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  • NSC-68 Redux?
  • Adam Garfinkle (bio)

Everything has a context, and NSC-68 was no exception. So to think clearly about what an NSC-68 for the year 2000 might look like—or whether one is possible at all—requires first a comparison of contexts, then and now. If we think back to the period between George F. Kennan’s “Long Telegram” of 1946 and the April 1950 rendering of NSC-68 by Paul Nitze, three obvious contextual elements stand out.

First, the revolution in military affairs represented by the advent of nuclear weapons occurred almost simultaneously with the advent of the Cold War. Second, NSC-68 constituted an effort to manage that simultaneity, as guided by the theory of containment. And third, a sharp sense of anxiety, urgency, and uncertainty attended its development. Taken together, these three elements made NSC-68 unique as a document in the history of American security policy. 1 It was an intellectual condensate that responded to a widely felt sense of danger by simultaneously defining the problem in a concise manner; transcending the then-current debate by so doing; sketching out a planning road-map to move from theory to practice; and employing evocative language in order to generate broad political support for the enterprise.

What of the relevant context today? The foregoing observations lead us to pose three key parallel questions:

Is a coincidence of significant political/structural and military/technical change before us today as was the case in the late 1940s?

Is there a widely accepted theory of the meaning of this coincidence—if it exists—from which a new NSC-68 could follow?

Is there a sense of urgency and uncertainty that could fuel the effort (the added necessary assumption being that a man of Paul Nitze’s talent would emerge to design it)? [End Page 41]

As for the first question, the answer is at least maybe. If the Cold War was a big deal, then the end of the Cold War must be a big deal, too. A decade has passed since the Berlin Wall came down, and many profess to see revolutionary change all about us. Diverse mutterings by academics about a “new world order” are ubiquitous. They sometimes refer to “globalization” in its various definitions, sometimes to supposed U.S. “hegemony,” sometimes to the advent of new problems such as “ethnic violence” and “failed states,” and sometimes to sundry combinations of all the aforementioned. As for the military/technical side, much has been anticipated of a “revolution in military affairs” (RMA). But at least as much ink has been spilled in worry about techno-terrorism, weapons of mass destruction (WMD)proliferation to particularly conflict-prone areas of the world, and “cyber-sabotage” (information warfare).

From the coincidence of such presumably revolutionary political/structural and military/technical changes, several “grand schema” analyses have emerged. Some believe that major war between the advanced powers is now obsolete, and that U.S. strategy and force structure should be redrawn to focus on unconventional threats from those parts of the world still below the threshold of the emerging cybercivilization. In this vision, large armies capable of seizing and holding vast swaths of territory are not only pointless but act as a financial and doctrinal drag on creating the capabilities we really need: those able to intervene rapidly and effectively to stave off starvation, genocide, and civil upheaval in places where WMD proliferation has occurred or may be occurring. The aim would be to prevent desperate, or simply evil, people from unleashing, say, biological terror on those far away (us) whom they somehow imagine to be their enemies. 2

This is but one analysis, however, built upon but one of many imaginable permutations of the global changes presumed to be at work. Other analyses are less pessimistic. Some observers, well represented in the current administration, are devotees of cyberfunctionalism. Cyberfunctionalists believe that the ineluctable march of the information revolution, accelerated on its merry way by open markets and hammered askew when necessary by the IMF, will bring prosperity, vanquish tyranny, enthrone democracy, and make the world safe for—what?—Windows 2000. In other words, unleashed capital markets will ultimately do what...

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pp. 41-54
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