Strategic Impasse: Offense, Defense, and Deterrence Theory and Practice

By Stephen J. Cimbala | Go to book overview

8

Nuclear Weapons and Third World Conflicts: Strategic Irrelevancy?

War in Europe has been deterred by the combination of conventional denial forces and the threat of nuclear escalation. This combination of conventional war-fighting forces and nuclear deterrent forces has proved to be irrelevant to entire categories of challenges to U.S. security. In the forty years from 1948 to 1988, all wars in which the United States was involved took place in the Third World, outside Europe, North America, and the Soviet Union. 1 Not all of these were guerrilla wars or insurgencies. The Korean War, for example, was a mostly conventional war with some irregular overtones, efforts at subversion and intelligence penetration having been made by both Korean combatants against their opposite numbers.

What was troublesome about wars in the Third World was their amorphous character (hence I later use the term amorphous wars). The definition of friend and foe was unclear, and the objectives for which Americans and their allies fighting were not always apparent. Moreover, the impacts of fighting these wars on the American military profession and the U.S. intelligence community were ambivalent; whether the United States should be directly or indirectly involved was controversial; and, most critical, the United States and its European allies had to offer a plausible countermodel to the Marxian one if they were to approach problems of Third World nationalism as an axis of East-West competition.

The competition between the United States and the Soviet Union in the developing societies is not primarily military. In some senses the United States is competing with itself. It has as a result of its visible success for two centuries let loose the virus of nationalistic self-

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