In Search of an American "Defense Insurance Policy"
The United States has once again arrived at one of those turning points in its uneven history of foreign policy involvement and abstinence--a turning point that is crucial for determining the nation's position in the world for the next decade and perhaps the next century. A national debate about the nation's strategic choices has unfolded since 1989, when a wildfire of revolutionary change began to transfigure the erstwhile Soviet empire--and with it the image of a pervasive threat which had sustained the nation's historically most protracted engagement in the global arena.
In its early phase, until August 1990, the debate had almost exclusively focused on the future of the U.S. defense budget--on how far, how rapidly, and how "safely" defense outlays might be slashed to reap the promises of a "peace dividend" for domestic spending. The initial debate resulted in a congressional "budget agreement" that essentially called for reductions in defense expenditures on the arbitrary order of some 25 percent over a five-year period.
The debate was interrupted by the shock of the Gulf War and its warning that the collapse of the Soviet superpower may signal, not the idyll of a new and peaceful world order, but an ever more uncertain global scenario, rife with unpredictable dangers. The shock has worn off, and the national debate has flared anew, with greater intensity and sweep.
Indeed, sharpened by partisan politics and the pressures of domestic economic problems, the debate seems to be proceeding in a virtual vacuum of agreed-upon premises about where the future lines of the nation's security should be drawn. In the process, the U.S. defense posture, painstakingly established over some four decades, is being dismantled or consigned to attrition. And, absent a con-