Throughout the cold war, the Soviet Union posed a threat to the very survival
of the United States. But with the cold war over, it is necessary to rethink
the risks to U.S. security. Conceptually, they can be arrayed in a hierarchy
from most dangerous to least dangerous. At the top of the hierarchy would be an
"A list" of threats to U.S. survival of the kind and scale that the Soviet
Union presented during the cold war. But this list is empty today: there are no
imminent military threats to the very survival of the United States. The two
"major regional contingencies" in the Persian Gulf and on the Korean peninsula
that undergird Pentagon planning and budgeting form a "B list" of imminent
threats to U.S. interests, but not to the survival or way of life of Americans.
The third place in this hierarchy is occupied by the Kosovos, Bosnias,
Somalias, Rwandas, and Haitis that compose a "C list" of important
contingencies that indirectly affect U.S. security but do not directly threaten
The emptiness of the A list is disorienting for Americans, who made the huge
transition from defeating aggression to deterring aggression after World War
II, but who now, in consequence, tend to conceive national security strategy
exclusively in terms of threats to be deterred or defeated. Thus the focus
tends to be on B-list and C-list threats. We believe, however, that long-range
strategic thinking about how to prevent the rise of new A-list threats is
sorely needed, and it is for that reason we have written this book.
Political and economic transformations now under way in Eastern Europe and the
former Soviet Union are unprecedented in their scale and scope. This vast
redistribution of political and economic power extends throughout Eurasia, and
includes the gradual emergence of China as a true world power. Meanwhile, the
nuclear, chemical, and biological weapons that made deterrence both dangerous
and necessary have not been fully dismantled, let alone disinvented, and they
now threaten to fall into the hands of unstable nations, groups, and
terrorists. Thus while threats of the traditional sort might be hard to find,
danger to the security of Americans is not.
However, in the years since the cold war ended, the evening news has given the
impression that the primary security challenges of the new era are those that
arise in remote places such as Kosovo, Bosnia, Rwanda, Haiti, and Somalia. For
many, these conflicts seem to define the national security dangers of the
post-cold war world. But in fact, these are third-order or C-list threats; they
are places and problems that do not threaten America's survival as World War II
and the cold war did. This is not to say that they are unimportant; we must
meet challenges such as Bosnia not only for humanitarian reasons, but to stop
the killing and atrocities before they undermine the foundations of regional
and international stability. However, a price is paid for such actions:
resources are diverted to military operations, and they demand the time and
attention of our national leaders. Because such C-list issues do not threaten
America's vital security interests, dealing with them individually or as
classes--peacekeeping, peacemaking, humanitarian operations, operations other
than war, and the like--cannot make up the core national security strategy of
the United States.
Nor can U.S. strategy be wholly determined by what we call B-list threats:
those that may threaten vital U.S. interests, but not America's survival. These
are the major regional contingencies -- specifically , the threat of Iraqi
aggression in the Persian Gulf and the threat of North Korean invasion of South
Korea -- around which the Pentagon must organize much of its military planning
and force structure. While a look at the newspapers suggests that the United
States places a high priority on peacekeeping and humanitarian operations, a
look at the defense budget shows the higher priority the United States places
on these regional wars. They constitute familiar cold war-like strategic
territory for Americans: clear and imminent threats, which must be deterred by
ready military forces.
If deterrence fails, the U.S. military is capable of inflicting a decisive
defeat on today's two potential regional aggressors. Saddam Hussein's Iraq is
militarily weaker today than it was in 1990, while U.S. forces are better
positioned to repel Iraqi aggression. North Korea still has the capability
to launch a horribly destructive war on the Korean peninsula, but the
capability of its collapsing economy and starving population to sustain the
campaign is far less than during the 1994 crisis over North Korea's nuclear
program. And, as in the Gulf, the posture of the United States and the
U.S.-Korean Combined Forces Command has been substantially improved.
The reason for the preoccupation of American strategy with these B-list and
C-list issues in the early post-cold war period has been the current unusual
and happy circumstance in which there is no A-list threat to the United States.
The Soviet Union is gone. Russia does not pose a conventional military threat
to Europe and shows little inclination to pose a nuclear threat to the United
States. Some Americans conjure up China as the enemy of the future, but China's
future role in the world will be influenced by contingencies over which U.S.
policy can exert some positive influence.
Thus, the United States is enjoying a period of peace and influence like it has
never had before. But while this should be savored by the public, foreign
policy and defense leaders cannot afford to be so complacent. A period of
absence of A-list threats must stretch us strategically; it calls for vision
and foresight to act strategically when events and imminent threats do not
compel us to do so. That should be the primary business of statecraft in the
post-cold war era.
The way to sharpen focus on the strategic requirements of our time is to ask
the questions, "How might the post-cold war era end?" "How can the United
Stares prolong this period of peace and influence?" "How can we ensure that if
it must end, it ends gracefully, without cataclysm?" and "What is the character
of the era that will follow it?" The answers to these questions define the
fundamental long-term strategic challenges of the post-cold war era.
Because the security strategy created to deal with the threats of the cold war
is not suitable for dealing with the dangers to our security in the
twenty-first century, we believe that the United States should now follow the
example of Truman, Marshall, and Acheson at America's last great strategic
transition: it should formulate a new security strategy appropriate for this
new world and should create the policies and programs capable of carrying out
that strategy. In essence, America has another chance to realize Marshall's
initial vision at the end of World War II: a world not of threats to be
deterred, but a world "united in peace, freedom, and prosperity." To realize
this vision, America should return to a prevention strategy like that embodied
so successfully in the Marshall Plan: a strategy of Preventive Defense.
Preventive Defense is a defense strategy for the United States in the
twenty-first century that concentrates national security strategy on the
dangers that, if mismanaged, have the potential to grow into true A-list-scale
threats to U.S. survival in the next century, bringing the current era to an
abrupt and painful end. These dangers are not yet threats to be defeated or
deterred; they are dangers that can be prevented.
We argue that developing and implementing a strategy of Preventive Defense is
the most important mission of today's national security leaders and defense
establishment. They must dedicate themselves to Preventive Defense at the same
time they deter lesser but existing threats--in Iraq and North Korea--and
conduct selected peacekeeping and humanitarian missions--in Bosnia, Haiti,
Rwanda, and so on--where conflict threatens long term interests.
In the first five chapters of this book, we focus on the five dangers that we
believe have the potential to become A-list threats to U.S. and international
security in the twenty-first century. These are the targets of Preventive
Defense; its goals are to keep these dangers from becoming major threats. We
define these dangers as follows:
--that Russia might descend into chaos, isolation, and aggression as Germany
did after World War I;
--that Russia and the other Soviet successor states might lose control of the
nuclear legacy of the former Soviet Union;
--that China could grow hostile rather than becoming cooperatively engaged in
the international system;
--that weapons of mass destruction will proliferate and present a direct
military threat to the United States;
--that "catastrophic terrorism" of unprecedented scope and intensity might
occur on U.S. territory.
We devote a chapter to each of these dangers, beginning each with an
illustrative tale drawn from our time in office and then offering an analysis
of the issues and a set of Preventive Defense prescriptions for U.S. policy.
However, Preventive Defense could fail and any of these dangers become A-list
threats. Therefore the United States will continue to need a strong military on
into the twenty-first century, and so chapter 6 addresses the management issues
of keeping it so.
Harking back to the disastrous failures of the international community in
dealing with Germany after World War I, we focus attention on the risk of
parallel developments in post-Soviet Russia. A primary goal of Preventive
Defense is to help Russia establish a self-respecting place for itself in the
post-cold war world and to establish a stable security order on the territory
of the former Warsaw Treaty Organization states. In chapter 1 we tell the story
of how we sought to forward these ends by "defense diplomacy," engaging Russia
in mutually beneficial cooperative efforts and particularly in the NATO-led
international peacekeeping force sent to Bosnia to enforce the Dayton Accords.
Such defense diplomacy grows even more important as the "honeymoon" phase of
the post-cold war "partnership" with Russia ends, the Yeltsin era draws to a
close, and a more difficult era begins.
Failure to reduce and secure the deadly legacy of the cold war -- nuclear,
chemical, and biological weapons in Russia and the rest of the former Soviet
Union -- could quickly resurrect a top priority A-list threat if these weapons
were to fall into the hands of disaffected custodial personnel,
rebellious actions, rogue regimes, or terrorists. In chapter 2, we relate the
history and successes of the Nunn-Lugar Cooperative Threat Reduction program
and other efforts to control the lethal legacy of the cold war. But our success
so far is only small comfort in view of the sheer size of that legacy and its
longevity: plutonium, for example, has a half- life of twenty four thousand
years, an eternity in Russian politics. As Russia enters the second post-cold
war era, arms control has been at an impasse, and threat reduction programs
such as Nunn-Lugar need reinvention and reinvigoration.
Chapter 3 argues that the United States must act to help shape the course of
China's rise to Asian superpower status so that it emerges in future decades as
a partner rather than an adversary. Failure here would lead to the Pacific's
greatest danger. We give a glimpse of that danger by describing the 1996 crisis
over China's missile firings into the waters around Taiwan. The Clinton
administration has called for a strategy of "engagement" in the U.S.-China
relationship that reflects the principles of Preventive Defense, but engagement
needs specific content if it is to be more than just a diplomatic slogan.
Chapter 3, therefore, outlines content for U.S. engagement with China based on
Preventive Defense principles.
The spread of weapons of mass destruction (WMD) has always been regarded as a
cardinal danger to international peace and security, but the nature of
proliferation is now sharpening from diplomatic problem to direct military
threat to the United States and its interests. Potential opponents in regional
conflicts are amassing weapons of mass destruction in an attempt to sidestep
U.S. conventional military forces, which they cannot hope to defeat in
head-to-head "symmetric" warfare. The U.S. military therefore needs to develop
counters to "asymmetrical" threats like weapons of mass destruction. In chapter
4, we describe the way the proliferation danger nearly became a direct threat
on the Korean peninsula in 1994 and our efforts to promote military
countermeasures in the so-called Counterproliferation Initiative. But this
effort to equip the U.S. military for asymmetrical warfare is only beginning;
chapter 4 charts the next steps.
The widening availability of destructive technology and the growing complexity
and consequent vulnerability of twenty-first century societies suggest that
terrorism might make a quantum leap in the decades ahead, from airline
hijacking, ordinary explosives, and hostage taking to attack with nuclear,
chemical, biological, and cyber weapons of enormous destructiveness. Terrorism
with such weapons could cross borders as easily as people, goods, and capital
do, bringing the threat directly to the U.S. homeland for the first time. To
many, the end of the cold war implied that threats to U.S. personnel and
interests would be remote, taking place in Europe, the Persian Gulf, or the
Korean Peninsula. However, this threat has the potential to change Americans'
perception of their security within their own homeland and thus to change our
society itself; we therefore term this specter "catastrophic terrorism." It is
a military-scale threat divorced from the traditional context of foreign
military conflict, and this is entirely new in American experience.
Catastrophic terrorism challenges the U.S. government to invent a new security
structure from the bottom up. Chapter 5 reports the results of an effort, with
our colleagues John M. Deutch and Philip Zelikow, to lay the first bricks in
We have argued that the end of the cold war has induced a false sense of
comfort that the dangers to American security are confined to the B-list and
C-list threats that have dominated the headlines in the last decade of the
twentieth century. There is growing evidence that the absence of imminent
A-list threat might also lull the United States into sloppy and wasteful
mismanagement of its defense establishment. We call the danger of such
mismanagement "the threat within." Chapter 6 describes this threat and the
actions already taken to overcome some of its consequences. However, we argue,
a new effort is needed. The United States must have a strong military to cope
with continuing B-list and C-list contingencies, and a strong military will be
even more essential if Preventive Defense strategies are not able to keep
future threats from emerging.