The National Security Generation Gap: A Response

In “The National Security Generation Gap,” Stephen Peter Rosen, a Harvard professor “of national security and military affairs,” laments the obvious trend of younger people disliking the use of force to solve international crises. “These younger Americans” — anyone born between 1967 and 1987, let’s say — “don’t suffer from moral indifference,” Prof. Rosen writes. Well, that is good news. Unfortunately for the military-industrial complex, i.e. the National Security State, the gravest threats that directly affect American interests which he cites can only be defused through diplomatic and law enforcement mechanisms — respectively, nuclear proliferation and terrorism.

Incidentally, the problem of terror only comes up here in the context of proliferation. Prof. Rosen believes quite accurately that when “more countries have nuclear weapons … the chance of nuclear warheads being launched or falling into the hands of terrorists is greater.” He doesn’t say so explicitly, but Prof. Rosen is cheerleading global hegemony, despite of all its costs and consequences. “America’s use of war to shape the world seem to many of us” — people born between 1947 and 1957, for example — “both necessary and proper.” The following is provided as one of several casi belli.

Saudi Arabia purchased small numbers of long-range missiles from China in the 1980s that have little value without nuclear warheads, and in 2009 King Abdullah stated clearly that if Iran crosses the nuclear threshold, ‘we will get nuclear weapons.’ Russia has thousands of tactical nuclear weapons and has a doctrine that justifies their first use.

Moscow, armed to the teeth and drenched in rhetoric about restoring the ancient motherland, is not intimidated by stern denunciations from Brussels or sanctions from Washington. A nuclear arms race in the Middle East, within the sphere of Russia’s restive Islamic southern flank, seems to directly affect the national interests of Russia, not the United States.

The “indirect” military and national security interests are more persuasive, yet still rest on a dubious and untestable assumption that the United States Armed Forces would be “coerced” — or could be coerced — by the chess moves of regional powers like Russia and China. Prof. Rosen explains to the nation’s wayward youth that Uncle Sam needs to keep the option of resorting to aggression open, for the sake of the collective security of the former Soviet Socialist Republics: “Americans should help independent countries [e.g. Ukraine, or Estonia] defend their autonomy because we benefit from their creation of wealth and ideas but also because we do not want to be coerced ourselves.” Ignoring the nonsensical latter half, the rest makes sense. Yet is it worth the deployment of the military to enforce cultural autonomy in the Eurozone?

With the certitude of a quasi-religious axiom, Rosen concludes that “Americans must help others defend themselves against tyranny because it is in our national interest to do so.” Putting aside for a moment his questionable application of the word “tyranny” for describing the Crimea situation, the underlying logic is perfectly circular: the US national interest is to defend other nations against tyrannical regimes because it is in the national interest to use force in the name of defending other nations against tyranny. The merry-go-round for weapons manufacturers will continue spinning.


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