2007/12/13

The doctrine of primacy

Just a couple of years ago many people believed that the military primacy of the U.S. would make it possible to defeat most nations of earth at once. Today it's clear that even the occupation of a rather minor country is too much without a conscription.

The assumption of military omnipotence was characteristic for the attitude around 2000. It was certainly true that in some types of terrain the U.S. forces could smash many enemy army divisions. It is also true that personnel exhaustion, supply consumption, terrain restrictions, opposing numbers and clever counters to U.S. strengths impose limits on this ability that were not visible in the short campaigns of the past 30 years.

But who cares if the U.S. is able to smash other armies, probably several at once? Is it really useful? And if it is useful - does it justify the costs? Loss of productivity by manpower demand, fiscal costs, social costs ... the U.S. military is the most expensive force in the world. What does this strength offer as advantage to compensate for this?

The present strength and costs were created by the assumption that these forces need to be able to defeat several mid-sized powers at once. But not only defeat - no, resounding success was expected. It wouldn't have been satisfying to defeat those powers (people usually thought of Iraq and North Korea) - the expected superiority must have been excessive or people wouldn't be satisfied with the preparations.
No weakness that could be abolished with money was acceptable, superiority had to be complete.

The primacy idea and its traps and limits was explored in a very impressive way by Carl Conetta of the PDA (Project on Defense Alternatives). He describes the quest for primacy as a zeitgeist in which the current U.S. politicians and thinkers seem to be stuck.

At any rate, when evaluating primacy, the most important comparison is not between us and other international actors, but between means and ends - that is, between our power and what we propose to do with it. The options range from simple defense and deterrence at one end to schemes of coercive national transformation on the other. If our Iraq experience teaches anything, it is that humility is in order. But this lesson is not likely to register in our policy discourse - not so long as it remains a prisoner to primacy.
Carl Conetta

The rather excessive costs and expectations of the U.S. forces as well as the willingness to use force in the whole NATO never pleased me. The Western world should prepare for the future with more preventive and constructive means.

Sven Ortmann

1 comment:

  1. Military force shows can win elections in some NATO countries, especially the US. The mindset for choosing these wars is often to revenge some foreign people who have been wronged and are claimed to share Western values.
    It's similar to what psychologists found out about terrorists acting under the disguise of Islam (Nachrichtendienstpsychologie, Band 7), who want to revenge all wrongs done to a Muslim "peer" group of people they heard about on TV or in a sermon. This is often one expression of psychological problems due to different kinds of abuses that are even more prevalent among immigrants who face a transition(the source mentioned elaborates the details and how the psychology is exploited for recruitment by specialists).
    It's not wrong to try and stop someone commiting genocide, but military means are just one of many tools (often using legitimate reasons as means for hidden ends). Perceived power and moral supremacy created a trigger happy NATO alliance that needs a bloody nose (the sad problem are the dead people required) in order to slow down and think before they act.
    In Germany you win elections by not going to war, our peacenik attitude could be slightly extreme on the other side.

    I do support the ability to project military capabilities globally in order to protect German national interests, especially SLoC access, evacuations, disaster relief and joint operations to help legitimate gouvernments to improve the security of their nations and under suitable conditions shows of force or war to help settle a conflict on the negotiation table. The global disaster relief, security support and shows of force, including wars of choice, all have a specific goal in mind, to further the most positive perception of our nation in order to increase our soft power leverage. This leverage is one of the tools to achieve our national goals in negotiations. Abstaining from war or going to war can both achieve soft power leverage, depending on the situation. Military hard power is used if it remains the best choice out of necessity for an achievement. The necessity is not limited to soft power needs, but treaty obligations and critical human life and economic protection.

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