An Anachronistic Policy

By Klare, Michael T. | Harvard International Review, Summer 2000 | Go to article overview

An Anachronistic Policy


Klare, Michael T., Harvard International Review


The Strategic Obsolescence of the "Rogue Doctrine"

It has been ten years since General Colin Powell, then Chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff manufactured the "Rogue Doctrine" as the basic template for US military strategy in the post-Cold War era. With the Soviet Union in irreversible decline and no other superpower adversary in sight, Powell elected to focus US strategy on the threat allegedly posed by hostile Third World powers--the so-called "rogue states." Although intended largely as an interim measure--a means of maintaining defense spending at near-Cold War levels until a more credible threat appeared on the horizon--the antirogue strategy has become the defining paradigm for American security policy. But while immensely popular on Capitol Hill, the Rogue Doctrine has become increasingly irrelevant to the security environment in which American forces operate.

Under current US military policy, the Department of Defense is required to maintain sufficient strength to simultaneously fight and defeat two Iraq-like regional adversaries. These adversaries-generally assumed to include Iraq, Iran, Libya, and North Korea-are said to be dangerous because of their potent military capabilities, history of antagonism toward the West, and their pursuit of weapons of mass destruction (WMD). Although not linked by treaty or formal alliance, these states are said to pose a threat because of their common disregard for the accepted norms of international society. The Rogue Doctrine is presently the main guiding principle for the structure, orientation, and disposition of US military forces. Other tasks are, of course, assigned to the armed forces on a regular basis, as demonstrated most recently by the air war against Serbia. But these other missions, including multilateral peacekeeping operations, are considered "add-ons" to the primary mission of fighting the rogues; they do not g overn the basic organization of the Armed Services. Just as US forces were once trained and equipped for the overriding task of resisting a Warsaw Pact invasion of Western Europe-the "Fulda Gap mentality"-they are now trained and equipped to repeat Operation Desert Storm again and again.

The Rogue Doctrine also significantly influences US foreign policy. For instance, much effort has been put into isolating fran from the international community, despite the fact that most of the United States' allies do not share Washington's views on the necessity of doing so. The United States also expends great political capital in trying to maintain economic sanctions on Iraq-even though a growing number of states have concluded that the sanctions have outlived their usefulness.

Unfortunately, the Rogue Doctrine has been subjected to very little critical analysis. Few in Congress have questioned the rationale behind the "two war" policy that now governs US strategy, or its US$275 billion per year cost (soon to rise to US$300 billion). The mass media has not behaved any better; references to the "rogue state threat" are common, but are rarely accompanied by any analysis of political and military developments in the states involved or of the changing nature of the security environment. If we are to adopt a realistic approach to future perils, therefore, it is essential to look more critically at the dominant US security paradigm.

The Rise of the Rogue Doctrine

The origins of the Rogue Doctrine can be traced to the final weeks of 1989, when General Colin Powell commenced a search for a new, post-Soviet military doctrine. Recognizing that the threat of a US-Soviet clash had lost all plausibility in the wake of the Berlin Wall's collapse, Powell sought to construct a new threat scenario that would justify the preservation of America's superpower capabilities in a world with no Sovietlike opponent. Working closely with General Lee Butler, then Director of the Strategic Plans and Policy Directorate (J-5) of the Joint Staff, Powell conceived of a strategy in which regional threats, not the monolithic threat of the Soviet Union, would govern US military planning in the years to come. …

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