Find a Security Clearance Job!

Military

National Security Strategy And American Public Opinion
AUTHOR Major Larry D. Tarbet, USMC
CSC 1989
SUBJECT AREA - National Security
                        EXECUTIVE SUMMARY
Title.             NATIONAL SECURITY STRATEGY
                               AND
                     AMERICAN PUBLIC OPINION
Thesis. The  United States  Government must  inform the public of
its national  security  strategy  in  ways  that  are  clear, and
credible, and likely to elicit support.
Issue.  The  makers  of  national security strategy in the United
States are  the  President,  along  with  his  advisors,  and the
Congress. Since  1947, and the formation of the National Security
Council (NSC) and the Joint Chiefs of Staff (JCS), formulation of
this   strategy   has   increasingly  become  one  formulated  by
committee. The President's cabinet,  as well  as the  NSC and the
JCS,  are  appointees;  therefore,  they  are  not elected by the
people to their positions. These  appointees  are  immune  to any
direct electoral  sanctions by the American people; consequently,
they may not feel the need to inform the public. The Congress has
always  had  the  potential  to  exert  substantial  control over
national security strategy. It derives power  through its control
of the  national purse strings, its legislative capabilities, its
authority to declare war and  ratify  treaties,  its  capacity to
veto   Presidential   appointees,   and  its  responsibility  for
overseeing the operations of the Executive  branch. Historically,
at  least  three  factors  have limited the congressional role in
national  security  policy  making:  (1)  most  congressmen  have
traditionally shown a much lower interest in foreign affairs than
in  domestic  policy  issues;   (2)   congressional   powers  are
decentralized  among  a  large  number of committees resulting in
lack of inter-congressional  communication  and  an  inability to
reach  a  consensus  on  the  direction  that  national  security
strategy should take; and  (3)  inadequate  staffs  have hindered
their  capacity  to  keep  close  tabs  on  the activities of the
executive branch. One of the United States' greatest resources is
public support: however, the government has not been doing a very
good job of keeping  the  public  informed  of  its  strategy. To
understand  why  this  problem  exists  we must look at three key
questions: (1) is the national security  strategy presented  in a
way that  the public  can understand  it, (2)  is it supported by
both sides of the political  process,  and  (3)  will  the public
support it even if it means going to war.
Conclusion.  The  American  Government  must  get  the  public to
support the national strategy if we are to continue in  the world
as a super power.
                   NATIONAL SECURITY STRATEGY
                               and
                     AMERICAN PUBLIC OPINION
Thesis Statement.  The United  States Government  must inform the
public of its national security strategy in ways  that are clear,
credible, and likely to elicit support.
I.   National Security Strategy
     A. Definition
     B. National security objectives
     C. Resources available to achieve objectives
        1  Four elements of national power
        2. Instruments used in employing national power
     D. National  Security Strategy of the U.S. FOR 1988
II.  Makers of National Security Strategy
     A. The President
        1. National Security Council
        2. Joint Chief's of Staff
     B. The Congress
III. Public Opinion
     A. Definition
     B. Role of the people
        1. Political parties
        2. Pressure groups
IV.  Public not informed of the National Security Strategy
     A. Ways the government tries to inform the public
        1. Presidential speech
        2. Congressional record
     B. Test needed by the government to see if the public is
    informed.
        1. Has it been presented to the public in a clear fashion
        2. Is it supported by both sides of the political process
        3. Will public support it if it means going to war
V.    Vietnam's impact on public opinion and national security
strategy
     A. Lack of national strategic objectives
     B. Loss of public support
                   NATIONAL SECURITY STRATEGY
                               AND
                     AMERICAN PUBLIC OPINION
     Strategy as defined by the JCS Pub 1 is "the art and science
of developing and using  political, economic,  psychological, and
military forces  as necessary during peace and war; to afford the
maximum  support  to   policies   in   order   to   increase  the
probabilities  and  favorable  consequences  of  victory;  and to
lessen the chances of  defeat".1   This strategy  is developed by
defining what  the national interests are and refining these into
broad goals which become our national objective.
     Once the objectives  are  developed  we  must  look  at what
resources are  available to achieve these objectives.  The United
States possesses four elements of national  power to  achieve its
objectives:   diplomatic, informational,  economic, and military.
Falling under  these elements  are specific  instruments that are
used in  employing them.  Ten of the instruments which the United
States  employs  are:    moral  and  political  example, military
strength,  economic   vitality,  alliance  relationships,  public
diplomacy, security assistance,  development  assistance, science
and  technology  cooperation,  international  organizations,  and
diplomatic mediation.  Moral  and  political  example  and public
diplomacy will be addressed in this paper.2
     The  NATIONAL   SECURITY  STRATEGY  OF  THE  UNITED  STATES,
distributed by the White House in January 1988, states that moral
and political example is the American spirit and prosperity which
represents a critical challenge to the ideology and the practical
record  of  our  adversaries.    Since  the  days of our Founding
Fathers, this power of example has represented a  potent leverage
in  international  relations.    But  we  should  not  leave  its
expression to chance.  It  is  in  our  interest  to  spread this
message  in  an  organized  and  effective way.  Public diplomacy
seeks to explain to foreign audiences our policies and actions in
ways that  are clear,  credible, and likely to elicit support for
our interest and objectives.3   If  one  looks  closely  at these
statements  it  can  be  seen  that  they are directed at foreign
governments not the people of the United States.  Nowhere  in the
list of  ten instruments  is there  anything dealing with keeping
the  American  people  informed  or  involved   in  the  national
strategy.
     History has  shown that  nations have  come full circle from
the age of small  states  who  fought  limited  wars  for limited
objectives to  an age of larger states with citizen armies waging
total war to the present where large states  are fighting limited
wars for  limited objectives.   In order for the United States to
fight limited wars, the objectives for that war must be sound and
in the best interests of the nation as seen by the people.
     The  makers  of  national  security  strategy  in the United
States are  the  President,  along  with  his  advisors,  and the
Congress.   The President's  power resides  in his constitutional
role as the commander-in-chief and the  highest executive  of the
government.    Until  the  recent  past the President has had the
responsibility  of  formulating  national  security  strategy and
answered directly  to the  people for that strategy.  Since 1947,
and the formation of the National Security Council  (NSC) and the
Joint  Chiefs  of  Staff  (JCS), formulation of this strategy has
increasingly become one formulated by committee.  The President's
cabinet, as  well as  the NSC and JCS, are appointees; therefore,
they are not elected  by the  people to  their positions.   These
appointees are  immune to  any direct  electoral sanctions by the
American people; consequently, they  may  not  feel  the  need to
inform the  public.   The NSC  and JCS provide the President with
the following services  and  staff  work:    policy coordination,
policy  advice,  policy  planning,  and  a crisis decision making
forum.4
     The  Congress  has  always   had  the   potential  to  exert
substantial control  over national security strategy.  It derives
power through its control  of  the  national  purse  strings, its
legislative capabilities, its authority to declare war and ratify
treaties, its capacity to  veto Presidential  appointees, and its
responsibility  for  overseeing  the  operations of the Executive
Branch.  Historically, at  least three  factors have  limited the
congressional role  in national  security policymaking:  (1) most
congressmen have traditionally shown  a  much  lower  interest in
foreign affairs than in domestic policy issues; (2) congressional
powers are decentralized among a large number of committees, each
of which  jealously guards  its piece  of national security turf,
resulting in a lack  of inter-congressional  communication and an
inability  to  reach  consensus  on  the directions that national
security strategy should take;   and  (3) inadequate  staffs have
hindered  congressional  capacity  to  keep  close  tabs  on  the
activities of the executive  bureaucracies.    However, beginning
with  the  period  of  the  Vietnam  War, Congress has demanded a
larger  role  in  national   security  strategy   making  process
primarily through its control over appropriations.5
     We must  achieve a  better working  relationship between the
Congress and President.   Under Truman,  Eisenhower, Kennedy, and
to  a  lesser  degree  Johnson  and  Nixon, the President was the
ultimate maker  of national  strategy.   However, after Watergate
and  Vietnam  the  division  of  this responsibility has become a
subject of concern.   Congress  too  frequently  responds  on the
basis of  short-term political  pressures.  By accepting the more
permanent significance of foreign  policy and  looking toward the
long term,  Congress could become a more effective participant in
the initiation and continuity of foreign policy.6
     Public opinion is the term most frequently employed  for the
people as a whole and their political role.  Upon until World War
I (WWI), foreign policy or  national  security  strategy  was the
province of the government and not the people.  By the end of WWI
and its terrible cost of men, the majority of the public wanted a
larger voice  in national security strategy.  This was reinforced
by the  United States'  reluctance to  enter World  War II (WWII)
until we were attacked and forced to declare war.7
     There  are  two  ways  in  which  the  people  can influence
national security strategy:  either through  political parties or
pressure groups.   The  combination of  these two  helped end the
Vietnam War.  Elected officials in  both parties  expressed their
disfavor  with  the  war  and students and veterans groups forced
pressure groups to influence the government.
     One of  the  United  States'  greatest  resources  is public
support; however,  the government  has not been doing a very good
job  of  keeping  the  public  informed  of  its  strategy.    To
understand  why  this  problem  exists  we must look at three key
questions:  (1) is the national strategy presented in a  way that
the public  can understand  it, (2) is it supported by both sides
of the political process, and (3) will the public support it even
if it means going to war?
     How the strategy is presented is critical because the public
will not support something they do  not understand.   Strategy is
presented  to  the  public  through  State of the Union messages,
televised speeches, or presented  to Congress  and placed  in the
congressional record.   A  large portion  of the public will miss
the speeches and very  few  will  read  the  congressional record
resulting  in  an  uninformed  public  on  the  national security
strategy.  Consequently, we  have  a  national  security strategy
that is  only known  and understood  by the  Executive Branch and
Congress.  It may be said  that  most  Americans  are  not really
concerned with  the national security strategy unless it involves
going to war.  This may  be  true;  however,  today  we  are much
closer at  any given  time to  a limited war than any time in the
past.  The American people have always been slow to go to war and
had to be provoked.  The Vietnam War was a clear example of going
to war  without  a  definitive  national  security  strategy with
objectives and  finding out  that the  public did not support it.
Initially, the Gulf of Tonkin incident gained public  support for
American intervention.   However, continuation of the war without
a sound national security strategy resulted  in the  loss of that
support.    The  government  must  make  every effort to keep the
public informed so they  will be  able to  understand and support
its strategy.
     The second question deals with bipartisan cooperation in the
Congress.  The Executive Branch must find a  way to  get Congress
to understand  and support its strategy.  It is very difficult in
the country to  gain  the  public's  support  if  support  in the
Legislative Branch  cannot be  gained.   Because of our two party
system  there  will  always  be  some  disagreement  on  national
security strategy; therefore, it is imperative that the Executive
Branch  develop  a  sound  strategy  that  the  majority  of  the
Legislative Branch  will support  and then  relay that support to
the public.  National strategy must be bipartisan to work  and be
assured of  public support.   During  the Vietnam War there was a
lack of support in the Congress  because it  became apparent that
the Executive  Branch did  not have  a clear set of objectives or
the resources to obtain those objectives.  This  was suggested in
a statement  by Senator  William Fulbright in 1967 that "the U.S.
was in danger of losing its perspective on what exactly is in the
realm of its power and what is beyond it".  Statements like these
affect public  opinion, and it was only a few months later that a
survey showed  46%  of  the  public  regarded  the  commitment to
Vietnam as a mistake.8
     The most  important question  concerns public support of the
strategy even if it means going to war.  In  a democratic country
where the  people elect  the governing officials, a president may
be brought down without public support.  The  people must believe
in the  cause and  that there  is a bonafide reason for it before
allowing their  sons  to  be  sent  to  war,  which  may  be more
difficult  in  this  age  of  limited  wars  fought  for  limited
objectives.  The American  people  are  not  easily  provoked and
usually fight  for punitive reasons.  The government must be able
to convince the public that going to war is in the country's best
interests.   This may be difficult since Vietnam not only divided
the country  but  caused  distrust  between  the  public  and the
government.
     There are  two reasons  today that  a war like Vietnam could
not be sustained by the government:  (1)  the country  has an all
voluntary force  and no  draft, which  restricts manpower for the
armed forces and (2)  with the  total force  concept the reserves
and national  guard would  have to  be called up.  This is one of
the things President Johnson would not do during  Vietnam because
of  the  public  opinion.    He was quoted as saying "the weakest
chink in our armor is American public opinion.  Our  people won't
firm in the face  of heavy  losses, and  they can  bring down the
government."9   During this timeframe John McNaughton put it best
with the statement "a  feeling is  widely and  strongly held that
the establishment  is out  of its  mind ... that we are trying to
impose some U.S. image on distant  peoples we  cannot understand,
and that  we are  carrying the thing to absurd lengths".  Related
to this feeling is  the  increased  polarization  that  is taking
place in  the United States, with seeds of the worst split in our
people in more than a century."10
     Compared to WWII,the enemy  engaged in  the Vietnam conflict
were less "evil"; consequently, it was far more difficult to find
convincing ideological or humanitarian reasons to justify the war
to the  public.  It was a "dirty little war" in a far away place.
Because of its limited, far away nature, it was more difficult to
view  the  war  as  necessary  from  the  standpoint  of American
security, although the  idea  of  "stopping  the  Communists" was
related to this concern.  In addition, the war was never formally
declared.11
     The war became important in domestic partisan politics.   It
was begun  under a  Democratic President  who decided not to seek
reelection at a time when the unpopular war  was continuing.   In
the  election,  the  Democratic  party was removed from the White
House by the vote of the American people.  They chose to  elect a
Republican  candidate  who  promised new, specific initiatives to
bring the war to a speedy end.12
     The American  people must  support the  national strategy in
order  for  it  to  succeed.    The  American  public  has always
considered their country a winner  and  Vietnam  has  shaken that
belief.   Henry Kissinger  has stated, "Vietnam is still with us.
It has  created doubts  about American  judgement, about American
credibility,  about   American  power--not   only  at  home,  but
throughout the world."13  Postwar polls show that Americans blame
their political leaders for denying victory to the U.S. forces in
Vietnam.14  General Fred Weyand, the  last American  commander in
Vietnam, has said:
           The American  Army is really a people's army
          in the sense that it belongs  to the American
          people,  who  take  a jealous and proprietary
          interest in its involvement.   When  the Army
          is   committed   the   American   people  are
          committed;  when  the  American  people  lose
          their commitment  it is futile to try to keep
          the Army  committed.   The U.S.  may have won
          some  tactical   victories  in  the  war  but
          suffered a strategic failure.15
     The American government must get the  public to  support the
national strategy  if we  are to continue in the world as a super
power.   The people  will not  soon forget  the government's past
transgressions  of  the  Vietnam  War  and  will judge all future
policies and strategies by that war.  Therefore, along with moral
and  political  example,  military  strength,  economic vitality,
alliance relationships,  public  diplomacy,  security assistance,
development  assistance,   science  and  technology  cooperation,
international  organizations  and  diplomatic   mediation,  there
should be  an eleventh  element added that involves informing the
public of our national security policies  and strategies  in ways
that are clear, credible, and likely to elicit support.
                           FOOTNOTES
     1JCS Pub  1, Department  of Defense,  Dictionary of Military
and Associated Terms. (Washington D.C., 1987),p. 45.
     2The White House  National  Security Strategy  of the United
States January 1988.p.7.
     3National Security Strategy of the United States,p.7.
     4Robert H. Trice,"Principles and Issues,"in American Defense
Policy,eds.John F. Reichart and Steven R. Sturm (Baltimore: Johns
Hopkins Univ. Press  1982),p.505.
     5Trice,p.506.
     6James R. Schlesinger,"U.S. National-Security Challenges for
the 1980s,"in The Future of Conflict in the 1980s,eds. William J.
Taylor, Jr.  and Steven  A. Maaranen (Lexington: Lexington Books,
D.C. Heath & Company, 1981),p.17.
     7Joseph Frankel,  The  Making  of  Foreign  Policy, (London:
Oxford Univ. Press, 1963),p.70.
     8Stanley  Karnow,  Vietnam  A  History,  (New  York: Penquin
Books,1984),p.488.
     9Karnow,p.481.
     10Karnow,p.479.
     11John E. Mueller, War, Presidents and  Public Opinion, (New
York: John Wiley & Sons Inc., 1973),p.34.     
     12Mueller,p.34.
     13Karnow,p.9.
     14Karnow,p.15.
     15Karnow,p.16.
                           BIBLIOGRAPHY
Frankel, Joseph.  The Making of Foreign Policy. London: Oxford
     University Press, 1963.
JCS PUB 1, Department of Defense, Dictionary of Military and
     Associated Terms. Washington D.C., 1987.
Karnow, Stanley.  Vietnam A History.  New York: Penquin Books,
     1984.
Mueller, John E.. War, Presidents And Public Opinion.  New York:
     John Wiley & Sons Inc., 1973.
Schlesinger, James  R.." National-Security Challenges For The
     1980s," in The Future of Conflict in The  1980s. Ed. William
     J. Taylor,  Jr. and Steven A. Maaranen. Lexington: Lexington
     Books, D.C. Heath & Company, 1981.
The White House. National Security of The United  States, January
     1988.
Trice, Robert  H.."Principles and Issues," in American Defense
     Policy. Ed. John F. Reichart and Steven R. Sturm. Baltimore:
     Johns Hopkins University Press, 1982.



NEWSLETTER
Join the GlobalSecurity.org mailing list