Thursday, September 20, 2018

US Sanctions reach a Turning point

Since the publication of this analyses, the USA now also contemplates to sanction China's military top, and India, for buying Russian weapon systems. Already sanctioning Russia, Iran, and Europe together with Turkey (not to mention Venezuela, Cuba and N.Korea), by adding China and India, the USA will be well on way to try to put sanctions on countries making up astonishingly close to 3/4 of the world economy.

20 September 2018

US Sanctions reach a Turning Point
By: Karsten Riise

A defining moment for the US sanctions regimeEach year, the USA finds a new country or group of countries to target with sanctions. Each year the USA adds about 1,000 individuals to its ever longer sanctions list. Now, US sanctions are coming to a turning point.

Up till now, the EU – representing around the same percentage of the world economy as the USA - was sitting put, as the USA grew its sanctions regime to ever more bizarre proportions. Together, the USA and the EU constituted nearly half of the world economy, and US sanctions previously “only” used to target the other half of the world’s economies. Hitherto, the EU had no compelling reasons to strain is relations with the USA because of US sanctions not affecting themselves.

But now, “secondary sanctions” regarding Iran also hit hard at strategic EU companies and financial institutions and negatively affect EU global strategic interests in energy from the Persian Gulf. US sanctions in effect attack the liberty, security and sovereignty of its biggest group of friends, the EU.

Thus, we have now come to a defining moment for the global sanctions regime, run by the USA.

The US economy is already less than a quarter of the world’s GDP in USD dollars, and in 2023 it will fall to only just about one fifth of the world (source: IMF). The non-US part, the 4 fifths of the world economy (now including the EU and China), constitute an increasingly advanced group, and they are about to collude against the US sanctions regime. Collusion is the result of parallel interests, and the EU may not actually (or at least not publicly) coordinate all its counter-sanctions with other major power centers.

We talk about the world’s most powerful and complex political-economic structures starting to fundamentally change, here.

So we need to analyze the bigger picture, how complete systems of counter-strategies against present and possible future US sanctions are being planned and implemented by strong powers around the world - all directed (but maybe only sometimes coordinated) against the USA. These systems of counter-strategies will include, but not be limited to, the following:

Payment transfer streams will develop to avoid US banks – hurting the global position of the USA’s major “growth-industry”. It will be a chance (as well as a good excuse) for the EU, China, Japan, India and everybody else, to nationalistically promote THEIR banks in the international system, at the expense of US banks.

Looking at the long-term trend, the US financial industry has become really the ONLY big growth industry which drives upwards the USA economy. No other sector in the US economy has the combination of size and growth, which finance has (weapons are a bit the same, but finance is unique in size) - so this will be very hard for the USA.

US banks hitherto have a central role in facilitating all global money transfers, and a lot of international money transfers between third-countries somehow technically go via the USA. This system architecture will now be stopped – not just by China, but also by the EU, and probably by India.

Everybody outside the USA will be reluctant to let their money be touched by US financial institutions, or let their money touch US shores even for a milli-second. And of course, the EU and China know how to engineer legal and technical solutions for this.

The growth of US credit card systems will be impeded. Instead, cards from China, the EU (and India?) will take bigger shares of this profitable and fast growing world market. Russia was the first country on this trend, kicking out all US credit card companies, and inviting in the Chinese credit card system. The EU may well strengthen the role of EU credit cards, and create actions which “incidentally” (oops!?) will hurt US credit cards in EU markets. The finance center of London, UK will after Brexit be caught in this cross-fire between the EU and the USA – if the UK sides with the USA against EU counter-sanction initiatives, the EU may develop strong tools to draw UK credit-card business into EU-jurisdiction.

New global IT money transfer system regimes, which counteract US influence on SWIFT, will erode US political influence. The SWIFT system is based in Brussels, but under heavy US political influence. Russia has already built itself an alternative to that. The EU can no longer accept that the US might be able to hurt EU companies on their SWIFT transfers. The EU will therefore have to take actions either to liberate SWIFT from US control, or to create a parallel EU-system.

Avoid Wall Street
Why should countries take up loans in the US, if they can have the same loans without risk of future sanctions from China or even the EU?

The IPO of the Saudi ARAMCO oil company has been stalled – unconfirmed information states that fear of US courts reaching out against Saudi assets after 11 September, is part of the reason. Already, the trend is that the biggest IPOs in the world move to Asia.

The EU now will shift trade of energy from dollars to Euro – this trend will also diminish dollars in other international trade. Trillions of international dollars flowing around in trade may come back “home” to the USA – risking inflation and economic crisis.  Gold is according to unconfirmed reports being speedily bought up by governments, not only by Russia and China, but even Turkey, recently also hit by US sanctions.

Strategic supply
Airbus cannot deliver airplanes to Iran, because, among other things, vital parts are sourced in the USA. This will change. Strategic supply chains will morph to avoid US sub-suppliers, carriers (ships, airplanes, IT), technology, service partners etc. – fundamentally hurting the US global position. We are not speaking used-cars, here, we speak strategic business sectors. The EU and China may not state this anti-US sourcing publicly as an official policy, they will just pull the strings to do it VERY effectively in strategic sectors.

Also, US deliveries in other strategic sectors like food (grain and soy from US farmers) and US energy will be affected by counter-sanctions. China sheds US soybeans and pushes their price down - the EU (less dependent hereof) may then offer to pick-up cheap surplus soybeans from the USA as a bargaining card. The idea of larger US delivery of LNG to the EU probably will be mostly words, but the amounts of LNG from the USA to the EU may possibly increase marginally. The EU may even come to a cold calculation, that the EU in the gas sector might have a more maneuverable partner with Russia than with the USA. The EU has in several aspects a substantially advantageous size-relation towards Russia, and not towards the USA, and while Russia enjoys a good relationship with China, Russia will like to balance its relations too.

Tourism and education
Tourism is one of the fastest growing industries in the world, and the USA sells its cultural influence to all tourists coming. University education is not only a strategic business to finance national research – Universities are also a cornerstone for the USA to influence future management generations around the world. Why not send tourists and students to other places than the USA? Chinese tourists and students are of significant importance to the USA, and China has plenty of other destinations to send tourists and students, other than to the USA.

Using the state to shield business
As a counter-sanction, the EU now moves central banks and state-owned companies into the fray in financing, and as business partners and intermediate partners, when dealing with Iran. US sanctions on EU state-owned entities can then amount to a US declaration of (economic) war, not only against EU private entities, but directly against EU states.

Buying other than US weapons
The EU recently is implementing a grand and ambitious strategy to increase its own weapons-industry – independent of the USA. To increase the volume strength of EU weapons-makers, the EU will need to minimize imports of US weapons. The EU will have to make their own, only importing as few items as possible from the USA. Saudi Arabia is by far one of the world’s biggest arms purchasers – and nearly all is bought form the USA. However, should the bromance between the leaderships of Saudi Arabia and the USA cool down, Saudi Arabia would be well advised to diversify their weapons sources too. And Saudi Arabia even already has Eurofighters from the EU and embryonic arms-relations with Russia and to build on.

The collusion against the USA
US trade war unites the EU, China, India, and the rest of the world (even the UK) against US interests. With aggressive, unilateral trade-war, started by the US, all the rest of the world will now have even more motives to coordinate their counter-strategies to the US sanctions regime.
The EU may seem slow to react – and this may lure US politicians in their hubris to believe that the EU cannot or will not. But believe me, the EU will – because this has become a strategic must. The EU has seen the hand-writing of US sanctions on their wall – they will think this through, plan and make deep preparations to free EU sovereignty from US control. Just read between the lines of EU’s Commission President Jean-Claude Juncker’s recent State of the Union speech. When the EU rolls out their US counter-sanction measures, it will be big, comprehensive and VERY effective.

Negative changes for the USA will last
Once alternative systems to US banks, finance, the US dollars etc. have developed and matured, they will NOT go away.

The USA is in its hubris about to destroy its global claim for economic hegemony – and that is a good thing.

Karsten Riise
Partner & Editor


Friday, March 23, 2018

President Trump gets on with what he wants

23 March 2018
Trump’s line-up
By: Karsten Riise
One year into his term, the world must prepare itself for the fact that President Trump seems to get on with what he wants to do. Prepare for a profound change in the structure of the world.
With his replacement of Secretary of State Rex Tillerson and National Security Advisor McMaster, President Trump seems to be lining up for some big moves on his national and international agenda:

1. A showdown with Iran, N.Korea – and in the end, China !

2. A final Palestinian “solution” together with Israel, Egypt and Saudi Arabia, which will be 110% according to the deepest wishes of the current Prime Minister of Israel.

President Trump’s steel tariffs may end up by being insignificant tariffs for two US allies, Canada (actually the biggest foreign steel supplier to the USA) and the EU. Hence, only China may be really affected by the tariffs. This pattern may also apply, if Trump chooses to ‘blow-up’ the whole World Trade Organization (WTO): President Trump can replace the WTO with bilateral and regional US agreements with Canada, the EU and other traditional US partners in such a way, that ‘incidentally’ only China will be kept out.  President Trump’s trade policy towards China may be thoroughly calculated: More production of products in China for the USA will be relocated back into the USA. President Trump probably also calculates, that US high-tech exports to China may not be greatly affected by the foreseeable Chinese trade-retaliation, as these high-tech supplies will still be strategically important for China. Curbing China’s growth by means of a trade-war can also affect China’s economic capability to build up the military – a military rightly or wrongly designated by many in the USA as a serious competitor for world domination. A trade-showdown with China may therefore look very promising to President Trump – and to his new National Security Advisor John Bolton.

Ex Secretary of State Rex Tillerson and ex-National Security Advisor McMaster were both standing in the way of President Trump’s visions, including his plan to divide the Middle East with Israel and Saudi Arabia. A policy, for which President Trump has designated Jared Kushner as informal but plenipotentiary envoy, and Jared Kushner has successfully obtained the closest possible confidence with the leaderships of Israel and Saudi Arabia. Rex Tillerson’s diplomacy was actively undermining this, by trying to soften Saudi Arabia’s blockade of Qatar. And McMaster was also undermining President Trump’s Middle East policies, by denying Trump’s special envoy Jared Kushner the necessary top-secret security clearance to do this job. Now Tillerson and McMaster a both out of the way, and a strong signal has been sent to everyone not to repeat Tillerson and McMaster’s political mistakes of not following President Trump’s intentions closely.

Surprisingly, with a possible top-level meeting with N.Korea, President Trump may even on this issue have at least a slight chance to achieve something his way. Clearly, the dynamics of US-China relations are key to this. Though talking ‘fire-and-fury’, President Trump has even still managed so-far not to start any new US war, a ‘feat’ which stands in stark contrast to some of President Trump’s more big-media applauded predecessors, or even in contrast to his once opposing presidential candidate.

You may (even strongly) like or dislike the policies, President Trump pursues. With the appointment of a former torturer-in chief to lead the CIA, you may probably strongly disapprove of some of the means he is willing to apply. Many American presidents have pursued policies not approved by large segments of the American people. You may also have your own ‘mainstream-private’ and politically ‘correct’ gender views about President Trump’s private life, though these opinions are mostly colored by political sympathies and by outright ‘liberal’ and conservative bigotry - and females seeking fame and money through litigation against wealthy and disputed male individuals is an ordinary phenomenon, and not automatically sympathy-inspiring.

All this does not touch on the fact, that one year into his term, the world must prepare itself for the fact that President Trump seems to get on with his idea of ‘putting America first’. This will profoundly change the structure of the world. ‘Putting America first’ may sound akin to ‘global leadership’, but it is in fact antithetical to the outlasted idea of ‘US global leadership’.  In fact, ‘putting America first’ this way may result in something, I have seen for long, namely a thorough unwinding of the US global empire and a world more fragmented into regions and criss-cross relations.

Karsten Riise
Partner & Editor


Wednesday, January 17, 2018

Trump and empire

17 January 2018

Trump and the dissolution of empire

By: Karsten Riise

History doesn’t repeat itself,
but it often rhymes.

The USA is on way to a dissolution of its global empire. This has parallels to the Soviet Union's dissolution before and after 1989. Barack Obama was an "American Gorbatchev". Obama came to power with a non-effective slogan of "change". Just like Gorbatchev’s similar slogan of "perestroika" (restructuring), Obama wanted to revive an ossified world-system by adjusting it. And just like Gorbatchev, Obama was eventually caught-up himself by the ossified system. The system was so rigid, that instead of the change itself, similarly to Gorbatchev, Obama inadvertently enabled a precursor for fundamental change - namely dissolution.

Like president Trump may seem a more “coarse” personality compared to his more polished predecessor Obama, Yeltsin was also a more “coarse” and direct personality compared to Gorbatchev. As Trump, Yeltsin was harsh in his words and ways, and really prepared to confront and break-down serious stuff.

Yeltsin decided to actively dissolve the whole political system, put “Russia first” and withdraw Russia as center of a costly Soviet empire. Apart from three tiny Baltic members-states of the Soviet Union, dissolving the Soviet Union, was actually not something which all the rest of the ailing Soviet Union was actually very enthusiastic about at the time. The Soviet dissolution came so decidedly about, because Yeltsin and the many Russians who supported him had turned their view from seeing the Soviet Union as an extended power-asset for Russia, and instead saw the rest of the Soviet empire as a non-supportable liability with too few benefits for Russia herself. Exactly similar to the “why should we carry the burden for defense of others who can defend themselves” which president Trump signals.

One must not just focus on president Trump as an individual. One must look at the collective movements in the USA which led to his presidency. Trump was among other things voted into office because an overwhelming number of Americans experience that hopeless US-imperial habits (Afghanistan is the longest US war ever and still continues) have never led to a "useful outcome" for ordinary Americans - only to losses of lives, dignity and treasure for the USA herself. Vietnam was a clear example of the cost of US-imperial war, and the consequences of perpetual “Vietnam-lessons” have since then finally come home to the Americans.

Like Central Asian Soviet countries, Belorussia and probably even the Ukraine did not initially wish for the dissolution of the Soviet Empire, also the EU did not initially wish for the dissolution of a US empire, which handed the EU a prominent (second) place in the world. Only gradually does the EU now see this development as a chance to enhance the EU in a new global political world-leadership vis-à-vis the USA. Regarding the conflict-views of president Trump, note that his pressure on North Korea is not primarily for the sake of helping an imperial ally, South Korea. What president Trump pursues in East Asia and with North Korea is a very US-centered agenda, even at the cost of risking “good empire relations” with subordinate allies in East Asia. President Trump’s extremely tense rhetoric against North Korea may even have caused the USA a reduction of goodwill among ordinary people in South Korea and Japan. In Afghanistan, US-policy under president Trump is no longer empire-building. Faced with the steep opinions of his own generals, president Trump is simply pragmatically “kicking-the-can-down-the-road” in Afghanistan at “minimal costs”, to keep the generals on his side.

Many erroneously accuse president Trump of having “no strategy” or even of being “irrational”. Such labels reveal a major misjudgment of president Trump. It is no surprise, and for his non-deplorable electorate certainly no shame, that president Trump upon assuming office had only had experience with a national political environment, and that he faces a steep “learning curve” in international politics. The way president Trump goes about to earn himself necessary international political experience is not by reading long analyses by intellectual “experts” (most of whom he has deemed a complete failure in the past) but by DOING. Instead of intellectualizing, President Trump sometimes may try things out in his own practice, instead of initial delicacies he has deemed ineffective steam-roll as far he can go, but later be prepared for pragmatic ways.

President Trump's rhetoric towards North Korea should thus be interpreted more carefully than most observers do. Threatening war does not automatically imply that president Trump will start one – especially if he feels certain that the other part will not be starting a war. This lax attitude to war-threats has probably rightly or wrongly been adopted by most American presidents before Trump. In some kinds of negotiation, appearing a bit “irrational” may even be a very rational style, and also North Korean leaders have adopted this style persistently. Though Trump shouts “fire and fury”, he could eventually still become the first US President to turn and live with North Korea, when he experiences that this is the best that can be done. A similar pragmatism may even surface with president Trump and Iran – if we are lucky. Compared to the politician Trump defeated, there are so far at least no signs that president Trump has any ideologic desires like “freedom-and-democracy-by-the-sword” to take the USA into a new big imperial conflict in the Middle East, like for example both of the presidents Bush did.

On immigrants, president Trump basically continues the reductionist aims of his predecessor - he does it less delicately, but perhaps also more honestly. President Trump ended up by showing a degree of pragmatism with Mexico, and he did it also with China, just like Nixon and Kissinger ended up doing it with China too. Reagan’s lack of international experience before assuming office, and Reagan’s rhetoric of “Soviet empire of evil” was just as condemned in his time, as the rhetoric of Trump has been today, and still Reagan embraced pragmatism and even a sense of personal trust with Gorbatchev in the case of Russia. Not to excuse, but just to create a perspective, even some not-too-good remarks from president Trump have not seldom been heard just as bad or worse from other US presidents and wannabe’s: Nixon was negative to black people, Jews, Irish and Italians, and asked Kissinger not to be too shy about ‘nuking’ Vietnam. Reagan and Bush jr. publicly called other countries “evil”. Trump’s not-so-liberal opponent Hillary Clinton threatened publicly to bomb Iran into a ‘nuclear dessert’, as the United States top-ranking diplomat she made stupid comparisons against Russia’s leader, and boasted in a nasty way with her bombing destruction of Libya: “we came, we saw, he died”.

The vestige of US global empire with its “unipolar moment” and the USA as an “indispensable” nation is all inexorably on way to dissolution. President Trump wants to give the USA a new place in a new world of today, not in a fictitious US-world of the 1990’ies or 00’s. Contrary to the US electoral candidate of yester-year which Trump defeated, president Trump seems to have just a little more healthy lack of desire to resuscitate US global imperial presumptions. Compared to president Yeltsin in Russia, President Trump has not (yet) tried to dismantle the inner workings of the country he is elected to lead, but stock-crashes happen statistically every 7 years, which is 3 years overdue now, so also an inner imperial dissolution may still happen in Trump’s presidential term.

Karsten Riise
Partner & Editor


Friday, August 4, 2017

USA fragile state

4 August 2017

USA fragile-state development

By: Karsten Riise

There are strong measurable signs of social fragility and state-insecurity inside the USA.

The pro-military faction in the USA is undisturbed by social-reality still performing its old theatre:

You wonder what these people had really imagined to make their dreams come true.

This US élite is so disconnected from long-time broader developments in the US society.
(and often, it may sometimes seem, from the world at large).

An élite increasingly disconnected from social reality can seriously undermine the state – it is one of the parameters leading to a “Fragile State”:

Though the Fragile State description of the C2 “Factionalized Elite” fragility indicator is not in its definition-wording a perfect match to the social fragmentation in the USA, it has already been noted by observers, that the C2 fragility indicators is steeply rising in the USA.

The total “fragile state” indicator had been deceitfully stable for the USA. But since 2006, the USA has experienced a significant deterioration (increase) in all three alarm-indicators for “Cohesion” - C1 “Security Apparatus”, the C2 “Factionalized Elite” indicator, and the C3 “Group Grievances”.

(see attached PDF with detailed USA Fragile State Index developments 2006-2017)
The main reason why the sum-total “Fragile State” indicator has not gone up in the USA, is that two “Social Indicators” S1 “Demographic Pressures”, S2 “Refugees and IDP’s” have been gone down, masking that the C1-3 indicators are going up at an alarming pace. Furthermore, the “Fragile States” index even has one false indication , as it reports that the E2 “Uneven Development” indicator should have improved in the USA. The E2 indicator is definitely incorrect. It is a widely accepted social fact in the USA, that Uneven Development has not improved, but has also seriously deteriorated.

Though not one-to-one exactly the same, a remarkably similar development has occurred in the UK as compared to the USA.

The social fragility developments in especially the USA (but also in the UK) should worry the world.
  • A security study of the USA should be conducted
  • Study social threats to inner social-economic and political stability of the USA

Karsten Riise
Partner & Editor


Tuesday, January 17, 2017

Security perceptions are changing


17 January 2017

Change in USA security perceptions

By: Karsten Riise

The USA is increasingly questioning its own global primacy. The USA might even leave NATO in a not-too-distant future. NATO may become an instrument controlled by the European Union. To fully leave the EU, the UK may then have to leave NATO too. Africa - Latin America - Asia - must develop new internal security structures.

In Denmark, ambassador Taksøe and the Danish military intelligence service delivered a comprehensive report 1 maj 2016 on foreign policy and security. Their outlook was old wisdom; winds of change are already blowing. Many other countries may like Denmark be overlooking change in the USA - it may be dangerous, if they are not prepared for fundamental change.

In order not to overlook change in your own regional security dynamics  it is not enough just to follow the official American policy, like Denmark seems to do. Other political influences may soon turn the direction of the USA.

The following is an analysis of American foreign and security discourse. Special emphasis is put on voices and factors of influence, which may any time soon change USA in world affairs.

Pres. Obama & former secretary of state Hillary Clinton:

Pivot from Europe 

USA's so called "pivot to Asia" is just as much a "pivot from Europe".

The European Union - EU President Juncker, EU Foreign Affairs chief Mogherini, the EU Parliament committees, Germany, France, Italy - saw this. Countries like Denmark and the UK have been blind to this.

Recognizing that that the USA is pivoting away from Europe, the EU plans to expand the EU with a European Defense Union, announced at EU President Juncker's "State of the Union" speech on 14 September 2016.

The USA pivot from Europe to Asia was announced long ago by then US secretary of state Hillary Clinton 11 October 2009 in an article Foreign Policy: "America's Pacific Century". On 17 November 2011, Obama announced to the Australian Parliament in Canberra (away from Europe) that American military ressources in Europe would be shifted to Asia.

Since 2011, Europeans should have seen that USA military commitment to Europe is approaching an end. USA has not got the ressources, nor the need. In the USA, experts and ordinary Americans are losing motivation to "protect" rich Europeans. President Trump saw this, but this development is not about Trump - it is realpolitik, the reality of a global power-shift.

USA would be foolish, if USA wanted to risk being involved in a big, maybe nuclear, war for what from their perspective are marginal areas like the Baltic countries or the Ukraine, where a nuclear  neighbouring power has much more at stake, and therefore is willing to take bigger risks and commitments than the USA. The USA will (and should) rather stay out - and be open about this.

The enlargement of NATO was not unconditionally an increase in USA power: NATO-enlargement was a heavy increase in USA extended deterrence commitments, which consumes USA ressources, involves risks and maybe unecessary extra cost-burdens to the USA. The bigger NATO may in the end be a netto-liability to the USA.

If the Baltic states and the Ukraine could be used by USA as a stage-area to pressure Russia at marginal risk or costs to the USA itself, fine with the USA. But as this does not seem to be possible, given the strength and assertiveness of Russia, the USA has no need to take on large burdens for areas, which to the USA are basically insignificant "border"-regions.

Denmark, Scandinavia, the Baltics and the UK, walk with eyes closed. They rely blindly and solely on the USA for their security the coming decade. Whether USA will stay committed to Europe's security is not certain, and this does not only depend on the mood of President Trump, as some seem to believe. Those Europeans are deceiving themselves, who may believe, that if they send sulky pleas, they can politically maintain USAs military commitment in Europe. Whether the USA loses interest in Europe or not is a USA decision - European voices will in the end not make the decisive difference.

Prof. Kenneth N. Waltz:

Let Iran get the Bomb

In Jul/Aug. 2012, prof. Waltz argued in Foreign Affairs magazine, that the world will be more stable and secure, if local military balances are allowed to occur without always involving the USA. This was a new viewpoint against American global supremacy. Prof. Walts even argued, that the world will become more stable, if a regional power like Iran gets the bomb to make its own security balance against Israel's arsenal of (probaby 200) nuclear bombs. Essentially prof. Waltz argues that power balance should to a larger degree be improved inside a region, to lessen the need (with commitments, costs and risks) for the USA to balance from the outside.

President Trump has been criticized for arguing that Japan and S.Korea should have nuclear bombs to maintain their own balance with China without involvement of the USA. President Trump follows exactly the same founded logic which the renowned prof. Waltz wrote down in 2012.

From his argument, prof. Waltz obviously does not think, that the USA can or should police and "balance" every region. Prof. Waltz is a person whose words carry importance. His "Theory On International Politics" is one of the world's most influential books on international relations theory.

Prof. Mearsheimer & Prof. Walt:

Leave Europe to EU & Russia - USA must only balance China

Prof. Mearsheimer and Walt are among the most influential scholars of international relations in the USA. In an article in Foreign Affairs Jul/Aug. 2016, they point out, that USA wars and engagements and USA grand strategy have been "misguided": They have been great failures the last 25 years with an "abysmal record", and therefore USA military policy becomes increasingly questionable: "An April 2016 Pew poll found that 57 percent [my emphasis] of Americans agree that the United States should 'deal with its own problems and let others deal with theirs the best they can.' On the campaign trail, both the Democrat Bernie Sanders and the Republican Donald Trump found receptive audiences whenever they questioned the United States' penchant for promoting democracy, subsidizing allies' defense, and intervening militarily".

Also prof. Mearsheimer and Walt point to the exorbitant costs of the wars, the USA has conducted to enhance its primacy. The wars of Afghanistan and Iraq cost between US $ 4,000 and 6,000 billion, about 7,000 dead American soldiers and created 50,000 wounded veterans, which have to be supported by USA society. This price is not included in the official defense costs.

Prof. Mearsheimer and Walt point out, that Europe is of no strategic concern to the USA, and that the Ukraine situated in a location of no strategic relevance to the USA. Only China could in the longer term become a security issue for the USA.

Therefore, they conclude that "instead of policing the world", the United States should "encourage other countries to take the lead [my emphasis] in checking rising powers, intervening itself only when necessary. This does not mean abandoning the United States' position as the world's sole superpower or retreating to "Fortress America." Rather, by husbanding U.S. strength [that is, holding back and reducing US engagements], offshore balancing would preserve U.S. primacy far into the future and safeguard liberty at home".

The reality behind these words is, that in order to preserve what is left of US primacy, credibility and war-fighting apetite, the USA must draw this "primacy" down, drastically reduce the level of US American military engagement in and with the world, and leave it to the rest of the world, Europe and Africa, also the Middle East, and even to a large degree Asia - to manage their own affairs.

Unless "the kitchen burns" -  at which time the USA has a choise to or not-to step-in (though stepping-in later become difficult, which is the argument of those advocating that USA should stay enganged in most places). 

Prof. Andrew J. Bacevich:

Leave NATO to the Europeans

President Trump is not alone to argue that "NATO is obsolete" in its present form. Prof. Bacevich is far to the left of president Trump and one of USAs very respected experts on foreign policy. Even a more hawkish US foreign policy expert like Robert Kaplan, speaks with respect about him. Prof. Bacevich, a "catholic conservative", is writing in both traditional conservative (paleo-con, not neo-con) as well as in liberal left media in the USA.

In Foreign Affairs Sept/Oct 2016, prof. Bacevich argues for "Ending Endless War" and for an American "pragmatic" military strategy in the world. Pragmatic means: No primacy. Wars like Iraq (where Bacevich lost his son), Afghanistan, Libya and Syria (clandestine war) should not be made. War should no longer as in recent decades be a "normal" policy tool, but only a "last resort".

Prof. Bacevich argues to end USAs membership of NATO no later than 2025. USA should exit NATO through a deliberate phased devolution of America's responsibility in Europe: (1) Now, end the practice of having an American as supreme commander of NATO in Europe - replace him with a European. (2) Execute a schedule for closing down all remaining US military headquarters in Europe. (3) Pronounce a date, where USA will exit NATO altogether and militarily leave Europe completely.

Exactly like President Trump, prof. Bacevich argues that Europe is "free-riding" on security at USA's expence. Prof. Bacevich obviously agrees with prof. Mearsheimer and Walt, that Europe is of no security concern to USA - and that Russia is no relevant threat to the USA.

To pursuit global primacy, the USA maintains a pervasive (and costly) military presence in 150 of the world's about 200 countries. Prof. Bacevich argues to significantly reduce this pervasive American military presence, which he finds is very much just due to US military "habit". The message to the world's regions is clear: Manage your own security business.

US Military:

Put primacy up for discussion

The United States Airforce sponsors the Strategic Studies Quarterly (SSQ) magazine. The Winter Issue, 2016 of SSQ brings an article by Benjamin H. Friedman and Justin Logan, both from the Cato Instute, which questions why US military global primacy is not discussed in the USA.

The kind of article in the official journal of a US military branch indicates, that top-circles in the US military find it is about time to rethink, whether American military efforts of global dominance (primacy) have been successful or sustainable, and whether this pursuit should be continued.

As the Center for Strategic and Budgetary Assessments (CSBA) has pointed out in its analyses: The US fleet of air planes and war ships is smaller and older than ever since WW II - and in a dire state of technical wear and tear. As the Government Accountability Office has pointed out, the F-35 combat air craft, which was meant to replace nearly all other non-longdistance bomber combat aircraft (F-15C/D, F-16C/D, F-18A-D and AV-8B), is lacking in performance, 8-10 years behind schedule - and the F-35 costs of $ 400 billions for purchase and $ 1,000 billions (2012-dollars, military inflation, higher than civilian inflation, must be added) for operation are probably unaffordable even for the USA, draining the US military of its resources (GAO report 15-364, 14 April 2015):

The hugely costly and troubled F-35 weapons program illustrates very much intrinsic problems of the USA military the last 50 years, which torment its pursuit of military primacy.

On the people side, the US Army came close to a human breaking point under the strain of extended services to a Iraq (a small population, actually) - and the US Veteran Affairs (with billions not included in official defense spending figures) is in deep trouble after more than 14 years of wars.

The official figures for USA military burden of 4,1% of GDP (US $ 732 billion in 2015, are misleading and absolutely underestimate the real costs of pursuing global military supremacy. Alone US $ 200 billion (1.1% of GDP) for Veteran Affairs are normally excluded, bringing military costs up to 5.2% of GDP. Nuclear weapons programs  belong strangely enough to the Department of "Energy" - these extra billions are also normally excluded from figures of USA defense costs. Additional budgets & appropriations for USA wars in Afghanistan, Iraq etc. are normally also excluded - according to prof. Mearsheimer and Walt above, these wars cost a staggering US $ 4,000-6,000 billion, no less than 22%-33% of one year GDP (2015).

The wider societal costs of broken veterans, lost work hours, opportunity costs of efforts and money for war purchase which could have been spent to repair USA broken infrastructure and a falling educational level - are excluded in the figures. Counting all costs, the societal burden including hidden costs of maintaining USA military primacy - especially for the lower 90% of USA society - resembles more and more the longterm societal burden of defense which caught-up the Soviet Union in its latter days.

To sum up, "primacy" is hugely expensive for USA society - seemingly the pursuit of global (supposedly liberal) hegemony, in the longterm simply proves to be simply too costly for the USA.

See also:

All this questions USA ability to play a "primacy" role in the future world. As I documented 4 August 2016, the burden of US military primacy in the world is economically unsustainable for USA:

The USA military top must be aware and worried of these facts - which question their own future primacy.

Cato Instute - and Koch influential advocacy:

Come Home, USA

The Cato Institute was September 2016 ranked no 6 think-tank in the USA by the "Global Go To Think Tank Index Report" from the University of Pennsylvania. The Cato Institute is founded by the Charles Koch Foundation. Charles and David Koch are among the USAs richest and most influential individuals in many movements, so called political action committees (PACs). In spite of some recedent incident in a Trump golf-course, Koch also have political connection to President Trump :

Viewpoints of the Cato Institute therefore has political importance in today's USA. The Cato article by Benjamin H. Friedman and Justin Logan in Strategic Studies Quarterly, 4/2016 questions American global primacy, but in that piece they do not propose an alternative.

However, a 6 December 2016 piece in The National Interest points to what they propose instead: 

Benjamin H. Friedman from Cato points out, that to save money, the US military will have to close bases, reduce the number of commands, cut down on the "too many generals" (USA has a lot of generals), reduce military personnel and nuclear forces. In fact, the US military needs to reduce the "number of missions" in pursuit of "foolish goals" (i.e. wars). In another piece, same journal, from 6 November 2016, Mr. Friedman makes a link to a 1997 piece "Come Home, America" in International Security, vol 21, no 4 co-authored by Eugene Gholz, another Cato-related specialist: 

The 2016-link by Benjamin H. Friedman back to a 1997-analysis shows that American intellectual reservations against US global dominance have persisted for at least 20 years. These reservations can one day soon become prominent in political influence in the USA.

USA now de-securitize Russia

USA under President Obama and US secretaries of state Hillary Clinton and John Kerry have in their discourse constructed Russia as a nearly existential threat to USA and the West. The process of constructing somebody or something as a threat is called "securitization".

I now term the opposite procedure: To deconstruct a threat; to argue that something hitherto perceived as a threat, is no longer a threat, or maybe actually never was, I will call "de-securitization".

More politicians and foreign policy experts in USA now de-securitize Russia. They argue that Russia is by no means a real threat to the USA, that she never was since 1990, and that the USA and Russia can and indeed have to find a constructive way together again. Also, American experts are increasingly coming into the open with a realization, that Russia's course of direction is NOT defined only by its top-leader the last 17 years, but that Russia's aims and policies have a broad legitimate, foundation and support in Russian society. Also, they argue not to make American "regime change" policies towards Russia, sanctions are not helpful - accept differences.

Henry Kissinger:

Reduce commitment to Ukraine and befriend Russia

Already 4 February 2016 - before Trump was even nominated - Kissinger in The National Interest magazine published a piece where he promoted the view, that USA instead of combatting Russia (as under Obama) should work to "merge" the futures of USA and Russia:

Kissinger is a realist. For Kissinger, international equilibrium is the most important of things. Kissinger has for years argued that promoting a better balance of power between the USA and Russia would improve global stability.

Kissinger wrote in his article in February, that "Russia should be perceived as an essential element of any new global equilibrium, not primarily as a threat to the United States." Kissinger also wrote that the "long-term interests of both countries call for a world that transforms the contemporary turbulence and flux into a new equilibrium which is increasingly multi-polar and globalized".

An article 24 December 2016 in
www.politico.www points that the Ukraine is losing its faith in the West:

If Ukrainians lose losing faith in the West, where else can they turn? Only to the East - to Russia. Kissinger probably already in February 2016 saw this - that the Ukraine is a "lost cause" for the West, because Kissinger in his piece argued for much more limited (realistic) American aims in Ukraine - namely that "Ukraine needs to be embedded in the structure of European and international security architecture in such a way that it serves as a bridge between Russia and the West, rather than as an outpost of either side." [My emphasis] Ukraine is gravitating back towards Russia, and the best that the USA can now hope for is, in Kissinger's words, that the Ukraine becomes neutral.

Kissinger recommends the USA to cooperate with Russia on Syria: "Compatible U.S.-Russian efforts coordinated with other major powers could create a pattern for peaceful solutions in the Middle East and perhaps elsewhere.” Kissinger view can now influence the White House again, and he has already been in contact with Trump several times. 

28 American foreign policy researchers

Russia is NOT the Soviet Union - adapt US foreign policy

Former US Secretary of State and presidential-candidate Hillary Clinton publicly compared Russia's leader with "Hitler" - with a person who murdered millions of people. Ms. Hillary Clintons comparison was not just haphazard populistic - it was self-defeating and damaging to USA's ability to manoeuver in international relations. Now, times seem to change.

From November to December 2016, The National Interest magazine hosted a multi-part symposium on American policy on Russia. At the symposium, 28 American foreign policy academics gave their recommendations for changes in US policy on Russia:

A general line in the 28 foreign policy academics view on Russia is, that Russia is a country that must receive a more constructive attitude from the USA, that US confrontations with Russia are dangerous and meaningless, and that Western sanctions don't work. After President Obama, it is time to find a way for a better relationship.

Under president Obama, the USA escalated its confrontations and sanctions towards Russia, and this has backfired on the USA. Instead of comparing Russia's leader with "Hitler", very many American foreign policy experts now recognize that USA is not strong enough to push Russia down. Obama painted the USA into a corner towards Russia - the end of Obama's term is an opportunity for a new approach.

Of the 28 foreign policy academics, Doug Bandow (also a Cato-affiliation) probably most succinctly underscores in a follow-up piece 29 December 2016 in The National Interest, that Russia is NOT the Soviet Union:

Russia has for long known and played on the fact, that USA needs Russia in a new global political order with China. This is acknowledged openly by Blake Franko, 10 January 2017 in an other well-informed conservative magazine, The American Conservative:

Now, at long last, influential conservative voices in the USA openly begin to recognize this reality of Russia's key-importance. Due to lack of American coercive superiority (primacy fading), the USA must no longer try to "change" Russia - the USA has to accept and work with Russia as she is.

Europe will be pressed to fundamentally reorient its view and policy on Russia.

American global strategy can suddenly change

From the right to the left of the political spectrum, American politicians, experts and lay-people strongly question USA global engagements.

I could illustrate the above with several more examples. Read Christopher Layne's far-looking and thorough analysis in International Security vol.22 no 1, 1997. Already 20 years ago, Christopher Layne made the point well, that over the long term (over a decade) a USA seeking global predominance would over-extend its deterrence-commitments. This is exactly what has happened. I could also mention Barry R. Posen from the prestigious MIT, who for several years has argued that American foreign policy must be based not on global primacy, but on restraint. American restraint may end USA's interest in NATO. 

Why do so many more Americans - experts, ordinary people, and the new USA president - start to question USA primacy in the world right now? They do, because global primacy is becoming more and more impossible for the USA to pursue - as I have already predicted in FUTURE OF SECURITY:

The Soviet Union stopped to exist in 1989, though it might technically have continued 10 years longer (Tsygankov, 2013). But it recognized at last, that continuing past efforts would become too difficult.

In FUTURE OF SECURITY, I compared USA global defense commitments with a bridge losing its strength. You don't see the cracks at the beginning, but if you don't modify the structure, the cracks will get worse and a dangerous surprise may arise.

In FUTURE OF SECURITY, I also foresaw that regional powers will increasingly play their own game, making it very difficult for USA to instrumentalize regional actors to extend USA primacy. This pattern of regional key-countries going in their own directions, caring less and less about USA, is exactly what we saw in 2016: Turkey, Saudi Arabia and the Philippines care less about the USA. More people in the USA question American global primacy, because primacy becomes more difficult, requires more ressources - it is becoming unsustainable.

Many other American experts and politicians continue to argue that USA for ideologic, missionary or safety reasons should continue to invest more ressources to seek supremacy or a maximum possible degree of primacy in the world: Pundits like Petraeus, Kagan, Kaplan, Krepinevich, Hillary Clinton, Ash Carter - even after once denouncing primacy, in a half-hearted way Brzezinski continues. Their arguments reflect conventional American wisdom, which has been repeated more or less unchanged for 10-20 years. I will therefore not go into detail with this here. 

The point of this analysis is to demonstrate, that retrenching influences which have existed for 20 years, are on the rise in the USA - and may achieve a breakthrough in the White House.

The election of Trump should be a wake-up-call. Whether the USA retrenches from the world now, does not depend on President Trump only. But circumstances & people put their forces around him, and a seismic reduction in USA willingness (and ability) to commit its defence to other countries can happen now or under the next USA president in just 4-8-12 years.

Orderly change can take 10 years. Start to prepare now.

USA-independent regional security

When the USA leave local security-balances to regional actors - new security structures will develop.

Europe - the EU must prepare itself to take over NATO. Russia must be reconnected.

Africa - ECOWAS, the East African Community and South African cooperation will be pressed to improve their own regional security - for a future without USA involvement. Congo needs an African solution. North Africa (esp. Morocco) may need a close defense cooperation with Europe, and Europe must invest enormously in civilian projects to repair what they broke with their war in Libya which has spread extremism all over North Africa.

Asia - The USA history of brutal colonization (Philip Golub, 2010) and later support for a long deeply problematic regime (Marcos) detract from USA efforts for Philippine cooperation. After Marcos, the Philipines quickly kicked USA forces out. In spite of USA strongest efforts, and some renewed USA presence, the Philipines (a key country) are turning away from the USA - towards China. This is probably not about the Philipine leader as a person, as often reported, but about something deeper. The USA may try to remove the Philipine leader with a coup, assasination or some legal case. But as we saw with the failed coup in Turkey (which the USA must have known about), with gradual loss of superiority, the USA is becoming a more unsafe pair of hands, capable of making own-goals which can further accelerate USA own loss of global influence.

The Philipines are a key location in East Asia. Vietnam, Malaysia og Indonesia may after the Philipines also have to move closer to China. According to a RAND study, the USA has already lost military superiority in the Taiwan strait. With the Philipines moving towards China, the South China Sea can fall under political (and maybe also military) dominance of China, and the oil supply line from Malacca up to North East Asia, Japan, Korea and Taiwan, may come under considerable Chinese influence.

The USA can suddenly stop to be the dominating security actor from Singapore all the way up to Japan - one of Earth's wealthiest regions with increasing international political importance. 

American military presence in East Asia looks to become ever more costly, ineffective, operating from ever more remote locations (Guam), and even irrelevant. This in spite of USA most determined efforts to concentrate ("pivot") remaining USA power to continue the game to stay on top around China.  The USA loses vital interest in Europe and moves forces to Asia, but the USA may even be driven out of Asia too. This is the final game. A weaker USA in Asia may become nervous, insecure, jittery - losing direction and therefore even become a destabilizing risk-factor, as Chinese influence increases. Realist political theory calls this the "Thycudides-trap" - and it must be avoided.

China, India, Russia Japan and South Korea, ASEAN and Pakistan with neighboring Iran and Saudi Arabia, are all in focus. This creates a difficult security link to the Middle East. Russia even has to manage its rôle in three theaters, Europe, Asia and the greater Middle East (with Turkey and Iran). Asia must build an own regional security architecture - which must be a whole new kind of regional security structure based on serial-multilateral regional balances-of-power not to be depending on the USA for on-shore or off-shore balancing.

Latin America - China will increasingly want to invest in and politically cooperate with Latin America, especially with Pacific countries like Mexico, Nicaragua and Panama (the canal), and Peru with transport corridor to Brazil.

With increased commercial and political interests, greater security interests normally follow. Chinese interactions with Latin America may therefore sooner or later conflict with the Monroe doctrine and its Roosewelt corollary of American regional hegemony. Latin American countries must therefore strengthen their own security cooperation to manage potential conflicts from outside. The MERCOSUR and Mexico (with Cuba, Colombia and Venezuela) may have to take on themselves a greater security responsibility in South America and Central America.
Middle East - The CSIS has documented, that the USA long time ago lost their military capability to secure the (only?) main Western interest in the region, namely the free flow of oil from the Persian Gulf. In the wider region, a least 6 regional powers make an unstable balance (Egypt, Israel, Turkey, Saudi Arabia, Iran and Pakistan), 2 of these powers are already nuclear, and 2 more may become nuclear quite fast, either through own efforts (Iran) or through nuclear transfer (to Saudi, from Pakistan). The USA grip may slip (Libya, Syria, Yemen, or even Turkey, Egypt and Saudi). Israel makes very independent policies anyway. When the USA (willingly or by mistake) loses its regional grip, the lid may get off, even worse than before the last big regional war in 1973. In the future, regional nuclear weapons will either be the only thing which may prevent pervasive violence from becoming a big-scale war (as prof. Waltz argues above), or nuclear weapons may release a catastrophe. With 6 strong ambitious countries of comparable power, and a lot of unpredictable, often instrumentalized, movements and international influences, no balance of power inside the region will be longterm stable. Neorealist political theory (Waltz) and practical facts on the ground all predict this. A constant level of violence will probably persist, and Israel may 10-20 years ahead have more and more difficulty to stay on top of this - anything can happen.

All these regional security changes in the world challenge old wisdom. A new president in the White House with new security perceptions is a chance to restrain interventionist old habits.

Karsten Riise
Partner & Editor


Thursday, August 18, 2016

US untenable

Published by
prof. Martin van Creveld

18 August 2016

US Position is Untenable

By: Karsten Riise

The US Congressional Budget Office (CBO) has newly released a projection of Federal debt 2016-2046.

The CBO analysis shows that Federal debt is on path to increase from 75% of GDP to 146% of GDP in 2046. These figures exclude state & local government debt of approimately 16% of GDP (source: Fed.Reserve Z1,D1 and, meaning that the total public debt in the USA is on track to increase from 90%+ to 160%+ of GDP.

A public debt of 100%-200% of GDP is possible in Japan and Italy, where nearly all public debt is owned nationally—in Japan, by (often state-promoted) enormous private entities. However, for the USA, such high public debt figures are bound to lead to a fundamental crisis of non-confidence in the US dollar.

Falling dollar rates and rising interest rates will incur still higher deficits to pay the interests on the public debt.

A vicious circle threatens the US economy. When and how it may start, we don’t know.

The biggest driver of the US Federal debt is the aging of the US population. Today 15% of Americans are aged 65+. This percentage will increase by two thirds, so that by 2060 about 24% of the US population will be 65+. Until now, the USA has benefited from a young population. The strain on medicare and social spending of an aging population, even with the still limited entitlements in the USA, will be enormous.

The CBO has calculated, that just to keep the Federal debt at its present level, the balance between tax revenues and federal expenditures must be improved by 1.7% of GDP—every year the next 30 years. In other words, tax revenue must increase and government expenditures must be curtailed.
The US economy is becoming less and less competitive. One reason for this is because the USA has some of the worst 3rd world-like public infrastructure in the western world. Roads, bridges and railways in the USA are a sham. High-speed trains are non-existent. Not only is China building far more kilometers of inter-state high-ways than the US, but it is also one of the world’s leading countries in the field of high-speed trains; in fact, China may become the main-supplier of America’s first high-speed railway line.

Furthermore, American public schools, hampered as they are by violence and other problems. are not exactly the best in the world, The US level of education is going down, as pointed out by the economic guru Michael Porter, who also points out, that the level of bureaucracy and red-tape hindrances to business are enormous in the USA. The middle class is disappearing in the USA, with now barely 50% of the population perceiving themselves as middle class. Median incomes have barely improved or even gone down the past 40 years, significantly reducing the middle-section of the tax base, which is normally the most reliable. The American Dream is a night-mare for most Americans. The Laffer-curve, stating that heavy tax-burdens on the rich will incur less total tax-revenues, still applies for the top-section of the US tax base. Any attempts to heavily taxate (fiscate) the upper 10% (or 0.1% !) of the US tax base will lead to US dollar capital-flight, and acute economic crisis.

Ueber-rich people in the US will prefer to dump their American passports and go with their money to the Bahamas, Belize, the UK, Australia, Singapore, UAE, or even South Africa, or Brazil, if doing so is what it takes to protect their enormous fortunes from high taxes.

Poor Americans lack education and training to make them competitive in the global labor-market. America’s left erroneously blames the high percentage of unemployed poor on free trade, but the real problem is the lack of education which prevents the under-class from obtaining productive jobs. Poor Americans are too expensive compared to Asians, and too badly educated and trained, and the infrastructure around them too lousy, to make them able to earn a higher pay. The risk of starvation amongst the poorest in the USA remains high: In Obama’s presidency, one in seven Americans (14%) face the risk of not having enough to eat.

At the same time, the US military inventory is aging, and declining. The number of US ships and combat aircraft is declining, their average service-age goes up and their operativeness goes down. New US military hardware often take the form of useless “white elephants”, meaningless prestige-products like the 20-30 billion dollar Zumwalt class destroyer. The US addiction to over-investments in such relatively useless symbols of “strength” as the Zumwalt, in spite of economic problems and American city-disintegration, violence and poverty, is in the USA a sure sign of decay and decline – just like Rome in its latter days. The US Government Accountability Office (GAO report 15-364 ) has demonstrated, that the US military, in spite of spending 4% of US GDP (source: – extra spending is hidden in separate budgets), has no overview of its own economic needs, and the economy of the mega-expensive F-35 aircraft, according to GAO, has a big chance of not being economically sustainable over time, even for the USA.

The US military is simply on its way to run smack into a wall of economic impossibility.

In absolute strength levels, the American military is standing still or going backwards.
The US military now delays military purchases in order to keep overall military expenditures flat the next 5 years.

If military budgets are not increased, the aging of the US military will be tough in the 2020’ies. In light of the overall budget problems of the USA from now on until 2045 (as mentioned above), it must be expected that the US military will be economically forced to cut down on absolute strength levels the next 10 years.

At the same time, absolute strength levels of militaries in Russia and China is going up.

The qualitative lead in high-precision weapons, cruise missiles, and high-quality combat aircraft has come to Russia and China too. Though the USA still has a number of unique capabilities, especially its carrier fleet, advanced submarines, other ships, and “stealth” aircraft, Russia and China are specifically building up (and exporting!) cheaper weapons to off-set US advantages.

Military lobbyists in the USA dream of a new US “revolution in military technology” to regain American tech-lead in weapons, but so far such US “wunder-weapons” as rail-guns, laser-cannons etc. have shown to be elusive and too costly, even for the USA.

On the political front, the UK exit from the EU is a devastating blow to the US system of alliances.

The US economy is unsustainable – and the US military is going down in absolute as well as in relative strength.

Costly wars like Libya have been counter-productive. Afghanistan is becoming a failure. China is getting the upper-hand in the Straight of Taiwan, and Russia surprises (though still under-estimated in the west).

Without the tools-of-power or greater wisdom, Mrs. Hillary Clinton wants to increase the force-confrontation against Russia, China, and others.

A new world order is already developing. Mr. Donald Trump seems to have realized the new situation of the US. Mrs. Hillary Clinton has not – which makes her dangerous in world affairs.

Karsten Riise
Partner & Editor