By Nafeez Ahmed
Medium – Insurge Intelligence
July 19, 2017
In the first of a series, we report on stunning new evidence that the U.S. Department of Defense is waking up to the collapse of American primacy, and the rapid unraveling of the international order created by U.S. power after the Second World War.
But the Pentagon’s emerging vision of what comes next hardly inspires confidence. We breakdown both the insights and cognitive flaws in this vision. In future pieces we will ask the questions: What is really driving the end of the American empire? And based on that more accurate diagnosis of the problem, what is the real solution?
An extraordinary new Pentagon study has concluded that the U.S.-backed international order established after World War 2 is “fraying” and may even be “collapsing”, leading the United States to lose its position of “primacy” in world affairs.
The solution proposed to protect U.S. power in this new “post-primacy” environment is, however, more of the same: more surveillance, more propaganda (“strategic manipulation of perceptions”) and more military expansionism.
The document concludes that the world has entered a fundamentally new phase of transformation in which U.S. power is in decline, international order is unravelling, and the authority of governments everywhere is crumbling.
Having lost its past status of “pre-eminence”, the U.S. now inhabits a dangerous, unpredictable “post-primacy” world, whose defining feature is “resistance to authority”.
Danger comes not just from great power rivals like Russia and China, both portrayed as rapidly growing threats to American interests, but also from the increasing risk of “Arab Spring”-style events. These will erupt not just in the Middle East, but all over the world, potentially undermining trust in incumbent governments for the foreseeable future.
The report, based on a year-long intensive research process involving consultation with key agencies across the Department of Defense and U.S. Army, calls for the U.S. government to invest in more surveillance, better propaganda through “strategic manipulation” of public opinion, and a “wider and more flexible” U.S. military.
The report was published in June by the U.S. Army War College’s Strategic Studies Institute to evaluate the DoD’s 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.
“While the United States remains a global political, economic, and military giant, it no longer enjoys an unassailable position versus state competitors,” the report laments.
“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 study describes the essentially imperial nature of this order as being underpinned by American dominance, with the U.S. and its allies literally “dictating” its terms to further their own interests:
“The order and its constituent parts, first emerged from World War II, were transformed to a unipolar system with the collapse of the Soviet Union, and have by-and-large been dominated by the United States and its major Western and Asian allies since. Status quo forces collectively are comfortable with their dominant role in dictating the terms of international security outcomes and resist the emergence of rival centers of power and authority.”
But this era when the U.S. and its allies could simply get their way is over. Observing that U.S. officials “naturally feel an obligation to preserve the U.S. global position within a favorable international order,” the report concludes that this “rules-based global order that the United States built and sustained for 7 decades is under enormous stress.”
The report provides a detailed breakdown of how the DoD perceives this order to be rapidly unravelling, with the Pentagon being increasingly outpaced by world events. Warning that “global events will happen faster than DoD is currently equipped to handle”, the study concludes that the U.S. “can no longer count on the unassailable position of dominance, supremacy, or pre-eminence it enjoyed for the 20-plus years after the fall of the Soviet Union.”
So weakened is U.S. power, that it can no longer even “automatically generate consistent and sustained local military superiority at range.”
It’s not just U.S. power that is in decline. The U.S. Army War College study concludes that:
“[A]ll states and traditional political authority structures are under increasing pressure from endogenous and exogenous forces… The fracturing of the post-Cold War global system is accompanied by the internal fraying in the political, social, and economic fabric of practically all states.”
But, the document says, this should not be seen as defeatism, but rather a “wakeup call”. If nothing is done to adapt to this “post-primacy” environment, the complexity and speed of world events will “increasingly defy [DoD’s] current strategy, planning, and risk assessment conventions and biases.”
Defending the “status quo”
Top on the list of forces that have knocked the U.S. off its position of global “pre-eminence”, says the report, are the role of competing powers — major rivals like Russia and China, as well as smaller players like Iran and North Korea.
The document is particularly candid in setting out why the U.S. sees these countries as threats — not so much because of tangible military or security issues, but mainly because their pursuit of their own legitimate national interests is, in itself, seen as undermining American dominance.
Russia and China are described as “revisionist forces” who benefit from the U.S.-dominated international order, but who dare to “seek a new distribution of power and authority commensurate with their emergence as legitimate rivals to U.S. dominance.” Russia and China, the analysts say, “are engaged in a deliberate program to demonstrate the limits of U.S. authority, will, reach, influence, and impact.”
The premise of this conclusion is that the U.S.-backed “status quo” international order is fundamentally “favorable” for the interests of the U.S. and its allies. Any effort to make global order also work “favorably” for anyone else is automatically seen as a threat to U.S. power and interests.
Thus, Russia and China “seek to reorder their position in the existing status quo in ways that — at a minimum — create more favorable circumstances for pursuit of their core objectives.” At first glance there seems nothing particularly wrong about this. So the analysts emphasize that “a more maximalist perspective sees them pursuing advantage at the direct expense of the United States and its principal Western and Asian allies.”
Most conspicuous of all, there is little substantiation in the document of how Russia and China pose a meaningful threat to American national security.
The chief challenge is that they “are bent on revising the contemporary status quo” through the use of “gray zone” techniques, involving “means and methods falling far short of unambiguous or open provocation and conflict”.
Such “murkier, less obvious forms of state-based aggression”, despite falling short of actual violence, are condemned — but then, losing any sense of moral high-ground, the Pentagon study advocates that the U.S. itself should “go gray or go home” to ensure U.S. influence.
The document also sets out the real reasons that the U.S. is hostile to “revolutionary forces” like Iran and North Korea: they pose fundamental obstacles to U.S. imperial influence in those regions. They 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.”
Far from insisting, as the U.S. government does officially, that Iran and North Korea pose as nuclear threats, the document instead insists they are considered problematic for the expansion of the “U.S.-led order.”