Tag: Cold War II

The Pivot to Asia: Some Tough Questions

thCAV0Z60KThe so-called Pivot to Asia, or “rebalance” in official parlance, has been one of the Obama Administration’s signature strategic moves on the global chessboard. But for all the serious engagement of the Pacific Rim countries, the core of the pivot has always been about China and responding to its rise as a regional and proto global power. U.S. intentions aside, China has accused the U.S. of using the pivot as a form of neo-containment of itself. The containment of the Soviet Union during the Cold War ultimately proved to be a stabilizing strategic move by the U.S. and its western allies. Whether the pivot ends up bringing about a similar outcome in the Pacific Rim in essence constitutes the strategy’s ultimate test. Continue reading


The Peculiar Stability of Instability

The caption for this photo is, no joke,
“All the experts posing for a group photo after the event.”
So, here’s all the experts.

Conventional wisdom from a foreign-policy expert:

It is one of the truisms of our time that because of the sensational development of communications and transportation, the globe has shrunk with distances between formerly far-away countries having been reduced to mere hours of flight time. We all pay continuous lip service to the axiom that the hallmark, today, of relations among States, even among continents, is interdependence rather than independence. But while every political writer and speaker belabors this point ad nauseum, we actually deal with the Mideast, Latin America, the Atlantic Region, Eastern Europe, NE Asia, and SE Asia as if we were still living in the WW-II era when it was realistic and feasible to speak of a European, an India-Burma-China, a Pacific “Strategic Theater” as essentially separate and autonomous. …

  • In the Middle East … moderate [pro-U.S.] Arab governments are under increasing pressure.
  • In Europe, NATO is in a state of malaise, accentuated by our shifting policies over the last 10 years. Europeans are increasingly concerned about isolationist currents within the U.S.
  • In Asia, as you saw on your trip, leaders are concerned about the future U.S. role there.

The lesson one can draw from it is not that we can fight this trend on every issue. But foreign policy depends on an accumulation of nuances, and no opponent of ours can have much reason to believe that we will stick to our position on the issues which divide us. When the Taliban compares our negotiating position on Afghanistan now with that of 18 months ago, it must conclude that it can achieve its goals simply by waiting. Beijing must reach the same conclusion. …

This then is the overall image of the US as a reluctant giant: seeking peace and reconciliation almost feverishly, withdrawing forces not in one but in many parts of the world, tired of using its physical power and firmly resolved to cut existing commitments and keep out, for a very long time to come, of any confrontation that might lead to any military involvement.

All right. Cheap trick: This is really a memorandum from “an acquaintance” of Henry Kissinger sent to President Nixon in 1969. I changed a few words — “Hanoi” to “Taliban,” “Afghanistan” to “Vietnam,” and “Moscow” to “Beijing”–but the overall sense of pessimism and gloom is the same as you find in certain quarters of the foreign policy community today.

Reading over the full memorandum, what is striking is not just the impressive racism of the piece (did you know the Latin temperament is fiery? It is!) but also the continuity of concerns. Arab/Israeli conflict? Check! Rising China causing problems with U.S. allies? Check! Worries about European burden sharing (and their worrying about U.S. policy)? Double check! Other governments using U.S. policies to justify their own actions (anti-terrorism now, anti-Communism then)? Triple check! And, behind it all, the idea of the United States as a shriveled, retreating power–an idea that definitely has currency today.

This is important for three reasons:

  • If you’re not familiar with Cold War history, the notion of U.S. relative decline during the Cold War may be unfamiliar to you. But we have been here before, and the debates about declinism are proceeding along familiar paths. (Robert Lieber’s new book about declinism is useful for its able recapping of previous generations’ declinism debates even if you’re skeptical about the book’s central hypothesis.)
  • Although the Cold War is almost uncritically presented in most intro IR courses as a period of bipolarity, the similarity of today’s declinism debates (during a period usually described as unipolar) to those that took place more than forty years ago should raise questions about whether we’ve misclassified one, or both, of those periods.
  • Viewed from our perspective, the central point of the memorandum is wrong: the United States has unequivocally retreated from the commitments it made during the height of the Cold War (just ask Nguyen Van Thieu and the Shah) but troop drawdowns, the suspension of the draft, retrenchments of commitments to allies, and so forth didn’t lead to a breakdown of global order; quite the opposite. Were we lucky? Was After Hegemony right? Do we have a particularly persuasive explanation to make to the author of this essay about why, forty years later, a relatively less wealthy United States (as a share of global GDP) nonetheless commands a relatively greater share of the world’s military potential?


Paging Robert Farley.

Roughly sixteen years ago, the US military disbanded the Strategic Air Command (SAC). But now the USAF plans to bring it back… with a new name.

The US Air Force (USAF) is planning to set up a new Global Strike Command for its nuclear weapons as part of a re-organisation after recent mishaps.

The move follows the discovery that six nuclear weapons were mistakenly flown across the US, and that nuclear missile fuses were sent unknowingly to Taiwan.

The blunders resulted in the sacking of two of USAF’s most senior officials.

A three-star general will head the new command, part of a project aimed at shaking up USAF’s nuclear mission.

“This is a critical milestone for us. It’s a new starting point for reinvigoration of this enterprise,” said Air Force Secretary Michael Donley.

“It is an extremely important mission for the United States Air Force.”

And yes, it really is the resurrection of SAC:

All nuclear-capable B-52 and B-2 bombers and intercontinental ballistic missiles will be shifted from their current locations in Virginia and Colorado to the new command.

How does this fit with the zeitgeist? Over to Monty Python:


Threat inflation!

Rob Farley suggests that the Patterson school can deter Fletcher and the School of Foreign Service by acquiring some new Russian blow-up sex toys “S-300 SAMs, along with a couple of inflatable Su-27s and maybe a Hind or two.”

Unfortunately for Rob, Georgetown no longer has an active “Team B”, and so we are unlikely to respond by invading the University of Kentucky, dismantling its basketball team, and supporting its College of Agriculture‘s aspiration for independence.

But I will say that these new systems bring back fond of memories of undermanned divisions and other Soviet Russian whatever threats from the 1970s and 1980s.


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