Benefits of a defensive posture
Americans have a mass illusion. They have an offensive military posture and don’t know it. They think they are freedom’s defenders.
The Swiss have a true defensive posture. Their doctrine is to defend their land, but not to retaliate or initiate an attack on enemy soil. They do not make an attacker’s civilian populations or industries into targets. Before establishing this policy, Switzerland was conquered by Napoleon in 1798. Since 1803, when its autonomy was restored, Switzerland has experienced no major conflict on its soil. Its consistent and unyielding adherence to a purely defensive posture has been an important reason.
The U.S. and the American people should have a defensive military posture, not the offensive posture that we now have and have had for a long time. A defensive posture will produce far fewer wars and correspondingly far more peace and security for Americans. The immense toll of war, in lives lost, lives damaged, and huge costs incurred, will be accordingly greatly diminished.
A defensive posture will bring far greater prosperity and happiness. The risks of catastrophic destruction in America and elsewhere will be vastly reduced. The risk of nuclear wars that devastate entire peoples and regions of the world will be reduced. The risk of terrible diseases being intentionally unleashed worldwide will be reduced. The risk of foreign lands, the seas, and space being used to launch wars will be reduced.
A far greater degree of peace and security will flow from a defensive posture.
Meaning of defensive and offensive postures
What does it mean for America to have a defensive posture? It does not mean pacifism. It does not mean unilateral disarmament. It does not mean weakness. It means an overall and consistent military position that does not threaten foreign nations with military action. It means that Americans make their country to a high degree invulnerable to attack from foreign states. It means that Americans choose strategies that reduce the gains to foreigners from attacking America and raise their losses if they do attack; so that they find attacking America a losing proposition. It means restricting American forces to American soil by defending America in America and only in America. It means an armed America through the length and breadth of the land.
A defensive posture makes America strong, very strong defensively, so strong that foes do not find it in their interest to attack us.
By contrast, an offensive posture for America means that America is a constant military threat to other nations that it regards as foes. It means America chooses strategies such as being the world’s policeman. It means choosing sides and not staying neutral when wars break out. It means constantly getting into battles and wars. It means provoking other nations into wars. It means intervening militarily in foreign nations. It means planting bases and weapons in foreign lands, on the seas, and in space. It means entangling alliances. It means constant development of new offensive weapons, including weapons of mass destruction. An offensive posture means making alliances that drag America into wars. It means pre-emptive war making, forward defense, sanctions imposed on other nations, and the Bush Doctrine. It means an American New World Order, as implemented by the U.S. since 1988, under all the Congresses and all the Presidents; continuing a century-long goal. It means a posture of attempted American military superiority and dominance in the world.
But achieving peace and security through superiority will always elude us. Offensive postures stir up offensive reactions and arms races from others. They stir up attacks on us.
America is so far from having a defensive posture that even to posit it, to outline what it means, even to describe how it works and suggest that it will work better than an offensive posture, will leave most readers shaking their heads in disbelief and wondering about its practicality and the sanity of its hardy few supporters. However, it is Americans who have been talked into believing that their strategy is just and defensive when it is not. The fear mongers and warmongers, the war merchants, the war intellectuals and media, the utopia seekers, and the politically powerful all in unison derisively shout down such a suggestion; labeling it as appeasement, isolationism, and weakness. The war beneficiaries have drowned out the opposition for so long that they no longer know the truth themselves and cannot conceive of the alternative. But the ultimate responsibility for American war making lies with Americans, their Congresses, and their Presidents. No amount of bluster can hide the blood-soaked truths of America’s time series of wars that have originated from its longstanding offensive posture.
No amount of angry bravado or idealistic twaddle can hide the fact that the Swiss, with their defensive posture, were not attacked by the Japanese or the Germans in World Wars I and II. The Swiss have not become embroiled in one severe war after another as the U.S. has, in the Pacific, Europe, Africa, the Middle East, Central Asia, and the Far East. And even the U.S. earlier in its history and for brief periods of time managed to restrain itself and produce a semblance of peace through something of a defensive posture. George Washington counseled a defensive posture. Yet in virtually all of its history, America’s expansion and confrontations of the British, the French, the Spanish, the Indians, the Mexicans, and the Canadians were producing a culture of offense that is firmly embedded in American thought and behavior. It is offense wrapped in a false rhetorical bundle of defense, and this falsity reveals its irrationality.
The Swiss military policies have been far more rational than those of Americans. Every war that the U.S. needlessly threw itself into meant the large-scale destruction of American (and foreign) lives as well as property. War after war after war have reduced the prosperity of the U.S., saddled it with debt, held back its growth, and undermined the country’s values and freedoms. As a consequence of its offensive posture, severe retaliation on American soil has begun. Had the U.S. adopted a defensive posture long ago, none of this would have happened. Americans today would have been much further ahead.
Defensive posture of Switzerland
In his 1982 article, "Invulnerability without Threat: The Swiss Concept of General Defense," Dietrich Fischer explains the defensive posture of the Swiss. The details of the defensive posture of the Swiss are not necessarily the same ones that Americans might choose; but reviewing what they do is very useful. It shows the uninitiated that America has an offensive, not a defensive, posture. It displays the fact of alternatives to America’s offensive posture.
The Swiss objective is defense of their self-determination while allowing other nations their right to the same. This contrasts with the American objectives of extending the American way of life throughout the world and creating a fantasy world utopia of democracies. The Swiss armed forces are a militia, drawn from the entire population. Arms, ammunition, and uniforms are kept at home. This contrasts with America where we have standing and separate armed forces; and where important groups frown upon personal arms and ammunition and constantly attempt to disarm the population; and where since the Militia Act of 1903, the militia has increasingly become a standard army.
Parts of the Swiss population stands ready for tasks such as civil defense and medical services. The country’s defense is ready at all times. If an attack occurred, the army (the entire people) is ready to defend immediately. The population is also prepared to carry out sabotage, guerilla warfare, and civil disobedience. America has no counterpart to these plans. In keeping with norms of justice and just war, defense is to occur solely on Swiss territory. America, by contrast, seeks to fight anywhere but on American territory. The Swiss policy is not to retaliate on an invader’s territory and not to destroy the home property or population of an invading nation. It is to obey the various international norms and conventions of warfare. America does the opposite, indulging in total war upon an enemy and causing severe damage to civilian populations. America’s record in following international treaties and laws is horrendous.
By maintaining a military that permeates the population, by making known in advance a commitment to sabotage industrial plants, foodstuffs, and transportation facilities, by promising to engage in guerilla warfare, and civil disobedience, the Swiss raise the costs of invasion to an enemy while also lowering the benefits. This policy dissuades attack. By contrast, the U.S. invites attacks and wars. It looks for fights that it can join.
The Swiss have a neutrality policy. This means they do not have treaties and alliances obliging them to attack a country that attacks third party countries. This means that an aggressor has nothing to lose by leaving Switzerland alone. By contrast, the U.S. has numerous alliances that can send the U.S. into serious warfare at any time.
The Swiss offer services to other countries who leave them in peace: diplomacy, international relief, humanitarian aid, disaster relief, and international arbitration. This provides a carrot for other nations not to attack them. The U.S. uses its aid and services as devices to reshape the world to its liking and to control other countries. It uses aid as inducements to install bases on foreign soil.
The Swiss defensive posture is rational in providing appropriate incentives to foreign nations not to attack Switzerland, and this posture has worked. The Swiss by no means have a perfect system. They may err and stray from it. Among other faults, there are political pressures to reduce or eliminate the militia. And in 2002, the Swiss, who had been smart enough to stay out of the U.N., became a member.
Most Americans will no doubt react instinctively against these facts. One can hear the responses. "We are not the Swiss, after all. We are not some small landlocked European country. We are the leaders of the free world. We are the ones who have stopped Nazism and Soviet Communism. We stopped the Kaiser. Where was Switzerland when the Soviet Union threatened all of Europe? Where was Switzerland when North Korea aggressed against South Korea? We are the defenders of freedom in the world. If we do not project the American system, who will? Do you want to fight our enemies here when we can fight and kill them overseas? Do you dare advocate Fortress America? Do you dare advocate isolationism? Are you mad?" Harry Lime of Third Man fame will ridicule the Swiss accomplishments and reduce them to the cuckoo clock as compared with the Borgias.
But who is it that is mad? Who prefers war to peace? Who prefers perpetual war for perpetual peace? Who prefers such fancies as a world under American hegemony or a world filled with well-controlled and peaceful democracies? Who prefers to draw lines on maps and construct fake countries that eventually fall apart under the strains of separatist movements? Who prefers to regiment America? Who prefers to militarize America? Who prefers to invite attacks on American soil? Who is prepared to spend America’s blood and treasure on phantom ideals? Who places military actions in a host of foreign lands above the interests of Americans at home? Who manufactures one enemy after another? Who has huge war industries that constantly promote war and develop newer and deadlier weapons of mass destruction? Who has used these weapons of mass destruction?
There is method in the madness of the warmongers. What select few benefit from the American offensive posture? What companies and what Congressional districts benefit from the offence contracts? What power-hungry politicians, intellectuals, military officials, and bureaucrats benefit from their offensive fiefdoms? What Americans satisfy their patriotic lusts or their religious fantasies? What paranoid fears and blood lusts are reinforced by the convenience of enemies to incinerate?
Defense versus offense
Are the Swiss mad or the Americans? Is a defensive posture something to be dismissed without consideration?
Why is a defensive posture a superior choice? In football, the best defense is a good offense. Why is this not true of a country’s military posture? A football game is (a) scheduled and (b) played according to fixed rules and resources, such as 11 men on the field. Prior to a war, however, there is no certainty that the war will occur; and each side can alter its strategies and resources devoted to the conflict.
Suppose a country increases its offensive weapons. Then this prompts other countries to increase their defenses and their offenses. An expensive arms race begins. The increases in offensive weapons raise the levels of threat and increase the chance of being attacked. This is because the first side to use an offensive weapon has the advantage of destroying the offensive weapons of the other side. If two sides, for example, have missiles, the first side to use them has a better chance of destroying those of the other side. The offensive posture has three negatives: higher outlays for weapons, a higher chance of being attacked or getting into war, and a more destructive war if it occurs.
By contrast, a strong defensive posture reduces the chance of being attacked. A defensive posture is such that the side that attacks stands to lose heavily when it attacks. The recent Israeli attack on Hezbollah was of this variety. The American attack on Iraq has turned out in somewhat the same way in terms of continued American losses (although there is simultaneously the carnage of the civil war); and so is Afghanistan. The defensive posture may not be perfect, but it proves to be less costly in the long run because it reduces the chance of war, avoids arms races, and is less destructive when it occurs.
The amazing thing about America is that its position in North America makes it an excellent candidate for a defensive posture. America could be invulnerable and vastly reduce its participation in wars.
Americans would have to dismount their moral high horse, however. They would have to learn that their war making in the name of freedom and justice constantly violates norms of freedom and justice. They would have to learn that they have no right to declare themselves as the world police, to choose sides when other nations are warring, and to join the fray. In practice, the U.S. cynically supports an Iraq and a Saddam Hussein while helping him build up his weaponry; and then later turns against him. And if it claims to abandon its realist international policies in favor of a moralistic support of democracies in all lands, it still ends up supporting one fractious faction over another. It still supports factions with feet of clay that are as prone to brutality and misuse of power as Americans themselves are. There is no excuse for America’s offensive posture in any version of any international theory of American world leadership or intervention.
For the average American, there has simply been no good reason, moral or practical, to be fighting wars all over the world. If America defended itself as it should, the odds of an enemy attack would be very low. And America would be acting justly.
States internationally are in a condition of anarchy versus one another. There are incentives to cooperate because conflicts are costly. The movements of states toward accommodation with one another are analogous to what we expect protection agencies might do to settle disputes in a free market anarchism. But the incentives for cooperation are weaker with states because they are insensitive to the profit motive. In this situation of anarchy among states, where there is no international enforcement mechanism, the intentions and consistent behavior of the players count for a great deal in order to make commitments and words credible.
The offensive posture of the U.S. under Bush I and Clinton was already repositioning to a more aggressive offensive posture. Bush II and the Congress solidified that movement that had tentatively begun after the Soviet Union’s breakup. The past three Presidents and Congresses threw away the golden opportunity of leading the world in a peaceful direction, beginning with nuclear disarmament. Now the Bush Doctrine has damaged the U.S. considerably. The U.S. actions have precipitated increasing arms commitments in many countries. (The arms suppliers are happy.) Bush II has taken the offensive posture of the U.S. to new heights and backed it up by extensive signaling of intentions and by deeds. Reversing this course is an urgent American priority.
America is developing new nuclear weapons and is prepared to use them, even use them in pre-emptive attacks. We live under such a massive illusion that proponents of an offensive strategy regard all of this as defensive and are able to convince masses of Americans that it is, when it is obviously offensive. A nuclear weapon might be a pure deterrent, but persuading another country of that is very hard when it can be used offensively. Nuclear weapons are highly unlikely to be used on one’s own soil. They are clearly not part of a defensive posture.
Adapting a scheme of Karl Menger (son of Carl Menger), Dietrich Fischer has used a two-way classification for nations:
The aggressive nation has the offensive means or resources and the will or intent to use them. The invulnerable nation has the defensive means or resources and the will to use them.
The most security is achieved by not being offensive and aggressive while being strong in defense. The least security is achieved by being aggressive and offensive while being vulnerable in defense.
The U.S. is in the least safe posture. It is simultaneously aggressive overseas and vulnerable at home. Our borders are sieves. Determined and organized enemies that we ourselves have stirred up because of our offensive posture can and no doubt have infiltrated the U.S.
Return to ideal of neutrality
Americans have left home and need to return. We need to return to the ideals expressed in George Washington’s Farewell Address. Here are some pertinent excerpts:
"Observe good faith and justice toward all nations. Cultivate peace and harmony with all. Religion and morality enjoin this conduct. And can it be that good policy does not equally enjoin it?"
"Excessive partiality for one foreign nation and excessive dislike of another cause those whom they actuate to see danger only on one side, and serve to veil and even second the arts of influence on the other. Real patriots who may resist the intrigues of the favorite are liable to become suspected and odious, while its tools and dupes usurp the applause and confidence of the people to surrender their interests."
"The great rule of conduct for us in regard to foreign nations is, in extending our commercial relations to have with them as little political connection as possible."
"Europe has a set of primary interests which to us have none or a very remote relation. Hence she must be engaged in frequent controversies, the causes of which are essentially foreign to our concerns. Hence, therefore, it must be unwise in us to implicate ourselves by artificial ties in the ordinary vicissitudes of her politics or the ordinary combinations and collisions of her friendships or enmities."
"Our detached and distant situation invites and enables us to pursue a different course. If we remain one people, under an efficient government, the period is not far off when we may defy material injury from external annoyance; when we may take such an attitude as will cause the neutrality we may at any time resolve upon to be scrupulously respected; when belligerent nations, under the impossibility of making acquisitions upon us, will not lightly hazard the giving us provocation; when we may choose peace or war, as our interest, guided by justice, shall counsel."
"Why forego the advantages of so peculiar a situation? Why quit our own to stand upon foreign ground? Why, by interweaving our destiny with that of any part of Europe, entangle our peace and prosperity in the toils of European ambition, rivalship, interest, humor, or caprice?"
"It is our true policy to steer clear of permanent alliances with any portion of the foreign world, so far, I mean, as we are now at liberty to do it, for let me not be understood as capable of patronizing infidelity to existing engagements."
America has an offensive military posture that has not served us well. We should have a defensive posture. This will reduce the risk of attacks on American soil and help create a more peaceful world. George Washington was right. William McKinley, Theodore Roosevelt, Woodrow Wilson, Franklin Roosevelt, and many modern presidents and Congresses have been wrong. Americans have chosen the wrong path. We have gone and are going in precisely the wrong direction.
Changing America’s military posture requires that Americans shift their thinking back to defensive American ideals that were current when the republic was born but were subsequently discarded in favor of offensive military ideals that supported America’s growth into an empire.
Both cynical or realist international policies of war and intervention, and utopian, idealistic, Wilsonian ideas of pseudo-morality led by America come to the same thing: an American offensive military posture. Both these modern views are wrong. Neither view benefits Americans at large.
Peace and neutrality have been given bad names among Americans by a long history of war propagandists and war beneficiaries. They have been twisted and perverted beyond recognition until we no longer know what they mean. The attainment of peace does not mean appeasement and cowardice. A defensive posture actually requires that the entire population be prepared to fight to defend themselves. A defensive posture is not pacifism. Neutrality means what Washington told us it means.
A just country will be loved and respected by the people. It will be prosperous. They will think it worth defending and want to defend it. It won’t be easily defeated. When Americans determine to become a truly free and just people, they will adopt a defensive military posture. It will deter attack, and Americans will find their long sought peace and security.
Michael S. Rozeff [send him mail] is a retired Professor of Finance living in East Amherst, New York.