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Nuestra finalidad es promover el conocimiento y el debate de temas vinculados con el arte y la ciencia militar. La elección de los artículos busca reflejar todas las opiniones. Al margen de su atribución ideológica. A los efectos de promover el pensamiento crítico de los lectores.

Our maxim: “understanding before action”
Our purpose is to encourage the knowledge and the debate of issues connected with art and military science. Selection of articles attempts to reflect different opinions. Beyond any ideological ascription. In order to impulse critical thought amongst our readers.

martes, 31 de enero de 2017


COMENTARIO: Cuando cursé mi postgardo en Defensa en los EEUU por el 2002, nunca imaginé que Donald Trump pudiera ser presidente. Pero, creo que con este trabajo intuí el contexto en el que uno surgiría.

by Carlos Pissolito


“The US today will be an even more reluctant imperialist. But a new imperial moment has arrived...”

Sebatian Mallaby, A Humanitarian Empire. 2002.

The preaching of fervent navalists like Captain A.T. Mahan was what brought
 the idea of sea power as the natural guardian of that political isolation.
Jorge Luis Borges was well known not only because he was at once the creator of the first major renovation of the American short story since Poe and the inspirer of the modern Latin American novel. Also, he was famous because of his conservative weltanschauung and political prophecies. For instance, in his 1971 book, “The Book of Sand”, Borges showed concern about the destiny of the Western civilization. “Now things are going badly...” an imaginary converser acknowledges to him in the first short story of the book. “Russia is taking over the world...” he adds in a clear reference to those days of the Cold War. “Yes, things are going badly...” Borges agrees; but after a brief pause he replies, “America, hampered by the superstition of democracy, can't make up its mind to become an empire” . Beyond Borges’ imaginary tale, today the United States stands unchallenged as a global power, projecting its cultural values, economics and military strength around the world. Nowadays, the Pax Americana is a reality as was the Pax Romana many centuries ago.

Facing Borges' prophecy there are two extreme possible postures based both on contradictory ideological assumptions. The positive posture, in Abraham Lincoln's thought, assumes the United Stated is the world's last best hope, a Promised Land, a New Israel, set apart for liberty under God. That version has always held that the US has behaved abroad better than European ancient monarchies or modern dictatorships. From Washington's Farewell Address and the Monroe Doctrine to Woodrow Wilson's Fourteen Points, from Franklin Roosevelt's Atlantic Charter to the United Nations, the Marshal Plan, and the ultimate collapse of the Soviet Union, the US has stayed on the side of freedom and progress. On the contrary, the negative version suggests that US foreign policy is based on the exploitation of its military and economic superiority. According to that vision, firstly the US has practiced “genocide” on Indians in order to steal their lands; then, exercised “ethnic cleansing” against Mexicans and Filipinos; and finally, seized overseas colonies in an imperialist run. This variant considers that US isolationism enabled Hitler to wreak havoc in Europe, while its anti-Japanese racism helped to provoke Pearl Harbor. Also, US economic imperialism produced the Cold War; while its militarism caused the nuclear arms race and the Vietnam War.

The subject of this essay is to reach a conclusion about the evolution of the formulation of the successive national strategies in relation to the concepts of Republic and Empire along the US political culture.  In order to solve such difficult issues, our focus will be placed on three different moment of US history, when extreme circumstances demanded a clear US strategic response. Before and after our brief but relevant historical journey we shall make two theoretical stop-overs: the first, just to define the theoretical concepts of Republic and Empire; and the second to extrude the conclusion of the trip.

As an Argentinean, I can not be a believer of the so-called US Exceptionalism which expressed the positive side of Borges prophecy; neither could I consider the US as a great Satan as leftists or Islamic fundamentalists would have it. As a realist I ascribe a certain validity to the dictum of Thucydides, “The strong do what they have the power to do and the weak accept what they have to accept” . Furthermore, I am compelled to try to understand the phenomenon, looking for causes and effects, means and goals. From my point of view; both faith and ideology are a useful walking stick to promote adhesion to ideas or ideals, but a dangerous tool when used to understand political reality. Without the faith of the believer and the fanatism of the ideologist, which tools do I have in order to determine the status and the projection of an US Empire? Again, I will ask for the help of the Classic, who has already said, “If you want to know why people are fighting a war, ask them and they will tell you.”

Walter Mc Dougall theorized in his book “Promised Land, Crusader State” that, US administrations in relation to foreign affairs and strategy normally are immersed in a certain level of disorder.  “It merely reveled anew the confusion Americans have usually displayed about foreign policy except when 'clear present danger' loomed’’ .  He specifies that such dangers have been rare in US History; the only analogies were the British burning of the White House and the Capitol in 1814 and the Japanese attack on Pearl Harbor in 1941. Today, we can add a third event: the catastrophic terrorist attack against the World Trade Center and the Pentagon on September 11, 2001. Undesirable as they were, these events have one thing in common: they prepare the way for new US grand strategies by showing that the old ones have failed.

Following the Classics’ advice, we shall ask the presidents of the US, who have the responsibility and the vision to develop new strategies, why the US fought and is fighting now.


1. An initial theoretical approach

Both, republic and empire are old and vast political concepts. The etymology  of the former word comes from the Latin word respublica and means: public thing.  In modern political discourse, it means a government in which power resides in a body of citizens entitled to vote and it is exercised by elected officers. In fact, these elected officers indicate a government directed by a chief of state who is not a monarch and who is usually a president. On the other hand the word empire originated in Rome and means a large group of states under a single authority, normally directed by one person, called emperor . Contrarily to the concept of republic, the meaning of which has been generally accepted, the notion of empire has suffered a more complex process. As James Muldoon explains in his book “Empire and Order, The Concept of Empire”, since the Middle Ages there has not been just one idea of empire but several .  For instance, in the medieval world, according to this view, the ideal of a universal empire (ecclesiastical or secular) coexisted with a reality of extreme political fragmentation. In contrast, the early modern political world after the Westphalia Treaty witnessed the emergence of separate states with effective centralized governments but without pretensions to attaining universal jurisdiction.

Despite the argument of Muldoon's book, that contrast between empire and republic is too simplistic; it is necessary to establish a clear distinction between both concepts in order to proceed with this essay.  The ideas related to their external differences, which have been changing throughout history, should be discarded. For instance, the form of the term republic as an elected government opposing the concept of empire governed by hereditary or monarchical rule is not applicable. More relevant is the concept of sovereignty since it is related to the aim of the state. According to Thomas Hobbes, sovereignty means a domestic order with a single hierarchy of authority. A more contemporary concept of sovereignty has been linked to the idea that states are autonomous and independent from each other. According to with this principle, the members of a polity are free to choose their own form of government, within their own boundaries. A necessary corollary of this claim is the doctrine of nonintervention: One state does not have a right to intervene in the internal affairs of another.

Historically, republics, as separate and equal states, normally do not pretend to exert their power beyond their own jurisdiction; on the contrary, the political justification for empires has been founded in their claims of interests and affairs beyond that limit . Therefore, concerning the inherent freedom of selecting their own government, republican authorities have been more inclined to recognize in others states such rights than imperial powers. For instance, we can remember the Roman Empire taking over the barbarian tribes around the Mediterranean and turning it into the so-called Mare Nostrum; or the Spanish Conquistadores converting American tribes to Christianity, just to quote a few examples of imperial sovereignty.

2. The historical approach

An interesting heritage of Periclean Athens is that nations are now expected to discuss and publish their grand strategies before following them. This practice, which would have shocked Bismarck and Richelieu amongst other realists, was uncommon in the US history until the Nixon Administration, when statements of national security strategy became common. Their use became mandatory with the Goldwater-Nichols Department of Defense Reorganization Act of 1986, which required the President to report to Congress on national security strategy .  Thanks to said Act, we have a perfect knowledge of the current US grand strategy, at least in its public outlook, as it was published on September 2002. Moving back on time, we possess the “top secret”  Objectives and Programs for National Security reported by the National Security Council to President Harry S. Truman’s on April 14, 1950, which are considered the masterpiece of the new strategy for that period. And finally, we are familiar with the First and Second inaugural addresses of President James Monroe, delivered on March 4, 1817 and 1821, after the British attack on Washington DC.

a.  Monroe: the Doctrine of the Isolated Republic.

The initial strategic doctrine of the US was heavily modeled by President Washington maxim: Put not your trust in allies, especially those that are stronger than you. That doctrine understood that neutrality was the more realistic course for the new nation. Entangling alliances would only invite corruption at home and danger abroad. Only neutrality may serve independence and national prosperity.  As the first president expressed, the great rule of conduct for the US in regard to foreign nations, “… is in extending our commercial relations to have with them as little political connection as possible.”  Before the war against the British, other presidents, as James Madison, reaffirmed that concept, “Under the benign influence of our republican institutions, and the maintenance of peace with all nations whilst so many of them were engaged in bloody and wasteful wars, the fruits of a just policy were enjoyed in an natural unrivaled growth of our faculties and resources”.

During the end of the eighteenth century, in order to translate this principle into a military provision, the Nationalists (who become known as Federalists) tried to establish an agency to administrate military affairs, implement its militia responsibilities and decide whether to raise a regular army and create a navy.  However, the army and the navy became a political issue when the idea frightened Republicans –the opposition party- who saw in a big military apparatus a danger for democratic institutions. In consequence, the Federalist failed to establish a well-regulated militia and military academies and a real navy.  Despite these facts, the US was able to enforce strict isolation deterring Europeans from challenging it on its own continent due to its remoteness and size. Nevertheless, at the beginning of the nineteen century, British naval power became a threat to the US international commerce and to the US soil itself. In response to deteriorating relations with England the Jefferson administration initiated a system of coastal fortifications and a naval program based on small gunboats rather than warships. Despite the War of 1812, which was a revelation to the Republican administration who failed to mobilize forces and preserve the US soil against direct aggression, after the war it reaffirmed its vision of moderate preparedness by building upon and refining the existing military institutions.

Political isolation was the natural and more realistic reaction in defense of a distant but powerful Europe. Although the doctrine of Isolation was implicit in Paine's pamphlet, President James Monroe was the man the responsible for making it explicit. “Our distance from Europe and the just, moderate, and pacific policy of our Government may form some security against these dangers, but they ought to be anticipated and guarded against” explains President Monroe in his First Inaugural Address, but who adds, maybe following the same Jeffersonian scare, that “Our land and naval forces should be moderate, but adequate to the necessary purposes” .  The preaching of fervent navalists like Captain A.T. Mahan was what brought the idea of sea power as the natural guardian of that political isolation.
According to Walter McDougall the US System we associate with Monroe was composed of three principles:  “No new colonization, no transfer of existing colonies, and no reimposition of colonial rule.”   The Monrovian principles were conceived for protecting the US vital interest and they were not to involve the Americas as a whole.  The strategic goal of the US at that time was to keep the imperial powers of Europe out, preventing them from extending their balance-of-power system to North America's waters and rimlands.

John Tierney Jr. was undoubtedly correct when he wrote that, “The Monroe Doctrine, despite the symbolic value attached to it, had little, if any immediate concrete effect in the hemisphere” . The history evidence shows it was confined to preserve only US interest basically against British intrusion. For instance, in 1831 the USS warship Lexington destroyed an Argentine settlement on the Malvinas Island (East Falkland) in reprisal for the arrest of three U.S. ships that had been illegally hunting seals in the area by the Argentine authorities. Later, on, in 1833, fearing that the US seize the islands, the British invaded them, forcefully deposed Argentinean governor Louis Vernet and sent him and his personnel back to the mainland. Moreover, I agree with McDougall when he says that, the further US expansionism was not identical to the policy of the Monroe Doctrine but a corollary of it”.

b. Truman: the Doctrine of the Cooperative Republic.

The Isolated Republic formally endured for more than a century and a half until President Harry Truman pronounced his famous address announcing that Greece and Turkey deserved the attention of the US.  “If we (US) falter in our leadership, we may endanger the peace of the world” , proclaimed Truman contradicting the Washingtonian principles of the early republic. What did Administration, Congress and public opinion persuade to abandon isolation and establish a huge military apparatus, a permanent alliance with Europe and assume the leadership of the so-called Free World? Despite, previous efforts by President Wilson to internationalize US vital interest after the Great War, the answer to the previous questions acknowledged two moments: the Japanese attack against Pearl Harbor on the second year of World War II and the perception of the Soviet Union as an increasing danger after that war. The first of these events destroyed the myth of the inviolability of the US soil and the second projected a deeper threat, not only to its peripherical limits but against its core. Both demolished the geopolitical assumption that the remoteness and size of the US warranted sufficiently the doctrine of Isolation.

While the grand strategy of the US, after operation Kido Butai lead by Vice Admiral Chuichi Nagumo that apparently crippled U.S. naval power in the Pacific, was more or less linear and almost automatic, the answer to the Soviet threat was not. In fact, the National Security Council reported four courses of action to the President after his orientation on January 31, 1950. The report submitted by the Council two months and a half later which considered the background of the world crisis, the nature, the objectives and the means of the conflict, the Soviet intentions and capabilities and the military evaluation of the atomic risk, proposed four courses of action.  Specifically they were: (1) To continue the current policies of containing the Soviet Union, (2) To return to the traditional US isolation, (3) To launch a preventive nuclear attack against the URSS, and (4) As CA # 1, to contain the enemy, but only after a rapid build-up of political, economic, and military strength in the Free World.

The fourth course of action was selected stressing its “essentially defensive character”. From the operational point of view it was not implemented by force but by “dynamic steps to reduce the power and influence of the Kremlin inside the Soviet Union and the areas under its control… In others words, it would be the current Soviet cold war technique used against the Soviet Union.”    These dynamic steps were the Marshal Plan for European economic recovery and the signature of the North Atlantic Treaty, establishing a defensive alliance with Western Europe, Turkey and Canada.

Both steps were apparently in violation of President Washington’s golden rule of the Isolated Republic. In any event, as James Warburg expressed, “We (the US) are willing to become citizens of the world, but only if the world becomes an extension of the United States.” . In the words of Walter McDougall, the Truman Doctrine was isolation turned inside out. While the new strategic doctrine rejected unilateral action and preventive war, it put its intention in the cooperating with the world states which support freedom and democracy.

On March 12, 1947, before a joint session of Congress, President Truman expressed his doctrine in these terms: “At the present moment in world history nearly every nation must choose between alternative ways of life. The choice is not a free one.” In consonance, the doctrine defined the conflict as one between the alliance of nations who adhere to Free World values against those living within collective societies, where the individuals do not enjoy the privileges of political free choice.

c. Bush: the Doctrine of the Imperial Republic. 

The Cooperative Republic lasted around a half century, depending on which milestone you want to put the final point. It could have been the collapse of the Soviet Union in the late 80’ that left the US as the only superpower or the terrorist attacks on September 11, 2001 that triggered which many strategic current events. In addition to, the significance of both, I select the publication of the National Security Strategy on September 20, 2002, because it shows a clear political determination of the US to assume imperial powers.

In the following paragraph of the so-called Bush Doctrine, the document looks very similar to its predecessor, the Truman Doctrine

“The great struggles of the twentieth century between liberty and totalitarianism ended with a decisive victory for the forces of freedom and a single sustainable model for national success: freedom, democracy and free enterprise. In the 21st century, only nations that share a commitment to protecting basic human rights and guaranteeing political and economic freedom will be able to unleash the potential of their people and assure their future prosperity.”

What has changed? Basically, if you compare it with the Clinton Administration’s documents , the new doctrine introduces a totally new concept: the pre-emptive action; while, discarding the philosophies of arms control and changing the strategic goal for the military power. The pre-emptive action is explained as follows: “While the US will constantly strive to enlist the support of the international community, we will not hesitate to act alone, if necessary, to exercise our right of self-defense by acting pre-emptively against such terrorists” . After arguing that nonproliferation efforts have failed, it replaces them with the new concept of “counterproliferation”, saying that, “We (US) must deter and defend against the threat before it is unleashed” . In relation to the role of armed forces, the previous doctrine of fighting and wining major theater wars in concert with allies is replaced by the goal of global military supremacy, “Our forces will be strong enough to dissuade potential adversaries from pursuing a military build-up in hopes of surpassing, or equaling, the power of the US.”

Reactions to the Bush Doctrine have ranged from mild approbation to condemnation. Contrarily to the previous doctrines, we do not know what the final development will be. As a realist I believe its decisive achievements will only be judged by History, when most of its consequences have appeared. Nevertheless, future events, which do not exist yet, partially do in its antecedents; its means in the past and in the present. For that reasons the realist Machiavelli believes that, “Anyone wishing to see what is to be must consider what has been: all the things of this world in every era have their counterparts in ancient times.” Bearing these words in mind, I can make some estimation, which will be included in the conclusions.

3. The final theoretical approach:

The political reality of empires, as well as of many other political issues, can be found within the limits of the “utopian-realist controversy”. Therefore, there are two possible attitudes: one based on a realistic approach that wants to understand what thing were and are; and the another one, called Utopian, founded on what things should be.

“Realism is basically conservative, empirical and prudent, suspicious of idealistic principles, and respectful of the lesson of history” reasonably argue J. Dougherty and R. Pfaltzgraff.  Following the rules of the science of Herodotus we can agree that, empires have historically maintained peace and promoted prosperity for the simple reason that they have been, in a simple definition, “multiethnic conglomerates held by transactional organizational and cultural ties.”   Empires have normally ruled in difficult environments. In any historical circumstances where an empire has flourished it, is possible to find similar political conditions: the emerging of a unipolar power and difficulties in achieving a stable political order inside others states. The Roman, the Spanish and the British empires, just to mention a few, were created to provide pax as an indispensable political tool to keep their labor forces at work and make sedentary forms of living possible.

On the other hand, the utopian vision is based on the philosophical conceptions of the Enlightenment personified, in the international affairs field, by Emmanuel Kant and his theory of Perpetual Peace which believes mankind as perfectible, or at least capable of significant improvement.  A most popular utopian in US history was President Woodrow Wilson, who questioned the justification for empires invoking the principle of national self-determination. Furthermore, he proclaimed the new moral Age of Nations to replace the immoral old Age of Empires, and used his power as President of the US to dismember the Austro-Hungarian and the Ottoman Empires after the Great War. The instrument for achieving his project was the League of Nations, a multinational organization based on the idea of universal moralism, a theory that treats states as persons, under the presumption of an essential harmony of interest between these equal world “citizens”.

Wilsonian universal utopianism survived, not only intellectual refutation, as E.H. Carr’s famous book, The Twenty Year’s Crisis published in 1939, but also total political failure. In any event, his ideal for a universal institution was partially resurrected after World Word II with the formation of the United Nations. That time, the idea of keeping collective security with violators being disciplined by sanctions, worked –at least for a while- better . The reason; some realistic measures, as the creation of the Security Council as primus inter pares group and the inclusion of the possibility of international law enforcement, introduced by President Franklin D. Roosevelt and other non-utopian politicians in the constitution of the new organization.


“Magnanimity in politics is not seldom the truest wisdom; and a great empire and little minds go ill together.”

Edmund Burke, On Conciliation with America (1775).

At the end of the essay the argument of Muldoon's book that contrast between empire and republic is too simplistic is still present. Nevertheless, some conclusions can be extracted:

First, the concept of sovereignty has evolved from its original conception of the early Republic of George Washington to the nascent Empire of George Bush. The most obvious basis for that is that role the Armed Forces has escorted that evolution.  For instance, during the Isolated Republic the armed forces’ role was limited to secure the integrity of the continental territory of the US.  Later, the US international commerce was on focus of an ad hoc created “blue water” navy. But, since the US became a world power, its armed services have been called upon to defend US national interests on a wide scale in regions far away from its local soil. Specifically after the Second World Word, when the Red Army and its associates of the Warsaw Pact presented a challenged, as was estimated by the Administration of the Cooperative Republic that could only be faced through an articulated system of alliances. In conclusion, all of these transformations could not be done without the political support and the necessary change in the way that political power understood its sovereignty, or in others words: its responsibilities. And this understanding has obviously evolved evolution: from the concept of a republic, in the early days, to the current ideals of empire. At the present, the time of the Imperial Republic, the US may act alone if necessary. Moreover, the new concept of US sovereignty has become imperial, as President Bush recently said, “At this moment in history, if there is a world problem, we’re expected to deal with it” and added “It’s the price of power. It is the price of where the US stands”.

Secondly, the need for alliances and their function in the US foreign policy has dramatically changed as the US role and power moves from a post-revolutionary republic to a consolidated sole superpower. The pristine Washingtonian concept of avoiding entangling alliances has been replaced by a very flexible concept of “partnerships with former adversaries”  promoted by the latest National Security Strategy. But even more, the concept of the Cooperative Republic was based on the combination of a long-standing alliance with Europe and different ways of agreement with others regions of the world.    While the Isolated Republic denied the use of any alliances, the Cooperative Republic used them as its central strategy, and the Imperial Republic will use them –in extremis- and only if they are needed. Furthermore, it is predictable to say that the tendency, throughout time, will be to use them less due to consolidation of the US imperial powers.

Finally, the perception of the US power from the outside world has changed. In addition to the fact that attitude cannot be considered a matter of absolute validation for our thesis, it approaches an interesting point of view, because it originated from the outside the US.  Obviously, there have been some different opinions in the past, as Alexis de Tocqueville prophetical words in 1830, “The Americans are already able to make their flag respected; in a few years they will make it feared” ; or the recent, French voices, leading the way of European displeasure, who have denounced American Empire for its simplisme. But beyond, personal opinions or political prophecies, whether in favor or against the US destiny, there is a widespread consensus that the role of the US has recently changed in relation to the world.  We can quote numerous sources, but one example is enough. Philip S. Golub from the University of Paris has noted, in the internationally widely read “Le Monde Diplomatique” that,

“The aftermath of the terrorist attacks has revived imperialist ideology in the United States, rather than caused it to query its world role. Writers do not hesitate to draw parallels between their nation and ancient Rome, which they hold to be a model for world domination in the 21st century. For the first time since the 1890s, the naked display of force is backed by explicitly imperialist discourse.”

The American historian, Arthur Schlesinger Jr., has suggested that despite the "absence of international checks and balances" in this unipolar world, the United States would not "stroll too far down the perilous highway to hubris . . . No one nation is going to be able to assume the role of world arbitrator and policeman" . Furthermore, the respected voice of Charles William Maynes has stated that, "America is a country with imperial capabilities but without an imperial mind."   Despite the preceding opinions, realists believe that political power enjoys its own rules and demands, therefore, sooner or later the United States will have no other option than to keep safe walls around its imperial domains and like all ancient empires, will spend its remaining period of power, however long it lasts, haunted by a single thought: "How not to end, how not to die, how to prolong its era."

Washington DC, April 2002. 

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