Pankaj Mishra writes: The Cold War credentialed a kind of “thinker” who cannot think without the help of violently opposed abstractions: good versus evil, freedom versus slavery, liberal democracy versus totalitarianism, and that sort of thing. Forced into premature retirement by the unexpected collapse of Communism in 1989, this thinker re-emerged after Sept. 11, convinced there was another worthy enemy in the crosshairs: Islamic totalitarianism. Unchastened by a decade of expensive, counterproductive and widely despised wars, these laptop generals have been trying to reboot their dated software yet again as Russian President Vladimir Putin formalizes his annexation of Crimea.
As laments about Western weakness and spine-stiffening exhortations fill the air, it’s worth recalling the legacy of the central episode of the Cold War: the Soviet invasion of Afghanistan in December 1979.
The invasion was promoted by the Soviets’ serious misjudgment of the U.S.’s intentions in the region. As the U.S., along with Saudi Arabia, helped consolidate history’s first global jihadist campaign, it came to be prolonged by actual American actions. Questioned in 1998 about the U.S. role in the making of Islamic extremists, Zbigniew Brzezinski could confidently retort, “What is most important to the history of the world? The Taliban or the collapse of the Soviet empire? Some stirred-up Muslims or the liberation of Central Europe and the end of the cold war?”
Three years later, of course, a handful of stirred-up Muslims launched the most devastating attack ever on U.S. soil, provoking the George W. Bush administration into such hubristic projects as eliminating “terror” worldwide and bringing democracy at gunpoint to the Middle East.
Muslims stirred up and radicalized by these blunders have subsequently ravaged Pakistan and large parts of the Middle East and Africa. U.S. citizens, too, have had to pay a high price — the loss of civil and legal rights — to protect themselves from what was originally a small band of cave-dwelling criminals and fanatics. Meanwhile, as the events of the last month show, the Soviet empire that had allegedly collapsed has returned under a different guise.
It is very likely that Putin’s land grab in Crimea will fail disastrously. As the Russian economy slows down, capital flees the country and domestic unrest grows, Putin’s position will become less than secure. The one thing certain to keep him in power longer, as well as weaken his opponents, would be a Western overreaction like those of the Jimmy Carter and Bush administrations in 1979 and 2001. [Continue reading…]
David Rohde writes: One senior Obama administration official called Vladimir Putin’s actions in the Ukraine “outrageous.” A second described them as an “outlaw act.” A third said his brazen use of military force harked back to a past century.
“What we see here are distinctly 19th and 20th century decisions made by President Putin,” said the official who spoke on condition of anonymity to a group of reporters. “But what he needs to understand is that in terms of his economy, he lives in the 21st century world, an interdependent world.”
James Jeffrey, a retired career U.S. diplomat, said that view of Putin’s mindset cripples the United States’ response to the Russian leader. The issue is not that Putin fails to grasp the promise of western-style democratic capitalism. It is that he and other American rivals flatly reject it.
“All of us that have been in the last four administrations have drunk the Kool-Aid,” Jeffrey said, referring to the belief that they could talk Putin into seeing the western system as beneficial. “‘If they would just understand that it can be a win-win, if we can only convince them’ – Putin doesn’t see it,” Jeffrey said. “The Chinese don’t see it. And I think the Iranians don’t see it.”
Jeffrey and other experts called for short-term caution in the Ukraine. Threatening military action or publicly baiting Putin would likely prompt him to seize more of Ukraine by force. [Continue reading…]
The New York Times reports: Just as European and American negotiators resumed work on a groundbreaking trade accord meant to tie their two continents closer together, René Obermann, the chief executive of Deutsche Telekom, the German telecommunications giant, told a cybersecurity conference in Germany on Monday that his company was working to keep electronic message traffic from “unnecessarily” crossing the Atlantic, where it could fall into the hands of the National Security Agency.
Other German executives, and some politicians, are beginning to talk of segmenting the Internet, so that they are not reliant on large American firms that by contract or court order allow United States intelligence agencies to delve into their data about phone and Internet usage. Europeans are demanding that any new trade accord include data-privacy protections that the United States is eager to avoid.
Almost never before has a spying scandal — in this case the revelation of the monitoring of the cellphone of Chancellor Angela Merkel of Germany — resulted in such a concrete, commercial backlash. Now it is also driving a debate inside the American government about whether the United States, which has long spied on allies even while nurturing them as partners, may have to change its approach.
“What’s more important?” Gen. Keith B. Alexander, the director of the N.S.A., asked during an interview last month, before the Merkel revelations. “Partnering with countries may be more important than collecting on them,” he said, especially when it comes to protecting against cyberthreats to the computer networks of the world’s largest economies. [Continue reading…]
Josef Joffe writes: “Every good spy story,” my friendly (former) CIA operative told me, “has a beginning, a middle and an end. And so, the snooping on the German chancellor and her European colleagues will surely stop.” He didn’t say: “It won’t resume.” Because it always does in a new guise, perhaps more elegantly and subtly.
For states need to know what other states are up to – friends or foes. Even so-called friends are commercial and diplomatic rivals. Some of our friends deal with our enemies, selling them dual-use technology good for insecticides, but also for nerve gas. Or metallurgical machinery that can churns out tools as well as plutonium spheres.
Let’s take an earlier story. Recall Echelon, the spy scandal that roiled Atlantic waters in the 90s. It was set up by the Five Eyes – the Anglo powers of the United States, Britain, Canada, Australia and New Zealand – to monitor signal traffic in the Warsaw Pact. After the cold war – spies always look for gainful employment – it was turned inward, on the Europeans, to scan satellite-transmitted communications, allegedly for industrial espionage, too.
Was it stopped? Yes, the US handed over its listening station in the town of Bad Aibling to the Germans, but the game never ends. [Continue reading…]
Zbigniew Brzezinski writes: If we wish to reflect on the common challenge inherent in the ongoing transformation of global politics, we would be wise to start by recognizing what I believe to be the three fundamental facts of the present era. First, global peace is threatened not by utopian fanaticism, as was the case during the 20th century, but by the turbulent complexity inherent in the phenomenon of global political awakening. Second, comprehensive social progress is more enduringly attained by democratic participation than by authoritarian mobilization. Third, in our time global stability can be promoted only by larger-scale cooperation, not through the imperial domination prevalent in earlier historical epochs.
The 20th century was dominated by fanatical ideological efforts to recreate societies by brutal totalitarian methods on the basis of utopian blueprints. Europe knows best the human costs of such simplistic and arrogant ideological fanaticism. Fortunately, with the exception of some highly isolated cases such as North Korea, it is unlikely that new attempts at large-scale utopian social engineering will arise. That is largely so because in the 21st century, for the first time in human history, the entire world is now politically awakened. The peoples of the world are restless, they are interconnected, they are resentful of their relative social deprivations, and they increasingly reject authoritarian political mobilization.
It follows that democratic participation is in the longer-run the best guarantee both of social progress and political stability. In the global arena, however, rising populist aspirations and the difficulties inherent in shaping common global responses to political and economic crises combine to threaten international disorder to which no single country, no matter how powerful, wealthy or strategically located, can effectively respond. Indeed, potential global turmoil—coincidental with the appearance of novel threats to universal well-being and even to human survival—can be effectively addressed only within a larger cooperative framework based on more widely shared democratic values.
The basic fact, therefore, is that interdependence is not a slogan but a description of an increasingly insistent reality. America realizes that it needs Europe as a global ally; that its cooperation with Russia is of mutual and expanding benefit; that its economic and financial interdependence with a rapidly rising China has a special political sensitivity; and that its ties with Japan are important not only mutually but to the well-being of the Pacific region. Germany is committed to a more united Europe within the European Union and to close links across the Atlantic with America, and in that context it can more safely nurture mutually beneficial economic and political cooperation with Russia. Turkey, which almost a century ago launched its social and national modernization with Europe largely as its model, is assuming a greater regional role as an economically dynamic and politically democratic state, as well as a member of the Atlantic alliance and Russia’s good neighbor. And Russia, recognizing that its modernization and democratization are mutually reinforcing and vital to its important world role, also aspires to a broader collaboration with Europe, with America and, quite naturally, with its dynamic neighbor to the east, China.
Tony Karon writes: Alarmed by the unchecked global dominance of Washington in the late 1990s, France’s then-foreign minister Hubert Vedrine described the US as a “hyperpower” whose influence needed to be checked for the greater good. This would be achieved, he suggested, by the construction of a “multipolar” world order, in which US influence would be balanced by the emergence of a number of different power centres.
As 2011 draws to a close, there can be no doubt that “multipolarity” is upon us, and then some: Washington has found its abilities limited to influence the dramatic political events unfolding across the wider Middle East and beyond. The US in 2012 faces a wave of crises that could have profound consequences for America’s well-being, yet with dramatically weakened levers of influence to shape the outcomes to those crises.
Today, decisions made in Ankara, Beijing, Paris, Berlin, Tehran, Riyadh and even Doha are having an effect on international affairs that might have been unthinkable just a few years ago. A quick glance at a few of the crises currently on the boil suggests the “multipolar” world may be a more unpredictable place than Mr Vedrine imagined.
President Barack Obama pulled the last US troops out of Iraq saying that it could become a “model for the entire region”, but the bloodbath visited on Baghdad by car bombers in the final weeks of 2011 was a grim reminder that Iraq may still be headed down the abyss of sectarian bloodshed. The attacks come against a backdrop of sharply rising sectarian tensions as the Shiite-dominated government of Prime Minister Nouri Al Maliki appears to be systematically removing leading Sunnis from the political scene, raising fears of a renewed insurgency.
Max Fisher writes:
America’s love affair with client states began not long after it and the Soviet Union — another master in the art of client-building — pressured the UK and France to leave Egypt, which they had invaded in 1956 to reclaim control of the Suez canal. European colonialism, the U.S. and USSR argued at the United Nations that year, was outdated, destabilizing, and had to end. British and French forces withdrew from Egypt, and within about a decade most of the British and French empires collapsed. Meanwhile, the U.S. and Soviet Union had begun a different great geopolitical game — the search for client states — one that Washington is still playing today.
The ’56 Suez Crisis was a final act of the imperial age and one of the first in a new era, where the major powers don’t have colonies — they have clients. American and Soviet diplomats, spies, and generals spent the next four decades racing from one capital to another, trying to buy, cajole, or enforce the allegiance of smaller nations. Often, that meant tin-pot dictators that would do the master state’s bidding, either accelerating or stopping the spread of communism, depending on who was paying better that year. Egypt was one of dozens of countries that, not long after ending its centuries under colonial rule, became an often willing pawn in the Cold War’s client game, first aligning itself with the Soviet Union and then with the U.S., which offered it lots of money and military equipment as part of the 1979 Camp David Peace accords. The U.S. found less use for client states after the Soviet Union fell, but still maintains the practice today, developing (mostly) subservient allies in hot spots across the world.
If Egypt’s 1956 liberation from colonialism helped end the colonial era, the country may now once again be signalling a change in the global system. When protesters toppled Egyptian president and reliable U.S. client Hosni Mubarak this February, they changed the terms of the U.S.-Egypt relationship. Washington can send all the money and tanks it wants — it won’t be able to dictate to a democratic Cairo any more than it can to, say, Ankara or Paris. The fall of easily controlled dictators across the region (the U.S. has already given up on its man in Yemen) comes at the same time as U.S.-allied democracies and autocracies alike seem increasingly willing to buck Washington’s wishes. Last week alone, the U.S. clashed with some of its most important client states. Maybe that’s because of America’s habit of picking the most troubled states in the most troubled regions as clients (where they’re perceived as the most needed), maybe it’s because democratic movements are pressuring client states to follow popular domestic will rather than foreign guidance, and maybe it’s because the idea of clientalism was doomed from the start. Democracy is on the march, and democratic governments make bad clients: they’re fickle; prone to change foreign policy as their domestic policy shifts; and subject to the needs, desires, and whims of their voters.
Andrew Bacevich writes:
Chief among the problems facing the United States today is this: too many obligations piled high without the wherewithal to meet them. Among those obligations are the varied and sundry commitments implied by the phrase “American global leadership.” If ever there were an opportune moment for reassessing the assumptions embedded in that phrase, it’s now.
With too few Americans taking notice, history has entered a new era. The “unipolar moment” created by the collapse of the Soviet Union in 1991 has passed. To refer to the United States today as the world’s “sole superpower” makes about as much sense as General Motors bragging that it’s the world’s No.1 car company: Nostalgia ill-befits an enterprise beset with competitors breathing down its neck. Similarly, to call Barack Obama the “most powerful man in the world” is akin to curtsying before Elizabeth II as “Queen of Great Britain, Ireland and British Dominions beyond the Seas”: Although a nice title, it confers little by way of actual authority.
A new global order is rapidly emerging. In that order, the United States will no doubt remain a very important player. Yet alongside the U.S. will be several others: China preeminently among them, but with Russia, India, Turkey, Japan, South Korea and Brazil also demanding to be reckoned with. (Whether Europe, currently wallowing in disarray, can muster the will and wallet to play in this company qualifies as an unknown.)
Nothing Washington can do will prevent this geopolitical transformation. Politicians may insist that the United States still stands apart — always and forever a “triple-A nation” — but their declarations will have as much effect as King Canute ordering the waves to stop. Indeed, to indulge further in the fiction of American omnipotence — persisting in our penchant for fighting distant wars of dubious purpose, for example — will accelerate the process, with relative decline becoming absolute decline. For Americans, husbanding power rather than squandering it is the order of the day.
Richard Falk, professor emeritus of international law at Princeton University and now 80, demonstrates it’s never too late in life to start a blog. In his latest post, he says “I wanted to introduce a perspective about progressive politics, and citizen engagement, at a time of fallen hopes.”
Recent explorations of the anarchist heritage are to be welcomed, bringing to a contemporary intellectual audience the politically and morally inspiring thought of such major thinkers as Bakunin, Kropotkin, Proudhon, and more recently, Harold Laski and Paul Goodman. This rich tradition reminds us strongly of the relevance of anti-state traditions of reflection and advocacy, as well as the indispensable role of cooperation, non-violence, community, small-scale social organization, and local solutions for human material needs if the aspiration for a just and sustainable society is ever to be rescued from its utopian greenhouse. There is every reason to celebrate this anarchist perspective for its own sake, although in a critical and discriminating manner. Non-violent philosophical anarchism has a surprising resonance in relation to the ongoing difficult search for a coherent and mobilizing progressive politics in the aftermath of the virtual demise of Marxist/Gramsci theorizing, as well as even socialist thought and practice.
At the same time, it should be acknowledged that this anarchist tradition has accumulated a heavy public burden of discrediting baggage, which adds to the difficulty of relying upon it to engender a new progressive mobilization within the current global setting. An immediate barrier to the wider acceptance of philosophical anarchism as a tradition of thought is its strong identification with exclusively Western societal experience, despite the existence of some affinities with strains of late Maoist praxis, especially the distrust of bureaucracies and political parties. In contrast, Gandhi’s inspiration and influence is often explicitly or implicitly evident in some recent attempts to espouse nonviolent anarchist perspectives as, for instance, in the Green Revolution that has been ongoing in Iran since their contested presidential elections of June 2009. Even within the Western framework of political thought and action there are two formidable obstacles to reliance on anarchism as political posture resulting from widespread public confusion and media manipulation.
First, is the widely endorsed stereotype of the anarchist as a sociopathetic bomb thrower, an understanding given credible cultural currency by way of Dostoyevski’s great anti-terrorist novel, The Devils. In our post-9/11 world it is unrealistic for public opinion to separate this dominant image of the anarchist from its preoccupation with terrorists and terrorism. To refer to someone as an anarchist invokes a discrediting term that is generally accepted as such without any qualifications. At best, ‘anarchists’ are popularly depicted as those seeking to turn peaceful demonstrations into violent carnivals of anti-state behavior, radical activists with no serious policy agenda. The mainstream media blamed anarchist elements for the violent disruptions that took place during the infamous ‘battle of Seattle’ at the end of 1999, which was the first massive populist expression of radical resistance to neoliberal globalization. In certain respects, by playing the anarchist card, the media and pro-globalizing forces were able to divert attention from the expanding populist resistance to non-accountable, non-transparent, anti-democratic, and hegemonic institutional actors (World Bank, IMF, and WTO). Most of those participating in Seattle neither regarded themselves as anarchists nor wanted to be portrayed as marching in step behind the black banners of anarchist militancy. The self-proclaimed anarchists at Seattle were also sharply criticized as ignorant about and indifferent toward the substantive anti-globalization concerns that motivated most of the demonstrators.
Secondly, our ideas about international relations often associated with Hobbes to the effect that relations among states are characterized by the absence of government, and in realist thinking that emanates from this source, the irrelevance of law and ethics to the pursuit of order and security on a global level.
Must-read commentary from Pankaj Mishra:
There were chuckles and sniggers in Qatar last month when Hillary Clinton, the US secretary of state, warned that a military dictatorship was imminent in Iran. Threatening America’s most intransigent adversary, Clinton seems to have been oblivious to her audience: educated Arabs in the Middle East where America’s military presence has long propped up several dictators, including such stalwart allies in rendition and torture as Hosni Mubarak.
Of course, by her own standards, Clinton was being remarkably nuanced and sober: during the presidential campaign in 2008 she promised to “obliterate” Iran. An over-eager cheerleader of the Bush administration’s serial bellicosity, Clinton exemplifies Barack Obama’s essential continuity with previous US foreign policymakers – despite the president’s many emollient words to the contrary. Clinton has also “warned” China with an officiousness redolent of the 1990s when her husband, with some encouragement from Tony Blair, tried to sort out the New World Order.
But the illusions of western power that proliferated in the 90s now lie shattered. No longer as introverted as before, China contemptuously dismissed Clinton’s warnings. The Iranians did not fail to highlight American skulduggery in their oil-rich neighbourhood. But then Clinton is not alone among Anglo-American leaders in failing to recognise how absurdly hollow their quasi-imperial rhetoric sounds in the post-9/11 political climate.
Visiting India last year David Miliband decided to hector Indian politicians on the causes of terrorism, and was roundly rebuffed. Summing up the general outrage among Indian elites, a leading English language daily editorialised that the British foreign secretary had “yet to be house-trained”. The US treasury secretary, Timothy Geithner, provoked howls of laughter in his Chinese audience when he assured them that China’s assets tied up in US dollars were safe.
As foreign secretary of a nation complicit in two recent terrorist-recruiting wars, Miliband could have been a bit more modest. Resigned to financing America’s massive deficits with Chinese-held dollars, Geithner could have been a bit less strident.
But no: old reflexes, born of the victories of 1945 and 1989, linger among Britain and America’s political elites, which seem almost incapable of shaking off habits bred of the long Anglo-American imperium – what the American diplomat and writer George Kennan in his last years denounced as an “unthought-through, vainglorious and undesirable” tendency “to see ourselves as the centre of political enlightenment and as teachers to a great part of the rest of the world”.
Read the whole article.
In Nader Mousavizadeh‘s interesting analysis on America’s failure to deal effectively with so-called “rogue states”, he begins by pointing out that the world that created such states is gone:
Obama came into office thinking that a more responsive diplomacy could rally global support for the old Western agenda, but that’s not enough. What’s needed, more than a change in tone or a U.S. policy review, is a new set of baseline global interests—neither purely Western nor Eastern—defined in concert with rising powers who have real influence in capitals like Rangoon, Pyongyang, and Tehran. This requires a painful reconsideration of America’s place in the world. But it promises real help from rising powers in shouldering the financial and military burden of addressing global threats.
Today countries large and small, well behaved and not, are looking for partners, not patrons. Where Washington looks to punish rogues, seeking immediate changes in behavior, rival powers are stepping in with investment and defense contracts, and offering a relationship based on dignity and respect. This is the story of China in Burma, Russia in Iran, Brazil in Cuba, and so on down the line. And given that the core institutions of global governance—the U.N. Security Council, the World Bank, and the IMF—are unwilling to grant the new powers a seat at the decision-making table, it’s not surprising that they feel no obligation to back sanctions they’ve had no say in formulating.
Far from being coy about their newfound independence, the rising powers are asserting their status with increasing strength. During a recent state visit, Brazilian President Luiz Inácio Lula da Silva stood beside President Mahmoud Ahmadinejad of Iran and declared bluntly: “We don’t have the right to think other people should think like us.” These words resonate more deeply outside the Western world than new calls for unity against the rogues. Days earlier, Ahmadinejad had been hosted by Turkey’s Prime Minister Recep Tayyip Erdogan, who had embraced his neighbor at a summit of Islamic nations and insisted that Iran’s nuclear program was “peaceful.” Predictably, the Western press attacked both Lula and Erdogan for betraying democratic values and solidarity, missing the point entirely. Established democrats like Lula and Erdogan are not siding with Ahmadinejad, supporting his government’s violent crackdown on protesters or its covert nuclear programs. Rather, they are demonstrating their intention—and, more important, their ability—to have a say in who the rogues are and how they should be dealt with.
The conventional wisdom, particularly in the United States, is that Iran has gained from the US’s invasion of Iran’s neighbors since the events of September 11, 2001. Yet, a careful reading of the changing security calculus caused by the exponential increase in the US’s military presence in Iran’s vicinity leads to the opposite conclusion.
Sure, Iran has gained from the fall of the Taliban in Afghanistan and Saddam Hussein and his dreaded Sunni Ba’athist regime in Iraq, yet the problem with the standard analyses, for example by the US’s ambassador to the United Nations, Zalmay Khalilzad, is that even though they are couched in the language of “balance of power”, nonetheless these analyses are tainted by a major gap. That is, forgetting the US superpower’s role in the equation that, on balance, has tipped the scales away from Iran, in a word, amounting to a net loss for the country.
Until now, no one in the US has questioned what has become an article of faith in the US media and a kind of self-evident truth to so many US politicians, such as former secretary of state Henry Kissinger and former national security advisor Zbigniew Brzezinski. [complete article]
In one of the coldest winters Iranians have experienced in recent memory, the government is failing to provide natural gas to tens of thousands of people across the country, leaving some for days or even weeks with no heat at all. Here in the capital, rolling blackouts every night for a month have left people without electricity, and heat, for hours at a time.
The heating crisis in this oil-exporting nation is adding to Iranians’ increasing awareness of the contrast between their growing influence abroad and frailty at home, according to government officials, diplomats and political analysts interviewed here.
From fundamentalists to reformists, people here are talking more loudly about the need for a more pragmatic approach, one that tones down the anti-Western rhetoric, at least a bit, and focuses more on improving management of the country and restoring Iran’s economic health. [complete article]
As Congress and the public focus on more than $600 billion already approved in supplemental budgets to pay for the wars in Iraq and Afghanistan and for counterterrorism operations, the Bush administration has with little notice reached a landmark in military spending.
When the Pentagon on Monday unveils its proposed 2009 budget of $515.4 billion, annual military spending, when adjusted for inflation, will have reached its highest level since World War II.
That new Defense Department budget proposal, which is to pay for the standard operations of the Pentagon and the military but does not include supplemental spending on the war efforts or on nuclear weapons, is an increase in real terms of about 5 percent over last year.
Since coming to office, the administration has increased baseline military spending by 30 percent over all, a figure sure to be noted in the coming budget battles as the American economy seems headed downward and government social spending is strained, especially by health-care costs. [complete article]
It should be no surprise that the presidential campaigns have barely touched on foreign policy. One reason is that no candidate of either party has a solution to the nation’s most pressing foreign problem, the war in Iraq (perhaps because there are no good solutions).
A larger reason, however, may be that no ambitious politician is willing to mention the discomfiting reality about America’s place in the world — that we are weaker today than we were a decade or two ago, and that we need a new foreign policy that acknowledges and builds on that fact.
President Bush’s follies have accelerated the decline of U.S. influence, but he can’t be blamed for its onset. It started, ironically, at the moment of our late-century triumph, when the Soviet Union imploded and the Cold War victory was ours. Some proclaimed that the United States was now “the sole superpower.” But, in fact, the end of the Cold War left the very concept of a “superpower” in tatters. [complete article]
Mr. Fuller, I agree with your statement that “[s]truggles over power, territory, and trade existed long before Islam arrived.” They also existed long before the arrival of the world’s most powerful country. So my question is, What would a world without America look like?
Great question, worthy of a long essay. All I can say is that I think the United States—partly due to World War II and the Cold War—has come to believe it is indispensable to the world order. I’m skeptical about that belief. That is not to condemn America’s past role in international politics, but nothing is truly indispensable, with perhaps rare exceptions. Believing in this self-serving myth of indispensability provides grist for self-imposed global adventures and an urge toward single-superpower global hegemony—a condition that is as unhealthy for the world as it is for the superpower. Without the United States, more countries would have to assume greater burdens and take greater global responsibilities. I think the United States produced some superb political and cultural values in its day (its latter-day imperial ventures aside), but it is not “indispensable.” [complete article]
“We cannot survive in a world in which we are confronted with people who do not share our values, who unfortunately are in the majority in terms of numbers, and who are extremely hungry to see success. So, if we want to survive, we have to stand together. And I think that is a view which the majority in Europe shares, and I think also the majority in the United States understands.”
When the post-Bush era starts a year from now, much of America and most of the world will let out a big sigh of relief. But we won’t be out of the woods. The leading neoconservatives might have been thoroughly discredited and effectively marginalized, but in a sense, they were always merely a caricature of important trends in the Western outlook that have much deeper roots, much greater breadth, and in the course of history have wrought much more destruction than did the small minds that shaped the Bush agenda.
Outside the glare of media attention a new circle of proponents of this outlook has emerged and their objectives are no less sweeping than those that gave rise to the neocons’ dream of a New American Century. The advocates of this new vision are regarded by others and see themselves as hard-headed realists. As retired generals, none will ever be dubbed a “chickenhawk.” But what the generals have in mind could very well provide the building blocks for what could fittingly be called, neoconservatism 2.0.
Important lessons have been learned. This time America won’t place itself in the bullseye as a target for global animosity. Instead, rather than striving for the preservation of the American hegemon, now the primary objective is the defense of the West, providing security for the citizens of every nation between Finland and Alaska. The Manichaean terms of a war of good against evil are being dropped; instead the conflict is being framed in dryly abstract terms: certainty versus irrationality. And just to make it clear that this is unequivocally about the preservation of secular Western preeminence, Zionism is kept well out of the picture.
The new message comes from a group of retired generals who self-effacingly describe themselves as “dinosaurs” and are known affectionately to their acolytes as “the gang of five.” Their aim is to restructure and empower NATO — a mission which will likely capture the interest of few outside the foreign policy communities on either side of the Atlantic. After all, how many Americans even know what the letters N-A-T-O stand for? Yet underpinning this objective there is a wider goal no less sweeping and not far removed from that advocated by Bernard Lewis, Norman Podhoretz and their merry band of followers: the defense of the West from the threat posed by those who do not share our values.
This time the plot unfolds not inside the reason-insulated walls of the American Enterprise Institute but instead comes from a bastion of realism, the Center for Strategic and International Studies in Washington DC. It was there recently that five distinguished military leaders presented their vision for a new world order in a manifesto they title, Towards a Grand Strategy for an Uncertain World – Renewing Transatlantic Partnership. [PDF] In his introduction to the so-called “Gang of Five,” CSIS president, John Hamre, described them as “some of the best minds that we have in defense intellectual circles”
They are, from the United States, former Chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff and former NATO Supreme Allied Commander in Europe, General John Shalikashvili, joined from Europe by General Dr Klaus Naumann (former Chief of the Defence Staff of Germany and former Chairman of the Military Committee of NATO), Field Marshal Lord Inge (former Chief of the Defence Staff of the United Kingdom), Admiral Jacques Lanxade (former Chief of the Defence Staff of France and former Ambassador to Tunisia) and General Henk van den Breemen (former Chief of the Defence Staff of the Netherlands). They have all served together in NATO.
Put together any group of retired generals and it’s predictable that they will hanker after some of their lost power, but when it comes to this particular group their credentials guarantee that even in retirement their authority is hard to ignore. As commentator Dr Pascal Boniface notes, one can assume that “former military chiefs of staff are not free riders. Their document is probably a way to test ideas for NATO’s current leaders: since the latter cannot afford to be so blunt publicly, they let their former colleagues do it for them.”
The palliative that the generals present for a Western world threatened by disorder should be seen for what it is — a martial vision:
We seek to uphold a common and stable experience, shunning the arbitrary in favour of closure in debate. Certainty can promote strong society and social interdependence. While 100 per cent certainty may be unattainable, it is clear that in periods of great – even overwhelming – uncertainty something serious is happening to our institutions and our societies.
Certainty in our world is today being eroded by a proliferation of information, knowledge and choice. The erosion of certainty is accelerated by rapid technological, social and cultural change. On occasion, that change occurs too fast for some of our major institutions to cope with.
In certain important senses, we are today operating in a mist. Through that current mist a wide range of challenges are appearing. The challenges are acute, and no less so because our certainties are in retreat. If they were stronger, our resolve to address these problems might have stiffened. But the loss of familiar certainties reveals that we lack such resolve.
While the generals have as their stated aim, to provide “security for the citizens of all nations between Finland and Alaska,” they clearly lack confidence that in its current state the West can save itself from the corrosive effects of irrationality. In their eyes, an insidious process has already weakened our culture. What they call, “the problem of the rise of the irrational,” the generals perceive in “soft examples, such as the cult of celebrity, which demonstrate the decline of reason,” and in “harder examples, such as the decline of respect for logical argument and evidence, a drift away from science in a civilisation that is deeply technological,” and finally in their ultimate example, “the rise of religious fundamentalism, which, as political fanaticism, presents itself as the only source of certainty.”
At this point one might say, they’re entitled to their opinion and at least in America, with its deeply-rooted anti-intellectual tendencies, we might welcome some strong voices willing to speaking out in defense of reason. Even if the outlook of the Gang of Five expresses a form of cultural imperialism, is it not at the same time in its own terms quite reasonable?
If the Grand Strategy often seems measured and thoughtful, it is not until we come to the generals’ views on deterrence that it becomes clear that this is a genuinely radical manifesto. Understandably this is the part of the document that caught a few headlines:
One truly indispensable element of any strategy in the 21st century is deterrence. This will no longer be deterrence by punishment, nor the threat of total destruction, which served us so well in preserving peace during the Cold War.
In the Post-Westphalian world, and against non-state actors, such deterrence does not work. What is needed is a new deterrence, which conveys a single, unambiguous message to all enemies: There is not, and never will be, any place where you can feel safe; a relentless effort will be made to pursue you and deny you any options you might develop to inflict damage upon us.
Deterrence in our time thus still avails itself of creating uncertainty in the opponent’s mind – no longer reactively but proactively. What is needed is a policy of deterrence by proactive denial, in which pre-emption is a form of reaction when a threat is imminent, and prevention is the attempt to regain the initiative in order to end the conflict.
As deterrence might occasionally either be lost or fail, the ability to restore deterrence through escalation at any time is another element of a proactive strategy.
Escalation is intimately linked to the option of using an instrument first. A strategy that views escalation as an element can, therefore, neither rule out first use nor regard escalation as pre-programmed and inevitable. Escalation and de-escalation must be applied flexibly. Escalation is thus no longer a ladder on which one steps from rung to rung; it is much more a continuum of actions, as though there is a ‘trampoline’ that permits the action to be propelled up into the sky at one moment and just to stand still the next.
Such a concept of interactive escalation requires escalation dominance, the use of a full bag of both carrots and sticks – and indeed all instruments of soft and hard power, ranging from the diplomatic protest to nuclear weapons. As flexible escalation and de-escalation are the crucial instruments in gaining and maintaining the initiative, fast decision making is of the essence. The traditional forms and methods of governments and international organisations will today (in a world of instantaneous global communications) no longer be capable of meeting this requirement. Thus a thorough review and adaptation is required. Nuclear weapons are the ultimate instrument of an asymmetric response – and at the same time the ultimate tool of escalation. Yet they are also more than an instrument, since they transform the nature of any conflict and widen its scope from the regional to the global. Regrettably, nuclear weapons – and with them the option of first use – are indispensable, since there is simply no realistic prospect of a nuclear-free world.
What might this mean in practical terms?
The future we are facing requires more, not less, international integration; but as the national state is – and will remain for the foreseeable future – the core of decision making, we must stress that governments need to think about adapting the organisation of government, as well as about dramatic changes in national decision making.
The generals regard winning “the hearts and minds of their own people” as one of the many challenges facing Western governments. They also believe that we have already entered a “Post-Westphalian world” in which the nation state has lost much of its power. While many observers who might share a similar view would see at this time a need for the rejuvenation of democracy, for these distinguished military thinkers the security of the West hinges on a “restoration of certainty” derived from a greatly empowered Western alliance under the auspices of NATO.
Whereas in the narrative of the post-Cold War history of nation states we were, until quite recently, living in a world where the power of the United States was unchallenged, the authors of the Grand Strategy implicitly envisage a new unipolar moment in which among international entities NATO can assume a position of unchallenged supremacy. They claim that NATO’s actions would remain tethered to the will of nation states (“the core of decision making”), yet the NATO they envision would appear to have more power and less accountability than the United States has had under George Bush. It would be led by a triumvirate directorate — the President of the United States, the Secretary General of NATO, and the soon-to-be-established President of the European Council. There can be little doubt that the latter two would be subservient to the former. And while the generals seem to be purposefully vague in saying that there need to be adaptations in the organization of government, along with “dramatic changes in national decision making,” the thinly-veiled implication is that NATO must be unshackled from the currently slow moving wheels of democracy and international consensus building.
As a military entity, the new NATO would have the greatest destructive power that any nation can now wield, minus the inflexibility (whose actual source is political accountability — not that the authors care to mention this), providing military forces with the very same strengths that terrorists now use to such great effect:
Asymmetry will be used by all conflict parties, which means both that our side must be more prepared for the unexpected than ever before, and that the opponent must never know how, where or when we will act. To act asymmetrically could well be an instrument in regaining the initiative and could require deployment of the full range of options, from diplomacy to military intervention. Nuclear escalation is the ultimate step in responding asymmetrically, and at the same time the most powerful way of inducing uncertainty in an opponent’s mind.
It is important, furthermore, to have dominance over the opponent’s ability to calculate his risks. It is a very important element of strategy to keep things unpredictable for the opponent, who must never be able to know, or calculate, what action we will take. It is essential to maintain this dimension of psychological warfare by instilling fear in an opponent, to retain an element of surprise and thus deny him the opportunity of calculating the risk.
What the authors neglect to spell out is that there is actually only one way of credibly employing such a strategy: A willingness to engage in nuclear escalation would have to be proved through the use of nuclear weapons; otherwise it will be seen as an empty threat.
When the Grand Strategy was presented to the foreign-policy wonks at CSIS, the nuclear issue was not even mentioned. The realists would prefer to couch this strategic initiative in the seemingly benign terms of a much-needed renewal of the much-revered transatlantic alliance. This, they want to suggest, is a significant departure from the unilateralism of the Bush era and a recommitment to cooperation and a recognition of mutual dependence between long-allied nations. This is a welcome return to internationalism.
Select the right strands of the analysis and this is what one might come up with. But then we have to return to Gen. Klaus Naumann’s unvarnished remarks that appears at the top of this article. The issue here is not merely about re-tooling the operational structure of NATO; it’s about beating back the barbarians who are pounding at the gates. They, he says, out number us. Our survival is at stake. If we are going to effectively defend ourselves we need to unleash our ultimate strength and enter a brave new world of nuclear warfare. This goes beyond the boilerplate of “keeping all options on the table” — this is about shaping expectations by using those options.
As a policy document, who is to say whether the Grand Strategy will soon be forgotten and gather dust as quickly as have so many others. Its significance, however, may lay elsewhere, not as much in its details but as an enunciation of a broadly felt sense that Western power is threatened; that the relative stability of the West has been a testament to our values more than our ability to dominate the rest of the world; that the enterprise of Westernizing the world is now doomed to fail and that self-preservation has become the primary challenge.
To those who regard Western global dominance as a testament to the West’s inherent superiority, Western power must be guarded vigilantly. What the Western preservationists fail to admit is that the civilization they are so desperate to defend, no longer exists.