The views and opinions expressed or implied in WBY are those of the authors and should not be construed as carrying the official sanction of the Department of Defense, Air Force, Air Education and Training Command, Air University, or other agencies or departments of the US government or their international equivalents.
By Dr. David Lorenzo
/ Published April 23, 2021
Opinions, conclusions, and recommendations expressed or implied within are solely those of the author(s) and do not necessarily represent the views of the Air University, the United States Air Force, the Department of Defense, or any other US government agency.
DR. MARGARET SANKEY: Welcome to the Wild Blue Yonder podcast. Our guest is Dr. David Lorenzo, who is joining us from National Chengchi University in Taipei, where he's in the College of International Affairs. So his previous work has been debating wars, why arguments opposing American wars and interventions fail, and his new book, which is going to be out momentarily, is War and American Foreign Policy: Justifications of Major Military Actions in the US. Let's start with how do you get from opposing war to initiating it?
DR. DAVID LORENZO: I initially thought of the two as partners with one another, they were going to be the two sides of the debate. And to a certain extent, they are. And to a certain extent, they're not. When I did Debating War, the most interesting arguments were those that were put forward in Congress and among the general population, and while they address the same fundamental norms that arguments justifying war address, they are very different kinds of arguments. So the people who oppose war in my work are those who talk about constitutional process—how the Constitution hasn't been followed; they talk about the prospects of war actually attaining the goals that were set for them and argue that the world is resistant to actually anybody attaining those goals.
And there's a certain amount of talk about costs. When I got to the Justifications of War, of course, the most interesting arguments are those that the presidents and members of Congress put forward, and they are quite different, which surprised me because I thought that there would be a little more meeting of minds in terms of the terrain over which they would be arguing, and there are not. So those kinds of arguments, I hold, are much more narrowly focused, and they address something I call the necessity standard.
DR. SANKEY: So let's talk about the necessity standard.
DR. LORENZO: The necessity standard has various kinds of formulations. The one that I think is best in terms of thinking about it in a whole variety of ways is basically the proposition that major military force is to be used during our crisis—if vital interest or duties are at stake and there is no other viable alternative to attaining or discharging those duties and protecting those interests. So there are lots of moving parts to this. On the one hand, there's both an imperative part of this and a restrictive part of it. The restrictive part of it is, if both of those conditions are not met, then major military force should not be used. If they are met, the implication is major military force should be used. So it goes both ways.
And then the second part of it, of course—and this is where it gets to the actual arguments—the justifications really follow in the lines of what have we done in terms of alternatives; are alternatives viable or not. And as time goes on, there's been varying amounts of attention paid to alternatives in terms of patience with alternatives and flexibility. The other part of it is this notion of identifying vital interests and duties, and again, through time, the scope of vital interest and the scope of duties has expanded and contracted depending upon administrations and other kinds of contexts as well.
DR. SANKEY: I think, you know, I'm an eighteenth-century historian, so I was really fascinated by the relevance of America's wrangling with using force from the very beginning. I'd like to turn to the real outlying status that a democracy in the Anglosphere, like early American—the early American republic—has in regarding having a standing army and using force, because that's not something that Frederick the Great worries a lot about, or that one of the Louis' in France worries about, and how pertinent that is to current thinking about where the military sit in a civil-military relationship in a democracy. Could you talk about that relationship?
DR. LORENZO: From what I uncovered, that was really the main driving force behind the restrictive understanding of the necessity standard; that there was a great deal of angst about standing armies, and more than that, wars themselves. The argument that wars do things to a country, that they move them away from republican principles, that they expand the power of the executives, and therefore this balanced political mechanism that everybody at the time who was involved in country politics in Great Britain and how that fed over into the colonies, that that's what you wanted, and wars don't allow that to happen, that they destroy this.
That is one of the things that throughout time has been important against war in US history. No matter the importance of the issue, many opponents of war argue, yes, you might attain that goal by using war, but we're going to lose the republic, and therefore it's not worth it. That's not an argument that those who invoke the imperative side attend to very much; they're very much more interested in sovereignty, they're more interested in security, in trade, and other kinds of things that they argue have to be protected. If they're not protected, the very physical existence of the United States is going to be in danger. So there's a certain amount of talking past one another. On the one side, people say, well, the physical security of the United States is at stake; other people say, well, you can save the physical security of the United States, but it's not going to be the United States anymore, so why are you even doing that?
DR. SANKEY: I also found it interesting that one of the vital interests that you mention in the early nineteenth-century is the status of the United States—particularly in the Western hemisphere—that they're thinking about reputation and the kind of hegemon status, at least in our part of the world.
DR. LORENZO: Right. Yeah, well, again, that goes all the way back. There are references in the immediate post-constitutional debate phase where people are talking about the United States has to have a reputation for defending its vital interest; otherwise, everybody's going to be picking on you, even a declining power like Spain is going to be picking on you, and you just can't have that. Because what that's going to do, the argument is, is embroil the United States continually in these crises. So what you have to do is knock people over the head and say, look, we have enough power, and we have enough willingness to use that power to protect our vital interests, and then nobody's going to mess with you.
And again, that goes all the way back to the 1780s, where people were predominantly talking about that in terms of sea power. They weren't talking about in terms of having this strong army that's going to go marching out against anybody, because, again, the argument was, well, who are we going to be marching against? We got this ocean in front of us that's going to protect us, so the most important thing is defending our trade, and in order to defend trade, you have to have a strong navy.
Now, again, as you know, that then begins to spill out further in terms of trying to keep people out of the western hemisphere, and therefore it leads to the Monroe Doctrine, which the United States couldn't enforce at the time because it didn't have a strong enough navy. So you have to outsource that to the British. But again, the notion was you have to start keeping people away from the United States, and you have to begin demonstrating that you have the will and the power to be able to do so. And so reputation becomes very important for protecting trade, for protecting security, and for thinking about taking on potential rivals and enemies far away from your shores, again, keeping them out of the western hemisphere.
DR. SANKEY: In the next stage of American power, when we get to the 1840s, you mentioned that in Polk's thinking about the Mexican War, he's thinking about regime change maybe for the first time in discussions with Santa Ana, could you think of... Talk about that expansion of the tools that the US is willing to use?
DR. LORENZO: Yeah, this was the first time as I note that I could find a serious discussion about using military power to change what was perceived to be an unfriendly government. This happened with discussions with Santa Ana. This had dealt with discussions about the nature of the regime that Polk was dealing with at the time that the war was beginning to break out. And again, the argument was they're a military government, they took power through a non-democratic process, therefore they're not to be trusted. They're not to be trusted in terms of negotiations, and that's why these previous diplomatic forays into trying to solve problems between the United States and Mexico just haven't worked. They're not trustworthy, so they won't keep their agreements, they won't fulfill the terms of treaties, and they're liable to come boiling over the border between the United States and our new territory of Texas.
And then there was a whole notion of, well, they're going to invite some European princeling to come over and sit on the Mexican throne. Well, A) it's going to be a Mexican throne, and therefore it's not going to be a democracy, but B) you're going to rekindle these connections with Europe. And so if you have a French princeling or a Spanish princeling or a Portuguese princeling on the throne, France or Spain or Portugal is going to be very interested in that, and we don't want that to happen. That's what we've been trying to do—to get these European powers out of the western hemisphere.
So the way I conceive of the Mexican war is, again, it was not so much about manifest destiny per se, in terms of there is this natural progression of US expansion that's going to take up the middle part of the North American continent, as we need to get this territory under our control before somebody else gets it, right. So we want this other... We want the northern parts of Mexican territory, because quite frankly, Mexico is not strong enough to hold it anyway, and we want California because the British are nosing around, the Russians are nosing around, probably France is going to get interested in it too, and we don't want them sitting on our doorsteps.
Now, there's a little bit of manipulation that goes on; a little bit of not saying things quite explicitly on the part of Polk. When he talks about the war initially, it's about Mexican troops coming over the border. It's about these unpaid indemnities to US citizens that have to be squeezed out of the Mexicans, but I think an important part of it was, yes, he wanted those territories, but he wanted those territories not because of this inevitable understanding of expansion, but for security reasons.
DR. SANKEY: Well, and that leads me to, I think, something that again has great contemporary relevance, and that's that you mentioned that although maybe Polk wasn't entirely frank all the time about the purpose of this, you found a consistency really across American history that the public maybe doesn't appreciate, that I think the public perception may be that behind closed doors politicians are going to war for a secret laundry list of things. But what you found is that they're pretty evenly matched in terms of what they talk about in the records you found and what they're selling when they go out and make speeches and articulate why we should go to war.
DR. LORENZO: Right, and now the caveat of that is, of course, the records that I was able to get ahold of. But these are diaries and other kinds of things, which I would say rather faithfully follow the kinds of discussions that are taking place within the White House. I mean, why would you put something down in a diary that is not true? So what I found is that there are two kinds of connections. One is consistently when presidents talk about war, they talk about it in terms of the necessity standard. They talk about, "There's no other viable option. Here are the vital interests and duties that are involved." They also do that, in so far as I can get records, internally. So it's not like they are necessarily using predominantly other kinds of standards.
So they're using... They're using the standard, which is much more, again, "Is this necessary or not?" It's not, "Is major military force a good option or a better option or the best option. Is it the only option?" The other part of it is when they talk about viable alternatives and to what degree they are exercising patience and engaging in flexibility, as well as the kind of vital interests and duties that they talk about publicly. They pretty much talk about it the same way privately. Polk didn't bring up the territory until later in the conversation. Whereas it's quite obvious from the beginning he has his eyes on northern Mexican territory, but he does eventually get around to it. So it's not as if it was this vast secret kind of thing that was on the agenda, and he just didn't talk about it.
And again, like you, I found that interesting because I was expecting more divergences. I was expecting perhaps a more free-wheeling and wider discussion about war angst and they're not; they pretty much faithfully replicate publicly what they do in private.
DR. SANKEY: So as we move through the nineteenth century, in the later phase, as the US is industrially and demographically approaching great power status, as the Europeans think about it, we get the Spanish-American War. And that's one that you identify as the very modern sort of conception of responsibility to protect. So how does that fit in with American vital interests?
DR. LORENZO: It didn't initially because the initial understanding of vital interests was pretty restrained. It was territorial security, the protection of US citizens, the US protection of trade routes. And in 1812, it's "Let's make sure that no hegemon imposes on us some world order that's really going to be bad for us." But that's a fairly short list. But again, as the United States became more interested in keeping other states out of the western hemisphere, it came to realize that one of the reasons why other states were interested in the western hemisphere was what was happening there—in particular outbreaks of local disorder, coups, what we would now call failed states, other kinds of things were happening that were endangering trade. They were endangering the citizens of other countries.
And so the US began intervening in those kinds of situations to protect its own citizens and to create local order so other states wouldn't have the excuse of doing that. Sort of the same thing was happening in Cuba because there was another interaction going on in the 1890s that had followed on a previous insurrection in the 1860s and 1870s. And both of them had been horrifically bloody; lots and lots of non-combatants had been killed. The Cuban economy had been completely wrecked. So coming again on the heels of a previous insurrection where President Grant had talked about intervening but never quite did, this was now seen as something. This is the US responsibility. If Spain can't responsibly deal with its colony in Cuba, if it can't beat the insurgents and re-impose order or say, "We give up, we're leaving," and instead drag this thing out interminably such that neither side is going to win, all of these people are going to be dying. Cuba's in chaos, its trade is going to be in chaos. Then the United States needs to step up to the plate.
And a major part of this was this notion that people were dying. And as I note, some people in Congress were basically saying the Spanish are committing genocide, and we can't allow that. That is against American values; it's against Christian values. Well, why us? Well, it's on our doorstep. It's right there, we have the responsibility to do this. There is a responsibility to protect, but the bar seemed to be relatively high. It's not just that a government is abusing its population or there are violations of human rights, it's genocide. And it's genocide very close to the US. So in those rather narrow circumstances, people were beginning to say the United States has a duty to do this.
DR. SANKEY: So along with protecting Cubans, we see an increasing responsibility to protect Americans. The US is sending out missionaries; we've got businesspeople in Mexico. How does the US arrive at the idea that where Americans are or even on a ship crossing the Atlantic? Why does the US have to make sure that they're okay?
DR. LORENZO: That seems to go back relatively far. The whole notion of protecting US merchant vessels in the Mediterranean. That was seen as a vital interest, not only in terms of trade but also in terms of protecting US citizens. It was something, again, that was brought up into context of Central and South America, Mexico, and so forth. And I think, again, it was associated partly with sovereignty. If you're going to be recognized as a sovereign country, you have to demonstrate what it is a sovereign country does, and that's to protect your citizens. But there was also this notion that if you allow your citizens to be abused, that's going to paint you as being weak. And so there was this realist notion that you have to, again, have a reputation for having enough power and enough willingness to protect your own citizens.
Now, when we get to the 1930s, there are going to be people who say, well, no, the limits of that are going to be the continental United States and if somebody wants to go outside the continental United States, well, they're taking that risk and the United States has no obligation to protect them. But that doesn't seem to have been the traditional view. The traditional view seems to be that American protection unless you do something very stupid like mount some sort of filibustering expedition to Cuba and the Spanish authorities get ahold of you and they execute—well, we'll try our best, but we're not going to go to war about that, because that's against international law, it's against American law, it's against Spanish law. You took the chances, you gotta take your chances.
But if you're engaged in legitimate trade, if you're engaged in legitimate travel, the traditional understanding seems to be that US protection, insofar as it could, follows with you, and if you don't protect them in some way then that reflects negatively on the United States in a much larger sense. So that it could lead to an increase in tensions because another country isn't taking you seriously, and that can then eventually lead to a deeper and deeper crisis and therefore a war. So it was seen as this is something that you have to do, and as I document in various places, there was lots of attention paid to reparations to US citizens who had been physically abused or had their property confiscated, their shipping vessels sunk by the French.
And so you have presidents in the 1840s, 1830s, and 1840s who are still negotiating with the French about stuff that happened in the 1790s. So you have these 40-year-old claims that presidents are still dealing with, and they're devoting a great deal of their annual messages to telling Congress, this is what we've been doing about it. So evidently it was important to them; it was important to members of Congress.
DR. SANKEY: So this brings us to the first time, really since the Revolution, that the US has had to deal with allies, especially allies that it wants to be seen as a peer with. So could you talk a little bit about Wilson in World War I and what it means now to be just one of a coalition, not standing alone?
DR. LORENZO: I'm not sure that Wilson ever completely came to grips with that. I think the Fourteen Points, and this became part of this other trope that Americans still refer to, here is the United States riding to the rescue of Great Britain and France. So I think that he saw, yes, these are other countries that we are fighting with. I'm not sure that he ever truly appreciated that they were allies. I think his notion was, this is a war that we got dragged into. It wasn't our war initially. I've done everything I can to keep us out of the war. It's Germany's violation of international laws, it's Germany's abuse of US trading rights, and the stupidity showed in the Zimmermann telegram that's getting into the war, and we're just happy to be fighting with Great Britain and France. But I'm going to set the terms of this. I'm going to set out US war aims in the Fourteen Points, and you're going to go along with it, and I'm going to go to Versailles, and I'm going to try to get what I want, which is a world that's going to be safe for the United States because everybody's going to be a democracy.
That's what I want, I don't care about reparations to France. I do care about who gets Germany's colonies in China, but I'm going to be willing to bargain that away for a League of Nations, right? So he's not that worried about the interest of Great Britain and France after the war. I don't think he's that interested in the interests of Great Britain and France during the war. So I think of it, it wasn't quite the War of 1812 where France and the United States are fighting the same entity, but don't really coordinate that much. It's not quite that, but I'm not sure that he really accepted them as allies. I think he accepted them as co-belligerents in the same war, and he's going to go out and do whatever it is that he wants.
And I think that's going to be at least some contrast to Roosevelt, where Roosevelt has, I think, a deeper appreciation in what it means to be in an alliance with other countries who are fighting the same foes. From the point of view of Great Britain and France, this alliance was necessary, but I don't think it went very well for them. I don't think they really thought that the United States was an ally in any deep sense, and I wouldn't necessarily quarrel with that characterization. Wilson was not someone who necessarily played well with others, whether that's domestically or internationally, and I think that that comes out in wartime relations.
DR. SANKEY: With Wilson, I feel obliged at this point to say, "insert political science dean joke here," in terms of not playing well with others. You give the hook to my next question, of course, in that Franklin Roosevelt is somebody who does play very well with others and is a master at articulating this vision of a world where the US will be safe, where freedoms will flourish, even if you have to get there by being allies with Soviet Russia, for example. So if you could talk a little bit about the way that even from the early parts of his administration, Roosevelt is thinking about this bigger interconnected diplomatic and military world.
DR. LORENZO: Right, so at the beginning of his administration, he's coming from prior Republican administrations who are, I think, in some sense, quite rightly sensitive to public opinion. And public opinion had been against the United States getting into another war, as to a certain extent was the case, of course, in France and Great Britain. But on the part of the United States, it wasn't so much that it was the cost of the war—even though the United States complained about the cost, even though it was much less than the cost that Great Britain and France had borne—but it was more that the public felt it had been bamboozled into it. That there was this promise that this would be the war to end all wars, that the world would be democratized, this would be something which would assure the security of the United States.
But it didn't seem to be doing that, and so the argument was, okay, we tried to go out and help order the world. That didn't seem to work. So what's the alternative? Well, the alternative is to do just the opposite, which is, well, we'll engage in trade with these other people, we will engage with... In terms of disarmament treaties, arms reduction treaties, a treaty that is going to say nobody has the right to go to war. We'll do all those kinds of things, but we're not going to put American lives on the line in terms of a military intervention. And some of those previous administrations were keen to limit the size of capital navy ships and so forth. But they didn't want to get involved any deeper.
And what I found in going through, again, diaries of the Roosevelt administration was that there was an early appreciation by the Roosevelt administration that problems in the world are eventually going to involve the United States if you allow them to get out of hand. So it doesn't matter whether or not you are sitting behind two oceans; it's going to come to you, and so, therefore, the United States, if it wants to be at peace, has to become more involved in the world to try to nip these things in the bud. And Roosevelt used the tools that he had available to him, which were basically the Neutrality Acts, and he tried to influence the way that they were written, not always successfully, and this whole notion of boycotts and economic sanctions.
So ostensibly that would be moving against Mussolini when he is invading Ethiopia, doing something about Japan and its incursions into Manchuria, trying to do something about outside interference in the Spanish Civil War. But he's not able to do that because his hands are tied, but he does as much as he feels like he can without getting into real domestic trouble. But that then sort of becomes the launching point for him talking about the United States needs to become involved when in 1939 World War II breaks out and talking about the need to support Great Britain because if Great Britain falls, then the United States is going to be alone in the world.
And then it then leads to this understanding of the US participation in the world order. That's different from Wilson's, right. Wilson's was, we'll make everybody a democracy, and we'll start creating this collective security organization in the form of the League of Nations.
Roosevelt's was much more we'll get together with other great powers and we'll bop people on the head if they get out of line. So it's going to be much more of the concert of Europe, right. These powerful states get together, and they try to preserve the status quo, and if anybody gets out of line collectively, they say, no, you're not going to do that. And who is going to argue with the four or five most powerful nations in the world? They're not going to do that. Unfortunately for him, the Soviet Union is not interested in preserving the status quo, so that falls apart relatively quickly.
DR. SANKEY: And so, of course, at the end of the Second World War, everybody's calculations are going to change dramatically because of a new tool, and that is, of course, that the US and then rapidly afterward the Soviet Union, have nuclear weapons, which are going to really alter the way that people think about risk and whether or not it's worth engaging in major operations. So how does this lead us to NSC 68?
DR. LORENZO: NSC 68, interesting. The interesting thing I found about it was in reading it much more deeply than I had before, which was a little superficially, was this notion that this is a conflict between the Soviet Union on the one side and the United States and its allies on the other. It's not going away, it's going to be there for the long term, and therefore it is going to be a cold war. It's not going to be a hot war, and so you don't want to use military force except as something that is a last resort.
Now, that's a particular kind of conceptualization of no viable alternative, because people have argued over time about whether or not viability and pursuing viability really means thinking about last resort. And people like Polk, for example, are not going to really buy into this notion that major military force is a last resort. Their argument is that you can see fairly rapidly that diplomacy policy is not going to get you anywhere. Because of the actions of the actor that you're dealing with or their character, and so you display a little bit of patience. That doesn't work, okay, you use major military force.
NSC 68 very much was this has to be a last resort, because if things escalate to another world war, not only is that going to be bad because in the past world wars have been bad, but now you have these nuclear weapons running around, and that could be it. I see NSC 68 perhaps in a slightly different light than others do. I see it much more as a restraining document with an emphasis on you really have to explore these alternatives. You really have to fight out this conflict using these alternatives and not quickly resort to military force.
That then falls rather uneasily against other lessons that people learn from World War II, mainly you can't appease aggressive revisionists. If you appease aggressive revisionists, they'll take that as a reward and they'll just keep on trying to up-end the status quo. And then that ultimately leads to a world war, and nobody wants another world war again because now you have these nuclear weapons. So on the one hand, NSC's going to say, well, using major military force is going to have to be a last resort. But then the immediate paradigm and discussions about falling dominoes and other things that are related to the balance of power arguments that are pushing people to say, well, you have to aggressively stand up to these people, right. So if it's within the NSC 68 paradigm, that means you have to start looking at alternatives that are on the coercive side of the spectrum rather than the non-coercive side of the spectrum—so military aid, aggressive sanctions, small-scale military operations.
So on the one hand, you're using major military force so that you don't get to World War III. But if you use it in the wrong way, you're going to get to World War III, and so that then leads to this whole notion of how it is that you fight something like Vietnam. And you fight something like Vietnam in a way that you don't involve the PRC, because we know that A) it has nuclear weapons, and B) if you get close to the border, they're going to come after you as they did in Korea. So you fight to get people to the negotiating table.
For others, that's not the way that you fight, right. If you're going to fight, you fight to win. You fight with both hands, not one tied behind your back. You fight to eliminate North Korea, not just bring North Korea to the bargaining table. So in that sense, I think NSC 68, on the one hand, leads to Vietnam in terms of it's a war that has to be fought, but it also leads to Vietnam in the sense that it's a war that has to be fought in a certain kind of way, which, again, is going to be controversial.
DR. SANKEY: Many of the politicians who are going to confront a unipolar world have their formative experience in that NSC 68 Vietnam era. And so as you were talking, I was thinking about the lead-up and the operations of the First Gulf War. Could you talk about how the decision-making process for the first Bush administration flows out of that experience in dealing with here's somebody you really need to punch in the nose?
DR. LORENZO: Right, and again, what I think happens is that the first George Bush sees the opportunity of going back to what Roosevelt originally wanted, which was a Security Council of five major powers that were going to protect the status quo. And to a certain extent, he made that work sort of in a way that Roosevelt envisioned. Now, it had worked in Korea only because, of course, the Soviet Union was boycotting the Security Council because of issues of seating the PRC. Again, there are important parallels that go back to both the end of World War II as well as Korea on the one hand and the Gulf War, the First Gulf War, on the other.
So if you look at what Truman does, right? Truman says, North Korea, you've got to stop this and go back beyond the bridge. They didn't do that. He has the United Nations tell North Korea, you gotta stop this and go back to North Korea. They don't do it. He asked the Soviet Union to tell North Korea to stop this and go back beyond your borders. And they don't do it. So he says, okay, we're going to go to war, right? So it was a very short period of time. He didn't enter into any negotiations with the North Koreans. He didn't talk to them, he didn't offer them concessions; there was no flexibility in his bottom line. He engages in these three attempts to get them to stop, and he says, okay, that's it, there's nothing that we can do other than use major military force. And so he's off in a matter of days.
And again, you contrast this to the War of 1812 where various presidents are dealing with Great Britain over issues that go back 30 years, right. And there's the Jay Treaty, there's all these negotiations, there's boycotts, there's all of this stuff before Madison finally goes to war. Truman is off within a week. Now, again, that's partly the nature of the post-World War II world. Who's going to stand up to the United States, etcetera, etcetera. So there's nobody deterring him, public opinion is pretty much behind him. The military establishment has been cut back—cut back significantly—and they find out the consequences of that as the war is being fought, but I don't think that they really saw... They certainly didn't see the PRC as a match for them. They didn't see North Korea as a match for them.
It's a very quick transition, and then at least some people argue he moves very quickly from sanctions to actual military force. So that it's not a long-drawn-out process of exploring alternatives. And then more than that. He never negotiates with Iraq. There's only one meeting between US officials Iraqi officials, and that's just to deliver this letter from George H.W. Bush to the Iraqi officials to say, if you don't get out of Kuwait this is what's going to happen. So there's no real dialogue there, and he's never at all flexible in his bottom line. And in fact, his bottom line increases as time goes on. Iraq has to get out of Kuwait, it has to compensate the Kuwaitis whom it has harmed, it has to make sure that the legitimate Kuwaiti government is reinstalled. And then further, you've got to give up your weapons of mass destruction. You have to abide by certain international principles when it comes to dealing with your internal populations.
So there is no we're going to be flexible in terms of a bottom line because we're not going to pay you off to get out of Kuwait, because that will just encourage you to do it again. So there's no flexibility. And again, he adds on items to the bottom line, so that in some people's minds makes war inevitable. Unless Saddam Hussein says no, okay, I'll get out of Kuwait. And he's not going to do that because he's already calculated that that's going to be more harmful to him in the long run than fighting a war against the United States and losing. So again, the time frame isn't quite what Korea was, but it's still a relatively short time frame in which alternatives were explored.
DR. SANKEY: I suspect that almost everybody who will be listening to this podcast is probably going to be someone who participated in the military engagements of really the last two decades, and I thought it was really striking in the book that you talk about particularly the Obama administration's deployment of force as adding up to a major military engagement. Lots of small things that I think maybe the public saw as not the equivalent of an invasion of Iraq or a response like Korea, but which cumulatively add up to something much bigger. Could you speak to that?
DR. LORENZO: As I note in the book, I have to credit that observation to a student of mine. He was a West Point graduate. Because he was reading over my discussion about Obama, he said, well, you know, if you look at all of these together, at least from the military's point of view, that's a big commitment of resources to have them fighting in all these different places, but it's not necessarily the case that they receive the same level of scrutiny. As I noted before, it's not always the case that the necessity standard gets used for these smaller-scale military operations. I have found some incidences where they did, and at one point it looks like Obama comes pretty close to doing it, but it comes to be a little more irrational actor, utilitarian kind of understanding the military force.
If we use military force, we'll let you equip better. If we use military force, will we be able to achieve all our objectives more fully than if we would use alternatives? If we use military force, will we be able to attain longer standing kinds of achievements? And so if that's the case, you're looking at military force as just another tool, which is not the case when you use the necessity standard. If you're using the necessity standard, military force is an exceptional kind of tool that you only use rarely. But if, in fact, you're using it in small instances so many times and over so wide an area where you're targeting ostensibly the same kind of enemy, and it adds up in terms of the commitment of resources to a major military conflict, have you really given that major commitment to level of screening that it really needs?
And to me, that's kind of the important part of that observation. Now, again, that presumes that the necessity standard is your preferred standard. I think it's a good standard because it's deeply rooted in American political culture, and it partakes of important elements of Just War theory and other discussions about when war should be initiated. To me, that poses a problem; for other people, it might not pose a problem because they might think that, well, lots of smaller military engagements if they're justifiable by some sort of utilitarian calculation, that's fine. I'm not completely taken by that argument, and therefore, again, I see it as possibly a problem.
DR. SANKEY: Following on that, certainly, because this is an Air Force media outlet, there are new tools in the military's capability, cyber-dazzling satellites, unmanned aerial systems, which I think in a lot of ways obscure the level of investment and commitment because it doesn't involve... I guess to go back to your West Point student boots on the ground, so how does that new kind of hybrid warfare or gray zone warfare enter into these kind of calculations with the necessity standard?
DR. LORENZO: I'm not sure that they've been completely explored. They should logically follow as alternatives if you're talking about major wars. There are alternatives and probably fall somewhere even further on the coercive scale than military aid, military advisors, but perhaps not quite so far as we're going to inject a small number of boots on the ground, right. So I still see those as alternatives that for some people, you may need to exhaust before you get to the use of major military force. So in one understanding it's another layer of alternatives that you have to explore—either actually explore, if you're really committed to this notion of it being the last resort and exhausting everything, or that you have to at least theoretically explore to satisfy those people who do think about war as a last resort.
Okay, did you try drone strikes? Okay, did you try cyber kinds of things? Well, no. Well, why didn't you do that? Couldn't we attain this particular objective of protecting a vital interest without going war by using these alternatives, right. So again, one way of thinking about it is you're expanding the toolbox of alternatives as opposed to using a major military force or even minor military force, which can be a good thing because, again, in the context of the necessity standard, the major use of military force is supposed to be an exceptional kind of thing.
So in that sense, as a more coercive alternative, as you move to those, you might be thinking, well, you're using this alternative as a way of not engaging your military—major military force. But in fact, by using that alternative, you may increase the likelihood that you have to use major military force because that other entity is going to attack you, right. So in that sense, it makes the use of alternatives even more risky than they are now. So not only are alternatives not necessarily non-coercive, they're also not necessarily non-risky in the sense of possibly triggering something that you're trying to avoid.
And again, I think the use of drones and the use of cyber warfare, depending on who you're using them against, can do that. It can increase—it can increase quite significantly—the chances that you'll have to fight a major war. So using drones against Al Qaeda elements somewhere in the Middle East, in Ethiopia or somewhere, fine. But as we find, using drone strikes to kill an important leader in Iraq or in Iran, that opens up a different can of worms, right. So while yes, we're not going to war with Iran, you've just done something as an alternative to doing that, which probably increased the likelihood of war by a non-trivial kind of factor, right.
So again, that's thinking about it in terms of the necessity standard. There are lots of other ways of thinking about those, but when I think about it in terms of what is their relationship to the likelihood of engaging in a major use of military force as an alternative to that, I'm a little ambivalent. Again, it depends on who you're using them against and why you're doing so and what is their ability to strike back.
DR. SANKEY: I couldn't ask for a better segue for you to talk about your next project, which is... I have your title here, Alternatives to War: Preludes to Fighting. So what are some of the case studies or the examples of this that you find best illustrative of this kind of problem that you've just outlined?
DR. LORENZO: What I've done is I'm trying... And again, this is still very early days, so I'm still trying to figure out which cases I really need to concentrate on, but I'm trying to get a mix of instances where the United States has used major military force and where it has not. And the “not” can be there was an agreement or there was a stalemate, and so you can either parse those into use major military force, reach an agreement or reach a stalemate, or you can just divide it up into two: major military force or not.
So I'm looking at all the different times that administrations have dealt with North Korea over nuclear weapons. So Clinton in the 1990s, Bush in the 2000s mostly. And I am also thinking about whether or not I actually deal Trump in 2016-17 or so. I'm still ambivalent about whether I'm going to give that a whole lot of attention or not. The three times the United States went to war—Gulf War I, Gulf War II, Afghanistan, and then also Bosnia and Kosovo. So the first three of those are relatively major uses of military force. The Balkans War was—I don't know—from the Air Force point of view was a major war; from everybody else's part of view, maybe not, so that's sort of a major-minor war or an intermediate kind of use of military force.
I'm also going to be looking at Obama in Iran in terms of the nuclear agreement that he made with them. Now, what I'm doing is looking at how administrations approach the use of alternatives, how patient were they, how flexible were they, in terms of then that influencing a certain kind of outcome. So again, we talked about the first George Bush in Gulf War I; not a lot of patience, really no flexibility, short time frame, war. If you look at the Clinton administration and North Korea, there was certainly a lot of talk, and there was talk in upper level parts of the government about using military Force in 1993 and 1994. That was on the agenda, but it was... And here counting from the beginning of the Clinton administration, and the issue and the crisis was ongoing when he took office, so that's why I count it from there.
From the beginning of the administration to when the agreed framework was signed in October was 21 months, so that's more than twice as long as George Bush took to launch the First Gulf War. So there was significantly more patience with alternatives, though at a certain point, it almost was war. There was patience with alternatives, they didn't even get to levying sanctions. Now, partly, again, why they didn't levy sanctions was because they thought it might lead to war. That was an alternative that they were going to leave to the end.
Relations with North Korea in terms of talking with North Koreans underwent lots of ups and downs. So the administration had to put forward significant effort to get talks going again, particularly from August of 1993 until July of 1994. This was partly because of the approach that the administration was taking, it was partly because South Korea was hot and cold on the various things that they were willing to do or to give up, and it was also because of what the North Koreans were doing. But at any point in that time, the administration could say, okay, no, we're not doing this anymore, we're going to use military force. Now, would that have happened? There was lots of discussion about what that would cost. There were some discussions about whether or not the PRC would jump in, and of course, that's a kind of deterrent, but it is theoretically possible that they could have done that. But on at least five occasions, they put forward significant effort to revive negotiations as an alternative.
So to me, again, that displays a significant amount of patience. There was at least some flexibility in terms of the bottom line when it comes to the agreed framework. The Clinton administration moved somewhat from what the position it had earlier taken and which it had inherited from the previous administration—which was North Korea has no plutonium. It demonstrates it has no plutonium, it's not going to generate any more plutonium, and it's going to be completely under the thumb of the International Atomic Energy Agency.
Now, the agreed framework doesn't go that far, right. So there was flexibility in the bottom line. So again, when I'm looking at what does that mean if you make that kind of comparison, and you also make that comparison with what happened with the second Bush administration and so forth in the 2000s where the agreed framework unraveled, they tried to negotiate again in the six-party talks, and it came to a stalemate. If you compare those, what's going on and then what happens with the Second Gulf War, again, in which the George W. Bush administration displays not a whole lot of patience and no flexibility, what happens in Afghanistan, which is again, a carbon copy of pretty much Korea.
So if you look at those, what does that mean in terms of, is there a correlation between flexibility and patience and either going to war or not going to war—particularly on the occasions in which the United States has gone to war and used major military force. After the Cold War ends, it did it pretty quickly in the context of a crisis, right. It didn't spin out the alternative route for a long time, as happened in 1812, right. It wasn't a matter of years, and it wasn't a matter of engaging the other side in direct diplomatic negotiations. It wasn't a matter of, okay, we'll give you this if you do that. It was okay, you do this, we're giving you an ultimatum; you don't do this, we're going to war.
So what does that mean? Does it mean that if the United States is going to war it's going to do so either very early in a crisis, or, and this is the other thing that I got from looking at what I did previously, there seems to be at least some connection between a crisis that goes on during a previous presidency for a long time, the change in administrations and then war coming pretty quickly after that—or at the very least, a deterioration of relations that comes after that.
So changes in administration may be a factor, and it was a factor previously, it was a factor during the Mexican-American War, it was a factor in the Spanish War. You could argue it was sort of a factor in Vietnam when Johnson takes over for Kennedy, and Johnson is a different kind of president. He has different kinds of motivations, and my argument is that he feels that he needs to be tougher in terms of foreign policy because he has this much more liberal domestic agenda he wants to get through Congress. So what is going on there?
DR. SANKEY: My concluding question is, of course, a terrible looming ominous one, and that is, it's been really interesting for me sitting in professional military education to see the strategic change from emphasis on counter-insurgency—so COIN doctrine into real commitment to thinking about great power competition. I hear North Korea, Iran, Russia, China all day long. And so it's really one thing to think about what you've just discussed in terms of COIN, and it's something very different when you're thinking about engagements with great powers. So to wrap us up, could you maybe engage a little bit with what it means to think about going to war with a peer or near-peer competitor in this framework?
DR. LORENZO: I think, and I would hope, that leaders would take the notion of no viable alternative as being a last resort. I would hope so, and I would think that given deterrence on the part of an entity like Russia or the PRC, I think much less so in terms of Iran itself, because I'm not sure how much of a deterrence it could actually have. North Korea—it's starting to get there in terms of its missile technology and its demonstrated ability to explode nuclear devices, so I would hope that they would really explore alternatives. Now, again, if they are following the necessity standard, and they do conclude that alternatives won't work, the imperative side kicks in, and the arguments and the public arguments and the private arguments that I've seen, historically when the imperative side kicks in is that people won't talk about costs, they don't talk about the prospects of success. They say this is something that we have to do.
It doesn't matter if it's going to cost a lot. It doesn't matter if we think we're going to win or not. We have to win. We have to do this. So again, the whole rational actor model goes out the window; for good or bad, it goes out the window. So it's not a matter of counting up the cost and trying to determine whether or not this is going to be something that we ought to do from a utilitarian point of view. It's a principled kind of thing. We have to do this. And therefore, for example, conflict management kinds of techniques that might come in from the outside, United Nations and so forth, because most of those techniques are based upon a rationalist understanding, you raise the cost of non-compliance, you lower the cost of compliance, etcetera, etcetera.
Now, again, that presumes that they're going to use the necessity standard. They might not. Every time that it's happened in the past, they have but it's sort of like a stock market. Previous performance doesn't guarantee future performance, but it seems to be a very deeply rooted standard that is... When I'm looking at the North Korean stuff, people are saying in the 1990s, diplomacy's not going to get us anywhere. We have to attack. We have to do it. Now, that was in the 1990s. I haven't gone through as much of the actual discussions in the 2000s and 2000-teens, that might not be the case anymore. But there have always been people, particularly in Congress, who are critical of an administration who are going through various alternatives. Telling the administration, no, you're wrong, these alternatives are not viable, and the longer you put off a major war, the weaker we're going to look. We're going to lose our reputation, and if you cut a deal, we are automatically going to think that you're not protecting the US vital interest, right.
And those are very powerful arguments. Presidents don't want to be in that position where people are... Powerful people are telling them that they're neglecting their duty. That's political dynamite. So then they're in their position of what do I do? Do I continue pursuing these alternatives and feel like I'm not being supported domestically, or do I go to war and all of the things that are associated with that, right? And that's the thing about the necessity standard. It's very binary; you either go to war or you don't. There is no in-between. It's sort of the Yoda kind of thing, there is no try, you either do or you don't.
DR. SANKEY: This has been a fantastic discussion. We are wrapping up with Dr. David Lorenzo, his new book is War and American Foreign Policy: Justifications of Major Military Actions in the US, from Palgrave Macmillan. We will wrap things up here and say thank you, and when you talk about Kosovo, we will definitely have you back.
DR. LORENZO: Okay, well, thank you very much. Thank you very much for having me
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