The vanishing margin of safety.
Listen To You Tell Me Texas Friday 3/7/14
On August 18, 1980 then presidential candidate Ronald Reagan addressed the Veterans of Foreign Wars convention in Chicago. In that speech, he used the phrase “margin of safety” eight times.
The margin of safety to which he referred was the military capability that the United States had maintained for three decades – at the time of the speech – following World War II. At one point in his remarks, Reagan said,
“Shouldn’t it be obvious to even the staunchest believer in unilateral disarmament as the sure road to peace that peace was never more certain than in the years following World War II when we had a margin of safety in our military power which was so unmistakable that others would not dare to challenge us?”
That margin of safety is central to a concept called ‘Peace Through Strength,’ a phrase first used as the title of a book written by Bernard Baruch, a wartime adviser to President Roosevelt.
Peace through strength springs from the premise that diplomacy and negotiation seldom, if ever, bring about peace. Peace is achieved only when the cost of war is so unbearable to the potential war-maker that he refrains of his own volition. As the Chinese general Sun Tzu said in the 5th century B.C.,
“The best victory is when the opponent surrenders of its own accord before there are any actual hostilities.”
Thus the need for an arsenal of weapons capable of inflicting intense pain together with the willingness to use that arsenal if sufficiently provoked. Or as George Orwell put it,
“People sleep peaceably in their beds at night only because rough men stand ready to do violence on their behalf.”
If I were the President of the United States, the events of the past week would give me pause. The administration’s announcement of a Pentagon budget that will reduce the U.S. military to pre-World War II levels came at almost the exact moment that Russia’s Vladimir Putin invaded Ukraine.
It came at almost the exact moment that Russia’s defense minister said that they will begin basing naval ships and strategic bombers in Cuba.
It came at almost the exact moment that China announced that it is increasing its military budget by twelve percent.
It came at almost the exact moment that a nuclear North Korea test-launched missiles capable of reaching the U.S. west coast.
Yet President Obama seems unperturbed. Shortly after Putin invaded Ukraine, President Obama went to Connecticut to give a speech on raising the federal minimum wage and then on to Massachusetts for a Democratic Party fundraiser.
Meanwhile, Secretary of State John Kerry went to Kiev where he said, “It is diplomacy and respect for sovereignty — not unilateral force — that can best solve disputes like this in the 21st Century.”
With all due respect, Mr. Secretary, unilateral force seems to be working quite well just now for Vladimir Putin. From where I sit, I think that he believes that that force will remain unilateral.
That’s a nice way of saying that thugs like Putin don’t believe that they have much to fear from the United States.
So much for the margin of safety.