Review: The Vulnerability of Empire (Cornell Studies in Security Affairs)

5 Star, Empire, Sorrows, Hubris, Blowback
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5.0 out of 5 stars Adapt Our Strategy Now, Or Suffer Adjustment Failure Later,

October 8, 2000
Charles A. Kupchan
This book is extremely relevant to the forthcoming 2001 debate over alternative national security strategies. The author studies a number of cases of “adjustment failure” where great powers, at the height of their strength, engaged in self-defeating behavior-either overly cooperative behavior that resulted in strategic exposure, or overly competitive behavior that resulted in self-encirclement or over-extension. The author pays special attention to the inter-relationship between economic versus military resources (means) and international commitments (ends). Strategic culture is defined and discussed in an integrative fashion, in relation to the three levels of analysis (system, state, and individual), and is found to be the critical factor that constrains elites by trapping them in a strategic paradigm of their own making-one used to justify major expenditures that are now counterproductive, but whose abandonment would exact too high a domestic political price if reversed (such as a Revolution in Military Affairs?) The author finds that strategic culture, unlike individual strategic beliefs, is resistant to incoming information and to change. States that are in decline and states that are rising tend to fall prey to “adjustment failure” and consequently to present other states with instability issues. In both cases elites tend to utilize national propaganda and education to inculcate a mass understanding may support their intermediate objectives but ultimately frustrates strategic adjustment when they realize that what they are doing is only increasing their vulnerability. Most interestingly for the United States of America, the author finds that it is only when a state is truly in a position of strength, that it can best recognize and adapt to radical changes in the external environment-in other words, now is the time to dump the 2+ Major Theater War strategy and adopt a competing strategy that more properly integrates economic and military means to achieve our national security ends. The author concludes with several specific prescriptions that clearly pertinent to forthcoming Presidential and Congressional decisions at the dawn of the 21st Century and that must be appreciated if we are to have an effective national security policy in the next decade or two. First, the author is at one with Donald Kegan and Colin Gray in noting that the dissolution of the Soviet Union does not mean the end of U.S. strategic responsibilities in Europe; second, that at a time when there are many rising states emerging from the dissolution of the Soviet Union (as well as the fragmentation of larger states elsewhere) it is vital that these states be buffered against economic shock so as to avoid the instability conducive to the rise of aggressor governments; third, that there must be deliberate international programs in place to suppress or eliminate domestic pathologies that lead to aggressive behavior, and these must be progressively strong, beginning with economic assistance to eliminate the root causes of the instability; to sanctions and information operations as well as military preparations; and finally to outright military intervention with overwhelming force. The author explicitly notes that the international community must exercise great care to identify and decisively stop emerging aggressors before they can become full-blown aggressor states-history as documented in the case studies contained in the book suggests that when confronted by a full-blown aggressor state, members of the international community will tend toward strategic accommodations policies and tolerance of aggression rather than the decisive interventionist action easiest to adopt at an earlier stage. Finally, the author offers a prescription for avoiding surprise and confrontation, recommending that some form of international body be used to monitor and sanction any use of nationalist propaganda (such as generally precedes genocidal campaigns), and that this monitoring range from normal public sources down to educational materials used in the schools as well as government archives. By intention, the book focuses only on Europe and only on relations between states–there is much that could be done to broaden these useful insights to inform our strategy toward Asia, the Third World, specific failed states and “states of concern”, and non-state groups.
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