As, two months before his death, Franklin Roosevelt reported the results of the Yalta Conference to the nation, he hoped that the multipower world which had bred so many wars would be replaced by a world of “peace-loving” nations whose prime motivation would be the maintenance of international harmony. That didn’t happen. Now after 25 grim years of confrontation between two superpowers, a new multipower world—U. S., U.S.S.R., Japan, China, and Western Europe—is emerging.
An emerging pattern of world power relationships presages a shift from the era of bipolar centers of influence to a multipower world. The extreme hazards of superpower confrontation will be reduced by the exercise of “spheres of restraint” by five, not two, centers of world power.
The pattern of power in the world is changing. We are seeing the re-emergence of a multipower world. This is a change of historic proportions. It marks the return to the multiple balance of power situation that was the basis of American foreign policy until World War II. A multipower world is not an easy one; it is more complex and filled with additional uncertainties. But it can be a more peaceful one. The implications for our national security and for U. S. policies are basic and need to be thought through carefully and candidly.
The character and structure of the U. S. Navy and of the other armed forces will also be determined by the changing nature of the world. Our forces have been designed to implement the policy of containment, to be able to counter significant Soviet power anywhere in the world. As other power centers emerge, the use of our military forces will be increasingly flexible and selective. The evolution on the world scene will take time, but the criteria for the structuring of the U. S. Navy are becoming clear. Now is the time to acknowledge them and start working in the needed direction.
The emerging reality on the international scene is a world with five major power centers: the United States, the Union of Soviet Socialist Republics, Western Europe, the Peoples Republic of China, and Japan. The nuclear arsenals of the United States and U.S.S.R. clearly will put them in a special category for some time, but the strength of the other three powers is great and clearly growing. Whether they all become full-fledged nuclear powers or not, each represents a center of power and influence in the world. The British decision to enter the Common Market will almost certainly accelerate the growth of European strength. The enlarged Common Market will be a more powerful industrial entity than the Soviet Union, with a larger population than either the U.S.S.R. or the United States. Not only is China’s potential obviously enormous, but China will have some nuclear capability within the measurable future. Whether or not Japan ultimately opts to become a military power, its overwhelming economic strength will inevitably have a strong influence on developments in Asia and elsewhere in the world.
Each of these power centers tends to influence and constrain the others. All are dynamic. Their interactions are already important elements in international developments. We could see this clearly in the strong and varied reactions in the U.S.S.R., Japan, and Western Europe to President Nixon’s announcement of his visit to China. Another example of mutual interaction is the wide-ranging travel of Soviet leaders, obviously in response to China’s re-emergence on the world scene. Similarly, the international maneuverings stirred by the U. S. economic program demonstrate the active interplay between the power centers. Increasingly, the interactions of these power centers will be among the basic determinants of international developments.
This situation is quite different from the bipolar world that we have had since World War II. The Cold War epoch has been a world dominated by the two nuclear superpowers; international developments were largely determined by the actions of these two powers. This was a most unusual situation in modern world history, in the sense of there being only two, rather than several, power centers affecting international developments. This unique configuration of the world power structure probably has had a lot to do with the uneasiness always present in postwar American public opinion. In a way that was seldom recognized, American policy since World War II has rested on a premise unique in American history, that of a bipolar world. Our prior history and particularly our enduring concepts of international affairs were based consciously or unconsciously on a multiple balance of power situation in the world.
The balance of power concept is not a precise one. Exactly what is meant by “power” or “balance” is not easy to define. However, the basic idea is relatively clear. It describes a situation in which there are several nations (or groups of nations) whose strength or influence predominate over most others, but no one of which is sufficiently strong to dominate all of the others. Power, in other words, is distributed among a number of centers in a way that prevents the accumulation by any one of enough power to make itself master of the rest.
The idea of a balance of power has always been in bad repute in American opinion. Similarly, the related concept of spheres of influence also has had an unfavorable image. President Franklin D. Roosevelt and Secretary of State Hull took pains during World War II to insist that the balance of power and spheres of influence should be abolished forever. Secretary Hull said, in 1943, that there would “no longer be need for spheres of influence, for alliances, for balances of power or any other of the special arrangements” of what he described as “the unhappy past.” In his report to the nation on the Yalta Conference, President Roosevelt felt the agreements reached there would “spell the end of the system of unilateral action, the exclusive alliances, the spheres of influence, the balances of power . . .” Americans long considered European diplomacy as nefarious and undemocratic, and thus to be avoided. As Hull’s remarks indicate, they transferred the same unfavorable connotations to the diplomacy involved in maintaining a balance of power.
In actual fact, and contrary to our national mythology, the United States has traditionally and effectively traded on a balance of power in the world. Of course, other elements, particularly domestic, have had a profound influence on U. S. behavior. However, even with this caveat, it is essentially true that the United States has relied on or exploited the balance of power elsewhere in the world, particularly Europe, to its own advantage. Many of our achievements as a nation have resulted quite clearly from the world power relationships.
The very independence of the United States was achieved by exploiting the European power balance; French-British enmity provided the military and financial aid that made possible the success of the American Revolution. Advocating neutrality and the avoidance of “entangling alliances,” the leaders of the new republic prudently utilized European power relationships to gain time for the fledgling nation to get firmly established. The Monroe Doctrine was an American maneuver based on the balance of power, especially the British opposition to the interference of the Holy Alliance into Latin American affairs. So clear was this situation that even our history books have had to acknowledge it. We think of the continental expansion of the United States as a “domestic” development. Actually, most of our present territory originally belonged to someone else. Our national growth resulted from an active, and often aggressive, American exploitation of international developments to increase our territory. The most dramatic example was the manner in which Jefferson took advantage of the vagaries of European politics to purchase the Louisiana Territory. But the list is long: the annexation of Florida from Spain, the seizure of Mexican territories, the annexation of Texas, the incorporation of the Oregon Territory, and the purchase of Alaska. All reflect a consistent pattern of American manipulation of shifting international power relationships to our benefit.
The importance of the balance of power to the United States can be seen most vividly in those instances in which it seemed to shift against us. When British and French interests coalesced in support of the Confederacy, the United States found itself in a perilous situation. Submarine warfare was the proximate cause of U. S. entry into World War I, but the underlying threat was that of German dominance, disrupting a European balance of power that had been congenial to the United States. Perhaps the most vivid example was the stark danger of Nazi domination that suddenly confronted the United States when France fell in 1940 and Britain also seemed about to go under.
During World War II, without realizing what we were doing, the United States destroyed the multiple balance of power that had existed. In our anxiety to remove the evils of Nazism and Japanese militarism we also destroyed Germany as a nation and came close to doing the same to Japan. Before the war, Great Britain, France, Germany, Italy, Japan, and the Soviet Union were power centers that had to be reckoned with. All were not equal in strength, but the power of each was such that it influenced international developments. The absence of even one of these nations, such as the exclusion of the Soviets from Munich, profoundly affected subsequent developments. (The United States was also a power center to be reckoned with, but American public opinion did not accurately comprehend our situation in the world. In fact, American isolationism was a classic demonstration of the reality that inaction by a world power can be as significant as action.)
At the end of World War II, Germany and Japan were devastated; Italy’s pretensions to power were seriously diminished; and France and Great Britain were, it soon became clear, permanently weakened. Through misunderstanding and miscalculation, the postwar era rapidly developed into a bipolar confrontation between the two remaining power centers, the United States and the Soviet Union.
The United States, as President Roosevelt’s comments had suggested, expected the postwar world to be based on a general consensus among the leading nations of the world. We had viewed the war as a successful effort by the “peace-loving nations” to eliminate the “aggressor nations.” We assumed that the common interests of the peace-loving nations would be sufficiently strong to sublimate individual national concerns to the achievement of international harmony. We viewed our version of international harmony as the desirable or normal one, without really noticing that it was a product of a particular balance of power rather than a fundamental self-regulating state of international affairs. The Atlantic Charter and the structure of the United Nations reflected our view of the world.
The Soviet Union saw the world in a drastically different way. The Soviets’ obsessive concern was to ensure the security of their nation, insofar as humanly possible, beyond all reasonable doubt. Russia had suffered devastation at German hands twice in a quarter of a century. The Soviets were keenly aware of the hostility and hesitation toward them that had been shown by most of the East European nations. Similarly, they had not forgotten the suspicions and animosities toward Communism and the Soviet Union frequently exhibited by the leading Western nations during the period between the two world wars.
The Soviet concern is certainly understandable, at least in retrospect. They were determined to have not only friendly but also subservient nations on their European borders. Significantly, the U.S.S.R., in adhering to the Atlantic Charter, added the caveat that “the practical application of these principles will necessarily adapt itself to the circumstances, needs, and historic peculiarities of particular countries.” Soviet interest in the United Nations was so restrained that only with great difficulty was Stalin persuaded to send his Foreign Minister, Vyacheslav Molotov, to the climactic conference in San Francisco.
These diametrically opposed views of the international scene led to a world of confrontation. The Soviet insistence on absolute hegemony in Eastern Europe appeared to the United States to be a threat to its crucial interest in Western Europe. On the other hand, the extensive system of U. S. alliances struck the U.S.S.R. as an effort to encircle and threaten it. Important issues tended all too easily to become “eyeball-to-eyeball” confrontations because there were only two powers. Moves, viewed by one power as being within its legitimate interests, seemed to the other to be provocative. In fact, almost every development anywhere in the world seemed, in greater or lesser degree, to favor or threaten one power or the other. The constant danger was the threat of escalation to hostilities between the two powers. Chronic confrontation and the tendency to see everything in bipolar terms have made it a dangerous world.
The danger was sharply increased in another way. Each of the two powers really had only the other to worry about. No other nation could truly threaten either one of them. The perceptions each had of the other were dominated by anxieties regarding catching up or keeping ahead. There was always the possibility, it seemed, that if one superpower felt it had some important advantage over the other, it would be tempted to try to press its advantage. Accordingly, the danger of war has been constant and terrifyingly real during this bipolar era. Perhaps, without our entirely realizing it, this is why the nerves of the world have been so on edge for the past quarter of a century.
A multiple power balance changes the equation greatly. The uncertainties increase enormously. All kinds of power combinations are possible. Each of the leading powers has to consider the strength and likely actions of four other powers, rather than simply one. Obviously, a five-sided equation is much more complicated than a two-sided one. The number of important variables is much greater. The sheer inability to identify accurately the crucial variables, as well as the constant possibility of their rearrangement, is likely to be a strong deterrent to rash action by any one of the powers.
Obviously, there is also the possibility of several of the powers combining against one of them. On the other hand, each of the powers will be well aware of this possibility; each will govern its actions so as to try to maintain a balance, rather than allow an imbalance against its interests to develop. Every major move by one power will have broad repercussions. The probable interaction among the other power centers to a major move by any one of them will be an important consideration which will induce cautious constraint in the national policy decisions of all the powers.
In short, prudence and self-interest are likely to be important influences. There is a pattern of great power behavior. A great power tends to be very sensitive about nearby areas. Castro in Cuba makes us very nervous, even though, Castro, by himself, clearly is not a threat to the security of the United States. The Soviets, as we have seen, are inordinately concerned about any sign of unfriendly behavior in Eastern Europe. The Chinese Communists have shown themselves to be very sensitive about Korea and Vietnam. The examples could be multiplied throughout history and around the world.
A great power is concerned about contiguous areas because of the possibilities for entry therein of another great power’s influence. The growth of another great power’s influence in a nearby area would mean a change in the balance of power. The areas around a great power, therefore, are sensitive not so much in and of themselves, but because of their potential and considerable influence on the balance of power.
This sort of concept used to be called “spheres of influence.” In this era of national independence and sovereignty, this concept tends to suggest undue domination by a great power over its neighbors. Perhaps a better concept would be that of “spheres of restraint.” The basic consideration is that of self-restraint by each of the great powers in trying to intrude or increase its influence in areas contiguous to the borders of another great power.
This type of balance among a number of great powers thus contains the possibility for a rough, albeit changing, equilibrium. It is not likely to be a situation of complete and equitable international order. But it would be one which contains the elements of reasonable order and allows considerable scope for each nation to pursue its legitimate interests.
This kind of world would more nearly approach the concept of “free and independent nations,” which is the United States’ fundamental goal. The less powerful and newer countries could pursue their own goals with more genuine independence than they ever could as client states or uneasy neutrals in a bipolar world. Such a world would be more congenial to us than to the Communist nations. The Communist concept of human behavior relies on limiting or suppressing dissent. We, on the other hand, advocate diversity and individual self-fulfillment. For the Communist nations, diversity is a problem; for us, it is an advantage.
A multipower world may well be more congenial to American public opinion. We could afford a greater measure of detachment. In a bipolar world, we have constantly had to strain every nerve to ensure that the Soviet Union would not achieve an insuperable advantage over us. In a multipower world, our power will still be critical. We could not be isolationist, but we could be freer to avoid commitments and involvements. We should also find it possible to form temporary and flexible coalitions to counter excessive aggrandizement, rather than feel compelled, as now, to extend commitments that tend to become sweeping and long-lasting. Contradictory as it may appear, both greater detachment and greater deterrence may be possible simultaneously.
The emerging multipower world has a number of specific implications for U. S. national security and foreign policy. The Nixon Doctrine marks a recognition of some of these implications. It will be an era in which both strength and negotiation will be essential. The process of negotiation seems already to be underway. The strategic arms limitation talks with the Soviet Union, the proposed force reduction discussions between NATO and Warsaw Pact nations, and the efforts to revise the world monetary and trading arrangements are among the more outstanding examples. President Nixon’s decision to visit China and the admission to the United Nations of the Peoples Republic of China are probably the most dramatic recognition of the emergence of a multipower world.
Our alliance structure is also likely to be modified. Containment is obviously less than fully compatible with a multipower world. We may ultimately find that it is incompatible. Certainly, we are going to want to be more flexible so that we can adjust, as need be, to maintain an appropriate balance of power among the several new power centers. If we are genuinely to implement a “spheres of restraint” concept, we can hardly continue our present pattern of alliances. Equally, many of our allies are likely to find greater flexibility to be in their own interests; they will thus wish to loosen or remove close ties of alliance to the United States. We have already seen examples of this process in the cases of France and Pakistan, and there are increasing signs of similar inclinations in such diverse areas as Thailand, Peru, Canada, and our other NATO allies.
American foreign policy is already moving to acknowledge the likely changes in our alliance structure. The Nixon Doctrine emphasizes several relevant points. One is the emphasis on strengthening the military and economic capabilities of our allies to determine and fulfill their own needs. A similar consideration is the effort to lower the profile of U. S. activities overseas. President Nixon has also encouraged our allies and friends to work out regional approaches to their problems. Furthermore, he has moved to incorporate American economic assistance efforts into multilateral international programs.
The way in which the world is moving has several implications for U. S. military forces. One is the need for maximum flexibility. We must be able to meet quickly and accurately the flexible requirements of a shifting balance of power. We must have ready a wide range of capabilities to be able to provide those most suited to any particular international configuration of power. We probably have to do a great deal more by way of training and equipment to develop the requisite range of capabilities. In another sense, we have to do less by carefully examining what we are doing and eliminating those capabilities centered on worldwide bipolar confrontation.
None of these considerations implies any diminution of our nuclear deterrent. On the contrary, it will continue to be essential that we maintain an effective deterrent. One essential element of a multipower balance is the continuation of undoubted American power. And the latter cannot exist in today’s world without an effective deterrent to nuclear attack. Future developments in nuclear weapons in a multipolar world are particularly difficult to predict. Clearly, if one power could quickly and secretly achieve a marked advantage in nuclear weaponry over all other powers, the whole concept of a multi-sided power balance would be jeopardized. There will thus continue to be a heavy premium on technology and surveillance to preclude such surprises.
On the other hand, the possible complex equations deriving from three or more nuclear powers may make it possible to mutually forego the development of some technologically feasible and expensive weapons. The possibility of an agreement limiting anti-ballistic missile defenses illustrates this phenomenon. Perhaps the likeliest course of development will be one designed to ensure the survivability of nuclear deterrents, develop surveillance capabilities, and actively explore mutually feasible areas of strategic arms restraint.
Forward deployment of U. S. forces will decrease. Our existing base and alliance structure implemented the concept of containment. As this concept declines, so will the military measures that were designed to carry it out. Similarly, our friends and allies will be less interested in our maintaining forces in their territories. We are seeing this type of development in such varied places as Okinawa, France, Spain, and the Philippines.
A more flexible and internationally cooperative means of dealing with lower-level violence also will be increasingly desirable and possible. In a multipolar world, such episodes of violence are less likely to risk escalation. Equally, it will be more difficult for the United States or any single power to intervene, no matter how good its intentions. An improved international concept for meeting this type of problem should be feasible. In this context, the idea of United Nations peacekeeping may well merit closer examination and stronger effective U. S. backing than heretofore. More specific identification and readying of appropriate U. S. military units would strengthen our ability to encourage and support this concept. So would a conscious orientation of our military assistance program to assist other countries in developing their capabilities to participate in peace-keeping efforts.
The general outlines of the restructuring of our armed forces to meet the requirements of a multipower world can be identified. The need for balanced and flexible forces will be a paramount consideration. The size of the forces will almost certainly be smaller than now, but an even greater variety of capabilities will be needed. Accordingly, both training and carefully selected equipment, in particular multipurpose expertise and material, will be especially important. No single service will have a dominant role. If anything, the insistence on close interservice cooperation will grow, both in American public opinion and among national leaders.
Some implications for the future structure of the U. S. Navy also seem clear. We can no longer aspire to worldwide naval pre-eminence. Nor need we. Up to now we have felt this need because in a bipolar world it has been essential that we counter the growth of Soviet naval power in any important part of the world. However, in a multipower world, there will be other constraints on Soviet power and other effective blue water navies—e.g., China and Japan are almost certain to develop. The interaction of these naval interests in the Far East or in the Indian Ocean will provide the type of counterbalance for Soviet naval influence that has been missing in the postwar world unless we were able to provide it.
At the same time, as our allies establish their own capabilities and pursue their own interests, our naval support will be less needed and less desired. Similarly, forward shore-based support facilities for our naval forces will be substantially reduced from the levels to which we have become accustomed in an era of confrontation.
These considerations suggest a smaller Navy, structured to provide a wide range of carefully developed capabilities and optimum use of limited resources. The first priority will continue to be maintenance of an effective sea-based nuclear deterrent. The Navy will also clearly need to maintain, and further refine, its comprehensive ability to sustain itself at sea, with minimal forward base facilities. Much of its strength is likely to be centrally based in or near U. S. territories, ready and able to deploy quickly and effectively. The Navy’s normal mode of operation will probably be a continuing series of more or less temporary deployments. Each deployment would be configured to apply U. S. strength effectively so as to maintain equilibrium among the great powers. The historic ability of the U. S. Navy to project flexibly and discreetly American power over the seas is very much in line with the requirements of U. S. national security in the emerging multipower world.
A graduate of Columbia University in 1946, Dr. Barrett entered the U.S. Foreign Service in January 1949. Between 1949 and 1961, he served in American Embassies abroad—two years in Managua, Nicaragua; four in Dublin (during which he received his Ph.D. from Trinity College); and two years in Cairo, United Arab Republic. He then returned to the Department of State and served two years in the Office of East and Southern African Affairs and two years as Canadian Desk Officer. From 1965 to 1967, he was Political Officer, American Embassy, Madrid, Spain. Following a two-year assignment with the Department of State in Washington, he served from 1969 to 1971 as Deputy Chief, Global Plans Division, U. S. Air Force. He is now Department of State Advisor to the U. S. Army’s John F. Kennedy Center for Military Assistance, Fort Bragg, N.C.