Pentagon Abandons Goal Of Thwarting U.S. Rivals

6-Year Plan Softens Earlier Tone on Allies

by Barton Gellman
The Washington Post
May 24, 1992

 

The Defense Department, in its first broad strategic planning document of the post-Cold War era, has abandoned a controversial assertion that the principal goal of U.S. national security policy should be to thwart the emergence of a new rival to American military supremacy.

Instead, the country's highest defense priority, according to the "Defense Planning Guidance" for fiscal years 1994-99 signed Friday by Defense Secretary Richard B. Cheney, is the preservation and expansion of the system of alliances that has built "sustained cooperation among major democratic powers" since World War II.

A near-final draft of the new guidance document made available to The Washington Post contains little trace of an earlier version's muscular tone of realpolitik. That version sought to discourage challenges to U.S. leadership from allies such as Japan and Germany and spoke of deterring other "potential competitors from even aspiring to a larger regional or global role."

Though commanding some support in administration and public debates, the earlier draft, dated Feb. 18 and made public in March, aroused a political and diplomatic backlash against what was seen as a bid for a new world order of benevolent domination.

The six-year document is the cornerstone of the Pentagon's biennial planning and budgeting cycle. This year's guidance is the first to address "the fundamentally new situation which has been created by the collapse of the Soviet Union."

Like its early drafts, the new document defends the Pentagon's "base force" of 1.63 million active-duty troops against calls for a greater peace dividend. Among its central arguments is that the United States requires a larger military to "shape the future security environment" and avert regional threats than it does to defeat such threats when they arise. House Armed Services Committee Chairman Les Aspin (D-Wis.) has used "threat-based" budget arguments to maintain that a military smaller than the base force would be more than a match for any likely aggressor.

But that argument was overshadowed by the provocative language of the Feb. 18 draft, quoted in accounts in The Washington Post and New York Times in March. The disclosures led to a spirited debate in Congress and within the Bush administration and to what Cheney described in a New York speech Friday as "reverberations around the world among our allies."

Gone from the planning guidance are discussions of Japan, Germany and India as potential "regional hegemons;" of extending to Eastern Europe U.S. defense guarantees against Russian aggression; of fighting to "prevent the emergence of European-only security arrangements" among U.S. allies; of continuing to aim nuclear weapons at the Russian targets that leaders in Moscow "value most;" and of using U.S. force to preempt or punish the use of nuclear weapons by other nations.

It is difficult to assess the reasons for the striking change in tone between early and final drafts, both of which were written under the supervision of Paul Wolfowitz, undersecretary of defense for policy. The revisions came amid interservice and interagency disputes and a growing involvement by Cheney and his top echelon of advisers. The defense guidance remains classified "SECRET" and "NOFORN," meaning "no foreigners." The near-final draft obtained by the Post circulated April 16 in 25 numbered copies among the service chiefs and secretaries and top departmental officials. The officials responsible for preparing it declined to discuss it in on-the-record interviews.

"How can you know why these guys changed their minds?" said one national security official outside the Pentagon. "Is it because it sounded good? Or because there was an unexamined thesis? Or because it was a perfectly sound thesis but they did not have the wherewithal to defend it to the critics? Or because the high rollers didn't want to invest political capital in its defense because in an election year it was a goner? The answer to all of that is probably yes."

Many of the Feb. 18 draft's most sensitive passages remain implicit in the new document. For example, the regional discussion of Asia no longer cites "the potentially destabilizing effects that enhanced roles on the part of our allies, particularly Japan but also possibly Korea, might produce." But the new version says those two nations should move "prudently" in increasing "their defensive capabilities."

Likewise, the planning document no longer speaks of "preventing Russia . . . from reestablishing a hegemonic position in Eastern Europe," or of the prospect of a NATO or "unilateral U.S. defense guarantee" against Russian aggression there. But the new version says that expanding a stable and democratic "zone of peace" into Central and Eastern Europe would secure "the fruits of 40 years of effort," and it calls for "new common understandings" within NATO on the "important security interests . . . at stake for both the Europeans and for us in Central and Eastern Europe."

Moreover, the military services still are directed to base their budget requests on a set of seven classified scenarios depicting potential roads to war. One of those scenarios, distributed Feb. 4, contemplated a Russian invasion of Lithuania through Poland and a U.S.-led counterattack by 24 NATO divisions, 70 fighter squadrons and six aircraft carrier battle groups.

A senior official interviewed Friday said military readers will continue to perceive the "clear message" of the passages on Japan and Russia, but "without raising some of the same froth" of the earlier draft.

Other changes are intended to do more than soften controversy, reflecting changes of policy or disagreement by Cheney and his top aides with the authors of the earlier draft. The earlier draft document stated, for example, that "if quick victory is not possible" in a conventional war, "an opponent must remain convinced that U.S. strategic assets may be employed." According to one official, this passage was discarded because it could be read as inconsistent with U.S. assurances that it will not use or threaten to use nuclear weapons against nonnuclear powers.

Likewise, the Feb. 18 document reflected the priorities of force planners in the U.S. Central Command by mentioning Israel only once -- to say that extensive arms sales to Washington's Arab allies would present no threat to the Jewish state. At Wolfowitz's insistence, the new document mentions Israel first in its discussion of "regional friends" and repeats Cheney's oft-stated public commitment to Israel's "qualitative edge" in military technology.

Even so, although the final draft document deletes a call to help Arab allies "modernize their forces, upgrade their defense doctrines and planning, and acquire capabilities such as antitank weapons, integrated air defense systems, and improved intelligence and communications systems," officials acknowledged privately that those remain American policy goals.

No change was more fundamental, officials agreed, than the handling of the relationship between alliances and collective action, on the one hand, and the unchallenged preeminence that settled upon the U.S. military with the Soviet Union's collapse.

The Feb. 18 draft spoke of the need to "maintain and nurture [U.S.] alliance commitments," and said "coalitions hold considerable promise for promoting collective action." But it also warned that "we should expect future coalitions to be ad hoc assemblies, often not lasting beyond the crisis being confronted, and in many cases carrying only general agreement over the objectives to be accomplished." For that reason, it said, U.S. planners must have the power to act unilaterally.

The revised document turns that formulation on its head. Although still reserving the "sovereign right" to defend vital interests unilaterally, it recasts American military preeminence as a catalyst -- not an alternative -- to collective action.

"Only a nation that is strong enough to act decisively can provide the leadership that is needed to encourage others to resist aggression," the new guidance says. "Collective security failed in the 1930s because no strong power was willing to provide the leadership behind which less powerful countries could rally against fascism. It worked in the [Persian] Gulf because the United States was willing and able to provide that leadership."

The new guidance expunged the Feb. 18 draft's intimations that Japan and Germany might one day become military rivals. The early draft described as a "victory" the "integration of Germany and Japan into a U.S.-led system of collective security," but said that any nation combining "modern defense, industrial and technical capacity and a sizable population base" would be capable of generating a global threat.

Among other deletions from the Feb. 18 draft were numerous sensitive assessments that Pentagon planners said they still hold but preferred not to write down, as one said, "because this document apparently is incapable of being kept among ourselves."

Those deletions included observations that Cuba and North Korea are entering periods of "intense crisis" that could lead them to provoke war; that the approach of a required renewal in 1995 for the Nuclear Non-Proliferation Treaty could bring about a "radical destabilizing process;" that Third World nations will seek nuclear, biological and chemical weapons from the dissolving Soviet military; that the United States would like to see membership as soon as possible in the European Community for the new democracies of Eastern Europe; that the United States seeks to remain "the predominant outside power" in the Middle East; and that India has "hegemonic aspirations" in Southwest Asia.


Copyright 1992 The Washington Post

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