The Case Against Intervention

We have no significant strategic interests in the Third World; neither do the Soviets. Yet this year the Pentagon will spend $97 billion for forces designed for intervention in the Third World, and U.S. funds will go to sponsor purposeless killing on three continents


IN EUROPE THE COLD WAR IS OVER, BUT THE BUSH ADMINISTRATION IS STILL waging it without letup in the Third World. A large chunk of the Administration’s proposed defense budget for fiscal year 1991 is allocated for forces tailored to Third World intervention, including thirteen aircraft carriers and eight light Army and Marine divisions. Less expensive, but more important in human terms, are four gruesome wars that the Bush Administration is waging by proxy against leftist Third World regimes and movements.

In Cambodia the Administration supports a coalition dominated by the Khmer Rouge, which seeks to oust the Vietnam-installed Hun Sen government. In Angola it backs an extremely violent rebellion by the National Union for the Total Independence of Angola (UNITA). In Afghanistan it continues to sustain a rebellion by seven mujahideen groups against the Najibullah regime. In El Salvador it supports the right-wing ARENA government against the Marxist Farabundo Marti Front for National Liberation (FMLN). Discussions to end all four wars have begun, but so far the Bush Administration has adopted extreme negotiating positions, stalling progress toward peace. The Administration has also recently begun a new intervention, in Peru, and has supported lesser American involvement in civil conflicts in Guatemala and the Philippines.

The Administration should bring these proxy wars to a quick end. It should also drop the interventionist foreign policy they reflect. Third World intervention never made sense, even at the height of the Cold War. It makes less sense with that war’s demise. Accordingly, the United States should cut its intervention forces and avoid further interventions except in a narrow range of circumstances.

Intervention for Security?

THROUGHOUT THE COLD WAR, PROPONENTS OF U.S. intervention made two principal claims: first, that Third World interventions protect U.S. national security by preserving the global balance of power, and second, that interventions promote democracy, thereby promoting human rights. Both arguments were false in the past, are false now, and would remain false even if the Soviet Union regained its strength and returned to pursuing an aggressive foreign policy.

The security argument for intervention incorporates several related assumptions:

• The Soviet Union desires an empire in the Third World.

• It aims to seize this empire by backing the expansion of subordinate Third World leftist states and movements.

• These leftists would make major gains unless the United States intervened.

• The Soviet Union would exploit those gains.

• Such gains would add significantly to Soviet military strength, ultimately tipping the world balance of power in the USSR’s favor, thus threatening American national security.

This argument has underlain U.S. interventions in Iran, Guatemala, Indochina, Cuba, the Dominican Republic, Chile, Grenada, Nicaragua, El Salvador, Angola, and elsewhere since 1945. It has three major defects, First, Soviet tolerance of the democratic upheavals in Eastern Europe signals the waning of Soviet expansionism worldwide, and perhaps its total abandonment. Eastern Europe matters far more to the USSR than any Third World region; Soviet leaders who concede their empire in Eastern Europe cannot still be dreaming of colonizing much less valuable Third World areas. Hence there is little Soviet imperial thrust left for U.S. interventions to blunt.

Second, even if it had the will, the Soviet Union lacks the capacity to colonize the Third World. Today it can barely control the empire within its borders, as unrest in the Baltic republics,

Transcaucasia, and Central Asia reveals. Overseas colonialism is unthinkable.

But even if the Soviets recovered their unity and their appetite for a Third World empire, they could not seize one. Soviet military forces are designed primarily for land war in Europe and for intercontinental nuclear war with the United States, not for Third World intervention. Nor can the Soviet Union gain an empire by promoting leftist revolution or expansion by Soviet proxy states, because the centrifugal force of nationalism tears the bonds between proxy and master. As a result, Third World leftists tend to be unruly proxies, seldom following Soviet dictates except when pushed into the Kremlin’s arms by American bellicosity. This is underlined by the unfraternal relations among communist states, and illustrated by the conflicts that have often flared between the Khmer Rouge and Vietnam, Vietnam and China, China and the Soviet Union, the Soviet Union and Yugoslavia, and the Soviet Union and Albania.

In addition, the USSR is now evolving away from communism. This further discredits the notion that the Soviets can organize a transnational communist empire, since the leaders of the empire are themselves abandoning the ideology that would allegedly be able to glue it together.

Third, even large Soviet gains in the Third World would not tip the global balance of power, because by the best measure of strategic importance—industrial power—the Third World ranks very low. All of Latin America has an aggregate GNP less than halt that of Japan, All of Africa has an aggregate GNP below that of Italy or Great Britain. The aggregate GNP of the entire Third World is below that of Western Europe. Modern military power is distilled from industrial power; thus the Third World has little military potential and correspondingly little strategic significance.

Moreover, the nuclear revolution has reduced the Third World’s strategic importance to a level far below even the modest one that its industrial strength might indicate. Nuclear weapons represent a defensive revolution in warfare. They make conquest among great powers almost impossible, because a victor must now destroy nearly all of an opponent’s nuclear arsenal—an insuperable task. As a result, the nuclear revolution has devalued the strategic importance of all conquered territory, including Third World territory, because even huge conquests would not provide the conqueror with enough technical or material assets to give it decisive nuclear superiority over another great power. Hence industrial regions that mattered greatly before the nuclear age now matter only somewhat, while Third World regions that formerly mattered little now matter even less. Some interventionists assert that the Third World has strategic importance because of the alleged Western dependence on Third World raw materials or the alleged strategic value of military bases in Third World areas. Both claims are much overdrawn. Oil is the only Third World material on which the West depends to any degree. The West imports many other materials from the Third World, but at modest additional cost all of them could be produced locally in the West or otherwise replaced. Bases, too, could be replaced by longer-range forces, or moved to new locations if a given country denied basing rights to the United States.

If any of these three criticisms is accepted, the security case for intervention fails. It requires that the Soviets seek a Third World empire, that they be able to gain one, and that the empire add decisively to their power; otherwise the world balance of power is not threatened, leaving no problem for intervention to solve. The absence of all three conditions creates a very strong case against intervention. Moreover, two of these three conditions were absent before the Gorbachev revolution, and would remain absent even if that revolution were reversed.

In short, no national-security justification exists for U.S. commitment to Third World intervention.

Democracy by Bayonet?

DURING THE 1980S PROPONENTS OF INTERVENtion supplemented security arguments with claims that American interventions promote democracy. This argument fails on both logical and historical grounds.

Democracy requires suitable social and economic preconditions: a fairly equal distribution of land, wealth, and income; high levels of literacy and economic development; cultural norms conducive to democracy, such as traditions of tolerance, free speech, and due process of law; and few deep ethnic divisions. Most of the Third World lacks democracy because these preconditions are missing. Moreover, it would require vast social engineering, involving long and costly post-intervention occupations, to introduce them. American taxpayers clearly would not support extravagant projects of this sort.

In the past, U.S. interventions have generally failed to bolster democracy. They have left dictatorship more often than democracy in their wake; Washington has often subverted elected governments that opposed its policies; and many U.S.-supported “democratic” governments and movements were not at all democratic. Overall, this record suggests that the United States lacks both the will and the ability to foster democracy.

The legacy of American interventions and occupations is not wholly undemocratic: Germany, Japan, Italy, Austria, and Grenada are significant exceptions. But these are the bright spots in an otherwise dark record.

The United States governed Cuba, Nicaragua, Haiti, and the Dominican Republic in a generally undemocratic fashion during intermittent occupations in the period 1898-1934, and then allowed brutal dictators to seize power after it left. South Korea has seen far more dictatorship than democracy since American forces arrived in 1945. Following the era of U.S. colonial rule (1899-1946) the Philippines experienced a corrupt and violent perversion of democracy and a long period of repression under Ferdinand Marcos. Even in the post-Marcos era, violence has marred Philippine elections, and the threat of a military coup hangs darkly over the elected government of Corazon Aquino. Iran and Guatemala have been ruled by cruel dictatorships ever since the CIA-sponsored coups of 1953 and 1954. Chile is only now emerging from seventeen years of harsh military dictatorship under Augusto Pinochet, who was installed by a U.S.-supported coup in 1973.

Some would argue that the United States brought democracy to Panama last year and to Nicaragua this year, but the United States deserves less credit than appearances suggest. The legacy of the U.S. invasion of Panama is still uncertain. The Bush Administration’s invasion deposed the dictator Manuel Noriega and installed an elected government in his place. But the Administration also installed a sinister Noriega henchman, Colonel Eduardo Herrera Hassan, as the commander of the new Public Force, the successor to Noriega’s Panamanian Defense Forces. Herrera has staffed the PF with former PDF members, raising the risk that corrupt military cliques will continue to dominate the country’s politics. Moreover, by invading, the United States merely sought to undo a mess of its own making. The United States created and trained the PDF; then, in 1968, the PDF destroyed Panamanian democracy, installing a junta that later gave rise to the Noriega dictatorship. Overall, U.S. policy toward Panama has not fostered democracy.

This year’s elections have apparently put Nicaragua on the road to democracy for the first time in its history. The U.S.-sponsored contra war and U.S. economic sanctions contributed by pressuring the Sandinistas to hold earlier and freer elections than they otherwise would have. However, the social conditions required for democracy were created by the Sandinista revolution, over American opposition. In 1979, when the Sandinistas took power, 50 percent of the adult population of Nicaragua was illiterate; land ownership was very unevenly distributed (five percent of the rural population owned 85 percent of the farmland); and the country was terrorized by the Somoza dictatorship’s brutal National Guard. The Sandinistas reduced adult illiteracy to 13 percent, redistributed the land, and disbanded the National Guard.

Had the United States gotten its way, these changes never would have occurred. As the Somoza regime crumbled, the Carter Administration maneuvered to forestall a Sandinista victory by replacing Sornoza while preserving his National Guard. A Guard-dominated regime surely would have left intact the old social and political order— an order in which widespread coercion, voter ignorance, and vote fraud made elections meaningless.

The United States also gets mixed reviews for its role in prompting the Nicaraguan elections. The Reagan Administration preferred a military victory to any compromise, including one providing for elections. It disrupted the 1984 Nicaraguan elections by persuading the opposition not to run. It also resisted the peace plan proposed by Costa Rican President Oscar Arias in 1987, which launched the process that led to this year’s elections. This resistance ended only when George Bush took office. In short, the impetus for the Nicaraguan elections came from Central America against U.S. opposition, while the conditions for democracy were established by a social revolution that the United States sought to prevent.

Elites and Thugs

THE UNDEMOCRATIC NATURE OF AMERICAN POLicies results partly from a pronounced bias in favor of elites. The Carter Administration’s support for the Nicaraguan oligarchy was not unique; elsewhere in the Third World, American policy has bolstered the power of local anti-democratic elements, who have then blocked the social leveling that democratization requires. In South Korea, U.S. policy favored the rightist elite from the early days of the postwar occupation. In the Philippines the United States aligned itself with the upper-class ilustrado elite after seizing the islands in 1898-1899, and again when it recovered the Philippines from Japan in 1944 — 1945. In Guatemala the CIA-sponsored Castillo Armas government (1954-1957) repealed universal suffrage and dispossessed peasant beneficiaries of earlier land reforms, leaving Guatemala among the most stratified societies in the world. Throughout Latin America the Alliance for Progress, founded partly to promote social equality, was co-opted by oligarchic governments that ran it for the benefit of wealthy elites. As a result, the alliance in fact increased social stratification.

America’s ambivalence toward Third World democracy is more starkly manifest in its recurrent subversion of elected Third World governments that have pursued policies distasteful to the United States. There have been eleven prominent instances since 1945 in which elected nationalist or leftist regimes in the Third World have adopted policies that disturbed Washington. In nine of these cases—Iran (1953), Guatemala (1954), British Guiana (1953—1964), Indonesia (1957), Ecuador (1960— 1963), Brazil (1961-1964), the Dominican Republic (1965), Costa Rica (the mid-1950s), and Chile (1970— 1973)—the United States attempted to overthrow the elected government (or, in the Dominican case, to prevent its return to power) and most of the time succeeded. In the other two cases—Greece (1967) and Jamaica (1976 — 1980)—evidence of American subversion is less clear-cut but is nevertheless substantial.

In short, American leaders have favored democracy only when it has produced governments that support American policy. Otherwise they have sought to subvert democracy.

The thuggish character of America’s Third World proxies also reveals American ambivalence toward Third World democracy. America’s client regimes in Central America are illustrative. The U.S.-backed governments of El Salvador, Guatemala, and Honduras hold regular elections, but none passes the first test of democracy: that those elected control government policy. Instead, the army and the police effectively rule all three countries; the civilian governments are hood ornaments on military vehicles of state. If civilian officials defied the military, they would promptly be removed by assassination or coup. Knowing this, they do the military’s bidding. Moreover, the preconditions for fair elections—free speech, a free press, and the freedom to vote, organize, and run for office— cannot develop because of government death squads that systematically murder critics of the government. The official terror has reached vast proportions in El Salvador, where the government has murdered more than 38,000 people since 1979, and in Guatemala, where the government has murdered 140,000 since 1970. “Fair” elections are impossible amid such slaughter.

In sum, the United States lacks the means to institute democracy by intervention, and apparently lacks the will. There is little reason to expect more-democratic results from future interventions. Accordingly, the advancement of democracy is an unpersuasive reason for intervention.

Against Bush’s Four Proxy Wars

THESE CRITICISMS OF THE CASE FOR INTERVKNtion apply directly to the Bush Administration’s ongoing proxy wars. The Bush Administration did not create these wars; they were inherited from the Carter and Reagan administrations. Nor is the United States responsible for instigating the fighting; it became directly involved in each war only after fighting had begun. However, U.S. responsibility for past fighting is sizable, and the United States now plays a key role in keeping the fighting going. These wars have taken a devastating human toll: more than 64,000 killed in Cambodia since 1978; 341,000 killed in Angola since 1975, including 320,000 civilians (because of the war, Angola has 50,000 amputees, the highest number per capita in the world); thousands killed in Afghanistan in the seventeen months since the Soviets withdrew; and 70,000 killed in El Salvador since 1979. Such enormous violence requires a compelling justification, but the case for these wars is extremely thin. The Reagan Administration claimed that they were required to blunt the Soviet Union’s “imperial thrust" in the Third World, in order to preserve the global balance of power. This rationale— dubious even during the Cold War, since there was no power in the Third World to add to either side of the balance—wholly dissolved once the abatement of Soviet imperialism began. Moreover, the Administration’s proxies are dominated by brutal elements that will rule by terror if they win on the battlefield. Democracy won’t be helped, and human rights will be harmed, if the Administration’s policy succeeds.

In Cambodia the Administration claims to oppose the return of the Khmer Rouge, while working to oust the Hun Sen government.

But the Khmer Rouge are Hun Sen’s only real competitors for power, and his only plausible successors. In effect, then, the Administration supports the Khmer Rouge’s bid for power.

These same Khmer Rouge killed more than a million Cambodians when they held power during 1975—1978. In contrast, Hun Sen leads a pluralist, fairly tolerant, increasingly popular regime that is accepted as legitimate in most of Cambodia.

UNITA leader Jonas Savimbi preaches democracy and capitalism to credulous audiences in America but runs a brutal quasi-Stalinist autocracy in the territory he controls in Angola. Reportedly, he has murdered UNITA dissidents, and once at a public bonfire burned alive a family as “witches.” As a youth, Savimbi was a communist organizer in Portugal, and UNITA defectors warn that he remains an unreformed Maoist. The training manual for UNITA leaders has a Marxist-Leninist flavor, and UNITA’s structure includes a Central Committee and a Politburo. UNITA also favors Savimbi’s tribal kinsmen over others, leading one commentator to label his movement “nepo-Leninist.” (Americans who mistook Savimbi for a supply-side conservative can probably blame Black, Manafort, Stone and Kelly, the high-powered public-relations firm to which Savimbi paid over $2 million to give him a suitably Reaganite American public image.)

The Afghan mujahideen are a fractious group dominated by Muslim extremists and drug traffickers. The strongest mujahideen group, Hizbe-Islami, is led by Golbuddin Hekmatyar, an extreme fundamentalist described by some Afghan specialists as an “Afghan Khomeini.” His fundamentalist colleagues have launched a reign of terror among Afghan exiles in Pakistan, murdering those who criticize their views. Hekmatyar has also scornfully castigated the United States and its “immoral” society, even while receiving lavish U.S. aid. Another mujahideen leader, Nasim Akhunzada, was known until his death, in March, as the “heroin king,” because he controlled the Afghan heroin routes to Iran. Last year rebel-controlled Afghan areas exported 700 tons of opium, the raw material for heroin, making Afghanistan the world’s second-largest opium producer, after Burma. These “founding fathers” are not the type to build Jeffersonian democracies if they win power.

The Salvadoran government is dominated by Major Roberto D’Aubuisson, the founder of the ARENA party, and his military colleagues. President Alfredo Cristiani is largely a figurehead, who distracts the U.S. Congress with moderate rhetoric while D’Aubuisson and the military run their savage war. D’Aubuisson is widely regarded as the mastermind behind El Salvador’s official death squads, and he was personally implicated in the 1980 murder of Archbishop Oscar Romero and the 1981 murders of two American labor officials. Reportedly, he also instigated a plot to assassinate the U.S. ambassador to El Salvador, Thomas Pickering, in October of 1984,

In short, victory by the Bush Administration’s proxies would lead to rule by violent elements who have committed gross human-rights abuses and have shown no commitment to democracy.

Refusing to Take Yes for an Answer

ONE WOULD EXPECT EVEN AN INTERVENTIONIST Administration to cut off such odious groups once the wars they waged ceased to serve a strategic purpose. But the Bush Administration presses on with its wars. Perhaps most striking, it has pressed on even after achieving its main demands. Its targets have conceded on the issues that were America’s principal aims, but the Administration won’t take yes for an answer.

The United States demanded that Vietnam withdraw the occupation forces it had left in Cambodia after overthrowing the Khmer Rouge regime, in 1978-1979. Vietnam finally agreed, and withdrew its forces last September. But then the Bush Administration further insisted that the Hun Sen government step down under a complex UN scheme—a step that would raise the risk that the Khmer Rouge will return to power. The Administration also continued to send supplies to Khmer Rouge coalition armies, forcing Vietnam to counter by sending forces back to Cambodia last October—thereby defeating America’s main declared aim.

The United States demanded that Cuba withdraw the troops it had sent to Angola in 1975 to bolster the new government. In late 1988 the Cubans agreed to withdraw by July 1, 1991, and began leaving. Also, the Angolan government has offered amnesty to all UNITA members, and integration of UNITA personnel into the government. But last September the Bush Administration upped its demands, to require that the government offer an internal settlement even more generous to UNITA.

The United States asked the Soviet Union to withdraw the invasion force it had sent to Afghanistan in 1979. The Soviets did so in 1989, leaving behind an Afghan regime that offered moderate terms for peace, including a coalition government and UN-supervised elections. But now the Bush Administration further insists that the Afghan regime step down before elections are held.

The United States said that it sought to build a democratic political system in El Salvador. The FMLN has progressively softened its demands, and now agrees in principle with Washington’s declared objective, pledging to lay down its arms if conditions for free elections are established. The FMLN’s main demand is that the government death squads be dismantled, to allow the opposition to organize and campaign without fear. But the Bush Administration has not pressed the Cristiani government to accept such a settlement. Until the FMLN offensive last November, the Administration opposed any settlement that would give the left a significant share of political power. It now expresses more support for negotiations, but has failed to apply strong pressure on the government—without which a settlement is unlikely.

Why does the Bush Administration wage these wars so stubbornly? One theory holds that the Administration has ceded control of Third World policy to the far right, in a bid to appease ultra-conservatives for their exclusion from arenas of foreign-policy decision-making in which the stakes are higher for the United States, such as U.S.Soviet relations and the Middle East. The right favors a jihad against Third World leftists, even if this means aiding barbarians or wrecking the targeted societies. It also favors fomenting warfare among Marxists by aiding one Marxist group against another if non-Marxist clients are not available. Hence its willingness to back Savimbi and the Khmer Rouge.

The ultra-conservatives’ support for these wars is peculiar, since there is little that is conservative about them. Traditional American conservatism has favored a foreign policy grounded in national interest, and has opposed philanthropic crusades—especially on behalf of undemocratic elements, especially communist elements. These wars serve no American national interest and advance no other mainstream conservative goals. Hence they deserve no place in a conservative program, and in supporting these wars the far right shows how greatly it has departed from basic conservative principles.

When Should the United States Intervene?

THE UNITED STATES SHOULD NOT FORSWEAR all use of force in the Third World. If intervention will end widespread human-rights violations, like those in Cambodia during 19751978. intervention may be recommended for ethical reasons. If U.S. forces help deter war between Third World states, as they did in Korea, their presence serves a humanitarian purpose by preventing violence. If the United States owes moral debts, as it does to Israel, it may be compelled to repay in the currency of military commitment. If Third World states sponsor wanton terrorism, a forceful response, like the 1986 American bombing of Libya, may be appropriate.

However, the United States should stop intervening “to protect national security” or “to strengthen Third World democracy,” since the results of intervention seldom serve either purpose. And the United States should never use force on a large scale in the Third World, because no U.S. interest in the Third World can justify paying large costs or taking large numbers of lives. Protecting human rights is America’s main interest in the Third World—but human rights are seldom served by largescale violence. The humanitarian purpose of deterring war among Third World states is defeated if America pursues this goal by warfare. Nor does America have any moral commitments in the Third World that could plausibly require the extensive use of American military power, (Scenarios requiring a large American military effort to save Israel seem very implausible.) And terrorism is more of a nuisance than a danger; accordingly, large military expeditions to answer terror make little sense. For these reasons, another Vietnam-sized intervention should be categorically ruled out.

The Peace Dividend From Ending Intervention

SUCH A POLICY WOULD ALLOW DEEP CUTS IN AMERica’s intervention forces, and a quick end to the Bush Administration’s proxy wars. Interventionforce cuts would bring large savings; ending the proxy wars would save little money but many lives. Intervention forces include those designed for action against lightly armed opponents, those that are highly mobile, and those that are ill suited for action against armored opponents. These forces could be used to defend Europe or Japan from Soviet attack but are not designed for that purpose.

According to this criterion, American intervention forces include the Army’s airborne, airmobile, and lightinfantry divisions, which make up six of its eighteen active divisions; the one light-infantry division among the Army’s ten reserve divisions; the Marines’ three active and one reserve divisions; Navy ships designed for amphibious operations; the Navy’s fifteen aircraft carriers and their escort ships; and a share of Air Force and Marine tactical airpower, and Navy and Air Force transport capability, prorated to reflect the percentage of the active ground forces they support that are designed for intervention. Together these forces cost $97 billion in fiscal year 1990, or 32 percent of the $300 billion defense budget.

At least half these forces could safely be eliminated. Such a cut would not markedly reduce America’s capacity to defend Europe and Japan, and would leave the United States quite capable of meeting any likely contingencies in the Third World. If three active Army light-infantry divisions and two active Marine divisions were cut, the United States could still retain the infantry division now in Korea, plus four additional active divisions—one Army airborne division, one Army airmobile division, one Army light-infantry division, and one Marine division—for other Third World contingencies. Together these four divisions are comparable to roughly half the peak American deployment in Vietnam—surely enough for any plausible future Third World contingency.

If the Navy carrier force were cut from fifteen to eight carriers, the United States could still deploy six carriers in a Soviet-American confrontation—enough to cover the Atlantic and Pacific sea lanes with two carriers each, and to leave two more for the Persian Gulf or northern Norway. An eight-carrier force could also support a large aerial operation in the Third World—far larger than the Libya raid.

If these cuts were imposed, further cuts in supporting forces could also be made. Navy amphibious ships and Marine tactical air forces support Marine operations; if, as recommended, the Marines were cut from three divisions to one, a parallel two-thirds cut in Navy amphibious forces and Marine tactical airpower would be appropriate. Air Force tactical airpower supports Army ground forces; if, as recommended, these were cut from eighteen to fifteen divisions, a parallel 17 percent cut in Air Force tactical airpower would be appropriate. Navy and Air Force transport forces support Army and Marine ground forces; if, as recommended, these ground forces were cut from twenty-one to sixteen divisions, a parallel 24 percent cut in sealift and airlift forces would be appropriate. Finally, the Army reserve light division and two thirds of the Marine reserve division could be cut, since they are very hard to use—American leaders are reluctant to call up reserves for controversial operations, and interventions usually provoke controversy.

Had these cuts been imposed on the fiscal-year 1990 defense budget, it would have dropped by 17 percent ($52 billion), to a total of $248 billion.

Even larger cuts are possible if the United States forswears interventions that require more forces than did the Panama invasion or the Libya bombing raid, and chooses to defend its sea lanes with few or no aircraft carriers, relying instead on its land-based aircraft, surface ships, and submarines—as seems feasible, given the impressive strength of these American forces. The Panama operation required U.S. ground forces equivalent to less than two full divisions. The Libya raid employed two U.S. aircraft carriers. If American interventionary ground forces had been therefore reduced to two active Army divisions, the Navy had been reduced to four carriers (to ensure that two would be promptly available, and three or four available with some warning), and supporting forces had been reduced in proportion, the total 1990 defense budget would have fallen by 25 percent ($74 billion), to $226 billion. Cuts of this size could be phased in over the next several years.

All these cuts are independent of, and additional to, the large cuts in American conventional forces dedicated to Europe and in strategic nuclear forces which will be allowed by the ongoing Soviet force reductions and withdrawals from Eastern Europe. When cuts in intervention forces, forces for Europe, and strategic forces are combined, the overall U.S. defense budget could be reduced by more than half over the next decade if Soviet cuts and redeployments continue.

However, Defense Secretary Dick Cheney has recommended a timid 2.6 percent overall cut in his 1991 budget. This includes a modest cut in intervention forces— only one light Army division and two aircraft carriers—that will eventually save some $11.6 billion a year if parallel cuts are made in supporting forces.

Fewer dollars, but many lives, could be saved by ending the Bush Administration’s proxy wars. The Administration’s aid to its four main proxies totaled some $945 million in 1989: between $25 million and $29 million to the Khmer Rouge coalition, $50 million to UNITA, $600 million to the Afghan mujahideen, and $270 million to the Salvadoran government. However small, these expenditures are causing vast human suffering. If the Bush Administration puts any value on human rights, it should stop these cruel wars as quickly as possible. Toward this end it should serve notice that its subsidies are ending, and should press its proxies to accept the peace terms that each has been offered. If it did so, the fighting could soon be brought to an end, and Americans could sleep better, knowing that their taxes were not fueling senseless violence in dubious distant battles.