Not what I said at the Blum Center Development Lunch today: more what I wish I had said—albeit it is still incoherent and disorganized:
Let me begin with three direct responses to points Michael Nacht made. Let me then try to—briefly—propose a framework, perhaps a framework for analysis, perhaps merely a framework for convincing people in the national security community that they should take issues of economic development seriously, and so give large grants so that the Berkeley development community can do more things—things closely related to what we would be doing anyway.
The three direct responses:
There have been various attempts for at least two decades to gin up a “New Cold War” with China. According to Colin Powell’s shop, Richard Cheney wanted to gin up a “New Cold War” with China in 2001. I think saying that Walmart was an agent of influence for the sinister Chinese communists. But they got diverted by 9-11. Now it is coming back—some of the same people and some of a later generation thinking that national unity requires a foreign enemy, that the government needs to “busy giddy minds with foreign quarrels”, as Henry IV Lancaster advised his son Prince Hal in Shakespeare’s Henry IV Part 2 to “waste the memory of former days” so that English public opinion would be diverted from thinking about the illegitimacy of the Lancaster dynasty. It is, however, three decades too late in my opinion. The US and Chinese economies have been so totally and completely intertwined by globalization that any attempts to create serious, significant international tensions that affect trade, freeze assets, and so one will likely be as disasters for both parties. The U.S. and China are now in the position that Jean Monnet and company hoped the European Economic Community would put France and Germany: make it economically unthinkable that they should even try to go to war with each other.
With respect to the ability of countries to move upward in terms of economic development. Michael Nacht referenced the standard road to development that was started in Providence RI and Waltham MA in the 1810s, when American entrepreneurs stole the plans for textile factories. Other countries have used this road since: use your low wages to gain an advantage in exporting simple manufactures, primarily textiles, and so build a community of engineering practice that can then be leveraged to bring in other more advanced technologies from the industrial core. That strategy was predicated on the fact that animal- or steam-powered machinery required microprocessors to control it, and the only available microprocessors were human brains—supercomputers that fit in breadboxes, drew 50 watts of power, and could be easily kept on task, even incredibly boring tasks. That was the major road to successful development. That road is now closing fast. You can no longer rely on low wage labor and a large global appetite for simple manufactures from the rich part of the world to drive your development. What’s the alternative? Is there an alternative? This is, as Michael said, a big problem.
Ever since the Treaty of Münster and the Treaty of Osnabrück were signed in [Westphalia] in 1648, there has been a strong belief in the imminent demise of the Westphalian system. The Peace of Westphalia made it settled European international law that the Roman Empire was dead—that there was no longer any supra-national authority, whether emperor or pope, who would exercise any kind of power or influence of even moral suasion over the local governments of kingdoms, principalities, republics, or whatevers. Individual states were “sovereign” and would run their internal affairs. Someday this Westphalian system will breakdown: someday it will stop being the case that, as far as international issues are concerned, kingdoms and principalities and republics and whatever are best treated as single autonomous unitary national actors pursuing rational or irrational purposes running their own affairs with their militaries, their diplomatic corps, and their economic regulatory agencies. Eventually civil society in one form or another will have its revenge. And we will analyze a more complicated world in which individual governments are sitting on top of a boiling sea of other transnational forces, putting themselves at the head of the parade and pretending to lead it. Soo far the Westphalian system has held up pretty well for 370 years. But it may finally be breaking. I was struck by hearing former general and Brookings president John Allen draw a very sharp distinction between U.S. government policy and U.S. civil society influence as two very different things, especially with respect to development issues.
That concludes my three direct reactions to what Michael Nacht said.
Now let me move on to some more elliptical comments on the complicated mix of issues that Michael has laid out, with my underlying motivation being to think how people like us should argue to security-minded people that they should worry about—and fund us to think about—issues of development. Here I do not think I have coherent things to say. Here I do not think that I have bottom lines. Here I have, rather some worries and some points:
I will begin by pulling one of my standard dodges: I will go back in time 6000 years to the early days of agriculture and the state and the beginning of war—war as something more than friction between two human bands or within one human band of 100 or so breaking out into deadly violence—as a social practice. I go back 6000 years so that I can at least start by talking about something that I know as much—or rather as little—as others around the table, rather than talking about something where others around the table know more.
Starting a bit more than 6000 years ago we have farmers: people who cannot run away from trouble into the forest because they have to stay to manage their fields and their crops. So 6000 years ago there is a new addition to the set of human occupations: the occupation of being a thug with a spear. “Give me one-third of your crop”, you say to the farmers, “or I will stab you with this spear”. Once you have this grift up and running, it perpetuates itself. Since you don’t have to really work for a living, you have lots of time to train with your spear and become truly expert at stabbing people with it. Because you and your children are well-nourished, they are four inches taller and 20 pounds heavier than the farmers. The fly in the ointment is that there are other thugs with spears nearby who want your farmers to pay taxes to them. And so we get the choice of Akhilleus: a glorious life, but quite possibly a short one. You get war as a social practice.
Historically, war as a social practice takes four forms:
- Resisting attempts by the peasants when they decide they would rather not give the thugs with spears a third of the crop—internal security.
- Banditry/repelling banditry—the Vikings, say, show up, and if you are armed to the teeth they will trade with you, if you are not they will sack your towns, steal or eat your livestock, take your stuff, kill some of you, and take your young men and young women away as slaves.
- War for provinces—to acquire estates so your nobles can get promotions and so “tax” more peasants and your leaders can get duchies, counties, and baronies; and also to gain political advantage: over a decade C. Julius Caesar with his Legio X Equestris and other legions conquer Gaul, kill a million Gauls, enslave and sell another million Gauls, and so builds up the power base that enables him to win the eighth Roman Civil War of the 1st Century BC. This war can be profitable, if waged well and in the right place. “I do not understand”, wrote M. Tullius Cicero to his best friend T. Pomponius Atticus, “why Caesar is invading Britain. It is guarded by massive cliffs. There is not a single ounce of silver to steal on the entire island. And as for slaves—very low quality, not a single one skilled in literature or music!”
- War as a way of enforcing imperial control over resources—make others trade with you on your terms.
Those four types of war could be profitable, or at least they get the young men out of town and unable to cause trouble for a while. But with the coming of Alfred Nobel’s explosives and of modern bureaucracy and the mass conscription and mobilization it makes possible, all four of these kinds of war, at least as kinds of offensive war, lose their rationales. As Norman Angell wrote in one of the most brilliant and most wrong books in the entire security studies field ever, it is much less costly in the lives of your young men and of your treasure to trade with others for whatever resources you want than to try to conquer them and extract those resources. That was the right part of his [The Great Illusion]. The wrong part of The Great Illusion was that statesmen were relatively rational: that they would recognize this, and that aggressive war was a thing of the past. Of course, within a decade of The Great Illusion Europe began its downward spiral into an abattoir, an orgy of violent death and destruction of a magnitude that had never before been seen in human history.
Now, of course, the era of 20th century war—imperial war, national liberation war, total war—is over. War as a social practice has not regained any of the (1) through (4) rationales that made it profitable or at least worth undertaking from the deciders’ points of view before the 20th century. Yet it would be a rash human indeed who declared that war as a social practice will be unimportant in the 21st century. And we have little idea of what shape war as a social practide3 in the 21st century might take.
Our task here is complicated by the fact that the U.S. national security community comes at this Gordian Knot of issues from out of some left field. If we start in 1870, we see the U.S. national security apparatus going through nine stages in overlapping eras:
1870-1900: Indian removal—stealing the Black Hills and other pieces of land.
1900-1920: Wading into the Great Power waters—conquering the Philippines, Theodore Roosevelt’s white fleet (very visible, hence not viable in any North Atlantic or North Pacific contest with forces painted battleship grey like those of Britain, France, Germany, or even Japan), Woodrow Wilson’s sending John J. Pershing into Mexico to “teach the Mexicans to elect good men”, Pershing’s army in France of World War I.
1920-1935: Latin American interventions—of little use or purpose, save possibly for those of the United Fruit company.
1935-1945: Preparing for and fighting World War II—the Arsenal of Democracy.
1945-1990: The Cold War—containment and deterrence until the drawbacks of the Soviet model become obvious to all.
1990-1995: Fettered hegemon—the U.S. military does the will of the U.N. Security Council.
1990-2016: Guilt for Yalta—the belief that the countries of the Soviet Empire had paid an awful price for our policy of containment; that even though containment was the right policy, we owe those countries and peoples; and that the right policy is to shrink the influence of Russia down until it is the Muscovy of Ivan the Dread or Peter the Great.
2001-????: The War on Terror (and, from 2001-2008 on Iraq, and on Iran, and on the Clinton legacy).
These last four are worth a little more expansion:
First, the George H.W. Bush policy of hegemony and nonproliferation. The United States military will do the will of the Security Council. If you cannot get a veto power on the Security Council to back you, you probably should be gone from the world as a régime. If you can get veto power backing, the U.S. military will leave it alone. These shackles meant—or, rather, if the policy had been continued would have meant—that no other power needed to spend a fortune building a military that could cause the U.S. military significant pain. Governments could safely devote their resources to other things more beneficial for their countries. That especially applied to nuclear weapons. Without a strong need to deter an aggressive and adventurous U.S. military, a country’s nuclear weapons were an existential threat to itself: the big danger was that one of your own God-maddened colonels would get the launch codes, and think that the Strong Right Hand of the Almighty would protect the country from retaliation. Better not to have weapons with launch codes. This George H.W. Bush policy was, I think, a very wise power: it greatly amplified our long-run power by giving away a bunch of our short-run power.
But that ship has sailed, and is out of sight beyond the horizon.
This policy does not last. It starts to crater under Clinton, who decides that Russia’s wishes about the Balkans are not to be fully expected. It craters completely in the Cheney administration. We and the world are worse off for it. We are now in a world in which China thinks it needs to have a serious military, and in which Russia thinks that it needs to cause us “problems” whenever and wherever it can just to limit our power. We are now in a world in which every power that fears it might someday arouse the ire of a Cheney—or a Trump—is thinking hard about how to acquire nuclear weapons. I guarantee right now Venezuela wishes it had some.
As for “Guilt for Yalta”—the outcome of the Yalta Conference and the way the Cold War went down produced a lot of guilt within the national security community, more guilt than I at least imagined existed back in 1990. George F. Kennan's policy of not aggressive rollback but rather defensive containment until the Soviet Union exposed itself as a catastrophic failure long run failure was probably the right policy, but it was extremely costly for other people. Since 1990 there has been a powerful current within the American national security community to curb Russian power and influence as much as possible, rather than to allow Russia to be the great power that practically all in Moscow—whether pro- or anti-Putin—believe it should be. And as a result virtually all in Moscow concerned with security are angry, and angry enough to cause us headaches whenever they believe they can.
The War on Terror has been expensive and, largely, counterproductive—we have made more enemies through it than we have removed. I have no idea what the Trump administration thinks the foreign policy of America is. I do not believe the Trump administration is usefully modeled as “thinking”. The influence of America on the world right now is, I believe, best described as a combination of the soft-power influences exercised by American civil society, plus an active chaos monkey. The U.S. military is trying to grapple with how to deal with these two “policies”, but it is trying.
Now we find ourselves in a world with many security threats to us and to others, with a military that does not have a history to prepare it to deal with the threats we face and the missions it is going to be asked to undertake. To amplify our problems, we have little idea about the form that the social practice of war will take in the 21st century. We do not expect to see the industrial total wars, the national liberation wars, the imperial little wars that we saw in the 20th century. But what will we see? What kind of U.S. military would best deal with what we are likely to see? And how can the U.S. government’s power—military, diplomatic, development—be deployed to eliminate as many 21st century war threats as possible?
And that leaves us with our current dilemmas. War in the 21st century will surely not look like World War, and not look like province-stealing by the kings of the Enlightenment Era. As we think about it, we should probably start with von Clausewitz’s: “war is the continuation of politics by other means”. The politics that may turn into war involve various forms of banditry; they involve people who are resorting to violence to either create or reproduce or unwind hierarchy; they involve people for whom ethno-nationalism or religion are one hell of a drug and feel a remarkable need to fight over identity. Right now we face a Weimar Russia—an ex-great power that thinks that has been abused by the victors in a previous struggle, and wants revenge because they are angry. We have a national Hinduist India in which the currently-ruling coalition has cast the Muslims of India in the role traditionally reserved for the Jews in Europe. You have a Wilhelmine China: a rising industrial superpower with a ruling caste that no longer has a social role with a leadership hopes to distract attention from internal inequities by, in the words that Shakespeare put in the mouth of King Henry IV Lancaster “busy[ing] giddy minds with foreign quarrels”.
And we have other threats. What happens when a large typhoon plausibly increased, in strength by global warming comes roaring up a Bay of Bengal plausibly higher because of global warming-induced sea-level hits the Ganges Delta, and five million citizens of Bangladesh die? Hurricane Michael has gained amazing force over the past two days simply because the Gulf of Mexico is these days the warmest it has been in quite a while. It is now slamming into Florida. When the great Bay of Bengal typhoon slams into Bangladesh and the government of Bangladesh then petitions the U.S. Security Council to allow it destroy U.S. coal-fired power plants with drones as a political response, how should we respond?. If individual Bengalis with dead relatives decide their dead relatives and they themselves need American escorts into Val-Hall and take action, how should we respond?
A great deal of the potential causes of 21st century war as a social practice, whatever form it turns out to take, are rooted or are aggravated by problems of development. And the U.S. military—with its tradition from the Black Hills-stealing army of the post-Civil War on up to the fast-moving powerful force of Desert Storm that we then tasked with being military police in a place where they did not speak the language is not well-equipped to think about the force structure and the doctrine needed for the 21st century. This is particularly the case because bureaucratic imperatives require that from the Pentagon’s point of view a mission be found for every piece of the current force structure, and that no task contemplated can be outside the competence of every piece of the current force structure.
Here I think we can really, genuinely, help.
And I have talked for more than long enough.
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