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Controlling the Sword: the Democratic Governance of National Security.

Controlling the Sword: The Democratic Governance of National Security

Controlling the Sword: The Democratic Governance of National Security. Bruce Russett. Harvard University Press, $22.50. Professor Russett asks whether public opinion influences national security policy and, if so, whether this is a good idea. He answers both questions affirmatively.

His analysis finds a "complex interaction between leaders and led," with public opinion sometimes influecing policy and policymaking sometimes being shaped in an attempt to obtain the desired popular reaction. His conclusion is that, despite the complexities of national security problems, the public has enough information to answer the key questions: "When is the use of military force justified? . . . Should we seek military superiority over the Soviets, or should we settle for parity? . . . Are our military defense levels basically adequate or seriously wanting? . . . How important is it to have a modus vivendi with the Soviets? . . . What risks are we prepared to run to avoid being red? Or dead?" Experience in the years since World War II seems to me to confirm Professor Russett's thesis. Some striking examples come to mind.

On the Vietnam war, public opinion outpaced official policy and eventually forced our withdrawal from that costly and quixotic enterprise. In contrast, some presidential decisions to employ military force have evoked a "rally around the flga" reaction and increased the approval rating of the incumbent. Illustrative is the general approval of President Gerald Ford's military action to rescue the Mayaguez crew, although it turned out that the crew had already been released and many American servicemen died in the mission. Other examples cited are the wide popular support for our invasion of Grenada, the bombing attack on Libya in response to its sponsorship of terrorism, and the military action to get Manuel Noriega out of Panama and into a Miami prison. But as Russett points out, all these actions were of brief duration and at least cosmetically successful. Moreover, the boost in presidential popularity was also short-lived.

His book also suggests that the combination of electoral politics and economic distress is a dangerous one for international relations. In this regard, he refers to the failure of the SALT II Treaty to achieve ratification, in 1979. He fails to note, however, that, although never ratified and expiring by its terms at the end of 1985, the treaty today continues as a de facto limit on the strategic arsenals of both sides. To stay within the ceilings, the Soviet Union has continued to destroy older silo-based ICBMs as it deploys its new mobile SS-24s and SS-25s. Though President Reagan announced in 1986 that the U.S. would no longer be bound by the treaty's terms, we have remained largely in compliance. This reflects the public support for measures that are seen as reducing the risks of nuclear war, which was demonstrated by the nuclear freeze movement of the early 1980s.

Russett observes that both political and media elites find it harder to criticize forceful action by a president than conduct that may be viewed as too conciliatory. This first part of his observation is supported by the silence of the Democratic leadership and the absence of adverse media comment when President Bush resorted to military force in Panama. The second part is confirmed by the right-wing attack on the START Treaty agreements reached at the recent summit.

Finally, Russett astutely observes that the lack of a coherent strategy can interfere with the constructive interaction of opinion and policy. He points to the dichotomy in our strategic policy, whereby our announced arms control objective is to achieve survivable and nonprovocative retaliatory forces, consisting of second-strike-only weapons, while our declaratory policy in NATO councils is a threat to use nuclear weapons first. Public opinion is understandably as confused as the policy itself.

Russett's book may be seen as sometimes belaboring the obvious. But it is important for policymakers to recognize that, like it or not, they must be responsive to popular opinion. As Russett points out, moreover, the industrialized and democratically governed nations "constitute a vast zone of peave," without expectation of or preparation for war among themselves. The exception in Europe is the relationship between Greece and Turkey, which he notes are "among the poorest countries of this group, and only sporadically democratic." The "democratic governance of national security" thus can be seen to be doing a good job of "controlling the sword." And the spread of democracy thus holds the best promise of a peaceful world order.
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Author:Warnke, Paul C.
Publication:Washington Monthly
Article Type:Book Review
Date:Jul 1, 1990
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