Chapter 10 - Reagan Combines U.S. Defense and Arms Control Strategies

War may be different today than in Clausewitz’s time, but the need for well-defined objectives and a consistent strategy is still essential. If we determine that a combat mission has become necessary for our vital national interests, then we must send forces capable to do the job—and not assign a combat mission to a force configured for peacekeeping.

Fourth, the relationship between our objectives and the forces we have committed—their size, composition and disposition—must be continually reassessed and adjusted if necessary. Conditions and objectives invariably change during the course of a conflict. When they do change, then so must our combat requirements. We must continuously keep as a beacon light before us the basic questions: “Is this conflict in our national interest?” “Does our national interest require us to fight, to use force of arms?” If the answers are “yes,” then we must win. If the answers are “no,” then we should not be in combat.

Fifth, before the U.S. commits combat forces abroad, there must be some reasonable assurance we will have the support of the American people and their elected representatives in Congress. This support cannot be achieved unless we are candid in making clear the threats we face; the support cannot be sustained without continuing and close consultation. We cannot fight a battle with the Congress at home while asking our troops to win a war overseas or, as in the case of Vietnam, in effect asking our troops not to win, but just to be there.

Finally, [sixth] the commitment of U.S. forces to combat should be a last resort. . . . These tests I have just mentioned have been phrased negatively for a purpose—they are intended to sound a note of caution—caution that we must observe prior to committing forces to combat overseas. When we ask our military forces to risk their very lives in such situations, a note of caution is not only prudent, it is morally required. (emphasis added)8

Grenada-Lebanon Contrasts. It should be noted that while Weinberger did not say so publicly, he appears to have developed these criteria in reaction to the success of the U.S. invasion and rescue operation in Grenada of October 25, 1983, as compared to far different outcomes in Lebanon. On August 25, 1982, Reagan had sent U.S. Marines to Beirut, the capital of Lebanon, as part of an international peacekeeping force. When a terrorist bombing of the U.S. Embassy in Beirut on April 19, 1983 killed 32 personnel, he reduced the force, and following an October 23, 1983 bombing of the U.S. Marine Barracks in Beirut that killed 241 Marines, he withdrew the entire force from Lebanon. (Weinberger reportedly recommended against the initial deployment, whereas Secretary of State George Shultz had urged it and continued to seek a U.S./international military peacekeeping force in Lebanon.)

Note on the “Powell Doctrine”—1991. The Weinberger Doctrine is often wrongly attributed to a statement made after the First Iraq War of 1991 by General Colin Powell, then Chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff and later U.S. Secretary of State. Powell’s summation of policy criteria at that time was as follows:

Is the political objective we seek to achieve important, clearly defined and understood? Have all other nonviolent policy means failed? Will military force achieve the objective? At what cost? Have the gains and risk been analyzed? How might the situation that we seek to alter, once it is altered by force, develop further and what might be the consequences.9

If satisfactory answers pointed to committing U.S. forces, Powell urged application of “overwhelming force.”

NSC System, Low Intensity Conflict—March to June 1987. In addition to extensive NSC-coordinated policy planning and Reagan’s decision directives on broader U.S. Cold War strategy over two terms (reviewed in Chapters 8 and 9), the directives (reviewed below) also included one on Low Intensity Conflicts involving U.S. officials and forces in such areas as Latin America under threat from Soviet, Cuban and other Communist proxies. Notable other examples are three Reagan National Security Decision Directives (NSDDs) reviewed below involving particularly controversial U.S. defense policy issues and also designed to correct problems associated with the previous year’s Iran-Contra case (see Chapter 18 on Latin America).

NSC Reorganization: NSDD 266—March 1987. The first referenced directive, NSDD 266—Implementation of the Recommendations of the President’s Special Review Board was issued on March 31, 1987. Reagan rejected several radical Board recommendations on reorganization of the National Security Council and system (e.g., making the National Security Advisor subject to Senate confirmation). But he accepted other recommendations and implemented still other actions specifying the NSC, Interdepartmental, and internal NSC arrangements and authorities and including numerous policy cross-checks and the involvement of legal

[Book pg. 225]