You can have a very strong economic and scientific community with a strong and credible military deterrence to invasion, or you can have a globe encircling military force that will force other countries and cultures to constantly confront you. Take your pick, it can’t and won’t be both!
by Jack JC /My Catbird Seat
I have been compelled to address Hillary Clinton’s recent speech from a historical socio-political viewpoint.
Her comment; “Today, our foreign and economic relations remain indivisible. Only now, our great challenge is not deterring any single military foe, but advancing our global leadership at a time when power is more often measured and exercised in economic terms.” and of course Gelb’s comment “That point has been obvious to most leaders around the world for 20 years now, since the end of the Cold War.”
Honestly, this has been known since about 700BC. If either Gelb or Clinton had read Sun Tzu and understood his works they would know that there are 5 basic types of empire, and that to succeed as an empire you do not need the largest army – only the second largest. They would also have known that the main purpose of an army is to ensure the continued flow of commerce! This article will present a brief dissertation on the basic forms of Empire, their historical antecedents and some examples. You may substitute the word ‘country’ for empire at any time, but be aware that often a country or empires nature will be composed of a mix of the five basic types, thus few empires are an exact match for any of these. Nonetheless, in each country or empire, there will be one dominant persona that determines its’ primary nature.
We will first deal with primarily Military Empires that use force of arms to maintain hegemony over a territory. In general terms they tend to be the shortest lived empires as oppressed peoples losing family members to foreign soldiers tend to revolt on a fairly regular basis.
Probably the best classic examples of this would be Timur, whose empire lasted from 1336 to 1405AD, and Alexander the Great, 356 to 323BC.
In my article ‘Manifest Destiny to PNAC’I assert that the USA is primarily a military empire, and has been since it’s founding. One of the greatest problems such an empire has is the volume of wealth required to maintain operations far from it’s borders and ‘The Art of War’ contains almost an entire section on the supply requirements, taxation required and the effects on the populace. Remarkably, a huge army beggars the peasants who are the economic lifeblood of a country, and this was projected in 700BC; today, you may observe these effects in modern USA, or even Imperial Britain (Jack London, People of the Abyss). The second effect that a military empire produces is fear in competitor nations – leading to border conflicts, large standing opposing armies, diplomatic and intelligence conflicts. Should the principal empire start into decline, the closest rival will often be attacked, and the winner is number three in line as number one and two weaken each other. The article ‘Stages of Civilization’ addresses this trend. However, very few empires are pure ‘military empires’, and the USA is no exception.
There are also economic and scientific aspects to the USA but these are secondary roles to the military which has been used to drive these, as Smedley Butler pegged so many years ago.
Economic Empires use far flung and powerful trade routes to build and maintain their influence. They are typically long lived, and resilient as all peoples along the routes benefit financially in some form, either in the receipt of much needed goods or as waypoints for trade caravans. Ghenghis Khan, primarily a military emperor, was unable to conquer the Southern Song Chinese Empire because of the power of their trade network within the South China Sea. With the wealth available to the Song, they could send army after army into the field, and had very steadfast defenders. It took his nephew Kublai Khan 20 years of solid fighting to finally conquer the Song – and to do so he had to employ new siege engines from Middle East countries that had extended range over the Chinese models. An excellent source of detailed information on this war can be read in John Man’s book Kublai Khan. For those who prefer to read on line, the following link provides very basic, and to me completely unsatisfactory, information. http://www.warriortours.com/intro/history/song/southern.htm
The British Empire in most of it’s guises was primarily an Economic Empire. As a nation poor in most resources, Britain required raw materials, which required secure trade routes and supply areas.
Under threat of attack from hostile Papal led nations like France and Spain, Britain was forced to develop a strong navy to defend the channel, and protect the trade routes. This strong navy led to early military expansionism but mostly to ensure raw materials and provide a market for finished goods. By using skillful diplomacy and banking practices the British government managed to play off local warlords in India, China, Pakistan, the Middle East, and Africa while colonizing North America, Australia, and New Zealand. The relatively small British Army was bolstered by native levies who received sufficient economic benefit that they would fight for the British Crown, Tecumseh for example.
For further confirmation of this statement, I recommend a review of the mandate of the Hudson’s Bay Company, and East India Company. Although I would place the British Empire as primarily Economic in nature, I would suggest that their secondary aspects are military, followed by scientific (they were a primary source of the Industrial Revolution).
I have not managed to find any particular example of a purely or even primarily Scientific Empire but perhaps the best example I can provide is the Roman siege of Syracuse, where Archimedes abilities were allegedly put to good use.
There is precedent for a scientific invention driving a military expansion, such as the discovery of bronze or iron weapons. The Hittites, a bronze age people, are thought to have been one of the very first to smelt iron and so rose to become an empire.
Usually however, Scientific Empires will be a secondary or support aspect. This could be considered the third most important aspect of the USA as an Imperial power. Of course, with an ascending power comes the ability to peddle it’s dogma.
A good espousing of the strength of Indian culture was given by Lord McCauley in his speech to the British Parliament, Feb 2, 1835:
“I have travelled across the length and breadth of India and I have not seen one person who is a beggar, who is a thief. Such wealth I have seen in this country, such high moral values, people of such calibre, that I do not think we would ever conquer this country, unless we break the very backbone of this nation, which is her spiritual and cultural heritage, and, therefore, I propose that we replace her old and ancient education system, her culture, for if the Indians think that all that is foreign and English is good and greater than their own, they will lose their self-esteem, their native self-culture and they will become what we want them, a truly dominated nation”.
The underpinnings of Indian society and culture start in the Indus valley in roughly 3000 BC. Despite multiple invasion attempts, the occasional conquering, and a massive attempt to displace the culture by British influence, the ancient underlying precepts exist. Despite India’s resurgence in the scientific and military areas we can see that plainly their Cultural Identity is primary driver of their society.
China is yet another primarily Cultural Empire. It is taught in schools that Chinese culture dates from about 2500 BC with the rise of the Xia Dynasty (some place this date at 2070 BC). This history is again being questioned due to recent archeological discoveries. About five years ago an announcement was made regarding the discovery of proto-Chinese writing on a rock face that was detritus dated to about 6,000 BC. Another recent find has Chinese archeologists looking for answers when three tombs were opened and advanced bronze working was found, in tombs that predated the Xia by 500 years! Nonetheless, despite all the warring for power and control, 56 different ethnic groups that make up ‘China’, and the one time in Chinese history that a completely alien society was able to gain control, Chinese society remains uniquely Chinese. During the Mongol rule (Yuan dynasty), Chinese culture went underground in paintings and writings, waiting for the apt moment to drive out the Mongols after they weakened.
Attempts to conquer by the western powers started in 1830 and were finally squashed in the 1950?s by the final success of Mao Zhedong – why the western powers vilify the fellow. By studying Chinese history we could conclude that although China is primarily a Cultural Empire, the secondary aspects are Economic followed by Military. However, one of the pillars of Chinese culture are the philosophical or religious teachings of Lao Tzu, and Confucious.
Religious Empires can live for long periods but usually stifle creativity as dogma replaces inventive and adaptive thought. Probably the best example of a Religious Empire is Catholicism. For generations this ancient authority has created and broken kings, emperors, continents, countries and the reason I single out the Catholic religion is for the authority wielded by one figure, the Pope. Islam has it’s authority figures, as do the Protestant religions, but in no other religion does a single person have the reach and authority across the globe that the Pope has. Some long tough slogging here for reading, but a good link nonetheless: http://history-world.org/a_history_of_the_catholic_church.htm
Secondary aspects to the Religious Empire would normally be Economic, and Cultural. The Catholic Church is alleged to be the most wealthy organization in the world.
So when Clinton says:
“A strong economy has been a quiet pillar of American power in the world. It gives us the leverage we need to exert influence and advance our interests. It gives other countries confidence in our leadership and a greater stake in partnering with us.”
what she fails to recognize is that although the US policies that push military bases and interventionism require a strong economy, the more US military pushes across the globe, the more economic power is required and it’s a low order exponential or geometric progression - Sun Tzu warns of this in “The Art of War”. Other nations that see themselves slowly being encircled by the USA (Russia and China) will ensure that the finances will not be available to the USA to complete this, leading to a collapse of the US economy and possibly society. This is the second time both these countries have faced this attempt: Russia during the Great Game with Britain, and China during the Opium Wars – they remember.
“This should compel every last foreign-policy expert and political leader to face the new 21st-century reality—that gross domestic product matters more than military might. And as Hillary has been trying to do for some time now, we have to rethink and center U.S. foreign policy and diplomacy on economics. Sure, we have to remain first and above all others in military power, but the main business of international affairs will be conducted on this new and complicated economic plane. Secretary of State Clinton is to be congratulated for pointing the Washington blind to where they must walk to protect and advance U.S. Interests.”
Gross Domestic Product has always mattered more than military might! With a good GDP a country can always buy and equip the best army in the world and a small dedicated army can punch well above its’ weight without deploying crippling taxes on the citizens. Furthermore, with a good GDP all the scientific advances are there to be bought, and paid for. This is not a 21st Century development – it’s as old as dirt! If your rival had a bigger army, and knew that attacking you would destroy his powerful army even though he may win, would he attack you? Probably not unless his force was overwhelmingly large.
To “ remain first and above all others in military power” is the antithesis to the point the author was making. You can have a very strong economic and scientific community with a strong and credible military deterrence to invasion, or you can have a globe encircling military force that will force other countries and cultures to constantly confront you. Take your pick, it can’t and won’t be both!
ABOUT THE AUTHOR: Jack JC, is a reserve Officer in a NATO aligned country, he has a Bachelors Degree in Mechanical Engineering and an interest in the strategic effects history and culture bring to present geo-political affairs. As an international travelor he has friends and family serving in both NATO and non-NATO countries and would prefer that his friends and family in both camps not kill each other. He has operated at senior corporate levels of management, and has developed equipment for both civilian and military use.