Nicolas J S Davies

A collection of published articles and letters to policymakers regarding the crisis in United States foreign policy by Nicolas J S Davies.

Location: North Miami, Florida, United States

Friday, February 10, 2006

Letter to Andrew Krepinevich on U.S. defense policy

Andrew F. Krepinevich
Center for Strategic and Budgetary Assessments
1730 Rhode Island Avenue NW, Suite 912
Washington DC 20036

Sunday, February 5th, 2006

Dear Mr. Krepinevich,

I am writing in response to your recently published report, “The Quadrennial Defense Review: Rethinking the U.S. Military Posture”. I also have been thinking and writing about the current crisis in U.S. foreign and defense policy, and I share your concerns that “the first-order factors that define this environment (be) properly identified”, and that “Failure to accomplish this runs the risk that defense planners will craft a defense posture for the “wrong” future”.

I will divide my comments into three areas, although you will see that I consider them to be inextricably connected:

1) International legitimacy.
2) The “War on Terror”.
3) The right future.

International Legitimacy

The current crisis in United States foreign and defense policy is, at its heart, a crisis of legitimacy that affects our country’s relations with every potential ally, trading partner or eventual enemy. The Defense Strategy of the U.S.A. (2005) threatens unilateral military action against “gathering threats”, “emerging challenges”, “to deny an opponent the strategic initiative” and to “defeat adversaries at the time, place, and in the manner of our choosing – setting the conditions for future security”. However, none of these constitute legitimate bases for military action under international law. The United States Constitution defines international treaties as part of the Supreme Law of the Land, so that this policy can also be viewed as unconstitutional under U.S. law.

The prohibition against the first use of force absent “a necessity of self-defense, instant, overwhelming, leaving no choice of means, and no moment for deliberation” dates back to the Caroline incident in 1837. In response to the slaughter of the twentieth century, the prohibition against aggression or “war as an instrument of national policy” was formalized in the Kellogg Briand Pact, the U.N. Charter and the London Treaty, all of which are current treaties in force.

Not even our closest ally, the United Kingdom, recognizes President Bush’s so-called “doctrine of preemption”. Twelve days before the invasion of Iraq, in his “full legal advice to the Prime Minister”, U.K. Attorney General Lord Goldsmith wrote, “This is not a doctrine which, in my opinion, exists or is recognized in international law”. Three British Foreign Office law officers resigned when the invasion of Iraq proceeded over their repeated and consistent advice that it would not be legal.

The practical consequences of renouncing international legitimacy affect U.S. policy at every turn. Eighty-two percent of Iraqis reject our illegal occupation of their country, according to a British Ministry of Defence survey; the people of Haiti will vote to restore the democratically-elected Parti Lavallas government as soon as they are allowed to do so; our senior officials travel the world in vain seeking allies for illegal military operations in Iraq, Iran and elsewhere; and the European Union and individual European countries are investigating crimes committed by U.S. forces and intelligence agents, issuing international arrest warrants where appropriate.

Like other assessments published by the Department of Defense, your report places great emphasis on the role of allies in U.S. defense policy, but it fails to openly confront the inevitable difficulty of seeking allies for illegal international behavior and policy. Your report offers no way out of this cul-de-sac, let alone the self-evident one of actually restoring legitimacy to U.S. defense policy.

Despite our leaders’ obtuse determination to reject the collective wisdom of generations of statesmen, diplomats and international lawyers, we are already confronting many of the reasons why the threat of aggression or “preemption” was taken off the international table in the first place. Threats invariably overshadow and poison efforts at conflict resolution, as its deadly logic demands that threats be backed up in order to be credible, while the targets must likewise dig in their heels to prove that they are not intimidated.

Once “all options are on the table”, time and patience become the enemies of would-be aggressors, because they permit potential targets to prepare their defenses as Iran, North Korea, Russia, China and others have been doing in response to our current military posture. The pressure to strike first will present itself again and again, not because it can solve the problems at hand or lead to any ultimate victory, but because the inexorable logic of preemption traps the perpetrator between the jaws of aggression and impotence. No student of military and diplomatic history can fail to recognize the horribly familiar road that our present leaders have chosen.

I am enclosing a copy of my essay “From Nuremberg to Fallujah” from a recent edition of Peace Review. It provides a fuller discussion of current international law regarding aggression and its implications for U.S. policy in Iraq and elsewhere.

The War on Terror

For forty years, most of the world accepted the basic premise of the Cold War, that each country faced a choice between alliance with the United States or alliance with the Soviet Union, and that the former offered greater opportunities for personal freedom, prosperity and political self-determination.

President Bush has tried to frame the “War on Terror” in similar terms, linking it rehetorically to “freedom” and “democracy”, and challenging countries to side “with us or against us”. The American public is increasingly sceptical of this rationale, and most of the rest of the world has already rejected it. People understand that this “war” is a political device; that real terrorists can only be stopped by wholehearted and efficient international cooperation among intelligence and police agencies; and that past and present U.S. policies have contributed significantly to the recent growth of “retail” terrorism as a global problem.

Edward Herman has written clearly for many years of the similarities and differences between “wholesale” state terrorism and “retail” terrorism by non-state actors, as well as the causal relationships between them. He has explained that both forms of terrorism seek to terrorize civilian populations by the use and threat of violence, and that states have an interest in portraying state terrorism as “retaliation” without acknowledging that “retail” terrorists are motivated by similar impulses.

The propaganda value of these distinctions must not prevent serious analysts from honestly appraising the role of U.S. government policies in the proliferation of both forms of terrorism. The September 11th hijackers were recruited and trained by people who were in turn trained by the C.I.A. in Pakistan in the 1980s. In 1963, the C.I.A. identified hundreds of Iraqis who might overthrow the new Baathist regime… and made sure that every one of them was eliminated. Democracy was taking root in Iran in 1953…until we intervened. So, what future problems will our present illegitimate policies create? How can we break this cycle of destructive behavior? Surely the increasing urgency of this problem constitutes a first-order factor in the defense environment.

Your discussion of nuclear proliferation did not mention the Israeli nuclear weapons that are one of the prime motives for Iran and other countries in the region to develop similar deterrents. Unqualified U.S. support for illegal Israeli behavior consistently undermines the legitimacy of Israeli and U.S. policy in the region, even as most Americans favor an even-handed and legitimate policy towards Israel and Palestine (CCFR Globalviews Survey, 2004).

Many of the most brutal tactics employed by U.S. and U.S.-trained forces in Iraq were originally developed by the Israelis in the laboratory of wholesale and retail terrorism in the Palestinian territories. These include mass detentions; “precision” aerial attacks in urban areas; extrajudicial executions; specific techniques of interrogation and torture that include humiliation of a sexual and excretory nature; and collective punishment in the form of embargos on food, water and medicine and the destruction of homes and infrastructure. The election of Hamas in Palestine is a good indication of where these tactics will lead if we continue to employ them elsewhere.

Finally, if we evaluate the “war on terror” according to its nominal objective of countering global “retail” terrorism, it would be hard to find a policy that has failed more spectacularly. The National Counterterrorism Center reported 625 incidents worldwide (not counting Iraq) in 2004, a 257% increase from the previous year’s record total of 175 incidents. The Secretary of State responded to this report by discontinuing the annual reporting of these figures.

The Right Future

I hope I have made clear why I feel that international legitimacy and the need for a more honest and realistic response to all forms of terrorism, including “wholesale” terrorism by our own government and its allies, constitute “first-order factors” in the U.S. defense environment. The rationale for our country’s illegitimate and, in many ways, counterproductive defense posture has its roots in a certain analysis of the post-Cold war world suggested by Paul Wolfowitz, Richard Perle and others. Essentially, they believed that the United States could use its military superiority to extend its position of global leadership throughout the world and into the next century by a more assertive military posture beyond the constraints of international law.

Like the other factors I have discussed, this proposition deserves serious analysis free from wishful thinking and exceptionalism, taking into account the predictable ways that other countries will respond to U.S. behavior. Your discussion of “reassurance” goes further in this respect than Paul Wolfowitz has, acknowledging that American strength will only have the effect of reassuring allies as long as it is seen as an essentially benign force in the world. Unfortunately the invasion of Iraq and the illegitimate defense strategy crafted by Wolfowitz and others have already dangerously eroded this perception.

The contradiction inherent in this proposition from the outset was that the government of a single state can simultaneously fulfill its duty to represent the interests of its own people while at the same time representing the collective security interests of the entire world. This brings us back once again to the necessity for a legitimate framework that can accomodate these competing interests.

Other governments understand our political system and have generally adopted a “wait-and-see” attitude to our present illegitimate posture. They know that a new administration will eventually take office, and hope for a less belligerent and more rational U.S. policy in the relatively near future. Like most Americans, they believe that our leaders are capable of learning from the policy failures of their political opponents, and they have no interest in jeopardizing long-standing relationships with the United States over the mistakes of one administration.

In many ways, therefore, the full repercussions of the present U.S. posture will only become evident if the next administration, particularly a Democratic one, continues the same illegitimate and dangerous policies. It is crucial for analysts like yourself to understand this and to introduce realistic alternatives into our country’s discourse on these matters before the next administration takes office.

As for the prospects for a “new American century”, a sober reading of history such as Paul Kennedy’s in “The Rise and Fall of the Great Powers” makes it clear that economic factors dictate an ebb and flow to world affairs, in which rising powers enjoy distinct structural advantages over established ones. At present the Chinese economy is expected to surpass the U.S. economy as the largest in the world at some point in the next fifty years. The historical record of efforts to prolong economic dominance by military force is not good. At best, it has resulted in debilitating “overstretch”. At its worst, it has produced some of the most widespread and destructive conflicts in human history.

In this context, it is clear that China has no more interest in military confrontation today than the United States did under its Open Door policy a century ago. Indeed its long-term interests are served by mitigating the worst effects of confrontations between the United States and its various nemeses. Should China ever be faced with military confrontation, its strategy would be to divert its vast resources in a timely fashion as the United States did in the twentieth century rather than arming prematurely with equipment that would be obsolete by the time it was tested in battle (like Fascist Italy).

If there is a model for the succesful transition from dominance to prosperous and peaceful co-existence, it is the United Kingdom in the twentieth century (although its people would wish to have avoided at least the First World War). In 1889, the Royal Navy formalized a policy of maintaining at least the same tonnage as the next two navies in the world combined (France and Russia at that point). By the time my father retired from the R.N. in 1971 as a Surgeon Commander, there was no longer any overseas or shipboard posting available to a medical officer of his rank. And yet the U.K. is today a prosperous country, generally at peace with the world. It has found life after hegemony.

The key to this succesful transition was the U.K.’s special relationship with the United States. The U.S. was able to grow its economy to a dominant position as the European powers exhausted theirs in two world wars, and the wartime alliance between the U.K. and the U.S. provided the basis for a peaceful transition of power. This was never without friction, as the U.S. supplanted the U.K. in Latin America, the Middle East and elsewhere, but British leaders were pragmatic enough to swallow their losses, preserving many of the commercial benefits of empire in the Commonwealth while developing a new role as a junior partner in the American expansion.

A transfer of power from the United States to China is not a prospect that Americans would welcome. But another future is possible, one that involves neither a war for hegemony nor decline and fall. Incredibly, it is a future that was foreseen and provided for in the system designed by Franklin Roosevelt and his advisors as they contemplated the world they would build at the end of the Second World War. Ironically, it depends on the very principles and institutions that members of the current administration have dismissed as “irrelevant” and “quaint”.

The present system of international law, centered around the United Nations and its Charter, was designed as a framework for peace and collective security, and embodies many of the same principles as American democracy, balancing the respective rights and aspirations of individuals, states and the international community as a whole. The present weakness of this system is directly attributable to the failure of its most powerful member, the United States, to honor its commitment to its laws and institutions and to its ultimate success.

Were the United States to recommit itself to these principles and institutions with the wisdom and circumspection that Roosevelt and his colleagues brought to their original design, they could serve as a solid but flexible framework for a transition to a multipolar world, in which the United States would play an important role commensurate with its economic and military power and its values and interests within a universally accepted framework. Your three pillars of defense strategy would stand firmly on a foundation of international legitimacy.

The role of the U.S. military in such a “right” future would be different in many respects than that described in your paper. It would once again operate within clear guidelines, in which options were circumscribed by legitimacy rather than by fickle political and commercial expediency. It could once again play a leadership role among allies united by a common interest in peace and stability. It could withdraw from bases and deployments where its presence has become redundant or counterproductive. Young Americans could volunteer to serve in the military knowing that their political leaders would only place their lives in jeopardy for the legitimate defense of the United States and the cause of peace.

I hope you have found the time to read this letter, and that you will give serious thought to the issues I have raised. I believe that this is a critical time for our country and the world, and that we are indeed faced with a choice between preparing for the wrong or the right future. I am sure that you can help us to choose and prepare for the right future by incorporating the additional first-order factors I have identified into your future assessments of U.S. defense policy.

Yours sincerely

Cc: Congressman Kendrick Meek (House Armed Services Committee)


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