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Rethinking the Bomb: Nuclear Weapons and American Grand Strategy

Rethinking the Bomb: Nuclear Weapons and American Grand Strategy

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…

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                                    [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 American 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 and Patricia Lewis 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] => 2019-01-16 03:32:12 [post_modified_gmt] => 2019-01-16 08:32:12 [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 ) ) [1] => Array ( [acf_fc_layout] => wgt_featured_articles [wgt_type] => manual [qty] => 3 [posts] => Array ( [0] => Array ( [post] => WP_Post Object ( [ID] => 805 [post_author] => 241 [post_date] => 2018-11-12 05:00:46 [post_date_gmt] => 2018-11-12 10:00:46 [post_content] => Does the United States have a grand strategy? Scholars, analysts, and policymakers vigorously debate this question, and for good reason: The answer has profound implications for American foreign policy, both in theory and in practice. After nearly three decades in which overwhelming grand strategic continuity rendered the “Kennan Sweepstakes” little more than an inside-the-Beltway parlor game, Washington faces raised geopolitical stakes. The unipolar moment is undoubtedly over, and the United States must now advance its interests as the most powerful state in an increasingly multipolar international system characterized by sharpening competition among great powers. Meanwhile, social, political, and economic fractures at home create a faulty foundation for a renewed grand-strategic consensus.[1] While the election of Donald Trump did not create these challenges, his presidency has exacerbated them through two years of policy uncertainty, rhetorical whiplash, and strategic drift. Despite some of the chief executive’s long-standing proclivities — antagonism toward free trade, antipathy for American alliances, admiration for strongmen — these preferences have not always served as a reliable guide to his administration’s policy.[2] Instead, the Trump doctrine is best characterized by its ethos: a “tactical transactionalism” in pursuit of apparent foreign policy “wins”;[3] a chauvinistic militarism;[4] and an assertion that “We’re America, Bitch.”[5] In short, the need for an American grand strategy is great at the very moment when its feasibility is diminished. There is thus no better time to revisit the vast literature on grand strategy — a field that spans multiple academic disciplines as well as the realm of policy analysis — and consider how it might help extract the United States from its grand-strategic deficit.[6] An assessment of this literature’s accumulated wisdom yields decidedly mixed results. Grand-strategy scholarship is rightly critiqued for employing its animating concept inconsistently, which has hindered the advancement of social scientific attempts to “describe, explain, and predict” the causes and effects of grand strategy.[7] Yet, focusing unduly on the incoherence of the grand-strategy literature obscures the coalescence of its three component research agendas: those that treat grand strategy as a variable, process, and blueprint. Each of these agendas offers a distinct lens for scholars and practitioners of international relations. The “grand strategy as variable” agenda provides a prism through which academics may study the origins of state behavior, with particular attention to the perennial question of how agency and structure interact to produce grand-strategic outcomes. Far from a theoretical abstraction, this question has immediate relevance for policy practitioners who seek to understand other states’ grand strategies as well as influence the trajectory of their own. The “grand strategy as process” agenda foregrounds the importance of grand strategizing, whether as a governmental strategic-planning process or as a more generic mode of decision-making. In training attention on formulation, this line of inquiry assumes both that grand strategy matters and that individuals can influence its design; consequently, it seeks to extract procedural principles that maximize the likelihood of “good” grand strategy. Finally, the “grand strategy as blueprint” agenda proffers broad visions in hopes of influencing future governmental behavior. These prescriptions may entail defenses of the status quo or — more often — recommendations for redirecting the ship of state. Identifying these component research agendas and placing them in dialogue highlights ripe opportunities for future research. Despite inquiry into the origins of grand strategy, historical case studies, and examination of grand-strategic planning, the literature bears too little insight into the determinants of effectiveness. What distinguishes successful grand strategies from those that have foundered, whether in their encounters with international or domestic hurdles? And while international obstacles are well theorized, domestic political constraints are much less so. Although Trump’s election initially appeared to be a death knell for American global leadership, public support for internationalism has actually increased since he took office. How will Trump’s presidency and the highly polarized political environment over which he presides shape the future of U.S. grand strategy — including the likelihood that a novel blueprint will be adopted? Lastly, as this article amply demonstrates, the field focuses overwhelmingly on American grand strategy. Although the United States is certainly a crucial case, all three research agendas would benefit from a wider international aperture. The literature’s faults, gaps, and ambiguities notwithstanding, this article concludes with a defense of the continued study of grand strategy. Studying grand strategy trains academics’ and analysts’ sights on the highest-order questions of international relations: why, how, and for what purposes states employ their national power, including the crucible of military force. For academics, this focus counterbalances growing tendencies toward narrowly construed, methodologically myopic, or policy-irrelevant research in political science and history. For policymakers, grand strategy persists as an essential enterprise. Even if grand strategy is seldom discussed as such in the White House Situation Room, an overarching strategic vision defines a nation’s international role, guides the alignment of means and ends, and serves as a lodestar for discrete foreign policy decisions. Consequently, strategists within and outside the ivory tower share the task of advancing the study of grand strategy, so as to better inform both scholarship and policy. This task begins by clarifying the meaning of grand strategy and distinguishing among the vast literature’s component research agendas.

What Is ‘Grand Strategy’?

The study of grand strategy constitutes a rich and growing literature. Yet a confounding breadth of subjects fall under what is nominally a single conceptual umbrella.[8] In many cases, works on grand strategy talk past each other, use definitional quibbles to invalidate competing ideas, and define alternative explanations selectively. Notably, these divergences occur despite a remarkable degree of agreement over the basic definition of grand strategy. Indeed, two complementary definitions are cited by nearly every major recent study of grand strategy. The first is from Paul Kennedy and draws on earlier work by Edward Mead Earle and Basil Liddell Hart[9] to contend, “The crux of grand strategy lies therefore in policy, that is, in the capacity of the nation’s leaders to bring together all of the elements, both military and nonmilitary, for the preservation and enhancement of the nation’s long-term (that is, in wartime and peacetime) best interests.”[10] The second is by Barry Posen, who draws on a similar strategic tradition and offers an even more succinct definition: Grand strategy is “a state’s theory about how it can best ‘cause’ security for itself.”[11] These definitions co-exist comfortably without intrinsic contradictions. Their complementarity is well demonstrated by Hal Brands’ elaboration of the conception of grand strategy in his study of the subject:
At its best, then, a grand strategy represents an integrated scheme of interests, threats, resources, and policies. It is the conceptual framework that helps nations determine where they want to go and how they ought to get there; it is the theory, or logic, that guides leaders seeking security in a complex and insecure world.[12]
Accordingly, grand strategy is, as Nina Silove argues, long term in its vision, holistic in its treatment of all instruments of national power, and important in its focus on the most consequential interests.[13] These attributes distinguish grand strategy from its narrower cognates — strategy and military strategy — as well as from foreign policy and statecraft. The concept of strategy has a long genealogy: Its ancient precursors date to Thucydides and Polybius. First appearing in European military analyses in the late 18th century, it evolved from an exclusively military character to incorporate political objectives after World War I. Strategy then assumed a general meaning over the course of the 20th century.[14] “Military strategy” has come to occupy the historical domain of “strategy” in referring exclusively to the employment of military force: In Liddell Hart’s words, “[T]he art of distributing and applying military means to fulfill the ends of policy.”[15] Strategy, by contrast, is a generic term without clear temporal, instrumental, or substantive dimensions; rather, it refers to the process of careful marshalling of means to achieve desired ends in pursuits as diverse as football, poker, and marketing.[16] Nor is “grand strategy” synonymous with foreign policy and statecraft. Foreign policy lacks the time horizon and emphasis on vital interests intrinsic to grand strategy: The United States may, for example, have a foreign policy toward Bolivia that is short-term and of minor consequence.[17] Finally, statecraft — though rarely defined — typically refers to the practical conduct of international relations, with a focus on tools and implementation.[18] [quote id="1"] Even as most scholars who research and write about grand strategy agree on its basic definition, they employ the concept in markedly different ways, each associated with a component research agenda within the grand-strategy literature. The “grand strategy as variable” camp seeks to develop analytical arguments that explain the origins of states’ grand strategies and account for their change over time. The “grand strategy as process” camp sees the strategic planning process as the essence of grand strategy and focuses on the improvement and/or generalization of such processes. Finally, a “grand strategy as blueprint” camp outlines prescriptive broad visions for grand strategy, particularly in the United States. Of course, this article is not the first attempt to bring clarity to the study of grand strategy.[19] While most review the literature without clearly delineating the various meanings of grand strategy, Silove’s recent contribution presents an alternative tripartite typology focused on “theories of the concept of grand strategy.” Based on a careful intellectual history, Silove describes how scholars often subtly diverge on whether grand strategy refers to detailed plans (“grand plans”), general organizing principles (“grand principles”), or emergent patterns of state behavior (“grand behavior”).[20] This contribution, though important, is primarily methodological: Plans, principles, and behavior are distinguished by the standard of evidence required to establish the existence of grand strategy. What’s more, these three categories are not easily distinguished from each other in practice, as Silove readily admits:
Grand plans specify ends and the means by which to achieve them in detail. Grand principles do the same in more general terms. Grand behavior is a pattern in the relative allocation of means to certain ends, regardless of whether that pattern is the result of a grand plan, a grand principle, or some other factor.[21]
In more concrete terms, this means that America’s early Cold War grand strategy was simultaneously animated by grand principles (containment), detailed in grand plans (NSC-68), and manifested in grand behavior (the Korean War, defense budgets, and so on). These three methods of measuring grand strategy as a phenomenon may assist in answering different research questions, but they do not in themselves qualify as distinct research agendas.[22] Despite its methodological contribution, therefore, the three meanings of grand strategy Silove identifies provide little help for those seeking to organize the major debates in the current grand-strategy literature. Instead, analysts will find greater value in recognizing the thematic coherence in a field that frequently coalesces around similar research puzzles — a task better served by the variable-process-blueprint typology developed here.

Agenda 1: Grand Strategy as Variable

Social scientists have produced a vast literature that treats grand strategy as a subject to be explained — that is, as a dependent variable. Scholars in this vein focus predominantly on the origins of grand strategy: theorizing where grand strategy comes from and the conditions under which it might change. This emphasis trains scholars’ attention on cases in which states (usually great powers) engage in major strategic pivots. Consider the most salient 20th-century examples: Why did Japan turn toward autarky in the late 1930s?[23] Why did Germany seek to overturn the European order through expansionism in the years leading up to World War II?[24] Why did Britain abandon its initial strategy of appeasement in favor of a more confrontational posture toward Nazi Germany?[25] Why did Russia turn toward “new thinking” in the 1980s?[26] Within the international relations literature, theories of grand strategy track closely with broader debates about whether the sources of state behavior lie at the international, domestic, or individual level. Scholars debate the role of the international environment in determining states’ grand strategies, as compared with domestic considerations such as public opinion, bureaucratic politics, strategic culture, or political leadership that may explain why states respond differently when they face similar international circumstances. Distinguishing between arguments about how grand strategy is generated is more than an exercise in rehashing the contest between the “isms” of international relations theory; rather, it reveals practically relevant assumptions about whether grand strategy is an output or a tool. If grand strategy is merely an output, there is little room for strategic choice. If future Chinese grand strategy were determined by Beijing’s relative power position, it matters little whether the nation is guided by Xi Jinping or another leader. Similarly, American grand strategy would dramatically reorient only if international conditions change, notwithstanding Trump’s heterodox designs. If grand strategy is a tool, however, individual agency may change the course of history by developing and implementing grand strategies that transcend structural constraints — or prove ill-equipped to surmount them. According to the structural-realist perspective, grand strategy is essentially the conveyer belt between systemic incentives and state behavior — or, an output. When John Mearsheimer contends that states “are aware of their external environment and they think strategically about how to survive in it,”[27] he is referring to a process of automatic adaption according to a predictable pattern of state behavior. Grand strategy changes when the international system changes. The act of strategizing has no place in this view of grand strategy. Because grand strategy derives directly from the structure of the international system, any apparently intentional acts of grand-strategic articulation are merely epiphenomenal — in other words, they may reflect underlying factors but have no independent influence on observed outcomes. Indeed, structural-realist, or neorealist, theories of international relations emphasize the role of the international system in determining states’ grand strategies. Material attributes of the system — most importantly, the distribution of power — create pressures that “shape and shove” strategic choice.[28] For offensive realists like Mearsheimer, the anarchic, self-help nature of the international system yields constant great-power competition, as each major state seeks to maximize its share of world power. While all major powers desire hegemony, they may temporarily adopt strategies oriented to maintain the status quo when “the costs and risks of trying to shift the balance of power are too great, forcing great powers to wait for more favorable circumstances.”[29] Defensive realists also treat the international system as determinative, but they describe the attributes of the system with more nuance and make more sanguine assumptions about states’ default grand-strategic modes, emphasizing the quest for security rather than hegemony.[30] [quote id="2"] The fundamental problem with structural theories of grand strategy, of course, is that they explain very little. As Aaron Friedberg has noted, “structural considerations provide a useful point from which to begin analysis of international politics rather than a place at which to end it.”[31] A great power may seek security or hegemony in countless ways. Faced with a rising challenger, for instance, a state may initiate a preventive war, but it may also cooperate or even retrench.[32] Much depends on how states perceive their international environment and the domestic pressures that condition their response. Considering these domestic dimensions can clarify how states perceive the structure of their external environments, as well as the conditions under which grand strategy may change even as structural circumstances remain the same. Understanding this variation is important, and interesting, for scholars and strategists alike. Consequently, most recent work on grand strategy incorporates state-level attributes when explaining its origins. Neoclassical-realist scholarship accepts the importance of broad strategic parameters set by the international system but incorporates domestic-level factors into explanations of states’ particular grand-strategic choices.[33] Typically characterized as “intervening variables” that mediate the translation of systemic incentives into state behavior, domestic variables take one of two forms. The first is domestic politics. Whether a function of state capacity,[34] party preferences,[35] or sectoral interests,[36] this view of grand strategy is only moderately more dynamic than the structural one. By allowing the possibility of choice from a menu of grand-strategic options,[37] these theories seem to create greater space for agency — but once domestic-political variables are introduced as intervening or interacting forces, grand strategy regains its status as an output. In explaining why American grand strategy transitioned from selective engagement during the Bill Clinton administration to offensive war in the George W. Bush administration, for example, Peter Trubowitz does not credit distinct presidential designs. Instead, he argues, the difference lay in domestic politics: Although both Clinton and Bush were president at times of few geopolitical constraints, Clinton’s Democratic Party profited politically from investing in social services (butter over guns) while Bush’s Republican Party benefited from defense spending (guns over butter).[38] Grand strategy emerged from the crucible of domestic and international pressures rather than leadership by the president or other senior policymakers. A second type of neoclassical-realist theory emphasizes the intervening variable of strategic culture, a subject of increasing attention among scholars of grand strategy. Some studies treat strategic culture as an essentially fixed mediator between international constraints and grand-strategic outcomes. Evaluating the American case, for example, Christopher Layne points to “Open Door economic and ideological expansion” in explaining why the United States has continuously pursued a grand strategy of “extraregional hegemony” since World War II, and Patrick Porter attributes the continuity of American post-Cold War grand strategy to a primacist monoculture among Washington’s foreign policy establishment.[39] These are essentially theories of continuity; they provide little traction in explaining the conditions for change.[40] A more dynamic approach to the American case introduces multiple strategic cultures and examines how they compete with each other for influence over grand strategy — whether the rival poles of Woodrow Wilson’s idealism and Theodore Roosevelt’s realpolitik, Enlightenment rationalism and Christian theology, or classical liberalism and the “limited liability” foreign policy tradition, as characterized by Henry Kissinger, Walter McDougall, and Colin Dueck, respectively.[41] This genre of argument intriguingly highlights the rhyme and repetition that so frequently characterize grand-strategy debates in the United States.[42] Moreover, it acknowledges the fundamental importance of international conditions without succumbing to determinism: The United States’ historical repertoire provides multiple narratives for leaders or strategists to draw upon while also holding out the possibility of influential new formulations. Nevertheless, as Sara Plana argues, strategic cultural theories of grand strategy remain underdeveloped and often unfalsifiable. More work is needed to identify the conditions required for change between strategic subcultures,[43] as well as the mechanisms by which culture translates into grand-strategic outcomes.[44] Finally, historians — and only rarely political scientists — attribute the origins of grand strategy to the designs of individuals.[45] Such works vary in the relative weight they attribute to structure or agency. Some scholars take international structure as the starting point, which then filters through leaders’ perspectives and preferences. This view is characteristic of Hal Brands’ work, which explores the interaction between international dynamics and the worldviews of American presidents and their advisers in the post-World War II period.[46] Others focus more intently on the grand-strategic interventions of individuals. These scholars acknowledge international constraints but contend that strategists can see through structural forces in crafting their grand designs. John Gaddis’ discussion of George Kennan’s development of containment exemplifies this view, as does his recent work celebrating the grand-strategic triumphs of leaders such as Elizabeth I and Abraham Lincoln. Similarly, Charles Edel portrays John Quincy Adams as an architect of American grand strategy in the early decades of the republic.[47] What insights does the “grand strategy as variable” research agenda offer to scholars and policymakers? For scholars, this research amounts to less than the sum of its parts. These studies tend to develop their own approach to operationalizing and measuring grand strategy.[48] While some studies conceive of grand strategy as a state’s approach to international order or the balance of power, others operationalize grand strategy at the level of specific foreign policy choices.[49] This ad hoc treatment makes it difficult to competitively test rival theories against each other and, in turn, accumulate knowledge about where grand strategy comes from and why it changes. For policymakers, this sub-literature provides alternate lenses through which to assess the origins of other states’ grand strategies, as well as the conditions under which allies and adversaries may pursue different tacks in the future. It also foregrounds the structural constraints that grand strategists face at the international and domestic levels, emphasizing the importance of designing grand strategies that account realistically for such limitations, rather than wishing them away. The balance of evidence indicates that it is these constraints — more so than the blue-sky creativity of virtuosic policy intellectuals — that determine a nation’s grand-strategic course, though individuals do occasionally distinguish themselves by designing grand strategies that intelligently navigate this bounded pathway.

Agenda 2: Grand Strategy as Process

A second research agenda treats grand strategy as a process rather than a subject. This perspective conceives of grand strategy primarily in terms of its mode of formulation and only secondarily — in some cases, not at all — in the substance of the strategy itself. By focusing on decision-making processes, these works reject structural determinism and embrace the possibility that choices made by individuals and organizations can alter a state’s grand-strategic course. One group sees grand strategy as a “common sense” method of decision-making and looks to history for universal principles applicable to a wide range of pursuits. Another sub-literature equates strategic planning with grand strategy, focusing primarily on the United States. The broadest conception of grand strategy as process entails the generalization of grand strategy as a generic method of leadership and decision-making.[50] This school of thought echoes the tradition of 19th-century theorists who sought to develop universal principles of military strategy.[51] By studying great commanders, these writers distilled genius into teachable guidelines, transforming strategy from an art to a science. Today, this tradition is most closely associated with Yale’s Grand Strategy program. Gaddis, a don of the Yale program, encapsulates this approach:
Grand strategy is the calculated relationship of means to large ends. It’s about how one uses whatever one has to get to wherever it is one wants to go. Our knowledge of it derives chiefly from the realm of war and statecraft. … But grand strategy need not apply only to war and statecraft: it’s potentially applicable to any endeavor in which means must be deployed in the pursuit of important ends.[52]
Careful study of grand strategy can thus yield principles relevant to a wide range of pursuits; this approach amounts to “teaching common sense.”[53] By generalizing insights from military and diplomatic history, the common-sense school mirrors the transformation of strategy from a specifically military term into a generic one. But while scholars and strategists can surely extract universal lessons from military and diplomatic history, it does not necessarily follow that it is possible to have a grand strategy of just anything. Rather, to stretch the concept in this manner is to render it indistinguishable from the contemporary concept of strategy. Consider the similarities — in both content and level of abstraction — between advice offered to decision-makers by business strategist Richard Rumelt and by Gaddis, a scholar of grand strategy. Where Gaddis advises against directly opposing an adversary’s strengths and “respecting constraints,” Rumelt cautions strategists to “define the challenge competitively” and avoid “failure to recognize or take seriously the fact that resources are scarce.”[54] Each of these insights is worthy and wise, but following them entails acting strategically, not grand strategically. To retain its meaning and avoid the conceptual muddle that plagues its sister concept, grand strategy must remain substantively anchored in the realm of statecraft. [quote id="3"] By contrast, another cluster of scholarship and policy analysis conceives of grand strategy in terms of strategic planning. Echoing Dwight Eisenhower’s maxim about planning, for this sub-literature, grand strategizing is everything. Among military theorists, grand strategy has long-standing associations with planning: Basil Liddell Hart, in his original definition, explains the role of grand strategy as “to co-ordinate and direct all the resources of a nation, or band of nations, toward the attainment of the political object of the war.”[55] Despite some critics’ contention that decision-making assumes a qualitatively different cast under conditions of peace rather than war, the extrapolation of grand strategy to include peacetime strategic planning has become common.[56] Scholars and policy analysts in this camp typically conceive of grand strategy as the method by which a government articulates its national security strategy. Debates about strategic planning in the U.S. government offer a prime example, given the enormity of American global interests and national capabilities, but these dynamics are by no means exclusive to the United States or to great powers generally.[57] Often, debates about grand-strategic planning in Washington center on the congressionally mandated national security strategy. Much of the literature on the national security strategy focuses on the utility of mobilizing the American national security apparatus for such strategic-planning exercises.[58] Proponents such as James Goldgeier and Jeremy Suri contend that the national security strategy is vital to the practice of grand strategy:
Without a clear strategy statement, the next president will find it difficult to align U.S. capabilities behind core national interests. Without a clear strategy statement, the next president will fail to set a foreign policy course for his/her new administration that leverages U.S. resources and allies, escaping the damaging tendency to do a little everywhere and seek to stamp out fires wherever they burn.[59]
Publication of each administration’s national security strategy cues a chorus of critics who decry the degradation of the grand-strategy process into an exercise in banality and bureaucratic consensus-building, divorced from the crucial work of implementation.[60] For the most part, however, national security strategy critics believe that strategic planning is a virtuous exercise; their gripe centers on the consistent failure of the national security strategy and related processes to produce anything resembling grand strategy.[61] A process optimized to effectively link ends, ways, and means might, for example: lean into, rather than shy away from, difficult trade-offs; always contain a classified component where priorities are explicitly enumerated; and translate into clear implementation guidance, including budgetary requirements. Despite wide recognition of these deficiencies, however, there has been little progress toward reform, implicitly revealing a set of political — rather than geostrategic — priorities that drive the planning process.[62] First, the national security strategy, like many strategy documents, is mandated by Congress; every presidential administration is required to produce it. Second, planning advocates ascribe value to the process for its own sake, saying it forces policymakers to think beyond their inboxes and engage strategic questions with their counterparts across the national security bureaucracy, which improves day-to-day decision-making even if it doesn’t produce a coherent strategic vision. Third, the national security strategy is a vessel for communicating with audiences at home and abroad. Domestically, the national security strategy can guide interagency decision-making and inform public debate. Internationally, the document signals the broad direction of U.S. foreign policy to allies and adversaries. Constrained by these political imperatives, there is little incentive for policymakers to make hard grand-strategic choices. Indeed, little changes between presidential administrations, even as reams of studies explore means of improving U.S. strategic competence.[63] Some skeptics contend that U.S. incompetence may actually be salutary: Grand-strategic planning, they argue, yields dangerously constraining and inflexible foreign policy doctrines. Building on Richard Betts’s critiques of strategy and doctrine,[64] David Edelstein and Ronald Krebs argue that strategic planning imposes dangerous rigidity on policymaking: “The ritual of crafting strategy encourages participants to spin a narrative that magnifies the scope of the national interest and exaggerates global threats.”[65] Ionut Popescu characterizes grand strategy as a model of national security decision-making whereby governments “formulate and implement a long-term coherent plan to accomplish the nation’s highest goals.”[66] He contrasts this approach with a superior alternative model of “emergent strategy” that rejects long-term planning in favor of incrementalism, short-term adaptation, and crisis response.[67] James Graham Wilson uses history to make a similar case, characterizing the end of the Cold War as a “triumph of improvisation” rather than grand strategy.[68] Simon Reich and Peter Dombrowski herald the “end of grand strategy” because the coherence it requires is at odds with the operational processes of the U.S. military, particularly the Navy.[69] These critics are undoubtedly correct that grand strategy should not impose undue rigidity on policymaking. Yet, advocates of emergent strategy or case-by-case pragmatism are arguing against a straw man: Proponents of grand-strategic planning do not propose that policymakers engage in an exquisite design process that anticipates every contingency, nor is there historical evidence to support this caricature of grand strategy. Instead, planning documents like the national security strategy tend to be statements of grand-strategic principles while glossing over questions of implementation. Indeed, focusing unduly on plans themselves risks missing the fundamental point of grand strategy: As Brands and Porter have argued, “grand strategy is best understood not as a formal planning process, but as a guiding intellectual framework. … It is an ecological worldview, formed from a mix of different influences — experience, study, values, ideology — that helps officials make sense of complexity and bring resources and commitments into alignment.”[70] In this sense, planning may contribute to that framework — for example by elaborating a set of principles or inculcating a strategic subculture — but grand strategy is not reducible to even a well-executed strategic planning process. What insights does the “grand strategy as process” research agenda offer to scholars and policymakers? For academics, this sub-literature usefully highlights the temporal dimension of grand strategy: Whereas scholars tend to focus on only the early stages of grand-strategy formulation, they ought to take a broader view that includes implementation — the phase at which strategic designs tend to founder in encounters with resource constraints, bureaucratic resistance, or other barriers.[71] This research agenda is also notable for what it lacks: rigorous studies of the qualities that render grand-strategic planning processes more or less successful.[72] Indeed, from a policymaking perspective, the grand-strategy-as-process research agenda should pick up where the grand-strategy-as-variable agenda left off. It should elucidate the methods by which individuals and organizations can effectively diagnose the international and domestic environments, then develop grand strategies that seize on opportunities and circumvent constraints. Yet the literature lacks this kind of how-to guide for grand-strategic planning beyond the strategic aphorisms put forth by the common-sense school. Finally, the debate over the utility of grand strategizing emphasizes the dangers associated with following rigid doctrines or strategic plans for their own sake. Nevertheless, the recommendation to replace grand strategy with “pragmatism” or “emergent strategy” does not withstand scrutiny. There is no intrinsic reason why grand strategy — in the United States or elsewhere — cannot entail a design process that is long-term in its vision, disciplined in its prioritization, and pragmatically flexible in its implementation. An ad hoc alternative is hardly preferable.

Agenda 3: Grand Strategy as Blueprint

The final strand of the grand-strategy literature is grand strategy as blueprint.[73] The works in this category provide recommendations that seek to guide the future course of a given state’s foreign policy. Whereas the grand-strategy-as-variable research agenda is descriptive and the grand-strategy-as-process agenda is both descriptive and prescriptive, this agenda is entirely prescriptive. Like the process literature, discussions of grand strategy as blueprint assume that grand strategy is a tool, rather than an automatic output, and therefore can be manipulated by agents who enact intentional designs. As with strategic planning, debates about grand-strategic blueprints are ongoing around the world.[74] This article uses the United States as an example because U.S. grand strategy is the primary concern of American scholars of international relations and, given the predominant U.S. role in the world, it is also the most consequential. The heart of current scholarly debate is between advocates of a restrained grand strategy, often described as “retrenchment” or “offshore balancing,”[75] and proponents of variants of liberal internationalism, referred to as “deep engagement,” “liberal hegemony,” and “primacy.”[76] Liberal internationalism is, in the words of Stephen Brooks, G. John Ikenberry, and William Wohlforth, the devil we know. Its three core tenets have guided U.S. grand strategy since World War II:
Managing the external environment to reduce near- and long-term threats to U.S. national security; promoting a liberal economic order to expand the global economy and maximize domestic prosperity; and creating, sustaining, and revising the global institutional order to secure necessary interstate cooperation on terms favorable to U.S. interests.[77]
Proponents of this grand strategy point to the past seven decades as evidence of its remarkable success; the peace and prosperity it has offered represent a departure from the “economic mercantilism, political conflict, and repeated war” that characterized much of world history.[78] Even in the post-Cold War context, advocates defend its record: As Brands writes, “for all its travails, American strategy has played a central role in making the post-Cold War international system more stable, more liberal, and more favorable to U.S. interests and ideals than it would otherwise have been—and certainly in bringing about a more benign international environment than many expert observers expected when the post-Cold War period began.”[79] [quote id="4"] Advocates of retrenchment disagree with this characterization of liberal internationalism’s record of success, as well as the costs and risks ascribed to it. In his book-length treatise making the case for offshore balancing, Layne takes aim at the core liberal internationalist assumption that national security requires the United States to police a world order amenable to American values, institutions, and economic penetration.[80] As Mearsheimer and Stephen Walt argue, “By pursuing a strategy of ‘offshore balancing,’ Washington would forgo ambitious efforts to remake other societies and concentrate on what really matters: pre­serving U.S. dominance in the Western Hemisphere and countering potential hegemons in Europe, Northeast Asia, and the Persian Gulf.”[81] But even in forestalling the rise of a Eurasian hegemon, the first line of defense would be regional powers, and the United States would intervene only if absolutely necessary. Offshore balancers differ in their approaches toward nuclear proliferation and counterterrorism, but overall they agree that the rewards of pulling back from global engagement would outweigh the risks. The resulting savings, based on the military strategy and force structure outlined in Barry Posen’s Restraint, would enable the United States to cut its defense budget to 2.5 percent of gross domestic product from the current level, 3.62 percent of GDP.[82] Beyond the grand debate between restraint and deep engagement, there are important divergences within each camp. Even among those who laud the U.S. strategic successes of the past 70 years, there is disagreement about the best way forward for U.S. leadership of a liberal international order under increasing stress from both global power shifts and the growing salience of transnational challenges. Brands and Eric Edelman advocate a major defense recapitalization to sustain U.S. military primacy, credibly maintain American commitments overseas even when challenged by increasingly capable great-power adversaries, and, in so doing, uphold the existing international order.[83] In contrast, Bruce Jentleson argues that while the United States is not in terminal decline, changes in the global landscape ineluctably diminish American influence abroad. He proposes a strategy of “recalibration,” which rejects both retrenchment and calls for the United States to reclaim global primacy in favor of a subtler and more selective application of American power in service of clearly defined interests.[84] Paul Stares advocates a strategy of “preventive engagement” to manage global threats without resorting to costly uses of military force.[85] Others examine U.S. interests in the context of transnational security challenges, advocating constraints on American power in service of a truly global, rather than U.S.-dominated, order. Richard Haass calls for progress toward a “world order 2.0” in which states move beyond the Westphalian system and accept “sovereign obligations” for managing the globalized consequences of domestic policies.[86] Thomas Weiss goes further, contending that transnational problems require more muscular global governance, centered on empowered (and reformed) international organizations.[87] Anne-Marie Slaughter advocates a networked grand strategy that complements state-to-state interaction with a “web of commercial, educational, cultural, and human relations.”[88] What insights does the grand-strategy-as-blueprint agenda hold for scholars and policymakers? Unlike the other two, this research agenda presupposes that grand strategies can be intentionally designed and provides preconceived prescriptions for such interventions. Yet, the blueprint debates remain oddly divorced from parallel discussions about the origins of grand strategy. This disconnect is particularly stark among realist scholars who engage in the study of grand strategy as variable in addition to blueprint. Mearsheimer, for example, predicts in his academic work that states will act as power maximizers, strive for hegemony, and preclude the rise of other hegemons; these are not choices but, rather, the inevitable consequence of an anarchic international system.[89] When he turns to prescription, however, Mearsheimer recommends that the United States restrain its own quest for power by retrenching from its forward positions around the globe and seeking hegemony only in the Western Hemisphere.[90] Yet the proposition that the United States is pursuing an inefficient or even dangerous grand strategy of liberal hegemony would seem to contradict the core neorealist assumption that states respond rationally and consistently to their international environments. Meanwhile, the suggestion that the United States should pursue more limited grand-strategic aims is at odds with the prediction that states seek to maximize their power. The juxtaposition of these arguments suggests a logical double bind: Either Mearsheimer’s recommendations are superior to the current course of American grand strategy, which calls into question his explanatory theory, or his theory of grand strategy is accurate, which calls into question the wisdom of his recommendations. For policymakers, such distinctions may seem arcane and pedantic, but they matter a great deal: Those advocating prescriptions derived from structural realism have the loudest academic voices in debates about American grand strategy, as well as the prospects for U.S.-China competition, and partial alignment with Trump’s heterodox international outlook may amplify their influence over policy.[91] More broadly, any grand-strategic prescriptions ought to be transparent about their assumptions, and when those assumptions prove faulty the attendant recommendations should be updated or discounted accordingly. When grand-strategic blueprints are well crafted, however, they can challenge conventional wisdom, refine extant doctrines, and provide a lodestar for policy.

Opportunities for Future Research

Three separate research agendas thus characterize the grand-strategy literature, with the variable, process, and blueprint camps each centering on different questions: Where does grand strategy come from? What are the procedural characteristics of grand strategy’s formulation and execution? And what should a particular state’s grand strategy be? By reorganizing what is nominally a single literature into three component research agendas, the preceding sections should help scholars adjudicate disagreements endemic in existing work and identify their main interlocutors in future work. Recognition of these dividing lines ought to facilitate the clash of ideas, particularly in debates over processes and blueprints. For the grand-strategy-as-variable school to advance through competitive theory testing, however, differentiation from the process and blueprint camps is only a first step. Further conceptual clarification remains necessary through a more disciplined approach to definition, operationalization, and measurement. [quote id="5"] Despite the value of acknowledging these divisions, it would be a mistake to reify them or ignore their intersections. A single academic work may speak to more than one research agenda, and many thinkers have contributed to more than one of the three camps. Scholars should therefore remain attuned to opportunities for synthesis and integration, especially where assumptions linking explanatory and normative approaches to grand strategy are implicitly or explicitly interdependent. In particular, there are three promising avenues for future research into the determinants of effectiveness, the domestic politics of grand strategy, and grand strategy beyond the United States. The Determinants of Grand-Strategic Effectiveness Despite the vast literature on grand strategy, scholars know remarkably little about the determinants of effectiveness. Does grand strategy truly influence the practice of statecraft and, if so, under what conditions is it successful? As Williamson Murray notes, “Those who have developed successful grand strategies in the past have been much the exception.”[92] Moreover, for grand strategy to matter, it must be distinct from predetermined forms of advantage and perhaps even overcome material deficits.[93] There is no more policy-consequential question for scholars than the ingredients of these rare strategic triumphs. Historians and, to a lesser extent, political scientists, have identified and analyzed cases of grand-strategic success: both wartime success, such as the Allies’ grand strategy during World War II,[94] and long-term imperial-hegemonic endurance, like that of the British and Roman Empires.[95] But at the theoretical level, existing work provides little insight into the general determinants of grand-strategic effectiveness. To account for success, scholars generally point to the careful balance of means and ends.[96] This approach is problematic, however, because it conflates definitional and causal claims.[97] If grand strategy is defined as statecraft that astutely balances means and ends, and if well-balanced grand strategy is necessarily successful, then there is no space to study variation in grand-strategic effectiveness. The debate becomes about the presence or absence of grand strategy rather than the efficacy of a given grand strategy. To be useful as a variable, grand strategy cannot be a normatively laden term. Future work can fill this gap by examining grand strategy as an independent, rather than dependent, variable. Of what effects is grand strategy the cause? Those interested in theorizing grand strategy can begin by searching for hypotheses in the process literature, which implicitly or explicitly describes the criteria for successful strategic planning but rarely evaluates these criteria rigorously or comparatively across cases.[98] Risa Brooks’ scholarship on the influence of civil-military cooperation on the effectiveness of strategic planning and Popescu’s evaluation of the comparative effectiveness of grand strategy and emergent strategy provide models for much-needed future work in this area.[99] The Domestic Politics of Grand Strategy The shock of Trump’s election in November 2016 spotlighted the perennial uncertainty surrounding the domestic politics of grand strategy. Regarding Trump specifically, a significant proportion of American voters proved willing to elect a presidential candidate who brazenly rejected core elements of the post-World War II elite foreign policy consensus on trade, alliances, and other issues. But while Trump’s election creates the temptation to pronounce the death of American global leadership, there is evidence that popular support for internationalism persists — raising the possibility that some voters supported Trump despite, not because of, his heterodox foreign policy positions.[100] Scholars can help clarify whether Trump’s election is a harbinger of structural shifts in the domestic politics of foreign policy — or an aberration. Toward that end, future studies could revisit two long-standing debates in the literature on public opinion and American grand strategy. First is the power of what Theodore Roosevelt famously called the “bully pulpit.” All presidents advocate their preferred foreign policies, whether Harry Truman’s aid to Greece and Turkey, Ronald Reagan’s support for Nicaraguan contras, Clinton’s pursuit of NATO enlargement, George W. Bush’s march to war in Iraq, or Barack Obama’s lobbying for the Trans-Pacific Partnership trade agreement. Yet, the varying successes of these efforts demonstrate the limits of presidential powers of persuasion. What, then, determines why some efforts succeed while others fail? In contemporary terms, why has public opinion grown more favorable toward long-standing American alliances and the Iran nuclear deal since Trump’s election, even as he has denigrated them from the White House?[101] A potential answer lies in the politics of persuasion. Stacie Goddard and Krebs contend that the process of public legitimation constrains the range of available grand-strategy choices.[102] Krebs investigates these boundaries of legitimacy in his book-length study of narrative and the making of U.S. national security. National security narratives catch on, he argues, during times of crisis, when presidents tell stories that help their citizens impose order on seemingly chaotic circumstances. Krebs’s analysis of ripe narrative moments and the importance of presidential authority is helpful, but the core contribution lies in his focus on the mechanics of storytelling as contrasted with argumentation — a dimension of politics that rarely captures the attention of scholars of international relations but that warrants consideration, particularly among those confounded by the political failures of their grand-strategic prescriptions.[103] Second, scholars can continue to investigate polarization’s influence on the domestic politics of grand strategy. Whereas public opinion studies in the early Cold War showed limited correlation between domestic and foreign policy views, greater partisan consistency began to emerge around the time of the Vietnam War.[104] Since then, partisan polarization has grown and sharpened with the rise of across-the-aisle antipathy, also known as “affective polarization.”[105] Future research could investigate how widening polarization might alter the domestic dynamics of grand strategy.[106] One avenue for investigation entails the interaction between policy expertise and partisan polarization — in particular, whether elites retain the ability to persuade the public to accept their preferred grand strategy. Rather than a wholesale death of expertise, recent research indicates that — especially on controversial issues — citizens remain attentive to experts, but only those who share their partisan affiliation.[107] This finding would suggest that as long as a bipartisan elite consensus on grand strategy endures, the public is likely to follow. In light of many Republicans’ resistance to central elements of the Trump administration’s national security agenda, however, additional scholarship should explore citizens’ response to elite dissent within political parties on matters of foreign policy or grand strategy. Researchers can also turn their attention to polarization’s consequences for grand strategy. Kenneth Schultz contends that polarization will introduce greater volatility in American foreign policy and diminish the effectiveness of Washington’s diplomatic signaling, opening the door to myriad opportunities for additional theoretical elaboration and empirical testing.[108] Grand Strategy Beyond the United States Finally, the grand-strategy literature suffers needlessly from American parochialism. As a case study, U.S. grand strategy is undoubtedly crucial: The United States’ rise to global power, its response to victory in two world wars, and its emergence as a unipolar hegemon with unprecedented power are unique moments of world-historic significance. Nonetheless, as a matter of theory, policy, and history, all three veins of the grand-strategy research agenda would benefit from a wider aperture. The grand-strategy-as-variable camp should expand to include more non-Western cases and to more ambitiously aspire to generalizability across time periods and national contexts. Even explanatory theories specific to non-U.S. cases could help illuminate the grand-strategic courses, choices, and cultures of allies and adversaries alike.[109] By looking beyond the United States, the grand-strategy-as-process camp could shed light on strategic planning in comparative perspective and especially on the vital question of whether autocratic regimes are more capable of effective grand strategy than democracies. Finally, grand-strategy debates are likely to proliferate and amplify as power continues to diffuse over the coming decades. Scholars of international relations have much to contribute to blueprint debates beyond the United States, especially among allies and partners, and prescriptions for the future of American grand strategy would benefit from richer understanding of other states’ visions for their own power.

Conclusion: The Necessity of Grand Strategy

The literature of grand-strategic studies is vast and frequently disjointed — yet, for all its flaws, grand strategy remains an attractive object of scholarly attention. Academic programs focused on grand strategy are flourishing: Yale’s program celebrated its 15th year in October 2016,[110] and similar institutions continue to proliferate.[111] Meanwhile, a sense of acute geopolitical flux and uncertainty about the future character of international politics has renewed the “Kennan Sweepstakes” for the post-post-Cold War era. Experts are keen to offer their grand-strategic analysis in popular and academic publications, present blueprints for grand strategy, and advise governments on the formulation and execution of grand strategy. These trends may indicate that continued study of grand strategy is inevitable — but it is also beneficial for several reasons. First, grand strategy as a field of study is inherently relevant to policy.[112] By illuminating the origins of state behavior, theories of grand strategy help policymakers understand the drivers of allies’ and adversaries’ foreign policies, as well as the conditions for change in their own countries’ grand strategies. Meanwhile, studying grand strategy requires academics to engage with policymakers, who provide insight into real-world processes of grand-strategy development and implementation. Rather than alienate these practitioners with inscrutable research methods, all three grand-strategy research agendas invite engagement by practitioners. At a time when international relations continues to fight off the cult of the irrelevant, the study of grand strategy provides a useful corrective against the field’s growing obsession with mid-range theory and hypothesis testing.[113] Second, grand strategy is inherently interdisciplinary. The rich grand-strategy literatures in history and political science invite dialogue between two fields that share many interests but are too often estranged by methodological differences. Studying grand strategy encourages social scientists to mine historians’ work for case studies and encourages historians to engage social scientists’ theories. As Brands and Porter argue, the historical record contains much variation that political scientists can leverage: “History offers instructive examples of effective grand strategic behavior, where states have effectively brought power and commitments into balance, either by expanding means (resources, alliances, opinion) to meet ends, or refocused depleted resources to strengthen its core security interests.”[114] Grand strategy also invites dialogue with the literatures of psychology, organizational studies, and business administration — connections that have yet to be fully explored and exploited.[115] [quote id="6"] Similarly, a focus on grand strategy can help policymakers think in a more interdisciplinary — which is to say, interagency — manner. Breaking down entrenched barriers between diplomatic, military, informational, and economic activities will be necessary as the United States grapples with the intensification of competition and aggression below traditional conflict thresholds. From island-building in the South China Sea and economic coercion, to election interference and proxy warfare in Ukraine, China and Russia have already shown the capability and willingness to challenge American interests in the “gray zone.” Despite the growing prevalence of such measures short of war, however, the United States is ill prepared to respond.[116] As the National Defense Strategy Commission wrote, “Because gray-zone challenges combine military and paramilitary measures with economic statecraft, political warfare, information operations, and other tools, they often occur in the ‘seams’ between DOD and other U.S. departments and agencies, making them all the more difficult to address.”[117] As a policymaking framework, grand strategy can help overcome this challenge by integrating — first conceptually and then practically — the work of government agencies responsible for the United States’ myriad tools of national power. Third, grand strategy as a field illustrates the value of methodological diversity in international relations. Qualitative methods, especially process tracing, are suited to the study of grand strategy.[118] Unpacking the complexity of grand strategies and the factors that drive their continuity or change requires in-depth historical knowledge and attention to micro-processes that are difficult to capture with quantitative data or to test using an experiment. As such, the study of grand strategy helps to demonstrate the importance of pluralistic approaches to causal inference, with preference for the method best suited to the subject. Of course, grand strategy also has its flaws. As a corollary to its bias toward qualitative methods, studies of grand strategy are not amenable to cutting-edge quantitative methodologies and may never be taken seriously by political scientists outside of international relations who rely on methodological sophistication as a proxy for scholarly value. More charitably, the overdetermined nature of many grand-strategic choices may legitimately erode scholars’ ability to draw high-confidence causal inferences. Beyond methodological issues, grand strategy is laden with significant political baggage. The predominance of right-leaning funders in seeding programs for its study, the recent interest of the Koch foundation, and grand strategy’s long-standing association with Henry Kissinger can create the appearance of a political agenda that  intellectuals on the left find objectionable.[119] Finally, grand strategy should not be projected onto governmental decision-making where it does not exist, and critics are correct to warn against overselling grand strategy’s potential for elegant implementation or its transformative effects.[120] Even so, while scholars of grand strategy should be cognizant of this context, these objections do not justify rejecting wholesale either the study or practice of grand strategy. Indeed, scholarly engagement with grand strategy is gravely necessary. Foreign policy elites broadly agree that the tenets that have guided American grand strategy since the end of the Cold War, and in many ways since the end of World War II, are under great strain and may no longer be tenable. Trump’s presidency seems both to ratify concerns about adverse trends and to raise the possibility that his leadership will accelerate them. For the first time in decades, it is plausible that the U.S. theory of national security that has guided a liberal-hegemony strategy since the dawn of the Cold War may be reevaluated. From this perspective, previous “revolutions” in American foreign policy, which entailed adjustments to subordinate grand-strategic assumptions, seem small by comparison.[121] Whether or not such seismic changes ultimately materialize, the time is ripe for serious study of grand strategy. To fully seize this opportunity, those of us who study grand strategy must place the field on stronger conceptual ground. This article represents an initial step toward strengthening that foundation.   Acknowledgements: For helpful discussions and suggestions, the author would like to thank Jon Askonas, Hal Brands, David Edelstein, John Gaddis, Michael Horowitz, Richard Immerman , Bruce Jentleson, Charlie Kupchan, Sarah Maxey, John McNeill, Sara Plana, Brad Potter, Mira Rapp-Hooper, Jim Steinberg, Marin Strmecki, Stephen Wertheim, Micah Zenko, two anonymous reviewers, the Texas National Security Review editors, and participants in seminars convened by International Security Studies at Yale University, Perry World House at the University of Pennsylvania, and the Carnegie International Policy Scholars Consortium. Particular thanks to Frank Gavin for his enthusiastic support.    Rebecca Friedman Lissner will be an Assistant Professor at the Naval War College (beginning in January 2019).      Image: Chris Goldberg [post_title] => What Is Grand Strategy? Sweeping a Conceptual Minefield [post_excerpt] => [post_status] => publish [comment_status] => open [ping_status] => closed [post_password] => [post_name] => what-is-grand-strategy-sweeping-a-conceptual-minefield [to_ping] => [pinged] => [post_modified] => 2019-01-14 18:08:52 [post_modified_gmt] => 2019-01-14 23:08:52 [post_content_filtered] => [post_parent] => 0 [guid] => http://tnsr.org/?p=805 [menu_order] => 0 [post_type] => post [post_mime_type] => [comment_count] => 0 [filter] => raw ) ) [1] => Array ( [post] => WP_Post Object ( [ID] => 810 [post_author] => 242 [post_date] => 2018-11-12 05:00:26 [post_date_gmt] => 2018-11-12 10:00:26 [post_content] => The Communist Party of China announced in October that it had published a new book by Xi Jinping on his concept for a “community of common destiny for mankind” (人类命运共同体).[1] In its official English translation — a “community of shared future for mankind” — the phrase lands with a soft thud. It sounds equally fuzzy — if more grandiose — when translated more literally from Chinese. But China watchers would be wrong to dismiss the concept as vague or empty propaganda. As one of the party’s banner terms, it sheds light on Beijing’s strategic intentions and plays an important role in China’s approach to foreign policy issues as diverse as trade, climate change, cyber operations, and security cooperation. What, then, do Xi and other Chinese leaders mean when they call for building a community of common destiny? And why should anyone outside Beijing care? The phrase expresses in a nutshell Beijing’s long-term vision for transforming the international environment to make it compatible with China’s governance model and emergence as a global leader. Chinese officials make clear that the concept has become central in Beijing’s foreign policy framework and overall national strategy. China’s top diplomat, Yang Jiechi, wrote in August 2018, “Building a community of common destiny for mankind is the overall goal of China’s foreign affairs work in the new era.” A prerequisite or pathway for building the community, he noted, is the establishment of a “new type of international relations” that supports, rather than threatens, China’s national rejuvenation.[2] Xi has highlighted the community’s crucial place in the party’s renewal strategy. In June, for instance, he exhorted Chinese diplomats to “continuously facilitate a favorable external environment for realizing the Chinese Dream of national rejuvenation and promote the building of a community of common destiny.”[3] Although Xi has made “community of common destiny” a hallmark of his diplomacy, he did not coin the phrase, nor did he generate its core tenets. Xi’s predecessor, Hu Jintao, used the terminology in 2007 to describe cross-Strait ties and in later discussions of China’s neighborhood diplomacy and peaceful development.[4] Chinese state media credit Xi with introducing it as a global concept in 2013 in Moscow, during his first international trip as president.[5] The aspirations it expresses echo and expand upon themes voiced by Chinese leaders since the early days of the People’s Republic. In 1954, Premier Zhou Enlai proposed in meetings with India the “Five Principles of Peaceful Coexistence”: mutual respect for territorial integrity and sovereignty, mutual non-aggression, mutual non-interference in internal affairs, equality and cooperation, and peaceful coexistence. Subsequent Chinese leaders, including Xi, have reaffirmed these principles as key tenets of Chinese foreign policy.[6] President Jiang Zemin’s “new security concept” in the late 1990s echoed the Five Principles and rejected the “old security concept based on military alliances and build-up of armaments.”[7] In a similar vein, President Hu proposed building a “harmonious world” in a 2005 speech to the United Nations. Hu affirmed his predecessors’ concepts and called for reforms to give developing countries a greater voice in global governance.[8] Each of these proposals reflects long-standing Chinese objections to features of the current international order, including U.S.-led security alliances, military superpower, and democratic norms. Xi, however, has gone much further than his predecessors to promote his vision for transforming global governance (全球治理变革). For Xi, China’s growing comprehensive national power (综合国力) means that Beijing has greater ability — and faces a greater urgency — to achieve its long-held aspirations.[9] In June 2018, at a Central Foreign Affairs Work Conference (a rarely convened forum in Beijing that issues seminal guidance to China’s diplomatic establishment), Xi made a crucial progression from his predecessors’ rhetoric. He called for China to “take an active part in leading the reform of the global governance system” (积极参与引领全球治理体系改革).[10] Previously, he and his forebears had more modestly called for China to “actively participate” in global governance reforms.[11] Xi linked his exhortation to his vision of building a community of common destiny. Xi’s signature Belt and Road Initiative, also launched in 2013, is the most visible means by which Beijing is executing his vision. In August, diplomat Yang Jiechi called Belt and Road an “important practical platform” for making the community of common destiny a reality.15 The multibillion-dollar plan aims to build physical and virtual connectivity between China and other countries, originally in Asia and now throughout the world.[12] At the 19th Party Congress in October 2017, the party amended its constitution to add two phrases: “pursue the Belt and Road Initiative” and “build a community of common destiny”[13] — elevating both the initiative and its underlying vision within the party’s long-term strategy. China’s success or failure in achieving its vision will depend in large part on how its proposals are received in other countries. Regardless of the ultimate outcome, Beijing’s pursuit of its goals has already had repercussions, as evidenced by the growing international attention toward the Belt and Road Initiative, both its failures and achievements.[14] Policymakers in the United States and like-minded countries seeking to defend and strengthen the principles of what they now refer to as the “free and open Indo-Pacific”[15] need to look carefully at China’s goals for reforming global governance as Beijing itself expresses them. [quote id="1"] Xi’s description of his concept in two speeches to the United Nations, at the General Assembly in September 2015 and in Geneva in January 2017, is a good place to start.[16] In the 2017 speech, Xi likened the community of common destiny to a Swiss army knife — a Chinese-designed multifunctional tool for solving the world’s problems. On both occasions, he proposed the concept as a better model for global governance in five dimensions: politics, security, development (economic, social, technological, etc.), culture, and the environment. In sum, the five dimensions reflect the extraordinarily wide range of arenas in which Beijing believes it must restructure global governance to enable China to integrate with the world while at the same time achieving global leadership. If Beijing succeeds in realizing this ambitious vision, the implication for the United States and like-minded nations is a global environment with striking differences from the current order: A global network of partnerships centered on China would replace the U.S. system of treaty alliances, the international community would regard Beijing’s authoritarian governance model as a superior alternative to Western electoral democracy, and the world would credit the Communist Party of China for developing a new path to peace, prosperity, and modernity that other countries can follow.

Politics

Xi’s description of the political dimension of the community includes emphasis on two terms that are worth examining closely: democracy and partnerships. Both highlight the link between China’s domestic political requirements and its push to reform the international system. “Democracy” is a core principle to which Beijing officially ascribes, both in international relations and domestic governance. In his 2015 speech to the United Nations, Xi said, “Consultation is an important form of democracy, and it should also become an important means of exercising international governance.” So what do the leaders of the world’s largest authoritarian regime mean when they advocate “consultative” democracy? In international relations, it means equality among sovereign nations regardless of regime type (i.e., authoritarian or democratic); a growing voice for developing countries (including China); and an absence of “dominance by just one or several countries,” as Xi put it in 2017. This reflects Beijing’s objections to Washington’s dominant international influence, along with its like-minded allies. For Beijing, democracy in international relations means shifting global influence away from Washington and U.S. allies and toward China and other countries that accede to its concepts. Chinese leaders advocate “consultative” democracy not only in state-to-state relations but also within states, arguing that it is a valid and even superior model. Chinese official media disparage Western democratic regimes as chaotic, confrontational, competitive, inefficient, and oligarchic.[17]  They assert that China has developed a more enlightened form of democracy in its “new type of party system” (新型政党制度).[18] In this system, the Communist Party is the sole political authority, but minority parties and nonaffiliated groups participate in parts of the decision-making process as outside consultants via the Chinese People’s Political Consultative Conference.[19] They argue that other features of China’s political system, such as people’s congresses and consensus-building “inner-party democracy,” purportedly make China’s “democracy” more effective than Western electoral democracy.[20] There is, however, a clear contradiction between China’s articulation of “democracy” in international relations, which argues that all countries are equal regardless of size or political regime, and its approach in domestic politics, where a single party rules, minority parties serve as outside consultants, and dissenting voices are silenced. Nonetheless, the Communist Party is taking practical steps to disseminate its ideas abroad by providing political training to African leaders and young elites in topics such as party structure, propaganda work, and managing center-local relations.[21] Partnerships are another foundational element in Xi’s community of common destiny. They are key vehicles by which Beijing promotes international acceptance of its concepts. At the United Nations in 2017, Xi called for international partnerships based on “dialogue, non-confrontation, and non-alliance” and asserted that “China is the first country to make partnership-building a principle guiding state-to-state relations.” Partnerships are China’s alternative to U.S.-style alliances. Beijing prefers them because they do not confer treaty obligations and they allow the partners to cooperate despite differences in ideologies and social systems.[22] According to Xi, China had 90 such partnerships with countries and regional organizations around the world as of 2017,[23] and Beijing intends to continue expanding its “global network of partnerships.”[24] China and its partner often designate a name for the relationship, setting a positive tone and a basis for cooperation. A frequently used moniker is “comprehensive strategic partnership.” This has been applied to China’s relations with Australia, Egypt, the European Union, Indonesia, Iran, and many others.[25] Importantly, China and Russia have gone a step further, naming their ties a “comprehensive strategic partnership of coordination.” The title reflects both the wide scope of the relationship (“comprehensive”) and agreement to collaborate on development strategies and international affairs (“coordination”).[26] China and the United States established a lesser constructive strategic partnership in the late 1990s.[27] However, successive U.S. administrations dropped the term, and the two countries no longer have a named partnership. That is probably just as well for the United States, because China often invokes the partnership to threaten retaliation when it perceives that its partner has violated “mutual trust.” In January 2018, on the eve of British Prime Minister Theresa May’s first visit to China, Beijing’s ambassador to the United Kingdom, Liu Xiaoming, wrote in glowing terms of the “China-UK ‘Golden Era,’” which he called “the strategic definition of China-UK relations.”[28] But in September, Britain tarnished the golden glow by sailing the HMS Albion near the Paracel Islands, disputed features that China occupies in the South China Sea. China’s Foreign Ministry spokesperson warned that the action would harm bilateral ties. State-controlled China Daily filled in the details, admonishing London to “refrain from being Washington’s sharksucker in the South China Sea” if it hoped to make progress with China on a post-Brexit trade deal.[29] As others have documented, the U.K. experience is far from unique. A number of countries in recent years have experienced China’s economic coercion.[30] This phenomenon highlights the pretense in Beijing’s promises to offer its partners cooperation with “no strings attached” and its refrain that “major powers should treat small countries as equals.” If Beijing wishes to generate greater global acceptance of its model over the long term, it may need to adjust its narratives or its behavior to address, or at least distract from, these contradictions.

Security

The solutions Xi proposes for the world’s urgent security crises can be summarized in two words that feature prominently in his speeches at the United Nations, as well as in other Chinese leaders’ statements: dialogue and development. Xi advocates resolving crises via dialogue between the parties directly involved. The United Nations, according to Xi, should mediate when necessary and, through its  Security Council, should play the central role in ending conflicts and keeping peace. For example, for Syria’s civil war, China consistently advocates political settlement as the only legitimate path to a solution.[31] The unstated alternative — Western powers intervening militarily in a dictatorship on humanitarian grounds — is highly worrisome to Beijing. Chinese leaders also argue that development is key to addressing the root causes of international problems such as terrorism and refugee crises. The notion that Chinese development assistance could bring renewal and stability to regions plagued by terrorism and refugee crises has appeal, especially in an era of stretched budgets in Western countries. Yet, China’s draconian crackdowns on what it calls “terrorism, separatism, and extremism”[32] within its borders are reasons to be circumspect about Beijing’s claims that it has developed better solutions for mankind’s problems. [quote id="2"] Furthermore, the United States and its allies should be clear on the significant change from the status quo that China’s proposals would impart. Beijing opposes “interventionism” and, as noted above, calls frequently for “partnerships based on dialogue, non-confrontation, and non-alliance.”[33] Beijing views U.S.-style alliances as outdated relics of the Cold War, overly antagonistic and out of step with contemporary international conditions. It is logical to infer that Beijing’s opposition to U.S. security alliances is also due to the coercive potential that coalitions of democracies represent. Xi’s speeches to the United Nations do not acknowledge any contribution of the United States and its allies to keeping the peace and enhancing global prosperity since World War II. Rather, he credits the United Nations and the global community writ large and proposes his community of common destiny as the framework for future success. Beijing’s objections to U.S. alliances reflect a deep-seated belief that the U.S.-led security architecture in Asia is a structural impediment to China’s development and security.[34] Chinese leaders’ strong aversion to chaos that could put China’s strategic interests at risk suggests that Beijing will not seek to overturn U.S. alliances suddenly. But over the long term, Beijing’s community of common destiny implies a future in which U.S. alliances are absent. Given Xi’s track record for moving more assertively than his predecessors to implement foreign policy preferences, the United States and its allies should be vigilant about Chinese attempts to discredit or meddle in their ties.

Development

Xi claims that his community provides a better path for countries to achieve development and modernity than what the West offers. For Chinese leaders, development includes and goes beyond economics to encompass social development, technology, and innovation, and it can serve as a point of connection between countries to keep conflict at bay. According to Xi, two concepts crucial to the success of the Chinese development model are openness and markets. Ironically, these were precisely the terms Washington used earlier this year to criticize China’s economic practices. According to the Office of the United States Trade Representative, since joining the World Trade Organization in 2001 China has failed to adopt “open, market-oriented policies” in line with its accession commitments.[35] Clearly, there is a discrepancy in how Washington and Beijing are using the same terms. Chinese leaders continue to affirm their decision to join the World Trade Organization as the right strategic choice. And when they defend China’s commitment to openness, measures such as lowering barriers to China’s domestic markets and easing foreign equity restrictions are among the things they point to. For Beijing, “opening” does not mean what it means to Washington, which envisions a largely one-way process of China opening its doors to the world and progressively adapting to international norms. Rather, Beijing sees opening as a two-way process of integration with the global economy that is necessary for China’s rise — initially to acquire advanced technology and expertise and, later, to shape global norms, standards, and institutions in line with Chinese strategic requirements. China’s frequent calls to make globalization more “open, inclusive, and balanced” appear to be rooted in a belief that connectivity between China and the world will require the world to adapt to Beijing’s preferences as much as — or perhaps more than — the other way around. How does Beijing define “markets”? Chinese development is not premised on capitalism, either of the free-market or state capitalist sort. In Beijing’s telling, its success lies in its socialist market economy.[36] Deng Xiaoping pioneered the concept, arguing in 1985 that “there is no fundamental contradiction between socialism and a market economy” and that combining planning and market economics would “liberate the productive forces and speed up economic growth.”[37] Chinese leaders have made many adjustments to the balance between planning and markets, but the basic principle of combining the two still applies. In development, as in politics, Chinese state media express increasing confidence that China provides a path superior to what the West offers. These sources argue that “socialism with Chinese characteristics, compared with capitalism, is yielding better results.” [38] In his 2015 speech to the United Nations, Xi listed capitalism’s pitfalls: proneness to crises, a lack of moral constraints, and yawning wealth gaps. (Unsurprisingly, he did not mention China’s own struggles with these issues.) Countries can avoid capitalism’s snares by relying on, in Xi’s words, “both the invisible hand and the visible hand.” China’s “better way” combines markets’ ability to allocate resources efficiently with a strong role for the state in controlling key sectors, ensuring equitable social and economic outcomes, stabilizing markets, and solving large-scale problems.[39] Beijing goes further than touting its model as worthy of others’ emulation. Like in the political dimension, it proposes its concepts as a framework to reform global economic governance. China claims to speak on behalf of developing countries as a group, calling for reform of “unfair and unreasonable aspects of the current global governance system.”[40] In part, this means reforming institutions such as the International Monetary Fund and the World Bank and bolstering organizations with a larger voice for developing countries and emerging markets, such as the Group of 20, the BRICS emerging economies, and the Asia-Pacific Economic Cooperation forum. Over the long term, Beijing would like to diminish the U.S. dollar’s role in global finance and the leverage this gives Washington to squeeze other countries with sanctions and monetary policy.[41] China also seeks a larger role for itself and other developing countries in setting global rules, including in emerging domains such as cyberspace, deep seas, polar regions, and outer space.[42] There is certainly a need for a greater voice for developing countries in economic governance given their growing share in global GDP. Outside observers should be vigilant, however, about Beijing’s tendency to conflate its priorities and values with those of the entire community of developing nations. China’s professed commitment to respect each country’s individual choice of a development path and social system rings hollow when juxtaposed with its claims to speak for the majority of the globe. Its partners should insist that the “extensive consultation” China says is foundational in its external initiatives is truly two-way.

Culture

Outside observers tend to focus on the triumvirate of political, security, and economic drivers of China’s global engagement, glossing over a fourth arena that Beijing views as vital to its national rejuvenation strategy and global governance vision: culture. This is unfortunate, because culture is arguably the most far-reaching and, at least among China watchers in the United States, the least understood element of China’s foreign policy framework. China’s solution for achieving legitimacy at home and influence abroad hinges on more than economics backstopped by hard power and political maneuvering. Developing an “advanced culture” has long been a core element in the national rejuvenation strategy, and Xi has called for “more energy and concrete measures” to achieve this. In his words, China must do more to “develop a great socialist culture” and “cultivate and observe core socialist values” in order to build itself into a “great modern socialist country” by midcentury.[43] While Beijing’s primary focus is on China’s domestic population, the outside world is not exempt. Yang Jiechi wrote in August, “The culture of socialism with Chinese characteristics has contributed to the solution of the problems of mankind China’s wisdom and China’s proposals.”[44] According to Xinhua, the community of common destiny, manifested most visibly in the Belt and Road Initiative, “connects the Chinese dream with the aspirations of the whole world for peace and development.”[45] The implication is that China’s socialist culture has something to offer not only in China but globally. What does Beijing mean by its “culture of socialism with Chinese characteristics,” and how does that fit into its foreign policy? For external audiences, Xi frames the cultural component of the community of common destiny in terms of cross-cultural exchanges and respect for diversity. In his 2015 speech, Xi called for an increase in “inter-civilization exchanges to promote harmony, inclusiveness, and respect for differences” because “the world is more colorful as a result of its cultural diversity.” In 2017, he echoed those themes and added, “There is no such thing as a superior or inferior civilization.” (Xi did not pioneer these concepts; Jiang Zemin, for example, expressed similar ideas at the United Nations in 2000.[46]) At face value, these are pleasant-sounding, pluralistic sentiments that bring to mind exchanges of language, art, philosophy, and so forth to foster mutual understanding. [quote id="3"] But moments after denying the superiority of any culture, Xi suggested that China’s history and culture uniquely qualify it to propose a better model for global governance: “For several millennia, peace has been in the blood of us Chinese and part of our DNA,” Xi told the United Nations. According to Xi, China, throughout its history, has been committed to not only its own peaceful development but also the greater good of the world at large. The party’s claim that its community of common destiny will benefit the entire world is rooted in this depiction of China as an extraordinarily peaceful country. However, the party’s heavy-handed domestic policies, calibrated to ensure political allegiance in all forms of cultural expression, cast shadows on Xi’s claim to promote “harmony, inclusiveness, and respect for differences.” The party has made clear that its “culture of socialism with Chinese characteristics” and “socialist core values” must be the prime object of allegiance for all Chinese people, above any other religious, moral, artistic, or intellectual beliefs or loyalties. A recent example is Beijing’s restructuring of the “ideological sector” in mid-April to strengthen the party’s ability to ensure political allegiance. The film and press industries, formerly governed by the State Council, would henceforth report to the party’s Propaganda Department. Politburo member and department chief Huang Kunming, in explaining the change, cited the need to “enhance cultural confidence” and strengthen party leadership over filmmaking, screening, content enforcement, and international exchanges.[47]  Similarly, in 2015, the Politburo issued a statement that called on professionals in the arts and literature to focus on promoting “core socialist values” and noted that “strength of ideology and high moral standards” were “absolute requirements.”[48] Those examples pale in comparison to the ongoing efforts to ensure that all religions in China answer first and foremost to the party. At a conference on religious work in late April 2018, Xi exhorted fellow cadres to “guide religious believers to ardently love the motherland and the people.” Religious adherents must “subordinate themselves to, and serve, the highest interests of the country,” he said, and “actively practice socialist core values.”[49] The widely noted extrajudicial detention of as many as a million Muslim Uighurs in “vocational education and training” centers in Xinjiang,[50] where detainees reportedly endure political indoctrination and torture, show the extreme measures the party will take to enforce its conceptions of civilization.[51] While the Uighurs’ case stands out in sheer scope and brutality, none of China’s five legal religions (Buddhism, Daoism, Islam, and the Protestant and Catholic branches of Christianity) are exempt from the Communist Party’s systematic attempts to compel allegiance. Chinese authorities reportedly are burning Bibles and crosses, shutting down and bulldozing churches,[52] drafting regulations to further restrict religious content online,[53] and instructing clergy from all five denominations to align their religious beliefs with socialist core values.[54] The requirement for party cadres to generate “ardent love” for the motherland is reminiscent of George Orwell’s 1949 dystopian novel 1984. In it, dissident Winston Smith succumbs to torture in the Ministry of Love and renounces his personal and political loyalty. As the book ends, Smith finally realizes that he loves Big Brother. Orwell’s 1984 is, of course, fiction. But China watchers should bear in mind that repression of religious, artistic, and intellectual expression is not merely a product of local authorities reacting to events and desperately attempting to maintain control. Rather, it is also a product of the party’s top-down strategy to instill adherence to its view of civilization and root out disloyalty to the cause of Chinese socialism. Culture — including the “great socialist culture” Beijing is trying to build — is an integral part of Xi’s community of common destiny. Much about how Beijing will seek to implement its views of culture into its foreign policy remains to be determined. Beijing’s record of crushing dissent at home could be a harbinger of its behavior overseas — or the Achilles’ heel in its attempts to build cultural “soft power.”

Environment

The final dimension of Xi’s community of common destiny focuses on the environment and, more specifically, on reforming global governance to promote “the building of sound ecosystems.” In his speech to the United Nations in 2017, Xi called on the global community to pursue a “green, low-carbon, circular, and sustainable way of life and work.” Further, he endorsed the United Nations’ 2030 Agenda for Sustainable Development, a plan to eradicate poverty; protect the environment; and foster peaceful, just, and inclusive societies.[55] Of the five dimensions, this is arguably where China’s long-term goals align most closely with near-universal aspirations for sustainable development. In a speech at the United Nations Climate Change Conference in Paris in 2015, Xi acknowledged that China’s decades of rapid economic growth have “taken a toll on the environment and resources.”[56] Although understated, this was nonetheless an admission of China’s shortcomings. Xi went on to enumerate steps China was taking to address environmental problems, such as increasing renewable energy capacity, and future benchmarks it had set, such as reaching peak CO2 emissions by 2030 or earlier. “This will require strenuous efforts, but we have the confidence and the resolve to fulfill our commitments,” Xi said in Paris. China’s abysmal track record of environmental management and immense difficulties transitioning to a more sustainable path are reasons to be skeptical. But Chinese leaders have made environmental progress a higher political priority in recent years. Since the 18th Party Congress in 2012, when Hu Jintao elevated “ecological progress” to a prominent position in China’s overall development plan (placing it alongside economic, political, cultural, and social progress),[57] leaders have taken more serious steps to limit pollution and protect the environment.  These include imposing tougher penalties on local officials who fail to meet pollution targets and establishing a system to hold individuals and companies that pollute the soil accountable for life.[58] Chinese leaders have made clear that building a “Beautiful China” is one of their midcentury goals for national rejuvenation, so the environment is likely to remain a political priority for years to come. In the political, security, development, and cultural dimensions, Beijing argues that its historical experience and remarkable modern track record of peaceful development qualify it to take a leading role in reforming the global governance system to make it more peaceful, equitable, and prosperous. But Xi’s claims in the environmental dimension are much more modest. The implication is that China has learned the hard way the importance of protecting the environment and that it must strive to work with the world for a cleaner future, albeit on China’s timetable. Certainly, some of Xi’s proposals in Paris appear designed to promote his community of common destiny, such as his call for a global governance mechanism on climate change and for developed countries to provide funding and technology to enable developing countries to fulfill environmental commitments. These are resonant with the community of common destiny’s emphasis on striving for a more fair and equitable international order that provides a greater voice for developing countries. Countries’ differing approaches to prioritization and speed of implementation will continue to create massive hurdles to progress, as the U.S. withdrawal from the Paris Climate Accords attests. But there is a kernel of hope in the fact that China’s end goal for the environment — as Xi puts it, to “make our world clean and beautiful by pursuing green and low-carbon development” — expresses a universal hope rather than a claim that China offers a unique and superior path to a better world. It leaves open a greater possibility of flexibility in China’s approach. In the environmental dimension, the United States and other countries can persevere in cooperation with China, highlighting long-term alignment in strategic interests despite important differences in timelines, approach, and priorities. As friction grows between Washington and Beijing on trade and many other issues, an area for cooperation could provide a valuable source for interaction that is genuinely win-win.

Policy Implications

Beijing’s attempt to build a community of common destiny presents a challenge for the United States and like-minded nations committed to the free and open international order.[59] What options do policymakers have to respond? An effective U.S. strategy would account for the comprehensive character of China’s aspirations. Washington is starting to move in this direction and broaden its focus beyond trade. At this juncture, several steps could help policymakers build a broader strategy on the foundation of a correct understanding of how Beijing operates and a fuller appreciation of the advantages that the United States and like-minded nations can bring to the competition. To begin with, China watchers have the opportunity to broaden how they inform policymakers and the public about Beijing’s own articulation of its global ambitions. U.S. observers frequently use the trinity of economic, political, and security factors to explain China’s motives, but this well-worn framework misses the full scope of Beijing’s aspirations for global leadership. By Xi’s own account, Beijing intends to realign global governance across at least five major dimensions: politics, development (to include economics, society, and technology), security, culture, and the environment. Early identification of emerging Chinese banner terms offers U.S. policymakers a greater chance to influence these concepts before repetition in Chinese leaders’ speeches, official documents, and laws cement their place in Chinese strategy. Awareness of these concepts would also help policymakers anticipate their Chinese counterparts’ talking points and avoid carelessly repeating them — and unintentionally signaling acceptance of Beijing’s proposals. To accomplish all this, governments and scholars can consider devoting more resources to monitoring and analyzing Beijing’s publicly available, high-level documents and authoritative media. Deeper understanding of the party’s rhetoric and use of information as a tool of statecraft can be incorporated into U.S. policymaking processes. [quote id="4"] Bolstering China-related expertise is only part of the solution, however. As has been argued in this journal, the United States lacks a sufficiently robust “team to take the field” — a cadre of individuals with the right combination of expertise on China, policy tools, and competitive strategy.[60] Beijing’s systematic fusing of categories that in the West are generally considered distinct has created strategic dilemmas for Washington and its allies. Examples of these blurred lines include Beijing’s effort to “fuse” its military and civil industrial bases,[61] the party’s intrusions into private and foreign firms,[62] and its growing use of political influence activities overseas.[63] These conditions are forcing Washington to reevaluate how it weighs the costs and benefits of engagement with China. Questions such as “Will it boost quarterly earnings?” and “Does it break any laws?” or “Is it state-owned or private?” produce answers that fail to account for hidden economic costs and national security risks. The U.S. government needs rigorous, cross-disciplinary frameworks to conduct this type of cost-benefit analysis. The creative thinking required to develop them is unlikely to emerge from government alone. As U.S. policymakers broaden the focus of competition with China beyond trade issues, engaging with innovative thinkers with diverse perspectives on competition in business, marketing, economics, science and technology, history, entertainment, and other fields can help them conceptualize the challenge, set priorities for addressing it, and devise effective strategies for competing with China. Finally, the United States has an opportunity to use public affairs and diplomacy to counter problematic elements of Beijing’s governance proposals. Many in Washington are reluctant to publicly dispute Beijing’s ideas, for fear of provoking China. But challenging Beijing’s proposals is not the same as merely “poking” China. Xi’s bid to build a community of common destiny is an invitation to a debate over the best approach to global governance and the validity of competing governance models. The United States brings significant advantages to the debate — including a competitive marketplace of ideas, a strong capacity for clear-eyed self-reflection, and a willingness to acknowledge its own shortfalls. Media rancor, political chaos, and foreign policy stumbles have understandably prompted many in the United States and other developed democracies to compare their systems unfavorably to Beijing’s. But this is shortsighted. Beijing’s need to exert rigid control over its media, corporations, officials, and citizens reveals vulnerability rather than strength. Its highly orchestrated, ostentatious campaigns to trumpet its vision are nothing to envy. In its public affairs and exchanges with Chinese interlocutors in bilateral and multilateral settings, the United States has an opportunity to listen carefully to China’s proposals — and clearly reject the ideas that are incompatible with the principles of a free and open order. Washington can argue vigorously for the order’s principles even while admitting that its stewardship of these principles is imperfect. Finally, Washington and others can consistently make clear that the free and open order is also open to China. Indeed, the order would be stronger — as would China itself — if Beijing chose to accept the invitation.   Liza Tobin has worked for twelve years in various capacities as a China specialist for the United States government. Currently she is part of a team that provides assessments of China’s strategy for the U.S. Indo-Pacific Command Headquarters. She has published recently on China’s maritime strategy in Naval War College Review and War on the Rocks. The views expressed here are her own and do not necessarily reflect the policies of U.S. Indo-Pacific Command or the U.S. government. [post_title] => Xi's Vision for Transforming Global Governance: A Strategic Challenge for Washington and Its Allies [post_excerpt] => [post_status] => publish [comment_status] => open [ping_status] => closed [post_password] => [post_name] => xis-vision-for-transforming-global-governance-a-strategic-challenge-for-washington-and-its-allies [to_ping] => [pinged] => [post_modified] => 2019-01-14 18:09:40 [post_modified_gmt] => 2019-01-14 23:09:40 [post_content_filtered] => [post_parent] => 0 [guid] => http://tnsr.org/?p=810 [menu_order] => 0 [post_type] => post [post_mime_type] => [comment_count] => 0 [filter] => raw ) ) [2] => Array ( [post] => WP_Post Object ( [ID] => 795 [post_author] => 235 [post_date] => 2018-11-30 05:00:40 [post_date_gmt] => 2018-11-30 10:00:40 [post_content] => The United States “stands at a crossroads in history,” the George H.W. Bush administration asserted in its National Security Strategy in January 1993. The world, it argued, had been “radically transformed” to an era that “holds great opportunities … but also great dangers.” Twenty-two years later, the Barack Obama administration stated that “at this pivotal moment, we continue to face serious challenges to our national security, even as we are working to shape the opportunities of tomorrow.” The National Security Strategy produced by Donald Trump’s administration last year, similarly, if somewhat more ominously, highlights both dangers and opportunities.[1] In each strategy document, American power is seen as vital to addressing the shifting international environment. Yet there are still plenty of areas of disagreement, and outside the Beltway the debate extends even further. What is America’s role in the world? And what policies would best realize those goals? These questions are at the heart of differing conceptions of American grand strategy. Though frequently conflated, they remain distinct. As a result, while there is no shortage of statements on U.S. grand strategy, there is little consensus on the basic contours of the debate, let alone which course would best serve American interests. Disagreements frequently arise due to fuzzy thinking about whether policy prescriptions follow from different conceptions of what the national interest should be or debates about the evidence supporting competing claims. At this critical juncture — to borrow a cliché from past national security strategies — it is worth stepping back to evaluate the competing grand-strategic positions that seek to enhance America’s national interests. A more fruitful debate would focus on claims about how policy means can or cannot realize U.S. interests rather than the nature of those interests. The former task is amenable to rigorous research; the latter rests on normative judgments that must be settled through a political process. Scholars can and should contribute to that process.[2] In doing so, however, they should be clear about whether they are making a claim about a policy achieving a particular interest or whether they are agreeing with that interest. A debate built on evidence of the links between means and ends can assess the efficacy of prescriptions and help diagnose situations. By contrast, reasonable individuals can disagree on how to weigh specific values and risks.[3] This article, therefore, focuses on the former while acknowledging the importance of the latter. A debate focused on the relation between means and ends has to meet four conditions. First, there must be some agreement on America’s national interests. Second, the underlying theories for each position on grand strategy must be clearly identified. Third, scholars must then evaluate the logic of each side’s theories and derive testable propositions. Fourth, those propositions must be subjected to rigorous assessment. Currently, debate over grand strategy satisfies few, if any, of these conditions. Satisfying all four is beyond the scope of one article. Therefore, we aim to develop a framework that addresses the first two and in so doing provide a necessary foundation for future research to evaluate trade-offs across grand strategies and rigorously assess competing claims. We focus on the scholarly debate, but this is not merely an exercise in academic navel-gazing. Duke political scientist and former National Security Council staff member Peter Feaver reminds us that “every policy choice is a prediction that can be expressed in the type of theory language familiar to academic political science: if we do X then Y will (or will not) happen.” Policymakers rely on an “implicit causal theory that links inputs to outputs.”[4] Similarly, a 2011 survey of former national security officials found that they sought “frameworks for making sense of the world they have to operate in,” which social scientists would call theories.[5] True, grand strategy must be adaptive and, at times, policymakers are reduced to reaction. Even in those cases, though, leaders draw on some set of notions about how the world works as they respond to new situations.[6] Policymakers may disregard scholarly research or use it instrumentally to support their own positions, of course. The incentives and focus of scholars and policymakers are different.[7] Moreover, policymakers pressed for time are unlikely to keep up with the most recent issues of peer-reviewed journals, though increasingly there are alternative outlets through which scholars can convey their findings.[8] Attention to the role that theory plays in grand strategy is, nevertheless, useful for at least two reasons. First, it can shape the studies available to policymakers. Second, it strengthens external critiques of policies for which there is little empirical support. Building our framework requires setting aside the normative components of the debate and focusing on how different grand-strategy positions advance a common set of interests. We do so by holding national interests constant to establish a common baseline.[9] We identify four major ideal-type grand-strategy positions deductively according to their underlying theoretical principles. First, differences in conceptions of power divide the positions into two overarching camps: those that adopt some variant of balance-of-power realism and those built on hegemonic stability theory (Table 1). This dichotomy alone obscures differences between grand strategies. Thus, the second part of our argument incorporates the role of international and domestic institutions (Table 2). We label these four schools restraint, deep engagement, liberal internationalism, and conservative primacy.[10] Others have highlighted how theory shapes thinking on foreign policy and grand strategy.[11] We extend these insights to offer a novel categorization of the contemporary scholarly debate that clarifies the sources of disagreement over interests, objectives, and tools. Table 1. Power and Grand Strategy Positions [table id=7 /] Table 2. Institutions and Grand Strategy Positions [table id=8 /] Parsing the contemporary grand-strategy debate this way is useful for several reasons. First, it provides a general and clear understanding of the landscape. Moreover, critics of our categorization can use this as a foil to make explicit what additional theories should be considered to generate alternative grand-strategy positions. Second, our deductive approach allows the identification of four positions in the debate that inductive approaches can obscure. For example, scholars who agree on one prescription, such as a robust U.S. military presence abroad, may disagree on others, such as the 2003 invasion of Iraq. Third, our framework clarifies the links between the oft-conflated concepts of theory, interests, objectives, and policy tools. Separating the debate along these conceptual levels adds the precision needed to transform broad visions into specific propositions. It also helps to clarify when scholars’ policy prescriptions hinge on normative preferences as opposed to theory and evidence. In mapping how diverse worldviews inform grand strategy, we cannot address every aspect of the debate. We do not seek to demonstrate the superiority of one position or its potential domestic public appeal, and we necessarily gloss over minor disagreements in the interest of outlining ideal-types.[12] We are also unable to engage critical treatments of grand strategy.[13] Finally, we do not attempt an account of grand strategy in the Trump administration. A lively discussion of this subject is ongoing, with widely divergent conclusions.[14] We nevertheless provide a baseline with which to judge when the Trump administration is proposing novel positions of grand strategy, borrowing from discrete (and perhaps contradictory) approaches, and when policy is actually very much in line with existing formulations. For example, our framework could account for a more assertive nationalist position that blended elements of hegemonic stability (deep engagement, liberal internationalism, and conservative primacy) with skepticism toward the importance of both domestic and international institutions (restraint). We leave the ultimate categorization to others. The rest of this article proceeds in three parts. First, we develop our argument by unpacking the terms we use to characterize the dimensions of the debate. Next, we use this framework to outline four grand-strategy positions. We conclude by summarizing major areas of disagreement and ways to advance the debate.

The Framework

In this section, we separate and define the concepts of interests, objectives, and policy tools. Interests are the highest purposes of the state that grand strategy seeks to attain. To achieve their interests, states set objectives (such as preventing a Eurasian hegemon) and utilize specific policy tools (such as alliance commitments) to attain objectives. There is considerable disagreement over how to define grand strategy.[15] Hal Brands reviews multiple definitions and concludes that grand strategy is “the conceptual logic that ensures that [foreign policy] instruments are employed in ways that maximize the benefits for a nation’s core interests.”[16] In an important recent article, Nina Silove argues that scholars and practitioners have employed three discrete concepts of grand strategy over time, which she labels grand principles, grand plans, and grand behavior. All three share a focus on long-term and multiple elements of state power, as well as the relationship between ends and means.[17] Our emphasis on underlying theoretical principles highlights the role of grand principles. We suggest that in order to advance the grand strategy debate it is necessary to demonstrate how underlying principles guide both behavior and plans to advance the national interest. Specifically, by pursuing objectives with a particular set of policy tools. We adapt these definitions to the United States, defining grand strategy as the U.S. theory of how it can maximize American security, prosperity, and liberty. The assumption that U.S. interests are constant is controversial, so we want to unpack our logic.[18] First, this assumption establishes a baseline for competing grand-strategy prescriptions. Without this assumption, it is impossible to isolate the impact of each side’s theoretical assumptions on its prescribed policy prescriptions.[19] For instance, one might consider U.S. alliance commitments as a tool that may help obtain certain objectives. By contrast, labeling a U.S. alliance commitment as an interest indicates that whether the alliance helps or harms U.S. objectives does not matter; the alliance commitment is itself an intrinsic interest to pursue.[20] Social science tools are ill-suited to assess whether a national interest is normatively appropriate or not. We therefore focus on the theoretical links between specific tools and objectives that advance a particular policy interest. In other words, we examine how variation in worldviews informs disagreements over what objectives and policy levers will best maximize U.S. interests, rather than what those interests should be. [quote id="5"] The second virtue in limiting U.S. core interests to security, domestic prosperity, and domestic liberty is that most participants in the debate explicitly or implicitly adopt these interests. Generally, advocates for expansive grand strategies argue that these have been and should be U.S. national interests.[21] And even those favoring a reduced U.S. role in the world frequently assert interests beyond security. For example, Stephen Walt writes that the “central purpose of U.S. foreign policy is to make Americans safer and richer, and to preserve our political values here at home.”[22] Similarly, Christopher Preble argues that a less activist grand strategy would enhance American security, prosperity, and liberty.[23] Barry Posen defines security to include a state’s power position, which is in turn the “sum total of a state’s capabilities … [including] population size, health, and skill [and] economic capacity of all kinds.”[24] Domestic prosperity thus finds its way into security. To be sure, there is disagreement on the content of these concepts. For instance, domestic liberty has various meanings and the number of Americans who could claim liberty has expanded over time. Yet, as Henry Nau notes, “the core classical liberal belief in individual liberty and equality … binds all Americans, conservatives and liberals alike.”[25] We assume that the core U.S. interests are the security, prosperity, and liberty of the American people, not the world. As Posen notes, advancing “the economic welfare or liberty of people abroad” may enhance U.S. interests, but that need not be the case.[26] Much of the debate over grand strategy centers on the presence or absence of links between advancing stability, welfare, and freedom abroad with the well-being of the United States at home. Importantly, this is a narrower use of the term “interests” than is common in the policy discourse. Here we refer strictly to core U.S. values, as opposed to more instrumental objectives (e.g., preventing the rise of a Eurasian hegemon) that — although commonly referred to as “interests” — are pursued as means of maximizing the core interests we identify. This distinction helps to clarify how the schools of grand strategy differ more on how to achieve core U.S. interests than on what those core interests ought to be. We define grand strategy objectives as the real-world outcomes a state seeks to achieve in order to advance its interests. Objectives are instrumental to interests: Choosing which objectives to pursue depends on one’s theory of what objectives will best maximize interests given internal and external constraints. For example, some argue that maintaining stability in Eurasia is both affordable and necessary for attaining U.S. interests, while others argue that it is too costly or unnecessary. Finally, policy levers or tools are the instruments states employ to realize their objectives. A state’s choice to invest in its diplomatic corps or military forces is a lever that can affect the probability of realizing a given objective that would further an interest. Moreover, just as objectives are instrumental to interests, the specific policies a state adopts are means to realizing its objectives. We restrict our analysis to four specific policy levers: military force structure, security commitments, military deployments, and the use of force. States can rely on additional grand strategy tools, but we focus on military tools for several reasons. Much of the grand-strategy debate centers on the role of military power, and the most intense schisms involve the deployment of military forces and the extension of alliance commitments. This is not surprising: Extending alliance commitments, deploying troops, fighting, and acquiring the necessary military capabilities for each involve significant political, economic, moral, and human costs. There is also a practical concern: No article can focus on every U.S. policy tool. Limiting the focus allows us to more specifically describe and define the differences between grand strategies.

Four Grand Strategies

In this section, we outline each of the ideal-types of grand strategies. We focus on each strategy’s underlying theory and its relation to objectives and policy levers. Table 3 summarizes the arguments along each dimension. Table 3. Grand Strategy Types [table id=9 /] Restraint Theoretical Anchor Balance-of-power realism provides the intellectual foundation for restraint, or what some label an “offshore balancing,” grand strategy. This theoretical anchor makes several core assumptions: The international system is anarchic, states cannot fully know the intentions of other states, and states want to survive. “Because there is no government to protect them and they cannot know the intentions of others,” write Sebastian Rosato and John Schuessler, “great powers must ultimately provide for their security.”[27] One state’s efforts to make itself more secure can create insecurity for others. This is the basis of the security dilemma that plays an important role for the restraint position.[28] Systemic constraints and the distribution of power are the key causal factors in shaping international outcomes, while international and domestic institutions play a marginal role. Alongside, but distinct from, the focus on the international system, the restraint position argues that nationalism remains a powerful motivating force.[29] The desire to survive imbues societies with strong incentives to resist outside influence. That is why states tend to balance rather than bandwagon. States with sufficient means work to block or undermine opponents by building up their own military capabilities, allying with states, or militarily challenging an opponent’s interests. Efforts to project power and counterbalancing occasionally lead to escalating spirals of hostility that can result in an arms race or conflict. There is disagreement about which behaviors provoke balancing, but there is consensus that the more geographically proximate and active a state is, the more likely it is that its actions will provoke reactions by capable states.[30] The emphasis on ability to balance is critical. Weak states not directly targeted by a great power may be able to do little and, therefore, simply bandwagon or stay out of the way until they find themselves directly in a great power’s crosshairs.[31] The basic balancing logic can extend to non-state actors, which will use asymmetric strategies (e.g., terrorism) to challenge the great-power policies they oppose.[32] Many link this restraint position to defensive realism.[33] Yet the U.S. geographic and power positions allow offensive realists to coherently advocate a policy of restraint. Offensive realism predicts that states will seek to expand when the benefits outweigh the costs. The United States’ position as the only major power in the Western Hemisphere provides a high level of security and prosperity. The costs associated with U.S. activism therefore outweigh the minimal benefits in the absence of a potential hegemon abroad. Objectives The focus on balancing and nationalism directly informs the restraint position’s contention that a short list of objectives best advances American interests. First, restraint focuses on thwarting any major threats to the American homeland. Second, the United States must prevent the emergence of a hegemon in Europe, Northeast Asia, or the Middle East. A rival could utilize the region’s power potential to endanger U.S. territory or block U.S. commerce. A hegemon in the Middle East, for example, could endanger energy flows, raising the global price of key commodities, which would in turn harm the U.S. economy.[34] Finally, the United States must deny another state the ability to command the global commons of the “sea, space, and air.”[35] If others command the commons, then the United States might find its homeland vulnerable to attack. In the long run, this could also undermine the U.S. economy. Restraint looks at the world today and sees few states capable of threatening these objectives. Distance and the American nuclear arsenal deter major assaults on U.S. territory. No state can unite European or Asian power potential in the near term, though China may be able to do so in the medium  to long term, necessitating a cautious balancing approach.[36] Preventing the emergence of a hegemon in the Middle East requires minimal U.S. investment because the regional powers are very weak. Moreover, global markets are robust and not easily disrupted.[37] [quote id="6"] The restraint position does not identify regional stability as a grand-strategy objective.[38] To begin with, instability abroad does not directly affect American security. Moreover, the tendency to balance causes others to contest U.S. efforts to impose stability, generating security dilemmas that actually can generate instability. Restraint prefers letting regional actors balance other regional actors. This may lead to conventional arming, the formation of new alliances, and even nuclear proliferation as others supply their own security. As more states provide for their own security, the United States can reduce its defense burden, enhancing U.S. prosperity and liberty without sacrificing security.[39] U.S. allies do not behave this way today, the restraint position argues, because they are “cheap-riding” while the United States foots the bill for security.[40] Worse, these actions may be creating a moral hazard, emboldening allies to act recklessly, which can in turn entrap the United States. Restraint considers terrorism an enduring challenge but not one that rises to the level of a grand-strategy objective. This grand-strategy position takes “seriously the threat from international terrorism,” notes Michael Desch, but it “also put[s] it into perspective.”[41] Expansive counterterror policies can provoke backlash. As Robert Pape argues, “U.S. ground forces often inadvertently produce more anti-American terrorists than they kill.”[42] Although terrorist acquisition of a nuclear weapon would be a “game changer,” the probability of that occurring is low.[43] States are unlikely to allow their nuclear weapons or fissile material to fall into the hands of a terrorist organization and risk losing control over how the material is used or risk potential retaliation from the terrorist’s target.[44] Rather than relying on military tools, the United States can help secure stockpiles and prevent accidents by sharing safeguard technology and best practices with other nuclear capable states.[45] Although few restraint proponents advocate nuclear proliferation, most do not consider nonproliferation a grand-strategy objective. Aggressive nonproliferation efforts are likely to encourage proliferation among hostile states as they seek to balance the United States.[46] Additionally, restraint adopts the nuclear-optimist position that nuclear weapons reduce conflict.[47] As long as the United States maintains its nuclear arsenal, deterrence will prevent nuclear attacks. Regional nuclear-armed states can deter regional aggression. Thus, Posen accepts that with the restraint position, “some nuclear proliferation would be tolerated.”[48] This may cause the United States to lose some power-projection ability, but restraint prefers that the United States do less in the current international environment. Restraint also does not count democracy promotion or humanitarian intervention among its objectives. Restraint does not oppose democracy or foreign aid, but its proponents believe that promoting either is inappropriate as part of a grand strategy. Whereas democracy promotion is difficult and unnecessary for advancing U.S. interests, humanitarian interventions can create failed states, generate havens for terrorists, and invite diplomatic backlash. A number of alternative diplomatic and foreign aid initiatives may, in the end, be more effective and save more lives. Policy Levers The restraint approach seeks to reduce U.S. defense commitments, forward deployments of troops, the frequency of using force, and the size of the U.S. military. Despite sharing a common theoretical base and set of objectives, individual scholars within this domain differ on the scope of reduction. The broadest divide is between those advocating modest versus major reductions. This reflects diversity in assessments of the balance of power, technology, preferences for hedging against geopolitical uncertainties, and estimates of domestic political feasibility. While these differences are important, they are outside the shared theoretical framework.[49] We do not, therefore, treat these differences as discrete grand strategies. Proponents of restraint argue in favor of reducing U.S. security commitments and forward deployments of troops. At the extreme end of the spectrum, scholars in this group advocate ending nearly all military commitments and bringing U.S. troops home.[50] More moderate positions agree on reducing the U.S. role in NATO and Europe, where Russian weakness and Western European wealth negate the need for U.S. involvement. U.S. air and naval power may remain in the Middle East, but the United States would remove ground forces and no longer support regimes against domestic opposition. Only in Asia, as a hedge against the rise of China, would sizable U.S. forces — primarily air and sea — and defense commitments potentially remain.[51] The objectives of restraint suggest the United States ought to use force rarely. It would do so only if a state stands poised to attain hegemony in Europe, Asia, or the Middle East, or if a state makes a bid to command the commons. Additionally, the United States would use minimal force to degrade and contain terrorist organizations that have the desire and ability to strike the United States.[52] The limited global role would allow significant reductions in the current U.S. force structure. In particular, force structure would shift to one that privileges the Navy and Air Force with light, highly mobile ground forces that proponents of restraint contend would result in large savings. Deep Engagement Theoretical Anchor Hegemonic stability theory provides the underlying principles for the deep engagement approach to grand strategy.[53] This position shares much with what some have labeled “selective engagement.”[54] Deep engagement draws on a separate branch of realism than the restraint position and argues that balancing is not feasible when one state’s material capabilities far exceed those of all others. States are more likely to bandwagon with, rather than balance against, the hegemon. Not only is balancing unlikely, according to this framework, but the world is more peaceful and prosperous when there is a preponderance of power.[55] The hegemon can utilize its superior military and economic tools to provide public goods, such as regional security, that underwrite a stable international order. The provision of security alleviates regional security dilemmas and deters aspiring powers from challenging the hegemon’s authority.[56] Absent the hegemon’s presence, regional balances of power will not form and costly arms races will occur. Moreover, a distant hegemon will be dragged into the conflict, thereby harming its interests. Globally, the clear preponderance of power makes conflicts over prestige unlikely, removing another source of war. Thus, escalatining spirals of hostility are unlikely at both the global and regional levels. Advocates of deep engagement argue that the benefits of maintaining the hegemonic order outweigh the costs. Costs are low because other states are unlikely to balance and military spending is not a major drain on resources.[57] Moreover, peripheral wars are choices rather than necessities, and so do not generate major costs for this strategy so long as the hegemon exercises prudence.[58] The hegemon also benefits from increased security, extracts enormous privileges from the system, and enriches itself through the rise in global prosperity.[59] The hegemon’s ability to shape international institutions facilitates order and lowers transaction costs for managing the international system. For instance, the hegemon can use economic institutions to mold the global economic system to its comparative advantage.[60] International security institutions allow the hegemon to coordinate with allies to maintain regional stability.[61] However, in contrast to liberal internationalism, proponents of deep engagement argue that such institutions are unlikely to be effective in the absence of a hegemonic state powerful enough to underwrite them. Objectives Deep engagement aims to deter threats to the homeland and the global commons. It also focuses on maintaining stability in three key regions — Asia, Europe, and the Middle East — rather than just preventing a hegemon from emerging. Thus, Stephen Brooks and William Wohlforth advocate economic globalization, promoting institutions, defending allies, and preventing conflict that would threaten the U.S.-led international order.[62] Proponents of deep engagement argue that the United States can, and should, continue to lead the international order: It can because it remains the only superpower and its position is durable;[63] it should because its presence stabilizes economic and security relations between states. Without a hegemon, regional actors will fail to balance potential peer competitors, harming U.S. security and prosperity. Finally, changes to the status quo adversely affect the United States because the system reflects American interests. Maintaining a stable, open, and U.S.-led order in the world’s core regions requires that the United States pursue several objectives. First, the United States must oppose the emergence of a regional hegemon and work to dampen strictly regional security competition in key areas. Without U.S. leadership, local balancing will be inefficient. Moreover, security competition generates negative externalities — such as conventional arms racing, nuclear proliferation, and trade disruption — that increase the risk of regional and global instability. In contrast to the restraint approach, deep engagement adopts nuclear pessimism, which highlights the dangers of nuclear accidents, inadvertent escalation, and loose nuclear weapons. These risks outweigh any potential stabilizing effects of nuclear weapons.[64] Thus, deep engagement contends that paying the costs associated with protecting American allies helps to deter and contain potential peer competitors and regional instability. This also gives the United States leverage over its allies, minimizing the risk of entrapment.[65] [quote id="1"] Second, deep engagement aims to protect the United States and its allies from terrorism and violent domestic instability. But it does not view these threats outside of the core regions as major dangers. For example, the risk of a terrorist attack or civil conflict in sub-Saharan Africa is a smaller concern than it would be in Saudi Arabia. Deep engagement might support efforts to prevent failed states, civil war, ethnic conflict, and humanitarian disasters but only if such outcomes have the potential to threaten stability in the core regions. Deep engagement supports the spread of democracy but does not view it as a grand-strategy objective because overt democracy promotion can undermine support for other U.S. objectives.[66] Efforts to protect human rights through humanitarian intervention or democracy promotion distract leaders from core objectives and may lead policymakers to pursue unnecessary or impossible objectives, squander resources, and produce negative externalities. Policy Levers Supporters of deep engagement seek to construct a military capable of maintaining existing alliance commitments and troop deployments abroad. These tools serve as the backbone of U.S. influence by deterring adversaries and reassuring allies. Brooks, Ikenberry, and Wohlforth make the point clearly:
The United States’ overseas presence gives it the leverage to restrain partners from taking provocative action. Perhaps more importantly, its core alliance commitments also deter states with aspirations to regional hegemony from contemplating expansion and makes its partners more secure, reducing their incentive to adopt solutions to their security problems that threaten others and thus stoke security dilemmas.[67]
To this end, the United States has constructed a set of commitments that include formal defense pacts with 68 countries that, together with the United States, represent 75 percent of world economic output.[68] America’s commitment to NATO and the security structures in the Middle East and Asia should continue. Moreover, contrary to the restraint approach, the deep-engagement position argues that forward-deployed forces are necessary to maintain command of the commons and allow the U.S. presence to surge in an emergency. International commitments and U.S. troop presence also encourage intelligence sharing and cooperation in counterterrorism efforts, as well as reducing domestic instability in these regions. Proponents of deep engagement argue that critics overstate the costs of this grand strategy. For one thing, offsetting arrangements with allies defrays the financial costs of deploying troops abroad. In terms of terrorism, U.S. troops may contribute to anti-Americanism, as some claim, but they are hardly the decisive factor.[69] Were most U.S. troops to come home tomorrow, the terrorist threat would not disappear, nor would much money be saved. Regarding entrapment, alliances allow the United States significant freedom to maneuver and tend to give Washington more influence over its weaker partners.[70] In this framework, military force is a tool to maintain, not alter, the status quo. Hence, deep engagement supports the use of force to protect existing commitments but does not support using military force to spread democracy or, except in extreme cases, remove human rights violators from power. As Brooks and Wohlforth write,
[T]hose who advocate ambitious projects to assertively spread democracy and liberal principles and foster dramatic improvement in human rights, by the sword if necessary, make the same mistakes as proponents of pulling back: they fail to appreciate the major benefits America derives by sustaining its long-standing grand strategy.[71]
Proponents of deep engagement seek to maintain U.S. force-structure projections made toward the end of the Obama administration but are not opposed to modest increases. This level of military power is necessary to maintain existing commitments and deployments, and it requires an amount of military spending that is both affordable and likely to decrease as a percentage of GDP over time.[72] A larger military is unnecessary because deep engagement does not seek to undertake new military missions or commitments outside core regions. Liberal Internationalism Theoretical Anchor Liberal internationalism rests on a combination of hegemonic stability theory and neoliberal institutionalism. This view of grand strategy depends on the “decentralized model” of hegemonic stability, in which it is the hegemon’s “benevolent leadership” more than its coercion of states that ultimately maintains the international order.[73] Liberal internationalism’s central tenet is that the hegemon creates and maintains an order built on “rules and institutions that advance collective security and cooperation among democracies.”[74] It holds that a stable international order can arise when a hegemon is able and willing to use its power to overcome collective action problems — in which states each have an incentive to free ride on the efforts of others — and provide international stability as a public good. Liberal internationalism does not accept that the hegemon’s power alone is sufficient, instead arguing that hegemonic leadership must command legitimacy. That legitimacy depends on upholding the interests of the other states in the system rather than coercing states to adhere to the hegemon’s rules. To accomplish this, the hegemon must tie its own hands by adhering to the same rules as other states and allowing a role for non-state actors.[75] By constructing effective, relatively flat (as opposed to hierarchical) international institutions, the hegemon restrains its ability to act coercively, which in turn enhances the legitimacy and stability of the order. Institutions also facilitate cooperation by reducing transaction costs, monitoring and enforcing agreements, and overcoming collective-action problems. Ultimately, a thick web of institutions can lock in the order and allow it to outlive the hegemon’s inevitable decline. Rising great powers can then be co-opted into supporting and perpetuating this order.[76] Institutions help overcome the nefarious consequences of anarchy touted by balance-of-power realists. Liberal international-relations theories of the economic and domestic-political underpinnings of international cooperation strongly inform liberal internationalism.[77] In particular, proponents of liberal internationalism contend that the promotion of open and free trade (economic liberalism) and the global spread of democracy (republican liberalism) are critical pillars of a stable and peaceful international order. As Anne-Marie Slaughter argues, the “origins of international conflict and cooperation lie in the political and economic micro-foundations of individual societies.”[78] Democratic states are unlikely to go to war with one another and can cooperate to form security communities.[79] Market democracies will pursue globalization with the free flow of goods, services, and ideas across borders. This type of economic interdependence not only promotes peace, by raising the costs of conflict, but also enhances prosperity. Objectives The core objective of liberal internationalism is the maintenance and expansion of a U.S.-led liberal international order embedded within a dense network of international institutions.[80] As Slaughter has written, the “next U.S. president should adopt a grand strategy of building and maintaining an open international order based on three pillars: open societies, open governments, and an open international system.”[81] Thus liberal internationalism parts company with deep engagement by considering the incorporation of liberal elements into the international order the very bedrock of U.S. grand strategy. Liberal internationalism considers the end of unipolarity and the rise of one or more rival great powers to be inevitable, but in contrast to the other grand strategies it opposes efforts to contain them.[82] Instead, proponents of liberal internationalism argue that by building a thick web of international institutions, the United States can co-opt potential rivals into the existing order and provide them a stake in maintaining it. The end of the Cold War created a unique historical moment and an unparalleled opportunity for the United States to lock in an international order amenable to its interests.[83] During this window of opportunity, the United States should use its power for building institutions, advancing democratic institutions and norms, promoting free markets, and reducing barriers to international trade — albeit while acting within the rules of the order it has constructed. Institutions, proponents of liberal internationalism argue, are “sticky.” Once states become enmeshed in a sufficiently thick, rules-based liberal international order, the benefits this order provides and the costs of dismantling it create powerful incentives for future great powers to continue to support it.[84] Friends and potential rivals  gain from the hegemon’s provision of global public goods like security and stability. Institutions also reassure other states that U.S. leadership is benign by constraining U.S. behavior. Although the United States may possess the military and economic power to violate institutional rules, doing so would undermine its international legitimacy.[85] [quote id="2"] Liberal internationalism considers the spread of democracy and globalization a keystone to global stability and a central grand-strategy objective. Liberal internationalism therefore advocates protecting established and nascent democracies, even to the point of providing military support to domestic democratic opponents of autocratic regimes. This democratizing impulse was the basic rationale behind the Clinton administration’s “democratic enlargement” policy, which expanded NATO eastward in the 1990s.[86] As Slaughter puts it, the United States must continue its policy of “supporting liberal democratic parties and institutions in countries determining their own political future. … The twenty-first century, like the twentieth century, must be made safe for democracy.”[87] Promoting globalization can also foster the development of a middle class, a core constituency for democratization in developing countries. Liberal internationalism highlights the importance of maintaining regional stability. Regional arms races and conventional conflict undermine the rules-based international order and end up sucking the United States into conflict. History has shown that “aggressors in faraway lands, if left unchecked, would someday threaten the United States.”[88] For liberal internationalism, the Sept. 11, 2001, attacks demonstrated how internal and external stability can create conditions that can lead to direct harm to the United States. Proponents of liberal internationalism consider international terrorism, the proliferation of nuclear weapons, and gross human rights violations to be significant threats to global order. These concerns are compounded by general suspicions of authoritarian and illiberal groups and a skepticism that they can reliably be deterred. Nuclear proliferation and terrorism can combine in particularly pernicious ways. Ikenberry and Slaughter assert that the “threat of nuclear terrorism looms greater than any other nuclear threat because of the limits of traditional concepts of deterrence against adversaries who would willingly martyr themselves.”[89] To states, on the other hand, nuclear proliferation generates instability and imposes limits on America’s ability to act against challengers to the liberal international order. Human rights violations can undermine nascent liberal movements and breed regional instability. Policy Levers Liberal internationalism holds that U.S. military dominance currently underwrites the liberal international order. The United States must, therefore, maintain the military capabilities and alliances necessary to deter and defend against revisionist, anti-liberal challengers.[90] As Ikenberry and Slaughter write, liberal internationalism’s objectives “require a continued high level of U.S. defense spending.”[91] The United States should maintain and expand its commitments and, where necessary, its troop presence. This is particularly true for nascent democracies outside Western Europe. “The United States,” Ikenberry argues, “should recommit to and rebuild its security alliances. … The updating of these alliance bargains would involve widening the regional or global missions in which the alliance operates and making new compromises over the distribution of formal rights and responsibilities.”[92] Although the regional emphasis may differ by scholar, liberal internationalism supports an expansion of troops in specific cases as a hedge against potential illiberal challenges. For instance, as noted by Michèle Flournoy, former U.S. undersecretary of defense for policy, and Janine Davidson, former U.S. deputy assistant secretary of defense for plans, “The cornerstone of forward engagement [is] positioning U.S. troops in vital regions to help deter major conflicts and promote stability, particularly in Asia and the Middle East.”[93] At times it will be necessary to use force to attain American objectives. This can include the defense of emerging democracies, but liberal internationalism does not advocate the constant use of force to spread democracy. It emphasizes multilateralism, though not necessarily universal support, as a way to build legitimacy for any use of force. Thus Slaughter contends that “if the need for international action is great, the international community must turn to broadly representative regional institutions to authorize and implement intervention.”[94] Democratic communities can legitimize U.S. action when broader forums are not supportive.[95] Concerns over human rights violations led many proponents of liberal internationalism to support the Iraq War in 2003 and the intervention in Libya in 2011.[96] As Slaughter notes, “R2P, [the Responsibility to Protect] has gone deeply out of fashion, but that is surely temporary.”[97]  The initial stages of humanitarian intervention may require the kind of forces that only the United States is in a position to supply. Conservative Primacy Theoretical Anchor Conservative primacy is a broad family that includes, but is not limited to, neoconservatives, conservative internationalists, and conservative realists.[98] It is consistent with much of what Brands labels “a better nationalism” and Colin Dueck calls “conservative nationalism.”[99] To be sure, there are a number of disagreements between self-described members of each group. Those disagreements are narrow enough — and the differences with alternative grand-strategy positions wide enough — to justify treating them together as an ideal-type grand strategy. We adopt the term conservative primacy because it captures the core shared theoretical underpinnings driving several, though by no means all, self-labeled conservative positions.[100] [quote id="3"] Specifically, conservative primacy formulations of all types combine classical liberal assumptions and hegemonic stability theory to arrive at more assertive grand-strategic prescriptions. These prescriptions rest on a variant of hegemonic stability theory that combines “benevolent” and “coercive” elements.[101] The hegemon’s rule must be benevolent in that the international order it establishes must command legitimacy among other states. This legitimacy arises when core liberal values are shared. Because liberal, democratic states have a shared set of interests, a liberal democratic hegemon’s efforts to establish an international order will command legitimacy even when this requires the unilateral exercise of military force. Indeed, the hegemon’s legitimacy rises among its fellow liberal democracies when it exercises power to defend the international order against nondemocratic challengers. Absent this leadership, dangerous threats will multiply. As Eliot Cohen, Eric Edelman, and Brian Hook state, a “strong United States is essential to the maintenance of the open global order under which this country and the rest of the world have prospered since 1945 …the alternative is not a self-regulating machine of balancing states, but a landscape marked by eruptions of chaos and destruction.”[102] Conservative primacy shares with liberal internationalism a focus on domestic institutions but parts company when it comes to international institutions. For conservative primacy, behavior is largely driven by regime type rather than the distribution of power. “Democracies,” Charles Krauthammer wrote, “are inherently more friendly to the United States, less belligerent to their neighbors, and generally more inclined to peace” than illiberal regimes.[103] International institutions are suspect, particularly those that grant equal status to both democracies and autocracies, as they empower and legitimize tyrannical regimes. Because democratic regimes are more likely than autocratic ones to be bound by international rules, international institutions restrain the states that need a free hand to uphold the international order, while permitting challengers of the liberal order greater freedom of action. Thus, international institutions can have an important effect on state preferences (contra restraint) but only among democratic states (contra liberal internationalism).[104] In sum, conservative primacy’s various permutations share several core features. First, a belief that illiberal (both politically and economically) state and non-state actors are sources of danger. In the wake of the Iraq War, however, there has been disagreement on how aggressively to promote democracy abroad and widespread skepticism of regime-change adventures. Second, proponents of conservative primacy see the use of American military power as a necessary component of hegemony. Finally, under this grand-strategy position, there is a pronounced skepticism of international institutions. Objectives Conservative primacy, like its liberal counterpart, favors the promotion of an international order based on liberal characteristics; in particular, the spread of democracy, capitalism, and free trade. As Condoleezza Rice put it, “An international order that reflects our values is the best guarantee of our enduring national interest.”[105] Conservative primacy does not consider such an “international order” to be a rules-based order built on international institutions. In fact, it warns that faith in institutions could lead the United States to abrogate its leadership role while failing to constrain illiberal regimes. The United States ought to remain the sole superpower, albeit sharing the stage with several great powers. Even with a variety of challenges, that hegemonic status is, in this view, durable.[106] Conservative primacy prioritizes the spread of democracy and opposition to authoritarian regimes. Unlike liberal internationalism, which argues that democracies can resolve conflicts of interest through peaceful negotiation, conservative primacy holds that maintaining a U.S.-led international order is a globally shared interest and that democratic governments best channel popular support for U.S. hegemony. Authoritarian and “rogue” regimes, on the other hand, are unrepresentative of the populations they govern and therefore do not share the citizenship’s interest in maintaining the international political-economic order established by the United States. Proponents of conservative primacy do not rule out spreading democracy by the sword — many supported the 2003 invasion of Iraq — but they caution against ill-conceived or constant efforts to do so. Because non-democratic regimes are both illegitimate and naturally inimical to the established and popularly supported international order, their very existence is a security threat to the United States and its democratic allies. Conservative primacy posits that the stability of the international order rests on U.S. power. U.S. primacy and preventing the rise of a great-power rival, particularly an illiberal great power, are therefore core objectives. The focus on regime type and the importance placed on U.S. preeminence in the international system suggests a strategy toward China, for example, that would combine elements of engagement and regime transformation (similar to liberal internationalism) and a balancing approach (similar to deep engagement and, increasingly, restraint). The result is a strategy comparable to Aaron Friedberg’s “better balancing” approach, which “combines continued attempts at engagement with expanded and intensified balancing.”[107] It differs from other grand-strategic positions by assuming that engagement is the best tool for moving China toward democracy, when coupled with assertive balancing, and that U.S. balancing efforts do not risk escalation or require reassurance. Aggressive counterterrorism is a necessary objective of conservative primacy. According to Dueck, “jihadist terrorists” must be preempted: “The nature of this particular enemy leaves no superior alternative other than an assertive and determined strategy of rollback.”[108] Advocates of conservative primacy see an essential link between terrorism and “rogue” states that sponsor terrorist organizations and, therefore, favor strategies that focus on that link. For example, the Bush administration rapidly shifted focus to Iraq after the 9/11 attacks despite Iraq’s lack of connection to those attacks. James Mann describes the thinking of then-Deputy Secretary of Defense Paul Wolfowitz as: “[F]orces behind terrorism in the Middle East were all interconnected … If the United States could defeat [Hussein], it would weaken terrorist groups throughout the Middle East. The issue was broader than Al Qaeda.”[109] Nonproliferation is also a critical objective because conservative primacy doubts the efficacy of deterrence when it comes to authoritarian and rogue states. Proponents of this grand strategy are supportive of preventive military action as well as ballistic missile defenses and nuclear counterforce capabilities. Concerns about proliferation of nuclear, chemical, and biological weapons were at the center of the Bush administration’s case to invade Iraq. In the wake of the 9/11 attacks, advocates of the neoconservative strain of conservative primacy within the administration expressed particular concern about “rogue” states such as Iran, Iraq, and North Korea acquiring nuclear weapons. This interacted with the terrorist threat to raise additional worry and played a central role in the development of the Bush Doctrine. More than a decade later, it has informed critiques of the Joint Comprehensive Plan of Action addressing Iran’s nuclear program.[110] Policy Levers Conservative primacy highlights the value of using U.S. military power to achieve American objectives. The tendency to bandwagon will dominate incentives to balance, so there are increasing returns to U.S. global activism with little risk of blowback. By this thinking, a robust troop presence would reassure skittish allies, deter and compel potential adversaries, and establish the means to defeat them should coercion fail.[111] As Robert Kagan notes, the
American presence enforced a general peace and stability in two regions [Europe and Asia] that for at least a century had known almost constant great-power conflict. … When the United States appears to retrench, allies necessarily become anxious, while others look for opportunities.[112]
As for the Middle East, Peter Feaver argues that the U.S. shift to an offshore balancing strategy “proved disastrous for American interests and paved the way for the rise of the Islamic State, forcing Obama to shift back once again to an onshore balancing in the region.”[113] Conservative primacy emphasizes alliances with democracies rather than autocracies but makes room for compromise on this issue. Mann explains how conservatives shifted during the Cold War from a position largely consistent with the one set forth in Jeane Kirkpatrick’s landmark 1979 Commentary article and toward more assertively supporting democracy even when it meant challenging the domestic security of anti-communist regimes supportive of the United States.[114] Similarly, Nau argues that although “critics often attack such cooperation” with authoritarian regimes “as hypocrisy,” it is necessary to set priorities and be sensitive to “the limitations of both resources and public will to support the end of tyranny everywhere at once.”[115] Thus, support for U.S. commitments to non-democratic allies in the Middle East and elsewhere is not inconsistent with the overall tenets of conservative primacy. Conservative primacy’s emphasis on military power leads to a large force structure and a willingness to use military force to advance U.S. objectives. This view of grand strategy emphasizes what Nau calls “armed diplomacy.”[116] The ability and resolve to use force “during negotiations and before an attack when it is a choice, not just after negotiations and in retaliation to an attack when it is a necessity,” is essential to “succeed in negotiations that move freedom forward.” This does not mean conservative primacy favors greater use of force overall. Rather, Nau argues that what is preferable is “the earlier and perhaps more frequent use of smaller force to deter, preempt, and prevent the later use of much greater force.”[117] Put differently, conservative primacy focuses on the risk of acting too late, while other grand strategies put greater weight on the risk of acting too soon. A large military is, therefore, essential, allowing the United States to act and bargain from a position of strength.[118] The conservative-primacy position contends that current U.S. spending on defense is low by historical standards and can be increased without undermining the domestic economy.

Discussion

We argue that key disagreements over grand strategy hinge on theoretical disagreements about the role of power and institutions in international politics. Regarding power, the core disagreement is between the restraint position, which relies on balance-of-power realism, and the other three grand-strategy positions, which adopt variations of hegemonic stability theory. A focus on power alone, however, would lead to an incorrect portrayal of important elements of the debate. Equally significant are the roles that international and domestic institutions play in international politics. Different understandings of those roles have enormous implications for what specific objectives the United States ought to pursue to maximize its interests. Liberal internationalism focuses on spreading liberal economic, domestic, and international institutions, relying on all three pillars of what scholars label the Kantian tripod.[119] Conservative primacy draws on classical liberalism and agrees on the importance of spreading liberal economic and domestic institutions. In contrast to liberal internationalism, proponents of conservative primacy argue that international institutions dangerously constrain U.S. action while allowing illiberal states to pursue agendas inimical to U.S. interests. Deep engagement, on the other hand, is the mirror position of conservative primacy: For its proponents, spreading liberal domestic institutions is often a costly distraction from achieving core objectives. At the same time, deep engagement borrows some insights from institutionalism. Advocates of restraint argue that it is unnecessary, and perhaps even counterproductive, to use military tools to underwrite liberal international or domestic institutions to secure U.S. interests. Our framework makes several contributions to advancing the grand strategy debate. First, by holding interests constant, we identify four grand strategies that lead to a number of policy prescriptions that claim to maximize a given set of U.S. interests. Having done so, future research will be better able to assess which grand strategy offers the best mix of policies to maximize these interests. One could identify a different set of interests, but whatever interests one identifies must be consistent and carefully separated from objectives. Two recent works help illustrate how failing to adopt this framework can lead to conceptual confusion. In his important book outlining the tenets of a restraint grand strategy, Posen argues that foreign policy “may have many goals beyond security, including the prosperity of Americans at home,” but that grand strategy seeks to maximize security alone. Yet, as noted earlier, his definition of security includes “power position,” which in turn includes “economic capacity.”[120] Posen ultimately suggests that economic capacity, then, is both a means and an end.[121] This is problematic because, if it is an end, Posen would need to demonstrate that the objectives of restraint lead it to better advance U.S. economic capacity compared with alternative grand strategies. If it is a means, it would be necessary to make clear that there may be a trade-off between security and prosperity in favor of the former. It would also be necessary to specify the severity of this trade-off to assess whether it is sharp enough to undermine security in the long run. Yet Posen largely sidesteps these issues. In short, on his own terms, Posen’s treatment of the restraint position is incomplete. By clearly identifying and examining the issues that our framework highlights, scholars and policymakers will be better able to directly compare the costs and benefits of each grand strategy to maximize a given set of interests. [quote id="4"] The conflation of interests and objectives is apparent in other works as well. In their careful treatment of deep engagement, Brooks and Wohlforth have done just this, writing that “managing the external environment to reduce near- and long-term threats to U.S. national security” is one of three core U.S. grand-strategy interests that are essential for furthering U.S. security.[122] This argument borders on a tautology: The best way to preserve U.S. security is to reduce the threat to U.S. security. More important, it, like Posen, conflates means and ends. Managing the external security environment is a means for maximizing the U.S. interest of security; it is not an end itself. As our framework makes clear, interests or ends must be treated as constant, whereas means should vary depending on evidence regarding their effectiveness in realizing those interests. It is critical for future research on grand strategies to separate means from ends so that officials can clearly understand whether scholars are making claims about what interests the United States should adopt as opposed to what means would maximize a given end. Next, our framework reveals why analysts across grand-strategy positions may agree on some policy prescriptions but not others. For example, paying attention to underlying theories helps reveal why the policy prescriptions of some restraint proponents, such as John Mearsheimer, Stephen Walt, and Barry Posen, overlap with the policy prescriptions of proponents of more robust grand-strategy positions regarding China but not elsewhere.[123] This is intellectually consistent: The restraint position focuses on the importance of preventing hegemons from emerging in areas where regional actors are incapable of mustering sufficient power. In such cases, the balance of power logic at the heart of restraint points to the necessity of a powerful outside actor to intervene. Thus, in an early post-Cold War statement of restraint, Eugene Gholz, Daryl Press, and Harvey Sapolsky recognized that an expansive American role was necessary when there was a Soviet peer competitor but was no longer needed once America’s relative power surged after the fall of the Soviet Union.[124] It follows that if China occupies a similar geopolitical position, then many restraint proponents would accept a larger U.S. role in balancing against China. Absent that type of peer-competitor, however, restraint’s underlying logic remains centered on allowing regional power balancing to deal with local challenges. To the extent that individual analysts within each grand-strategy position disagree on specific propositions, those divides stem from additional factors — such as disagreements over relative power, changing technology, or normative preferences — that lie outside those underlying theories. Finally, this article provides a framework for how best to apply existing research to the grand-strategy debate and what additional research should be undertaken. We illustrate this with two examples drawn from each axis of the debate. First, if a U.S. presence abroad provoked rival nuclear proliferation more than it limited allied proliferation this would support the restraint position while undermining alternative approaches to grand strategy. The converse, however, is not necessarily the case. If reduced American involvement caused more proliferation among allies, advocates of restraint may find that acceptable, arguing that it increases regional stability through mutual deterrence. It would then be necessary to consider research from the enduring debate on the consequences of nuclear proliferation for regional (in)stability as well as whether nuclear-driven (in)stability positively or negatively affected American interests. That is, it would be necessary to show how these changes would affect America’s ability to achieve other objectives and interests. Several studies examine U.S. nonproliferation tools, but more fine-grained analyses addressing the effectiveness of individual and combined policy levers are needed.[125] It would be informative, for instance, for research to disentangle whether a U.S. security commitment is sufficient to provide leverage (supporting deep engagement), or if it must be coupled with a global/regional institutional order and specific regime types (supporting liberal internationalism), or a strong commitment to use force against potential proliferators (supporting conservative primacy). A second example draws from the legitimacy axis of the debate. The different grand-strategic positions disagree on whether international legitimacy matters in determining whether U.S. strategies, such as troop deployments and the use of military force, are likely to be stabilizing or destabilizing (or have no effect on stability either way). Liberal internationalism holds that the use of American military force abroad promotes stability when the United States exercises self-restraint and adheres to international norms and the rules and processes of inclusive international institutions such as the U.N. Security Council. Conservative primacy, on the other hand, argues that U.S. military force can be carried out unilaterally and will command legitimacy among democracies so long as its exercise is consistent with liberal ends. For example, conservative primacy would predict that the U.S. failure to intervene in Syria after Bashar al-Assad’s use of chemical weapons in 2013 would undermine U.S. legitimacy and generate greater instability by inviting challenges to U.S. leadership. Alternatively, liberal internationalism would predict that unilateral U.S. efforts to roll back North Korean nuclear and missile achievements ought to promote instability by undermining alliances and provoking adversaries. Conservative primacy would expect the opposite result: that allies would be heartened by these measures and adversaries cowed. In each example, researchers can test the competing claims against international outcomes in terms of stability and public and elite opinion abroad as a measure of international legitimacy. In sum, this article’s focus on why proponents prefer a given set of grand-strategic objectives and corresponding levers will allow future research to better assess the relative effectiveness of these objectives and levers for attaining U.S. interests. It is necessary not only to test individual relationships between tools and objectives, but also to assess how those relationships interact with one another to highlight the various trade-offs inherent in any grand strategy that attempts to establish priorities, balance competing demands, and bring a diverse set of policies into an overarching agenda. This is more demanding than narrow hypothesis-testing but has the potential to fill a critical gap between scholarship and policy and move us closer to the ideal of evidence-based policy.   Acknowledgements: For helpful discussions and suggestions, the authors would like to thank Michael Beckley, Stephen Brooks, Michael Desch, Eugene Gholz, Kelly Greenhill, Henry Nau, Jacqueline Hazelton, Alexander Lanoszka, Barry Posen, Miranda Priebe, Andrew Ross, Joshua Rovner, John Schuessler, Joshua Shifrinson, Nina Silove, William Wohlforth, the three anonymous reviewers, and the Texas National Security Review editors.   Paul C. Avey is assistant professor of political science at Virginia Tech. Jonathan N. Markowitz is an assistant professor in the School of International Relations at the University of Southern California. Robert J. Reardon is assistant professor of political science at North Carolina State University. 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I.

The fundamental problem facing U.S. national security — and indeed grand — strategy is clear: The United States seeks to extend deterrence to dozens of allies in parts of the world that are increasingly shadowed by Russia and China, each of which fields survivable nuclear arsenals and conventional forces that are more and more formidable in their respective regions. An increasingly powerful China seeks ascendancy in Asia and ultimately beyond, while Russia has recovered some of its military potency and aspires to upend or at least substantially revise the post-Cold War European settlement.[1] Both China and Russia have developed strategies and forces designed to enable them to attack or suborn U.S. allies or partners and make such an effort potentially worth the risks and costs. Their aspirations place them at odds — or at least in tension — with U.S. interests in defending its alliance architecture, and their increased capability to pursue these aspirations makes them more dangerous and the possibility of war with them more likely.[2] In the face of these challenges, Washington wants to deter and, if necessary, defeat attacks on its allies by Russia or China. The problem is that these alliances are, while of course important, still fundamentally secondary interests for the United States. Yet Washington wisely seeks to defend them from states that have the assured ability to conduct nuclear strikes on the American homeland, which, naturally, represents the profoundest type of peril to the nation’s ultimate primary interest: its survival as a functioning society. In light of the mutual vulnerability of the United States on the one hand and Russia and China on the other, the disincentives to large-scale use of nuclear weapons are of the gravest and most direct sort. No one could rationally seek general nuclear war, which would be tantamount to suicide. In this context, the influence of nuclear weapons derives from the perception of a willingness to risk their use at scale — in effect, to be more willing to court destruction. Coercive leverage derives from establishing a superior position about which state is more resolute in risking nuclear Armageddon.[3] But such a competition is not only about resolve in some pure or abstract sense, disconnected from events or acts. Rather, resolve is not an immutable value, but is shaped and formed by a host of factors, and thus is itself subject to manipulation. A state’s willingness to fight is, in other words, not simply a product of an unchanging judgment of the import of a given stake. It is also formed by assessments about the difficulty of and degree of risk assumed by fighting, the connection of the equity at issue to other interests, the perceived nature of the opponent as well as the scale and ambition of its aims, judgments of justice and legitimacy, and so forth. The more these sorts of interests are — or can be — implicated in a given contest, the more likely a state will be willing to risk, fight, and endure, even if the contest is initially or nominally focused on a relatively peripheral interest. The Union fought more resolutely than it otherwise might have against a South that had attacked Fort Sumter first, and the United States fought much more ferociously against a Japan that had launched a dastardly surprise attack on Pearl Harbor and conducted its ensuing aggression with notorious brutality. In particular, the more aggressive, brazen, illegitimate, unjust, or inherently menacing one state’s behavior seems, the more likely it is that it will generate the willingness of the other state to assume some additional risk of nuclear Armageddon. Put another way, the more capable a state is of attaining its aims through means that appear less escalatory, the less it will need to rely on its resolve to risk general devastation. Conversely, the less capable a state is of pursuing its aims through less escalatory measures, the more it will need to rely on its willingness to court mutual suicide. Thus, the ability to fight successfully without having to seriously escalate is a great source of advantage because it permits one to prevail even with a deficit of resolve. This is crucial for the United States. In a pure contest of resolve against Russia over Eastern Europe or against China over Taiwan — or even against Pyongyang over the Korean Peninsula — it is not clear that the United States would prevail. But Washington need not and should not permit such a pure contest to appear plausible. Indeed, for many years after the end of the Cold War, Washington enjoyed a situation in which resolve was largely immaterial to plausible contingencies touching on threats to U.S. allies. While Russia had survivable nuclear forces and China a modest strategic deterrent, neither had the conventional forces to mount serious assaults on U.S. allies that would enable them to push the onus of escalation onto the United States, and thus to create a more favorable contest of resolve.[4] China might have reminded the United States that it could destroy Los Angeles in the pursuit of subordinating Taipei, but such a threat was not coercively useful without the conventional forces to sustain a blockade or an invasion of Taiwan. Few imagined that China would leap immediately to destroying Los Angeles when such an act, by its manifest disproportion and unreasonableness, would very likely have triggered the most fearsome sort of retaliation.

II.

The post-Cold War period, however, is over. The increased conventional military power of Russia and China, and China’s maturing nuclear deterrent, have changed the situation. Each is pursuing a variant of what is fundamentally a fait accompli strategy. In a situation of mutual vulnerability to large-scale nuclear attack, the fait accompli is the most attractive offensive strategy for a power that is weaker than its opponent, as China and Russia are relative to the United States and its allies. The fait accompli strategy works by moving or attacking in a way that forces the defender’s counterpunch to have to be so costly and risky as to seem not worth the benefit of reversing it. It is most insidious when the violence needed to succeed with the fait accompli is less grievous, making the very great response needed to eject the attacker seem not only too perilous but also unjust. As a consequence, in a nuclear world, advantage in the deadly competition in risk-taking between two states armed with survivable arsenals will thus accrue to the side that can take action and hold territory — and then push the onus of responding onto the other side in such a way that the sort of escalation required to remedy the situation is simply too costly and risky. [quote id="1"] In Europe, Russia’s conventional forces can now rapidly seize territory in places such as the Baltic states and eastern Poland, while Moscow’s large and variegated strategic and nuclear forces provide ample options for controlled strikes designed to “spook” NATO into terminating a war before the alliance could bring its greater strength to bear to reverse Russian gains.[5] In Asia, meanwhile, China is developing a conventional military that will be able to compete for — and could be able to establish — superiority over the United States and its allies in substantial areas of the Western Pacific, as well as a nuclear force that could increasingly be used in more limited, controlled ways to attempt to deter U.S. vertical or horizontal escalation.[6] The two cases are similar but differ in the greater Russian degree of reliance on nuclear weapons. The nub of the challenge from Russia lies in Moscow’s potential ability to transform its temporary and local conventional advantages with respect to the Baltic states and eastern Poland into permanent gains through the threat of a nuclear escalation that both sides fear but that, Moscow may reckon, the West would fear more. The challenge from China, meanwhile, appears likely to lie more in its potential ability to attain practical conventional superiority over the United States with respect to East Asia and to use its nuclear and strategic forces to dissuade Washington from meaningfully escalating, including to the nuclear level, in order to negate or reverse that superiority. Both, however, involve ways in which a potential U.S. adversary could use its military forces to create durable positions of advantage. Moscow or Beijing might plausibly calculate that such uses of military force would be exceptionally difficult and demanding to roll back or dislodge. This would shift the onus of escalation onto the United States and its allies and would allow for the use of nuclear and other strategic forces to deter the United States from taking the potentially escalatory and dramatic actions needed to achieve its more limited objectives, such as the restoration of an ally’s territorial integrity.

III.

If U.S. grand strategy is to remain predicated on the defense of its allies, the United States needs to deal promptly and resolutely with this thorny set of problems. While Chinese and Russian provocations against U.S. interests have mostly been confined to the “gray zone” thus far, a perception that strategies such as these could advantageously be pursued may lead to more direct and clearer challenges, especially if the relevant regional military balances shift away from Washington and its allies.[7] Sub-conventional “salami-slicing” is an attractive strategy when one fears the consequences of pushing much harder or further. If Beijing or Moscow judges it can push more ambitiously or assertively without risking a plausible and sufficiently painful U.S. response, then it is likely to do so. If the United States is resolute and clear enough, however, gray-zone problems will remain manageable — that is, if the United States retains a military advantage with respect to its allies and established partners (such as Taiwan) vis-à-vis Russia and China. If it loses that advantage, gray-zone provocations are likely to transform into far more direct and menacing assertions of power by Moscow and Beijing. To prevent this, the United States should want a defense posture that demonstrates to potential opponents that such challenges would not succeed or, failing that, would be too costly to be worth the candle. Ideally, this would entail a U.S. ability directly to defeat outright any aggression against its allies or interests, as essentially was the case during the unipolar period that followed the collapse of the Soviet Union. This standard may be difficult to achieve, however, given the dramatic growth of Chinese power and the more modest, but still significant, recovery of Russian military power, the proximity of plausible points of conflict to them and their distance from the United States, and the diffusion of U.S. military effort and focus across multiple theaters. It may be especially difficult to do so rapidly or without requiring significant forms of escalation that may seem a bridge too far for U.S. decision makers absent evidence of a much higher degree of Chinese or Russian malignity or ambition. The United States should therefore aim to field a military posture of conventional forces that makes attack against U.S. allies and territory at best futile and at minimum a necessarily very brazen, destructive, and aggressive act.[8] Compelling the adversary to conduct aggression in this way is far more likely to catalyze U.S. and allied resolve to pursue the kinds of military actions necessary to defeat such an assault, for instance through a much larger counteroffensive, including conventional strikes into an adversary’s territory. This conventional posture should be designed not only to achieve the important but limited aim of repelling an adversary’s attack and denying the fait accompli but also to shift onto the opponent the onus of more dramatic forms of escalation — above all to the nuclear level. That is, U.S. conventional military operations need to be ferocious enough to degrade a capable opponent’s ability to pursue and consummate its attack on U.S. allies, but they should also be framed and implemented in such a way as to compel the other side to have to face the choice of conceding or dramatically escalating. If China can take over Taiwan quickly, cleanly, and with relatively little damage, this is likely to make a large and ferocious U.S. counteroffensive seem disproportionate, thereby lessening the probability that it would happen and that other states would support it. Conversely, if Beijing can hope to conquer Taiwan only through a massive, bloody, and patently aggressive offensive — and might well fail at that — then the sorts of U.S. actions needed to help Taiwan are likely to seem much more reasonable and palatable, thereby increasing the likelihood that Washington would take such actions and that others would support those efforts.

IV.

This is primarily a challenge for U.S. and allied conventional forces. But U.S. (and allied) nuclear forces also play a central role. The U.S. nuclear arsenal should be designed to demonstrate to potential U.S. opponents — most importantly Russia and China — that dramatic forms of escalation against key U.S. interests, including but not exclusively nuclear escalation, would be too costly and risky to pursue and ultimately would be self-defeating. This involves demonstrating to potential foes that attempts to transgress core American interests, or to use nuclear weapons for military effect, or seeking to favorably manipulate the fear of escalation to Armageddon would not redound in their favor — and ideally against them. This should contribute both to deterring them from using nuclear weapons as a way to reverse a limited conventional defeat but also from crossing fundamental American and allied red lines short of employing nuclear weapons. This, of course, rules out the adoption by the United States of a “no first use” pledge, which would be especially inadvisable given the growth of Chinese conventional military power.[9] At the same time, however, U.S. nuclear strategy should seek to avoid unnecessarily or inadvertently triggering a large-scale nuclear war. That is, U.S. nuclear forces should both exercise significant and ideally decisive yet targeted coercive influence but avoid prompting escalation to broader strategic war. U.S. nuclear forces should deter (and, if pressed, coerce) while simultaneously promoting rather than detracting from a fundamental strategic stability — the understanding that U.S. actions are not intended to deny the other side a basic retaliatory capability.[10] Together, this means the United States should want a nuclear strategy, force, and posture focused on the ability and preparedness to use nuclear weapons in discriminate, tailored, and controlled ways. The logic of any such nuclear employment should focus on escalation advantage: to demonstrate Washington’s willingness to escalate to the nuclear level, and to continue escalating if grave provocations continue, but also its readiness to restrain further escalation and ultimately deescalate if the opponent is prepared to comply with reasonable demands. Accordingly, Washington should want a nuclear arsenal that can provide varying options for controlled, graduated forms of nuclear escalation in line with this basic logic that allow for different potential employment strategies (such as tit for tat or intensifying escalation), since the optimal targeting strategy is likely to vary based on the particular contingency. To be most coercively useful, such strikes should be designed to influence (or complement other efforts to influence) the sub-nuclear conflict in ways that shift the burden of escalation further onto the adversary and thus be advantageous to the United States. [quote id="2"] That is, the ideal nuclear employment strategy is one that not only demonstrates political will but also, along with U.S. and allied conventional efforts, affects the sub-strategic battle in ways that make an adversary’s counter- or further escalation less attractive. For instance, the United States would benefit from having nuclear options that could heavily damage a Chinese invasion flotilla designed to assault U.S. allies in the Western Pacific and that could exercise similar effects against Russian forces attacking or directly supporting an incursion into the Baltics.[11] Such capabilities would enable the United States not only to demonstrate its resolve to cross the nuclear threshold, but also markedly increase the degree of escalation the opponent would have to undertake to remedy the loss and continue the fundamentally offending action (such as the invasion of a U.S. ally in the Western Pacific or in Eastern Europe). This role would be especially important if the United States lacks plausible conventional options for exercising such an effect, especially without undertaking separate, dramatic forms of escalation (for instance by significantly expanding the scope of the battlefield or hitting new, especially sensitive classes of targets). The U.S. military fielded these types of capabilities during the Cold War but abandoned them in the post-Cold War era. This was defensible in an era of untrammeled U.S. conventional superiority; it is not in one in which the Russians and Chinese may have plausible theories of victory against U.S. allies and important partners. From a targeting perspective, this puts a premium on being able to strike at differing sorts of targets depending on the stage of escalation — to be able to strike effectively at what the opponent values but also to communicate at stages of escalation short of general war a meaningful degree of restraint. Accordingly, nuclear weapons that could significantly damage or impair such targets, but with lessened collateral damage, would be particularly attractive. Such weapons that would be especially useful in this context might include those with a lower yield, those that could be employed in ways that would create less radioactivity, and those that would travel on trajectories and from platforms that would be less likely to generate an opponent’s fear that they were part of or precursor to a general or attempted disarming attack. Furthermore, this nuclear strategy puts a high value on an exquisite, responsive, resilient, and supremely capable nuclear command, control, and communications (NC3) architecture.[12] At the same time, limited use would not substitute for the ability to conduct large-scale and general nuclear strikes. Rather, the effectiveness of discriminate options would in fact depend upon their connection to that possibility. Consequently, the United States would need to retain the capacity to destroy Russia and China’s most valued targets, including their industrial bases and national leadership in their protected redoubts. While attacks on leadership should, as a general principle, be withheld until the very last stages of escalation, it is crucial for the United States to be able to destroy an opponent no matter where he goes, especially at the end of a chain of deliberate escalation when an adversary has had the opportunity to hide and defend himself. Accordingly, the United States needs capabilities to assuredly — and, ideally, promptly and with reduced collateral damage — destroy even targets in hardened and deeply buried facilities. It is vital to underline that this is critical for retaliatory strikes — and thus for stability — and far less, actually, for more aggressive nuclear strategies, which can aspire to decapitating enemy leaderships before they have a chance to seek safety or concealment. Notably, this nuclear strategy does not emphasize or rely on the ability to attack an enemy’s strategic nuclear forces or command-and-control. While it does not exclude the potential value of having options to degrade an opponent’s strategic arsenal or command-and-control ability (for instance, to make an opponent’s counter-escalation options less attractive), it generally counsels restraint regarding pursuit of strategic counterforce capabilities, let alone their employment, particularly in light of the countering responses such pursuit is likely to engender. Communication with the adversary before and during a conflict is crucial to the effectiveness of such a strategy, since ultimately it is predicated on persuading — indeed, coercing — an adversary to agree to end a war on terms acceptable (and ideally favorable) to the United States without triggering escalation to a level of war beyond what anyone would want. Accordingly, Russia and China need to understand the logic of U.S. nuclear strategy. It is not about denying their retaliatory capability nor confined to large-scale options. Rather, it is about demonstrating to them in the most painful terms that the United States has the resolve and the ability to impose progressively greater — and ultimately the greatest — damage and risk on them if they transgress core American and allied interests, and that it has the capabilities to make such a strategy plausibly implementable on bases that will play to American, rather than their, advantages. U.S. declaratory policy should reflect this. Ambiguity about the precise conditions under which the United States would employ nuclear weapons and how it would do so are advisable for familiar reasons, but greater clarity about and emphasis on the options the United States possesses and will possess to pursue the strategy laid out here would be helpful. This may involve less changes in the wording of formal statements than shifts in how the United States exercises its forces, for instance, by building in contingencies involving deliberate escalation, and allowing the circulation of reports of such exercises.

V.

The basic point is to make clear to Moscow and Beijing that Washington is prepared to respond to dramatic escalation on their part with plausibly implementable strategies of its own. This is especially important because the stakes over cognizable contingencies today are lower than they were during the Cold War (primarily because neither China nor Russia poses the kind of totalistic threat that many viewed the Soviet Union as representing). More apocalyptic strategies are more credible when defeat itself would seem apocalyptic, as it did to many during the Cold War. When limited defeat over peripheral interests would not appear to constitute such a catastrophe, more credible strategies are needed. The 2018 Nuclear Posture Review represented an important and commendable starting point in this direction, especially with its decision to develop a low-yield warhead for U.S. submarine-launched ballistic missiles, but the U.S. military will need to go further. [quote id="3"] The premise for all this is that limited nuclear war is possible. Crossing the nuclear threshold would be staggeringly dangerous, as things always might get completely out of control, leading to an apocalyptic exchange. But this is not the same as saying that such escalation to total war would necessarily happen. This is fundamentally for two reasons: because combatants under the nuclear shadow would always have the strongest possible incentive to avoid triggering the apocalypse, since doing so would almost certainly result in their own destruction, but, at the same time, advantage at the nuclear level (the highest imaginable) would be dominating. Thus the side willing and able to escalate to the nuclear level and come out ahead would have a commanding edge. Accordingly, even as the United States should seek to minimize the degree to which it relies on nuclear weapons in its defense strategy — for both strategic and moral reasons — its defense strategy must nonetheless reckon with the reality that limited nuclear war is possible and, unless anticipated and provided for, could well be an attractive and even rational course of action for opportunistic or motivated opponents. In closing, it is worth emphasizing what the logic of this strategy would be. The United States is wisely committed to sustaining its grand strategy of alliances in key regions of the world, a strategy that is most conducive to preserving an enduringly favorable balance of power and thus international order for Americans. This is a fundamentally conservative approach, one that seeks to defend what is established rather than transform the world or upend regional orders. This requires a defense strategy and posture that will deter a rising and increasingly assertive China and an alienated and more capable Russia. That, in turn, requires that Beijing and Moscow believe the United States might realistically put its strategy into effect despite the attendant risks and the relatively lower stakes compared with those at issue in the Cold War. In a situation of substantial mutual vulnerability over stakes that are important but not truly central to the United States, the best strategy to serve U.S. political ends is one focused on advantageously managing escalation in a way that seeks to keep or shift the burden of dramatic escalation onto Moscow or Beijing. This is highly suited to a strategy focused on defense rather than expansion or transformation, and thus is the best way to achieve the goal Hans Morgenthau set out for a wise foreign policy, that “the task of armed diplomacy [should be] to convince the nations concerned that their legitimate interests have nothing to fear from a restrictive and rational foreign policy and that their illegitimate interests have nothing to gain in the face of armed might rationally employed.”[13]   Elbridge Colby is director of the Defense Program at the Center for a New American Security. He was deputy assistant secretary of defense for strategy and force development from 2017 to 2018.     Image: Ministry of Digital Development, Communications and Mass Media of the Russian Federation [post_title] => Against the Great Powers: Reflections on Balancing Nuclear and Conventional Power [post_excerpt] => [post_status] => publish [comment_status] => open [ping_status] => closed [post_password] => [post_name] => against-the-great-powers-reflections-on-balancing-nuclear-and-conventional-power [to_ping] => [pinged] => [post_modified] => 2019-01-16 03:36:19 [post_modified_gmt] => 2019-01-16 08:36:19 [post_content_filtered] => [post_parent] => 0 [guid] => http://tnsr.org/?p=780 [menu_order] => 0 [post_type] => post [post_mime_type] => [comment_count] => 0 [filter] => raw ) ) [1] => Array ( [post] => WP_Post Object ( [ID] => 769 [post_author] => 224 [post_date] => 2018-11-14 05:00:03 [post_date_gmt] => 2018-11-14 10:00:03 [post_content] => After a post-Cold War interlude, arms control among the great powers is once again in vogue. Foreign policy debates increasingly turn on considerations of arms control: whether to scrap the Intermediate-Range Nuclear Forces Treaty (INF), whether to continue the Strategic Arms Reduction Treaty (START) process, whether to include China in negotiations to limit armaments, and how to minimize the expansion of North Korea’s nuclear arsenal. Unfortunately, these debates are riven by differing assumptions concerning the ultimate purpose of arms-control efforts. For example: Should the United States take preventive military action to limit North Korea’s nuclear capability? Should it instead seek mutual strategic stability with a newly nuclear North Korea? Or should the United States redouble its efforts to eliminate all nuclear weapons, everywhere?[1] Proponents of each course of action can credibly lay claim to the mantle of “arms control.” But which is correct? How would we know good arms control if we saw it? Robert Jervis observed, “If the main objective of arms control is to make war less likely, then any theory of arms control must rest on a theory of the causes of war.”[2] Why wars occur is a vast topic, however, and scholars remain divided over the causes of armed conflict.[3] This division among scholars is reflected in the competing concepts of how arms limitation among great powers can reduce the chances of war. In this essay, I examine three key explanations for the cause of war — influence groups, weapons, and actors — and demonstrate how each leads toward a different approach to arms control: disarmament, stability, and advantage, respectively. I will show that absent a solid consensus on the purpose of arms control, historically successful arms-limitation agreements have managed to serve multiple purposes. My essay concludes with a brief account of the Anti-Ballistic Missile (ABM) Treaty: specifically, how its creators and supporters managed to advance the purposes of disarmament, stability, and advantage simultaneously over the lifetime of the treaty. Recognizing the multiple motives that arms-control negotiations aim to serve is vital to understanding arms control’s impact on international security, for at least three reasons. First, scholars and commentators often cite the existence of arms-control negotiations as evidence that states are proceeding on a more cooperative path.[4] Yet the pursuit of arms control is not always a cooperative exercise. States often employ arms-control negotiations as vehicles for advancing their own competitive agendas, all in the name of peace. Treating arms control as purely cooperative risks misunderstanding its impact on international politics. Second, given the paucity of documentary resources from key actors such as the Soviet Union, historians struggle to evaluate the success or failure of particular arms-control negotiations. Understanding the theoretical debates surrounding the purpose of arms control can provide new criteria for understanding whether an arms-control regime succeeded. Third, a historical reconstruction of the multiple meanings of arms control can help to clarify the importance of time as a variable in such arrangements — in particular, how different arms-control rationales may rely on different time horizons and how the purpose of a single agreement may change over time. The manipulation of differing timelines provides opportunities for building consensus on arms control between radically different policy agendas, with some arms controllers receiving benefits in the short term and others over the longer term. U.S. policymakers considering the future of arms control would do well to consider how previous administrations built their complex arms-control policies. The study of arms control has produced a vast literature, but surprisingly little has examined the specific mechanisms whereby great powers can reduce the chances of war. As a result, scholars and experts often talk past each other — rather than to each other — in arms-control debates. Much of the existing literature describes the goals of arms control in generic terms such as “peace,” “stability,” or “security,” with little emphasis on how limiting specific weapons systems contributes to these hazily defined concepts.[5] Other works insist that there is a single war-preventing logic of arms control, usually downplaying or ignoring other possible motives.[6] Future research on arms control could benefit by placing these differing perspectives in dialogue with each other to foster an understanding of how, exactly, arms control can reduce the chances of war.

Explanations for War and Arms Control

Analysts and advocates of arms control fall into three broad categories, depending on which explanation of the cause of war they embrace. The first category includes those who believe that war is caused by influence groups, especially the military-industrial complex, and the various structures of thought and culture promoted by those groups. The second category involves those who believe that war is caused by certain kinds of weapons, especially weapons that promote first-strike advantages or create conditions of offense-dominance. The third category consists of individuals who believe that war is caused by certain kinds of actors, countries that are especially aggressive, ideological, or revisionist. Each of these explanations for what causes war leads to a different understanding of the purpose of arms control. For those who believe that influence groups create war, the proper purpose of arms control is disarmament: reducing the overall level of weapons and dismantling the organizations and cultures that produce them. For those who believe that dangerous weapons cause war, the purpose of arms control is stability, or limiting especially dangerous offense-dominant weapons while bolstering deterrence by allowing the procurement of defense-dominant weapons. For those who believe that pernicious actors cause war, the purpose of arms control is advantage: preventing dangerous countries from acquiring weapons technologies while preserving a favorable balance of power for trustworthy, status quo countries. Determining which of these three approaches to arms control best prevents conflict is difficult given the lack of consensus on the causes of war. Influence Groups and Disarmament One prevalent explanation for the cause of war is the impact that war-promoting influence groups, often described as the “military-industrial complex,”[7] have on governments. Critics of the military-industrial complex have identified several mechanisms whereby pro-war interest groups create the conditions for war to occur. First, critics claim that the drive for profits causes the military-industrial complex to lobby politicians directly for confrontational policies, which justify purchasing more weapons and also make war more likely.[8] Second, critics claim that the activities of the military-industrial complex shape the thinking of elite decision-makers, normalizing violence and creating the psychological and emotional space for extreme anti-social behavior — like war — to occur.[9] Third, critics argue that the military-industrial complex promotes structures of class, race, and gender that influence broader attitudes toward violence, providing rationales for conflict that leaders and citizens alike deploy to justify war.[10] Both directly and indirectly, military-industrial interest groups explain why governments and societies wage war rather than seek peaceful solutions. For those who argue that war is the result of pro-war interest groups, the primary purpose of arms control is disarmament. While arms-control agreements often reduce the number of weapons available to states, proponents of disarmament argue that the more important function of such agreements is to tame adverse military-industrial complexes and to dismantle old attitudes and cultures of war.[11] In addition to achieving anti-militarist objectives, the promotion of disarmament agreements provides opportunities to create new coalitions in favor of international and social justice while also freeing resources from wasteful military competition to pursue these peaceful agendas.[12] By contributing to the dismantlement of militarist interest groups, arms-control agreements can advance the cause of peace. Historically, disarmament has been an influential determinant of arms-limitation policies in great-power countries, especially through its widespread public appeal. The international disarmament movement can trace its roots to various reform efforts of the late 19th century.[13] Pro-disarmament organizations were especially active during the interwar period, and their aspirations were first given significant form through the League of Nations’ efforts at international disarmament.[14] After World War II, international disarmament efforts refocused on eliminating nuclear weapons, with major waves of anti-nuclear protests in the 1950s and 1980s.[15] The second wave of nuclear disarmament advocacy found willing partners in Ronald Reagan and Mikhail Gorbachev, who saw the elimination of nuclear weapons as a long-term objective.[16] More recently, nuclear disarmament has regained strength via the “Global Zero” movement.[17] Disarmament has thus been an important goal of great powers’ arms limitation throughout the modern period. Proponents of disarmament arms control often take a long-term view of the purpose of arms control, recognizing that dismantling militarist influence groups and redirecting resources toward pursuing social justice will take time.[18] As a result, despite their expansive explanation of the cause of war, proponents of disarmament often support more limited arms-control measures, as long as those measures can be understood as part of a progressive program for dismantling weapons and militarist interest groups more generally.[19] For example, the 1987 INF Treaty is often praised by advocates of disarmament for its “elimination of an entire category of weapons systems,” even though the treaty limits only land-based missiles of ranges between 500 and 5,500 kilometers, and for only two countries at that.[20] Whatever the treaty’s perceived shortcomings, many disarmament advocates see the INF as a good first step toward the more comprehensive elimination of nuclear weapons. [quote id="1"] Although it rests on a coherent explanation of the cause of war, arms control with the goal of disarmament has its critics. Many proponents of arms control for the purpose of strategic stability and advantage argue that seeking disarmament may make war more likely if the effort dismantles the military capabilities necessary for deterrence.[21] Others question whether martial interest groups really drive international conflict or whether military-industrial complexes instead emerge as a response to preexisting political differences among states,[22] in which case finding a solution to existing political differences would have to precede disarmament.[23] The empirical record on the successes of disarmament is mixed. On the one hand, significant disarmament negotiations in the interwar period failed to prevent the outbreak of World War II, while the “long peace” of the Cold War was marked by high armaments on all sides.[24] On the other hand, proponents of disarmament can credibly argue that disarmament negotiations in the interwar period never went far enough to impede militarism and an arms race and that the nuclear disarmament movement played an important role in regulating and ultimately ending the U.S.-Soviet rivalry during the Cold War.[25] Proponents of disarmament argue that facing such a mixed empirical record, and mindful of the horrible consequences should deterrence fail, the safest path forward is for states to dismantle their weapons and tame hawkish interest groups.[26] Weapons and Stability A second prevalent theory of what causes war relates to the nature of weapons technologies and, especially, their impact on the offense-defense balance. This explanation for war begins with the structural condition of anarchy, in which states procure weapons for security and bargaining purposes.[27] Among the available weapons, some are useful primarily for defensive purposes and others are more useful for offensive purposes. The distribution and balance of these competing types of weapons can have a profound impact on the likelihood of war. In cases where the balance favors the defense, attacking a neighbor is expensive and difficult, thus strengthening deterrence and making states less likely to fight each other. In cases where the balance favors the offense, however, attacking a neighbor appears less costly, which in turn weakens deterrence and makes states more likely to fight each other.[28] An offense-dominant military balance can generate crisis instability, where the significant advantage of striking first can push states to escalate conflicts quickly in order to avoid the disadvantages of being attacked.[29] Relations between states in offense-dominant environments are also more likely to be poisoned by “security dilemmas,” in which states procuring offensive weapons for self-defense undermine the security of their neighbors, triggering arms races that ultimately undermine the security of both parties.[30] For these reasons, offense-defense theorists maintain that the balance of offense-defense capabilities determines the likelihood of war. For those who worry that the technological balance between offensive and defensive weapons is a primary driver of war, the proper purpose for arms control is stability, or promoting a defense-dominant international environment. By prohibiting or limiting the deployment of offensive weapons while allowing the deployment of defensive ones, arms control can shape the offense-defense balance, strengthen crisis stability, ameliorate security dilemmas, strengthen deterrence, and ultimately prevent war.[31] In the nuclear era, defense dominance has become closely associated with the strategy of mutually assured destruction, in which (paradoxically) “defensive” forces are aimed primarily at the destruction of the adversary’s country, maintaining deterrence by rendering any meaningful victory in war impossible. By making offensive war impossible, nuclear deterrence effectively privileges the defender, even if no material defense is possible.[32] Capabilities that might undermine mutual vulnerability by threatening an adversary’s nuclear forces directly — whether accurate, fast-striking offensive missiles or effective missile defense systems — are deemed to be “offensive” or “destabilizing,” because the “use them or lose them” dilemma they create generates strong incentives to shoot first in a crisis.[33] Stability arms control thus contributes to the cause of peace by limiting those weapons that might undermine the defense-dominance of great-power politics. Historically, stability has been an important objective of many great powers’ arms-limitation agreements. Some negotiations in the interwar period sought to tailor offensive and defensive forces to establish a more secure balance of power. For example, the 1922 Washington Naval Treaty placed limits on both battleship numbers and fortified bases in order to create a defense-dominant environment in the Pacific.[34] Before its disbandment, the World Disarmament Conference of the League of Nations also placed a high priority on limiting offensive arms.[35] The formal logic of stability took off in the 1950s with the proliferation of nuclear weapons and ballistic missile technology. Classical arms-control theorists including Thomas Schelling, Morton Halperin, and Hedley Bull argued that arms-control negotiations could construct a stable balance of terror between the superpowers.[36] In this view, deterrence could be reinforced by restricting access to damage-limiting capabilities, like large and accurate intercontinental ballistic missiles (ICBMs) and ABM defenses.[37] By reducing incentives to limit damage through preemptive attack, this approach to arms control would disincentivize countries from engaging in intentional war while also reducing the danger of accidental escalation in a crisis.[38] By the late 1960s, stability had become entrenched as one of the most important objectives of superpower arms control, with widespread condemnation — among experts and the public — of anti-ballistic-missile systems as well as large and accurate ICBM deployments.[39] Crisis and arms-race stability remain a touchstone for contemporary debates on arms-control policy.[40] Unlike disarmament, the policy prescriptions of stability arms control prefer immediate and permanent solutions to pressing military-technical problems. This is because most proponents of stability arms control locate the problem to be solved in the specific technical characteristics of the weapons and their interaction with other weapons systems. For example, large surface-based ballistic missiles are inherently destabilizing because they can be effectively targeted and destroyed by other large surface-based ballistic missiles. By comparison, the technical capabilities of ballistic-missile submarines, and their relative invulnerability to other weapons, render them stabilizing, rather than destabilizing.[41] As a result, proponents of stability arms control tend to see arms-control agreements as fixed commitments to limit inherently dangerous weapons, whose revision or abrogation would, in their view, be a mistake.[42] To the extent that change occurs, it is primarily driven by the introduction of new, perhaps even more destabilizing, technologies.[43] Advocates of stability arms control also tend to be skeptical of partial measures, which they view as missed opportunities to control the entire military-technical problem.[44] This approach’s focus on producing self-contained, mutually beneficial, and timeless arms-control agreements is distinct from both disarmament and advantage arms control, which often consider individual agreements as components of larger programs to promote peace. As with disarmament, stability arms control is not without its critics. First, a number of scholars have criticized the central claims of offense-defense theory, arguing that weapons cannot be readily divided into “stabilizing” and “destabilizing” camps, that it is too difficult for states to determine whether an adversary’s deployments are stabilizing or destabilizing, or that states do not evaluate weapons types in crafting their foreign policy.[45] Absent the ability to classify weapons as stabilizing or destabilizing, it is difficult to imagine how states could reduce the chances of war by limiting destabilizing weapons. Second, proponents of the nuclear revolution thesis question whether the advent of nuclear weapons has rendered the military balance largely superfluous, creating instead a relatively stable realm of nuclear peace between the great powers. If nuclear weapons automatically eliminate the possibility of war, then negotiations to tailor the specific makeup of armaments may not matter much in reducing the chances of war.[46] Finally, deterrence skeptics call into question whether armed forces, especially nuclear forces, are really an effective tool for preventing war. If even “stabilizing” weapons cannot prevent war, then perhaps broader disarmament is preferable to cooperative tinkering of armed forces.[47] As with disarmament, the empirical record remains ambiguous, with scholars deeply divided over whether the offense-defense balance has driven great powers to war and whether effective engineering of the offense-defense balance through arms control has made the world a safer place.[48] Actors and Advantage A third common explanation for how wars start suggests that some actors are simply more prone to war than others. Scholars have advanced several reasons for why some states may be more likely to cause war. First, some states may be ideologically or culturally predisposed toward war. Nazi Germany is the most obvious and grotesque example,[49] but during the Cold War scholars criticized the United States and the Soviet Union as ideologically driven and especially war-prone.[50] Second, some states may be institutionally predisposed toward war, particularly if their leaders find international military disputes useful for distracting from domestic difficulties.[51] Since the Cold War ended, much attention has been given to “rogue states,” whose rejection of liberal internationalism and unstable domestic politics are said to pose a significant threat to world peace.[52] Third, the anarchic structure of international politics may drive some states to grow more aggressive over time. Scholars of power-transition theory maintain that war becomes more likely as newly rising great powers seek to revise the distribution of goods in their favor, while hegemons attempt to preempt the emergence of new rivals.[53] Under any of these conditions, peace may depend primarily on the ability of relatively peaceful status quo states to maintain a preponderance of military power, to deter aggressive adversaries from attacking.[54] If some states are particularly prone to war, and international peace depends primarily on arraying sufficient forces to deter them, then arms control can contribute to peace primarily through promoting the military advantage of status quo powers. To accomplish this goal, states can structure arms-control agreements to place stricter limits on their adversaries than on themselves, or they can seek to construct symmetrical arms-control regimes that limit weapons technologies more advantageous to their adversaries.[55] Although it is tempting to write off advantage arms control as a cynical ploy, it rests on a clear logic of preventing war: Limiting particularly dangerous actors’ access to advanced weapons technology can strengthen deterrence by reinforcing the military advantages of the status quo powers. [quote id="2"] Historically, advantage has been a chief objective of many arms-limitation arrangements. Early efforts to leverage arms control for advantage occurred at the conclusion of major wars, including Sparta’s destruction of Athens’s walls and navy, Rome’s disarmament of Carthage after the Punic Wars, and the limitations on German military power in the Treaty of Versailles.[56] Interwar naval arms control was also heavily influenced by calculations of relative military and industrial advantage, especially the United States and Great Britain’s imposition of a 10-to-six ratio in naval strength regarding Japan.[57] Although all of the signatories of interwar naval arms limitation agreements pursued advantage within the formal negotiated limits, the Germans and Japanese also sought advantage by cheating on their arms-control commitments.[58] During the Cold War, a number of U.S. political scientists, including Donald Brennan, William Kintner, and Robert Pfaltzgraff, developed more formal arguments concerning how the United States might employ arms control to limit Soviet military advantage, though these ideas never received the same level of attention as those of stability arms-control advocates like Schelling, Halperin, and Bull.[59] Although proponents of advantage arms control had limited impact on the emerging field of political science, their ideas had a stronger influence over U.S. arms-control policy: U.S. leaders privately evaluated arms-control proposals on the basis of the relative advantages they afforded to the United States and the Soviet Union.[60] Furthermore, although the evidence on Soviet motives is limited and mixed, there is also reason to believe that the Soviet leadership continued to seek some margin of nuclear superiority over the United States in arms-control negotiations.[61] To date, much of the discussion concerning arms-limitation negotiations with North Korea centers on the importance of denying its unstable regime the military advantages of possessing nuclear weapons or long-range missiles.[62] Like disarmament, and unlike stability, advantage arms control views the value of individual arms-control agreements through the prism of their contribution to a larger peace-promoting agenda: in this case, promoting the military advantage of status quo powers over war-prone revisionist powers. While stability arms control characterizes specific weapons technologies as inherently stabilizing or destabilizing, advantage arms control proceeds by emphasizing the role of various weapons technologies within the structure of long-term competition. For advocates of advantage arms control, agreements may dictate the pace of arms competition, allowing status quo states to put off competition until more favorable circumstances arise. They may push competition into environments more conducive to status quo states, for example by forcing revisionist land powers to compete primarily at sea, or vice versa. They may also shape competition to promote the relative military-technical advantages of status quo states, for example, by shifting competition from quantitative arms racing to qualitative arms racing.[63] Because the mix of political, military, economic, and cultural factors driving long-term competition changes over time, proponents of advantage arms control tend to see arms-limitation agreements as temporary tools whose utility may expire as the larger structure of competition changes. Unlike disarmament arms controllers, advantage arms controllers do not necessarily see arms-control agreements as progressive building blocks toward a larger, peaceful goal. Rather, many advocates of advantage arms control view long-term competition as a normal part of great-power relations in which states compete for marginal military advantages over time. Arms-control agreements are seen as instrumental in shaping this competition, to be concluded and discarded as convenient.[64] Peace is a product of this competitive interaction rather than an end result of a transformative process. While it is difficult to imagine a state concluding an agreement that places it at a disadvantage, scholars studying competitive arms control have suggested a number of scenarios under which advantage arms limitation might occur. First, a state seeking stability might be tricked into an arms-control agreement that undermines its relative security. Cold War theorists of competitive arms control were constantly concerned that the Soviet Union might trick the United States into such an agreement.[65] Second, a leader in a weak political position might agree to a disadvantageous arms-control agreement in order to secure the domestic political benefits of the agreement. Some observers have viewed Gorbachev’s dramatic arms-control concessions in this light.[66] Third, adversaries might conclude an arms-control agreement that promotes different relative advantages for each side. For example, while the 1922 Washington Naval Treaty codified a 10-to-six U.S. advantage in battleship tonnage over Japan, the U.S. agreement not to fortify its bases in the Western Pacific provided Japan with a substantial advantage in Northeast Asia.[67] Finally, adversaries might have different calculations about the long-term implications of an arms-control agreement, with each side seeking to advance its own competitive advantage.[68] The practice of negotiating limitations on complex weapons systems opens up possibilities for creative misunderstandings, generating opportunities for states to seek advantage through arms control.[69] Like both disarmament and stability, the basic assumptions underlying arms control for advantage have been subject to ample criticism. First, many scholars question whether factors such as regime type, ideological orientation, or power transition theory adequately explain the outbreak of war.[70] Even among those who accept that these factors might explain why wars begin, debates rage over which regimes, ideologies, or positions are most prone to war.[71] Second, analysts remain uncertain over how much relative advantage in military capabilities actually improves deterrence when compared with other factors such as the relative interests or resolve of the adversaries involved, or their ability to communicate those interests and resolve to each other.[72] This is especially the case where nuclear weapons are involved: Some scholars argue that even a small nuclear arsenal makes deterrence easy, rendering the balance of capabilities largely superfluous, while others maintain that even marginal advantages in the relative nuclear balance can have outsize effects on the success or failure of deterrence.[73] Third, critics maintain that arms-control negotiations are ineffective in modifying the balance of military capabilities, and instead simply ratify the preexisting balance.[74] In the face of this criticism, it is difficult to determine whether arms control for advantage really makes war less likely. Jervis’ admonition that one’s theory of arms control ought to emerge from one’s theory of war thus presents a serious problem. The multiple, competing explanations for war call for multiple, competing approaches to arms control. The theoretical bases of these competing explanations for war are diverse, focusing on different causal mechanisms and generating very different policy prescriptions. Indeed, these competing approaches to arms control rest on such different theoretical foundations that proponents of each often downplay or even ignore the existence of the others. Yet given the diversity of explanations for war, each approach can credibly claim the mantle of “arms control,” and none can be easily rejected as obviously false. This cacophony of arms-control purposes creates serious challenges for policymakers.

Purpose and Policy: The ABM Treaty, 1972–2001

While scholars may agree to disagree about arms control, political leaders can enjoy no such luxury. In order to conduct effective negotiations, a government must develop an arms-control policy to guide its negotiators. Absent a clear and uncontested understanding of the purpose of arms control, how can such a policy be constructed? In theory, one might expect a government to select from the approaches outlined above and to pursue it as the primary objective of negotiations. In practice, however, leaders often produce arms-control policy that seeks to compromise among the competing goals. This sort of compromise allows leaders to build the domestic coalitions necessary to prevail in the “two-level game” of arms control, where leaders must conclude international and domestic bargains at the same time.[75] It also allows leaders to hedge their bets between competing theories. Analyses assuming a single, obvious rationale for arms control have generally viewed these sorts of compromises as a dilution of true purpose.[76] Once one accepts that arms control can have multiple purposes, however, it becomes easier to appreciate that these compromises serve as the building blocks of success. A key example is the 1972 ABM Treaty, a single agreement that ultimately came to embody the hopes and fears of all three approaches to arms control — disarmament, stability, and advantage. The idea of a treaty to limit anti-ballistic missiles originated in the Johnson administration in the mid-1960s. Already facing the double challenge of waging the Vietnam War while advancing the Great Society program, President Lyndon Johnson was eager to avoid an ABM arms race with the Soviets, which threatened to be both costly and politically unpopular. Johnson also feared that conservatives would punish him politically if he unilaterally limited America’s ABM deployments. So, Johnson and Defense Secretary Robert McNamara sought to negotiate a bilateral agreement with the Soviet Union limiting these missiles, an approach that would avert the costs of their deployment while also bolstering the U.S. strategy of assured destruction, which sought to convince the Soviets of the futility of further arms racing.[77] The Soviets initially rebuffed Johnson’s proposal for arms limitation but ultimately agreed to talks. Soviet willingness to begin Strategic Arms Limitation Talks (SALT) came too late for Johnson, who, by 1968, was already on his way out of office.[78] Unlike Johnson, incoming President Richard Nixon remained committed to deploying some kind of ABM system. Nixon had wooed conservative voters in 1968 with promises of restoring America’s strategic superiority over the Soviet Union, including some form of ABM deployment.[79] Moreover, Nixon appointed a cadre of competitive arms controllers to the Defense Department and National Security Council staff who saw ABM technology as a crucial area of U.S. advantage that should be fully exploited. Defense Secretary Melvin Laird and Deputy Defense Secretary David Packard believed that U.S. advantages in precision manufacturing, advanced electronics, and digital computing would ultimately allow the United States to deploy an ABM system far superior to anything that the Soviets could produce.[80] In March 1969, Laird proposed that the United States deploy an ABM system known as “Safeguard” — which included a dozen major ABM sites across the United States — that was capable of providing a limited defense of U.S. cities and strategic forces from a Chinese or Soviet attack.[81] In addition to its own merits, many within the defense establishment saw Safeguard as a first step toward an even more capable ABM system.[82] From the beginning, conservatives in the Nixon administration were determined to use ABM technology to promote U.S. military advantage over the Soviet Union. For Nixon, the test would be finding ways to exploit those advantages while also bolstering strategic stability. The Nixon administration blended arms-control purposes for multiple reasons. The first and most obvious was that policymakers were unsure as to which logic was best or whether some combination of them might be preferable. For example, in approaching SALT, National Security Adviser Henry Kissinger was of two minds. In a May 1969 memo to Nixon on SALT options, Kissinger outlined the major U.S. objective in arms-limitation negotiations with the Soviet Union as such: “An agreement could freeze or codify strategic relationships in a manner which preserves ‘equality’ at worst and a U.S. edge at best.” Kissinger sought an agreement that would broadly stabilize the arms race while allowing for U.S. advantages on the margins, the better to strengthen “an American President’s resolve in a crisis.”[83] In doing so, Kissinger personally combined both the stability and advantage approaches to arms control. [quote id="3"] Arms-control purposes are further blended through the domestic policy process as officials with differing preferences build coalitions to support their own views and compromise with other coalitions to produce policy. On the issue of anti-ballistic missiles, Nixon could not do as he pleased because his government was deeply divided over the merits of ABMs. While proponents in the Defense Department and White House insisted on moving forward with ABM deployments, opponents in the State Department and the Arms Control and Disarmament Agency, including Secretary of State William Rogers and agency Director Gerard Smith, insisted that any ABM deployment would undermine the strategic equilibrium with the Soviet Union. Rogers and Smith instead promoted a stability approach to arms control, arguing that the United States should seek an agreement with the Soviets to ban ABMs as soon as possible.[84] The conflict between advocates of advantage arms control in the Defense Department and proponents of stability arms control at the Arms Control and Disarmament Agency would define the Nixon administration’s approach to SALT.[85] The division between proponents and opponents of ABMs initially led the Nixon administration to an impasse regarding SALT. Proponents of advantage arms control, like Laird, Packard, and Chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff Earle Wheeler, argued that any SALT agreement would need to allow the full 12-site Safeguard deployment. Meanwhile, stability arms controllers, including Smith and Rogers, called for an immediate freeze on all ABM construction.[86] Internal debates about the wisdom of ABM deployment quickly spilled into public view as congressional opponents of the missiles organized to block the first phase of Safeguard’s deployment. Constant leaking from the administration, as well as awkward public controversies between government officials, repeatedly undermined Safeguard’s chances.[87] After a bruising congressional battle, funding for the first phase of Safeguard squeaked through the U.S. Senate in August 1969 on a 50-50 split, with Vice President Spiro Agnew casting the tie-breaking vote.[88] Challenged by Congress and unable to control his subordinates, Nixon’s strategic arms policy was off to an inauspicious start. Congressional opposition to Safeguard shaped the U.S. position on SALT. By the fall of 1969, the intensity of congressional opposition convinced advantage arms controllers like Laird and Packard that the United States would not be able to deploy the full 12-site Safeguard system in the near future. Not coincidentally, they began to promote a much more stringent ABM agreement that would, in effect, confine the Soviets to the level of ABM deployment that the U.S. Congress would allow — the two ABM sites authorized in the first phase of Safeguard.[89] The Defense Department’s shifting priorities lined up with the State Department and the Arms Control and Disarmament Agency’s continued advocacy of a zero- or low-level ABM agreement.[90] As a result, the initial U.S. proposals on SALT in April 1970 sought to limit ABMs to very low levels, with only one or two bases allowed per side.[91] The Soviets immediately accepted, in principle, the idea of maintaining low-level ABM deployments, setting the basic terms for the ABM Treaty that would be concluded in Moscow two years later.[92] The ABM “compromise” in the Nixon administration was itself the result of some creative misunderstanding between advocates of advantage and stability arms control. While Smith and Rogers saw the ABM limitations as preventing widespread proliferation of a destabilizing weapons technology, Laird and Packard saw these limitations as necessary to prevent unlimited Soviet deployments, which, for political reasons, the United States would not be able to match. We know that advocates of advantage arms control in the Defense Department continued to see ABM technology as an area of relative U.S. advantage because they continually attempted to push the envelope on ABM deployments. Although by late 1969 Laird and Packard had despaired of further ABM deployments by the United States, at least in the short term, Senate debate in the summer of 1970 suggested that Congress might fund a more extensive ABM deployment if it were limited to defending ICBM fields in the Midwest. This, in turn, rekindled Laird and Packard’s interest.[93] The realization that Congress might fund more than two ABM sites caused Laird and Packard to have serious buyer’s remorse over the April 1970 SALT proposals limiting ABM deployments, which the Soviets had already accepted. In 1971, in the face of deadlock with the Soviets over how to limit offensive forces, the Defense Department began insisting that any SALT agreement provide the United States with a four-to-one advantage in ABM bases, driven by Laird and Packard’s conviction that Congress would eventually fund four ABM sites.[94] The U.S. and Soviet SALT delegations spent the better part of a year wrangling over this new ABM proposal, with the U.S. delegates eventually falling back to two-for-one, while the Soviets continued to insist on the April 1970 proposal for equal bases.[95] By that point, the Defense Department had already moved on from its interest in Safeguard ABM “bases” and was, instead, proposing a new ABM modality in which several short-range interceptors would be co-located with each ICBM silo, resulting in the distributed deployment of thousands of interceptors and hundreds of networked radars. True to form, Laird and Packard pushed for a new ABM arms-control proposal under which the United States would be able to deploy such an expansive ABM system while the Soviets would remain limited to their single ABM facility in Moscow.[96] This was too far even for Nixon, who, along with Kissinger, had concluded that anything other than ABM equality would be non-negotiable with the Soviets.[97] As a result, the ABM Treaty concluded by Nixon and Leonid Brezhnev in May 1972 allowed each side two ABM bases, later reduced to a single base for each.[98] The Defense Department’s efforts to reformulate the ABM negotiations have received little attention from historians because the final agreement dictated an equal number of bases. However, these behind-the-scenes efforts indicate that many within the U.S. government continued to view ABM technology as an area of U.S. relative advantage and sought to use the ABM Treaty as an opportunity for gaining strategic advantage over the Soviets. Even in establishing numerical parity, the 1972 ABM Treaty contained several concessions to proponents of advantage arms control.[99] First and foremost, the United States was allowed to deploy an ABM base, which Laird and Packard hoped would provide the opportunity to gain real experience in operating ABM technology, if only on a small scale.[100] But even this small-scale deployment was not guaranteed: Stability arms controllers had argued on numerous occasions that the United States ought to push the Soviets for a zero-ABM agreement.[101] The crux of the issue was not so much the immediate ABM deployment but, rather, the long-term implications of ABM research and testing. In addition to the perceived wastefulness of ABM deployments, stability arms controllers argued that a zero-ABM agreement would be easier to verify, since it would prohibit not only ABM deployments but also testing of ABM system components, making covert cheating by the Soviets all but impossible.[102] Advantage arms controllers generally agreed that a treaty that allowed limited ABM deployment and testing would be harder to verify but argued that the United States needed to retain its basis for ABM testing to enable possible future deployments.[103] Rather than a simple ban on deployment and testing, the 1972 ABM Treaty allowed testing at specified ranges, with verification enabled by a series of definitions concerning “ABM system components,” including the allowed power-aperture ratio for search radars and the permitted testing configuration of surface-to-air missiles.[104] The complexity and risk involved in this scheme demonstrate the value that advocates of advantage arms control placed on retaining ABM testing facilities — Laird, Packard, and others were willing to run higher risks of Soviet cheating if it meant the United States retained the ability to test and deploy new ABM technologies. In addition to allowing deployment and testing of ABM system components, the ABM Treaty contained two other important concessions to advocates of advantage arms control. First, although the treaty banned testing and deployment of “exotic” ABM technologies, it did not ban research short of testing. As a result, even under the treaty the United States would be able to push the envelope of ABM technology, pursuing new sensors and interceptors considerably more advanced than the Safeguard components of the early 1970s.[105] Second, the ABM Treaty contained explicit withdrawal provisions, providing each party with the right to terminate the treaty should its “supreme interests” be on the line.[106] Stability arms controllers, as well as the Soviet SALT delegates, argued that such language was unnecessary, but advantage arms controllers in the National Security Council staff and Defense Department insisted on its inclusion, creating a backdoor for possible future abrogation.[107] As a result, while stability arms controllers could praise the ABM Treaty for placing limits on a dangerous technology in perpetuity, advantage arms controllers saw the treaty as a temporary measure designed to hold off Soviet deployments while the United States made progress on ABM technology, awaiting a more propitious domestic political environment when full ABM deployment would be possible.[108] The compromise at the heart of the ABM Treaty rested on the different time horizons of the proponents of stability and competitive arms control. Advocates of stability arms control insisted that ballistic missile defenses were, by nature, destabilizing. Their insistence on technology’s unchanging nature meant that their time horizon was short: Because the technology’s meaning was fixed, what was good for the moment was assumed to be good in perpetuity. By comparison, proponents of advantage arms control believed that the meaning of ABM technology might evolve organically as the technology itself matured and as the political context changed. The resulting ABM Treaty succeeded by juggling these differing time horizons: Stability arms controllers received concrete restrictions in the present, while advantage arms controllers satisfied themselves with possibilities for the future. By exploiting the two time horizons of the opposing schools of arms control, Nixon and Kissinger were able to build a historic compromise. Imbued from its creation with multiple purposes, the ABM Treaty did not remain static in meaning but evolved over time. Originally a compromise between the stability and advantage schools of arms control, by the 1980s the ABM Treaty also gained a substantial disarmament logic, as proponents of disarmament embraced the treaty as a tool for reducing nuclear arsenals. Nuclear disarmers argued that the mutual vulnerability enshrined in the ABM Treaty provided the context in which steep cuts to offensive nuclear forces could take place.[109] Much like advantage arms controllers, disarmers came to see the ABM Treaty as an important first step — however flawed — in a much longer contest, allowing them to join advantage and stability arms controllers in supporting the same arms-control regime, albeit for radically different reasons. [quote id="4"] Around the same time, advantage arms controllers began questioning whether the moment had come for the United States to cast off the ABM Treaty and rush ahead in ABM technology. Advantage arms controllers in the Reagan administration tested the treaty’s limits in order to pursue more advanced ABM technology through the Strategic Defense Initiative (SDI), arguing that the text of the ABM Treaty technically allowed the testing of certain “exotic” ABM system components, even if the negotiating record was ambiguous.[110] Debate over SDI between the disarmament, stability, and advantage factions was fierce. Nevertheless, the new “exotic” ABM technologies offered by SDI were insufficiently mature to warrant testing or deployment. When Reagan left office, the ABM Treaty remained in place even as the United States continued to develop new ABM concepts and components.[111] Over time, however, the ABM Treaty’s appeal to advantage arms controllers diminished, much as its initial pro-advantage authors had intended. By the late 1990s, many proponents of advantage arms control believed that new ABM technology had matured to the point where it was ready for serious testing and deployment.[112] At the same time, evolving threats from the smaller missile arsenals of “rogue states” increased the incentive to develop even a small ABM system.[113] These changes in context convinced many conservatives that the period in which the ABM Treaty contributed to U.S. national security had passed. In another example of the U.S. search for advantage in arms control, the Clinton administration initially attempted to modify the ABM Treaty to allow for further U.S. deployments.[114] When Russia proved unwilling to modify the treaty to allow such deployments, the George W. Bush administration announced its intention to withdraw in December 2001, setting off a wave of ABM testing and deployment that continues today.[115] The ABM Treaty’s greatest long-term strength was its ability to encompass multiple arms-control agendas, which gave it significant staying power and even allowed additional rationales to be added to the treaty over time. However, it could not survive the wholesale defection of advantage arms controllers in the 1990s and, as such, was abrogated. Proponents of stability arms control saw leaving the ABM Treaty as a betrayal of its original principles, allowing an inherently dangerous technology back into the world.[116] In some ways, however, abrogation of the ABM Treaty was not a betrayal of its founding principles but, rather, their natural culmination. From the advantage point of view, the treaty had stalled any Soviet or Russian ABM program, allowing continued U.S. progress on ABM technology while waiting for a domestic political circumstance more favorable to deployment. Whether the ABM Treaty was a failure or success depends largely on one’s perspective.

Conclusion

To understand the history or the contemporary practice of arms control, one must recognize that arms-limitation agreements often serve multiple and contradictory purposes. In the quest to prevent war, arms limitation may assist in disarmament, stability, or advantage, each of which is rooted in a plausible explanation for what causes war and each of which can credibly claim the mantle of “arms control.” Absent consensus on which approach is most effective at preventing war, the formation of arms-control policy has been difficult. In practice, policymakers have juggled the differing time horizons of competing arms-control constituencies to produce compromises capable of advancing all three arms-control aims simultaneously, at least for a time. Recognizing the multiple purposes of arms control has critical implications for scholars and policymakers. For scholars, recognizing arms control’s multiple goals is important for expanding an understanding of arms control and international politics more broadly. Arms control is not always a cooperative enterprise: Such agreements have served as vehicles for promoting the relative military advantages of great and minor powers. Studies that treat arms control as a purely cooperative endeavor will inevitably capture only half of the picture. For political scientists, this may involve recoding cases in which the existence of arms-control negotiations is treated ipso facto as evidence of improving cooperation between states rather than a different form of competition.[117] For historians, this will require reconsidering the success or failure of arms-control negotiations in light of their ability to advance multiple agendas rather than a single logic.[118] For both political scientists and historians, the flexibility of what arms control means may pose deeper questions concerning the nature of cooperation and competition in international politics and whether those concepts are mutually exclusive or interrelated. Given the difficulties entailed in producing a unified theory of arms control, scholars would do well to consider lessons from the practical world of statecraft, where theoretical rigor is often less important than political necessity. This is especially the case when arms-control arrangements must be cobbled together out of multiple competing purposes, assembling the parallel coalitions required to prevail in complex two-level negotiations. Under these circumstances, one of the most important resources available to a would-be arms controller is time. Competing interests with different time horizons can be assembled into arms-control compromises in which each side gets what it wants but at different points. Furthermore, initial compromises on the meaning of arms control are open to reinterpretation and revision over time, as arms-control regimes gain new meanings and contexts. Recognizing that arms-control agreements can serve multiple purposes, and that these objectives might change over time, can lead to a better understanding of why some agreements last, why some end, and why those that end break down when they do. The longest-lasting arms-limitation agreements are likely to be those that can continue to embody multiple agendas while also adapting to new contexts. An agreement is unlikely to last when it no longer appears to serve a sufficiently large range of purposes and when leaders become disillusioned with the utility of arms control for achieving their objectives. For policymakers, recognizing the existence of multiple arms-control agendas is both good and bad. The bad news is that understanding the policy implications of existing and notional arms-control agreements is extremely difficult, because agreements often serve several purposes and may have different meanings for different actors. As a result, the State and Defense Departments may have radically different understandings of a given agreement’s purpose, while foreign interlocutors are likely to have views of their own.[119] Balancing these competing views is tremendously difficult, especially in periods of significant international and domestic political confusion and rancor. As in the Cold War, the goal of enacting arms control is likely to remain very challenging. The good news is that significant opportunities exist in the contemporary U.S. political scene for effective coalition building in favor of arms-control proposals, with figures as far apart politically as John Bolton, Bill Clinton, and Derek Johnson all calling for an arms-control solution to the threat posed by North Korea’s nuclear arsenal.[120] There is strong reason to suspect that Bolton, Clinton, and Johnson each prefer an arms-control solution to the North Korean nuclear threat for different reasons.[121] Nonetheless, the fact that three prominent figures with such different views about national security affairs have arrived at a similar policy aim, even in a period of tremendous partisan division, is surely cause for hope. As the example of the ABM Treaty demonstrates, appeals to cooperation and normative leadership are unlikely to be sufficient to advance a successful policy of arms control. Proponents of arms-control solutions would do better to cast a “big tent” on any such policy and seek to justify their prescriptions to multiple constituencies based on multiple logics. In doing so, considerable advantage can be derived by emphasizing that each constituency can receive what it wants, just at different times. Some good work has been done concerning how “progress” on arms-control issues might be organized into timelines,[122] which could provide different benefits to different arms-control constituencies at different times. Such an approach stands a chance of succeeding, even in the face of tremendous division over America’s proper role in the world. The future of arms control, much like its past, will depend on effective compromise between competing purposes.   John D. Maurer is the Henry A. Kissinger Postdoctoral Fellow at International Security Studies (ISS) and the Jackson Institute for Global Affairs at Yale University. His current book project focuses on the Strategic Arms Limitation Talks (SALT) in the Nixon administration, drawing on the Kissinger Papers at Yale to examine how academic ideas on the nature of arms control shaped U.S. arms control policy. His work has appeared in Diplomatic History, the National Interest, and War on the Rocks. He would like to thank Fritz Bartel, Paul Braken, Ian Johnson, Paul Kennedy, Keir Lieber, Nicholas Meyers, Nuno Monteiro, Kathryn Olesko, David Painter, Eric Sand, Evan Wilson, Remco Zwetsloot, the participants in the Yale ISS Colloquium, and the three anonymous readers at Texas National Security Review for their useful feedback on earlier drafts of this article.   Image: Ford Library Museum [post_title] => The Purposes of Arms Control [post_excerpt] => [post_status] => publish [comment_status] => open [ping_status] => closed [post_password] => [post_name] => the-purposes-of-arms-control [to_ping] => [pinged] => [post_modified] => 2018-11-15 11:31:57 [post_modified_gmt] => 2018-11-15 16:31:57 [post_content_filtered] => [post_parent] => 0 [guid] => http://tnsr.org/?p=769 [menu_order] => 0 [post_type] => post [post_mime_type] => [comment_count] => 0 [filter] => raw ) ) [2] => Array ( [post] => WP_Post Object ( [ID] => 763 [post_author] => 223 [post_date] => 2018-11-06 04:00:36 [post_date_gmt] => 2018-11-06 09:00:36 [post_content] =>

Those people — the map people, the logistics people, the intelligence people — have always been accused, by operational commanders, of thinking more than is good for them, but this time they’ve got it right.”

– Alan Furst, Kingdom of Shadows

  In 2018, both the Russian Federation and the North Atlantic Treaty Organization (NATO) conducted their largest military exercises since the end of the Cold War. The role of such maneuvers in the larger geostrategic context has been brought to the fore by these activities and President Donald Trump’s decision, announced at his summit in Singapore with North Korea’s Kim Jong-un, to suspend the U.S.-South Korea Ulchi Freedom Guardian military exercise.[1] Official statements about these military exercises typically stress their specified purpose of improving training, readiness, and interoperability among services and multinational forces.[2] But military exercises also convey powerful geopolitical messages intended to demonstrate how the capabilities on display enhance regional stability, deter aggression, and reinforce foreign policy goals.[3] However, I argue in this essay that they can instead do the opposite, in the sense of the classic security dilemma, as real or potentially adversarial states ratchet up the size and scope of their exercises and push exercise venues into militarily problematic areas. In other words, the risk of geopolitical instability that such exercises imply may not bring a corresponding deterrence reward. This is especially true across the increasingly tense NATO-Russia divide in the wake of the Russian annexation of Crimea in 2014, which is the focus of this paper. The elusive line between deterrence and provoking aggression has been explored in depth in analyses of tabletop war games or simulations in the German kriegsspiel style. The most notable are those conducted by the RAND Corporation involving a hypothetical Russian invasion of the NATO-member Baltic states. The results provided the impetus for a more robust alliance military presence in that region and in Poland.[4] Michael Kofman has discussed at length whether this shift from “reassurance” to “deterrence” makes sense and, importantly, posits that a critical variable in this calculation is the perception of the Russian threat. He also questioned whether “conventional deterrence by denial is possible on NATO’s eastern flank.”[5] Through my experience as an intelligence officer at the tactical and national levels, I became — and remain — acutely aware of the role that the threat, or at least the United States military’s assessment of the threat, plays in both planning and executing military operations. That includes exercises, a number of which I participated in. Later, as an academic researcher in geopolitics, I came to appreciate the influence of what Gerard Toal refers to as “thick geopolitics,” a concept that “strives to describe the geopolitical forces, networks, and interactions that configure places and states.”[6] Combining these two perspectives, in this paper I examine the strategic implications of NATO’s ongoing efforts to extend its reach eastward and, in some cases, northward,[7] by shifting its military exercise venues forward and including non-NATO “partners” in the alliance’s military operations and exercise agenda. The symbolism of these highly visible activities — which precede the Crimean crisis — is difficult to ignore, especially as they contribute to Russia’s geopolitical angst as regards its immediate neighborhood. Certainly, as Toal avers, the many multi-layered influences of location, distance, and place come into play here, especially given that some of these NATO-sponsored and member-state exercises take place along the Russian land frontier or its adjacent maritime zone and airspace. The reverse is also true, as Russia conducts large-scale exercises and other military demonstrations — what Mark Galeotti terms “heavy metal diplomacy”[8] — in that same contact zone. These exercises are viewed as threatening by many NATO states, some of which harbor unhappy memories of when this “thick geopolitical” landscape was dominated by Russia in its imperial or Soviet form.

Military Exercises as Geopolitical Messaging

Military exercises do not take place on tabletops. Instead, warships, troops, aircraft, armored vehicles, and logistical and engineer support units maneuver across land, sea, and airspace overseen by headquarters staffs practicing command, control, and communications. A combination of live firing of weapons; cyber activities; collection, processing, and dissemination of target information and intelligence data; and after-action assessments all make for a complex and demanding undertaking, often at considerable expense and some element of danger to the participants. These exercises also involve considerable fanfare in the host countries and, especially, strong visualization elements. As Roland Bleiker notes, “Images shape international events and our understanding of them.”[9] Certainly, images of warships, tanks, and live firing make for dramatic coverage, especially as they have become more incorporated in and widely disseminated via social media. These messages and images complement official foreign and security policy narratives and those of nongovernmental groups (e.g., think tanks and human rights organizations), and they should be seen as part and parcel of the larger geopolitical discourse. The Exercise Is the Message The annual Foal Eagle joint and combined forces maneuvers,[10] conducted by the United States and the Republic of Korea, are an excellent example of how military exercises can be used to message strategic posture. In addition to the complexity and scope of these maneuvers, conducting them on and around the Korean Peninsula has become a highly contentious element in relations between these two allies and the Democratic People’s Republic of Korea.[11] In its press release announcing the 2017 iteration, the Defense Department stated that Foal Eagle “is designed to increase readiness to defend South Korea, to protect the region, and to maintain stability on the Korean Peninsula.”[12] This is the template for the manner in which militaries typically describe their exercises and signal their import. And that language is understood to mean that readiness involves training, that protecting the region implies a specific geographical focus, and that stability (or, frequently, deterrence) is a desired strategic outcome. Geopolitical messaging is conveyed via military exercises through several means by the exercise planners and their superiors. First, is the decision of whether to hold exercises. That means that starting, suspending, or terminating them is a foreign policy and security policy statement in and of itself. This is certainly true in long-standing military relationships such as that between the United States and the Republic of Korea, wherein the form and scale of exercises have evolved since their inception shortly after the end of the Korean War. In fact, the major U.S.-South Korea exercise, Team Spirit, was canceled four times in the 1990s to facilitate negotiations to limit North Korea’s nuclear program.[13] Notably, the Bright Star exercises co-sponsored by the United States and Egypt since 1980 were suspended by President Barack Obama in 2013 in the wake of the military takeover of the elected Egyptian government. They have, however, since been reinstated.[14] The U.S. Central Command press release for Bright Star 2017 made no mention of the hiatus.[15] The Malabar naval exercises initiated by the United States and India in 1992 (and joined by Japan in 2015) presaged increased American interest in the Indian Ocean and Indian concerns regarding China’s growing presence in South Asia. Although these exercises have recently expanded significantly, they were suspended for a period after India tested nuclear weapons.[16] [quote id="1"] The same cyclical pattern of scaling down and ramping up military exercises as political circumstances change is evident in the U.S.-Philippines Balikatan exercise, which recently concluded its 34th iteration.[17] Disinviting the People’s Liberation Army Navy from the U.S.-sponsored 2018 Rim of the Pacific (RIMPAC) naval exercise was intended to signal U.S. displeasure at China’s increasing militarization of islands in the South China Sea. (The Chinese navy had participated in RIMPAC in 2014 and 2016.)[18] Meanwhile, Russia and China announced that their two navies would conduct a second round of joint exercises in the Yellow Sea, and the huge Vostok 2018 exercises involved Chinese troops for the first time as part of a long-term plan of greater military cooperation between the two countries.[19] Once it has been decided that exercises are to take place, geopolitical messaging is conveyed in several ways in their actual execution: Where the exercises are conducted, how many personnel are involved, what countries they are drawn from, and the types of weaponry employed are all key elements in strategic positioning or, one might say, posturing. Further complicating matters, the number, size, and scope of military exercises are growing — in some regions dramatically so — and at a time of heightened stress in the international system.[20]

The NATO-Russia Military Exercise Dynamic

Nowhere is this expansion of military exercises more evident and potentially de-stabilizing than in the NATO-Russia arena. Since Russia’s seizure of the Crimean peninsula from Ukraine in early 2014, tensions have risen steadily between Moscow and the West, with economic sanctions, mutual expulsions of diplomats and the closure of legations, and a barrage of mutual recriminations not seen since the darkest days of the Cold War. Russia’s interference in the Donbas region in eastern Ukraine, including the insertion of regular units of the Russian army into the fighting there,[21] and at least one major cyberattack on the Ukrainian power grid, banks, and government agencies, has exacerbated what was already a full-blown international crisis and catalyzed fears in the West — warranted or not — of a new and more capable Russian threat. Russia, meanwhile, harbors long-standing grievances concerning NATO’s expansion into the former Soviet states (the Baltic countries: Estonia, Latvia, and Lithuania) and former members of the Soviet-led Warsaw Pact in Central and Eastern Europe, which acceded to NATO from 1990 to 2004. Actions by NATO in the Balkan conflicts, especially the bombing campaign against Serbia, also invoked Russian fears of Western encroachment into what Moscow considers its sphere of influence. [22] These increasingly contentious relations have resulted in a significant expansion of military operations on both sides. Russian forces continuously operate close to NATO forces in and around Europe as well as in the Middle East, especially Syria. Partly, this is because the NATO alliance now adjoins Russia along a longer frontier. Four of the newer NATO member states have land borders with Russia proper (Estonia and Latvia) or its Kaliningrad Oblast exclave (Poland and Lithuania), whereas previously only Norway directly bordered Russia, and that was in the very remote far north. All of these new eastern frontiers have become increasingly militarized. For example, almost from the moment of their accession to NATO, the three Baltic countries — with no combat aircraft of their own — received air defense cover from their NATO allies, a continuing mission that involves frequent intercepts of Russian military aircraft transiting Baltic Sea airspace.[23] The alliance also agreed at its Warsaw summit in 2016 to rotate “battalion-sized battlegroups” into Poland, Estonia, Latvia, and Lithuania in what it termed an “enhanced forward presence.”[24] Samuel Charap argues that Russia has likewise raised the ante in its standoff with NATO by using “its military beyond its borders with unprecedented frequency since the invasion of Crimea in February 2014,” referring to Russia’s intervention in Ukraine and Syria, and by its “brinksmanship in the skies and sea with NATO and other Western militaries.”[25] Finally, Russia’s extensive buildup of forces in Kaliningrad has significantly altered the military landscape in the Baltic Sea region.[26] As Dmitry Gorenburg has noted, the Russian Black Sea Fleet and its Crimea bases have been significantly upgraded, with more resources expected in the coming years. [27] Closing the Exercise Gap The upshot of this heightened military activity is that deconfliction and avoidance of the kinds of catastrophic accident that could lead to hostilities has become an increasingly serious matter. As will be discussed below, military exercises involving these forward-deployed units are an inevitable consequence of their placement.[28] That is to say, if one forward-deploys or bases forces in a given region, exercising them in these locations is imperative — and the chances of miscalculation or accidents rise commensurately. These exercises have generated considerable attention in both the mainstream media and in the national security and geopolitics commentariat. The Russian Federation and its allies have undertaken a number of large-scale military maneuvers designed to test their troops and weapons, demonstrate their ability to defend the homeland, and convey a message of resoluteness in so doing. Russia’s large Zapad (“West”) 2017 maneuvers generated unprecedented coverage in Western media, think tank analyses, and official sources. They provided a prime example of how these events shape the national security discourse between Moscow and NATO.[29] In keeping with the universal exercise rationale template, the Russian Ministry of Defense described Zapad 2017 as “a final stage of joint training of the Russian and Belarusian Armed Forces [involving] interoperability of staffs [in the defense of] territories of the Republic of Belarus and the Kaliningrad region of the Russian Federation [to prevent] their destabilization.”[30] Both in terms of its regional scope (the Baltic Sea region, western Russia, and Belarus) and the number of personnel and different weapons systems involved, Zapad 2017 certainly deserved the attention it received. But the ensuing frenzy, including concern that the exercise was intended to mask an actual invasion of the Baltics and Poland, exacerbated tensions throughout Europe even though that exercise occurs every four years.[31] Even before Zapad 2017, at least one American national security think tank raised the specter of an “exercise gap” between Russia and NATO, arguing that the former enjoyed a significant advantage.[32] Vostok (“East”) 2018, another quadrennial Russian capstone military exercise, has likewise received extensive coverage in Russia and in Western media, mainly, but not exclusively, because the numbers of troops and equipment engaged may have exceeded Zapad 2017 (there is some dispute about the numbers directly involved[33]), which would make it the largest since the end of the Cold War. But it also involved an “interstate-conflict scenario” with coalition adversaries,[34] closely resembling what Russia would face should it wind up in a fight with NATO, though the maneuvers took place at a far remove from NATO territory. As such, the geopolitical message conveyed by the exercises, in particular the added element of participation by Chinese military units, was more subtle, involving what could be characterized as an in-house assessment of how well Russian armed forces could generate and manage a large-scale conflict from the command-and-control perspective. [quote id="2"] Not to be outdone, NATO and its member states and partners likewise sponsor an expanding series of large and complex military exercises in close proximity to Russia’s western border and its adjacent seas and airspace.[35] Not surprisingly, this has provoked a negative reaction from Moscow. Indeed, since the annexation of Crimea, the schedule of military training events involving NATO and its member states, as well as non-NATO partners, has become increasingly ambitious.[36] As a consequence, the “exercise gap” has narrowed.[37] This was underscored by the alliance’s top leadership at the NATO summit in Wales in 2014,[38] reemphasized at the Warsaw summit in 2016,[39] and reaffirmed at the 2018 Brussels summit: “We continue to ensure the Alliance’s political and military responsiveness, including through more regular exercises.”[40] As is true in general of military exercises, these recent NATO exercises are intended to act as both training events and indicators of security policy and posture. That is, they signal the alliance’s determination to defend its member states. Thus, several major exercises were conducted in 2017 with the aim of “assuring” NATO states bordering or near Russia (especially strategically vulnerable Estonia, Latvia, Lithuania, and Poland) and thereby “deterring” Russian aggression. The evolution of the annual Saber Strike exercise series is a good example. Initially, from 2011, this exercise involved about 2,000 personnel, with a focus on training troops from the Baltic countries to NATO standards as a means of integrating them into the alliance’s operations in Afghanistan and elsewhere.[41] By 2018, Saber Strike had grown to 18,000 participants, with a clear focus on “validating our [NATO’s] collective capability to rapidly respond to and reinforce Allies in a time of crisis.”[42] From whence that crisis might emerge is not stated, but reference is made to the fact that the exercise is “not a provocation of Russia,” leaving one to imagine another major external threat to the alliance. In the same vein, the biannual Anakonda exercises organized by Poland have grown enormously since their inception in 2006. The 2016 edition numbered 31,000 troops from 23 countries with the intent “to check the ability of NATO to defend the territory of the eastern flank of the Alliance.”[43] Again, absent an attack from Belarus or Ukraine, the obvious aggressor state would be Russia. But the clearest message yet that NATO intends to push the geopolitical envelope by means of military exercises came via Trident Juncture 2018, the alliance’s premier format. Not only is this the largest post-Cold War NATO exercise, with some 50,000 participants, but the venue, mainly in Norway, further extends the field of play. Hitherto, Norway, a founding NATO member state, had been careful to avoid antagonizing Moscow by allowing maneuvers in its far northern region, but, as Azita Raji notes, the mood in Oslo has clearly shifted toward taking a much stronger stance against what is perceived as an increasingly serious Russian threat.[44] Thus, Trident Juncture 2018 sends three geopolitical messages: that Norway takes its NATO commitment very seriously, that it will push back hard against Russian pressure, and that the alliance supports both of those positions. [45]

Can Anybody Play?

Significantly, over the past decade NATO has sought to integrate some non-NATO partners into operations and exercises, and in certain cases it has conducted large-scale NATO-, U.S.-, or European-sponsored events (including live-fire practice) on the territory of those non-member states, with resultant geopolitical implications. In the Nordic region, for example, Swedish and Finnish forces have participated in exercises with NATO, and NATO ground forces and aircraft have operated in Sweden and Finland proper in the two countries’ respective maneuvers.[46] Finnish and Swedish ground, naval, and air-force units participated in Trident Juncture 2018, with some NATO events taking place in both countries.[47] Such exercises and other steps that the two countries have taken to bolster their militaries have significantly altered the strategic situation in NATO’s favor vis-à-vis Russia in the Baltic Sea area while, predictably, provoking a negative response from Moscow.[48] Likewise, NATO has dramatically strengthened its military relationship with the Republic of Georgia through training assistance programs and major exercises. The highlight of these is the Noble Partner series, wherein U.S. Army forces (including tanks and other armored vehicles) recently deployed to Georgia from bases in Germany. Through participation in such exercises, some units of the Georgian army have met NATO operational standards and are included in NATO’s Response Force, a readily available and deployable contingency command for insertion in emerging-crisis situations.[49] Previously, Georgian troops had been involved in a number of NATO operations. With 32 of its soldiers killed in support of NATO’s mission in Afghanistan, Georgia’s casualty rate in that conflict is higher than that of any NATO country.[50] In the Black Sea region, the U.S. Navy has bolstered its presence both in exercises with Ukraine and NATO allies Romania and Bulgaria and through freedom-of-navigation visits. This was particularly evident in the Sea Breeze 2017 exercise, during which two advanced U.S. warships participated and also conducted a port call in the Ukrainian port city of Odesa. Russian news sources have featured prominent coverage of these NATO-Ukraine military maneuvers in the Black Sea. For example, Sea Breeze 2017 was not covered in the mainstream U.S. media (although it did appear in defense-related news outlets and on social media), whereas both Sputnik and RT (formerly Russia Today) had features on the maneuvers. Sputnik posted eight features on another U.S.-Ukraine exercise, Rapid Trident 2017, including articles in its German, Polish, Lithuanian, and Moldovan outlets. One can reasonably conclude that the signaling of military partnership, if not treaty obligation, is being received by Russia, and not favorably.

(In)stability: One Is Easy; the Other, Not So Much

If geopolitical “stability” is a stated goal of most military exercises, a working description of how such stability might be measured in the NATO-Russia context is necessary. Although there is no universally accepted definition to reference, the specifics of where the exercise takes place, how many personnel are engaged, which countries participate, and how certain types of weapons are involved can be used to make at least a rough assessment of the extent to which these events might be de-stabilizing. Using military exercises to advance the forward deployment of troops, naval vessels, and aircraft has been a feature of both NATO and Russian military planning and posturing since the Crimean crisis unfolded, and it show no signs of abating.  Incorporating more advanced weaponry in maneuvers in forward areas is especially destabilizing as it alters the military status quo ante. For example, NATO used the Tobruk Legacy exercise in July 2017 to deploy the Patriot anti-aircraft and anti-missile system to Lithuania, the first time that such an advanced system had been positioned in the Baltic region.[51] Not surprisingly, Russia viewed that move as provocative.[52] The missiles were withdrawn after the exercise concluded, but the idea of permanently basing them in the region remains very much alive. During a state visit to the White House on April 3, 2018, Estonian President Kersti Kaljulaid advocated placing Patriots in her country.[53] On the other hand, since 2014, Russia has periodically moved its Iskander tactical ballistic missiles forward to Kaliningrad during exercises, prompting a warning from NATO that this presented a serious threat to the alliance and constituted a “pattern of continuing behavior to coerce [Russia’s] neighbors in Central and Eastern Europe.”[54] As it developed, these exercise deployments were, in fact, the prelude to the permanent basing of an Iskander brigade in Kaliningrad, a move that the chairman of the Russian Duma’s defense committee called “the answer to the deployment of military assets in neighboring territories.”[55] U.S. Navy vessels equipped with the Aegis Ballistic Missile Defense System have participated in the Sea Breeze exercise in the Black Sea to which, according to one U.S. Defense Department official, “the Russians are particularly sensitive.” That same official stated that the Russians must be “desensitized.”[56] For years, Russia has expressed this “sensitivity” by conducting low-level passes over NATO warships operating on the Black Sea, often dangerously close to the vessels, and by intercepting and approaching NATO maritime patrol and intelligence collection aircraft. Obviously, these incidents carry a very high risk of collision or might provoke hostilities. On April 19, 2018, NATO’s Supreme Allied Commander Europe and the chief of the Russian general staff held a rare face-to-face meeting to discuss “issues related to military posture and exercises … to foster predictability and transparency.”[57] Yet, despite previous such meetings, these encounters continued. Fight Where You Train? By pushing military exercise venues further forward, is NATO signaling that it is prepared to fight early in a conflict with Russia in exposed regions such as the Baltic countries? The viability of changing the NATO/U.S. imperative from “reassurance to deterrence” in that context has been extensively critiqued as problematic at best.[58] Yet, this has not forestalled the view among exercise planners and think tank analysts that it makes good sense to demonstrate at least some capability to engage the threat far forward (e.g., Saber Strike) despite the realities of military geography.[59] As I have written apropos the challenges of a high-end fight with Russia from an airpower perspective, conducting military exercises close to Russia’s heavily defended territory where NATO forces are at a serious disadvantage is a singularly bad idea: Airfields are static targets, and most of those closest to the eastern borders of NATO countries do not possess facilities hardened to withstand the inevitable attacks against them. They are also within easy range of any number of Russian offensive threats.[60] Moreover, because Russia has put in place the much-discussed anti-access/area-denial “bubbles” of sophisticated defenses around its western perimeter and extending well into NATO’s eastern flank, the alliance must confront a difficult question:[61] Is the geopolitical message that these exercises send essentially a bluff easily recognized by Russia as such and, therefore, unnecessarily provocative? Along these same lines, what is the point of conducting military exercises with non-NATO countries if the alliance is not treaty-bound to assist them in the event that they are attacked by Russia? One could argue that the increasingly tight bonds between NATO and Sweden and Finland bolster the alliance’s Baltic Sea flank and that both of those countries have capable militaries and long-standing cultural, political, and economic ties with many NATO states by virtue of their membership in the European Union.[62] To some extent, Russia facilitates this drawing together for common defense by sending mixed military-exercise messages of its own: In the Zapad 2013 exercise, Russian aircraft simulated what appeared to be an attack on military targets in Sweden, a charge denied by Russia’s Ministry of Defense. More recently, a Russian special forces operation on an island 24 miles from the Finnish coast signaled to Moscow’s neighbor that the threat is close by, a point about which the Finns hardly need to be reminded. [quote id="3"] Ukraine and Georgia present an altogether different geopolitical and strategic agenda that NATO and the United States seem determined to advance by, among other means, carrying out increasingly more complex military exercises in those countries. Certainly, the exercises and the official statements made about them also form an integral part of the messaging from NATO and its member states to Russia. NATO places a high premium on supporting these two partner states and is determined to assist them in deterring Russian aggression. The exercise messaging would suggest that the maneuvers are for training (especially interoperability), defense, and promoting stability. But is that how it is interpreted in Moscow? Do the exercises in Ukraine and Georgia suggest that NATO or the United States is prepared to fight there? Does that make any sense from a military perspective? Finally, does conducting such exercises promote regional stability? Interoperability between NATO and non-NATO members (in this case, Ukraine and Georgia) is a consistent element of messaging, appearing in the mission statement for Sea Breeze, Rapid Trident, Noble Partner, and other exercises conducted in the Black Sea region. Promoting interoperability with partner militaries such as those of Ukraine and Georgia makes a significant statement that the alliance is extending its remit and creating, de facto, an expanded military frontier into an unstable area with thick geopolitics. Simply put, why work toward greater interoperability unless the intent is to interoperate? The suggestion that these partners already operate with NATO outside the area and therefore should be able to operate by NATO standards makes sense. But when exercises are conducted in areas bordering Russia, that distinction will not be appreciated in Moscow. Among other things, such exercises involve actual combat units of participating NATO countries, bringing with them heavy and sophisticated weaponry. Sea Breeze 2017, for example, included a Ticonderoga-class guided-missile cruiser and an Arleigh Burke-class guided-missile destroyer, among the most powerful warships afloat. These provided an opportunity for Ukrainian President Petro Poroshenko to visit (and be photographed on) one of the ships at port in Odesa, where he could “emphasize … that this joint training is our response to ideologists, organizers and sponsors of hybrid wars” and that the “Head of State [Poroshenko] is confident that the training will become another resolute step towards achieving stability in the region.”[63] The parties fomenting hybrid wars and instability were not named, but, from where Poroshenko stood, the air distance to the Russian naval base at Sevastopol is only about 200 miles and is easily within the Crimean anti-access/area-denial zone that the Russians have since put in place.[64] Again, citing Dmitry Gorenburg, Russia is “mak[ing] it clear that the modernization of the Black Sea Fleet and the concurrent strengthening of Russian military presence in the Black Sea region [is] a priority to counter the threat it sees emanating from NATO and its partners in the region, including Ukraine.”[65] In a similar fashion, U.S. Vice President Mike Pence noted during the opening ceremony of Noble Partner 2017 in Georgia that “The strategic partnership between the United States and Georgia is stronger now than ever, and this joint exercise is a tangible sign of our commitment to each other to make it stronger still.”[66] Georgian President Giorgi Margvelashvili used the occasion of the Noble Partner 2018 kickoff to denounce Moscow for its role in the 2008 conflict that resulted in the secession of the Georgian regions of Abkhazia and South Ossetia, saying that the participating troops “are standing on the territory of a country, 20 percent of which is absolutely occupied by our neighbor Russia.”[67] After Noble Partner began, perhaps responding to Margvelashvili’s statement (although he did not refer specifically to the exercise), Russian Prime Minister Dmitry Medvedev warned that admitting Georgia to NATO could trigger a “terrible conflict,” suggesting, at the least, that the presence of combat troops, including tanks and other armored vehicles from NATO countries, in a “frozen conflict” zone is viewed by Moscow as unacceptable and highly destabilizing.[68]

Conclusion: Is Exercise Always Good?

Despite the vast increase in the number and scope of NATO and associated exercises, in Western think tanks some still advocate “more big exercises.”[69] There is a strong contingent of exercise advocates within the U.S. national security establishment and among many allied governments.[70] Yet, as Michael O’Hanlon suggested in regard to the Korean theater, cutting back or even eliminating large-scale exercises can be offset by conducting more frequent training at the tactical level, using “state-of-the-art simulations,” or by conducting exercises outside the immediate vicinity, including in the United States.[71] The U.S. Air Force’s Red Flag exercises in Nevada and Alaska, which usually include units from other countries, are a good example of the latter. Although the lower visibility involved in small-scale exercises or those remote from geopolitically fraught regions reduces the demonstration effect in deterring an aggressor, they are also much less de-stabilizing, precisely because they lack the hyperbolic rhetoric surrounding highly publicized exercises such as Zapad 2017 and Trident Juncture 2018. Military exercises in Europe since early 2014 have frequently involved bringing troops, naval vessels, and aircraft from opposing sides within increasingly closer proximity to one another, and have introduced newer and more capable weaponry as part of the fielded forces. The official messaging behind these maneuvers usually makes reference to the need to train in real-world conditions and ensure that units from different militaries can operate efficiently with one another. Moreover, the defensive nature of the exercise is stressed, often with the claim that greater capability will promote geopolitical stability and deter aggression. But by incorporating non-member militaries in its exercises and other missions, NATO has ratcheted up the operational tempo of its forces in areas that Russia views as buffer zones and that are too close for its strategic comfort. Not surprisingly, Russia responds in kind and raises anxiety levels among NATO members and key non-NATO partners and, in some cases, increases the likelihood of inadvertent actions that could escalate into hostilities. Explaining the Russian rationale behind the huge Vostok 2018 exercise and other Russian maneuvers, Kremlin spokesman Dmitry Peskov stated, “The country’s ability to defend itself in the current international situation, which is frequently quite aggressive and unfriendly toward us, is absolutely justified and has no alternative.”[72] Not surprisingly, U.S. Navy Adm. James G. Foggo, who commanded NATO’s Trident Juncture 2018, said that the rationale from his perspective is much the same: “NATO is a defensive Alliance. We’re not looking for a fight, but we are committed to defense and deterrence. That’s what this exercise is all about: training to defend, and providing a deterrent effect, ready to respond to any threat from any direction at any time.”[73] Certainly, both NATO and Russia have legitimate interests in maintaining readiness, exercising command and control of complex military operations, and assuring both their citizens and allies that they are capable of defending against external aggression. But the danger here is that the two sides are caught in an increasingly complex and dynamic upward spiral of military brinkmanship that will be difficult to manage if present trends continue. If there is a way out of this dangerous course of events it might lie within the framework of the Vienna Document 2011, the latest version of the Organization for Security and Cooperation in Europe (OSCE) agreement to which the United States, other NATO countries, and Russia (among others) are signatories. The document is “composed of politically binding confidence and security-building measures designed to increase openness and transparency concerning military activities conducted inside the OSCE's zone of application,”[74] which is essentially all of Europe (including Russia as far east as the Ural Mountains). It requires all participating states to notify other parties of military events above a certain threshold and to invite observers to these events. The central problem here, as articulated by Olivier Schmitt, is that the heightened level of geopolitical tension in Europe effectively precludes the necessary updates and modifications to the OSCE document that would make it a more effective instrument for containing, among other things, the unbridled growth of military exercises.[75] In Europe, a region with very thick geopolitics, the messaging incorporated into both NATO and Russian military exercises “risk[s] inducing a self-righteous bubble of understanding that is too far removed from the ground-level actualities in [the] post-Soviet space.”[76] NATO, in response to the entreaties of its eastern allied states and even non-member states, and at times because of ill-advised moves by Russia, has leveraged itself into territory that it would be hard-pressed to defend against a large, conventional Russian attack. Using their military exercises to message their interest in bolstering defenses in this inherently unstable geopolitical zone is a risky proposition, at best, for both NATO and Russia.   Acknowledgements: The author wishes to thank Gerard Toal for reading an earlier version of this paper, and Ryan Evans and an anonymous reviewer for their comments on the draft. Megan Oprea and Autumn Brewington provided much-needed editorial advice. Any shortcomings remaining are solely the author’s responsibility.   Ralph Clem is emeritus professor of geography and senior fellow at the Steven J. Green School of Public and International Affairs at Florida International University. He also served as an intelligence officer in the U.S. Air Force Reserve, retiring as a major general.   Image: North Carolina National Guard [post_title] => Military Exercises as Geopolitical Messaging in the NATO-Russia Dynamic: Reassurance, Deterrence, and (In)stability [post_excerpt] => [post_status] => publish [comment_status] => open [ping_status] => closed [post_password] => [post_name] => military-exercises-as-geopolitical-messaging-in-the-nato-russia-dynamic-reassurance-deterrence-and-instability [to_ping] => [pinged] => [post_modified] => 2018-11-14 08:51:36 [post_modified_gmt] => 2018-11-14 13:51:36 [post_content_filtered] => [post_parent] => 0 [guid] => http://tnsr.org/?p=763 [menu_order] => 0 [post_type] => post [post_mime_type] => [comment_count] => 0 [filter] => raw ) ) ) ) [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] => 780 [post_author] => 228 [post_date] => 2018-11-27 10:08:15 [post_date_gmt] => 2018-11-27 15:08:15 [post_content] =>

I.

The fundamental problem facing U.S. national security — and indeed grand — strategy is clear: The United States seeks to extend deterrence to dozens of allies in parts of the world that are increasingly shadowed by Russia and China, each of which fields survivable nuclear arsenals and conventional forces that are more and more formidable in their respective regions. An increasingly powerful China seeks ascendancy in Asia and ultimately beyond, while Russia has recovered some of its military potency and aspires to upend or at least substantially revise the post-Cold War European settlement.[1] Both China and Russia have developed strategies and forces designed to enable them to attack or suborn U.S. allies or partners and make such an effort potentially worth the risks and costs. Their aspirations place them at odds — or at least in tension — with U.S. interests in defending its alliance architecture, and their increased capability to pursue these aspirations makes them more dangerous and the possibility of war with them more likely.[2] In the face of these challenges, Washington wants to deter and, if necessary, defeat attacks on its allies by Russia or China. The problem is that these alliances are, while of course important, still fundamentally secondary interests for the United States. Yet Washington wisely seeks to defend them from states that have the assured ability to conduct nuclear strikes on the American homeland, which, naturally, represents the profoundest type of peril to the nation’s ultimate primary interest: its survival as a functioning society. In light of the mutual vulnerability of the United States on the one hand and Russia and China on the other, the disincentives to large-scale use of nuclear weapons are of the gravest and most direct sort. No one could rationally seek general nuclear war, which would be tantamount to suicide. In this context, the influence of nuclear weapons derives from the perception of a willingness to risk their use at scale — in effect, to be more willing to court destruction. Coercive leverage derives from establishing a superior position about which state is more resolute in risking nuclear Armageddon.[3] But such a competition is not only about resolve in some pure or abstract sense, disconnected from events or acts. Rather, resolve is not an immutable value, but is shaped and formed by a host of factors, and thus is itself subject to manipulation. A state’s willingness to fight is, in other words, not simply a product of an unchanging judgment of the import of a given stake. It is also formed by assessments about the difficulty of and degree of risk assumed by fighting, the connection of the equity at issue to other interests, the perceived nature of the opponent as well as the scale and ambition of its aims, judgments of justice and legitimacy, and so forth. The more these sorts of interests are — or can be — implicated in a given contest, the more likely a state will be willing to risk, fight, and endure, even if the contest is initially or nominally focused on a relatively peripheral interest. The Union fought more resolutely than it otherwise might have against a South that had attacked Fort Sumter first, and the United States fought much more ferociously against a Japan that had launched a dastardly surprise attack on Pearl Harbor and conducted its ensuing aggression with notorious brutality. In particular, the more aggressive, brazen, illegitimate, unjust, or inherently menacing one state’s behavior seems, the more likely it is that it will generate the willingness of the other state to assume some additional risk of nuclear Armageddon. Put another way, the more capable a state is of attaining its aims through means that appear less escalatory, the less it will need to rely on its resolve to risk general devastation. Conversely, the less capable a state is of pursuing its aims through less escalatory measures, the more it will need to rely on its willingness to court mutual suicide. Thus, the ability to fight successfully without having to seriously escalate is a great source of advantage because it permits one to prevail even with a deficit of resolve. This is crucial for the United States. In a pure contest of resolve against Russia over Eastern Europe or against China over Taiwan — or even against Pyongyang over the Korean Peninsula — it is not clear that the United States would prevail. But Washington need not and should not permit such a pure contest to appear plausible. Indeed, for many years after the end of the Cold War, Washington enjoyed a situation in which resolve was largely immaterial to plausible contingencies touching on threats to U.S. allies. While Russia had survivable nuclear forces and China a modest strategic deterrent, neither had the conventional forces to mount serious assaults on U.S. allies that would enable them to push the onus of escalation onto the United States, and thus to create a more favorable contest of resolve.[4] China might have reminded the United States that it could destroy Los Angeles in the pursuit of subordinating Taipei, but such a threat was not coercively useful without the conventional forces to sustain a blockade or an invasion of Taiwan. Few imagined that China would leap immediately to destroying Los Angeles when such an act, by its manifest disproportion and unreasonableness, would very likely have triggered the most fearsome sort of retaliation.

II.

The post-Cold War period, however, is over. The increased conventional military power of Russia and China, and China’s maturing nuclear deterrent, have changed the situation. Each is pursuing a variant of what is fundamentally a fait accompli strategy. In a situation of mutual vulnerability to large-scale nuclear attack, the fait accompli is the most attractive offensive strategy for a power that is weaker than its opponent, as China and Russia are relative to the United States and its allies. The fait accompli strategy works by moving or attacking in a way that forces the defender’s counterpunch to have to be so costly and risky as to seem not worth the benefit of reversing it. It is most insidious when the violence needed to succeed with the fait accompli is less grievous, making the very great response needed to eject the attacker seem not only too perilous but also unjust. As a consequence, in a nuclear world, advantage in the deadly competition in risk-taking between two states armed with survivable arsenals will thus accrue to the side that can take action and hold territory — and then push the onus of responding onto the other side in such a way that the sort of escalation required to remedy the situation is simply too costly and risky. [quote id="1"] In Europe, Russia’s conventional forces can now rapidly seize territory in places such as the Baltic states and eastern Poland, while Moscow’s large and variegated strategic and nuclear forces provide ample options for controlled strikes designed to “spook” NATO into terminating a war before the alliance could bring its greater strength to bear to reverse Russian gains.[5] In Asia, meanwhile, China is developing a conventional military that will be able to compete for — and could be able to establish — superiority over the United States and its allies in substantial areas of the Western Pacific, as well as a nuclear force that could increasingly be used in more limited, controlled ways to attempt to deter U.S. vertical or horizontal escalation.[6] The two cases are similar but differ in the greater Russian degree of reliance on nuclear weapons. The nub of the challenge from Russia lies in Moscow’s potential ability to transform its temporary and local conventional advantages with respect to the Baltic states and eastern Poland into permanent gains through the threat of a nuclear escalation that both sides fear but that, Moscow may reckon, the West would fear more. The challenge from China, meanwhile, appears likely to lie more in its potential ability to attain practical conventional superiority over the United States with respect to East Asia and to use its nuclear and strategic forces to dissuade Washington from meaningfully escalating, including to the nuclear level, in order to negate or reverse that superiority. Both, however, involve ways in which a potential U.S. adversary could use its military forces to create durable positions of advantage. Moscow or Beijing might plausibly calculate that such uses of military force would be exceptionally difficult and demanding to roll back or dislodge. This would shift the onus of escalation onto the United States and its allies and would allow for the use of nuclear and other strategic forces to deter the United States from taking the potentially escalatory and dramatic actions needed to achieve its more limited objectives, such as the restoration of an ally’s territorial integrity.

III.

If U.S. grand strategy is to remain predicated on the defense of its allies, the United States needs to deal promptly and resolutely with this thorny set of problems. While Chinese and Russian provocations against U.S. interests have mostly been confined to the “gray zone” thus far, a perception that strategies such as these could advantageously be pursued may lead to more direct and clearer challenges, especially if the relevant regional military balances shift away from Washington and its allies.[7] Sub-conventional “salami-slicing” is an attractive strategy when one fears the consequences of pushing much harder or further. If Beijing or Moscow judges it can push more ambitiously or assertively without risking a plausible and sufficiently painful U.S. response, then it is likely to do so. If the United States is resolute and clear enough, however, gray-zone problems will remain manageable — that is, if the United States retains a military advantage with respect to its allies and established partners (such as Taiwan) vis-à-vis Russia and China. If it loses that advantage, gray-zone provocations are likely to transform into far more direct and menacing assertions of power by Moscow and Beijing. To prevent this, the United States should want a defense posture that demonstrates to potential opponents that such challenges would not succeed or, failing that, would be too costly to be worth the candle. Ideally, this would entail a U.S. ability directly to defeat outright any aggression against its allies or interests, as essentially was the case during the unipolar period that followed the collapse of the Soviet Union. This standard may be difficult to achieve, however, given the dramatic growth of Chinese power and the more modest, but still significant, recovery of Russian military power, the proximity of plausible points of conflict to them and their distance from the United States, and the diffusion of U.S. military effort and focus across multiple theaters. It may be especially difficult to do so rapidly or without requiring significant forms of escalation that may seem a bridge too far for U.S. decision makers absent evidence of a much higher degree of Chinese or Russian malignity or ambition. The United States should therefore aim to field a military posture of conventional forces that makes attack against U.S. allies and territory at best futile and at minimum a necessarily very brazen, destructive, and aggressive act.[8] Compelling the adversary to conduct aggression in this way is far more likely to catalyze U.S. and allied resolve to pursue the kinds of military actions necessary to defeat such an assault, for instance through a much larger counteroffensive, including conventional strikes into an adversary’s territory. This conventional posture should be designed not only to achieve the important but limited aim of repelling an adversary’s attack and denying the fait accompli but also to shift onto the opponent the onus of more dramatic forms of escalation — above all to the nuclear level. That is, U.S. conventional military operations need to be ferocious enough to degrade a capable opponent’s ability to pursue and consummate its attack on U.S. allies, but they should also be framed and implemented in such a way as to compel the other side to have to face the choice of conceding or dramatically escalating. If China can take over Taiwan quickly, cleanly, and with relatively little damage, this is likely to make a large and ferocious U.S. counteroffensive seem disproportionate, thereby lessening the probability that it would happen and that other states would support it. Conversely, if Beijing can hope to conquer Taiwan only through a massive, bloody, and patently aggressive offensive — and might well fail at that — then the sorts of U.S. actions needed to help Taiwan are likely to seem much more reasonable and palatable, thereby increasing the likelihood that Washington would take such actions and that others would support those efforts.

IV.

This is primarily a challenge for U.S. and allied conventional forces. But U.S. (and allied) nuclear forces also play a central role. The U.S. nuclear arsenal should be designed to demonstrate to potential U.S. opponents — most importantly Russia and China — that dramatic forms of escalation against key U.S. interests, including but not exclusively nuclear escalation, would be too costly and risky to pursue and ultimately would be self-defeating. This involves demonstrating to potential foes that attempts to transgress core American interests, or to use nuclear weapons for military effect, or seeking to favorably manipulate the fear of escalation to Armageddon would not redound in their favor — and ideally against them. This should contribute both to deterring them from using nuclear weapons as a way to reverse a limited conventional defeat but also from crossing fundamental American and allied red lines short of employing nuclear weapons. This, of course, rules out the adoption by the United States of a “no first use” pledge, which would be especially inadvisable given the growth of Chinese conventional military power.[9] At the same time, however, U.S. nuclear strategy should seek to avoid unnecessarily or inadvertently triggering a large-scale nuclear war. That is, U.S. nuclear forces should both exercise significant and ideally decisive yet targeted coercive influence but avoid prompting escalation to broader strategic war. U.S. nuclear forces should deter (and, if pressed, coerce) while simultaneously promoting rather than detracting from a fundamental strategic stability — the understanding that U.S. actions are not intended to deny the other side a basic retaliatory capability.[10] Together, this means the United States should want a nuclear strategy, force, and posture focused on the ability and preparedness to use nuclear weapons in discriminate, tailored, and controlled ways. The logic of any such nuclear employment should focus on escalation advantage: to demonstrate Washington’s willingness to escalate to the nuclear level, and to continue escalating if grave provocations continue, but also its readiness to restrain further escalation and ultimately deescalate if the opponent is prepared to comply with reasonable demands. Accordingly, Washington should want a nuclear arsenal that can provide varying options for controlled, graduated forms of nuclear escalation in line with this basic logic that allow for different potential employment strategies (such as tit for tat or intensifying escalation), since the optimal targeting strategy is likely to vary based on the particular contingency. To be most coercively useful, such strikes should be designed to influence (or complement other efforts to influence) the sub-nuclear conflict in ways that shift the burden of escalation further onto the adversary and thus be advantageous to the United States. [quote id="2"] That is, the ideal nuclear employment strategy is one that not only demonstrates political will but also, along with U.S. and allied conventional efforts, affects the sub-strategic battle in ways that make an adversary’s counter- or further escalation less attractive. For instance, the United States would benefit from having nuclear options that could heavily damage a Chinese invasion flotilla designed to assault U.S. allies in the Western Pacific and that could exercise similar effects against Russian forces attacking or directly supporting an incursion into the Baltics.[11] Such capabilities would enable the United States not only to demonstrate its resolve to cross the nuclear threshold, but also markedly increase the degree of escalation the opponent would have to undertake to remedy the loss and continue the fundamentally offending action (such as the invasion of a U.S. ally in the Western Pacific or in Eastern Europe). This role would be especially important if the United States lacks plausible conventional options for exercising such an effect, especially without undertaking separate, dramatic forms of escalation (for instance by significantly expanding the scope of the battlefield or hitting new, especially sensitive classes of targets). The U.S. military fielded these types of capabilities during the Cold War but abandoned them in the post-Cold War era. This was defensible in an era of untrammeled U.S. conventional superiority; it is not in one in which the Russians and Chinese may have plausible theories of victory against U.S. allies and important partners. From a targeting perspective, this puts a premium on being able to strike at differing sorts of targets depending on the stage of escalation — to be able to strike effectively at what the opponent values but also to communicate at stages of escalation short of general war a meaningful degree of restraint. Accordingly, nuclear weapons that could significantly damage or impair such targets, but with lessened collateral damage, would be particularly attractive. Such weapons that would be especially useful in this context might include those with a lower yield, those that could be employed in ways that would create less radioactivity, and those that would travel on trajectories and from platforms that would be less likely to generate an opponent’s fear that they were part of or precursor to a general or attempted disarming attack. Furthermore, this nuclear strategy puts a high value on an exquisite, responsive, resilient, and supremely capable nuclear command, control, and communications (NC3) architecture.[12] At the same time, limited use would not substitute for the ability to conduct large-scale and general nuclear strikes. Rather, the effectiveness of discriminate options would in fact depend upon their connection to that possibility. Consequently, the United States would need to retain the capacity to destroy Russia and China’s most valued targets, including their industrial bases and national leadership in their protected redoubts. While attacks on leadership should, as a general principle, be withheld until the very last stages of escalation, it is crucial for the United States to be able to destroy an opponent no matter where he goes, especially at the end of a chain of deliberate escalation when an adversary has had the opportunity to hide and defend himself. Accordingly, the United States needs capabilities to assuredly — and, ideally, promptly and with reduced collateral damage — destroy even targets in hardened and deeply buried facilities. It is vital to underline that this is critical for retaliatory strikes — and thus for stability — and far less, actually, for more aggressive nuclear strategies, which can aspire to decapitating enemy leaderships before they have a chance to seek safety or concealment. Notably, this nuclear strategy does not emphasize or rely on the ability to attack an enemy’s strategic nuclear forces or command-and-control. While it does not exclude the potential value of having options to degrade an opponent’s strategic arsenal or command-and-control ability (for instance, to make an opponent’s counter-escalation options less attractive), it generally counsels restraint regarding pursuit of strategic counterforce capabilities, let alone their employment, particularly in light of the countering responses such pursuit is likely to engender. Communication with the adversary before and during a conflict is crucial to the effectiveness of such a strategy, since ultimately it is predicated on persuading — indeed, coercing — an adversary to agree to end a war on terms acceptable (and ideally favorable) to the United States without triggering escalation to a level of war beyond what anyone would want. Accordingly, Russia and China need to understand the logic of U.S. nuclear strategy. It is not about denying their retaliatory capability nor confined to large-scale options. Rather, it is about demonstrating to them in the most painful terms that the United States has the resolve and the ability to impose progressively greater — and ultimately the greatest — damage and risk on them if they transgress core American and allied interests, and that it has the capabilities to make such a strategy plausibly implementable on bases that will play to American, rather than their, advantages. U.S. declaratory policy should reflect this. Ambiguity about the precise conditions under which the United States would employ nuclear weapons and how it would do so are advisable for familiar reasons, but greater clarity about and emphasis on the options the United States possesses and will possess to pursue the strategy laid out here would be helpful. This may involve less changes in the wording of formal statements than shifts in how the United States exercises its forces, for instance, by building in contingencies involving deliberate escalation, and allowing the circulation of reports of such exercises.

V.

The basic point is to make clear to Moscow and Beijing that Washington is prepared to respond to dramatic escalation on their part with plausibly implementable strategies of its own. This is especially important because the stakes over cognizable contingencies today are lower than they were during the Cold War (primarily because neither China nor Russia poses the kind of totalistic threat that many viewed the Soviet Union as representing). More apocalyptic strategies are more credible when defeat itself would seem apocalyptic, as it did to many during the Cold War. When limited defeat over peripheral interests would not appear to constitute such a catastrophe, more credible strategies are needed. The 2018 Nuclear Posture Review represented an important and commendable starting point in this direction, especially with its decision to develop a low-yield warhead for U.S. submarine-launched ballistic missiles, but the U.S. military will need to go further. [quote id="3"] The premise for all this is that limited nuclear war is possible. Crossing the nuclear threshold would be staggeringly dangerous, as things always might get completely out of control, leading to an apocalyptic exchange. But this is not the same as saying that such escalation to total war would necessarily happen. This is fundamentally for two reasons: because combatants under the nuclear shadow would always have the strongest possible incentive to avoid triggering the apocalypse, since doing so would almost certainly result in their own destruction, but, at the same time, advantage at the nuclear level (the highest imaginable) would be dominating. Thus the side willing and able to escalate to the nuclear level and come out ahead would have a commanding edge. Accordingly, even as the United States should seek to minimize the degree to which it relies on nuclear weapons in its defense strategy — for both strategic and moral reasons — its defense strategy must nonetheless reckon with the reality that limited nuclear war is possible and, unless anticipated and provided for, could well be an attractive and even rational course of action for opportunistic or motivated opponents. In closing, it is worth emphasizing what the logic of this strategy would be. The United States is wisely committed to sustaining its grand strategy of alliances in key regions of the world, a strategy that is most conducive to preserving an enduringly favorable balance of power and thus international order for Americans. This is a fundamentally conservative approach, one that seeks to defend what is established rather than transform the world or upend regional orders. This requires a defense strategy and posture that will deter a rising and increasingly assertive China and an alienated and more capable Russia. That, in turn, requires that Beijing and Moscow believe the United States might realistically put its strategy into effect despite the attendant risks and the relatively lower stakes compared with those at issue in the Cold War. In a situation of substantial mutual vulnerability over stakes that are important but not truly central to the United States, the best strategy to serve U.S. political ends is one focused on advantageously managing escalation in a way that seeks to keep or shift the burden of dramatic escalation onto Moscow or Beijing. This is highly suited to a strategy focused on defense rather than expansion or transformation, and thus is the best way to achieve the goal Hans Morgenthau set out for a wise foreign policy, that “the task of armed diplomacy [should be] to convince the nations concerned that their legitimate interests have nothing to fear from a restrictive and rational foreign policy and that their illegitimate interests have nothing to gain in the face of armed might rationally employed.”[13]   Elbridge Colby is director of the Defense Program at the Center for a New American Security. He was deputy assistant secretary of defense for strategy and force development from 2017 to 2018.     Image: Ministry of Digital Development, Communications and Mass Media of the Russian Federation [post_title] => Against the Great Powers: Reflections on Balancing Nuclear and Conventional Power [post_excerpt] => [post_status] => publish [comment_status] => open [ping_status] => closed [post_password] => [post_name] => against-the-great-powers-reflections-on-balancing-nuclear-and-conventional-power [to_ping] => [pinged] => [post_modified] => 2019-01-16 03:36:19 [post_modified_gmt] => 2019-01-16 08:36:19 [post_content_filtered] => [post_parent] => 0 [guid] => http://tnsr.org/?p=780 [menu_order] => 0 [post_type] => post [post_mime_type] => [comment_count] => 0 [filter] => raw [meta] => [lead] => The toughest and most important challenge for U.S. defense strategy is how to defend vulnerable allies against a Chinese or Russian fait accompli strategy, particularly one backed by nuclear threats. Here's how the United States should think about how to defeat such a strategy, and what it means for America's conventional and nuclear forces. [pubinfo] => [issue] => Vol 2, Iss 1 [quotes] => Array ( [0] => Array ( [author] => [style] => left [text] => The increased conventional military power of Russia and China, and China’s maturing nuclear deterrent, have changed the situation. ) [1] => Array ( [author] => [style] => right [text] => Together, this means the United States should want a nuclear strategy, force, and posture focused on the ability and preparedness to use nuclear weapons in discriminate, tailored, and controlled ways. ) [2] => Array ( [author] => [style] => left [text] => The basic point is to make clear to Moscow and Beijing that Washington is prepared to respond to dramatic escalation on their part with plausibly implementable strategies of its own. ) ) [style] => strategist [type] => Strategist [style_label] => The Strategist [download] => Array ( [title] => PDF Download [file] => ) [authors] => Array ( [0] => 228 ) [endnotes] => Array ( [title] => Endnotes [endnotes] => [1] For China, see, "'China Seeks Hegemony': America's Pacific Commander Offers a Military Warning," Wall Street Journal, Feb. 24, 2016, https://www.wsj.com/articles/china-seeks-hegemony-1456358971; Ely Ratner, "Rising to the China Challenge: Prepared Statement Before the House Committee on Armed Services," Feb. 15, 2018, https://docs.house.gov/meetings/AS/AS00/20180215/106848/HHRG-115-AS00-Wstate-RatnerE-20180215.pdf; for Russia, see, A. Wess Mitchell, "Remarks at the Atlantic Council," Oct. 18, 2018, https://www.state.gov/p/eur/rls/rm/2018/286787.htm; Christopher S. Chivvis, "Russia's Determination to Revise the Post-Cold War Order," RAND blog, Sept. 30, 2016, https://www.rand.org/blog/2016/09/russias-determination-to-revise-the-post-cold-war-order.html. [2] 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; “Summary of the National Defense Strategy of the United States of America: Sharpening the American Military’s Competitive Edge,” January 2018, https://www.defense.gov/Portals/1/Documents/pubs/2018-National-Defense-Strategy-Summary.pdf. [3] As classically laid out in Thomas C. Schelling’s Arms and Influence and Strategy of Conflict (Santa Barbara, CA: Praeger, 1977). [4] See RAND scorecard report on China, for instance: Eric Heginbotham et al., The U.S.-China Military Scorecard: Forces, Geography, and the Evolving Balance of Power, 1996–2017, (Santa Monica, CA: RAND Corporation, 2015), https://www.rand.org/pubs/research_reports/RR392.html. [5] Karl Mueller David A. Shlapak, Michael W. Johnson, and David Ochmanek, “In Defense of a Wargame: Bolstering Deterrence on NATO’s Eastern Flank,” War on the Rocks, June 14, 2016, https://warontherocks.com/2016/06/in-defense-of-a-wargame-bolstering-deterrence-on-natos-eastern-flank/ ; Nuclear Posture Review (Defense Department, February 2018), https://www.defense.gov/News/Special-Reports/0218_npr/. [6] “Annual Report to Congress: Military and Security Developments Involving the People’s Republic of China 2018,” Department of Defense, https://media.defense.gov/2018/Aug/16/2001955282/-1/-1/1/2018-CHINA-MILITARY-POWER-REPORT.PDF; Robert O. Work, “So, This Is What It Feels Like to Be Offset,” Speech at Center for a New American Security, June 21, 2018, https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=U9iZyDE2dZI. [7] Joseph L. Votel, Charles T. Cleveland, Charles T. Connett, and Will Irwin, “Unconventional Warfare in the Gray Zone,” Joint Force Quarterly, no. 80 (January 2016), https://ndupress.ndu.edu/JFQ/Joint-Force-Quarterly-80/Article/643108/unconventional-warfare-in-the-gray-zone/; Hal Brands, “Paradoxes of the Gray Zone,” Foreign Policy Research Institute, Feb. 5, 2016, https://www.fpri.org/article/2016/02/paradoxes-gray-zone/. [8] Jonathan F. Solomon, “Demystifying Conventional Deterrence: Great-Power Conflict and East Asian Peace,” Strategic Studies Quarterly 7, no. 4 (Winter 2013): 117–57, https://www.jstor.org/stable/26270780; Elbridge Colby and Jonathan Solomon, “Facing Russia: Conventional Defence and Deterrence in Europe,” Survival 57, no. 6 (2015): 21–50, https://www.tandfonline.com/doi/abs/10.1080/00396338.2015.1116146; Elbridge Colby and Jonathan F. Solomon, “Avoiding Becoming a Paper Tiger: Presence in a Warfighting Defense Strategy,” Joint Force Quarterly, no. 82 (July 2016), http://ndupress.ndu.edu/JFQ/Joint-Force-Quarterly-82/Article/793233/avoiding-becoming-a-paper-tiger-presence-in-a-warfighting-defense-strategy/. [9] Elbridge Colby, “Nuclear Weapons Aren’t Just for the Worst Case Scenario,” Foreign Policy, Aug. 4, 2016, https://foreignpolicy.com/2016/08/04/nuclear-weapons-arent-just-worst-case-scenario-first-use-china-obama-trump/. [10] For more on views on strategic stability, see Elbridge A. Colby and Michael S. Gerson, eds., Strategic Stability: Contending Interpretations (Carlisle Barracks, PA: U.S. Army War College Press, 2013), http://publications.armywarcollege.edu/pubs/2216.pdf. [11] For a recent treatment of the problem of limited nuclear war and potential scenarios involving it, see John K. Warden, “Limited Nuclear War: The 21st Century Challenge for the United States,” Livermore Papers on Global Security no. 4 (July 2018), https://cgsr.llnl.gov/content/assets/docs/CGSR_LP4-FINAL.pdf. [12] “Nuclear Matters Handbook 2016,” Office of the Deputy Assistant Secretary of Defense for Nuclear Matters, ch. 6, accessed Nov. 26, 2018, https://www.acq.osd.mil/ncbdp/nm/nmhb/chapters/chapter_6.htm. [13] Hans J. Morgenthau, “Another ‘Great Debate’: The National Interest of the United States,” American Political Science Review 46, no. 4 (December 1952): 978, https://www.jstor.org/stable/1952108. ) [contents] => Array ( [title] => [contents] => ) ) [1] => WP_Post Object ( [ID] => 769 [post_author] => 224 [post_date] => 2018-11-14 05:00:03 [post_date_gmt] => 2018-11-14 10:00:03 [post_content] => After a post-Cold War interlude, arms control among the great powers is once again in vogue. Foreign policy debates increasingly turn on considerations of arms control: whether to scrap the Intermediate-Range Nuclear Forces Treaty (INF), whether to continue the Strategic Arms Reduction Treaty (START) process, whether to include China in negotiations to limit armaments, and how to minimize the expansion of North Korea’s nuclear arsenal. Unfortunately, these debates are riven by differing assumptions concerning the ultimate purpose of arms-control efforts. For example: Should the United States take preventive military action to limit North Korea’s nuclear capability? Should it instead seek mutual strategic stability with a newly nuclear North Korea? Or should the United States redouble its efforts to eliminate all nuclear weapons, everywhere?[1] Proponents of each course of action can credibly lay claim to the mantle of “arms control.” But which is correct? How would we know good arms control if we saw it? Robert Jervis observed, “If the main objective of arms control is to make war less likely, then any theory of arms control must rest on a theory of the causes of war.”[2] Why wars occur is a vast topic, however, and scholars remain divided over the causes of armed conflict.[3] This division among scholars is reflected in the competing concepts of how arms limitation among great powers can reduce the chances of war. In this essay, I examine three key explanations for the cause of war — influence groups, weapons, and actors — and demonstrate how each leads toward a different approach to arms control: disarmament, stability, and advantage, respectively. I will show that absent a solid consensus on the purpose of arms control, historically successful arms-limitation agreements have managed to serve multiple purposes. My essay concludes with a brief account of the Anti-Ballistic Missile (ABM) Treaty: specifically, how its creators and supporters managed to advance the purposes of disarmament, stability, and advantage simultaneously over the lifetime of the treaty. Recognizing the multiple motives that arms-control negotiations aim to serve is vital to understanding arms control’s impact on international security, for at least three reasons. First, scholars and commentators often cite the existence of arms-control negotiations as evidence that states are proceeding on a more cooperative path.[4] Yet the pursuit of arms control is not always a cooperative exercise. States often employ arms-control negotiations as vehicles for advancing their own competitive agendas, all in the name of peace. Treating arms control as purely cooperative risks misunderstanding its impact on international politics. Second, given the paucity of documentary resources from key actors such as the Soviet Union, historians struggle to evaluate the success or failure of particular arms-control negotiations. Understanding the theoretical debates surrounding the purpose of arms control can provide new criteria for understanding whether an arms-control regime succeeded. Third, a historical reconstruction of the multiple meanings of arms control can help to clarify the importance of time as a variable in such arrangements — in particular, how different arms-control rationales may rely on different time horizons and how the purpose of a single agreement may change over time. The manipulation of differing timelines provides opportunities for building consensus on arms control between radically different policy agendas, with some arms controllers receiving benefits in the short term and others over the longer term. U.S. policymakers considering the future of arms control would do well to consider how previous administrations built their complex arms-control policies. The study of arms control has produced a vast literature, but surprisingly little has examined the specific mechanisms whereby great powers can reduce the chances of war. As a result, scholars and experts often talk past each other — rather than to each other — in arms-control debates. Much of the existing literature describes the goals of arms control in generic terms such as “peace,” “stability,” or “security,” with little emphasis on how limiting specific weapons systems contributes to these hazily defined concepts.[5] Other works insist that there is a single war-preventing logic of arms control, usually downplaying or ignoring other possible motives.[6] Future research on arms control could benefit by placing these differing perspectives in dialogue with each other to foster an understanding of how, exactly, arms control can reduce the chances of war.

Explanations for War and Arms Control

Analysts and advocates of arms control fall into three broad categories, depending on which explanation of the cause of war they embrace. The first category includes those who believe that war is caused by influence groups, especially the military-industrial complex, and the various structures of thought and culture promoted by those groups. The second category involves those who believe that war is caused by certain kinds of weapons, especially weapons that promote first-strike advantages or create conditions of offense-dominance. The third category consists of individuals who believe that war is caused by certain kinds of actors, countries that are especially aggressive, ideological, or revisionist. Each of these explanations for what causes war leads to a different understanding of the purpose of arms control. For those who believe that influence groups create war, the proper purpose of arms control is disarmament: reducing the overall level of weapons and dismantling the organizations and cultures that produce them. For those who believe that dangerous weapons cause war, the purpose of arms control is stability, or limiting especially dangerous offense-dominant weapons while bolstering deterrence by allowing the procurement of defense-dominant weapons. For those who believe that pernicious actors cause war, the purpose of arms control is advantage: preventing dangerous countries from acquiring weapons technologies while preserving a favorable balance of power for trustworthy, status quo countries. Determining which of these three approaches to arms control best prevents conflict is difficult given the lack of consensus on the causes of war. Influence Groups and Disarmament One prevalent explanation for the cause of war is the impact that war-promoting influence groups, often described as the “military-industrial complex,”[7] have on governments. Critics of the military-industrial complex have identified several mechanisms whereby pro-war interest groups create the conditions for war to occur. First, critics claim that the drive for profits causes the military-industrial complex to lobby politicians directly for confrontational policies, which justify purchasing more weapons and also make war more likely.[8] Second, critics claim that the activities of the military-industrial complex shape the thinking of elite decision-makers, normalizing violence and creating the psychological and emotional space for extreme anti-social behavior — like war — to occur.[9] Third, critics argue that the military-industrial complex promotes structures of class, race, and gender that influence broader attitudes toward violence, providing rationales for conflict that leaders and citizens alike deploy to justify war.[10] Both directly and indirectly, military-industrial interest groups explain why governments and societies wage war rather than seek peaceful solutions. For those who argue that war is the result of pro-war interest groups, the primary purpose of arms control is disarmament. While arms-control agreements often reduce the number of weapons available to states, proponents of disarmament argue that the more important function of such agreements is to tame adverse military-industrial complexes and to dismantle old attitudes and cultures of war.[11] In addition to achieving anti-militarist objectives, the promotion of disarmament agreements provides opportunities to create new coalitions in favor of international and social justice while also freeing resources from wasteful military competition to pursue these peaceful agendas.[12] By contributing to the dismantlement of militarist interest groups, arms-control agreements can advance the cause of peace. Historically, disarmament has been an influential determinant of arms-limitation policies in great-power countries, especially through its widespread public appeal. The international disarmament movement can trace its roots to various reform efforts of the late 19th century.[13] Pro-disarmament organizations were especially active during the interwar period, and their aspirations were first given significant form through the League of Nations’ efforts at international disarmament.[14] After World War II, international disarmament efforts refocused on eliminating nuclear weapons, with major waves of anti-nuclear protests in the 1950s and 1980s.[15] The second wave of nuclear disarmament advocacy found willing partners in Ronald Reagan and Mikhail Gorbachev, who saw the elimination of nuclear weapons as a long-term objective.[16] More recently, nuclear disarmament has regained strength via the “Global Zero” movement.[17] Disarmament has thus been an important goal of great powers’ arms limitation throughout the modern period. Proponents of disarmament arms control often take a long-term view of the purpose of arms control, recognizing that dismantling militarist influence groups and redirecting resources toward pursuing social justice will take time.[18] As a result, despite their expansive explanation of the cause of war, proponents of disarmament often support more limited arms-control measures, as long as those measures can be understood as part of a progressive program for dismantling weapons and militarist interest groups more generally.[19] For example, the 1987 INF Treaty is often praised by advocates of disarmament for its “elimination of an entire category of weapons systems,” even though the treaty limits only land-based missiles of ranges between 500 and 5,500 kilometers, and for only two countries at that.[20] Whatever the treaty’s perceived shortcomings, many disarmament advocates see the INF as a good first step toward the more comprehensive elimination of nuclear weapons. [quote id="1"] Although it rests on a coherent explanation of the cause of war, arms control with the goal of disarmament has its critics. Many proponents of arms control for the purpose of strategic stability and advantage argue that seeking disarmament may make war more likely if the effort dismantles the military capabilities necessary for deterrence.[21] Others question whether martial interest groups really drive international conflict or whether military-industrial complexes instead emerge as a response to preexisting political differences among states,[22] in which case finding a solution to existing political differences would have to precede disarmament.[23] The empirical record on the successes of disarmament is mixed. On the one hand, significant disarmament negotiations in the interwar period failed to prevent the outbreak of World War II, while the “long peace” of the Cold War was marked by high armaments on all sides.[24] On the other hand, proponents of disarmament can credibly argue that disarmament negotiations in the interwar period never went far enough to impede militarism and an arms race and that the nuclear disarmament movement played an important role in regulating and ultimately ending the U.S.-Soviet rivalry during the Cold War.[25] Proponents of disarmament argue that facing such a mixed empirical record, and mindful of the horrible consequences should deterrence fail, the safest path forward is for states to dismantle their weapons and tame hawkish interest groups.[26] Weapons and Stability A second prevalent theory of what causes war relates to the nature of weapons technologies and, especially, their impact on the offense-defense balance. This explanation for war begins with the structural condition of anarchy, in which states procure weapons for security and bargaining purposes.[27] Among the available weapons, some are useful primarily for defensive purposes and others are more useful for offensive purposes. The distribution and balance of these competing types of weapons can have a profound impact on the likelihood of war. In cases where the balance favors the defense, attacking a neighbor is expensive and difficult, thus strengthening deterrence and making states less likely to fight each other. In cases where the balance favors the offense, however, attacking a neighbor appears less costly, which in turn weakens deterrence and makes states more likely to fight each other.[28] An offense-dominant military balance can generate crisis instability, where the significant advantage of striking first can push states to escalate conflicts quickly in order to avoid the disadvantages of being attacked.[29] Relations between states in offense-dominant environments are also more likely to be poisoned by “security dilemmas,” in which states procuring offensive weapons for self-defense undermine the security of their neighbors, triggering arms races that ultimately undermine the security of both parties.[30] For these reasons, offense-defense theorists maintain that the balance of offense-defense capabilities determines the likelihood of war. For those who worry that the technological balance between offensive and defensive weapons is a primary driver of war, the proper purpose for arms control is stability, or promoting a defense-dominant international environment. By prohibiting or limiting the deployment of offensive weapons while allowing the deployment of defensive ones, arms control can shape the offense-defense balance, strengthen crisis stability, ameliorate security dilemmas, strengthen deterrence, and ultimately prevent war.[31] In the nuclear era, defense dominance has become closely associated with the strategy of mutually assured destruction, in which (paradoxically) “defensive” forces are aimed primarily at the destruction of the adversary’s country, maintaining deterrence by rendering any meaningful victory in war impossible. By making offensive war impossible, nuclear deterrence effectively privileges the defender, even if no material defense is possible.[32] Capabilities that might undermine mutual vulnerability by threatening an adversary’s nuclear forces directly — whether accurate, fast-striking offensive missiles or effective missile defense systems — are deemed to be “offensive” or “destabilizing,” because the “use them or lose them” dilemma they create generates strong incentives to shoot first in a crisis.[33] Stability arms control thus contributes to the cause of peace by limiting those weapons that might undermine the defense-dominance of great-power politics. Historically, stability has been an important objective of many great powers’ arms-limitation agreements. Some negotiations in the interwar period sought to tailor offensive and defensive forces to establish a more secure balance of power. For example, the 1922 Washington Naval Treaty placed limits on both battleship numbers and fortified bases in order to create a defense-dominant environment in the Pacific.[34] Before its disbandment, the World Disarmament Conference of the League of Nations also placed a high priority on limiting offensive arms.[35] The formal logic of stability took off in the 1950s with the proliferation of nuclear weapons and ballistic missile technology. Classical arms-control theorists including Thomas Schelling, Morton Halperin, and Hedley Bull argued that arms-control negotiations could construct a stable balance of terror between the superpowers.[36] In this view, deterrence could be reinforced by restricting access to damage-limiting capabilities, like large and accurate intercontinental ballistic missiles (ICBMs) and ABM defenses.[37] By reducing incentives to limit damage through preemptive attack, this approach to arms control would disincentivize countries from engaging in intentional war while also reducing the danger of accidental escalation in a crisis.[38] By the late 1960s, stability had become entrenched as one of the most important objectives of superpower arms control, with widespread condemnation — among experts and the public — of anti-ballistic-missile systems as well as large and accurate ICBM deployments.[39] Crisis and arms-race stability remain a touchstone for contemporary debates on arms-control policy.[40] Unlike disarmament, the policy prescriptions of stability arms control prefer immediate and permanent solutions to pressing military-technical problems. This is because most proponents of stability arms control locate the problem to be solved in the specific technical characteristics of the weapons and their interaction with other weapons systems. For example, large surface-based ballistic missiles are inherently destabilizing because they can be effectively targeted and destroyed by other large surface-based ballistic missiles. By comparison, the technical capabilities of ballistic-missile submarines, and their relative invulnerability to other weapons, render them stabilizing, rather than destabilizing.[41] As a result, proponents of stability arms control tend to see arms-control agreements as fixed commitments to limit inherently dangerous weapons, whose revision or abrogation would, in their view, be a mistake.[42] To the extent that change occurs, it is primarily driven by the introduction of new, perhaps even more destabilizing, technologies.[43] Advocates of stability arms control also tend to be skeptical of partial measures, which they view as missed opportunities to control the entire military-technical problem.[44] This approach’s focus on producing self-contained, mutually beneficial, and timeless arms-control agreements is distinct from both disarmament and advantage arms control, which often consider individual agreements as components of larger programs to promote peace. As with disarmament, stability arms control is not without its critics. First, a number of scholars have criticized the central claims of offense-defense theory, arguing that weapons cannot be readily divided into “stabilizing” and “destabilizing” camps, that it is too difficult for states to determine whether an adversary’s deployments are stabilizing or destabilizing, or that states do not evaluate weapons types in crafting their foreign policy.[45] Absent the ability to classify weapons as stabilizing or destabilizing, it is difficult to imagine how states could reduce the chances of war by limiting destabilizing weapons. Second, proponents of the nuclear revolution thesis question whether the advent of nuclear weapons has rendered the military balance largely superfluous, creating instead a relatively stable realm of nuclear peace between the great powers. If nuclear weapons automatically eliminate the possibility of war, then negotiations to tailor the specific makeup of armaments may not matter much in reducing the chances of war.[46] Finally, deterrence skeptics call into question whether armed forces, especially nuclear forces, are really an effective tool for preventing war. If even “stabilizing” weapons cannot prevent war, then perhaps broader disarmament is preferable to cooperative tinkering of armed forces.[47] As with disarmament, the empirical record remains ambiguous, with scholars deeply divided over whether the offense-defense balance has driven great powers to war and whether effective engineering of the offense-defense balance through arms control has made the world a safer place.[48] Actors and Advantage A third common explanation for how wars start suggests that some actors are simply more prone to war than others. Scholars have advanced several reasons for why some states may be more likely to cause war. First, some states may be ideologically or culturally predisposed toward war. Nazi Germany is the most obvious and grotesque example,[49] but during the Cold War scholars criticized the United States and the Soviet Union as ideologically driven and especially war-prone.[50] Second, some states may be institutionally predisposed toward war, particularly if their leaders find international military disputes useful for distracting from domestic difficulties.[51] Since the Cold War ended, much attention has been given to “rogue states,” whose rejection of liberal internationalism and unstable domestic politics are said to pose a significant threat to world peace.[52] Third, the anarchic structure of international politics may drive some states to grow more aggressive over time. Scholars of power-transition theory maintain that war becomes more likely as newly rising great powers seek to revise the distribution of goods in their favor, while hegemons attempt to preempt the emergence of new rivals.[53] Under any of these conditions, peace may depend primarily on the ability of relatively peaceful status quo states to maintain a preponderance of military power, to deter aggressive adversaries from attacking.[54] If some states are particularly prone to war, and international peace depends primarily on arraying sufficient forces to deter them, then arms control can contribute to peace primarily through promoting the military advantage of status quo powers. To accomplish this goal, states can structure arms-control agreements to place stricter limits on their adversaries than on themselves, or they can seek to construct symmetrical arms-control regimes that limit weapons technologies more advantageous to their adversaries.[55] Although it is tempting to write off advantage arms control as a cynical ploy, it rests on a clear logic of preventing war: Limiting particularly dangerous actors’ access to advanced weapons technology can strengthen deterrence by reinforcing the military advantages of the status quo powers. [quote id="2"] Historically, advantage has been a chief objective of many arms-limitation arrangements. Early efforts to leverage arms control for advantage occurred at the conclusion of major wars, including Sparta’s destruction of Athens’s walls and navy, Rome’s disarmament of Carthage after the Punic Wars, and the limitations on German military power in the Treaty of Versailles.[56] Interwar naval arms control was also heavily influenced by calculations of relative military and industrial advantage, especially the United States and Great Britain’s imposition of a 10-to-six ratio in naval strength regarding Japan.[57] Although all of the signatories of interwar naval arms limitation agreements pursued advantage within the formal negotiated limits, the Germans and Japanese also sought advantage by cheating on their arms-control commitments.[58] During the Cold War, a number of U.S. political scientists, including Donald Brennan, William Kintner, and Robert Pfaltzgraff, developed more formal arguments concerning how the United States might employ arms control to limit Soviet military advantage, though these ideas never received the same level of attention as those of stability arms-control advocates like Schelling, Halperin, and Bull.[59] Although proponents of advantage arms control had limited impact on the emerging field of political science, their ideas had a stronger influence over U.S. arms-control policy: U.S. leaders privately evaluated arms-control proposals on the basis of the relative advantages they afforded to the United States and the Soviet Union.[60] Furthermore, although the evidence on Soviet motives is limited and mixed, there is also reason to believe that the Soviet leadership continued to seek some margin of nuclear superiority over the United States in arms-control negotiations.[61] To date, much of the discussion concerning arms-limitation negotiations with North Korea centers on the importance of denying its unstable regime the military advantages of possessing nuclear weapons or long-range missiles.[62] Like disarmament, and unlike stability, advantage arms control views the value of individual arms-control agreements through the prism of their contribution to a larger peace-promoting agenda: in this case, promoting the military advantage of status quo powers over war-prone revisionist powers. While stability arms control characterizes specific weapons technologies as inherently stabilizing or destabilizing, advantage arms control proceeds by emphasizing the role of various weapons technologies within the structure of long-term competition. For advocates of advantage arms control, agreements may dictate the pace of arms competition, allowing status quo states to put off competition until more favorable circumstances arise. They may push competition into environments more conducive to status quo states, for example by forcing revisionist land powers to compete primarily at sea, or vice versa. They may also shape competition to promote the relative military-technical advantages of status quo states, for example, by shifting competition from quantitative arms racing to qualitative arms racing.[63] Because the mix of political, military, economic, and cultural factors driving long-term competition changes over time, proponents of advantage arms control tend to see arms-limitation agreements as temporary tools whose utility may expire as the larger structure of competition changes. Unlike disarmament arms controllers, advantage arms controllers do not necessarily see arms-control agreements as progressive building blocks toward a larger, peaceful goal. Rather, many advocates of advantage arms control view long-term competition as a normal part of great-power relations in which states compete for marginal military advantages over time. Arms-control agreements are seen as instrumental in shaping this competition, to be concluded and discarded as convenient.[64] Peace is a product of this competitive interaction rather than an end result of a transformative process. While it is difficult to imagine a state concluding an agreement that places it at a disadvantage, scholars studying competitive arms control have suggested a number of scenarios under which advantage arms limitation might occur. First, a state seeking stability might be tricked into an arms-control agreement that undermines its relative security. Cold War theorists of competitive arms control were constantly concerned that the Soviet Union might trick the United States into such an agreement.[65] Second, a leader in a weak political position might agree to a disadvantageous arms-control agreement in order to secure the domestic political benefits of the agreement. Some observers have viewed Gorbachev’s dramatic arms-control concessions in this light.[66] Third, adversaries might conclude an arms-control agreement that promotes different relative advantages for each side. For example, while the 1922 Washington Naval Treaty codified a 10-to-six U.S. advantage in battleship tonnage over Japan, the U.S. agreement not to fortify its bases in the Western Pacific provided Japan with a substantial advantage in Northeast Asia.[67] Finally, adversaries might have different calculations about the long-term implications of an arms-control agreement, with each side seeking to advance its own competitive advantage.[68] The practice of negotiating limitations on complex weapons systems opens up possibilities for creative misunderstandings, generating opportunities for states to seek advantage through arms control.[69] Like both disarmament and stability, the basic assumptions underlying arms control for advantage have been subject to ample criticism. First, many scholars question whether factors such as regime type, ideological orientation, or power transition theory adequately explain the outbreak of war.[70] Even among those who accept that these factors might explain why wars begin, debates rage over which regimes, ideologies, or positions are most prone to war.[71] Second, analysts remain uncertain over how much relative advantage in military capabilities actually improves deterrence when compared with other factors such as the relative interests or resolve of the adversaries involved, or their ability to communicate those interests and resolve to each other.[72] This is especially the case where nuclear weapons are involved: Some scholars argue that even a small nuclear arsenal makes deterrence easy, rendering the balance of capabilities largely superfluous, while others maintain that even marginal advantages in the relative nuclear balance can have outsize effects on the success or failure of deterrence.[73] Third, critics maintain that arms-control negotiations are ineffective in modifying the balance of military capabilities, and instead simply ratify the preexisting balance.[74] In the face of this criticism, it is difficult to determine whether arms control for advantage really makes war less likely. Jervis’ admonition that one’s theory of arms control ought to emerge from one’s theory of war thus presents a serious problem. The multiple, competing explanations for war call for multiple, competing approaches to arms control. The theoretical bases of these competing explanations for war are diverse, focusing on different causal mechanisms and generating very different policy prescriptions. Indeed, these competing approaches to arms control rest on such different theoretical foundations that proponents of each often downplay or even ignore the existence of the others. Yet given the diversity of explanations for war, each approach can credibly claim the mantle of “arms control,” and none can be easily rejected as obviously false. This cacophony of arms-control purposes creates serious challenges for policymakers.

Purpose and Policy: The ABM Treaty, 1972–2001

While scholars may agree to disagree about arms control, political leaders can enjoy no such luxury. In order to conduct effective negotiations, a government must develop an arms-control policy to guide its negotiators. Absent a clear and uncontested understanding of the purpose of arms control, how can such a policy be constructed? In theory, one might expect a government to select from the approaches outlined above and to pursue it as the primary objective of negotiations. In practice, however, leaders often produce arms-control policy that seeks to compromise among the competing goals. This sort of compromise allows leaders to build the domestic coalitions necessary to prevail in the “two-level game” of arms control, where leaders must conclude international and domestic bargains at the same time.[75] It also allows leaders to hedge their bets between competing theories. Analyses assuming a single, obvious rationale for arms control have generally viewed these sorts of compromises as a dilution of true purpose.[76] Once one accepts that arms control can have multiple purposes, however, it becomes easier to appreciate that these compromises serve as the building blocks of success. A key example is the 1972 ABM Treaty, a single agreement that ultimately came to embody the hopes and fears of all three approaches to arms control — disarmament, stability, and advantage. The idea of a treaty to limit anti-ballistic missiles originated in the Johnson administration in the mid-1960s. Already facing the double challenge of waging the Vietnam War while advancing the Great Society program, President Lyndon Johnson was eager to avoid an ABM arms race with the Soviets, which threatened to be both costly and politically unpopular. Johnson also feared that conservatives would punish him politically if he unilaterally limited America’s ABM deployments. So, Johnson and Defense Secretary Robert McNamara sought to negotiate a bilateral agreement with the Soviet Union limiting these missiles, an approach that would avert the costs of their deployment while also bolstering the U.S. strategy of assured destruction, which sought to convince the Soviets of the futility of further arms racing.[77] The Soviets initially rebuffed Johnson’s proposal for arms limitation but ultimately agreed to talks. Soviet willingness to begin Strategic Arms Limitation Talks (SALT) came too late for Johnson, who, by 1968, was already on his way out of office.[78] Unlike Johnson, incoming President Richard Nixon remained committed to deploying some kind of ABM system. Nixon had wooed conservative voters in 1968 with promises of restoring America’s strategic superiority over the Soviet Union, including some form of ABM deployment.[79] Moreover, Nixon appointed a cadre of competitive arms controllers to the Defense Department and National Security Council staff who saw ABM technology as a crucial area of U.S. advantage that should be fully exploited. Defense Secretary Melvin Laird and Deputy Defense Secretary David Packard believed that U.S. advantages in precision manufacturing, advanced electronics, and digital computing would ultimately allow the United States to deploy an ABM system far superior to anything that the Soviets could produce.[80] In March 1969, Laird proposed that the United States deploy an ABM system known as “Safeguard” — which included a dozen major ABM sites across the United States — that was capable of providing a limited defense of U.S. cities and strategic forces from a Chinese or Soviet attack.[81] In addition to its own merits, many within the defense establishment saw Safeguard as a first step toward an even more capable ABM system.[82] From the beginning, conservatives in the Nixon administration were determined to use ABM technology to promote U.S. military advantage over the Soviet Union. For Nixon, the test would be finding ways to exploit those advantages while also bolstering strategic stability. The Nixon administration blended arms-control purposes for multiple reasons. The first and most obvious was that policymakers were unsure as to which logic was best or whether some combination of them might be preferable. For example, in approaching SALT, National Security Adviser Henry Kissinger was of two minds. In a May 1969 memo to Nixon on SALT options, Kissinger outlined the major U.S. objective in arms-limitation negotiations with the Soviet Union as such: “An agreement could freeze or codify strategic relationships in a manner which preserves ‘equality’ at worst and a U.S. edge at best.” Kissinger sought an agreement that would broadly stabilize the arms race while allowing for U.S. advantages on the margins, the better to strengthen “an American President’s resolve in a crisis.”[83] In doing so, Kissinger personally combined both the stability and advantage approaches to arms control. [quote id="3"] Arms-control purposes are further blended through the domestic policy process as officials with differing preferences build coalitions to support their own views and compromise with other coalitions to produce policy. On the issue of anti-ballistic missiles, Nixon could not do as he pleased because his government was deeply divided over the merits of ABMs. While proponents in the Defense Department and White House insisted on moving forward with ABM deployments, opponents in the State Department and the Arms Control and Disarmament Agency, including Secretary of State William Rogers and agency Director Gerard Smith, insisted that any ABM deployment would undermine the strategic equilibrium with the Soviet Union. Rogers and Smith instead promoted a stability approach to arms control, arguing that the United States should seek an agreement with the Soviets to ban ABMs as soon as possible.[84] The conflict between advocates of advantage arms control in the Defense Department and proponents of stability arms control at the Arms Control and Disarmament Agency would define the Nixon administration’s approach to SALT.[85] The division between proponents and opponents of ABMs initially led the Nixon administration to an impasse regarding SALT. Proponents of advantage arms control, like Laird, Packard, and Chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff Earle Wheeler, argued that any SALT agreement would need to allow the full 12-site Safeguard deployment. Meanwhile, stability arms controllers, including Smith and Rogers, called for an immediate freeze on all ABM construction.[86] Internal debates about the wisdom of ABM deployment quickly spilled into public view as congressional opponents of the missiles organized to block the first phase of Safeguard’s deployment. Constant leaking from the administration, as well as awkward public controversies between government officials, repeatedly undermined Safeguard’s chances.[87] After a bruising congressional battle, funding for the first phase of Safeguard squeaked through the U.S. Senate in August 1969 on a 50-50 split, with Vice President Spiro Agnew casting the tie-breaking vote.[88] Challenged by Congress and unable to control his subordinates, Nixon’s strategic arms policy was off to an inauspicious start. Congressional opposition to Safeguard shaped the U.S. position on SALT. By the fall of 1969, the intensity of congressional opposition convinced advantage arms controllers like Laird and Packard that the United States would not be able to deploy the full 12-site Safeguard system in the near future. Not coincidentally, they began to promote a much more stringent ABM agreement that would, in effect, confine the Soviets to the level of ABM deployment that the U.S. Congress would allow — the two ABM sites authorized in the first phase of Safeguard.[89] The Defense Department’s shifting priorities lined up with the State Department and the Arms Control and Disarmament Agency’s continued advocacy of a zero- or low-level ABM agreement.[90] As a result, the initial U.S. proposals on SALT in April 1970 sought to limit ABMs to very low levels, with only one or two bases allowed per side.[91] The Soviets immediately accepted, in principle, the idea of maintaining low-level ABM deployments, setting the basic terms for the ABM Treaty that would be concluded in Moscow two years later.[92] The ABM “compromise” in the Nixon administration was itself the result of some creative misunderstanding between advocates of advantage and stability arms control. While Smith and Rogers saw the ABM limitations as preventing widespread proliferation of a destabilizing weapons technology, Laird and Packard saw these limitations as necessary to prevent unlimited Soviet deployments, which, for political reasons, the United States would not be able to match. We know that advocates of advantage arms control in the Defense Department continued to see ABM technology as an area of relative U.S. advantage because they continually attempted to push the envelope on ABM deployments. Although by late 1969 Laird and Packard had despaired of further ABM deployments by the United States, at least in the short term, Senate debate in the summer of 1970 suggested that Congress might fund a more extensive ABM deployment if it were limited to defending ICBM fields in the Midwest. This, in turn, rekindled Laird and Packard’s interest.[93] The realization that Congress might fund more than two ABM sites caused Laird and Packard to have serious buyer’s remorse over the April 1970 SALT proposals limiting ABM deployments, which the Soviets had already accepted. In 1971, in the face of deadlock with the Soviets over how to limit offensive forces, the Defense Department began insisting that any SALT agreement provide the United States with a four-to-one advantage in ABM bases, driven by Laird and Packard’s conviction that Congress would eventually fund four ABM sites.[94] The U.S. and Soviet SALT delegations spent the better part of a year wrangling over this new ABM proposal, with the U.S. delegates eventually falling back to two-for-one, while the Soviets continued to insist on the April 1970 proposal for equal bases.[95] By that point, the Defense Department had already moved on from its interest in Safeguard ABM “bases” and was, instead, proposing a new ABM modality in which several short-range interceptors would be co-located with each ICBM silo, resulting in the distributed deployment of thousands of interceptors and hundreds of networked radars. True to form, Laird and Packard pushed for a new ABM arms-control proposal under which the United States would be able to deploy such an expansive ABM system while the Soviets would remain limited to their single ABM facility in Moscow.[96] This was too far even for Nixon, who, along with Kissinger, had concluded that anything other than ABM equality would be non-negotiable with the Soviets.[97] As a result, the ABM Treaty concluded by Nixon and Leonid Brezhnev in May 1972 allowed each side two ABM bases, later reduced to a single base for each.[98] The Defense Department’s efforts to reformulate the ABM negotiations have received little attention from historians because the final agreement dictated an equal number of bases. However, these behind-the-scenes efforts indicate that many within the U.S. government continued to view ABM technology as an area of U.S. relative advantage and sought to use the ABM Treaty as an opportunity for gaining strategic advantage over the Soviets. Even in establishing numerical parity, the 1972 ABM Treaty contained several concessions to proponents of advantage arms control.[99] First and foremost, the United States was allowed to deploy an ABM base, which Laird and Packard hoped would provide the opportunity to gain real experience in operating ABM technology, if only on a small scale.[100] But even this small-scale deployment was not guaranteed: Stability arms controllers had argued on numerous occasions that the United States ought to push the Soviets for a zero-ABM agreement.[101] The crux of the issue was not so much the immediate ABM deployment but, rather, the long-term implications of ABM research and testing. In addition to the perceived wastefulness of ABM deployments, stability arms controllers argued that a zero-ABM agreement would be easier to verify, since it would prohibit not only ABM deployments but also testing of ABM system components, making covert cheating by the Soviets all but impossible.[102] Advantage arms controllers generally agreed that a treaty that allowed limited ABM deployment and testing would be harder to verify but argued that the United States needed to retain its basis for ABM testing to enable possible future deployments.[103] Rather than a simple ban on deployment and testing, the 1972 ABM Treaty allowed testing at specified ranges, with verification enabled by a series of definitions concerning “ABM system components,” including the allowed power-aperture ratio for search radars and the permitted testing configuration of surface-to-air missiles.[104] The complexity and risk involved in this scheme demonstrate the value that advocates of advantage arms control placed on retaining ABM testing facilities — Laird, Packard, and others were willing to run higher risks of Soviet cheating if it meant the United States retained the ability to test and deploy new ABM technologies. In addition to allowing deployment and testing of ABM system components, the ABM Treaty contained two other important concessions to advocates of advantage arms control. First, although the treaty banned testing and deployment of “exotic” ABM technologies, it did not ban research short of testing. As a result, even under the treaty the United States would be able to push the envelope of ABM technology, pursuing new sensors and interceptors considerably more advanced than the Safeguard components of the early 1970s.[105] Second, the ABM Treaty contained explicit withdrawal provisions, providing each party with the right to terminate the treaty should its “supreme interests” be on the line.[106] Stability arms controllers, as well as the Soviet SALT delegates, argued that such language was unnecessary, but advantage arms controllers in the National Security Council staff and Defense Department insisted on its inclusion, creating a backdoor for possible future abrogation.[107] As a result, while stability arms controllers could praise the ABM Treaty for placing limits on a dangerous technology in perpetuity, advantage arms controllers saw the treaty as a temporary measure designed to hold off Soviet deployments while the United States made progress on ABM technology, awaiting a more propitious domestic political environment when full ABM deployment would be possible.[108] The compromise at the heart of the ABM Treaty rested on the different time horizons of the proponents of stability and competitive arms control. Advocates of stability arms control insisted that ballistic missile defenses were, by nature, destabilizing. Their insistence on technology’s unchanging nature meant that their time horizon was short: Because the technology’s meaning was fixed, what was good for the moment was assumed to be good in perpetuity. By comparison, proponents of advantage arms control believed that the meaning of ABM technology might evolve organically as the technology itself matured and as the political context changed. The resulting ABM Treaty succeeded by juggling these differing time horizons: Stability arms controllers received concrete restrictions in the present, while advantage arms controllers satisfied themselves with possibilities for the future. By exploiting the two time horizons of the opposing schools of arms control, Nixon and Kissinger were able to build a historic compromise. Imbued from its creation with multiple purposes, the ABM Treaty did not remain static in meaning but evolved over time. Originally a compromise between the stability and advantage schools of arms control, by the 1980s the ABM Treaty also gained a substantial disarmament logic, as proponents of disarmament embraced the treaty as a tool for reducing nuclear arsenals. Nuclear disarmers argued that the mutual vulnerability enshrined in the ABM Treaty provided the context in which steep cuts to offensive nuclear forces could take place.[109] Much like advantage arms controllers, disarmers came to see the ABM Treaty as an important first step — however flawed — in a much longer contest, allowing them to join advantage and stability arms controllers in supporting the same arms-control regime, albeit for radically different reasons. [quote id="4"] Around the same time, advantage arms controllers began questioning whether the moment had come for the United States to cast off the ABM Treaty and rush ahead in ABM technology. Advantage arms controllers in the Reagan administration tested the treaty’s limits in order to pursue more advanced ABM technology through the Strategic Defense Initiative (SDI), arguing that the text of the ABM Treaty technically allowed the testing of certain “exotic” ABM system components, even if the negotiating record was ambiguous.[110] Debate over SDI between the disarmament, stability, and advantage factions was fierce. Nevertheless, the new “exotic” ABM technologies offered by SDI were insufficiently mature to warrant testing or deployment. When Reagan left office, the ABM Treaty remained in place even as the United States continued to develop new ABM concepts and components.[111] Over time, however, the ABM Treaty’s appeal to advantage arms controllers diminished, much as its initial pro-advantage authors had intended. By the late 1990s, many proponents of advantage arms control believed that new ABM technology had matured to the point where it was ready for serious testing and deployment.[112] At the same time, evolving threats from the smaller missile arsenals of “rogue states” increased the incentive to develop even a small ABM system.[113] These changes in context convinced many conservatives that the period in which the ABM Treaty contributed to U.S. national security had passed. In another example of the U.S. search for advantage in arms control, the Clinton administration initially attempted to modify the ABM Treaty to allow for further U.S. deployments.[114] When Russia proved unwilling to modify the treaty to allow such deployments, the George W. Bush administration announced its intention to withdraw in December 2001, setting off a wave of ABM testing and deployment that continues today.[115] The ABM Treaty’s greatest long-term strength was its ability to encompass multiple arms-control agendas, which gave it significant staying power and even allowed additional rationales to be added to the treaty over time. However, it could not survive the wholesale defection of advantage arms controllers in the 1990s and, as such, was abrogated. Proponents of stability arms control saw leaving the ABM Treaty as a betrayal of its original principles, allowing an inherently dangerous technology back into the world.[116] In some ways, however, abrogation of the ABM Treaty was not a betrayal of its founding principles but, rather, their natural culmination. From the advantage point of view, the treaty had stalled any Soviet or Russian ABM program, allowing continued U.S. progress on ABM technology while waiting for a domestic political circumstance more favorable to deployment. Whether the ABM Treaty was a failure or success depends largely on one’s perspective.

Conclusion

To understand the history or the contemporary practice of arms control, one must recognize that arms-limitation agreements often serve multiple and contradictory purposes. In the quest to prevent war, arms limitation may assist in disarmament, stability, or advantage, each of which is rooted in a plausible explanation for what causes war and each of which can credibly claim the mantle of “arms control.” Absent consensus on which approach is most effective at preventing war, the formation of arms-control policy has been difficult. In practice, policymakers have juggled the differing time horizons of competing arms-control constituencies to produce compromises capable of advancing all three arms-control aims simultaneously, at least for a time. Recognizing the multiple purposes of arms control has critical implications for scholars and policymakers. For scholars, recognizing arms control’s multiple goals is important for expanding an understanding of arms control and international politics more broadly. Arms control is not always a cooperative enterprise: Such agreements have served as vehicles for promoting the relative military advantages of great and minor powers. Studies that treat arms control as a purely cooperative endeavor will inevitably capture only half of the picture. For political scientists, this may involve recoding cases in which the existence of arms-control negotiations is treated ipso facto as evidence of improving cooperation between states rather than a different form of competition.[117] For historians, this will require reconsidering the success or failure of arms-control negotiations in light of their ability to advance multiple agendas rather than a single logic.[118] For both political scientists and historians, the flexibility of what arms control means may pose deeper questions concerning the nature of cooperation and competition in international politics and whether those concepts are mutually exclusive or interrelated. Given the difficulties entailed in producing a unified theory of arms control, scholars would do well to consider lessons from the practical world of statecraft, where theoretical rigor is often less important than political necessity. This is especially the case when arms-control arrangements must be cobbled together out of multiple competing purposes, assembling the parallel coalitions required to prevail in complex two-level negotiations. Under these circumstances, one of the most important resources available to a would-be arms controller is time. Competing interests with different time horizons can be assembled into arms-control compromises in which each side gets what it wants but at different points. Furthermore, initial compromises on the meaning of arms control are open to reinterpretation and revision over time, as arms-control regimes gain new meanings and contexts. Recognizing that arms-control agreements can serve multiple purposes, and that these objectives might change over time, can lead to a better understanding of why some agreements last, why some end, and why those that end break down when they do. The longest-lasting arms-limitation agreements are likely to be those that can continue to embody multiple agendas while also adapting to new contexts. An agreement is unlikely to last when it no longer appears to serve a sufficiently large range of purposes and when leaders become disillusioned with the utility of arms control for achieving their objectives. For policymakers, recognizing the existence of multiple arms-control agendas is both good and bad. The bad news is that understanding the policy implications of existing and notional arms-control agreements is extremely difficult, because agreements often serve several purposes and may have different meanings for different actors. As a result, the State and Defense Departments may have radically different understandings of a given agreement’s purpose, while foreign interlocutors are likely to have views of their own.[119] Balancing these competing views is tremendously difficult, especially in periods of significant international and domestic political confusion and rancor. As in the Cold War, the goal of enacting arms control is likely to remain very challenging. The good news is that significant opportunities exist in the contemporary U.S. political scene for effective coalition building in favor of arms-control proposals, with figures as far apart politically as John Bolton, Bill Clinton, and Derek Johnson all calling for an arms-control solution to the threat posed by North Korea’s nuclear arsenal.[120] There is strong reason to suspect that Bolton, Clinton, and Johnson each prefer an arms-control solution to the North Korean nuclear threat for different reasons.[121] Nonetheless, the fact that three prominent figures with such different views about national security affairs have arrived at a similar policy aim, even in a period of tremendous partisan division, is surely cause for hope. As the example of the ABM Treaty demonstrates, appeals to cooperation and normative leadership are unlikely to be sufficient to advance a successful policy of arms control. Proponents of arms-control solutions would do better to cast a “big tent” on any such policy and seek to justify their prescriptions to multiple constituencies based on multiple logics. In doing so, considerable advantage can be derived by emphasizing that each constituency can receive what it wants, just at different times. Some good work has been done concerning how “progress” on arms-control issues might be organized into timelines,[122] which could provide different benefits to different arms-control constituencies at different times. Such an approach stands a chance of succeeding, even in the face of tremendous division over America’s proper role in the world. The future of arms control, much like its past, will depend on effective compromise between competing purposes.   John D. Maurer is the Henry A. Kissinger Postdoctoral Fellow at International Security Studies (ISS) and the Jackson Institute for Global Affairs at Yale University. His current book project focuses on the Strategic Arms Limitation Talks (SALT) in the Nixon administration, drawing on the Kissinger Papers at Yale to examine how academic ideas on the nature of arms control shaped U.S. arms control policy. His work has appeared in Diplomatic History, the National Interest, and War on the Rocks. He would like to thank Fritz Bartel, Paul Braken, Ian Johnson, Paul Kennedy, Keir Lieber, Nicholas Meyers, Nuno Monteiro, Kathryn Olesko, David Painter, Eric Sand, Evan Wilson, Remco Zwetsloot, the participants in the Yale ISS Colloquium, and the three anonymous readers at Texas National Security Review for their useful feedback on earlier drafts of this article.   Image: Ford Library Museum [post_title] => The Purposes of Arms Control [post_excerpt] => [post_status] => publish [comment_status] => open [ping_status] => closed [post_password] => [post_name] => the-purposes-of-arms-control [to_ping] => [pinged] => [post_modified] => 2018-11-15 11:31:57 [post_modified_gmt] => 2018-11-15 16:31:57 [post_content_filtered] => [post_parent] => 0 [guid] => http://tnsr.org/?p=769 [menu_order] => 0 [post_type] => post [post_mime_type] => [comment_count] => 0 [filter] => raw [meta] => [lead] => In this paper, I review three major purposes for arms control negotiations — disarmament, stability, and advantage. In the first part of the paper, I compare the three purposes against the causes of war literature to show that each provides a defensible rationale for reducing the chances of war. While scholars debate which approach to arms control is correct, historically, policymakers have embraced arms control pluralism, pursuing agreements that can advance multiple arms control objectives simultaneously. In the second part of the paper, I demonstrate how the Nixon administration’s negotiation of the 1972 Anti-Ballistic Missile Treaty combined these multiple purposes. [pubinfo] => [issue] => Vol 2, Iss 1 [quotes] => Array ( [0] => Array ( [author] => [style] => left [text] => Proponents of disarmament arms control often take a long-term view of the purpose of arms control... ) [1] => Array ( [author] => [style] => right [text] => [A]dvantage arms control views the value of individual arms-control agreements through the prism of their contribution to a larger peace-promoting agenda... ) [2] => Array ( [author] => [style] => left [text] => The division between proponents and opponents of ABMs initially led the Nixon administration to an impasse regarding SALT. ) [3] => Array ( [author] => [style] => right [text] => Imbued from its creation with multiple purposes, the ABM Treaty did not remain static in meaning but evolved over time. ) ) [style] => scholarly [type] => Scholarly [style_label] => The Scholar [download] => Array ( [title] => PDF Download [file] => ) [authors] => Array ( [0] => 224 ) [endnotes] => Array ( [title] => Endnotes [endnotes] => [1] Uri Friedman, “John Bolton’s Radical Views on North Korea,” Atlantic, March 23, 2018, https://www.theatlantic.com/international/archive/2018/03/john-bolton-north-korea/556370/; Vipin Narang and Ankit Panda, “War of the Words: North Korea, Trump, and Strategic Stability,” War on the Rocks, Aug. 10, 2017, https://warontherocks.com/2017/08/war-of-the-words-north-korea-trump-and-strategic-stability/; “Global Zero Statement on North Korea Nuclear Crisis,” Common Dreams, Aug. 9, 2017, https://www.commondreams.org/newswire/2017/08/09/global-zero-statement-north-korea-nuclear-crisis. [2] Robert Jervis, “Arms Control, Stability, and Causes of War,” Political Science Quarterly 108, no. 2 (Summer 1993): 239, https://www.jstor.org/stable/2152010. [3] Kenneth N. Waltz, Man, the State, and War (New York: Columbia University Press, 1959); James D. Fearon, “Rationalist Explanations for War,” International Organization 49, no. 3 (1995): 379–414, https://www.jstor.org/stable/2706903. [4] Emanuel Adler, “The Emergence of Cooperation: National Epistemic Communities and the International Evolution of the Idea of Nuclear Arms Control,” International Organization 46, no. 1 (Winter 1992): 101–45, https://doi.org/10.1017/S0020818300001466; Jeffrey W. Knopf, Domestic Society and International Cooperation: The Impact of Protest on US Arms Control Policy (New York: Cambridge University Press, 1998); Steven Pifer, “Arms Control, Security Cooperation, and U.S.-Russian Relations,” Brookings Institution, Nov. 17, 2017, https://www.brookings.edu/research/arms-control-security-cooperation-and-u-s-russian-relations/. [5] Steve Weber, Cooperation and Discord in U.S.-Soviet Arms Control (Princeton, NJ: Princeton University Press, 1991); Knopf, Domestic Society and International Cooperation; Jozef Goldblat, Arms Control: The New Guide to Negotiations and Agreements (Thousand Oaks, CA: Sage Publications, 2002), 10–11; Marie Isabelle Chevrier, Arms Control Policy: A Guide to the Issues (New York: Praeger, 2012), 5–6. [6] Jervis, “Arms Control, Stability, and Causes of War”; Marc Trachtenberg, “The Past and Future of Arms Control,” Daedalus 120, no. 1 (Winter 1991): 203–16, https://www.jstor.org/stable/20025364; Michael Krepon, Better Safe Than Sorry: The Ironies of Living with the Bomb (Stanford, CA: Stanford University Press, 2009), 40–43; James H. Lebovic, Flawed Logics: Strategic Nuclear Arms Control from Truman to Obama (Baltimore, MD: Johns Hopkins University Press, 2013). [7] Dwight Eisenhower, “Farewell Radio and Television Address to the American People,” Jan. 17, 1961, https://www.presidency.ucsb.edu/node/234856. [8] Seymour Melman, Pentagon Capitalism: The Political Economy of War (New York: McGraw-Hill, 1970); Stuart D. Brandes, Warhogs: A History of War Profits in America (Lexington, KY: University Press of Kentucky, 1997). [9] Norman Cousins, Who Speaks for Man? (New York: Macmillan, 1953); “The Russell-Einstein Manifesto,” July 9, 1955, https://pugwash.org/1955/07/09/statement-manifesto/; Jonathan Schell, The Fate of the Earth and the Abolition (Stanford, CA: Stanford University Press, 2000), 3–96; Harald Müller, “Out of the Box: Nuclear Disarmament and Cultural Change,” in Stable Nuclear Zero: The Vision and Its Implications for Disarmament Policy, ed. Sverre Lodgaard (New York: Routledge, 2017), 55–72. [10] William Appleman Williams, Empire as a Way of Life (New York: Oxford University Press, 1980), 142–45; Immanuel Wallerstein, “The Curve of American Power,” New Left Review 40 (July-August 2006): 77–94; Carol Cohn, “Sex and Death in the Rational World of Defense Intellectuals,” Signs 12, no. 4 (Summer 1987): 687–718, https://www.jstor.org/stable/3174209; Elizabeth Frazer and Kimberly Hutchings, “Revisiting Ruddick: Feminism, Pacifism and Non-Violence,” Journal of International Political Theory 10, no. 1 (2014): 109–24; https://doi.org/10.1177%2F1755088213507191; Slavoj Žižek, Iraq: The Borrowed Kettle (New York: Verso Books, 2005). [11] Lela B. Costin, “Feminism, Pacifism, Internationalism and the 1915 International Congress of Women,” Women’s Studies International Forum 5, no. 3–4 (1982): 301–15, https://doi.org/10.1016/0277-5395(82)90039-5; Elmar Schmähling, “Conclusion: A New Way of Thinking for a Future Security Regime,” in Life Beyond the Bomb: Global Stability Without Nuclear Deterrence, ed. Elmar Schmähling (New York: Berg, 1990), 189; Sverre Lodgaard, Nuclear Disarmament and Non-Proliferation: Towards a Nuclear-Weapon-Free World? (New York: Routledge, 2011), 219–22. [12] Frazer and Hutchings, “Revisiting Ruddick: Feminism, Pacifism and Non-Violence”; Kyle Harvey, American Anti-Nuclear Activism, 19751990: The Challenge of Peace (New York: Palgrave Macmillan, 2014), 12–41; Ian Harris and Charles F. Howlett, “Educating for Peace and Justice in America’s Nuclear Age,” Catalyst: A Social Justice Forum 1, no. 1 (2011): 20–51, https://trace.tennessee.edu/catalyst/vol1/iss1/6/. [13] I.S. Bloch, Is War Now Impossible? Being an Abridgement of ‘The War of the Future in Its Technical, Economic, and Political Relations’ (London: Grant Richards, 1899); Norman Angell, The Great Illusion: A Study of the Relation of Military Power to National Advantage (New York: G.P. Putnam & Sons, 1911); Charles Chatfield and Peter van den Dungen, eds., Peace Movements and Political Cultures (Knoxville, TN: University of Tennessee Press, 1988); John Chambers, The Eagle and the Dove: the American Peace Movement and United States Foreign Policy, 19001922 (Syracuse, NY: Syracuse University Press, 1991). [14] Walter Lippmann, U.S. Foreign Policy: Shield of the Republic (New York: Little, Brown, 1943), 54–57; Andrew Webster, “From Versailles to Geneva: The Many Forms of Interwar Disarmament,” Journal of Strategic Studies 29, no. 2 (2006): 225–46, https://doi.org/10.1080/01402390600585050; Waqar H. Zaidi, “Aviation Will Either Destroy or Save Our Civilization: Proposals for the International Control of Aviation, 1920–45,” Journal of Contemporary History 46, no. 1 (January 2011): 150–78, https://doi.org/10.1177%2F0022009410375257; Michael Pugh, Liberal Internationalism: The Interwar Movement for Peace in Britain (New York: Palgrave Macmillan, 2012). [15] Lawrence S. Wittner, The Struggle Against the Bomb, Volume One: One World or None: A History of the World Nuclear Disarmament Movement Through 1953 (Stanford, CA: Stanford University Press, 1993); Matthew Evangelista, Unarmed Forces: The Transnational Movement to End the Cold War (Ithaca, NY: Cornell University Press, 1999); Lyn Smith, Voices Against War: A Century of Protest (Edinburgh: Mainstream Publishing, 2009), 173–210. [16] Daniel Calingaert, Soviet Nuclear Policy Under Gorbachev: A Policy of Disarmament (New York: Praeger, 1991); Paul Lettow, Ronald Reagan and His Quest to Abolish Nuclear Weapons (New York: Random House, 2006); Ken Adelman, Reagan at Reykjavik: Forty-Eight Hours That Ended the Cold War (New York: Broadside Books, 2014). [17] “We Can Eliminate Nuclear Weapons in Our Lifetime,” Global Zero, https://www.globalzero.org. [18] Angela Kane, “The ‘Step-by-Step’ Process of Nuclear Disarmament: Quo Vadis?” United Nations Office for Disarmament Affairs, April 24, 2013, https://www.un.org/disarmament/update/20130424/; Randy Rydell, “A Strategic Plan for Nuclear Disarmament: Engineering a Perfect Political Storm,” Journal for Peace and Nuclear Disarmament 1, no. 1 (2018): 49–65, https://doi.org/10.1080/25751654.2017.1410386. But also see: John Carl Baker, “A First Look at a 21st Century Disarmament Movement,” Bulletin of the Atomic Scientists, Dec. 16, 2016, https://thebulletin.org/2016/12/a-first-look-at-a-21st-century-disarmament-movement/. [19] Jeffrey A. Larsen, “Strategic Arms Control since World War II,” in Arms Control: History, Theory, and Policy, Volume I: Foundations of Arms Control, ed. Robert E. Williams Jr. and Paul R. Viotti (Santa Barbara, CA: Praeger, 2012), 220–46; Scott Ritter, Dangerous Ground: America’s Failed Arms Control Policy, from FDR to Obama (New York: Nation Books, 2010), 8–12. [20] Jeffrey A. Larsen and James M. Smith, Historical Dictionary of Arms Control and Disarmament (Lanham, MD: Scarecrow Press, 2005), 7; Susan Willett, Costs of Disarmament — Rethinking the Price Tag: A Methodological Inquiry into the Costs and Benefits of Arms Control (Geneva: United Nations Institute for Disarmament Research, 2002), 44; Strobe Talbott, “U.S.-Russia Arms Control Was Possible Once — Is It Possible Still?” Brookings Institution’s Order From Chaos blog, Dec. 12 2017, https://www.brookings.edu/blog/order-from-chaos/2017/12/12/u-s-russia-arms-control-was-possible-once-is-it-possible-still/. [21] Thomas C. Schelling and Morton H. Halperin, Strategy and Arms Control (New York: Twentieth Century Fund, 1961), 2–5; Kenneth N. Waltz, “The Spread of Nuclear Weapons: More May Be Better,” Adelphi Papers 21, no. 171 (International Institute for Strategic Studies, 1981), https://doi.org/10.1080/05679328108457394; Harlow A. Hyde, Scraps of Paper: The Disarmament Treaties Between the World Wars (Lincoln, NE: Media Publishing, 1988). [22] Albert Wohlstetter, “Is There a Strategic Arms Race?” Foreign Policy 15 (Summer 1974): 3–20, https://doi.org/10.2307/1147927; Barry Buzan and Eric Herring, The Arms Dynamic in World Politics (Boulder, CO: Lynne Rienner, 1998); Andrew Kydd, “Arms Races and Arms Control: Modeling the Hawk Perspective,” American Journal of Political Science 44, no. 2 (April 2000): 228–44, https://doi.org/10.2307/2669307. [23] Michael E. O’Hanlon, A Skeptic’s Case for Nuclear Disarmament (Washington, DC: Brookings Institution Press, 2010), 82–91. [24] Robert G. Kaufman, “The Perils of Arms Control: The Lessons of Naval Arms Limitation during the Interwar Years,” in Arms Control: History, Theory, and Policy, Volume I: Foundations of Arms Control, ed. Robert E. Williams Jr. and Paul R. Viotti (Santa Barbara, CA: Praeger, 2012), 247–64; John Lewis Gaddis, “The Long Peace: Elements of Stability in the Postwar International System,” International Security 10, no. 4 (Spring 1986): 99–142, https://muse.jhu.edu/article/446174. [25] Cecelia Lynch, Beyond Appeasement: Interpreting Interwar Peace Movements in World Politics (Ithaca, NY: Cornell University Press, 1999); Lawrence S. Wittner, The Struggle Against the Bomb, Volume Three: Toward Nuclear Abolition: A History of the World Nuclear Disarmament Movement, 1971 to the Present (Stanford, CA: Stanford University Press, 2003). [26] Manpreet Sethi, “Making NWFW Attractive, Stable and Sustainable,” in Stable Nuclear Zero: The Vision and Its Implications for Disarmament Policy, ed. Sverre Lodgaard (New York: Routledge, 2017), 14–29. [27] James D. Fearon, “Cooperation, Conflict, and the Costs of Anarchy,” International Organization 72, no. 3 (Summer 2018): 523–59, https://doi.org/10.1017/S0020818318000115. [28] Jack Snyder, The Ideology of the Offensive: Military Decision Making and the Disasters of 1914 (Ithaca, NY: Cornell University Press, 1984); Stephen van Evera, “Offense, Defense, and the Causes of War,” International Security 22, no. 4 (Spring 1998): 5–43, https://www.jstor.org/stable/2539239; Charles L. Glaser, “When Are Arms Races Dangerous? Rational Versus Suboptimal Arming,” International Security 28, no. 4 (Spring 2004): 44–84, https://doi.org/10.1162/0162288041588313. [29] Albert Wohlstetter, “The Delicate Balance of Terror,” Foreign Affairs 37, no. 2 (January 1959): 211–34, https://www.foreignaffairs.com/articles/1959-01-01/delicate-balance-terror; Thomas C. Schelling, Arms and Influence (New Haven, CT: Yale University Press, 1966), 221–59. [30] Robert Jervis, “Cooperation Under the Security Dilemma,” World Politics 30, no. 2 (January 1978): 167–214, https://www.jstor.org/stable/2009958; Glaser, “When Are Arms Races Dangerous? Rational Versus Suboptimal Arming.” [31] Schelling and Halperin, Strategy and Arms Control; Jervis, “Arms Control, Stability, and Causes of War”; Charles L. Glaser and Chaim Kaufmann, “What Is the Offense-Defense Balance and Can We Measure It?” International Security 22, no. 4 (Spring 1998): 44–82, https://doi.org/10.2307/2539240. [32] Jack S. Levy, “The Offensive/Defensive Balance of Military Technology: A Theoretical and Historical Analysis,” International Studies Quarterly 28, no. 2 (June 1984): 219–38, https://www.jstor.org/stable/2600696. [33] Donald G. Brennan, “Strategic Alternatives: I,” New York Times, May 24, 1971, https://www.nytimes.com/1971/05/24/archives/strategic-alternatives-i.html; Henry D. Sokolski, ed., Getting MAD: Nuclear Mutual Assured Destruction, Its Origins and Practice (Carlisle, PA: Strategic Studies Institute, 2004), https://ssi.armywarcollege.edu/pdffiles/PUB585.pdf. [34] Emily O. Goldman, Sunken Treaties: Naval Arms Control Between the Wars (University Park, PA: Penn State University Press, 1994), 80–109. [35] Department of State, Peace and War: United States Foreign Policy 19311941 (Washington, DC: Government Printing Office, 1943), 180–81. [36] Bernard Brodie, ed., The Absolute Weapon: Atomic Power and World Order (New York: Harcourt, 1946); Schelling and Halperin, Strategy and Arms Control; Hedley Bull, The Control of the Arms Race: Disarmament and Arms Control in the Missile Age (New York: Praeger, 1961); Donald G. Brennan, ed., Arms Control, Disarmament, and National Security (New York: George Braziller, 1961); Hedley Bull, The Control of the Arms Race: Disarmament and Arms Control in the Missile Age, 2nd ed. (New York: Praeger, 1965), 158–74. [37] Thomas C. Schelling, “Abolition of Ballistic Missiles,” International Security 12, no. 1 (Summer 1987): 179–83, https://www.jstor.org/stable/2538923; Richard L. Garwin and Hans A. Bethe, “Anti-Ballistic Missile Systems,” Scientific American 218, no. 3 (March 1968), https://doi.org/10.1080/00396336808440897; Herbert F. York, Race to Oblivion: A Participant’s View of the Arms Race (New York: Simon & Schuster, 1970): 170–233. [38] Thomas C. Schelling, “Meteors, Mischief, and War,” Bulletin of the Atomic Scientists 16, no. 7 (1960): 292–300, https://doi.org/10.1080/00963402.1960.11454123. [39] Knopf, Domestic Society and International Cooperation, 158–98; Donald MacKenzie, Inventing Accuracy: A Historical Sociology of Nuclear Missile Guidance (Cambridge, MA: MIT Press, 1990): 213–32; Kenneth Kitts, Presidential Commissions and National Security: The Politics of Damage Control (Boulder, CO: Lynne Rienner, 2006), 73–100. [40] James M. Acton, “Reclaiming Strategic Stability,” Carnegie Endowment for International Peace, Feb. 5, 2013, http://carnegieendowment.org/2013/02/05/reclaiming-strategic-stability-pub-51032; James E. 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Erik Goldstein and John H. Maurer, (Portland, OR: Frank Cass, 1994), 131–34; John Kuehn, “A Turning Point in Anglo-American Relations? The General Board of the Navy and the London Treaty,” in At the Crossroads Between Peace and War: The London Naval Conference of 1930, ed. John H. Maurer and Christopher Bell, (Annapolis, MD: Naval Institute Press, 2014), 16–17. [58] Joseph Maiolo, “‘I Believe the Hun Is Cheating’: British Admiralty Technical Intelligence and the German Navy, 1936–39,” Intelligence and National Security 11, no. 1 (1996): 32–58, https://doi.org/10.1080/02684529608432342; David Evans and Mark Peattie, Kaigun: Strategy, Tactics, and Technology in the Imperial Japanese Navy, 18871941 (Annapolis, MD: Naval Institute Press, 1997), 223–37. [59] Donald Brennan, “On the Use of Nuclear and Gas Weapons in Limited War,” folder 24, Box 9, Henry A. Kissinger Papers, Part II (MS 1981), Manuscripts and Archives, Yale University Library; William Kintner, “Arms Control and National Security: A Caveat,” in Arms Control for the Late Sixties, ed. James E. Dougherty and J.P. Lehman, Jr. (New York: D. Van Nostrand Co., 1967), 31–42; Robert Pfaltzgraff, “The Rationale for Superpower Arms Control,” in SALT: Implications for Arms Control in the 1970s, ed. William R. Kintner and Robert L. Pfaltzgraff, Jr. (Pittsburgh: University of Pittsburgh Press, 1973), 3–30. [60] Letter, Moorer to Goodpaster, Jan. 24, 1969, folder SALT January-May [1969] Volume I [2 of 2], Box 873, NSC Files, Nixon Library; Memo, Kissinger to Nixon, May 23, 1969, folder SALT January–May [1969] Volume I [1 of 2], Box 873, NSC Files, Nixon Library; and Conversation Among Nixon, Laird, and Joint Chiefs, Aug. 10, 1971, Foreign Relations of the United States (hereafter FRUS) 1969–76, Vol. XXXII, SALT I, 1969-1972, ed. Erin R. Mahan (Washington, DC: United States Government Printing Office, 2010), Document 190, https://history.state.gov/historicaldocuments/frus1969-76v32/d190. [61] Aleksandr Savel’yev and Nikolay Detinov, The Big Five: Arms Control Decision-Making in the Soviet Union (Westport, CT: Praeger, 1995), 7–9; interview with retired Gen.-Col. Adrian Danilevich, in Soviet Intentions 19651985, Volume II: Soviet Post-Cold War Testimonial Evidence, ed. John Hines, Ellis Mishulovich, and John Shull (BDM Federal, 1995), 29–33, https://nsarchive2.gwu.edu/nukevault/ebb285/; John Battilega, “Soviet Views on Nuclear Warfare: The Post-Cold War Interviews,” in Getting MAD: Nuclear Mutual Assured Destruction, Its Origins and Practice, ed. Henry Sokolski (Carlisle, PA: Strategic Studies Institute, 2004), 160. [62] Robert Litwak, Preventing North Korea’s Nuclear Breakout (Washington, DC: Wilson Center, 2017). [63] 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/. [64] Andrew Marshall, Long-Term Competition with the Soviets: A Framework for Strategic Analysis (Santa Monica, CA: RAND, 1972); Richard Nixon, 1999: Victory Without War (New York: Simon & Schuster, 1988), 79–81. [65] Robert Strausz-Hupé, “Arms Control and the Atlantic Alliance,” in The Prospects for Arms Control, ed. James Dougherty and John Lehman Jr. (New York: McFadden-Bartell Book, 1965), 242–48; William Van Cleave, “Political and Negotiating Asymmetries: Insult in SALT I,” in Contrasting Approaches to Strategic Arms Control, ed. Robert L. Pfaltzgraff (Lexington, MA: Lexington Books, 1974), 9–29. [66] Lisa Baglione, To Agree or Not to Agree: Leadership, Bargaining, and Arms Control (Ann Arbor, MI: University of Michigan Press, 1999), 87–110. [67] John H. Maurer, “Arms Control and the Washington Conference,” in The Washington Conference, 192122: Naval Rivalry, East Asian Stability and the Road to Pearl Harbor, ed. Erik Goldstein and John H. Maurer (Portland, OR: Frank Cass, 1994), 286–89. [68] Donald Brennan, “On Common Understanding in Arms Control and Communication to Develop it,” Jan. 25, 1961, folder 1, Box 10, Henry A. Kissinger Papers, Part II (MS 1981), Manuscripts and Archives, Yale University Library. [69] Eric Grynaviski, Constructive Illusions: Misperceiving the Origins of International Cooperation (Ithaca, NY: Cornell University Press, 2014), 28–40. [70] John Mearsheimer, The Tragedy of Great Power Politics (New York: W.W. Norton, 2001), 29–40; Richard Ned Lebow and Benjamin Valentino, “Lost in Transition: A Critical Analysis of Power Transition Theory,” International Relations 23, no. 3 (2009): 389–410, https://doi.org/10.1177%2F0047117809340481; Peter Harris, “Problems with Power-Transition Theory: Beyond the Vanishing Disparities Thesis,” Asian Security 10, no. 3 (2014): 241–59, https://doi.org/10.1080/14799855.2014.983634. [71] Edward Mansfield and Jack Snyder, “Democratic Transitions, Institutional Strength, and War,” International Organization 56, no. 2 (2002): 297–337, https://www.jstor.org/stable/3078607; Brian Lai and Dan Slater, “Institutions of the Offensive: Domestic Sources of Dispute Initiation in Authoritarian Regimes, 1950–1992,” American Journal of Political Science 50, no. 1 (2005): 113–26, https://doi.org/10.1111/j.1540-5907.2006.00173.x; John Gaddis, We Now Know: Rethinking Cold War History (New York: Oxford University Press, 1997); Andrew Bacevich, American Empire: The Realities and Consequences of U.S. Diplomacy (Cambridge, MA: Harvard University Press, 2002). [72] Robert Jervis, “Deterrence and Perception,” International Security 7, no. 3 (Winter 1982-1983): 3–30, https://www.jstor.org/stable/2538549; Paul Huth and Bruce Russett, “What Makes Deterrence Work? Cases from 1900 to 1980,” World Politics 36, no. 4 (July 1984): 496–526, https://doi.org/10.2307/2010184; James D. Fearon, “Domestic Political Audience Costs and the Escalation of International Disputes,” American Political Science Review 88, no. 3 (September 1994): 577–92, https://doi.org/10.2307/2944796. [73] Colin S. Gray, “Nuclear Strategy: The Case for a Theory of Victory,” International Security 4, no. 1 (Summer 1979): 54–87, https://www.jstor.org/stable/2626784; Robert Jervis, “Why Nuclear Superiority Doesn’t Matter,” Political Science Quarterly 94, no. 4 (Winter 1979–1980): 617–33, https://www.jstor.org/stable/2149629; Todd Sechser and Matthew Fuhrmann, Nuclear Weapons and Coercive Diplomacy (New York: Cambridge University Press, 2017); Matthew Kroenig, “Nuclear Superiority and the Balance of Resolve: Explaining Nuclear Crisis Outcomes,” International Organization 67, no. 1 (Winter 2013): 141–71, https://www.jstor.org/stable/43282155. [74] Robert Kaufman, Arms Control During The Pre-Nuclear Era: The United States and Naval Limitation Between the Two World Wars (New York: Columbia University Press, 1990); Colin S. Gray, House of Cards: Why Arms Control Must Fail (Ithaca, NY: Cornell University Press, 1992). [75] Robert Putnam, “Diplomacy and Domestic Politics: The Logic of Two-Level Games,” International Organization 42, no. 3 (Summer 1988): 427–60, https://doi.org/10.1017/S0020818300027697. [76] Raymond Garthoff, Détente and Confrontation: American-Soviet Relations from Nixon to Reagan (Washington, DC: Brookings Institution Press, 1994), 146–226; Steven Miller, “Politics over Promise: Domestic Impediments to Arms Control,” International Security 8, no. 4 (Spring 1984): 67–90. [77] 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), 79–107. [78] Garthoff, Détente and Confrontation, 10–11. [79] John Newhouse, Cold Dawn: The Story of SALT (New York: Holt, Rinehart and Winston, 1973), 133–34; Sandra Scanlon, The Pro-War Movement: Domestic Support for the Vietnam War and the Making of Modern American Conservatism (Amherst, MA: University of Massachusetts Press, 2013), 52–54, 94–97. [80] Notes of National Security Council Meeting, Feb. 14,1969, FRUS 1969–76, Vol. XXXIV, National Security Policy, 1969-1972, ed. M. Todd Bennett (Washington, DC: United States Government Printing Office, 2011), Document 7, https://history.state.gov/historicaldocuments/frus1969-76v34/d7; Memo, Wheeler to Laird, Feb. 26, 1969, folder Anti-Ballistic Missile System [Feb-Mar 1969], Box 843, NSC Files, Nixon Library; Minutes of a National Security Council Meeting, Jan. 27, 1971, FRUS 1969–76, Vol. XXXII, Document 129, https://history.state.gov/historicaldocuments/frus1969-76v32/d129; Memcon, Nixon, Laird, et al., Aug. 10, 1971, FRUS 1969–76, Vol. XXXII, Document 190, https://history.state.gov/historicaldocuments/frus1969-76v32/d190. [81] Paper prepared in the Department of Defense, undated, FRUS 1969–76, Vol. XXXIV, Document 14, https://history.state.gov/historicaldocuments/frus1969-76v34/d14. [82] Memo, Wheeler to Laird, Feb. 26, 1969, folder Anti-Ballistic Missile System [Feb-Mar 1969], Box 843, NSC Files, Nixon Library. [83] Memo, Kissinger to Nixon, May 23, 1969, Document 1, in The Secret History of the ABM Treaty, 19691972, ed. William Burr, National Security Archive Electronic Briefing Book No. 60, Nov. 8, 2001, https://nsarchive2.gwu.edu/NSAEBB/NSAEBB60/. [84] See, for example, Smith’s comments on Feb. 19, 1969, in minutes of National Security Council meeting, FRUS 1969–76, Vol. XXXIV, Document 8, https://history.state.gov/historicaldocuments/frus1969-76v34/d8. [85] Disarmament was not seriously considered as an arms-control rationale by the U.S. government in the early 1970s. The ABM Treaty’s disarmament rationale was developed after the agreement had been concluded. [86] Memo, Kissinger to Nixon, “NSSM 28, Substantive SALT Issues and NATO Aspects,” June 10, 1969, folder NSSM-28 2 of 2 [2 of 3], Box H-140, NSC Institutional Files, Nixon Library; Paper Prepared by the Interagency SALT Steering Committee, undated, FRUS 1969–76, Vol. XXXII, Document 14, https://history.state.gov/historicaldocuments/frus1969-76v32/d14; Minutes of a National Security Council meeting, June 25, 1969, FRUS 1969–76, Vol. XXXII, Document 22, https://history.state.gov/historicaldocuments/frus1969-76v32/d22; Memo, Laird to Kissinger, July 3, 1969, folder SALT June-July [1969] Volume II [1 of 2], NSC Files, Nixon Library; “Alternative I,” folder Review Group SALT [part 1] 7/7/69, Box H-039, NSC Institutional Files, Nixon Library. [87] Minutes of National Security Council Meeting, March 5, 1969, FRUS 1969–76, Vol. XXXIV, Document 16, fn. 3, https://history.state.gov/historicaldocuments/frus1969-76v34/d16; Beecher, “Pentagon Drafts Revised Proposal on Missile Shield,” New York Times, March 2, 1969; “The Negotiator and the Confronter,” Time, April 4, 1969; Beecher, “Administration Gets Study of Global Nuclear Strategy,” New York Times, May 1, 1969; FRUS 1969–76, Vol, XXXIV, Editorial Note 25, https://history.state.gov/historicaldocuments/frus1969-76v34/d25; Memo, BeLieu to Nixon, June 11, 1969, folder Sentinel ABM System Vol. III 6/1/69, Box 844, NSC Files, Nixon Library. [88] Finney, “ABM Debate Aims at Ten Senators Still Undecided,” New York Times, July 9, 1969; Averill, “ABM Debated Behind Locked Senate Doors,” Los Angeles Times, July 19, 1969; FRUS 1969–76, Vol. XXXII, Editorial Note 18, https://history.state.gov/historicaldocuments/frus1969-76v32/d18; Letter, Nixon to Haldeman, Ehrlichman, and Kissinger, Aug. 7, 1969, folder Sentinel ABM System Vol. III 6/1/69, Box 844, NSC Files, Nixon Library. [89] William Hyland, Mortal Rivals: Superpower Relations from Nixon to Reagan (New York: Random House, 1987), 44–45; Memo, Knight to Baroody, Oct. 7, 1969, folder Issue Areas — General, 1969 (2), Box A74, Laird Papers, Ford Library; Minutes of Defense Program Review Committee, Oct. 22,1969, FRUS 1969–76, Vol. XXXIV, Document 96, https://history.state.gov/historicaldocuments/frus1969-76v34/d96; Memo, Lynn to Kissinger, Oct. 23, 1969, folder Sentinel ABM System Vol. III 6/1/69, Box 844, NSC Files, Nixon Library; Minutes of Defense Program Review Committee Meeting, Nov. 13, 1969, FRUS 1969–76, Vol. XXXIV, Document 100, fn. 7, https://history.state.gov/historicaldocuments/frus1969-76v34/d100; Memorandum for the Record by Packard, Dec. 8, 1969, FRUS 1969–76, Vol. XXXIV, Document 106, https://history.state.gov/historicaldocuments/frus1969-76v34/d106. Despite this change, the Joint Chiefs of Staff remained committed to U.S. ABM superiority: Memo, Wheeler to Laird, Dec. 31, 1969, folder ABM-System 1–70 – 3–70 Vol. III Memos and Misc. [2 of 2], Box 840, NSC Files, Nixon Library. [90] Memo, Lynn to Kissinger, Jan. 31, 1970, folder ABM-System 1/70 – 3/70 Vol. III Memos and Misc. [1 of 2], Box 840, NSC Files, Nixon Library; “Task Y-1 ABM/MIRV Options,” March 13, 1970, folder ABM-System Vol. IV 2-70 –  30 Apr 70 Memos and Misc. [1 of 3], Box 841, NSC Files, Nixon Library; Memo, Lynn to Kissinger, March 20, 1970, folder Verification Panel Meeting SALT 6/20/70, Box H-005, NSC Institutional Files, Nixon Library; Memo, Spiers to Rogers, “Preparation for SALT II,” March 6, 1970, DEF 18-3 AUS (VI), 1970–1973 SNF, RG59, USNA; “ABMs: Should SAMs Be Counted As ABMs,” folder Verification Panel Meeting SALT Options 4/6/70, Box H-005, NSC Institutional Files, Nixon Library. [91] Memcon, Nixon et al., April 11, 1970, FRUS 1969–76, Vol. XXXII, Document 69, https://history.state.gov/historicaldocuments/frus1969-76v32/d69; Memo, Kissinger to Smith, April 13, 1970, folder SALT Talks (Vienna) Vol. VIII 4/9/70 – 5/10/70 [1 of 2], Box 877, NSC Files, Nixon Library. [92] Memo, Laird to Kissinger, April 27, 1970, FRUS 1969–76, Vol. XXXII, Document 73, fn. 3, https://history.state.gov/historicaldocuments/frus1969-76v32/d73. [93] Letter, Drell to DuBridge, Dec. 23, 1969, folder ABM-System 1-70 – 3-70 Vol. III Memos and Misc. [2 of 2], Box 840, NSC Files, Nixon Library; Memo, Lynn to Kissinger, Jan. 5, 1970, folder ABM-System 1-70 – 3-70 Vol. III Memos and Misc. [2 of 2], Box 840, NSC Files, Nixon Library; Letter, DuBridge to Kissinger, July 1, 1970, folder ABM-System Vol. VI, May 1970 – July 30, 1971 [2 of 2], Box 842, NSC Files, Nixon Library. [94] Letter, Laird to Kissinger, Oct. 21, 1970, folder SALT Talks (Helsinki) Vol. XIII Oct 70 – Dec 70 [2 of 3], Box 880, NSC Files, Nixon Library. [95] Memo, Wayne Smith to Kissinger, Feb. 28, 1971, folder Verification Panel Meeting SALT 3/2/71, Box H-007, NSC Institutional Files, Nixon Library; Memo, Davis to Kissinger, March 4, 1971, folder SALT Backup 1970–71 [2 of 2], Box 886, NSC Files, Nixon Library; National Security Decision Memorandum 102, March 11, 1971, FRUS 1969–76, Vol. XXXII, Document 138, https://history.state.gov/historicaldocuments/frus1969-76v32/d138; Memo, Kissinger to Nixon, June 30, 1971, folder NSC Meeting SALT 6/ 30/71, Box H-031, NSC Institutional Files, Nixon Library; National Security Decision Memorandum 140, Nov. 15, 1971, FRUS 1969–76, Vol. XXXII, Document 212, https://history.state.gov/historicaldocuments/frus1969-76v32/d212. [96] Paul Nitze, Hiroshima to Glasnost: At the Center of Decision (New York: Grove/Atlantic, 1989), 317–18; Memo, Wayne Smith and Sonnenfeldt to Kissinger, Oct. 30, 1971, folder Verification Panel Meeting SALT 11/3/71, Box H-009, NSC Institutional Files, Nixon Library; Memo, Packard to Kissinger, Nov. 6, 1971, folder Verification Panel Meeting SALT 11/3/71, Box H-009, NSC Institutional Files, Nixon Library; Memo, Odeen and Sonnenfeldt to Kissinger, Jan. 12, 1972, FRUS 1969–76, Vol. XXXII, Document 225, https://history.state.gov/historicaldocuments/frus1969-76v32/d225; Memo, Odeen and Sonnenfeldt to Kissinger, Feb. 4, 1972, folder SALT Talks (Helinski) (sic) Vol. 17 Jan - Apr 1972 [2 of 3], Box 882, NSC Files, Nixon Library. [97] Memcon, Brown to Kissinger, Aug. 30, 1971, folder SALT Talks (Helsinki) Vo. 17 Sep-Dec 71 [2 of 2], Box 882, NSC Files, Nixon Library; Memo, Smith to Nixon, Sept. 28, 1971, folder SALT Talks (Helsinki) Vo. 17 Sep-Dec 71 [1 of 2], Box 882, NSC Files, Nixon Library; Memo, Wayne Smith and Sonnenfeldt to Kissinger, Oct. 30, 1971, folder Verification Panel Meeting SALT 11/3/71, Box H-009, NSC Institutional Files, Nixon Library; Memo, Odeen and Sonnenfeldt to Kissinger, folder Verification Panel Meeting – SALT 2/ 9/72 [1 of 2], Box H-010, NSC Institutional Files, Nixon Library. [98] Memo, Odeen and Sonnenfeldt to Kissinger, March 6, 1972, folder Verification Panel Meeting – SALT 3/8/71 [1 of 2], Box H-010, NSC Institutional Files, Nixon Library; Memcon, Kissinger and Dobrynin, March 17, 1972, in Soviet-American Relations: The Détente Years, 1969-1972, ed. David C. Geyer and Douglas E. Selvage (Washington, DC: United States Government Printing Office, 2007), 615–27; Telegram from the Department of State to the SALT Delegation, April 10, 1972, FRUS 1969–76, Vol. XXXII, Document 256, https://history.state.gov/historicaldocuments/frus1969-76v32/d256; Memo, Kissinger to Nixon, April 18, 1972, FRUS 1969–76, Vol. XXXII, Document 258, https://history.state.gov/historicaldocuments/frus1969-76v32/d258; Memo, Odeen to Kissinger, April 23, 1972, folder SALT Talks (Helinski) (sic) Vol. 17 Jan-Apr 1972 [1 of 3], Box 882, NSC Files, Nixon Library; Memcon, Brezhnev, Kissinger, et al., April 22, 1972, FRUS 1969–76, Vol. XXXII, Document 262, https://history.state.gov/historicaldocuments/frus1969-76v32/d262. [99] Even recent archival work on the ABM Treaty has underplayed the importance of these concessions to competitive arms controllers. See, for example: David Tal, US Strategic Arms Policy in the Cold War: Negotiations and Confrontations over SALT, 19691979 (New York: Routledge, 2017), 158–59; 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), 6–11; and Matthew J. Ambrose, The Control Agenda: A History of the Strategic Arms Limitation Talks (Ithaca, NY: Cornell University Press, 2018) 45­–46. [100] Letter, Laird to Jackson, Aug. 7, 1970, folder ABM–General (5) – July 1970 – July 1972, Box A50, Laird Papers, Ford Library; Memo, Wayne Smith and Sonnenfeldt to Kissinger, June 28, 1971, FRUS 1969–76, Vol. XXXII, Document 184, fn. 4, https://history.state.gov/historicaldocuments/frus1969-76v32/d184; Memo, Laird to Nixon, Aug. 2, 1971, FRUS 1969–76, Vol. XXXII, Document 187, https://history.state.gov/historicaldocuments/frus1969-76v32/d187; Memo, Kissinger to Nixon, folder Verification Panel Meeting SALT 8/9/71, Box H-009, NSC Institutional Files, Nixon Library; National Security Decision Memorandum 127, Aug. 12, 1971, FRUS 1969–76, Vol. XXXII, Document 192, https://history.state.gov/historicaldocuments/frus1969-76v32/d192. [101] FRUS 1969–76, Vol. XXXII, Editorial Note 6, https://history.state.gov/historicaldocuments/frus1969-76v32/d6; Memo, Smith to Rogers, May 9, 1969, folder Review Group SALT (NSSM 28) [part 1] 6/12/69, Box H-037, NSC Institutional Files, Nixon Library; Paper Prepared in the Arms Control and Disarmament Agency, June 11, 1969, FRUS 1969–76, Vol. XXXII, Document 16, https://history.state.gov/historicaldocuments/frus1969-76v32/d16; “Task Y-1 ABM/MIRV Options,” March 13, 1970, folder ABM-System Vol. IV 2-70 –30 Apr 70 Memos and Misc. [1 of 3], Box 841, NSC Files, Nixon Library; Letter, Smith to Nixon, March 8, 1971, folder SALT Talks (Helsinki) Vol. XIV 1 Jan 71 – April 71 [1 of 3], Box 880, NSC Files, Nixon Library; Minutes of National Security Council Meeting, June 30, 1971, FRUS 1969–76, Vol. XXXII, Document 170, https://history.state.gov/historicaldocuments/frus1969-76v32/d170; Memo, Irwin to Tucker, Feb. 1, 1972, DEF 18, 1970–1973 SNF, RG59, USNA. [102] “Report to the Verification Working Group on Net Assessment of NCA Defense Radar Limitations,” Feb. 25, 1971, folder SALT Talks (Helsinki) Vol. XIV 1 Jan 71 – April 1971 [1 of 3], Box 880, NSC Files, Nixon Library. [103] Conversation Among Nixon, Laird, and Joint Chiefs, Aug. 10, 1971, FRUS 1969–76, Vol. XXXII, Document 190, https://history.state.gov/historicaldocuments/frus1969-76v32/d190; Memorandum for the Record, March 17, 1972, FRUS 1969–76, Vol. XXXII, Document 240, https://history.state.gov/historicaldocuments/frus1969-76v32/d240. [104] Paper Prepared in the Department of Defense for the Verification Panel Working Group, FRUS 1969–76, Vol. XXXII, Document 207, https://history.state.gov/historicaldocuments/frus1969-76v32/d207; Memo, Tucker to Laird, March 27, 1972, FRUS 1969–76, Vol. XXXII, Document 244, https://history.state.gov/historicaldocuments/frus1969-76v32/d244; National Security Decision Memorandum 164, May 1, 1972, FRUS 1969–76, Vol. XXXII, Document 271, https://history.state.gov/historicaldocuments/frus1969-76v32/d271; Treaty Between the United States and the Soviet Union, May 26, 1972, FRUS 1969–76, Vol. XXXII, Document 316, https://history.state.gov/historicaldocuments/frus1969-76v32/d316. [105] Memo, Laird to Kissinger, July 12, 1971, FRUS 1969–76, Vol. XXXII, Document 174, fn. 1, https://history.state.gov/historicaldocuments/frus1969-76v32/d174; Memo, Laird to Kissinger, July 20, 1971, FRUS 1969–76, Vol. XXXII, Document 181, https://history.state.gov/historicaldocuments/frus1969-76v32/d181; Memo, Wayne Smith and Hyland to Kissinger, Aug. 11, 1971, folder Verification Panel Meeting SALT 8/ 9/71, Box H-009, NSC Institutional Files, Nixon Library. [106] Treaty Between the United States and the Soviet Union, May 26, 1972, FRUS 1969–76, Vol. XXXII, Document 316, https://history.state.gov/historicaldocuments/frus1969-76v32/d316. [107] Memo, Odeen and Sonnenfeldt to Kissinger, Dec. 16, 1971, FRUS 1969–76, Vol. XXXII, Document 216, https://history.state.gov/historicaldocuments/frus1969-76v32/d216; Memo, Tucker to Laird, March 27, 1972, FRUS 1969–76, Vol. XXXII, Document 244, https://history.state.gov/historicaldocuments/frus1969-76v32/d244. [108] Nixon himself later admitted that the treaty was intended as a temporary measure. See: Nixon, 1999, 94–96. [109] Michael Krepon, “Dormant Threat to the ABM Treaty,” Bulletin of the Atomic Scientists 41, no. 1 (1986): 31–34, https://doi.org/10.1080/00963402.1986.11459309; John Kogut and Michael Weissman, “Taking the Pledge Against Star Wars,” Bulletin of the Atomic Scientists 42, no. 1 (1986): 27–30, https://doi.org/10.1080/00963402.1986.11459308. [110] Paul Nitze, SDI and the ABM Treaty (Washington, DC: State Department Bureau of Public Affairs, 1985), http://insidethecoldwar.org/sites/default/files/documents/sdi%20and%20the%20abm%20treaty%20Paul%20H.%20Nitze%20Department%20of%20State%20May%2030%2C%201985.pdf; Kim Holmes and W. Bruce Weinrod, Weighing the Evidence: How the ABM Treaty Permits a Strategic Defense System (Washington, DC: Heritage Foundation, 1987), https://www.heritage.org/defense/report/weighing-the-evidence-how-the-abm-treaty-permits-strategic-defense-system; Donald Gross, “Negotiated Treaty Amendment: The Solution to the SDI-ABM Treaty Conflict,” Harvard International Law Journal 28, no. 1 (1987): 31–68. [111] Thomas Friedman, “U.S. Formally Rejects ‘Star Wars’ in ABM Treaty,” New York Times, July 15, 1993, http://www.nytimes.com/1993/07/15/world/us-formally-rejects-star-wars-in-abm-treaty.html; Steven Pifer, “The Limits of U.S. missile defense,” National Interest, March 30, 2015, http://nationalinterest.org/feature/the-limits-us-missile-defense-12503. [112] James Lindsay and Michael O’Hanlon, Defending America: A Plan for a Limited National Missile Defense (Washington, DC: Brookings Institution Press, 2001); James Dao, “Rumsfeld Outlines to NATO Fast Track for Missile Shield,” New York Times, June 8, 2001,  http://www.nytimes.com/2001/06/08/world/rumsfeld-outlines-to-nato-fast-track-for-missile-shield.html. [113] Ivan Eland and Daniel Lee, “The Rogue State Doctrine and National Missile Defense,” CATO Institute Foreign Policy Briefing No. 65, March 29, 2001, https://object.cato.org/pubs/fpbriefs/fpb65.pdf; “U.S. Withdraws From the ABM Treaty: President Bush’s Remarks and U.S. Diplomatic Notes,” Arms Control Association, Dec. 13, 2001, https://www.armscontrol.org/act/2002_01-02/docjanfeb02. [114] Alexander Pikayev, “ABM Treaty Revision: A Challenge to Russian Security,” Disarmament Diplomacy 44 (March 2000), http://www.acronym.org.uk/old/archive/44abm.htm. [115] Terence Neilan, “Bush Pulls Out of ABM Treaty; Putin Calls Move a Mistake,” New York Times, Dec. 13, 2001, http://www.nytimes.com/2001/12/13/international/bush-pulls-out-of-abm-treaty-putin-calls-move-a-mistake.html; Wade Boese, “U.S. Withdraws From ABM Treaty; Global Response Muted,” Arms Control Today, July 1, 2002, https://www.armscontrol.org/act/2002_07-08/abmjul_aug02. [116] Ivo Daalder and James Lindsay, “Unilateral Withdrawal From the ABM Treaty Is a Bad Idea,” Brookings Institution, April 30, 2001, https://www.brookings.edu/opinions/unilateral-withdrawal-from-the-abm-treaty-is-a-bad-idea/. [117] Charles Lipson, “International Cooperation in Economic and Security Affairs,” World Politics 37, no. 1 (1984): 1–23, https://doi.org/10.2307/2010304; Robert Axelrod and Robert Keohane, “Achieving Cooperation Under Anarchy: Strategies and Institutions,” World Politics 38, no. 1 (1985): 226–54, https://www.jstor.org/stable/2010357; James D. Fearon, “Bargaining, Enforcement, and International Cooperation,” International Organization 52, no. 2 (Spring 1998): 269–305, https://doi.org/10.1162/002081898753162820. [118] Garthoff, Détente and Confrontation, 1155–58; April Carter, Success and Failure in Arms Control Negotiations (New York: Oxford University Press, 1989); Ritter, Dangerous Ground: America’s Failed Arms Control Policy, from FDR to Obama. [119] Rick Gladstone, “Trump and Kim May Define ‘Korea Denuclearization’ Quite Differently,” New York Times, June 10, 2018, https://www.nytimes.com/2018/06/10/world/asia/trump-kim-korea-denuclearization-peace-treaty.html. [120] Eli Watkins, “Bolton: US Still ‘Waiting’ for North Korea to Start Denuclearizing,” CNN.com, Aug. 7, 2018, https://www.cnn.com/2018/08/07/politics/john-bolton-north-korea/index.html; “Bill Clinton Says America Should Be Rooting for Trump’s Success on North Korea,” PBS News Hour, June 8, 2018, https://www.pbs.org/newshour/show/bill-clinton-says-america-should-be-rooting-for-trumps-success-on-north-korea; “Global Zero Statement on North Korea Nuclear Crisis,” Common Dreams, Aug. 8, 2017, https://www.commondreams.org/newswire/2017/08/09/global-zero-statement-north-korea-nuclear-crisis. [121] John Bolton, “John Bolton: Get Real, America. ‘Agreements’ with Rogue States Like North Korea Aren’t Worth a Thing,” National Post, April 26, 2017, https://nationalpost.com/opinion/john-bolton-get-real-america-agreements-with-rogue-states-like-north-korea-arent-worth-a-thing; Bill Clinton, “Joint Statement on Strategic Stability and Nuclear Security,” Sept. 29, 1994, http://www.presidency.ucsb.edu/ws/index.php?pid=49179; Derek Johnson, “‘Security’ Is Not 17,000 Nuclear Weapons,” Huffington Post, March 26, 2014, https://www.huffingtonpost.com/entry/security-is-not-17000-nuclear-weapons_b_5025023. [122] Michael E. O’Hanlon, “Is a World Without Nuclear Weapons Really Possible?” Brookings Institution, May 4, 2010, https://www.brookings.edu/opinions/is-a-world-without-nuclear-weapons-really-possible/; Mitsuru Kitano, “How to Transcend Differences in Nuclear Disarmament Approaches,” Arms Control Today, September 2018, https://www.armscontrol.org/act/2018-09/features/transcend-differences-nuclear-disarmament-approaches. ) [contents] => Array ( [title] => [contents] => ) ) [2] => WP_Post Object ( [ID] => 763 [post_author] => 223 [post_date] => 2018-11-06 04:00:36 [post_date_gmt] => 2018-11-06 09:00:36 [post_content] =>

Those people — the map people, the logistics people, the intelligence people — have always been accused, by operational commanders, of thinking more than is good for them, but this time they’ve got it right.”

– Alan Furst, Kingdom of Shadows

  In 2018, both the Russian Federation and the North Atlantic Treaty Organization (NATO) conducted their largest military exercises since the end of the Cold War. The role of such maneuvers in the larger geostrategic context has been brought to the fore by these activities and President Donald Trump’s decision, announced at his summit in Singapore with North Korea’s Kim Jong-un, to suspend the U.S.-South Korea Ulchi Freedom Guardian military exercise.[1] Official statements about these military exercises typically stress their specified purpose of improving training, readiness, and interoperability among services and multinational forces.[2] But military exercises also convey powerful geopolitical messages intended to demonstrate how the capabilities on display enhance regional stability, deter aggression, and reinforce foreign policy goals.[3] However, I argue in this essay that they can instead do the opposite, in the sense of the classic security dilemma, as real or potentially adversarial states ratchet up the size and scope of their exercises and push exercise venues into militarily problematic areas. In other words, the risk of geopolitical instability that such exercises imply may not bring a corresponding deterrence reward. This is especially true across the increasingly tense NATO-Russia divide in the wake of the Russian annexation of Crimea in 2014, which is the focus of this paper. The elusive line between deterrence and provoking aggression has been explored in depth in analyses of tabletop war games or simulations in the German kriegsspiel style. The most notable are those conducted by the RAND Corporation involving a hypothetical Russian invasion of the NATO-member Baltic states. The results provided the impetus for a more robust alliance military presence in that region and in Poland.[4] Michael Kofman has discussed at length whether this shift from “reassurance” to “deterrence” makes sense and, importantly, posits that a critical variable in this calculation is the perception of the Russian threat. He also questioned whether “conventional deterrence by denial is possible on NATO’s eastern flank.”[5] Through my experience as an intelligence officer at the tactical and national levels, I became — and remain — acutely aware of the role that the threat, or at least the United States military’s assessment of the threat, plays in both planning and executing military operations. That includes exercises, a number of which I participated in. Later, as an academic researcher in geopolitics, I came to appreciate the influence of what Gerard Toal refers to as “thick geopolitics,” a concept that “strives to describe the geopolitical forces, networks, and interactions that configure places and states.”[6] Combining these two perspectives, in this paper I examine the strategic implications of NATO’s ongoing efforts to extend its reach eastward and, in some cases, northward,[7] by shifting its military exercise venues forward and including non-NATO “partners” in the alliance’s military operations and exercise agenda. The symbolism of these highly visible activities — which precede the Crimean crisis — is difficult to ignore, especially as they contribute to Russia’s geopolitical angst as regards its immediate neighborhood. Certainly, as Toal avers, the many multi-layered influences of location, distance, and place come into play here, especially given that some of these NATO-sponsored and member-state exercises take place along the Russian land frontier or its adjacent maritime zone and airspace. The reverse is also true, as Russia conducts large-scale exercises and other military demonstrations — what Mark Galeotti terms “heavy metal diplomacy”[8] — in that same contact zone. These exercises are viewed as threatening by many NATO states, some of which harbor unhappy memories of when this “thick geopolitical” landscape was dominated by Russia in its imperial or Soviet form.

Military Exercises as Geopolitical Messaging

Military exercises do not take place on tabletops. Instead, warships, troops, aircraft, armored vehicles, and logistical and engineer support units maneuver across land, sea, and airspace overseen by headquarters staffs practicing command, control, and communications. A combination of live firing of weapons; cyber activities; collection, processing, and dissemination of target information and intelligence data; and after-action assessments all make for a complex and demanding undertaking, often at considerable expense and some element of danger to the participants. These exercises also involve considerable fanfare in the host countries and, especially, strong visualization elements. As Roland Bleiker notes, “Images shape international events and our understanding of them.”[9] Certainly, images of warships, tanks, and live firing make for dramatic coverage, especially as they have become more incorporated in and widely disseminated via social media. These messages and images complement official foreign and security policy narratives and those of nongovernmental groups (e.g., think tanks and human rights organizations), and they should be seen as part and parcel of the larger geopolitical discourse. The Exercise Is the Message The annual Foal Eagle joint and combined forces maneuvers,[10] conducted by the United States and the Republic of Korea, are an excellent example of how military exercises can be used to message strategic posture. In addition to the complexity and scope of these maneuvers, conducting them on and around the Korean Peninsula has become a highly contentious element in relations between these two allies and the Democratic People’s Republic of Korea.[11] In its press release announcing the 2017 iteration, the Defense Department stated that Foal Eagle “is designed to increase readiness to defend South Korea, to protect the region, and to maintain stability on the Korean Peninsula.”[12] This is the template for the manner in which militaries typically describe their exercises and signal their import. And that language is understood to mean that readiness involves training, that protecting the region implies a specific geographical focus, and that stability (or, frequently, deterrence) is a desired strategic outcome. Geopolitical messaging is conveyed via military exercises through several means by the exercise planners and their superiors. First, is the decision of whether to hold exercises. That means that starting, suspending, or terminating them is a foreign policy and security policy statement in and of itself. This is certainly true in long-standing military relationships such as that between the United States and the Republic of Korea, wherein the form and scale of exercises have evolved since their inception shortly after the end of the Korean War. In fact, the major U.S.-South Korea exercise, Team Spirit, was canceled four times in the 1990s to facilitate negotiations to limit North Korea’s nuclear program.[13] Notably, the Bright Star exercises co-sponsored by the United States and Egypt since 1980 were suspended by President Barack Obama in 2013 in the wake of the military takeover of the elected Egyptian government. They have, however, since been reinstated.[14] The U.S. Central Command press release for Bright Star 2017 made no mention of the hiatus.[15] The Malabar naval exercises initiated by the United States and India in 1992 (and joined by Japan in 2015) presaged increased American interest in the Indian Ocean and Indian concerns regarding China’s growing presence in South Asia. Although these exercises have recently expanded significantly, they were suspended for a period after India tested nuclear weapons.[16] [quote id="1"] The same cyclical pattern of scaling down and ramping up military exercises as political circumstances change is evident in the U.S.-Philippines Balikatan exercise, which recently concluded its 34th iteration.[17] Disinviting the People’s Liberation Army Navy from the U.S.-sponsored 2018 Rim of the Pacific (RIMPAC) naval exercise was intended to signal U.S. displeasure at China’s increasing militarization of islands in the South China Sea. (The Chinese navy had participated in RIMPAC in 2014 and 2016.)[18] Meanwhile, Russia and China announced that their two navies would conduct a second round of joint exercises in the Yellow Sea, and the huge Vostok 2018 exercises involved Chinese troops for the first time as part of a long-term plan of greater military cooperation between the two countries.[19] Once it has been decided that exercises are to take place, geopolitical messaging is conveyed in several ways in their actual execution: Where the exercises are conducted, how many personnel are involved, what countries they are drawn from, and the types of weaponry employed are all key elements in strategic positioning or, one might say, posturing. Further complicating matters, the number, size, and scope of military exercises are growing — in some regions dramatically so — and at a time of heightened stress in the international system.[20]

The NATO-Russia Military Exercise Dynamic

Nowhere is this expansion of military exercises more evident and potentially de-stabilizing than in the NATO-Russia arena. Since Russia’s seizure of the Crimean peninsula from Ukraine in early 2014, tensions have risen steadily between Moscow and the West, with economic sanctions, mutual expulsions of diplomats and the closure of legations, and a barrage of mutual recriminations not seen since the darkest days of the Cold War. Russia’s interference in the Donbas region in eastern Ukraine, including the insertion of regular units of the Russian army into the fighting there,[21] and at least one major cyberattack on the Ukrainian power grid, banks, and government agencies, has exacerbated what was already a full-blown international crisis and catalyzed fears in the West — warranted or not — of a new and more capable Russian threat. Russia, meanwhile, harbors long-standing grievances concerning NATO’s expansion into the former Soviet states (the Baltic countries: Estonia, Latvia, and Lithuania) and former members of the Soviet-led Warsaw Pact in Central and Eastern Europe, which acceded to NATO from 1990 to 2004. Actions by NATO in the Balkan conflicts, especially the bombing campaign against Serbia, also invoked Russian fears of Western encroachment into what Moscow considers its sphere of influence. [22] These increasingly contentious relations have resulted in a significant expansion of military operations on both sides. Russian forces continuously operate close to NATO forces in and around Europe as well as in the Middle East, especially Syria. Partly, this is because the NATO alliance now adjoins Russia along a longer frontier. Four of the newer NATO member states have land borders with Russia proper (Estonia and Latvia) or its Kaliningrad Oblast exclave (Poland and Lithuania), whereas previously only Norway directly bordered Russia, and that was in the very remote far north. All of these new eastern frontiers have become increasingly militarized. For example, almost from the moment of their accession to NATO, the three Baltic countries — with no combat aircraft of their own — received air defense cover from their NATO allies, a continuing mission that involves frequent intercepts of Russian military aircraft transiting Baltic Sea airspace.[23] The alliance also agreed at its Warsaw summit in 2016 to rotate “battalion-sized battlegroups” into Poland, Estonia, Latvia, and Lithuania in what it termed an “enhanced forward presence.”[24] Samuel Charap argues that Russia has likewise raised the ante in its standoff with NATO by using “its military beyond its borders with unprecedented frequency since the invasion of Crimea in February 2014,” referring to Russia’s intervention in Ukraine and Syria, and by its “brinksmanship in the skies and sea with NATO and other Western militaries.”[25] Finally, Russia’s extensive buildup of forces in Kaliningrad has significantly altered the military landscape in the Baltic Sea region.[26] As Dmitry Gorenburg has noted, the Russian Black Sea Fleet and its Crimea bases have been significantly upgraded, with more resources expected in the coming years. [27] Closing the Exercise Gap The upshot of this heightened military activity is that deconfliction and avoidance of the kinds of catastrophic accident that could lead to hostilities has become an increasingly serious matter. As will be discussed below, military exercises involving these forward-deployed units are an inevitable consequence of their placement.[28] That is to say, if one forward-deploys or bases forces in a given region, exercising them in these locations is imperative — and the chances of miscalculation or accidents rise commensurately. These exercises have generated considerable attention in both the mainstream media and in the national security and geopolitics commentariat. The Russian Federation and its allies have undertaken a number of large-scale military maneuvers designed to test their troops and weapons, demonstrate their ability to defend the homeland, and convey a message of resoluteness in so doing. Russia’s large Zapad (“West”) 2017 maneuvers generated unprecedented coverage in Western media, think tank analyses, and official sources. They provided a prime example of how these events shape the national security discourse between Moscow and NATO.[29] In keeping with the universal exercise rationale template, the Russian Ministry of Defense described Zapad 2017 as “a final stage of joint training of the Russian and Belarusian Armed Forces [involving] interoperability of staffs [in the defense of] territories of the Republic of Belarus and the Kaliningrad region of the Russian Federation [to prevent] their destabilization.”[30] Both in terms of its regional scope (the Baltic Sea region, western Russia, and Belarus) and the number of personnel and different weapons systems involved, Zapad 2017 certainly deserved the attention it received. But the ensuing frenzy, including concern that the exercise was intended to mask an actual invasion of the Baltics and Poland, exacerbated tensions throughout Europe even though that exercise occurs every four years.[31] Even before Zapad 2017, at least one American national security think tank raised the specter of an “exercise gap” between Russia and NATO, arguing that the former enjoyed a significant advantage.[32] Vostok (“East”) 2018, another quadrennial Russian capstone military exercise, has likewise received extensive coverage in Russia and in Western media, mainly, but not exclusively, because the numbers of troops and equipment engaged may have exceeded Zapad 2017 (there is some dispute about the numbers directly involved[33]), which would make it the largest since the end of the Cold War. But it also involved an “interstate-conflict scenario” with coalition adversaries,[34] closely resembling what Russia would face should it wind up in a fight with NATO, though the maneuvers took place at a far remove from NATO territory. As such, the geopolitical message conveyed by the exercises, in particular the added element of participation by Chinese military units, was more subtle, involving what could be characterized as an in-house assessment of how well Russian armed forces could generate and manage a large-scale conflict from the command-and-control perspective. [quote id="2"] Not to be outdone, NATO and its member states and partners likewise sponsor an expanding series of large and complex military exercises in close proximity to Russia’s western border and its adjacent seas and airspace.[35] Not surprisingly, this has provoked a negative reaction from Moscow. Indeed, since the annexation of Crimea, the schedule of military training events involving NATO and its member states, as well as non-NATO partners, has become increasingly ambitious.[36] As a consequence, the “exercise gap” has narrowed.[37] This was underscored by the alliance’s top leadership at the NATO summit in Wales in 2014,[38] reemphasized at the Warsaw summit in 2016,[39] and reaffirmed at the 2018 Brussels summit: “We continue to ensure the Alliance’s political and military responsiveness, including through more regular exercises.”[40] As is true in general of military exercises, these recent NATO exercises are intended to act as both training events and indicators of security policy and posture. That is, they signal the alliance’s determination to defend its member states. Thus, several major exercises were conducted in 2017 with the aim of “assuring” NATO states bordering or near Russia (especially strategically vulnerable Estonia, Latvia, Lithuania, and Poland) and thereby “deterring” Russian aggression. The evolution of the annual Saber Strike exercise series is a good example. Initially, from 2011, this exercise involved about 2,000 personnel, with a focus on training troops from the Baltic countries to NATO standards as a means of integrating them into the alliance’s operations in Afghanistan and elsewhere.[41] By 2018, Saber Strike had grown to 18,000 participants, with a clear focus on “validating our [NATO’s] collective capability to rapidly respond to and reinforce Allies in a time of crisis.”[42] From whence that crisis might emerge is not stated, but reference is made to the fact that the exercise is “not a provocation of Russia,” leaving one to imagine another major external threat to the alliance. In the same vein, the biannual Anakonda exercises organized by Poland have grown enormously since their inception in 2006. The 2016 edition numbered 31,000 troops from 23 countries with the intent “to check the ability of NATO to defend the territory of the eastern flank of the Alliance.”[43] Again, absent an attack from Belarus or Ukraine, the obvious aggressor state would be Russia. But the clearest message yet that NATO intends to push the geopolitical envelope by means of military exercises came via Trident Juncture 2018, the alliance’s premier format. Not only is this the largest post-Cold War NATO exercise, with some 50,000 participants, but the venue, mainly in Norway, further extends the field of play. Hitherto, Norway, a founding NATO member state, had been careful to avoid antagonizing Moscow by allowing maneuvers in its far northern region, but, as Azita Raji notes, the mood in Oslo has clearly shifted toward taking a much stronger stance against what is perceived as an increasingly serious Russian threat.[44] Thus, Trident Juncture 2018 sends three geopolitical messages: that Norway takes its NATO commitment very seriously, that it will push back hard against Russian pressure, and that the alliance supports both of those positions. [45]

Can Anybody Play?

Significantly, over the past decade NATO has sought to integrate some non-NATO partners into operations and exercises, and in certain cases it has conducted large-scale NATO-, U.S.-, or European-sponsored events (including live-fire practice) on the territory of those non-member states, with resultant geopolitical implications. In the Nordic region, for example, Swedish and Finnish forces have participated in exercises with NATO, and NATO ground forces and aircraft have operated in Sweden and Finland proper in the two countries’ respective maneuvers.[46] Finnish and Swedish ground, naval, and air-force units participated in Trident Juncture 2018, with some NATO events taking place in both countries.[47] Such exercises and other steps that the two countries have taken to bolster their militaries have significantly altered the strategic situation in NATO’s favor vis-à-vis Russia in the Baltic Sea area while, predictably, provoking a negative response from Moscow.[48] Likewise, NATO has dramatically strengthened its military relationship with the Republic of Georgia through training assistance programs and major exercises. The highlight of these is the Noble Partner series, wherein U.S. Army forces (including tanks and other armored vehicles) recently deployed to Georgia from bases in Germany. Through participation in such exercises, some units of the Georgian army have met NATO operational standards and are included in NATO’s Response Force, a readily available and deployable contingency command for insertion in emerging-crisis situations.[49] Previously, Georgian troops had been involved in a number of NATO operations. With 32 of its soldiers killed in support of NATO’s mission in Afghanistan, Georgia’s casualty rate in that conflict is higher than that of any NATO country.[50] In the Black Sea region, the U.S. Navy has bolstered its presence both in exercises with Ukraine and NATO allies Romania and Bulgaria and through freedom-of-navigation visits. This was particularly evident in the Sea Breeze 2017 exercise, during which two advanced U.S. warships participated and also conducted a port call in the Ukrainian port city of Odesa. Russian news sources have featured prominent coverage of these NATO-Ukraine military maneuvers in the Black Sea. For example, Sea Breeze 2017 was not covered in the mainstream U.S. media (although it did appear in defense-related news outlets and on social media), whereas both Sputnik and RT (formerly Russia Today) had features on the maneuvers. Sputnik posted eight features on another U.S.-Ukraine exercise, Rapid Trident 2017, including articles in its German, Polish, Lithuanian, and Moldovan outlets. One can reasonably conclude that the signaling of military partnership, if not treaty obligation, is being received by Russia, and not favorably.

(In)stability: One Is Easy; the Other, Not So Much

If geopolitical “stability” is a stated goal of most military exercises, a working description of how such stability might be measured in the NATO-Russia context is necessary. Although there is no universally accepted definition to reference, the specifics of where the exercise takes place, how many personnel are engaged, which countries participate, and how certain types of weapons are involved can be used to make at least a rough assessment of the extent to which these events might be de-stabilizing. Using military exercises to advance the forward deployment of troops, naval vessels, and aircraft has been a feature of both NATO and Russian military planning and posturing since the Crimean crisis unfolded, and it show no signs of abating.  Incorporating more advanced weaponry in maneuvers in forward areas is especially destabilizing as it alters the military status quo ante. For example, NATO used the Tobruk Legacy exercise in July 2017 to deploy the Patriot anti-aircraft and anti-missile system to Lithuania, the first time that such an advanced system had been positioned in the Baltic region.[51] Not surprisingly, Russia viewed that move as provocative.[52] The missiles were withdrawn after the exercise concluded, but the idea of permanently basing them in the region remains very much alive. During a state visit to the White House on April 3, 2018, Estonian President Kersti Kaljulaid advocated placing Patriots in her country.[53] On the other hand, since 2014, Russia has periodically moved its Iskander tactical ballistic missiles forward to Kaliningrad during exercises, prompting a warning from NATO that this presented a serious threat to the alliance and constituted a “pattern of continuing behavior to coerce [Russia’s] neighbors in Central and Eastern Europe.”[54] As it developed, these exercise deployments were, in fact, the prelude to the permanent basing of an Iskander brigade in Kaliningrad, a move that the chairman of the Russian Duma’s defense committee called “the answer to the deployment of military assets in neighboring territories.”[55] U.S. Navy vessels equipped with the Aegis Ballistic Missile Defense System have participated in the Sea Breeze exercise in the Black Sea to which, according to one U.S. Defense Department official, “the Russians are particularly sensitive.” That same official stated that the Russians must be “desensitized.”[56] For years, Russia has expressed this “sensitivity” by conducting low-level passes over NATO warships operating on the Black Sea, often dangerously close to the vessels, and by intercepting and approaching NATO maritime patrol and intelligence collection aircraft. Obviously, these incidents carry a very high risk of collision or might provoke hostilities. On April 19, 2018, NATO’s Supreme Allied Commander Europe and the chief of the Russian general staff held a rare face-to-face meeting to discuss “issues related to military posture and exercises … to foster predictability and transparency.”[57] Yet, despite previous such meetings, these encounters continued. Fight Where You Train? By pushing military exercise venues further forward, is NATO signaling that it is prepared to fight early in a conflict with Russia in exposed regions such as the Baltic countries? The viability of changing the NATO/U.S. imperative from “reassurance to deterrence” in that context has been extensively critiqued as problematic at best.[58] Yet, this has not forestalled the view among exercise planners and think tank analysts that it makes good sense to demonstrate at least some capability to engage the threat far forward (e.g., Saber Strike) despite the realities of military geography.[59] As I have written apropos the challenges of a high-end fight with Russia from an airpower perspective, conducting military exercises close to Russia’s heavily defended territory where NATO forces are at a serious disadvantage is a singularly bad idea: Airfields are static targets, and most of those closest to the eastern borders of NATO countries do not possess facilities hardened to withstand the inevitable attacks against them. They are also within easy range of any number of Russian offensive threats.[60] Moreover, because Russia has put in place the much-discussed anti-access/area-denial “bubbles” of sophisticated defenses around its western perimeter and extending well into NATO’s eastern flank, the alliance must confront a difficult question:[61] Is the geopolitical message that these exercises send essentially a bluff easily recognized by Russia as such and, therefore, unnecessarily provocative? Along these same lines, what is the point of conducting military exercises with non-NATO countries if the alliance is not treaty-bound to assist them in the event that they are attacked by Russia? One could argue that the increasingly tight bonds between NATO and Sweden and Finland bolster the alliance’s Baltic Sea flank and that both of those countries have capable militaries and long-standing cultural, political, and economic ties with many NATO states by virtue of their membership in the European Union.[62] To some extent, Russia facilitates this drawing together for common defense by sending mixed military-exercise messages of its own: In the Zapad 2013 exercise, Russian aircraft simulated what appeared to be an attack on military targets in Sweden, a charge denied by Russia’s Ministry of Defense. More recently, a Russian special forces operation on an island 24 miles from the Finnish coast signaled to Moscow’s neighbor that the threat is close by, a point about which the Finns hardly need to be reminded. [quote id="3"] Ukraine and Georgia present an altogether different geopolitical and strategic agenda that NATO and the United States seem determined to advance by, among other means, carrying out increasingly more complex military exercises in those countries. Certainly, the exercises and the official statements made about them also form an integral part of the messaging from NATO and its member states to Russia. NATO places a high premium on supporting these two partner states and is determined to assist them in deterring Russian aggression. The exercise messaging would suggest that the maneuvers are for training (especially interoperability), defense, and promoting stability. But is that how it is interpreted in Moscow? Do the exercises in Ukraine and Georgia suggest that NATO or the United States is prepared to fight there? Does that make any sense from a military perspective? Finally, does conducting such exercises promote regional stability? Interoperability between NATO and non-NATO members (in this case, Ukraine and Georgia) is a consistent element of messaging, appearing in the mission statement for Sea Breeze, Rapid Trident, Noble Partner, and other exercises conducted in the Black Sea region. Promoting interoperability with partner militaries such as those of Ukraine and Georgia makes a significant statement that the alliance is extending its remit and creating, de facto, an expanded military frontier into an unstable area with thick geopolitics. Simply put, why work toward greater interoperability unless the intent is to interoperate? The suggestion that these partners already operate with NATO outside the area and therefore should be able to operate by NATO standards makes sense. But when exercises are conducted in areas bordering Russia, that distinction will not be appreciated in Moscow. Among other things, such exercises involve actual combat units of participating NATO countries, bringing with them heavy and sophisticated weaponry. Sea Breeze 2017, for example, included a Ticonderoga-class guided-missile cruiser and an Arleigh Burke-class guided-missile destroyer, among the most powerful warships afloat. These provided an opportunity for Ukrainian President Petro Poroshenko to visit (and be photographed on) one of the ships at port in Odesa, where he could “emphasize … that this joint training is our response to ideologists, organizers and sponsors of hybrid wars” and that the “Head of State [Poroshenko] is confident that the training will become another resolute step towards achieving stability in the region.”[63] The parties fomenting hybrid wars and instability were not named, but, from where Poroshenko stood, the air distance to the Russian naval base at Sevastopol is only about 200 miles and is easily within the Crimean anti-access/area-denial zone that the Russians have since put in place.[64] Again, citing Dmitry Gorenburg, Russia is “mak[ing] it clear that the modernization of the Black Sea Fleet and the concurrent strengthening of Russian military presence in the Black Sea region [is] a priority to counter the threat it sees emanating from NATO and its partners in the region, including Ukraine.”[65] In a similar fashion, U.S. Vice President Mike Pence noted during the opening ceremony of Noble Partner 2017 in Georgia that “The strategic partnership between the United States and Georgia is stronger now than ever, and this joint exercise is a tangible sign of our commitment to each other to make it stronger still.”[66] Georgian President Giorgi Margvelashvili used the occasion of the Noble Partner 2018 kickoff to denounce Moscow for its role in the 2008 conflict that resulted in the secession of the Georgian regions of Abkhazia and South Ossetia, saying that the participating troops “are standing on the territory of a country, 20 percent of which is absolutely occupied by our neighbor Russia.”[67] After Noble Partner began, perhaps responding to Margvelashvili’s statement (although he did not refer specifically to the exercise), Russian Prime Minister Dmitry Medvedev warned that admitting Georgia to NATO could trigger a “terrible conflict,” suggesting, at the least, that the presence of combat troops, including tanks and other armored vehicles from NATO countries, in a “frozen conflict” zone is viewed by Moscow as unacceptable and highly destabilizing.[68]

Conclusion: Is Exercise Always Good?

Despite the vast increase in the number and scope of NATO and associated exercises, in Western think tanks some still advocate “more big exercises.”[69] There is a strong contingent of exercise advocates within the U.S. national security establishment and among many allied governments.[70] Yet, as Michael O’Hanlon suggested in regard to the Korean theater, cutting back or even eliminating large-scale exercises can be offset by conducting more frequent training at the tactical level, using “state-of-the-art simulations,” or by conducting exercises outside the immediate vicinity, including in the United States.[71] The U.S. Air Force’s Red Flag exercises in Nevada and Alaska, which usually include units from other countries, are a good example of the latter. Although the lower visibility involved in small-scale exercises or those remote from geopolitically fraught regions reduces the demonstration effect in deterring an aggressor, they are also much less de-stabilizing, precisely because they lack the hyperbolic rhetoric surrounding highly publicized exercises such as Zapad 2017 and Trident Juncture 2018. Military exercises in Europe since early 2014 have frequently involved bringing troops, naval vessels, and aircraft from opposing sides within increasingly closer proximity to one another, and have introduced newer and more capable weaponry as part of the fielded forces. The official messaging behind these maneuvers usually makes reference to the need to train in real-world conditions and ensure that units from different militaries can operate efficiently with one another. Moreover, the defensive nature of the exercise is stressed, often with the claim that greater capability will promote geopolitical stability and deter aggression. But by incorporating non-member militaries in its exercises and other missions, NATO has ratcheted up the operational tempo of its forces in areas that Russia views as buffer zones and that are too close for its strategic comfort. Not surprisingly, Russia responds in kind and raises anxiety levels among NATO members and key non-NATO partners and, in some cases, increases the likelihood of inadvertent actions that could escalate into hostilities. Explaining the Russian rationale behind the huge Vostok 2018 exercise and other Russian maneuvers, Kremlin spokesman Dmitry Peskov stated, “The country’s ability to defend itself in the current international situation, which is frequently quite aggressive and unfriendly toward us, is absolutely justified and has no alternative.”[72] Not surprisingly, U.S. Navy Adm. James G. Foggo, who commanded NATO’s Trident Juncture 2018, said that the rationale from his perspective is much the same: “NATO is a defensive Alliance. We’re not looking for a fight, but we are committed to defense and deterrence. That’s what this exercise is all about: training to defend, and providing a deterrent effect, ready to respond to any threat from any direction at any time.”[73] Certainly, both NATO and Russia have legitimate interests in maintaining readiness, exercising command and control of complex military operations, and assuring both their citizens and allies that they are capable of defending against external aggression. But the danger here is that the two sides are caught in an increasingly complex and dynamic upward spiral of military brinkmanship that will be difficult to manage if present trends continue. If there is a way out of this dangerous course of events it might lie within the framework of the Vienna Document 2011, the latest version of the Organization for Security and Cooperation in Europe (OSCE) agreement to which the United States, other NATO countries, and Russia (among others) are signatories. The document is “composed of politically binding confidence and security-building measures designed to increase openness and transparency concerning military activities conducted inside the OSCE's zone of application,”[74] which is essentially all of Europe (including Russia as far east as the Ural Mountains). It requires all participating states to notify other parties of military events above a certain threshold and to invite observers to these events. The central problem here, as articulated by Olivier Schmitt, is that the heightened level of geopolitical tension in Europe effectively precludes the necessary updates and modifications to the OSCE document that would make it a more effective instrument for containing, among other things, the unbridled growth of military exercises.[75] In Europe, a region with very thick geopolitics, the messaging incorporated into both NATO and Russian military exercises “risk[s] inducing a self-righteous bubble of understanding that is too far removed from the ground-level actualities in [the] post-Soviet space.”[76] NATO, in response to the entreaties of its eastern allied states and even non-member states, and at times because of ill-advised moves by Russia, has leveraged itself into territory that it would be hard-pressed to defend against a large, conventional Russian attack. Using their military exercises to message their interest in bolstering defenses in this inherently unstable geopolitical zone is a risky proposition, at best, for both NATO and Russia.   Acknowledgements: The author wishes to thank Gerard Toal for reading an earlier version of this paper, and Ryan Evans and an anonymous reviewer for their comments on the draft. Megan Oprea and Autumn Brewington provided much-needed editorial advice. Any shortcomings remaining are solely the author’s responsibility.   Ralph Clem is emeritus professor of geography and senior fellow at the Steven J. Green School of Public and International Affairs at Florida International University. He also served as an intelligence officer in the U.S. Air Force Reserve, retiring as a major general.   Image: North Carolina National Guard [post_title] => Military Exercises as Geopolitical Messaging in the NATO-Russia Dynamic: Reassurance, Deterrence, and (In)stability [post_excerpt] => [post_status] => publish [comment_status] => open [ping_status] => closed [post_password] => [post_name] => military-exercises-as-geopolitical-messaging-in-the-nato-russia-dynamic-reassurance-deterrence-and-instability [to_ping] => [pinged] => [post_modified] => 2018-11-14 08:51:36 [post_modified_gmt] => 2018-11-14 13:51:36 [post_content_filtered] => [post_parent] => 0 [guid] => http://tnsr.org/?p=763 [menu_order] => 0 [post_type] => post [post_mime_type] => [comment_count] => 0 [filter] => raw [meta] => [lead] => Military exercises are often viewed as geopolitical tools used to boost stability and enhance deterrence. However, they can sometimes have the exact opposite effect: increasing instability and contributing to dangerous levels of escalation. Nowhere is this more true than in the case of NATO and Russia. [pubinfo] => [issue] => Vol 2, Iss 1 [quotes] => Array ( [0] => Array ( [author] => [style] => left [text] => Once it has been decided that exercises are to take place, geopolitical messaging is conveyed in several ways in their actual execution. ) [1] => Array ( [author] => [style] => right [text] => [S]ince the annexation of Crimea, the schedule of military training events involving NATO and its member states, as well as non-NATO partners, has become increasingly ambitious. ) [2] => Array ( [author] => [style] => left [text] => [W]hat is the point of conducting military exercises with non-NATO countries if the alliance is not treaty-bound to assist them in the event that they are attacked by Russia? ) ) [style] => strategist [type] => Strategist [style_label] => The Strategist [download] => Array ( [title] => PDF Download [file] => ) [authors] => Array ( [0] => 223 ) [endnotes] => Array ( [title] => Endnotes [endnotes] => [1] This decision seemed to catch the Pentagon and Seoul off guard. See: Helene Cooper and Mark Landler, “Trump’s Promises to Kim Jong-un Leave U.S. and Allies Scrambling,” New York Times, June 15, 2018, https://www.nytimes.com/2018/06/15/world/asia/us-trump-north-korea-credible-military-exercises.html. [2] For an excellent overview, see: Beatrice Heuser, “Reflections on the Purposes, Benefits and Pitfalls of Military Exercises,” in Military Exercises: Political Messaging and Strategic Impact, ed. Beatrice Heuser, Tormod Heier, and Guillaume Lasconjarias (Rome: NATO Defense College Forum Paper 26, February 2018), 9–25. [3] This paper concerns only major scheduled military exercises. Most militaries also conduct tactical training exercises and “snap” or “operational readiness” inspections, but these are difficult to enumerate and even more difficult to analyze. In the case of Russia, for example, see: Alexander Golts, “Rehearsals for War,” European Council on Foreign Relations, July 5, 2016,  https://www.ecfr.eu/article/commentary_rehearsals_for_war. [4] David A. Shlapak and Michael Johnson, “Reinforcing Deterrence on NATO’s Eastern Flank: Wargaming the Defense of the Baltics,” RAND Corp., 2016, https://www.rand.org/pubs/research_reports/RR1253.html. For a broader discussion of war gaming, see: Jeffrey Appleget, Jeffrey Kline, and James J. Wirtz, “Do Wargames Impact Deterrence?” in Heuser, Heier, and Lasconjarias, Military Exercises: Political Messaging and Strategic Impact, 27–44. As war games relate to escalation dynamics, see: Jacquelyn G. Schneider, “What War Games Tell Us About the Use of Cyber Weapons in a Crisis,” Defense One, June 22, 2018, https://www.defenseone.com/ideas/2018/06/what-war-games-tell-us-about-use-cyber-weapons-crisis/149206/. [5] Michael Kofman, “Fixing NATO Deterrence in the East Or: How I Learned to Stop Worrying and Love NATO’s Crushing Defeat by Russia,” War on the Rocks, May 12, 2016, https://warontherocks.com/2016/05/fixing-nato-deterrence-in-the-east-or-how-i-learned-to-stop-worrying-and-love-natos-crushing-defeat-by-russia/. [6] Gerard Toal, Near Abroad: Putin, the West, and the Contest Over Ukraine and the Caucasus (New York: Oxford University Press, 2017). [7] As this involves Norway’s decision to push its defense perimeter farther north, see: Tormod Heier, “Towards a New Robust Defence? Norway’s Exercises on NATO’s Northern Flank, 2008–2017,” in Heuser, Heier, and Lasconjarias, Military Exercises: Political Messaging and Strategic Impact, 163–85. [8] Mark Galeotti, “Heavy Metal Diplomacy: Russia’s Political Use of Its Military in Europe Since 2014,” European Council on Foreign Relations Policy Brief, Dec. 19, 2016, https://www.ecfr.eu/page/-/Heavy_Metal_Diplomacy_Final_2.pdf. [9] Roland Bleiker, “Mapping Visual Global Politics,” in Visual Global Politics, ed. Roland Bleiker (New York: Routledge, 2018), 1. [10] Joint exercises involve two or more service components (air, ground, or naval), and combined exercises involve forces from two or more countries. Herb Lin, “The U.S. and South Korea Should Conditionally End Large Joint Military Exercises,” Lawfare, Aug. 30, 2017, https://lawfareblog.com/us-and-south-korea-should-conditionally-end-large-joint-military-exercises; Helene Cooper and Choe Sang-Hun, “U.S. and South Korea to Resume Joint Military Exercises,” New York Times, March 19, 2018, https://www.nytimes.com/2018/03/19/us/politics/us-south-korea-joint-military-exercises.html. [12] Emphasis added in excerpt from “U.S., South Korea Launch Annual Foal Eagle Exercise,” Department of Defense News, March 3, 2017, https://www.defense.gov/News/Article/Article/1102331/us-south-korea-launch-annual-foal-eagle-exercise/. [13] Robert Collins, “A Brief History of the US-ROK Combined Military Exercises,” 38 North, Feb. 26, 2014, https://www.38north.org/2014/02/rcollins022714/. [14] Michael R. Gordon and Declan Walsh, “General Says U.S. Wants to Resume Major Military Exercise With Egypt,” New York Times, Feb. 26, 2017, https://www.nytimes.com/2017/02/26/world/middleeast/trump-al-sisi-egypt-military-exercise.html. [15] “U.S., Egypt Kick Off Exercise Bright Star 2017,” U.S. Air Forces Central Command Public Affairs, Sept. 13, 2017, http://www.centcom.mil/MEDIA/NEWS-ARTICLES/News-Article-View/Article/1308877/us-egypt-kick-off-exercise-bright-star-2017/. [16] Adarsha Verma, “The Malabar Exercises: An Appraisal,” Institute for Defence Studies and Analyses, July 18, 2017, https://idsa.in/idsacomments/the-malabar-exercises_averma_180717. [17] Prashanth Parameswaran, “What Does a Bigger 2018 Balikatan Military Exercise Say About US-Philippines Alliance Under Duterte?” Diplomat, May 8, 2018, https://thediplomat.com/2018/05/what-does-a-bigger-2018-balikatan-military-exercise-say-about-us-philippines-alliance-under-duterte/. [18] Megan Eckstein, “China Disinvited from Participating in 2018 RIMPAC Exercise,” USNI News, May 23, 2018, https://news.usni.org/2018/05/23/china-disinvited-participating-2018-rimpac-exercise. [19] Tom O’Connor, “Russia and China Will Hold War Games in Asia, Checking U.S. Military Power in Pacific,” Newsweek, April 26, 2018, https://www.newsweek.com/russia-china-hold-war-games-asia-taking-us-military-power-pacfic-903251. [20] Michael J. Mazarr and Michael Kofman, “Rediscovering Statecraft in a Changing Post-War Order,” Texas National Security Review 1, no. 3 (May 2018), http://hdl.handle.net/2152/65634. [21] Ralph S. Clem, “Clearing the Fog of War: Public Versus Official Sources and Geopolitical Storylines in the Russia-Ukraine Conflict,” Eurasian Geography and Economics 58, no. 6 (2018), https://doi.org/10.1080/15387216.2018.1424006. [22] There is a vast literature on this subject. For an overview, see: Andrew Monaghan, “The Ukraine Crisis and NATO-Russia Relations,” NATO Review (2014), https://www.nato.int/docu/review/2014/russia-ukraine-nato-crisis/Ukraine-crisis-NATO-Russia-relations/EN/index.htm; Kimberly Marten, “Reconsidering NATO Expansion: A Counterfactual Analysis of Russia and the West in the 1990s,” European Journal of International Security 3, no. 2 (June 2018), https://doi.org/10.1017/eis.2017.16; Michael McFaul, “Russia As It Is: A Grand Strategy for Confronting Putin,” Foreign Affairs 97, no. 4 (July/August 2018), https://www.foreignaffairs.com/articles/russia-fsu/2018-06-14/russia-it. [23] The Baltic Air Policing mission involves heel-to-toe rotations of fighter aircraft to bases in Lithuania and Estonia. See: “NATO Air Policing,” Allied Air Command, accessed Oct. 30, 2018, https://ac.nato.int/page5931922/-nato-air-policing. [24] “Boosting NATO’s presence in the east and southeast,” NATO (North Atlantic Treaty Organization), Aug. 14, 2018, https://www.nato.int/cps/en/natohq/topics_136388.htm. [25] Samuel Charap, “Russia’s Use of Military Force as a Foreign Policy Tool: Is There a Logic?” PONARS Policy Memo 443, October 2016, http://www.ponarseurasia.org/memo/russias-use-military-force-foreign-policy-tool-there-logic. [26] Fredrik Westerlund, “Russia’s Military Strategy and Force Structure in Kaliningrad,” Swedish Defence Research Agency (FOI), FOI Memo 6060, May 2017, https://www.foi.se/download/18.bc6b81b15be852194d71d/1494413062692/RUFS Briefing No 40 Kaliningrad by Fredrik Westerlund.pdf. [27] Dmitry Gorenburg, “Is a New Russian Black Sea Fleet Coming? Or Is It Here?” War on the Rocks, July 31, 2018, https://warontherocks.com/2018/07/is-a-new-russian-black-sea-fleet-coming-or-is-it-here/. [28] Thomas Frear, Łukasz Kulesa, and Ian Kearns, “Dangerous Brinkmanship: Close Military Encounters Between Russia and the West in 2014,” European Leadership Network Policy Brief, November 2014, https://www.europeanleadershipnetwork.org/wp-content/uploads/2017/10/Dangerous-Brinkmanship.pdf. [29] Keir Giles, “Russia Hit Multiple Targets With Zapad-2017,” Carnegie Endowment for International Peace, Jan. 25, 2018, http://carnegieendowment.org/2018/01/25/russia-hit-multiple-targets-with-zapad-2017-pub-75278. [30] Emphasis added to this undated Russian Ministry of Defense press release on the Zapad 2017 Joint Strategic Exercisehttp://eng.mil.ru/en/mission/practice/more.htm?id=12140115@egNews. [31] Andrew Higgins, “Russia’s War Games with Fake Enemies Cause Real Alarm,” New York Times, Sept. 13, 2017, https://www.nytimes.com/2017/09/13/world/europe/russia-baltics-belarus.html. [32] Ian J. Brzezinski and Nicholas Varangis, “The NATO-Russia Exercise Gap,” Atlantic Council’s NATOSource, Feb. 23, 2015, http://www.atlanticcouncil.org/blogs/natosource/the-nato-russia-exercise-gap. [33] Michael Kofman questions the manner in which the much larger numbers were generated, but the publicity from the Russian Ministry of Defense stresses the record size. See his article “Assessing Vostok-2018,” Changing Character of War Centre, Russia Brief no. 3, September 2018, https://static1.squarespace.com/static/55faab67e4b0914105347194/t/5bae3876ec212d07ae601d68/1538144376047/Russia+Brief+3.pdf. [34] Dmitry Gorenburg, “5 Things to Know About Russia’s Vostok-2018 Military Exercises,” Washington Post’s Monkey Cage Blog, Sept. 13, 2018, https://www.washingtonpost.com/news/monkey-cage/wp/2018/09/13/5-things-to-know-about-russias-vostok-2018-military-exercises/. [35] NATO sponsors a set of exercises annually, and some of its member states or groupings of members do likewise. For an in-depth look at a NATO exercise and a Russian exercise, see: Thomas Frear, Ian Kearns, and Łukasz Kulesa, “Preparing for the Worst: Are Russian and NATO Military Exercises Making War in Europe More Likely?” European Leadership Network Policy Brief, August 2015, https://www.europeanleadershipnetwork.org/wp-content/uploads/2017/10/Preparing-for-the-Worst.pdf. [36] Ralph S. Clem, “NATO’s Expanding Military Exercises Are Sending Risky Mixed Messages,” War on the Rocks, Oct. 10, 2017, https://warontherocks.com/2017/10/natos-expanding-military-exercises-are-sending-risky-mixed-messages/. [37] Ian Brzezinski and Nicholas Varangis, “The NATO-Russia Exercise Gap: Then, Now, and 2017,” Atlantic Council’s NATOSource, Oct. 25, 2016, http://www.atlanticcouncil.org/blogs/natosource/the-nato-russia-exercise-gap-then-now-2017. [38] NATO, “Wales Summit Declaration,” news release (2014) 120, Sept. 5, 2014, https://www.nato.int/cps/ic/natohq/official_texts_112964.htm - top. [39] NATO, “Warsaw Summit Communiqué,” news release (2016) 100, July 9, 2016, https://www.nato.int/cps/en/natohq/official_texts_133169.htm. [40] Emphasis added to official alliance statement on the Brussels summit. See: NATO, “Brussels Summit Declaration,” news release (2018) 74, July 11, 2018, https://www.nato.int/cps/en/natohq/official_texts_156624.htm. [41] “During Saber Strike, Baltic Countries Train with U.S., U.K., Canada,” Army News Service, June 13, 2012, https://www.army.mil/article/81683/during_saber_strike_baltic_countries_train_with_us_uk_canada. [42] Undated U.S. Army (Europe) webpage on “Saber Strike 2018” exercise, http://www.eur.army.mil/SaberStrike/. [43] “The Anaconda-16 Exercises Begin,” Polish Ministry of National Defence, June 7, 2016, http://en.mon.gov.pl/news/article/important/the-anaconda-16-exercises-begin-n2016-06-07/. [44] Azita Raji, “The Perils of Playing Footsie in Military Boots: Trident Juncture and NATO’s Nordic Front,” War on the Rocks, Aug. 20, 2018, https://warontherocks.com/2018/08/the-perils-of-playing-footsie-in-military-boots-trident-juncture-and-natos-nordic-front/. See also: Heier, “Towards a New Robust Defence?” [45] Ralph Clem, “Today, NATO Begins a Huge Military Exercise. Here’s What You Need to Know,” Washington Post’s Monkey Cage Blog, October 25, 2018. https://www.washingtonpost.com/news/monkey-cage/wp/2018/10/25/today-nato-begins-a-huge-military-exercise-heres-what-you-need-to-know/?utm_term=.aa2fb879a091 [46] Richard Milne, “Sweden Gears Up for Biggest Military Exercise in Decades,” Financial Times, Sept. 7, 2017, https://www.ft.com/content/11e9a55c-93b3-11e7-a9e6-11d2f0ebb7f0; Brad Lendon and Zachary Cohen, “U.S. Air Force to Send F-15 Jets to Finland,” CNN.com, Feb. 15, 2016, https://www.cnn.com/2016/02/15/politics/u-s-f-15-finland-training-exercise/index.html. [47] Finnish Defence Forces, “Trident Juncture 2018 to Be Organized in October-November in Norway, Sweden and Finland,” news release, April 27, 2018, https://puolustusvoimat.fi/en/article/-/asset_publisher/trident-juncture-2018-harjoitus-jarjestetaan-loka-marraskuussa-norjassa-ruotsissa-ja-suomessa; Undated Swedish Armed Forces webpage on “Trident Juncture 2018,” https://www.forsvarsmakten.se/en/activities/exercises/trident-juncture-18/. [48] Sweden brought back military conscription in 2017 and is set to make major increases in its defense spending that will add significant troop strength, aircraft, and enhanced cyber capabilities. See: Gerard O’Dwyer, “New Swedish Government Advocates for Greater Defense Spending,” Defense News, Sept. 12, 2018. https://www.defensenews.com/global/europe/2018/09/12/new-swedish-government-advocates-for-greater-defense-spending/. Finland, which already has compulsory service, likewise plans to increase its defense spending and add manpower. See: “Finland to Increase Troop Levels, Defence Spending Amid Heightened Tensions,” Reuters, Feb. 16, 2017, https://www.reuters.com/article/uk-finland-government-military/finland-to-increase-troop-levels-defence-spending-amid-heightened-tensions-idUKKBN15V25C. [49] “NATO Response Force,” NATO website, Jan. 16, 2017, https://www.nato.int/cps/ua/natohq/topics_49755.htm. [50] Denmark has the highest casualty rate of any NATO member state. [51] “U.S. Deploys Advanced Anti-Aircraft Missiles in Baltics for First Time,” Reuters, July 10, 2017, https://www.reuters.com/article/us-usa-baltics-patriot/u-s-deploys-advanced-anti-aircraft-missiles-in-baltics-for-first-time-idUSKBN19V28A. [52] “US Moves Patriot Missiles near Russian Border in 1st Baltic Deployment,” RT, July 11, 2017, https://www.rt.com/news/396028-us-patriot-missiles-baltics/. [53] “Estonia Calls for Deployment of US Troops, Patriot Missiles,” Euractiv, April 5, 2018, https://www.euractiv.com/section/defence-and-security/news/estonia-calls-for-deployment-of-us-troops-patriot-missiles/. [54] Vladimir Isachenkov, “Russia Is Putting State-of-the-Art Missile in Its Westernmost Baltic Exclave,” Business Insider, March 18, 2015, http://www.businessinsider.com/russia-placing-state-of-the-art-missiles-in-kaliningrad-2015-3. [55] Richard Milne and Kathrin Hille, “Baltic Concern Rises at Russian Missiles in Kaliningrad,” Financial Times, Feb. 5, 2018, https://www.ft.com/content/ef93af1e-0a8d-11e8-8eb7-42f857ea9f09. [56] Victoria Leoni, “Navy Sends Destroyers to Black Sea to ‘Desensitize’ Russia,” Navy Times, Feb. 20, 2018, https://www.navytimes.com/news/your-navy/2018/02/20/navy-sends-destroyers-to-black-sea-to-desensitize-russia/. [57] “NATO Supreme Allied Commander Europe Meets with Russian Chief of General Staff,” Supreme Headquarters Allied Powers Europe Public Affairs Office, April 19, 2018, https://shape.nato.int/news-archive/2018/nato-supreme-allied-commander-europe--general-scaparrotti-meets-with-russian-chief-of-general-staff--general-gerasimov. [58] Kofman, “Fixing NATO Deterrence in the East”; Ulrich Kühn, Preventing Escalation in the Baltics: A NATO Playbook (Washington, DC: Carnegie Endowment for International Peace, March 2018), https://carnegieendowment.org/2018/03/28/preventing-escalation-in-baltics-nato-playbook-pub-75878. [59] Clem, “NATO’s Expanding Military Exercises Are Sending Risky Mixed Messages.” [60] Ralph S. Clem, “Forward Basing NATO Airpower in the Baltics Is a Bad Idea,” War on the Rocks, April 18, 2016, https://warontherocks.com/2016/04/forward-basing-nato-airpower-in-the-baltics-is-a-bad-idea/; Ralph S. Clem, “Geopolitics and Planning for a High-End Fight: NATO and the Baltic Region,” Air and Space Power Journal 30, no. 1 (Spring 2016): 74–85, https://www.airuniversity.af.mil/Portals/10/ASPJ/journals/Volume-30_Issue-1/V-Clem.pdf. For a contrary view, see: Luke Coffey and Daniel Kochis, “Time for the Baltic Air Policing Mission to Become the Baltic Air Defense Mission,” Heritage Foundation, Oct. 2, 2017, https://www.heritage.org/defense/report/time-the-baltic-air-policing-mission-become-the-baltic-air-defense-mission. [61] Luis Simon, “Demystifying the A2/AD Buzz,” War on the Rocks, Jan. 4, 2017, https://warontherocks.com/2017/01/demystifying-the-a2ad-buzz/. [62] Coffey and Kochis, “Time for the Baltic Air Policing Mission to Become the Baltic Air Defense Mission.” [63] Petro Poroshenko, “President on Sea Breeze 2017 Training,” July 17, 2017, https://www.president.gov.ua/en/news/prezident-pro-navchannya-sea-breeze-2017-ce-nasha-vidpovid-i-42442. [64] Loic Burton, “Bubble Trouble: Russia’s A2/AD Capabilities,” Foreign Policy Association, Oct. 25, 2016, https://foreignpolicyblogs.com/2016/10/25/bubble-trouble-russia-a2-ad/. [65] Gorenburg, “Is a New Russian Black Sea Fleet Coming? Or Is It Here?” [66] Author’s emphasis added to the statement. “Remarks by the Vice President to Noble Partner Participants,” U.S. Embassy in Georgia, Aug. 1, 2017, https://ge.usembassy.gov/remarks-vp-noble-partner-participants/. [67] “Georgia Slams Russia ‘Occupation’ Ahead of NATO War Games,” DW.com, Aug. 1, 2018, https://www.dw.com/en/georgia-slams-russia-occupation-ahead-of-nato-war-games/a-44916562. [68] Andrew Osborn, “Russian PM Warns NATO Admission of Georgia Could Trigger ‘Terrible Conflict,’” Reuters, Aug. 6, 2018, https://www.reuters.com/article/us-russia-nato-georgia/russian-pm-warns-nato-admission-of-georgia-could-trigger-terrible-conflict-idUSKBN1KR1UQ. [69] Elisabeth Braw, “NATO Needs More Big Exercises, Too,” Defense One, June 14, 2018, https://www.defenseone.com/ideas/2018/06/nato-needs-more-big-exercises-too/148980/. [70] Lara Seligman, “Experts Question Wisdom of Canceling U.S. Exercises with South Korea, as Mattis Makes It Official,” Foreign Policy, June 26, 2018, https://foreignpolicy.com/2018/06/26/experts-question-wisdom-of-canceling-u-s-exercises-with-south-korea-as-mattis-makes-it-official/. [71] Michael E. O’Hanlon, “It’s Finally Time to Deal With North Korea,” New York Times, July 5, 2017, https://www.nytimes.com/2017/07/05/opinion/north-korea-military-sanctions.html. [72] Andrew Higgins, “300,000 Troops and 900 Tanks: Russia’s Biggest Military Drills Since Cold War,” New York Times, Aug, 28, 2018, https://www.nytimes.com/2018/08/28/world/europe/russia-military-drills.html. Jack Watling correctly points out that the exercise also serves a domestic political purpose: highlighting Russia’s growing military might as a distraction from the country’s social and economic problems. “Russia’s Vostok-2018 Exercise Is About a Lot More Than War With NATO,” RUSI Commentary, Sept. 7, 2018, https://rusi.org/commentary/russia’s-vostok-2018-exercise-about-lot-more-war-nato. [73] NATO, “Exercise Trident Juncture 18 to Demonstrate NATO’s ability to Defend Itself,” news release, June 11, 2018, https://www.nato.int/cps/en/natohq/news_155866.htm. [74] State Department, “Overview of Vienna Document 2011,”   https://www.state.gov/t/avc/cca/c43837.htm. [75] Olivier Schmitt, “The Vienna Document and the Russian Challenge to the European Security Architecture,” in Heuser, Heier, Lasconjarias, Military Exercises: Political Messaging and Strategic Impact, 269–84. [76] Toal, Near Abroad, 298. ) [contents] => Array ( [title] => [contents] => ) ) ) [post_count] => 1 [current_post] => -1 [in_the_loop] => [post] => WP_Post Object ( [ID] => 780 [post_author] => 228 [post_date] => 2018-11-27 10:08:15 [post_date_gmt] => 2018-11-27 15:08:15 [post_content] =>

I.

The fundamental problem facing U.S. national security — and indeed grand — strategy is clear: The United States seeks to extend deterrence to dozens of allies in parts of the world that are increasingly shadowed by Russia and China, each of which fields survivable nuclear arsenals and conventional forces that are more and more formidable in their respective regions. An increasingly powerful China seeks ascendancy in Asia and ultimately beyond, while Russia has recovered some of its military potency and aspires to upend or at least substantially revise the post-Cold War European settlement.[1] Both China and Russia have developed strategies and forces designed to enable them to attack or suborn U.S. allies or partners and make such an effort potentially worth the risks and costs. Their aspirations place them at odds — or at least in tension — with U.S. interests in defending its alliance architecture, and their increased capability to pursue these aspirations makes them more dangerous and the possibility of war with them more likely.[2] In the face of these challenges, Washington wants to deter and, if necessary, defeat attacks on its allies by Russia or China. The problem is that these alliances are, while of course important, still fundamentally secondary interests for the United States. Yet Washington wisely seeks to defend them from states that have the assured ability to conduct nuclear strikes on the American homeland, which, naturally, represents the profoundest type of peril to the nation’s ultimate primary interest: its survival as a functioning society. In light of the mutual vulnerability of the United States on the one hand and Russia and China on the other, the disincentives to large-scale use of nuclear weapons are of the gravest and most direct sort. No one could rationally seek general nuclear war, which would be tantamount to suicide. In this context, the influence of nuclear weapons derives from the perception of a willingness to risk their use at scale — in effect, to be more willing to court destruction. Coercive leverage derives from establishing a superior position about which state is more resolute in risking nuclear Armageddon.[3] But such a competition is not only about resolve in some pure or abstract sense, disconnected from events or acts. Rather, resolve is not an immutable value, but is shaped and formed by a host of factors, and thus is itself subject to manipulation. A state’s willingness to fight is, in other words, not simply a product of an unchanging judgment of the import of a given stake. It is also formed by assessments about the difficulty of and degree of risk assumed by fighting, the connection of the equity at issue to other interests, the perceived nature of the opponent as well as the scale and ambition of its aims, judgments of justice and legitimacy, and so forth. The more these sorts of interests are — or can be — implicated in a given contest, the more likely a state will be willing to risk, fight, and endure, even if the contest is initially or nominally focused on a relatively peripheral interest. The Union fought more resolutely than it otherwise might have against a South that had attacked Fort Sumter first, and the United States fought much more ferociously against a Japan that had launched a dastardly surprise attack on Pearl Harbor and conducted its ensuing aggression with notorious brutality. In particular, the more aggressive, brazen, illegitimate, unjust, or inherently menacing one state’s behavior seems, the more likely it is that it will generate the willingness of the other state to assume some additional risk of nuclear Armageddon. Put another way, the more capable a state is of attaining its aims through means that appear less escalatory, the less it will need to rely on its resolve to risk general devastation. Conversely, the less capable a state is of pursuing its aims through less escalatory measures, the more it will need to rely on its willingness to court mutual suicide. Thus, the ability to fight successfully without having to seriously escalate is a great source of advantage because it permits one to prevail even with a deficit of resolve. This is crucial for the United States. In a pure contest of resolve against Russia over Eastern Europe or against China over Taiwan — or even against Pyongyang over the Korean Peninsula — it is not clear that the United States would prevail. But Washington need not and should not permit such a pure contest to appear plausible. Indeed, for many years after the end of the Cold War, Washington enjoyed a situation in which resolve was largely immaterial to plausible contingencies touching on threats to U.S. allies. While Russia had survivable nuclear forces and China a modest strategic deterrent, neither had the conventional forces to mount serious assaults on U.S. allies that would enable them to push the onus of escalation onto the United States, and thus to create a more favorable contest of resolve.[4] China might have reminded the United States that it could destroy Los Angeles in the pursuit of subordinating Taipei, but such a threat was not coercively useful without the conventional forces to sustain a blockade or an invasion of Taiwan. Few imagined that China would leap immediately to destroying Los Angeles when such an act, by its manifest disproportion and unreasonableness, would very likely have triggered the most fearsome sort of retaliation.

II.

The post-Cold War period, however, is over. The increased conventional military power of Russia and China, and China’s maturing nuclear deterrent, have changed the situation. Each is pursuing a variant of what is fundamentally a fait accompli strategy. In a situation of mutual vulnerability to large-scale nuclear attack, the fait accompli is the most attractive offensive strategy for a power that is weaker than its opponent, as China and Russia are relative to the United States and its allies. The fait accompli strategy works by moving or attacking in a way that forces the defender’s counterpunch to have to be so costly and risky as to seem not worth the benefit of reversing it. It is most insidious when the violence needed to succeed with the fait accompli is less grievous, making the very great response needed to eject the attacker seem not only too perilous but also unjust. As a consequence, in a nuclear world, advantage in the deadly competition in risk-taking between two states armed with survivable arsenals will thus accrue to the side that can take action and hold territory — and then push the onus of responding onto the other side in such a way that the sort of escalation required to remedy the situation is simply too costly and risky. [quote id="1"] In Europe, Russia’s conventional forces can now rapidly seize territory in places such as the Baltic states and eastern Poland, while Moscow’s large and variegated strategic and nuclear forces provide ample options for controlled strikes designed to “spook” NATO into terminating a war before the alliance could bring its greater strength to bear to reverse Russian gains.[5] In Asia, meanwhile, China is developing a conventional military that will be able to compete for — and could be able to establish — superiority over the United States and its allies in substantial areas of the Western Pacific, as well as a nuclear force that could increasingly be used in more limited, controlled ways to attempt to deter U.S. vertical or horizontal escalation.[6] The two cases are similar but differ in the greater Russian degree of reliance on nuclear weapons. The nub of the challenge from Russia lies in Moscow’s potential ability to transform its temporary and local conventional advantages with respect to the Baltic states and eastern Poland into permanent gains through the threat of a nuclear escalation that both sides fear but that, Moscow may reckon, the West would fear more. The challenge from China, meanwhile, appears likely to lie more in its potential ability to attain practical conventional superiority over the United States with respect to East Asia and to use its nuclear and strategic forces to dissuade Washington from meaningfully escalating, including to the nuclear level, in order to negate or reverse that superiority. Both, however, involve ways in which a potential U.S. adversary could use its military forces to create durable positions of advantage. Moscow or Beijing might plausibly calculate that such uses of military force would be exceptionally difficult and demanding to roll back or dislodge. This would shift the onus of escalation onto the United States and its allies and would allow for the use of nuclear and other strategic forces to deter the United States from taking the potentially escalatory and dramatic actions needed to achieve its more limited objectives, such as the restoration of an ally’s territorial integrity.

III.

If U.S. grand strategy is to remain predicated on the defense of its allies, the United States needs to deal promptly and resolutely with this thorny set of problems. While Chinese and Russian provocations against U.S. interests have mostly been confined to the “gray zone” thus far, a perception that strategies such as these could advantageously be pursued may lead to more direct and clearer challenges, especially if the relevant regional military balances shift away from Washington and its allies.[7] Sub-conventional “salami-slicing” is an attractive strategy when one fears the consequences of pushing much harder or further. If Beijing or Moscow judges it can push more ambitiously or assertively without risking a plausible and sufficiently painful U.S. response, then it is likely to do so. If the United States is resolute and clear enough, however, gray-zone problems will remain manageable — that is, if the United States retains a military advantage with respect to its allies and established partners (such as Taiwan) vis-à-vis Russia and China. If it loses that advantage, gray-zone provocations are likely to transform into far more direct and menacing assertions of power by Moscow and Beijing. To prevent this, the United States should want a defense posture that demonstrates to potential opponents that such challenges would not succeed or, failing that, would be too costly to be worth the candle. Ideally, this would entail a U.S. ability directly to defeat outright any aggression against its allies or interests, as essentially was the case during the unipolar period that followed the collapse of the Soviet Union. This standard may be difficult to achieve, however, given the dramatic growth of Chinese power and the more modest, but still significant, recovery of Russian military power, the proximity of plausible points of conflict to them and their distance from the United States, and the diffusion of U.S. military effort and focus across multiple theaters. It may be especially difficult to do so rapidly or without requiring significant forms of escalation that may seem a bridge too far for U.S. decision makers absent evidence of a much higher degree of Chinese or Russian malignity or ambition. The United States should therefore aim to field a military posture of conventional forces that makes attack against U.S. allies and territory at best futile and at minimum a necessarily very brazen, destructive, and aggressive act.[8] Compelling the adversary to conduct aggression in this way is far more likely to catalyze U.S. and allied resolve to pursue the kinds of military actions necessary to defeat such an assault, for instance through a much larger counteroffensive, including conventional strikes into an adversary’s territory. This conventional posture should be designed not only to achieve the important but limited aim of repelling an adversary’s attack and denying the fait accompli but also to shift onto the opponent the onus of more dramatic forms of escalation — above all to the nuclear level. That is, U.S. conventional military operations need to be ferocious enough to degrade a capable opponent’s ability to pursue and consummate its attack on U.S. allies, but they should also be framed and implemented in such a way as to compel the other side to have to face the choice of conceding or dramatically escalating. If China can take over Taiwan quickly, cleanly, and with relatively little damage, this is likely to make a large and ferocious U.S. counteroffensive seem disproportionate, thereby lessening the probability that it would happen and that other states would support it. Conversely, if Beijing can hope to conquer Taiwan only through a massive, bloody, and patently aggressive offensive — and might well fail at that — then the sorts of U.S. actions needed to help Taiwan are likely to seem much more reasonable and palatable, thereby increasing the likelihood that Washington would take such actions and that others would support those efforts.

IV.

This is primarily a challenge for U.S. and allied conventional forces. But U.S. (and allied) nuclear forces also play a central role. The U.S. nuclear arsenal should be designed to demonstrate to potential U.S. opponents — most importantly Russia and China — that dramatic forms of escalation against key U.S. interests, including but not exclusively nuclear escalation, would be too costly and risky to pursue and ultimately would be self-defeating. This involves demonstrating to potential foes that attempts to transgress core American interests, or to use nuclear weapons for military effect, or seeking to favorably manipulate the fear of escalation to Armageddon would not redound in their favor — and ideally against them. This should contribute both to deterring them from using nuclear weapons as a way to reverse a limited conventional defeat but also from crossing fundamental American and allied red lines short of employing nuclear weapons. This, of course, rules out the adoption by the United States of a “no first use” pledge, which would be especially inadvisable given the growth of Chinese conventional military power.[9] At the same time, however, U.S. nuclear strategy should seek to avoid unnecessarily or inadvertently triggering a large-scale nuclear war. That is, U.S. nuclear forces should both exercise significant and ideally decisive yet targeted coercive influence but avoid prompting escalation to broader strategic war. U.S. nuclear forces should deter (and, if pressed, coerce) while simultaneously promoting rather than detracting from a fundamental strategic stability — the understanding that U.S. actions are not intended to deny the other side a basic retaliatory capability.[10] Together, this means the United States should want a nuclear strategy, force, and posture focused on the ability and preparedness to use nuclear weapons in discriminate, tailored, and controlled ways. The logic of any such nuclear employment should focus on escalation advantage: to demonstrate Washington’s willingness to escalate to the nuclear level, and to continue escalating if grave provocations continue, but also its readiness to restrain further escalation and ultimately deescalate if the opponent is prepared to comply with reasonable demands. Accordingly, Washington should want a nuclear arsenal that can provide varying options for controlled, graduated forms of nuclear escalation in line with this basic logic that allow for different potential employment strategies (such as tit for tat or intensifying escalation), since the optimal targeting strategy is likely to vary based on the particular contingency. To be most coercively useful, such strikes should be designed to influence (or complement other efforts to influence) the sub-nuclear conflict in ways that shift the burden of escalation further onto the adversary and thus be advantageous to the United States. [quote id="2"] That is, the ideal nuclear employment strategy is one that not only demonstrates political will but also, along with U.S. and allied conventional efforts, affects the sub-strategic battle in ways that make an adversary’s counter- or further escalation less attractive. For instance, the United States would benefit from having nuclear options that could heavily damage a Chinese invasion flotilla designed to assault U.S. allies in the Western Pacific and that could exercise similar effects against Russian forces attacking or directly supporting an incursion into the Baltics.[11] Such capabilities would enable the United States not only to demonstrate its resolve to cross the nuclear threshold, but also markedly increase the degree of escalation the opponent would have to undertake to remedy the loss and continue the fundamentally offending action (such as the invasion of a U.S. ally in the Western Pacific or in Eastern Europe). This role would be especially important if the United States lacks plausible conventional options for exercising such an effect, especially without undertaking separate, dramatic forms of escalation (for instance by significantly expanding the scope of the battlefield or hitting new, especially sensitive classes of targets). The U.S. military fielded these types of capabilities during the Cold War but abandoned them in the post-Cold War era. This was defensible in an era of untrammeled U.S. conventional superiority; it is not in one in which the Russians and Chinese may have plausible theories of victory against U.S. allies and important partners. From a targeting perspective, this puts a premium on being able to strike at differing sorts of targets depending on the stage of escalation — to be able to strike effectively at what the opponent values but also to communicate at stages of escalation short of general war a meaningful degree of restraint. Accordingly, nuclear weapons that could significantly damage or impair such targets, but with lessened collateral damage, would be particularly attractive. Such weapons that would be especially useful in this context might include those with a lower yield, those that could be employed in ways that would create less radioactivity, and those that would travel on trajectories and from platforms that would be less likely to generate an opponent’s fear that they were part of or precursor to a general or attempted disarming attack. Furthermore, this nuclear strategy puts a high value on an exquisite, responsive, resilient, and supremely capable nuclear command, control, and communications (NC3) architecture.[12] At the same time, limited use would not substitute for the ability to conduct large-scale and general nuclear strikes. Rather, the effectiveness of discriminate options would in fact depend upon their connection to that possibility. Consequently, the United States would need to retain the capacity to destroy Russia and China’s most valued targets, including their industrial bases and national leadership in their protected redoubts. While attacks on leadership should, as a general principle, be withheld until the very last stages of escalation, it is crucial for the United States to be able to destroy an opponent no matter where he goes, especially at the end of a chain of deliberate escalation when an adversary has had the opportunity to hide and defend himself. Accordingly, the United States needs capabilities to assuredly — and, ideally, promptly and with reduced collateral damage — destroy even targets in hardened and deeply buried facilities. It is vital to underline that this is critical for retaliatory strikes — and thus for stability — and far less, actually, for more aggressive nuclear strategies, which can aspire to decapitating enemy leaderships before they have a chance to seek safety or concealment. Notably, this nuclear strategy does not emphasize or rely on the ability to attack an enemy’s strategic nuclear forces or command-and-control. While it does not exclude the potential value of having options to degrade an opponent’s strategic arsenal or command-and-control ability (for instance, to make an opponent’s counter-escalation options less attractive), it generally counsels restraint regarding pursuit of strategic counterforce capabilities, let alone their employment, particularly in light of the countering responses such pursuit is likely to engender. Communication with the adversary before and during a conflict is crucial to the effectiveness of such a strategy, since ultimately it is predicated on persuading — indeed, coercing — an adversary to agree to end a war on terms acceptable (and ideally favorable) to the United States without triggering escalation to a level of war beyond what anyone would want. Accordingly, Russia and China need to understand the logic of U.S. nuclear strategy. It is not about denying their retaliatory capability nor confined to large-scale options. Rather, it is about demonstrating to them in the most painful terms that the United States has the resolve and the ability to impose progressively greater — and ultimately the greatest — damage and risk on them if they transgress core American and allied interests, and that it has the capabilities to make such a strategy plausibly implementable on bases that will play to American, rather than their, advantages. U.S. declaratory policy should reflect this. Ambiguity about the precise conditions under which the United States would employ nuclear weapons and how it would do so are advisable for familiar reasons, but greater clarity about and emphasis on the options the United States possesses and will possess to pursue the strategy laid out here would be helpful. This may involve less changes in the wording of formal statements than shifts in how the United States exercises its forces, for instance, by building in contingencies involving deliberate escalation, and allowing the circulation of reports of such exercises.

V.

The basic point is to make clear to Moscow and Beijing that Washington is prepared to respond to dramatic escalation on their part with plausibly implementable strategies of its own. This is especially important because the stakes over cognizable contingencies today are lower than they were during the Cold War (primarily because neither China nor Russia poses the kind of totalistic threat that many viewed the Soviet Union as representing). More apocalyptic strategies are more credible when defeat itself would seem apocalyptic, as it did to many during the Cold War. When limited defeat over peripheral interests would not appear to constitute such a catastrophe, more credible strategies are needed. The 2018 Nuclear Posture Review represented an important and commendable starting point in this direction, especially with its decision to develop a low-yield warhead for U.S. submarine-launched ballistic missiles, but the U.S. military will need to go further. [quote id="3"] The premise for all this is that limited nuclear war is possible. Crossing the nuclear threshold would be staggeringly dangerous, as things always might get completely out of control, leading to an apocalyptic exchange. But this is not the same as saying that such escalation to total war would necessarily happen. This is fundamentally for two reasons: because combatants under the nuclear shadow would always have the strongest possible incentive to avoid triggering the apocalypse, since doing so would almost certainly result in their own destruction, but, at the same time, advantage at the nuclear level (the highest imaginable) would be dominating. Thus the side willing and able to escalate to the nuclear level and come out ahead would have a commanding edge. Accordingly, even as the United States should seek to minimize the degree to which it relies on nuclear weapons in its defense strategy — for both strategic and moral reasons — its defense strategy must nonetheless reckon with the reality that limited nuclear war is possible and, unless anticipated and provided for, could well be an attractive and even rational course of action for opportunistic or motivated opponents. In closing, it is worth emphasizing what the logic of this strategy would be. The United States is wisely committed to sustaining its grand strategy of alliances in key regions of the world, a strategy that is most conducive to preserving an enduringly favorable balance of power and thus international order for Americans. This is a fundamentally conservative approach, one that seeks to defend what is established rather than transform the world or upend regional orders. This requires a defense strategy and posture that will deter a rising and increasingly assertive China and an alienated and more capable Russia. That, in turn, requires that Beijing and Moscow believe the United States might realistically put its strategy into effect despite the attendant risks and the relatively lower stakes compared with those at issue in the Cold War. In a situation of substantial mutual vulnerability over stakes that are important but not truly central to the United States, the best strategy to serve U.S. political ends is one focused on advantageously managing escalation in a way that seeks to keep or shift the burden of dramatic escalation onto Moscow or Beijing. This is highly suited to a strategy focused on defense rather than expansion or transformation, and thus is the best way to achieve the goal Hans Morgenthau set out for a wise foreign policy, that “the task of armed diplomacy [should be] to convince the nations concerned that their legitimate interests have nothing to fear from a restrictive and rational foreign policy and that their illegitimate interests have nothing to gain in the face of armed might rationally employed.”[13]   Elbridge Colby is director of the Defense Program at the Center for a New American Security. He was deputy assistant secretary of defense for strategy and force development from 2017 to 2018.     Image: Ministry of Digital Development, Communications and Mass Media of the Russian Federation [post_title] => Against the Great Powers: Reflections on Balancing Nuclear and Conventional Power [post_excerpt] => [post_status] => publish [comment_status] => open [ping_status] => closed [post_password] => [post_name] => against-the-great-powers-reflections-on-balancing-nuclear-and-conventional-power [to_ping] => [pinged] => [post_modified] => 2019-01-16 03:36:19 [post_modified_gmt] => 2019-01-16 08:36:19 [post_content_filtered] => [post_parent] => 0 [guid] => http://tnsr.org/?p=780 [menu_order] => 0 [post_type] => post [post_mime_type] => [comment_count] => 0 [filter] => raw [meta] => [lead] => The toughest and most important challenge for U.S. defense strategy is how to defend vulnerable allies against a Chinese or Russian fait accompli strategy, particularly one backed by nuclear threats. Here's how the United States should think about how to defeat such a strategy, and what it means for America's conventional and nuclear forces. [pubinfo] => [issue] => Vol 2, Iss 1 [quotes] => Array ( [0] => Array ( [author] => [style] => left [text] => The increased conventional military power of Russia and China, and China’s maturing nuclear deterrent, have changed the situation. ) [1] => Array ( [author] => [style] => right [text] => Together, this means the United States should want a nuclear strategy, force, and posture focused on the ability and preparedness to use nuclear weapons in discriminate, tailored, and controlled ways. ) [2] => Array ( [author] => [style] => left [text] => The basic point is to make clear to Moscow and Beijing that Washington is prepared to respond to dramatic escalation on their part with plausibly implementable strategies of its own. ) ) [style] => strategist [type] => Strategist [style_label] => The Strategist [download] => Array ( [title] => PDF Download [file] => ) [authors] => Array ( [0] => 228 ) [endnotes] => Array ( [title] => Endnotes [endnotes] => [1] For China, see, "'China Seeks Hegemony': America's Pacific Commander Offers a Military Warning," Wall Street Journal, Feb. 24, 2016, https://www.wsj.com/articles/china-seeks-hegemony-1456358971; Ely Ratner, "Rising to the China Challenge: Prepared Statement Before the House Committee on Armed Services," Feb. 15, 2018, https://docs.house.gov/meetings/AS/AS00/20180215/106848/HHRG-115-AS00-Wstate-RatnerE-20180215.pdf; for Russia, see, A. Wess Mitchell, "Remarks at the Atlantic Council," Oct. 18, 2018, https://www.state.gov/p/eur/rls/rm/2018/286787.htm; Christopher S. Chivvis, "Russia's Determination to Revise the Post-Cold War Order," RAND blog, Sept. 30, 2016, https://www.rand.org/blog/2016/09/russias-determination-to-revise-the-post-cold-war-order.html. [2] 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; “Summary of the National Defense Strategy of the United States of America: Sharpening the American Military’s Competitive Edge,” January 2018, https://www.defense.gov/Portals/1/Documents/pubs/2018-National-Defense-Strategy-Summary.pdf. [3] As classically laid out in Thomas C. Schelling’s Arms and Influence and Strategy of Conflict (Santa Barbara, CA: Praeger, 1977). [4] See RAND scorecard report on China, for instance: Eric Heginbotham et al., The U.S.-China Military Scorecard: Forces, Geography, and the Evolving Balance of Power, 1996–2017, (Santa Monica, CA: RAND Corporation, 2015), https://www.rand.org/pubs/research_reports/RR392.html. [5] Karl Mueller David A. Shlapak, Michael W. Johnson, and David Ochmanek, “In Defense of a Wargame: Bolstering Deterrence on NATO’s Eastern Flank,” War on the Rocks, June 14, 2016, https://warontherocks.com/2016/06/in-defense-of-a-wargame-bolstering-deterrence-on-natos-eastern-flank/ ; Nuclear Posture Review (Defense Department, February 2018), https://www.defense.gov/News/Special-Reports/0218_npr/. [6] “Annual Report to Congress: Military and Security Developments Involving the People’s Republic of China 2018,” Department of Defense, https://media.defense.gov/2018/Aug/16/2001955282/-1/-1/1/2018-CHINA-MILITARY-POWER-REPORT.PDF; Robert O. Work, “So, This Is What It Feels Like to Be Offset,” Speech at Center for a New American Security, June 21, 2018, https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=U9iZyDE2dZI. [7] Joseph L. Votel, Charles T. Cleveland, Charles T. Connett, and Will Irwin, “Unconventional Warfare in the Gray Zone,” Joint Force Quarterly, no. 80 (January 2016), https://ndupress.ndu.edu/JFQ/Joint-Force-Quarterly-80/Article/643108/unconventional-warfare-in-the-gray-zone/; Hal Brands, “Paradoxes of the Gray Zone,” Foreign Policy Research Institute, Feb. 5, 2016, https://www.fpri.org/article/2016/02/paradoxes-gray-zone/. [8] Jonathan F. Solomon, “Demystifying Conventional Deterrence: Great-Power Conflict and East Asian Peace,” Strategic Studies Quarterly 7, no. 4 (Winter 2013): 117–57, https://www.jstor.org/stable/26270780; Elbridge Colby and Jonathan Solomon, “Facing Russia: Conventional Defence and Deterrence in Europe,” Survival 57, no. 6 (2015): 21–50, https://www.tandfonline.com/doi/abs/10.1080/00396338.2015.1116146; Elbridge Colby and Jonathan F. Solomon, “Avoiding Becoming a Paper Tiger: Presence in a Warfighting Defense Strategy,” Joint Force Quarterly, no. 82 (July 2016), http://ndupress.ndu.edu/JFQ/Joint-Force-Quarterly-82/Article/793233/avoiding-becoming-a-paper-tiger-presence-in-a-warfighting-defense-strategy/. [9] Elbridge Colby, “Nuclear Weapons Aren’t Just for the Worst Case Scenario,” Foreign Policy, Aug. 4, 2016, https://foreignpolicy.com/2016/08/04/nuclear-weapons-arent-just-worst-case-scenario-first-use-china-obama-trump/. [10] For more on views on strategic stability, see Elbridge A. Colby and Michael S. Gerson, eds., Strategic Stability: Contending Interpretations (Carlisle Barracks, PA: U.S. Army War College Press, 2013), http://publications.armywarcollege.edu/pubs/2216.pdf. [11] For a recent treatment of the problem of limited nuclear war and potential scenarios involving it, see John K. Warden, “Limited Nuclear War: The 21st Century Challenge for the United States,” Livermore Papers on Global Security no. 4 (July 2018), https://cgsr.llnl.gov/content/assets/docs/CGSR_LP4-FINAL.pdf. [12] “Nuclear Matters Handbook 2016,” Office of the Deputy Assistant Secretary of Defense for Nuclear Matters, ch. 6, accessed Nov. 26, 2018, https://www.acq.osd.mil/ncbdp/nm/nmhb/chapters/chapter_6.htm. [13] Hans J. Morgenthau, “Another ‘Great Debate’: The National Interest of the United States,” American Political Science Review 46, no. 4 (December 1952): 978, https://www.jstor.org/stable/1952108. ) [contents] => Array ( [title] => [contents] => ) ) [comment_count] => 0 [current_comment] => -1 [found_posts] => 1 [max_num_pages] => 0 [max_num_comment_pages] => 0 [is_single] => [is_preview] => [is_page] => 1 [is_archive] => [is_date] => [is_year] => [is_month] => [is_day] => [is_time] => [is_author] => [is_category] => [is_tag] => [is_tax] => [is_search] => [is_feed] => [is_comment_feed] => [is_trackback] => [is_home] => [is_404] => [is_embed] => [is_paged] => [is_admin] => [is_attachment] => [is_singular] => 1 [is_robots] => [is_posts_page] => [is_post_type_archive] => [query_vars_hash:WP_Query:private] => 4152b146e3eab6919c4497c3c9241d19 [query_vars_changed:WP_Query:private] => [thumbnails_cached] => [stopwords:WP_Query:private] => [compat_fields:WP_Query:private] => Array ( [0] => query_vars_hash [1] => query_vars_changed ) [compat_methods:WP_Query:private] => Array ( [0] => init_query_flags [1] => parse_tax_query ) )