Air University Review, September-October 1967
Brigadier General Henry C. Huglin, USAF (Ret)
What is the basic element in our nation’s security, the one element without which our way of life and our very lives would be in jeopardy? It is our superiority in those factors which make up our strategic strength.
What constitutes strategic strength, and what is meant by superiority in strategic strength? What relation does it have to our role in the world? What is its contribution to international stability and strategic balance? Why must we continue to have strategic superiority? What of the future, and what hopes can we have that it will be different?
Our strategic strength can he considered to be made up of those elements of strength which have major influence on our role in world affairs. Here are the most important elements:
· Our national will and the wisdom, skill, and dedication of our leaders
· Our military forces, including their size experience, modern equipment, readiness for employment, leadership, and morale
· Our economic strength, including our natural resources, industry, and availability of capital
· Our education, training, and skills, including our competence in research and development of new technology and in research of man’s basic nature and environment
· Our dynamism in technological fields, in incorporating in our society the advances made by our research and development efforts
· Our political, psychological, and ideological impact: the objectives, standards, moral values, and determination to preserve our way of life that we project; the effectiveness of the image we create in the eyes of our friends and foes; the magnetism we engender; and our aura of success and persistence
· Our alliances with nations who have strength, bases, will, and common purpose and who therefore add more to the alliance than they detract from it.
Strategic superiority can be defined as a condition in which we have a significant overall superiority in the vital elements of our strength over our principal adversaries, Soviet Russia and Red China. It is an aggregate, qualitative condition.
Central to our strategic strength and superiority are our military strength and our will to use it if necessary. Central to our military strength are our strategic offensive forces and, secondarily, our active and passive strategic defensive forces—our air and missile defenses. It is these major military elements that determine the strategic balance between us and Soviet Russia and Red China in the era of nuclear weapons and long-range bombers and missiles to deliver them. Beyond this basic strategic strength, our military capabilities to deal with challenges and outbreaks of any major kind play a subordinate but vital role in the strategic balance.
Without a superior combination of the elements of national strength, we could not effectively counterbalance Soviet/Red Chinese expansionism, nor their threats and attempts to blackmail and coerce us, our allies, and other members of the non-Communist world.
We basically have a posture of defense; we are neither aggressive nor expansionist. We are generally in the position of being responsive to challenge, and we seldom take the initiative, Therefore, if we were inferior in strategic strength, or even only equal, we and the rest of the Free World would be crucially challenged and faced with futile appeasement, surrender, or nuclear Armageddon. This is why strategic balance in the world today, which contributes to stability in international affairs, is dependent upon our continuing to maintain a significant strategic superiority.
This strategic superiority is essential, too, in giving our leaders
confidence to take the actions required to protect the vital interests of the
United States and its allies, accepting the low risks involved. Without this
confidence, would we have stood firm in
Our unique political and economic systems, our vigor and natural resources, combined with the tide of time and world events, have projected us into a role of preeminent power and responsibility in the world. We have been thrust into this role at a time in the course of history when the world is in the process of unprecedented change, turmoil, and challenge. Unfortunately, not all our fellow men have evolved far enough to live with us in peace, with freedom and justice under law, without military strength as a basic necessity for our survival. The United Nations has not been sufficiently effective in the major conflicts, confrontations, and tension areas. It is barely able to function in minor disputes not involving the interests of the major powers. And there is little current prospect that the United Nations will be appreciably strengthened soon. Yet the age-old causes of tension and conflict are still rampant: greed for other people’s territory, racial and ethnic animosities, excessive nationalism, and suppression or inadequate fulfillment of people’s yearnings for a better life.
Currently transcending all these seemingly inherent causes of trouble are the drives of Soviet Russia and Red China to expand by any feasible means their influence, their control, and, where possible, their territory. They possess significant military strength, including nuclear weapons; they have their political and subversive apparatus throughout much of the world; and they are masters of unscrupulous propaganda. We are the primary block to their ambitions, and therefore we are their target. The means by which they strive to expand are direct or indirect according to opportunity. They are persistent and dedicated. They are obsessed with their own doctrines and ideology that they must turn the world their way. And wishful thinking or rationalizing will only obscure—not change—their nature, their objectives, and their basic threat to our security.
Thus, we are unavoidably involved in protracted conflict. This conflict encompasses many fields—political, psychological, economic, and military. To win the conflict, or at least to avoid losing it, we are going to have to continue to devote the necessary resources, skill, and effort. We have the basic capabilities and knowledge; we just have to have the continuing understanding, persistence, and will. Overall, essential to our success will be the maintenance of a significant strategic superiority over our adversaries.
Basically, our situation is not new. In other ages nonaggressive, nonexpansionist nations have been faced with the same choice of either maintaining, by themselves or with allies, a sufficient superiority over expansionist, aggressive nations of their age or being faced with coercion or conquest. But our situation seems greatly different because of the potential catastrophic consequences of nuclear war. These consequences do put far greater emphasis than ever before on advanced technology, will, and skill in advanced planning and in management of crises.
What constitutes stability and balance in world affairs? What is the role our strategic strength plays in these conditions?
Ideal international stability may be considered as a condition in international affairs when no nation is in the act of trying, or is apt to try, to gain territory at another’s expense, or to exert political control over another, or to upset or direct the internal affairs of another. Such stability would be achieved if all change and accommodation among nations could be accomplished by peaceful and equitable evolution, negotiation, and legal action. But this ideal has never been, and may never be, attained. The United Nations has only been able to contribute to international stability in a minor way. Much of the stability that has been achieved in the last twenty years has been due to our strength, will, and actions.
Stability need not mean preserving the status quo. Change is unavoidable and often worthwhile between nations and within nations. The existence of reasonable stability can create the conditions for change among nations without war and for internal change within nations by the people determining their own future without outside pressure or subversion.
Stability includes deterrence of aggression. One kind of deterrence is
achieved when the aggressor estimates that the outcome of his act would be more
costly than his gain would be worth—so he does not act. Yet there can also be
another kind of deterrence, the deterrence of resistance or response to
aggression—i.e., coercion calculated to bring appeasement. Such results can be
achieved by an aggressor by his making credible threats of damage and loss that
are assessed by the threatened nation as not worth the risk and sacrifice that
resistance would entail. For example, at
Stability and balance between nations are changeable conditions and can be quite ephemeral. Our strength, which maintains the present balance and deterrence, is the result of long-term planning and dynamic action, particularly in the technological field. To ensure that balance is continued, we never can relax and assume that the balance we attain in any year, with its concomitant deterrent effect, will automatically continue for long without our taking actions to maintain it.
In the present world balance, nuclear weapons are the principal factor of strength. Superiority in them, both in their numbers and in sophisticated delivery systems, is now essential to our security. So long as there is a significant advantage to a first strategic nuclear strike by our forces if we should be vitally challenged—as by aggression in NATO Europe—we can be considered to have strategic military superiority. We have had it, we have it now, and our technological capability can likely provide it in the future if we continue to put forth the necessary effort. But nuclear weapons by themselves cannot insure our security—essential though they are to it-because Soviet Russia’s significant capability in nuclear weapons in part balances out our capabilities. Therefore, we cannot be sure that our nuclear weapons alone will deter in lesser conflicts and we have to maintain a broad range of military capability.
Some people claim that nuclear weapons or any kind of weapons in themselves
endanger the world and cause instability. But is this really so? Does not the
cause lie far more in the objectives of nations that through their greed seek
expansion and control beyond their own boundaries? Is either
The abolition of any particular weapon system would not in itself necessarily bring peace or more stability. In fact, if nuclear weapons were negotiated away in an arms control agreement, some other form of military power would have to assume a strategic role until the time comes—if it ever does—when military force is not a major factor in our keeping stability and balance in a world still threatened by expansionist nations.
An arms race of some kind will likely continue so long as there are aggressive, expansionist powers. This will be so even if arms control agreements are reached. The aggressive powers will try to gain advantage within the limits of the agreements, and the nonaggressive powers will have to try to ensure that they do not. Only when there are no longer aggressive, expansionist nations will there be no arms race.
Our strategic strength is not useful only in war situations—although war would provide the supreme test. That strength is a vital factor in all relations between us and other nations, up through major confrontations and crises of any degree. International interactions are conducted at many levels with many nations. The outcomes of such interactions are usually more dependent upon our strengths than upon the skills of our negotiators. A man with the skill of Talleyrand might make the most of his country’s advantages or minimize its disadvantages, but diplomatic skill alone cannot compensate for a position of basic weakness. Stalin’s challenge of “How many divisions does he have?” to a suggestion that the Pope’s views be considered in World War II is typical of the pragmatic approach to international relations by rulers to whom strength and the will to use it are principally what count.
Aggressive nations seek to attain their objectives by threat of force rather
than actual use of it whenever possible. Hitler tried and succeeded at
Finally, our strategic strength plays a further vital role in actual
conflicts such as
It has been postulated by some pundits, by some apologists for the Soviets, and by the Soviets’ propaganda that they have had real cause to fear aggressive attack by us. But has this ever been logical? Had we had the intention to wage war, preventive or otherwise, against Soviet Russia, would we not have done so in the decade from 1945 to 1955 when we could have done so with little damage to our homeland? Therefore, has not the buildup of the Soviets’ strategic nuclear forces really been to enhance their strength for their own ends rather than to deter us from an aggressive attack on them? Have they not hoped to gain strategic superiority or, lacking that, more freedom of action in their campaign for expansion?
The buildup of the Soviets’ strategic strength has not brought “mutual” deterrence as some have claimed because we were already self-deterred. Neither has a “stalemate” developed any more than one has existed since 1945. We have not been deterred or stalemated because we planned no aggressive action; and we have been sufficiently strong not to have been coerced into appeasement. It is the Soviets who have been, and are still, deterred from open aggression by our significant strategic nuclear superiority—and Red China is now deterred, too, in areas covered by our commitments.
In NATO, the defense of Western Europe has always been predicated upon our
superiority in nuclear weapons and their delivery means and the clear intention
to use them, if necessary, to prevent the overrun of
From the Soviets’ standpoint, it has never been rational to launch a local
If the time should ever come—either through our unilateral reduction in strategic military strength, through agreed arms control, or through Soviet technological breakthroughs —when there would be no significant advantage to our first strategic strike provoked by local Soviet aggression, then a true strategic stalemate could result. Then we would have to increase some other factor of strength to keep a strategic balance that would still deter Soviet aggression, such as vastly increased tactical army, navy, and air forces stationed at critical points around the world. It should be apparent that, if Soviet Russia should ever gain equality with us in strategic strength—let alone superiority—this strength, combined with her expansionist drive, her ideology, and her unscrupulous totalitarian approach to world affairs, would give her crucial advantages over us and the rest of the Free World. The same would be true of Red China. Such an achievement by either of these nations would not only jeopardize our security but would be seriously destabilizing in all world affairs.
Some pundits have welcomed the growth of the Soviets’ strategic capability and have urged us to reduce our strength so there would be equal capability between us. They rationalized this as a “stabilizing” and “tension-lessening” move. Surely these people have wrongly equated the objectives and motives of the two countries, and in so doing they have disregarded the difference between the roles and strength needs of aggressive and nonaggressive major powers and also have misread the real causes of stability and instability in world affairs.
In regard to Red China, the most vocally belligerent of powers in the world, somewhat different strategic relationships prevail. Red China is a weak nation in basic economic development and real strength factors that should have effect in international affairs. Her huge population may comprise a great deal more of a handicap than an asset in her status as a world power, even though the huge numbers frighten some people. Although weak economically and militarily, Red China can accomplish a great deal despite her weakness unless her bluster, threats, blackmail, propaganda, and instigation and support of subversion are effectively countered. And we are the only power in the Free World with the strength and position to counter Red China effectively. To do this, our strategic superiority is vital.
In a few years, Red China will likely have a small number of nuclear weapons and a limited means of delivering them to peripheral areas. The main purpose of this nuclear capability will be political and psychological to create an image of great strength and provide a means for coercion and blackmail of her neighboring countries and, hopefully, for influence on us and on Soviet Russia.
In the next decade Red China may acquire some limited means of delivering nuclear weapons against us by long-range missile, long-range bomber, surface ship, or submarine. It is unlikely that these means will be either extensive or very accurate, and we should by then have devised an effective defense against what capability they do develop.
Thus, between us and Red China, the balance is, and can remain, very heavily
in our favor. We can retain the capability to destroy elements of
Clearly our strategic superiority over Red China is even more effective than our superiority over Soviet Russia, even though the political aggressiveness and propaganda blusters of the Red Chinese presently obscure this fact for many people.
What of the future?
We face decades, perhaps generations, of challenge, turmoil, and potential conflict. For us not only to survive but to preserve our way of life, we are going to have to maintain our strategic superiority.
We must take note that the Communist World has changed considerably in the
last twenty years. It is no longer monolithic as it was in Stalin’s day. The
split between Soviet Russia and Red China is serious and probably long-lasting.
The smaller Communist countries are no longer willing to adhere blindly to
But the maintenance of strategic superiority is no easy task. It requires the vigorous search for and exploitation of advanced technology, primarily in the military fields and secondarily in the economic fields. It also requires the constant tending of the intangible elements, such as will and persistence. We have not reached—we do not now have the prospect of reaching—a plateau of achievement from which we can confidently count on being secure without striving mightily through every feasible means to maintain a margin of superiority in the areas vital to our security.
Thus, a most important arena of our competition with Soviet Russia will continue to be in technology. We cannot now foresee in what areas the crucial technological developments will occur. All forms of military strength will likely have to be maintained and the military equipment constantly improved as much as technological developments and our resources will permit. If we should relax and coast on our past achievements, hoping the Soviets would do the same, we would risk the possibility that they would achieve some technological breakthrough that would give them strategic superiority over us. They are undoubtedly still striving mightily to do just that. So long as they continue to have our downfall as their goal, dare we run the risk of their succeeding?
What of nuclear weapons? It appears that they are going to be a principal factor in the world indefinitely. It also appears likely that they are going to proliferate to more nations, despite all our efforts. For the sake of our security and position in the world, have we really any other choice than to continue vigorously the further development of nuclear weapons, the delivery means, and defense capabilities against them? Only thus can we retain our vital superiority and insure against any development by Soviet Russia or Red China that would negate or radically degrade this vital element of our strength and security.
What of other areas of development? Outer space promises to be another important field contributing to our strategic strength. It is our policy not to put military weapons into space. This is also the agreed policy of Soviet Russia and of all members of the United Nations. Yet we must insure the capability to eliminate from space any weapons that any nation might put there. If we do not have such a capability, the temptation might be irresistible for Soviet Russia or Red China or some other nation to violate the agreement and put weapons into space—for the tremendous strategic advantage and the corresponding political and psychological leverage that they could provide.
Because of the prestige and psychological values of space achievements, we
have strong cause to continue our space activities in a dynamic manner. In many
ways, frequently intangible, our successes in space enhance our prestige and
project an image of technological brilliance throughout the world. This in turn
helps us politically, psychologically, and to some degree economically. Also,
from our space achievements are likely to come great
benefits for us and the rest of the world in communications, in forecasting
weather, and in many areas of new scientific knowledge.
Superiority in strategic strength should not be all we seek. We must continue to deal with our problems of internal social and technological progress. Also we must help—within the capabilities of our great resources—the poor nations to deal with their complex, serious problems. And we must do what we can, wherever we can, to help mankind build an international community where freedom can flourish in diversity and where conflict is resolved by just, legal means. But these things will take a very long time. Meanwhile, we must keep our overall strength superior to that of our challengers, for the security of our own future and for the future of much of the world as we would like to see it.
Brigadier General Henry C. Huglin, USAF, (Ret),
is a Senior Military Scientist with TEMPO, General Electric’s Center for
The conclusions and opinions expressed in this
document are those of the author cultivated in the freedom of expression,
academic environment of
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