Announcing a new national defense strategy yesterday, President Barack Obama called for a "smaller, more agile" U.S. military force and reduced emphasis on difficult ground warfare missions. This shift put forth by the administration is in line with the conclusions in a new book by defense expert Richard K. Betts, who recommends the United States exercise greater caution and restraint, using force less frequently ("stay out") but more decisively ("all-in"). In American Force: Dangers, Delusions, and Dilemmas in National Security—a Council on Foreign Relations (CFR) book—Betts demonstrates that in the past two decades, U.S. military resources have been used with "too much breadth and too little depth."
In this wide-ranging study Betts, CFR adjunct senior fellow for national security studies, surveys the Cold War roots of recent initiatives; exposes weaknesses in humanitarian interventions and peace operations; analyzes terrorism and the use of nuclear, biological, and cyber weapons; evaluates the case for preventive war; debunks myths about civil-military relations; and shows anomalies in defense budgets.
In coming years, "China is the main potential problem because it poses a choice Americans are reluctant to face. Washington can strive to control the strategic equation in Asia, or it can reduce the odds of conflict with China. But it will be a historically unusual achievement if it manages to do both," notes Betts. Although conflict with China is not inevitable, "the United States is more likely to go to war with China than with any other major power."
The resurgence of Russia poses less of a challenge, he writes, but "The worst outcome for U.S. interests would be a solid, anti-Western alliance between Russia and China." He adds that Washington has been "stoking their incentives to collaborate strategically…with unbridled NATO expansion, criticism of Moscow's backsliding on democratization, abrogation of [the Anti-Ballistic Missile] Treaty, and frictions with Beijing over human rights, economic policies, and Taiwan."
Betts, who is a professor at Columbia University, writes that while Afghanistan began as a necessary war, the assault on Iraq in 2003 was elective and unwarranted. High military and civilian casualties, financial costs of trillions of dollars, and inflamed anti-American sentiments were the results of these wars. Even "if the outcomes in Afghanistan and Iraq ultimately prove acceptable, the question will be whether they were worth the cost."
"From Bush I to Obama, U.S. policy has aimed to shape a world in which all countries cooperate—on American terms." To face global instability and other unfamiliar threats, Betts recommends a more dispassionate assessment of national security interests.
To order the book, visit www.cfr.org/american_force.
ADVANCE PRAISE FOR American Force:
"Highly recommended for aficionados of foreign-policy and national security issues."
"In twelve detailed, well-written, and insightful chapters, American Force does a masterful job analyzing all of the important issues that have arisen during the conduct of post–World War II United States national security policy. This book is a must-read for policymakers and analysts trying to comprehend the current threats to U.S. security and develop effective and efficient responses to them."
—Lawrence J. Korb, former assistant secretary of defense and senior fellow, Center for American Progress
"In this distillation of a career spent on careful study of America's use of military power, Richard K. Betts provides a good, strong dose of skepticism. A practical man, remarkably free of ideological cant, Betts has mixed a fine antidote to strategic conceits, a healthy and humbling aid to good judgment."
—Philip D. Zelikow, former counselor, U.S. State Department, and executive director of the 9/11 Commission
"Richard K. Betts has long been one of America's smartest, sanest, and most knowledgeable scholars on national security affairs. American Force distills his considerable wisdom and offers incisive and clear-eyed analyses of the main security issues that United States leaders now face. If those who aspire to be commander-in-chief (and those who hope to advise him or her) could be required to read one book, this should be it."
—Stephen M. Walt, Harvard Kennedy School
Richard K. Betts is CFR adjunct senior fellow for national security studies, director of the Saltzman Institute of War and Peace Studies and of the international security policy program in the School of International and Public Affairs at Columbia University. Previously, Betts has been an occasional consultant to the National Intelligence Council and Central Intelligence Agency. He served for six years on the National Security Advisory Panel for the director of Central Intelligence, and was a member of the National Commission on Terrorism (the Bremer Commission). Betts is the author of Soldiers, Statesmen, and Cold War Crises (Harvard University Press, 1977), Surprise Attack (Brookings, 1982), Nuclear Blackmail and Nuclear Balance (Brookings, 1987), and Military Readiness (Brookings, 1995). He is coauthor and editor of three other Brookings books: The Irony of Vietnam (1979), Nonproliferation and U.S. Foreign Policy (1980), and Cruise Missiles: Technology, Strategy, Politics (1981). Betts received his BA, MA, and PhD in government from Harvard University.