"While America Sleeps: Self-Delusion, Military Weakness, and the Threat to Peace Today"
Transcription of Audio Interview, December 20, 2000
Editor's Note: We have edited the interview in this transcription for clarity and readability.
JIM: Welcome back everyone. You’re listening to a special edition of the Financial Sense Newshour. Joining me in our Ask The Expert series is Frederick Kagan. He is a professor of military history at the U.S. Military Academy at West Point and the author of The Military Reforms of Nicholas I. He’s written numerous other scholarly and technical articles, including publications in the Wall Street Journal. His new book, written with his father, While America Sleeps: Self-Delusion, Military Weakness, and the Threat to Peace Today. Professor, welcome to the program.
FREDERICK KAGAN: Hi, Jim.
JIM: I want to start out with a statement that you made in the opening Preface of your book. You say, “America is in danger. We need to stop thinking and acting as though there will never be another war. We are now in that inter-war period. It’s up to us how long it will last.” Is that why you wrote While America Sleeps? Is this a wake-up call?
FREDERICK: Well, that’s what we hope it’ll be. We had the idea for the book after we had a conversation talking about some similarities that we saw between what happened to Britain in the inter-war years and what’s been going on in America since the end of the Cold War and it occurred to us that the similarities were kind of chilling. And so we thought that we’d look into it and as we looked into it we found that there were even more similarities than we’d thought. Considering what happened to Britain in 1939, we thought that we would try to put those similarities out so that the American people could be familiar with them and be aware of them and at least ask themselves if some of the warnings signs that we see might not be real.
JIM: Now looking at our history, we always seem to have, at least America loses the first battle, that’s a regular part of America’s way of war, the War of 1812, the Mexican War, WWI, WWII, and the Korean War. But today, Professor, the oceans that separate us from our enemies are no longer able to protect us from a world in an age of missiles and terrorism. Are circumstances different today?
FREDERICK: Well, I think so and it’s one of the reasons why we think this is really an urgent problem. Because I’m not sure that we will have the luxury of losing the first battle in the next war, which, as you point out, has been our tendency. I’m afraid that losing the first battle may expose us to, at the least, cost and consequences that would be far more sever than they have been in our previous wars where it was simply a matter of people dying unnecessarily, but then we were able to recover and mobilize our nation and bring more forces to bear and be able to win decisively. This time, I’m afraid, at the very least, it will be a lot more painful to do that and I’m afraid that we may end up seeing actual strikes on the American homeland.
JIM: You know, another lesson of history is, if we take a look at it, foreign policy, to be effective, has to be backed by sufficient military force. Otherwise it’s doomed to failure. In your book you point out when Great Britain disarmed itself after WWI, and as the U.S. has disarmed itself after winning the Cold War, it has made our foreign policy less effective.
FREDERICK: Well that’s absolutely right and one of the points that we’re trying to make very clearly in this book, as my father tried to make in his previous book, On The Origins of War, is that, in order to have a strong foreign policy you need to be able to back it with the military force that you would need in order to win. You really can’t deter an enemy who is determined to do you harm unless you have the armed force in existence that would be able to defeat him. That means that when you are in a dangerous world where lots of people are trying to do things that you don’t want them to be able to do, when you want to prevent them from doing those things you really have to be so strong militarily that they don’t even want to think about fighting with you. Because, otherwise, it’s very, very difficult to conduct a policy of deterrence, which is always our preferred policy since we would much rather not fight.
JIM: Now the purpose of your work, I assume, is to challenge the widely held belief by many in the U.S., particularly in government, policy makers, that the U.S. and its’ allies face no serious threats now and in the future. Is this myopic thinking on our part?
FREDERICK: I think it certainly is and one of the reasons why we chose to look at an inter-war period is because we think that we are in an inter-war period today. I mean, the alternative is kind of silly. The alternative is that there will never be another major war. It would be very nice to think that. It’s certainly a very attractive thought, but unfortunately, although people have been thinking and writing pretty much that for hundreds of years now, they’ve always been wrong. So I think what we’re trying to say is that you have to take as your assumption that human history is not altered fundamentally and there will be another large war. The only way that you can act intelligently in this circumstance is to understand that, to see that it would be desirable to hold that war off for as long as possible and to insure that when it does break out, we’ll be able to win it. That you can’t do if you focus only on the fact that right now there are no visible threats that are very dangerous to the United States.
JIM: You know there was a famous quote in your father’s book, The Origins of War, that George Will uses and I think it goes something like this: the only thing more constant in human history, talking about peace, is war itself. I hope I did your father credit. I’m not sure I quote that perfectly. I want to move on. Right now, the U.S. seems to be following a path that is remarkable to one taken by Great Britain, both in foreign policy and military policy. In your book you talk about, for example, not one weapon system has been put in service since 1991. We’ve expanded NATO to bring in other countries, but certainly we don’t have the capabilities of defending them. And the U.S. has already reached a point where armed forces are not capable of fighting two major regional competitors.
FREDERICK: Yeah, that’s all true. Although there have been upgrades in the armed forces, especially in the Navy and in the Air Force to some extent, to bring a lot of their systems to the same level as the best systems we had in 1991. They have not fielded any new combat airplanes. The Navy has not fielded any new type of ship, any new type of aircraft. The Army is still using the M-1 tank, the Bradley, the Apache helicopter and so forth. All of which were the technologies of really the 1970’s is when these things were first developed and then they were mostly fielded in the 1980’s and we haven’t brought very much new to bear. And that’s very similar to what the British had done in the inter-war years. We’ve had a lot of talk about a lot of technology that we want to field, but we haven’t actually fielded it and there’s always been a delay. There have always been reasons why we’ve put off procurement. In some cases it was said that the systems weren’t good enough. In some cases it was said that they were too expensive. Frequently it was simply said that we don’t need them right now. The problem is that the British did something very much like that with their army in terms of tanks and with their air force in terms of bombers and fighters, with the result that they actually never really did get around to fielding the new systems. So, by the time the next war rolled around, the British really don’t have a tank that’s able to take the field on anything like an equal basis with what the German’s have. They really don’t have bombers and fighters that can do what they need to do, except for the Spitfire, which was developed quite fortuitously and not as a result of any kind of long term plan. So that’s a parallel that we find very disturbing.
JIM: Now, you teach history at West Point. What do your peers at the college say?
FREDERICK: Well, I’ve spoken informally with some of my friends and it’s as you might expect, some agree, some don’t agree. Mostly people are very pleased that the issue is being raised and that people are trying to address this issue seriously and intelligently.
JIM: Because, I would think, if war does break out after all, it will be the military that fights it.
FREDERICK: That’s right and we are very conscious here of the America’s first battles argument. There was very excellent book, in fact, written by a couple of guys named Heller and Stoft called America’s First Battles which provides a little brief history of each of the first battles of our wars and we use that in our courses and we talk about this issues with the cadets. We mostly try to get them to understand how important it is to be thoughtful about this matter.
JIM: You know, Professor, unlike Britain, which had a potential ally of enormous power which could shift the balance of the force in a battle, the U.S. number one has no one to come to our aid and two with the advent of technology and the age of missiles, the next war could be fought on American soil.
FREDERICK: Well yes and that’s again, unfortunately, a parallel in some senses. Britain did come under aerial attack in the WWI, but the extent of the blitz that Britain faced in 1940 was really unprecedented. It really quite took people by surprise. The British reacted to it heroically but, on the other hand, if they had developed proper defensive systems against it in peacetime, they didn’t have to undergo that. The parallel that I see is with the debate over anti-ballistic missile systems and missile defense in general. Because, although it’s quite obvious that the technology to hit the United States from just about anywhere in the world is already in existence and it should be obvious to anyone that it will spread, because one technology has been created, it’s only a matter of time until it spreads all around the world to anyone who wants it. Despite all of that we still seem to be dithering on the subject of missile defense. We still seem not to be taking it seriously and imagining that we can put it off indefinitely. So, I’m afraid that again, even though the British did have the capability to build better defensive systems, they put it off and they ended up undergoing a fearsome bombing. I hope that the American people will never have to show their fortitude because their leaders have shown a lack of fortitude in peace time in terms of being willing to spend what was necessary on defense.
JIM: Let’s talk our readers through some of the similarities you write about in the book. I just found them absolutely remarkable, the similarities between Britain and the U.S. today. You begin, in the book, talking about Great Britain after WWI and the Prime Minister at that time, Lloyd George, abdicated Britain’s leadership role after the war was over Britain went through a rapid demobilization and the Prime Minister really looked upon the armed forces as more of a police force within the empire, much in the way that we look at our military today. One of his top, I believe was it a General Sir Henry Wilson, told him that we needed to cut military commitments that weren’t vital within the empire. Policy to appease Turkey, much as we appease China today, but the General was not effective in convincing the Prime Minister that the army was too small to carry out foreign policy. Why did they disarm so rapidly? Were they in economic straits? Because the force cut, particularly with British commitments around the world with their empire, were rather dramatic and draconian.
FREDERICK: Well, it is one of the differences between Britain and the United States now, in some sense, is that the British were in a much worse economic position than we have been. Although it’s interesting that, as they emerged from their war into a very serious economic predicament, we emerged from the end of the Cold War and went, almost immediately, right into a recession, which generated a lot of phrases about how this was an era of constrained resources and it was necessary for the military to have a peace dividend so that we would be able to focus on domestic economic problems. The difference is that the British economic problem was much more serious and sustained. Whereas we pulled out of our recession within a couple of years, the British really did have very serious economic constraints on their resources well into the 1920’s and even beyond that. To me that makes our behavior all the more reprehensible because we have continued to act as though it was necessary to focus on economic problems when the economic problems went away and we entered the largest economic boom in history. So I find it much easier to exculpate the British for their mistake in cutting the armed forces. At the same time, the debate between Lloyd George and Sir Henry Wilson, who was the Chief Interim General Staff, is a very interesting and enlightening debate because it goes on even today. The problem is that when the government feels it necessary to cut defense for domestic political reasons and then it can’t cut down the foreign policy commitments. Those [decisions] really aren’t determined by the President or the Prime Minister. Nations have interests because they have interests. You don’t get to decide what your interests are. When those interests require much larger armed forces than you choose to maintain, what happens is the military then says well we can’t execute the strategy. We need to execute, please curtail your commitments. But the politicians can’t curtail the commitments because they didn’t determine them in the first place. The result is almost always frustration on both sides and inadequate preparation all around.
JIM: Let’s talk about Lloyd George and Churchill laying out British foreign policy, and I want to talk about the 10-year plan because there are some similarities in terms of what we did with the Aspen Plan here in the U.S. They came up with a plan that they would not engage in any great wars over a 10-year period, they made that assumption, they would not alter any standards of their pre-war navy, [and] no naval construction was undertaken. Garrisons would be mainly used to defend India and Egypt. To save manpower they were going to rely on technology. Those were awfully naïve given the state of circumstances of the world at that time.
FREDERICK: Well, they certainly were. They came out of an ideological conviction that they had just fought the war to end all wars and that Germany was so badly defeated that it could not pose a threat again in the foreseeable future. Winston Churchill, who was so admirable in the 1930’s, was reprehensible in the 1920’s said I do not believe there is the slightest chance of a war against Japan in our lifetime. He said that as Secretary of the Treasury when he was trying to get the navy to cut it’s estimates. Later on he was to live to reap the whirlwind that he had sowed. I think that it is understandable when a nation has just come out of a very significant test of it’s national military power and its prowess successfully, to imagine that it will not be tested again forever. When a nation is so strong and so globally active and it looks around the world and it sees that there’s no one really who can hurt it except nations that are already allied to it, they say how can this possibly unravel on us? How can we possibly ever have to worry about a significant threat? Look at how weak Germany is. Look at how weak Italy is. Look at how the Soviet Union collapsed. These are all things that the British would point to in the 1920’s and now we’ve been doing the same thing. We’ve been saying look at how weak Iraq is, look the Soviet’s have collapsed, China’s not a threat, North Korea’s very weak. How can we ever possibly have a problem? Then the British also boasted of their technological superiority. They were the only country that really had effective tanks going into the 1920’s. They had an air force that was rapidly gaining predominance over any other. So they really were leading the way in terms of technology. The problem is they didn’t keep up the lead because they didn’t see the threats. Then, it turns out, that threats can emerge much more rapidly than you think and democratic nations tend to be a lot slower than dictatorships to be able to respond to those kinds of dangers.
JIM: Professor, one of the things that Britain began to be tested on, as it demobilized and cut its force, it began to be tested in the 1920’s, in Turkey, in other parts of the globe. Then, in the 1930’s it was evident to everybody that Britain was no longer a major military power. I wonder if you might just explain that as potential adversaries saw Britain, its unwillingness to commit to circumstances, it began to be challenged much more frequently as the U.S. is today.
FREDERICK: Well, it’s a little strong to say that Britain wasn’t a major military power in the 1930’s, it certainly was. It’s an interesting parallel. No one ever really disputed that Britain was a global power that Britain had enormous reserves of military strength that it could tap in wartime. What came to be tested was Britain’s will actually to mobilize those resources in order to prevent aggression. The course of British foreign policy after the first World War into the 1920’s and then especially in the 1930’s convinced Hitler and Mussolini and also the Japanese that Britain really wasn’t serious about actually opposing aggression. That Britain was not going to be willing to pay the price of maintaining armed forces in peacetime, or using them in even relatively small scale conflicts. This happened starting after the first World War with a crisis in Turkey which led to a direct conflict between British forces and the forces of Otto Turk, the Turkish revolutionary leader at the time, at the **Chernok Peninsula. The British managed to stare him down and they got a deal that was nothing like what they had said that they needed to have, but it was something that they could call a victory. Then, shortly after that, Mussolini ceased the island of Corfu** from Greece. The British really had said that they were going to insist that the matter be referred to the new League of Nations because they were determined to mobilize the League of Nations as an agency that would be able to maintain the peace. Mussolini didn’t want that to happen because he knew that he would lose in the League of Nations and so he insisted that it was an affront to Italy’s dignity to have such a matter considered in front of the League and the British backed down. That’s one of the reasons why the League of Nations was as irrelevant as it was. It’s not just that America didn’t join it, it’s also that they refused never to defend it. Refused ever to put any oomph into it’s statements. By the time of the economic crisis starting in 1929 when the militarists gained control in Japan they feel like they can pretty much overrun Manchuria and the British won’t do anything about it, and, of course, they’re absolutely right. The British let them get away with that and that really starts the whole process of what will ultimately lead directly to the second World War.
JIM: There was a comment you wrote in your book that when Hitler send his troops into Rhineland for the first 48 hours he was on pins and needles because he was worried had the French sent in troops or the British backed them, it could have stopped them.
FREDERICK: Yes, it would have been terrifically easy to stop Hitler at virtually any point prior to 1939. In the Rhineland crisis the armed might of France and Britain was enormously greater than that of Germany. During the crisis in Czechoslovakia, Czechoslovakian armed forces were actually not small and considering the terrain that the German’s would have had to deal with in 1938, if the British and the French had declared war and moved toward the frontier, Hitler really would’ve been in a pickle. That’s what makes that all the more tragic. Now, of course, why didn’t they do that? Well, one of the reasons why the French didn’t do it is because the British wouldn’t take the lead and by that point, for a variety of reasons, the French needed someone to lead them in the fight. The British wouldn’t do it because they felt that they didn’t have what it took both to do that and to defend their interests in the Far East and to deal with possible aggression by Mussolini in North Africa. In other words, because the British didn’t have the capability to respond in multiple theaters, something that is very parallel to our issue about whether we’re going to be able to fight two major theater wars simultaneously or not, that’s one of the things that paralyzed the British. It’s one of the reasons why they didn’t react when Mussolini ceased Ethiopia and it’s one of the reasons why they didn’t go into the Rhineland or advocate that the French do so because they felt like they might have been able to respond to that particular crisis, but it would have left them too exposed elsewhere. That’s the danger with not have that capability to deal with multiple possible threats.
JIM: All right Professor, I’m going to ask you to hang on. When we come back I want to talk about the parallels to America’s policy now since after winning the Cold War. You’re listening to the Financial Sense Newshour. My special guest is Professor Frederick Kagan. He is professor of Military History at the U.S. Military Academy at West Point. We’re talking about his new book, written with his father, While America Sleeps. We’ll return to that topic in just a moment.
JIM: Welcome back everyone as we continue our discussion with Frederick Kagan. He is a professor of Military History at the U.S. Military Academy at West Point. We’re talking about his and his father’s new book, While America Sleeps. Professor, let’s move on to America and, as we take a look at after winning World War II, one thing that we kind of broke away from in this country was we recognized, or we had a long-term strategy of containment, looking at the Cold War, and we were willing to make the commitment in policy of engagement.
FREDERICK: That’s true and that was a break with American tradition. It was made, in part, because of the clear and eminent threat of the Soviet Union and of Communism, which really seemed to threaten us from everywhere all at once. So, we really gave some serious thought to the matter and there were some very bright people really trying to figure out how to solve the problem. One of the things that I find very interesting is that if you take a look at NFC68, which was the document issued in 1950 to guide the containment strategy, a lot of it’s actually aimed at Communism, but a lot of it really resonates and really has to do with how important it is for America to remain engaged in the world in order to create a world environment that would be conducive to our interests and our way of life. It actually kind of saddens me that we decided in 1991 that that was no longer relevant, that we really needed to have a sharp departure from that, because I think in many ways, if you take out the anti-Communism from NFC68, what you have left is a pretty clear statement of what kind of foreign policy we should be following into the future.
JIM: After Vietnam we experienced a problem. A lot of American leaders wavered, particularly with all the ground forces and the number of killed in action. Under Carter, Soviet power grew bolder as we became weaker, but Carter was succeeded by Reagan who, I guess, understood, you know a lot of people say that he wasn’t very bright, but I think Reagan understood foreign policy very clearly, that if you are going to have one you have to have the strength to back it up.
FREDERICK: Well, I think that’s absolutely right. Of course the change did start under Carter. He had the advantage of watching the complete collapse of American foreign policy, the Soviet’s invaded Afghanistan, and the revolution in Nicaragua, the revolution in Iran and our whole global foreign policy really went up in smoke in 1979. That kind of concentrates your attention on what you’re doing. So, Carter actually started the arms buildup that Reagan inherited and, of course, Reagan, I think, saw things very simply and clearly. Some people say that’s not intelligent. I think, at least in this respect, what he saw very clearly were the clear realities of the situation and those were that if we were going to face the Soviet Union we had to be strong and I think he also saw, quite correctly, that we were in fact so strong in terms of our potential that we could outface them, if we really tried. He did. And the result of his arms buildup, I think, Gorbachov would never have become Premier or General Secretary of the Communist Party of the Soviet Union but for the Reaganomics buildup which convinced the Soviet’s themselves that they had to do something different if we were not simply going to defeat them out of hand.
JIM: Now, let’s move forward to the Gulf War. One of the things I was surprised in reading your book is Sadam Hussein invaded Kuwait, at first the generals were opposed to it, including Colin Powell, they wanted economic sanctions, the politicians were opposed to it, but the Secretary of Defense, Dick Cheney, and American President, President Bush, recognized there was a danger if we did nothing. That is, if it wasn’t stopped, we could face a war in the Middle East 2 or 3 years later and that could have been nuclear.
FREDERICK: I think that then Secretary Cheney and President Bush saw very clearly that the aggression that the Iraqi’s had perpetrated could not be allowed to stand. It couldn’t be allowed to stand, not just because of the issues of the Middle East, I remember seeing the signs around college, “No blood for oil” and people saying that this was a war about oil, well it was a war about oil in some sense, although, if you reflect on what it would mean for the Iraqi’s actually to control the Kuwaiti and possibly the Saudi oil fields, the consequences go beyond people paying higher prices at the gas pump. I think that Bush and Cheney really even saw beyond that and they saw that America can’t really live peacefully in a world where people simply choose to attack, invade and conquer their neighbors at will. That’s not the sort of world that we want and it’s not the sort of world that we can prosper in. So, I think that it was very hard for people to try to get any kind of message across to them that we should do anything other than resist it. And I think it’s a very good thing because people tried.
JIM: After winning the Cold War and the Gulf War, America began to demobilize after the war. There was a lot of talk, I can remember reading in financial periodicals about the peace dividend, but winning the Cold War was sort of confusing. There wasn’t one great battle for example that we won and the war was over and a peace treaty was signed. As a result of that, Professor, we didn’t seem to develop a coherent and appropriate strategy in terms of how to deal with this new international order that we found ourselves in.
FREDERICK: The really sad thing is that we started to develop a very intelligent and coherent strategy and then it was abandoned when Clinton took office. Secretary Cheney, working with his staff, Paul Wofowitz and Scooter Libby and others, developed a blue-print for American strategy that took its position saying because we defeated the Soviet Union, because we are so powerful relative to the next possible foe, this is an opportunity to consolidate that advantage. This is an opportunity, by not taking our eye off the ball, to continue to be secure indefinitely, really to be able to maintain peace and stability in the world indefinitely. He started to put out ideological basis for this. His principal opponent was Les Aspen, and Les Aspen would always come back in Congressional testimony that Cheney or Powell would testify about this principal and Les Aspen would say “Who’s the threat, who are we fighting, what do we need armed forces for? I’m looking at your strategy, General, and I don’t see any threat.” and the result of that was, of course, Les Aspen became Secretary of Defense when Clinton took office and he immediately set about the bottom up review of America’s armed forces and that proceeded automatically from an assumption that we didn’t have to worry about any kind of major war against a major opponent, virtually forever, and we only had to worry about major theater wars and there would only be two of them and it would be Iraq and North Korea and we would do all our force sizing on that principal, with the result that we could have a smaller armed force. Surprise, surprise. So, I think it was a real shame that, although Cheney started off really laying the groundwork for a very intelligent foreign policy, it was lobotomized when Les Aspen took over.
JIM: I want to come back to what they proposed at that time called the Base Force, because we now find ourselves with Cheney and Colin Powell in key positions in the new administration, but I want to move forward and talk about while the Aspen plan won out and we began to downsize our forces, he also came up with a theory of what type of force we would fight. But, during the Clinton administration the number of missions quadrupled. We had Somalia, which started out as kind of a humanitarian, became nation building. We had Haiti, Rwanda, Bosnia. We had problems with North Korea, Kosovo, China, Iraq. None of these had been executed successfully.
FREDERICK: Well, the amazing thing about them is that we have declared victory after virtually every one of them and that’s another parallel that we saw with Great Britain. That you have a series of crises that you go through and at the beginning of each crisis you lay out what your objective is and then you go through the crisis and in the course of the crisis you realize that, in order to achieve your objective, you’re going to have to come in with a lot more force than you had wanted to and so you start downgrading your objective and you start settling for less and less and less. And, at the end of the day, what you do is you simply define your objective to be whatever you can actually achieve. And so you achieve something, which is so far short of being your initial objective that anyone intelligent would call it a defeat, but you say well this was our objective, we achieved it, we won. Then you move on to the next. That’s even more pernicious than actually failing, because, at least when you openly fail there’s a recognition that something is wrong. What we’ve done is not only to fail in this succession of crises, but to convince ourselves and a lot of other people that we’ve been succeeding. The only people we haven’t been convincing are the people who wish us ill. I think what they’ve been seeing is that, in fact, we’re willing to accept a lot less than we really should be willing to accept.
JIM: Now, the result of that, Professor, is not only the proliferation of weapons of mass destruction, but also now why don’t you speak for a moment about Korea and **unscomp.
FREDERICK: Well, I think that again, if looking for parallels, our parallel there is with the Corfu** crisis. When the British wanted to support the League of Nations. Here what we wanted to do was to establish a principal that the United Nations and especially the International Atomic Energy Agency would be able to keep weapons of mass destruction from proliferating around the globe. The problem is, of course, the North Koreans desperately want to develop a nuclear device. It seems very clear that they had a very strong program in place to do that. In 1994 things really came to a head. We had evidence that the North Koreans had been cheating, that they were not in fact intending to comply with the nonproliferation treaty that they had signed and that they were going to keep the International Atomic Energy Agency from actually conducting inspections that were meaningful. We were, it looks like, almost ready to go to war in order to force them to accept the inspections and, of course I wasn’t there, I’m not sure exactly, I can’t be 100% sure of why things happened, all I know is apparently we had this plan and we were thinking about doing the plan and then there was a meeting at which Clinton was briefed about what the cost and consequences of such a role would be and the next thing you know we’re making a deal with the North Koreans instead of actually fighting them. I’m not saying that we necessarily should have gone to war in 1994, but what I am saying is the conclusion the North Korean’s clearly drew from that was that, as long as they make it look like it’s going to be very painful for us to do anything, we won’t do anything and we will simply bribe them. We bribed them with economic assistance and we’ve been bribing them with even giving them nuclear technology that won’t be useful, we hope, for developing weapons, but that will be tremendously useful for them anyway. And I think it’s a tremendously bad precedent to set.
JIM: Well, today we fire south with our enemies proliferating around the globe. We have more that are acquiring weapons of mass destruction and as you say we’re still dithering around whether we should have a missile defense system. I want to come back to something that was articulated by Secretary of Defense Cheney and Colin Powell after the Gulf War, and that was the Base Force. The reason I want to talk about that Professor, is because the two men that articulated the strategy are now Vice President and Secretary of State.
FREDERICK: Well, I’m not a big fan of the Base Force. I think, unfortunately, if you look at General Powell’s testimony to Congress where he was pressed very hard, at the time, about whether the Base Force would actually be able to fulfill the two major theater war strategy, he was pretty clear that it actually wasn’t going to be able to do that. I think if you look at it intelligently, it probably was still too small. I think it was a political calculation. I think that there was a feeling that we had to cut the armed forces, the country expected a peace dividend, it was going to be impossible to get a defense budget through Congress that didn’t have a peace dividend in it. And so, I think that General Powell was trying to head that off by coming up with something that he felt would be an intelligent cut. I think he cut too far. I thing it was probably a laudable goal to try to head off what was a worse cut, and the problem of course is that he failed, because the Base Force was taken as excessive by the Democratic administration that came in and then we’ve cut even further from the Base Force, so we don’t even have that force structure. I think it’s a shame. I would’ve preferred to see General Powell actually fight at that time for a force structure that actually would’ve been adequate and not try to compromise already to head off further compromise, it almost never works.
JIM: Well, Professor, take us to where we find ourselves today. It’s the year 2000. We’re heading into the next century. It’s more likely in the next decade we could find ourselves in a major conflict. We have no systems in place, and those systems have to be ready well in advance of a conflict. We have no Manchuria’s, no Hitler on the horizon. What does America need to do?
FREDERICK: We need to get ready. We have a strategy that says that we should be able to fight and win two major theater conflicts at the same time. It’s essential to maintain that strategy and I understand that there’s discussion about abandoning it. The problem with abandoning it is, if you have only a one major theater war capability, that’s really a no major theater war capability, because what you’re then asking the President to be prepared to do when a major crisis pops up is devote all of his ready resources to that crisis. Well, as we saw in Britain in the 1920’s and 1930’s, Democratic leaders are going to be reluctant to do that. It is much more likely that we will simply stay out of the conflict rather than run the risk that something else will pop up while we’re engaged in it. I think we need to expand the armed forces dramatically. I think we need to spend a lot of money on it. I understand that James Schlessinger had an editorial out today saying that we need to spend $100 billion more a year on defense. I think that’s absolutely right. I think, unless you’re talking about numbers like that, you’re just not serious about it, because not only are the armed forces too small now, but they don’t have the equipment that they need. And in order to both keep them large enough, keep them ready enough, which means fully funding training programs, and also transform them to be able to fight the sort of high tech, digital warfare that we think we’re going to have to fight in 10, 15, 20 years, is going to take a lot more money than anyone is currently talking about spending on defense. So, at the end of the day, this is going to end up being an issue of the pocket book. If we aren’t prepared to spend the money on it, there’s no way we can solve the problem.
JIM: And the less likely we are to spend more money, the more likely we are to face a war. Is there anybody Professor, in your opinion, on the political horizon, that understands the dangers that we now face?
FREDERICK: I think that Vice President Elect, Cheney, understands the dangers. He laid out a strategy in the early 1990’s that made it clear that he understood the issues then, and despite what he said during the campaign, which was very disheartening to me, I think that he really does understand the issue. And I hope that, since he doesn’t have to run for office now, and he’s actually in office, he will be able to educate the Bush team and he will be able to articulate the vision ,which he articulated tremendously well in the early 1990’s, and really lead us forward. I think, in terms of people who are active in the current political debate, he’s our best hope. I just hope that he will dust off the speeches that he made before Congress in the early 1990’s and take a good hard look at what he was laying out then and take a good hard look at what’s going on now and see that he really needs to reject a lot of his campaign rhetoric and go back to that touchstone.
JIM: Well, Professor, unfortunately we’ve run out of time, but I want to tell you what a great honor it is to have you on the program. I’ve named your book number one on my top ten books of the year, and I would say this, I hope everyone in Congress and every educated American in this country reads your book. Well done and well written.
FREDERICK: Thank you very much. It’s been a real pleasure.
JIM: All right, you have a good evening, sir. The name of the book, While America Sleeps: Self-delusion, Military Weakness, and the Threat to Peace Today, by Donald Kagan and Frederick Kagan. That will be my number one book on our top ten list for the year.