Tuesday, January 4, 2011
Over a month ago I wrote a post asking the question: is a grand enemy necessary for a grand strategy? I had intended to get back to this since about a day after I posted and clarify and change some things, but alas here we are much later than that. In the meantime, Adam Elkus wrote a post on this topic which was followed by Zenpundit. They're both interesting reads, so check them out. I am especially interested by Adam's discussion of aggregating information and Mark's discussions on the impact of "systems" and that grand strategy is driven not by policy, but that it drives the development of policy. I will be drawing on these points later.
I will start this by saying that I worded the original post to ask a more fundamental question than I intended. I did not mean to pose the question so explicitly, but instead was trying (inelegantly) to ask the question: do those that develop grand strategy need to have a grand enemy, or the probability of a grand enemy forming, in order to focus their minds towards strategy development?
As Adam points out, the world is a highly complicated place with infinite data points and nearly as many networks. Without an enemy or adversary, how does a powerful nation mold its international activities to achieve its global ambitions? I don't know, because I'm not sure we've seen it done effectively. Yet. I get, and buy into, offshore balancing, but it is hardly something that permits the creation of coherent grand strategy. One need look no further than U.S. activities in South Asia as an example of incoherence that this type of strategy can lead to. The United States cannot, still, state whether it supports Pakistan or India in their conflict (that seems oh, so important to Afghanistan), whether or not Iran is being helpful or not with regard to Afghanistan (seems to be a bit of columns A and B), or if we prefer the company of the Central Asian states or cooperation of Russia. While the Afghan conflict is the biggest one we have at the moment, it has been a prime candidate for offshore balancing and a dismal failure in execution. The United States has no idea what regional powers to enable to assist itself without pissing off the other powers it may care about on other issues. (Let's face it, Afghanistan isn't the biggest strategic issue the U.S. faces at the moment, even if it is the biggest hot war going). This is one strategic problem that we have been thinking about for 10 years about one country and still haven't a clue on where to begin.
Mark is right that great powers seek to force their will upon rivals and others within a "system" defined by international norms and mores. What to do about Afghanistan is another example on how without a great rival, great powers don't know how to do this. In fact, offshore balancing is working the system - but we still don't know how to because we can't predict or understand 2d, 3d, Nth order effects of a system consisting of the aforementioned infinite data points and networks. We simply can't figure this out; a vestige our now-realized failed attempts at using the mujahideen to our own ends, ignorant of future threats of doing the same. I can't readily say I'm on the Boyd bandwagon (can't say I'm off either, I'm still trying to figure out the "so what" of it all), but if one were, with so many data points OODA loops for offshore balancing would be so numerous and of such short flash-to-bang intervals that the strategist would be overwhelmed by sensory overload.
I'm also with Mark on this business of grand strategy driving policy. But policy drives strategy (sans "grand"). Afghanistan is a strategic fight in my view, not grand. It is a war waged against an enemy that presents no existential threat to the U.S. or even significant threats to the national "interests" put forth in the National Security Strategy (talk about misnomers). It is, however, a case study in the failure of grand strategy development by powers with no real threats to itself. We can't tell up from down or whether we're coming or going. That's not the fault of the strategists - it is the realistic chaos of the world which I feel may be less than enough to focus the activities and expenditure of valuable resources of a powerful state with nebulous ambitions other than its own prosperity.
At this point I will cede that I have not yet made the case that a grand enemy can provide that focus that cuts through the information overload, but that there is a good case that the absence of one does not provide the focus necessary. So let's call this post one of at least a few on this topic, sequels to follow as time and brain waves allow.