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a T ^
■ !^i General ^ ’
Prize Essay C ; U • Contest
J 8 7 V
Angola in 1976 was the stage on which the Soviet LJnion finally attained full parity as a superpower, a status which it had claimed prematurely, then had to forfeit during the Cuban confrontation tn 1962. With the United States numbed by its Vietnamese defeat, the Soviets sent their Cuban surrogates into Africa, thereby confirming that they had both the power and the will to influence events far beyond their own borders.
SECOND HONORABLE MENTION
In Angola, Cuban troops and some Soviet-backed Popular Movement soldiers pause momentarily in the seaside town of Ambrizete beneath a sign that translates to “Amhrizete Supports the FIS LA.” Amhrizete's support of the FNLA—the V. S.-backed National Union—was as ineffective as the American arms aid which disintegrated beneath the treads of Cuban-driven Soviet T-34 tanks such as those which overran Huambo, right, in February 1976.
atij Soviet-Cuban military enterprises in Angola i c“e Horn of Africa constitute one of the most tej r.tarit Political-military developments in in- p, atl°nal affairs since the end of the Vietnam War. fre,r Importance, in fact, derives in large measure the re*ationship to the Vietnam experience in
the t*1°u£^t processes of political leaderships around vv°rld. The Soviet-Cuban enterprises appear, at
UP to now, to have been a remarkable success in
Th' ^Plication of great-power military force in the rd World, in contrast to the failure of the Ameri- effort in Southeast Asia, the
ornmunist powers has been slow and uncertain.
the r- ^mer‘can response to these new enterprises by p reasons for the delay are not hard to discern.
the Vietnam trauma and the greatly
Shtened aversion to foreign interventions of any
kind which it so powerfully reinforced still affect the American national mood, though to a diminishing degree. Second, there do not appear to be any reliable and effective allies with whom we could openly cooperate in opposing the Communist initiatives—or we do not much like the ones that might be available. And third, the Communist initiatives are difficult for us to see steadily and whole, because they are themselves highly episodic and apparently disjointed. They are intermixed with events whose relationship to the main line of the Soviet-Cuban initiatives is not easy to make out.
But the longer we delay in formulating the American response, the more expensive its eventual development will be. We cannot realistically suppose that the Communist powers will allow a system of cooperation which has had such striking initial suc-
cess and which promises such large future benefits to its inventors to fall out of use. We must assume that Soviet and Cuban planners are hard at work devising adaptations of the method which will allow its extension to other areas and conditions.
When the U. S. Government is able to address the Soviet-Cuban collaboration as a political-military challenge of far-reaching importance, and is ready to acknowledge that the United States should prepare a political-military response as one of its options, it is likely to assign the central responsibility for the development of the option to the two naval services. Those services possess very important natural advantages over the other services for the purposes toward which we would be working, advantages which in fact have probably been increased by the Vietnam experience and its political-psychological aftermath. There are also some impediments to a central role for the naval services, and they would have to be carefully assessed. But before considering the advantages and the obstacles in further detail, it is necessary to consider at some length the fundamental character of the problem which the Soviet-Cuban enterprises pose.
During the 1978 debates in the government and in the press about how to react to the Soviet-Cuban activities in Africa, both the hawks and the doves tended to argue the issues in classic strategic and political terms, and in a specific geographic context. Key arguments ran something like this: The Communist powers were in the process of forging an iron ring around the immense oil riches of the Middle East. Or they were only taking opportunistic advantage of local accidents of history, in some cases perhaps actually at cross purposes with their own perceived long-range interests. A strong American reaction to the Soviet-Cuban efforts would hearten moderate African leaders to develop a pan-African response to these extra-continental interventions. Or perhaps such an American reaction would only undo the hard-won gains made by the Carter administration in our relations with Nigeria, Tanzania, Zambia, and people of like-minded countries.
The issues do, of course, have to be debated in the classic political and strategic terms if we are to understand the problems which the Soviets and Cubans have posed for us. But in the present situation, the
classic categories may not be the most instruct
which to frame the inquiry. Another set
terms, political-military-psychological, but no
closely related to basic considerations of nationa curity than the classic strategic terms, needs to employed as well. . c
At its most fundamental level, the protection the national security consists essentially of the ar ous and incessant effort of responsible authorities^ discern the contours of the future, using the best guries available at a given moment, and, by e action possible, to reach into the future and sta^uSt it before the nation whose interests they serve traverse it. The largest powers will make longest-range forecasts, will set the most far-reac crnflls anH in ireneral. will onerate with the
confidence in their ability to control their ^eStl^ofe For smaller powers, the future generally seems highly contingent and problematic. In their vie" ^ best and most reliable auguries of the future w ^ derived from constant analysis and comparison 0 __
most recent behavior of the two superpowers, m
tion to each other and to world events in ge°e ^ If the superpowers have massive natural advantaf^ over smaller powers in the actual shaping of the ture, the smaller nations appear to be more co ^ tent at reading the omens. They are better at lC’ cause they are at least marginally less likely than superpowers to get in their own way and oo their own vision of their shifting position in a c * 1 ing world. . (
The very recent course of international finand fairs offers an arresting example of relatively P performance on the part of the American superP° in the prediction of events. Early in 1977, the •
In a photograph reminiscent of those which showed American servicemen giving a “Helping Hand” to Vietnamese civilians, a Cuban soldier, surrounded by three Popular Movement soldiers, idles a British-built tractor on a nationalized farm in central Angola.
n °Vernrr>ent signalled its intention to let classic eco- to ^ considerations govern its policy with respect k e Value of the dollar in foreign exchange mar- a^jS' country emphasized a basic and indisput- Sessact' that the U. S. economy continued to pos- Wijl enorrn°us strength and vitality—and declared its
what exch; warn
fgness to let the dollar find its own level in °f the great strength of that economy. ut the U. S. Government did not understand 11 was that was being measured in the foreign ange markets. It thus gave short shrift to the
!er*ces to a fresh new American idiom in foreign °ne which would draw its vocabulary as much rig^°Ss'tde from the generous and powerful human- ^on S lrnPu^se which animated the new administra-
•tig ne^e<^ sl°gans of great-power rivalry. By pioneer- a ^tndamentally new policy in fresh new terms, SjQ 'v°uld all the more quickly throw off the depres- tat- °lr the Vietnam experience and restore the repu- ^n of the United States in international affairs, at was one way of reading the omens. But there Had !n0ther Way> as follows: The failure in Vietnam tiy ternPorarily deprived the Americans of an effec- U,u ancl credible political-military response to Com- C0(inist political-military initiatives at the lower, Actional end of the scale of military force. The jt epr'cans problem was political, not military, but Som ecdve,y blocked them from counteraction for ga^ '^definite time into the future. Therefore, a tabltXlsted’ a vacuum. The Soviets had not been no- tjj y tt>ore successful than the Americans in finding ^cans to adapt superpower military strength to
'ngs of foreign leaders whose view of the future a out to be more accurate than our own. Those gre etS were not concerned with the undoubted ab i StrenSrh of the American economy, which in tin Ute terms so heavily outweighed every other na- economy. Instead, they were measuring our eco^IOn to the equally indisputable fact that basic Suk 0rnic and financial ratios were in the process of f!nStant*al change, and that American economic and to strength was steadily declining in relation
^ at of most other advanced national economies. ment adout the same time that the U. S. Govern- cb ■ Was Proclaiming its faith in the workings of ^11. c ’nternational economics and its consequent
'v°tld^neSS t0 C^e ^°^ar *ts own wa^ *n r^e 'tself ' 1C WaS a^S° announc'ng that it had liberated
tyL. ^r°m a slavish and outmoded anti-Communism
Pro • 11 Relieved had lately served only to repress
vjs >ing new foreign policy initiatives, particularly
^ead V*S t^*e ^hird World. Africa, the new American
au^.ersh*P thought, would offer especially receptive
and which would be entirely free of the
Third World situations, but they were doing something very interesting in Africa in collaboration with the Cubans. Moreover, if the Soviets had not scored any important successes in their many political- military ventures in the Third World, neither had they suffered a reverse remotely approaching the scale of the American failure in Vietnam. Superpower is as superpower does—and the test of the ability to do was taking place in Africa at the low end of the scale of force. Very large judgments would have to be drawn from very narrow premises, because those in governments all over the world with the responsibility for reading the omens would have no choice but to work with the material at hand.
In the circumstances, arguments as to whether Africa is or is not a very important place strategically in the classic terms of geopolitics are in large measure beside the point. It is also profitless to hurl accusations at those who insist on drawing far-reaching conclusions about the relative strength of the superpowers from narrow and ambiguous data about events in Africa, just as it was profitless to condemn speculators for their actions in the dollar crisis of 1978. Such complaints and accusations are, in fact, worse than profitless, for they serve only to confirm third-party observers in their doubts about the ability of the country concerned to understand its true situation. And persistent evidence that a superpower may be losing its ability to understand its own situation is among the most disquieting and destabilizing of political omens.
The task before the national security institutions of the country is to restore as a credible political- military option the possible use of armed force by the United States at the low end of the scale of force. It was the United States in past years which insisted that the possession of that option was a sine qua non for full status as a superpower. The Soviets, we acknowledged, had enough nuclear power to obliterate the world, but we emphasized that their power was not sufficiently articulate or “long-legged” to be employed effectively in less than doomsday situations or at long distances from their own territory. The world accepted our definition of full superpower status, and over the years we have enjoyed many large political benefits from our success at having differentiated ourselves from the Soviets in this respect. Now, with the very effective assistance of the Cubans, Soviet military power seems to have become articulate and long-legged enough. Political leaders throughout the world see that the Soviets have worked long and patiently to develop their military capabilities to fulfill the definition of superpower which we formulated. Those leaders will now be much interested to see
how quickly and effectively the Americans act to restore the low-level-of-force option to their own repertoire. Having an option includes having the will to use it, which is not now the case. We really cannot successfully resort to the alternative course, which would be to attempt to abridge the definition of superpower by depreciating the significance of the low-power option now that the Soviets have achieved it and we temporarily lack the political and organizational infrastructure for its employment. To attempt that would be a political-military analogue of the argument that an economic superpower does not have to exert itself to defend the value of its currency because everybody knows how great its economic strength is.
Given the present climate of public opinion in the country, a well-argued case for the restoration of the smaller-scale political-military option would pretty surely receive a thoughtful hearing from the public at large. A great deal has happened in the last few years to break down the undiscriminating opposition to the possible use of armed force abroad that was the inevitable outcome of the misadventure in Southeast Asia. It is not simply that the passage of time has healed the worst wounds. The fact is that, even as the inevitable reaction to the outcome in Vietnam ran its course, American public opinion remained closely attentive to foreign political and military developments, particularly those which could be read to portend a shift in the ratio of strength between the United States and the Soviet Union. The public gave every evidence of its determination to go on making large exertions for the national defense. The outcome of last year’s elections also improves the prospect for a careful and dispassionate appraisal of our political-military capabilities. Although foreign and defense issues were not major factors in the great majority of the contests, it does seem clear that the current Congress has fewer members who would oppose political-military options on ideological grounds than the last Congress had.
Nevertheless, when the political authorities do give the national security agencies the necessary instructions to begin reconstruction of the low-power military option, those agencies will have to proceed from a clear recognition that the Vietnam experience and its political aftermath have fundamentally conditioned the choices available to them as they carry out their task. First of all, the organizational framework within which the option is reconstructed will have to be open, publicly acknowledged for what it is, and clearly linked and demonstrably subordinated to parent organizations whose capability to perform the directing role has been thoroughly
legitimated by long tradition. If anything is sUf^0(1 the post-Vietnam era, it is that the low-power °P cannot be created and utilized clandestinely- importance of clarity and regularity in the subor tion of the forces involved cannot be exagger Between 1961 and 1974, a lot of low-level °P^ ^ activity was carried out by organizations that can ^ that sort of thing anymore. We cannot recons Air America, probably not even any Green type organizations. The job will have to be don^qq. regular people in the standard uniforms of our year-old military services. But this requiremen ^ going to present some very important and di organizational questions. . |£i
In addition to this basic organizational Pr'nC.^nS: there are the following major operational condit*0^,
► The forces involved should generally have capability to bring themselves within range ^ potential point of confrontation without havin^^ rely on the assent or assistance of other governm and by methods and avenues of approach whic ^ generally conceded to be theirs to use as a ma traditional right. ^pr
► Once on station, the forces should have the bility to loiter for a protracted time below the zon of the public’s vision in the country of P°sS confrontation and in the surrounding region. j
► The forces should be organized, armed, tra . 0(ji and employed in such a way that those against vV ^ their power is used, and third-party observer*^ well, can perceive that power as an *nceS£lt|1cf smoothly increasing or decreasing pressure, ‘ ^ than as a series of discrete impacts or collisi°nS ■ the lower end of the spectrum of force, armed at ^ is communication by other means, and it is ^ more expressive for being capable of fluent m°
tion’ . • ,eVel °f
^ Finally, in order to maintain that requisite i ^ articulateness, commanders of force units at all e ^ should have a thorough knowledge of the local P tics of the situation in which they are operating’ f, terns of training and assignments, and serv<ce titudes toward certain kinds of specialization’ importantly affected by a requirement of this k‘n.
These general principles and conditions alm°s^t( eluctably describe a Navy/Marine mission. 1° they only restate in complex modern terms a j£ which has been perceived since the nation s ea J years, and which was first fulfilled by Navy ^ Marine collaboration. In that sense, they call n^u)J a departure but a return (and the fact that it ^jch be a return would strengthen that principle "■ s sets such high value on organizational regularity^. conformity to long-accepted patterns). But a re
U.S. NAVY (JOHN R. SHEPPARD)
rion r^e Pr‘nc*ples an<^ conditions also calls atten-
father forcefully to some of the difficulties which
^naval services could confront in fulfilling them. spr,er^a^S t^le' most important of the obstacles qUi^s from the last of the conditions—the reNe.ment f°r a deep and detailed knowledge of the tjai*tlCa^ dynamics of a considerable number of poten- r ^ditary contingencies. The Navy and Marine Ps have generally not had to take a leading role
A former Secretary of State recently chuckled over the myth of “the invincible Cubans.” But, if Soviet-backed Cuban troops are to he more than ridiculed, their comeuppance is most likely to be administered by those best qualified in this kind of work: the two U. S. naval services.
the services in the complex and often unre
ln8 work of integrating the modern political
,rrillitary sciences. Now they would have to take y. ead, and to do so in the face of the fact that the
livei;™ experience has given all of the services the a , lest aversion to the swamps of politics, foreign j domestic.
sharmp°sition of the new task would also probably thearfen existing differences within the services about the ^*rect*ons which they should be taking over had °n®er run- The Marine Corps in particular has to g0 through a fundamental reexamination of its ch ern ro*e- The highly amorphous and problematic aracter of the low-power counterforce mission tjo°ht only contribute to the persisting disorienta- of ? a^0ut service roles which was one of the legacies j'etnam.
ls> of course, possible that the imposition of the te "dH be delayed, or that when it comes it will be lri^at'Ve and incomplete. The political authorities
critical difference in Angola, then in the Ogaden, then in Eritrea. Those successes have affected perceptions and attitudes among governments in the Arabian peninsula and throughout the Middle East in ways injurious to vital American interests. It is admittedly difficult to predict where the Soviet-Cuban collaboration may flourish next. Perhaps the Soviets and Cubans themselves have not developed a precise program, except to move where opportunity beckons. But despite the difficulties of prediction, there is a central fact which should now be clear beyond any doubt: these impressive Soviet-Cuban enterprises are perfect grist for those mills that grind daily all over the world to produce the omens from which government leaders try ceaselessly to foresee the relative ability of the two superpowers to shape the future to their will and interests.
ar>c tempted to content themselves with assur-
uop contingency plans prepared, and assuage their
es that units have been earmarked, and another
grJas‘ness with the thought that we do dispose of cat Conventional power and are a fortiori completely H^tent to deal with low-power contingencies ^rever we resolve to do so. ty. Ut they probably will not content themselves fc such thoughts, or at least not indefinitely. ts are piling up. Soviet-Cuban power made the
Mr. Burns fought as an infantryman in Europe during World War II and afterward attended St. Joseph’s College of Indiana and Butler University. In 1950, Bobbs-Merrill published The Perfect Invader, his novel about the immediate postwar period in Austria. In 1953, Mr. Burns entered the U. S. Foreign Service. His foreign assignments were in Berlin, Vancouver, Paris (NATO), and Bonn. He served during most of his career as a political officer. During the middle part of his years with the State Department, he specialized in political-military affairs, including a State- Defense exchange assignment in the European Region of the Office of the Assistant Secretary of Defense (International Security Affairs) from 1968 to 1970. Prior to his retirement from the Foreign Service in October 1978, Mr. Burns’s assignments were in State Department management positions.