The Other Side of Power

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American experts have compared the United States with the Roman Empire in decline.

The Other Side of Power

Written by Anton Dozhdikov; Originally appeared at VPK, translated and edited by SF Team: Theo N. Kaufman, Yoana

That is according to a report called “The power of coercion: countering opponents without going to war,” published in early March. The project was initiated by one of the branches of the US Army (the U.S. Army Quadrennial Defense Review Office), and implemented by the Center for strategy, doctrine and research programs, the RAND Corporation. The document describes the superiority of the US in the field of non-military means and provides advice on the best use of them.

Military experts and analysts of RAND noted that it is difficult, unnecessary and risky for the US to use its military force to confront global security threats that may emerge in the coming years. Alternatives to the use of armed forces are, in some circumstances to use a more expedient options: skillful diplomacy, effective economic assistance and support to the Allies, the spread of our ideas and values. Currently, because of the high costs, risks, and negative attitude of the US citizens, regarding the use of US forces (American society as a whole is not ready for them), to increase the value of “coercive force”.

In the modern historical process of the US, gradually reached the level of the late Roman Empire and Byzantium with their huge, expensive army that does not want to fight, but has its own interests, and requires new resources for its maintenance. Diplomatic intrigues, quarrels between nations and barbarian tribes became the main policy tool, the predecessor of the idea of “controlled chaos.” But this loss of willingness to fight with the enemy face to face marked the imminent end of the subsequent conquering of the various ethnic groups.

Between threat and action

The most promising options for the implementation of the “coercive force” are: financial sanctions, support of the peaceful political opposition against the hostile regimes, and offensive cyber operations.

Overlapping access to the global banking system can cause significant damage, but this option must be strictly dosed in accordance with the intended objectives. Participation in financial sanctions should not go beyond the core countries with the large banks (id est the G7).

Support or the internal opposition – is a very effective leverage. Social networks and global media help domestic protest movements and their external supporters to achieve their goals.
Offensive cyber operations have also high returns, but are associated with greater risk. They can disrupt the functioning of economic systems and cause the loss of confidence in other States, the world markets in relation to the United States. The risks increase manifold in the case of responses to such geopolitical players as Russia or China.

“Forcing” occupies a middle position between the other two vectors of American politics. “Hard power” turns to “soft” and involves offering something substantial. The first is aimed directly at the opponents, while the second relates to the conditions of the environment, the context and requires more time for its implementation, than there are in crisis situations. “The power of coercion” operates mainly in relation to public entities, in the case of IS being banned in Russia, it is less effective.

It should be recognized that the line between “coercion” and “hard power” are rather blurred. In the case of Iran, the combination of financial sanctions and the threat of military attack, according to the RAND analysts, led the authorities to enter into negotiations on limiting its nuclear program. But this does not mean that non-military coercion can only work under the Damocles sword of aggression. Expert of RAND express the following position: in the Ukrainian crisis, Vladimir Putin knew that NATO will not intervene in the conflict. But financial sanctions are possible, “coincidentally” there was an economic crisis in Russia, caused by the rapid decline in energy prices, this caused him to pause in an attempt to get the entire eastern Ukraine, in contrast to the Crimea.

Russian-Chinese characteristics

According to RAND analysts, China – is a special state, for which the use of “coercive force” is the most difficult and risky. It is politically stable, it plays a very important role in the world trade and it has its own reserve for “coercion”. Russia, Iran and other states are less stable, and therefore more attractive as targets.

China has sufficient financial resources. Disconnecting it from the global banking system is just as problematic as its exclusion from world trade, and this seems impossible, given its importance to the US economy. Finally, China – the largest holder of US sovereign debt, has hereby a kind of insurance against US “attempts”.

Currently, Russia must recognize that actual cyberwar and other coercive methods are already being used against it. Its sanctions are aimed at specific persons and companies of the future – on key sectors of the economy. It is a de facto ban for receiving foreign direct investment (FDI), including for civil industries. This is an aggressive outreach and a smear campaign conducted in the media, to direct support for the “anti-system” opposition. External influence is obvious in the case of the manipulation of economic and financial statistics, the activities of the so-called rating agencies such as Moody’s, whose judgments and conclusions are clearly biased.

Hostages of the military budget

With regard to the critical regions of the world, the use of force becomes increasingly problematic. The first reason is obvious: Russia and China have nuclear weapons. But further reduction of utility offensive military forces is partly a consequence of the spread of modern technology: guidance systems, as well as data processing and networking.

This is a problem that is compounded by the fact that the cost of such defensive means is ten times lower than that of offensive weapons of America.
However, the experts made a contradictory conclusion: the United States can and should move to less visible combat units, silent submarines and drones, to strengthen the capacity of its allies. The paradoxical logic is understandable: the RAND experts and arms customers, and suppliers – are hostage of the military budget, which must grow. The growth of international tensions causes an increase in costs, and they in turn provoke an aggressive foreign policy, in search for an enemy. And so the circle is complete.

The more global, the more vulnerable?

Financial network distribution systems, infrastructure, information domains and services, control over hydrocarbons markets and transport routes, the formation of consumer preferences, new social ideas and other factors are a quite extensive set of options for exposure for any country other than the most secretive ones such as North Korea, or the self-proclaimed IS.

There is a downside – the United States itself is now dependent on the global impact. The country controls 30 per cent of the global foreign direct investment. The US dollar is the base for a global inter-bank transactions. Four of the seven largest banks in the world (in terms of market capitalization)- are American. Seven top US media companies, own 95 percent of the global revenue from media. The country occupies about three-quarters of the arms trade market (according to a Rand assessment), and it provides about $18 billion, annually in military aid, to its allies. Research and Development that promote global information networks, are mainly American. The United States is the leader and has a significant influence in the world’s most important institutions (the IMF), and in those organisations that govern global trade (WTO). The US economy is balanced and sustainable, in contrast to Russia and Iran, which are largely tied to fuel production, and China, which depends on manufacturing exports.

Trying to defeat

From RAND’s POV, the beginning of the Ukrainian crisis and US and European sanctions, were too weak to bring down the Russian economy, and in fact only strengthened the internal political position of Putin. An alternative approach might be linked to the fact that the right to impose sanctions, “above the threshold of pain,” and then to gradually phase it out in exchange for concessions, will result in a primary economic shock and the problems will weaken political support for the regime and limit its military capabilities. RAND analysts believe that it would be better to declare, Russian sanctions, to the maximum, immediately after the annexation of Crimea. With the use of US’ “financial” weapons, intended to hit the political support of the Russian government population.

According to experts, institutionally, the G7 is an effective multilateral enforcement mechanism, as member states are the “home” of the majority of large multinational banks. In addition, the use of US financial sanctions requires international consensus and participation, as in the case of, for example, with economic restrictions under UN auspices.
RAND Experts call for Washington and its allies to join forces and improve the technology to track assets and cash flows, as well as the need to carry out isolation for enemy states and banks. G7 and Switzerland should endorse this strategy.

Be ready

From the point of view of “hard power” Russia has demonstrated that it is a part of world politics, and that it can defend its national interests, as was the case in 2008, and in the protection of South Ossetia in 2014, while ensuring a peaceful merger of Crimea, at the end of 2015, in the RF. And with the support of the legitimate government of Syria it continues the fight against extremists.

The use of its “soft power”, is more difficult: its not assembled, the system has an ideological orientation, mission, and it justifies foreign policy. Internally Russia displays components that seem to be there, but not everything is solved using manipulative communication technologies. Tools of influence (with the exception of the media as Russia Today), are deprived of the creative part, and do not have adequate resource provisions. Official bodies and NGOs as agents of the “force” were until recently preferred to explore the available scarce resources without any significant practical results. That is the Russian “force coercion” that can be realized only in the media and cyberspace.

This is an obvious and simple conclusion. Military means can not be used against Russia – because it will guarantee an unacceptable destruction in case of a global war and this will result in an important publicity and economic loss in the case of a local conflict. US does not want to engage in that type of conflict, but its approach is, to defeat Russia from a distance, preferring to let all the dirty work be done by vassal states. But the main goal remains unchanged – to weaken and get inside Russia. That is why Russia should seriously think about responding it in kind – by an asymmetric warfare, this nullifies the offensive potential of all the three forces.

Anton Dozhdikov, PhD in Political Science

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