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April 03, 2008

Oh Noes!!!

Five retired NATO generals (from the US, UK, Germany, France and the Netherlands) recently released a report with the Center for Strategic and International Studies called "Towards a Grand Strategy for an Uncertain World: Renewing the Transatlantic Partnership." It details new and terrifying threats the world has never faced before (p. 27, pdf):

In addition to the ongoing threats posed by international terrorism by non-state or proxy-state actors, acts of war can be committed by individual nation states or allied states by abusing the leverage that other resources bring. China and Russia today are economic powers that might be tempted to deter other nations with the weapons of finance and energy resources. This kind of deterrence by non-military means represents a new phenomenon and has never been a part of traditional military thinking. To appreciate such cases strategically will demand a much broader conception of strategy than we have hitherto employed...

On the one hand, I thank God the United States and Europe have never stooped to using the "weapons of finance and energy resources." But how will innocents like ourselves know what to do when confronted with such nefarious enemies?

ALSO: Note the slippery change from one sentence describing other countries committing "acts of war," to the next sentence, where these countries merely are "tempted to deter other nations." This belief, that it is unacceptable and essentially an act of war for other countries to have the power to deter us from doing whatever we want, runs deep in US strategic thinking.

A good example is in this little-known January, 2001 memo from Donald Rumsfeld. As you see, Rumsfeld is concerned about "regional powers" possessing WMD. But the problem isn't that they'll use them to attack us in a first strike, but rather that WMD will allow them to deter us and therefore deny us "access" to rest of the planet:

The collapse of the Soviet Empire has produced centrifugal forces in the world that have created new regional powers. Several of these are intensely hostile to the United States and are arming to deter us from bringing our conventional or nuclear power to bear in a regional crisis...

The post-Cold War liberalization of trade in advanced technology goods and services has made it possible for the poorest nations on earth to rapidly acquire the most destructive military technology ever devised including nuclear, chemical and biological weapons...

These universally available technologies can be used to create "asymmetric" responses that cannot defeat our forces, but can deny access to critical areas in Europe, the Middle East, and Asia..."asymmetric" approaches can limit our ability to apply military power.

Another example is found in a September, 2002 speech by Philip Zelikow, executive director of the 9/11 Commission and author of the 2002 National Security Strategy, about the threat posed by Iraq. Once again, this threat is not that Iraq will attack us, but that their WMD will make it possible for someone to deter us (and Israel):

I criticise the [Bush] administration a little, because the argument that they make over and over again is that this is about a threat to the United States...

Now, if the danger [from Iraq] is a biological weapon handed to Hamas, then what’s the American alternative then? Especially if those weapons have developed to the point where they now can deter us from attacking them, because they really can retaliate against us, by then.

So watch out, world: you having the power to deter us from attacking you is the same thing as you attacking us. Not only that, but if you may be able to "attack" us like that in the future, we'll attack you for real, right now.

—Jonathan Schwarz

Posted at April 3, 2008 08:56 AM

So, to recap:

If it's a "civilized" capitalist country, it's called free trade.
If it's an "uncivilized" "enemy" country, it's called a weapon of finance.


Posted by: Bryan Klausmeyer at April 3, 2008 09:21 AM

But what can innocents like ourselves do when confronted with such nefarious enemies?

Send those five over-the-hill geezers out to count the birch trees.

Posted by: Pvt. Keepout at April 3, 2008 09:28 AM
This kind of deterrence by non-military means represents a new phenomenon and has never been a part of traditional military thinking.

Why don't we cut out the military middlemen in this economic game.

To protect themselves, corporations should have corporately owned nukes at their disposal. Of course, they would never incinerate their clients unless it was a last resort. I mean, you can't make money if you're constantly killing your customers.

Well, maybe you can, but corporations are pretty responsible citizens. A little non-governmental negotiating leverage would be helpful when dealing with investment banks and protectionist minded socialists around the world.

If the House of Atreides and Harkonnen can have family nukes, so should multinationals.

Posted by: angryman@24:10 at April 3, 2008 09:43 AM

This is part of why I love your blog Jon, you take the crazy words out of the horse's mouth and in such a splendidly entertaining way. Chomsky-esque, really.

Posted by: g at April 3, 2008 10:11 AM

Yeah, I second g's compliment. Nobody I know can match your ability to put a report, a memo and a speech in a blender and come out with something interesting and tasty.

Yet more evidence for my theory that your apartment walls (or at least the inside of your head) are covered with thousands of 3x5 cards connected with string.

Seriously, how do you keep track of it all? Is that what this blog is for? Are we readers and commenters mere appendages of some giant compendium of political wrong-headedness? (The wrong-headedness of those in power, I mean).

Posted by: SteveB at April 3, 2008 11:14 AM

SteveB - you wouldn't ask this question if you knew that Jon's nickname was once, "Head".

I wouldn't worry too much about this memo. I'm sure they just translated an internal document from Imperial Japan, circa 1938, and slapped their names on top of it, substituting "Osama" for "Roosevelt" and "oil" for, well, "oil".

I mean, why write the thing from scratch?

Posted by: Aaron Datesman at April 3, 2008 11:30 AM

There should be an identifiable disease/condition known as ahistoricism, which makes it possible for people to make statements like the paraphrased following:

"nations such as China and Russia that could use finance and energy resources as a deterrent - a NEW PHENOMENON,. . . etc. etc."

All such people would be required to attend regular meetings of AHA - Ahistorics Anonymous, to control this disease. (Yes, I know how would you get them there in the first place.)

It truly is driving me insane to read this stuff. AHA, maybe that's their point.

Thanks, Jon, as usual.

Posted by: catherine at April 3, 2008 12:56 PM

Surpised that GREED AND STUPIDITY can do the foxtrott? (1-202-225-0100)

Posted by: Mike Meyer at April 3, 2008 01:21 PM

also, i'm less worried about the american "this is your brain on deterrence" strategy than i am about the asian arms race that -- funny, this -- lots of national "war to end all wars" veterans are supplying and -- funnier, this -- the credit crisis might actually make a more attractive growth opportunity for the slow-growth developed nations. i mean, how could heavily arming the most populous continent as it enters a protracted food and water crisis go wrong. what else could you sell them, that involves that much metal? "windmills"? pansy.

oh, no, forget that. who doesn't enjoy the joke that the iranian leadership needs to be killed because they doesn't want to be killed. that's true.

Posted by: hapa at April 3, 2008 01:59 PM

I seem to recall Britain's King George and the East India Tea Company combining to use their financial and energy resources back in the 1760-70s to deter certain populations across the ocean from doing whatever they wanted...

Posted by: Liebchen at April 3, 2008 03:43 PM

there are other things to sell, is all.

Posted by: hapa at April 3, 2008 04:19 PM

OUR former Governor JIm Gerringer sells windmills. Perhaps a new market?

Posted by: Mike Meyer at April 3, 2008 07:20 PM

might be tempted to deter other nations with the weapons of finance and energy resources. sanctions are now an act of war? I guess we're gonna be in a lot of trouble.

Posted by: ChrisV82 at April 3, 2008 07:23 PM

All you have to do to begin to comprehend the psychopathology of power is try to inhabit that mindset for a few minutes.

Posted by: wareq at April 4, 2008 04:58 PM

I agree with Catherine
What's so "new" about this? Didn't we cut Japan off from oil and steel in 1941, which helped provoke their attack on us, which we then responded to with a long war and occupation, which then led to...Oh, I'm beginning to see where this is going.
I guess even old generals don't study history anymore, cuts into their defense contractor smoozing time.

Posted by: KevinD at April 5, 2008 04:29 PM