A Call to Sanity on Foreign Affairs


All who are familiar with REASON magazine know of the editors' and most authors' wholehearted devotion to liberty. REASON has been unabashedly libertarian on domestic and foreign issues, aligning itself with neither left nor right, steering an independent course.

Since REASON began publication 12 years ago, a very visible expression of a libertarian political movement has emerged in the form of a Libertarian Party. In addition, several other magazines have been started or transformed to reflect something of a libertarian editorial policy. Wherever these developments have meant the intelligent and consistent support of the principles of a free society, REASON has expressed its support. But here again, we have not been blindly loyal to mere laudatory slogans about liberty, the free market, justice, rights, peace, and virtue. As the name of the magazine makes abundantly clear, we are first and foremost loyal to human reason: we are committed to thoughtful praise, criticism, or other participation in our world. We have tried hard to follow through with this commitment, out of the conviction that only such conduct will make it possible to carry on with a clear conscience, with our integrity intact as human beings and journalists.

Ordinarily, all this would not have to be said. But with the emergence of the Libertarian Party as something of a national political force, coupled with Ronald Reagan's presidential candidacy, some issues need to be considered that may once again leave REASON magazine in a somewhat lonely position. To wit, it is very difficult to find any trustworthy views on the topic of foreign policy in the midst of recent signs of a nation favoring some deregulation of economic activities, a balanced budget, and other benchmarks on the road toward liberty.

Among libertarians there are avowed militarists as well as outright isolationists—but there are very few who see themselves as searching for a rational foreign policy. Accordingly, letters have denounced us both for our alleged softness on communism and defense and for war-mongering, expansionism, and imperialism. Some think that we share the views of those who would have the United States disarm itself. Others think that we would welcome a nuclear war over "vital interests" in the Persian Gulf.

The facts are different. We at REASON advocate an effective defense of the United States—that is, of all regions and interests the federal government is obligated by a sound constitution to defend against foreign aggression. We regard it as imperative that government perform the central function that is the only moral explanation for its existence, namely, the protection and preservation of the rights of the members of the human community that is the United States of America—not the building of museums, not the education of our children, not the millions of other instances of irrelevant and destructive meddling that goes on in the name of our government caring for its citizens.

We do not agree, however, that requirements relating to the military defense of our country must lead to expanding the defense budget, so-called. We suspect that more waste goes into this area than into most others. At least the conservatives in government tend to watch these other budgets, while military appropriations are not monitored much by anyone for fear of being called a traitor. We agree that many countries now being defended or promised defense by the United States should arm to defend themselves. Let American taxpayers invest their energies in building up their own faltering productive lives. With all these caveats, however, let it be noted that we want a strong defense of the United States.

How this is to be accomplished is, of course, a complex matter, which is the reason we lament the dearth of carefully worked out, comprehensive discussions of foreign policy by those who share our commitment to a free society. We are dismayed with the lack of concern with the issue of how to defend our country and enhance human liberty.

Clearly, recklessness in security-consciousness is a threat to human liberty both at home and abroad. Governments—so well recognized as threats to some of our liberty by many conservatives—are unusually trusted by the same individuals, and by some libertarians, when it comes to military matters.

On the other hand, there are those who advance some of the most naive notions concerning the defense of this country. To disengage our forces from several regions of the globe tomorrow morning at nine o'clock would be insane. Any reasonable person familiar with world affairs knows this. To sever all our defensive military alliances would be immoral, reckless, and destructive of liberty. To treat the world as if the Soviet Union were merely an introverted tyranny, with no aim of extending its coercive monstrosities outward, is wishful thinking, plain and simple. But there are those who loudly proclaim their devotion to human freedom, free trade, and the rule of law, yet regard the Soviets as little more than a large but innocent lamb.

There are, as noted above, complexities in all this that no brief editorial comments can address. Yet it is obvious that those who claim to be loyal to human liberty at home and abroad must begin to think in terms of this principle as they discuss the desirability of militarization or demilitarization. Those who agree, we urge to begin a vociferous dialogue on how to obtain a competent defense of this country and enhance liberty, including a substantial reduction of the financial burdens imposed by governments. On all sides of the political round table, there is a dismaying absence of systematic, patient concern with this dual imperative. We hope, however, that this will change, and we pledge to do what we can toward that end.