REAL SECURITY: Restoring American Power in a Dangerous Decade by Richard J. Barnet
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REAL SECURITY: Restoring American Power in a Dangerous Decade

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The decline in American world power since its Cold War peak has become part of the ideological arsenal of conservatives, but a spate of recent polemics by moderates (see the quite different works of James Chace and James Fallows, below) and by left-liberals like Institute for Policy Studies founder and senior fellow Barnet, are indicative of a change: attention is being paid to the issue, now, by the entire political spectrum. Barnet takes it for granted that the US cannot dominate the noncommunist world as it once could, and must accommodate itself to relatively less influence in international affairs; but he by no means intends to withdraw into isolationism. A great deal of this short work is given over to questions of military jockeying vis-à-vis the USSR. Barnet examines the claims made by conservative groups like the Committee on the Present Danger, and disposes of them one by one. While conceding that the alarmists may be right in terms of absolute numbers--yes, the Soviets do have a larger army, they are expanding their navy, etc.--he keeps returning to the realm of appropriate comparisons. For example, the Soviet preponderance of missiles is negated by American dominance in nuclear warheads, not to mention the clear superiority the US has in its Polaris-equipped nuclear submarines. As for the Soviet army, most of it is deployed against the Soviet perception of a Chinese threat; and their navy, even with its recent or future increases, is still way behind the US navy, particularly in its ability to land ground forces. What bothers Barnet most is that the current crop of militarists--some of them Cold War hangovers, some not--have a sympathetic Administration to which they can appeal. The build-up of nuclear military forces, Barnet says, hurts two ways: it increases the possibility that a nuclear war will in fact break out; and it diverts resources from social programs which, in helping to create a stronger national quality-of-life, would make the country more powerful in the international arena. Barnet claims that the Shah of Iran, depository of American hardware, has hurt' us more than Fidel Castro; he points to Zimbabwe and Nicaragua as examples of Third-World social transformations that pose no threat to US power and might augment it if US political and economic aid were to replace military anticommunist reflexes. The sole possibility for international stability, as he sees it, lies in a world-order approach, incongruent with measuring US strength in megatons. Barnet knows where we should go, not (persuasion apart) how to get from here to there. But as a summary of the critical literature on the arms race, Barnet's brief essay is an important antidote to hawkish despair.

Pub Date: May 1st, 1981
Publisher: Simon & Schuster