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Global Domination: The Missing Manual
August 5, 2008 10:32 AM   Subscribe

Learning from history's mistakes? In the summer of 2002, the Pentagon's Office of Net Assessment (ONA), run for 35 years by a man nicknamed Yoda, published an 85-page report titled "Military Advantage in History" (PDF). Drawing on Sun Tzu, Jared Diamond and Roman historian Titus Livius, the book analyzes the rise & fall of the empires of Alexander the Great, Imperial Rome, Genghis Khan, and Napoleon's France and attempts to plot a course for a Pax Americana that can avoid the pitfalls that led to the collapse of those earlier kingdoms. (via)
posted by scalefree (36 comments total) 18 users marked this as a favorite

 
American Army wants new toys. This is my surprised face.
posted by AwkwardPause at 10:51 AM on August 5, 2008


It's a little late, I would think; we've already provided a textbook example of how NOT to "avoid the pitfalls that led to the collapse of those earlier kingdoms."
posted by ornate insect at 10:56 AM on August 5, 2008 [3 favorites]


Perhaps there are many who see the pitfalls of strategies such as aspects of the Iraq conflict, and they are writing reports on how to recognize and avert them? Also, this document is far from simply asking for and justifying new toys. It is more about structure and organization than equipment.
posted by LoopyG at 10:57 AM on August 5, 2008


I haven't RTFA'd, and I don't have any particular expertise in war and empire and the historic ebb and flow of cultural dominance, but screw it, I'm just gonna chime in and say the core lesson is "don't overreach" and the takeaway is "too late."
posted by notyou at 11:05 AM on August 5, 2008 [1 favorite]


Here's a suggestion for keeping your empire from collapse: how about not worrying so much about maintaining and empire, developing some different priorities, and working towards them instead of supporting the largest military budget in the world by a factor of 10. Then, when the inevitable "collapse," or to use a more accurate term, "transformation" comes, it really won't bother you that much.
posted by TheWhiteSkull at 11:13 AM on August 5, 2008 [4 favorites]


attempts to plot a course for a Pax Americana that can avoid the pitfalls that led to the collapse of those earlier kingdoms

Quit while you're ahead.
posted by GuyZero at 11:24 AM on August 5, 2008


Very interesting looking article - I'll give it a read.
posted by The Light Fantastic at 11:28 AM on August 5, 2008


Rule #1: Don't start a land war in Asia.
Rule #2: Don't start 2 land wars in Asia.
posted by milarepa at 11:33 AM on August 5, 2008 [23 favorites]


You're Sicilian, aren't you?
posted by Panjandrum at 11:35 AM on August 5, 2008 [3 favorites]


This will be handy when Starcraft comes out.
posted by echo target at 11:38 AM on August 5, 2008


Shhhh. Don't argue with him. Death is on the line.
posted by isopraxis at 11:38 AM on August 5, 2008 [4 favorites]


I can't disagree with my namesake William Hartung that there is a hefty dose of arrogance contained within, but I don't think Mother Jones is being completely fair to characterize it as an attempt to maintain an empire. This could easily fit into a neocon worldview, but it is really a more limited document that uses "great power status" as its target for the U.S. to maintain, which is hardly outside the bipartisan mainstream view. The document is also correct that at this time the U.S. does in fact maintain a broad strategic advantage over any potential adversary.

This doesn't mean that Russia or China don't remain economic and political rivals. In many ways Russia is attempting a return to its old power politics, but without the advantages of a wider USSR as its base. China is only beginning to test its soft power abilities in South America and Africa. Yet both of these are outside the scope of the document.
posted by dhartung at 11:46 AM on August 5, 2008


I imagine major empires just don't last as long today.
posted by jeffburdges at 11:52 AM on August 5, 2008


The bigger they are the harder they fall.
posted by Vindaloo at 11:53 AM on August 5, 2008


dhartung writes "In many ways Russia is attempting a return to its old power politics, but without the advantages of a wider USSR as its base."

Yeah, now all they have going for them is several thousand metric fuckloads of money. Thanks, high oil prices. Likewise, Iran doesn't need to go to war with the US. They can now simply team up with the Saudis and buy it outright.
posted by mullingitover at 11:57 AM on August 5, 2008


more about structure and organization than equipment

That, right there, is the way to "Military Advantage in History". Unfortunately, it seems our military has been somewhat deaf to this, at least since the fifties -- we're ever-quick to pick up new and "better" stuff (though oddly slow to drop it if it proves to be inappropriate and/or unreliable; I'm looking at you, M-16), but slow to improve on organization. Strict unit-based rotation and training could be a huge help to our morale and fighting effectiveness, but instead, the Army got... berets, and yet more cross-levelled soldiers who'll have to adjust to their new units right in the middle of combat, hopefully before they get their pretty hats blown off.
posted by vorfeed at 12:04 PM on August 5, 2008 [2 favorites]


All empires have done this kind of retrospective analysis before, and all empires have fallen nevertheless.

The reason is simple enough: empires are built and maintained by humans, and humans fuck up.
posted by Skeptic at 12:04 PM on August 5, 2008 [1 favorite]


apparently "Star Wars" is an example of how the US military innovates to meet new technological threats...Pentagon FAIL.
posted by geos at 12:04 PM on August 5, 2008


From the paper:
The central question facing the U.S. military and law enforcement officers as they think about maintaining u.S. military superiority and creating a homeland defense strategy may be - How does the United states respond to attacks on its strategic institutions without creating the conditions to undermine its military advantage? The Roman model suggests that it is possible for the United States to maintain its military advantage for centuries if it remains capable of transforming its forces before an opponent can develop counter-capabilities. Transformation coupled with strong strategic institutions is a powerful combination for an adversary to overcome.
Anybody who talks about "maintaining [a] military advantage for centuries" is talking about an empire.
posted by scalefree at 12:13 PM on August 5, 2008 [1 favorite]


it is possible for the United States to maintain its military advantage for centuries if it remains capable of transforming its forces before an opponent can develop counter-capabilities.

Wow. It's possible to maintain a military advantage if you develop advantages before others find a way to defeat those advantages. They pay people to come up with this?
posted by deanc at 12:17 PM on August 5, 2008 [1 favorite]


more about structure and organization than equipment

Keep in mind that Marshall is the driving force behind the Revolution in Military Affairs that led Rumsfeld to deploy a severely understrength force to Iraq with disastrous consequences.
posted by scalefree at 12:26 PM on August 5, 2008


Err, I had a phrase about "using networking technology as a force multiplier to substitute for manpower" that somehow didn't make it into my last comment. Marshall's RMA is about using technology (equipment) to change the structure and organization of the military, allowing a smaller, lighter force to outperform an old-style heavy force. That's the theory, anyway.
posted by scalefree at 12:34 PM on August 5, 2008


it is possible for the United States to maintain its military advantage for centuries if it remains capable of transforming its forces before an opponent can develop counter-capabilities.

And isn't our biggest difficulty our slowness in adapting to the transformation to small scale guerilla warfare that are enemies have managed?
posted by spicynuts at 12:42 PM on August 5, 2008


scalefree. He is not the only voice in the military, and not the only voice in this document. Marhsall is a pretty clever man, from what I've seen of him, with ideas rooted in game theory and systems analysis. In my opinion he is more about trying to come up with improved strategies and tactics, then finding the technology that enables those practices. One has to be careful not to lump any military personnel who wants to deploy a new technology into a large bin marked "boyz with toyz". Very many of these people are not political at all, they merely want our armed forces to be most effective, and that is often a combination or organization, tactics, and yes, equipment.
posted by LoopyG at 12:46 PM on August 5, 2008


Small-scale guerilla warfare doesn't threaten your hegemony: it threatens your ability to physically control areas of foreign soil, like Iraq. Avoid that - that is, stick to a financial and trading empire, backed up by a military second to none - and that isn't a problem. For example, if you invaded France, you'd probably end up with nasty guerilla resistance. But if you instead trade with France everyone benefits.

This means that you can't go about being moral in your foreign affairs. If China slaughters everyone in Tibet you have to say "well, sovereign territory, their affair." Otherwise you give other powers reason to fight against your hegemony, rather than existing within it. Protecting national borders is another matter. But, as a European, I would say that, and I'm conscious that if you'd stayed out of Europe in the 20th Century I probably wouldn't exist. Tricky: what do you do about Israel, for example? Taiwan?

Finally, your population is still growing, so demographics is still on your side - unlike, say, Europe in the 20th Century. Your environment also isn't near complete overstretch and collapse.

So, as long as you can avoid a Great Power conflict, you should be okay for the next century. Keep those high-level conversations with China going!
posted by alasdair at 1:30 PM on August 5, 2008


It's a fascinating exercise, comparing the US with Imperial Rome... indeed, there have been recent books on the subject. There are certainly a lot of parallels: aggressive over-expansion in the face of resource depletion; heavy reliance on imports for basic necessities (grain shipments from Egypt for Rome, oil from overseas for the US); greater use of immigrants and mercenaries in the armed forces (interestingly, with the same fast-track "be a citizen through military service" deal); an increasing divide between wealthy and poor; conspicuous consumption by the upper classes that transfers to indebtedness in the lower; a belief in uniqueness, superiority, and manifest destiny; dependance on unreliable but vital resources to fuel industry (oil in the case of the US, slaves in the case of the Empire); greater dictatorial powers assumed in the face of crisis; financial weakness from ceaseless war.

Indeed, as a dear friend pointed out, the one thing that seperates the US from the Roman Empire, aside from time, is a lack of brutality. The US doesn't yet send in legions to crucify every adult male in a rebellious province: although looking at Fallujah, North Vietnam and Hiroshima, the argument might falter.
posted by Bora Horza Gobuchul at 1:46 PM on August 5, 2008 [3 favorites]


It's weird how they get a lot of the questions right but completely miss on the answers. I think it's because they impose a constraint on the set of possible answers, that the solutions must lie solely in the military realm. It's curious to me that the same scenario is playing out in Iraq, that the only permissible answers are military ones.
posted by scalefree at 1:59 PM on August 5, 2008


We must not advance an inch, but retreat a foot- Tao Te Ching, chapter 69

If you try to take the world by force, I see you won't manage to do so- Tao Te Ching, chapter 29

There is no crime greater than approving of greed- Tao Te Ching, chapter 46


I love how they always try to get Taoist philosophy, Via The Art of War, involved in politics. And how it never works. And how they never see themselves in it. As if you could separate war from the people and systems that begin it, and profit from it. They're broken and they don't even know it.


My sayings are easy to recognize, and very easy to apply. But no one in the world can recognize them, and no one can apply them- Tao Te Ching, chapter 70
posted by SaintCynr at 2:00 PM on August 5, 2008 [2 favorites]


Also,
Graeco-Macedonian Empire, Rome, Mongols, Napoleon? Isn't that a bit of a bell curve in terms of scope and sustainability? Why didn't he just tack France's Second Empire on at the end? There are probably a couple of pretty good lessons for the US in that one, too.
posted by TheWhiteSkull at 2:04 PM on August 5, 2008


I base my strategy around that of the Wardlords of Mars. Their empire lasted millions of years. Mostly, I just keep down the Green Martians. That seems to work.
posted by Astro Zombie at 2:25 PM on August 5, 2008 [1 favorite]


Afghanistan:where empire goes to die.
posted by hortense at 2:42 PM on August 5, 2008 [2 favorites]


dependance on unreliable but vital resources to fuel industry (oil in the case of the US, slaves in the case of the Empire)

But the US's rivals are in the same boat - they also depend on oil. The Vandals, Visigoths and Huns were not facing the same problems as the Romans.
posted by alasdair at 3:03 PM on August 5, 2008


I wish nostalgists would stick to historical reenactment.

It's overdrawn to say that IR based on Livy will be "garbage in, garbage out," but Thucydides and Polybius are more serious ancient authors, closer in time to their subject matter, not so panegyrical of the Roman empire. Livy was the Peggy Noonan of his time.

In ancient history, Greek and Roman authors distort the Carthaginians, Gauls, Germans, Persians, and Britons to justify conquering them. All but the Persians did not leave behind extensive written records.

Any military strategy based on ancient history is ipso facto offensive (in the moral sense) to the United States' modern adversaries, because the ancient Greeks and Romans tended to despise and stereotype foreign peoples as ignorant, irrational, and lacking in self-control. "Barbarian" in Greek means non-Greek-speakers whose language sounds like bar bar bar.

It's remarkable how in modern (20th c.) American foreign policy, every major power or powers* with a non-Roman alphabet / writing system (its literature thus doubly inaccessible) has morphed into a virtually alien Adversary. The Soviets. China. Vietnam. Iraq and Iran.

* consider al-Qaeda and other Islamists to be a "power" for the sake of discourse, though of course they are not one in the sense, say, of the former USSR
posted by bad grammar at 4:33 PM on August 5, 2008 [1 favorite]


No matter how much you tend your own empire, there is always another rising somewhere that will outdo it. My money is on the Chinese.

the one thing that separates the US from the Roman Empire, aside from time, is a lack of brutality.

If you adjust for the standards of the day, the US may be every bit as brutal as ancient Rome was. You should compare them to their contemporary allies and enemies.
posted by pracowity at 9:40 PM on August 5, 2008


I would say that one of the differences is that whilst the Romans caused terror by crucifying hundreds of men on the sides of the roads, we can rain it down from the sky with only a very small chance of being hit by blood and viscera. If the Roman could have done a Dresden or a Nagasaki they would have (see Carthage, or don't on account of what they did).

It's a whole lot more complex than that but yeah - I see literally no difference whatsoever other than the technology used. Humanity has barely made any steps at all, we are only more efficient with our slaughter. Efficiency not being the same as "accurate targeting" unfortunately. The best way to kill the person you want to is still to stand right next to them and put the knife in yourself.

Brutality mostly happens when men fight men in close circumstance. It's easier to retain your dignity and distance when you are several thousand miles away from the war. Ask the Marines and the people in Haditha about brutality. The Marines lost friends and colleagues and then brutalised the local population.

Roman warfare was brutal because the citizens were engaged in the fighting. After seeing a bunch of their friends disembowelled or decapitated or burnt to death, you're damned right crucifiction is going to look like a good idea. If you can use the "Shock and Awe" of a street full of corpses to intimidate the rest into giving up then do it, right?
posted by longbaugh at 6:33 AM on August 6, 2008


i'd recommend amy chua's day of empire :P

cheers!
posted by kliuless at 6:37 AM on August 6, 2008


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