The Uses Of Military Force - 'the Uses Of Military Power' | Give War A Chance | FRONTLINE (2023)

The Uses Of Military Force - 'the Uses Of Military Power' | Give War A Chance | FRONTLINE (1)
Thank you for inviting me to be here today with the members of the NationalPress Club, a group most important to our national security. I say that becausea major point I intend to make in my remarks today is that the single mostcritical element of a successful democracy is a strong consensus of support andagreement for our basic purposes. Policies formed without a clear understandingof what we hope to achieve will never work. And you help to build thatunderstanding among our citizens.

Of all the many policies our citizens deserve -- and need -- to understand,none is so important as those related to our topic today -- the uses ofmilitary power. Deterrence will work only if the Soviets understand our firmcommitment to keeping the peace,... and only from a well-informed public can weexpect to have that national will and commitment.

So today, I want to discuss with you perhaps the most important questionconcerning keeping the peace. Under what circumstances, and by what means, doesa great democracy such as ours reach the painful decision that the use ofmilitary force is necessary to protect our interests or to carry out ournational policy?

National power has many components, some tangible, like economic wealth,technical pre-eminence. Other components are intangible -- such as moral force,or strong national will. Military forces, when they are strong and ready andmodern, are a credible -- and tangible -- addition to a nation's power. Whenboth the intangible national will and those forces are forged into oneinstrument, national power becomes effective.

In today's world, the line between peace and war is less clearly drawn than atany time in our history. When George Washington, in his farewell address,warned us, as a new democracy, to avoid foreign entanglements, Europe then lay2-3 months by sea over the horizon. The United States was protected by thewidth of the oceans. Now in this nuclear age, we measure time in minutes ratherthan months.

Aware of the consequences of any misstep, yet convinced of the precious worthof the freedom we enjoy, we seek to avoid conflict, while maintaining strongdefenses. Our policy has always been to work hard for peace, but to be preparedif war comes. Yet, so blurred have the lines become between open conflict andhalf-hidden hostile acts that we cannot confidently predict where, or when, orhow, or from what direction aggression may arrive. We must be prepared, at anymoment, to meet threats ranging in intensity from isolated terrorist acts, toguerrilla action, to full-scale military confrontation.

Alexander Hamilton, writing in the Federalist Papers, said that it isimpossible to foresee or define the extent and variety of national exigencies,or the correspondent extent and variety of the means which may be necessary tosatisfy them. If it was true then, how much more true it is today, when we mustremain ready to consider the means to meet such serious indirect challenges tothe peace as proxy wars and individual terrorist action. And how much moreimportant is it now, considering the consequences of failing to deter conflictat the lowest level possible. While the use of military force to defendterritory has never been questioned when a democracy has been attacked and itsvery survival threatened, most democracies have rejected the unilateralaggressive use of force to invade, conquer or subjugate other nations. Theextent to which the use of force is acceptable remains unresolved forthe host of other situations which fall between these extremes of defensive andaggressive use of force.

We find ourselves, then, face to face with a modern paradox: the most likelychallenge to the peace -- the gray area conflicts -- are precisely the mostdifficult challenges to which a democracy must respond. Yet, while the sourceand nature of today's challenges are uncertain, our response must be clear andunderstandable. Unless we are certain that force is essential, we run the riskof inadequate national will to apply the resources needed.

Because we face a spectrum of threats -- from covert aggression, terrorism, andsubversion, to overt intimidation, to use of brute force -- choosing theappropriate level of our response is difficult. Flexible response does not meanjust any response is appropriate. But once a decision to employ some degree offorce has been made, and the purpose clarified, our government must have theclear mandate to carry out, and continue to carry out, that decision until thepurpose has been achieved. That, too, has been difficult to accomplish.

The issue of which branch of government has authority to define that mandateand make decisions on using force is now being strongly contended. Beginning inthe 1970s Congress demanded, and assumed, a far more active role in the makingof foreign policy and in the decisionmaking process for the employment ofmilitary forces abroad than had been thought appropriate and practical before.As a result, the centrality of decision-making authority in the Executivebranch has been compromised by the Legislative branch to an extent thatactively interferes with that process. At the same time, there has not been acorresponding acceptance of responsibility by Congress for the outcome ofdecisions concerning the employment of military forces.

Yet the outcome of decisions on whether -- and when -- and to what degree -- touse combat forces abroad has never been more important than it is today.While we do not seek to deter or settle all the world's conflicts, we mustrecognize that, as a major power, our responsibilities and interests are now ofsuch scope that there are few troubled areas we can afford to ignore. So wemust be prepared to deal with a range of possibilities, a spectrum of crises,from local insurgency to global conflict. We prefer, of course, to limitany conflict in its early stages, to contain and control it -- but to do thatour military forces must be deployed in a timely manner, and be fullysupported and prepared before they are engaged, because many of thosedifficult decisions must be made extremely quickly.

Some on the national scene think they can always avoid making tough decisions.Some reject entirely the question of whether any force can ever be used abroad.They want to avoid grappling with a complex issue because, despite cleverrhetoric disguising their purpose, these people are in fact advocating a returnto post-World War I isolationism. While they may maintain in principle thatmilitary force has a role in foreign policy, they are never willing to name thecircumstance or the place where it would apply.

On the other side, some theorists argue that military force can be brought tobear in any crisis. Some of these proponents of force are eager to advocate itsuse even in limited amounts simply because they believe that if there areAmerican forces of any size present they will somehow solve theproblem.

Neither of these two extremes offers us any lasting or satisfactory solutions.The first -- undue reserve -- would lead us ultimately to withdraw frominternational events that require free nations to defend their interests fromthe aggressive use of force. We would be abdicating our responsibilities as theleader of the free world -- responsibilities more or less thrust upon us in theaftermath of World War II -- a war incidentally that isolationism did nothingto deter. These are responsibilities we must fulfill unless we desire theSoviet Union to keep expanding its influence unchecked throughout the world. Inan international system based on mutual interdependence among nations, andalliances between friends, stark isolationism quickly would lead to a far moredangerous situation for the United States: we would be without allies and facedby many hostile or indifferent nations.

The second alternative -- employing our forces almost indiscriminately and as aregular and customary part of our diplomatic efforts -- would surely plunge usheadlong into the sort of domestic turmoil we experienced during the Vietnamwar, without accomplishing the goal for which we committed our forces. Suchpolicies might very well tear at the fabric of our society, endangering thesingle most critical element of a successful democracy: a strongconsensus of support and agreement for our basic purposes.

Policies formed without a clear understanding of what we hope to achieve wouldalso earn us the scorn of our troops, who would have an understandableopposition to being used -- in every sense of the word -- casually and withoutintent to support them fully. Ultimately this course would reduce their moraleand their effectiveness for engagements we must win. And if the militarywere to distrust its civilian leadership, recruitment would fall off and I fearan end to the all-volunteer system would be upon us, requiring a return to adraft, sowing the seeds of riot and discontent that so wracked the country inthe '60s.

We have now restored high morale and pride in the uniform throughout theservices. The all-volunteer system is working spectacularly well. Are wewilling to forfeit what we have fought so hard to regain?

In maintaining our progress in strengthening America's military deterrent, weface difficult challenges. For we have entered an era where the dividing linesbetween peace and war are less clearly drawn, the identity of the foe is muchless clear. In World Wars I and II, we not only knew who our enemies were, butwe shared a clear sense of why the principles espoused by our enemieswere unworthy.

Since these two wars threatened our very survival as a free nation and thesurvival of our allies, they were total wars, involving every aspect of oursociety. All our means of production, all our resources were devoted towinning. Our policies had the unqualified support of the great majority of ourpeople. Indeed, World Wars I and II ended with the unconditional surrender ofour enemies.... The only acceptable ending when the alternative was the loss ofour freedom.

But in the aftermath of the Second World War, we encountered a more subtle formof warfare -- warfare in which, more often than not, the face of the enemy wasmasked. Territorial expansionism could be carried out indirectly by proxypowers, using surrogate forces aided and advised from afar. Some conflictsoccurred under the name of "national liberation," but far more frequentlyideology or religion provided the spark to the tinder.

Our adversaries can also take advantage of our open society, and our freedom ofspeech and opinion to use alarming rhetoric and misinformation to divide anddisrupt our unity of purpose. While they would never dare to allow suchfreedoms to their own people, they are quick to exploit ours by conductingsimultaneous military and propaganda campaigns to achieve their ends.

They realize that if they can divide our national will at home, it will not benecessary to defeat our forces abroad. So by presenting issues in bellicoseterms, they aim to intimidate western leaders and citizens, encouraging us toadopt conciliatory positions to their advantage. Meanwhile they remainsheltered from the force of public opinion in their countries, because publicopinion there is simply prohibited and does not exist.

Our freedom presents both a challenge and an opportunity. It is true that untildemocratic nations have the support of the people, they are inevitably at adisadvantage in a conflict. But when they do have that support theycannot be defeated. For democracies have the power to send a compelling messageto friend and foe alike by the vote of their citizens. And the American peoplehave sent such a signal by re-electing a strong Chief Executive. They know thatPresident Reagan is willing to accept the responsibility for his actions and isable to lead us through these complex times by insisting that we regainboth our military and our economic strength.

In today's world where minutes count, such decisive leadership is moreimportant than ever before. Regardless of whether conflicts are limited, orthreats are ill-defined, we must be capable of quickly determining thatthe threats and conflicts either do or do not affect the vitalinterests of the United States and our allies. ... And then respondingappropriately.

Those threats may not entail an immediate, direct attack on our territory, andour response may not necessarily require the immediate or direct defense of ourhomeland. But when our vital national interests and those of our alliesare at stake, we cannot ignore our safety, or forsake our allies.

At the same time, recent history has proven that we cannot assume unilaterallythe role of the world's defender. We have learned that there are limits to howmuch of our spirit and blood and treasure we can afford to forfeit in meetingour responsibility to keep peace and freedom. So while we may and should offersubstantial amounts of economic and military assistance to our allies in theirtime of need, and help them maintain forces to deter attacks against them --usually we cannot substitute our troops or our will for theirs.

We should only engage our troops if we must do so as a matter of ourown vital national interest. We cannot assume for other sovereignnations the responsibility to defend their territory -- without theirstrong invitation -- when our freedom is not threatened.

On the other hand, there have been recent cases where the United States hasseen the need to join forces with other nations to try to preserve the peace byhelping with negotiations, and by separating warring parties, and thus enablingthose warring nations to withdraw from hostilities safely. In the Middle East,which has been torn by conflict for millennia, we have sent our troops inrecent years both to the Sinai and to Lebanon, for just such a peacekeepingmission. But we did not configure or equip those forces for combat -- they werearmed only for their self-defense. Their mission required them to be -- and tobe recognized as -- peacekeepers. We knew that if conditions deteriorated sothey were in danger, or if because of the actions of the warring nations, theirpeace keeping mission could not be realized, then it would be necessary eitherto add sufficiently to the number and arms of our troops -- in short to equipthem for combat,... or to withdraw them. And so in Lebanon, when we faced justsuch a choice, because the warring nations did not enter into withdrawal orpeace agreements, the President properly withdrew forces equipped only forpeacekeeping.

In those cases where our national interests require us to commit combat forcewe must never let there be doubt of our resolution. When it is necessary forour troops to be committed to combat, we must commit them, in sufficientnumbers and we must support them, as effectively and resolutely as ourstrength permits. When we commit our troops to combat we must do so with thesole object of winning.

Once it is clear our troops are required, because our vital interests are atstake, then we must have the firm national resolve to commit every ounce ofstrength necessary to win the fight to achieve our objectives. In Grenada wedid just that.

Just as clearly, there are other situations where United States combat forcesshould not be used. I believe the postwar period has taught us severallessons, and from them I have developed six major tests to be appliedwhen we are weighing the use of U.S. combat forces abroad. Let me now sharethem with you:

(1) First, the United States should not commit forces to combatoverseas unless the particular engagement or occasion is deemed vital to ournational interest or that of our allies. That emphatically does not mean thatwe should declare beforehand, as we did with Korea in 1950, that aparticular area is outside our strategic perimeter.

(2) Second, if we decide it is necessary to put combattroops into a given situation, we should do so wholeheartedly, and with theclear intention of winning. If we are unwilling to commit the forces orresources necessary to achieve our objectives, we should not commit them atall. Of course if the particular situation requires only limited force to winour objectives, then we should not hesitate to commit forces sized accordingly.When Hitler broke treaties and remilitarized the Rhineland, small combat forcesthen could perhaps have prevented the holocaust of World War II.

(3) Third, if we do decide to commit forces to combat overseas,we should have clearly defined political and military objectives. And we shouldknow precisely how our forces can accomplish those clearly defined objectives.And we should have and send the forces needed to do just that. As Clausewitzwrote, "no one starts a war -- or rather, no one in his senses ought to do so-- without first being clear in his mind what he intends to achieve by thatwar, and how he intends to conduct it."

War may be different today than in Clausewitz's time, but the need forwell-defined objectives and a consistent strategy is still essential. If wedetermine that a combat mission has become necessary for our vital nationalinterests, then we must send forces capable to do the job -- and not assign acombat mission to a force configured for peacekeeping.

(4) Fourth, the relationship between our objectives and the forces wehave committed -- their size, composition and disposition -- must becontinually reassessed and adjusted if necessary. Conditions and objectivesinvariably change during the course of a conflict. When they do change, then somust our combat requirements. We must continuously keep as a beacon lightbefore us the basic questions: "is this conflict in our national interest?""Does our national interest require us to fight, to use force of arms?" If theanswers are "yes", then we must win. If the answers are "no," then weshould not be in combat.

(5) Fifth, before the U.S. commits combat forces abroad, there must besome reasonable assurance we will have the support of the American people andtheir elected representatives in Congress. This support cannot be achievedunless we are candid in making clear the threats we face; the support cannot besustained without continuing and close consultation. We cannot fight a battlewith the Congress at home while asking our troops to win a war overseas or, asin the case of Vietnam, in effect asking our troops not to win, but just to bethere.

(6) Finally, the commitment of U.S. forces to combat should be a lastresort.

I believe that these tests can be helpful in deciding whether or not we shouldcommit our troops to combat in the months and years ahead. The point we mustall keep uppermost in our minds is that if we ever decide to commit forces tocombat, we must support those forces to the fullest extent of ournational will for as long as it takes to win. So we must have in mindobjectives that are clearly defined and understood and supported by the widestpossible number of our citizens. And those objectives must be vital to oursurvival as a free nation and to the fulfillment of our responsibilities as aworld power. We must also be farsighted enough to sense when immediate andstrong reactions to apparently small events can prevent lion-like responsesthat may be required later. We must never forget those isolationists in Europewho shrugged that "Danzig is not worth a war," and "why should we fight to keepthe Rhineland demilitarized?"

These tests I have just mentioned have been phrased negatively for a purpose --they are intended to sound a note of caution -- caution that we must observeprior to committing forces to combat overseas. When we ask our military forcesto risk their very lives in such situations, a note of caution is not onlyprudent, it is morally required.

In many situations we may apply these tests and conclude that a combatant roleis not appropriate. Yet no one should interpret what I am saying here today asan abdication of America's responsibilities -- either to its own citizens or toits allies. Nor should these remarks be misread as a signal that this country,or this administration, is unwilling to commit forces to combat overseas.

We have demonstrated in the past that, when our vital interests or those of ourallies are threatened, we are ready to use force, and use it decisively, toprotect those interests. Let no one entertain any illusions -- if our vitalinterests are involved, we are prepared to fight. And we are resolved that ifwe must fight, we must win.

So, while these tests are drawn from lessons we have learned from the past,they also can -- and should -- be applied to the future. For example, theproblems confronting us in Central America today are difficult. The possibilityof more extensive Soviet and Soviet-proxy penetration into this hemisphere inmonths ahead is something we should recognize. If this happens we will clearlyneed more economic and military assistance and training to help those who wantdemocracy.

The President will not allow our military forces to creep -- or be drawngradually -- into a combat role in Central America or any other place in theworld. And indeed our policy is designed to prevent the need for directAmerican involvement. This means we will need sustained Congressional supportto back and give confidence to our friends in the region.

I believe that the tests I have enunciated here today can, if appliedcarefully, avoid the danger of this gradualist incremental approach whichalmost always means the use of insufficient force. These tests can help us toavoid being drawn inexorably into an endless morass, where it is not vital toour national interest to fight.

But policies and principles such as these require decisive leadership in boththe Executive and Legislative branches of government -- and they also requirestrong and sustained public support. Most of all, these policies requirenational unity of purpose. I believe the United States now possesses thepolicies and leadership to gain that public support and unity. And I believethat the future will show we have the strength of character to protect peacewith freedom.

In summary, we should all remember these are the policies -- indeed the only policies -- that can preserve for ourselves, our friends, and ourposterity, peace with freedom.

I believe we can continue to deter the Soviet Union and other potentialadversaries from pursuing their designs around the world. We can enableour friends in Central America to defeat aggression and gain the breathing roomto nurture democratic reforms. We can meet the challenge posed by theunfolding complexity of the 1980's.

We will then be poised to begin the last decade of this century amid a peacetempered by realism, and secured by firmness and strength. And it will be apeace that will enable all of us -- ourselves -- at home, and our friendsabroad -- to achieve a quality of life, both spiritually and materially, farhigher than man has even dared to dream.
The Uses Of Military Force - 'the Uses Of Military Power' | Give War A Chance | FRONTLINE (2)

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