“We are more likely to face prolonged campaigns than conflicts that are resolved quickly… that control of escalation is becoming more difficult and more important… and that as a hedge against unpredictability with reduced resources, we may have to adjust our global posture.”
These lines from the chairman’s foreword to the The National Military Strategy of the United States of America, 2015 provide the greatest insight into the view that the United States has on world affairs. While being essentially bound by US exceptionalism it presents an uncompromising analysis of the future that faces all of us. Most importantly it acknowledges that:
- Wars will be longer.
- Crises will continue to escalate rapidly and out-of-control.
- The US will adjust its ‘global posture’ and introduce new methods of warfare.
These characteristics of future conflicts reinforce “the need for the U.S. military to remain globally engaged to shape the security environment and to preserve our network of alliances”. This is the opposite of what John Mearsheimer advocates in his excellent article titled America Unhinged, in which he sees the degradation of US credibility and society as stemming from its perpetual interventionism and warfare. Mearsheimer concludes that for the US to remain a global power and remove itself from unnecessary, unwinnable conflicts its leaders need to focus on direct threats to stability. What the 2015 military strategy presents is a several steps in the opposite direction. Framed by uncertainty and the view that threats are ever numerous and constantly evolving, the US is doubling down on its militarism and quest for supremacy.
The United States still sees individual states as the most dominant actors and pertinent threats, singling out Russia, Iran, North Korea and China. What is interesting to note is that the assessment of the direct military threat of these nations is far more level headed than the outright warmongering of western leaders and the mainstream press. Nonetheless, while the rhetoric employed in describing these threats appears to be relatively diplomatic, this is in direct contradiction to increasingly aggressive US militarism, especially in Europe. The assessment of these threats also ignores the US actions that have led to global reactions which are now deemed as aggressive.
What is most interesting about the military strategy is that while it acknowledges that individual state actors are the greatest threats, conflicts will be fought primarily against ‘hybrid forces’. The key examples given are that of “Russia… in the Crimea” and “ISIL… in Iraq and Syria”. The situation in Donbass is labelled a ‘hybrid conflict’ but there is no concrete accusation of Russia directly supporting these forces, instead a vague wording that is open to being misconstrued by the mainstream press. As is to be expected, the US hypocritically points to aggressor nations as solely employing these tactics, making no mention of US funding and training of ‘rebel’ groups in Syria and Iraq. Of greatest importance in this section of the strategy is the concession that none of the nations mentioned are seeking “military conflict with the United States” or its allies. This is certainly a view that the media coverage of world affairs has great difficulty reconciling with.
The 2015 military strategy sees its objectives as being guided by national security interests (NSIs) which are put forward as being:
- The survival of the Nation.
- The prevention of catastrophic attack against U.S. territory.
- The security of the global economic system.
- The security, confidence, and reliability of our allies.
- The protection of American citizens abroad.
- The preservation and extension of universal values.
These are understandable objectives but they exist in a state of American exceptionalism, wherein the United States can protect its citizens abroad but Russia cannot. Similarly the US can preserve and extend its definition of ‘universal values’, but if Russia does so it is seen as being aggressive. While these objectives and the perceived threats to them are put forward in solid terms, the definitions of future conflicts and how they will be fought are marked with ambiguity. There is a definite undertone of uncertainty in this updated military strategy, but there is no question that when it comes to the protection of ‘US interests’ the policy is still of swift and certain military action. A particularly interesting aspect of the strategy as a whole is the capitalisation of ‘Nation’ in reference to the United States. When the word nation(s) is used in plural context it is written in lower case, but when referring only to the US it is capitalised. A small point perhaps, but in keeping with the absolute exceptionalism of US interests.
This strategy is characterised by the viewpoint of “the increasing complexity of the global environment, driven by rapid and profound change”, seeing the world as increasingly chaotic and conflict-bound. Judging by this paper, the future is to be defined by drawn-out conflicts influenced by the need of the United States to retain global supremacy and access to resources. The US still sees itself as the biggest and the best, other nations still exist solely for the pursuance of US interests and as the inimitable George H.W Bush put it: “either you are with us or you are with the terrorists” (perhaps Obama will change ‘terrorists’ to ‘Russians’ to better fit the contemporary agenda).