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Lengthening 'long war' in the Arc of Instability


With the Horn of Africa, part of Thomas Barnett's "ozone hole" of Globalization, hotting up yet again, I thought it useful to recap recent themes of US military strategy from what I might call benevolent, preemptive, domination (preventing the emergence of a rival superpower) to unilateralist Globocop to multilateralist Globocop in light of lessons learned - and being learned - in Iraq, world opinion of US actions and intent as evidenced by Iraq, and the ability of a US electorate to respond correctly over the time span required. For background, see Rescuing the descent of nation-states: strong, weak, failed, and collapsed.

Iraq has had an extraordinary effect on military readiness - leave aside whether you believe the effect worthwhile - and I submit that it has diverted assets that should long ago been positioned along the Arc. The impact and long tail of Iraq looms so large (infinitely more so in Muslim eyes) that it is difficult to speak of "post-Iraq" era, i.e., the US could evacuate Iraq tomorrow and the "post-Iraq" phase would hardly have commenced given that we will have to deal with its aftermath in Iraq, the Middle East, the Muslim World, and the developed world that will increasingly become a more accessible target for terrorists. I find it ironic that one of the architects of the Arc of Instability concept, Thomas Barnett, stated that:

The reason I support going to war in Iraq is not simply that Saddam is a cutthroat [or] because that regime has clearly supported terrorist networks [but] that the resulting long-term military commitment will finally force America to deal with the entire [region defined by the Arc] as a strategic threat environment.

Given Barnett's vision of the Arc and its threats to the developed world, one wonders if he still holds this opinion. I would opine that Iraq has been a expensive distraction that has discredited our aims (in both Muslim eyes and a goodly portion of the US electorate) and blunted our ability to affect the new multilateralist approach that is emerging at the military level out of sight of Iraq in such commands as the Combined Joint Task Force - Horn of Africa (CJTF) based in Djibouti.

Barnett defines a Functioning Core, or Core, that where "globalization is thick with network connectivity, financial transactions, liberal media flows, and collective security, and I will show you regions featuring stable governments, rising standards of living, and more deaths by suicide than murder," and a Non-Integrating Gap, or Gap, where "globalization is thinning or just plain absent, and I will show you regions plagued by politically repressive regimes, widespread poverty and disease, routine mass murder, and—most important—the chronic conflicts that incubate the next generation of global terrorists":

  • "Disconnectedness defines danger," i.e., "If a country is either losing out to globalization or rejecting much of the content flows associated with its advance," it will be within the Arc, or Gap.
  • Bound the region containing the majority of US post-Cold War military responses, "namely the Caribbean Rim, virtually all of Africa, the Balkans, the Caucasus, Central Asia, the Middle East and Southwest Asia, and much of Southeast Asia," and you define the Arc.

That is about two billion people with a grievance and no hope. Barnett sees bin Laden and al Qaeda as "pure products of the Gap" and its most "violent feedback to the Core." If al Qaeda is now a franchise, even a replicable idea, the Core has a problem given the weapons and tradecraft that can easily flow into an area devoid of state control.

At the Gap's margins, Barnett described "seam states" at which the Core will have to "seek to suppress bad things coming out of the Gap." Given that "classic seam states" in the 2002-2003 period were "Mexico, Brazil, South Africa, Morocco, Algeria, Greece, Turkey, Pakistan, Thailand, Malaysia, the Philippines, and Indonesia," the threats to the Core from these seam states are only growing in 2005-2006.

Again, one wonders how Barnett now views Iraq as a springboard to containing the Arc given what has transpired. British military historian, Correlli Barnett (no relation), answered harshly in December 2003 (but had publicly predicted an Iraqi invasion a "wreck" prior to the March 2003 invasion):

The truth is that the occupations of Afghanistan and Iraq serve as bitter object-lessons in how not to conduct an anti-terrorist campaign. Washington must recognise that combating terrorists is essentially a job for special forces like the SAS, for the police or gendarmerie (or troops trained in a gendarmerie role) and, above all, for good intelligence (meaning, at best, spies inside al-Qa’eda cells) and not a job for heavy-weight hi-tech firepower.

Rather than kicking down front doors and barging into ancient and complex societies with simple nostrums of ‘freedom and democracy’, we need tactics of cunning and subtlety, based on a profound understanding of the peoples and culture we are dealing with an understanding up till now entirely lacking in the top-level policy-makers in Washington, especially in the Pentagon.

As of late 2003, Correlli Barnett felt that despite US predations into al Qaeda ranks that it was al Qaeda imposing its will on the US and enjoying the initiative. In "a classic case of strategic overextension," the two US military occupations had "simply opened up long American flanks vulnerable to increasing guerrilla attack."

As to timeframes in an insurgent conflict:

[T]here can be no quick fixes of the kind so congenial to the American temperament. It took the British colonial government in Malaya 12 years, from 1948 to 1960, to defeat the communist guerrillas. The vain British attempt to defeat the IRA lasted from 1969 to 1994, when the present armistice was concluded.

As to the establishment of democracy:

Nor can there be quick fixes when it comes to creating stable democratic regimes in countries fractured by ancient rivalries tribal, religious and racial. The shooting war in Bosnia ended eight years ago, and in Kosovo four years ago. Yet in both countries only the continued presence of large international garrisons to enforce the peace prevents a relapse into civil strife.

As to blowback against the US:

In the meantime, the hostility within Iraq and in the wider Islamic world towards the American viceregal regime makes it desirable that administrative as well as military responsibility for Iraq should be vested as soon as possible in the UN, acting through a UN high commissioner, preferably a Muslim.

Writing in Parameters in late 2003, Donald Chisholm sets out the task for us to understand friend and foe in the Arc and hopefully not repeat recent missteps:

Just as cultural differences make it difficult to discern an adversary’s intentions, the probability of effectively manipulating his perceptions also decreases as his cultural distance from our own increases—quite apart from the historic American habit of telegraphing our moves. If Thomas Barnett is correct in his assertion that the focus of American foreign policy and military action for the foreseeable future will be along the so-called "arc of instability" from the Caribbean Basin through Africa to South and Central Asia and across to North Korea—and I am persuaded that he is—then the United States will be addressing an extraordinarily heterogeneous array of state and non-state threats across a vast and varied geographic area, with the only common threads being unstable social, economic, and political systems, and the near complete absence of democracy and modern institutions. Thus, we will be almost exclusively confronting non-Western foes about whom we know relatively little. Although the detailed, in-depth cultural knowledge necessary for a basic understanding of enemy will and perception across the "arc of instability" is, at least in principle, susceptible of acquisition, gaining such knowledge will require considerable capital investment, systematic effort, and time.

To date, there is little indication such investment and effort has been made. Notwithstanding, for example, Vice Admiral Arthur Cebrowski’s [another of the authors of the Arc of Instability and a proponent of network-centric warfare] call for "regional expertise" as integral to the success of "network-centric operations," the focus has been on technology and hardware. As Edward Smith has recently had to remind us,

Precise effects-based warfare will demand more than sensor-based awareness. It will require us to identify both the specific vulnerability we need to act against and the desired result. To do this, we need to know the enemy. The process of creating such knowledge of the enemy will draw on sensor information, to be sure, and will be subject to some time compression as a result, but is much more a matter of creating regional expertise and extensive regional and technical intelligence databases. In short, we will find ourselves reintroducing the human dimension into the loop and expanding our reliance on functions that must be carried out over months and years, and essentially, must be completed before the battle even begins.

Even should we materially advance our regional expertise, military commanders and civilian leaders will still have to accord such factors significant weight in their planning and decisionmaking.

The halcyon days of 1992 to follow.

Why al-Qa’eda is winning
Correlli Barnett
The Spectator
13 December, 2003
Mirror, also here

The Risk of Optimism in the Conduct of War
Donald Chisholm
Parameters, Winter 2003-04, pp. 114-131

Transforming for Stabilization and Reconstruction Operations
Edited by Hans Binnendijk and Stuart Johnson
Center for Technology and National Security Policy
National Defense University
November 12, 2003

Pentagon Moving Swiftly to Become "Globocop"
By Jim Lobe
Foreign Policy In Focus
June 12, 2003
Printed in Asia Times, Jun 14, 2003]

Cebrowski: Emerging Global Threats Require New Methods Of Operation
Aerospace Daily
May 14, 2003

The Pentagon's New Map
Thomas P.M. Barnett
Volume 139, Issue 3
March 2003

The Economics of the 'Arc of Instability'
Ron Duncan, Satish Chand
Asian-Pacific Economic Literature
Vol. 16 Issue 1 Page 1 May 2002

Network Centric Warfare: Where's the beef?
Edward A. Smith, Jr
Submission to the Naval War College Review

Gordon Housworth

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