Monday, September 22, 2008

Futuristing: defence policy and planning edition

Via the always interesting side-bar of reading at Panglossian Notes, I came across this Atlantic article by Andrew Bacevich. I like Bacevich - he tends to be an insightful and critical commentator on US military and foreign policy affairs. This article is not different.

In a nutshell, Bacevich highlights an apparent debate within the US armed forces about the future constitution of the American military in the face of the type of conflict it faces in Iraq and Afghanistan. Essentially this breaks down to a discussion over whether they should prepare to fight conventional (fighting state-level armed forces) or assymetrical (counterinsurgency) conflicts. I'm sure similar discussions exist in most Western defence and IR institutions currently involved in US spawned expeditionariciousness, Canada included.

For defence and international relations geeks, this debate is a good one. For those of us more tuned to social and environmental context, this debate ignores a pachyderm or two.

The past few weeks have seen the beginning of the end of globalisation as we know it, which some believe could lead to a global depression. This in turn is situated in a population and political environment divided on lines left versus right, peace versus war, social democracy versus neoconservative not-democracy. This is in turn situated in the context of energy depletion and price increases of a nature beyond precedent. This in turn is situated in a longer term issue of climate upheaval.

What this means is that the debate over what role the armed forces prepare for is situated in an ignored domestic context of severe social, political and economic stress, as well as a longer term context of global energy and climate stress. I would venture then, that the future role of the armed forces in the West would fall much more into the realm of aid to the civil power than war fighting. In the US this could mean anything from mitigating some form of partisan insurgency as a politically and culturally polarised nation encounters economic collapse, to enabling food and medicine distribution in the event of mass unemployment. A global depression or move to protectionism risks critical food and oil shortages as trade evaporates. The more heavily reliant a country is on imports, the more exposed it is. Few are so exposed as the United States. The more politically (I could even say culturally!) partisan a country is a, the more it risks violence in times of uncertainty. This happened in the Balkans in the wake of the post-Soviet adjustment.

In Canada, we may have to contend with anything from an influx of American refugees, to similar problems in the distribution of essentials. What this means is that all the plans to spend billions on shiny new aeroplanes and ships may well be pointless. These trinkets may soon become unaffordable fantasy anyway. A wiser policy and planning bearing might focus on our own door-step and not ancient realms beyond the seas.

Of course to do this, we'd first have to admit one or two things to ourselves.

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