We Can Win a Global War with Two Fronts. We Will Lose a Global War with One.

Full Spectrum Struggle Is Not MBA Struggle,” by Dan, tdaxp, 8 May 2005, http://www.tdaxp.com/archive/2005/05/08/full_spectrum_struggle_is_not_mba_struggle.html.

QDR: China Tops Iraq, Osama?,” by Noah Shachtman, Defense Tech, 23 January 2005, http://www.defensetech.org/archives/002110.html (from DNI),

The Counterrevolution in Military Affairs ,” by Ralph Peters, The Weekly Standard, 6 February 2006, http://www.weeklystandard.com/Content/Public/Articles/000/000/006/649qrsob.asp (from TPMB).

Months ago, I wrote:

Whether you are an army or a movement, you are attacked where you are weakest by someone else where they are strongest. They will exploit their advantage over you where they chose. Over and over again, this is how wars start. It’s how battles start. It is how any conflict starts.

It’s still true. Even if it means agreeing with the and Rumsfeld. Even if it means disagreeing with Shactman and Peters

The details of my thinking have changed slightly, but the message is the still the same: we must win. We are trying to win the Wars for Globalization, to finally end all wars as we have known them and spread prosperity and happiness throughout the world. We have two strategies for doing this:

  • first, keep global capitalism so countries will suck each other into the global system,
  • and second, “take care of” states that treat their people horrifically, or their neighbors badly

We will never be perfect in either of these, but we must maintain our leads in both. Our ability to keep global capitalism going will be better than the enemy’s ability to harm it, and our ability to process rogue regimes will be better than their attempts to spread. Not perfect, but enough to keep the correlation of forces going with us and maintain forward progress.

The greatest threat from rogue states comes from infiltration by terrorist groups like al Qaeda. The greatest threat to the world economy comes from a large nation doing something stupid and dangerous, like China invading her neighbors in a conventional war.

The solution is obvious: keep weakening al Qaeda and similar groups while keeping China at peace. This is a much smaller task than the two ocean war America fought in the 1940s, or the two hemisphere stand off she faced for forty years. With minor restructuring, we can even make victory easy — if imperfect.

Yet now two critics both argue that we should abandon one fight, in order to focus on the other.


There is, in short, not a single enemy in existence or on the horizon willing to play the victim to the military we continue to build. Faced with men of iron belief wielding bombs built in sheds and basements, our revolution in military affairs appears more an indulgence than an investment. In the end, our enemies will not outfight us. We’ll muster the will to do what must be done–after paying a needlessly high price in the lives of our troops and damage to our domestic infrastructure. We will not be beaten, but we may be shamed and embarrassed on a needlessly long road to victory.

We must be realistic about the military requirements of a war with China, but we also need to grasp that, for such an enemy, the military sphere would be only one field of warfare–and not the decisive one. What would it take to create an atmosphere of defeat in a sprawling nation of over one billion people? A ruthless economic blockade, on the seas, in the air, and on land, would be an essential component of any serious war plan, but the Chinese capability for sheer endurance might surprise us. Could we win against China without inflicting extensive devastation on Chinese cities? Would even that be enough? Without mirror-imaging again, can we identify any incentive China’s leaders would have to surrender?


But it does not require, apparently, a wholesale change of direction. Terrorist-type threats will get some new attention. But the Defense Department isn’t about to optimize for that threat, the way it did for the Soviet Union. Big money will continue to be spent on fighter jets designed to duel with the Soviets and destroyers designed for large-scale ground assaults. Grunts on the ground won’t get much more than they do now. The war on terror may be “long.” But, apparently, it’s not important enough to make really big shifts.

Schactman’s paper is the easiest to deal with. Of course we aren’t optimizing for one overarching challenge: because there are two overarching challenges. Focusing on one core-competency might be the MBA way of doing things, but it would be deadly for a great power. In warfare, optimization isn’t about being the best you can be in one thing: it’s about being better than your enemy in all things.

Peters’ claims confuse our goals with China, and so require some unraveling. Peters plans for a war that would require US occupation of China: an impossible task. The purpose of building up to deter China isn’t to conquer her, but to prevent her for attacking her neighbors. The war with China, itself, would be the disaster, nearly as much as allowing her to occupy whatever neighbor she wished. Our build-up should thus be geared to avoiding the need for a war with China, by maximizing our ability to destroy her offensive forces rapidly.

3 thoughts on “We Can Win a Global War with Two Fronts. We Will Lose a Global War with One.”

  1. I don't think the MBA Way is focusing on “one” CC. It has been a long time since I read the original article in HBR. Most companies if they follow the approach have mutiple CCs (2-5). The US government can have more then one competency for National Security. I suspect focusing one thing is just easier for writers with a 500-750 word limit for an OpEd piece.

  2. Steve,

    Good catch. Dr. Richards of DNI [1] also runs Belisarius [2] which applies war doctrine to business – the distinction isn't quite so sharp as I might have implied.

    The big difference is that markets and competencies for businesses are amoral –the company's permanent interests are all related to cash, and IBM would feel little guilt if its neglect of a market dried up consumption of calculators, say. Even a move that brought about the end of IBM would not be necessarily bad, as long as it increased shareholder value.

    Great states are in a different position.

    Years ago, IBM chucked its typewriter business to focus on its computing business. Because of ROI calculations, this made sense. But America cannot similarly cede leadership of the Maintaining Capitalism market or the Rogue State Processing market. Even if another country could do it more “profitably.”

    This prevents the same types of optimizations that are used in business strategy from being applied to statecraft.

    [1] http://www.d-n-i.net/
    [2] http://www.belisarius.com/

  3. Off topic Dan, but this is in regards to your last comment at Coming Anarchy. I was curious as to your statement that a hundred thousand Japanese civilians had been killed in China following WWII. I think this was the second time I've heard you make this rather unique statement and I want to know what particular information you have to support this claim.

  4. Jing,

    No problem. Thanks for stopping by. I just published a response at Coming Anarchy [1], but I'll copy and paste it here. The source is Embracing Defeat [2]. I've written before on pre-1930s Japanese strategy towards East Asia [3]

    From Embracing Defeat, around page 50

    ” Coming Home… Perhaps

    In the wake of defeat, approximately 6.5 million Japanese were stranged in Asia, Siberia, and the Pacific Ocean Area. Roughly 3.5 million of them were soldiers and sailers. The remainder were civilians, including many women and children—a huge and generally forgotten cadre of middle-and lower-class individuals who had been sent out to help develop the imperium. ….

    For these millions of individuals, surrender merely marked the beginninf of a new stage in lives of escalating uncertainly and brutalization….

    In Manchuria alone, it is estimated that 179,000 Japanese civilians and 66,000 military personnel perished int eh confusion and the harsh winter that followed caputilation. Uprooted civilians in Manchuria and elsewhere in northern China usually were able to bring with them only what they could carry, which commonly meant little more than their smallest children and paltry, soon-to-be-exhausted quantities of food….

    Many of these refugees wre also driven to leave their youngest children…

    The total number of Japanese who surrendered to Chineseforces and were forced to work or fight for either side in the Chinese civil war is unknown. More than a year after surrender, it was reported that some sixty-eight thousand Japanese taken prisoner in Manchuria were stil being employed by Chinese forces, mosly on the communist side….”

    You are right that the worst murders were conducted by the Soviets, though the death toll was in the hundred thousands.

    [1] http://www.cominganarchy.com/archives/2006/01/28/scary-china-part-1-chirol-on-the-sino-japanese-war-and-saving-face/
    [2] http://www.amazon.com/gp/product/0393320278/ref=sib_rdr_dp/002-8053330-8680837?%5Fencoding=UTF8&me=ATVPDKIKX0DER&no=283155&st=books&n=283155
    [3] http://www.tdaxp.com/archive/2005/12/11/the-commonwealth-of-korea-and-japan-shintaro-ishihara-right.html

  5. I think Peters was really trying to point out just how difficult and unprepared for a conflict with China we are at this point. Not defeatism by any means, but a reality-based look at what kind of war it would be. This could be in reaction to much of the fluff published in the Weekly Standard in the last year by guys like Tom Donnelly who have all but said war with China can and will happen.
    You note that we must focus on building up our capabilities to destroy China's offensive forces, but Peters rightly notes that China will refuse to fight “our” style of war. They will likely combine a sustained assualt against our unguarded infrastructure, utilize growing ties throughout the world to hinder and harm our energy supplies, our economy and our political efforts and use proxy allies to further tie down our forces.
    This is why war with China is insane and must be avoided by all means necessary, at least until the point when America has real leadership that addresses its glaring weaknesses both at home and abroad and begins to repair the damage from the misleadership of the past 17 years.

  6. War with China would be a disaster. We need a Military-Industrial-Leviathan to prevent it. But the solution to avoiding war with China “by all means necessary” would of course be capitulation. I do not advocate that.

    Neither China nor the United States can fight the war in a vacuum — each side gets a veto. Assuming the red-lines of WMD strikes are avoided (no nuclear destruction of Shanghai or Los Angeles) the United States could rapidly end the Chinese government's ability to conduct a coherent foreign policy. The sinking of the People's Liberation Army Navy could be largely accomplished in the first week of hostilities, with American fatalities in the 10k-20k range (assuming they successfully strike some of our ships, which seems probable). After that China's ability to maintain alliances would be severly diminished. Proxy allies don't stay allies when a country can no longer fund them (the consequences of a month-long disruption of sea communication would be severe, even if it stopped short of a “blockade”) or can no longer trade with them (ditto).

    The fate of the billion Chinese would not concern us. A PLA-led fascist junta, a PLA-led Maoist junta, Africa-level disorder in the interior, etc would not be our concern. After that first month whatever China emerges would be threatening only in so far as it has nuclear weapons. In other words, a Big Pakistan.

    This would be a disaster. But weighed against the violent destruction of a democracy by a neo-colonial empire, it may be the better option.

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