Sunday, December 17, 2006

Grand strategies or delusions of grandeur

David Seaton's News Links
There is an interesting article in today's Washington Post by Professor Daniel W. Drezner of Tufts University where he outlines a series of "grand strategies" proposed by foreign policy analysts who he postulates as possible successors to George F. Kennan, the State Department analyst whose oft misinterpreted, but seminal article, "The Sources of Soviet Conduct" in the July 1947 issue of Foreign Affairs, was the foundational document of the US policy of "containment." On reading the article Drezner will take you on a quick tour of a series of well argued ideas for how the US should conduct itself in foreign affairs. Drezner's "original sin" is having the hubris to compare today's America with the America of the late 40s and early 50s when America's cold war strategies were formed and to believe that America, instead of being driven by events, in fact continues to have the power to actually decide what path it will finally take. George Will quoting author Bill Bryson in the November 26th Washington Post, describes the America of the 50s:
"In 1951, when the average American ate 50 percent more than the average European, Americans(...) controlled two-thirds of the world's productive capacity, owned 80 percent of the world's electrical goods, and produced more than 40 percent of its electricity, 60 percent of its oil and 66 percent of its steel. America's 5 percent of the world's population had more wealth than the other 95 percent, and Americans made almost all of what they consumed: 99.93 percent of new cars sold in this country in 1954 were U.S. brands. By the end of the '50s, GM was a bigger economic entity than Belgium, and Los Angeles had more cars than did Asia."
Obviously anyone who still sees American power in these terms, or the role of America that flowed from that power in these terms today is delusional. You only need to compare the Marshall Plan with the pitiful effort in Afghanistan to get an idea of the slide. The world has changed a lot since the 50s or even the 70s as Christian Reiermann wrote in Der Speigel apropos the falling value of the dollar,
"The perils of a currency crash are not nearly as great as they were in the days of the dollar's absolute dominance 30 or 40 years ago. Globalization has led to the development of a number of growth centers in the world economy which share the burden of turbulence. Gone are the days when an American finance minister could boast: "The dollar is our currency, but it's your problem."
This quote, as well as any, describes the general situation. What about military power? Isn't the US the unchallenged hegemon? Certainly nobody is crazy enough to think of invading the USA, the question for everybody else is rather if the United State is going to invade them. French demographer Emmanuel Todd describes recent US power projection in Grenada, Panama and Kosovo as "theatrical micromilitarism", a strategy that neocon Michael Ladeen describes as, "Every now and then America needs to pick up some shitty little country and throw it against the wall just to show that it can". Obviously Iraq has proved that the all volunteer Army simply doesn't have the numbers to occupy and control a large, hostile country after it has been "thrown against the wall." To change that would mean a return to the draft would be necessary, with US draftees and "draftettes" playing the role of Israeli soldiers on the West Bank all over the Middle East and beyond... For a "generation. Never say never, but a return to the draft doesn't really look very likely. That leaves air power. America is unchallenged in the air, right? Again the problem America's possible adversaries face is not having to invade US air space, but to prevent the USA from invading theirs. In the case of Iran, one of the most significant, but little discussed, developments has been Russia's delivery of the Tor antiaircraft system, to quote the Israeli DEBKAfile,
"a weapon widely regarded as the most advanced of its kind in the world. Some Iranian and Russian air defense experts say its full deployment at Iran’s nuclear installations will make them virtually invulnerable to American or Israeli attack in the foreseeable future."
Also little noticed, if Google searches are any yardstick, is the Russian development of the
Triumf anti-aircraft system, said to be the most advanced in the world. The Federation of American Scientist, FAS describes Trumf as,
"intended to detect and destroy airborne targets at a distance of up to 400 km (2- 2.5 times greater than the previous S-300PMU system). The Triumf system includes radars capable of detecting low-signature targets. And the anti-missile capability of the system has been increased to the limits established by the ABM Treaty demarcation agreements -- it can intercept targets with velocities of up to 4.8 km/sec, corresponding to a ballistic missile range of 3,500 km."
Then, of course there are China's advances in "passive radar" research and then even the invisible "stealth" technology that allows the USAF to bomb invulnerably around the world would be neutralized. "Theatrical micromilitarism" as a strategy of dominance would be finished. The United States would be as invulnerable to military attack by land sea or air as it always has, but would no longer be invulnerable or nearly invulnerable when attacking. At this point the American people might ask themselves, as many are doing already, the reason for spending so much of the US budget on "Full Spectrum Dominance" when some 40million of its citizens are without health insurance and the old-age pension system is said to be in danger of bankruptcy. DS

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