February 01, 2008

Panic on the Right

When the generals start getting restless, they do things like this preemptive nuclear strike proposal. But why are the generals getting restless all over NATO? Amerca's Gen. Shalikashvili, Germany's Gen. Naumann, the UK's Field Marshall Inge, the Netherland's Gen van den Breemen, and France's Admiral Jacques Lanxade are all serious military players of varying politics. These are not brash, unthinking chest beaters. What possessed them to intervene in this manner and damage their societies' moral standing in the world (and thus their vaunted 'soft power') by proposing an updated, in your face, first strike policy, coupled with a much more active NATO and explicitly decoupling military action from the UN?

I can see no other explanation than a profound, international vote of no-confidence in the political class of the West by heavily experienced military minds that live, breathe, eat, and sleep the problem of defending us all from violent threats to our liberties and very existence. I am not even sure that the presentation of the plan in Bucharest in April is coincidence. After all, Romania is a very good example of how even dead broke powers with unstable, highly repressive regimes can extract uranium and enrich it while nobody takes the threat seriously. Had Ceausescu managed his internal repression better, Romania would be a balkans "hedgehog" today similar to the Swiss except with nuclear armed Scuds and a sociopath's hand on the button. Romania's Ceausescu era relations with North Korea were always very good. They also had friends across the muslim world.

The 'peace faction' that does not look beyond its own nose will be shocked, outraged, and redouble its efforts to neuter the military so it cannot be used. It's as if they have never heard of feedback loops or their own part in this very pernicious one. Spelling it out explicitly, the peace factions have neutered the political process so even vigorous peaceful competition is impossible. After all, to draw a caricature of Mohammad, write an insensitive book, or film a blaspheming movie draw death sentences from which we have little practical defense. The best we can do is a sort of life-long semi-imprisonment, insecure in our lives and our possessions, never knowing when the knife will fall.

The "peace faction" ensures that persistent, responding, violent escalations cannot happen so we end up implicitly enslaved because, in the real world, others are willing to persistently bring to bear more violence than we are. We shrink from exercising our freedoms because of justifiable fear. And thus we lose them in a practical matter because the muslims (and in their success they will draw imitators) are willing to tolerate periodic violent episodes that spasmodically, ineffectively lash out at them more as a sop to western domestic factions that demand "a response" because a durable majority in so many Western countries has shrunk back from the military buildup necessary to generate "a solution".

The only thing that is left in modern Western political discourse is to make the spasmodic response so terrible, so violent, that in that short political window when the West permits itself to respond at all will annihilate our enemies and form a sort of "solution" after all. And thus the general staff rebellion in the making.

What the general staffs across the West see is the death of Western supremacy of violence. Hillaire Beloc probably put it best when he described that superiority in the time when machine guns ruled the battlefield.

"Whatever happens we have got,
The Maxim gun, and they have not".

Since then (and frankly for some time before), we've always had the best military toys. But that technological line ended with the invention of the nuclear weapon. Once you can destroy the planet, where else is there to go in terms of outright destructiveness? We're trying to continue to improve by enhancing the precision of our violence but in the face of a force that wants terror, imprecision is a feature, not a bug.

Nuclear technology is proliferating and those who want to turn to bombs will eventually get them because useful technology only proliferates in one basic way. The smart people among the chattering classes already understand this but it is not generally understood and does not inform our political discourse across all parties.

The analysis of proliferating technology doesn't change whether its internet connectivity or nuclear weapons. All technology progresses in 'S curves'. All technology has societal influences that shift the S curve to the left or right in time and distort the shape into different styles of S. Sometimes a government will attempt to regulate or even eliminate a technology but it rarely works over the long haul and never works without serious consequences with one exception. There is only one way for it to work in the end, for an even better substitute technology to emerge, drawing away all desire for further innovation in the earlier technology. The crossbow is stagnant technology because of the emergence of the gun, not because of the papal ban on it. In the case of nuclear weapons, that solution is no solution.

The ultimate expression of widespread adoption is in the super-empowered individual. If you have a solution for him, you can apply that solution to disfavored nations whose rulers are evil or crazy as well as the intermediate problem of sub-national groups seeking nuclear weapons. Ahmadinejad and Osama Bin Laden are, as the saying goes "lesser includeds".

There is no solution for the problems of super-empowered individuals but to remove the matrix of disinterested, powerless innocents within which they hide. One can remove them via brute force, as this first strike military plan envisions removing Iran from this world, free the people in the matrix from the conditions that keep them powerless and foster their civic interest as Petreus' COIN warriors are doing, or connect them with economic, political, and societal global rulesets as Dr. Barnett envisions. What you cannot do is hide behind high walls and deep oceans as the nostalgic isolationists such as Pat Buchanen want. The walls are too easily pierced and the oceans too easily crossed, technology has seen to that.

A danger is that the isolationists will figure that out and move towards preemptive nuclear strikes as their fallback position in an unthinking panic. The corollary to the "high walls and deep oceans" school has always been large strikes from behind our walls and oceans if we are too inconvenienced by events "over there". The generals will be there waiting for them, with their first strike plans drawn up and well gamed out.

And the Earth would burn.

HT Belmont Club.

Posted by TMLutas at February 1, 2008 07:44 AM