The author Richard K. Betts is among those who are widely well-regarded as experts on the evolution of American security activities. American Forces is his latest work on U.S security policy and evolution in the post-Cold War era.
Betts describes the evolution of American domestic security that followed the end of Cold War as an expansionary strategy of selected engagements to reduce threats and improve trade or economic prospects (Betts, 2011). As Betts points out, the international approach could have been one with far less costs, as there were few challengers left to threaten the American superpower. Betts thesis is that this represents more than anything a continuation of the same approach and strategy that was begun in the Cold War era, it simply appears different without the Soviet Union as a potential power and without the concern of nuclear war.

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The Cold War can also be reconsidered, now that it is over, as a relatively peaceful time where enemies coexisted while pursuing other interests, such as alliances, rather than a continuous threat of war. For nearly forty years both superpowers focused mostly on their own development, and often leveraged foreign policies and strategies to ease doing so. What have changed since the Cold War are the perceptions of many non-liberal states with regard to the threat posed by that development. The new enemy is also one characterized by ideological opposition to Western political and economic ideals, however this time the threat is less organized, less capable of being dealt with through foreign diplomacy and balance of power, and the result has ultimately been less security in the United States. The great danger of Islamic rooted terrorist threats which are mobilized through dynamic and communal groups cannot be dealt with on a nation state to nation state basis, and this is the cause of security policy failure as it has heightened rather than reduced anger towards the United States.

Betts discusses as well the challenge of teasing out foreign policy from security policy, which has become intertwined for many reasons after the implementation of the neoliberal expansion strategies first started during the Cold War to ensure a bandwagon of considerable trade alliances to offset potential Communist threats through the development of new capitalism inspired states. This was an improvement on the proxy wars and containment policies that were initially employed by the Soviet Union and the United States in the first decades following the Second World War, and they proved to be detrimental to national security and public opinion as well. Neoliberalism, on the other hand, was fairly successful in building support and advantages for America and its allies.

Betts argues that the security policies of the past decades have failed because they do not build on or seek the economic and political growth that has now become ironically a subordinate concern to military display and prowess. While the 1974 National Security Act fostered the establishment of new departments and agencies such as National Security Council and Central Intelligent Agencies, the reorganization of existing administrations after 9/11 is one which has sidelined and even threatened the concerns of the economy. Resource allocation is a new problem of the post-Cold War era, whether it is spending on domestic or internationally based security issues. The rules of engagement with regard to new security and military actions are focused on a high level of expenditure without the previous foreign policy approach which increased economic expansion opportunities.

Betts has some more radical insights and opinions regarding possible new approaches of foreign policy to support security, including supporting the interests of the Palestine, in an effort to increase pro-American sentiments. Somehow this would need to be done without compromising diplomacy with or the security of Israel. Betts notes with some surprise that several opportunities, such as the Arab Spring as well as the American embassy attack, were not seen as opportunities to build on foreign policies for the purpose of strengthening security status.  Betts acknowledges that his ideas are not tenable politically, on the other hand many of the policies which were implemented have not been found to be sustainable. Perhaps a return to the Cold War era of the display of technological and political superiority could be considered, since it was far more effective than the military engagements have been in the post-Cold War period.

Betts outlines some of the weaknesses in American strategic security policies as being the expense of the military and military dependence on continued spending. Further, American military actions have become a de facto form of diplomacy that is now entrenched through the legislative branches. A further remnant of the Cold War era is the idea of the need to win regardless of the costs, and considering the economic and social outcomes of many of the national security strategies that have been implemented; this now represents some dismal modern scenarios. Further, the continued path of these policies is based on a delusion of optimism regarding the previous and current successes of the policy. In Betts opinion it is time for a long overdue modification of the national security approach, one that has coherency with current trends and based on a real assessment of threats and opportunities.

  • Betts, Richard K. American Force: Dangers, Delusions, and Dilemmas in National Security. Columbia University Press, 2011.