For years I’ve written about the primary geopolitical dynamics shaping 21st century world: the rise of East Asia (doing things right) and the decline of the West (serial mistakes) — but never expressed as well as retired Army Colonel Douglas Macgregor does in this brief note. These two processes are now accelerating. Recessions act as stress tests to society, providing either opportunities for reform, or to double-down on flawed policies.
From an email, posted with his permission.
Here are some general observations about the world in ten years. Keep in mind that I am someone who thinks we Americans can actually avoid involvement in conflicts from the Arctic Circle to the China Sea, but our track record has been poor of late. I guess my view is different from most in that I think real military power rests on a foundation of sound economic development and domestic cultural/political cohesion and order.
The question is whether the English-speaking peoples around the world will re-forge an alliance of their own or, even survive on the North American continent. Our weakened financial and economic condition makes a retreat from wider involvement in the world’s affairs unavoidable. For some period of time, we will have to reorient our attention to our domestic condition. Since nature abhors a vacuum, the vacuum will be filled. In reality, it’s already well underway.
The decisions made now will determine the outcome of future conflicts in ten years. We obsess over what we think are important decisions regarding the movement of forces in wartime. In reality, decisions regarding not only the selection of commanders, but also the development and fielding of equipment and the thinking behind the use of existing and emerging technology are all far more important decisions than what happens at a given point in time and space in one wartime encounter. Bad decisions can certainly accelerate defeat, but bad decisions regarding the allocation of resources in the decade before the fight can actually guarantee defeat.
Today, NE Asia is emerging as more than just an economic power house. It is already a center of technological expertise and strategic understanding. In ten years, Korea, Japan and China will collectively constitute a concentration of military power on a scale the world has never seen before; a concentration far greater than anything we have today. As the EU collapses, Europe’s German core will reemerge from a long hiatus. Together with the Russians who must of necessity turn increasingly to the Germans for political, economic and security assistance, the two will represent the enormous economic and military power that dominates the continent from the Atlantic to the Urals, a power once imagined by Bismarck, but thrown away by his successors in pointless, unnecessary wars. How this power will be used is unknown, but it too could dwarf our own inflated self-importance.
In the near-East, Turkey, not Iran will emerge as the true regional superpower. How Turkey and Iran get along under these circumstances is anyone’s guess. Israel may well be in a position to play the balancing power provided it maintains its military edge.
India, a country with one toilet for every 45,000 people is no superpower and it will not become one. Its principle challenge is to avoid a nuclear exchange with Pakistan, something that looks harder and harder to do just now.
The rest of the world – Africa, SE Asia and Latin America will behave much as it has for the last thousand years. It will struggle, remain vulnerable to the power and influence of the blocks of states already mentioned. To be fair, Hedley Bull said most of these things in his landmark work, The Anarchical Society many, years ago. To some extent, he like Huntington was echoing Spengler’s views in the Decline of the West, first submitted for publication in 1911. Quincy Wright made similar observations about the emergence of powerful multi-state blocks in his work, A Study of War.
These are just opinions, nothing more. Feel free to disregard or comment. It’s always entertaining to speculate. But my point is simple: We must maintain credible, but affordable military capabilities; not the sort of nonsense that is absorbing our increasingly scarce resources just now.
About the author
From his Wikipedia entry:
Douglas A. Macgregor PhD. (Colonel, US Army, retired) is widely recognized as one of the most influential military thinkers of the late 20th and early 21st Centuries.
… Macgregor’s seminal work, Breaking the Phalanx: A New Design for Landpower in the 21st Century (Praeger, 1997) was the first book by an Active Duty military author since Brigadier General William Mitchell, U.S. Army Air Corps, to challenge the status quo and set forth detailed proposals for the radical reform and reorganization of U.S. Army ground forces. His follow-on work, Transformation under Fire: Revolutionizing How America Fights( Praeger, 2003) expands on the concepts and ideas for reform and includes a foreword by a former British four-star general, Sir Rupert Smith.
… Macgregor is now the lead partner with Potomac League, LLC, an intellectual capital brokerage and consulting firm based in Reston, Virginia.
… Macgregor’s newest book: Warrior’s Rage: The Great Tank Battle of 73 Easting; will be due out the Fall of 2009. In it Macgregor explains how the failure to finish the battle with the Republican Guard in 1991 led to Iraq’s second major confrontation with the United States in 2003 resulting in two hollow military “victories” and the tragic blood-letting that continues today in Iraq.
Some articles by Macgregor
- “Future Battle: The Merging Levels of War”, Parameters, Winter 1992-93
- “Command and Control for Joint Strategic Action”, Joint Force Quarterly, Autumn/Winter 1998-1999
- “Transforming Operational Architecture for the Information Age“, Martial Ecologies (for the Israeli Defense Force and the Jaffee Center, Tel Aviv University), 2000
- “Transformation and the Illusion of Change”, National Security Studies Quarterly, Autumn 2000
- “A New Joint Operational Architecture: The Key to Transformation”, Strategic Review, Fall 2000 — Publication discontinued; website closed.
- “The Joint Force – A Decade, No Progress”, Joint Force Quarterly, Winter 2000-2001
- The Macgregor Briefings: An Information Age Vision for the U.S. Army, Project for Defense Alternatives, 2001
- “The Balkan Limits to Power and Principle”, ORBIS, Winter 2001 — Free copy here.
- “Resurrecting Transformation for the Post-Industrial Era: A New Structure for Post-industrial Warfare”, Defense Horizons, September 2001
- “The Failure of Military Leadership in Iraq – Fire the Generals!“, Counterpunch, 26 May 2006
- “Outside View: Iraq realities — Part 1“, UPI, 27 June 2008
- “Outside View: Iraq realities — Part 2“, UPI, 30 June 2008
- “Adapting to Reality in Warfare: Changing how the Army and Marines Organize to fight in the 21st Century“, 11 November 2008
- “Iraq realities – Part 1“, UPI, 27 June 2008
- “Iraq realities – Part 2“, UPI, 30 June 2008
- “Fire the Generals!“, Counterpunch, 26 May 2006 — “The Failure of Military Leadership in Iraq”
- ”No General as Obama’s VP“, Defense News, 30 June 2008
- “Refusing battle – The alternative to persistent warfare“, Armed Forces Journal , April 2009
- “Illusions of Victory – There’s No Strategy To Win in Afghanistan“, Defense News, 28 September 2009
- “Remember the Blitzkrieg before it’s too late“, Washington Times, 10 May 2010 — “Building a military to fight only the weak will cost us later”