Friday, June 16, 2017

Preposterous Future

The Colonel thinks a lot about the future these days.  Anyone who is a serious student of history can't help but.  It's been said that history doesn't repeat itself..., but it rhymes really well.  The Colonel believes that one of history's greatest lessons is the inevitability of certain themes repeating themselves.

There was a time, early in his life, that the Colonel bought into the naive school of thought that mankind was "progressing" beyond the base natures by which the actions of competing civilizations had been ordered.      

But now, with the advantage of age and experience, the Colonel sees the future as certain as the past.  His crystal ball is murkier than a stock tank in a West Texas drought, but it really doesn't take any particular clarity to predict more of the same.

In an interesting, if a bit hyperbolic and stilted, book, "The Coming War with Japan," published in 1991, the authors' preface began with the following:

            "Imagine being alive in the summer of 1900. Europe was powerful, peaceful, and rich. Could you have imagined the devastation of 1920, the fall of the Kaiser, the Russian Revolution? Could anyone, then, have imagined the summer of 1940? Germany resurgent, France crushed, Britain fighting for its life. Or, in the summer of 1940, could anyone have imagined 1960? Europe divided and occupied by Americans and Soviets, the British and French empires gone, a nation called Israel arisen. In 1960, could anyone have imagined the summer of 1980? America in retreat, defeated by Vietnam, reeling before the Iranians, allied with Communist China. One would ask about the man in the summer of 1980 trying to imagine the summer of 2000, but he would already be so flabbergasted by the summer of 1990 that there would be no need to force him to strain his already stricken imagination. In 1980 anyone who predicted the collapse of the communism would have been ridiculed. Yet if there is one thing that the twentieth century ought to have taught us, it is that the commonsense approach to history is almost invariably doomed to be wrong, and that the most preposterous expectations are usually closer to the mark."
The Colonel would add to this train of thought that the man in 2000 could scarcely imagine the events of September 11th, 2001, and the subsequent Global War on Terror.  Nor could that man imagine, given the horrific attack on America, that war fought in a fecklessly limited and incrementally fashion, and stretched over nearly an entire generation.

War is the natural condition of man.  A major war has convulsed the globe in nearly every generation dating back as far as one wishes to study.  Minor wars simmer constantly.  The Clausewitzian view of war is that it is an extension of politics.  If so, then politics is defined by conflict between competing worldviews and the desire for power and control of resources.   The causes for war have not been eliminated nor even diminished with the progress of "civilized" nations.  Even attempts to prevent war or to punish aggressors and "make right" (restore borders and sovereignty) requires the application of force with the tools of war, notwithstanding limited efficacy of diplomatic and economic sanctions.   

So, any futurist forecast for the remainder of the 21st Century must include war, and lots of it.

Thankfully, just as there is a symbiotic link between tactics and technology -- each spurring change and advancement in the other -- there is always a globally beneficial technological byproduct of war, even if some cultures or societies are destroyed by that war.  As horrific as were the costs of the two world wars in the first half of the 20th Century, the survivors (both victors and vanquished) were the beneficiaries of technological advances spurred by the tactical exigencies and casualty responses of those wars.

Now, before those of you with hands over mouths in abject horror click to more palatable reading fare, please know that the Colonel is not making a case for the morality of war.  Far from it.  War, in and of itself, is amoral.  The Colonel is merely making a case for the acceptance of war as an inescapable consequence of the nature of humanity, and positing that societies that prepare for war's inevitability are more likely to survive and thrive in the aftermath.

The Colonel's foundational premise is this:  War happens, and will continue to happen.  

Given that, what would be the best strategic course of action for our Republic over the next 50 to 100 years?  Allow the Colonel to, in the words of the above quoted book's authors, dispense with "the commonsense approach... [which is] almost invariably doomed to be wrong," and propose his own set of "most preposterous expectations [that] are usually closer to the mark."

Possible Major Wars of the 21st Century

Europe.  The fault lines over which future major wars will rupture the crust of extant societies and their allies are as numerous and germane as they ever were.  Today, Europe seems historically serene and cooperative, notwithstanding current tensions over immigration and economic bloc bureaucracies.  But age-old animosities, and desire for relative power position and resource control, simmer like volcanic hot spots over which the thin veneer of continental cooperation floats.  There were three major and several minor wars in Europe in the 80 years before the middle of the last century (and that prevalence of war in nearly every generation was not unusual in Europe's history).  Post-WWII U.S. occupation of Europe and the subsequent nuclear annihilation consequence of the NATO - Soviet Cold War (not to mention wide-scale destruction requiring multiple generations' work from which to recover) has prevented a major war in Europe.  But, the tamping lid of U.S. occupation has all but been completely removed.  Soviet expansionism has been replaced by resurgent Russian Imperialism, the most effective tactic of which at present seems to be active meddling (if not outright interference) in the electoral affairs of nations with which it sees itself in competition or wishes to draw within its orbit.

Russia, whose influence, in a perfect world, could be a force for stability and cooperation in Europe, will instead continue to foment instability to its own advantage.  This instability will manifest itself in conflict between European nations, notwithstanding the supposed stabilizing effect of the NATO alliance and the European Economic Community.  Major war in Europe within the next two generations is all but guaranteed; and, while it may not necessarily involve Russia directly, it will be as a result of Russia's actions to undermine European cooperation.

Asia - Pacific Rim.  Europe is not unique in the possession of casus belli fault lines.  China's relentless long march from colonial backwater to nascent global economic and military superpower has finally begun to suck all the oxygen out of the room, and the rest of the region is on notice.  China has many of the same ethnic and religious undercurrents that gave us the term "balkanized" with the removal of the Tito lid in Yugoslavia.  To keep 1.4 billion citizens' focus off of ethnic tension, China uses economic growth and nationalism.  Economic growth cannot be maintained in perpetuity. So, the Chinese leadership has inexorably built a world class military with which to leverage nationalism through -- you guessed it -- war.  

Within Asia exists the same sorts of ancient animosities and resource control tensions as seen in Europe.  While America's Pacific strategy has waffled and swung widely over the last half-century, the direction of China's strategic activities has not altered significantly.  The nations of the Pacific Rim have begun calculating with whom to rely in their best interests -- the U.S. or China.  American military tripwires are laid throughout the region and the possibility of an increasingly active projection of Chinese force (not to mention China's erratic client -- North Korea) coming in contact with the forces of the United States or its allies is higher than it has been since 1975.  Even the slightest miscalculation by the Chinese could lead to open conflict, from which Chinese nationalistic pride (and political leadership survival) will not allow it to pull back.  A major war in the Western Pacific Rim within the next two generations is as great a possibility as that of war in Europe.  

Africa and the Middle East.  The fault lines in North Africa and the Middle East need little explanation.  Interestingly, the region's future will be heavily influenced by the two major players mentioned above -- Russia and China.  Russia seeks renewed influence and resource control in the Middle East, and China sees sub-Saharan Africa as a critical source of rare metals and materials vital to its military modernization and nationalistically motivated space endeavors.  Both nations have been at least as active in the region as has been the United States.  The nations of the region are making the same calculations about the long-term reliability of the United States as are the nations of the Pacific Rim.

The United States' "Global War on Terror," largely centered on this region, has been tactically successful, but strategically ineffective.  First of all, the limited war has been fought against a tactic -- terror.  War against a tactic is ludicrous.  Had the war against Japan in the early 1940's been fought the same way, the United States would still be locked in a low-level tactical struggle with Japan.   Successful war is waged not against the an adversary nation's tactics, but against that adversary's will to continue to employ that tactic or materially support organizations that do.  

While the Global War on Terror has served to assuage the United States' anger over 9/11, and kept terror organizations on their back feet, it has largely been a generation of lost blood and treasure without a significant decrease in the material support by nations in the region to those terror organizations.  If anything, material support from adversary nations has increased.

Until Western nations, led by the United States, carries the fight to the nations materially supporting organizations employing terror tactics, there will continue to be terror attacks throughout the West. A critical component of this fight must also include ramping up the nascent attempts at discrediting the underlying jihadist ideology.  But, the fight will not be won with the current "Long War" philosophy.  Western societies in general and American society in particular have no stomach for long limited wars.  Nor should they. 

At any rate, notwithstanding multiple American administrations' attempts to broker a substantive and comprehensive peace based on the errant goal of solving the actually narrow "Palestinian issue" (read "Arab excuse"), multiple sectarian fault lines, tribal animosities, and squabbles over borders imposed at the end of the colonial era will continue to act as casus belli for minor wars for generations to come; with potential development into major regional conflicts with Russian and/or American involvement.  

The Americas.  The Colonel intentionally left the Western Hemisphere for last, because he fervently believes that the future of the aforementioned regions has great bearing on the strategy that he believes our Republic must adopt with regard to the "American Hemisphere."  In comparison with engagement and encirclement strategies in Europe, Asia-Pacific, Africa, and the Middle East, a Western Hemisphere-centric approach to the strategic imperatives of commerce, resource control, and defensible frontiers is a far easier strategic endeavor.  

The Colonel does not propose a complete withdrawal from the other regions of the globe.  Engagement with long-time allies does not have to cease or even diminish, even if our Republic's focus shifts dramatically from the regions in which those allies exist to a truly "America First" strategy.  The Colonel's "America First" strategy is not the narrow, populist, isolationist view of the majority of the current administration's political base.  Far from it.  The Colonel's "America First" could be called  the "American Hemisphere First" strategy.

But, let's keep it simple, shall we?  

An "America First" grand national strategy would seek to strengthen the entire Western Hemisphere, drawing all the nations of the hemisphere into a tight, mutually beneficial relationship.

Look, the people of our hemisphere -- North, Central, and South America -- have far more in common with each other than with the peoples and cultures of most of the rest of the world.  Even the language barrier is far less of an issue than exists among the nations of Europe or Asia, or even among the nations in the current Russian Federation.

The Colonel's vision of a perfect world is a pan-hemispheric Republic stretching from the Hudson Bay to Tierra del Fuego with a maritime-centric military strategy designed to, a) ensure world-wide freedom of navigation for commerce, and b) hemispheric oceanic control for defense.  Land forces would be maintained and structured primarily for continental defense, recognizing the near impossibility and unnecessary expense of maintaining land forces large enough for decisive major action on the African or Eurasian continents.  Strategic strike long-range bombers, land-based intercontinental ballistic missiles, and submarine-launched ballistic missiles -- the strategic nuclear triad -- would be maintained (modernized and structured for continued efficiency) for nuclear deterrence.   

There will be major wars in the Eastern Hemisphere within the next two generations.  The United States need not be involved, unless the American Republic is willing to spend blood and treasure that will make the expenses of the wars of the 20th Century pale in comparison.  If our Republic is to make that expense to make decisive impact in those major Eastern Hemisphere wars, then we should be rewarded with world-wide empire.  If our Republic is not willing to take on world-wide empire, then we should at least ensure the security and prosperity of the Western Hemisphere.  A pan-hemispheric republic is the logical answer.     

Preposterous, you say?

Was it preposterous for Americans to cross the Alleghenies and push to the Mississippi River, doubling American territory?  Was it preposterous to purchase the Louisiana Territory, again doubling  American territory?  Was it preposterous to annex the Northwest territory and the territory north of the Rio Grande, again doubling American territory?  Was it preposterous to purchase Alaska?  Was it preposterous to add Hawaii to the Republic?

The entire American Experience is preposterous!  Greatness comes to those who seize on the preposterous idea, act on that preposterous idea. 

Expand the Republic!


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