The War Nerd discovers van Creveld’s “power of weakness”, and demography
Gary Brecher, aka The War Nerd publishing at The Exile, has written a long and fascinating article about the intersection of military and demographic trends in the 21st century. This just sketches out his thinking. I recommed reading the full article.
“War of the Babies–When Modern Warfare and Demography Square Off, Demography Wins“, Gary Brecher, Taki’s Magazine, 6 May 2008
First, he “discovers” the power of weakness. As Martin van Creveld wrote in 2004:
In private life, an adult who keeps beating down on a five year old – even such a one as originally attacked him with a knife – will be perceived as committing a crime; therefore he will lose the support of bystanders and end up by being arrested, tried and convicted. In international life, an armed force that keeps beating down on a weaker opponent will be seen as committing a series of crimes; therefore it will end up by losing the support of its allies, its own people, and its own troops.
Depending on the quality of the forces – whether they are draftees or professionals, the effectiveness of the propaganda machine, the nature of the political process, and so on – things may happen quickly or take a long time to mature. However, the outcome is always the same. He (or she) who does not understand this does not understand anything about war; or, indeed, human nature.
What was the most important battle of the late 20th century? You could argue it was the one that took place on the southern border of Morocco on November 6, 1975. Of course, we’re not talking about another Stalingrad here. In fact, what happened that day isn’t usually called a battle at all. Its official name is “The Green March.” On one side were 350,000 unarmed Moroccan civilians carrying green (Islamic) flags, and on the other-miles inside the border, because they were hoping not to have to confront any of the marchers – was a shaky, demoralized token force of Spanish troops pretending to defend a former Spanish colony, the Spanish Sahara. … The Moroccans had to think outside the traditional military-conquest box, for the simple reason that Morocco’s armed forces are pathetic.
It may not have been very exciting for combat fans, but it was an extremely effective invasion. The Spanish troops didn’t fire a shot. The marchers walked over the border, got sand in their shoes, shouted about how this sacred patch of waterless, flat desert was now an integral part of the Kingdom of Morocco, and went back home. And since then, the Spanish Sahara has been dominated by Morocco, although the local guerrilla army, POLISARIO, gave them some serious problems for a while.
What makes this weird episode my nominee for “Most Significant Battle of the Era” is that it showed the new way of winning disputed territory. If there’s one thing that we should have learned over the past hundred years, it’s that traditional armed conquests are getting less and less effective. This is one of the most surprising twists in all military history. All through the nineteenth century, the European powers, led by the British and French, took the land they wanted on the grounds that they had better military technology, transport and organization. Locals who disputed that notion tended to disappear as casualties of inevitable progress. And that was just an updated version of what had been happening all over the world for thousands of years: bigger, stronger tribes displace and wiped out weaker tribes whenever they could. That was the norm, even in pre-contact North America, where the Navajo were displacing the Ute in the American Southwest long before the white guys showed up.
Now, even though the balance in conventional warfare is if anything tilting further toward the first world, the technologically advanced and organized countries are in retreat, and the former victims are pushing back, not just claiming their old territories but infiltrating the former colonizers’ countries. What matters now is morale, national will. The Spanish didn’t have it, and the Moroccans did. So even though the Spanish troops could have wiped out those unarmed marchers, they failed to open fire.
Second, the power of demographic trends to reshape the world. Excerpt:
So there’s a shocking lesson that military buffs have been slow to face: military superiority doesn’t matter nearly as much right now as birthrate and sheer ruthless will.
To succeed in the post-1918 world, the world Woodrow Wilson dreamed up where “small nations” have rights even if they can’t defend them, you need to use slower, less obviously military methods, like birthrate and immigration. Immigration and birth rate actually have one of those “synergistic relationships” New Agers like to yammer about, because immigrant families tend to have more kids than they would have had if they’d stayed home-and the base rate for their home countries is usually way, way more than the locals have in the rich countries they move to.
The classic example of this kind of slow conquest is Kosovo. The Serbs could always defeat the Albanians on the battlefield, even when outnumbered, but the Albanians had a huge advantage in the most important military production of all-babies.
So the movement of the peoples, the slow demographic wars, are going to go on. We just don’t have a counter-move, except maybe bombarding poor people with money to stay home. Basically, no matter where you are, the complexions and the features you see on the streets are going to change.
The third section, about the implications of these trends, is a incoherent mess. But that takes him to the outer limits of western thinking on these things, and out there are few rational discussions – and no easy answers.
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Other posts on this topic
- Another front in the geopolitical struggles shaping our world (3 June 2008)
- “The Return of Patriarchy“ – a classic article about demography (5 June 2008)
- More news about Russia’s demographic collapse (6 June 2008)
For a wide range of studies and articles see the new archive of major reports about demographic change.