Every week the Watcher’s Council of which I am the oldest member has a forum in which members reflect on a single question. This week the question was “What is the greatest strategic threat the U. S. faces today?” I doubt my answer will please most of my fellow Watchers but it was lengthy enough that I thought I’d give it a post of its own.
The short answer to the question is that we don’t have one. Let’s consider that with a little more rigor.
To be a geopolitical challenge a country, group of countries, organization, or institution must have at least three attributes. It must be expansionary, it must have the capacity to reach us, and it must be attractive.
Nazi Germany, Imperial Japan, and Soviet Russia were all geopolitical challenges, each with all of those attributes. That’s something too frequently forgotten after their defeat. The Third Reich, the Greater East Asia Co-Prosperity Sphere, and the Soviet Union each had substantial support outside of Germany, Japan, or Russia.
In contrast, nobody wants what China’s rulers want outside of a few of the world’s worst autocrats. China isn’t expansionary. It claims Taiwan and a few rocks in the waters adjacent to China but it’s been claiming those for the better part of a century. It’s not marching its armies into Burma, Southeast Asia, or India, at least not for the foreseeable future. And, finally, China doesn’t have the capacity to reach us, other than with nuclear weapons, something we have in orders of magnitude more abundance than they.
Similarly with Russia. Putin’s Russia is nationalist and irredentist but not expansionary and it has been spectacularly unsuccessful in attracting anyone to their banner. Like China, Russia is unable to reach us other than with nuclear weapons. Its nuclear arsenal is what makes the Russia-U. S. relationship the most important bilateral relationship in the world, something we are mismanaging tragically.
I don’t see any group of countries challenging us, either.
Radical Islamism continues to attract people to its banner and it’s obviously expansionary but it doesn’t have the ability to reach us and it never will have due to its own internal contradictions. In the 21st century it’s impossible to pose a military challenge when you’re as nostalgic for the 6th century as militant radical Islamism is. You can only be a parasite. That’s why they utilize terrorist attacks, the strategy of the poor and weak.
China, Russia, and radical Islamism all pose challenges to our clients rather than to us. However, that’s entirely because our clients allow them to pose challenges. We have pretty lousy clients and IMO they need us a lot more than we need them. Whether they will come to that realization is unclear to me.
The closest thing we have to a geopolitical challenge is internal. Basically, Schumpeter was right. What we have to fear is our own professional, intellectual, and political classes, all of which are busily undermining the very economy, society, and politics on which they depend for their survival.