Tuesday, May 5, 2009

The threatmonger's handbook

By Stephen M. Walt

The Threatmonger's Handbook:
(Or, How to Scare Your Fellow Citizens for Fun and Profit.)
Nothing can disarm critics who claim that the nation is needlessly squandering blood or treasure more effectively than accusing them of being unpatriotic, naïve, excessively idealistic, or insufficiently "serious." And if that doesn't work, bring up Neville Chamberlain.

These tried-and-true methods do not work all of the time, of course, but they are undeniably effective. This is partly because a few leaders turn out to be hard to deter, sometimes seemingly minor events do have large consequences, and losing a war or being forced to compromise with an adversary is never a pleasant experience. In short, there are good reasons for any country to national security seriously, which is why realists like me oppose pacifism, radical disarmament, or reflexive appeasement. But squandering resources is never a good idea, and exaggerating dangers can be as harmful to a state's long-term interests as understating them, especially when it leads to wars of choice that turn out badly. So when you see arguments like this being used to justify hawkish policies, hang onto your skepticism (and your wallet)."

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