Article — From the October 2002 issue
SIGN IN to access Harper’s Magazine
Need to create a login? Want to change your email address or password? Forgot your password?
1. Sign in to Customer Care using your account number or postal address.
2. Select Email/Password Information.
3. Enter your new information and click on Save My Changes.
Subscribers can find additional help here. Not a subscriber? Subscribe today!
Article — From the October 2002 issue
The Gulf War temporarily reduced the pressure to cut military spending. It also diverted attention from some of the Plan’s less appealing aspects. In addition, it inspired what would become one of the Plan’s key features: the use of “overwhelming force” to quickly defeat enemies, a concept since dubbed the Powell Doctrine.
Once the Iraqi threat was “contained,” Wolfowitz returned to his obsession with the Soviets, planning various scenarios involving possible Soviet intervention in regional conflicts. The failure of the hard-liner coup against Gorbachev in August 1991, however, made it apparent that such planning might be unnecessary. Then, in late December, just as the Pentagon was preparing to put the Plan in place, the Soviet Union collapsed.
With the Soviet Union gone, the United States had a choice. It could capitalize on the euphoria of the moment by nurturing cooperative relations and developing multilateral structures to help guide the global realignment then taking place; or it could consolidate its power and pursue a strategy of unilateralism and global dominance. It chose the latter course.
In early 1992, as Powell and Cheney campaigned to win congressional support for their augmented Base Force plan, a new logic entered into their appeals. The United States, Powell told members of the House Armed Services Committee, required “sufficient power” to “deter any challenger from ever dreaming of challenging us on the world stage.” To emphasize the point, he cast the United States in the role of street thug. “I want to be the bully on the block,” he said, implanting in the mind of potential opponents that “there is no future in trying to challenge the armed forces of the United States.”
As Powell and Cheney were making this new argument in their congressional rounds, Wolfowitz was busy expanding the concept and working to have it incorporated into U.S. policy. During the early months of 1992, Wolfowitz supervised the preparation of an internal Pentagon policy statement used to guide military officials in the preparation of their forces, budgets, and strategies. The classified document, known as the Defense Planning Guidance, depicted a world dominated by the United States, which would maintain its superpower status through a combination of positive guidance and overwhelming military might. The image was one of a heavily armed City on a Hill.
The DPG stated that the “first objective” of U.S. defense strategy was “to prevent the re-emergence of a new rival.” Achieving this objective required that the United States “prevent any hostile power from dominating a region” of strategic significance. America’s new mission would be to convince allies and enemies alike “that they need not aspire to a greater role or pursue a more aggressive posture to protect their legitimate interests.”
Another new theme was the use of preemptive military force. The options, the DPG noted, ranged from taking preemptive military action to head off a nuclear, chemical, or biological attack to “punishing” or “threatening punishment of aggressors “through a variety of means,” including strikes against weapons-manufacturing facilities.
The DPG also envisioned maintaining a substantial U.S. nuclear arsenal while discouraging the development of nuclear programs in other countries. It depicted a “U.S.-led system of collective security” that implicitly precluded the need for rearmament of any kind by countries such as Germany and Japan. And it called for the “early introduction” of a global missile-defense system that would presumably render all missile-launched weapons, including those of the United States, obsolete. (The United States would, of course, remain the world’s dominant military power on the strength of its other weapons systems.)
The story, in short, was dominance by way of unilateral action and military superiority. While coalitions — such as the one formed during the Gulf War — held “considerable promise for promoting collective action,” the draft DPG stated, the United States should expect future alliances to be “ad hoc assemblies, often not lasting beyond the crisis being confronted, and in many cases carrying only general agreement over the objectives to be accomplished.” It was essential to create “the sense that the world order is ultimately backed by the U.S.” and essential that America position itself “to act independently when collective action cannot be orchestrated” or in crisis situations requiring immediate action. “While the U.S. cannot become the world’s ‘policeman,’ ” the document said, “we will retain the preeminent responsibility for addressing selectively those wrongs which threaten not only our interests, but those of our allies or friends.” Among the interests the draft indicated the United States would defend in this manner were “access to vital raw materials, primarily Persian Gulf oil, proliferation of weapons of mass destruction and ballistic missiles, [and] threats to U.S. citizens from terrorism.”
More from David Armstrong: