Since 9/11, the US has been following a strategy of forward defense -- engaging threats outside of its borders long before they can strike. In the vernacular of the US press and domestic politics, this roughly translates as "we fight them there so we don't have to fight them here." The thinking behind this strategy is:
- Rogue states are behind terrorism. Non-state threats are of little consequence without rogue state support.
- Removal of these rogue states will diminish terrorism by eliminating its sponsors/havens.
- Converting a rogue state into a democracy will completely eliminate them as a threat and change regional politics.
The Real ThreatThe result is that we are now in two hot guerrilla wars and global terrorism is at an all time high. Further, the soft power exercised by the US is at the lowest level we have seen since WW2, mostly due to an inexorable process of isolation driven by this strategy (as demonstrated within the framework of Boyd's theoretical framework). What went wrong? The flaw in preventative war is due to a fundamental misconception of what the threat really is. As we have discovered in the briefs on this site, the threat doesn't emanate from rogue states, but rather from non-state entities. These non-state groups are a product of globalization's super-empowerment of individuals that connect to it. Given this situation:
- Collapsing rogue states doesn't reduce the threat, it does exactly the opposite: it creates ungoverned spaces and failed states where non-state groups thrive.
- Nation-building is impossible in this situation. The humpty-dumpty rule applies. All of the talk about mismanagement of Iraq is fruitless, counter-productive (and should be seen merely as a rationalization of failure as we saw in Vietnam and the Russians did in Afghanistan), and will only lead to disasters in the future if we try it again. Since the real threat is from non-state groups, pushing nation-states (even rogue ones) into failure only makes the situation worse. It catalyzes the development of non-state groups. As a result, rectification of the situation becomes impossible since these non-state groups, with newly developed organizational models and methods of attack (systems), can easily collapse our attempts to return cohesion to the nation-states we toppled.
- It seeds the global development of non-state groups. As we have seen in London, Madrid, Toronto, and increasingly in the US (Reuters), new opponents will spontaneously emerge from nascent primary loyalties in response to these attacks. The more pressure applied, the greater the number of threats we face in our own back yard. Further, these groups are learning the lessons of guerrillas in Iraq -- the ultimate proving ground of advanced fourth generation warfare -- to become global guerrillas. As they continue to evolve, the very oil supply we hoped to secure will be increasingly put at risk (as we have seen in Nigeria, Iraq, Saudi Arabia, etc.).
What This MeansAs these bastardized preventative wars continue to percolate, we can expect the following:
- An Iraq/Afghanistan syndrome. Extended heated conflicts in these locales will have a long term impact on the willingness of both the US and NATO to intervene in future conflicts (and particularly nation-building). The costs, particularly in the US, of these conflicts will only exacerbate existing limits on future action. Hamstrung?
- Long tail markets in warfare. The market for private military services will continue to grow as states retreat from conflict areas and open source foes proliferate. These PMCs will function as the global marketplace's guards. Within a larger context, the arrival of these forces represent a return to the military structure of Europe's chaotic thirty years war. Since many of these firms will become brands as identifiable as Hawkwood's "White Company" was in 14th century Italy, will we also see the return of great mercenary captains like Wallenstein? Hard to see this happening, unless it occurs as a natural outgrowth of CEO celebrity culture.
- The tipping point for open source warfare has been breached. Our inability to disconnect from these conflicts will only catalyze its continued development, increase the likelihood that we will experience blowback, and create opportunities for black swan events (like an attack on a major oil facility that knocks out 3-5 million barrels a day of production).