How the Pentagon Views the World Situation
Michael Pröbsting and Almedina Gunić.
Posted on Revolutionary Communist International Tendency, 25 July 2017.
The Pentagon recently published a major study reflecting how US imperialism views its own crisis and the tasks it has set itself in the current global conjuncture. (1) This study deserves the full attention of all revolutionaries as it is, without doubt, remarkable in several respects.
First of all, the study is extraordinary simply because it originates in the Pentagon, the largest and most powerful imperialist military institution world-wide. In addition, the size of the study (141 pages), the length of its preparation (more than 9 months), and the wide range of institutions which were consulted when compiling it (2) – all demonstrate that this is not merely another study but rather a major and authoritative strategy document reflecting the viewpoint of US imperialism
Second, the new Pentagon study is remarkable as it constitutes explicit recognition on the part of the US ruling class of its own crisis, its decline as the world’s dominant imperialist power, to say nothing of the frank, aggressive, and reactionary strategy which it posits as necessary to counteract these trends.
Third, the study is profoundly important because it confirms – from the perspective of the imperialist counter-revolution – a number of essential analyses of the world situation which Marxists have elaborated during the past several years.
The goal of the following article is not to recapitulate the analyses of the global economic and political developments which the RCIT has already elaborated extensively in various documents. Readers interested in our analyses can access them in our publications. (3)
Instead, here we intend to provide readers with an overview of how the leading US strategists view the decline of their Empire and how they want to counteract this descent.
The RCIT has repeatedly pointed out that socialists can intervene and lead the vanguard in ongoing workers’ and popular struggles only if they possess a correct understanding of the world situation. Or in other words, they must find a rational orientation from which to view the present dynamics of the global struggle between the classes and the Great Powers.
To a certain degree the same is true for the ruling class. The imperialist bourgeoisie of the leading powers have created a number of think tanks and intellectual institutions the task of which is to analyze the world situation and to outline strategies which can help the capitalist thieves to advance their interests against their rivals as well as against the oppressed classes.
It is hardly necessary to emphasize that it is important for revolutionaries to be sufficiently informed about the analysis and strategies of their class enemies. The current article is intended to help in this effort.
Before we begin with our analysis of the Pentagon document, we wish to elucidate a few points. First, we draw our readers’ attention to a very useful article by the journalist Nafeez Ahmed. (4) While we go further in our analysis, Ahmed’s article is certainly helpful in giving a critical overview of the Pentagon document.
Second, all quotes below – if not noted otherwise – are from the Pentagon document with the page number referenced in brackets.
Third, readers should be aware that the Pentagon analysts – as it is always the case with all bourgeois ideologists – use a specialized jargon which is designed to hide and lead to confusion about the real meaning of its statements. We face such obfuscations everywhere in the world of bourgeois ideology (e.g., capitalists are “employers,” great powers and monopolies are “global players,” etc.). To give just two examples: In the document under discussion, the Pentagon analysts apply the term “revolutionary” not to militant working class and popular forces, but rather to hostile small states like Iran or North Korea, which in fact are respectively a bourgeois-theocratic regime and a Stalinist one. Likewise, they lump together working class struggles, anti-establishment trends in the internet, reactionary Salafist-Takfiri forces like Daesh, etc. as so-called “rejectionist forces.” Therefore, it is vital for revolutionaries not to become confused by accepting the jargon at face value, but to “read between the lines” so as to understand the true meaning of the Pentagon analysts.
“An Environment where the one Certainty is in fact Uncertainty”
We have repeatedly pointed out that the historic period which began in 2008 with the Great Recession is characterized by a fundamental crisis of capitalism on the economic, political as well as military planes. This crisis is accelerating and sharpening the inherent contradictions (read interests) between the various classes along with those between individual states, the result being increasingly acute class struggles, revolutions, counter-revolutions and military conflicts. This basic lack of equilibrium on the world stage is the reason that we in the RCIT characterize this historic period as “revolutionary.” The entire Pentagon document that we’re reviewing here implicitly confirms our analysis, but uses different terminology to obfuscate this reality for the sake of their own bourgeois ideological interests and ends.
The document succinctly expresses the Pentagon’s recognition that the stability of the old imperialist order is gone as follows: “Thus, American senior leaders and strategists will have to simultaneously design, build, and persistently adapt strategic responses to an environment where the one certainty is in fact uncertainty.” (p. 5)
This undermining of the certainty of the global order built by the US since 1945 is “not merely fraying but may, in fact, be collapsing“: “In brief, the status quo that was hatched and nurtured by U.S. strategists after World War II and has for decades been the principal “beat” for DoD is not merely fraying but may, in fact, be collapsing.” (p. 5) (5)
As we will see below, the Pentagon recognizes that the US is no longer the dominant power in the world; that new imperialist powers like China and Russia have emerged; that all societies around the globe are facing a basic crisis of social and political stability and popular trust; and that, hence, the US will be increasingly exposed to popular uprisings.
The Pentagon is fully aware that this is global uncertainty is no temporary phenomena, but rather manifests a fundamental, historic paradigm-shift. This is the Leitmotiv of the whole document. The authors even give the new period a name: “post-U.S. primacy.” To emphasize the long-term character of this development, they state that we are living in “the early post-U.S. primacy epoch“.
“The United States and its defense enterprise are navigating uncharted waters of late. The potency, endurance, and resilience of once unassailable post-Cold War American reach, influence, and effectiveness are increasingly in doubt. (…) This report argues that the United States has recently entered, or more accurately has freshly recognized that it is in the midst of what can only be described as the early post-U.S. primacy epoch. While jarring for strategists and policymakers who are accustomed to the assumption of primacy, they will need to adapt. This new reality has far-reaching implications for American defense policy, strategy, planning, and risk calculation. From a defense strategy and planning perspective, post-primacy has five basic defining characteristics.
* Hyperconnectivity and the weaponization of information, disinformation, and disaffection.
* A rapidly fracturing post-Cold War status quo.
* Proliferation, diversification, and atomization of effective counter-U.S. resistance.
* Resurgent but transformed great power competition.
* Violent or disruptive dissolution of political cohesion and identity.” (p. 53)
The “Status Quo,” “Revisionist,” “Revolutionary” and “Rejectionist” Forces
In analyzing the world situation, the Pentagon strategists differentiate between four different categories of forces: “Status Quo,” “Revisionist,” “Revolutionary” and “Rejectionist.”
“This study identified four competing post-primacy forces:
* Status Quo: Values the distribution of power and authority and intends to maintain it.
* Revisionist: Benefits from the current order but seeks a meaningful redistribution of power and authority in their favor.
* Revolutionary: Seeks a wholly different order within which they can exercise control over their immediate sphere of influence without interference.
* Rejectionist: Rejects current order, actively seeks to undermine it and any that might try to maintain or exercise control of it.” (p. 56)
Before continuing, we repeat our earlier warning that readers should not become confused by the strange jargon of the bourgeois Pentagon ideologists, but instead recognize what their analysis reflects.
The so-called “Status Quo” forces are, unsurprisingly, the traditional allies of US imperialism.
“The order and its constituent parts, first emerged from World War II, were transformed to a unipolar system with the collapse of the Soviet Union, and have by-and-large been dominated by the United States and its major Western and Asian allies since. Status quo forces collectively are comfortable with their dominant role in dictating the terms of international security outcomes and resist the emergence of rival centers of power and authority.” (p. 56)
The “revisionist” powers are those which do not challenge the capitalist world system, but which desire a shift in the balance of forces, i.e., a bigger share of the pie. These are basically the emerging imperialist powers, China and Russia. This categorization reflects that Washington recognizes that these are Great Powers which are players in their league and, as such, they can seriously challenge US hegemony.
“Revisionist forces benefit from the same basic international order but believe they have a rightful place at the table in the negotiation and determination of the precise terms of that order going forward. In short, they seek a new distribution of power and authority commensurate with their emergence as legitimate rivals to U.S. dominance. In the current environment, Russia and China are the most obvious examples of revisionist powers. Both are engaged in a deliberate program to demonstrate the limits of U.S. authority, will, reach, influence, and impact.” (pp. 56-57)
Furthermore, as an aside we must note that the Pentagon’s characterization of Russia and China as Great Powers who aren’t challenging the imperialist order in itself, but which are rather seeking a shift in the balance of forces in their own favor. This recognition reveals another important fact: US imperialism does not exclusively see these powers as rivals, but also as potential allies in joint actions against popular insurgencies and “terrorist dangers,” against which they can collaborate. The joint imperialist intervention against the so-called “Boxer Rebellion” in China in 1899-1901 or the current coordinated military aggression of primarily the US and Russia in Syria are examples of such “united fronts” of the imperialist Great Powers.
The Pentagon authors reserve the (misnamed) category “revolutionary” for smaller, non-imperialist states like Iran and North Korea. They do so because any successful resistance of the latter against the US hegemony would represent a serious setback for Washington’s hegemony in the region under question.
“Revolutionary forces are neither the products of, nor are they satisfied with, the contemporary order. They lie outside for a variety of political, cultural, and historical reasons. At a minimum, they intend to destroy the reach of the U.S.-led order into what they perceive to be their legitimate sphere of influence. They are also resolved to replace that order locally with a new rule set dictated by them. Iran and North Korea may be seen as the best current examples of revolutionary forces in action.” (p. 57)
Finally, there are the so-called “rejectionist” forces. This is an entirely arbitrary and confused characterization assigned to any and all movements and organizations (“non-state entities“) which in one way or another challenge US hegemony. Thus it is used to categorize at one and the same time authentic worker and popular revolutionary movements, petty-bourgeois nationalist and Islamist guerilla forces, anti-globalizations movements, Wikileaks and up to and including Daesh.
“Rejectionist forces offer very little in the way of legitimate political alternatives. Rejectionism is just as it sounds—the outright violent or disruptive rejection of legitimate political authority regardless of who happens to exercise it. Rejectionists seek to destroy formal sources of political power, especially those perceived to represent existential threats to their freedom of action. Of all the forces at play, the rejectionists are largely represented by various nonstate, sub-state, and transnational entities and movements that pray on the current vulnerability or rejection of contemporary political convention and tradition. They free-ride on hyperconnectivity to mobilize adherents around radical, criminal, or fundamentally unconventional sources of inspiration, and their reach is increasingly limited only by the number of disaffected willing to listen to and act on their various messages.” (p. 57)
All these developments – the rise of Russia and China as new Great Powers, the existence of smaller states which challenge the US dominance in a given region, the emergence of anti-US movements and organizations – deeply worry the Pentagon strategists:
“In the end, three of the four dominant competitive forces at work in the international system are, in effect, militating against the effective maintenance of a U.S. position of influence.” (p. 58)
The “Post-US Primacy” Period: Recognition of the Decline of US Imperialism as the Absolute Hegemonic Great Power
Naturally, the Pentagon is most concerned by the decline of the US as the hegemonic Great Power. As mentioned above, the US strategists call the new period “post-U.S. primacy epoch”.
“The first is the increasing vulnerability, erosion, and, in some cases, the loss of an assumed U.S. military advantage vis-à-vis many of its most consequential defense-relevant challenges. The second concerns the volatile and uncertain restructuring of international security affairs in ways that appear to be increasingly hostile to unchallenged U.S. leadership. At Our Own Peril identifies this new or newly recognized period as one of “post-U.S. primacy.”” (p. xv)
Similar to our own analysis of the historic periods in the past decades, the Pentagon strategists differentiate between the period immediately after the collapse of Stalinism, the one which opened in 2001 with the 9/11 attacks and finally the current one of “post-U.S. primacy”. (6)
“Indeed, this study argues that the volatile restructuring of international security affairs currently underway marks the American entrance into a third transformational era since the end of the Cold War. (…) The first of the preceding two eras is commonly referred to as the “post-Cold War” period, a time where the United States and its military benefitted from unprecedented reach and advantage vis-à-vis the nearest or most threatening of its state rivals. The second era can most reasonably be described as the “post-9/11” period. It saw the United States and its defense establishment suffer a disruptive “strategic shock.”” (p. 4)
“The 17-year period after the Cold War . . . was a unique time when American power was essentially unchallenged. . . . we have been moving into a new era – a period of enhanced global competition, and the acceleration of trends that challenge our preeminence, complicate our decision-making, and demand of us greater agility and geopolitical savvy.” (p. 4)
While the Pentagon analysts still recognize the military advantage of the US compared with its imperialist rivals, they are aware that Washington is no longer able to shape the outcome of regional conflicts as it desires.
“Indeed, while the United States remains a global military power, it no longer can – as in the past – automatically generate consistent and sustained local military superiority at range.” (pp. 4-5)
“While the United States may still be the most important international actor in the state system, it can no longer count on the unassailable position of dominance, supremacy, or pre-eminence it enjoyed for the 20-plus years after the fall of the Soviet Union. Recognition of post-primacy is not a defeatist perspective. It is a wakeup call. The concept of post-primacy is the basic recognition that global security affairs are much more competitive now than at any other time since the Cold War.” (p. 19)
“While the United States still clings to significant political, economic, and military leverage, that leverage is increasingly exhibiting less reach, durability, and endurance. In short, the rules-based global order that the United States built and sustained for 7 decades is under enormous stress.'” (p. 46)
“… consequential hazards are multiplying, metastasizing, and morphing to such an extent that the U.S. military can no longer hope to favorably influence security outcomes everywhere and every time it prefers.” (p. 99)
“Post-primacy will require some humility on the part of the United States in this regard, because, increasingly, self-interest trumps collective interest.” (p. 101)
We note, as an aside, that the Pentagon document indicates that there have been some controversial discussions inside the military and security establishment. It seems that some disputed the authors’ assumption that the US has entered a “post-primacy” period.
“Post-primacy is not—as some might suggest—a defeatist perspective. Instead, it is a passionate plea against complacency. It is the cold, calculating, and reasonable recognition of new levels of American vulnerability in an environment where the capability and capacity for strategic-level harm focused against core U.S. interests transcends boundaries, warfighting domains, and traditional defense conventions and biases.” (p. 93)
The Emergence of China and Russia as Imperialist Powers and the Acceleration of the Rivalry between the Great Power
Unfortunately, a number of Marxists still fail to recognize the fact that the political physiognomy of world capitalism has changed in the past two decades and that China and Russia have emerged as new imperialist powers. The Pentagon strategists, whose job it is to analyze the challenges for US imperialism, understand much more clearly the nature of Washington’s rivals.
The document approvingly quotes a study of the neo-conservative Heritage Foundation which assessed in its “2017 Index” the “Russian and Chinese threat to U.S. vital interests to be ‘high.’” (p. 65)
Hence, the Pentagon document describes repeatedly the danger which US imperialism faces from its Chinese and Russian rivals.
“For example, the United States is in direct competition with revisionist great powers like China and Russia who have discovered complicated military and non-military work-arounds to limit U.S. freedom of action, drive up U.S. risk perceptions, and erode American reach.” (p. 59)
“… the persistent threat of escalation and the ability of both the Chinese and Russians to generate—at a minimum—niche local advantage vis-à-vis U.S. and allied forces can create paralyzing risk dilemmas for U.S. decision-makers …” (p. 60)
“As discussed earlier, the United States faces new and meaningful opposition from at least two great powers who are bent on revising the contemporary status quo. China and Russia are engaged in purposeful campaign-like activities that are focused on the material reduction of American influence as the principal arbiter of consequential international outcomes.” (p. 60)
Related to the accelerating conflict between the US and China and Russia respectively is the increasing rivalry between the Western Great Powers themselves. We have already witnessed this in the growing conflicts, particularly between the US and the EU on protectionist issues, climate change, military expenditures, etc.
“As will be discussed in the next section, an important feature of the post-primacy environment is the increasing adherence to self-interest first among Western politicians and other U.S. allies. This leaves the United States facing the prospect of being at-risk and friendless in an increasingly hostile environment where barriers to entry into effective counter-U.S. resistance are increasingly lower.” (p. 45)
“Many states and peoples are operating under a renewed commitment to self-interest over any notions of collective common good. This more Hobbesian worldview makes alliance building and maintenance challenging. (…) Indeed, the study team concluded that increasing trends toward what the current administration calls “economic nationalism” and its election on the back of a more inward looking brand of populism are themselves sources of pressure on the U.S.-led status quo.” (p. 58)
“Many of these global partnerships are becoming much more conditional. This may be a function of increased nationalism and its attendant focus on self-interest first. However, it is also likely a function of the proliferation, diversification, and atomization of effective counter-U.S. and counter-Western resistance as well.” (p. 101)
A Looming Global “Arab Spring”?
The Pentagon strategists are clever enough to understand that the world has changed not only on the level of Great Powers and their relation of forces. They also recognize – in their own way, confused by the fog of bourgeois ideology – that the global capitalist system is in an organic crisis. To put it in the Pentagon’s own words, they see a “generalized disintegration of traditional authority structures.” As a result popular distrust in governments, mass unrest and insurgency are spreading around the world.
In addition to organized hostile forces (like Daesh), the Pentagon strategists also identify popular mass uprisings as a fundamental threat. The name they give to this type of “threat” is characteristic for the imperialist mindset, and call it “leaderless instability.” Which kind of popular unrest do the Pentagon strategists have in mind when they consider such a “threat” of “leaderless instability“? The only example they mention is the “Arab Spring,” i.e., the popular uprising in the Arab world which started in 2011.
In this context we would like to point out two things. First, the Pentagon’s reference to the Arab Spring as the only example for the threat” of “leaderless instability” is remarkable given the fact that during the past year so many so-called “Marxists” have denied the fundamental progressive and democratic character of the Arab Revolution. As we have shown in numerous documents, various Stalinists have denounced the uprising of the workers and poor peasants from the beginning; centrists like Alan Woods’ IMT, the Cliffite IST or the Morenoite LIT welcomed the arch-reactionary military coup of General al-Sisi in Egypt and others, like the PTS/FT, the PO/CRCI or the CWI, have declared after some time that the Syrian Revolution is “dead” and no longer worthy of support. Again, significantly, the Pentagon imperialists are far better in their characterization of the Arab Spring than vast sectors of the reformist and centrist left. (7)
“As each of these play out and on still other levels, the United States is buffeted by hostile, inhospitable, or uncertain networks, movements, and/or environmental disturbances manifesting as organized and purposeful resistance (e.g., Islamic State of Iraq and Syria [ISIS] and al-Qaeda) on the one hand and leaderless instability (e.g., Arab Spring) on the other. The former threatens core U.S. interests and enduring defense objectives directly, the latter by implication. All are part of a generalized disintegration of traditional authority structures (…), fueled, and/or accelerated by hyperconnectivity and the obvious decay and potential failure of the post-Cold War status quo. While the most prominent of these forces currently emanate from the greater Middle East, it would be unwise not to recognize that they will mutate, metastasize, and manifest differently over time. Thus, it is imperative for the creation of an objective-based vice threat-based risk model.” (p. 59)
Secondly, the warning of the Pentagon strategists is interesting, as they indicate in their document that there exists a global danger of similar uprisings like the Arab Spring. This has to be understood in the context of the process of popular opposition to “traditional authority structures” globally and the emergence of various armed insurgency movements, phenomena which the authors summarize as resistance towards (imperialist) globalization.
“First and following the logic outlined thus far, all states and traditional political authority structures are under increasing pressure from endogenous and exogenous forces. The sources of that pressure are undermining the effective or legitimate exercise of political power worldwide. Sources of pressure include aspects of all of the aforementioned post-primacy characteristics including hyperconnectivity, the weaponization of information and disinformation, rapid deterioration of the post-Cold War status quo, the proliferation and diversification of meaningful resistance, the emergence of gray zone methods, and the rise of distributed sources of allegiance and identity. Paraphrasing one SRG member, some are fighting globalization and globalization is also actively fighting back.” (pp. 61-62)
“Vulnerable states are also falling victim to more organic networked rejectionist forces and movements that effectively challenge the legitimate exercise of political authority wherever they emerge. The growth, persistent presence, and corrosive impact of these stateless environmental forces lead to noticeable spikes in terrorism, insurgency, and civil conflict, and undermine the U.S.-led order often less by purpose than by implication. In reality, the “rules” in “rules-based” are failing and the United States is struggling to keep pace.” (pp. 46-47)
“Thanks to the internet, the public can identify people with the same values and fears, exchange ideas, and build relationships faster than ever before. Our governments are simply not part of that conversation: we have 19th century institutions with 20th century mindsets, attempting to communicate with 21st century citizens. Our governments are elected, dissolved and re-elected only to pursue short-term agendas, yet the cycles that innovate and build trust with voters require long-term investment.” (p. 54)
The Pentagon strategists are also worried about the prospect that such unrest could spill over to the United States itself.
“Finally, it is impossible not to recognize the profound atomization of resistance as well. The United States and its population are increasingly exposed to substantial harm and an erosion of security from individuals and small groups of motivated actors, leveraging the confluence of hyperconnectivity, fear, and increased vulnerability to sow disorder and uncertainty. (…) At the same time, the U.S. homeland, individual American citizens, and U.S. public opinion and perceptions will increasingly become battlefields.” (p. 59)
In short, the Pentagon admits that the world order founded upon the dominance of US imperialism faces a very uncertain and instable future. The strategists characterize this as a global “persistent disorder and conflict.”
“The future security environment will be defined by twin overarching challenges. A range of competitors will confront the United States and its global partners and interests. Contested norms will feature adversaries that credibly challenge the rules and agreements that define the international order. Persistent disorder will involve certain adversaries exploiting the inability of societies to provide functioning, stable, and legitimate governance. Confrontations involving contested norms and persistent disorder are likely to be violent, but also include a degree of competition with a military dimension short of traditional armed conflict.” (p. 58)
“As the United States and its foreign partners adapted to a war with Islamic extremists in the aftermath of 9/11, and as insurgencies raged in Iraq and Afghanistan, the term “persistent conflict” or “an era of persistent conflict” grew popular in Pentagon lexicon. (…) “The defense implications of this trend are clear. First, employing language originally introduced in ‘Outplayed’, all states great and small are increasingly “wrestling on quicksand.” In sum, the nexus of hyperconnectivity, distributed sources of identity and allegiance, profound discontent, and political factionalism are merging with access to the means of meaningful resistance, harm, and disruption to dangerous effect. Therefore, while the United States and China compete for Pacific primacy, for example, they do so on a less stable political foundation than in the past. Moreover, this reality holds for virtually all states regardless of their inherent stability, political orientation, external alignment, or foreign activism. Second, senior U.S. defense and military leaders should recognize that they have entered a period of “Persistent Conflict 2.0.”” (p. 62)
The Struggle for Hearts and Minds
The Pentagon strategists are particularly worried about the loss of hegemony by the ruling class over the hearts and minds of the popular masses. Ignoring the fact that the main factor for this lies in the deteriorating living conditions for the vast majority of the workers and oppressed and the associated policy of the ruling class, the imperialist ideologists claim that the reason for popular distrust is the governments’ lack of control over the dissemination of information via the internet. The rapid spread of news and calls for mobilization – termed “hyperconnectivity” by the Pentagon – is seen as a worrying trend.
“However, it would be fair to argue that the United States faces a range of fundamental hazards from across joint domains (including and increasingly most troubling—the cyber domain). Further, it faces new or growing challenges from and within the electromagnetic spectrum, on and from the bloodless battlefields of information and influence, and finally, from the leaderless forces of social disintegration and virtual mobilization and resistance.” (p. 43)
“The study team suggests there is a single core defense implication of hyperconnectivity—”speed kills.” With hyperconnectivity comes a quantum increase in the velocity of change in strategic circumstances. It raises the specter of sudden, violent, or disruptive political contagions; rapid, unintended military escalation; as well as war prosecuted by alternative—even overtly non-violent—means at increasingly faster processing speeds. Furthermore, it enables virtual mobilization and distributed collective action under no centralized authority or control and at speeds that will outpace 20th-century bureaucracies at every turn.” (p. 56)
“Furthermore, like-minded, geographically distributed resistance will emerge via virtual mobilization to further contest traditional authority by employing and liberally mixing violence, disruption, and destruction under no central or formal command and control.” (p. 62)
The Pentagon pundits advise the military establishment to assume that keeping information secret is nearly impossible.
“Furthermore, individuals, groups, and states are now able to access imagery and sensitive open source information that once was tightly controlled by governments. In the end, senior defense leaders should assume that all defense-related activity from minor tactical movements to major military operations would occur completely in the open from this point forward.” (p. 54)
In this context it is worth drawing attention to a new category which the Pentagon strategists introduce in their document. Given the many crimes and conspiracies of the ruling class, the military and the super-rich which have been exposed in the past by Wikileaks or by heroic individuals like Edward Snowden or Chelsea Manning, the authors introduce the category of “fact-inconvenient information.” By this category, which expresses so succinctly the moral bankruptcy and hypocrisies of the imperialist rulers and which is nearly as debunking as the Trumpist invention of the “alternative facts,” the document’s authors mean information which is authentic and compromising for the ruling class. In other words, they openly admit that the truth is inconvenient for the ruling class.
“Fact-inconvenient information exposes comprising details that, by implication, undermine legitimate authority and erode the relationships between governments and the governed.” (p. 55)
We remark, as a side-note, that this is a good example for the fact that all technological revolutions do not only increase the productivity of the capitalist production process and the strength of the state apparatus but also, as an unintended bi-product, open up vast new possibilities for the oppressed to strengthen their resistance.
More Imperialist Wars
What do the Pentagon strategists suggest to the ruling class as the way forward for US imperialism? Basically they advise the ruling elite to deploy a strategy which is based on an assessment of a reality characterized by “post-U.S. primacy.” Most of their advice focuses on continuing and intensifying the reactionary offensive of US imperialism domestically as well as abroad.
This means, first and foremost, that the US should prepare itself to commit more acts of aggression and wage more wars both against insurgencies of oppressed people in the semi-colonial world as well as against its Great Power rivals. The authors summarize their recommendations as follows:
“This study identified six enduring defense objectives as a result of an extensive survey of U.S. post-Cold War defense and security policy:
* Secure U.S. territory, people, infrastructure, and property against significant harm.
* Secure access to the global commons and strategic regions, markets, and resources.
* Meet foreign security obligations.
* Underwrite a stable, resilient, rules-based international order.
* Build and maintain a favorable and adaptive global security architecture.
* Create, preserve, and extend U.S. military advantage and options.” (p. 41)
The formulation “create, preserve, and extend U.S. military advantage and options” declares unequivocally that the key objective of US imperialism is to counter its political and economic decline by expanding its already huge military apparatus – including its arsenal for “nuclear and conventional deterrence.”
“While as a rule, U.S. leaders of both political parties have consistently committed to the maintenance of U.S. military superiority over all potential state rivals, the post-primacy reality demands a wider and more flexible military force that can generate advantage and options across the broadest possible range of military demands. To U.S. political leadership, maintenance of military advantage preserves maximum freedom of action. Further, it underwrites yet another bedrock principle of American defense policy—nuclear and conventional deterrence. Finally, it allows U.S. decision-makers the opportunity to dictate or hold significant sway over outcomes in international disputes in the shadow of significant U.S. military capability and the implied promise of unacceptable consequences in the event that capability is unleashed.” (p. 48)
The Pentagon strategists hope that such an increased military apparatus will help the US to deter all opponents and to accept its hegemony. We remark, as a side-note, that all the military superiority which the US already possessed in the period after 1991 did not help it to avoid its decline. Clearly, these bourgeois ideologists don’t understand that the strength of a Great Power is primarily determined not by the size of its arsenal but by its economic strength as a producer of capitalist value. (8)
The seemingly harmless phrase “secure access to the global commons and strategic regions, markets, and resources” has massive implications. It means that US imperialism must secure unhindered “access” to all regions and markets around the world. This follows clearly from a sentence a few pages later:”Failure of or limitations on the ability of the United States to enter and operate within key regions of the world, for example, undermine both U.S. and partner security.” (p. 44)
And it is no accident that later in the study the authors refer to “China’s campaign to expand its control over the South China Sea” (p. 77) as an example for the challenges which the US is facing.
One does not have to be a genius to understand that this is the screenplay for wars not only with semi-colonial states but also with imperialist rivals. However, it is obvious that a US military confrontation with China or Russia can easily result in World War III – something which the RCIT has repeatedly pointed out in recent years.
Faced with such huge challenges and dangers, the Pentagon strategists are clever enough to advise the US ruling class to look for allies and alliances even though they themselves – as we have shown before – are fully aware that it is becoming increasingly difficult for the US to create stable alliances. And as everyone has been able to observe in the half year or so since he has become US president, Dumb Donald has been successfully undermining nearly all US alliances with every passing month.
“Post-primacy is no time to act alone. Despite the common refrain that the United States will act with others when it can and unilaterally when it must, allies and partners are increasingly an indispensable U.S. strategic hedge. The United States has two basic types of defense alliances and partnerships.
First, there is the regional variety. According to either treaty or convention, regional allies and partners help the United States maintain favorable security conditions within regions whose stability is essential to U.S. security. Japan and the Republic of Korea in the Pacific, and Egypt, Saudi Arabia, Jordan, and Israel in the Middle East come to mind in this regard. Obviously, the North Atlantic Treaty Organization (NATO) Alliance is a clear example of a regionally-based entente as well. The U.S. position in those regions by and large relies on stable bi- or multi-lateral relations, as well as routine and in extremis military cooperation.
The second global variety of ally and partner helps the United States maintain stability in their region as well, while also reliably participating in the more general policing of the international status quo that they all prefer and benefit from. Much has been said already on the vulnerability of that preferred status quo. This category includes many NATO nations. However, the United Kingdom, Australia, Canada, and France are particularly active U.S. global partners.” (p. 100)
Furthermore the authors emphasize that given the increasing instability and uncertainty the U.S. must be permanently prepared for unexpected crisis, insurgency and wars. Hence, Washington must prepare to fight a war at any given moment. However the report criticizes that despite the already existing readiness for immediate strikes – or to put it in the Pentagon speak: the “‘fight tonight’ perspective” – it has not been a strength of the Department of Defense (DoD) to have an elaborated mid-and long-term military plan in the past. This does not mean that the report proposes to change the “‘fight tonight’ perspective“. The opposite is the case: the report suggests that a massive surge is necessary to improve the readiness for such immediate strikes and to combine them with the willingness to take more risks and in the consequence to face the risk of more casualties – or to put it again in Pentagon speak: to have a better “principal risk portfolio“. For this reason the study also suggests that the U.S. should prefer allies and partners who are more willing to accept casualties.
“In short, while defense strategy and capabilities naturally favor known knowns— like traditional threats from China, Russia, Iran, North Korea, and myriad Islamic extremist groups—strategy development, risk identification, and risk assessment in reality should employ a wider, more imaginative perspective.” (p. 21)
“Filtering objectives through the environment and its hazards, identifying a cogent strategic approach to defending those objectives and, in the process, identifying key elements of the next decade’s potential surge demand terminates for risk assessment purposes in identification of what this study calls DoD’s principal risk portfolio.” (p. 28)
““Away games” are increasingly more difficult to sell to war weary populations. Combined with the prospect of hyperconnectivity bringing more problems home, the United States should focus its risk harmonization first on those allies and partners with whom it is likeliest to rely on for worldwide coalition action. Often, the regional allies and partners see the local threats more clearly.” (p. 101)
Ideological Warfare: “The Strategic Manipulation of Perceptions”
However, the Pentagon strategists point out that US imperialism must wage wars not only on a military level but also on an ideological plane. As mentioned above, the authors of the study consider the lack of control of the spread of information via the internet as a major factor undermining Washington’s hegemony. To counteract this, they advise actively using the internet to manipulate public opinion (“the strategic manipulation of perceptions“).
While the authors don’t go into detail how best to do this, it is clear from the context that they hope to achieve this on one hand via more state control of the internet – Putin’s Russia and the Chinese regime serve as models for how an imperialist government can control the internet in modern times. On the other hand, the authors suggest a pro-active, fast campaign of misinformation so that the US government is not forced to react but can be proactive (remember the advice mentioned above: “speed kills“).
“Thus, securing computer networks and cyber lines of communication from the predations of opportunistic opponents remains a critical component of U.S. defense calculations. However, this is essential but also insufficient in the contemporary environment. Indeed, to date, American strategists have focused to the point of distraction on defense against the purposeful interruption or destruction of the United States’ information-focused connective tissue, as well as intrusion into and damage to sensitive information repositories. However, consequently, they have been less focused on the purposeful exploitation of the same architecture for the strategic manipulation of perceptions and its attendant influence on political and security outcomes.” (p. 55)
“Gray-Zone” Challenge, Surge Demands, New Strategy: The Call for a Bonapartist Regime and the Restriction of Bourgeois Democracy
It is quite obvious that the report offers to the DoD not only a clarification of its understanding of the concept of a “post-primacy epoch” but also suggests a new strategic change in the military planning. This change can be summed up in the following points:
* Massive surge
* Change of military strategy via concentrating on so-called “Gray-Zone” conflicts
* Orientation towards winning more regionally-based allies
* Long-term plans focused on at least a decade
* Higher independence of the military and security apparatus from the respective governing party in order to follow the long-term plans
* Change of the propaganda away from the old chimera of “saving democracy” and with this
* Increasing Bonapartism to keep up with the new Great Powers Russia and China
Demands for s urge are certainly not surprising as the military apparatus as such is always in favor of larger resources for itself. However the main emphasis on a changed situation for the former unchallenged hegemon in combination with the call for long-term planning can and will be the door-opener for the military to get its surge demands fulfilled.
The following quote is highly instructive as it touches the vision of the military apparatus: “Both [Russia and China, Ed.], as well as other strategic cultures, envision a more complex continuum of cooperation, competition, collaboration, and conflict. Moreover, many other nations do not organize their government institutions with the same black and-white military and non-military distinctions as the U.S. maintains.” (p. 59)
As it is stated in the first paragraphs of this article Marxists should be aware that the report is written in the language of bourgeois ideology. It is important to read also between the lines of this quote as it expresses quite obviously the pressure of the military apparatus to overcome the mentioned “black and-white military and non-military distinctions“. In concrete it means to orientate towards the model of Bonapartist governments as they already exist in Russia and China concerning the structures of the military apparatus and its relation to the political apparatus.
In this context the permanent emphasizes in the report on a long-term strategy, on more flexibility of the military forces and on the expanded definition of what the US should define as a “hazard” and therefore should be prepared to fight via surge – all these are more or less subtle messages to get rid of “antiquated” bourgeois-democratic conceptions on order to meet the “21st-century defense demands“.
The recurrent references to “gray zones” as the important battlefields and to the necessity to learn from the methods of Russia and China in handling these gray zones are another hint to enlarge the military apparatus and to militarize the US policy to a much higher level than already before. In the end of this road Bonapartism is waiting as the salvation for the United States to stay competitive in the global struggle with its rivals.
“For example, the United States is in direct competition with revisionist great powers like China and Russia (…). At the same time, mid-level revolutionary powers like Iran and North Korea present the United States with similar complex “gray zone” challenges. These manifest largely on a regional basis as both direct sophisticated military threats, as well as more destabilizing, surreptitious manipulation of fragile political balances within and between vulnerable states and peoples.” (p. 59)
“Thus, while the United States faces a clear resurgent great power challenge, the nature and character of that challenge is not a mirror image of past—especially Cold War—competition. Contemporary great power antagonism instead occurs principally in the “gray zone” where U.S. adversaries’ substantial military capabilities are sidelined, over the horizon, or only marginally employed, but deter more activist U.S. responses nonetheless. Meanwhile, the principal competition occurs in murkier, less obvious forms of state-based aggression, where “rival states marshal various instruments of influence and intimidation to achieve warlike ends through means and methods falling far short of unambiguous or open provocation and conflict.” (p. 60)”
“Accordingly, the study team concluded that the United States must “go gray or go home” in defense strategy development and risk calculation. Gray zone challenges manifest as more than military threats. Indeed, the military component of gray zone threats is often the subtle menace of unacceptable cost delivered from “sanctuary” over the horizon. Nonetheless, there are very real military and security components of effective counter-gray zone activities or campaigns. Moreover, these are likely best understood and designed within the context of defense and military strategy. The gray zone challenge is widely recognized in defense and military circles. Furthermore, it has to date proven widely effective against traditional U.S. approaches to military competition.” (p. 61)
According to the report the new road that the US should enter results from the shift in world politics. Translated into Marxist language this means: The revolutionary historic period provokes a massive acceleration both of imperialist rivalries up to wars as well as of mass uprisings up to revolutions. The Pentagon paper tries to make the US fit to come out of these profound convulsions of the revolutionary period as the still hegemonic imperialist power.
“As the Pentagon contemplates future strategy and risk, it will need to come to terms with a generalized erosion or dissolution of traditional authority structures. To date, U.S. strategists have been fixated on this trend in the greater Middle East. However, the same forces at work there are similarly eroding the reach and authority of governments worldwide.” (p. 62)
It is thus the military apparatus of the United States that pushes for a political transformation in the heart of the imperialist U.S.-beast to become more aggressive and belligerent than ever before.
In conclusion, we would like to examine some historic analogies which seem useful for better understanding the doomed future of the American Empire. Based on lessons from history, we can see that the decline of an empire has never happened in a gradual and peaceful way. Quite the contrary, in every single case, such a process is accompanied by both grave political crises and revolutionary class struggles at home as well as wars with rivaling powers abroad.
Here, we shall limit ourselves to give just a few examples. When the Roman Empire stagnated and decayed between the 3rd and the 5th centuries, this process went hand in hand with numerous social uprisings of impoverished peasants and slaves, like the movement of the Agonistici (often also called “Circumcellions“) and the Donatists in North Africa or the Bagaudae in Gallia and Hispania, as well as numerous invasions by so-called barbarian peoples like the Huns, Vandals or Goths.
A similar process could be observed in ancient China when mass uprisings of poor peasants – most famously the so-called Yellow Turbans and the Heishan bandits – decisively shattered the huge, but corrupt and decadent, Han Empire between the years 184 and 205. The crisis resulted in the so-called Three Kingdoms period (until the year 280) in which China was devastated by endless wars between the emperors Wei, Shu, and Wu and which reduced the population to about one quarter of its previous level!
Likewise, the decline and finally collapse of the Manchu-led Qing Empire was characterized by a series of armed popular uprisings until its collapse in 1911 – to name only the most significant ones: the so-called White Lotus Rebellion (1794–1804), the Taiping Revolution (1850-64), the Nian Rebellion (1851-68), the Miao Rebellion (1854–73), the Muslim Hui’s Panthay and Tongzhi Hui Revolts (1856-73 and 1862–77 respectively), and the Yihetuan (Boxer) Uprising (1899-1901). At the same time the empire suffered from repeated defeats in wars with rival powers like the two Opium Wars against Britain (in 1839-42 and 1856-60) or the 1894-95 war against Japan.
The British Empire, which dominated the Western world for centuries, also experienced a steady decline starting from the early 20th century – accompanied by series of strikes during The Great Unrest 1910-14 or the General Strike in 1926, as well as numerous popular uprisings in the colonies like the Indian Independence movement (e.g., the Salt March of 1930, an armed uprising in 1942, mutiny in 1945), anti-colonial uprisings in Egypt (1919) and Iraq (1920-23) or the Irish Uprising in 1916. At the same time, British imperialism couldn’t impede the emergence of rivaling great powers (chiefly the US and Germany). So while its empire came to an end while it was on the victor’s side during the two world wars, in both cases it came out of these wars in a weaker position than it entered them and was finally replaced by the American Empire as the hegemonic imperialist power.
To summarize, the Pentagon study reveals that the strategists of US imperialism are fully aware of the decline of the American Empire and the emergence of new rivals (China and Russia). They also recognize the fundamental crisis of world capitalism and the rising popular mistrust and opposition to “traditional political authorities” and, hence, that the world is increasingly replete with popular uprisings.
The authors of this study hope to reverse the US decline by expanding even more its military arsenal and by waging more wars against popular insurgencies, unruly small countries and Great Power rivals. They desire to counter the rising global hatred against the American Empire by manipulating the dissemination of information and control of the internet.
However, both a concrete analysis of the political and economic state of US imperialism as well as historic analogies teaches us that the American Empire is doomed. This empire is in the final period of its decadence and it is just a question of time before it will collapse (even if this might take years or even decades). The American Empire will not face a different fate than its Roman predecessor.
However, revolutionaries must assure that the imperialist order will not be replaced by barbarism and chaos, the result of a nuclear world war or ecological disaster, but by a world-wide socialist society where all wealth and resources will be carefully planned and utilized in the interest of humanity. This is our task and for this all authentic revolutionaries must organize and join forces!
(1) At Our Own Peril: DOD Risk Assessment In A Post-Primacy World, Strategic Studies Institute and U.S. Army War College Press, June 2017
(2) These include a Republican member of the US Senate, nearly all relevant army commands, the National Intelligence Council, the CIA and the Defense Intelligence Agency, various imperialist think tanks (American Enterprise Institute, the Center for Strategic and International Studies [CSIS], RAND Corporation, and the Institute for the Study of War) and also unnamed “foreign partner national security leaders and analysts“.
(3) Besides various books, studies and articles on individual issues of the global class struggle, we refer readers to the RCIT’s World Perspective documents which we published during the past years:
See original article for details and links
(8) We have analyzed the economic decline of US imperialism extensively in our book The Great Robbery of the South as well as in the World Perspective documents mentioned above.