For the past two years, the U.S. Department of State has been warning tourists to avoid traveling to the Arab nation of Yemen. Sixteen tourists, including two Americans, were kidnapped there in 1998 by a terrorist group, and four were ultimately killed. After one of the kidnappers was executed, the terrorist group promised further attacks on Western citizens if they failed to leave Yemen. That same year, Yemeni authorities arrested six anti-Western extremists accused of planning to bomb Western targets in the country.
Aden, Yemen’s largest city, has long been a known hub for terrorists in the region as well as a busy port for international arms sales, and the country had refused to join U.S. allies in the Persian Gulf War against Iraq. As a result, the State Department warned in travel advisories that the level of menace to U.S. citizens in Yemen was extremely high. Concern over terrorist attacks had also prompted the U.S. ambassador to Yemen, Barbara Bodine, to veto several planned military ship visits to the country.
Despite the State Department’s well-founded concerns, now-retired Marine Gen. Anthony Zinni, serving as commander-in-chief for U.S. forces in the Persian Gulf, contracted with Yemen as a refueling stop for U.S. warships in an effort to “improve” relations with the country–a job usually left to civilian diplomats. We all know now how that effort turned out. On October 12, two men in a dinghy full of explosives rowed up to the USS Cole and blasted a 1,000-square-foot hole in the hull of the ship, killing 17 American sailors.
In one way, the tragedy wasn’t terribly surprising. The United States, under President Bill Clinton, has allowed the Pentagon to dominate the decision-making process in American foreign policy nearly since the day he took office. The results have been unfortunate.
Prior to World War II, the military rarely influenced foreign and national security policy. The Cold War and the 1947 National Security Act changed all that, making the military an integral part of national security policy in peacetime and in war. Successive amendments and reforms enhanced the power of the chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff, with the Goldwater-Nichols Act of 1986 making the chairman the “principal military advisor to the president, the National Security Council, and the secretary of defense.” The authority of commanders of forces in the field (the Commanders-in-Chief, or CinCs) was also strengthened.
The unintended consequences of the Goldwater-Nichols Act have included the weakening of civilian management of the military and the emergence of the uniformed military as the strongest policy voice in the national security community. The unprecedented statutory authority of the CinCs has given field commanders greater influence in the budget process, foreign policy formulation, and national security decision-making.
Much of the blame for this trend lies with President Clinton, whose relationship with the military has been tenuous from the very beginning. Coming to office with a record as a draft-dodger, Clinton immediately alienated the top brass by stating in a press conference that he would allow gays to openly serve in the military. The ensuing backlash, and Clinton’s ultimate retreat, only increased the president’s reluctance to challenge the authority and influence of the Pentagon.
Congress, moreover, has become an even stronger advocate of the Pentagon’s interests. As a result, despite the decline in the strategic threat to the United States and the size of our military establishment, there has been a substantial and unfortunate growth in the military’s influence over national security policy. The results have been deadly international incidents like the bombing of the USS Cole.
Last year, the United States joined hands with some of the world’s rogue states–Algeria, China, Libya, Iran, Iraq, and Sudan–to vote against creating the International Criminal Court (ICC) that would bring the world’s worst human-rights violators to justice. Every member state of the European Union favors the ICC. Initially Clinton did too, after the administration’s successful involvement in war-crimes tribunals in Rwanda and the former Yugoslavia. But the Pentagon resisted exposing U.S. soldiers to international justice, claiming that the court would allow other countries with political motivations to prosecute U.S. military personnel. The Pentagon’s interpretation of the ICC charter was misguided; nonetheless, its opposition drove U.S. policy, and the Clinton Administration ended up opposing the ICC.
The debate over the ICC isn’t the only place where the interests of the uniformed military have pushed the United States to oppose its allies and support dubious policies. Take the campaign to ban land mines. The Pentagon opposes the international effort because of its deployment of mines near the border between North and South Korea. Antipersonnel mines, unable to tell the difference between a combatant and a child, have created havoc in such disparate places as Cambodia, Angola, Afghanistan, El Salvador, Bosnia, and Mozambique. But the cincs have made land mines a readiness issue and will not budge. Not even the inauguration of a tentative peace between the two Koreas and the beginning of summit diplomacy between the United States and North Korea has led to new thinking at the Pentagon.
One particularly low point for the Clinton administration took place last year, when the United States voted against U.N. efforts to ban using soldiers under the age of 18. Nearly 200 nations voted in favor of the ban. Only Somalia, which for all practical purposes has no government, joined the U.S. in casting an opposing vote. The Pentagon’s opposition was particularly irrational in view of the fact that fewer than 3,000 Americans in uniform are under the age of 18, which is why Clinton finally reversed our policy in July after six years.
The White House also badly mishandled the Senate’s vote on the comprehensive nuclear test ban treaty, which marked the first congressional rejection of a significant international agreement since the Treaty of Versailles established the League of Nations 80 years ago. The Pentagon has fought restraints on arms testing for the past four decades but, until now, U.S. civilian agencies had prevailed. Moreover, the Senate opposed the treaty in large part because members believed that we simply could not monitor international weapons programs. That view grew out of our failure to predict nuclear testing in India in 1998–an embarrassment caused by the Pentagon assigning a low priority to South Asia as a region and to arms control as an objective.
The power of the military has also contributed to Saddam Hussein’s efforts to rebuild his arsenal. In a concession to the Pentagon and the CIA, the Clinton administration permitted clandestine operatives to infiltrate the monitoring mission in Iraq under UNSCOM, which was responsible for more destruction of strategic weaponry in Iraq than all of the bombing of Iraqi targets over the past ten years. The CIA’s covert and ill-advised use of the international monitoring mission gave Hussein the opportunity to expel the U.N. task force. As a result, there has been no monitoring of Hussein’s strategic activities for the past two years while he has continued to build his power base.
Meanwhile, as the military pushes the United States into a lonely corner away from the community of nations, it is still successfully lobbying for new toys. Despite the absence of a strategic threat and repeated test failures, the United States is moving to deploy a national ballistic missile defense (NMD)–a new name for Ronald Reagan’s Star Wars initiative. President Clinton may have deferred a final decision on the missile defense system, but the president-elect is committed to strategic defense. Deploying Star Wars would mean the destruction of the Antiballistic Missile Treaty, the cornerstone of U.S. deterrence for the past 30 years; the probable alienation of Russia and China from the arms control process; and the opposition of our NATO allies.
The ballistic missile system and the Senate’s rejection of the nuclear test ban treaty will lead to the destabilization of American national security policy and unnecessary increases in American defense spending. White House and Pentagon lawyers have offered a strained new interpretation of the ABM treaty, which they claim would allow a national missile defense without violating the treaty, but almost no objective observers agree.
Deployment of Star Wars and the abrogation of the ABM treaty would mark a net decrease in U.S. security. First, as recent tests indicate, the system is not workable. It has been unable to distinguish between real and fake targets. Since the ballistic missile system can never be tested in battlefield conditions, its shortcomings will not become apparent until it is too late. Second, it will likely be vulnerable to unsophisticated counter-measures. It can be underflown by short-range ballistic and cruise missiles, and it cannot protect against “submunitions” designed to disperse chemical and biological agents. Third, it will lead such states as Russia and China to return to strategic offensive programs and resort to unstable command and control procedures as a counter to our strategic defense. Finally, NMD at any level will undercut U.S. efforts to counter the proliferation of strategic weapons and to pursue disarmament, thus jeopardizing strategic stability over the long term.
It is particularly worrisome that the CIA has provided a rationale for deploying a missile-defense system without incorporating new intelligence data. Until last year, CIA intelligence estimates anticipated no new strategic challenges to the United States before the year 2015. An independent expert panel headed by former CIA director Robert Gates reaffirmed the soundness of the CIA analysis. However, in 1999, the CIA suddenly adopted a worst-case approach and emphasized what “could” happen in North Korea, Iran, and Iraq over the next five to 10 years. In a heartening show of independence, the State Department strongly dissented from CIA’s position, arguing that the agency’s worst-case view gave “more credence than is warranted to developments that may prove implausible.”
But the new Star Wars system isn’t the only boondoggle for the Pentagon. The U.S. military currently spends more on defense than all of its NATO allies combined. Nevertheless, the Joint Chiefs of Staff already are targeting the next president for spending increases that could amount to more than $30 billion a year for most of the next decade. This is an unprecedented peacetime demand by the Pentagon, requiring an increase in the defense budget that would exceed the budget of the entire intelligence community and is over 10 times greater than the budget of the State Department. The Pentagon complains that military spending is currently about 35 percent lower in real terms than during the peak years of spending in 1985 and 1986. But defense spending must be measured against the efforts of potential adversaries and allies, and not even the Pentagon can describe a threat that justifies huge increases in defense spending.
Although defense spending will increase by nearly $20 billion this year and an additional $11 billion next year, the overall budget for diplomatic operations has declined. The State Department budget ($2.3 billion) is smaller than the budget for the CIA ($3 billion). The operational budget for all diplomatic activity (which includes assessments to international organizations, disaster relief, and food aid) is far smaller ($17 billion) than the budget for the intelligence community ($30 billion). And because diplomatic activity is not considered part of the national security budget, diplomacy must compete with such agencies as the Commerce and Justice to gain additional funds. All domestic departments are facing downward spending trends and such congressional stalwarts as Rep. John Kasich (R-Ohio) have targeted the diplomatic account for continued cutbacks.
The spending problem at the State Department is so bad that a form of “Sovietization” is taking place in Foggy Bottom. The State Department is lacking foreign service officers for more than 300 overseas positions and, since the CIA is overfunded and overstaffed, it has begun filling these overseas positions, moving intelligence officers into State Department slots. Similarly, there are more military attachs than political officers in our embassy in Moscow. When the former Soviet Union faced a similar budget problem in the late 1970s and 1980s, the KGB began to assign its personnel to fill foreign ministry slots overseas. Mikhail Gorbachev moved smartly in 1985 to correct this situation, but the Clinton administration and the Office of Management and Budget have done nothing to reverse this trend. Neither has Congress.
On May 7, 1999, a U.S. B-2 Stealth bomber skimmed over Yugoslavia and dropped three bombs on a building in downtown Belgrade. The direct hit killed three people and wounded 20 others. The bombing might have been a victory for NATO if the building had actually turned out to be the Yugoslav arms agency headquarters the Stealth pilots thought they were blowing up. Instead, though, NATO leaders later learned that the so-called arms agency was in fact, the Chinese embassy. It was a diplomatic crisis of international proportions, even eclipsing the U.S. bombing of the Shifa pharmaceutical factory in Khartoum–which the Clinton administration had originally claimed was being used by terrorist Osama Bin Laden.
The bombing of the Chinese embassy can be attributed to the faulty work of the National Imagery and Mapping Agency (NIMA), a combat-support intelligence agency that absorbed the CIA’s independent imagery analysis several years ago. Breakdown in communication between the Pentagon and the CIA also contributed to the target mix-up. The Pentagon had virtually exhausted all strategic targets in Serbia and turned to the CIA for additional operational missions, a task for which the agency is not suited. The bombing of the pharmaceutical plant was due to inadequate collection and insufficient vetting measures at the CIA.
The CIA director is supposed to be the resource manager for the National Foreign Intelligence Program (NFIP), but most of the NFIP budget is spent by agencies that are part of Defense. The Defense Department manages the National Security Agency, which is responsible for electronic eavesdropping; the National Reconnaissance Office, which coordinates the management of surveillance satellites; the Defense Intelligence Agency, which conducts military intelligence analysis; and NIMA, which is now responsible for analysis of all satellite photography. Former deputy secretary of defense and former director of central intelligence John Deutch, who is now under investigation at the Justice Department, was primarily responsible for politicizing and realigning imagery resources.
Thus, the United States is now dependent on the Defense Department for the analysis of satellite imagery, which is instrumental in decision-making regarding weapons procurement and the deployment of force. It was to avoid such a monopoly that President Harry Truman created a central intelligence agency outside of the policy process in the first place.
Since the end of the Cold War, many of America’s closest allies have complained about the rise of American unilateralism, particularly the tendency for Washington to make decisions without regard to the interests of its allies or the rest of the world. America’s partners have been offended by the restrictions that the United States has tried to apply to trade with Cuba and Iran, often in violation of international law. The United States has not funded its fair share of the budgets of the United Nations, the International Monetary Fund, and the World Bank. And the U.S. acted alone in denying Boutros Boutros-Ghali a second term as U.N. Secretary General.
The charge of unilateralism goes deeper, however. The allies have become particularly concerned with the increased influence of the military in the making of foreign policy. The military’s open disdain and hostility toward the president in Clinton’s first term was particularly reprehensible. But the long-term trend is even more worrisome with the increased politicization of the military’s officer corps and the loss of self-restraint among retired general officers who openly identify and participate on the side of one political party. Again, it appears that one of the unintended consequences of Goldwater-Nichols legislation in 1986 was to reduce civilian influence in the office of the secretary of defense and give the Joint Chiefs too much influence over its civilian advisors.
The war in Kosovo led to allied criticism of U.S. actions and a European decision to create its own rapid reaction force to deal with military intervention on the continent. France and Germany took major exception to America’s strategic bombing in Serbia, particularly the attacks on the bridges across the Danube River and Serbia’s economic infrastructure. The British general in charge of NATO forces in Kosovo actually disobeyed an order from NATO’s supreme commander, who unwisely wanted to evict Russian troops from their surprise takeover of the main airfield in Kosovo. As a result of these differences, our closest NATO and European allies are trying to tighten America’s national security leash.
To get out of this mess, Clinton’s successor should rewrite the rules of the policy process in order to enhance the State Department’s diplomatic role, restore the integrity and independence of the CIA’s analysis, and limit the Pentagon’s influence over national security policy. We must reverse the process that has made the United States militarily expansionist and diplomatically isolationist. The Pentagon does not have the personnel or the treasury to maintain the operational tempo of the past 10 years. Nor is it in our national interest to have it do so.
Diplomatic solutions to major problems elude us when we resort too quickly to use of military instruments. Ten years after Desert Storm, we are still regularly bombing Iraqi targets and providing assistance to a pathetic Iraqi opposition group based in London. More recently, the Clinton administration endorsed $1.3 billion in assistance–nearly all military aid–for Colombia, intervening in that nation’s civil war and making it the third-largest recipient of U.S. military aid. The promise of a green light for ballistic missiles and a red light for the nuclear test ban treaty points to another arms race in the near future. The U.S. is demonstrating that if the only tool in the toolbox is a hammer, then all of our problems will soon look like nails.
Melvin Goodman, a professor of international security at the National War College and senior fellow at the Center for International Policy, is co-author of An American Fantasy: The Pursuit of National Missile Defense