The Cepia Club Blog

The Cepia Club Blog: The Cepia Club believes individual awareness and activism can lead to a peaceful and prosperous world. This blog contains the pertinent literature, both creative and non-fiction, produced by the Cepiaclub Director and its associates.

Friday, December 04, 2009

Review of NSC-68 and the Retrospective Anniversary Edition

Review of: NSC-68: Forging the Strategy of Containment, with Analyses by Paul H. Nitze. S. Nelson Drew, ed. Washington D.C., Fort Lesley J. McNair: National Defense University, 1994.
By Tim Krenz

This 45th anniversary edition of one of the most significant national policy statements in the history of America contains many of the relevant documents to the larger story behind it—Presidential directives ordering the study, source materials tracking the drafting and revisions, and some 1994, post-Cold War analyses by the paper's primary author, Paul H. Nitze. National Security Council [paper]--68, NSC-68 as it is known, defined in broad strokes the course of an unified American political, economic, foreign and defense “national grand strategy” in the Cold War from Truman's approval of the study in 1950 until the whimpering last breathless gasp of the Soviet Union in December 1991.
In historical context, the need for NSC-68 arose from the disordered hodgepodge of speeches, programs, legislation, reports, summaries, and memorandums within the US Government from the period 1943-50 forming American policies in the immediate post-World War II decade. The logic behind US policies in that short period recognized an existential threat to the US, both at home and abroad. The threat arose from the policies of repression, murder, consolidation and expansionism of the Soviet Union under their Communist-Bolshevik leader, Josef Stalin. The many documents contributing to US policies ranged from George Kennan's “Sources of Soviet Conduct;” the Acheson-Lilienthal report; President Truman's “doctrine” speech to a joint session of Congress; the Clark-Elsey Report (which disappeared); George C. Marshall's speech at Harvard announcing the plan that bore his name; and even (most interestingly) in the paranoid scribblings of Secretary of Defense James V. Forrestal's diaries.
Soviet foreign policy in last two years of its war-time alliance with the United States and Great Britain, and in the five years after the defeat of Nazi Germany to the approval of NSC-68, combined military threats short of war, disinformation and propaganda offensives, occupied Eastern European countries under satellite governments, and subversive affiliate clients around the globe. The disconnected attempts by the US Government to state a clear and single strategy to address the exceptional threat posed by the Soviet Union lacked focus that would apply US advantages and compensate for American weaknesses, in all the relevant fields of national policy—political, economic, societal, and cultural.
In the late 1940s, a clear division appeared within US policy-making circles. First, one school believed the Soviets posed a traditional Great Power conflict of interest in tangible national interest (territory, natural resources, population, and sovereignty). This approach to understanding international politics is called “realism,” and Kennan was the godfather of it in the late 1940s.
On the other hand, a “theological-cult” [my term] believed the conflict was an ideological struggle that pitted one philosophical interpretation of life against the other, “unholy,” way of life: that of a socialist workers utopia run by an elite and privileged dictatorship ruling via fraud and force.
In the words of Nitze, the State Department Policy Planning Staff, who wrote the actual document, needed to draft a “gospel which lends itself to preaching” (quoted by Drew, ed., p. 4). America needed a summons to willful power “so that an intelligent popular opinion may be formed” [my italics]. In a national effort of unknown length and expense, consensus was required. A “national grand strategy” defines the political necessity of a policy and the expression of the objectives to be attained. Pursuing any grand strategy takes national political unity and the commitment of resources required required to act out and fulfill any policy. To quote NSC-68 itself, “Out of this common view will develop a determination of the national will and a solid, resolute expression of that will” (NSC-68, Foreign Relations of the United States, 1950, v. 1, p. 254).
The difference between the pragmatic “realists”of the Kennan-type and the “theological-cult” doctrine led by Nitze possesses more than a subtle difference. Kennan, who invented the approach he called “containment,” believed that a traditional balance of power strategy aptly applied only where the Soviet Union directly threatened American national interest, as in Europe, (but without any peace-time military alliances like NATO), would be able to conserve strength, provide for low-defense budgets, increase the Western standards of living, and press back Soviet aggression by applying firm resistance ONLY in critical areas. Eventually, the Soviet system of power would crumble of its own weight and its internal contradictions of some people more equal than others. Those captive masses in the Soviet system would reject poverty, slavery and lies in favor of Western-style values and prosperity, and thus withdraw willing and willful legitimacy and support from Communist governments.
The described “theologians” did indeed emphasize the values of America's way of life in the struggle but in unlimited ways against any and all communism—anywhere; this took out of the Cold War policy prudence to go to war only when necessary, and not go where defeat or even costly victory was irrelevant, like Southeast Asia. NSC-68 also called for strong, state-manipulation of the US and global economy to pay for massive conventional armaments, improved strategic nuclear forces, and interventionist policies and military assistance to any willing allies. In the end, NSC-68 was accepted by President Truman as he simultaneously declared a National Emergency on December 16, 1950. On that date, during the beginning of the Chinese intervention in the Korean War, Truman ordered the start of what would be the most expensive four-decade-long military program in peacetime in history, as requested in NSC-68. The militarization of American policy, encouraged and protected by a military-industrial-legislative complex, had begun. Outgoing President (and five-star general and hero) Dwight D. Eisenhower warned the US about such a dangerous combination of business, votes, and a large peacetime military before leaving his own two terms in office almost exactly ten years later.
As Nitze concluded in the NSC-68 anniversary retrospective, was the Cold War about traditional strategic concerns of national independence, economic resources, societal consent, and protection of the population? Or was it necessary to build such an awesome tool of material military power to protect the intangible “American way of life?” As rising conflicts in the Indian Ocean Area (Persian Gulf and Central Asia) emerge, similar questions arise today. Would the Cold War have been over sooner through traditional pragmatic national strategies without a large peacetime military, and by using a careful, concise power of choice ONLY when and where national destiny met the need for decisive action? These are always hard questions in history and the world awaits answers.


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