Posts Tagged ‘Paul Wolfowitz’

Why couldn’t the USA and Russia be friends?

February 25, 2022

The video is a 2015 lecture by political scientist John J. Mearsheimer.

After the Reagan-Gorbachev summit meetings, I thought the Cold War had ended for good, and the USA and post-Communist Russia would be partners.  A lot of other people, in the USA and in Russia, too, expected the same thing.  Why didn’t it happen?

The answer is in the Wolfowitz Doctrine, which was a 1992 policy document prepared by Undersecretary of Defense Paul Wolfowitz.  The document said that the way to keep the United States safe was to maintain the U.S. position as top nation and to prevent any other nation from becoming equal in power.

Our first objective is to prevent the re-emergence of a new rival, either on the territory of the former Soviet Union or elsewhere, that poses a threat on the order of that posed formerly by the Soviet Union.  

This is a dominant consideration underlying the new regional defense strategy and requires that we endeavor to prevent any hostile power from dominating a region whose resources would, under consolidated control, be sufficient to generate global power.  [snip]

The U.S. must show the leadership necessary to establish and protect a new order that holds the promise of convincing potential competitors that they need not aspire to a greater role or pursue a more aggressive posture to protect their legitimate interests.  

In non-defense areas, we must account sufficiently for the interests of the advanced industrial nations to discourage them from challenging our leadership or seeking to overturn the established political and economic order.  We must maintain the mechanism for deterring potential competitors from even aspiring to a larger regional or global role.

This is the rationale for transforming NATO from an anti-Soviet alliance into an anti-Russian alliance.  The threat of Russia in the 1990s was not that it was hostile, but that it was potentially powerful.  

Here’s what George F. Kennan, said to New York Times columnist Thomas Friedman in 1998 about enlarging NATO.

“I think it is the beginning of a new cold war,” said Mr. Kennan from his Princeton home. ”I think the Russians will gradually react quite adversely and it will affect their policies.  I think it is a tragic mistake. There was no reason for this whatsoever. No one was threatening anybody else. This expansion would make the Founding Fathers of this country turn over in their graves.

“We have signed up to protect a whole series of countries, even though we have neither the resources nor the intention to do so in any serious way. [NATO expansion] was simply a light-hearted action by a Senate that has no real interest in foreign affairs.”

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The fragility of domination

March 26, 2013

ALBERT WOHLSTETTER’S PRECEPTS

1.  Liberal internationalism is an illusion

2.  The system that replaces liberal internationalism must address the ever-present (and growing) danger posed by catastrophic surprise.

3.  The key to averting or at least minimizing surprise is to act preventively.

4.  The ultimate in preventive action is domination

5.  Information technology brings outright supremacy within reach.

Double click to enlarge

Double click to enlarge

The late Albert Wohlstetter was an influential “defense intellectual,” a scholar little known to the public but highly influential in shaping U.S. military policy.  His philosophy was summarized in these five precepts by Andrew J. Bacevich in an article in the March issue of Harper’s magazine, which was about the efforts of Paul Wolfowitz, one of Wohlstetter’s chief disciples, to turn these precepts into U.S. government policy.

Wolfowitz, serving as an adviser to the Pentagon in 1992, drafted the controversial Defense Planning Guidance document.  According to Basevich, it said the “first objective” of U.S. policy is to maintain unquestioned military supremacy and “prevent the emergence of a new rival, by, if necessary, employing force unilaterally with an eye to “deterring potential competitors from even aspiring to a larger regional or global role.”   Unfortunately for Wolfowitz, the document was leaked before the White House had a chance to review it, President George H.W.  Bush disavowed it, and Wolfowitz left the government.

He served on the faculty of Johns Hopkins University until he returned to government in 2001 as deputy to Defense Secretary Donald Rumsfeld.  He advocated preventive war against Iraq.  “We cannot wait until the threat is imminent,” he wrote.   This policy failed.  But why did it fail?  The answer is that domination does not make you stronger.  Rather the effort to maintain domination saps your strength.

I’ve written posts about the ideas of Nassim Nicholas Taleb on fragility and antifragility.  The high-technology U.S. military is fragile, according to Taleb’s definition.  U.S. forces in Iraq and Afghanistan depended on a long supply chain and complex technologies which could fail at any point.  The insurgency, by Taleb’s definition, was antifragile.  The insurgents fought on their home ground, used simple technologies (explosives set off by garage door openers and TV remotes) and were embedded in the population of the country, not in walled outposts.  Every U.S. victory in battle or drone attack raised up more insurgents for every one that was killed.

The Roman Empire was strong as long as Roman citizens throughout the empire thought it was worth defending.  When the empire came to rest on mere domination, the very extent of the empire made it harder to defend.  Every attack in the West made it necessary to weaken defenses in the East, and vice versa.  Eventually it became necessary to create co-emperors, for West and East, and this made it possible for the eastern half to survive after the western half fell.

Double click to enlarge

Double click to enlarge

Paul Kennedy in The Rise and Fall of the Great Powers wrote about how strong nations have been weakened by “imperial overstretch.”  Great Britain in World War Two was weakened, not strengthened, by the need to keep troops in India.  The British Empire’s strength came from Canada, Australia and other territories that did not rest on domination.

By occupying Afghanistan, the United States has made its forces vulnerable to attacks from the tribal areas of Pakistan, which would otherwise be of no concern.  To safeguard the new government in Libya, U.S. policy-makers now seek to prevent unfriendly forces from controlling Mali.  Rather than creating security, our government has created a wider circle of threats.   And in so doing, it has sapped American strength and left us less able to cope with urgent problems at home.

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