Letters to the editor

New Grand Strategy

Benjamin Schwarz and Christopher Layne call for a (mostly) sensible U.S. strategy of geopolitical balancing ("A New Grand Strategy," January Atlantic). But the specific policy steps they call for are ill advised and based on profound misinterpretations of current military and economic events.

They mischaracterize U.S. policy to date as a deliberate attempt to establish a repressive hegemonic domination over the country's allies. It is true that the United States occasionally uses big-stick diplomacy to thwart threats to its interests, as it should, and this sometimes undercuts our allies' independent military initiatives. The Suez crisis was a prime example. But in the main, U.S. policies have permitted allies, especially Europe and Japan, to develop remarkable economic might and political room to maneuver since World War II.

Europe has indeed failed to translate its political aspirations, competitive defense industries, and nuclear deterrent forces into a credible "counterweight" to American power. But this has less to do with Machiavellian tricks by Washington than with Europe's inability to get its house in order. Washington can hardly be blamed for all the conflicting national interests and chaotic institutional arrangements that cripple the EU's embryonic foreign and defense policies.

Far from seeking to "squelch" allies' efforts to acquire the ability to defend their interests in global affairs, a main thrust of U.S. policy has been to call for greater military "burden sharing." Whatever skepticism about Europe's security aspirations was expressed in the 1992 Pentagon draft policy statement the authors cite, it represents at best a single strand of thought within the foreign-policy establishment. Washington's attitude toward the European Security and Defense Policy may be ambivalent, but it is neither openly nor implicitly hostile.

The authors are correct when they say that the United States should seek a global system in which there is a dynamic balance among the great powers. They are wrong, however, that Washington should give (presumably enlightened, benevolent) regional powers a free hand in their own "legitimate spheres of influence," wherever those might be. The potential gendarmes Schwarz and Layne identify include China and Russia, countries with long histories of stomp-on-your-neighbor nationalism. The disastrous economic, ecological, and political legacies of Moscow's free hand in Eastern Europe show that this scheme is a recipe for bullying, instability, and conflict. Withdrawing from our mutual- security treaty with Japan, or throwing Taiwan to the wolves, as the authors recommend, would be equally counterproductive. How would feeding regional fears of a resurgent, loose-cannon Japanese military keep Asia stable?

If the United States is to play the role of balancer, as the authors recommend, it must remain engaged in cooperative relationships with other great powers. Washington should avoid arrogant rhetoric about being the "indispensable nation" and do its best to assume a constructive role in bodies like the United Nations and the World Trade Organization. But this role cannot come at the expense of the active security engagement that has, after all, helped to keep the peace between Germany and France, Greece and Turkey, Japan and China, for more than fifty years. Even in the Muslim world the need for U.S. engagement is widely recognized. Consider how many Afghans blame their country's current plight on American "abandonment" after the Soviet retreat.

Mark W. Libby
Alexandria, Va.

The proposal by Benjamin Schwarz and Christopher Layne is a welcome attempt to readdress some of the long-standing assumptions of American foreign policy. In the wake of the September 11 attacks it is clear that we must take a step back and see what mistakes we have made. But the authors are wrong to see recent events as wholly undermining the arguments in favor of maintaining current U.S. international dominance.

As a model for their approach they cite Great Britain from 1700 to 1914 and the United States before 1945 as nations that "successfully devolved onto others the responsibility for maintaining regional stability." Their definition of the word "successfully" bears some questioning, however, because although Great Britain and the United States flourished in the financial sense, their attempts at balancing regional powers ended disastrously. It is not coincidence that the periods cited ended abruptly with two of the bloodiest wars ever fought. When precisely balanced political situations collapsed, two equally balanced foes left tens of millions lying dead.

It is precisely because of its overwhelming power and its global reach that the United States was able to launch a campaign against al Qaeda without killing huge numbers of civilians. The United States is in a unique historical situation; we have the ability to stop conflicts worldwide through economic and military leverage. Although the costs of being in this position have recently become clear, the costs of abandoning it are far greater. Do the authors think that the balance-of-power approach that failed so spectacularly in Europe at the beginning of the past century is going to be more successful between, for instance, India and Pakistan? Should we be gambling with millions of lives?

Benjamin E. Lauderdale
Cambridge, Mass.

Benjamin Schwarz and Christopher Layne attempt to set the groundwork for a multipolar international order. However, they present a strategy that would more likely lead to renewed isolationism on the part of the United States. Increased international cooperation would undoubtedly help to ensure a more stable world. Yet the method of "offshore balancing" proposed by Schwarz and Layne represents a dangerous retreat from security problems, rather than a more balanced approach to international security in the post-Cold War world.

Suggesting that regional powers be allowed to provide for security is akin to allowing the school bully to keep order on the playground. The largest power in a region is not necessarily the most suitable guarantor of peace and security, and simply asserting that nations will police a region because "it would naturally be in their interests to do so" in no way guarantees that these states will use responsible (or even humane) methods. In the cases where stable, dependable partners do exist, such as the European Union and Japan, the political will and/or wherewithal to provide regional security is lacking; witness the heated debate in Germany over sending troops to Afghanistan. In more-troubled areas, such as Central Asia and the Middle East, ongoing conflict or persistent tensions (between India and Pakistan, for example) demonstrate that no state is in a position to assume the role of a regional stabilizing force. Hence the necessity for U.S. involvement to begin with.

Aaron P. Boesenecker
Hamilton, Mich.

Benjamin Schwarz and Christopher Layne reply:

Mark Libby is wrong. From the beginning of the Cold War, Washington consistently sought to ensure that neither a powerful Germany nor a united Europe be permitted to emerge as an independent force. America's apprehensions about its allies' acquiring the capacity for independent strategic action are illustrated by Washington's response to the European Union's military and foreign-policy initiative, known as the European Security and Defense Policy, and to the EU's December 2000 decision to put teeth into the ESDP by creating a rapid-reaction force. U.S. reaction to the RRF was swift and hostile. To stop the ESDP from undercutting NATO, Washington promulgated the so-called "three Ds": the policy initiative must not diminish NATO's role, must not duplicate NATO's capabilities, and must not discriminate against NATO members that do not belong to the EU. Of course, because the United States has a virtual monopoly on NATO's high-end military capabilities (intelligence, advanced surveillance and reconnaissance systems, power projection, and precision-guided munitions), if the "three Ds"—especially the first two—were observed, Europe would be prevented from ever achieving strategic autonomy, and would remain dependent on the United States for its security. In short, America's position regarding "burden sharing" has amounted to the proposition that Washington try to stick its "partners" with more expenses while granting them no greater authority or independence. America's partners have never cottoned to this formula, and have consistently and reasonably held that if the United States is going to lead, it's going to have to pay the costs and incur the risks that accompany leadership.

Contrary to Mr. Libby's implication, we never suggested that China and Russia are benevolent. But all great powers stomp on their neighbors; perhaps Mr. Libby has forgotten America's war of conquest against Mexico. Soviet domination of Eastern Europe was unjust and unpleasant, but it obviated the two problems—instability and conflict—that Mr. Libby says it caused. (When did those Cold War-era wars in Eastern Europe break out?)

Historically, Benjamin Lauderdale's argument is very weak. The United States could not have prevented the outbreak of World War I. Ironically, the U.S. entry into the war foreclosed the possibility of a compromise peace in 1917, thereby prolonging the conflict and costing the lives of American soldiers as well as those of the other belligerents. The prolongation of the war also created the social and political conditions that allowed communism and fascism to come to power in interwar Europe. Woodrow Wilson's war, it could be argued, became the "war to make the world safe for totalitarianism."

Aaron Boesenecker misunderstands the nature of international relations. Power, not "humane" intentions, guarantees stability. What court determines which great power is "the most suitable guarantor"? The United States happens to be (most of the time) a very nice country. It prevailed in Afghanistan, however, not because it's good but because it's strong. As for Mr. Boesenecker's denigration of the "political will" of our allies, who can blame them for their inability to assert themselves in security affairs when Washington has for decades squelched initiatives (the ESDP, for example) that would have made that assertion possible?


Reassuring as it is that Bruce Hoffman ("A Nasty Business," January Atlantic) would never "condone, much less advocate" the use of torture to extract information from those suspected of possessing information about terrorism, his article leaves the distinct impression that others, less practiced in the wringing of hands than he, may very well be forced to take out a few bad guys in order to keep America safe. One does not have to be a "softie," however, to recognize exactly what is wrong with that approach.

Torture violates both the U.S. Constitution and the Convention Against Torture, to which the United States is a signatory. Torture is morally repugnant. As Hoffman's article fleetingly admits, torture often elicits inaccurate information, and it always alienates the very people whose sympathy is needed in order to put an end to the conflict at hand.

I am not in a position to evaluate the testimony of the Sri Lankan army officer whom Hoffman calls Thomas (though I would note that for all Thomas's bravado, the war in Sri Lanka grinds on just as brutally as ever), but as one who has interviewed admitted torturers and scores of their victims, I can say unequivocally that "intelligence" gained through physical and psychological abuse is almost always wrong. The reason is obvious. As one Liberian prisoner who had been forced to lie down in a bed of red ants for more than an hour told me, "I would have said anything to get out of that pit of bugs." Alistair Horne, whom Hoffman quotes approvingly, admits as much when he notes that the names of Algerian terrorists the French entered onto their organigramme were "not always necessarily the right name."

Moreover, in the course of trying to obtain information through torture, authorities invariably end up manhandling innocent people. This causes tremendous resentment in the communities from which those innocent come, as Hoffman acknowledges in the case of Algerian Muslims. But those are the very communities whose citizens are potential sources of exactly the kind of data that can help stop the violence in the first place. Hoffman sympathetically quotes a British intelligence officer defending the torture of Irish terrorists. What he fails to mention is that—as John Conroy so potently describes in his groundbreaking study Unspeakable Acts, Ordinary People—the government of the Republic of Ireland was so outraged by British atrocities in the 1970s that it abandoned the kind of cautious diplomacy that has finally brought relative peace to Northern Ireland and filed suit against the United Kingdom before the European Commission on Human Rights. Who knows how much earlier "the Troubles" might have been resolved and how many lives saved had Britain not resorted to torture in the first place.

Certainly ours would be a far simpler world if the formula "torture a terrorist, save a million people" could be relied upon. Because it cannot, we have resort to human rights. The consequences of their violation are not a safer but a far more dangerous world for every one of us.

William F. Schulz
Executive Director
Amnesty International USA
New York, N.Y.

State-sponsored terrorism simply doesn't work. Only after Peru discontinued its tactics of mass murder, torture, and abductions did it make progress against Sendero Luminoso and Tupac Amaru. In El Salvador senior FMLN officials complained of the loss of propaganda and recruiting capability that resulted when fewer human-rights abuses were carried out by the government. Terror is a great tool for engendering momentary compliance; but once the threat of terror is gone, only bitter antagonism toward the perpetrator remains.

Chris Davis
Collierville, Tenn.

As a psychotherapist who has treated survivors of politically motivated torture for more than twelve years, I want to respond to Bruce Hoffman's article. The vast majority of survivors we see—in some thirty torture-treatment centers in the United States alone—are noncombatants who are at most related to the accused by class, color, or culture. First a government tortures "terrorists and suspected terrorists," as Hoffman says (the police and the military alone decide who is either). Then torture is extended to those who know or are suspected of knowing the accused or suspected terrorists. Then those are tortured who object to the torture of the others; they, too, become "suspect" eventually. We are being asked not if we will support the torture of terrorists but if we will support the torture of our neighbors—or ourselves, "if need be."

Gerald Gray
The Center for Survivors of Torture
San Jose, Calif.

Bruce Hoffman's concluding line, a pained and reluctant question rather than a simple yes or no, reflects the moral confusion we all feel about torture. But one of his statements is misleading. Jacques Massu, who directed the French forces during the Battle of Algiers, has not "remained forever unrepentant" on the use of torture. To the contrary, General Massu has frequently voiced his doubts, most recently in a Le Monde interview in November of 2000. He reaffirmed his earlier declaration that "torture is not indispensable in time of war," asserting that France "could have and should have proceeded without torture in Algeria." He also supported the call of French intellectuals that France officially acknowledge and condemn the use of torture during the war in Algeria.

Yet when asked if he thought war without torture was possible, Massu, like Hoffman, wavered. Although this should always be the goal, he said, he was not "optimistic," given his knowledge of human nature, that it could always be reached. Perhaps we Americans are only now catching up with the Massus of the world.

Robert Zaretsky
Houston, Texas

Bruce Hoffman replies:

My understanding of General Massu's later reflections on the use of torture was gleaned from Alistair Horne's A Savage War of Peace (1977) and John Conroy's Unspeakable Acts, Ordinary People (2000). I was not aware of the more recent newspaper interview that Robert Zaretsky cites, and I am grateful to him for calling my attention to it. Indeed, of the four letter writers, he alone understood the point of my article. Other letters offer gross generalizations masquerading as certitude (that intelligence obtained through either physical or psychological duress is "almost always wrong"), causalities that are neither demonstrably linear nor empirically proved (the connection between a case filed with the European Commission on Human Rights in 1971 and the peace accord that was agreed to in Northern Ireland—with the active assistance of the United States—in 1998), and historical inaccuracies (that Peru's triumph over terrorism was somehow made possible by the benign exercise of power of a leader who dissolved the legislature and imposed martial law to ensure his continued reign and then expanded the repressive powers of the state).

Most Dangerous Job

Eric Schlosser ("How to Make the Country's Most Dangerous Job Safer," January Atlantic) states that workers in the meat-packing industry suffer the highest rate of serious injuries in private industry. Statistics are always subject to interpretation, and on-the-job injuries can be described in various ways—per man-hour, as a percentage of the work force, and so forth. Nevertheless, a commercial fisherman is more likely to suffer serious injury on the job than any other civilian worker.

Ted Kirby
Waynesville, N.C.

Eric Schlosser conveniently ignores the fact that from about 1950 through the early 1980s wages and working conditions in meat-packing had improved dramatically because of changes forced by organized labor. Jobs in the industry were eagerly sought by American citizens because they provided a respectable middle-class living. Then the industry broke the unions, backed company buses up to the Mexican border, and wiped out the dreams of those ordinary citizens who also were "in search of a better life."

Does Schlosser see any connection between the importation of cheap and exploitable labor and the steady drift back toward working conditions of a century ago? And is he, like many of us, also puzzled that despite the use of "poor immigrant workers" we are paying more these days for our favorite cuts of beef?

David A. Gorak
Midwest Coalition to Reduce Immigration
Villa Park, Ill.

Eric Schlosser replies:

Deep-sea fishing has the highest fatality rate of any occupation in the United States. Meat-packing has the highest rate of injury and the highest rate of serious injury, as measured in lost workdays. Deep-sea fishermen are more likely to die on the job; meat-packing workers are more likely to be seriously hurt—and that's why I called theirs "the most dangerous job." Whereas the hazards on a fishing boat are caused mainly by inclement weather, the dangers of our slaughterhouses stem largely from greed.

In my book Fast Food Nation, I describe at length how the large meat-packing companies broke unions, cut wages, eliminated benefits, imported a migrant work force from Mexico—and within a decade turned some of America's highest-paying industrial jobs into some of its lowest-paying. These companies now use a variety of tactics to avoid paying adequate compensation to their injured workers, imposing such medical costs onto the surrounding community. Union organizing, tough enforcement of worker-safety laws, and the prosecution of negligent meat-packing executives would greatly improve conditions in the industry.

Advice & Consent

In a thoroughly engaging note Cullen Murphy points out that one of the smaller states in the union is often used by Americans as their basic unit of world geography ("The Gold Standard," January Atlantic). Unfortunately, this standard is widely misapplied. Swaziland is not "about the size of New Jersey," as claimed by The New York Times, but is more than twice as large. The Netherlands' area is not about twice that of New Jersey, as stated in The Washington Post. It is more than five times as large! Perhaps journalists should study their maps more carefully.

Murphy tells us of the proposed units of human suffering (the "dukkha"), of political-talk-show blather (the "gergen"), and of boredom, fame, and hypocrisy that are under development at our research universities. None of these notions can be expected to have the staying power of, say, the most ancient standard of feminine attraction—that characterizing Helen of Troy. In our diminished society it seems that few women can measure up. Thus our contemporary unit is very much smaller: the milli-helen is just enough beauty to launch a single ship.

Sheldon Lee Glashow
Brookline, Mass.