US strategy: force is not enough

As one who, for the past year, has been an invitee to conferences on national strategy and has also been raising funds for educational purposes, I am struck by the pervasive influence of an essentially coercive approach to national strategy.

This approach assumes that force and coercion are the basic elements of the strategy of America's adversaries and must, therefore, be the basis of its own as well. United States national strategy is seen almost entirely in terms of continuing conflict with the Soviets. The presentations are often simplistic, ignoring many of the complexities of recent history and of the present multipolar world. They assume ultimate conflict and stress not how to avoid that conflict but how to prepare for it. Conferences are frequently supported by those who have a vested interest in preparations for conflict.

At a recent session on ''The Superpowers,'' I listened to a strategic expert. Supported by colored maps, he presented the thesis that, since World War II, the West has given up more than 300 military bases. Such bases have either been taken by the Soviets or denied by them to the West. Pointing to former colonial territories, he explained that many of these setbacks were caused by the failure of the West to stand together to support the French in Indochina, the British and the French against Nasser, or the Portuguese against the communists in Africa. Nothing was said of the internal forces in Europe and abroad which brought about inevitable decolonization.

At another conference on ''strategic studies'' last year, I listened while a lecturer quoted at length from a variety of strongly anti-Soviet sources to stress his belief that the Soviets were bent on world domination and World War III was not far away.

In my quest for educational funds, I approached the representative of a foundation which had granted more than $1 million for the establishment of an institute of strategic studies. When I mentioned that I represented an institute for the study of diplomacy, I received the reply: ''I don't believe in diplomacy. If we are not going to fight the Russians, we shouldn't talk to them.''

At a seminar on strategic studies, I asked the representative of the funding organization, a defense consulting firm, what his firm's policy was on educational giving. He replied, ''It is very simple. We will support any activity that will heighten the public's demand for a higher defense budget.''

In some conferences on economic policy, the subject is seen less in terms of how we can more effectively sell to the rest of the world than it is in how we can use our economic power as a form of pressure to achieve strategic ends.

Admittedly, in a world of Poland, Afghanistan, Lebanon, Cambodia, and the Falklands, it is difficult to argue that force and coercion are not basic elements of any nation's national policy. Pessimists argue that the true character of human nature leaves few other choices.

Nevertheless, there is much in recent history to suggest that there are other motives which successfully drive national policy. Coercion is certainly a basic element of Soviet policy, yet the Soviets would not have established effective influence in many parts of the world had their diplomacy not found common cause with local issues, whether political, anticolonial, or territorial. France has maintained a strong position in Africa, not so much through the presence of force as through the establishment of strong common interests with the Francophone countries. It would be a serious disrespect to the history of our own country to ignore the degree to which our worldwide influence is based on a yearning for the ideals of democracy and freedom which we represent.

A complete national strategy embraces not just force and coercion; it embraces as well the deployment of the powers of ideals and diplomacy.

Too often in conferences I have attended the power of ideals is denigrated as irrelevant or obstructive, particularly when human rights are discussed. The power of diplomacy is seen as weakness, despite acknowledged successes of this country's diplomats in many areas, such as postwar Austria, Trieste, and the Middle East.

It is hard to assess the influence of the current brand of strategic thinking. It has undoubtedly helped to create a body of thought that concentrates on force and a simplified view of this complex world. It has also created a reaction as seen in the growing concerns in both Europe and the US over an excessively blithe view of nuclear conflict.

To insist that national strategy must embrace more than force and look at the world in broader terms is not to deny the hard reality of coercion and pressure in today's world. A contrary point of view however does ask whether the presentation of these views should not be more effectively balanced in this country by those who see strategy as also encompassing an effective projection of the power of America's ideals and the demonstrated skill of its diplomacy.

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