How much longer for the “long war”? Who will win?

Summary:  In this first of a multi-author series about the next decade of our long war, Chet Richards gives some provocative answers about its next phase. The long war is the key geopolitical issue for America. It will affect our affairs, both domestic and foreign. Post your thoughts in the comments.  {1st of 2 posts today.}

Seeing the future
Ron Chapple/Getty Images

What is the future of the “long war”? Here are a few guesses for the next 10 years. By “long war,” I mean our attempt to eliminate large-scale political violence by non-state groups, originating in other countries but presumably directed at us, if not now then sometime in the future.  Just call it the “LW.”  So here goes:

My big guess: Our attempts to eliminate international political violence will be as successful as any other attempt to eliminate such violence since 1945 or so. (Shocking, I know) Groups come, groups go.

Despite this, the LW will continue because it serves useful domestic political purposes. If we suddenly stopped funding those parts of our national security apparatus (not just DoD) that do not contribute to the defense of the United States, I estimate that we would cut roughly 3/4 of a trillion dollars per year from the inertia provided by the federal budget.  Cost, in other words, is not a deterrent to the LW but a strong reason to continue it. At least for a while.

In the meantime, the Darwinian ratchet will continue to operate, producing ever more capable non-state groups in the Middle East, South Asia, and Central America.  My guess: After a sorting out process, new states will form in these areas.

Turning to our own country, here’s one way that the LW might end, although probably not within the next 10 years. Levels of violence in the US by cartels and street gangs originating in Mexico and Central America might reach such levels that politicians find it necessary to act. A similar situation has already occurred in the favelas of Rio and one might argue in Mexico.  I’m not talking about people who come to this country to work in legal industries.

One option would be to redeploy our legions to defend the home front.   If this were to happen, we will find out if our counterinsurgency doctrine really works (We can’t do COIN in a foreign country because we aren’t the government of that country. That is, for us, it’s not an insurgency).

We can avoid this scenario by legalizing ways to buy drugs and treating addiction as a disease. My guess: We won’t take this option. For example: “Christie to Colorado: Pot party ends with me.” Christie’s diktat wouldn’t end pot smoking, of course, just return its revenue streams back to the narcotrafficking organizations.

Concerning developed economies in general, here’s a theory — the Baumol cost disease (e.g., in Greece): Technology will favor those industries, and so countries rich in those industries, that can use it to advantage. This is one reason why Germany is able to dictate to Greece: Technology makes German workers more productive and German manufacturers more profitable but does much less for an economy dependent on services.  At some point, those left out will object.

My guess: The Third Industrial Revolution will produce its own analogue to, or perhaps even version of, Marxism – Leninism. We will see increasing levels of political violence in developed countries.

Possibilities for synergy abound. The vast sums of money generated by the narcotics trade could also help fund insurgencies in developed counties, as it does the FARC in Columbia and the Taliban in Afghanistan. 

Finally, perhaps a little off the subject, but here are my picks and pans.  Please keep in mind that these are gut-feel guesses, and I hope I’m wrong about the pans.

  • Picks (countries likely to get stronger): China, Russia, Japan, Germany, Iran, Israel, Chile.
  • Pans: India (already has a healthy Maoist insurgency, the Naxalites), Brazil, Mexico.

My crystal ball is too cloudy to tell about the others.

Other posts in this series

  1. How much longer for the long war? Who will win?” by Chet Richards.
  2. Our future as two sides of the coin” by William Lind.
  3. Coming: “We don’t need a New Army to in 4GWs. We need a smart Army” by Gary Anderson.

About Chet Richards

Ph.D. Mathematics.  Colonel, USAF, retired.  Long-time editor of the original Defense and the National Interest website (archived here), certified yoga instructor (RYT 200), Fellow of the Lean Systems Society, colleague of John Boyd, and blogs at Slightly East of New.  Chet was an Adjunct Professor of Strategy and Quantitative Methods at Kennesaw St. University in Atlanta, and author of these important books.

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7 thoughts on “How much longer for the “long war”? Who will win?”

  1. Chet, where you say, “Cost, in other words, is not a deterrent to the LW but a strong reason to continue it. At least for a while.”, you are missing one factor. Remember, the State spends nothing without first taking the money from somebody else.
    In other words, they are stealing from future tax payers and wage earners through deficit spending. Net-net, it diverts funds from the productive to the destructive, and is a plague on humanity. Assuming the whole system does not come apart, it’s our children, and their children, who will be paying for the profligate spending by the State.

    1. Brad,

      “Cost, in other words, is not a deterrent to the LW but a strong reason to continue it”

      Chet is busy, but I can field this one. He refers to the Long War from the perspective of those running it, not the peons who pay for it with their money and blood. When the people of America decide to again work the political machinery the Founders built, then our opinions will matter.

  2. Fabius Maximus,

    “Our attempts to eliminate international political violence will be as successful as any other attempt to eliminate such violence since 1945 or so.”

    “We will see increasing levels of political violence in developed countries.”

    American military-political developments in the 21st century has now made it necessary to caveat the idea of “by any means necessary” to “by any means that will actually get us to the ends necessary.” A whole generation of political operatives have learned that all they have to do is say “by all means necessary” and people nod their heads and agree. It’s quite mad.

    Interesting idea for a series.

    PF Khans

  3. I, too, hope that Mr. Richards continues to expand on his hypothesis. Crystal balls are most often cloudy, but his appears to have a more rational informative bent than most.

    I understand the focus on the broader world view, the geopolitical reality that the nation will face, but I hope he can also post some thoughts about my three foot world( to steal a phrase and an idea from a much more accomplished individual). Even if the Republic dies, I and my children will need skills and concepts for dealing with the changes that will occur. The Roman Republic died and people still had to live.

    I do appreciate the thought provoking content of the website, even when I don’t agree.

  4. Silly rabbit. This is “The Forever War” straight out of Joe Haldeman’s science fiction book. It will never end. As each new foreign war winds down, another one will heat up. America will wage the Forever War against reality until reality collapses, or America does. And since America has lots ‘n lots of bucks and a colossal industrial base…well, you do the math.

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