Responding to my assertion that there’s no correlation between U.S. defense spending and global freedom James Joyner (and Dave) called me out – arguing that the demise of the Soviet Union proves that indeed there is.
That’s true, and I concede the point – up to a point. First, the U.S. defense build-up had an impact on the Soviet Union’s ability to compete with the U.S. and helped hasten their end – but a host of other factors contributed to that end as well, as Joyner admits. ~Greg Scoblete
Greg shouldn’t concede so quickly. Not only did a host of other factors contribute to the end of the USSR, but in most important respects it was overwhelmingly the political action of the peoples of eastern Europe and the USSR that resulted in the collapse of the Soviet system. This isn’t meant to diminish the real successes of containment policy in western Europe and Asia, but we do need to acknowledge that policies that provided effective defense for our allies also effectively did very little to advance the freedom the hundreds of millions of people under Soviet control. That wasn’t the purpose of containment, and neither was it the main purpose of the military build-up in the ’80s.
Besides, to the extent that our military build-up showed leaders in the USSR that their economic and political model could not compete and thus contributed to the collapse, it is not something that can be readily repeated today and it is not something that needs to be repeated. Even if one wants to maintain that the build-up in the ’80s was imperative to “winning” the Cold War, there is no comparable competing state today, nor is there likely to be one for a long time. What Pletka and Donnelly are calling for is the ability to project power around the world in ways that have no connection with the advance of political freedom abroad. They are arguing for a “robust” American role in a post-Cold War world where it is not needed. Indeed, it is less necessary today than it was ten or twenty years ago, and it will become increasingly outdated and unnecessary as more regional powers begin assuming responsibility for their parts of the world.
George Kennan famously rejected the core assumption of the argument that U.S. policy in the ’80s was decisive in bringing down the USSR:
The suggestion that any American administration had the power to influence decisively the course of a tremendous domestic-political upheaval in another great country on another side of the globe is intrinsically silly and childish. No great country has that sort of influence on the internal developments of any other one.
Kennan went on to argue:
Thus the general effect of cold war extremism was to delay rather than hasten the great change that overtook the Soviet Union at the end of the 1980′s.
What did the greatest damage was not our military preparations themselves, some of which (not all) were prudent and justifiable. It was rather the unnecessarily belligerent and threatening tone in which many of them were publicly carried forward. For this, both Democrats and Republicans have a share of the blame.
What Pletka and Donnelly were arguing in their op-ed was obviously not just for continued high or increased levels of military spending, but for a “robust” American role in the world. “Robust” is the word hawkish interventionists use to refer to policies of aggressive confrontation and interference in the affairs of other nations. To use Kennan’s words, this is the unnecessarily belligerent and threatening way to manage relations with rival and hostile states. As Kennan argued concerning the USSR, this approach tends to strengthen hard-liners in the other government, retards political change in the other country and generally delays regime collapse by providing a rallying point in the form of a foreign adversary.
Does that sound like the preferred foreign policy of any contemporary hawks? Of course it does. It is the same kind of foreign policy that hawks want us to pursue against Iran, North Korea, Venezuela, Burma and Syria, among others, and it has been shown to be completely counterproductive, harmful to the welfare of the people living under these regimes, and an aid to the continued survival of repressive governments. If we misunderstand the principal causes for the USSR’s failure and collapse and identify massive American military spending as the key to “winning” the Cold War, we will probably end up concluding that “extreme militarization of American discussion and policy” is the appropriate solution to contemporary international problems as well. Indeed, that is what Pletka and Donnelly hope Americans will conclude. The “robust” role they support is that of a military hegemon dictating terms to uncooperative states. As I said before, this has nothing to do with defending American freedoms, and it also delays the day when many of these repressive regimes will be held accountable by their nations.