Morgenthau and Kenneth Waltz on Vietnam--
Case for a Regional Level-of-Analysis*
Department of Political Science
Saint Louis University
Saint Louis, Missouri 63103
the Cold War, realists, of both the classical and neorealist varieties, did a
pretty good job of laying out the strategic challenges of the Cold War.
On regional, or “local” crises, they did considerably less well.
The discord among realists over the Vietnam War exemplifies this. I argue that the opposition to the war of both Hans
Morgenthau, the eminent classical realist, and Kenneth Waltz, the prime
neorealist, was misplaced in that the war was not “irrational,” as
Morgenthau argued, or “irrelevant,” as Waltz insisted.
What they both missed in their different oppositions was an appreciation
for the “realities” that emerge from a regional level-of-analysis.
Finally, this need for such a fully articulated “new” level is
vitally important in the analytical confusion of the Post-Cold War era.
* The author wishes to thank Kenneth W. Thompson and Inis
Claude, both of the University of Virginia, for their critiques of an earlier
The Cold War, theoretically, ushered in an
intellectual hegemony of realism to the study of international relations.
Idealists in all their hues certainly made their views known, but the
broad sweep of realism and the centrality of security concerns that came with
the nuclear weapons of this “war,” guaranteed preeminence to realism.
Realists of all stripes, after all, were centrally focused on war and
Though realism provided an analytically clear, if unromantic, explanation
of the Cold War-- both of its origins and of its singular modus
operandi through a “diplomacy of violence,” in Thomas Schelling’s
words-- a theoretical dispute arose among realists
over the degree and nature of the stability and peace brought about by
this “war.” This dispute
centered on “classical” balance of power realists led by Hans Morgenthau and
the neorealist critique of such “structural” realists as Kenneth Waltz.
To Morgenthau, stability lay in a multipolar international system
exemplified by the Congress of Vienna (1815).
It set up a Quadruple Alliance of four Great Powers (Austria, Russia,
Prussia, and France) with the British, at Lord Canning’s insistence, holding
aloof from this alliance to play the role of the “keeper of the balance.”
To Waltz and others, the Cold War itself had ushered in an era of
unprecedented stability effected by the “Superpower” status of the United
States and the Soviet Union, whose bipolar power was so preponderant that the
two superpowers could adjust the relative power in the international system by
internally balancing within their own societies rather adjusting this power
through the external balancing of alliance formations required by the merely
great powers of the multipolar nineteenth century.
Whatever their theoretical disagreements over stability, Morgenthau and
Waltz-- and very early on-- shared a common opposition to American involvement
in the Vietnam War. Nevertheless,
other realist scholars who played more active foreign policy roles supported
American involvement in this war. Henry
Kissinger, of course, comes to mind as the most prominent realist practitioner
apologist, but his academic colleagues Samuel Huntington and Zbigniew Brzezinski
also added their voices and pens to support the war.
This paper argues that this contradictory dissension may have arisen from
a gap in realist theory-- the lack of a regional level-of-analysis.
It is my thesis that with a
regional level-of-analysis brought into view, the opposition to the Vietnam War
of both Morgenthau and Waltz was misplaced.
For Morgenthau, states pursued their vital
interests defined as power. But
Morgenthau failed to distinguish or relate vital
interests, from and to, important
ones. For Waltz, states positioned
themselves according to the global structure of the distribution of power.
In this structuring, he left no room for regional nuances or effects.
For both, Vietnam was not worth supporting because for Morgenthau Vietnam
was not a vital interest and for Waltz it was not essential to the global power
structure. Thus, for Morgenthau,
the U.S. involvement in Vietnam was
irrational, and, for Waltz, it was irrelevant.
Neither hardly paused to consider whether important interests might
eventually affect vital ones or whether regional balances of power might
ultimately overturn the global one. This
was near-sighted then, but it is dangerous today.
Taking Waltz first, it is my argument that even in the Cold War regional
balances of power were important to the global balance of power, and the Vietnam
War became a vital determinant of the East Asian balance of power.
This regional balance of power was important, second, to Morgenthau’s
global balance of power because sudden and negative regional shifts could upset
this vital larger balance. That
defeat in Vietnam did not ultimately produce this dramatic and vital shift in
American global power or to the structure of the international system should not
gloss over the fact that it was “a near thing,” a near miss that neither
The organization of this article will be to first present the critique on
Vietnam made by both scholars-- Waltz first because his views are clearer and
farther off-the-mark of a regional analysis than Morgenthau whose positions were
inconsistent but considerably more appreciative of regional realities-- discuss
some of the theoretical developments in recent realism moving toward an
appreciation of a regional level-of-analysis, and conclude with the insights
such a level-of-analysis brings to the criticisms of these two early opponents
of the Vietnam War.
Kenneth Waltz on Vietnam
The views of Kenneth Waltz on Vietnam were
simple, consistent, and forceful. The
key word, however, is simple; and, in my opinion, there was too much of this
simplicity on Vietnam by Professor Waltz. Waltz
was certainly well aware of the nuances of the Vietnam War debate; 1
and, in 1967, he wrote a thoughtful article articulating his opposition to
the war that was perfectly consistent with his theoretical principles.
2 In his debate with
classical realists, Waltz asserted that the bipolar structure of the Cold War
was more peaceful than the multipolar system of the nineteenth century.
Just two powers gave more certainty to international relations since the
“politics of peace” pivoted on this central relationship.
This allowed these two powers to simplify their foreign policies and
become more mutually predictable, and stable, in their behavior.
Furthermore, neither needed to complicate their goals by seeking support
from other states because their enormous preponderances of power, especially
including their arsenals of nuclear weapons, allowed them to internally balance
to seek their objectives rather than externally balance with other powers.
That is, their goals could be met by increasing their own capabilities
rather than by seeking these increases through negotiations with allies. 3
Hence, the only meaningful threat to the security of the United States
came from the Soviet Union, and the Soviet Union alone.
Support from others could add virtually no useful power to either
country; and, conversely, the only possible war in which either country could
“lose heavily” was one with each other. 4
To Waltz, then, at least in strategic terms, the Vietnam War made no difference
because it was irrelevant to American
national security. Furthermore, the
margins of safety that accrued to nuclear superpowers possessing secure
second-strike arsenals meant that they had little to fear from nonnuclear states
like Vietnam. Thus, he wrote:
“Deterrence that rests on second-strike forces makes small wars safe by
diminishing the chances of uncontrollable escalation.” 5 Although there is certainly ample evidence that both the
Soviet Union and China were deterred by our “nuclear blackmail,” 6
lesser powers without nuclear weapons have not always been automatically
intimidated by nuclear arsenals. The
North Vietnamese clearly were not when they unleashed their three escalatory
offensives of the Vietnam War in 1968, 1972, and 1975.
The nearly absolute character to Waltz’ fixation on a structural
bipolarity to international stability made him impervious to two other features
of the Vietnam war that were persuasive
to war supporters. First, Waltz was
undismayed by a threat of Chinese involvement that would not only engulf Vietnam
but tilt the global balance of power decisively against the United States: “As
for China, ... we have led ourselves to believe that 800 million people must be
able to do something highly damaging to somebody.
They have in fact hardly been able to do anything at all.” 7
Incredibly, he appears to have forgotten about the Korean War (1950-1953) in
which the Chinese fought the mighty United States to a bloody stalemate.
Further, as we shall see, the Chinese subsequently thwarted the American
war strategy in Vietnam itself.
This leads to Waltz’ dismissive point about Vietnam that civil wars do
not threaten superpowers: “The revolutionary guerrilla wins civil wars, not
international ones, and no civil war can change the balance of world power.” 8
Though he was right to disparage the dominoes of Indochina as more like
“sponges,” revolutionaries did hope for a contagion effect to their
movements; and, as several authors on Vietnam have long observed, the Vietnam
War was as much an international war as it was a civil one. 9
Waltz did close his article with the concession that, “If developments
in Vietnam might indeed tilt the world’s balance in America’s disfavor, then
we ought to be fighting.” 10
It is my contention, of course, that such developments nearly did upset this
balance, but Waltz was not capable, theoretically, of seeing them.
Hans Morgenthau on Vietnam
As opposed to Waltz, Hans Morgenthau’s views on Vietnam were complex,
nuanced, and inconsistent. Perhaps
they stemmed from his more intimate involvement with the issue.
He made an extensive trip to Vietnam in 1955 (which included a lengthy interview with the South Vietnamese
president Ngo Dinh Diem), participated in early antiwar teach-ins, and lectured
around the country trying to shape national policy on the subject.
Indeed, his first reaction from his trip to Vietnam was one of
unqualified admiration for the leadership of Diem.
As Diem became increasingly autocratic, however, Morgenthau turned on him
and called his regime as authoritarian as the one in the communist North; and,
therefore, morally unworthy of American support-- an interesting posture for a
supposedly amoral realist. He also
recognized the critical factor of popular support for incumbent regimes, and
drew attention to this support as key to the incumbent victories over communist
insurgencies in Greece and Malaya. From
the beginning, then, Morgenthau’s views were prescient locally and astute
For all this prescience and astuteness, however, there were glaring
inconsistencies to his views that are, at the very least, curious. With his commitment to multipolarity, he would seem a better
candidate than Waltz to embrace a regional level-of-analysis; and, in fact, he
came close. Indeed, if his views
were consistent with his theoretical principles, he might have been more
favorably disposed towards the Vietnam War.
One can see a partial confirmation of this in his proposal to end the
war. Despite his vehement
denunciation of the war, his genuine concern for American prestige led him to
voice a policy proposal, which was quite mild, and even amenable, at least, to
the more tepid hawks of the day. Essentially, he advocated a reversion to an
enclave military strategy while an end to the war was negotiated with the
assistance of the Soviet Union. 12
Some of Morgenthau’s most basic tenets on Vietnam were consistent with his balance of power theory.
Unlike Waltz, he did understand the importance of China and of an Asian
balance of power. He insisted that “China is, even in her present
underdeveloped state, the predominant power in Asia;” and that, as a great
power, is potentially the greatest in the world. 13
With this acknowledgement, he
readily conceded that China was a direct threat to the global balance of power
as well: “since the expansion of Chinese power and influence, threatening the
Asian and world balance of power, proceeds by political rather than military
means, it must be contained by political means.”
14 Here Morgenthau’s
predisposition towards multipolarity readily accommodated China to his
multipolar structure and to China’s integral role in this global balance of
power. His insistence in his
writings on the unique role of national character, however, permitted him to
relegate Chinese expansionism to the political and cultural spheres rather than
to the military.
As a balance of power theorist in which all great powers are central
actors to the system, he also argued that a U.S. policy of isolating China was
both undesirable and impractical. Influence
is something, he observed, that could not be walled off.
15 This also applied to
his concern about the excessively ideological cast to the justification of the
Vietnam War. Such universalistic
crusades tended to overwhelm more prudent calculations of national interest;
and, as a realist, he believed no state should formulate foreign policies on
behalf of universal moral principles. In
this, he was joined by Kenneth Waltz. 16
Interestingly, Waltz also joined Morgenthau in seeing Vietnam as a
potentially fatal seduction to the temptation of excessive power.
Waltz saw this as inherent to the inordinate concentration of power in
any bipolar system. The saving
grace was that both superpowers would be equally prone to this temptation, and
their follies of intervention would tend to offset each other.
Morgenthau agreed that such hubris emanated from a bipolar system, and
this was one of the many reasons why he preached the superior virtues of a
multipolar system. Such irrational
acts as Vietnam would be less likely with several other great power players
and adversaries to worry about. 17
Indeed, although Morgenthau never detailed any concrete regional balances of
power as a discrete level-of-analysis, his multipolar global perspective
permitted him to come close in that he understood the global balance of power to
result from a combination of a “dominant balance of power and local
systems.” His lament, however,
was that the bipolar system of the Cold War had stripped local balances of all
autonomy and made them subservient to “the new world-wide balance of which the
United States and the Soviet Union are the main weights.”
18 In this, with
respect to Vietnam, he was nearly wrong.
But other arguments advanced by Morgenthau on Vietnam directly
contradicted his own principles of realism.
Understanding that China is a great power in Asia, Morgenthau did
conclude that Chinese power needed to be contained.
Nevertheless, given the unique nature of Chinese national character and
power, Morgenthau felt that Chinese influence in Asia could not be checked
militarily, but would have to be contained politically through American
assistance in wider Asian economic development and institutional growth.
19 In his other
writings, Morgenthau always noted that all
were relevant to balances of power. In fact, the
commentator to Morgenthau’s position in the Tang Tsou volume, Paul A. Vargas,
observed that military security is an essential precondition to the success of
this kind of assistance. Further,
regarding Morgenthau’s point of China’s relative restraint in Asia, Vargas
argued: “It is ... true that China has acted with restraint and caution.
However, this caution is partly the product of the policies and the
military strength of the United States.”
Despite Vargas’ talk of a balance of power in Asia secured by the
United States, Morgenthau was unwilling to hear of any balancing of China.
The Vietnam War would play no role in containing China, he argued,
because China was largely immune to the specific types of American power in
Asia; namely, nuclear, air, and naval power.
To contain China militarily, the United States must be ready to fight
China at the core of its power, rather than at its periphery (Southeast Asia,
presumably). “To be defeated,
China has to be conquered,” he contended, and this, to Morgenthau, was
irrational. 21 One cannot
help but be struck by the obvious contradiction of such an eminent balance of
power theorist calling for such absolutist measures when all foreign policies
stemming from balance of power calculations call for limiting and checking
adversaries, not destroying them. In
the more dominant balance of power in Europe, Morgenthau never levied such an
absolutist requirement on the containing of the Soviet Union.
Towards a Regional Level-of-Analysis
Since this debate between Hans Morgenthau and Kenneth Waltz over the most
stable structure to the international system, subsequent waves of realist
scholarship have accommodated themselves to new realities and challenges.
With the rising role of trade in international relations, Robert Gilpin
and Steven Krasner developed a more focused realist interpretation of
international economics to counter the challenges of complex interdependence and
regime theory advanced by such scholars as Joseph Nye and Robert Keohane. 22
To the debate opened up by Barry Posen in 1984 as to whether domestic factors
predominate over systemic ones as deciding factors to a nation’s national
security policy-- he provisionally decides in favor of the “realist
friendly” systemic level-- both Jack Snyder and Steven David, as
self-proclaimed realists, have broken up the unitary nation-state
level-of-analysis to lay out the foreign policy effects of these domestic
In this “omnibalancing,” in David’s terms, between local and foreign
policy threats, Stephen Walt has given the first regional specification to this
process by analytically defining the regional balances of power in the
Middle-East and the Persian Gulf in terms of power interrelationships organized
by bandwagoning or balancing foreign policies.
Walt, however, does not relate his new
regional level-of-analysis to the global one.
What is missing thus far in these further developments of realist
scholarship is a key to distinguishing vital interests from important ones, and
how the latter differentially affect the former.
That is, some important interests are so intermeshed with vital ones that
these vital interests are always vulnerable to these important ones, whereas
other important interests can be successfully buffered from vital interests,
and, therefore, be treated as secondary. Michael Desch clearly has understood this and has used this
interrelationship of interests as the central principle in determining “when
the Third World matters.” Desch
differentiates between intrinsic (vital) and extrinsic (important) interests by
contending that what differentiates the extrinsic interests that are inseparable
from intrinsic ones and those that are separable is the importance of the
extrinsic interests to the successful prosecution of a country’s grand
strategy. For the United States,
Desch defines Western Europe, the Persian Gulf, and Northeast Asia as intrinsic
American interests and the Caribbean, the Indian Ocean, and the Western Pacific
as extrinsic interests of intrinsic value because of their central role to
American grand strategy, in this case, keeping lines of communication open to
trade and vital resources. 25
Drawing on Desch, it is my contention that a full delineation of these
interrelationships between vital and important interests will come with a
complete development of a new level-of-analysis in the study of international
relations, a regional level-of-analysis between the system as a whole and that
of the individual units comprising this system: still, so far, the nation-state.
For key global players, whether the super powers of the Cold War or the
merely great powers of the nineteenth century, their vital, important, and truly
secondary interests are a product of global and regional balances of power, the
latter of which directly relate to, and form a part of, the global position of
each of these key global players. This
was true even in the Cold War, with all its nuclear weapons, but it is even
truer today in the emerging ambiguous multipolar post-Cold War international
and a Regional Level-of-Analysis
This can perhaps be best illustrated by using a regional
level-of-analysis to fill in some of the blanks in the arguments of Kenneth
Waltz and Hans Morgenthau against the Vietnam War.
Three main points should suffice. First,
for Kenneth Waltz, even though
he still thinks nuclear weapons remain the ultima
ratio of international politics, 27
these weapons are not nearly as overpowering as he has so persistently thought. During the Cold War, all of the members of the “nuclear
priesthood” (including Waltz) accepted the inextricable relationship of the
strategic deterrence between the homelands of the United States and the Soviet
Union to the theater level balance of forces in Europe between the regional
alliances of NATO versus the Warsaw Pact. In
this complicated mulitlayered balance, John Mearsheimer has forcefully pointed
out the integral role of conventional weaponry, and strategies for their
employment, to this theater, and, therefore, strategic balance.
With the European conventional balance of forces, then, clearly
“intrinsic” to the global structure of power, it is not insignificant that
the American opening to China in 1971 and 1972 caused sufficient alarm in Moscow
to induce it to divert a substantial portion of its military forces to the
Chinese border. Indeed, one-third
of its expanding force of SS-20 intermediate range nuclear missiles in the late
1970s and early 1980s was deployed against China rather than Europe.
This playing of, or on, a “China card” came as both a critical and
timely masking of, and compensating for, the American defeat in Vietnam, and the
subsequent drawdown of American military forces.
In brief, the American defeat in Vietnam might have upset the delicate
balance of forces in Europe (with the United States, after Vietnam, not matching
the Soviet build-up in Europe) had not China become concerned with its central
desire of checking Soviet power by itself in Asia but still counting on the
United States to do the same in Europe. Vietnam,
then, was not irrelevant to this
inter-regional, international interaction.
Second, for Morgenthau, his
posture towards China and his opposition to the Vietnam war probably derived
from his classic concern and even concession of granting the Chinese a
“legitimate” sphere of influence in southeast Asia.
But such a sphere would have been preclusive of Japanese economic
interests in Southeast Asia. Ironically
enough, the Pentagon Papers show that a very early rationale for an American
presence in Indochina during the Eisenhower administration was the goal of
keeping Southeast Asian resources accessible to Japan for the rebuilding of its
economy so that it could play the role of a strategic partner to the United
States. 29 Akira Iriye has laid out what he termed “the Yalta
System” for an Asian balance of power that consisted of a regional balance
between China and Japan reinforced by a global balance in the region between the
Soviet Union and the United States, a balance whose central stability came to be
reflected in the sensitive peripheral balances in the Korean peninsula and in
Indochina. 30 Maintaining such balances did not require an intention to
conquer China, but it did “hold China in place” much as the Soviet Union was
held in place in Europe. In other
words, the massive American troop presence in Indochina, the Seventh Fleet and
U.S. treaty commitments to Taiwan and Japan off the Chinese coast, and the
interlocking presence of multiple tiers of U.S. forces in Korea contained China
in the north, east, and south throughout most of the Cold War.
The American defeat in Vietnam might have toppled this Yalta system,
except for China’s larger concern that neither Russia nor North Vietnam overly
profit from this upsetting American defeat.
It is by no means clear that, in this regional balance, the war in
Vietnam was irrational as a factor in holding China in place.
Finally, in light of new
research coming out of archives in Russia and China, the Vietnam War is also
being revealed as a successful case of China deterring American power to the
point of it having inflicted on this superpower a serious global defeat.
This research not only is unveiling a greater level of Chinese
involvement in the Vietnam War than previously reported by most Western
scholarship, but it also shows a much stronger commitment to the war, to the
point that it probably forced on the United States a very cautious military
strategy that fell far short of any requisites for victory.
Over 300,000 Chinese soldiers poured into North Vietnam keeping its
logistical system functioning during the years of American bombing.
China provided the North with supplies from a huge storage complex on
Hainan Island and kept the Viet Cong in the Mekong Delta provisioned through the
Cambodian port of Sihanoukville. Further,
it offered sanctuary to the North Vietnamese air force by building air bases of
its own for these planes in North Vietnam along the Chinese border, in effect,
providing a trip wire, a la NATO, for Chinese intervention. To ensure that there was no misunderstanding (as there had
been earlier during the Korean War), the Chinese Prime Minister Zhou Enlai
communicated a warning on April 2, 1965, while U.S. ground forces by the
battalions were streaming into South Vietnam, not to disturb any of these
Chinese activities and that China was ready for a war with the United States, if
such a war were “imposed on it.” Zhou
threatened that, “Once war breaks out, it will have no boundaries.”
Russian archives make clear that Moscow was genuinely fearful that it
might get sucked into a nuclear war over Vietnam because of China’s policies. 31
message was heeded this time, the researchers contend, and the United States was
deterred from victory into fighting a cautious, essentially “no win”
strategy. This warning had three
chilling effects. First, the
conspicuous presence of Chinese troops in North Vietnam and the construction of
a huge Chinese military base at Yen Bai at the twentieth parallel acted to
prevent the United States from launching any ground assault against the North or
from any aerial attacks on Hanoi and Haiphong which were just north of this
parallel (at least until Nixon’s Linebacker I and II campaigns of 1972).
Second, the maintenance of North Vietnam’s logistical and
transportation infrastructure by these Chinese support troops freed most of
North Vietnam’s armed forces for combat in the South, and in Laos.
This, of course, put any American hope for a successful strategy of
attrition completely out of reach. Finally,
“the specter of Chinese intervention,” as Qiang Zhai concludes, “was a
major factor in shaping President Johnson’s gradual approach to the Vietnam
the successful containment of China depended on a victory denied to the United
States (at least for any conventional way of achieving it). For its response to Chen Yi’s warning, Washington assured
Beijing it had no plans to destroy North Vietnam or to invade anywhere north of
the seventeenth parallel (which defined the Demilitarized Zone separating North
and South Vietnam). In other words,
if Chna would keep its involvement limited, Washington promised not to win the
war. 33 Although one American admiral called this strategy “the most asinine way to fight a war that could possibly be
imagined,” 34 this new information, and a regional
level-of-analysis, makes the imagining of it less difficult.
The purpose of this exercise has not been to
show that the opposition of Kenneth Waltz and Hans Morgenthau to the Vietnam War
was necessarily misplaced.
There were certainly valid reasons to oppose the war, which both men did
advance. The war was not, all by
itself, a vital American interest, and Ho Chi Minh may not have been an
automatic trigger for cascading dominoes. Nevertheless,
the purpose has been to show that the Vietnam War was an important
American interest to its overall position in the Cold War.
It was not
irrelevant, as Waltz contended, or irrational,
as Morgenthau concluded in exasperation with his fellow realist apologists.
It was “intrinsically” important because it was critical to the East
Asian balance of power, a balance, which was integral to the global balance of
power. In this overall
balance, in a very significant way, the United States, was contained and blocked
by its regional fear of China. This
interrelationship is something a regional level-of-analysis could have shown
them. With respect to the Vietnam
War, it is this lack which constituted a flaw of realism.
was a mere flaw in the Cold War, however, looms as a gaping hole today. Developments from two directions—in domestic U.S. politics
and in international relations—have both undermined any national consensus on
a list of common American interests and, without the benefit of clarifying
international threats, rendered impossible any prioritization of them.
In the words of former Defense Secretary James Schlesinger, “The result
is that American foreign policy is incoherent.” 35 Domestically,
Samuel Huntington has recently argued that a country’s foreign policy
interests derive from its national identity. In effect, we have to know who we are before we can know what
we want. Unfortunately or not, the
Post-Cold War era has corresponded to a domestic period in which the American
culture and national creed is moving from a Euro-American to a multicultural
one. This is fragmenting the
American national identity and disintegrating any foundation for common foreign
policy interests. Thus, for example, a rising subculture of Muslim-Americans is
challenging a Jewish subculture for the dominant American interest in the Middle
East. To avoid Schlesinger’s
incoherence, Huntington recommends that the United States enter a period of
international restraint until a unifying threat reappears.
the meantime, however, the United States, as the sole remaining country with a
global reach to its power and influence, does have a position to uphold.
Indeed, the Commission on American National Interests has identified five
national interests as strategic to maintaining this position. 37
The “problem” is that none of these are immediately threatened.
Absent these direct threats, William Perry and Ashton Carter, former
defense officials in the Clinton administration, have proposed three graduated
lists of threats to the United States today.
The “A” List constitutes threats to American survival, of which there
are none. The “B” List includes
imminent threats to U.S. interests, but not to its survival, like Iraq and North
Korea. The “C” List comprises
important contingencies that indirectly affect U.S. security but do not directly
threaten U.S. interests, such as Bosnia, Somalia, Rwanda, Haiti, and Kosovo.
is, of course, events emanating from the “C” List that have dominated the
U.S. foreign policy agenda in the Post-Cold War era. When American interests themselves are not clear, and the
vital ones not threatened, how can intrinsic, extrinsic, and secondary interests
be differentiated in such an “over the horizon” list of challenges to these
interests (whatever they are)? Given
this hopefully temporary confusion over interests in domestic American politics,
I submit that the only way to make sense of these challenges is for
international relations scholars of all stripes to open up a regional
level-of-analysis. If interests, or
challenges, are assessed neighborhood-by-neighborhood, as was just done for the
Vietnam War in the Cold War, at least a prudential global American foreign
policy can emerge. 39
1 Kenneth N. Waltz, Foreign
Policy and Democratic Politics: The American and British Experience (Boston:
Little, Brown, and Co., 1967), pp. 267-297.
2 Kenneth N. Waltz,
“The Politics of Peace,” International
Studies Quarterly 11, no. 3 (September 1967): 199-211.
3 Ibid. pp. 200-202.
4 Ibid., pp. 200.
5 Ibid., p. 202.
6 For a thorough
listing of such instances, see Richard K. Betts, Nuclear
Blackmail and Nuclear Balance (Washington, DC: The Brookings Institution,
1987), Chs. 2 and 3.
7 Waltz, “ The
Politics of Peace,” p. 205.
9 For representative
works that emphasize the international aspects of the Vietnam War, see King C.
Chen, Vietnam and China, 1938-1954 (Princeton, NJ: Princeton University
Press, 1969); Timothy J. Lomperis, From People’s War to People’s Rule:
Insurgency, Intervention, and the “Lessons of Vietnam” (Chapel Hill, NC:
University of North Carolina Press, 1996); Douglas Pike, Vietnam and the
Soviet Union: Anatomy of an Alliance (Boulder, CO: Westview Press, 1987);
and Donald S. Zagoria, Vietnam Triangle: Moscow, Peking, Hanoi (New York:
Pegasus Books, 1967).
10 Waltz, “The
Politics of Peace,” p. 206.
11 Hans J. Morgenthau, Vietnam
and the United States (Washington, DC: Public Affairs Press, 1965), pp.
30-35. Another early academic
admirer of Diem was the Austrian historian Joseph Buttinger.
See his Vietnam: A Political History (New York: Frederick A. Praeger, 1968),
12 Morgenthau, Vietnam
and the United States, pp. 79-80.
13 Hans J. Morgenthau,
“The United States and China,” in Tang Tsou, ed., China in Crisis: vol. 2, China’s
Policies in Asia and America’s Alternatives (Chicago: University of
Chicago Press, 1968), pp. 93, 101.
14 Ibid., p. 104.
15 Ibid., pp. 98-99.
16 Morgenthau, Vietnam
and the United States, p. 73; and Waltz, “The Politics of Peace,” p.
201. Interestingly, the more recent
scholarship of D. Michael Shafer on U.S. interventionism and counterinsurgency
doctrine echoes Morgenthau in Shafer’s fear of a “contentless
universalism” to U.S. foreign policy. See
his Deadly Paradigms: The Failure of U.S.
Counterinsurgency Policy (Princeton, N.J.: Princeton university Press,
17 Morgenthau, Vietnam
and the United States, pp. 88, 89, 91; and Waltz, “The Politics of
Peace,” p. 204.
18 Hans J. Morgenthau,
rev. by Kenneth W. Thompson, Politics
Among Nations: The Struggle for Power and Peace, 6th ed. (New York: Alfred
1985), p. 221. It
is noteworthy that one regional balance that Morgenthau does flesh out, at least
in historical terms, is that of the Korean peninsula and of its pivotal
character to the overall Asian balance of power.
See Ibid., pp. 196-197.
19 Morgenthau, “The
United States and China,” pp. 101-104.
20 Ibid., pp. 107-108.
21 Morgenthau, Vietnam
and the United States, pp. 47, 49, 58; and Morgenthau, “The United States
and China,” p. 101. The quote is from the latter citation.
22 See Robert Gilpin, War
and Change in World Politics (Cambridge, UK: Cambridge University Press,
1981); Stephen D. Krasner, ed., International
Regimes (Ithaca, NY: Cornell University Press, 1983); Robert Keohane and
Joseph Nye, Power and Interdependence:
World Politics in Transition (Cambridge, Mass.: Harvard University Press,
1977); and Robert Keohane, After
Hegemony: Cooperation and Discord in the World Political Economy (Princeton,
NJ: Princeton University Press, 1984).
23 See Barry R. Posen, The
Sources of Military Doctrine: France, Britain, and Germany between the Wars (Ithaca,
NY: Cornell University Press, 1984); Jack Snyder, Myths
of Empire: Domestic Politics and International Ambition (Ithaca, NY: Cornell
University Press, 1991); and Steven R. David, Choosing Sides: Alignment and Realignment in the Third World (Baltimore:
The Johns Hopkins University Press, 1991).
24 Regional actors
either ally together to balance
against a great power threat or essentially choose to surrender to this great
power by bandwagoning with it. See
Stephen R. Walt, The Origins of Alliances
(Ithaca, NY: Cornell University Press, 1987).
To Walt, balancing is the preferred behavior because it preserves more
regional power autonomy. Randall L.
Schweller, however, has criticized this single focus on military threats as the
source of foreign policy and argued that foreign policies are equally likely to
stem from the pursuit of gains, in which case bandwagoning is the more
advantageous foreign policy. See
his “Bandwagoning for Profit: Bringing the Revisionist State Back in,” International Security 19, no. 1 (Summer 1994): 72-107.
Walt has published a new work explaining why revolutionary powers, for
reasons of the domestic security dilemmas they face, embark on threatening
foreign policies. See his Revolution
and the State (Ithaca, NY: Cornell University Press, 1996).
25 Michael C. Desch,
“The Keys that Lock Up the World: Identifying American Interests in the
Periphery,” International Security 14,
no. 1 (Summer 1989): 110-116. His
fuller treatment of this subject is When
the Third World Matters: Latin America and United States Grand Strategy (Baltimore:
The Johns Hopkins University Press, 1994).
26 Indeed, in a
reversal of Morgenthau, Benjamin Miller, in what he sees as a temporary American
“unipolar moment,” argues that the only restraint on the United States are
regional actors. See his
“Integrated Realism and the Logic of U.S. Military Intervention in the
post-Cold War Era,” paper presented at the American Political Science
Association meetings, San Francisco, Cal., August 29- September 1, 1996, p. 8.
27 Kenneth N. Waltz,
“The Emerging Structure of International Politics,” International Security 18, no. 2 (Fall 1993): 44-79.
28 John J. Mearsheimer,
Conventional Deterrence (Ithaca, NY:
Cornell University Press, 1983).
29 Neil Sheehan, et
al., The Pentagon Papers as Published by the New York Times (New York:
Bantam Books, 1971), pp. 7, 26-28.
30 Akira Iriye, The
Cold War in Asia: A Historical Introduction (Englewood Cliffs, NJ:
Prentice-Hall, 1974), pp. 119-130.
31 Ilya V. Gaiduk,
“The Vietnam War and Soviet-American Relations, 1964-1973: New Russian
Evidence;” and Qiang Zhai, “Beijing and the Vietnam Conflict, 1964-1965: New
Chinese Evidence;” Cold War
International History Project Bulletin 3 (Winter 1995/1996): 232-258.
Quote is from p. 236.
To leave no stone unturned, the Chinese delivered this warning through
multiple channels. Zhou delivered
it in April to the ongoing ambassadorial level exchanges in Warsaw, via
Pakistani President Ayub Khan (who failed to deliver the message), by a further
request to Julius Nyerere of Tanzania on June 8th to deliver it to
the United States (he did), and by a direct warning from the Chinese Foreign
Minister Chen Yi to the British Charge D’ Affairs in Beijing on May 31st.
William Bundy, the U.S. assistant secretary of state for Far Eastern
Affairs, after conveying the warning to Secretary of State Dean Rusk, told the
British mission, “they could tell Chen Yi we had received the message.”
See Qiang Zhai, China and the Vietnam Wars, 1950-1975 (Chapel
Hill, NC: University of North Carolina Press, 2000), pp. 138-139.
32 Qiang Zhai, China and the Vietnam Wars, pp. 137,
139. This concern for a
“flashpoint” that would trigger a massive Chinese intervention has also been
reported by George McT. Kahin in the numerous documents he cites from American
archives. See his Intervention:
How America Became Involved in Vietnam (New York: Alfred A Knopf, 1986), pp.
320, 339, 340, and 384.
33 In a
variant to this theme, Leslie Gelb has trenchantly argued that all the foreign
policy decisionmaking establishment promised to Congress and the American people
was “not to lose.” See Leslie
H. Gelb, with Richard K. Betts, The Irony of Vietnam: The System Worked (Washington,
DC: The Brookings Institution Press, 1979), p. 24.
34 Ulysses S. Grant Sharp, Strategy
for Defeat: Vietnam in Retrospect (San Rafael, Cal.: Presidio Press, 1978),
Quoted in Samuel P. Huntington, “The Erosion of American National
Interests,” Foreign Affairs 76, no. 5
(September/October, 1997): 40.
Ibid., pp. 28, 29, and 49.