What is the object of limited war, and how is that object to be attained? Karl von Clausewitz wrote, “No war is begun, or at least no war should be begun if people acted wisely, without first finding an answer to the question: what is to be attained by and in war?” Since war is a continuation of politics by other means, how shall we conduct war in order to achieve the goals of our policy? If wars end either in victory for our side, in stalemate, or in defeat for our side, which outcome best serves the ends of our policy?
In order to determine which outcome of war best serves our policy, we must examine the nature of that policy. What are our security objectives in the face of expansionist Communism?
President Harry S. Truman stated on 12 March 1947, “It must be the policy of the United States to support free peoples who are resisting attempted subjugation by armed minorities or by outside pressures.” Thus, our minimum security objectives include not only our own national independence, but also that of many other countries, especially those which cherish democratic political institutions. Therefore, our response to the Communist enslavement of several European and Asian countries has been to adopt a policy of containment.
We do not like the role of world policeman, but to ignore what happens in other lands would be to hasten the day when, after having brought that 94 per cent of the world’s population lying outside the United States under their control, the Communists would come knocking on the door of America. Though we could, for a while, close our eyes to whatever happened in other lands, and though counterinsurgency in the Western Hemisphere might be easier than in the far-off rice paddies of Asia, it would be wiser to win over there, if we can, while we still have the option of keeping enemy at a distance.
Whether we like it or not, and whether we are ready for it or not, the future will probably hold for us many more limited wars and counterinsurgencies. The question of whether we should fight these future wars is irrelevant, for we have existing treaty obligations to do so, and our national interest is served by keeping aggression at a distance. The real questions are: how shall we fight? Shall we win or lose? Will the enemy regret his aggression more than we will regret having honored our treaty obligations?
Thus far we have been able to deter general war, but we have not yet developed a deterrent for the limited war, which constitutes an attempt to outflank our strategic power. Limited wars confront us with two difficult problems: how do you keep the war limited, and how do you successfully fight the limited war? We have learned how to limit war’s intensity, but we have not yet learned how to fight successfully the limited war so as to achieve our goals.
In order to keep a war limited, must we accept stalemate as the best condition obtainable? General Douglas MacArthur phrased his objection to stalemate this way . . . you would have a continued and indefinite extension of bloodshed, which would have . . . a limitless end. You would not have the potentialities of destroying the enemy’s military power and bringing the conflict to a decisive close in the minimum of time and with a minimum of loss.” It is not good enough to say that we have a strategy for fighting limited war. We must have a strategy for winning a limited war. Prolonged indecision is no substitute for victory.
Closely related to stalemate is the attempt to measure our success against Asian Communists by some kind of body count or attrition factor, but a conventional ground war on the continent of Asia involves us in a man- against-man situation with too many advantages on the side of the enemy. With the largest population in the world, and in an area of the world where life is cheap, the Asian Communists can be profligate with manpower, and trade bodies with us indefinitely. Lenin wrote, “A communist. . . must evaluate war not by the number of its casualties, but by its political consequences ... if the war serves the interests of the proletariat ... it is progress irrespective of the victims and the suffering it entails.”
The fundamental object in going to war must be to ensure the successful continuation of our policies in the face of the enemy’s determination to pursue a contrary policy. Victory consists of changing the contrary will of the enemy into one of compliance with our will. The object in war is to attain a better peace, but without a theory of military victory, we will not be able to get a decent negotiated settlement.
Clausewitz wrote, “If our opponent is to be made to comply with our will, we must place him in a situation which is more oppressive to him than the sacrifice we demand. Every change in this position which is produced by a continuation of the war must, therefore be a change for the worse.” Sir Winston Churchill said, “Victory depends on force of arms. I stand pat on a knockout . . . .”
Our use of local force to stop local aggression will be credible and effective only if we have a decisive, unquestionable strategic superiority over the Communists, for only if we are prepared to fight World War III can we prevent it.
The only way to prevent general war with the Communists in the long run is to possess a preponderance of power over them so great that we can absorb any blow they may deliver and still totally destroy them. Only this condition will act as a guarantor of peace. Our willingness to back down in a crisis or our willingness not to defeat them in limited aggression must not become hallowed as a means of preventing World War III.
On this subject, Churchill said, “From what I have seen of our Russian friends and allies during the war, I am convinced that . . . there is nothing for which they have less respect than weakness, especially military weakness. For that reason the old doctrine of a balance of power is unsound. We cannot afford, if we can help it, to work on narrow margins, offering temptations to a trial of strength.”
" . . . only if we are prepared to fight World War III can we prevent it.”
In addition to achieving decisive and unquestioned superiority over the Communists, we must warn them that henceforth, the Cold War will not be conducted according to some double standard whereby, safe in their sanctuary of the “socialist world,” they can push with impunity and exacerbate all the unresolved tensions on our side of the iron curtain. We should let them know the danger of pushing or nibbling and that we will not hesitate to use the necessary means to dispose of any threat to the Free World.
We must inject an element of reciprocity into the Cold War arrangement. We must not permit the enemy to pursue unlimited goals of conquest while we pursue nicely limited goals in an attempt to stop them. If fear of World War III restricts us from prosecuting a war to victory, then the same fear should inhibit the enemy from launching aggression in the first place. If they are not inhibited by such a fear, it is because we have taught them in the past that we were more afraid of World War III than they were. They practiced their brinkmanship secure in the expectation that we would supply enough caution and restraint for both sides, but it augurs ill for the future if the enemy thinks are more afraid of war than they are, for they will try to use this fear to back us down at each opportunity.
In the past, Western hopes for an end to the Cold War rested largely upon the assumption that repeated frustrations and failures would diminish the offensive ardor of the Communists and lead them to seek a general accommodation with the West, but if it costs little or nothing to chip away at Western positions, they might not tire of it at all. We must deny the enemy the assurance that they will not pay dearly for their aggression. We must not assure the aggressors that their military excursions will initially encounter only comparable force. War is invited as aggressors measure their chance of total success against the possibility of limited defeat. We must not allow the Communist world to assume that if they win, they win all; while if they lose, they really lose nothing, and can try again later. The Communists will not refrain from aggression if their only punishment ls a mere rebuff; they must lose their investment, and then some; then they will stop speculating.
An essential step to take in coping with the Communist strategy of nibbling aggression is m make an early response, while the aggression is still in the incipient stage. In the past, protected by vast distances and oceans, we thought we could afford to wait until the threat was unambiguous before responding, hut in the nuclear age, by the time a threat has become unambiguous, it may be too late to resist it.
The Communist policy of limited war, pursued by indirect and widespread local aggression, can be best countered not by a policy of caution, but by a policy of precaution, of nipping in the bud any Communist move before Soviet prestige becomes so deeply engaged in the venture that any effective countermeasures would increase the risk of large scale war. We should not draw out interminably every small war, but, rather, snuff out any small fire before it has a chance to grow and spread.
“To us, compromise is the very essence of negotiations; to the enemy, compromise is a sign of weakness. ”
We must have the sense of purpose and courage to act early, and to act in situations where there seems to be only a choice among evils. Our military forces should be committed heavily and decisively in any encounter so that a satisfactory result is achieved before the Communists have time to organize their world-wide “peace” forces and label us as the aggressor for trying to stop aggression. We must attack the situation while it is still manageable, while simple, effective action can solve the military aspects of the problem, creating the necessary climate of order and security for the country-building teams to do their work.
We must cut the enemy’s lines of communications and close their path of retreat. Once aggression is localized, as it was in Greece and Malaya, it can be defeated by exterminating the enemy forces, but if the fundamental requirement of localization is ignored, if any infiltration paths are left open, there is no end to the fighting, there is no bottom to the pit.
After trapping the enemy and cutting them off from any hope of rescue or resupply, our forces must seize the initiative. We must, as Stonewall Jackson said, “mystify, mislead, and surprise” the enemy.
We must not adopt positional warfare, but we must use our forces so as to exploit our superior mobility. Our strategy should be to locate, encircle, and exterminate the enemy. This is the only way to defeat Communist insurgency and ultimately to deter it.
The enemy must be isolated from the main stream of the population and paralyzed by every means. Counter-terror must be used against the terrorists so that life will not be safe for enemy collaborators and informants. By whatever means we can, we must break up the enemy guerrilla infrastructure.
Every atrocity of the enemy must be made public to the entire population of the affected country and broadcast to the enemy, so that in addition to being hated by the populace, some of the enemy may begin to doubt the rightness of their cause. The enemy, by a combination of sophisticated and simple psychological appeals, must be made to feel like an outcast from humanity, a criminal, a traitor to his culture and heritage, and a tool of Communist imperialism.
In pacification, the real question is who looks more competent, more powerful, more likely to win, not who gives out the most bubble gum to the children. We must never excuse our failure to wipe out an enemy force by saying that the real victory lies in winning the people. Winning the majority of the people over to our ideas will not stop the Communist insurgency. Lawrence of Arabia, one of the great masters of guerrilla warfare, asserted that a successful guerrilla insurgency could be effected if only 2 per cent of the populace actively supported the striking forces, provided the remainder was passively sympathetic. So it is not enough to win over most of the people; what is needed is the trapping and annihilation of the insurgents. Nothing less will do the job.
If, despite our best efforts, we should again become involved in a war with the Asian Communists, there must be a limit to our self-imposed limitations. Writing in The New York Times Magazine, 9 June 1968, Hanson W. Baldwin suggested that the United States might have to escalate technologically rather than with manpower in order to redress the unfavorable manpower balance in Asia. He agrees that power must have restraints, but argues that we must learn to fight limited wars without limiting our power so greatly that we exhaust ourselves and defeat our ability to attain our objectives.
General MacArthur said, “. . . I do unquestionably state that when men become locked in battle, that there should be no artifice under the name of politics which should . . . decrease their chances for winning.”
Once engaged in limited war with the Communist enemy, what should be our attitude toward negotiations? Should we emphasize to the enemy that we are more eager for peace than he is and that if the time ever comes that he thinks he cannot win the war, then we will be happy to join him anywhere to negotiate an end to the war, with no hard feelings for ad the casualties we have suffered?
No. We should not over-emphasize our willingness to negotiate, for if we are too easily manipulated by the enemy’s diplomatic maneuvers, he gets the impression that he holds the initiative and is in no real danger.
To us, compromise is the very essence of the process of negotiation, while to the enemy, compromise is a sign of weakness. We believe that reasonable men sitting around a table can settle disputes in a spirit of compromise. They believe that if they hold out long enough we will give in to all their demands while giving up all our demands—this is their understanding of the word compromise.
The emphasis of traditional diplomacy on good faith and willingness to come to an agreement is a positive handicap when it comes to dealing with powers that lack good faith and willingness to come to an agreement. Diplomats can still meet, but they cannot persuade each other. Instead, diplomatic conferences become stage plays where the enemy attempts to influence and win over public opinion in other nations and in our own country. This kind of negotiation is less a forum for negotiation than a platform for propaganda, where the side least eager for peace has a negotiating advantage, because it feels it can outwait, if not outfight, its opponent.
While we address our remarks to the Communist negotiators and reduce the scale of our military operations as a gesture of good will, the Communists address their comments to the world at large, dramatizing their position ln a ready-made propaganda forum, while simultaneously increasing their military pressure on us.
As we can see, limited wars are ideally suited for the Communist delaying tactics at the peace table, for with their homeland safe and their regime in no danger of being overthrown by us, there is no incentive for them to hurry up with the peacemaking. To their governing body, a limited war is no more dangerous than an athletic competition, safely restricted to a given arena, and surrounded with all kinds of rules and safeguards.
During the Korean war, our decision to stop military operations, except those of a purely defensive nature, at the very beginning of the armistice talks, reflected our conviction that the process of negotiation operated on its own power, independently of the military pressures brought to bear. By stopping military operations, we removed the only Chinese incentive for a settlement and produced the frustration of two years of inconclusive negotiations. Our separation of force from diplomacy caused our power to lack purpose and our negotiations to lack force. Admiral Turner Joy, U. S. Navy, who attempted to negotiate with the enemy at Panmunjom, has written that the elimination of artificial restraints imposed on our forces, coupled with the blockade of China, probably would have resulted in military victory in less time than was expended in truce talks and at less cost in men. He says China finally agreed to an armistice only when the threat of atom bombs was posed.
Our country should never go to the conference table with an enemy who wants to talk while still fighting. We should bring enough pressure to bear on the enemy that when he signals for talk, we know he sincerely wants to end the fighting and make peace as soon as possible. Our ease of negotiation will be directly proportional to the degree with which we have defeated the enemy. We should have learned by now that if we have not defeated the enemy on the battlefield, we certainly will not defeat him at the conference table.
We must not listen to those who cry out to negotiate at every opportunity, before the time is ripe. We must not fall into jabbering, babel, and discord while victory is unattained. Churchill said, “Very often have great combinations almost attained success and then, at the last moment, cast it away. Very often have the triumphs and sacrifices of armies come to naught at the conference table. Very often the eagles have been squalled down by the parrots.”
The following words, inscribed on the walls of the MacArthur Memorial in Norfolk, Virginia, are taken from one of his addresses to Congress, “A great nation which voluntarily enters upon war and does not see it through to victory must eventually suffer all the consequences of defeat . . . war’s very object is victory, not prolonged indecision. In war, there can be no substitute for victory.”
. . . The Navy is large and frustrating, but . . . its purpose in life is . . . to train men to give up their lives freely in time of war. This atmosphere is not conducive to free thinking, liberal thoughts or rebellious natures. There is nothing more difficult . . . than to run an organization designed for war in peace.
Letter from a naval officer to a midshipman