Saturday, August 18, 2007

Russian Strategic Bombers

I'd like to point it out that this is the moment where the United States' uncontested hegemony was (is?) lost.

This is perhaps alarmist, but I won't be alone in making this prediction. Pax Americana, as best it can be labeled, began in 1992, with the collapse of the USSR and, with it, the end of a Soviet challenge to the United States military power. Other nations still had significant military power, but none was as close, as significant as either of the cold-war adversaries. With one military left uncontested, the prospect of a global war between two coalitions ended, and the United States emerged victorious, ready to remake and reshape the world as best suited this new era of peace and prosperity.

Like previous eras of peace named after empires, Pax Americana was not without war, is in fact conveniently book-ended by a pair of wars in Iraq. The wars of a hegemonic peace are more trivial, not without their power or significance, but instead of being earth-shaking conflicts, they are smaller, more contained, whose effects are measured more in stock market fluctuations than in ideological struggles for the sake of the whole world. It's not that people don't die; it's that an awful lot less people die. Now, every great peace has it's problems, but horrific as Bosnia and Rwanda were, they were limited in scale and in theater of operation. Throughout those conflicts, the United States stood at the head of global coalitions when the acted, and was perhaps first in hesitancy when the world failed to act. The US took a leadership role, and had the power and influence to act on it.

That's lost now, more or less. Most political goodwill towards the US has been squandered, but goodwill alone does not a hegemon make. Machiavelli stipulated that it is better to be feared than loved (though being both is ideal). If one is loved and not feared, people will take without consequence, and use you but not listen to you. Political goodwill is being loved, and is more flexible, more variable, and less certain. Military power is foremost among the reasons to be feared. With military power, actions against the hegemon come with significant consequence, and it is the power of a hegemon that, although any two or three nations could muster the military might to defeat them, no more than a single nation ever dares to act.

Russia, reeling from the loss of it's military power, and suffering from a poor economy cut it's military budget significantly. They ended the flights of strategic bombers, partly for cost, and partly because there was no challenging the hegemony of the United States. The United States was free to spend it's significant military budget, and the United States did so, but there was no point, no more reason compelling enough to justify the budget expenditure.

The United States military is far from weak, but it is shown more and more every day to be limited in it's power. The Gulf Coast war was a remarkable example of how a hegemonic military could work. The invasion was swift, it was with international support after warning had been given, and it was in defense of a nation wrongfully invaded. The Iraq War (for lack of a better name) was an utter failure at executing hegemonic power. While the initial war was swift, it was without international support (and indeed, quite opposed internationally). The war was poorly justified (or unjustified, in hindsight and other perspectives), and dubious motives of wealth and power filled the public perception of the war (true or not, a lack of confidence is never a good thing, especially for an imperial democracy). The war also metamorphosed from a quick, few-months-long operation to a lengthy, many-year-long occupation, with high rates of soldier fatigue, and increasing rates of both civilian deaths and soldier casualties. The US military cannot handle occupying a hostile population, and had failed to put in place forces capable of policing such an area themselves. Previous empires have done this, but at far to high a human rights cost to count (decimation and mass crucification are not particularly appealing to the viewing public). Also, the US military is occupied indefinitely, leaving the nation more vulnerable than a hegemon would generally like to be.

This is leading back to the first point - the Unites States is ending it's period of hegemony. Not because it's military is weak, but because it's military is beatable, and because the morale of the military is inching closer and closer to breaking. The United States is losing it's status as hegemon, bot because other nations are more bold, but because other nations are now wealthy and willing enough to make it known that their militaries are still a significant force. And the United States is not losing hegemony because of a great ideologically-inspired alliance against them, but because other nations are waking up, and realizing that it is more to their benefit to work together to provide the military capabilities they need for themselves, without the aid of a supposedly benevolent, more-powerful nation.

1 comment:

Joseph Lopez said...

George Orwell was a regional police officer in occupied India, he wrote a short piece on having to kill an elephant, or rather CHOOSING to kill an elephant because he was the authority figure and someone had to do SOMETHING. He was not equipped for the task, and made a horrible mess of the situation.

On a larger level, Britain made a big mess of India becasue they were not prepared to kill the elephant, or even better, just get it a nice girl elephant to hang out with. Or whatever solution that Orwell might have come up with beside killing the poor beast.

It seems that world spanning powers often make the same mistakes - they over reach. The Military Industrial Complex term may have been coined in modern times, but boy did the East India Trading Company have the same (or more ) power than a Haliburton or Raytheon. Using the military as private security for a company shipment is as old as the oldest Navy.

Times will change, I think, and we will eventually see a "Risk" type splitting of quasi-national boundries. The European Union already exists, and if we make Mexico and Canada some modern equivilant of the 51st and 52nd state, we would be almost there.

Orwell predicted that, natch, but he thought there would eventually be three powers, not the Risk model of one per major continent.

Thanks for your thoughts on the hegemon, sir.