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The Strategy Of Survival
A lifelong student of military history and affairs says that nuclear weapons have made the idea of war absurd. And it is precisely when everyone agrees that war is absurd that one gets started.
July/August 1988 | Volume 39, Issue 5
That suggests to me one of two things, dishonesty or frivolity. First of all, dishonesty. Because political leaders who claim opposition to nuclear weapons may at the same time know that our security has depended on them. And fecklessness, or perhaps a hidden desire to return to the traditional roles of statecraft, waging wars every twenty years, that sort of stuff, which has its attractions, I suppose. My view of it is that war lived very comfortably in Europe for a long time, until the fire-breathing monster of nuclear weapons arrived on the scene and scared war out of Europe. War continued to live very well outside Europe, in the Middle East, Asia, and so on. Now we are supposedly in the process of chaining this monster, reducing him, cutting him down to size, pushing him out of Europe. War will come and hover on the edge and sort of look around and see, and then when nuclear weapons are out, war will come back and live very well in Europe. It always did before, and it will again, because of the fragmentations of power. The main fault line between the two systems is in Europe, and war will happily ensconce itself there.
The notion that if you remove nuclear weapons, you can avoid war because Europe, the Soviet Union, and the United States appear to have advanced to a higher state of civilization is what I call strategic apartheid. The notion is that these Asians, Indians, Pakistanis, Arabs, Israelis, Africans remain at the more primitive stage where they still have wars, but we are so civilized that we don’t. This is a delusion and, of course, a historical joke, considering that only forty years ago we had the Second World War, which set such splendid examples of civilization and restraint that we need not enumerate them.
In your books you suggest that the best security against war in Europe is the massive procurement of armored forces by the NATO allies. But the two Reagan administrations have purchased four carrier task forces for what it would have cost us to field sixteen armored divisions. Would you assess this as a disaster for our nation’s defense?
Our rearmament was conducted under the general heading of self-indulgence. We spent money, but we did not introduce military service, because that’s uncomfortable. We built naval forces because we find them culturally more comfortable and appropriate and also because politically, naval power is the meeting point between isolationists, who may want military power but want no entanglements overseas, and internationalists. It’s a compromise. If you build up the Army, that means you’re building up an internationalist commitment to allies overseas. If you build up the Navy, it can be said to be useful for helping allies, but at the same time it’s a unilateralist instrument. So we didn’t do what we had to do, we did what it was comfortable for us to do. What was militarily significant at a time of diminishing reliability or credibility and our diminishing willingness to rely on nuclear deterrence was land power: ground forces and tactical air power. What we built was naval power.
To return to the Manchurian war, barbed wire and machine guns rendered cavalry essentially useless then, except for reconnaissance and on the flanks. But in 1904 cavalry officers with aristocratic connections were the greatest social power in the armies and refused to learn the lessons of Manchuria, even though they were reported in enormous detail. They came up with rationalizations, such as “Neither the Japanese nor the Russians had real cavalry, heavy cavalry.” Today’s version is the fact that the general progress of technology in methods of remote sensing, transmission, and control have made remotely piloted vehicles (RPVs) very practical. Instead of assigning a forty- or fifty-million-dollar strike/interdiction type of aircraft like the A-6 or the F-111 or F-15E to penetrate air defenses and hit something, you could do it with an RPV, without a pilot, and the costs go down tremendously. Not only is your cost of acquisition maybe one-fiftieth or less, but also the cost of operation diminishes: you don’t have to fly an RPV every day to keep a pilot in trim. But air forces dominated by pilots refuse to purchase RPVs. Their first qualification for an aircraft is that it should have a cockpit. That automatically makes it a man-rated vehicle, which becomes tremendously more expensive.
Once upon a time aircraft were essentially safe because the people who tried to shoot them down from the ground by aiming pieces of lead at them tended to miss; as range increased, accuracy declined, and so forth. Today anything that flies over the ground and lower than outer space is visible against the background of the sky and becomes the victim of electronic detection. So, in order not to abandon the air, you should go there with smaller, lower-cost, losable, expendable vehicles such as missiles. Instead of sending the strike aircraft to attack a bridge, you send a cruise missile to attack a bridge. If you have a nonfixed target, so that you can’t just send a missile, if you have to look for it, then you want a remotely piloted vehicle. You have somebody sitting there drinking coffee, watching the screen, and sending instructions to the little thing, which is very hard to shoot down because it’s small, but which can destroy bridges just the same. However, pilot-dominated bureaucracies systematically sabotage, block, and delay application of remotely piloted vehicles. Recently, the United States, in order to simplify verification of the INF treaty, totally banned ground-launched cruise missiles in the appropriate range category without any peep of protest from the Air Force—in fact, with quiet approbation from the pilot-dominated bureaucracy, which foreclosed a whole area of technological advancement.