Thursday, April 19, 2018

End of the Era of Naval Empires

[Since last Thursday, this article has gone viral on Russia Insider and beyond (1, 2). Apparently, many people think that my spelling out the end of US global military superiority is significant. Based on this robust response, I decided to release it from behind the firewall.]

For the past 500 years European nations—Portugal, the Netherlands, Spain, Britain, France and, briefly, Germany—were able to plunder much of the planet by projecting their naval power overseas. Since much of the world’s population lives along the coasts, and much of it trades over water, armed ships that arrived suddenly out of nowhere were able to put local populations at their mercy. The armadas could plunder, impose tribute, punish the disobedient, and then use that plunder and tribute to build more ships, enlarging the scope of their naval empires. This allowed a small region with few natural resources and few native advantages beyond extreme belligerence and bloodlust and a wealth of communicable diseases to dominate the globe for half a millennium.

The ultimate inheritor of this naval imperial project is the United States, which, with the new addition of air power, and with its large aircraft carrier fleet and huge network of military bases throughout the planet, is supposedly able to impose Pax Americana on the entire world. Or, rather, was able to do so—during the brief period between the collapse of the USSR and the emergence of Russia and China as new global powers and their development of new anti-ship and antiaircraft technologies. But now this imperial project is at an end.

Prior to the Soviet collapse, the US military generally did not dare to directly threaten those countries to which the USSR had extended its protection. Nevertheless, by using its naval power to dominate the sea lanes that carried crude oil, and by insisting that oil be traded in US dollars, it was able to live beyond its means by issuing dollar-denominated debt instruments and forcing countries around the world to invest in them. It imported whatever it wanted using borrowed money while exporting inflation, expropriating the savings of people across the world. In the process, the US has accumulated absolutely stunning levels of national debt—beyond anything seen before in either absolute or relative terms. When this debt bomb finally explodes, it will spread economic devastation far beyond US borders. And it will explode, once the petrodollar wealth pump, imposed on the world through American naval and air superiority, stops working.

New missile technology has made a naval empire cheap to defeat. Previously, to fight a naval battle, one had to have ships that outmatched those of the enemy in their speed and artillery power. The Spanish Armada was sunk by the British armada. More recently, this meant that only those countries whose industrial might matched that of the United States could ever dream of opposing it militarily. But this has now changed: Russia’s new missiles can be launched from thousands of kilometers away, are unstoppable, and it takes just one to sink a destroyer and just two to sink an aircraft carrier. The American armada can now be sunk without having an armada of one’s own. The relative sizes of American and Russian economies or defense budgets are irrelevant: the Russians can build more hypersonic missiles much more quickly and cheaply than the Americans would be able to build more aircraft carriers.

Equally significant is the development of new Russian air defense capabilities: the S-300 and S-400 systems, which can essentially seal off a country’s airspace. Wherever these systems are deployed, such as in Syria, US forces are now forced to stay out of their range. With its naval and air superiority rapidly evaporating, all that the US can fall back on militarily is the use of large expeditionary forces—an option that is politically unpalatable and has proven to be ineffective in Iraq and Afghanistan. There is also the nuclear option, and while the US nuclear arsenal is not likely to be neutralized any time soon, nuclear weapons are only useful as deterrents. Their special value is in preventing wars from escalating beyond a certain point, but that point lies beyond the elimination of US global naval and air dominance. Nuclear weapons are much worse than useless in augmenting one’s aggressive behavior against a nuclear-armed opponent; invariably, it would be a suicidal move. What the US now faces is essentially a financial problem of unrepayable debt and a failing wealth pump, and it should be a stunningly obvious point that setting off nuclear explosions anywhere in the world would not fix the problems of an empire going broke.

Events that signal vast, epochal changes in the world often appear minor when viewed in isolation. Julius Caesar’s crossing of the Rubicon was just one river crossing; Soviet and American troops meeting and fraternizing at the Elbe was, relatively speaking, a minor event—nowhere near the scale of the siege of Leningrad, the battle of Stalingrad or the fall of Berlin. Yet they signaled a tectonic shift in the historical landscape. And perhaps we have just witnessed something similar with the recent pathetically tiny Battle of East Gouta in Syria, where the US used a make-believe chemical weapons incident as a pretense to launch an equally make-believe attack on some airfields and buildings in Syria. The US foreign policy establishment wanted to show that it still matters and has a role to play, but what really happened was that US naval and air power were demonstrated to be almost entirely beside the point.

Of course, all of this is terrible news to the US military and foreign policy establishments, as well as to the many US Congressmen in whose districts military contractors operate or military bases are situated. Obviously, this is also bad news for the defense contractors, for personnel at the military bases, and for many others as well. It is also simply awful news economically, since defense spending is about the only effective means of economic stimulus of which the US government is politically capable. Obama’s “shovel-ready jobs,” if you recall, did nothing to forestall the dramatic slide in the labor participation rate, which is a euphemism for the inverse of the real unemployment rate. There is also the wonderful plan to throw lots of money at Elon Musk’s SpaceX (while continuing to buy vitally important rocket engines from the Russians—who are currently discussing blocking their export to the US in retaliation for more US sanctions). In short, take away the defense stimulus, and the US economy will make a loud popping sound followed by a gradually diminishing hissing noise.

Needless to say, all those involved will do their best to deny or hide for as long as possible the fact that the US foreign policy and defense establishments have now been neutralized. My prediction is that America’s naval and air empire will not fail because it will be defeated militarily, nor will it be dismantled once the news sinks in that it is useless; instead, it will be forced to curtail its operations due to lack of funds. There may still be a few loud bangs before it gives up, but mostly what we will hear is a whole lot of whimpering. That’s how the USSR went; that’s how the USA will go too.


the blame-e said...

"So this is how democracy ends; not with a bang but a [whimper]." As an American, I don't believe this is how my country ends. The U.S. government and the Deep State currently in control of my country never gives-up. It never admits defeat. It doubles down. Always.

"During the 2016 presidential campaign, Russia launched an all-out assault on our democracy . . . .”

Here’s how you know for sure that the Democratic Party, Hillary Clinton, James Comey, McCabe, Loretta Lynch, Susan Rice, the Podesta brothers, Huma Abedin, John Brennan, James Clapper, Debbie Wasserman-Schultz, George Soros, celebrities, that high school dropout Jennifer Lawrence, et al – this is how you know they have all gone insane. They talk about democracy here in the United States. They talk about the democracy our allies enjoy; even though allies like the United Kingdom who live under a parliamentary monarchy, enjoy no democracy what-so-ever. They talk about the coming democracy to the whole world.

As an American I would like to point out that the United States doesn’t have a democracy, we have a republic, and not even that because, in truth, what we really have is a federal republic, where all the power in concentrated in one place -- Washington, DC -- otherwise known as "The Swamp."

After the first Constitutional Convention was decided in 1787, a Mrs. Powel of Philadelphia asked Benjamin Franklin [a Founding Father], “Well, Doctor, what have we got, a republic or a monarchy?” With no hesitation whatsoever, Franklin responded, “A republic, if you can keep it.”

The American People didn't get to keep their republic – their government of the people, by the people, and for the people – for very long at all.

To paraphrase Heraclites, in a democracy the people are the “deciders.” They vote all the time. In a republic the people vote once, for who will be doing all the deciding for them. These are the facts, in theory anyway. In practice the facts don't even resemble reality.

Thomas Jefferson, along with many of our Founding Fathers considered democracy “rule by the mob.” The idea of a democracy scared our Founding Fathers shit-less.

Democracy is a bill of goods that the whole world is being sold. Their democracy is Globalism. Today, democracy comes down to Total World Domination being sold as liberty and freedom. It is neither. Freedom use to be "nothing left to lose." That was poetic and sufficiently martyristic. Today, freedom is the New World Order (NWO). The democracy you are being sold is the bald-faced lie these professional politicians tell you about. Their democracy, called "Globalism," is simply a euphemism for a more universal and timeless evil called Total World Domination. I can only imagine, that from the Russian point of view, Globalism must be like looking at the Nazi army massed along their side of the Polish border, again.

The Globalists (mainly Democrats who lost the last presidential election), their democracy hates the Constitution (all Constitutions), hates the Bill of Rights (all Bills of Rights), and hates the 2ND Amendment (all 2ND Amendments).

Simple as that. Any cornered animal will strike out. The United States, driven into a corner of its own making by insanity and some blind unicorn belief, an obsessed, delusional defense of itself as being something is never was, a democracy, will not go quietly.

A Greek philosopher once said about the fall of Sparta: you cannot keep a whole people on an endless war footing, fighting endless wars. Eventually the go insane. This has already happened in my country. All you have to do is look at all the school shootings in the United States.

As an American I can tell the Russians, the Chinese, the whole world, that the United States, the biggest gun crazy on the planet, will not go quietly.

Unknown said...

I have to agree with Jeff Lovejoy here. As Putin has put it not long ago: "for Russians, what will be the point of a planet without Russia?". I can't assure they'll ever resort to Armageddon but they won't go easy and, until the last flame of their world domination ambitions don't get turned off, until they profoundly accept this new fact and adapt to their new status, there will be risk of a suicidal event of the type "not for me, not for anyone". Also, from the historic viewpoint the US can be seen as an experiment, their culture and genetics don't go much far back, they're a mixture. If they disappear that mixture can be rearranged. There is not thousands of years of evolution or culture to save. They may think the experiment got finished and push the nuclear stop button. It wouldn't be suicidal for the small group of those who decide to push the button. It will "only" for the rest. I hope they can transit their long adaptation road easily with everyone else's help.

Unknown said...

Brilliant post as always Dmitry. Maybe the best writer on the web.

The coup de grace will be the Silk Road Project, which will render the piratical, shore-trolling empires obsolete. No more sailing their fleets into port and raping and pillaging. The perfect geopolitical move to thwart naval power but to build a land-locked commercial expanse. No more parking a nuclear aircraft carrier off shore as blackmail.

Pax Americana is done. The economic stake in its heart is the opening of Chinese oil bourse, settled in yuan and gold, something DC and the rest of the West doesn't have anymore. With the petrodollar soon to be a thing of the past

What all those Western ruling elites have in common, the ones that took turns dominating the global stage, is their lineage, and strategies, which actually dates back to the Vikings. From the English and the French on down, they incorporated Viking culture and ambitions, and became amoral, vicious military courts, centered around unhinge oligarchs that couldn't go one season without torching some distant land for plunder and beautiful brides.