Joint Services Conference on Professional Ethics

Springfield, Virginia

January 1999


Dr. Michael O. Wheeler

Strategies Group

Science Applications International Corporation (SAIC)





                In this paper, I discuss the types of opportunities that special advisers have for offering moral advice to senior military commanders in the United States.  I use the phrase ‘commander’ in a broad sense to include members of the American high command, i.e., the Joint Chiefs of Staff (JCS) and the commanders-in-chief (CINCs) of the unified combatant commands.  The ‘special advisers’ I have in mind fall into two categories: (1) individuals who are selected to be on the immediate staff of the commanders as special assistants or members of small staff groups which normally do not have line responsibilities; or (2) individuals appointed to outside advisory groups, formal or informal, which meet occasionally with the senior commanders to offer advice on professional topics.  In both instances, being a special advisor gives one special access to the senior military commander and, normally, a fairly broad charter, which leads to opportunities for giving unsolicited advice at critical times on a wide range of sensitive issues.


                The modern American national security system guarantees that senior military commanders have many official advisers.  Some of these advisers are highly specialized, for instance, in legal affairs or arms control matters.  Some have line as well as staff responsibilities, and advisory groups reach to the highest level of the U.S. Government (recall that the National Security Council exists to advise the President, not to take decisions).  My focus is on a different, much smaller group of people who have been selected normally for their expertise and skills, and for their ability to respect the confidential nature of the adviser-commander relationship.  Normally they do not have operational or line responsibilities for the matters on which they are advising, and almost always, they have more time than the commander does (and perhaps also more opportunities) to solicit information and think about a broad range of matters.  As I said earlier, their advice is expected to remain confidential within the guidelines established by the commander.


                I approach this topic from my personal experiences.  Since I graduated from the Air Force Academy in 1966, I have spent slightly over half of a 33-year professional career (24 years of which were in uniform) in a variety of special advisory positions: a special assistant to a Chief of Staff of the Air Force; a special assistant to three Chairmen of the Joint Chiefs of Staff; a special assistant to a Deputy Secretary of State and to a Commissioner of the Nuclear Regulatory Commission; a member of an informal discussion group that would meet occasionally for dinner with another Air Force Chief of Staff to discuss professional matters; and a member of the Strategic Advisory Group (SAG) which advises the Commander of U.S. Strategic Command.  I also have worked at the National Security Council as one of the chief assistants to the National Security Adviser and have been the staff director of a congressionally chartered bipartisan commission.  My observations draw on those experiences.


                An imperative of those types of positions is protecting the confidential nature of one’s advice, and what follows will not violate that rule.  Rather, I will reflect on events that I participated in and observed, supplemented by the open literature on the subject, to offer some general insights into how in those positions one has an opportunity to offer moral advice to senior military commanders.


Moral Advice on National Security Affairs

                First, let me say something about moral advice since it normally is not part of the position description for special advisers.  It would be rare to find a special adviser composing a memorandum to a commander beginning with the words, “I intend to offer you moral advice on (fill in the subject).”  The language and logic of professional ethics is not normally the idiom of national security affairs.  That is not to say that commanders and special advisers are not concerned about moral matters, nor that they do not approach their respective duties from a moral point of view.  What I have found is that a great deal of the subject matter of national security affairs lends itself to judgments, which are moral in nature, even if they are not expressed that way.  I will develop this theme in a moment with specific examples.  Whether advice can be considered ‘moral’ unless it is deliberately conceived and intended as such is something I will leave to another discussion.


                By the nature of their profession, senior military commanders deal with matters of war and peace, an area where strategy and tactics are infused with the Western just war tradition—jus ad bellum and jus in bellum—one of the oldest and richest of the moral traditions in Western thought.[1]  When is war justified?  Just war arguments appeal to criteria including right authority, right intention, just cause, proportionality (in a broad sense), prospects of success, and last resort.  Who has the right to wage war?  What are the objectives for which the war is fought?  What is intended by going to war?  Will more harm than good come from the endeavor?  Is resort to arms likely to achieve the objectives?  Have diplomatic and other means of resolving disputes been reasonably exhausted before resorting to armed force?


                What is permitted once the war begins?  Modern senior military commanders have legal staffs to help them assess how to apply the laws of war.  But the majority of the strategic judgments required in this area straddle the line between legality and morality.  Just war theory posits the criteria of discrimination and proportionality (in a narrower sense) to answer the question.  Discrimination refers to the principle of noncombatant immunity, namely, that combatants and their property should never be made the object of direct, intentional attack, and that unintended damage should be avoided unless compelled by military necessity.  Proportionality in jus in bellum refers to the relationship between means and ends.  There is a related question whether certain military actions are mala in se, inherently wrong.


                Most American commanders and special advisers are familiar with just war principles in at least general terms, since those principles have provided a conceptual framework for evolution of the modern laws of war.  There is no comparable ‘just diplomacy’ tradition, however, to neatly conceptualize the situations which arise prior to war (or when the military action does not quite fit the concept of ‘war’ as commonly understood).  Yet these are issues which engage senior military commanders, active and retired, in the contemporary world, when they are called to testify to Congressional committees, speak publicly, or advise privately in interagency meetings.   Is covert action morally justified, for instance, to support a government friendly to the United States?  Should the United States conclude alliances with repressive regimes?  When and how should the United States intervene with military force in situations short of war?  Being prepared to deal with these and a wealth of other such questions is part of the day-to-day fabric of modern national security affairs.


                In what follows, I will explore the opportunities for offering moral advice by briefly examining three case studies drawing on my past and present activities: (1) American policy toward the Iranian crisis of 1978-1980; (2) American policy toward the Gulf crisis of 1990-1991; and (3) the ongoing debate on the future of American nuclear strategy since the end of the Cold War.


The Iranian Crisis of 1978-1980[2]

                Before discussing the moral choices posed to the American high command by the Iranian crisis of 1978 to 1980, let me briefly sketch the background.  Iran has occupied a special place in American security affairs since World War II.  It was one of the first Cold War crises, eliciting a strong U.S. demarche when the Soviets initially refused to withdraw their troops from northwestern Iran in 1946.  It was one of the first major instances of American postwar covert action when the Central Intelligence Agency (CIA) organized the coup, which returned the Shah to power in 1953.  When the British withdrew from East of Eden in the 1960s and the U.S. took over the traditional British role of assuring stability in the Persian Gulf region, Iran became one of the major cornerstones of American policy for the greater Middle East.


                The Shah had faced public opposition at various times from the 1950s onward.  In 1963, Rudollah Khomeini, then 60 years old, was arrested for inciting such opposition and imprisoned for several months before being sent into exile in 1964.  He remained active in exile, calling for continued opposition to the Shah’s economic, cultural, and political programs.


                For American policy-makers prior to 1978, the moral choices posed by American actions in Iran included the familiar dilemmas of the early Cold War: covert action to support a government friendly to the United States; assistance to a repressive, autocratic regime that was firmly in the Western camp; and the like.  In 1978, however, as public opposition broke into open clashes and the Shah’s internal security forces faced mounting insurrection, the U.S. Government encountered a fresh set of hard choices.  The Special Coordination Committee (SCC) chaired by the National Security Adviser, then Zbiegnew Brzezinski, and the so-called mini-SCC chaired by Brzezinski’s deputy, David Aaron, began to meet frequently on Iran after November 1978 when it appeared that the Shah might be considering abdicating.  By then, the Shah had declared martial law and established a military government.  With the Iranian situation rapidly deteriorating, President Carter agreed to a plan to send the deputy U.S. commander in Europe, Air Force General Robert (Dutch) Huyser, to Tehran to convey to the top Iranian military leadership that the U.S. regarded it as vital that Iran have a strong and stable government friendly to the U.S., to urge the Iranian military leadership not to flee the country, and to offer assurances that the U.S. would stick with them.  General Huyser and Air Force Lieutenant General Philip Gast, then chief of the U.S. Military Assistance and Advisory Group (MAAG) to Iran, were in Tehran when the Shah left the country indefinitely on 16 January 1979. Two weeks later, Ayatollah Khomeini returned to Tehran to be greeted by celebrating mobs.


It was unclear at the time whether the interim, coalition Iranian government could restore order.  On 3 February 1979, General Huyser departed Iran and two days later reported to President Carter.  On the evening of 9 February, violent fighting erupted in Tehran.  The Iranian military did not intervene.  At an emergency SCC meeting on Sunday, 11 February, the participants debated whether to recommend major U.S. intervention to stabilize the situation.  Three months earlier, the Soviets had sent a strong message to Washington, warning the U.S. not to intervene in Iran’s internal affairs.  Events transpired swiftly at this point and on 11 February, the coalition regime headed by Shapour Bakhtiar, a former opposition figure, collapsed.  Medhi Bazargan succeeded him as prime minister, with the ostensible support of Ayatollah Khomeini.  Events would remain unclear and transitional as 1979 progressed.


                The Shah did not immediately go to the United States but traveled first to Egypt and then to Morocco after departing Iran.  This caused suspicions in a culture already prone to conspiracy theories that a replay of the 1953 crisis was in progress (in 1953 the Shah had fled the country but remained nearby until an American-supported coup could return him to power).  By March 1979 when it was clear that the Shah’s continued presence in Morocco was unwelcome, the United States found itself dealing with the delicate question of whether to grant him admission to the United States.  There already had been two incidents in Iran where American personnel were seized and then released.  It was unclear whether permitting the Shah to enter the United States would trigger more such episodes. 


Unknown to the American Government at the time, the Shah had been seriously ill for several years with cancer, a condition he had concealed successfully until the disease reached a critical stage in 1979.  Thus, although the U.S. initially brokered a deal for the Shah to go into exile in Mexico, it now was faced in the fall of 1979 with the moral dilemma of whether it should refuse admission of the Shah to the United States for medical treatment.  A decision was made largely on humanitarian grounds to accept the risks, and on 21 October 1979, the American Chargé d’affaires in Tehran, Bruce Laingen, informed Prime Minister Bazargan that the Shah would be admitted to the U.S. for medical treatment although no decision yet had been made on his permanent residence.  Iran officially protested this decision.  Moves already were afoot to return the Shah to Iran to stand trial.


                Less than two weeks later, on 4 November 1979, a crowd assembled around the American embassy in Tehran shouting anti-American slogans.  About 3000 demonstrators climbed the walls and forced their way into the basement and first floor of the chancery.  This began the hostage crisis, which lasted over a year.  At first it was conceivable that the crisis could be resolved quickly via diplomacy, along the lines of the hostage crises earlier in the year.  The Iranian prime minister (who soon would resign) assured American officials this was the case, comparing the occupation of the American embassy to a sit-in by students at an American university.   It quickly became evident that unlike the earlier episodes, however, the Iranian clerics now supported holding the American hostages, and on 6 November, following an emergency meeting of the NSC, President Carter directed the Chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff to commence planning for a rescue attempt and for punitive military actions against Iran if hostages were harmed.  I will not go into detail on what transpired after that point.  On 24 April 1980, the United States mounted a major, albeit secret, military action against Iran to try to rescue the hostages.  It failed.  By that time, the Soviet Union was in its fourth month of military operations in the neighboring state of Afghanistan, an action that had prompted President Carter in January 1980 to declare that assuring access to Persian Gulf oil was a vital national interest of the United States.


                I have selected the Iranian crisis of 1978-1980 as the first example because it displays so many features of the types of crises which commonly are addressed at the NSC and its subsidiary committees, and with the Congress—events which involve participation by the JCS and, depending on circumstances, senior combatant commanders.  Hard evidence upon which to base judgments normally is absent, transpiring events are ambiguous and open to several interpretations, complex tradeoffs are required among competing national security objectives.  Moreover, and germane to the present discussion, the types of decisions required involve arguments and judgments which overlap with what we normally think of (and which the senior participants themselves are willing to acknowledge) are moral issues.[3]   


In 1978 when the Iranian Revolution erupted, American policy-makers at first debated whether to encourage the Shah to more forcefully suppress the opposition, then faced the question of whether to encourage a military coup and to intervene with U.S. armed force.  During the first half of 1979, the choice was whether to permit the Shah to enter the United States and thus risk exactly the type of situation, which transpired.  Beginning in November 1979 options for securing the release of the hostages and punitive military strikes if the hostages were harmed were under active review.  From December 1979 onward, there was the complication of Afghanistan (recall that at the time, it was unclear whether the Soviets would move from Afghanistan south toward the Gulf oil fields).


                The opportunities for special advisers to help their commanders think through their counsel to the NSC and the President was present for some of the above events, constricted for others.  Devising a plan for an extraordinarily difficult rescue attempt—penetrating Iran undetected, flying several hundred miles in total secrecy, rescuing American hostages from a compound in the center of a city of 4 million people with the nearest airport nine miles away, safely exiting Iran in the face of military opposition, doing all this on the doorsteps of a theater of operations in which the Soviet armed forces already were engaged in a major military action—was complicated by the fact that American military organization for this type of operation was fragmented at the time, thus focusing an enormous amount of attention on operational security which limited the number of opportunities for debate and review of ongoing choices.  This was less the case in the second example I will consider, the Gulf War of 1990 to 1991.


The Gulf War of 1990-1991[4]

                The 1980’s were especially violent years in the Gulf region.  The Iranian revolution led to a bloody eight-year war between Iran and Iraq.  Soviet military operations continued in Afghanistan.  In 1982, Israel invaded Lebanon.  American policy continually readjusted to the rapidly changing circumstances of the region.


                On 2 August 1990, Saddam Hussein—a powerful figure in Iraqi politics since the Ba’thi takeover of the Iraqi Government in 1968 and President of Iraq since 1979—launched Iraqi forces in an invasion of Kuwait.  It was unclear at the time whether this would be followed by an invasion of Saudi Arabia, an action that would have given Iraq access to close to 40% of the world’s oil reserves.  Notwithstanding earlier American ambivalence whether a policy of engagement with Saddam might encourage him over time to adopt more moderate policies (and the imperative of containing export of the Iranian revolution), President Bush now moved quickly to a series of decisions which first committed the United States to the defense of Saudi Arabia, then assembled the coalition and achieved the consensus needed to mount a major military operation on 16 January 1980 to drive Iraqi forces out of Kuwait.  The war was ended short of destroying the Iraqi army and capturing or killing Saddam Hussein.  American military operations in the region continue through today.


                The portion of this episode I wish to focus on for purposes of this paper is the debate in the United States in the fall of 1979 whether to use force against Iraq.  A classic example of the opportunity afforded special advisers to offer moral advice is illustrated by the decision taken by the American Catholic bishops in their annual meeting in November 1989, to send a letter to Secretary of State James Baker on the morality of America’s choices in the Gulf.  As reported in the Washington Post on Tuesday, 9 November 1990, the letter raised specific considerations, which are identified by the Catholic bishops as having ethical ramifications:

·         Is there just cause for military action?  Can U.S. objectives—repelling aggression, assuring oil supplies—“only be confronted by war?”

·         Who should decide on the use of force: the President alone, the President and Congress, or “the United Nations which has played an indispensable role in securing international condemnation of Iraq?”

·         Are the reasons set out for war “the actual objectives of military action?”

·         Have all other peaceful alternatives been “fully pursued?”

·         Is the war likely to succeed?  Can air attacks be prosecuted without targeting civilians?

·         Are the expressed values at stake so important that resort to war is necessary?  Will resort to war leave the people of Kuwait, the Middle East, and the world better or worse off?


                The Bishops’ letter was a topic of discussion in Washington.  By that time, the U.S. Government already was deeply engaged in exploring options for resolving the crisis.  By late August, most major elements of the American response were falling into place: Saudi Arabia was willing to host American forces in-theater, United Nations resolutions condemning Iraqi aggression were forthcoming, a military coalition was being assembled to confront Iraq (including a multinational naval force to enforce sanctions), and Soviet cooperation was secured.  On 21 September, President Bush met with bipartisan leadership from Congress to assess how to proceed.  Congress adjourned on 28 October and, although it as not due back until 3 January, appointed a special eighteen-member team to continue consultations with the Administration.  At the end of November, Senator Sam Nunn opened televised hearings on American policy in the crisis, posing questions on the use of sanctions to resolve the situation.  During those hearings, several former chairmen of the JCS publicly opposed the early use of force, arguing that sanctions should be given time to work.


It was in this atmosphere that the Chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff, the Vice Chairman, the Assistant to the Chairman, and occasionally the Commander-in-Chief of U.S. Central Command attended a continuing round of policy meetings on the crisis.  Preparations for those meetings invariably involved special advisers.  This pattern, typical of how the United States decides whether to engage militarily in a regional crisis, was the occasion for multiple opportunities for special advisers provide information and make suggestions on the types of questions identified above as ethical in nature, without construing the advice as specifically ethical.  What were Saddam Hussein’s intentions?  Could military action against the Iraqis succeeds, and would more good than harm follow?  Should the military action be undertaken to contain further Iraqi aggression, to drive Iraqi forces out of Kuwait, or to overthrow Saddam’s government?  Could actions short of war (e.g., sanctions) achieve the same objectives?  If military action was undertaken, what were the immediate objectives?  The war termination goals?  What should be targeted in prosecuting the war?  Would the Iraqis use weapons of mass destruction, and if so, what should the response be?  How close was Iraq to acquiring nuclear weapons?  How could escalation of the conflict best be deterred?  Would Iraq attack Israel, and if so, what actions should the United States take?  These were typical questions debated in the fall of 1990, as the Deputy’s Committee, the NSC, and smaller ad hoc groups met frequently.


Thus far I have reviewed two case studies of national security crises to illustrate the opportunities for rendering moral advice.  Now I want to turn to a related type of discussion, albeit of a complex of issues which develops over time, and with the added question of whether the weapons being discussed, weapons of mass destruction, are mala in se as some ethicists believe.

Nuclear Strategy[5]

            One of the most morally perplexing issues in national security affairs involves weapons of mass destruction, especially nuclear weapons.  These weapons are inherently so destructive, so difficult to defend against, and so capable of harming non-combatants and destroying (and contaminating) property, that they lend themselves to a major ongoing debate among ethicists.  I will not attempt in this paper to recapitulate that debate, although I will examine the contemporary opportunities for special advisers to address moral issues in this area.


The United States with help from some of its allies (especially Britain) developed nuclear weapons in an emergency mode during World War II, then used them against the Japanese at Hiroshima and Nagasaki.  Following the war, the U.S. first sought international arrangements to control if not ban nuclear weapons under effective safeguards, then when that failed, engaged in a nuclear arms race with the Soviet Union where the nuclear balance became a central feature of the competition.  During the Cold War, some noted American statesmen like George Kennan argued that the only morally defensible objective for nuclear strategy was to deter other nuclear weapons.  With the end of the Cold War, other senior statesmen like Paul Nitze and retired senior military figures like Air Force General George (Lee) Butler joined the argument, further suggesting that the United States can safely divest itself of most of its nuclear arsenal, perhaps even doing so unilaterally.


It was clear at the end of the Cold War that America’s nuclear posture had to adjust to changing circumstances.  Against the backdrop of unilateral actions (the so-called Presidential Nuclear Initiatives, PNI’s, approved by President Bush) and the Cold War arms control framework provided by bilateral and multilateral agreements, the United States sought early in the Clinton Administration to recast the rationale for retaining nuclear weapons, for publicly defining their anticipated roles, and for reconciling America’s nuclear posture with its commitments (e.g., in NATO and Northeast Asia) and with the American objective of containing and perhaps over time, reversing, the proliferation of weapons of mass destruction and advanced delivery systems.  Complicating this program was the added evidence found on the ground in Iraq by United Nations inspectors from 1991 onward of how much progress Saddam Hussein had made toward acquiring nuclear weapons. 


The Counterproliferation Initiative (CPI) of 1993, the Nuclear Posture Review (NPR) of 1994, and subsequent presidential decisions over the next few years left open the possibility that American nuclear weapons might be needed to deter and perhaps respond to chemical and biological weapons in the hands of a future regional aggressor like Saddam Hussein.  Nor were regional players the only focus.  Progress in assuring the safety and security of Russian nuclear weapons and in achieving reductions in the enormous nuclear infrastructure remaining in the Russian Federation, commensurate with similar reductions in the American nuclear stockpile, was a high-priority project which proceeded excruciatingly slowly.  Progress in regional nuclear weapons and missile programs in so-called rogue states, e.g., states like North Korea and Iran, also reopened the domestic debate on whether to deploy a National Missile Defense (NMD), and if so, how to do it without destabilizing relations with the Soviet Union, China, and several of America’s closest allies.


As stated earlier, I will not attempt in this paper to revisit in detail the ongoing debate on nuclear strategy.  Rather, I will discuss two issues to illustrate the opportunity for rendering moral advice.  One is the question of no first use of nuclear weapons.  The other is the question of deep reductions in so-called “strategic” nuclear weapons, especially in a world of no nuclear testing.


                No first use.  In May 1983, the U.S. National Conference of Catholic Bishops drafted its pastoral letter on war and peace, focusing largely on the moral problems posed by nuclear weapons.  The letter concluded (with obvious reluctance) that nuclear deterrence based upon threatened retaliation with nuclear weapons to prior nuclear aggression was justified morally as a transitional strategy, but that “We do not perceive any situation in which the deliberate initiation of nuclear war, on however restricted a scale, can be morally justified.  Non-nuclear attacks by another state must be resisted by other than nuclear means.”[6]


                Taking this position on nuclear weapons was not confined to the American Catholic bishops.  A number of secular ethicists have argued in a similar way.  During the Cold War, the United States rejected policies of no first use largely because of the view that the deterrent extended by the United States to its allies and friends, e.g., to members of NATO or to Japan, required the threat of escalation to nuclear levels to underwrite deterrence of non-nuclear as well as nuclear attacks by the Soviet Union and its allies.  With the end of the Cold War, this rationale appeared less compelling than before (although still not entirely absent).  Complicating the issue further was the fact that one of America’s most enduring arms control objectives since the 1960’s has been to prevent further nuclear proliferation.  The no-first-use debate intersects with the negative security assurances offered by nuclear weapons states to non-nuclear-weapons states party to the Nuclear Non-proliferation Treaty (NPT) and to a number of nuclear-free-zones. 


The question posed to modern strategists by the no-first-use debate is twofold: (1) Will situations reminiscent of the Cold War where nuclear weapons arguably are needed to prevent the outbreak of large-scale warfare among the major powers re-emerge?  (2) Are there credible threats, e.g., biological or chemical attack, which cannot be deterred without the backdrop of a nuclear threat?  The no-first-use debate continues.  Its moral dimension derives in part from arguments of necessity, i.e., that just and important objectives cannot be achieved without resort to nuclear threats.  This continues to be an area for policy debate with moral dimensions inescapably involved.


                Deep cuts in nuclear weapons.  Non-experts understandably find it difficult to follow the esoteric public discussions about reductions in nuclear weapons, since the overall size and many details of national nuclear stockpiles remain classified and since the definitions of ‘strategic’ weapons in arms control agreements does not illuminate the distinctions between deployed and non-deployed weapons, between active and inactive stockpiles, and between materials and components on hand or in production to assemble nuclear weapons.  Notwithstanding this difficulty, however, the basic dilemma posed by deep reductions in nuclear weapons can be stated fairly simply.  There comes a point in deep reductions where the targeting strategies pursued by the United States become much riskier, i.e., where there are not enough weapons (and weapons of the appropriate type) in the active, deployed stockpile to support the targeting goals which the United States has pursued in the past, goals which arguably are designed to respect—to the extent that it can be respected—the principle of discrimination. 


As retired Air Force General Russell E. Dougherty, a deliberate and highly respected former commander of Strategic Air Command for whom the major conferencing auditorium at U.S. Strategic Command is named, has written publicly, “. . . U.S nuclear commanders plan in accordance of the spirit of these [presidential] directives.  They do not plan for indiscriminate attacks on noncombatants.”  “I consider,” Dougherty went on to write, “raw, deliberate population attacks immoral as well as unlawful, and I know of no U.S. nuclear planning force that has as its targeting objectives cities, civilian populations, noncombatants, civilian objects, schools, or hospitals that have no relation to the objective of preventing military aggression from succeeding.”[7]  General Dougherty’s argument contains two subtle presuppositions.  One is that the United States has a sufficient number of nuclear weapons to achieve its deterrent goals without intentionally targeting cities per se.  The other is that its nuclear weapons are sufficiently reliable and accurate that deterrence goals can be achieved without resorting to an area targeting strategy of the type pursued by the Royal Air Force’s Bomber Command in World War II.  A combination of deep cuts in future nuclear forces, and the question of whether confidence in reliability can be sustained in the absence of nuclear testing, complicate this judgment.  This is another area where strategic and tactical judgments overlap with moral ones.



Concluding Observations

                It should be clear from the previous discussion that many of the issues raised in policy and strategy debates—e.g., the intentions of adversaries, the prospects for success of proposed military operations, the objectives for which military force is used, the timing of when to resort to military force, the necessity for pursuing certain tactics or selecting certain weapons to succeed—are also the issues raised in moral debates.  Special advisers find themselves addressing these types of issues in the sorts of cases I have described.  Their opportunities for conveying information and suggestions, which include moral advice thus, are frequent, even when the advice is not conceived in that mode or explicitly described as such.


                Being a senior commander in the United States frequently requires a special blend of statesmanship as well as military expertise, since the senior commanders routinely find themselves testifying to Congress, speaking to the media, undertaking special diplomatic missions, and engaging in interagency discussions intended to inform the constitutional commander-in-chief, the President of the United States, of military options, not narrowly but in the wider context of modern national security where a blend of instruments, the military being one, is brought to bear on problems at hand.  The decisions reached by commanders and the positions they adopt may or may not be influenced by what they hear.  Special advisers should have a healthy perspective on this matter.  Presumably, however, commanders retain the types of special advisers I have described because they value their opinions and the information they provide which, even when not accepted, may help them sharpen the commanders’ own thinking, focus comprehensively as well as in great detail on the important considerations, and inform judgments on critical issues.  The advisers, while not responsible for the final decisions, have a special responsibility to offer advice as carefully and soundly as possible. It is in this milieu that the opportunities for giving moral advice emerge.



[1] There is a large body of literature discussing the just war tradition.  The works I have drawn on for this paper include: Michael Walzer, Just and Unjust Wars (New York, 1977); James Turner Johnson, Just War Tradition and the Restraint of War (Princeton, 1981) and Can Modern War be Just? (Yale, 1984); and William V. O’Brien, The Conduct of Just and Limited War (New York, 1981).

[2] In 1978 to 1979, I was a White House Fellow, spending most of the year at the State Department as a Special Assistant to the Deputy Secretary of State.  From that vantagepoint, I observed evolving American policy toward the early part of the crisis.  In the summer of 1979, I returned to the Pentagon to become Special Assistant to the Chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff.  Following the failure of the hostage rescue mission in 1980, I was the Chairman’s liaison to the various groups conducting after-action reports.  I also assisted the Chairman in the related events of early 1980, responding to the Soviet invasion of Afghanistan.  The account of the Iranian crisis I describe in these pages is taken from Gary Sick’s excellent book on the events of 1978 to 1980, All Fall Down (New York, 1985); from the memoirs of Jimmy Carter, Hamilton Jordan, Zbigniew Brzezinski, Cyrus Vance, Stansfield Turner, and Harold Brown; and from the unclassified version of the Holloway Commission Rescue Mission Report, released publicly on 23 August 1980.

[3] A typical passage in the memoirs describing interagency deliberations on Iran can be found in Brzezinski’s account reviewing the arguments advanced by Secretary of State Cyrus Vance, Deputy Secretary of State Warren Christopher, and Vice President Walter Mondale concerning whether the United States should intervene militarily in the Iranian crisis in the winter of 1979-1980 or should support a coup,  Brzezinski writes: “But their most persuasive argument, I think, was the moral one.  They felt that the United States—and notably the President himself—should not assume the responsibility for plunging another country into a bloody and cruel confrontation.”  Power and Principle (New York, 1983), p. 396.

[4] In the fall of 1990, I was the Air Force member of the Chairman’s Staff Group, and from that vantagepoint, observed American preparations to deal with the Gulf crisis.  The account described in this paper is taken from the book by Michael Gordon and General Bernard E. Trainor, The General’s War, (Boston, 1995); from the memoirs of George Bush, Brent Scowcroft, James Baker, Robert Gates, and Colin Powell; and from the work by Lawrence Freedman and Efraim Karsh, The Gulf Conflict, 1990-1991 (Princeton, 1993).

[5] During my tours as special assistant to an Air Force Chief of Staff, three Chairmen of the JCS, a Deputy Secretary of State, a Commissioner of the Nuclear Regulatory Commission, and as the Air Force member of the Chairman’s Staff Group, my responsibilities always included nuclear weapons matters.  Following retirement from the Air Force, I was invited in 1991 to become a member of the Strategic Advisory Group, first at the Joint Strategic Target Planning Staff and then at its successor, the U.S. Strategic Command.  I also am a member of the National Security Advisory Committee at Lawrence Livermore National Laboratory and recently was the staff director of the Congressionally chartered, bipartisan Commission on Maintaining U.S. Nuclear Weapons Expertise.  My account in this paper will draw on American literature addressing moral issues regarding nuclear weapons, including work by William V. O’Brien (whose courses I took at Georgetown), James Turner Johnson, Michael Walzer, John Rawls, and John Courtney Murray.  Additionally, it is worth mentioning by way of context that I was at the National Security Council in 1982 to 1983 when the Strategic Defense Initiative was developed and when the official U.S. Government reply to the May 1983 U.S. Catholic Bishops’ Pastoral Letter on War and Peace was composed.  At a meeting of the Joint Services Conference on Professional Ethics in the early 1990s, I discussed how SDI was viewed ethically by some of the senior officials in the White House in the 1980s.  That paper was reprinted in James C. Gaston and Jani Bren Hietala, editors, Ethics and National Defense (National Defense University, 1993).

[6] Quoted in Philip J. Murnion, editor, Catholics on Nuclear War (New York, 1983), p. 252.

[7] See Russell E. Dougherty, “The Psychological Climate of Nuclear Command,” in Ashton B. Carter, John D. Steinbruner, and Charles A. Zraket, editors, Managing Nuclear Operations (Washington, D.C., 1987), p. 423.