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UNITED STATES: Wars & Military Interventions it’s Manifest Destiny


Paper No. 5377                                                         Dated 25-Jan-2013

By Dr. Subhash Kapila

“We the people, still believe in enduring security and lasting peace do not require perpetual war”

“We will defend our people and uphold our values through strength of arms and rule of law. We will show the courage to try and resolve our differences with other nations peacefully, not because we are naïve about the dangers we face, but because engagement can more durably lift suspicion and fear”--------President Obama’s Inaugural Speech for his second term. January 2013

President Obama’s words may be stirring ones and apt for an Inaugural Ceremony Speech  but they hardly measure up with the strategic realities that the United States is engulfed in as the sole superpower in the world of strategic uncertainties that prevail in 2013. The United States is a prisoner of its own destiny as the only global superpower with global strategic interests to defend.

Power does not come cheap and especially global strategic predominance. The international system in the second decade of the 21st Century and the emerging global security landscape coupled with diffusion of power pose grave challenges to United States global leadership. If the United States yearns for enduring security and lasting peace then America can only achieve it through the strength of its arms or a show of them and a willingness to use them. The alternative for the United States is to opt for isolationism and abdicate its global leadership.

 As an aside one could say that in this assertion lie lessons for India also in case it wishes to be a regional power and a global player.

Wars and military interventions have emerged as a part of United States’ Manifest Destiny ever since the turn of the 19th Century when the United States surged upwards on the strategic trajectory towards great power status. Isolationism and retreating behind Fortress America were spasmodic impulses which could not be sustained for an enduring period.

The United States by its strategic policies or lack of strategic policies seemed to be endlessly drawn into wars and military interventions across the globe to ensure that Continental USA was kept safe and secure. It managed to do so until 9/11 came along and broke the myth of the invincibility of Fortress America flanked by the Atlantic and Pacific Oceans.

President Obama may have been pondering over the Afghanistan and Iraq military interventions by the United States and prolonged ones at that and the drawdown of forces from there. But then can it be forgotten that US military interventions in Afghanistan and Iraq were provoked directly and indirectly by the diabolical plot to bring the United States to its knees. 9/11 was also brought about by United States permissive policies in not restraining a strategically delinquent Pakistan and its state-sponsored terrorism fuelled by American allies.

In my opinion, Afghanistan military intervention was a “war of necessity” whereas the US military intervention in Iraq in 2003 was a “war of choice” which was avoidable in the absence of concrete evidence on Iraqi WMDs. Nevertheless, the significant fact is that whichever way one looks at it the fact is that both US military interventions necessarily arose from US strategic uncertainties and perceptions that in both cases if not addressed militarily, inherent was direct dangers to US security.

President Bush Sr. soon after the disintegration of the USSR spoke stirringly of the globe reaping a “peace dividend” and the emergence of a New World Order. Two years before that the United States had disentangled itself from its decade long first military intervention in Afghanistan against USSR military occupation in that country.

 In the decade of the 1990s when the United States could have had a long breather from perpetual wars, one found the United States involved in its Gulf War I and thereafter in the military intervention along with NATO in the former Yugoslavia from where neither terrorism flowed neither WMDs existed. Significantly, in the latter case, this was again a “war of choice” spurred by the strategic desire that the last vestiges of Russia’s Slavic hold in Europe should be liquidated and more curiously under pressure from Islamic countries. In neither case there existed any direct threat to the safety and security of the United States or its citizens.

The Afghanistan military intervention in December 2001 as a riposte for 9/11 was justifiable as a “war of necessity” but then why the diversion midway for the US military intervention in Iraq where specious evidence was being “manufactured” on Iraqi WMDs to justify the US military intervention in that country? Iraq military intervention was a “war of choice” and the choice was avoidable which regrettably led to the military downsizing of the US military effort in Afghanistan and prolonging the war there with unsettling of the stability of the South Asia region as a whole till today.

The point that is being made above is that the United States has a propensity to generate military conflict and before seeing it through in a decisive culminating success, it veers off into other conflict trajectories and ending in a state of perpetual conflict.

President Obama’s assertion that enduring security and lasting peace does not require perpetual war is not a sustainable proposition for the United States. Besides the historical pattern of US wars and military interventions across the globe and the US mixing up its “wars of necessity” with “wars of choice” there is the other critical issue of the United States sitting at the pinnacle of global power calculus and its imperatives of maintaining its global strategic predominance. Inherent in this status and the costs of maintaining it, is the inevitability of war and military interventions in which the United States will willy- nilly be drawn into.

President Obama as he enters his second presidential term in 2013 has a plate full of strategic and military challenges staring at his table which will not allow him to “peacefully ensure” enduring security and lasting peace, a yearning or a proposition made in his Inaugural Address for his second term. The major security and military challenges that he has to steer through range from Afghanistan, Middle East turbulence, Iran’s nuclear weapons, Al Qaeda resurfacing in Northern Africa and to China’s military brinkmanship and military aggressiveness in the Asia Pacific.

Afghanistan cannot be militarily abandoned by the United States as it is the strategic pivot on which rests United States embedment in Central Asia and as a counterweight to enlargement of Russian and  Chinese strategic presence in the region. Military abandonment of Afghanistan by the United States would in its wake not only lead to Taliban re-control over Afghanistan but as a collateral damage could also include a similar Talibanistaion of Pakistan and the falling of the Pakistan Army nuclear weapons arsenal into the hands of Islamist jihadis. Ignored in strategic analysis is that Talibanisation of Pakistan will not be spearheaded by the Pakistani Taliban but by Talibanised groups within the Pakistan Army.

As 2014 approaches the portents available both in Afghanistan and Pakistan point to increased military turbulence in these two countries generated both by domestic dynamics and external dynamics. Pakistan seems already tempted to stir up trouble on its borders with India to be used as a bargaining chip with the United Sates in the ensuing military flux in South Asia.

In the ensuing security situation that is likely to unravel in Afghanistan and Pakistan, the United States may have no choice but for a military intervention against Pakistan itself both to stop Pakistan Army double-timing the United States in Afghanistan and to secure Pakistan Army nukes.

Middle East turbulence is impacting the United States and generating negative responses in the Syrian domestic conflict. The United States in its eagerness to bring about a regime change is heading towards a military solution rather than a political solution of the domestic conflict. One would not be surprised if the United States would adopt the destabilising path of a swift military intervention along with its NATO allies. Here again it would not be a “war of necessity” but a “war of choice”.

Iran is another example where the United States may be forced soon into a “war of choice “rather than a “war of necessity”. If the United Sates could make India live with a nuclearized Pakistan there is no reason why the United States cannot make its Middle East allies live with a nuclearized Iran. And why the US inaction against North Korea?

The United States would require fateful decisions to be made in relation to the nipping in the bud the resurgence of Al Qaeda in Northern Africa and the Middle East.

In the Asia Pacific lies the biggest strategic and military challenge for the United States. The not so peaceful military rise of China is not only a direct challenge to United States global strategic leadership but also to the security and stability of American Allies in the region. China has all the attributes of a global power in abundance and has been biding its time to assert that power. President Obama has already bitten the bullet to confront that possibility by the US strategic pivot to Asia Pacific which in essence is a containment strategy aimed at China.

Implicit in this strategy is a long drawn out “Cold War” between the United States and China which promises to be more intense in strategic brinkmanship than the earlier Cold War between the West and the Soviet Union and its allies. Spill-overs in terms of short limited wars or military interventions or military confrontations cannot be ruled out.

The other major point made above by President Obama is that the United States would not shirk to defend the American people and American values through strength of arms and rule of law. This assertion declaratory in nature makes it clear the sequence that the United States would adopt. In any case no country in the world including the United States itself has bothered about international law and conventions when it comes to upholding American security interests.

Defence of the American people and defence of American values are far too wide terms which can imperially be stretched and overstretched by the United States to justify its wars and military interventions. Most of these would fall into the pattern of “wars of choice”.

In view of the foregoing discussion it should be fairly evident by now that “enduring security” and ‘lasting peace” are a luxury which the United States can ill-afford or would be inclined to opt for. Opting for the latter course would entail conceding United States global strategic primacy and predominance. Wars and military interventions seem to be a part of United States Manifest Destiny as long as it wishes to uphold its status as the singular global superpower.