Foreign Policy and Left Priorities: A Reply to James B. Rule

Foreign Policy and Left Priorities: A Reply to James B. Rule

James B. Rule invites the left to think carefully about foreign policy, and in particular about the use of military force by the United States (“On Evils Abroad and America’s New World Order,” Dissent, Summer 1999). We should accept Rule’s invitation to debate; he is pointing us in the right direction. But the dilemmas he describes will be more difficult to solve than his essay suggests.

Rule’s article has two main parts: in the first section he demonstrates, correctly, how U.S. military expenditures have not fallen much from their cold war levels. In the second he discusses the principles on which U.S. military intervention ought to be based. The two parts are linked by an implicit assumption that defense spending during the present period of “peace” ought to be substantially less than during the cold war.

However, it may cost more to keep the peace than to wage a cold war—even if we accept Rule’s claim that the United States should drastically reduce its global ambitions. Peace does not keep itself; it requires institutional arrangements for deterrence, for the resolution of differences, and for the enforcement of the norms of the international order. The process of developing a post–cold war institutional order has moved forward hesitantly, and on a largely ad hoc basis. As the biggest player, the United States has played a central role, and without U.S. participation other nations have been reluctant to act. The result is that U.S. military expenditure remains at roughly its cold war average. Rule is right to note that there has been no “peace dividend.”