For more than forty years, the affairs of the world have been greatly troubled but also structured by the Soviet-Western antagonism. It was their fear of Soviet military strength that eventually induced Americans, Europeans, Japanese, and Chinese to join in a grand coalition with many lesser partners from Morocco to Korea; and it was their striving for the best-paying alignment between Moscow and Washington that shaped the foreign policies of the countries that called themselves nonaligned.
With the Soviet-Western antagonism now rapidly waning, the web of intersecting relations that we call “world politics” is therefore in a fluid state for the first time in two generations. New patterns have yet to emerge, but the old are already in dissolution: the grand coalition of Americans, Europeans, Japanese, and Chinese is no longer powerfully sustained against all divisive tendencies by a unifying threat; the Soviet Union has lost its European satellites and is seemingly abandoning its non-European clients (Angola, Cuba, Ethiopia, Laos, Vietnam—though not adjacent Afghanistan and Mongolia); and the tension between Washington and Moscow is now much too weak to offer any reward to those who would align themselves between the two for their own advantage.
Even as we rejoice in the hard-won victory over the successive forms of Soviet aggrandizement, however, we must strive to discern the shape of things to come. Mere curiosity would be reason enough to do so, but for the United States specifically there is a more pressing motive as well.
If we abstain from prediction, proclaiming instead that the only certainty is uncertainty, we are left no alternative but to continue upholding the grand coalition (the policy of the Bush administration so far). That may indeed be the wisest course, but it should be recognized for what it is: not the policy of prudent continuity it superficially seems, but actually a bold attempt to resist the entire logic of strategy. Bold policies can often be right, and prudent policies can often be wrong. But whichever is favored, we should not be deceived by appearances into confusing one with the other, then to walk in tranquility on the high wire thinking it the most solid of paths.
Thus, with the waning of the Soviet-American conflict, we now have to ask ourselves what are likely to be the new antagonisms that could shape world politics through the end of the millennium and beyond. More specifically, we have to look at four large possibilities:
First, will the Soviet-Western antagonism be replaced by North-South confrontations?
Second, will the Soviet-Western antagonism be replaced by the worse alternative of an “internalization” of conflict, with newly released animosities fragmenting the grand coalition of Americans, East Asians, and Europeans, even as ethnic strife is already dividing the Soviet Union?
Third, can we expect a revival, perhaps in a new form, of the Soviet-Western antagonism?
And fourth, is there a new source of conflict emerging in dialectical fashion from the triumph of democratic capitalism over Marxist-Leninism?
The North-South alternative has long been the subject of speculation, if only because it has long been fervently advocated by a few rogue leaders (notably Libya’s Qaddafi), and by many more Third-Worldist academics and publicists bent on punishing richer (and mostly whiter) countries for all the deep humiliations of underdevelopment.
Demographic tensions, cultural collisions, and economic resentments-between Latin America and the United States, between North Africa (together with the Middle East) and Western Europe, and now between Russians and Central Asians—lend plausibility to this straightforward substitute for the Soviet-Western antagonism that would simply rotate the front lines of hostility by 90 degrees. And because for all Europeans—Russians very much included—the adjacent South is largely Islamic, the 90-degree solution is that much more plausible, given the exasperated rejection of Western cultural penetrations by many Muslims, and the violent extremism of some.
No such fundamental cultural clash adds to inter-American quarrels over illegal migrants, illegal narcotics, and the impeccably legal burden of indebtedness. Yet even the least weighty of these issues, the flow of illegal narcotics, can provoke extreme reactions in the American “North.”
To be sure, these inter-American quarrels are as nothing when compared to the North-South problems that have already surfaced elsewhere. Europeans looking South confront the sinister novelty of the chemical agents, ballistic missiles, and nuclear ventures of Egypt, Iran, Iraq, Libya, and Saudi Arabia. The actual capacities of these countries for mass destruction at long range amount only to a modest threat as yet, but they are already setting a lower limit on the possible extent of European disarmament. A denuclearized and substantially demilitarized Europe could hardly coexist safely with heavily armed powers just across the Mediterranean, some equipped with long-range missiles.
These novel anxieties add a sharp edge of danger to the intensifying cultural tension between a Europe liberal and pluralistic as never before, and the Islamic countries to the South, whose increasing intolerance is advertised throughout Europe by frequent incidents.
Violence on a larger scale is present wherever Islam meets non-Islam, from distant Kashmir and inaccessible Azerbaijan to Kossovo, an hour’s drive from familiar Adriatic resorts; inside Lebanon, Israel, and Egypt (where the Copts in their millions are the victims); in faraway southern Sudan, Nigeria, and Chad, and as close to home as Yorkshire’s Bradford and Paris’s Belleville. Themselves often the victims of intolerance, the millions of Muslim immigrants in Western Europe also add a cultural dimension to the broader fears of a demographic conquest of the childless North by the prolific South.
For the Europeans of the Soviet Union, all these concerns are even more pressing. In total population, the Slavs still have a vast predominance, with some 199 million Russians, Ukrainians, and Byelorussians out of a total Soviet population of 286 million which also includes non-Russian but also non-Islamic populations. But the imbalance in birth rates is extreme, and in the twenty-year-and-below age cohorts, the Muslim proportion is already 20-25 percent. Moreover, most of the recent outbreaks of violence in the Caucasus and Central Asia have had an Islamic cast.
Yet when all these causes of North-South hostility are duly listed and soberly weighed, one still remains with what amounts to a congeries of irritating interpenetrations and some isolated threats rather than anything resembling a confrontation of opposing forces.
For one thing, while the North is rather cohesive and could easily become more so, there is no cohesion at all in the South—certainly not across the entire arc from Latin America to Central Asia, and notoriously not even within the Arab world.
Second, to start a confrontation, both means and motives must be on the same side, but in this case, the North has the military means but lacks the motives, while regardless of possible motives the South lacks the means. Much has been said in recent years of the “diffusion of military power,” and it is certainly true that there are now powerful weapons in many hands, including advanced combat aircraft by the hundreds and tanks by the thousands in each one of several “Southern” countries, as well as anti-ship and antiaircraft missiles in two dozen more.
Yet the wars of recent years show that the availability of military equipment for the countries of the South is greater than their supply of trained operators; that their supply of trained operators is greater than their ability to provide satisfactory maintenance; that their ability to field units properly operated and properly maintained is greater than their supply of competent tactical leaders for them; and that their ability to field units properly operated, maintained, and led is greater than their ability to provide effective operational command for them.
Hence for the countries of the South the potential combat value of their military equipment remains very low. The one exception is the encapsulated bombardment capacity of long-range missiles that require no supporting forces and only modest technical skills for their operation—and that very specific and very narrow danger may yet evoke an equally specific response.
There is also a third and decisive reason for rejecting the North-South conflict as a likely replacement for the waning East-West struggle: with a few, notorious exceptions, the countries of the South are ruled by leaders who see personal, factional, and national advantage in the upkeep of cooperative relations with the North, and who are often enough personally dependent on their access to the venues, facilities, and products of the North even when they do not share in its culture—as many of them do.
The second alternative to the Soviet-Western antagonism does not carry with it the risk of general nuclear war. But that is its only merit, for the internalization of conflict would replace one confrontation with many by fragmenting the coalitions, blocs, formal alliances, and solidarities created by the cold war.
Little is left of the former Soviet bloc, and the fractures in the Western coalition are becoming wider. With China already almost out, the coalition’s weakest link is now between the United States and Japan.
Relations with Gorbachev’s Soviet Union had barely begun to improve when opinion polls started to register a sharp rise in anti-Japanese feeling in the United States, a trend matched by a similar shift in Japanese opinions of Americans and their ways.
Characteristically, Japanese criticisms are rather homogeneous: Americans are lazy, undisciplined, self-indulgent (if also generous)-and their rude demands for an open, high-consumption Japanese economy would inflict some of those vices on the Japanese. It is also generally believed in Japan that the black and Latin American quotient in the U.S. population degrades overall productivity.
U.S. attitudes, by contrast, differ greatly between popular and elite views, and also show much regional variance, but the trends all go the same way: the Japanese are increasingly seen as ruthless and unfair economic competitors who export not to import in turn but rather to accumulate the funds with which they buy banks, companies, factories, and property in the United States, as well as Treasury bonds.
At the popular level, Americans fear that they will be turned into Japan’s helots, working under Japanese managers in Japanese-owned companies, paying rent to Japanese landlords, and paying taxes to Japan by way of interest on that country’s large holdings of the U.S. national debt. These are not fantasies but merely overstated realities, companied by anticipatory exaggerations.
At the elite level, the faith of most of the highly educated in traditional free-trade economics, their admiration for Japanese business skills (and also no doubt the influence of Japan’s many exponents in U.S. academic and policy circles), once served to shape a quite different view, notably that Japanese competition would stimulate U.S. industry to become more efficient, while in the meantime providing consumers with highly desirable products at moderate cost. Also widely accepted until recently was the textbook explanation for the increase of the Japanese trade surplus from 1980 onward, i.e., that the dollar-yen rate was much too high. Finally, the macroeconomic explanation was also known to many in the elite: that the excess of U.S. imports over U.S. exports was the inevitable counterpart of the excess demand generated by the federal deficit and private borrowing, and that Japanese purchases of U.S. property and U.S. securities were the only possible compensation for the trade imbalance.
More recently, however, a less benign view has become increasingly prevalent at the elite level as well. First, when the huge 1985-86 devaluation failed to diminish significantly the trade deficit with Japan even as it drastically reduced the parallel deficit with the European Community, the longstanding claims of frustrated exporters that Japan was guilty of disguised protectionism were recalled, repeated, and widely believed for the first time.
Second, elite views have been transformed by the rather belated discovery that Japanese policies assiduously protect the producer interest (by one-sided import barriers if need be) for the sake of full employment and the accumulation of capital, while U.S. policies mainly promote the consumption of ever-more and ever-better goods regardless of origin, which results in the accumulation of debt. Because U.S. priorities are regarded as normal by Americans, Japanese wealth-and-work priorities are seen as predatory.
Finally, elite opinion has also belatedly discovered the remarkable extent of Japanese lobbying in Washington, and the vast sums of money that Japanese interests pay to influential political lawyers, ex-government officials who pronounce on trade matters, Japan specialists in U.S. academia, and authoritative institutions that have a say in policies that affect Japan. In a typical prelude to an anticipated confrontation, newspapers and magazines have been publishing articles that consist almost entirely of lists of individuals and institutions that have been receiving money from Japan. Similarities with the listings of suspected Soviet sympathizers in the ranks of the U.S. government and in important private institutions during 1946-48 (i.e., before the struggle with the Soviet Union became overt) are not accidental.
It may seem that the rising American hostility to Japan reflects nothing more than the impact of Japanese exports and Japanese acquisitions on American society. And it is also true that racism intrudes, as in the stereotyped depiction of all Japanese as humorless automatons unnaturally dedicated to their work.1 But the greater influence on what is now happening is the unseen logic of strategy itself—the same logic that once blinded Americans to all the glaring faults of the Chinese regime when it seemed a useful ally against the Soviet Union, and which once easily obscured all differences with Japan. With fears of the Soviet Union rapidly waning, the logic now works in the opposite direction, to reveal divisive interests, values, and emotions which are rapidly promoting Japan into the unlikely role of Chief Enemy for many Americans, in lieu of the Soviet Union.
On the Japanese side, the undoing of the unifying logic has so far revealed itself mainly in the increasingly contemptuous impatience with which American demands are received. Yet good will for Americans remains widespread. Precisely because both U.S. imports and investments have been so effectively blocked, their impact on Japanese society has hardly been felt, and little hostility has been aroused on that score.
Still, U.S.-Japanese relations will probably continue to deteriorate. Yet even that is hardly likely to recreate the classic sequence of economic quarrels becoming political quarrels that lead in turn to military confrontation. Instead, the instruments as well as the causes of conflict would be economic, with trade disputes fought out by trade sanctions and investment restrictions.
One could continue in this vein under the heading of the “internalization” of conflict to examine the far less probable eventuality of a U.S.-European Community quarrel, or to assess the further scope for ethnic conflicts within the Soviet Union itself. But it is the German case2 that is now the most interesting, an instance of internalization that has already gone beyond interbloc quarreling, to penetrate within the European “bloc” itself.
For months now, the Germans have been encircled by the loudly advertised suspicions of their erstwhile allies on both sides. They have heard the crimes of the twelve years of the Third Reich abundantly cited against them, in spite of almost forty years of good conduct-democratic under the Western dispensation, and socialist under the Eastern. They have been exposed to official Soviet pronouncements, and quite a few authoritative if unofficial American voices, which proclaim that a unified Germany could once again become a dangerous Germany—as if contemporary German society still contained the demographic impulse and political dysfunctions that once made it so bellicose. They have witnessed French, British, and Polish leaders demanding guarantees of the current borders in a melodramatic evocation of 1939, as if aggressive territorial ambitions could reasonably be imputed to contemporary Germany.
In contrast to these chimerical fears—corrosive to be sure, but in the end insubstantial—there is the reality of the German economy, the third largest in the world.
Wealth need not translate into power, but ironically the same process of European integration that should further calm fears of a united Germany also offers the most effective mechanism for the translation of German wealth into power. The European Community (EC) is now enough of a government to be the venue of very important decisions, and to collect contributions from member states and pay out benefits. Though its bureaucracy can already make transnational decisions in many matters, and there is both proportional representation (in the European parliament) and a unanimity rule, major EC decisions are invariably shaped by coalitions of the various national governments, in which the weight of each country ultimately depends on the size of its contributions.
As the source of more than one-quarter of EC funds, the Federal Republic was already by far the strongest single state within that particular nonmilitary balance of power. That preponderance will now increase as East Germany’s economy (the largest in Eastern Europe), and far greater potential, are added to widen the gap further between united Germany and the lesser members of the EC, none of which can match the German money-vote.
Unlike their much-advertised security concerns, therefore, the loss of relative economic leverage is a serious matter for Britain and France especially, because their claim to Great-Power status must now rest even more narrowly than before on their nuclear weapons, powerful indeed in destructive capacity but of scant and declining relevance in the day-to-day transactions of European and world politics.
Illogically enough, the anxieties prompted by the unification of Germany coexist with the general belief that since 1945 Europe has progressed very far in its “debellicization.”3 There is plenty of evidence of such an abandonment of the capacity to wage war. In Europe’s popular culture, the sufferings and dangers of war loom much larger than its excitements and adventures, as discredited now as other romantic impulses. In almost all European societies, the peasant lads who would once go into uniform not unwillingly, if only to leave the drudgery of field and stable, are no more, and the industrial workers who could once be induced to leave the harsh labor of forge and factory to march into the fresh country air are now relatively few, and they can seek fresh air with their own cars on weekends and holidays. Above all, in Europe’s political discourse, war is no longer considered and debated as an instrument of policy, but only as a catastrophe.
As against these tokens of debellicization, there are reservations. For one thing, the war=catastrophe equation is actually nuclear war=catastrophe; if the nuclear element is removed, the equation might revert to war=instrument of policy. That opens a larger question: is debellicization irreversible? What is one to make of the apparently widespread British eagerness to fight for the reconquest of the Falkland Islands in 1982? How is one to assess the approval of French public opinion not only for several recent military interventions in Africa, but also for a lethal commando raid in peaceful New Zealand? And most strikingly, perhaps, what of the recent acceptance by most Italians of the deployment of Italian warships in the Persian Gulf?
True, all such expeditions risked neither the safety of the homeland from bombardment or invasion (=catastrophe) nor the use of nuclear weapons in any form; the fact remains that in each instance war was risked or actually waged in the old manner, as an instrument of policy, with thousands of lives exposed to combat for purposes very far removed from self-defense in any immediate sense. Yet self-defense is the only purpose that debellicized societies are supposed to accept.
After more than forty years of oblivion, there is again some concern and much talk of Estonia, Latvia, and Lithuania with Vilnius/Vilna its capital, but dear to Polish hearts; of Memel (now Klaipeda) that the Kremlin wants to subtract from an independent Lithuania; of Kaliningrad (ex-Koenigsberg) that would remain a Soviet enclave perhaps in need of a Polish or Lithuanian corridor; of trans-Carpathian Ruthenia that Stalin took from an unoffending Czechoslovakia and which remains disaffected; of Moldavia (ex-Bessarabia), acquired by Romania in 1919, taken by Stalin in 1940, retaken by Romania in 1941, Soviet again in 1944, and now separatist; of northern Bukovina, lost by Romania in 1944 but still largely Romanian in population and also separatist; of Silesia, upper and lower (though thankfully Danzig and adjacent East Prussia remain well forgotten); of Transylvania, where Romanian public opinion has not advanced enough to accept pluralism and the cultural autonomy that Hungarian-speakers seek; of Serbia and Kossovo, of Slovenia and Croatia, both of which seek separation from the rest of Yugoslavia.
Nevertheless, in all of these there is hardly one probable war; and even if one were to break out, chances are that it would remain within safe limits, rather like the Iran-Iraq war for all its destructions.
A Revived Soviet-Western Antagonism?
The internal politics that could eventually lead to a renewed conflict between the Soviet Union and the West, or perhaps its return as a Russian-Western antagonism, can be imagined easily enough: a palace revolt in the Kremlin that would bring new leaders bent on imperial restoration; or a stereotyped regression to tyranny by disenchanted reformers; or merely the use of the powerful presidential office created by Gorbachev to promote not liberalization but a resumption of centralized discipline; or a military assumption of power, with the decomposing Communist party replaced by the military hierarchy, as in Poland in December 1981.
At every stage of Gorbachev’s liberalization so far, it has seemed improbable to most qualified foreign observers that it could continue, in part because of its contradictory acrobatics (a party-based regime systematically destroys party power), and in part because of the sorry record of aborted Russian and Soviet liberalizations. Scattered opinion polls suggest that most Russians have also continued to expect the failure of liberalization, but for a rather different reason: their ancestral belief that while others in the world may enjoy both liberty and order, only a cruel choice between chaos and dictatorship is given to them. One would have thought that today’s largely urbanized and widely educated Russians could aspire to better choices than their ancestors, but in March 1990 the Congress of People’s Deputies approved Gorbachev’s request for a five-year presidency with very wide powers precisely on the grounds that the only alternative to a quasi-dictatorship was more chaos and even civil war.
Now, it is certainly true that the Soviet Union is as much chaotic as liberalized, to a degree that would quickly evoke demands for dictatorial solutions even in countries of long democratic experience.
First, the widespread breakdown of food distribution now replicates wartime shortages, but for the unlimited supply of cheap bread.
Second, the outbreaks of armed violence in the city of Alma-Ata, the Nagorno-Karabakh autonomous province, the Nakhichevan autonomous republic, the province of Fergana, the city of Dushanbe, the Abkhaz autonomous republic, and the city of Baku, among other places, have cost many lives, and the livelihoods of the hundreds of thousands who are now refugees. As for riots, strikes, and lesser agitations, they have become frequent all over the Soviet Union, not least in its Russian heartland.
Third, the overt separatisms of Estonia, Latvia, Moldavia, Georgia, Armenia, and Azerbaijan, and Lithuania’s assertion of independence are prompting more separatisms in more republics—and within them, because the minorities of each republic do not want to come under the domination of the majority ethnic group.
Fourth, the amazingly overt gangsterism that even casual visitors can observe in Moscow cooperative restaurants as mafiosi4 in dark shirts and silvery ties arrive in their black-market Mercedeses, escorted by molls in furs and outsize bodyguards, is only the pinnacle of a pettier and far more pervasive lawlessness: the taxi drivers who illegally ask for dollar fares while studiously passive policemen stand by; the shop assistants who now sell under-the-counter items for extra money without even bothering to conceal the transaction from indignant shoppers nearby; and the outright theft of state property on all sides.
Fifth, ordinary crime has seemingly exploded in an abundance of burglaries, muggings, petty theft, and robbery-killings never before seen.
Yet for all that, Gorbachev’s liberalization seems set to continue under his newly constitutional quasi-dictatorship. Such a conjunction is as natural for Russians as it would be contradictory almost anywhere else—that was how Peter the Great modernized his Russia, and Khrushchev tried to liberalize in his own day.
Actually, even if the Soviet Union’s democratization is interrupted and then reversed by a palace coup or by a newly tyrannical Gorbachev or by military rule, that would not suffice by itself to allow a return of the Soviet-Western antagonism. A reversion to tyranny would merely be a precondition, because of the substantial demolition of the post-1945 structure of Soviet military power, based on tank and mechanized “motor-rifle” divisions deployed in Eastern Europe to threaten Western Europe, and deployed in Kazakhstan and Siberia to threaten China.
True, very little of the Soviet Union’s great strength in ground forces (20 percent greater than supposedly inflated Western intelligence estimates, we now learn) has actually been dismantled as of this writing; and it is also true that their partial withdrawal from Chinese border areas could easily be reversed. But the liberation of Eastern Europe, including the critical invasion corridors of Poland and East Germany, is a historic transformation that a change of regime in Moscow could not possibly reverse without unimaginable consequences. Hence there is every reason to believe that both the present Conventional Forces in Europe negotiations, and President Bush’s 195,000-225,000 troop limits, will soon be utterly overtaken by the withdrawal of virtually all Soviet forces from Eastern Europe5—their rate of withdrawal may now be constrained chiefly by the need to find housing inside the Soviet Union for their career officers and NCO’s. In other words, the critical element of the entire post-1945 structure of Soviet military power is being irremediably abandoned.
Hence a return to a Soviet-Western antagonism in the old style would require the recreation of Soviet military power in a radically new style.
As it happens, however, that is precisely the intent of the rather youthful and technically sophisticated Soviet General Staff, the military group that we know to be dominant over more traditionally-minded tank marshals, gunners, and sailors.
It is this group that has supported Gorbachev’s successful effort to eliminate as many “theater” nuclear weapons as possible from Europe—because the technologically revolutionary form of military power it plans is non-nuclear (with only strategic-nuclear forces still needed). And the General Staff obviously gave its green light to Gorbachev’s highly deliberate renunciation of control over Eastern Europe under the “Sinatra doctrine”—because its planned new form of military power is non-territorial, i.e., it requires neither a defensive glacis of German-Polish territory nor forward jump-off bases in the same. The General Staff has also sanctioned Gorbachev’s force reductions, neutralizing the inevitable opposition of the affected branches (whose own leaders took full advantage of glasnost to complain loudly), because the technologically revolutionary form of military power it plans will in due course replace the existing line forces, and in the meantime the reduction of the old releases resources to build the new.
This does not mean that the General Staff is enthusiastic about the abrupt liberation of Eastern Europe, and the now accelerated withdrawals and reductions of the traditional tank-heavy forces. Both are no doubt seen as premature. But the planned form of military power is compatible with the former, and excludes the perpetuation of the latter in their present, vast, size. As it is, almost 25 percent of ground-force conscripts come from Muslim ethnic groups, and the proportion would have risen to 50 percent soon after the year 2000. Non-coincidentally, the new form of military power is to be very capital-intensive, and will require rather few operators, probably none of them conscripts.
Likewise, the General Staff has presided over the much-advertised redirection of the ground forces from an offensive to a defensive emphasis. Because offensive tactics are in any case an essential part of any sound defense, and because from the first the declared change of doctrine has been punctuated by claims that Soviet military strategy was always defensive in any case, there is less than meets the eye in the change, even at a verbal level. Substantively, moreover, the chief change is a reduction in the proportion of battle tanks in line formations, and that is nothing more than a direct continuation of the Soviet army’s long-term program to field more balanced forces, with a higher proportion of artillery and mechanized infantry.
Still, a more defensive orientation for the line forces is fully congruent with the new form of military power planned by the General Staff. Because the latter is entirely offensive in its operational mode, but is of no use to hold territory, it can best be complemented by ground forces of classic form specialized for territorial defense. Hence there is an element of the magician’s misdirection in what is going on: while on the illuminated center stage the sword is truly replaced by an inoffensive shield, the new sword now being fashioned remains offstage.
Lastly, it is clearly the Soviet General Staff that has instigated Gorbachev’s amazing persistence in opposing SDI. Why? Or rather, why is it that Gorbachev has renounced every one of his original 1985 domestic and foreign-policy stances (from his anti-vodka campaign and the primacy of the Communist party to the occupation of Afghanistan and the control of Eastern Europe) with the single exception of his opposition to SDI? The reason is that whatever shortcomings SDI might have in providing an astrodome-like defense for the United States against ballistic missiles, it happens to be fatally effective against the new form of military power planned by the Soviet General Staff.
So what is this great new scheme? As sufficiently described in published Soviet military literature,6 the new form of military power would consist of Reconnaissance-Strike Complexes (RSC’s, or RUC’s, the Russian initials) designed to attack all larger objects on land (including tanks) and at sea (all surface warships) even in the largest numbers, by almost simultaneous strikes of unlimited range. At present, only fixed targets of known location can be attacked by remote control under central direction, notably with ballistic missiles; RSC’s would extend the scope of remote-control warfare to include all larger mobile targets as well, i.e., the key constituents of present armies and navies. In principle, each RSC would consist of: (1) satellite-borne TV cameras, radars, and other sensors7 (each perhaps yielding only fragmentary target data); (2) data-fusion/command centers, to spot, identify, and locate targets by combining all available information;8 and (3) non-nuclear ballistic and cruise missiles,9 to attack designated targets.
A cruiser in the Pacific, for example, could be seen by satellite sensors, identified and located by data-fusion, and then targeted by a ballistic missile whose maneuvering warhead would be command-guided to destroy it, with steering updates as necessary to keep up with the cruiser’s movement. Clusters of tanks in Western Europe or China could likewise be seen by satellite or airborne sensors, precisely located and designated as targets by the relevant RSC data-fusion/command center, and then attacked by “cargo” cruise missiles with submissiles (or by strike aircraft with self-guided area munitions).
Thus an array of RSC’s could provide the principal offensive means of non-nuclear warfare, and would only require the supplement of strategic-nuclear forces (for deterrence, or compellence) and of internal security, frontier-defense, and light-expeditionary forces, with their air and naval adjuncts.
Now Gorbachev’s unique persistence in demanding the cessation of American SDI efforts can be readily understood. Even a rudimentary SDI array, too imperfect to provide much of a defense against ballistic missiles, could nevertheless blind RSC’s by destroying the satellites (mostly very easy targets) that carry their sensors. Moreover, because RSC’s would be employed in non-nuclear warfare over a period of days or weeks, even an SDI array too slow to engage ballistic missiles in a matter of mere minutes could serve very well by destroying RSC satellites in a few hours.
It may well be asked why Pentagon officials and other interested publicists have told us so little about Soviet RSC schemes. They are not usually so reticent in advertising Soviet military endeavors. Certainly it is not because information is lacking.
One reason perhaps is that RSC schemes are directly competitive with the traditional combat forces of essentially World War II pattern that Western armies, air forces, and navies are still perpetuating, and still trying to refine in spite of declining military budgets. True, Soviet RSC schemes are very much “mission-enhancing” for SDI—but even in the United States, the SDI bureaucracy is very small and uninfluential as compared with the Army, Navy, and Air Force bureaucracies that would be greatly damaged by the advent of remote-control RSC warfare.10 While any conscious manipulation of the data is most unlikely, it is clear that Western military institutions have no incentive to draw attention to the keen Soviet interest in remote-control warfare by RSC’s (just as until the mid-1950’s U.S. Air Force intelligence had no incentive to focus on the Soviet development of intercontinental ballistic missiles—to do so would only have made it harder for the Air Force to secure funding for its preferred bombers).
Another reason for the failure to take seriously the expressed Soviet interest in RSC warfare is far more traditional—the historic tendency greatly to underestimate the peculiar Russian talent for military innovation, a talent which derives from an unusually serious attitude to the study of strategy, which in turn empowers new ideas against established, self-serving, institutional doctrines. That is why it was the Soviet armed forces that introduced the large-scale use of anti-ship missiles, revolutionizing naval warfare; and ballistic missiles, revolutionizing nuclear warfare; and anti-aircraft missiles, revolutionizing air warfare; and anti-tank missiles, revolutionizing armored warfare. None was a Soviet invention, and all were amply familiar to Western armed forces, but in their case there was no idea-driven General Staff to overcome the entrenched institutions that resisted innovation. Needless to say, the same is true of the RSC’s, an idea that actually originated in the United States, but which the U.S. services have successfully resisted.
At this particular time, moreover, there is a third reason for disregarding the expressed Soviet interest in developing RSC capabilities. The very idea of a revolutionary Soviet advance in applying the highest of high technologies can easily seem outlandish in light of the present condition of the Soviet economy, not merely poor but distressed, not merely ill organized but downright chaotic. The Soviet Union undeniably already has satellite-borne sensors and also missiles, both cruise and ballistic, that would only need upgrading for RSC purposes. But the one missing component, the data-fusion centers, would require the Soviet Union to excel precisely in the field where its technology is weakest, namely, sophisticated electronic data-processing.
Intellectually, qualified Western observers must recognize that Soviet military innovation has routinely exceeded by a wide margin the miserable technological standards of Soviet society as a whole, and also that long-term military innovation has been pursued relentlessly even under the most adverse conditions. When Stalin launched the exceptionally broad rearmament plan of 1946 to acquire jet fighters, jet bombers, cruisers, submarines by the hundred, new tanks, and both fission and fusion bombs, among other technologically advanced weapons, the poverty of the Soviet Union was far harsher than now, and its entire Western part was a ruined land of wrecked cities and a devastated agriculture. And yet, after acknowledging these facts, the same observers will nevertheless fall victim to the historic temptation to underestimate the Russians, notwithstanding all their proven technological successes, from the war-winning T-34 tank of 1941 to today’s titanium-hulled submarines and mobile ballistic missiles.
The Soviet Union is certainly much inferior in the critical RSC technique, but strategic achievements are always relative—and only one side is competing so far. Western armed forces continue to embellish their armored vehicles, ships, and manned aircraft of classic form, while the Soviet General Staff promotes its revolutionary innovation. Actually, the decline of Western military budgets has already caused a general slowdown of innovation, as funds are increasingly reserved for the upkeep (“readiness”) of the established forces—the very types of forces that the Soviet General Staff is willing to see reduced.
To be sure, the political changes that may yet lead to some sort of more or less liberalized Soviet confederation, the rise of many nationalisms old and new that may lead instead to the disaggregation of the Soviet Union, and the General Staff scheme itself, are all proceeding on different paths with different timetables, while the sorely troubled Soviet economy is evolving on yet another course, driven by sometimes obscure impulses and subjected as it is to ill-informed, ideologically constrained, and often contradictory policies.
There is no telling how the four paths will evolve, interact, or collide, to promote, delay, or even stop the pursuit of the military strategy that might revive the Soviet-Western antagonism—or rather an old-new Russian-Western antagonism. For even Russia alone would still remain the world’s largest state in geographic extent, still dominant in the Eurasian land mass, with a population of some 145 million stout-hearted people, often deeply patriotic and now rather well-educated.
The RSC scheme is certainly congruent with the characteristics of a future Russian state, because it would provide military power of global reach regardless of geographic access, and a vast military-technical superiority over all adjacent states regardless of the size of their populations.
On the other hand, if a reversion to a world again structured by a Russian-Western military confrontation depended on the advent of RSC’s, it could not occur until the next decade. And of course it is perfectly possible that by then such a confrontation could be avoided anyway, especially if a genuinely democratic Russia were finally to emerge—and if by then North-South tensions were to have become more serious than they now are.
The New Ideological Challenge to Democratic Capitalism
So far, our entire discussion has proceeded on the basis of the axiom that strategy is stronger than politics, and politics in turn is stronger than economic self-interest, the former because of the priority of security, the latter because of the priority of social cohesion. But that axiom is incomplete, because there is a force stronger than strategy—the force of collectively-motivating ideas, which incidentally define the purposes of strategy itself insofar as they energize conflict.
Now that the irremediable decline of Marxism-Leninism has virtually ended that prolonged opposition to democratic capitalism, does the latter truly face no serious ideological challenge? That it does not was the premise of Francis Fukuyama’s famous advertisement of the end of history. In that essay, Hegel was reverently invoked, yet the argument proceeded from the most un-Hegelian proposition that because democratic capitalism has defeated both fascism and Communism, it will remain forever unchallenged, leaving the world bereft of an ideological struggle to fuel the motor of history.
Actually one may identify a competing ideology in the localist and environmentalist amalgam that might best be called “communitarianism,” which contains both a fundamental critique of democratic capitalism and substitute prescriptions.
Unlike all forms of Marxism, communitarianism does not deny the superior efficiency of capitalist market dynamics, but it rejects that efficiency on the grounds that it damages human relations and harms nature through the very growth it so successfully promotes. Communitarianism would stop the capitalist market from treating nature as an array of potential commodities to be bought and sold, and it would oppose the ceaseless change caused by capitalist competition because it disrupts established communities and stable social relations.
The inherent conflict between economy and community has, of course, long been recognized, but when democratic capitalism first arrived on the scene to feed the hungry, clothe the naked, and liberate individuals imprisoned in socially oppressive traditional societies, its alienating side-effects were easily accepted as well worth the price.
The very success of democratic capitalism, however, undermines its continued validity: the greater the supply of goods and services, the greater the freedom from restrictive traditions already achieved, the less valuable are the increments of freedom and prosperity that capitalism provides for the already free and prosperous. At the same time, the environmentally disruptive and socially alienating effects of the market continue undiminished, and may even accelerate. Thus the achievements of capitalism are themselves subject to the law of diminishing marginal returns—and communitarianism holds that we are already on the flat of the curve.
The strength of communitarianism, under whatever name, is already powerfully felt in the anti-growth policies of a great and growing number of local governments throughout the industrialized world. It is felt even more decisively in the continued spread and intensification of environmentalist resistance to virtually all interference with nature—a resistance seemingly motivated by particular concerns (this river, that valley), but in fact of universal scope.
If energy supply is the issue, for example, first nuclear power is rejected on the grounds that a reactor accident would leave a wasteland of destroyed nature (and also harm humans); then hydroelectric generation is opposed because it would disrupt the ecology of a river; then the alternative of burning fossil fuels is refused because of the pollution it would cause; and finally the burning of non-polluting natural gas is resisted because it would cause “heat pollution.” That, of course, leaves no practical way of supplying additional energy for economic growth; at that point, the ostensible communitarian remedy is to rely on clean and renewable solar and wind energy, while the actual remedy—given that solar and wind power is rarely a feasible solution-is to stop growth in the first place. If it is then pointed out that a growing population would be progressively impoverished if the economy does not grow along with it, the environmentalist remedy is to stop population growth.
The communitarians who oppose the workings of the market do not usually acknowledge, or indeed recognize, that to oppose the market is to oppose democratic capitalism as a whole, including all its democratic processes—because only the market can assure the diffusion of wealth that in turn sustains a multiplicity of democratic expressions. But some communitarians are explicitly ready to subordinate democratic majority rule to their own imperatives. As with Lenin’s vanguard that must be willing to ignore the expressed will of the people to serve its real interests (which the people are too ignorant to recognize), the communitarian vanguard is prepared to impose its preferences on majorities too backward to appreciate their superior merits. In the United States that is now routinely accomplished by resorting to the courts to prohibit the pro-growth decisions of democratically-elected governments at the local, state, and federal levels.
Because of its very nature, however, communitarianism is hardly likely to be instrumentalized by a great power to sustain a new ideological confrontation with democratic capitalism. But if it continues to spread as it has, and intensify as it also has, communitarianism may not need the support of a great power to present a serious challenge to capitalism and democracy. Indeed, more than the South, more than the “internalized” hostilities of the post-cold war era, and more than a revival of Russian imperialism, communitarianism bids fair to replace the failed prophecy of Marx, the failed politics of Lenin, and the failed economic dogma of Stalin as the newest major threat to the free institutions of the West.
1 A caricature of a minority of company men and factory workers, in a country that has a great abundance of artful dodgers, bohemians, layabouts, fitfully hard-working farmers, keepers of tiny shops and tinier bars that provide more diversion than income, gangsters, and Tora-san types: Mr. Tora, anti-hero of a long-running series of films, benevolently feckless, warmly human, and not at all hard-working, is a common Japanese type.
2 See “One-and-a-half Cheers for German Unification,” by Josef Joffe, beginning on p. 26.—Ed.
3 Norman Podhoretz's term; Sir Michael Howard prefers “debellation,” which, however, implies an imposed renunciation of war, as in Virgil's Aeneid VI, 847.
4 The original Sicilian term is now in everyday use in Moscow.
5 The first non-Communist Polish government quickly displayed strategic unwisdom reminiscent of pre-1939 Poland by threatening to keep Soviet forces in place unless it obtained German territorial “guarantees”; but all manner of (irrelevant) guarantees have been given.
6 See, e.g., Notra Trulock III et al., “Soviet Military Thought in Transition: Implications for the Long-Term Military Competition,” Pacific-Sierra Corporation, Report 1831, April 7, 1988.
7 Supplemented by (ultra-high-altitude) manned observation aircraft and/or remotely-piloted vehicles, including cheaper low-altitude RPV's.
8 From satellite-borne radars, TV, and other instant-relay cameras, signals' receiver/locators as well as generic intelligence sources; “data-fusion” is the term of art for the computer assisted and even automated collation and display of data of diverse origin.
9 As well as manned strike aircraft with self-guided area munitions or stand-off missiles, whose pilots would be directed to their weapon-release points by navigation/attack signals from the RSC, without having to search for their (mobile) targets visually or electronically. Because the aircraft could thus fly optimal evasion profiles (without imposed target-finding climbs) their exposure to on-route interception would be minimized; without RSC's, only fixed targets of known location can be attacked in this manner. In other words, strike aircraft would be employed as reusable manned missiles, for the sake of their large payloads.
10 RSC's would make the tanks and field artillery of “heavy” continental forces very vulnerable, and would also compete with their functions, defensively I f not offensively (RSC's could conquer but not hold ground); RSC's could not compete with the “flag-showing” role of naval forces, but would make all larger surface ships totally vulnerable, and could economically replace offensive carrier aviation; RSC's would compete effectively with the non-nuclear functions of bombers and attack aircraft, and deprive “air-superiority” aircraft of their mission by displacing offensive tactical air power. In other words, RSC's would threaten the key branches of each service that still perpetuate World War II forms of warfare (armor and artillery for armies; surface ship and carrier aviation for navies; and both strategic and tactical aviation for air forces) with only security and expeditionary forces largely exempted.