TCS Daily

Transformation and Risk

By Hans Binnendijk - December 13, 2002 12:00 AM

In November, TCS published an article by Melana Zyla Vickers that misses both the forest and the trees.

In "Dominance Lite" Ms. Vickers wrote:

Those who thought the "arms are for hugging" school of foreign policy went out of fashion with the end of the Cold War, think again. In response to the administration's new National Security Strategy, an effort to weaken the U.S. military is gathering steam in Washington, driven largely by Clinton-era National Security Council staffers and their acolytes. What's troubling about this new effort is that they have in their sights not just nuclear weapons, as in the Cold War, but also conventional weapons and as-yet unbuilt, transformational weapons.

"If the American military appears able to win victories at low cost, war might become a preferred instrument of diplomacy rather than an instrument of last resort. This situation would lead to an unhealthy militarization of American foreign policy," warns Clinton-era NSC director for defense policy and arms control Hans Binnendijk, in the preface to a book he has edited on military transformation.

Ms. Vickers took two sentences in a book I edited, Transforming America's Military, out of context, distorted their meaning, and concocted a most bizarre conspiracy theory.

I would like to point out that Transforming America's Military is about ways to strengthen our defense capabilities. It explains the value of a revolution in military affairs and generally supports the overall transformation process now underway in the Pentagon. It recommends that the effort should maximize joint activities of the Services. The Bush Administration gets credit in the book for significantly boosting a process that has been ongoing for some time.

The book does note a few risks inherent in the transformation process. One of the most obvious risks is that, while in the process of becoming better at war, some may be tempted to turn to the use of force as a preferred instrument of diplomacy. This is the point she has twisted out of proportion. Ironically, she makes the same point in her article when she writes "none of this is to say the U.S. should reach for a military option when it has a diplomatic one."

The book concludes that none of these risks should slow down efforts to develop the best military possible. It suggests precisely the kind of diplomatic prudence that the Bush Administration has shown in dealing with Iraq during the past three months.

A strong military and wise diplomacy should go hand in hand. The United States needs allies and coalition partners more than ever in this existential war against terrorism. We need them to share intelligence, hunt down and prosecute terrorists, cut terrorist funding, support reconstruction efforts in places like Afghanistan, vote our way in international organizations and when necessary support our military efforts. We should boost allied military capabilities whenever possible, as the Bush Administration did recently by creating the NATO Response Force.

I do appreciate the attention Ms. Vickers has called to the book and hope that readers will find it interesting and useful in understanding the changes going on today in the U.S. military. We as a country are making an enormous investment and decisions being made today will affect our ability to dominate the battlefield for decades to come.

The defense of our country and a successful outcome to the war on terrorism should not be the grist of partisan attacks.

The author is the Theodore Roosevelt Chair in National Security Policy and Director of the Center for Technology and National Security Policy at the National Defense University.

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