Commentary Magazine


Senator Fulbright's New Foreign Policy

Senator William Fulbright of Arkansas is among the ablest and most responsible members of the Senate. His is one of an impressively large group of eminent Senators whose individual, excellence has been overshadowed by the dismal spectacle which, due to antiquated procedures and its domination by an anti-democratic minority, the Senate as a collective deliberating body generally presents to the world. It was an ironic demonstration of this contrast between individual excellence and collective failure that Senator Fulbright delivered his important address of March 25 on American foreign policy, “Old Myths and New Realities,” before a virtually empty chamber. “Senatores boni viri, senatus autem mala bestia” [the senators are good men, but the senate is an evil beast], the Romans used to say.

Having urged since the 50's that the Senate Foreign Relations Committee under the leadership of Senator Fulbright develop an American foreign policy of its own as a counterfoil to the official one, I ought to have responded to Senator Fulbright's speech with unqualified enthusiasm. Instead, my reaction is mixed. I welcome the fact that Senator Fulbright has spoken out at all in criticism of our foreign policy. I admire the high intellectual qualities of his speech, and I agree with much of what he had to say, especially on the nature of the Communist threat, Latin America, and the mythological character of much of American thinking on foreign policy. But I must disagree with his central assumption, and I regret that he did not apply his analysis to certain acute and fundamental issues, more important than, say, the issue of Panama on which he dwelt so extensively.

Senator Fulbright assumes that a “radical change” has occurred “in relations between and within the Communist and the free world,” and that in consequence “the character of the cold war has, for the present, at least, been profoundly altered . . . . by the drawing back of the Soviet Union from extremely aggressive policies; by the implicit repudiation by both sides of a policy of ‘total victory’; and by the establishment of an American strategic superiority which the Soviet Union appears to have tacitly accepted because it has been accompanied by assurances that it will be exercised by the United States with responsibility and restraint.” Senator Fulbright's assessment of Cuba as a mere “nuisance” and not as “a grave threat to the United States” is predicated upon this assumption of a radical change in the foreign policies of the Soviet Union.

However, the correctness of that assumption has not, to say the least, been proved. It is of course true that no direct military confrontation between the United States and the Soviet Union has taken place since the Cuban crisis of October 1962. But can it be said that this is due to the Soviet Union's drawing back “from extremely aggressive policies”? Might it not be that our unwillingness to face up to Soviet challenges has made a direct military confrontation unnecessary for the Soviet Union? Cuba and Cyprus are cases in point.

It cannot be too often repeated, since there is such a deep-seated unwillingness to face this simple and central fact, that the Soviet Union has achieved what it set out to achieve in the summer of 1962 and what we declared to be intolerable: the transformation of Cuba into a political and military base for the Communization of Latin America under Soviet auspices. Official talk about Russian “technicians” and “offensive” as distinct from other types of missiles has obscured this fact, but it has not affected its existence.

As for Cyprus, it has been delivered into the hands of Makarios as a result of his brilliant and ruthless diplomacy, the deft maneuvering of the Soviet Union, the unwitting support of the United Nations, and the short-sightedness of American foreign policy. This is not the place to analyze in detail the fascinating power game that has been played for the control of Cyprus and that has ended in victory for Makarios and the Soviet Union. For the purposes of the present argument, it is only necessary to point to the different aims and patterns of action with which the Soviet Union and the United States have been identified.

The Soviet Union has pursued two aims: to gain a foothold in the eastern Mediterranean and to weaken the relations between the NATO powers and Turkey, after Germany the most potent military force at the Western frontiers of the Soviet Union. The United States has had one aim: to prevent an open military conflict between Greece and Turkey. Both sides have, paradoxically enough, succeeded. Yet the United States has succeeded only in terms of the pacifist goal it set itself, not in terms of its true interests, which are to prevent the weakening of Western ties with Turkey and the transformation of Cyprus into a Mediterranean Cuba. We are here in the presence of a mode of action very similar to that which determined our Cuba policy in October 1962. In other words, we are here in the presence of a pattern which threatens to frustrate American foreign policies wherever it is applied.

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In Cuba and Cyprus, both the United States and the Soviet Union were compelled to come to terms with the dilemma of being armed with nuclear weapons and having to avoid their use while protecting and promoting their respective interests with the threat of violence. Neither the United States nor the Soviet Union can afford to go to the brink of nuclear war; both must pull back before they get there. It is the risky art of foreign policy in the nuclear age to stop neither too early nor too late. A nation that stops too late destroys itself. A nation that stops too early sacrifices its interests to an exaggerated fear of war, and its policies end up by seeking peace at almost any price.

Concerning Hungary and Suez in 1956, Cuba in 1962, and Cyprus in 1964, the Soviet Union has been willing to take greater risks than the United States and has consequently been more successful in protecting and promoting its interests. Why should the Soviet Union, then, not draw back from “extremely aggressive policies” when it is able to achieve its goals without them? Why, to cite still another example, should the Soviet Union keep up its pressure on the Western presence in Berlin when the Berlin wall has closed the gap in the Iron Curtain which the Western presence in Berlin had opened?

Since the days of Lenin, Soviet foreign policy has combined consistency in the pursuit of objectives with extreme flexibility in the choice of means, and while the pursuit of objectives has been determined by national interest and political philosophy, means have changed in response to changes in the international environment. Thus Lenin's policy of world revolution was transformed by Stalin into the policy of “socialism in one country,” and Stalin's policy of limited expansion into territories adjacent to the Soviet Union was transformed by Khrushchev into worldwide economic and ideological competition and support for “wars of national liberation.” The foreign policy of the Soviet Union has indeed changed in recent years and it is likely to change again, becoming more or less aggressive as the case may be. If one wishes, one can say that in consequence “the character of the cold war has, for the present, at least, been profoundly altered.” But the cold war has not been called off, as Senator Fulbright himself points out, nor has its conduct by the Soviet Union become less dangerous to the West for having undergone yet another transformation.

In view of these arguments, little needs to be said about the other two points Senator Fulbright makes in the same connection: the implicit repudiation by both sides of a policy of “total victory,” and Soviet acceptance of American strategic superiority. The United States repudiated the policy of “total victory” even when it had a monopoly of nuclear weapons, and when that monopoly was replaced by the nuclear stalemate, such a policy became utterly irrational for both sides. The very term “stalemate,” accepted by both sides, negates the idea of victory. It is similarly a misnomer to speak of “American strategic superiority” with regard to nuclear weapons. What we have is superiority in quantity and variety of nuclear weapons. This gives us at best a tactical advantage, but it cannot affect the strategic balance of terror. Nothing in Soviet military doctrine and dispositions supports the statement that the Soviet Union has “accepted” this superiority in reliance upon our assurances to use it “with responsibility and restraint.” Quite the contrary: the Soviet Union has tried to counteract that superiority with a small number of multimegaton weapons and an elaborate system of anti-air and anti-missile defenses. Least of all does the Soviet Union rely upon our “responsibility and restraint” in the use of nuclear weapons, a phrase which I take to be a reference to counterforce strategy. For the Soviet Union, both in its military doctrine and dispositions, has emphatically denied the possibility of limiting the use of nuclear weapons to military targets alone.

While thus the radical change in the relations between the United States and the Soviet Union which Senator Fulbright postulates turns out to be a myth rather than a reality, the inability of American foreign policy to anticipate new conditions, or at least to adapt itself to them when they have occurred, is indeed an established fact. Our alliance policies provide a prime example of that inability. We have been unable to rebuild the structure of an originally sound alliance like NATO when its foundations crumbled, and we have been equally unable to divest ourselves of the burden of an originally unsound alliance, such as that with Pakistan, when it became an obvious hindrance to the protection and promotion of our interests.

During the second half of the last decade, observers began warning of an impending crisis in NATO—a crisis that would be brought about by the economic and political recovery of Western Europe and, more particularly, by the ability of the Soviet Union to counter the American nuclear threat with a threat of its own. Yet when that crisis became acute in the aftermath of de Gaulle's press conference of January 14, 1963, the United States responded with shocked surprise and righteous indignation, but not with constructive proposals taking cognizance of the objective character of the crisis, which de Gaulle had brought into the open but had not created. And so it has remained to this day. The only positive contribution we have made to the restoration of the Atlantic Alliance has been the multilateral seaborne nuclear force, and the character of that device is itself an eloquent commentary upon our technical ingenuity and the sterility of our political thinking. For multilateral force is an attempt not so much to restore the Atlantic Alliance as to give our European allies the illusion of participating in nuclear decisions while at the same time isolating France. It is in truth a subterfuge which employs a costly, useless, and dangerous military device to bypass a political problem of vital importance to the Western world.

The alliance with Pakistan has from the outset been a useless and counterproductive instrument of American foreign policy; it could truly be called a diplomatic act against nature. For the military forces of Pakistan, built up with our massive support, have as their primary target not the Soviet Union or China, but India. Yet we have an obvious vital interest in the political and economic success of India, an interest far transcending any other we have in Asia. Our military support of Pakistan has forced India to divert a proportionate fraction of its scarce resources to military purposes and we, anxious to prevent India's collapse, have been compelled to replace at least a part of those diverted resources with foreign aid.

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It was possible to dismiss this armament race with ourselves as a costly absurdity until China invaded India and, in the aftermath of that invasion, Pakistan reached a political and also, it is generally believed, a military understanding with China. Everything points to the likelihood that China will invade India again on a larger scale as soon as she has solved her logistical problems. It is also obvious that when this happens and India is fighting for her life Pakistan will bring the weapons supplied by us into the camp of her enemies while we will support India—by improvising a crash program after the invasion has started.

All this has been known for almost a decade, first by conjecture and then by empirical observation. Why is it that, aware of what the facts are and what action they require, we cling with desperate tenacity to policies which, if they ever served our purposes, have now lost their usefulness? So it has been with NATO, and so it has been with India and Pakistan. Our Latin American policies provide another example. During the election campaign of 1952, John Foster Dulles dedicated a whole speech to Latin America, chiding the Truman administration for neglecting the area and pointing to the dangers our traditional interests were facing there. This concern was then shared by at least some of the professionals in the Department of State. Yet it took nine years to translate the concern into action.

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We are here in the presence of another pattern of our foreign policy: the inability to act decisively in anticipation of a crisis rather than in response to it. What accounts for this pattern, which Senator Fulbright calls “a malady of chronic and excessive caution”? The Senator mentions the fear of public opinion, and he says wisely that “An effective foreign policy is one which concerns itself more with innovation abroad than with conciliation at home.” Yet the foreign-service officer must of necessity take his cue from the Secretary of State and the President. If the President subordinates foreign policy to domestic policies, and if the Secretary of State would rather administer established policies than create new ones, there remains nothing for the Department of State to do but to implement these defective policies. Thus the responsibility for a foreign policy which has become the slave of a leaderless public opinion lies with the President and, to a lesser extent, with the Secretary of State.

Another factor, however, deserves consideration: the size and organization of the Department of State. The Department of State is absurdly overstaffed, as are its rivals for the determination of American foreign policy, the Department of Defense and the Central Intelligence Agency. The elimination of half of State's employees could by itself not fail to improve the operations of the Department. Overstaffing means that, say, ten people—able, mediocre, and incompetent—spend twenty man-hours preparing a paper that one able or even mediocre man could prepare in two. As things are now, three members of this group of ten will prepare different versions of the paper which will be shuffled back and forth over ten different desks, to be revised, emended, and commented upon. These versions will then be discussed in meetings of the whole group until a paper is finally produced which more likely than not will be inferior to what could have emerged from the desk of one able or even mediocre official. The same process may be repeated a couple of times on different levels of the bureaucratic hierarchy both within the Department of State and between it and other agencies of the executive branch.

This inflated collective method of policy-making has three results, all detrimental to the new departures Senator Fulbright wants our foreign policy to take. First, it makes sustained thinking impossible. It may seem like belaboring the obvious to say that great political decisions require sustained and solitary thought. Field Marshall Montgomery, in a series of television broadcasts about his campaigns of the Second World War, stated as the first condition for the success of a commander the preservation of his ability to think, for which purpose he must keep his staff small and not allow visitors to his headquarters. Yet I dare say that in the conduct of our foreign policies nobody, from the President to the lowliest desk officer, meets that requirement. I have watched high officials of our government receiving visitors and paying visits, convening and going to committee meetings, placing and getting telephone calls, reading, dictating, and signing papers from morning to night, day after day, six or seven days a week. I am told that an official was allowed five minutes to brief the President on an important issue of foreign policy. If one were to suggest that the President, the Secretary of State, the undersecretaries and assistant secretaries ought to have time to reflect for hours on the great issues that require decision, Washington would probably consider him a practical joker. But since great decisions cannot be made without such thought, those decisions are not being made, and instead yesterday's seemingly safe routines, which require no thought, are being continued.

Secondly, the collective method of policy-making is hostile to new departures because it tends toward the establishing of consensus at the lowest common denominator. The official who has the insight and courage to propose a break with an outworn policy will find himself hemmed in by colleagues less endowed with these qualities, who prefer inconspicuous maintenance of the status quo to risky experiments. Since both intellectually and politically, maintaining the status quo is more convenient than innovation, the prospective innovator is likely to lose out to colleagues who are fearful of innovation.

Finally, the collective method diffuses responsibility. Since nobody is responsible for anything in particular, nobody can be blamed for failure or praised for success. I have often wondered, and sometimes aloud, what happens to a foreign-service officer whose judgments prove to be consistently wrong, and I have been told time and again that he is transferred to another bureau or another diplomatic post. The collectivity, as it were, absorbs him and makes his incompetence in a sense innocuous. But the same happens to the innovating deviationist whose judgment is prematurely right. The collectivity pulls the incompetent up, and pulls the innovator down, to its own level of unoffending mediocrity. After all, innovation is typically the achievement of one man who takes the risks and seeks the rewards, and not of a faceless collectivity.

Thus when one reflects with Senator Fulbright on the need for American foreign policy to adapt itself to new realities, one becomes aware, first of all, of how hard it is to distinguish between old myths and new realities. One man's new reality is likely to be another man's myth, old or new. But even agreement on that vital distinction is but the first and inconclusive step in the reformation of American foreign policy. For as the examples cited above show, intellectual awareness is by no means tantamount to action. Action will continue to turn in its established grooves if the Department of State remains an elephantine colossus, if the Secretary of State prefers to administer established policies to creating new ones, and if the President does not educate the people in the realities of a new age.

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