Air University Review, January-February 1968

Internal Defense and Development—
"Idealism" or "Realism"?

Commander Roger J. Miller

During the past two decades there has been an increasing awareness within the United States of the importance of events and trends within the developing countries.1 This awareness has resulted in widespread agreement that these nations will play a significant role in future world affairs. Yet United States policy towards the developing countries has been the subject of severe and continuing controversy, based on conflicting views of rationality.

Soon after World War II considerable confusion existed in the United States, with its newly attained world power status, regarding its role and responsibilities in the less-developed sectors of the world. A great deal of confusion remains today. Thus, to raise the subject of current United States policy towards these countries—broadly described by Administration spokesmen as "internal defense and development"-is to trigger expressions of a wide range of views and resulting disagreements. 

There are more than a few informed observers who are critical of this policy as it is currently explained, maintaining that the policy is out of line with the realities of today's world. One of these critics, George F. Kennan, has expressed his belief that this policy is founded on "slogans and semantic symbols of the past."2

It appears reasonable, then, that this inquiry into the nature of the current policy should initially examine the impact which such "slogans and semantic symbols of the past" have had on the policy's formulation and evolution.

An Extension of Containment

In retrospect, it seems clear that United States policy towards developing countries has been largely shaped by this country's broader lines of policy towards the Communist states. It is not mere coincidence that a decided change in United States attitudes concerning the so-called Third World closely followed the breakdown of great power unity after World War II and the resulting development of the strategy of Communist containment.

The general nature of the policy that would evolve was indicated by President Truman's pronouncement of United States support and assistance to Greece, which was threatened by Communist guerrilla activity in 1947, and in his 1949 inaugural address proposal of a "bold new program for making benefits of our scientific advances and industrial progress available for the improvement and growth of underdeveloped countries." Humanitarian motives no doubt had some influence on the formulation of the proposal, but it is evident that the principal objective was to extend the Communist-containment strategy to the underdeveloped regions by exerting United States influence there. Then, during the 1950s, it became increasingly popular within both academic and governmental circles to support the thesis that closely linked the economic and social development of these countries to United States security.3

The success of Truman's early policy in preserving the independence of Greece and Turkey from the Soviet threat is well known. The post-Stalin era, however, created new problems as the Soviets attempted to establish inroads into the developing countries through their own aid programs, coupled with propaganda campaigns branding United States assistance as only a new form of colonial domination.

During this period the implementation of United States policy was hindered by frequent lack of direction and coordination. It was not unusual to find numerous semiautonomous economic and military entities plus representatives of several United States governmental departments and agencies in a developing country. The occasional press reports of aid mismanagement created periodic embarrassment and concern within this country regarding the government's ability to promote national security through economic and military assistance programs.

Yet nations of the Third World proved more adept than many observers had given them credit for. Effective Communist penetrations there were limited, and many of these governments exploited their increased maneuvering room between East and West. Onto this scene was thrust the growing influence of the Chinese Communists.

Mao Tse-tung's strategy and guerrilla tactics that had proven successful in the take-over of China were soon applied by indigenous Communist elements in Indochina, Malaya, and the Philippines. Though the Communists were defeated in the latter two countries, it was quite evident that other developing countries—plagued by economic stagnation, social injustice, and political instability—were ripe for similar subversive or insurgent attempts. The danger emphasized by the Communist takeover of Cuba, followed by "Che" Guevara's espousal of Mao's tactics and his application of them to conditions in Latin America, was apparent to the United States public and policy-makers. Then the increasingly critical Southeast Asian situation, accentuated by the growing Vietnam conflict, was deemed to be yet another example of Mao's "wars of liberation."

In 1961 President Kennedy stressed the need to develop additional capabilities to defeat this "new type of warfare." In response to this "new" threat, the traditional economic—military assistance policy line was redefined, and reorganization efforts were commenced in an attempt to carry out the policy more effectively. During this period it was frequently reiterated that (a) the security of the United States and its fundamental values could best be preserved and enhanced within a community of free developing nations; (b) assistance and encouragement in the process of development and nation-building would be afforded the developing countries by the United States; and (c) when requested, the United States would assist developing nations to prevent or defeat Communist inspired, supported, or directed insurgency which threatened their freedom and independence.4 This definition remains applicable today.

Nevertheless, this policy has become the subject of open and severe examination in recent months. In the opinion of some observers, its rigidity has committed the United States to the Vietnam conflict-a dreaded land war in Asia-contrary to the interests of this country. Thus, criticisms of this policy have attacked its basic premises as well as its implementation.

basic criticisms

A moral crusade. Some critics of the policy believe that, unwittingly, an unrealistic ideological revolution has occurred in the definition of United States national interests. In their opinion, this country has become one in pursuit of a broad universal interest framed primarily in terms of Communist containment. Thus, they maintain that Washington policy-makers tend to define international events in terms of a moral crusade against Communism. This, in their view, has resulted in unwarranted unilateral interventions in the affairs of other nations by the United States.

These observers point to the increased volume of Administration policy statements which interpret national interests in terms of total world involvement and world responsibilities as indications that the United States is attempting to define and protect the virtue of all nations. They view the stated objective "to build an orderly world community" to be overly idealistic and moralistic; they compare the global nature of this objective to the expansive character of Communism itself. Similarly, they claim that a policy which seeks a "world order which is free from aggression" is out of line with reality in this revolutionary age. Thus, they view as unrealistic those Administration statements that have tied United States fighting in Vietnam or intervention in the Dominican Republic to stopping Communism throughout the world. As stated by Professor Hans Morgenthau, a foremost spokesman of this group, "a foreign policy that takes for its standard the active hostility to a world-wide political movement, such as . . . Communism, confuses the sphere of philosophic or moral judgment with the realm of political action and for this reason is bound to fail."5

Defender of the status quo. A second basic criticism of the policy is that, contrary to idealistic pronouncements, it has in reality transformed the United States into an antirevolutionary power. As viewed by these critics, the United States, which was born in insurgency, will actively Oppose any insurgency which is Communist inspired or supported or which may ultimately be exploited by Communists. Thus, it follows that Washington's principal objective is to defend the status quo.

These critics point to the authoritarian character of many regimes in the Third World which are recipients of United States assistance and note that this support aids in the suppression of legitimate as well as Communist insurgencies. In their opinion, the United States has assumed a reactionary role in a revolutionary age. Supporting this view, Senator Frank Church has stated, "I cannot remember many revolutions that have been fought in splendid isolation. . . it seems to me that the Communists have not changed the rules of revolution by meddling in them, regardless of how much we disapprove of their goals."6

The changing nature of Communism. Several critics argue that this policy, initially formed to counteract a monolithic ideology in a bipolar world, is no longer appropriate in a world of growing polycentrism. They note that the monolithic Communism of the 1940s and 1950s no longer exists; that there are many diversities between Russian and Chinese Communism and between these and the increasingly national-oriented Communist movements of eastern Europe and Asia. They view nationalism as a force of greater impact than Communism and believe that there is a high probability that future revolutions in developing countries will be primarily nationalistic in character even though there may be varying degrees of Communist involvement in them. 

These observers lean toward the view that current United States policy is an overreaction to Soviet and Chinese espousal of "wars of liberation." They point to the apparently "mellowed" nature of Soviet Communism and to the formidable domestic and foreign obstacles plaguing the Chinese Communists as evidence of the practical limitations confronting their support for such so-called "just" wars. In addition, it is argued that the deepening schism between Moscow and Peking may be lessened and that, in the long run, Communist unity may be restored by our pursuing a policy which opposes Communism per se.

Power limitation. These critics stress the requirement that a successful policy must balance "means" (elements of power) with "ends" (goals). They argue that the United States simply lacks the power to police the world and that any attempt to do so is a fruitless, never-ending task.

In this regard Administration statements which pledge the United States to oppose "illegal support for so-called wars of liberation" in order to build an "orderly world community" are viewed as indicating a faulty analysis by policy-makers of United States power. These critics maintain that policy limits must be narrower and that each situation should be analyzed on its own merits with respect to the means available and the ends desired.

A logical extension of this argument is the acceptance of major powers' natural spheres of influence. Walter Lippmann, who has compared China's destiny in Southeast Asia to that of the United States in Latin America, has been a leading exponent of this view.

Military excess. The criticism of excess stems from the conviction that current internal defense and development policy too heavily stresses the military component while the real sources of unrest within developing nations are largely ignored. Such denunciations have intensified with the military escalation of the Vietnam conflict, which is often cited as an example of an attempt to solve by military means problems that are social, economic, and political in origin. These critics point to the possibility that current policy will lead to similar developments elsewhere.

In the opinion of these observers, the increased conventional and unconventional warfare capability of the United States, developed by the Kennedy and Johnson Administrations, has contributed to the illusion that problems of poverty, ignorance, social stagnation, and poor government in the Third World can be solved by military means. This, in their view, ignores the real sources of instability in the developing countries and involves the United States in costly, unproductive conflicts abroad.

Extending this argument, some critics maintain that the cost of United States military involvements abroad has restricted vital domestic economic and social progress and has thereby limited this nation's ability to provide more appropriate overseas economic assistance. In their opinion the changing nature of world conflict has reduced the importance of military power while economic strength has become the most effective force in promoting national interests.7

"Idealism" or "Realism"?

These criticisms are, of course, interrelated. A careful review of the writings and pronouncements of the more prominent critics, both within and outside the government, indicates that most subscribe to all five of these basic arguments.

It is my contention, however, that these criticisms contain two fundamental flaws. First, they tend to underrate the impact of a nation's domestic ideals and values on its foreign affairs. Second, they overestimate the expansive nature and discriminate application of the policy of internal defense and development.

Labeling this policy as an idealistic, crusading attempt by the United States to expand its standards and values in the developing world ignores reality. It is unrealistic to believe a nation's foreign policy can be divorced from standards and values which exist within that nation's society. Since foreign policy is, in the final analysis, a projection of domestic interests abroad, it is only natural that a nation's domestic ideals and values would have an impact on its foreign affairs. Similarly, no nation can realistically separate its foreign policy from its preference of one type of international society over another. It therefore does not seem unrealistic that United States policy towards developing countries would be framed in pursuit of such long-term goals as "self-determination," "a stable international society," "a world free from aggression," or "universal human progress," even though the attainment of these objectives may be unlikely in the foreseeable future.

There is little doubt that the formulation of this nation's containment strategy was influenced by its ideals, values, and societal preference. The nature of Communism has undergone a considerable change during the past decade, and a significant factor influencing this change has been the success of the containment strategy in limiting overt Russian Communist expansion. Yet the degree to which the expansionist motives of Soviet Communism have "mellowed" is questionable. During the January 1966 Havana Tricontinental Conference, the U.S.S.R. apparently emerged as the controlling force of an organized movement to coordinate and control subversive and insurgent operations in Africa, Asia, and Latin America. At this conference all pretense of nonintervention in the affairs of other nations was dropped, and the 513 delegates from 83 countries openly committed themselves to the overthrow by violence of all governments that do not meet with their approval.8

Another change in the nature of Communism has been the emergence of an increasingly militant and potentially aggressive Communist China. Though the Peking regime has had serious foreign policy setbacks during the past two years, recent official Red Chinese forecasts of a "new revolutionary storm" within the developing world indicate that Mao has not abandoned his quest for ultimate world revolution based upon the projection of his strategy abroad. Indeed, one of the causative factors behind these foreign policy reverses (as well as the current leadership turmoil) has doubtless been the relative success of United States policy towards developing countries. Recognition of the serious obstacles confronting Peking, however, hardly leads to the rational judgment that we should decrease efforts to contain subversion or insurgency sponsored or supported by Red China in developing countries.

The intent of our current internal defense and development policy is to frustrate such Communist designs in developing countries while offering them assistance to progress in independence and diversity. That the policy is based upon this nation's preferred view of international society does not seem overly idealistic. Similarly, this attempt by the United States to influence the developmental process in the Third World hardly deserves the label of a status quo policy.

Criticisms which imply that our policy of internal defense and development is overly expansive and indiscriminately applied are, in my judgment, based upon an excessively rigid interpretation of the policy. In this respect, Administration spokesmen have frequently reiterated that the United States neither desires to become an international policeman nor intends to impose a Pax Americana on the world. They have often noted, however, that the United States has treaty commitments to assist in the defense and development of some developing countries. The importance of support and assistance to additional countries is also frequently stressed in terms of the United States' interests. Here it has been pointed out that such assistance is selective. As expressed by Secretary Rusk, "We support that policy in different ways at different times and under different conditions."9

Nevertheless, the criticisms include some elements which must be considered, weighed, and debated within the policy-making apparatus of government. It is quite clear that there are few discernible doctrinal guidelines for the implementation of the policy. In part, this is because of the unique nature of and relationships between developmental and defense problems within each developing country. In addition, divergencies of opinion have existed within the United States government itself regarding the implementation of the policy. While these are based on conflicting views of technical problems which are beyond the scope of this article (e.g., the unstabilizing effect of economic development, how best to combat insurgency in a given situation, etc.), two basic aspects of the policy appear to require further exploration and definition if confusion among both policy-makers and critics is to be lessened:

· The establishment of priorities. Since the redefinition of this policy by the Kennedy Administration in 1961, there has been a continuing need to establish priorities among the developing countries. The Senior Interdepartmental Group (SIG), recently established to assist the Secretary of State in carrying out interdepartmental activities overseas, has been charged with "assuring a proper selectivity of the areas and issues" to which the government applies its resources.10 Hopefully, this reasoned selectivity will result. Here, the short-term and long-term interests of the United States and the immediate and long-range threat pertaining to each developing nation must be considered along with each nation's objective and subjective characteristics. This is a continuing and complex task but one which must be accomplished if the nature of the current policy is to become more coherent and if its implementation is to avoid the aura of crisis-management.

· Clarification of concept. The terms "internal defense and development" and "counterinsurgency" have been used interchangeably within some government circles. Yet there are many who believe the latter term to be too restrictive in concept.11 Essentially, these varying views center around two poles: the defense-oriented people, who emphasize the need for maintaining internal stability in a threatened country, to provide an environment within which development can occur; and the development-oriented people, who stress the need for economic, social, and political improvements which, when attained, would lessen the root causes of insurgency. Thus, the policy concept should be clarified in a manner which places the missions of the several implementing components more clearly in perspective at varying levels of development and conflict. While it is recognized that each threatened country presents a unique problem in this respect, it seems that a general clarification of concept would enable the various departments and agencies involved to more effectively plan and implement their contributions to the internal defense and development effort.

In sum, then, the goals of "internal defense and development" and the policy itself seem to be framed in the context of the realities of today's world. Though there may be some degree of idealism in this attempt to influence developing countries to progress along lines favorable to this nation's preferred view of international society, it seems only in line with reality that the wealthiest and most powerful nation in the world would make such an attempt. Nevertheless, criticisms such as those cited point up the imprecise and elusive nature of this policy, and in this respect they suggest a need for more specific policy guidelines. They also describe significant pitfalls which a successful policy of "internal defense and development" must avoid.

U.S. Army War College


1. Admittedly, the term "developing countries" is a misnomer, as it includes many countries of Asia, Africa, and Latin America that are not now developing. Since the term is currently in vogue, it is used here synonymously with "less developed" or "underdeveloped," generally to indicate countries with annual per capita incomes roughly less than $500.

2. United States Senate, Committee on Foreign Relations, Hearings on Supplemental Foreign Assistance Fiscal Year 1966 –Vietnam (Washington: U.S. Government Printing Office, 1966), p. 358. (Hereafter cited as Hearings.)

3. See, for example, Max F. Millikan and Walt W. Rostow, A Proposal: Key to an Effective Foreign Policy (New York: Harper & Brothers, 1957). This thesis has been supported successively by Presidents Eisenhower, Kennedy, and Johnson.

4. For a succinct discussion of the redefined policy, see Dean Rusk, "Problems of Development and Internal Defense," Foreign Service Journal, July 1962, p. 11.

5. Hans J. Morgenthau, "Globalism: Johnson's Moral Crusade," The New Republic, 3 July 1965, p. 21.

6. Hearings, p. 9.

7. See, for example, James M. Gavin, "Military Power: The Limits of Persuasion," The Saturday Review, 30 July 1966, pp. 18-22, 64.

8. United States Senate, Committee on the Judiciary, The Tricontinental Conference of African, Asian and Latin American Peoples (A Staff Study) (Washington: U.S. Government Printing Office, 1966), pp. 1-2.

9. Hearings, p. 9.

10. U.S. Department of State, Direction, Coordination and Supervision of Interdepartmental Activities Overseas, Foreign Affairs Manual Circular No. 385, 4 March 1966, p. 2.

11. Problems of concept and semantics are both involved here. As approved for interdepartmental usage, "counterinsurgency" is defined as "Those military, paramilitary, political, economic, psychological, and civic actions taken by a government to defeat subversive insurgency." (Italics added.) Subversive insurgency is defined as that which is "primarily communist inspired, supported, or exploited." (From Dictionary of U.S. Military Terms For Joint Usage, 1 December 1964.) Yet counterinsurgency is frequently interpreted as a purely military concept.


Commander Roger J. Miller, USN (M.A., George Washington University; M.S., University of Mississippi) is Navigator of the antisubmarine aircraft carrier USS Kearsarge (CVS-33). Following designation as a naval aviator in 1949, he flew carrier-based attack aircraft in both Atlantic and Pacific fleets, including two Korean War combat tours. After serving as an advanced flight instructor, he attended the Navy's General Line School at Monterey, California. He then flew carrier-based heavy attack aircraft in East Coast squadrons. Subsequent assignments included a tour as instructor of international relations at the Naval War College and intelligence analyst (Communist China), Joint Staff, CINCPAC. Commander Miller is a graduate of the Naval War College Command and Staff Course and of the Army War College. His articles have been published in several professional journals, including Air University Review.


The conclusions and opinions expressed in this document are those of the author cultivated in the freedom of expression, academic environment of Air University. They do not reflect the official position of the U.S. Government, Department of Defense, the United States Air Force or the Air University.

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