Tag: restraint

How Much Do IR Academics and the Foreign Policy Community Disagree?

I was surprised but pleased to see that a blog post I wrote in 2009 started getting some attention yesterday. The post, which emerged from a paper I gave at the 2010 APSA, argued that there is a big gap between the views of U.S. grand strategy in the international relations academy versus the view in the foreign policy community (FPC), and that this gap is caused by domestic politics. In short, academics tend to think American strategy is unduly grandiose and FPC types think it’s great. Dan Drezner has a post up wondering whether this is generally true, or unique to the Iraq period.

To begin, I’m not sure why Drezner thinks that in order for my argument to be correct, “the foreign policy community should be united in dispatching military force at every opportunity since Iraq.” Neither the blog post nor the paper on which it was based argued that the foreign policy community should unanimously support every potential war, but rather that they were united around an activist strategy that produced Iraq.

That’s what made the recent article by Stephen Brooks, John Ikenberry, and Bill Wohlforth so edifying. It was the first defense of American grand strategy I can recall reading that was sophisticated enough to be published in a journal like International Security. And the reason they wrote it? Because according to “many of the most prominent security studies scholars—and indeed most scholars who write on the future of U.S. grand strategy” retrenchment’s time has come.

It’s worth noting that a disproportionate number of academics writing about grand strategy are realists, so that’s coloring the ideological content of what the academics are producing. Drezner has complained about realist victimhood before, but grand strategy is an elite sport, and even he admits that “America’s foreign policy elites are more hostile to realpolitik – though even here, things can be exaggerated.” Drezner then points to Henry Kissinger and Brent Scowcroft as bearers of the realist flag, but even if you would lump Kissinger and Scowcroft in with Posen and Walt (I wouldn’t), both men are in their late 80s. There is no realist faction in the FPC, if by “realist” we mean “person whose views on strategy comport with leading academic realists.”

Think about members of the FPC who work on strategy and scholars in the academy who do so. Is a potential strategy debate between, say, a Democrat like Anne-Marie Slaughter and a Republican like Robert Kagan very interesting? I don’t think so. It’s fought between the seven and nine-yard lines at the primacy end of the field. Then consider a debate between, say, Barry Posen or John Mearsheimer, on the one hand, and Kagan or Slaughter on the other. Pass the popcorn.

You can reconcile this one of two ways. One, you can say that there’s a problem in the academy. Primacy is so obviously the optimal grand strategy for the United States that it reflects poorly on the ivory tower that so many strategists there don’t get it. Two, you can conclude that the strategy is not self-evidently optimal, so there’s something wrong with the consensus in Washington.

While we’re here, though, let’s take Drezner’s question about whether the disagreement over Iraq was an aberration. Let’s look at two of the biggest strategic questions facing Washington over the last five and next five years: Afghanistan and Iran.

Afghanistan — I had a fairly easy time pulling together signatures from academics for the Coalition for a Realistic Foreign Policy’s letter to President Obama urging him not to surge into Afghanistan in 2009. Signatures from Beltway types were hard to come by. For his part, Columbia’s Jack Snyder characterized the view from the academy this way:

Pretty much everyone thinks that the conditions in Afghanistan are terrible, that the political situation is terrible, and thus that the conditions for successful counterinsurgency and state-building are inauspicious,” says Snyder, warning that the current war strategy “would be costly, would take a really long time, and might not work.

As always, more/better data would be better, but other than Stephen Biddle, I don’t know a lot of academics who thought Surge Part II was a movie worth seeing.

Iran — An awful lot of academics and others are saying we could live with a nuclear Iran without too much difficulty. The most recent TRIPs survey of IR academics had the “bomb Iran/live with a nuclear Iran” count at 20 percent to 80 percent. That’s not the order of battle in the FPC. Not in public, or in the political debate, anyway. For example, in a recent “national security insiders” poll from National Journal, a narrow majority of insiders did say—implicitly—that living with a nuclear Iran would be better than a war. But, importantly, those answers were given anonymously. And half of the public Beltway commentary over what to do about Iran does not say we could live with a nuclear Iran, which again points to the incentives facing defense intellectuals in Washington. People who appear to believe we could live with a nuclear Iran aren’t saying so forcefully, despite the important consequences. Why not?

The paper argues that domestic political factors are at work. I just uploaded the final edited version at SSRN, so give it a look and, as Drezner might ask, tell me what I’m missing.

Cutting Military Spending, Rethinking Grand Strategy

The Associated Press’s Pauline Jelinek has a story on the wires/Interwebs today that pokes holes in Leon Panetta’s claim that Pentagon budget cuts on the order of those contemplated under the debt deal’s sequestration provisions would be “devastating to the department.” Jelinek quoted me, as well as the Center for American Progress’s Larry Korb, and the Center for Strategic and Budgetary Assessment’s Todd Harrison.

Assuming that sequestration will actually happen (a big if), I tried to put the possible cuts in perspective, given the significant increase in military spending over the past decade.

But we shouldn’t put the budgetary cart before the strategic horse. I have said on several occasions that we should not cut military spending without rethinking our strategic ends.

Although Ben Friedman recently made a strong case for using fiscal austerity to drive a change in our grand strategy, I still believe it possible – and wiser – to do this in the reverse order; rethink the strategy first, and then shape the force to fit the strategy.

As Ben has taught me, austerity is a good auditor, but it doesn’t require us to cut anything, or increase taxes on anyone. The current fiscal situation doesn’t even force us to choose to make any difficult decisions now – so long as we’re willing to borrow money to make up the difference. It is that latter point, however, that people are getting hung up on. And rightly so. We’re doing a disservice to our children and grandchildren by saddling them with these debts, and no reasonable plan for retiring them. August’s debt ceiling deal pits two different factions within the Republican Party against one another: budget hawks and tax cutters (OK to cut, not OK to raise taxes) vs. hawkish hawks (not OK to cut military spending, OK to tax increases). Within this battle, the fiscal hawks are OK with sequestration. The hawkish hawks are not.

Leaving the fiscal constraints on military spending to one side, the underlying strategic logic to my argument that we can responsibly cut military spending still holds. Cuts on the order of $800 billion, or even $1 trillion, would not pose a grave risk to U.S. security. Panetta’s claim that it would rests on the dubious assumption that a nation’s strategic ends are fixed. They are not. What the United States chooses to do to advance its security are just that: choices. Some are wise in retrospect. Others are foolish. Some are understood to be foolish before they are undertaken. But it need not be so ad hoc.

This was one of Barry Posen’s pleas in his article “The Case for Restraint.” Posen made the case for rethinking our strategic goals well before the present fiscal crisis. But he began by reminding readers of the importance of strategy, or, more simply, what grand strategy is:

A state’s grand strategy is its foreign policy elite’s theory about how to produce national security. Security has traditionally encompassed the preservation of a nation’s physical safety, the country’s sovereignty and its territorial integrity, and its power position—the last being the necessary means to the first three. States have traditionally been willing to risk the safety of their people to protect sovereignty, territorial integrity and power position. A grand strategy enumerates and prioritizes threats and adduces political and military remedies for them. A grand strategy also explains why some threats attain a certain priority, and why and how the remedies proposed could work.

Our grand strategy has done none of those things (or at least not well), because the particular strategy that we have pursued for more than two decades—primacy, benevolent global hegemony, unipolarity, pick your term—is loathe to choose. Every crisis is a primary concern for the United States. No regional conflict can be handled by regional actors. Every humanitarian disaster, manmade or heaven-sent, demands U.S. intervention.

The list of goals that flows from such a grand strategy is just that—a list—with little or no consideration of how these should be ranked. We must be everywhere. We must do everything. The various strategy documents, meanwhile, are all based on the assumption that primacy is the only reasonable strategy for the United States. Taking the ends and ways as a given, they begin with a force structure (the means), and work backwards. Sometimes they don’t even do that.

Most of us who believe that we can responsibly reduce military spending without undermining U.S. security argue that point from the perspective that our strategy is flawed, and, therefore, that our resources are misallocated. The alternative claim—that our strategy is sound, but we can achieve the same ends with fewer means—is not tenable.

Cross-posted from the Skeptics at the National Interest.

Deficit Reduction Commission Says Military Spending Can and Must be Cut

President Obama’s Fiscal Commission’s report is out and they have wisely kept military spending on the table. Having not seen the accompanying list of specific cuts, it seems that rather than micromanage DoD’s decisions with respect to which weapons systems to cut or keep, the commissioners have laid down a different marker: find the cuts that make sense, but understand that the business-as-usual of the past decade is over.

The report fixes on a number of spending cuts and reforms that Benjamin Friedman and I call for in the Cato Policy Analysis “Budgetary Savings from Military Restraint” including cuts to the civilian workforce (see recommendation 1.10.4). They also hold fast to the proposition that all spending must be on the table, and reject out of hand the notion that military spending must be held sacrosanct. This is bad news for the “defending defense” crowd.

I am not going to comment on the Commission’s other proposals with respect to taxes, social security, health care, etc.  As for specific military spending cuts, this report is less detailed than the preliminary report issued a few weeks ago by Co-chairs Bowles and Simpson. It is appropriate, however, to task the Department of Defense with identifying additional savings (as they do in recommendation 1.11). Responsible cuts can be made if the Pentagon and the White House adopt a strategy of restraint, one that husbands American resources, focuses on a few core missions vital to U.S. national security, and requires other countries to take primary responsibility for their defense.