Jonathan Schell’s “Too Late for Empire” drew much praise from readers [Aug. 14/21]. Schell was called “the finest analyst of US foreign policy writing today” and “a national treasure.” The article was described as “scintillating,” “insightful…bursting with relevancy and passion” and “a brilliant exposition of humans’ predicament in global historical terms.” –The Editors
“Too Late for Empire” was an excellent analysis of the limits of military power in the modern world. One point that was brushed against but not explicitly made is the sheer size of modern populations. When Alexander of Macedon (or “Alexander the Great”) conquered the Babylonian Empire, the population of that region numbered in the tens of thousands. When George of Crawford (whom history will certainly never label “George the Great”) attempted to conquer the same region in 2003, the population was 27 million. A population of millions cannot be ruled by military force, as we should have learned from Vietnam.
Exciting though it certainly is to ponder “the aroused will of local peoples everywhere who, collectively, had put an end to the age of imperialism,” we need to give equal time to the modern capitalist phenomenon of a truly global marketplace for weapons. These armaments, available to insurrectionary movements as never before in human history, range from inexpensive handguns to the RPGs the CIA left behind in Afghanistan, and they insure that oppressive regimes in the twenty-first century will find it very difficult to say, as the British Raj could say in India: “We have got/the Maxim gun, and they have not.”
The revamped Strategic Command, and its newer component commands, like Space and Global Strike and Network Warfare, explicitly tout a global-domination philosophy that is far starker than the Joint Chiefs of Staff papers of the superpower era, or the Project for a New American Century think pieces written by neocons in the days prior to George W.’s assumption of power. StratCom, particularly since swallowing up US Space Command in 2002, has become the headquarters for the so-called “revolution in military affairs.” StratCom has always been at the forefront of what Rumsfeld calls “transformational” strategy. It combines the nuclear domination policies of its predecessor, Strategic Air Command, with the desire to blur distinctions between nuclear and precision conventional weapons for regional tactical warfare, a policy borrowed from US Space Command. This does not negate Jonathan Schell’s suggestion that our nation has neither the budget nor the will to mimic British or Ottoman empires of past centuries. But it’s important to pay attention to the high-profile Pentagon commands that still push for world domination.
One all-important detail should have been included in Jonathan Schell’s comments about our “impotent omnipotence.” Nuclear weapons have absolutely no military value. Many top military experts have stated this clearly (always after retirement). A major nuclear exchange involving even second-tier powers would have such immense catastrophic global consequences as to render the notion of victory a grotesque joke. Nuclear winter would be only one consequence of war between the big boys. The paranoids and criminals who devised “mutual assured destruction” during the cold war were, in a perverse sense, on to something. They just didn’t know what it was. Judging from the vigor with which they hold on to absurd quantities of nuclear weapons, many on hair-trigger alert, neither do our leaders today (nor do the Russians).