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Sunday, April 29, 2007

The Buggy Web Site's Redevelopment and A New Series of Articles

Since early March, 2007, a talented web developer --- Carlos Phelps of PHD-Hosting --- has been busy reorganizing and recoding the buggy web site in line with strict World Wide Web 3 XHTML standards. The Reason for the Reorganization? As it happens, before Carlos began his work, the buggy site showed up more or less correctly in IE and Opera, but not in Netscape or Firefox --- two Mozilla-based browsers. Netscape is now hardly used; according to the latest stats, only about 2.0% of web visitors still rely on it. Not so Firefox. Its popularity since its introduction in late 2004 has been surging, and it currently enjoys about 15% of browser-usage world wide . . . a figure that is bound to continue rising in years to come. Hence the need for someone like Carlos, a gifted web developer and manager, to undertake the task of recoding the entire buggy site. For what it's worth, please note, prof bug's own preference goes to Opera --- a free Scandinavian-based browser that emerged in the early 1990s, innovating, among other things, the now universally used tab system for browsing. Currently in its 9.02 version and free, you can download it here. It loads up virtually all web sites faster than either Firefox or IE 7.0. Not that Firefox and IE don't have their strengths; they do, and in the end it really comes down to a personal choice, little else. Whatever, you can now count on seeing the buggy site equally well in that browser.  


An Old Series Ends, a New One Begins on US Power in the World

Within a few days, Carlos should be ending his work, and immediately a buzzy article will appear in the lengthy strung-out series on Iran's nuclear programs and, more to the point, on whether or not a nuclear-armed terror-state could be reliably deterred and contained the way the Soviet Union was during the cold war. For good or bad, that article will end the Iranian series. In rapid fire, there will begin a new series on the economic and technological base of American global power, comparatively viewed, in a world of turbulent change. Agreed: this swift disruptive change isn't just economic and technological. Obviously not. It's also political, diplomatic, and security in nature; otherwise, what reason could there be for large American military forces on the ground in Afghanistan and Iraq? In the end, though --- for reasons set out at length in that new buggy series to come, with a few comments unfolded here --- a state's relative power on the global scene hinges, mainly, on its economic and technological dynamism, coupled with the size of its population, its domestic stability, and the flexibility and quality of its political institutions . . . always, of course, comparatively viewed with the similar sources of power that exist within other states, especially large, economically vigorous ones. And always understood in long-run perspective --- nowadays meaning several decades at least.

More About Military Power

Obviously, it's a major source of a state's relative power and influence abroad. Wait though! As it happens, the need, the size, and the effectiveness of military instruments in promoting a state's interests abroad --- including, for great and super powers, promoting its leaders' and people's vision of a desirable international order --- vary over long stretches of time, all depending on a host of political judgments: above all, the nature and gravity of the specific threats that a state's leaders perceive and the strategies and tactics they decide on for dealing with them. Consider briefly the American record here. At times, as in the 19th century, the US had a relatively small military budget and a small standing army without any conscription except for the Civil War period. The reason: no major threat from any countries abroad existed after the war of 1812 ended. Similarly, in the 1990s after the cold war, the size of the military shrank, and so did defense spending. Steadily; down, by the end of that decade, to slightly less than 3.0% of GDP. By contrast, defense spending in WWII approached 40% of GDP, and strict rationing was imposed on the American consumer. In the cold war era that followed, this percentage swung sharply up and down. By 1947, it had plunged to 3.5% of GDP --- only to shoot up to almost 12% in the Korean war between 1950 and 1953. Over the next two decades, as cold war threats multiplied and the US escalated its role in Vietnam, the percentage of GDP going to defense averaged about 7.0 to 8.0%. Once we withdrew from Vietnam in 1975, that figure fell to about 4.7% at the end of the Carter era. Enter new threats to the US global role by then: especially the Iranian revolution and the Soviet invasion of Afghanistan. In the Reagan era, accordingly, defense spending rose swiftly to reach 6.2% of GDP and then, with the cold war's end, began to decline steadily afterwards, reaching about 3.0% by the end of the 1990s. Enter the 9/11 terrorist attacks on US soil. Defense spending began to rose immediately afterwards, reaching about 4.0% of GDP in strict budgetary terms, but --- with hundreds of billions of dollars going into supplementary spending on the Iraqi occupation --- closer probably to 5.5% by 2007. The following graph, taken from this source shows these ups and downs from the start of WWII until the end of 2005, with the peak spending for key years singled out:

Defense Spending as a Percentage of GDP



What Can We Conclude from This Lickety-Split Historical Survey?

A few things, only briefly clarified here. Above all, to reiterate what was said earlier, the importance of military power in the world for a status-quo state varies with perceived threats, along with the success a state’s leadership has extracting human and economic resources for dealing with these threats. For an aggressive state out to conquer its neighbors or far-flung countries --- think of Nazi Germany and Militarized Japan in the run-up to WWII --- the ability to expand aggressively this way pushes military power to the very fore of state spending and priorities. In more concrete terms, the willingness of a democratic country like ours to spend for military purposes hinges on four interacting variables.

  1. The nature and gravity of the threats.

  2. The relative wealth and technological dynamism of a democratic country like ours compared to the seriousness of the threat and the wealth and technological conditions of its adversaries.

  3. The ability of a threatened country to find allies to join in a common military defense against the threats.

  4. The ability of a US president or his counterparts abroad to persuade the citizenry and legislature to support the necessary sacrifices in blood and wealth, backed by their being convinced that the war is being directed by an effective strategy for victory.

Some Clarifying Remarks

The last variable, note quickly, is particularly important in an era of new threats like Islamist terrorism and the political controversies it invariably generates in democratic countries: its nature, its seriousness, and the best ways to counter, militarily and otherwise. The chief reason? To put it tersely, unless a democratic country like the US is attacked by an enemy that's identifiable and there's widespread agreement on the gravity of its threat and how to deal with it --- think of WWII and the struggle to defeat Militarist Japan and Nazi Germany --- that country's leaders will need to fall back more and more on a duo of talents: 1) a flair for public speaking and political persuasion, and 2) clear evidence, as time wears on and casualties mount, that the military has a strategy for ultimate victory within some reasonable time-frame. That time-frame can be flexible. How flexible depends on how effectively the country's government persuades its people that a less than clear-cut security threat is nonetheless serious and patience is needed. The evidence here is graphic. Americans supported WWII's enormous economic and human costs --- remember, more than 3000 American dead in just one day's battle on the beaches of Normandy in June 1944 --- because virtually everybody was convinced that the US couldn't live peacefully in a world with militarized Japan, Nazi Germany, and Fascist Italy, just as the public showed rife confidence in our strategy for ultimate victory. Not so ever since. The battlefield stalemate in Korea led to a surge of war weariness after nearly three years of heavy US losses. Later, in an era of domestic upheaval, the war in Vietnam left Americans badly divided after three or four years of inconclusive fighting as to whether we could win ultimately and, no less important, at reasonable costs. Faced with surging political division and discontent at home, neither Harry Truman nor, later on, Lyndon Johnson and Richard Nixon ever managed to convince a large majority of Americans that continuing the Korean or Vietnam wars was worth the effort . . . what with victory likely in the near future and achievable at tolerable cost.

Sidebar Elaboration: The Weinberger-Powell Doctrine. Both the Reagan and Bush Sr. administrations tried to bring US military strategy in line with these lessons, derived originally from the Vietnam war. The revision was first undertaken by Caspar Weinberger, President Reagan's defense secretary, in the early 1980s, and then elaborated on by General Colin Powell, who served under Weinberger, in 1990, as a guide to when the US should commit military forces abroad. As one writer notes, the fully revised doctrine set out a series of guideline questions for an American administration to ponder whenever it contemplated such action:
  1. Is a vital national security interest threatened?

  2. Do we have a clear attainable objective?

  3. Have the risks and costs been fully and frankly analyzed?

  4. Have all other non-violent policy means been fully exhausted?

  5. Is there a plausible exit strategy to avoid endless entanglement?

  6. Have the consequences of our action been fully considered?

  7. Is the action supported by the American people?

  8. Do we have genuine broad international support?

Iraq Today

Both George W. Bush and Tony Blair have recently learned what Harry Truman, Lyndon Johnson, and Richard Nixon had to learn in earlier decades. Specifically, when faced with a more ambiguous security threat, their peoples may initially support a war abroad --- only, over time, to grow weary and malcontented if a military solution looks more and more elusive. Some of us may regret this. Others will think that this is what democracy entails. Whatever, a President or Prime Minister’s skills in political communication and an ability to persuade domestic critics are part and parcel of what constitutes successful foreign policy in an era of new and diffuse threats and limited warfare . . . regarding which people of good will and differing knowledge will invariably disagree. Look, by way of illustration, at the concrete swing in US public opinion over Iraq.

Initially, a fairly large majority of the US public supported our war against Saddam's Iraqi regime in March 2003: 62% to be exact. By May, after the quick victory with few American casualties, support soared to 79%. But then, --- as the insurgency and brutal suicide terrorism marked by growing Shiite-Sunni sectarian conflict flared in Iraq --- American opinion began to swiftly alter. In August 2004, just fourteen months after the high point of public support was reached, 67% of Americans were found in one opinion poll to believe that we had entered the war on erroneous grounds. Since then, those Americans regretting the war and urging some sort of withdrawal --- prompt or over a longer period --- has hovered somewhere around 60 - 65%. Has this sharp turnaround in public opinion really surprising? Not to those who have studied the role of opinion in the Korean and Vietnam wars. The Weinberger-Powell doctrine was precisely developed to ensure that the US wouldn't undertake large military action abroad without the relevant policymakers in the White House --- as well as in the CIA and the State and Defense Departments --- weighing the evidence on the 8 guidelines that the doctrine entails. Whether or not you think it's imperative four years later for us to deal with the Iraqi challenges and their implications for US security in the future, it's hard to deny that President Bush and his team of key advisers entered a war based on self-deceptive "best-case" assumptions: a quick military victory, followed by a swiftly revived Iraqi economy (in shambles for over a decade) and a unity government installed in Baghdad with large support across all sectors of Iraqi opinion, that would enable most of our troops to be out of the country by the end of 2003 . . . and with the economic costs for the US minimal to boot.


For all of what was just said, note something consistent with our stress on economic and technological dynamism even here. Simply said, however important military power may be, it's usually a secondary influence in entering into a state’s long-run power and influence on the global scene. Even in the short- and mid-term, for that matter, the efficacy of military power in promoting a state's interests in the world turns out, as a general thing, to be a secondary or derivative influence. The clear exception? When a total war of the sort the US, the British, and the Soviet Union experienced in WWII erupts . . . and yet, observe rapidly, even that global, no-holds-barred war underscores the significance of the victors' economic and technological strengths.

How So?

In several years of total war and a fully mobilized national economy aftrer Pear Harbor, the US, remember, spent nearly 40% of its GDP on our military effort, and the British even more. The poorer, totalitarian Soviet Union outdid us both. Attacked by Nazi Germany and its military allies --- the invading Germans so viciously kill-crazy that they quickly alienated even the non-Russian minorities who hated the Communist regime in Moscow and had originally supported them --- Stalin sought to rally popular support for the defeat of the hated Nazi invaders by downplaying Communism and stressing Russian patriotism, while moving most of its war-making factories east of the Ural mountains beyond the range of German bombers. At the same time, the entire Soviet economy, state-run anyway, was devoted to fighting the German military. Near to collapse as German forces swept quickly across European Russia, the Communist regime was able to improvise a huge recovery of its economy in the areas of the Soviet Union it controlled. The result? With a much smaller the Soviet Union's economic base was than the German's enjoyed at the start of the war, the Soviet people --- full of hatred for the Nazi invaders --- made heroic sacrifices on a vast human and economic scale, aided by British and increasingly American supplies. Meanwhile, British and American bombers were smashing German factories and rail-lines through Nazi-controlled Europe. In 1943, the third year of that brutal war on the Eastern Front, the German empire produced 30 million tons of steel and 340 million tons of coal, out of which it then manufactured 17,000 tanks and 27,000 artillery pieces. By contrast, Soviet factories transformed 8 million tons of steel and 90 million tons of coal into 48,000 heavy artillery pieces and 24,000 tanks . . . their tanks, by the way, just as good as the Germans' and used with great skill by the Red Army. Aided by Anglo-American successes in economic warfare and American supplies, the Soviet economy, in short, outperformed the economies of Nazi Germany, its allies, and its exploitation of occupied national economies as in France, and in the process the Soviet military was responsible for killing 85% of all German soldiers who fell in battle during WWII.


The lesson to be drawn here, even in a total war where the outcome was decided on the battlefield?

Simply Said,

. . . without major economic and military aid from the US and Britain --- combined with systematic Anglo-American bombing of factories and rail-lines throughout the Nazi empire and, as we noted, a remarkable economic effort by the Soviet work-force --- the Soviet military by itself would probably have been unable to thrust back the Nazis beyond the Soviet borders, let alone continue all the way to Berlin. Note, too, that economic warfare for the US and Britain didn't mean just mobilizing their capitalist economies for total war, let alone the devastating bomber campaigns throughout Nazi Europe. It also meant that both countries could sustain military operations for years on on several broad fronts: against German submarines in the North Atlantic, in North Africa and the Mediterranean, in Italy, and later on the ground in Europe itself . . . all the while, needless to add, the US itself was fighting a huge air, naval, and ground war with Japan in the Pacific. In Europe, even before D-Day, Anglo-American bombers smashed German factories and cities for years; in the North Atlantic, the need to keep sea-lanes open between Britain, its Empire, and the US was another desperate wartime front. In the Pacific, the greatest sea-battles in history were fought, with the US almost single-handedly destroying one Japanese island outpost after another until American bombers, after Iwo Jima, could reach the Japanese homeland. (China's Nationalist Government never really confronted Japanese forces in its coastal areas, but at least kept several million troops bogged down there until the end of the war.) By itself, then, a very large, but technologically so-so country like Russia --- for all its impressive military effort and a series of brilliant generals like Marshall Zhukov, not to mention the unmatched willingness of the Soviet peoples to absorb brutal losses on a vast scale --- would likely have had to sue for peace at some point without more economically advanced allies. Even then, given the racial war to-the-death being waged by the Nazi regime against the Soviet peoples, a stalemated war or shaky peace would have eventually reignited, and the outcome would have probably ended in total Soviet defeat . . . unless, somehow, the Soviets were able to develop nuclear weapons before the Nazis did.

An exception: possibly the Germans would have had to settle for occupying most of European Russia while the Soviets continued to control the Asian areas of the Soviet Union . . . where, among other things, they had moved most of their war industries even before the German invasion of June 1941. Yes, possibly. Note swiftly though. Unless the Japanese had been obliged to fight a desperate, ever worsening war against the US, the militarists in Tokyo would have done what Hitler constantly beseeched them to do unsuccessfully: launch an attack on the Soviet Union in Siberia and elsewhere . . . something the Japanese simply were unable or unwilling to do once the US navy had begun to systematically destroy the Japanese navy and, no less important, Japanese merchant shipping everywhere in the Pacific.
Any Other Lessons to be Drawn from WWII for Understanding Power in International Life? Yes, at least one more. As the Soviet example in WWII indicates, the successful mobilization and use of military force in wars between great powers also hinges in part on the ability of the victor to secure powerful allies, militarily and economically. Only a superpower like Rome in the ancient world could succeed in expanding its power over much of Europe and the Mediterranean world on its own. Even then, a sprawling imperial frontier became increasingly menaced by others outside the imperial realm, and Roman leaders by the end of the 1st century C.E. were energetically recruiting non-Romans, Germanic tribes, and others as new military forces. Eventually, even that new strategy failed as more and more "barbarian" hordes penetrated the imperial frontiers and invaded and occupied Roman-ruled territory. Further innovative tactics --- extending Roman citizenship to all Roman-ruled subject, adopting Christianity as the empire's official religion, and splitting the empire into western and eastern halves --- were tried out in later centuries. In time, none succeeded. Rome's potential power base --- its population, its legitimacy, its technological and economic resources --- faded more and more in relative terms compared to its enemies, and the western half of the empire (after fighting with the eastern half and losing territory to it) underwent a gradual imperial collapse by the late 5th century and on into the next. The Greek-speaking eastern half --- known as the Byzantine Empire --- maintained its existence another 1000 years, only to begin a noticeable decline as it faced new enemies: Muslim Arabs, Suleiman Turks, and eventually Ottoman Turks.


A Military Superpower and a Technological and Economic Flop

The startling collapse of the Soviet Union in 1991 is only the most recent example of an age-old process of imperial rise and decline . . . its decline and total disappearance due largely to its basket-case economy and the ever greater gap in technology with the democratic world. Outwardly, in conventional and nuclear military power, the Soviet Union still looked like a super-power in the world as late as 1988 or so. Inwardly, it happened to be a poor, technologically backward country unable even to manufacture automobiles and television sets that its people would buy --- assuming many had the money to do so --- let alone shift to a knowledge-based economy of the sort that the US was pioneering from the early 1970s on. By the end of the 1980s, as a result, the Soviet totalitarian system could no longer compete with the far more dynamic systems of its major rivals: all democratic, all solidly stable and legitimate, and all generating economic and technological advances thanks to the energies and creativity of their people through the largely decentralized decision-making of millions of firms and hundreds of millions of workers in largely market-oriented economies. By then, too, to make life even more miserable for the Soviet people, the very effort to compete militarily with the prosperous and dynamic Western democracies had eaten away at the rotting foundations of its backward economy. The data here are startling. While the US spent roughly 7% of its GDP in the 45 years of cold war on defense, the Soviet Union was spending somewhere around 25%. No great power, let alone an empire, had ever been able to spend anything like that percentage in the modern world. (Britain's vast imperia in the 19th and very early 20th century cost, on an average, about 3.0% of GDP.)

The End-Game Crash

By 1990, the per capita income in the Soviet Union was about a fifth of what the citizens of Japan, the US, and West Europe were enjoying. Soviet technology outside the military sphere (and space program) was essentially where it had been in the 1950s. It had not even remotely entered the computer age. No less strikingly, the life-span of the average Soviet citizen had been falling --- falling, not rising as in the democratic industrial world --- for a variety of reasons, not least growing disillusion, the lack of individual freedom, and just sheer boredom with the grey, semi-totalitarian world still around them. A poor medical system also played a role; vast amounts of alcohol consumption played in even larger role. In the end, throughout the disintegrating years of 1990 and 1991, the subject non-Russian peoples succeeded from the detested Communist regime; the Russian people itself, thoroughly alienated, rallied to anti-Communist leaders like Boris Yeltsin; and the 72 year old totalitarian state crashed apart and disappeared totally into the trash bin of history. Outwardly, the day before that disappearance, the Soviet Union still looked like a formidable military power (even in relative terms). Inwardly it proved to be a brittle and eroding shell that cracked apart from all its internal contradictions as well as from its own citizenry's desertion of the detested Communist system.


All this and more --- far more --- will soon be appearing on the buggy site, along with clarifying remarks, lots of statistical data, and proper concerns for the ways dominant trends in public opinion and cultural outlooks in the US, the EU, and Japan at a time of growing weariness with the Iraqi occupation and the growing threat of Iranian nuclear weapons. China's rapid economic growth and, come to that, India's too at a time of demographic stagnation and even decline among the Japanese and European peoples will also enter into prof bug's analysis . . . particularly for what these likely portend for the future. For, more specifically, American relative power on the global scene; for the effectiveness of the Atlantic Alliance; for the likely trends in the war on Islamist terrorism; and for the kind of global order that will follow in the long run . . . long, you understand, meaning at most two or three decades into the future. These days, it’s clear, fast-paced turbulent change makes any efforts to preview the future beyond 30 years little more than exercises in science-fiction sorcery.