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November 11, 2004

Toward a Defensive Approach to National Defense


by William S. Lind

If there is one point on which all of America's leaders, civilian and military, seem to agree, it is that the United States must remain on the offensive in the misnamed "War on Terrorism." The offensive is the only form of war that offers hope for a decisive victory.

Clausewitz would disagree. In his On War, Clausewitz writes, "defense is simply the stronger form of war, the one that makes the enemy's defeat more certain …. We maintain unequivocally that the form of war that we call defense not only offers greater probability of victory than attack, but its victories can attain the same proportions and results."

If the U.S. were to take Clausewitz's advice, what might a defensive grand strategy look like? I answer that question in detail in the Nov. 22 issue of Pat Buchanan's magazine, The American Conservative. Here, I can only summarize. But the key to the answer is Colonel John Boyd's definition of grand strategy. Grand strategy, Boyd said, is the art of connecting yourself to as many other independent power centers as possible, while isolating your enemy from as many independent power centers as possible.

What does that definition mean for America in a 21st century that will be dominated by Fourth Generation, non-state war? As I write in TAC, "it means America's grand strategy should seek to connect our country with as many centers of order as possible while isolating us from as many centers and sources of disorder as possible." That, in turn, leads toward a defensive, not offensive, military strategy.

In the main, connecting ourselves to other centers of order will mean maintaining friendly relations with other states, wherever the state endures. Surviving states (their number will decline as the century extends) will be centers of relative order. So may other cultures that tend toward order; here, Chinese culture comes first to mind. China, if it can hold together internally, may be the single greatest center of order in the 21st century.

For the Establishment, the hard part will be accepting the need to isolate ourselves from centers and sources of disorder. Centers of disorder will be the growing number of failed states. Sources of disorder will certainly include Islam, thanks to the concept of jihad, even if some Islamic societies are ordered internally. Isolation, I write in TAC, "will mean minimizing contacts that involve flows of people, money, materials, and new primary loyalties, such as religious ideologies, into the United States." First and foremost, that requires ending the current de facto policy of open immigration. In a Fourth Generation world, open immigration is akin to leaving the castle gate open at night when the Huns are in the neighborhood.

How does a grand strategy based on Boyd's concepts of connection and isolation lead to a defensive military strategy? As we have seen in Iraq, if we attack another state, the most likely result will be the destruction of that state and its replacement by a region of stateless disorder. This works for, not against, our Fourth Generation opponents. If an American offensive punches into a stateless region, it works directly contrary to our goal of isolation from disorder. There is no better way to enmesh yourself in disorder than to invade it (the French are now learning that unpleasant lesson, again, in Ivory Coast). A defensive strategy, in contrast, leaves regions of disorder to stew in their own juices. In some cases, it may achieve another of Colonel Boyd's favorite aims, folding the enemy back on himself so that he expends his energies inward, not outward against us.

As Clausewitz also argues, a defensive strategy must include a powerful counter-offensive. When Fourth Generation opponents attack us at home, as on 9/11, our response should be Roman, which is to say annihilating. But the defensive sends a strong message on the moral level of war: if you leave us alone, we will leave you alone. Fourth Generation enemies may find it difficult to motivate their people to attack us if we keep our side of that bargain.

In contrast, so long as we continue on the military and grand strategic offensive, we will be making Germany's blunder in both World Wars. We will appear so threatening to everyone else, states and non-state elements alike, that every victory we win will generate more enemies until, fighting a hydra, we go down in defeat. Washington needs a Bismarck, but in the camp of the neocons, all it can find are many Holsteins.


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  • William Lind is Director of the Center for Cultural Conservatism at the Free Congress Foundation. He is a former Congressional Aide and the author
    of many books and articles on military strategy and war.

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