US Army Recognizes the End of American Supremacy
The White House may think a show of force in the Middle East and Asia will bring American supremacy back. However, a new study conducted by the U.S. Army War College says the country is in far more serious trouble.
The new report, entitled “At Our Own Peril: DOD Risk Assessment in a Post-primacy World”, was published in June 2017 by the Strategic Studies Institute and the U.S. Army War College Press, both reporting to the Pentagon. After a year-long analysis, it states with boldness that U.S. dominance over world defense is now at an end, for the first time since World War II as a minimum. It also suggests there may not be much that can be done to restore it.
The Post-primacy World
The report refers to “the era of post-primacy” and says that “in brief, the status quo that was hatched and nurtured by U.S. strategists after World War II and has for decades been the principal ‘beat’ for DOD is not merely fraying but may, in fact, be collapsing.”
It goes on to say that the United States has been moving into a new third transformational era since the end of the Cold War, a time that is generally clocked as beginning at the fall of the Soviet Union in the 1980s. According to the analysis, the first two of those eras are as follows:
• The post-cold War period: “A time when the United States and its military benefited from unprecedented reach and advantage vis-à-vis the nearest or most threatening of its state rivals.”
• The post-9/11 period: The period between the attack on the Twin Towers and the present, this is described as a time when “the United States and its defense establishment suffered a disruptive ‘strategic shock,’” with that shock characterized by the shattering realization that the old logic of how to fight wars, as well as even what a war consists of, will no longer work.
The era the country is moving into now is what the report calls “the post-primacy world.” According to the analysis, it is described as having the following interrelated characteristics:
• Hyper-connectivity and weaponization of information, disinformation and disaffection
• A rapidly fracturing post-cold War status quo
• Proliferation, diversification and atomization of effective counter-u.s. resistance
• Resurgent but transformed great power competition
• Violent or disruptive dissolution of political cohesion and identity
The report goes on to say that “while the United
States remains a global political, economic and military giant, it no longer enjoys an unassailable position versus state competitors. Further, it remains buffeted by a range of metastasizing violent or disruptive nonstate challengers, and it is under stress – as are all states – from the dispersion and diffusion of effective resistance and the varied forces of disintegrating or fracturing political authority.”
In this post-primacy world, the old ways in which the Department of Defense (DOD) was set up to manage situations will no longer work. As examples:
• Change is coming on faster than ever before, especially when it comes to the issues of who, how and when enemies will emerge and with what kinds of strategies, tactics and weapons. The rise of Al Qaeda and how it operated was a beginning clue. The multi-headed hydra of ISIS is following a path born of Al Qaeda but is very much “on steroids” compared to that older organization that so terrorized the world and infuriated those who tried to combat it.
• The concept of nation states is increasingly meaningless as a way of managing defense, policy and military strategy. Alliances are also far more complex than in past decades, with continuous fracturing and reforming that defies the old more deliberate and slow-to-change chess-like moves of the past. With such fracturing, it has become a world that the study refers to as one where battles are now fought “on quicksand” from a strategic standpoint. As the struggle happens above the muck, those fighting find themselves sucked down into a mess that is even more treacherous than the battles they had launched above it.
• The enemies themselves are multiplying quickly around the world, diversifying in their own agendas, means of attack and connections almost on a day-by-day basis. The “atomization of effective counter-u.s. resistance,” as the report refers to one of the challenges of the current era, means these are no longer groups one can handle with bigger tanks, faster missiles and an intelligence apparatus dating back to the era of James Bond and “The Spy Who Came in From the Cold.”
• The power structures and alliances that might be beaten down one day no longer stay dead. Instead, they re-emerge again and again with resilience, often even stronger than before. Think of it as a game of whack-a-mole where the mole doesn’t just continue to re-emerge but reappears stronger and more unpredictable every single moment.
• Political cohesion and identity are also part of the same quicksand, constantly shifting even when the outside label for what we may think we are looking at stays the same. At a macro level, power shifts like this being the era of the nationalist strongman in countries like India (with Modi), the Philippines (with Duterte) and the United States (with Trump, though at present he seems, to many, more emasculated than bold) are one such example. The drastic European power shifts at the borders of Ukraine and the Russian Federation, the Brexit move by the United Kingdom and even France’s new leadership are also built on shifting sands. At a micro level, the smaller power groups that mostly undermine all the way to the more serious multi-country loose alliances, like those controlled by ISIS and its sympathizers, are also good examples. The political world is changing, faster than a shape-shifter from fictional tales of wizards and demons.
In facing all this, the problem is that, as the report points out, “most of the instruments, approaches, concepts and resources that have historically either helped the U.S. defense enterprise generate advantages or adapt to change are likely not keeping pace with the strategic change afoot in the post-primacy era.” With a military and a U.S. Congress both built rigidly to defend the older models of defense, “for the foreseeable future, all of the Dod’s risk-informed choices will occur under pressure from post-primacy’s transformational strategic forces and conditions.”
The Six Enduring Defense Objectives
Fortunately for those developing policies for the current era, there are still recognizable models for analyzing defense strategy.
One of the more useful ones is what the report refers to as the “six enduring defense objectives.” These are simply stated and have guided strategy for easily more than a hundred years. They are as follows:
• Secure U.S. territory, people, infrastructure and property against significant harm.
• Secure access to the global commons and strategic regions, markets and resources.
• Meet foreign security obligations.
• Underwrite a stable, resilient, rules-based international order.
• Build and maintain a favorable and adaptive global security architecture.
• Create, preserve and extend U.S. military advantage and options.
The report moves on to analyze each of these in turn.
On the first of these (secure U.S. territory, people, infrastructure and property against significant harm), while the goal still stands, the report makes it clear it will be more difficult than ever to achieve it on a continuous basis. The report’s authors state that “American senior leaders will be increasingly taxed to cut down or limit the vectors by which direct threats arrive to undermine the basic security of the United States and its people, territory and holdings. Both consequential threats and effective responses are more sophisticated and diverse than at any time in U.S. history.” While this may seem the most conventional of the defense goal areas, it is also one that is increasingly vulnerable to small group attacks and infiltration.
The second defense objective (secure access to the global commons and strategic regions, markets and resources) is another well-understood key to the country’s safety, security and future and is even more at risk in the modern era. As the report summarizes, “The United States and its international partners rely on unimpeded access to air, sea, space, cyberspace and the electromagnetic spectrum in order to underwrite their security and prosperity. Indeed, even states and actors with which the United States has substantial disputes also benefit from the free and open use of what have been universally recognized as international common spaces and resources. All five of the aforementioned domains or environments are increasingly vulnerable to the predations of malicious nonstate actors as well as states seeking to extend their influence and exploit obvious competitor vulnerabilities. In the process, they are increasingly limiting or constraining American freedom of action as well.” It is important to note that in an era where moves like the Patriot Act, in its broad-based surveillance of telecommunications and immigration restrictions, seem overreaching to the public, it is at least reassuring that the DOD sees the “deal with the devil” as a possible necessity for protecting this aspect of security.
The third issue (meet foreign security obligations) is about far more than acting as the “global cop” that flies out to protect everybody else. Strategically, the report begins its discussion of this objective by saying that “yet another consistent component of U.S. defense policy for the past 25 years has been an abiding American commitment to the security of treaty allies and major nontreaty international partners.” It goes on to say that “this near-innate responsibility for the defense of a constellation of commonly recognized and mutually supportive international partners is born as much out of an American instinct for realist self-preservation as it is selflessness.” Those guidelines have shaped policy for a long time. Unfortunately, as the report says, “an important feature of the post-primacy environment is the increasing adherence to self-interest first among Western politicians and other U.S. allies,” also known as “the nationalization movement.” (Think “America First” from President Trump and the forces that drove the United Kingdom to vote to exit the European Union.) The report goes on to say that this shift “leaves the United States facing the prospect of being at risk and friendless in an increasingly hostile environment where barriers to entry into effective counter-u.s. resistance are increasingly lower.”
The fourth defense objective on the list (underwrite a stable, resilient, rules-based international order) is still a valid goal, but it, too, has become far messier. As the report states, “Up to 9/11, that operative order was perceived to be dominated by the well-practiced, often-predictable competitive and cooperative relationships between states…. Since 9/11, however, U.S. perceptions of both the complexity of the contemporary order (or disorder) and its inherent hazards have grown more sophisticated, uncertain, unsettling and confounding.”
As to what is destabilizing the current world structures, the report rightly states that “the greatest source of stress lies in an inherent dynamism in the character and velocity of consequential change in strategic conditions. General [David] Petraeus is instructive here
‘Americans should not take the current international order for granted. It did not will itself into existence. [The United States] created it. Likewise, it is not self-sustaining. [The United States has] sustained it. If [the United States] stops doing so, it will fray and, eventually, collapse.’”
The United States has failed miserably in keeping up with the changes in this world order as it has changed. As the report puts it, “U.S. adjustment to the post-primacy era has been uneven at best. What can be perceived by foreign rivals or domestic partisan opposition as fecklessness on the part of those charged with U.S. foreign and security policy might instead simply be confusion – confusion about the proximate source and nature of consequential hazards, the risks associated with action or inaction against them and the stability of the foundation upon which past best practice has most often ably averted military catastrophe, contagious insecurity and uncontrolled disorder.”
This is also a world where “past best practice is increasingly ineffective. Revisionist or revolutionary powers such as China, Russia, Iran and North Korea demonstrate a penchant for paralyzing, counter-u.s. gray zone competition. Vulnerable states are also falling victim to more organic networked rejectionist forces and movements that effectively challenge the legitimate exercise of political authority wherever they emerge. The growth, persistent presence and corrosive impact of these stateless environmental forces lead to noticeable spikes in terrorism, insurgency and civil conflict and undermine the U.s.-led order often less by purpose than by implication. In reality, the ‘rules’ in ‘rules-based’ are failing and the United States is struggling to keep pace.”
The fifth of the defense objectives (build and maintain a favorable and adaptive global security architecture) is also in tatters. It only works with careful attention to the global network of alliances and partnerships around the world and continuously repairing and updating the U.S. role within that network. The report observes on this point that “those relationships are admittedly under increasing internal and external pressure. The United States would be well-served to adapt and also expand its alliances to create a more robust network of mutual support and collective security – all transcending geography, functional demand and purposeful and contextual hazards.” For now, however, the United States seems far more preoccupied with pulling away from those relationships and insisting on operating as much in isolation as possible.
On the last of the defense objectives (create, preserve and extend U.S. military advantage and options), while the authors of the report see it as feasible to maintain, it is increasingly difficult to achieve. They say that from a practical standpoint “decisive or definitive defeat of adversaries may not always be realistic, as it may simply exceed U.S. risk and cost thresholds…. Here, defense and military leaders will face the unsatisfying requirement to contain hazards at an acceptable cost to prevent strategic exhaustion or the fatal erosion of U.S. and partner interests.” The “post-primacy reality demands a wider and more flexible military force that can generate advantage and options across the broadest possible range of military demand.” Doing so may not be feasible for both economic and political reasons, many of which are happening beyond U.S. borders and are therefore also beyond U.S. control.
The Post-primacy World’s Constant Characteristics
In working to defend these objectives, the authors of the report go on to say that there are two specific characteristics the United States will likely be dealing with for the foreseeable future.
The first, noted earlier in this article, is that every struggle, every strategy and every assumption is built on quicksand. The metaphor is both powerful and appropriate in that it first says whatever foundation the United States and its military may have assumed for a conflict is likely going to shift and change under their feet, from the beginning. It is a fitting description secondly in that what the conflict “sinks into” – with each new attempt to wrestle out of it – has a high potential of being more treacherous than the way it started.
The report itself describes this by saying that, in the post-primacy era, “all states great and small are increasingly ‘wrestling on quicksand.’ In summary, the nexus of hyper-connectivity, distributed sources of identity and allegiance, profound discontent and political factionalism are merging with access to the means of meaningful resistance, harm and disruption to dangerous effect. Therefore, while the United States and China compete for Pacific primacy, for example, they do so on a less stable political foundation than in the past. Moreover, this reality holds for virtually all states regardless of their inherent stability, political orientation, external alignment or foreign activism.”
The report also goes on to point out about this “fighting on quicksand” situation that “as the Pentagon contemplates future strategy and risk, it will need to come to terms with a generalized erosion or dissolution of traditional authority structures. To date, U.S. strategists have been fixated on this trend in the greater Middle East. However, the same forces at work there are similarly eroding the reach and authority of governments worldwide.”
The second characteristic is that the post-world War II period of one war followed by another is now morphing into something crazier and more unpredictable than ever before. The term for it used in this report is “Persistent Conflict 2.0.” As the report puts it, “the new post-primacy era of constant competition and conflict will witness meaningful struggles for political power and primacy occurring simultaneously at multiple levels between, within and across states. Consequential conflict will no longer be confined to wars between states or between large rival constituencies within states. Instead, it will transcend boundaries; emerge from widely diverse motivations; persist on the back of inconvenient, incorrect, toxic or perilous information; and, finally, be waged with an unbounded and diverse tool set that will persistently defy conventional security wisdom. Warning of its onset will often be ambiguous or unrecognizable until hostilities are well under way as well.”
The solutions, according to the report, fall into the following four major governing principles to guide strategic direction and action:
• Ensure “diversity in the hazards and associated defense demands considered in risk assessment by senior leaders.”
• Recognize “the inherent dynamism in the character, importance and urgency of Dod’s current and projected capability, capacity and organizational agility to respond to a fluid decision-making environment.”
• Practice “persistent dialog” to “specifically encourage senior defense leadership to engage in a deliberate, sophisticated and structured discussion to account for and adapt to the aforementioned diverse and dynamic aspects of the decision-making environment.”
• Make “a commitment to constant risk-based adaptation,” including “routine risk choices like avoidance, acceptance, transfer and mitigation.”
In all these governing principles, the report points out that while they themselves may have their own complications in being brought to reality, “in light of the velocity of change in the post-primacy environment, current conceptions of these ideas may be too conservative. In short, the era of marginal or incremental adjustment may be void under many post-primacy circumstances.”
In short, the United States not only has to live in the new post-primacy world; it also no longer has the luxury of having much time to figure out what might be the best course of action in each situation.
Above all, the report makes it clear not just that the United States is no longer in the top leadership position it once was in world affairs but “between the lines” of the report is the message that perhaps no nation could ever be in that position again. But then again, no nation has been so long in charge that its falling from being the one in charge would be as significant for its real power on the world stage as what is currently happening with the United States.
A second major takeaway from the report is that the current U.s.-driven policy of “America First” and nationalist objectives are the worst possible choices to be making right now. With the complex network of both allies, enemies and potential threats surrounding the world, the act of isolating this country from others is foolhardy at best.
One can hope that with groups such as the Strategic Studies Institute and the U.S. Army War College Press behind this particular report, even with the White House direction currently off-target, perhaps the Pentagon leadership can help steer the United States toward a better-balanced long-term set of foreign policies, based on the recommendations of the report.
The report makes it clear that this is also an era where image and manipulation of that image are critical to the future strength and security of the United States. It specifically refers to the use of “gray zone” techniques, involving “means and methods falling far short of unambiguous or open provocation or conflict.” While the report does say that “murkier, less obvious forms of state-based aggression” are completely unacceptable, it then flips on itself to advocate that the country is going to need to “go gray or go home.” While the specifics are not shown, use of careful messaging and directed propaganda are urged to proceed at a higher level than perhaps at any other time in the nation’s history.
In sync with this, managing the nation’s image is also important. This is why North Korea’s threats to the world – and the United States in particular – are so important to counter. War with that country would certainly be a disaster, with the potential for it rapidly deteriorating into a global conflict that could spiral into nuclear war that could wipe out much of the life on Earth.
Where the Report Utterly Fails
The Report perpetuates a deep cultural delusion that the United States should militarily dominate the world and that it has the right to impose its will on the rest of the world to support the American way of life.
It is this arrogance and delusion that has helped make the world the mess that it is and eroded American influence, wealth and the well-being of its citizens.
Since it was founded, the United States has imposed its will on other nations. It has overthrown democratic governments and installed brutal dictators in order to support the profits of American corporations, keep other nations impoverished and weak and to perpetuate conflict—all while claiming that it was spreading democracy.
Because the American propaganda machine was so mighty, much of the world bought into the American delusion and lies for a long time. With the expansion
of the Internet and the free flow of information the world has learned the truth and now the United States is the most hated nation on Earth and recognized as the greatest threat to world peace and prosperity.
America's arrogance has ensured its own downfall.
A type of insanity infects Washington, the ruling class and many American citizens. They ignore the greater reality and continue to immerse themselves in the delusion that America is the greatest nation and has the right to impose its will on other countries.
Sadly, humans are prone to insanity by nature and we only have to look back on our history to recognize it. Nothing could stop German insanity except great loss of life and extreme force. Russian insanity did not abate until its essentially became bankrupt and could no longer maintain control over its people. The insanity started by Mao Zedong did not end with the death of 35 million Chinese and continues to fuel China's aggression and aspirations for global dominance.
The Report also fails to recognize the internal threats that America faces. It doesn't meantion how the CIA manufactured and continues to support Islamic terrorists in order to justify perpetual war and the ongoing theft of Americans' tax dollars.
It does not mention how the Pentagon refuses to account for $10 trillion.
While the Army's report is important and Americans should be aware of it, vastly more is needed for America to change its future and ensure its survival.
If America is to avoid its rapidly approaching fascist future and ultimate downfall it must look much deeper and overcome its delusions.
The world needs a sane America that works with other nations rationally based on facts and doesn't try to dominate them or perpetuate falsehoods.
It needs us to recognize the rot and criminality that infects our government and for the people to regain control of it. They need us to understand that the purpose of the government is to serve the needs of the people, not rule them or even lead them.
The rest of the world needs us to recognize the hopeless corruption in both the Republican and Democratic parties and choose another path.
It needs us to wake up and create deep fundamental change in our own country before we tell other countries how to manage their affairs.