March 5, 2014

The Gathering Storm

While reading a paper at work today, I was caught by this observation from Churchill and couldn’t help but think on our present circumstance…not just the most current problem in the Crimea but more broadly too:
“It is my purpose, as one who lived and acted in these days, to show how easily the tragedy of the Second World War could have been prevented; how the malice of the wicked was reinforced by the weakness of the virtuous; how the structure and habits of democratic states, unless they are welded together into larger organisms, lack those elements of persistence and conviction which can alone give security to humble masses; how, even in matters of self-preservation, no policy is pursued even for ten or fifteen years at a time. We shall see how the counsels of prudence and restraint may become the prime agents of mortal danger; how the middle course adopted from desires for safety and a quiet life may be found to lead direct to the bull’s-eye of disaster. We shall see how absolute is the need of a broad path of international action pursued by many states in common across the years, irrespective of the ebb and flow of national politics.”
Winston Churchill, The Gathering Storm, 1948

His point, of course, was to emphasize the importance of constant attention to the necessary investments of defense, fiscal restaint, political awareness, and the courage to stand up to aggression even when things seem to be going along quite well. These elements are essential to the preservation of a country's economic vitality, its cultural health and resiliency under pressure, and the strength to confront challenges before they grow to dangerous levels. When people do not attend to such things for too long a time--which typically happens during extended times of plenty--they eventually find themselves unprepared, perhaps fatally, at the worst possible time when the need is greatest, their resources have been squandered, and their competitors sense opportunity.


  1. I read more of a theme of overt cohesiveness among the well-intended than something related to our military budget, but Barney Fife's one bullet does give the robbers in Mayberry a pretty clear strategy.
    This broader theme of preparation during good times imo.. is the single biggest missed opportunity for both countries and candidates.
    While you need to completely suspend everything you've ever seen (and haven't seen) to avoid laughing... the solution here is an International Force (that operates at the discretion of a deliberating body). That force goes in immediately in situations like the Crimea to exorcise intentions.
    Until there you have a physical presence of the collective, were going to have nothing more than $2k suits in Manhattan voting for measures they aren't ready to enforce and countries rolling tanks across border that know that. 3/4s of the world wont like the idea... and that's the point. Right now those nations are able to hide behind a facade that we helped create. We need to help flush out the badly intended.
    And again to Churchill's point... you do that when times are good.
    My response is missing a ton of detail, qualifiers, examples etc... but it took Wilson a term to get things off the ground... Im allowed to have some gaps in mine.

  2. Knowing your capabilities I have little tolerance for gaps. :-) You are quite correct, of course, to note WC's preference for collective action driven, I suspect, because he knew Great Britain stood small chance on its own of confronting the Soviet Union which had seized half of Europe at the close of the war. There are certainly benefits to such collective approaches because they tend to add legitimacy to actions, pool limited resources, potentially provide options not otherwise available, etc. But as a fan of the Westphalian state system and certainly as an unrepentant American Exceptionalist I am quite opposed to making America's security affairs dependent on the mood of 'the collective' or placing our national interests at disadvantage to the whims of others. In a sense, a force along the lines you mention does exist even if in temporary, case-by-case form in that when the UN comes to agreement, member states contribute forces to field blue-helmeted troops. I know you're talking about a permanently formed force under some sort of collective command but having seen how hard it is for the UN Security Council to agree to any substantive action I have no confidence some supragovernmental body would ever be successfully formed much less be provided forces or be able to wield such forces for any purpose. There are just too many conflicting interests among the 180-odd states in the world. After all, it would require all states to subordinate some portion of their sovereignty to an external power. I'd not support that with regard to the US under any circumstances I can think of at the moment. Back to Churchill, I chose to focus on his urgings to prepare in peace so that war might be avoided and in this we are most assuredly missing the boat!

  3. Dakota,
    -I mislead... If I were POTUS, I would work with the command to build the capabilities as if there were NO additional fighting entity. In fact... I would urge them to literally not even look at one single asset list or troop count for fear of complacency in assuming such counts could augment in case of need.
    It's weird...I love the spirit of so many cultures.. and most of the folks I meet from other countries I would like to steal for us... they're better "Americans" than others living here, but I am the ugly American about our ability vs others to execute and manage. Wait... maybe the Israelis... nevermind..
    -An example of a successful UN would be (IMO)... 8 hours after the Russians were at the gate of the naval base, the UN has 200 troops walking around the inside of the base. They landed with light arms although (don't cringe) they don't walk around with them. There is a destroyer on route to linger 100 miles off shore for posturing (although the range of everything on board obviously didn't mandate any move toward the base). Through either charter or well articulated understanding, EVERY country in the UN inherently supports an intervening force whenever a country is attacked, occupied or materially threatened by another country and (and here is the insanely simple litmus test)... they are not interested in war with that country. As absurd as that sounds, that's the definitive point between an invasion and two guys who are beefed at each other and both want to go at it. Dakota, when I think about the conflicts I have lived through or learned of.. those are two distinct buckets. And membership in the UN (should) mean that you "voted" ahead of time that you agreed to raise the stakes of an attack when whomever decides to roll into a country that didn't want a fight with them. The charter should include automatic sanctions.. there's no vote.. there is no abstaining. It should include automatic dismissal from key positions G8 etc.. You dont have rules or a mission and then undermine the deterrent of it's existence by begging to reaffirm it when something actually manifests.
    As groovy as it sounds... the UNs unspoken effect is to create a presence that says to countries that violate basic sovereignty... you are opposed to the entire membership of this body and the situation will escalate in a linear fashion if you continue.
    While it would be nice if all countries were a part of it.. we should not worry about having maximum membership, but focus on the resolve of whatever number of countries are ready to step up and align around a very concrete code. If thats only 30 be it. The reason for the body's ineffectiveness is that we permit membership without (effectively) creating an exclusivity and requirement around it. China and Russia and a dozen other countries shouldn't even be IN the thing based on the way they act.
    So there's a couple of shims in my badly constructed first thoughts... I wont bug you anymore.
    This is fun. They should put me in charge.

  4. Im sleepy.. I typed G8 thinking about another point.. I meant security council or whatnot You dont hold the role of most trusted...supposedly being the wisest, mosts trustworthy... most responsible child in a large family. While you invade a neighbor because you miscalculated the impact of the loss of the oil and the port access in Crimea and your equivalent of the Von Traps are sitting in said country... and they speak the language... and they have "told" us they want out. So.. uh... were justified in going in. Uh.... no you're not. Sudetenland v 2.0

  5. I swear I can hear Satchmo singing "What a Wonderful World" somewhere in the background! I like to think that US policies work best when they fully account for the nature of the world we actually live in yet still push toward the world we'd like to live in. It's much like our individual living - we know we can't eradicate evil yet we push back against it when and where we can, trying to our best to make the world around us better than it would be otherwise. In both cases, we keep our eye fixed on the ideal while making decisions and taking actions relevant to the real.