; Memorandum for McFarlane from Kemp, “NSPG Meeting,” Dec. 1, 1983; Note for McFarlane from Poindexter, Nov. 30, 1983, Box 91306, NSPG 0077 14 Nov 1983, NSC Executive Secretariat National Security Planning Group Records, Reagan Library. [86] Note from McFarlane, “Decision Memo on Next Steps in Lebanon.” The president reported a similar decision in a letter to Downing Street. Message from Reagan for Thatcher, Nov. 19, 1983, Chron File 8391397, Office of the Assistant to the President for National Security Affairs Files, Reagan Library. [87] Reagan, Diaries, 293. [88] Timothy Naftali, Blind Spot: The Secret History of American Counterterrorism (New York: Basic Books, 2005), 135. [89] Quoted in: Thomas L. Friedman, “Damascus Says Its Guns Fired At U.S. Planes,” New York Times, Nov. 11, 1983, https://www.nytimes.com/1983/11/11/world/damascus-says-its-guns-fired-at-us-planes.html. [90] Reagan approved the changes during a National Security Council meeting on Dec. 1 but did not sign the directive until Dec. 5. National Security Decision Directive 117, “Lebanon,” Dec. 5, 1983, https://www.reaganlibrary.gov/sites/default/files/archives/reference/scanned-nsdds/nsdd117.pdf; Wills, First War on Terrorism, 76. [91] Weinberger, Fighting for Peace, 166. [92] John F. Lehman, Command of the Seas (New York: Scribner, 1988), 322. Notably, Lehman had opposed Vessey and Weinberger and had supported retaliation for the barracks bombing. [93] Geraghty, Peacekeepers at War; Memoranda for Reagan from McFarlane, “Ground and Air Situation in Lebanon 5 December 1983, 0930,” and “Lebanon: Details of Weekend Strikes and International Relations,” Dec. 5, 1983, RAC Box 8, Lebanon Documents (2 Dec 83 (Rumsfeld Cables) I (4), National Security Council Crisis Management Center Records, Reagan Library. For a firsthand account of the confusion aboard the carriers, see: George C. Wilson, “The Day We Fouled Up the Bombing of Lebanon,” Washington Post, Sept. 7, 1986, https://www.washingtonpost.com/archive/opinions/1986/09/07/the-day-we-fouled-up-the-bombing-of-lebanon/90b613a9-8fdd-4a8f-9261-40e53f4183c1/. [94] National Intelligence Daily for Dec. 5, 1983, CREST [95] In the days before the Dec. 3 raid, McFarlane had sought to leverage his personal relationship with the president to force the Joint Chiefs in line with his position on Lebanon. By all accounts, the meeting failed. Note for McFarlane from Poindexter (Eyes Only), Nov. 30, 1983, and “Talking Points for Robert McFarlane,” Dec. 1, 1983, both in Box 91306, NSPG 0077 14 Nov 1983, NSC Executive Secretariat National Security Planning Group records. [96] McFarlane, Special Trust, 272. [97] Memorandum for McFarlane from Fortier, “Lebanon Political-Military Working Group,” Dec. 8, 1983, RAC Box 7, Lebanon (6), Fortier Files, Reagan Library; Note from McFarlane, “Informal Group on Lebanon,” Dec. 10, 1983, Box 6, Chron (Official) December 1983 (3), McFarlane Files, Reagan Library; Memorandum for McFarlane from Fortier, Dur, and Kemp, “Working Luncheon on Lebanon,” Dec. 16, 1983, Box 7, Lebanon (7), Fortier Files, Reagan Library; Draft Memorandum for the President from John M. Poindexter, “Informal Discussion Papers on Lebanon Strategy,” c. January 1983, Box 7, Lebanon (9), Fortier Files, Reagan Library; Cable to Donald Rumsfeld from the State Department, “Short-Term Strategy for Lebanon,” Dec. 28, 1983, Box 7, Lebanon (8), Fortier Files, Reagan Library. A resulting non-paper is described in additional detail in Weinberger, Fighting for Peace, 168–69. [98] Memorandum for Meese, Baker, and Deaver from Wirthlin, “The Situation in Lebanon,” Dec. 12, 1983, Box 685, Meese Collection, Hoover Institution. Republican National Committee pollsters concluded that Reagan’s address had “reversed” public opinion, with 58 percent of Americans surveyed after the speech reporting that they approved of the U.S. mission in Lebanon. [99] The media reported heavily on the airstrikes and their aftermath. See, for example: “Five Democratic Candidates Criticize Reagan For Air Strikes,” New York Times, Dec. 5, 1983, https://www.nytimes.com/1983/12/05/world/five-democratic-candidates-criticize-reagan-for-air-strikes.html; Steven V. Roberts, “Critics in Congress Declare Reagan Is Heading for War,” New York Times, Dec. 6, 1983, https://www.nytimes.com/1983/12/06/world/critics-in-congress-declare-reagan-is-heading-for-war.html; Hedrick Smith, “Lebanon Rekindles U.S. Foreign Policy Troubles,” Dec. 11, 1983, New York Times, https://www.nytimes.com/1983/12/11/weekinreview/lebanon-rekindles-us-foreign-policy-troubles.html. [100] Reagan, Diaries, 294–95; “Shultz Defends U.S.-Israel Policy as Cease-Fire Holds in Lebanon,” Associated Press, Dec. 11, 1983; Steven R. Weisman, “Reagan Predicts Role Till Beirut Stands or Falls,” New York Times, Dec. 15, 1983, https://www.nytimes.com/1983/12/15/world/reagan-predicts-role-till-beirut-stands-or-falls.html. [101] Reagan, Diaries, 298–99. Reagan mentioned the New Jersey often in his diary, praising its perceived ability to police the ceasefire in Lebanon. [102] Shultz, Turmoil and Triumph, 228–31; Memorandum for Reagan from Shultz, “Deputy Secretary Dam’s Meeting with Speaker O’Neill and his Ad Hoc Group on Lebanon,” Jan. 4, 1984, Box 91666, Chron–Howard J. Teicher, January 1984 [1], Teicher Files, Reagan Library; Memorandum for Reagan from McFarlane, “Putting the Marines Back Aboard Ships,” Dec. 21,1983, The Reagan Files, https://www.thereaganfiles.com/831221-secdef-to-rr.pdf; Reagan, Diaries, 298, 301. For more on the Shultz-Reagan relationship, see: Leslie H. Gelb, “Shultz, With Tough Line, Is Now Key Voice in Crisis,” New York Times, Nov. 7, 1983, https://www.nytimes.com/1983/11/07/world/shultz-with-tough-line-is-now-key-voice-in-crisis.html. [103] Reagan, Diaries, 295, 298–300. [104] National Security Decision Directive 117, “Lebanon,” Dec. 5, 1983. [105] Alex Brummer, “Shultz says US sticks to Lebanon role,” Guardian, Dec. 6, 1983; Lou Cannon and David Hoffman, “Use of Force Viewed Necessary for Solution,” Washington Post, Dec. 8, 1983; David Ignatius, “Europeans in Peacekeeping Force Seem Willing to Back U.S. Strategy in Lebanon,” Wall Street Journal, Dec. 8, 1983. [106] Weisman, “Reagan Predicts Role Till Beirut Stands or Falls”; Shultz, Turmoil and Triumph, 228–29. In his weekly radio address a few days earlier, Reagan pledged to “redouble” U.S. efforts to resolve the situation in Lebanon, vowing that the Marines would withdraw only “once internal stability is established and the withdrawal of all foreign forces is secured.” See: Reagan, “Radio Address to the Nation on the Situation in Lebanon,” Ronald Reagan Presidential Library and Museum, Dec. 10, 1983, https://www.reaganlibrary.gov/research/speeches/121083a. [107] National Security Council, “Taking Stock in Lebanon,” Dec. 15, 1983, Box 7, Folder “Lebanon (9),” Fortier Files, Reagan Library. [108] “Confessional” refers to the factional communities within Lebanon, which were divided along important historical, social, and religious bonds of affiliation. [109] Special National Intelligence Estimate (SNIE), “Implications of the Military Balance of Power in Lebanon,” SNIE 11/35/36-38, Dec. 23, 1983, CREST, https://www.cia.gov/library/readingroom/docs/CIA-RDP86T00302R000701080010-8.pdf. [110] On the Long Commission’s origins and composition, see: Jordan Tama, Terrorism and National Security Reform: How Commissions Can Drive Change During Crises (New York: Cambridge University Press, 2011), 75–88. [111] “Report of The DOD Commission on Beirut International Airport Terrorist Act, October 23, 1983”; Memorandum for Reagan from McFarlane, “Long Commission report on October 23 Bombing,” Dec. 23, 1983, RAC Box 7, Lebanon (8), Fortier Files, Reagan Library. [112] Tama, Terrorism and National Security Reform, 79–80. [113] Memorandum for Reagan from Weinberger, “Long Commission report on October 23 Bombing,” Dec. 23, 1983, RAC Box 7, Lebanon (8). [114] For more on the congressional reaction, see: Tama, Terrorism and National Security Reform, 81–85; Kriner, After the Rubicon, 218–20. [115] Margaret Shapiro and John Goshko, “Reagan Moves to Bolster Hill Support on Lebanon,” Washington Post, Jan. 5, 1984; Philip Taubman, “O’Neill Considers Backing a Change in Marine Mission,” New York Times, Dec. 30, 1983, https://www.nytimes.com/1983/12/30/world/o-neill-considers-backing-a-change-in-marine-mission.html; Memorandum and Attachments from McFarlane for Reagan, “NSPG Meeting on Next Steps in Lebanon, Tuesday, January 3, 1984, White House Situation Room,” Reagan Files; David C. Martin and John Walcott, Best Laid Plans: The Inside Story of America’s War Against Terrorism (New York: Harper & Row, Publishers, 1988), 147; Shultz, Turmoil and Triumph, 229. [116] Tama, Terrorism and National Security Reform, 82–84. [117] Memorandum by Wirthlin, “The Situation in Lebanon,” Jan. 30, 1984, Box 685, 11, Meese Collection, Hoover Institution. [118] Reagan described a meeting to discuss the Long Commission report as an “easy” day, noting he was only “worried about the effect of this on families that lost loved ones.” Reagan, Diaries, 301–2. For his views on public polls, see page 311. [119] Reagan, "Remarks and a Question-and-Answer Session with Reporters on the Pentagon Report on the Security of United States Marines in Lebanon," Ronald Reagan Presidential Library & Museum, Dec. 27, 1983, https://www.reaganlibrary.gov/research/speeches/122783a. [120] Lou Cannon and Carl M. Cannon, Reagan’s Disciple: George W. Bush’s Troubled Quest for a Presidential Legacy (New York: Public Affairs, 2008), 151–52; Kriner, After the Rubicon, 224–25. [121] Reagan, Diaries, 298, 301, 304–5; Shultz, Turmoil and Triumph, 228–31. [122] Memorandum for Reagan from Shultz, “Deputy Secretary Dam’s Meeting with Speaker O’Neill and his Ad Hoc Group on Lebanon,” and Memorandum for Reagan from McFarlane, “Ken Dam’s Meeting with Speaker O’Neill and Other House Leaders,” c. Jan. 6, 1984, both in Box 91666, Chron–Howard J. Teicher, January 1984 [1]; Memorandum for McFarlane from Fortier, “Your Hill Briefings on Lebanon,” Jan. 3, 1984, RAC Box 7, Folder Lebanon (9), all Fortier Files, Reagan Library. Memorandum and Attachments for Reagan from McFarlane, “NSPG Meeting on Next Steps in Lebanon, Tuesday, January 3, 1984, White House Situation Room,” Reagan Files. National Security Council staff followed up with meetings and background papers to clarify U.S. policy and explain the “consequences of a precipitous withdrawal.” Memorandum for McFarlane from Fortier, “Maintaining the Speaker’s Support on Lebanon,” Jan. 5, 1984, RAC Box 7, Lebanon (9); Memorandum for McFarlane from Teicher, “Weekly Report,” Jan. 27, 1984, Box 91666, Chron–Howard J. Teicher, January 1984 [1], Teicher Files, Reagan Library. [123] Shapiro and Goshko, “Reagan Moves to Bolster Hill Support on Lebanon.” [124] Memorandum for the Secretary of State, Secretary of Defense, Director of Central Intelligence, Director of the Office of Management and Budget, and Chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff from Robert McFarlane, “Next Steps in Lebanon,” Feb. 1, 1984, CREST, https://www.cia.gov/library/readingroom/docs/CIA-RDP10M00666R000200480001-7.pdf; Shultz, Turmoil and Triumph, 230. [125] Reagan, Diaries, 312; David Hoffman, “Administration Credibility Under Strain: Plans, Pronouncements on Mideast Contradictory,” Washington Post, Feb. 12, 1984. [126] Cable from Donald Rumsfeld to Lawrence Eagleburger, “Next Steps in Lebanon,” Jan. 31, 1984; Cable from Donald Rumsfeld to Bud McFarlane, James Poindexter, and Lawrence Eagleburger, “Middle East Mission–Draft NSDD–Rumsfeld Comments,” Jan. 31, 1984, all in the Rumsfeld Papers, http://papers.rumsfeld.com/library/. Each were marked "eyes only." [127] Rumsfeld, Known and Unknown, 28. [128] In his memoir, the defense secretary goes on at length about his efforts to hurry the Joint Chiefs. Weinberger, Fighting for Peace, 168–69. [129] Quoted in: Rich Jaroslovsky and Albert Hunt, “Digging In: Reagan Toughens Line on Troops in Lebanon And Chides His Critics,” Wall Street Journal, Feb. 3, 1984. For illustrative examples demonstrating Reagan’s consistency, see: Benjamin Taylor, “Reagan Shrugs Off Lebanon Pullout Call,” Boston Globe, Feb. 2, 1984; Leslie H. Gelb, “Aides Say Reagan Foreign Policy Will Survive Democrats’ Attacks,” New York Times, Feb. 3, 1984, https://www.nytimes.com/1984/02/03/us/aides-say-reagan-foreign-policy-will-survive-democrats-attacks.html; “Reagan, O’Neill Trade Barbs Over Lebanon Troops,” Chicago Tribune, Feb. 4, 1984, . [130] Edgar O’Ballance, Civil War in Lebanon, 1975–92 (New York: St. Martin’s Press: 1998), 136; Elie A. Salem, Violence and Diplomacy in Lebanon: The Troubled Years, 1982–1988 (London and New York: I.B. Tauris Publishers, 1995), 135–46; Rumsfeld, Known and Unknown, 27; Reagan, Diaries, 306–7. [131] This assessment draws on: O’Ballance, Civil War in Lebanon, 137; Oren Barak, The Lebanese Army: A National Institution in a Divided Society (Albany: SUNY Press, 2009), 131; Yosef Olmert, “Lebanon,” Middle East Contemporary Survey 8 (1986): 551; Omri Nir, Nabih Berri and Lebanese Politics (New York: Palgrave MacMillan, 2011), 50–52; and Fawwaz Traboulsi, A History of Modern Lebanon (London: Pluto Press, 2012), 231. [132] Lou Cannon, President Reagan: The Role of a Lifetime (New York: Simon & Schuster, 1991), 436. [133] George H.W. Bush, All The Best, George Bush: My Life in Letters and Other Writings (New York: Scribner, 1999), 331. The importance of the moment was evident to those observing Bush in the field. Marine commander Timothy Geraghty later recalled that while presenting Purple Hearts to wounded men, the vice president “was obviously moved by their sacrifice.” Geraghty, Peacekeepers at War, 111–12. [134] Shultz, Turmoil and Triumph, 230–31; Wills, First War on Terrorism, 8; Howard Teicher and Gayle Radley Teicher, Twin Pillars to Desert Storm: America’s Flawed Vision in the Middle East from Nixon to Bush (New York: William Morrow, 1993), 291. [135] Shultz, Turmoil and Triumph, 230–31; Wills, First War on Terrorism, 8; Teicher and Teicher, Twin Pillars to Desert Storm, 291. Whether Reagan understood that he had authorized the complete and rapid withdrawal of U.S. forces, rather than the phased transition outlined in the Feb. 1 National Security Decision Directive, is unclear. Although transcripts of Bush’s call to Reagan remain classified, evidence that similar proposals were studied in the days after the National Security Policy Group decision suggest the president may have held out hope of maintaining a limited military presence in Beirut. Indeed, White House press guidance distributed over the next several days described the administration’s decision as a phased drawdown that would stretch “over the next several months depending on the situation.” Memorandum to Shultz, Weinberger, and Vessey from McFarlane, “Memorandum for the Record: Decisions Taken and Actions Required at SSG Meeting Thursday, February 9, 1984–5:15-7:25 p.m.,” Box 91834, William Burns Files, Reagan Library; “Senior Staff Meeting Action Items, 2/08/83,” and “Senior Staff Meeting Action Items, 2/09/83,” Box 72, Action Items 1984 January–June, James A. Baker Papers, Princeton University Library. [136] Frank, U.S. Marines in Lebanon, 135–38. [137] Karlin, Building Militaries in Fragile States, 143–44. [138] For an illustration of the continuities, see: Memorandum for Reagan from Shultz, Oct. 5, 1983; Memorandum for Reagan from Clark, Oct. 13, 1983; and Memorandum for Reagan from McFarlane, Oct. 17, 1983, Box 91306, NSPG0073 18 Oct 1983, NSC Executive Secretariat records; Memorandum for McFarlane from Weinberger, “US Policy in Lebanon and the Middle East,” Oct. 21, 1983, RAC Box 7, Lebanon (5), Fortier Files, Reagan Library. [139] Some have speculated that the administration’s concurrent intervention in Grenada, which commenced two days after the bombing, was designed to distract the public from the disaster in Beirut. This theory ignores the facts that the president had authorized the Grenada operation before the attack in Lebanon and that lead military elements were already en route to the island when the bombing occurred (which complicated efforts to relieve the shaken marines in Beirut). If Operation Urgent Fury’s success may have dampened the public’s reaction to the bombing in Lebanon, it was by chance, not design. [140] Interview of Robert S. Dillon by Charles Stuart Kennedy, May 17, 1990, Association for Diplomatic Studies and Training. For the importance placed on the U.S. modernization effort, see: Karlin, Building Militaries in Fragile States, chap. 4. [141] National Security Decision Directive 103 and “Addendum to NSDD 103 On Lebanon of September 10, 1983”; Reagan, Diaries. [142] Kiron K. Skinner, Annelise Anderson, and Martin Anderson, Reagan, In His Own Hand: The Writings of Ronald Reagan that Reveal His Revolutionary Vision for America (New York: The Free Press, 2001), 481. [143] For a discussion of relevant psychological biases, see Jack Levy, “Psychology and Foreign Policy Decision-Making,” in The Oxford Handbook of Political Psychology, ed. Leonie Huddy, David O. Sears, and Jack S. Levy (Oxford: Oxford University Press, 2013); Daniel Kahneman, Thinking, Fast and Slow (New York: Farrar, Straus and Giroux, 2011); Rose McDermott, “The Psychological Ideas of Amos Tversky and Their Relevance for Political Science,” Journal of Theoretical Politics 13, no.1 (2001): 5–33, https://doi.org/10.1177/0951692801013001001; James M. Goldgeier and Philip E. Tetlock, “Psychology and International Relations Theory,” Annual Review of Political Science 4, no. 1 (2001): 67–92, https://doi.org/10.1146/annurev.polisci.4.1.67. [144] For an excellent example, see Yarhi-Milo, Who Fights, in particular chap. 7. [145] James D. Fearon, “Why Do Some Civil Wars Last So Much Longer Than Others?” Journal of Peace Research 41, no. 3 (2004): 275–301, https://doi.org/10.1177/0022343304043770; James D. Fearon and David D. Laitin, “Ethnicity, Insurgency, and Civil War,” American Political Science Review 97, no. 1 (2003): 75–90, https://cisac.fsi.stanford.edu/publications/ethnicity_insurgency_and_civil_war. [146] For a history of the perils and promise of red teaming and other related practices, see Micah Zenko, Red Team: How to Succeed by Thinking Like the Enemy (New York: Basic Books, 2015). [147] Francis J. Gavin, “Thinking Historically: A Guide for Strategy and Statecraft,” War on the Rocks, Nov. 17, 2016, https://warontherocks.com/2016/11/thinking-historically-a-guide-for-strategy-and-statecraft/. ) [contents] => Array ( [title] => [contents] => ) ) [1] => WP_Post Object ( [ID] => 1069 [post_author] => 9 [post_date] => 2019-02-20 12:37:45 [post_date_gmt] => 2019-02-20 17:37:45 [post_content] => The Trump era has upended many aspects of U.S. statecraft, not least among them America’s China policy. For 25 years after the Cold War, the United States executed a largely bipartisan approach to managing a rising China. This strategy was based on the idea that a combination of persistent engagement and prudent hedging would ultimately socialize Beijing into the American-led international order. In recent years, however, that strategy unraveled as China became more repressive internally and grew stronger and more assertive externally. In response, the Trump administration has proclaimed the “responsible stakeholder” strategy dead and argued that Washington must get serious about competing with Beijing. Yet, competition is not an end in itself. Despite the emerging consensus that Washington’s old strategy has failed, there is little agreement on what should replace it. What, exactly, does America seek to achieve vis-à-vis China? Should U.S. leaders indefinitely contain Chinese geopolitical influence? Force the “breakup or mellowing” of Chinese power? Pursue a grand bargain with the Chinese Communist Party? These are fundamental questions, which the administration has yet to answer. There are four basic options for resetting America’s China policy: accommodation, collective balancing, comprehensive pressure, and regime change. These options are ideal-types: They illustrate the range of possible approaches and capture distinct analytical logics about the nature of the China problem and the appropriate response. At one extreme, Washington could seek an accommodation with Beijing in hopes of striking a grand bargain and establishing a cooperative long-term relationship. At the other extreme, the United States could seek regime change or even precipitate a military showdown to prevent China from growing more powerful. Both of these options assume that America must take urgent action to “solve” the China challenge. Yet, neither of these approaches is realistic, and, in fact, each is downright dangerous. The real debate involves the two middle options: collective balancing and comprehensive pressure. Collective balancing would rely on U.S. cooperation with allies and partners to prevent China from constructing a regional sphere of influence or displacing the United States as the world’s leading power. Comprehensive pressure would go further, attempting not simply to counter-balance Chinese influence overseas but to actively erode China’s underlying political, economic, and military power. These options, in turn, rest on different fundamental assumptions. Collective balancing accepts that Chinese power is likely to expand but assumes that it is possible to prevent Beijing from using its power in destabilizing ways. Comprehensive pressure assumes that China’s power must be limited and even diminished, despite the risk that doing so will sharply escalate tensions. Probing the logic of these strategies, and assessing their various strengths and weaknesses, is critical to going beyond “competition” and adopting a new approach. The alternative — practicing tactics without strategy — is no way to confront the daunting geopolitical challenge that China presents.

The Rise and Fall of the Responsible Stakeholder

For decades, U.S. leaders undertook a largely consistent, bipartisan approach to China. The United States sought to integrate China into the global economy by opening its markets and welcoming China into the World Trade Organization. Washington also pushed Beijing to assume a greater role in regional and global affairs. U.S. leaders hoped that their efforts would illustrate the benefits of membership in the existing order and induce China, as Robert Zoellick explained in 2005, to “work with us to sustain the international system that has enabled its success.”[1] In the meantime, the United States committed to maintain the military capabilities and alliances necessary to dissuade China from taking a more confrontational path.[2] The responsible-stakeholder paradigm offered a coherent “theory of victory”: It identified a desired outcome and employed all elements of American power to bring about that outcome. Over time, the strategy produced greater Sino-American cooperation on a range of issues, from counter-piracy to climate change. It is increasingly clear, however, that the responsible-stakeholder strategy failed. Two of its core assumptions now appear misplaced: the idea that China’s intentions would become more benign over time, and the belief that Washington had the power to keep Chinese ambitions in check until that shift occurred. What happened instead was that, as China rose, the Chinese Communist Party became more willing to use its newfound power in coercive and disruptive ways.[3] Confounding Western hopes that China would liberalize, the Chinese Communist Party embraced more repressive policies, especially after Xi Jinping became general secretary in 2012. Meanwhile, Beijing sought to control the Indo-Pacific region by coercing its neighbors, undermining U.S. alliances, practicing mercantilist policies, steadily increasing its presence and influence in the South China Sea, and modernizing its military. In the Indo-Pacific and beyond, moreover, China has engaged in a range of behaviors that challenge American interests: supporting authoritarian regimes, engaging in widespread corruption, pursuing predatory trade practices and major geo-economic projects meant to project Chinese influence further afield, seeking to stifle international criticism of its human rights abuses, practicing massive intellectual property theft, and striving for technological dominance in critical emerging fields, such as artificial intelligence. Recently, China’s confidence has been on display, with Xi stating in 2018 that “no one is in a position to dictate to the Chinese people,” after declaring in 2017 that China is ready to “take center stage in the world.”[4] Rather than becoming a responsible stakeholder in a U.S.-led system, China appears increasingly determined to compete with Washington for primacy in the Indo-Pacific and beyond. These more assertive policies have been made possible by China’s surprisingly rapid growth. Between 1990 and 2016, China’s constant-dollar gross domestic product increased roughly twelve-fold and its military spending grew ten-fold.[5] The People’s Liberation Army rapidly developed the tools — anti-ship missiles, quiet submarines, advanced fighter aircraft, and integrated air defenses — needed to contest American supremacy in the Western Pacific and give China greater ability to shape events in its region and beyond. Surging national wealth also led to an explosion of Chinese trade, lending, and investment abroad, which enabled far more ambitious geo-economic statecraft. All told, this expansion of Chinese national power is unprecedented in modern history. It has dramatically narrowed the gap between China and the United States and made it far more difficult for Washington to shape Beijing’s behavior. [quote id="1"] No strategy can survive the invalidation of its central premises: By the end of the Obama presidency, the responsible-stakeholder concept was living on borrowed time. The Trump administration drove the final stake through the concept in its 2017 National Security Strategy. The document slammed Beijing for attempting to “shape a world antithetical to U.S. values and interests” and declared the failure of China’s “integration into the post-war international order.”[6] In particular, China’s behavior increasingly threatens three enduring U.S. interests. First, the United States seeks to maintain a favorable balance of power in the Indo-Pacific region and to deter a military conflict — over Taiwan, Korea, or maritime Asia — that could undermine the regional order and cost American or allied lives. Second, U.S. leaders have an interest in ensuring an open international economy conducive to American prosperity and competitiveness. Third, the United States seeks to preserve an international environment in which democracy, human rights, and the rule of law can flourish, and it seeks to strengthen — where possible — the prevalence of those practices abroad. As Chinese power has grown and Chinese behavior has become more assertive, U.S. policymakers have come to see all three of these interests as being imperiled. So far, however, the Trump administration’s efforts to protect these interests have been inconsistent. The administration levied tariffs on Chinese goods, attacked China’s “predatory economics,” announced a strategy to preserve a “free and open” Indo-Pacific region, and unveiled a national defense strategy focused on countering China.[7] But these moves were accompanied by a warm, sometimes fawning, personal relationship between President Donald Trump and Xi, by persistent hopes that Beijing would help deliver an agreement to denuclearize North Korea, and by speculation that the Trump administration might yet resolve its trade disputes with China through some sort of economic grand bargain. Meanwhile, the U.S. withdrawal from the Trans-Pacific Partnership left the United States without a credible strategy for combating China’s regional economic influence, and separate trade disputes with Japan and South Korea rattled some of Washington’s key regional relationships. These conflicting actions feed the perception that Trump is an unreliable partner, not just for China but for allies as well. In short, the responsible-stakeholder strategy may be dead, but U.S. leaders have not settled on an alternative. In conversations with experts, we have found that most scholars and policymakers fall into one of four camps, based largely on assumptions about China’s intentions, regional reactions, and the sustainability of U.S. primacy. These four ideal-type options are outlined in Figure 1 below and assessed in the sections that follow.   Table 1: Four Possible China Strategies [table id=12 /]  

The Risks of Accommodation

Although the Trump administration has pushed the relationship toward greater competition, some experts believe that the United States and China should manage their differences by striking a “grand bargain.” Charles Glaser suggests that the United States should end its commitment to Taiwan in exchange for China peacefully resolving its maritime disputes and accepting a long-term U.S. military presence in the Indo-Pacific.[8] Lyle Goldstein argues that the two countries should work together to encourage the development of “cooperation spirals.” Chinese leaders, for their part, have touted “win-win” solutions and a new model of great-power relations.[9] The attraction of accommodation is obvious. If successful, it would avoid the costs associated with prolonged political, economic, military, technological, and ideological competition, and it would facilitate compromise on issues such as climate change, where joint U.S.-Chinese action is sorely needed. The logic of this approach is equally straightforward: If the United States has failed to shape Chinese behavior through a combination of engagement and hedging, then it should seek to defuse the emerging confrontation before the balance of power becomes even less favorable. Unfortunately, accommodation is a bad bet for several reasons. First, the United States cannot simply “make a deal” on many core issues since those issues have to do with the territory and interests of U.S. allies and partners. Washington does not itself claim the Senkaku/Diaoyu Islands, Scarborough Shoal, or Taiwan, so it cannot relinquish those claims. Entering negotiations with Beijing over the heads of leaders in Tokyo, Manila, and Taipei would undermine the U.S. network of alliances and partnerships. U.S. leaders would thus find it difficult to strike a grand bargain unless they are also willing to entertain withdrawing from the Indo-Pacific. Second, neither U.S. nor Chinese leaders can have much confidence that a bargain struck now would hold in the future. At times of flux in the international hierarchy, established powers often hesitate to conclude grand bargains because they fear that the rising power might simply seek to renegotiate the deal later, when the balance has shifted further in its favor. So even if the United States cut a deal that satisfied China in the short term, there is little guarantee that Beijing would remain satisfied if its influence continued to grow. In fact, accommodation could incentivize greater Chinese revisionism by signaling declining U.S. willingness to defend its interests or by giving Beijing control of valuable territory — such as Taiwan — that could serve as a springboard to future aggression.[10] Chinese leaders are also likely to be skeptical of a grand bargain given that the United States has walked away from major agreements signed in recent years — most notably the Iran nuclear deal and the Paris climate accord. Finally, perhaps because of the reasons listed previously, leaders in Washington and Beijing appear averse to a grand bargain. Although Trump vaguely floated the idea in the months after his election, and there remains the possibility of a broad economic deal to deescalate the bilateral trade war, his administration recently and publicly dismissed a broader strategy of accommodation aimed at a comprehensive settling of differences.[11] Future U.S. administrations are likely to do the same, given that both Republicans and Democrats have strongly criticized China’s security activities, economic practices, and human rights violations. Meanwhile, Xi Jinping has provided few indications that he is willing to make serious compromises in pursuit of a deal. Quite the opposite: His recent speeches on both foreign and domestic policy have been strident and confident.[12] Even if a grand bargain is theoretically possible, it is probably not in the cards.

The Dangers of Regime Change

If the quest for a comprehensive settlement of differences is likely to prove quixotic, so is another extreme option rooted in a sense of great urgency: bringing the competition to a head in hopes of conclusively resolving the China problem. If aggression and expansion are baked into China’s authoritarian system, and if China’s rulers can sustain high levels of economic growth and political stability long enough to make a serious bid for geopolitical dominance in the Indo-Pacific and beyond, there is potentially an argument for adopting drastic measures to avert this outcome. If a confrontation between Washington and Beijing is inevitable, this thinking goes, better to have that confrontation while it can still be won. To this end, U.S. officials could seek regime change in Beijing through covert action or all-out economic warfare. The United States could even provoke a military showdown in the hopes of crippling and perhaps destroying the Chinese Communist Party. Radical as it sounds, such now-or-never thinking has influenced U.S. policy debates before. During the late 1940s, an array of American strategists and informed observers argued that Washington should wage preventive war against the Soviet Union before Moscow acquired the bomb. The Truman administration rejected this option, but it pursued provocative policies of destabilization — such as fomenting violent resistance in Eastern Europe and the Soviet Union — meant to weaken and perhaps cripple the Soviet empire before it became even more dangerous.[13] These policies largely failed, however, and the idea of forcing a showdown with China also suffers from fatal defects. [quote id="2"] First, although Beijing is sure to be a formidable competitor, it would have to become far more powerful — and aggressive — to constitute the sort of existential threat that would justify such an extreme response. And while China may grow stronger, its own internal vulnerabilities — a growing debt burden and accumulating economic challenges, an aging population and festering social instability, as well as simmering ethnic tensions — suggest that its continued ascent is not foreordained.[14] Forcing an all-out confrontation would be a strategy born of panic, not realism. Second, such an aggressive American strategy would almost certainly backfire. It is doubtful that the United States could overthrow the Chinese Communist Party short of major war — after all, U.S. sanctions have failed to topple far weaker governments — and efforts to do so might provoke Beijing to lash out. Even if the United States succeeded in deposing the party, there is no guarantee that a new government would be better. The collapse of Communist Party rule could lead to the rise of a radical nationalist military clique just as easily as it could the emergence of a stable democracy. Nor would the emergence of such a democracy necessarily solve America’s problems. Young democratic governments are often more warlike than their predecessors, and any successor regime would have good reason to be angry with the United States.[15] Provoking war with Beijing would risk even more cataclysmic effects: heavy American casualties and equipment losses, severe economic costs, cyber attacks against critical domestic infrastructure, and the potential for nuclear escalation.[16] Starting such a war would also rupture American alliances and levy intense global condemnation upon the United States. Even if America were to win a military conflict, any such victory would be Pyrrhic in the extreme, for it would jeopardize the very security and influence a more competitive strategy is meant to protect.

Collective Balancing

If U.S. leaders accept that China poses a formidable challenge without a decisive solution, they are left with two primary options: collective balancing and comprehensive pressure. Where these two strategies differ is in their approach to the changing balance of power. Comprehensive pressure seeks to reverse the ongoing power shift. Collective balancing accepts that shift as a fact of life — and does not attempt to significantly disrupt the economic relationship with China — but maintains that Beijing can be deterred by a coalition of like-minded states. China has already surpassed the United States in GDP (adjusted for purchasing power parity), but advocates of collective balancing assert that America still has the upper hand. After all, the United States retains treaty alliances with more than half of the world’s 20 largest economies and has close partnerships with many others. Talk of U.S.-China rivalry therefore misses the larger point: The competition is not between China and the United States but between a comparatively isolated China and a broad-based, U.S.-led coalition. Accordingly, the center of gravity for a strategy of collective balancing is the alignment decisions of states in the Indo-Pacific region. If Indo-Pacific countries align with the United States in a firm balancing coalition, then Washington would have the political, economic, and military power to resist Chinese efforts to alter the status quo in destabilizing ways. And if China cannot dominate the Indo-Pacific, it would not be able to mount a serious hegemonic challenge to the United States. Beijing would not be able to dictate the terms of trade in the region in a way that gives it decisive economic advantages over the United States; it would not have the regional springboard necessary to project significant military power on a truly international scale. In other words, by keeping China constrained and off-balance within the Indo-Pacific, collective balancing prevents China from reshaping the world beyond the Indo-Pacific.[17] As the logic of collective balancing would predict, Beijing’s coercive actions already appear to be facilitating greater cooperation among some regional states, such as Japan, India, and Australia, while also causing those and other countries to seek closer security relationships with the United States. Time is therefore on America’s side, advocates of collective balancing argue, so long as the United States adequately supports and encourages the resistance that Chinese assertiveness provokes. And if the United States and its allies and partners hold the line and show that China cannot overturn the regional and international order, Beijing may eventually adopt more acceptable policies Collective balancing, then, would hinge on America’s ability to maintain a coalition of countries sufficient to deter or counteract Chinese revisionism. Doing so would require undertaking an array of enhanced measures to demonstrate that Washington can prevent Beijing from dominating the region politically, economically, and militarily, and to assure regional states that the United States will reliably back countries that stand up to Beijing. In practice, this would necessitate significant investments in new U.S. military capabilities to reverse the deteriorating regional balance of power. The United States would also support countries from Japan to Vietnam as they develop their own anti-access/area denial capabilities to keep China at bay. Washington would use military sales, training, exercises, and other tools to bolster countries confronting Chinese coercion. U.S. leaders would simultaneously intensify efforts to provide Indo-Pacific states with alternatives to deepening economic dependence on China by rejoining the Trans-Pacific Partnership (or a similar replacement) and working with key allies and partners to offer loans and capital to vulnerable countries. Good first steps include the recently passed BUILD Act, which will substantially increase U.S. development financing in the Indo-Pacific, and the U.S.-Australia-Japan Trilateral Partnership for infrastructure development.[18] Collective balancing would also feature stronger efforts to delineate acceptable Chinese behavior from unacceptable activity, and to inflict harsher penalties on Beijing when lines are crossed. To date, many U.S. positions regarding China have been murky, such as Washington’s ambiguous approach to application of the U.S.-Philippines Mutual Defense Treaty.[19] China has often challenged these commitments using “gray zone” coercion — incremental expansion designed to probe when and where Washington is willing to stand by its commitments. Instances of the United States failing to help its friends beat back gray-zone coercion — such as the Scarborough Shoal incident in 2012 — have undermined perceptions of U.S. reliability in the region and discouraged allies and partners from taking a harder line toward Beijing.[20] Conversely, since President Barack Obama stated that the Senkaku Islands fell within Article 5 of the U.S.-Japan Security Treaty in 2014, Beijing has avoided a major confrontation.[21] [quote id="3"] Collective balancing thus requires closer cooperation with allies and partners to determine and demonstrate the extent of U.S. commitments. Lingering questions about U.S. alliance guarantees — namely, whether the U.S.-Philippines Mutual Defense Treaty covers the islands and reefs that Manila controls in the South China Sea — would be clarified, with the understanding that the risk of giving America’s friends license to engage in irresponsible behavior is dramatically outweighed by the danger that unchecked Chinese salami-slicing would hollow out America’s alliances on the installment plan. Any Chinese efforts to acquire control of new or disputed territory, or to restrict freedom of navigation or overflight, would need to be met with a forceful response. Diplomatic or economic costs would also have to be imposed for other destabilizing actions, such as deploying additional military capabilities to man-made Chinese islands or declaring an Air Defense Identification Zone covering the South China Sea. By showing that Washington is fully committed to sharper competition with China, advocates of collective balancing argue, this strategy would rally the region and ensure that Beijing faces a multilateral coalition it cannot overwhelm. Yet, a strategy of collective balancing has weaknesses. First, even a stronger American approach might not be sufficient to pull together a diverse region and prevent China from altering the status quo in significant ways. Close U.S. allies — namely South Korea and Japan — remain at odds due to historical animosities.[22] Similarly, despite their common interest in resisting Chinese aggrandizement, the other South China Sea claimants are more divided than they were five years ago. China has proven adept at splitting regional organizations, such as the Association of Southeast Asian Nations, by bribing or bullying vulnerable states.[23] If China’s economic and military power grows, so will its ability to peel off weaker members of any balancing coalition. Rather than hanging together, regional states might end up hanging separately. Second, if China can sustain robust economic growth, even a multilateral balancing strategy may ultimately be untenable. Former Treasury Secretary Lawrence Summers predicts that China’s economy will be twice the size of America’s by 2050.[24] Well before that, China may attain sufficient military power to make U.S. (or U.S.-plus-allied) intervention in areas such as Taiwan prohibitively expensive.[25] If the balance continues to shift, problems of collective action would plague opponents of Chinese expansion, shrinking the number of regional states willing to stand up to Beijing. And if a changing balance of power makes the Chinese leadership more accepting of risk, even an impressive balancing coalition may not be sufficient to deter greater aggressiveness. Put simply, it may prove impossible to accept the ongoing U.S.-China power shift while still maintaining an acceptable regional balance. Third, key Trump administration policies have undermined America’s alliance edge. The alignment decisions of regional states would take center stage in a collective-balancing approach, and the wisdom of U.S. policies would be viewed through this lens. Yet, the administration’s withdrawal from the Trans-Pacific Partnership damaged U.S. relationships in the region, leaving many countries more dependent on and vulnerable to China. Trump’s application of tariffs on steel and aluminum for purported national security reasons has hurt many allies and partners. Finally, as the Trump administration’s first secretary of defense, James Mattis, suggested in his resignation letter, Trump does not appear to believe in “maintaining strong alliances and showing respect to those allies.”[26] In all these ways, the administration has made it more difficult to execute a strategy of collective balancing.

Comprehensive Pressure

The limitations of collective balancing raise an obvious question: What if cooperation with allies and partners proves insufficient to check China’s momentum and preserve peace in the Indo-Pacific? After all, America has long sought to inhibit the malign expression of Chinese power but has had diminishing success as Beijing’s capabilities and ambitions have grown. The RAND Corporation reports that the military balance in the Western Pacific is rapidly nearing a series of “tipping points” at which America’s superiority and ability to deter Chinese aggression against Taiwan or even in the South China Sea might rapidly erode.[27] China also has extensive economic ties with all the countries of the Indo-Pacific, including every U.S. ally. If these trends continue, holding the line may prove impossible: The United States could find itself in the position of Germany’s Kaiser Wilhelm II before World War I, lamenting that his allies and partners were dropping away “like rotten pears.”[28] And because collective balancing deals only with the outward manifestations of Chinese power — as opposed to putting greater pressure on the underlying sources of that power — it takes a great deal of U.S. leverage off the table. Consequently, it might be necessary for the United States to take a sharper posture toward China by adopting a comprehensive pressure strategy reminiscent of Washington’s containment of Moscow during the Cold War. In some ways, a comprehensive pressure strategy would look a lot like collective balancing. It would include intensified military, diplomatic, and geo-economic initiatives meant to stymie China’s bid for primacy in the Indo-Pacific and perhaps beyond. In addition, comprehensive pressure would feature initiatives meant to give the United States greater strategic autonomy vis-à-vis China and to reduce Chinese power over time. At a minimum, the United States would disentangle itself from China in sectors where the existing level of economic interdependence threatens America’s ability to resist Chinese advances — for example, by ending the practice of sourcing critical components of U.S. military capabilities from Chinese companies.[29] At a maximum, comprehensive pressure might entail weakening China’s economy by imposing broad-based tariffs, excluding China from trade agreements, restricting allied trade with and investment in China, and undermining China’s role in global supply chains.[30] Comprehensive pressure could also feature efforts to politically and ideologically undermine the Chinese Communist Party. This could include sanctions against Chinese leaders involved in repression, stronger condemnation of Chinese human rights violations, and even attempts to undermine the legitimacy of the regime by releasing files on corruption by top party leaders and their families. It might also involve efforts “to introduce new information into relatively closed societies,” as a recent report by the Center for Strategic and Budgetary Assessments suggests.[31] The goal would not be to overthrow the regime but, rather, to weaken China’s geopolitical potential by diverting its attention and resources to domestic challenges. A proposal with parallels to containment immediately meets with derision from some American critics (and Chinese spokespersons), who argue that the strategy reeks of “Cold War thinking.” Yet, there are real advantages to this approach. If the United States cannot effectively fight a prolonged war against China because — as a recent Defense Department report explains — the Pentagon relies on Chinese suppliers for “a number of critical energetic materials used in munitions and missiles,” then Sino-American economic integration has gone too far.[32] There is no question, moreover, that China’s economic and political strains constitute strategic vulnerabilities that the United States could exploit for competitive advantage, just as America used economic denial and ideological warfare to weaken the foundations of the Soviet empire during the Cold War. Although the Trump administration’s approach to China has been muddled, the administration has undertaken some initiatives consistent with a comprehensive pressure strategy. Most notably, the administration has attempted to address the glaring contradiction at the heart of America’s post-Cold War strategy toward China: the fact that the United States has long sought to contain China’s ability to challenge the American-led world order while simultaneously helping China build the economic and military wherewithal to mount such a challenge. In a stark change of approach, a faction within the administration has supported the president’s trade war with China not as a bargaining tactic but as a way of weakening China’s economy.[33] Furthermore, Vice President Mike Pence’s October 2018 speech on China, which indicted Beijing for an array of foreign and domestic misdeeds, seemed designed as a call to arms in the manner of Winston Churchill’s 1946 “Iron Curtain” speech or Harry Truman’s 1947 “Truman Doctrine” address. Likewise, Secretary of State Mike Pompeo used the anniversary of the Tiananmen Square massacre to highlight the coercive nature of the Chinese Communist Party and proclaim American solidarity with Chinese citizens seeking greater political freedoms and human rights.[34] [quote id="4"] Yet, the Trump administration’s periodic embrace of tougher China policies has triggered three core criticisms. First, embracing comprehensive pressure means pushing U.S.-China relations into a new and potentially more dangerous phase. The United States would no longer be able to claim the moral high ground by saying that it does not oppose China’s emergence on the world stage. Instead, it might face accusations of being the more aggressive party in the dispute. This approach would certainly increase the difficulty of cooperation on issues such as climate change and management of future economic crises. Beijing, moreover, would probably not remain passive while the United States applied pressure. It might respond in ways that would further ratchet up tensions and raise the chances of outright conflict. Given that China’s long-term power trajectory is deeply uncertain in light of looming political, economic, and demographic challenges, prudence may counsel delaying such a decisive rupture in the relationship for as long as possible.[35] Second, although some U.S. allies — such as Japan — might quietly applaud the shift in U.S. policy, many others would hesitate to embrace such an approach. Most U.S. allies and partners would fear that Washington was forcing them to choose sides in a U.S.-China confrontation. They might well resist a strategy that requires them to significantly constrict their economic dealings with their largest trading partner, especially given their vulnerability to Chinese economic coercion and political meddling. If the United States goes too far, too fast, it might inadvertently damage relationships that will be critical to keeping China’s ambitions in check. Third, domestic politics in the United States may not be ready for comprehensive pressure. Hawkish rhetoric toward China is becoming ever more commonplace among U.S. officials and politicians, but the American technology and financial sectors (as well as U.S. universities) are still heavily invested in Beijing.[36] Opposition from allies and domestic critics might be overcome, of course. And if, as seems increasingly likely, China emerges in the coming decades as a global military challenger as threatening as the Soviet Union once was, then the United States will probably have to move to a more confrontational policy eventually. But doing so would require, at a bare minimum, concerted public education and diplomatic campaigns laying out the case for why such a stark shift in policy is merited. If the Trump administration pivots to comprehensive pressure without laying the groundwork at home and abroad, the result could be to weaken American competitiveness rather than to strengthen it.

Toward a Collective Pressure Strategy

Dealing with an increasingly confident, assertive China is arguably the most difficult geopolitical challenge America has faced in a generation. It will prove more difficult still if Washington cannot decide what it is ultimately trying to accomplish. We have outlined four strategies: accommodation, collective balancing, comprehensive pressure, and regime change. The extreme strategies of accommodation and regime change are overly risky and likely to fail, perhaps catastrophically. The middle two strategies, collective balancing and comprehensive pressure, are more promising, but each still involves significant challenges and risks. So how should America proceed? It bears repeating here that these strategies are ideal-types. They illustrate the range of options and clarify the logics and assumptions underpinning them. But they are not straightjackets, and a real-world strategy might end up occupying the space between certain options or even combing aspects of them. This is particularly likely because the real world is messy and the future is hard to foresee. Both collective balancing and comprehensive pressure rest on plausible logics, but they hold different assumptions about the sustainability of U.S. primacy. Informed experts hold diverse opinions on this topic, so we can only make informed guesses about which will ultimately be borne out by events. Political and diplomatic constraints complicate things further. Even if one believes, for example, that comprehensive pressure is the ideal strategy, it may not be possible to get the domestic and international buy-in necessary to make that strategy effective, at least in the short term. Strategic analysis requires clearly delineating options and the ideas behind them, but strategy must be implemented even when clarity is wanting. For these reasons, we favor a hybrid approach fusing elements of collective balancing and comprehensive pressure. This strategy, which we call collective pressure, would seek to build a coalition of allies and partners strong enough to deter or simply hold the line against Chinese revisionism until such a time as the Chinese Communist Party modifies its objectives or loses its grip on power. If China continues to challenge critical elements of that order, and if Chinese power continues to grow in dangerous ways, the United States would gradually intensify the pressure. It would lead the coalition in efforts to reduce China’s geopolitical, economic, and ideological influence; weaken its power potential; and exacerbate the strains under which Beijing operates. The first step in such a strategy would be a massive transparency campaign designed to publicize the Chinese Communist Party’s coercive activities, unfair economic practices, growing military capabilities, political repression, and human rights violations. A transparency campaign would aim to make clear that the United States remains a friend of the Chinese people but is concerned about the party’s covert, corrupt, and coercive behavior. Most importantly, such a campaign is essential to building both the international support necessary for effective balancing and the domestic support necessary for a stronger pressure campaign. [quote id="5"] The second step in a collective-pressure strategy would be a concerted effort to rally a broad, winning coalition in the Indo-Pacific and beyond. Changing the alignment decisions of regional states is difficult given relative power trends. It would, therefore, require a new U.S. approach. Simply highlighting Beijing’s malfeasance is not enough. Washington must provide an attractive and reliable alternative. To this end, the United States would clarify its alliance commitments, including to the Philippines; reenergize efforts to build greater regional military capability; rejoin the Trans-Pacific Partnership; and actively support efforts by regional states to defend their sovereignty. Rather than criticizing allies and partners, this approach would seek to attract and empower America’s friends. A third step — essential to accomplishing the second — would be to situate the United States itself to compete more effectively with China. Washington should refocus its military, particularly the U.S. Navy and Air Force, on preparing for potential contingencies with China. This includes making critical investments in long-range strike, undersea warfare, active and passive missile defenses, shore-based anti-ship missiles, and other capabilities that will be critical to defeating Beijing’s anti-access/area denial strategy and honoring U.S. security commitments in a crisis. Meanwhile, the United States would move to protect against Chinese intellectual property theft (or impose greater economic and diplomatic costs in response to such theft) and avoid defense industrial dependence on China. The U.S. government would also need to improve interagency processes to address cross-cutting challenges, such as China’s United Front activities and support for authoritarian governments abroad.[37] Finally, the United States would undertake a bipartisan public education campaign about the need to take the China challenge seriously by reinvesting in American education and innovation. As with the other options, a hybrid strategy of this sort carries risks. Even a modest shift toward comprehensive pressure would raise bilateral tensions and force difficult discussions with some international partners and domestic stakeholders. And because this strategy is still rooted in collective balancing, it carries some of the risk inherent in that approach, especially the possibility that Washington will find it impossible to build a coalition sufficient to deter Chinese revisionism. A hybrid strategy, critics could claim, would be akin to leaping halfway across a chasm. Yet, a strategy of collective pressure also addresses some of the weakness in each of the ideal-type approaches it combines. Although collective pressure assumes that the Chinese Communist Party is unlikely to become a responsible stakeholder, it leaves the door open for Beijing to adopt more cooperative approaches, or for dynamics within China to bring about a mellowing of its external behavior. Moreover, this strategy would still be rooted in America’s greatest asymmetric advantage — its global network of allies and partners — but does not rely on them entirely. It also has the benefit of gradually making American officials — and American society — accustomed to a harder-edged strategy, rather than asking them to make that shift suddenly. Implementation of collective pressure would be metered by how far and how fast critical domestic and international audiences can be persuaded to go. Ultimately, if Beijing grows significantly more accepting of risk and its power markedly increases, then collective pressure leaves the door open for a toughening of China policy — and prepares the ground for doing so. A hybrid approach is thus appealing because it offers greater competitive pressure than a pure strategy of collective balancing can provide, while avoiding the most escalatory, diplomatically counterproductive, and politically divisive elements of comprehensive pressure. Reasonable observers can disagree about where to strike the balance between collective balancing and comprehensive pressure. They may even prefer altogether different strategies. What is essential now is that this debate be more structured and rigorous than it has been to date. Competition itself is not a strategy. Advocates of any strategy should make clear what they aim to achieve, how they intend to do it, and what the accompanying risks are. We believe a collective-pressure strategy offers the best way forward. But regardless of the approach advocated, it is past time to stop circling the China problem and start a more analytically rigorous debate over what to do about it.   Hal Brands is the Henry A. Kissinger Distinguished Professor of Global Affairs at the Johns Hopkins School of Advanced International Studies, a senior fellow at the Center for Strategic and Budgetary Assessments, and a Bloomberg Opinion columnist. His most recent books are American Grand Strategy in the Age of Trump and The Lessons of Tragedy: Statecraft and World Order (co-authored with Charles Edel).   Zack Cooper is a research fellow at the American Enterprise Institute, an associate at Armitage International, and an adjunct assistant professor at Georgetown University. He is writing a book on strategic competition that explains how militaries adapt during periods of rise and decline.   Image: FutureAtlas.com [post_title] => After the Responsible Stakeholder, What? Debating America’s China Strategy [post_excerpt] => [post_status] => publish [comment_status] => open [ping_status] => closed [post_password] => [post_name] => after-the-responsible-stakeholder-what-debating-americas-china-strategy-2 [to_ping] => [pinged] => [post_modified] => 2019-05-24 11:40:50 [post_modified_gmt] => 2019-05-24 15:40:50 [post_content_filtered] => [post_parent] => 0 [guid] => http://tnsr.org/?p=1069 [menu_order] => 0 [post_type] => post [post_mime_type] => [comment_count] => 0 [filter] => raw [meta] => [lead] => Now that the responsible stakeholder approach to China is essentially defunct, how should America respond? There are four options — accommodation, collective balancing, comprehensive pressure, and regime change. [pubinfo] => [issue] => Vol 2, Iss 2 [quotes] => Array ( [0] => Array ( [author] => [style] => left [text] => Rather than becoming a responsible stakeholder in a U.S.-led system, China appears increasingly determined to compete with Washington for primacy in the Indo-Pacific and beyond. ) [1