Poli 378 in Greater Detail


As mentioned on the syllabus, the study of national security policy involves a wide variety of topics and crosses over a number of academic areas. The goal of the national security policy of a country is to protect the physical well-being of its citizens and territory. This goal may be achieved in a variety of ways, but for most of history -- including today -- the national security policy of a country is inexorably linked to the possession and use of military force. Military force is still an important component of our national security policy. Consequently, most of the course will be devoted to different aspects of military force and its role in United States national security policy.

Many courses on national security policy take a point of view similar to that expressed in the previous paragraph. But this course is somewhat different from courses in national security offered at many other schools. For a number of reasons -- the wide array of topics that must be considered, the impact of current events and new developments in weaponry, etc. -- national security classes tend to be focused on the short run. There is a strong push to emphasize the "weapon of the week" or the "event of the week." This is a mistake because it conveys a sense that the past is no longer relevant to the national security policy of today. That feeling of a brand new world for which there are no guidelines from the past has happened at least three times in the past 70 years. The first time came with the dropping of the first atomic bombs on Japan, and the subsequent rise of the Cold War between the United States and Russia. These events caused many people to believe that nothing of what we learned from the study of the world before 1945 could be relevant. This same feeling swept over observers in 1989 with the fall of the Berlin Wall; all at once all we knew about national security policy from the Cold War was obsolete. Finally, some made the same argument after 9/11. All three times observers were wrong.

This course is based on different premises. We will assume that there are regularities, patterns and generalizations from the past that can be of great use to us now and the future. Further, we will assume that for a number of important questions, the best way to find answers is to study the past systematically, not haphazardly. That is, if we want to know under what circumstances the United States gains its objectives when using military force, the best way to begin is to try to uncover patterns and circumstances associated with most successful uses of force in the past. For the most part, you will not always be asked to conduct these investigations yourself, but a good deal of what you learn in the course will be based on the work of others that have investigated the past and searched for generalities.

The major advantage of approaching national security policy in this way is that the knowledge you gain will have a longer "half life." If all we do is talk about today's weapon or this week's crisis, this will be of little help to you if you try to understand future events. But if we frame our discussion in terms of more general topics, then what you remember may help you in the future. A major goal of the course is to provide you with the knowledge and tools you need to think about not only today's problems in national security policy, but also tomorrow's.

One more thing: this course will also assume that in order to understand national security policy, it is important to try to understand what military force can -- and cannot -- do. There will be no live fire exercises, no weekend camps, etc., but we will try to develop a more realistic understanding of what our military can accomplish. We will do this in a number of ways. You will develop some knowledge of the particular kinds of weapons systems that are used. You will also learn something about how we train our personnel (keep in mind the trite but true phrase "you fight the way you train, and you train the way you fight"). You will also learn a bit about the more general problems that are faced in combat.

The People And The Organizations

An extremely large number of people play a role in our national security policy. In this section of the course, we will consider a variety of people and organizations that have an impact on our national security policy. The most important point to remember from this section (even after you have taken the final exam) is that quality people are the greatest "force multiplier" in the military. Without quality people, we can never have a first rate military. We will talk about the various categories of people in the military -- the enlisted personnel, the officer corps, and the top leadership of the military services. But many people outside the military also have an impact on our policies and our actions. For example, public opinion plays a role in determining the size of the defense budget, as does the actions of Congress and the Executive Branch. We will also look at the command relationship that runs from the President down to the "grunt" in the field.

Low Intensity Conflict

Traditionally when we think of using military force, we think in terms of nuclear weapons, tanks, aircraft carriers or other highly visible weapons systems engaged large scale conflict. But there are a variety of other uses for military force. We have used military force to keep parties apart so they cannot fight, to restore order, conducting counterinsurgency and/or against non-traditional military forces (for example, terrorists), as well as for humanitarian purposes. You will discover that the United States has a long history of undertaking these kinds of military operations. We will discuss the lessons that can be drawn from this history, current operations in Iraq and Afghanistan, as well as the Ranger/Delta Force operations in Somalia (the subject of the book and the movie "Black Hawk Down")

Weapons of Mass Destruction

The onset of the Cold War was also the onset of the nuclear era. It is easy to assume that since the Cold War is over, we do not have to pay much attention to nuclear weapons. This would be a major mistake for several reasons. First, the issues surrounding nuclear weapons have played a major (even dominant) role in U.S. national security policy since World War II. Second, even if we assume that all such thinking is obsolete, the current status of our military -- its equipment, its training, its plans -- has been heavily influenced by nuclear weapons. So we cannot understand why we are where we are today without considering how we got here, and nuclear weapons figure heavily into that story. As well, there are still large numbers of nuclear weapons around the world, and an increasingly large list of countries that have the capability to produce these weapons if they desire. So it is important to learn about nuclear weapons not only because they influenced current national security policy, but also to help supply some guidance for dealing with future policy concerning nuclear proliferation.

There are other types of weapons of mass destruction (WMD); namely, chemical and biological weapons. These pose new challenges, particularly if they are possessed by individuals and groups, rather than states.

Arms Control and Anti-Prolfieration Policy

In the past, the arms control agenda has been dominated by U.S.-Russian issues. It is still important to review the basics of arms control both to increase our understanding of how we got to our current arsenal and our current arms control agreements, but also to consider how much -- if any -- of this experience is relevant to issues of the control of both conventional and unconventional (WMD) weapons in the rest of the world.

We also need to explore what we might do other than arms control efforts and direct use of military force to prevent the spread of these weapons. Finally, some have argued that the spread of these weapons to other countries may have positive benefits. We will consider these arguments as well.

Heavy Conventional Warfare

Any discussion on the confrontation between the North Atlantic Treaty Organization (NATO) and the Warsaw Pact seems badly outdated. But as with similar attitudes on nuclear weapons, this is wrong. The fact of the matter is that the prospects of a war in Europe drove the planning, training and weapons procurement not only for the armed forces of all NATO and Warsaw Pact alliance members, but virtually the entire world. Equipment that was sold or given to non-European countries was designed for a war in Europe. Consequently, armies all over the world are trained to fight the kind of war that was envisioned in Europe. During the two wars against Iraq, the way we fought, the weapons we used, and the training of our troops was all based on our conclusions about the most effective way to fight the Soviet Union and its allies in Europe. If we were to go to war in the near future using heavy (mechanized and armored) ground forces, and air forces, we will still be influenced by the NATO- Warsaw Pact confrontation. This section of the course discusses the evolution of U.S. thinking on how to stop the Warsaw Pact, and the impact of this thinking on the Gulf Wars, and future decisions on plans, equipment, and personnel.

"Lighter" Wars: From the Seas

In this section of the course we will look at some recent military conflicts that have not involved these types of heavy forces. In particular, we will focus on the role of the Navy and the Marine Corps. Our discussion will reference conflicts that appear to be most relevant (and offer the most lessons) for the use of the navy and the Marine Corps.

Prospects For The Future

As time permits, we will consider the future of U.S. national security policy. In great measure this will involve projections based on what we have discussed about the past and the present.