Tuesday, October 31, 2006

Max Boot on military supremacy

Max Boot muses on The Race for Military Dominance. As Eric Rescorla has pointed out he is mistaken in the examples he uses to assert that the key developments in computing came from individuals not working for the government. But this does not negate his main point that military supremacy tends to be an ephemeral condition.

The larger flaw in his argument appears to be his insistence on technology as the driving force rather than economics. The British Navy did not lose its dominance due to a failure to grasp the military importance of the Air Craft carrier. On the contrary the British Navy developed the concept as aggressively as any other world power. Britain lost its number one status in naval power because the British economy could not possibly continue to support it after the loss of the Empire which in the aftermath of World War II no amount of military force could possibly have prevented.

Choosing the Spanish Armarda as an example of a weak force defeating a strong one is strange to say the least. The Armada pretty much defeated itself the British Navy did little more than assist them. The Spanish invasion was based on a hopeless plan that depended on coordinating the action of two forces more closely that the communications technology of the day permitted.

The whole point of military supremacy is or at least ought to be not to have the need to put it to the test. It does not much matter if you are not the world superpower as long as everyone assumes that you are. Nor does possessing a greater strength than your opponents imagine help much in matters of defense.

A reasonable conclusion to draw from the US experience in Iraq is that it is no longer feasable for any nation to occupy another country with more than about five million inhabitants for any extended period of time. This is only a depressing conclusion if your military objective is not primarily defensive.

As to the grander thesis Boot advances; it is most unlikely that the US will remain the sole superpower but not because of technology or even economics but because of politics. In addition to smashing up the US military machines the neo-cons have unfortunately given other powers the incentive to compete. The economies of China and India will inevitably overtake the US economy in the very next couple of decades. The doctrine of pre-emptive war means that they must insist on being global powers.

The US government is certainly spending enough to expect to remain at the forefront of military technology but this may not guarantee success, an issue I will return to tommorow.

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