“Do you think Soviet leaders really fear us, or is all the huffing and puffing just part of their propaganda?” President Reagan asked his Ambassador to the Soviet Union, Arthur Hartman in early 1984, according to declassified talking points from the Reagan Presidential Library. President Reagan had pinpointed the question central to the 1983 War Scare. That question was key to the real-time intelligence reporting, the retroactive intelligence estimates and analyses of the danger, and it remains the focus of today’s continuing debate over the danger and lessons of the so-called “Able Archer” War Scare.
Some, such as Robert Gates, who was the CIA’s deputy director for intelligence during the War Scare, have concluded, “After going through the experience at the time, then through the postmortems, and now through the documents, I don’t think the Soviets were crying wolf. They may not have believed a NATO attack was imminent in November 1983, but they did seem to believe that the situation was very dangerous.” Others, such as the CIA’s national intelligence officer for the Soviet Union, Fritz Ermarth, wrote in the CIA’s first analysis of the War Scare, and still believes today, that because the CIA had “many [Soviet] military cook books” it could “judge confidently the difference between when they might be brewing up for a real military confrontation or … just rattling their pots and pans.”
“Huffing and puffing?” “Crying wolf?” “Just rattling their pots and pans?” While real-time analysts, retroactive re-inspectors, and the historical community may be at odds as to how dangerous the War Scare was, all agree that the dearth of available evidence has made conclusions harder to deduce. Some historians have even characterized the study of the War Scare as “an echo chamber of inadequate research and misguided analysis” and “circle reference dependency,” with an overreliance upon “the same scanty evidence.”
To mark the 30th anniversary of the War Scare, the National Security Archive is posting, over three installments, the most complete online collection of declassified U.S. documents, material no longer accessible from the Russian archives, and contemporary interviews, which suggest that the answer to President Reagan’s question — were the Soviets “huffing and puffing” or genuinely afraid? — was both, not either or.
On Sunday evening, Dr. Kenneth Waltz passed away at the age of 88. Waltz is best known for his books Man, the State, and War and Theory of International Politics. The first book set the terms on which researchers would approach the study of international relations, dividing theories between first image (individuals and human nature), second image (regime type, such as communist or democratic), and third image (systemic effects). Waltz himself preferred the third; Theory of International Politics formed the basis of Waltz’ answer to what he believed was the most important question of international relations: “Why do balances recur?” His answer: states in anarchy, whether communist, capitalist, or monarchist, sought security, and most readily found that security through balancing behavior.
Waltz hardly believed that states and individuals didn’t matter, as he regularly engaged in policy recommendation. Rather, he believed that systemic factors, largely beyond the reach of states and statesmen, explained the most important international phenomena. In part because of his belief in the robustness of balancing tendencies, Waltz had little patience with what he regarded as unnecessary military interventions. The United States would not lose the Cold War because it lost Vietnam; rather, we would expect that other states in the neighborhood would balance against Soviet, Chinese and Vietnamese power, and even that the three communist states would balance against one another. The developing relationship between Washington and Hanoi, based on concerns about China, vindicates this belief. Similarly, Waltz warned against America’s pointless war in Iraq.
America’s leading Islamic organization took to the airwaves today in outrage after a local news station confirmed rumors that the deceased Boston Marathon bomber had accidentally been interred in a Confederate military cemetery…
As part of the error, Private Jesse Wilson of the 27 Virginia Volunteer Infantry Regiment is now buried in Tsarnaev’s grave at Al-Barzakh cemetary, oriented southeast towards Mecca. Though annoyed, his descendants also said they were willing to leave him where he is. “As long he’s not facing north, we’re fine,” said great-great grandson John Wilson.
Reactions by Tsarnaev’s family were equally indignant. “We don’t see why Tamerlan should have to be buried with these men,” a family spokesman complained. “He did something very stupid, but because of his burial location the Tsarnaev name will now be forever linked with militant treason,” he said.
In a related story, the United Daughters of the Confederacy has put out a press release welcoming Tsarnaev as “another fine outstanding young man who fought the tyranny of the federal government.”
It is with great sadness that I note that Kenneth Waltz, author of Man, the State, and War and Theory of International Politics, has passed away. Waltz’ importance to the discipline of international relations is immeasurable; MSW and TIP helped establish the frameworks under which political scientists would study IR for nearly four decades, even for those who bitterly disagreed with his perspective. Even now, Waltz’ work remains a crucial touchstone. While I never met Waltz, his work had an enormous amount of influence on how I think about international relations.
A couple days ago I sat down with Dr. Paul Mitchell of the Canadian Forces College to talk Canadian military and procurement policy. We went on a bit about general issues of Canadian strategy, followed that up with a long discussion of Canada’s relationship to the F-35 project, moved on to a discussion of the future of naval aviation, and concluded with a few words about Canadian perspectives on the “Pacific Pivot.”
But Hugh’s question is an interesting one to consider. I suspect that even in the bleakest, Children of Men-style population scenarios, most countries would fight to the bitter end before surrendering their sovereignty. The exception might be places like Ukraine that have a relatively recent experience as part of a larger geopolitical entity and a large ethnic population with ties to a neighboring country.
A country couldn’t be liquidated quite as neatly as a company — even if the state goes away, there’s still a chunk of land and some people living on it to deal with. The main obstacle to countries being “dissolved” may be that other countries may not want to take on the responsibility of dealing with them — what country really wants to take on a new sparsely populated, economically stagnant region?
States can survive with remarkably low population densities, especially with modern transportation and communications technology. However, social institutions designed around the concept of stable or increasing populations got troubles. A relatively free immigration/emigration regime can resolve these issues for some countries while at the same time exacerbating them for others.
There are certainly upsides to living in a continent-spanning state. The prairie and the rust belt can depopulate themselves (although some of the aforementioned institutional problems crop up) without fundamentally unsettling the social contract.
But what if even the leaders of states don’t know how they’ll react to certain events? A recent International Organization article by Jonathan Mercer investigated the role of emotion in decision-making. Although the theory is somewhat complicated, the argument boils down to the idea that we use our own emotional reactions to events as evidence of our interests and preferences. A classic experiment along these lines involves a coin flip, with heads deciding one course of action and tails the other. By flipping a coin, you determine whether you’re happy or sad about the outcome; accordingly, you know which path you really prefer.
Mercer argues that the leadership of the United States sent costly signals of disinterest in the fate of South Korea, withdrawing all forces and de-emphasizing the possibility of intervention in case of a North Korean attack in 1950. When the attack came, however, U.S. leaders had an unexpected emotional reaction of alarm, which led to concern about how the rest of the world would interpret inaction. As Mercer points out, U.S. policymakers used their own sense of shock and alarm as evidence that the world would see the United States as weak. Consequently, the United States intervened in contravention of its own expectations.
Disclosure: Mercer was my dissertation advisor at UW. It’s interesting work, and I recommend reading the full article.
The U.S. Supreme Court, in a shocking decision, declared the U.S. Air Force unconstitutional earlier today.
In a 5-4 decision, the high court mandated a complete redistribution of personnel, equipment, and funds, “in a more constitutionally permissible manner….”
The majority, led by Justice Antonin Scalia, reasoned: “This question is very simple. We must look to the text of the Constitution. That text is clear by its absence. The Constitution, despite establishing the Army and Naval Forces, says absolutely nothing about the Air Force. Our inquiry must end there.”
In a concurring opinion, Justice Kennedy elaborated, “the constitution is remarkably silent about any militarized air units. And it is not as if the drafters of the Constitution were unaware of flight. Lighter than air and dirigible technology were around at the time the constitution was written. If the founders knew about these things and did not enumerate Congress with the power to create an Air Force, we must assume that this is a power retained by the States as per the 10th Amendment.”
Does anyone know of any good work on competition/conflict between the Army and the Navy in either the Civil War or the Spanish-American War? Most of the extant work on inter-service conflict treats it as a 20th century phenomenon, generated by the expansion of warfare into the third dimension, but it seems likely to me there were instances of conflict in prior wars. Would appreciate any suggestions in comments.