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The French military chief has resigned after an open conflict with President Emmanuel Macron over spending. Pierre de Villiers publicly complained about Macron’s cuts to the military’s budget, reportedly saying that he won’t be “f***ed like that.”
(ANTIMEDIA Op-Ed) 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.
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“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.
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.
Samantha Bradshaw, University of Oxford
Philip N. Howard, University of Oxford
Cyber troops are government, military or political party teams committed to manipulating
public opinion over social media. In this working paper, we report on specific organizations
created, often with public money, to help define and manage what is in the best interest of the
public. We compare such organizations across 28 countries, and inventory them according to
the kinds of messages, valences and communication strategies used. We catalogue their
organizational forms and evaluate their capacities in terms of budgets and staffing. This working
paper summarizes the findings of the first comprehensive inventory of the major organizations
behind social media manipulation.
We find that cyber troops are a pervasive and global phenomenon. Many different countries
employ significant numbers of people and resources to manage and manipulate public opinion
online, sometimes targeting domestic audiences and sometimes targeting foreign publics.
The earliest reports of organized social media manipulation emerged in 2010, and by
2017 there are details on such organizations in 28 countries.
Looking across the 28 countries, every authoritarian regime has social media campaigns
targeting their own populations, while only a few of them target foreign publics. In
contrast, almost every democracy in this sample has organized social media campaigns
that target foreign publics, while political‐party‐supported campaigns target domestic
Authoritarian regimes are not the only or even the best at organized social media
manipulation. The earliest reports of government involvement in nudging public opinion
involve democracies, and new innovations in political communication technologies often
come from political parties and arise during high‐profile elections.
Over time, the primary mode for organizing cyber troops has gone from involving
military units that experiment with manipulating public opinion over social media
networks to strategic communication firms that take contracts from governments for
social media campaigns.
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