Are we actually taking strategy seriously?

Can we take grand strategy seriously?

  • Yes we can!

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  • No we can't

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From Kings of War Are we serious? by The Faceless Bureaucrat
In my house, I have a bomb-shelter. It is complete with blast-proof door, overpressure ventilation, the works. I am not a survivalist; all my neighbours have one, too. The country within which I live decided, in 1971, that it should be the law that all houses be constructed with such shelters, adding approximately $1000 per person to the construction cost of each private residence, and much more when collective shelters are taken into account. The point is, the citizens of this country decided to take the threat of nuclear anhilation seriously, seriously enough to warrant laws, costs, etc. One wonders what, if anything, would make us act so seriously today. (If, for instance, a government were serious about climate change, could it mandate that each home be built with 10 square metres of solar panelling? Imagine the howling…)

But seriously. Andrew Bacevich writes an interesting article in today’s New York Times. In it, he asks General Petreaus four questions about the war in Iraq:

1. Please tell us how this war will end.

2. Please provide an approximation of when it will end.

3. How much longer can our ground forces sustain these demands (on US ground forces)?

4. What actions would you propose to alleviate the pressure?

Now, on one level, these seem like reasonable questions…if one were posing them to the contractor renovating one’s basement.

But are they reasonable in today’s context? Is the US (as a country) at war, or not? Certainly no one asked Eisenhower (much less Patton), ‘Are you serious?’ The notion of ‘unconditional surrender’, coupled with the reaslisation that after the war the Allies would have to shape the peace, pretty much made such questions irrelevant.

In that context, the answers would have been:

1. The war will end with the Allies in a position to exert their influence, at a dominating level, across those points and people in the world deemed to be of strategic importance, with a continuned ability to defeat opposition to the achievment of this position, if necessary.

2. The war will end when para 1 above has been achieved.

3. As long as necessary.

4. We will take whatever actions (far beyond ’stop-loss’, to be sure) to ensure that our ground forces are able to contribute to the achievement of those conditions outlined in para 1 above.

Since answers such as these hypotheticals do not appear possible today, what does that say about the level of seriousness with which this ‘project’ (war or otherwise) is taken?

In order to eschew the need for such questions, it is probably necessary to have a clear idea of what we are fighting for, and what it is we are trying to achieve (I clearly us the first-person plural here in the rhetorical sense). Henry Kissinger would like it if such a seriousness were evident, at least to the extent that serious conversations on the future ’state of the world’ were possible. In the International Herald Tribune today, he outlines three ’simultaneous revolutions occurring around the globe’ that need to be taken seriously and the implications of which need to be grappled.

a) the transformation of the traditional state system of Europe;

b) the radical Islamist challenge to historic notions of sovereignty; and

c) the drift of the center of gravity of international affairs from the Atlantic to the Pacific and Indian Oceans.

Perhaps a debate on such issues is possible at some levels, but is it likely to be taken seriously by decision makers and citizens? It hardly seems likely.
Interesting list of problems for the US leadership. You might add global warming and point out what a pious farce Kyoto has turned into.

More from Dr K:
No previous generation has had to deal with different revolutions occurring simultaneously in separate parts of the world. The quest for a single, all-inclusive remedy is chimerical.

In Europe, the civil society is congruent with the political structure of states but not - at least yet - with the political structure of the European Union.

In the Middle East, civil society is being shaped by transnational forces at odds with the internal structure of many states.

In the Atlantic area, the challenge is how to evolve institutions that bring the willingness to sacrifice for the future into balance with the requirements of international order.

In the Islamic world, the jihadists are prepared to sacrifice all notions of civil society to the pursuit of an apocalyptic utopia.

In Asia, in terms of classical diplomacy, two kinds of adjustments will define 21st-century diplomacy: the relationship between the great Asian powers, China, India, Japan and possibly Indonesia, and how America and China deal with each other.

In a world in which the sole superpower is a proponent of the prerogatives of the traditional nation-state, in which Europe is stuck in a halfway status, in which the Middle East does not fit the nation-state model and faces a religiously motivated revolution, and in which the nation-states of South and East Asia still practice the balance of power, what is the nature of the international order that can accommodate these different perspectives?

Are existing international organizations adequate for this purpose? If not, which changes would be desirable? What goals can America set realistically for itself and the world community? Can we make the transformation of major countries a condition for reliable progress, or need we concentrate on a less crusading purpose?

What objectives must be sought in concert, and what are the extreme circumstances that would justify unilateral action? What is the style of leadership most likely to achieve these aims?

This is the kind of debate we need, not slogans driven by focus groups for daily headlines.
Dodgy first paragraph there; 1916 was rather obviously more rich with revolutionary challenges as was most of the 20th century. Failing to accurately assess threats in a historical context is at the root of the effete tendency to hysteria in security policy. I'm thinking of a certain Mr Blair rating a few bearded saddos cooking up TATP in the bath a greater threat to Britain than the Luftwaffe ever was.

I do join the good Dr in gagging on a gullet full of audacious hope though.

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