Tuesday, December 4, 2018

A Teaser.

As I promised earlier, a short teaser from my new manuscript dealing with balance of (military) power. This one is not edited and is a small part of a chapter on the so called Thucydides Trap, or rather doctrine-mongering and multiplication of essences by political "science" field, and it may not even see the light in this present form. But still, here is some food for thought for those who are interested.                                                                               ---------------------------------------------------------------------------

In March 2018 an influential American magazine, The Diplomat, published a short piece by Francis P. Sempa on Thucydides Trap. In this piece Sempa, citing a collection of articles and essays by US senior military officers titled Avoiding the Trap: U.S. Strategy and Policy for Competing in the Asia-pacific Beyond the Rebalance, noted in amusement that:

The most remarkable aspect of this study is the lack of “hawkishness” among the contributors, most of whom are high-level military officers. Only one article asserts that China intends to become the Asia-Pacific’s regional hegemon and is following a step-by-step expansionist strategy to displace the United States in the region. Two of the contributors emphasize the need to strengthen and improve U.S. defense ties to Japan and India in order to counterbalance China’s military growth.[i]

It is, sadly, not surprising that Sempa, an attorney by education and a political "scientist" by occupation[ii], is surprised by the fact of military professionals being reluctant to take political science white board theories to heart. But military professionals are absolutely correct in their reluctance and they have ample reasons to be suspicious of international relations concepts cooked up in the deep recesses of Western in general, and American in particular, political science kitchen populated by people who, for the most part, have zero military backgrounds and experiences.

But what is this Thucydides Trap? The term was coined by the American political scientist Graham Allison and is a so called geopolitical model based on ancient Greek historian Thucydides conclusion that:

The growth of the power of Athens, and the alarm which this inspired in Lacedaemon, made war inevitable.[iii]  

Here, the obsession of contemporary American political science class with Peloponnesian War, an ancient history event in the foundation of the neoconservatives' inspired American foreign policy and military disasters of the 21st century, manifests itself yet again. In Allison's view the dynamics of evolution of power balance between the United States and China can easily be viewed in parallel to relations between Athens and Sparta which led to the Peloponnesian War more than 2400 years ago. It is difficult to completely rationalize American elites' obsession with that war but comparing China to Athens and the United States to Sparta is not only a-historical, it is simply false. There is very little doubt that American political and military elites are concerned with the growth of China's economic, political and military power. This is understandable. But the so called Trap which makes war between China and the United States almost inevitable is for the most part a figment of imagination of people who have, at best, a very vague understanding of real warfare of the 21st century--this ignorance is a defining feature of the American political class.

China's Xi was explicit when stating, correctly, that Thucydides Trap simply doesn't exist.[iv] Moreover, the whole concept of this trap didn't sit well even with some of Russia's most radical pro-Western liberals known for blind uncritical following of most American geopolitical and ideological concepts. As one of them stated, Thucydides Trap is Political Scientist's Trap.[v] Of course, war between China and the United States may still happen, but as even the summary to the Study which so surprised Francis Sempa with its "lack of hawkishness" states:

Long-range success in the Asia-Pacific region will only come from effective international cooperation.  This cooperation must include China. In keeping with the 2015 U.S. National Security Strategy, we confirm the U.S. position to “welcome the rise of a stable, peaceful, and prosperous China.” To that end, the overarching strategic task for the United States is how to accommodate China’s rise. America must not constrain the responsible rise of China in the region and globally, but at the same time should provide a check on Chinese power by protecting U.S. and partner national interests. This check will come through the effective use of a rules-based international order, but ultimately it will be empowered by a position of U.S. strength across the elements of national power.[vi]

The elements of national power is what really matters in this statement and it requires a serious review of such elements in order to understand that war with China, whose power undeniably continues to grow, can only happen within conventional paradigm, otherwise, with the war going nuclear, none of the objectives by either side will be attained and it will threaten global thermonuclear conflict. A nuclear argument is what really makes all talks about Thucydides Trap a foolhardy business, because MAD (Mutually Assured Destruction) is the factor which makes any parallels to ancient warfare history irrelevant. It is not the only factor, but it is surely the most important one. 

A possible nuclear scenario between the United States and China does not require any serious elaborations since even laymen have enough understanding of catastrophic global consequences of two (or more) nuclear superpowers engaging in nuclear exchange. It is scenario which must be avoided by all means and it seems those who in the United States understand that best of all are American military professionals. Same goes to Chinese military. But while there are few more-or-less competent and influential people who speak about fallacy of Allison's Trap, one has to point out a simple fact that the Thucydides Trap of sorts is known to mankind since the very dawn of human civilization, way before Ancient Greece, and it was observed in animal world, in which aging leaders of a herd are challenged by younger and more ambitious competitors. It was and is also observed in human world all the time, enough to consider sports whose very premise is built on challenging the status quo, be that boxing, track and field or soccer. In general, Allison's Thucydides Trap is known to humanity as competition and not all competitions end up in wars. This is not to mention the fact that Athens, Sparta and Thucydides himself did not operate with the knowledge of nuclear weapons, net-centric warfare, stand-off high-precision weapons and combined arms operation, which even in purely conventional form can paralyze and defeat modern nation-state, or can cause human losses on unimaginable scale. These factors are the ones which must change any kind of generalizations related to military and war. This brings us to more important issue—historical parallels. 

Drawing historical parallels is an extremely dangerous business wrought with huge risks of miscalculation and learning wrong lessons. History, certainly, does provide some valuable lessons but at this stage the whole term history, as it was understood even fairly recently, does not reflect an immense complexity of human development and activity for the last roughly hundred years and those developments cannot be described anymore within traditional framework because more and more causalities are being affected not just by human nature but by technology attached to it. Technology becomes increasingly complex and thus remains beyond the grasp of many humanities educated historians who lack cognitive apparatus for understanding and describing it and technology's effect on the events. Modern war is highly technological. What used to be few tactical and operational factors to be considered by a military leader such as Napoleon, Kutuzov or Grant, today becomes a vast and complex set of variables needed to be considered by leaders while making a decision. There is a reason why contemporary military leaders have very strong backgrounds in fundamental sciences and many of them have serious engineering backgrounds.

While general principles of warfare and what is called strategy since the times of Clausewitz remained largely static and generally similar for many modern armies, the approach to application of those principles grew in complexity exponentially.[vii] In times of muskets and linear tactics, an officer commanding a company or battalion would have had little trouble understanding a general plan on the battle or even campaign. Today, such understanding requires long years of highly specialized education and very serious background in military technology. Without this background there is no serious understanding of the modern warfare—it is simply a hard fact of life. This is where drawing historical parallels becomes a very dangerous business. Many even non-military people understand this danger and, in fact, some even reflected this danger in the modern art. 

A 1980 sci-fi Hollywood flick The Final Countdown, with Kirk Douglas and Martin Sheen starring in it, is an excellent example of such an awareness. While movie deals with the possible time paradox when nuclear powered aircraft carrier USS Nimitz is transported, due to a freaky storm, from 1980 to December 7, 1941, few hours before Japanese aviation attack on Pearl-Harbor, historic ramifications of such an event become clear immediately. Even the most unsophisticated observer could easily arrive to the idea, without understanding even basic technological principles, that a single US Navy's nuclear aircraft carrier and its air wing which included F-14 Tomcat fighters would have very little difficulty with destroying 360 Japanese piston aircraft due to modern American carrier advanced electronic sensors and overwhelming advantage modern jet aircraft had over 1930s-designed combat planes in speed, maneuverability and weapons. It came down to a complete tactical, operational and technological mismatch, even if portrayed in a fictional settings. I will stop here with disclosing the plot of that movie for those who are yet to watch it.

Thus the irresistible question arises—what lessons could have been drawn from Japanese actions on December 7, 1941 in tactical and operational senses to be applied to modern times? Of course, the lesson of a strategic and operational surprise is valid, but this lesson is as old as the Trojan Horse concept. The truth is, few of those lessons, other than ever present necessity to develop better weapons and sensors, could have been drawn. And here is the point—technology became a main, albeit not only, driver behind tactical and operational requirements. Of course issues of morale, culture, and social dimension of war and, in the end, leadership never lost their significance but it goes without saying that in the fight between even the squadron of Mitsubishi A6M Zero and a pair of Grumman F-14 Tomcat jet aircraft, chances of WW II piston airplanes surviving approach zero. Only answering question why things work one way and not the other can one begin to see why falling back on history, granted it is based on facts, not fantasies, is never a good idea especially when trying to develop rather broad and shaky concepts such as Thucydides Trap.......

[i] How to Avoid the Thucydides Trap: The Missing Piece. Francis P. Sempa. The Diplomat. March 07, 2018. https://thediplomat.com/2018/03/how-to-avoid-the-thucydides-trap-the-missing-piece/

[ii] Sempa, Francis.

[iii] The History of the Peloponnesian War. Thucydides. The First Book. Chapter One. http://classics.mit.edu/Thucydides/pelopwar.1.first.html 
[iv]Ловушка для политолога (The Trap for Political Scientist). Alexey Tsvetkov. In Liberty. November 12, 2015. http://old.inliberty.ru/blog/2089-Lovushka-dlya-politologa
[v] Ibid.

[vi] Avoiding the Trap: U.S. Strategy and Policy for Competing in the Asia-pacific Beyond the Rebalance. Strategic Studies Institute and U.S. Army War College Press. February, 2018, pp.  xiv-xv. 
[vii] Principles of War.  https://www.encyclopedia.com/history/encyclopedias-almanacs-transcripts-and-maps/principles-war

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