The Big Stick: The Limits of Soft Power and the Necessity of Military Force (英語) ハードカバー – 2017/1/3
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In The Big Stick, Eliot A. Cohen-a scholar and practitioner of international relations-disagrees. He argues that hard power remains essential for American foreign policy. While acknowledging that the US must be careful about why, when, and how it uses force, he insists that its international role is as critical as ever, and armed force is vital to that role.
Cohen explains that American leaders must learn to use hard power in new ways and for new circumstances. The rise of a well-armed China, Russia's conquest of Crimea and eastern Ukraine, nuclear threats from North Korea and Iran, and the spread of radical Islamist movements like ISIS are some of the key threats to global peace. If the United States relinquishes its position as a strong but prudent military power, and fails to accept its role as the guardian of a stable world order we run the risk of unleashing disorder, violence and tyranny on a scale not seen since the 1930s. The US is still, as Madeleine Albright once dubbed it, "the indispensable nation."
Kori Schake, Foreign Affairs
Walter Russell Meade, The Wall Street Journal
"A balanced and sensitive analysis of America's military record since the attacks of Sept. 11, 2001...Mr. Cohen's lucid book is a must-read for anyone interested in military might - and how it can help us maintain the edge we need in this treacherous age."
Jennifer Senior, The New York Times
"Even if you disagree with Mr. Cohen... it's easy to spend time in his company. He writes thoughtfully, methodically, with unfussy erudition... an unfashionable, unabashed and - above all - unwavering case for the use of force in the service of American security and ideals."
John Hillen, War on the Rocks
"When one looks at the world as it is rather than how one may want it to be...Cohen's prescriptions make sense... I hope the valuable strategic analysis in this book will be taken up by the new administration."
Brian Stewart, National Review
"A bracing argument that restores this woefully neglected element of statecraft to its proper position as 'the last argument of kings - or presidents.'"
Mackubin Thomas Owens, The Weekly Standard
"An excellent response to what can only be called strategic happy talk...an immensely useful assessment of military power and why it remains necessary"
Rosa Brooks, The Washington Post
"A vision of American power that's been largely stripped of illusion...a thoughtful and erudite book...To those who ask, 'Why the United States? Cohen offers an implicit challenge: Who else?"
Henrik Bering, The New Criterion
General (Ret.) David Petraeus, commander of the Surges in Iraq and Afghanistan, subsequently Director of the CIA, and now Chairman of the KKR Global Institute
"A brilliant, timely, hugely important, and very well-reasoned book that considers the past fifteen years of war, examines contemporary challenges, and makes a compelling case for American leadership in the world, albeit leadership exercised prudently and thoughtfully, and in a manner that is sustainable. The guidelines Eliot Cohen proposes for the use of force are particularly valuable as America prepares to transition to a new administration."
Michael Chertoff, former US Secretary of Homeland Security
"At a time when threats to global peace and order are multiplying, Professor Cohen lays out a clear, balanced vision for the critical role American military power and leadership must take in securing our world. Vital reading as a new US Administration prepares to take power."
Professor Andrew Roberts, author of Masters and Commanders: How Roosevelt, Churchill, Marshall and Alanbrooke Won the War in the West
"Any number of commentators on grand strategy are intelligent and well-informed, but Eliot Cohen is also brave and wise. Brave in unapologetically taking on the new consensus that lauds soft power over hard and trumpets neo-isolationism for the United States; wise in his analysis of what America can and must do to stay as the Top Dog world power in the 21st century. Refreshingly iconoclastic in his opinions and impeccably scholarly in his overview of American military policy from Teddy Roosevelt through to Barack Obama, this is the most eloquent defense of the continued necessity of American hard power you're ever likely to need."
Ambassador William J. Burns, President, Carnegie Endowment for International Peace and former Deputy Secretary of State
"An eloquent argument for hard power's enduring importance in an age of global disorder and domestic diffidence. Drawing on his superb grasp of history, Eliot Cohen describes in clear and compelling detail how military force and strategy can help enable effective American diplomacy and global leadership in the 21st century."
Eric Edelman, former Under Secretary of Defense for Policy, 2005-2009
"A century before Barack Obama, the Nobel Peace Prize was awarded to President Theodore Roosevelt for his role in ending the Russo-Japanese War. Roosevelt's watchword for diplomacy was "speak softly and carry a big stick." Eliot Cohen has now presented the most compelling case yet for why the "big stick" remains as essential for managing the national security challenges of the 21st Century as it was one hundred years ago. This elegantly argued and persuasive book will be essential reading for the new President's foreign and security policy team as they tackle their new responsibilities."
Peter Mansoor, General Raymond E. Mason Jr. Chair of Military History, The Ohio State University
"To a people increasingly enamored with soft power and tiring of their role as "the indispensable nation," Eliot Cohen makes a cogent argument for the use of military force in American foreign policy. The Big Stick is the antidote to the siren song of neo-isolationism as well as to the argument that history-and warfare-have ended."
Professor Philip Zelikow, director of the Miller Center of Public Affairs, University of Virginia
"Wither America's military? In a world of disorder and plenty of disillusion from recent wars, the question could hardly be more timely. Eliot A. Cohen has written a remarkably sensible and balanced guide. Yes, he makes the case for American military power in this uncertain world. But his advice is historically grounded and honest about American weaknesses as well as the strengths. In the spirit of Theodore Roosevelt, Cohen urges preparedness, not belligerence. His analysis is not deformed by partisanship and his prose is a pleasure to read."
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Cohen is not making an argument in favor of war, but rather for “peace through strength.”
His message is that in order for the United States to exist as a nation of ideas and a global leader, hard power is the necessary complement to soft power. A strong national defense is all the more important today as threats have multiplied and international competition has become more serious than at any time since the Cold War ended more than two decades ago. Cohen walks us through the ways in which the U.S. Armed Forces remain indispensable to responding to China’s rising power, combating Jihadi terrorism, dealing with adversaries such as Russia, and protecting the global commons. He leavens but does not overburden the chapters with the lessons of history, including observations on errors in the recent wars in Iraq and Afghanistan. He counsels that it is prudent to afford the cost of strong national defense – on the order of 4% of GDP – both to deter war and to be prepared for those that inevitably will occur. The alternative of failing to stand up to these national security challenges is far worse.
The vast majority of the “The Big Stick” focuses on the second point and tackles it first, but I’ve flipped the order in this review to reflect what I perceive will be the enduring value of Cohen’s effort: his remarkably sober perspective on how leaders should think about and prepare to execute war.
Before we start, a few words about the author and this reviewer are necessary. Cohen may be a product of Samuel Huntington’s government department at Harvard, but he is, at heart, an historian. I was a student of Professor Cohen’s at the Johns Hopkins School of Advanced International Studies (SAIS) in the late 1990s, where I received a master’s degree in international relations and economics. Despite the words on my diploma, it was the study of history that dominated my academic and extracurricular experience at SAIS. I took a semester-long course dedicated to reading Thucydides’ “History of the Peloponnesian War” (along with close study of Sun Tzu, Clausewitz and many others); I led a Prussian military-inspired two-day Staff Ride exploring Stonewall Jackson’s 1862 Shenandoah Valley campaign; and I wrote my thesis on Soviet general Mikhail Frunze’s abandonment of the militia principle in the early days of the Red Army. It’s been almost two decades since I graduated from Cohen’s program at SAIS, yet his powerful focus on history has never loosened its grip on my approach to understanding the world around me (my 250+ Amazon history book reviews are proof of that), even though my career has been made in the fast-paced world of technology in Silicon Valley.
I write this extended introduction to emphasize the gravity of what I perceive to be the most important point made in this book, namely the last ten pages where Cohen dismisses grand strategy as “an idea whose time will never come, because the human condition does not permit it” and instead enumerates his six basic principles on the use of force. He preaches for a “fundamental acceptance of uncertainty” when it comes to crafting national security strategy and the use of force. He warns against the use of “rules of thumb and strategic aphorisms,” along with convenient but vacuous catchphrases, such as containment, end state, and exit strategy, which he writes “equates to a kind of strategic pixie dust, the sprinkling of which over complex policy problems may seem to make them manageable.”
Rather, policymakers need to embrace “accident, contingency, and randomness” as fundamental to any international engagement, particularly those requiring the use of force. He suggests doing away with the current process of developing watered-down National Security Strategies or the cumbersome defense planning exercise known as the Quadrennial Defense Review (QDR), neither of which reflect reality. Such strategic documents, he argues, cannot be so conveniently timed, nor should they be drafted by members of the career national security establishment. As an alternative, Cohen recommends “a single document produced at irregular intervals [5 to 7 years feels right to him] under the auspices of the president in his role at commander in chief.”
Cohen’s six principles are really “anti-rules,” so as far as I’m concerned; a collective argument against the use of any prescriptive principles by policymakers in the first place. Moreover, they also feel incredibly relevant to any captain of industry.
First, “Understand your war for what it is, not what you wish it to be.” He recommends a “self-conscious purging of one’s mind of analogies, parallels and metaphors,” a wholesale abandonment of approaches like that made famous by Neustadt and May in “Thinking in Time: The Use of History by Decisionmakers.” Rather, accept that “your war” is unique and understand it for what it is. Clausewitz held that this was “the first, the supreme, the most far reaching act of judgment” a leader had to make. It forms the foundation of Cohen’s strategic mindset and it’s equally applicable to business managers, most of whom crave analogues to guide their decision-making, despite the fact that each market is invariably unique.
Second, “Planning is important, being able to adapt is more important.” Before engaging in any conflict, planners “should build in a large and explicit margin of error,” because “part of the decision to go to war requires accepting that the future will contain surprises.” In other words, nothing is as easy as it seems. It’s an argument that anyone who has had to commit to quarterly revenue targets would understand.
Third, “You will prefer to go short, but prepare to go long.” Even if you genuinely believe the impending conflict will be of short duration, recognize that “the American people have to be informed and persuaded that a campaign is worth undertaking,” because the initial enthusiasm will erode and it will erode quickly. Fortune 500 CEOs (Jeff Bezos not included) regularly have to show Wall Street that their corporate strategy is working after two quarters, or else the market will penalize their company. Cohen’s principle suggests that the same applies for American presidents.
Fourth, “While engaging in today’s fight, prepare for tomorrow’s challenge.” Leaders need to be constantly reviewing and assessing future threats, even while battling a current enemy, because “there will be no end states and precious few exits – only new and different problems.” Just as successful companies are never finished competing, so too with successful nations, it seems. Both just find themselves bumping into other successful companies/countries, such as Amazon and Google competing in the intelligent home device market in 2017 or the US and China in the South China Sea.
Fifth (and, frankly, finally), “Adroit strategy matters; perseverance usually matters more.” Strategy, technology, tactics and training all matter – and matter a lot – but “they do not count as much as sheer grit, at all levels.” In other words, the old adage about the size-of-the-fight-in-the-dog mattering most often applies to wars, too, and also competition in the tech world, as my experience on the losing side against Mint.com, Square, and other tech upstarts can testify.
[Cohen has a final, sixth principle: “A president can launch a war; to win it, he or she must sustain congressional and popular support.” Frankly, I’m not sure why Cohen and his editors felt the need to include this final principle, as the proceeding principles clearly argue for it.]
All of the above is literally covered in the final dozen pages of the book. It is clearly not the focus of the book, despite its undeniable wisdom. Rather, the bulk of “The Big Stick” looks at various arguments against the use of force, what the past 15 years of war have taught us, the relative position of the United States over the next half century of so, and what he sees as the four principle threats to American national security. If “The Big Stick” is remembered 25-years from now and beyond, it will be because of the principles stated above, I believe, and not the insights highlighted below.
There are at least five schools of thoughts that argue against the utility of force. Cohen elucidates them, and then quickly swats away each as more-or-less nonsense. First, there is the “our better angels” argument that the world, from a long range perspective stretching over centuries, is getting less violent (Cohen says that any thesis that casually waves away events like World War II as a random and unfortunate aberration to the overall trend should provide contemporary strategists cold comfort). Second, he discusses “academic/pacific realism” that focuses on the balancing of power and rational state actors (any argument that dismisses the importance of faith and ideology, along with non-state actors, is of limited utility). Third, is the post-Cold War nostrum of “soft power” and its reliance on the power of American influence and culture (while certainly useful, soft power is slow acting, uncontrollable and cannot be directed, severely limiting its effectiveness). Fourth, some argue against American engagement because of repeated failures and clear incompetence (no other countries have been any more successful, Cohen says, and previous failures is not a compelling argument for throwing our hands up and quitting). Finally, “nation building at home” suggests that the United States has plenty of problems at home that need fixing first (the “weakest argument,” Cohen says that there is no evidence that the country can’t easily afford both).
So what have fifteen years of war taught us? What lessons should we take away from the experience since 9/11? Not too many, Cohen claims, rather surprisingly. “It is trite and incorrect to say that generals refight the last war. It is more accurate to say that the efforts to wage war, and the scars they inflict, last, leaving their mark on individuals and institutions alike.” If that is so, what scars have the last fifteen years left? A tougher, more battle-hardened military, for sure, but a more ambivalent political culture; more awareness of the limits of our power, but also possibly less resolute; and overall less amenable to the use of force. Cohen sees this legacy as dangerous and misguided, namely because we live in a very dangerous world in desperate need of American leadership.
Moreover, “despite all the disappointments and losses of recent years, America is immensely strong, across many dimensions of power,” everything from conventional military strength, nuclear weapons, defense R&D and global military logistics to demography, economic growth, technical innovation, higher education, and political cohesion (one feels the need to qualify that last variable with “for now…”). In short, “no other country or collection of countries, has a better hand to play in international politics” than the United States and no collection of states likely will for quite awhile. The real vulnerability, he says, are that some aspects of America’s technical lead are slipping, higher levels of defense organization are growing sclerotic, and traditionally developed concepts of war are inadequate to meet threats in both the near and long terms.
Cohen outlines four primary challenges to the United States, which he addresses in descending order of magnitude. He is unambiguous about where he sees the top threats: China and Islamic radicals, or as he calls them “jihadis” (because it’s what they call themselves). “China is, by virtue of its size, wealth, and aspirations, the great geopolitical challenger of the United States; the jihadists are, by their murderous convictions and practices, the most immediate threat.” That said, Cohen seems to caution us not to make either into the proverbial “ten-foot tall enemy.”
China, as a strategic problem for the United States, is genuinely unprecedented. For its first quarter millennium of history the United States was the dynamic, economic growth engine harboring territorial ambitions and tremendous latent military power that caused rivals concern. Now that shoe is on the other foot. Cohen concludes that “China is a serious and sophisticated challenger, but has its own weaknesses, misconceptions, and limits,” not least of which is a network of Asian countries that are collaborating to resist Chinese expansion.
The second major problem, the Jihadis, will require “a long war against a dangerous minority element of a major religious faith.” And this campaign will have to be multifaceted. Cohen criticizes the over-reliance on targeted drone strikes against terror leaders (“If the history of warfare has one lesson to offer,” he writes “it is that there are no decisive weapons, tactics, or operational concepts.”) Rather, he recommends a re-balancing of how to view the challenge – it is neither a minor threat comparable to traffic accidents, nor an apocalyptic confrontation between cultures – and employing multiple elements in a decades long strategy of “wearing down terrorist organizations, dividing the, waging political warfare against their base, as a last resort intervening to help stabilize countries threatened by them, and working in a coalition.”
Third, Cohen singles out four states – Russia, Iran, North Korea, and Pakistan – each with nuclear capabilities or ambitions, and connections to China in one form or another, as potentially destabilizing and, indeed, dangerous. Here the author argues that the US needs to improve the credibility of our deterrent forces, up to and including pre-emptive use of low-yield nuclear weapons, both to reassure allies and deter reckless behavior by states that have been reckless in the recent past. (Many on the Left, no doubt, will view Cohen’s frank openness to the use of tactical nuclear weapons as unhinged.) And, again, he stresses the need for the US to improve its capabilities in so-called hybrid wars that marry “subversion, propaganda, clandestine operations, and the use of proxy forces, as well as conventional operations.”
Finally, there are the non-state threats, the great commons of the open sea, space and cyberspace. Unlike the others, no one knows for sure what conflict in space or cyberspace will really look like. Cohen believes that while the potential gravity of the threats, cyber warfare in particular, have been exaggerated, they should nevertheless be treated the same way as physical attacks (i.e. a nation that launches a cyber attack that shuts down an electrical grid should be treated as no different than if it had achieved the same objective with a cruise missile). In these areas, a host of civilian agencies, along with private enterprise, will play important roles, but, Cohen argues, “military power remains the ultimate guarantor that the diverse great commons of mankind remain accessible.”
In sum, Cohen places a heavy emphasis open-ended thinking and the strenuous use of propaganda and coalition operations to defend the liberties of speech, property and civil society well into the twenty-first century. He concedes that those liberties cannot be imposed by force, but warns that “neither can [the United States] hope to flourish in a world increasingly hostile to those values.”
My only doubt concerning the contents concerns the notion that we can continue to project power into the western Pacific with aircraft carriers that are now probably totally obsolete because of China's long range missile capacity. As Cohen notes, substituting the F-35 for current aircraft only shortens the range of their action. The United States Navy seems to be the large elephant in the room that everyone fears angering. Thus no one will point out the obvious fact that the entire surface fleet has been obsolete since 1982.
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