The Pentagon’s Plans for a Perpetual Three-Front “Long War” Against China and Russia

Lambert here: This post recently surfaced in my feeds. I have to say that the author made a very good call — in 2018 (!).* Kudos to Tom Engelhardt, who’s been in there punching with Tom Dispatch since 2001. * Hence the anachronistic remark about Trump.

By Michael T. Klare, the five-college professor emeritus of peace and world security studies at Hampshire College and a senior visiting fellow at the Arms Control Association. He is the author of 15 books, the latest of which is All Hell Breaking Loose: The Pentagon’s Perspective on Climate Change. He is a founder of the Committee for a Sane U.S.-China Policy. Originally published at Tom Dispatch.

Think of it as the most momentous military planning on Earth right now. Who’s even paying attention, given the eternal changing of the guard at the White House, as well as the latest in tweets, sexual revelations, and investigations of every sort? And yet it increasingly looks as if, thanks to current Pentagon planning, a twenty-first-century version of the Cold War (with dangerous new twists) has begun and hardly anyone has even noticed. 

In 2006, when the Department of Defense spelled out its future security role, it saw only one overriding mission: its “Long War” against international terrorism. “With its allies and partners, the United States must be prepared to wage this war in many locations simultaneously and for some years to come,” the Pentagon’s Quadrennial Defense Review explained that year.  Twelve years later, the Pentagon has officially announced that that long war is drawing to a close — even though at least seven counterinsurgency conflicts still rage across the Greater Middle East and Africa — and a new long war has begun, a permanent campaign to contain China and Russia in Eurasia. 

“Great power competition, not terrorism, has emerged as the central challenge to U.S. security and prosperity,” claimed Pentagon Comptroller David Norquist while releasing the Pentagon’s $686 billion budget request in January.  “It is increasingly apparent that China and Russia want to shape a world consistent with their authoritarian values and, in the process, replace the free and open order that has enabled global security and prosperity since World War II.” 

Of course, just how committed President Trump is to the preservation of that “free and open order” remains questionable given his determination to scuttle international treaties and ignite a global trade war. Similarly, whether China and Russia truly seek to undermine the existing world order or simply make it less American-centric is a question that deserves close attention, just not today.  The reason is simple enough. The screaming headline you should have seen in any paper (but haven’t) is this: the U.S. military has made up its mind about the future. It has committed itself and the nation to a three-front geopolitical struggle to resist Chinese and Russian advances in Asia, Europe, and the Middle East. 

Important as this strategic shift may be, you won’t hear about it from the president, a man lacking the attention span necessary for such long-range strategic thinking and one who views Russia’s Vladimir Putin and China’s Xi Jinping as “frenemies” rather than die-hard adversaries. To fully appreciate the momentous changes occurring in U.S. military planning, it’s necessary to take a deep dive into the world of Pentagon scripture: budget documents and the annual “posture statements” of regional commanders already overseeing the implementation of that just-born three-front strategy. 

The New Geopolitical Chessboard

This renewed emphasis on China and Russia in U.S. military planning reflects the way top military officials are now reassessing the global strategic equation, a process that began long before Donald Trump entered the White House. Although after 9/11, senior commanders fully embraced the “long war against terror” approach to the world, their enthusiasm for endless counterterror operations leading essentially nowhere in remote and sometimes strategically unimportant places began to wane in recent years as they watched China and Russia modernizing their military forces and using them to intimidate neighbors.

While the long war against terror did fuel a vast, ongoing expansion of the Pentagon’s Special Operations Forces (SOF) — now a secretive army of 70,000 nestled inside the larger military establishment — it provided surprisingly little purpose or real work for the military’s “heavy metal” units: the Army’s tank brigades, the Navy’s carrier battle groups, the Air Force’s bomber squadrons, and so forth. Yes, the Air Force in particular has played a major supporting role in recent operations in Iraq and Syria, but the regular military has largely been sidelined there and elsewhere by lightly equipped SOF forces and drones. Planning for a “real war” against a “peer competitor” (one with forces and weaponry resembling our own) was until recently given far lower priority than the country’s never-ending conflicts across the Greater Middle East and Africa.  This alarmed and even angered those in the regular military whose moment, it seems, has now finally arrived.

“Today, we are emerging from a period of strategic atrophy, aware that our competitive military advantage has been eroding,” the Pentagon’s new National Defense Strategy declares. “We are facing increased global disorder, characterized by decline in the long-standing rules-based international order” — a decline officially attributed for the first time not to al-Qaeda and ISIS, but to the aggressive behavior of China and Russia. Iran and North Korea are also identified as major threats, but of a distinctly secondary nature compared to the menace posed by the two great-power competitors.

Unsurprisingly enough, this shift will require not only greater spending on costly, high-tech military hardware but also a redrawing of the global strategic map to favor the regular military. During the long war on terror, geography and boundaries appeared less important, given that terrorist cells seemed capable of operating anyplace where order was breaking down. The U.S. military, convinced that it had to be equally agile, readied itself to deploy (often Special Operations forces) to remote battlefields across the planet, borders be damned. 

On the new geopolitical map, however, America faces well-armed adversaries with every intention of protecting their borders, so U.S. forces are now being arrayed along an updated version of an older, more familiar three-front line of confrontation. In Asia, the U.S. and its key allies (South Korea, Japan, the Philippines, and Australia) are to face China across a line extending from the Korean peninsula to the waters of the East and South China Seas and the Indian Ocean. In Europe, the U.S. and its NATO allies will do the same for Russia on a front extending from Scandinavia and the Baltic Republics south to Romania and then east across the Black Sea to the Caucasus. Between these two theaters of contention lies the ever-turbulent Greater Middle East, with the United States and its two crucial allies there, Israel and Saudi Arabia, facing a Russian foothold in Syria and an increasingly assertive Iran, itself drawing closer to China and Russia.  From the Pentagon’s perspective, this is to be the defining strategic global map for the foreseeable future. Expect most upcoming major military investments and initiatives to focus on bolstering U.S. naval, air, and ground strength on its side of these lines, as well as on targeting Sino-Russian vulnerabilities across them. 

There’s no better way to appreciate the dynamics of this altered strategic outlook than to dip into the annual “posture statements” of the heads of the Pentagon’s “unified combatant commands,” or combined Army/Navy/Air Force/Marine Corps headquarters, covering the territories surrounding China and Russia: Pacific Command (PACOM), with responsibility for all U.S. forces in Asia; European Command (EUCOM), covering U.S. forces from Scandinavia to the Caucasus; and Central Command (CENTCOM), which oversees the Middle East and Central Asia where so many of the country’s counterterror wars are still underway. 

The senior commanders of these meta-organizations are the most powerful U.S. officials in their “areas of responsibility” (AORs), exercising far more clout than any American ambassador stationed in the region (and often local heads of state as well). That makes their statements and the shopping lists of weaponry that invariably go with them of real significance for anyone who wants to grasp the Pentagon’s vision of America’s global military future.

The Indo-Pacific Front

Commanding PACOM is Admiral Harry Harris Jr., a long-time naval aviator. In his annual posture statement, delivered to the Senate Armed Services Committee on March 15th, Harris painted a grim picture of America’s strategic position in the Asia-Pacific region. In addition to the dangers posed by a nuclear-armed North Korea, he argued, China was emerging as a formidable threat to America’s vital interests. “The People’s Liberation Army’s rapid evolution into a modern, high-tech fighting force continues to be both impressive and concerning,” he asserted. “PLA capabilities are progressing faster than any other nation in the world, benefitting from robust resourcing and prioritization.”

Most threatening, in his view, is Chinese progress in developing intermediate-range ballistic missiles (IRBMs) and advanced warships. Such missiles, he explained, could strike U.S. bases in Japan or on the island of Guam, while the expanding Chinese navy could challenge the U.S. Navy in seas off China’s coast and someday perhaps America’s command of the western Pacific. “If this [shipbuilding] program continues,” he said, “China will surpass Russia as the world’s second largest navy by 2020, when measured in terms of submarines and frigate-class ships or larger.”

To counter such developments and contain Chinese influence requires, of course, spending yet more taxpayer dollars on advanced weapons systems, especially precision-guided missiles. Admiral Harris called for vastly increasing investment in such weaponry in order to overpower current and future Chinese capabilities and ensure U.S. military dominance of China’s air and sea space. “In order to deter potential adversaries in the Indo-Pacific,” he declared, “we must build a more lethal force by investing in critical capabilities and harnessing innovation.”

His budgetary wish list was impressive. Above all, he spoke with great enthusiasm about new generations of aircraft and missiles — what are called, in Pentagonese, “anti-access/area-denial” systems — capable of striking Chinese IRBM batteries and other weapons systems intended to keep American forces safely away from Chinese territory. He also hinted that he wouldn’t mind having new nuclear-armed missiles for this purpose — missiles, he suggested, that could be launched from ships and planes and so would skirt the Intermediate-Range Nuclear Forces Treaty, to which the U.S. is a signatory and which bans land-based intermediate-range nuclear missiles. (To give you a feel for the arcane language of Pentagon nuclear cognoscenti, here’s how he put it: “We must continue to expand Intermediate Nuclear Force Treaty-compliant theater strike capabilities to effectively counter adversary anti-access/area-denial [A2/AD] capabilities and force preservation tactics.”)

Finally, to further strengthen the U.S. defense line in the region, Harris called for enhanced military ties with various allies and partners, including Japan, South Korea, the Philippines, and Australia. PACOM’s goal, he stated, is to “maintain a network of like-minded allies and partners to cultivate principled security networks, which reinforce the free and open international order.” Ideally, he added, this network will eventually encompass India, further extending the encirclement of China.

The European Theater

A similarly embattled future, even if populated by different actors in a different landscape, was offered by Army General Curtis Scaparrotti, commander of EUCOM, in testimony before the Senate Committee on Armed Services on March 8th. For him, Russia is the other China. As he put it in a bone-chilling description, “Russia seeks to change the international order, fracture NATO, and undermine U.S. leadership in order to protect its regime, reassert dominance over its neighbors, and achieve greater influence around the globe… Russia has demonstrated its willingness and capability to intervene in countries along its periphery and to project power — especially in the Middle East.”

This, needless to say, is not the outlook we’re hearing from President Trump, who has long appeared reluctant to criticize Vladimir Putin or paint Russia as a full-fledged adversary. For American military and intelligence officials, however, Russia unquestionably poses the preeminent threat to U.S. security interests in Europe.  It is now being spoken of in a fashion that should bring back memories of the Cold War era. “Our highest strategic priority,” Scaparrotti insisted, “is to deter Russia from engaging in further aggression and exercising malign influence over our allies and partners. [To this end,] we are… updating our operational plans to provide military response options to defend our European allies against Russian aggression.” 

The cutting edge of EUCOM’s anti-Russian drive is the European Deterrence Initiative (EDI), a project President Obama initiated in 2014 following the Russian seizure of Crimea. Originally known as the European Reassurance Initiative, the EDI is intended to bolster U.S. and NATO forces deployed in the “front-line states” — Estonia, Latvia, Lithuania, and Poland — facing Russia on NATO’s “Eastern Front.” According to the Pentagon wish list submitted in February, some $6.5 billion are to be allocated to the EDI in 2019. Most of those funds will be used to stockpile munitions in the front-line states, enhance Air Force basing infrastructure, conduct increased joint military exercises with allied forces, and rotate additional U.S.-based forces into the region. In addition, some $200 million will be devoted to a Pentagon “advise, train, and equip” mission in Ukraine.  

Like his counterpart in the Pacific theater, General Scaparrotti also turns out to have an expensive wish list of future weaponry, including advanced planes, missiles, and other high-tech weapons that, he claims, will counter modernizing Russian forces. In addition, recognizing Russia’s proficiency in cyberwarfare, he’s calling for a substantial investment in cyber technology and, like Admiral Harris, he cryptically hinted at the need for increased investment in nuclear forces of a sort that might be “usable” on a future European battlefield.

Between East and West: Central Command

Overseeing a startling range of war-on-terror conflicts in the vast, increasingly unstable region stretching from PACOM’s western boundary to EUCOM’s eastern one is the U.S. Central Command. For most of its modern history, CENTCOM has been focused on counterterrorism and the wars in Iraq, Syria, and Afghanistan in particular. Now, however, even as the previous long war continues, the Command is already beginning to position itself for a new Cold War-revisited version of perpetual struggle, a plan — to resurrect a dated term — to contain both China and Russia in the Greater Middle East. 

In recent testimony before the Senate Armed Services Committee, CENTCOM commander Army General Joseph Votel concentrated on the status of U.S. operations against ISIS in Syria and against the Taliban in Afghanistan, but he also affirmed that the containment of China and Russia has become an integral part of CENTCOM’s future strategic mission: “The recently published National Defense Strategy rightly identifies the resurgence of great power competition as our principal national security challenge and we see the effects of that competition throughout the region.”

Through its support of the Syrian regime of Bashar al-Assad and its efforts to gain influence with other key actors in the region, Russia, Votel claimed, is playing an increasingly conspicuous role in Centcom’s AOR. China is also seeking to enhance its geopolitical clout both economically and through a small but growing military presence. Of particular concern, Votel asserted, is the Chinese-managed port at Gwadar in Pakistan on the Indian Ocean and a new Chinese base in Djibouti on the Red Sea, across from Yemen and Saudi Arabia. Such facilities, he claimed, contribute to China’s “military posture and force projection” in CENTCOM’s AOR and are signals of a challenging future for the U.S. military. 

Under such circumstances, Votel testified, it is incumbent upon CENTCOM to join PACOM and EUCOM in resisting Chinese and Russian assertiveness. “We have to be prepared to address these threats, not just in the areas in which they reside, but the areas in which they have influence.”  Without providing any details, he went on to say, “We have developed… very good plans and processes for how we will do that.”

What that means is unclear at best, but despite Donald Trump’s campaign talk about a U.S. withdrawal from Afghanistan, Iraq, and Syria once ISIS and the Taliban are defeated, it seems increasingly clear that the U.S. military is preparing to station its forces in those (and possibly other) countries across CENTCOM’s region of responsibility indefinitely, fighting terrorism, of course, but also ensuring that there will be a permanent U.S. military presence in areas that could see intensifying geopolitical competition among the major powers. 

An Invitation to Disaster

In relatively swift fashion, American military leaders have followed up their claim that the U.S. is in a new long war by sketching the outlines of a containment line that would stretch from the Korean Peninsula around Asia across the Middle East into parts of the former Soviet Union in Eastern Europe and finally to the Scandinavian countries. Under their plan, American military forces — reinforced by the armies of trusted allies — should garrison every segment of this line, a grandiose scheme to block hypothetical advances of Chinese and Russian influence that, in its global reach, should stagger the imagination. Much of future history could be shaped by such an outsized effort.

Questions for the future include whether this is either a sound strategic policy or truly sustainable. Attempting to contain China and Russia in such a manner will undoubtedly provoke countermoves, some undoubtedly difficult to resist, including cyber attacks and various kinds of economic warfare. And if you imagined that a war on terror across huge swaths of the planet represented a significant global overreach for a single power, just wait. Maintaining large and heavily-equipped forces on three extended fronts will also prove exceedingly costly and will certainly conflict with domestic spending priorities and possibly provoke a divisive debate over the reinstatement of the draft.  

However, the real question — unasked in Washington at the moment — is: Why pursue such a policy in the first place? Are there not other ways to manage the rise of China and Russia’s provocative behavior? What appears particularly worrisome about this three-front strategy is its immense capacity for confrontation, miscalculation, escalation, and finally actual war rather than simply grandiose war planning. 

At multiple points along this globe-spanning line — the Baltic Sea, the Black Sea, Syria, the South China Sea, and the East China Sea, to name just a few — forces from the U.S. and China or Russia are already in significant contact, often jostling for position in a potentially hostile manner. At any moment, one of these encounters could provoke a firefight leading to unintended escalation and, in the end, possibly all-out combat. From there, almost anything could happen, even the use of nuclear weapons.  Clearly, officials in Washington should be thinking hard before committing Americans to a strategy that will make this increasingly likely and could turn what is still long-war planning into an actual long war with deadly consequences. [Lambert here: Ah well, nevertheless….]

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About Lambert Strether

Readers, I have had a correspondent characterize my views as realistic cynical. Let me briefly explain them. I believe in universal programs that provide concrete material benefits, especially to the working class. Medicare for All is the prime example, but tuition-free college and a Post Office Bank also fall under this heading. So do a Jobs Guarantee and a Debt Jubilee. Clearly, neither liberal Democrats nor conservative Republicans can deliver on such programs, because the two are different flavors of neoliberalism (“Because markets”). I don’t much care about the “ism” that delivers the benefits, although whichever one does have to put common humanity first, as opposed to markets. Could be a second FDR saving capitalism, democratic socialism leashing and collaring it, or communism razing it. I don’t much care, as long as the benefits are delivered. To me, the key issue — and this is why Medicare for All is always first with me — is the tens of thousands of excess “deaths from despair,” as described by the Case-Deaton study, and other recent studies. That enormous body count makes Medicare for All, at the very least, a moral and strategic imperative. And that level of suffering and organic damage makes the concerns of identity politics — even the worthy fight to help the refugees Bush, Obama, and Clinton’s wars created — bright shiny objects by comparison. Hence my frustration with the news flow — currently in my view the swirling intersection of two, separate Shock Doctrine campaigns, one by the Administration, and the other by out-of-power liberals and their allies in the State and in the press — a news flow that constantly forces me to focus on matters that I regard as of secondary importance to the excess deaths. What kind of political economy is it that halts or even reverses the increases in life expectancy that civilized societies have achieved? I am also very hopeful that the continuing destruction of both party establishments will open the space for voices supporting programs similar to those I have listed; let’s call such voices “the left.” Volatility creates opportunity, especially if the Democrat establishment, which puts markets first and opposes all such programs, isn’t allowed to get back into the saddle. Eyes on the prize! I love the tactical level, and secretly love even the horse race, since I’ve been blogging about it daily for fourteen years, but everything I write has this perspective at the back of it.


  1. Sgt Oddball

    – Remind me again: – Didn’t the last loon to attempt fighting a prolonged three-front global war wind up eating a cyanide capsule in a bunker somewheres?… – Now who was that guy again?…

    1. Polar Socialist

      To be fair, that loon attempted to have a succession of ‘lightning wars’ but ended up with a prolonged three-font war.

        1. Sgt Oddball

          …- BTW, I oughta elaborate here on the parallels with the contemporary situation:

          – PACOM’s intended stance resembles *almost identically* that of imperial Japan, viz China.

          – Meanwhile, EU/CENTCOM’s intended playbook looks an awful lot like a setup for a subsequent Barbarossa 2.0, including the intended (though never realized) southwards drive for the Baku oilfields (- in the here-and-now, all of the gulf-adjacent OPEC states (tho’ esp. Iran)).

    2. paddy

      i don’t know about today but used to be thucydides was on the reading list at the ‘war’ colleges.

      if it still remains seems all they got out of it was the melian dialog.

      when they should be pondering of how things went at syragusa!

      1. Sgt Oddball

        I think most are familiar with the aphorism, “Those who fail to learn from history are doomed to repeat it”. What interests me is how *exactly* does one fall into that trap in the first place? – How does one *begin* to fail to learn from history?

        I believe the problem most likely lies in the inherent psychopathological fact, pertaining to power and those who tend most to seek and wield it, that every generation of elites throughout history, *always and everywhere*, consider themselves exceptional in comparison to those elites who came before them (not to mention their rival contemporaries) – arguably this was the case even back then with the Athenian elite.

        – As a corollary, I seem to be forever reading in various finance and econ’ blogs and news about how all manner of (orthodox) banksters, economists, traders and other sundry finance bro’s will all swear blind, particularly with respect to their (assumed) final mastery of the boom-bust cycle, that *always*, “This time is different”. – Well, the hell it *EVER* is…

        …Maybe it really is just that simple: – That elites, due to their inherent narcissism are the least likely of all people to learn from the past, precisely because their sense of exceptionalism leads them (falsely) to recognise in themselves *absolutely nothing* in common with those who lived back then, and thus nothing whatsoever to learn from it in any case. – That and, perhaps also, that their status and position as elites, by-and-large, invariably tends to insulate them from the consequences of the vast majority of their own contemporary history of mistakes – the rest of us, not so much.

        1. hk

          There’s a better version of that quote: people learn from history how to make new ones. (AJP Taylor)

        2. podcastkid

          You look at Dems vs Libertarians on foreign policy, and you’d think socieites/populations don’t learn evenly. I’d guess it would be easiest to learn from recent history, and most likely it would teach us the most. Unfortunately, on that you are probably right Sarge that narcissism blocks the way. What we learned about fission [if we learned it] is not being considered vis a vis fusion. “Dual-use” in terms of critters. Warp speed vaccines. GMOs. In America I’ll even include bullet trains [cause we have real problems just marshalling what’s left of resources to address glaring higher priority needs…I’m talk’n our particular situation]. Certainly the population hasn’t learned evenly in those depts. Nevertheless, ideal learning would be closer at least to more evenly.

          I don’t look much in Water Cooler, but I’ll start looking for links discussing war & narcissism & shadow & 15%+ (layoffs) & creativity…all in one place.

  2. Michael Hudson

    “Great power competition” is an abstraction for competition between Finance Capitalism (or financialization + privatization) centered in the United States, and mixed public/private economies seeking to keep basic infrastructure public and subsidize, and to avoid dependence on rentier control

    1. Amfortas the hippie

      thanks for introducing these things, here.
      this tardis nut* in particular…succinct, and at home in the feedstore parking lot, it turns out.
      *(Dr Who’s larger on the inside phonebooth space/time vehicle)

    2. Susan the other

      Since this report was written the military has floated another strategy – cooperative competition. It’s always possible that the military, whose timeline for action is sometimes decades away, has given serious thought to the pesky fact that if everything western is privatized their organization could easily find itself divided and confused by private interests. Unfortunately for the military this will be their fate if they continue to oppose responsible governments for the sake of private profits. What,s an orphaned military to do?

    3. truly

      Quoting MH “and to avoid dependence on rentier control”.
      Some of this seems to be playing out regarding plant seeds that are patented. A battle between the Cargill GMO crowd and the heirloom and open pollinated non GMO crowd. I would love to see some deeper analysis of this, but I have to believe that Mexico and India have no choice but to side with RU based on the challenges they face with GMO and (in India at least) forced indebtedness to seed producers. Nations maintaining food supply outside of rentier control by American or Western capital has to be long term concern for their own sovereignty?

    1. Louis Fyne

      and in the ensuing 20 min. of confusion, a no-brained Biden or Kamala gets goaded into launching every US nuke

      Hope and change, folks.

  3. britzklieg

    “whether China and Russia truly seek to undermine the existing world order or simply make it less American-centric is a question that deserves close attention, just not today.”

    oops, too late

  4. John R Moffett

    The author lost me when they said; “…their enthusiasm for endless counterterror operations leading essentially nowhere in remote and sometimes strategically unimportant places began to wane in recent years as they watched China and Russia modernizing their military forces and using them to intimidate neighbors.”

    I noticed that the author failed to give even one example of Russia and China using their militaries to intimidate neighbors (at least not until the US provoked them in Ukraine and the South China Sea). It is the US that has over 750 overseas military bases. It is the US that pulled out of treaties. It is the US that spends nearly a trillion dollars on the war machine each year.

    1. Louis Fyne

      Authoris like Professor Mearsheimer….they are broadly correct in their realistic conclusion BUT still hold onto an “America exceptionalism” worldview

      1. Keith Newman

        @Louis Fyne; 8:49am
        You’re probably right although it’s possible they mouth the required words so they’ll get published in mainstream influential journals. They would only tell the truth of it to reliable personal friends.

      2. Telee

        Professor Mearsheimer gives a good critique of the situation in Ukraine, however his main complaint is that Ukraine is taking our eye of the real enemy China. So it seems he is for containment of China and war with China if necessary to maintain US hegemony.

      3. Dida

        Almost all American IR experts are married to the Empire even when they seem to display a moderate outlook. After that fateful sentence at the beginning which similarly irked me, I went directly to the conclusion, where we find the author asking rhetorically:

        Why pursue such a policy in the first place? Are there not other ways to manage the rise of China and Russia’s provocative behavior?

        In other words, these insolent serfs, they don’t know their place anymore, but we have to manage them more skillfully so that we don’t blow up the joint.

        1. Catchymango

          This is very well put. I learned this first hand when in college I wanted to study foreign policy and imperialism. Even a seemingly sober-minded Russian prof whose course I took, would dismiss the idea of American imperialism being a bad thing as “leftism and propaganda.” You’d be hard-pressed to find ppl within the “Realist” school of IR who are not American imperialists of one flavour or another.

          A great book that scratched the IR itch for me was one which studied the elite factions within the US and how they shaped foreign policy…can’t remember the exact title but the author had an excellent grasp on the field of IR, as someone critical of its support for American hegemony.

    2. Anon

      He should have lost you way before that line, as you are meant to question the veracity of the opinions presented, which happen to track well with the mainstream consensus (‘fake’ news?). China/Russia are in fact using their military to intimidate their neighbors; whose fault that is is a loaded question, and it’s always pointed East. I admire the writer’s ability to ‘keep a straight face’ throughout the piece.

  5. Ignacio

    Covid only delayed the process and it is possible to speculate that the run for the “new normalcy” was rushed partially to prevent further delays of Pentagon’s plans.

  6. Hepativore

    All of this goes to show that the MIC does what it wants, when it wants, and to whomever it wants, regardless of anybody else’s opinion on the matter. Presidents change, but they are merely the guy who sits in the cockpit of a destructive machine that cruises along on autopilot. None of our leaders have the bravery or motivation to challenge it, now, or in the foreseeable future.

    For the few people that might actually notice that this is going on, you might get some protests here and there, but they will be ignored, and as the media will never report on this, most people will be too preoccupied with the drivel they get on CNN or Fox News to ever bother themselves with the fact that we are heading for another decades-long cycle of inflaming international relations and military disasters. Neoliberalism is alive and well.

    Can the US qualify as a stratocracy, yet?

  7. Carolinian

    Funny how the 1960s’ satire Doctor Strangelove seems to become ever more relevant. Some discussion yesterday about whether Trump is “insane” but perhaps power itself is a form of insanity that destroys the victim’s grasp of reality. By this standard Trump–a clumsy wielder of national power–was the opposite of insane. It’s the neocons and retro imperialists who really need a session on the couch. They can explain why a few hundred million are entitled to rule over the 8 billion.

  8. The Rev Kev

    The broad lines of US strategy are plain to see. With countries like Russia, China and Iran, they are to be surrounded by US military bases for a first strike capability. Any Allies that they have are to be peeled off in colour revolutions and coups though so many nations have twigged to this that it is much harder to accomplish now as seen in Türkiye, Kazakhstan and Belarus. Try to set off wars in their neighbourhood or those of allies such as Syria and Armenia-Azerbaijan. Remember – chaos is a ladder. Set up NGOs to train up a bunch of trained seals and groom replacement leaders, preferably those associated with the World Economic Forum. Use local violent groups to destroy infrastructure, assassinate leaders, citizens of those countries and even Ambassadors. These violent groups will then be used to keep the population in line after a coup like with the Ukraine. Set up allies to be eventual bullet & missile sponges. Ignore international laws, agreements and norms if it furthers your goals and ignore any blowback. I could go on but you get the gist and we have all seen it before.

    1. Carolinian

      We once had a Vietnam Syndrome that lasted for a couple of decades. Perhaps an upcoming Ukraine Syndrome will stymie the Pentagon and Rand wackos although not much sign of it so far. It took 50k dead Americans to create the former and economic disaster may create the latter and be more lasting since our rulers love their money but managed to skip out of Vietnam.

      1. playon

        The death toll was actually 60,000 in Vietnam, and that doesn’t count the tens of thousands that were permanently disabled and/or mentally ruined. And unlike Vietnam, a large number of Americans seem totally on board with fighting to the last Ukrainian.

        The desperation of the USA to somehow contain Russia and China is pathetic and dangerous. Maybe someone should have thought through the implications of outsourcing and destroying America’s manufacturing base which was our actual “national security”.

        We are currently house hunting in the US but when I read this kind of thing it makes me think twice and to consider moving abroad, to somewhere that is not “the west”.

        1. Keith Newman

          @Playon, 11:44am
          Indeed. I think the disabled-mentally ruined USians were in the hundreds of thousands from Vietnam. The country was scarred.
          But in Ukraine no (official) US soldiers are involved so there’s no blowback.
          For the US oligarchs the war has been a success: keep Germany away from Russia for a long time and get lots of very profitable orders for the MIC and Big Oil. What’s not to like. Obviously the “little people” in Ukraine don’t matter to them at all (just like in Vietnam, Vietnamese and USians, for that matter).

        2. JTMcPhee

          And of course even us enlightened NC participants don’t even think to mention millions of dead Vietnamese, Laotians, Cambodians. Or all the other little brown collateral damagees from subsequent US actions. The exceptionalism is deep in us…

      2. Willie

        There are no anti-war movements in the USA that aren’t watered down with distracting, catch-all political agendas. I know, because I looked.

      3. digi_owl

        What Pentagon and Congress learned from that is to avoid a draft.

        That is why since then there has been an increasing focus on military brats, the poor, and contractors to fill the ranks cover needs.

    2. paddy

      i wonder if they have chaplains selling this as ‘just war’ as they rolled out to “save’ the oil sheiks in kuwait?

      no christian could work for these evil doers.

  9. John Merryman

    Jesus. At what point do those children with matches realize their only function is to create the debt the banks need to back all that notational value?
    The secret sauce of capitalism is public debt backing private wealth.
    At some point in the very near future, they are going to pull an Afghanistan and bolt for the door.

    1. Mikel

      “The secret sauce of capitalism is public debt backing private wealth.”

      Guess that’s another way of describing it.

      Somebody must want to control the public debt of the entire world.

  10. Lex

    Perhaps worth pointing out that even in 2018 the internal prognosis was that the US was now lagging in this new great power competition. Of course some of that can always be discounted as lobbying for funds. But that’s not all of it. It wasn’t all that long ago that the highest level of US planning determined tanks to be “sooo 20th century” and were ready to stop producing them. The only thing that saved the Lima plant was the congressional side of the MIC.

    Nor is it just a matter of tanks, artillery shells and other material of industrial warfare. US doctrine shifted after the ’03 Iraq invasion too. Light infantry, mobile warfare against underarmed adversaries with the US side have air dominance. Plus a sprinkle of “counter-insurgency” though US counter-insurgency doctrine has always been a joke. We’re a full military career removed from the US military preparing for or conventional war against a near-peer/peer adversary and far longer since it had to perform against a near-peer.

    Over these years our “adversaries” planned differently. For one, all of them have fairly limited aims which allows preparing for those limited aims rather than attempting something like global full-spectrum dominance. Russia wants to be able to defend itself with minor force projection capability in its border regions. It correctly determined that it could never hope to match the US in air power so instead concentrated on air defenses (to impose a cost on US airpower, the thing which the US military is completely dependent on) and tactical missile development because that serves the same purpose as air frames (or close enough) but is cheaper and plays to Russian technical strengths. China wants to be able to force the US out of the sea around China. So it has concentrated on naval quantity, naval air and anti-ship missiles. Like Russia, it has identified what the US needs to threaten it and concentrated on counters to those US needs. Iran is similar in how much it has focused on domestic drone and tactical ballistic/cruise missiles. It has focused on making the US/Israel and even KSA pay a cost too steep to attack Iran.

    So as the US military pivots to great power competition, it starts from a position where its actual power has atrophied for two decades and plans to confront at least three different adversaries who have carefully crafted their military doctrine towards US weaknesses. To address these weakness in adversarial context will require a pretty significant change in US doctrine and procurement/development. If an F-35 doesn’t really do you any good, can you actually terminate the program? And how long does it take to develop and field the weapons systems and capabilities that you really need? Those are the easy problems to solve though. The sort of warfare the US must envision against Russia and China require large manpower contingents and huge logistical tails. Finding 500,000 US soldiers to face off against Russia in Eastern Europe is probably a lot more difficult than building missile defense systems capable and in quantity to neutralize the Russian missile advantage. The number of naval personnel needed to really contain China is significant too. And in both cases the planning requires anticipating losses and replacing them.

    So it’s all well and good for the commands to write memos for congress. But to see these memos through looks like it will take efforts beyond current US capability or will.

    1. Keith Newman

      @Lex, 9:40am.
      There is also the critical fact that US weapons production is geared to profit not efficient killing and the military top brass benefits personally from this. So US costs relative to those of enemies (Russia, China, Iran) are up to 10 times higher. There is no way to overcome that disadvantage short of nationalizing the war industries but then the cushy post-retirement jobs for 70% of US generals would vanish overnight. That’ll never happen so US costs would be prohibitive if its military actually tried to dominate Russia etc. all at once.

  11. TomDority

    So. for decades, the financial capitalists have been undermining the security of this country, undermining democracy, dimming the light of freedom, capturing our politicians and perverting the constitution to the benefit of themselves, creating a free market (free for the rentiers instead of free from the rentiers) by a concerted effort. For example, creating brittle companies while saying they were making companies more resilient by leveraging their profits into the service of debt to create ‘shareholder value’. Creating Just in Time supply chains that are also brittle and ripe for exploitation and manipulation in the cause of efficiency. An unjust revenue system that raise the cost of living and doing business for most people – relative to income and decreases taxes for exploitive financial renterism. We have Bernnie Sanders saying that their should be no billionaires…as if the legislation and tax favoritism that enables the extraction of these billions did not come from their own legislation and tax laws.
    Sorry for ranting
    So instead of our country leading the world and promoting democracy and freedom by example, thus embedding a desire for the basic human rights of “life, liberty, and the pursuit of happiness.” and that no one is to be ruled by another without their consent…
    Instead of that we have this ruling elite (yes, we elected most of these sell-outs via the heavily moneyed election process – even politicians who want others to not buy their elected office complain and beg for cash but never mention the corruption evident in our campaign finance laws or the necessity of raising so much bribe money) — this elite that feels the only way to defend and secure democracy is through financial coercion and brute force that, in fact makes us less secure and less a democracy.
    Those who would give up essential liberty, to purchase a little temporary safety, deserve neither liberty nor safety. Benjamin Franklin (1706-1790)

    1. Amfortas the hippie

      another thing that plays surprisingly well in the feedstore parking lot:
      our aristocracy(or whatever) are traitors.
      i have yet to be yelled at or attacked for inserting this into the playlist:
      …at least with generations younger than boomers.
      (the local boomers are the local cohort that votes reliably(both parties), is involved in politics, and is outspoken. easiest way to get yer ass kicked(or get strangled, in my case) at one of the local winebars or speakeasies(yes, really,lol) is to burn a dollar while talking about fetish objects and reification and the Holy Cracker of Moloch….that, or say anything at all resembling mcGregor/Ritter/this guy/et alia)

      1. polar donkey

        I remember thinking 25 years ago, (when I was 24 and right before 9/11), once these crazies still fighting about Vietnam and 1960’s are gone maybe we can make some progress. Nope. Everything has gotten worse and crazier, and boomers are the craziest. Still think it’s 1999 Russia and starving kids in China. Republican boomers are slightly less crazy. At least realize there are problems. What may be those problems and their causes are up for debate. Democratic boomers. Everything is racist, transgender-phobic, Trump/Putin supporters fault. They are around the bend

  12. jefemt

    Anyone happen to watch Frontline last night on Part 1 of Putin and 5 Presidents?

    I think it is available direct from PBS. 1 hr, second one on Life in Ukraine in 2 weeks.
    Some facts, some propaganda, some rationalization. Wole lotta rationalization that War and Empire are still The Answer.

    Not much in it for the Least Among Us. I guess we are incapable of getting beyond war and empire.

  13. John Mc

    The language being used by command outposts leaders is so disturbing as to be surreal. It is as if they are unable to accept the possibility of the idea that unipolarity has to come to an end. All one would need do is look at the streets of Kensington in Philly or study the most cursory aspects of US pandemic leadership or attend a vacuous Davos seminar to see how batshit insane we are (as a country) to think we can lead anyone – unless the metric involves mass shootings, mass avoidance of issues (see sports or entertainment) or mass propaganda.

    Wish I had more positive things to communicate but this inability to grasp with reality in this empire puts everyone on planet in massive danger.

  14. Camelotkidd

    It occurs to me that Lambert’s maxim–“because markets, go die”– also applies to the American empire. The geniuses that run US foreign policy bet it all on black, in that our weaponized financial system was the ultimate doomsday weapon that would crush all in its path. Except, that’s not how it turned out. It seems that this financial colossus has feet of clay.

  15. paddy

    the pentagon industry perma-war state is upset about “disorder” and its rules not being obeyed.

    i thought usa was about the common defense?

    ““Today, we are emerging from a period of strategic atrophy, aware that our competitive military advantage has been eroding,””

    eroded by expensive disarmament that is always to unreliable to properly test and so late the pentagon needs armies of contractors to keep the old stuff running.

    and usa allies have the same unreliable stuff and cannot keep track of how broke it is.

    so the allies buy the untested in need of new engines and radars f-35.

    capability eroding by plundering weapons sellers.

    1. Wukchumni

      I wonder how dove sellers would be the subject of persecution were they to be seen going about business in the temple, er Pentagon?

  16. Karl

    On December 20, Congress passed the big Trump-Ryan tax cut. The National Defense Strategy was released to the public weeks later. The budget request was undoubtedly well known on the Hill during the negotiations over the tax cut.

    Clearly, the Republican Congress knew that 2018–an election year– was going to entail a massive fiscal deficit. It’s good to remember this in light of today’s Republican posturing over the Debt limit.

    It’s a measure of Trump’s unpopularity that the R’s lost the House by a large margin anyway in November 2018, despite healthy growth in GDP and total employment by election day.

    It”s clear that Republicans love spending and deficits when they are in control because it will help them in the next election. The obvious corollary is they hate spending and deficits when the other Party controls the White House–as is the case now.

    I don’t think MIC spending has anything to do with National Security any more. As Robert Reich has said, it’s a big jobs program. The strategic justifications change but the result is always the same. Now the justification is pretty insane, but where pork is concerned, this BS will continue until the American people say: stop. I don’t think they will, because: Jobs.

    The sabre rattling will continue until something breaks, e.g.a disastrous humiliation for the West in Ukraine. That will almost certainly lead to calls for even more MIC spending.

    What about the October 2022 NDF?

    …the first sort of major takeaway [from the 2022 NDF] is it’s clear Europe is second fiddle. I don’t think that will come as a huge shock to most Europeans…. this is a document that I think has been ready to go since before the war. And I think it hasn’t – it doesn’t look like it’s really been updated to take into account many of the lessons learned from the war. But we have real defense industrial challenges not just in the United States but as an alliance.

  17. WillD

    When one talks of war, one thinks immediately of the US, the one country since WWII responsible for nearly all wars, and the untold death and suffering of millions around the world.

    None of those wars have been because the US genuinely needed to defend its lands – none, not even the manufactured ‘war on terror’ after 9/11. It always had the choice not to go to war.

    We often forget the secondary effects of war, those of people displaced, impoverished, diseased and starved. We often forget the devastation left behind, and the years of suffering it causes.

  18. Altandmain

    The US seems to be increasingly desperate to hold onto global hegemony. Perhaps I should say, the American ruling class that is, as they don’t really represent the same desires as ordinary American citizens that the rich have exploited.

    The danger here is that as their power declines relative to that of nations like China, they will do reckless things, like nuclear provocations. That’s especially the most important risk as the US conventional military loses.

  19. AG

    Klare had a very akward and upsettingly ideological piece about China as a threat to the USA via climate impact and why this should display in US military threat analyses:

    “The Department of Defense Has Delivered Another Massive Intelligence Failure – Chinese emissions represent at least as great a threat to US security as the multitude of weapons enumerated in the Pentagon’s 2022 report—so why was it not addressed?”

    (This fits smoothly with scholars like Lyle Goldstein, whose insight on China I welcome, but whose point of view is as much imperialistic as any other establishment figure, neglecting truth beyond the academic power redderick which, astonishingly has not changed in the last 70 years. What was right under Truman is right now.)

    A new piece in LONDON REVIEW OF BOOKS picks up on the topic of climate and NATO among others

    “Green Empire?” by Ed McNally

    It finishes with this remarkable paragraph:

    “(…) Green empire seems like an idea whose time has come in the West: NATO’s new security concept says it ‘should become the leading international organization when it comes to understanding and adapting to the impact of climate change on security’, while the European Greens promote retrofitting with the slogan ‘Isolate Putin. Insulate Homes.’ Crawford’s empirically rich work does much to deepen our understanding of this trend and its prehistory. But when her anatomy of the military is affixed to an analysis of the empire it shields, the strictures of the Pentagon’s role as a climate actor become clear. With the left in purgatory, it is understandable that scholars like Michael Klare should hope for Washington to take up the mantle of planetary rescue. The notion that there might be anything ethically palatable in a green American empire, though, is a delusion that must be dispensed with.(…)”.

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