First, the good news: The United States and its allies have won the Cold War. Instead of the looming threat that we have feared for 40 years, the Soviet Union stands exposed as a declining power with intractable internal problems and scant ideological appeal. Its allies are abandoning communism as swiftly as they dare, and a Soviet withdrawal from Eastern Europe seems inevitable.
Now for the bad news: The United States must revise its grand strategy to reflect this new situation. The traditional aim of U.S. grand strategy has been to maintain a balance of power in Europe and Asia. The logic of this policy is straightforward: As long as Eurasia's political and military potential is divided among several powers, no state will be strong enough to threaten the United States directly. Since World War II, the Soviet Union has been the only nation that threatened to dominate Eurasia, so U.S. strategy has focused on containing Soviet expansion.
The end of the Cold War does not alter this basic tenet of U.S. strategy. Instead, the dramatic decline in the Soviet threat makes maintaining the Eurasian balance of power easier. Assuming recent trends continue, America's allies will be less willing to permit U.S. troops on their territory, and U.S. taxpayers will be less willing to pay for these forces. Although a precipitous cut in U.S. troop levels would be unwise--Soviet military power is still formidable, and U.S. forces can help guarantee stability while the Europeans adjust to new political conditions--a substantial reduction in the U.S. military commitment to the Atlantic Alliance is virtually certain.
The implications for American defense policy are enormous. Because the bulk of U.S. ground forces and tactical aircraft are committed to Europe, a total withdrawal would permit reductions of 50% or more in Army and Air Force strength. Because conventional forces are especially costly, these reductions will entail major cuts in defense spending.
Similarly, the Navy's primary mission has been the defense of sea lanes to Europe (along with more controversial plans for offensive action against Soviet forces in the Norwegian and Arctic seas). As Soviet military power declines, however, both missions become far less important. Instead of 12 to 15 aircraft-carrier battle groups, the post-Cold War Navy would need no more than six. Aircraft carriers are useful for bashing annoying Third World states like Libya, but this mission is of minor importance and we hardly need 500 or more ships to do it.
Finally, although America should main tain a robust nuclear retaliatory capability, we will no longer need to threaten nuclear escalation in order to deter a Soviet attack in Europe. Accordingly, the value of expensive nuclear "warfighting" capabilities will decline as well. This shift will permit substantial reductions in U.S. nuclear forces and facilitate further progress in arms control.
With the Cold War won, there are dangers to avoid. First, we must resist the temptation to replace the Cold War with an ideological crusade in the Third World. In the past, U.S. intervention in the Third World has been justified by fears that the dominoes would fall to communism and that failure to respond would undermine the U.S.-Soviet rivalry. In the absence of a serious Soviet threat, such concerns have no basis whatsoever.
More recently, intervention in the Third World has been justified as a way to "promote democracy." This rationale is especially dubious. The record of U.S. involvement in Iran, Guatemala, El Salvador, Angola, Vietnam, Panama, Nicaragua and elsewhere reveals that American intervention most often leads to despotism or prolonged civil war, not to democracy. Thus, military intervention in the Third World will neither enhance U.S. security nor advance American ideals.
The second danger is a return to isolationism. History suggests that major war is more likely when the United States withdraws from world affairs, because potential aggressors (remember Adolf Hitler) often underestimate U.S. willingness to oppose their expansionist designs. Accordingly, prospects for peace will be enhanced if the United States makes its commitment to preserving the Eurasian balance of power abundantly clear. Although major reductions are now possible, we should not permit U.S. military power to decline to pre-World War II levels. And we must stand ready to rebuild our forces should a new threat to the balance of power emerge.
The end of the Cold War means that defending U.S. interests will be easier, but it does not mean that these interests have vanished or that our international responsibilities have ended.