Are U.S. -Soviet Relations Rational? AUTHOR Major Larry W. Fivecoat, USMC CSC 1988 SUBJECT AREA National Security EXECUTIVE SUMMARY TITLE: ARE U.S.-SOVIET RELATIONS RATIONAL? I, Purpose: To better understand the foundations of irrational U. S. -Soviet relationships during the preceding four decades. To dispel popular "myths" concerning our views of conflict to preclude a future of four more decades of irrational behavior. II. Thesis: The U. S. has experienced distorted views creating four decades of irrationality in U.S.-Soviet relations. III. Data: The confrontationist view of U.S. policy toward the Soviet Union is based, upon false original assumptions and is inapplicable to the Soviet Union as it has changed over the years. International conflict has gone past the first or "heroic" phase of good people versus bad into the second "academic" phase where we seek to understand the motives of the other side. Four decades ago there was a massive turnaround in U.S. policy where the Soviet Union went from being the "gallant ally" to the "evil empire." Truman's firing of General MacArthur symbolized U.S. leadership's adoption of Clausewitz' theory of war being a continuation of policy by other means; breaking with the populace view of separate war and peace. In July 1947, George F. Kennan, state department official, wrote under the pseudonym "X" an article on containment. It was roundly adopted by all U.S. policy makers and many irrational decisions of the Cold War were drawn from it. The notion of containment became military in practice and global in scope. It contributed to U.S. militarization and forced the pace of military competition. Kennan rebuked the application of his article on containment by parochial interests in the spring of 1987 and expressed his displeasure and sorrow over the misunderstanding that evolved from it. His article helped create a military aspect to the problem of containment in 1987 which did not exist four decades ago. The Soviet system has incorrectly been viewed as a static entity. Understanding the nature of both the Soviet system and its people is important to approaching international solutions with the Soviet Union vice monolithic stereotyping. From the political theories of conflict of Machiavelli, Clausewitz, Lenin, and Mao Tse-tung emerges what could be called a universal truth. They all shared the perception that war and politics exist as part of the same process and thus are always interrelated. IV. Conclusions: U.S. policy makers set the stage in 1947 for four decades of irrational thought in U.S.-Soviet relations. The misuse of Kennan's theory of containment and the selective use of Clausewitz' theory on conflict created a disparity between U.S. leaders and the U.S. people. V. Summary: U.S. policy makers have abused the theories of Clausewitz and applied certain ones at their convenience. If statesmen and military leaders would educate the populace concerning the theories of conflict, they can better serve both nations and launch four decades of unparalleled rationality in U.S.-Soviet relations. TITLE: ARE U.S.-SOVIET RELATIONS RATIONAL? OUTLINE THESIS: The U.S has experienced distorted views creating four decades of irrationality in U.S.-Soviet relations. I. Trace current U.S.-Soviet relationship A. "X" on containment theory of communism (1947) B. "X" Kennan on containment (1987) II. American attitude A. History B. Evolution III. Soviet attitude A. History B. Evolution IV. Comparison of political theories of conflict A. Machiavelli B. Clausewitz C. Lenin D. Mao Tse-tung V. Tie in U.S. view/adoption of Clausewitz' theory of conflict VI. Clausewitz' theory applied to U.S.-Soviet relations ARE U.S.-SOVIET RELATIONS RATIONAL? The U.S. has maintained distorted views of reality through four decades of irrationality in U.S.-Soviet relations. The confrontationist view that has dominated U.S. policy toward the Soviet Union is based upon assumptions that were questionable to start with, and are increasingly inapplicable to the Soviet Union as it has changed over the years. International conflict has characteristically gone through two phases. In the first or "heroic" phase, historians portray a struggle of right against wrong, of good people resisting bad. Then, as time passes and emotions subside, historians enter the second "academic" phase, when they seek to understand the motives of the other side. Historically, we move from melodrama to tragedy. Forty years ago the United States went through one of the most remarkable transformations in American politics It was a period when the matrix of the Cold War was established--a period of heroic accomplishments and of serious mistakes. Within the space of a few months there was a massive turnaround in U.S. policy, from a period of collaboration with the Soviet Union as the "gallant ally" that had contributed heroically and with great loss of life to the defeat of the Nazi armies, to an alarmed and belated response to the problems of the postwar world--the emerging Soviet dominance in Eastern Europe and a perceived Soviet threat to the Balkans and to Western Europe. In March 1947 the Truman Doctrine announced the commitment to resist Soviet expansionism anywhere. President Truman declared that it must be the policy of the United States to support free peoples who were resisting attempted subjugation by armed minorities or by outside pressures (8:831) In June the Marshall Plan was launched to restore the economic vitality and political confidence of Western Europe. In July George Kennan published an article in Foreign Affairs under the pseudonym "X," since he was a state department employee at the time. "X" on containment (1947): It must invariably be assumed in Moscow that the aims of the capitalist world are antagonistic to the Soviet regime, and therefore to the interests of the people it controls.... In these circumstances it is clear that the main element of any United States policy toward the Soviet Union must be that of a long-term, patient but firm and vigilant containment of Russian expansive tendencies. (5:852) Stalin perceived the Marshall Plan as part of a U.S. effort to undermine Soviet efforts to establish a cordon in Eastern Europe against a revival of a German threat. (2:76) The notion of containment became increasingly military and global. By overemphasizing the military aspect of containment the United States contributed to the militarization of its own economy and also forced the pace of military competition In extending containment to the Third World, the United States became preoccupied with the military and East-West aspects of local conflicts, obscuring its understanding of the local causes of conflict situations. In the effort to loosen congressional purse strings to fund military programs and the Maryshall Plan, U.S. officials exaggerated and over-simplified the Soviet challenge as an ideologically driven effort to conquer the world. Anticommunism became the American ideology--the central principle of U.S. foreign policy. Primitive stereotypes of the Soviet Union, which took form at that time, have continued to dominate U.S. thinking and discussion of the complex reality of the Soviet Union. It is inevitable that democratic leader ships are impelled to resort to hyperbole in alerting their publics to the dangers they face. The consequences of these hyperboles also inevitably become counterproductive and difficult to control. George Kennan has written recently that when he published the "X" article he did not see the Soviet Union as a military threat, and thought the fears that the Soviet Union might overrun Western Europe were exaggerated What I was trying to say in the Foreign Affairs article was simply this: "Don't make any more unnecessary concessions to these people. Make it clear to them that they are not going to be allowed to establish any dominant influence in Western Europe and in Japan if there is anything we can do to prevent it. When we have stabilized the situation in this way, then perhaps we will be able to talk with them about some sort of a general political and military disengagement in Europe and the Far East--not before." This to my mind, was what was meant by the thought of "containing communism" in 1947. (4:885) "X" Kennan on containment (1987): I saw at that time...an ideological-political threat emanating from Moscow. I see no comparable ideological- political threat emanating from Moscow at the present time. The Leninist-Stalinist ideology has almost totally lost appeal everywhere outside the Soviet orbit, and partially within that orbit as well.... They are selling arms and sending military advisers--procedures not too different from many of our own. They cannot translate these operations into ideological enthusiasm or political loyalty on the part of the recipient Third World no more, in my opinion, than we can.... On the other hand, whereas in 1947 the military aspect of our relationship with the Soviet Union hardly seemed to come into question at all, today that aspect is obviously of prime importance. It is not because I see the Soviet Union as threatening the United States or its allies with armed force. I see the weapons race in which we are and they are now involved as a serious threat in its own right, not because of aggressive intentions on either side but because of the compulsions, the suspicions, the anxieties such a competition engenders, and because of the very serious dangers it carries with it of unintended complications by error, by computer failure, by misread signals, or by mischief deliberately perpetrated by third parties. For all these reasons, there is now indeed a military aspect to the problem of containment as there was not in 1947; but what most needs to be contained, as I see it, is not so much the Soviet Union as the weapons race itself. (3:23) Whatever Kennan's intentions may have been, then or later, the American people interpreted the "X" article as demonstrating the necessity for the military containment of a Soviet Union ideologically driven to seek unlimited expansion. Here we see the "heroic" phase of the conflict. Americans were seeing the world in terms of good versus evil; and although some--including Kennan--have since made the transition to a more analytical and differentiated understanding of the conflict, the dichotomy has had a persistent life, re-emerging in our own day with considerable political force as the "evil empire" theme, making for primitive analysis and irrational responses. In fact, over the four decades since the end of World War II, this view has dominated U.S. policy toward the Soviet Union. The central theme of our dominant view is that Soviet expansionistic behavior is inherent to the nature of the Soviet system. We further believe that the problems of the Soviet regime are of such magnitude that external pressure could precipitate a collapse or compel the leadership to accept fundamental changes that would weaken it. In its formative period 40 years ago, this view was shaped by arguments drawn from the "X" article that Soviet power bears within itself the seeds of its own decay; that the U.S. has in its power the ability to place pressure upon the Kremlin with a far greater degree of moderation and circumspection than is realistic. We expect this pressure to break up or eventually mellow Soviet power. Throughout the following years the dominant view retained its fixation upon Stalinism as the unchanging and unchangeable model of Soviet behavior, intractably hostile and unlimited in its aspirations for world dominance. Logically, the policy that derived from this view has been directed toward forcing the Soviet system to change its fundamental character. Since the Soviet Union only understands the language of force, we could compel the Soviet leadership to capitulate, to make concessions, to contract from extended positions, or, ultimately collapse. It followed from this view that U.S. security could only be assured by military superiority; that productive arms control agreements were not possible with a country of such character. The result has been intensification of military competition in pursuit of military superiority. Given these policies, there could not be expected any other outcome than a continuation of the conflict relationship and the intensification in military competition. These underlying assumptions have dominated American policy since the end of World War II. The American policy toward the Soviet Union has tended to be less than rational. The conflict appears below the conscious level "we--they" perceptions of good--bad, tending to make conflicts of interests between the U.S. and the Soviet Union seem absolute and therefore intractable. The conflict is intensified by the conservative swing in political thought and the rise in nationalism in developing foreign policy. Its main theme is anticommunism, which becomes the main organizing principle for foreign policy. The military-industrial complex has its own parochial interests at heart. The Soviets have also been far from rational in managing relations with the United States. Many misperceptions of the U.S and the outside world generally stem from the same psychological mechanism operating in the U.S. These misperceptions are magnified by ideological rigidities and a strong sense of history. They have been compounded in the past by unfamiliarity with the outside world. It is, however, misleading to assign such weight to historical continuity that it obscures significant elements of change in the Soviet experience. The Soviet Union is not a static society. In its own way, it has followed the normative life cycle of all revolutionary movements, and the Soviet political culture is significantly different from what it was during earlier periods. Stalin helped transform the country from an agricultural society into an industrial society--a process which had actually begun in the middle of the nineteeth century. He forced the pace of industrialization and created a powerful military machine which enabled the country to survive the war with Nazi Germany. He did so at terrible human cost; and his rigid, ruthless totalitarianism and police-state methods became increasingly counterproductive, stifling initiative and innovation. Krushchev must be credited with a bold effort to break the Stalinist mold and to begin a process of reform. Kosygin and Andropov both sought to implement domestic modernization, and Brezhnev attempted to continue the rationalization of foreign policy begun by Krushchev. This background information is necessary to point out that there is a Soviet evolution and that Gorbachev's reforms did not spring into existence suddenly, as if by some form of immaculate conception. This continuation and maturation of a process reflects a growing awareness that the system developed by Stalin had become increasingly dysfunctional. The heart of Gorbachev's program is designed to modernize the Soviet economy. The economy he inherited was marked by declining growth rates approaching stagnation, low productivity, and widespread corruption. More directly relevant is the political side of Gorbachev's program. His widening of the limits for criticism, easing of censorship, release of some dissidents, reform of legal institutions, discussion of forbidden subjects in Soviet history (including crimes of the Stalin era) have pronounced reverberations in the outside world. Perhaps this is a sign of the "mellowing" to which Kennan referred. If these changes should continue and not be reversed by some upheaval in Soviet politics, they will have a bearing on one of the central elements in the American debates on the fundamental nature of the Soviet system. There is a general recognition in the Soviet Union that the activism of the 1970s under Brezhnev proved costly, damaging relations with the U.S. Gorbachev's "new thinking" has placed emphasis on tranquility abroad in order to foster domestic programs at home. As he colorfully put it, we should not be like "two dinosaurs circling each other in the sands of nuclear confrontation." (13:75) Emphasis is placed upon mutual security, and the breaking with the concept of capitalist encirclement to justify military programs suggest: a beginning of logic creeping into U.S.-Soviet relations. We could be experiencing a potential return to the bipartisan spirit of internationalism that characterized the immediate postwar years. It is indeed ironic that two of the bitter enemies of World War II are now friends, and an ally is the menacing threat in the war of perceptions. Each nation approaches solutions to its perceived security requirements differently. This is not surprising since many terms designed to convey fundamental ethical concepts--"God," "democracy," "the people"--carry different connotations in the opposing culture. The American attitude toward war and the military profession is heavily colored by the nation's history as a young developing society, far from the perennial conflicts of 18th and 19th-century Europe. While Carl von Clausewitz enjoys great esteem within the narrow readership of American military journals, and while his bust occupies a hallowed niche at the U.S Army War College, his notion that war is basically the pursuit of politics by other means has little coincidence with American public opinion. War and peace are mutually exclusive conditions by most American standards; the former is something which occurs at the initiation of others when all efforts to preserve the latter break down. War is popularly viewed as a chaotic condition resulting from failed policy, not as an alternative of equal legitimacy with the normal stresses and strains of international diplomacy or of domestic political give and take. This view was, ironically, portrayed by General Douglas MacArthur in his farewell address to Congress in 1951, "Once war is forced upon us, there is no other alternative than to apply every available means to bring it to a swift end. War's very object is victory--not prolonged indecision. In war, indeed there can be no substitute for victory." (1:78) Soviet views are not only different, but differently derived. In 1915 Lenin spelled out the orthodox view in his main thesis that war is simply the continuation of politics by other (i.e. violent) means. (1:79) This formula belongs to Clausewitz. (11:30) Although 11 April, 1951 is not a bell-ringing day for the average American it should well be. When Harry S. Truman fired General Douglas MacArthur on that day, he not only discarded the General but more importantly, he discarded the public's view on war. (6:149) It was at this point some four decades ago that our public officials embraced the doctrinal normalization of conflict. Our leaders had come intellectually of age; the naivity of the American public could no longer be tolerated and the new thinking embraced Clausewitz. War...is an act of policy...a continuation of political activity by other means.... War is simply a continuation of political intercourse, with the addition of other means. (11:30) Our leaders had reached a level of sophistication in the allocation of both intellectual and material resources to conflict and theoretical conflict development. Securely wrapped in his Clausewitzian blanket of conflict, Truman fired MacArthur, and left a legacy for Johnson's approach to the Vietnam War. While we had adopted the enemy's creed at our leader level, however, the American public held fast to its basic war and peace concept. What followed was four decades of irrational political behavior to compromise between the two views. The causes of conflict have long been studied. Many different viewpoints have been presented, and diametrically opposing positions have been taken. Some argue that conflict is basic to man's nature, since man is by his very instinct an aggressive, warlike being. Others argue that the organizational or structural defects of the main social groups or states are the cause of conflict in the international arena. It is these defects which often find violent expression in warfare. A third viewpoint is that the anarchy of the international system is an irresistible invitation to conflict among the state actors, each seeking to maximize his own benefits and achieve his own objectives, often at the expense of the other states. (12:28) Whatever position one chooses to take on the cause of conflict, the relationship between politics and the resort to warfare is so closely interwoven that it is nearly impossible to separate the two. Machiavelli believed in the doctrine of imitation--that man's nature is unchangeable. Since men are alike, they tend to imitate each other, and thus history simply repeats itself. History is a storehouse and man needs only to study and follow the proper example (especially Rome). Machiavelli was the forerunner of Clausewitz; he realized the intimate connection between military techniques and political methods; between military organizations and political institutions. (11:413) Clausewitz' theories are most often misunderstood, abused, or applied incorrectly. (11:547) The political system of Carl von Clausewitz is derived from his belief in the efficacy of human reason and in the state as a living entity which is the sole actor in international poitics. War is neither good nor evil; it is either necessary or unnecessary. "If you want to overcome your enemy you must match your effort against his power of resistance, which be expressed as the product of two inseparable factors, viz. the total means at his disposal and the strengths of his will." (11:57) Lenin believed that the course of history is predetermined by changes in the economic mode of production and in the class structure. Competition and conflict between classes are the motives that generate change in society. War and conflict find their roots in society before the establishment of socialism. Man is the pawn of social forces, not the master of them. Political conflict is a vital ingredient of the struggle to bring society to its utopian end. His theory of conflict is based upon his belief that the struggle between classes was necessary. Force exerted in any form to further progress toward the Marxist goal of a classless society is legitimate and just. "Politics is the reason, and war is only the tool, not the other way around. Consequently, it remains only to subordinate the military point of view to the political." (11:44) Mao Tse-tung believed that conflict is necessary, and violent conflict is creative. Conflict is a disintegrative force of the international environment because it is aimed at the destruction of the existing system and its transformation into a new system; first with a powerful influential China, and finally into a utopia of world communism. "The richest source of power to wage war lies in the masses of the people." (11:803) There emerges from the analysis of the theories of conflict what could be called a universal truth. This is the shared perception that war and politics exist as part of the same process and thus are always interrelated. The separation of the study of war and politics is almost impossible. War is the upper spectrum of politics, but it is politics nevertheless. Among the four theorists there is agreement that considerations of force remain ever present in the formulation of political goals by the main actors in the international political system. Conflict is integral to political interaction; if there is interaction, there is conflict, and some conflict could turn into warfare all too easily. Even though the nuclear age makes the unlimited application of force an unviable policy, Clausewitz is still not outmoded. The essence of Clausewitz' view on total war, is that unrestrained conflict, with no object other than the complete annihilation of the enemy, is not a viable policy either. He developed the abstract of total war, but he did not suggest that such a war should be fought. Wars should be fought only if there is a political purpose; the means must be matched to the ends. If nuclear war has no rational purpose and no goal can be achieved through total nuclear means, Clausewitz' philosophy would not embrace it. Other forms of war that achieve the desired goal must be considered as possible alternatives to attain political goals. Perhaps our leadership will embrace Clausewitz more completely and better understand his abstract model of total war. Some goals are believed vital to the survival of the community--a common perception of shared ends. The leadership should share the same sense of ends as the general populace and act in their behalf. Since the sense of community in different societies varies, their goals are different and there is competition and conflict over incompatible or overlapping goals. Competition and conflict in international politics over these goals are the substance of international politics. War is not the inevitable result of this conflict; it is only one possible outcome. Not all state decision makers act according to the beliefs of their populace. War must have a purpose that goes beyond military victory. Political goals delineate a desired state or condition to be achieved in the international environment. If war does not contribute to the achievement or preservation of these goals, it is not a viable political strategy and should not become the selected policy. At the same time, if the assessed costs of waging war to achieve a vital goal are so high that they were inconsistent or in conflict with the sense of community, then the goals must be re-evaluated and reformulated. The theorists agreed that there is no line that one can draw to separate war and politics; to attempt to study each in isolation is to miss the most important element of their inescapable interrelationship. Hopefully, future statesmen and military leaders will understand this and attempt to set their goals and to formulate their politics accordingly. The theories of Clausewitz have been misunderstood and abused by U.S. leaders, who have chosen to apply to the Soviets only those principles expounded by Clausewitz that serve their interests. The general populace still separates the theories of war and peace. The misapplication of Clausewitz' theories of politics and war has increased military buildups and misperceptions of both U.S. and Soviet populaces. Both the U.S. and Soviet leaderships have expounded the theories and wisdom of Clausewitz. Perhaps sharing the proper applications of Clausewitz' theories with the populace will better serve both nations in stabilizing U.S.- Soviet relations; launching four decades of rationality. When the theories of conflict applied by U.S. policy makers are more in synchronization with the populace, and vice versa, a more rational U.S.-Soviet relationship will result. BIBLIOGRAPHY 1. Atkeson, Edward B. "Soviet Military Theory: Relevant or Red Herring? " Parameters: Journal of the U.S. Army War College, XVII (Spring 1987) 77-88. 2. Cooper, Nancy. "The Ghost of an Old Bolshevik." Newsweek Magazine, 16 November 1987, p. 76. 3. Kennan, George F. "Containment: Concept and Policy." Foreign Affairs, (Spring 1987), pp. 23-31. 4. Kennan, George F. "Containment Then and Now." Foreign Affairs, (Spring 1987), pp. 885-90. 5. Kennan, George F. "The Sources of Soviet Conduct." Foreign Affairs, (July 1947), pp. 852-68. 6. "MacArthur, General Douglas." Collier's Encyclopedia (1986), VOL. 15, 148-150. 7. Rosenblatt, Roger. "A Day in the Life.. Of the Soviet Union." Time Magazine, 26 October 1987, pp. 54-93. 8. Rostow, W.W. "On Ending the Cold War." Foreign Affairs, (Spring 1987), pp. 831-35. 9. Sancton, Thomas A. "Can He Bring It Off." Time Magazine, 27 July 1987, pp. 30-39. 10. Tallbott, Strobe. "The Gorbachev Era." Time Magazine, 27 July 1987, pp. 28-29. 11. Thibault, George Edward, ed. The Art and Practice of Military Strategy. Washington, D.C.: National Defense University, 1984. 12. Waltz, Kenneth N. Man, the State and War New York: Columbia University Press, 1954. 13. Watson, Russell. "Gorbachev: Going Slow." Newsweek Magazine, 16 November 1987, p.76.
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