A Welcome Return to the Guam Doctrine

By Sinnreich, Richard Hart | Army, September 2012 | Go to article overview

A Welcome Return to the Guam Doctrine


Sinnreich, Richard Hart, Army


On June 28, with most of the nation's news media preoccupied with the Supreme Court's decision on the constitutionality of the 2010 Affordable Care Act, CNN quietly reported Defense Secretary Leon Panetta's announcement that the U.S. military soon will begin deploying specialized Army units around the world to assist friendly nations in developing and improving their own self-defense capabilities.

"In the past," CNN quoted Panetta, "the United States often assumed the primary role of defending others. We built permanent bases. We deployed large forces across the globe to fixed positions. We often assumed that others were not willing or capable of defending themselves. Our new strategy recognizes that this is not the world we live in anymore."

Acknowledgment that the United States can't afford to sustain the primary burden of enforcing international security in the world at large is a welcome return to strategic modesty, but it's by no means the first time that we've adopted that sensible military posture.

At a press conference in Guam in July 1969, President Richard Nixon announced that, while the U.S. always would come to the aid of our allies at need, we thenceforth would expect them to assume the principal responsibility for their own security.

Expanding on that theme in a speech to the nation in November 1969, Nixon set out three principles of what became known as the Guam Doctrine:

* First, the United States would keep its treaty commitments.

* Second, we would provide a shield if another nuclear power threatened the freedom of a nation allied with us or one whose survival we considered vital to our security.

* Finally, in cases involving other threats of aggression, we would furnish military and economic assistance when requested in accordance with our treaty commitments. But we would look to the nation directly threatened to furnish the bulk of the military manpower required for its own defense.

"The defense of freedom is everybody's business, not just America's business," the President declared. "And it is particularly the responsibility of the people whose freedom is threatened."

The parallels between today's circumstances and those prompting the Guam Doctrine aren't hard to find. In January 1969, the United States had been engaged in Vietnam for more than six years. The war already had cost more than 40,000 American lives, and its dollar costs were running at more than $80 billion per year.

In March 1969, while working to build up and improve the South Vietnamese army under the rubric of " Vietnamization," the United States began drawing down what by then had become more than half a million U. …

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