What Is Defense?
November 6, 2001
For the first
time in living memory, Americans have to think about defense. Most of us (I
include myself, until fairly recently) have assumed that our government was
defending us. We equated military spending in staggering sums sustaining
heavily armed soldiers, sailors, and pilots around the world with defense.
And we thought that meant safety.
It didnt. Now we know better. All that
military spending was making us enemies all over the earth. As a result, we have
to worry about people who were no threat to us a few years ago cruel,
cunning men who have found methods of by-passing traditional military forces.
After World War II the Department of War was
renamed the Department of Defense to soften its image. Defense sounded
nicer than war. Yet the United States military has been less and less
oriented to what the Constitution calls the common defense of the United
States. Its offensive power has become stupendous, and globally
ubiquitous, but its actual defensive power turns out to have been seriously flawed.
It was designed to deter attacks by rival states, but other kinds of attacks were
hardly imagined. An enemy state can be destroyed with overwhelming force; a
loose affiliation of guerrillas, saboteurs, or terrorists is another matter.
Nuclear weapons, which a few of our more
hairy-chested pundits are recommending now, are useless when you have to defend
really defend every post office, airport, and shopping mall. You
cant nuke anthrax.
The nuclear option is being urged out of sheer
frustration at a shadowy, dispersed, elusive enemy. Some people feel that our
ultimate weapons must prevail, if only we use enough of them. But in this case,
enough would mean genocide. Virtually the entire populations of several countries
would have to be annihilated in order to kill a few scattered terrorists. And
thats assuming that the terrorists would be close enough to the nuclear
targets, rather than hiding in remote areas.
Speaking of targets, Ive read several
newspaper columns urging nuking, but none of them have specified a target. They
cant. The whole idea of nuclear weapons is strategic: to destroy major
targets, especially big cities. But nobody knows where the relevant targets are, or
why nuclear weapons would be any more effective than conventional explosives. In
essence we are being told: Dont just stand there nuke
The old model of a centralized enemy state
doesnt apply here. The would-be nukers seem to forget that all the
atrocities the enemy has committed so far have been the work of men who were
and are already within U.S. borders. If Osama bin Laden, sitting in an Afghan cave,
had a change of heart tomorrow, he might be unable to call off further strikes.
The notion that bin Laden exercises close
central control of the terrorist forces may be an optimistic assumption. It allows
our government to feel it can win by targeting him or can at least justify
its efforts to us. The politicians only have to make us feel theyre achieving
something with their defense forces, even if they arent
really getting an inch closer to victory or are actually doing more harm than good.
This can be seen as a war between the public
and private sectors. As usual, the public sector the U.S. Government, in
this case is outspending the private sector the terrorists
by a huge margin. And as usual, the massively organized and centralized public
sector is wasting a colossal amount of wealth, while the decentralized private
sector is getting far more bang for its buck.
Conservatives and libertarians have long
argued that the private sector is far more efficient than the public sector, but this
isnt exactly the kind of demonstration we had hoped for. Wed rather
Bill Gates made the point than Osama bin Laden. Not that it will sink in with our
government either way. The lesson will be lost on believers in the megastate, as
the calls for nuking the terror network illustrate.
Talk about defense spending. This time
its not just our government thats paying; all of us are bearing the
enormous cost of anticipating attacks on every conceivable target. And apart from
the expense, there is the awful anxiety and fatigue. Welcome to the real world of