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America’s National Security Vulnerabilities

Politics / US Politics Dec 09, 2012 - 07:28 AM GMT

By: Submissions


Raymond Matison writes: Article I, Section 7 of our Constitution states that “Congress shall … provide for the general Defence …”.  At its root, our national security requires for Armed Forces to keep the United States from being invaded by foreign military forces that would harm America and its citizens.  According to Wikipedia, the “objective of National Security Strategy is to create a stable situation in the world”.  Admittedly, this is a very broad concept in relation to just providing for general defense.  Therefore, the very term national security has a meaning that changes with the preferences of the president and other elected and appointed officials then in office.  It follows also from this definition that America’s involvement in the affairs of other sovereign countries in the world is dependent on the perceived level of stability sought by the then leaders in charge.  Finally, this definition implies that for the purposes of our National Security Strategy, we will take unilateral actions that may be contrary to the interests and desires of other sovereign nations. 

America’s military is the most technologically advanced fighting force thus far developed in the world.  Our Air Force has a greater number of more advanced planes than any other country, with capability to deliver ordnance anywhere in the world on a short time schedule.  Our Navy controls the oceans of the world, which can project power from its aircraft carriers anywhere in the world, while its ballistic nuclear submarines provide angst to any would-be aggressor.  Our Army and Marines with superior training and firepower, communication, equipment, logistics support, intelligence-based operations planning, have become the most formidable warriors in the world.  Our highly advanced cyber warfare has been effective in retarding fissionable nuclear materials development.  Our extant comprehensive and modern signals intelligence systems, together with historically accumulated and compiled intelligence on every country’s command, communications, and control, airfields, shipyards, radar stations, antiaircraft facilities, and nuclear facilities, and ordnance depots over the last several decades means that we have identified all of the vulnerable parts of any potential enemy.  Advanced oceanic listening posts alert us to foreign submarine intrusion.  Our older satellites provide a real time view of the world’s ports and a warning of naval maneuvers worldwide, while more advanced satellites identify the firing and liftoff of any rocket or cruise missile, eliminating surprise and providing a narrow window of time for defensive response.

This combined, awesome capability demonstrated itself in the Iraqi war, where in the space of a 24 hour period, that nation’s capability to wage war or to defend itself was completely destroyed.  This is a military advantage that America will not lose in the next several decades.  Since the United States is bordered by two vast oceans, and two friendly nations -  allowing for its military might, and geographical remoteness, America is not vulnerable or at any risk of armed military attack or conquest. 

America’s self-made decision to become the world’s policeman and “create a stable world” is a goal far exceeding the base requirements of keeping America safe from enemies.  Clausewitz, the famous military strategist stated that the “purpose of military force is to destroy the capability of the enemy’s military to fight”.  We now have the capability to eliminate an aggressor’s ability to wage war – remotely from a long distance.  It is no longer necessary for America to put “boots on the ground” in a contested part of the world for Americans to be safe.  Conquering and controlling territory in the information age is not obligatory – unless one wants to extract economic benefits from an aggressor’s natural resources.  Therefore, a smaller, as well as a more home-based military with fewer bases abroad that is also far less expensive, does not necessarily make us less secure.  In addition, an example of America practicing less involvement abroad may have some important advantages – for when diplomacy fails to achieve our National Security Strategy for the elusive goal of creating a stable world, we are not forced to resort to the obvious and necessary alternative of subversion, invasion, or conquest of foreign sovereign nations. 

Our preparedness and vigilance, together with continued weapons development and evolution of our military forces for both defensive and offensive purposes must continue.  For creating an effective defense requires being prepared to offset any potential offensive plan of the enemy.  By anticipating every possible move of the enemy and creating an effective response to it, we are prepared to counter any of the enemy’s potentially damaging aggression.  In Clausewitz’s terms, we would deny the enemy the ability to wage war. It follows that by not anticipating any of the enemy’s potential actions, we become vulnerable.
In one of the several day presentations at the 2012 U.S. Army War College Commandant’s National Security Program a slide was shown depicting the sources of potential threats to our national security.  It was quite surprising to notice that several significant threats, evident even to this guest, were not on this slide.  These unconsidered threats are nonmilitary in nature, and that is perhaps why they were not included; nonetheless, they are significant threats to our national security.  By failing to consider or include these additional threats - our nation is not prepared to counter them. The corollary is that as a nation we become vulnerable. Given the extraordinary preparedness of our military, these nonmilitary threats are now more dangerous than any hostile army or terrorist group in the world.  Indeed, any worthy military enemy’s strategist, recognizing the impregnability of the U.S. to military attack, would seek to wage war by other means. 

Today America is on the offensive in a potent economic war with Iran.  America’s intent is to use economic sanctions, and the denial for Iran to use the global payment systems to force them to give up its nuclear ambitions. Iran’s counter offensive action is to sell oil in the world marketplace for currencies other than the dollar.  Should some countries continue to purchase oil in their currencies or in gold avoiding U.S. demands, it would signal the possible end of the Petrodollar - the consequence of which could be a currency crisis leading to economic instability at home and abroad.  As an interesting coincidence, Iraq and Libya who both sought to sell oil on the world markets for currencies other than the Petrodollar soon experienced a change in their country’s leadership.  In the 1980’s America’s commitment to a “Star Wars” defense started an economic race that bankrupted the Soviet Union, which in turn led to its government’s collapse.  Earlier this year, to achieve a desired political goal, China stopped all imports of rare metals to Japan, which are used both for high tech consumer and military gear.  Economic war is very efficient, but only if the target nation is vulnerable.  It is not the function or responsibility of America’s military to gauge or watch over our non-military and economic vulnerability, but it clearly is an important factor in national security.

An alternative to military conquest is to impose a regime or political system above the electorate or current system of government through which new bureaucracies, agencies, courts, and other nongovernmental organizations unaccountable to that electorate control the decision-making of that nation state.  An example of a bureaucratic organization exercising some control over the sovereignty of individual nations by nonmilitary means is the nonelected, supranational, semi-governing structure of the European Union.  This organization is managed by unaccountable and unelected bureaucrats, who write binding regulations for sovereign countries contrary to the wishes of their individual sovereign nations.  One recent and dramatic example of the European Union overriding sovereign power was the replacement of the president of Italy with an appointed bureaucrat to lead its country.  The United Nations, International Court of Justice, and Amnesty International are other examples of organizations who by fiat declare their laws and judgments superior and applicable to sovereign countries which have rejected such binding.  Collectively, attempts to set up alternative political control mechanisms of sovereign countries are called lawfare.  The book “Sovereignty or Submission” by John Fonte published in 2011, is an excellent treatise on the subject.  This slowly creeping and largely unnoticed infiltration must be widely understood, acknowledged, and countered, because it has the potential to undermine and destabilize individual countries and limit their sovereignty - including the United States.

Over the last twelve years our nation’s national debt has increased approximately from $5 to $16 trillion.  Unfunded liabilities for Social Security, Medicare and Medicaid and Welfare have increased even more.  For example, Medicare’s part D program enacted in 2003 increased unfunded liabilities by an estimated $17 trillion alone, while the recently approved national health plan would create far larger unfunded liabilities. If the Federal Reserve had not forced interest rates lower, the interest cost of this debt alone could devour one third to one half of our nation’s total tax revenues.  Thus, America could not afford a large portion of its other current expenditures, unless it could borrow the money from foreign investors.  Our recent ability to wage war in Iraq and Afghanistan to a considerable degree can be seen as based on China’s willingness to purchase our Treasury debt.  In this sense, China is financing our war.  The unintended consequence of this is that the interest we pay on this debt to China currently pays for their annual defense budget more than twice over.  Is there not some risk to our National Security if America keeps spending trillions more than it receives in taxes, and is dependent on other countries to buy our debt securities?  More recently, the Federal Reserve has been buying the majority of our Treasury bonds filling the growing void of sovereign country investors - which does not change the nature or the severity of our vulnerability.  In context of Wikipedia’s definition of National Security Strategy, can America create a stable situation in the world given the inherent instability produced by our nation’s overwhelming debt and increasing fickleness of dollar-based Treasury securities investors?

Decades-long willingness to transfer hundreds billions of dollars to unfriendly countries through our oil purchases (rather than developing and using our own resources) has had the unintended consequence of building up huge pools of money (sovereign wealth funds) - which theoretically could be used to wage financial warfare.  Our historical threat to sell Britain’s sterling currency on the open market in the 1950’s forced them to back off from militarily reclaiming the Suez Canal. This is an example of financial warfare trumping military warfare.  With hundreds of billions in such sovereign wealth funds belonging to nations not friendly to U.S. interests, does this not raise America’s vulnerability to financial warfare?

Derivative securities, particularly credit default swaps (CDS) amount in the hundreds of trillions of dollars worldwide.  The initial failure of just some of these could start a domino effect of failure in the worldwide banking industry.  Could not hostile sovereign wealth funds with hundreds of billions of dollars trigger this domino effect and the failure of these trillions of at risk derivatives, and disrupt if not destroy the global financial and banking system? The book “Currency Wars”, by James Rickards published in 2011, describes this potential in brilliant fashion.  We are at risk, and it appears that we are not yet prepared for this contingency.

Demography reflects predictable long term trends that affect the composition and character of our society, and by extension our economy.  For example, the former large spike in births in the United States after WWII are now retiring, with a consequence that this large segment of population is reducing its spending pattern and the rate of our economic growth.  The acknowledged world-wide reduction in fertility rates, including in the United States, means that the growth rate of population in more mature economies is slowing or declining in absolute terms, and population growth world-wide is slowing and eventually will stabilize.  Increasing the growth rate of any local economy where population growth is slowing or declining in absolute terms within a global population whose growth rate is declining seems unlikely to succeed.  Accordingly, the attempts by world leaders to stimulate their economies to grow their Gross National Product (GNP) in order to resume historic growth rates are short-sighted and doomed to failure.  Changed global demographics is creating a new economic paradigm that will require business and government of mature economies to learn how to manage slow-growth, no-growth, or declining economies. Thus the growth motivated money expansion of central banks, and the accelerating growth of government borrowing is likely to produce unwelcome unintended consequences. This is not proposed as a negative view of the world, but rather a necessary adjustment to actuarial population projections and future reality.  Misdiagnosing what ails our and other nation’s economies, followed by applying the wrong solution, will not only fail but will destabilize the world.

Changes in the composition of a country population will have notable consequences to that nation state.  Examples in the non-assimilation of large communities of mid-east workers in Europe, and the influx of both legal and illegal immigrants in the southeastern part of the U.S. are vibrant examples.  While these demographic examples are hardly the result of proactive enemy strategy, they create the same risks and vulnerabilities, and can change the direction and form of government by changing the constituency of the voting population.  Will large Muslim populations in European countries, by their voting rights or dissent, create European instability that U.S. National Security Strategy by its own current definition would need to address?  What could the United States do for the purpose of keeping a stable world, which relates to a significant change in the demographic mix of a sovereign foreign country? What instability might result in the U.S. from continued uncontrolled southern illegal immigration?

It may be surprising to reflect that both fascist and communist parties were active in the U.S. beginning in the 1920’s.  In FDR’s administration, Vice-president Henry A. Wallace had been hoodwinked by communist propaganda and took a soft stance towards Soviets.  Is it possible that even today we have people or groups in the government who secretly seek to adversely influence or subvert it?  It is easy to understand how such activity can persist through one lifespan, but is it possible for a subversive activity to persist over several generations?  In the country of Guatemala original conquistador families, who assumed leadership positions four hundred years earlier, have their descendants remaining as the ruling families in that country today.  This example stretches the imagination, and posits that groups with specific goals can persist long term, and makes it believable that groups which advocated subversion of the America several generations ago still could have descendants who advocate these same policies today.  The periodic discovery of persons compromising our classified intelligence information by selling it to other countries demonstrates that subversion is taking place even today.  However, the most dangerous subversion taking place today may be in the nonmilitary sector, which affects domestic economic policy, deficit spending, welfare legislation, business, and growth of bureaucratic and unaccountable government.

The emphasis regarding our National Security Strategy herein has clearly shifted from a discussion of military matters to those in economics and demography - because in terms of military issues we are not at risk, whereas in terms of economic and other non-military issues we are very vulnerable.  We need only to briefly review history to determine how previous great world powers lost their preeminence.  The ancient Roman Republic and subsequent Roman Empire were militarily superior for centuries.  Historians debate the varied reasons why the Roman Empire declined, but some facts remain unchallenged. Its armies were paid by tribute or taxes by the citizens of the vast territories conquered or annexed.   The size of the army and the cost to maintain it, and its governing structure grew with additional territories controlled.  Rome did not have fiscal budgets, and spent freely.  Continued excessive government spending exceeding taxes collected required debasement of its currency, in order to create more money for that government to spend. The reduction in the silver content of their precious metal coins brought increasing public mistrust and loss of allegiance of far-off territorial governors creating increased government instability.  Its form of republican government with senators and representatives of the public slowly evolved to more central control by emperors and tyrants. The resulting erosion of effective governance fostered more political instability which made it possible for demise of empire and military conquest.  Spain, France, Portugal, the Dutch all had their turns in being considered great powers historically, but became financially exhausted from wars such that they could not recover their former status (The Rise and Fall of the Great Powers, Paul Kennedy, 1987).  Great Britain dominated the world for over two centuries, and derived great economic benefits from colonization.  However, when the British decided spend some of these profits on the common citizen to provide health and welfare benefits for its citizens in the 1940’s, they soon discovered that it was impossible to fulfill a “butter and guns” goal.  Since, politically, the reduction of military spending is easier to achieve than the reduction of welfare benefits, England quickly lost its prior world leader status.  A century ago Argentina was one of the more successful and wealthier countries in the world.  An attempt by the then controlling elites to a gradual more representative government led instead to a military coup. This abrupt change could have promoted a more populist government, but instead it led to a long-term dictatorship and financial ruin.  An excellent historical treatise of government systems and its relation to the economic success of a country and its people was recently written by Daron Acemoglu and James A. Robinson in their 2012 book “Why Nations Fail”.  We have the ability to evaluate and learn from history, and should not repeat the obvious errors in governance.

The most relevant and current example of demise is that of the Soviet Union.  A formidable military power, it was not conquered by military force, but it collapsed itself because of economic exhaustion and internal societal stress based on the decades-long suppression of its citizenry by its central and tyrannical form of government.  Since the mass of its citizens did not have a stake in its government, and were suppressed by it, they were eager to overturn it at the first safe opportunity to do so.   We can see that history is a great teacher in demonstrating that the ability of any country to be a leader of the world, and to remain a leader over time, seems more dependent on its ability to maintain fiscal discipline, maintain the value of one’s currency, avoid frequent and expensive wars, not to succumb to social welfare programs, limit government growth while promoting populism, and maintain an educated well informed and moral citizenry, than its military power.  

Briefly recapping, we have essentially no risk or threat from a military standpoint, as America possesses unchallengeable military might, as well as ready responses to any measurable military risks from potential opponents. However, we have significant nonmilitary risks to our national security which include: economic and financial vulnerability, lawfare, demographic trends, and possible subversion.  There are additional threats to our republic and way of life that stem from the very human, self-inflicted vulnerabilities that include moral and ethical decline of politicians, corporations, and the general public.  

In a pattern following both Rome and Great Britain, the United States has expanded its global reach over the last seventy years establishing military bases all over the world.  Similarly, the well-intentioned desire to provide welfare benefits to our citizens has been implemented in the U.S. - a well-known historical path taken by previous world leading countries which subsequently experienced decline.  It was during the 1960’s our political leadership’s sought to participate in the Vietnam War, begin the nation’s Medicare program and start the “War on Poverty” at home.  This resulted in budget deficits that eventually required the deliberate printing of money – the modern version of Rome diluting the silver content of its coins.  When foreign powers became aware of this type of currency manipulation, they chose to turn their dollars into gold at the U.S. then guaranteed rate of $35 per ounce, which was rapidly reducing the nation’s gold holdings.  The U.S. was forced either to devalue its currency, a form of default, or close the gold exchange window.  As a political choice, it was an easy decision to close the gold window – even though it disenfranchised all foreign U.S. dollar holders, resulting in their being imposed with huge financial losses. Thus, even the fabulously rich U.S. of that time period could not afford “butter and guns” at the same time. 

We have been conducting war on two foreign fronts in Iraq and Afghanistan, even as at home we have dramatically expanded the welfare state with aid to approximately 49 million Americans, and promising health care for all.  Similar to the experience of these great historical powers, our government is also breaching its constitutional constraints, and moving towards a more centralized and less populist government, and taking more direct control of its rulemaking through unaccountable regulatory agencies, fostering more crony capitalism, and reducing individual state’s power and individual responsibility and liberty.  Thus far, in many ways we are following the historic path followed by Rome, Great Britain, Argentina, and The Soviet Union – yet we appear to be expecting a different result or destination.

Free market capitalism has been the greatest wealth-producing economic system ever devised.  Corporate growth over the decades has provided employment and a multitude of income and wealth producing benefits to generations of Americans.  This economic system also provides that we can invest our savings in these companies and thus participate directly in their growth and profitability.  We expect and desire that the earnings of such companies will continue to grow.  When companies reach a certain size it becomes difficult, from that larger base, to continue its earlier rate of growth.  Two initial options for continuing the growth of domestic companies are to initiate one’s presence in foreign markets, and to reduce company expenses.  The unintended longer term effect of these reasonable growth promoting actions is that companies seek increased sales and lower cost of production by moving facilities overseas - which, while increasing corporate profit, reduces the employment of our domestic work force.  Another reasonable step is to use lobbying firms and provide campaign support to politicians who will help pass favorable legislation that will aid corporations meet their financial growth goals, or limit competition.  The very nature of government and national and local regulation made by politicians is that of guiding, restricting, or controlling permissive actions of business, and the communal and personal lives of its citizens.  Corporations strive to guide people to its products, and attempt to convince or otherwise restrict them from using products of its competitors.  Thus it is not surprising that politicians, government, and corporations have developed a symbiotic relationship.  So the innocent, yet unrelenting striving for corporate profit growth eventually transmutes to a corporate/government partnership that over the longer term disenfranchises its citizenry and creates an ever smaller group of large corporations who together with elected government politicians and endemic bureaucrats make the rules of conduct for business and individuals.  The unintended consequence of this understandable evolution is the loss of populism, increased centralized government control, crony capitalism, and the rise of a small elite ruling group.  Indeed, this evolution has changed the very nature of capitalism, which is less effective in serving small business and America’s individual citizens. In the historical examples cited before, the rise of a narrow ruling group has led eventually to statism, despotism, tyranny, instability of that government, followed by decline of that nation state, with challenges and eventual change to the existing ruling order.

Our nation’s leading politicians and all military officers take an oath to uphold the Constitution and protect it against all enemies both foreign and domestic.  The framers of the Constitution relied on men of good moral character to do the right thing for our country.  That genial document is timeless precisely because it addressed the weakness of human character, which does not change, rather than future societal or scientific changes.  And today, we are constantly reminded by the flaws of human nature, as the moral fabric of politicians seemingly disintegrates, their oath to uphold the Constitution are violated, and officials are sanctioned by Congress or imprisoned for corruption.  This moral decline eventually spreads and permeates the larger society which begets more corruption whereby people attempt to succeed through guile rather than work, creation, innovation, and production.  The morally indefensible eagerness of citizens to accept government welfare, which ironically creates dependence and becomes the key basis of central government control over its citizenry, is not financially sustainable long term, and will undermine government finances and lead to economic collapse which military might alone cannot offset.

One significant risk to our national security comes from our own human shortcomings whereby some elites, intellectuals, politicians, business leaders, or government bureaucrats think that they know what is better for each and every citizen, rather than relying on individual liberty for each to choose what they believe is most appropriate for them personally.  Also, politicians pass laws and favorable regulations today that have the narrow interests of corporations in mind – who, in turn, contribute significantly to politician election funds.  But the actions of politicians can become so diametrically opposed to that which is good for its citizens that at some point detractors and critics will be correct in declaring that politicians are not observing their oath to support the Constitution.  At what point is the enactment of legislation by the majority in Congress open to the fair criticism of citizens that the action taken does not support the oath of office?  We may further ask, why are there no consequences to politicians violating their oath of office?  Indeed, the question can be elevated as to what kind of government do we now have?!  This is not an idle question.  When the elected representatives of the nation do not read legislation before its passage, when legislation has costs that are not possible to bear through even unreasonable levels of taxation, when legislation and action taken by Congress is contrary to the desire of the majority of its citizens, when Congress avoids responsibility by hiding undesirable legislation in voluminous omnibus bills and allows unaccountable bureaucratic agencies and government czars to make regulations, it is fair to ask what kind of government do we have?  Do we still have a republic, or has it metamorphosed into something else? 

As constitutional bounds are increasingly violated by government bureaucrats, politicians, corporations, and other central control elites, the first response of patriots will be to vote the current politicians out of office.  When conditions for citizens fail to improve over several iterations of election cycles social unrest and confrontation will likely rise in an attempt to change the leadership and its entrenched bureaucratic statism to reinstitute the more constitutional bounds of government as provided by the founders of this nation.  In order to maintain its power, that government is likely to summon the military to invoke marshal law and to quell open public indignation.

Every military officer at that point in our nation’s future will face a grave moral dilemma.  Sworn to uphold the Constitution it may become difficult for the military to discern who the true enemy of the state is within to guard against.  When politicians and government are acknowledged not to represent the will of the people, and acts in a clearly discernible way to abrogate the Constitution in favor of a narrow elite ruling group - how will the military respond to orders by government to suppress or quash public rebellion? Does the military simply follow orders of an elected but visibly undemocratic chief executive who clearly violates the Constitution, or does the military uphold the Constitution and help the people reestablish a new republican government?  Will the military and its officers live up to their Constitutional oath and support its citizens in a renewal of those founding principles of our nation, or will they help consolidate control for a self-indulged ruling group?  Will the country “of the people, by people, for the people” endure, or will it submerge into the quagmire of many other unremarkable, pedestrian centrally controlled statist nations?  Will the concept of American exceptionalism, with its Constitution and individual liberty prevail in America, and remain a beacon of light to other non-free and oppressed nations?  It is a scenario, which based on history, is in process of repeating itself in the near future right here in America.

This difficult moral dilemma our military leaders have to resolve and prepare for in advance so as not to be vulnerable. Accordingly, this will be the greatest and most difficult and subtle national security challenge to prepare for over the next one or two decades.  If the moral decline in politicians, corporations and government continues, and citizens cannot improve the situation through the electoral process, then our military may become “the last best hope of earth”.  The military may ultimately determine whether the United States remains a republic and world leader with “American exceptionalism”, or follows the path of other historical world leading nations into socialism and decline.  It is a moral dilemma of mammoth proportion, and our ultimate National Security Strategy issue.    

By Raymond Matison

Mr. Matison had the privilege of attending the 2012 U.S. Army War College Commandant’s National Security Program as one of 66 publicly invited guests.  Based on its proceedings he felt compelled to write this article.  Mr. Matison is a U.S. patriot who immigrated to this country in 1949. A B.S. in engineering physics, an M.S. in Actuarial Science, work in the actuarial field, and as a financial analyst at Legg, Mason Inc., Lehman Brothers, and investment banking at Kidder Peabody, and Merrill Lynch provides a diverse background for experience.  First-hand exposure to fascism, socialism, and communism as well as the completion of a U.S. Army military intelligence course in the 1960’s, have inspired an avid and continuing interest of reading selected topics in science, military, and economics.

© Copyright Raymond Matison 2012

Disclaimer: The views expressed in this article are the sole responsibility of the author and do not necessarily reflect those of the Centre for Research on Globalization. The contents of this article are of sole responsibility of the author(s). The Centre for Research on Globalization will not be responsible or liable for any inaccurate or incorrect statements contained in this article.

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