Tuesday, June 23, 2009

There's No Grand Enemy. Hence No Grand Strategy.

I'm a big fan of Adam Elkus' blog, Rethinking Security. In a recent post, he points to an article he penned at redteamjournal.com, which was inspired by this post by a Marine captain blogging under the name Smitten Eagle.

Smitten Eagle examines the lack of a US Grand Strategy since the fall of the USSR. He then goes on to examine this vacuum in terms of memes, an idea put forward by Richard Dawkins and which FLG finds a tad bit annoying.* Smitten Eagle then discusses Tom Barnett's grand strategy as a meme. Despite the meme stuff, FLG finds SE's analysis of Barnett's work pretty on point.

This brings me to Adam Elkus. He writes:
In this understanding, grand strategy is not so much a grand plan but a shared understanding and overall guiding concept that is transmitted laterally to elites and then down the ranks. SE argues that “[s]ince the breakup of the Soviet Union, American grand strategy has defied meme. Various concepts–globalization, black swans, Y2K, [counterinsurgency], etc., have managed to spread among elites, but there has been very little coherence among these concepts.” SE is right, but it’s also important to point out that since the end of the Cold War, we have seen hundreds of eminent foreign policy theorists and military officers offer their own overarching grand strategic concepts. Many of them have written breezy, irreverent pop-academic tomes that seem almost tailor-made for memetic production. So why hasn’t a memetic competitor to Containment arrived?


The simple answer is the the United States lacks even a close military competitor, and forget an existential military threat. al-Qaeda is, from a strategic perspective, a minor nuisance.

If and when China rises as a military competitor, which is still several decades off, then we'll have a commonly accepted grand strategy because we will have to. As they say, necessity is the mother of invention. This talk of how grand strategy is formed and why it hasn't formed seems like intellectual parlor games of little to no consequence.

As FLG's said before, NATO worked because the allies' collective minds were focused by the existential threat of the Warsaw Pact. Without it, NATO is a complete waste of time and should be abolished. It has no raison d'etre.

Likewise, we don't need a grand strategy right now and so we don't have one. Now, it would be nice to have one because then we could proceed in some sort of rational manner. However, we have the luxury of being so superior militarily to every other country in the world that the lack of a grand strategy is something we can afford.

FLG really likes Rethinking Security and he's going to start reading Smitten Eagle, but this talk of memes needs to stop. It's intellectual babble almost only for intellectual babble's sake.

* Memes are too amorphous of an idea and ultimately not a very useful construct for discussing anything. In point of fact, FLG thinks the idea of a meme is a cheap rip-off of the Hegelian Dialectic.

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