The Tribune - Spectrum


Sunday, August 31, 2003

US foreign policy and politics
Harbans Singh

US National Security: Struggle for Supremacy in Policy Making: 1969-1989
by P.M. Kamath. Shipra, Delhi. Pages 222. Rs 550.

US National Security: Struggle for Supremacy in Policy Making: 1969-1989THE object of P.M. Kamathís book is to study the role of institutionalised advisory groups having definite formal or legal relationship with the President of the US, in determining national security policy, though much more crucial and influential advice might be coming the Presidentís way from his wife.

The President needs advice because he is elected by the people due to the promises he makes in domestic policies and not for his expertise in foreign affairs. For foreign affairs he needs facts, information and analysis of information gathered by various agencies, departments and individuals. Even the experts among them do not have the time to exclusively concentrate on foreign affairs; hence, the need to have advisers.

The author focuses on the two most influential centres of power and influence, the Secretary of States (SoS) and the National Security Adviser (NSA), though the President has a Cabinet consisting of 14 Secretaries. However, in the words of Jonathan Daniels, "No institution is more a body of one manís men than the American Presidentís Cabinet." Thus, US Presidents have depended upon the advice of individuals of their choice, in the process generating a lot of competition between the SoS and the NSA, with the Secretary of Defence, too, playing an occasional role.

The period chosen by the author is a momentous one, especially for Indian readers. It deals with the Nixon Presidency when the "Ping-pong" diplomacy of Nixon-Kissinger opened up China to the world. It brings out in considerable detail the compulsions of the duo in tilting towards Pakistan in 1971 and sending the Seventh Fleet towards the Bay of Bengal as also itís Iran policy when it was being swept by the Khomeni revolution.

A discerning reader can clearly see that the present situation in the Gulf has its roots in the US ambivalence when the Shah of Iran had started tottering. Kamath has also categorised Presidents as those following the "closed politics" or the "open politics" modelóPresident Nixon being the practitioner of the former and Ford, Carter and Reagan following the later. For the record, President Nixon not only overruled his Secretaries of State, in favour of his National Security Adviser, but also much of the liberal opinion in the world over the issue of Pakistani genocide in Bangladesh, because for him " towards Pakistan was much more pragmatic in view of the role Islamabad was playing in opening a dialogue with China. Making a mark in history weighed far too much with him.

Thus, the book is a study of competitions, confrontations and conflicts between the SoS and the NSA, an ongoing struggle for supremacy between the two in matters concerning national security policy. Finally, what emerges is a universal truth about power centres. The author rightly says, "Undoubtedly, the White House aides have a sense of superiority over the rest, as they serve the President, the only one to be nationally elected in the country. The sense of superiority begets knowledge on any issues under scrutiny, and as the years pass, the feeling of superiority turns into arrogance of power." This assumes importance as the term comes to a close and the President happens to be looking for a second term.

The author contends that the Presidents are more prone to commit violations of the Constitution or breaking of laws from their efforts to win the second term. Once they win the second term, their sense of unlimited power has no limit. The Iran-Contra scandal of the Reagan era is a case in point. Even the Watergate scandal of Nixon is to be attributed to this theory.

What emerges clearly, however, is that politicians are the same the world over. Nixon played politics when in 1972 Vietnam peace was a reality yet he chose to prolong the war, as it was to help him get the Right-wing vote in the re-election. President Carter used the hostage crisis to beat off challenge from Edward Kennedy for nomination for the 1976 election.

The White House, like other power centres in the world, too weighs political costs and benefits irrespective of the national interests during election time. It is even more interesting to note that one person who dominated the national security policy like none else and who reduced the Secretary of State Rogers to a non-entity, Henry Kissinger, after relinquishing office, was to say, " If the Security Adviser becomes active in the development and articulation of policy, he must inevitably diminish the Secretary of State and reduce his effectiveness." Obviously, the academician Kissinger knew what the bureaucrat Kissinger was up to!