From Topsy Turvy to In Our Face…What a Mad, Mad World We Live In
By Bob Pinato,
MPD Editorial Advisor
And we thought 2013 was going to be a challenging year! We all expected that with the pullouts from Iraq and Afghanistan that there would be large defense budget cuts in the offing. Cuts as much as $200 billion a year had been proposed in late 2013.
With cuts aimed for reductions in the size of the naval fleet (two fewer carrier groups), cuts in the F35 fighter aircraft production and ultimate deployment, as well as cuts in the size of the standing army to levels not seen in 20 years. Why would we need them in this new world where the USA is scaling back its worldwide activities and just focusing on home and stability in the Pacific Rim? After all, Europe is stable (at least our friends’ portion), and the Middle East and countries in the Mediterranean/North Africa area are now moving into a new era of open elections, democracy and instability bordering on terrorist led civil strife.
The USA, with a GDP larger than the next five countries combined (or bigger than EU and Japan combined), and a military budget larger than the next 10 countries combined, is in a very different position than we expected to be in the post Iraq and Afghanistan era of 2014. The USA has the economic clout; it also has military might, at least in dollars generated in trade and sheer number of dollars spent on military hardware. But it is also becoming apparent that this sophisticated hardware comes with a different price tag of its own, a price tag that makes it so costly to manage, use, deploy and sustain -- at the same time, practically ineffectual in a world where one may not be willing to use the hardware in theatres (areas of conflict) where we may have to confront well equipped challengers. This only threatens the conflicts to expand into an uncontrollable morass, with little economic, political or militarily clear and reasonable objective.
Even the use of UMV or drones may meet resistance in some of these locales, both by the doves of the USA and by world opinion, but also physically where the challengers have sophisticated enough counter measures, which makes the military equipment less damaging than expected. (Actually many of them now have the very same capability to fly their own versions of drones over our airspace, putting the USA in a new and compelling dilemma in world tit for tat gamesmanship.) Many now deploy even lower cost equipment and countermeasures in large numbers, which can potentially overwhelm the more sophisticated hardware through other stealthy countermeasures.
Look at our friends in Europe, economic powerhouses all of them, with a combined population greater than the USA at over 500 million citizens and a combined GDP still less than that of the USA’s $17T USD. Europe’s is $12.8T, but its military expenditures are less than 15% of that of the USA. Look at China, as everyone is doing to the new competitor on the block, which has a GDP of almost $8T and growing at over 7% a year (continuously for the past 20 years). China is beginning to show some serious military expenditures at over $150B USD, but still only 20% of that of the USA. Just across the straits, there is our long time ally, Japan, with a somewhat stagnant GDP of $4.7T USD (though admittedly under Abe, the economy grew at 2% in 2013), but a dynamic and focused military budget and growing at about $110B USD. A military with sophisticated naval hardware, state of the art fighter aircraft and a new willingness to change its constitution in order to defend and project its newly found muscles.
And there are another couple of large growing economic powerhouses: one in Asia, with India at $2T, and the other in South America, Brazil, at $1.4T USD. Both with expanding military budgets, sophisticated aircraft purchases (India budgeted over $40B for aircraft and RADAR) and new blue water navies sporting aircraft carriers (in India’s case) and submarines for them both.
And we cannot forget our wily old friend, comrade and on-off arch nemesis, Russia. Lest we forget, Russia has been on a quiet build up to upgrade much of its former antiquated equipment and training tactics over the past ten years, if not to catch a glimpse of its former self on the rise again, but at least to recast itself as a local power who knows how to manipulate the former satellite countries around its borders through subversive tactics and intimidation.
Russia is the one to watch as the balance of power teeters across the ponds and as Russia takes baby steps to test the willingness of the West to stand up and take a position, yet again as in post-WW2, to embrace border countries around Russia.
What we are seeing is segmentation in the way power is used; countries are infiltrated by political wrangling to establish new boundaries (perceived or real) in order to effect change in favor of the initiating country. The military hardware is but one method of intimidation, but it is the willingness to use the hardware that gives the aggressive stance its credibility. One is at the very least appearing to be willing to use it is enough to fend off overt gestures to interfere or stem an incursion. Look around us to see what is happening.
Russia can invade without invading. Use of non-uniformed, black-cloaked para-military forces who take over territory, military bases, buildings and even congressional halls is proving an effective tool of change. The local populace becomes fearful, allies cannot step in if the host country cannot or will not take action against what is seen as their own people. So a form of bloodless coup takes place and the country can be annexed. Foreign powers can not step in without causing a catastrophic war or result in decimating the host country’s population at the expense of stopping “perceived” para-military threats. It is happening before our very eyes and there is little short of military intervention we can do about it. After all, we believe in things like diplomacy, economic sanctions, freezing bank accounts and the like as tools of control. But in the end, they have their own economy, resources, money and trading partners (who are our allies, by the way) who do not want to take full economic countermeasures against them, as trade is important. Gas and oil are even more critical at this juncture; even though the USA is awash in gas, we cannot export to buffer our comrades for at least three years.
In the Middle East, the tactic is one of attrition, both for the military, by the use of anti-personnel tactics (such as IEDs), and that of civilian intimidation. Which in the end causes fatigue and due to the lack of knowing who is the enemy, a tendency to side with the enemy for the sake of future safety. Something we are seeing in Russia and the Ukraine, with the local population being intimidated and the local police not willing to take on an unknown, which may hurt their own citizens.
China on another scale is taking the political grandstanding route by claiming islands which they believe historically belonged to them at some point in history: prior to the Communist take over in 1949, prior to WWII, and even prior to the Japanese invasion which wrenched control of NE China, Taiwan and other areas in the war of 1896. Many of the islands were even independent sovereigns, but did pay tribute to the great middle kingdom as a way of showing respect and getting protection. This “island grandstanding” is using political sympathy to sway its own populace as well as others in the region to its side. Over time, with patience and eventual attrition, it is possible to wear down the target (in the interim, also using its new found economic and military might to challenge the local current owners of the land to a minor standoff). It is a kind of a real live version of the game of “GO,” the ancient Asian game of power and strategy. All of these regions -- and we haven’t even discussed North Africa, Columbia and North Korea -- present similar challenges where it would be difficult, if not impossible, to step in without catastrophic results resonating in the home country.
What I am saying, in a long-winded way, is that the world is changing yet again. The tactics we have used in war are no longer the tactics that can be used in these new “games” of strategy. One world, where challengers are willing to take the first step, knowing that others may be less inclined to intervene, as it may lead to a bigger uncontrollable conflict. It is quite different when the challengers are smaller and less well armed, but even more of a shock in this modern world when the invader can be so stealthy, even open but with plausible deniability, but knows that others will not step in to stop them. Psychological warfare at its finest and there is no way to hide the counter attack nor fight back without creating wrath from which one would find difficult to return.
This is a new age where not only military hardware is rendered useless, unless used to its ultimate goal of destruction of persons and infrastructure, but one where new non-hardware tactics are developed in order to incapacitate the victim. It was called terrorism 13 years ago, but it could just as easily be called non-traceable military incursions: Incursions where non-uniformed, unidentifiable persons, with the resources to attack infrastructure and institutions in order to create havoc, and even eventually take over institutions within a country. Unlikely, you think? Take a step back and look at how we have lived most of our lives in a country built on trust and reliance on one another to help build and grow our communities. A country which has typically not had to use military force within our own borders, since the L.A./Watts Rebellion of ‘65 or Kent State in ’70, and most likely is not prepared to use troops internally. The tactics are changing, and we need ways to counter them as they are now changing from the once unthinkable to the possible.
Another thought to ponder is the GDP and defense expenditure numbers. These numbers just may no longer matter in the future when compared to the way economies and power and conflicts were measured in the past. Yes, it is a given that it may matter as a defensive and protection tool to have a big GDP and defense budget, but as an offensive tool, the jury may still be out. Society, due mainly to the amount of perceived open communication available to them, is less inclined to roll over or even participate in a new conflict. Countries will need to spend to protect what they have for their citizens; economically, politically, and on trade and infrastructure. This is what we have always believed would bind us together as world partners in an ever intertwined economic trading world. But, sadly, it is not the tipping point we had imagined it would become. The sheer need for power and prestige, amidst the paranoia and desire to deflect issues at home, is what seems to drive nations to push the limits of tolerance at the expense of economic ruin.
The USA as a leader of economic and military stature in the world may need to develop new tactics if we are to maintain and even grow our influence in the future. We have effected change more by open economic policies and markets than we have through military intervention. Many countries have benefitted from the “protection” and relative feeling of being safe while they grew their economies without the additional burden of large defense expenditures. Japan (now the number three economic power), China (number two) and Germany (number four) have all had open markets available with the USA and at the same time a relatively safe and stable environment in which to pursue trade.
Some of these tactics may involve socio-economic involvement with partners, it may also be one where we may not be able to effect political change with heavy emotional and nationalistic fervor creating a barrier. But one must begin to understand and create new tactics for the future, which could be not simply being number one in GDP, but one of soft power, using socio-economic tools by which to effect stronger bonds. Sanctions can only work with the countries that really depend on economic trade and international union for their survival. And we all know that there are always ways around these banking, money, trade and product scenarios. They don’t work effectively, especially for those who do not follow, or do not care, about the rules of engagement, which we have established and followed for more than 100 years.
There are of course the financial powerhouses, but each country is growing their own, and the natural resources to leverage to boot. One that is overlooked, however, is the use of technology in key targeted areas that can be used to build as well as to protect. Our GDP position is not a given in a world of countries with populations of over 1 billion persons, which have developed economic powerhouses based on the models established by the USA and Western trading nations as an example for all to follow. It is inevitable that the GDP, while being a major measure of economic output, will not be the best tool by which to measure a country’s internal and external economic contribution to society and the world. GDP will become one of the measures, as will GDP/capita, but the true measure will be in how one enhances the economic, social and political capital through by yet immeasurable means.
Sadly, it does appear that the world is headed for a most challenging year, and quite possibly decade, as countries vie for economic control, resources and political absorption. One which could put the world on a brink of a new version of the old cold war, but with smarter tools, subterfuge, virtual 24 hour communications (internet and mobile) and cyber techniques which could cripple most infrastructure effectively. Standard military techniques, equipment and budgets may fend off some of these incursions for a short while, but it is my opinion that most do not have the patience nor measure of gut for a long drawn out fight which could impact people who are, in our eyes, more “real” and close to home.
While we still have a major position when it comes to creativity and innovation, even here we have shared our expertise under the guise of expanding communication, free enterprise, growth and trade. Ultimately leading, it was hoped, to a more stabilized world. But even here we do not have a monopoly on ideas and brainpower. The future is going to be one based on new tactics employing faster and stronger innovative subterfuge using more powerful stealthy techniques employing our latest technologies. But at the heart of it may be the fact that it is the “good enough” and “fast enough” technologies which will carry over to the better, faster and more expensive.
The good thing is that we can do it all and have the openness in our system to share information quickly before it is used against us. We also have the resources to both capitalize on the latest, fastest and yes even costly technologies to protect our systems and ways of life, but to also utilize the strength (as with networked shared processing) of the bonds of society, and capability to develop new products quickly in volumes, which can be one of our cornerstones of the future.
The world will be a strange and very unstable place for the next few years. With multiple regions looking as it they are about to implode, and few options we may have to stop it or slow them down, keeping in mind the potential political fallout, which could lead to crises that we wish to avoid. But in the end, it is sure that the very technology we discuss and develop every day will go far to contribute to our success to save and protect the very lifestyle we love and enjoy each and every day in the USA.
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