A new study conducted by members of the U.S. military establishment has concluded that the U.S.-led international global order established after World War II is “fraying” and may even be “collapsing” as the U.S. continues to lose its position of “primacy” in world affairs.
“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,” the report states.
The report, published in June by the U.S. Army War College’s Strategic Studies Institute, evaluated the Department of Defense’s (DOD) approach to risk assessment at all levels of Pentagon policy planning. The study was supported and sponsored by the U.S. Army’s Strategic Plans and Policy Directorate; the Joint Staff, J5 (Strategy and Policy Branch); the Office of the Deputy Secretary of Defense for Strategy and Force Development; and the Army Study Program Management Office.
As explained by Nathan Freier, the project director and principal author of the report, the U.S. and its defense establishment “are stumbling through a period of hypercompetition.” From Freier’s point of view, the current era is marred with furious battles for positional advantage at a number of levels, whether national, transnational, or extra-national. Freier explains that America’s failure to cope is the result of “hubris,” which is reminiscent of Imperial Hubris, a book by Michael Scheuer, the former head of the CIA’s bin Laden unit. Imperial Hubris also warned the U.S. about the very controversial and hubristic reasons it was losing the war on terror (hubris means “exaggerated pride or self-confidence,” according to Merriam-Webster).
Technically, the report does not officially represent the Pentagon, though it does represent the “collective wisdom” of those consulted – including a number of Pentagon officials and prominent think tanks such as the American Enterprise Institute, the Center for Strategic and International Studies (CSIS), the RAND Corporation, and the Institute for the Study of War.
Nevertheless, the report involved consultation with key agencies across the DoD and the Armed Forces and encouraged the U.S. government to invest more heavily in surveillance, better propaganda through “strategic manipulation” of public opinion, and a “wider and more flexible” U.S. military. The report states:
“While as a rule, U.S. leaders of both political parties have consistently committed to the maintenance of U.S. military superiority over all potential state rivals, 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 demands. To U.S. political leadership, maintenance of military advantage preserves maximum freedom of action… Finally, it allows U.S. decision-makers the opportunity to dictate or hold significant sway over outcomes in international disputes in the shadow of significant U.S. military capability and the implied promise of unacceptable consequences in the event that capability is unleashed.”
The year-long study concluded that the DoD should discard its outdated risk conventions and change how it describes, identifies, assesses, and communicates strategic-level and risk-based choices. As investigative journalist Nafeez Ahmed observed, these are the very strategies that have led to the U.S.’ declining power in the first place. Further enacting these failed strategies will only exacerbate the problem and demonstrates America’s refusal to go down without a fight.
The blame lies with resistant states
According to Freier and his team, the dangers currently challenging the U.S. don’t just come from countries like Russia and China (and even North Korea and Iran), but also from the increasing risk of “Arab Spring”-style events that could potentially erupt all over the world. One might wonder, then, why the U.S. decided to support a number of these events, even to the great benefit of known jihadist movements that already existed within them.
Ahmed also astutely points out that the report doesn’t actually substantiate its claims that countries like Russia are a genuine threat to America’s national security, aside from the fact that these countries seek to pursue their own core interests – as most countries should be free to do (within reason).
According to the report, Iran and North Korea are “… neither the products of, nor are they satisfied with, the contemporary order… At a minimum, they intend to destroy the reach of the U.S.-led order into what they perceive to be their legitimate sphere of influence. They are also resolved to replace that order locally with a new rule set dictated by them.”
It is notable that the report does not list Iran and North Korea as nuclear threats — as traditional neoconservative propaganda often asserts — but simply as perceived threats to the American-led world order.
The report also found that the international framework has been restructured in ways that are “inhospitable” and often “hostile” to U.S. leadership. For example, “proliferation, diversification, and atomization of effective counter-U.S. resistance,” as well as “resurgent but transformed great power competition” are seen to be at the heart of this new international restructuring. According to the report, the U.S. is not prepared for these circumstances, and the report seeks to provide the U.S. with guidance to deal with these emerging scenarios.
In all seriousness, hostility to the U.S. military did not develop in a vacuum – it is quite clearly the sheer arrogance of America’s leadership and its incessant meddling in foreign affairs that have created a number of adversaries who are no longer willing to bow to American interests.
Losing the propaganda war
Renegade Inc's Nafeez Ahmed also notes that the “hyper-connectivity and weaponization of information, disinformation, and disaffection”, the study team observes, is leading to the uncontrolled spread of information. The upshot is that the Pentagon faces the “inevitable elimination of secrecy and operational security”.
“Wide uncontrolled access to technology that most now take for granted is rapidly undermining prior advantages of discrete, secret, or covert intentions, actions, or operations… In the end, senior defense leaders should assume that all defense-related activity from minor tactical movements to major military operations would occur completely in the open from this point forward.”
This information revolution, in turn, is leading to the “generalized disintegration of traditional authority structures… fueled, and/or accelerated by hyperconnectivity and the obvious decay and potential failure of the post-Cold War status quo.”
Among the most dangerous drivers of the risk of civil unrest and mass destabilization, the document asserts, are different categories of fact. Apart from the obvious “fact-free”, defined as information that undermines “objective truth”, the other categories include actual truths that, however, are damaging to America’s global reputation.
“Fact-inconvenient” information consists of the exposure of “details that, by implication, undermine legitimate authority and erode the relationships between governments and the governed”?—?facts, for instance, that reveal how government policy is corrupt, incompetent or undemocratic.
“Fact-perilous” information refers basically to national security leaks from whistleblowers such as Edward Snowden or Bradley Manning, “exposing highly classified, sensitive, or proprietary information that can be used to accelerate a real loss of tactical, operational, or strategic advantage.”
“Fact-toxic” information pertains to actual truths which, the document complains, are “exposed in the absence of context”, and therefore poison “important political discourse.” Such information is seen as being most potent in triggering outbreaks of civil unrest, because it:
“… fatally weakens foundational security at an international, regional, national, or personal level. Indeed, fact-toxic exposures are those likeliest to trigger viral or contagious insecurity across or within borders and between or among peoples.”
In short, the US Army War College study team believe that the spread of ‘facts’ challenging the legitimacy of American empire is a major driver of its decline: not the actual behavior of the empire which such facts point to.
The “wake up call”
Though the report throws the word “adapt” around often, the U.S. is clearly not willing to adapt at all if the only way it can deal with its issues is to strengthen the very sources of said issues in the first place. If the only tool the U.S. has is a hammer, every problem has to look like a nail. The more problems the U.S. faces, the more nails it sees in need of quashing.
While some may laud a report in which advisors to the U.S. have acknowledged America’s status as a dying power, the truth, as demonstrated in this recent analysis, is that the U.S. will not give up its place in global affairs without a fight.
As the report states, the reality of this looming collapse should not be seen as defeatism, but rather, should be a “wake up call.”
Take the Syrian conflict, for example. The more places Assad’s military liberates, the more refugees are returning home and the more concerts are being held. Syria, Russia, and Iran have achieved these mounting successes even in the face of direct American intervention – and yet the U.S. still refuses to leave the country. Irrespective of crimes committed by the pro-Assad axis, if the ultimate objective has been to reduce the suffering in Syria and end the war, the U.S. should admit defeat and move on — especially once ISIS’ caliphate collapses entirely. But the U.S. won’t – and is reportedly considering greater involvement in the war-torn country.
The U.S. knows it is on the brink of collapse but refuses to go down peacefully. From the point of view of the powers-that-be, as long as every nail of resistance can be broken, the American hammer will continue to lead the world in international affairs. But even as this report indicates, it is precisely because of America’s hubris that it has found itself in this position in the first place. In this context, the report is somewhat contradictory and only further encourages the United States to provoke further hostility from aggrieved players on the world stage.
Carrying on these practices and exacerbating them is totally nonsensical, but doing so continues to be the go-to mantra of the U.S. war machine.