Monday, June 3, 2019

Foundational Principles of Geopolitical Strategy

In an open post, several people suggested enhanced discussions of geopolitical strategies.  This blog is not a political blog and such a discussion walks the fine line between military matters and politics.  Nonetheless, geopolitical strategy is the basis from which military strategy is derived so such a discussion is not out of bounds.  Of course, geopolitical strategy is a subject that can easily encompass a book or series of books!  With that in mind, we need to break any discussion down into bite-size, post-size, chunks. 

What I’d like to address first is the theoretical foundation of a geopolitical strategy.  There are certain guiding principles that should enter into any rational discussion of geopolitical strategy.  Let’s examine them.

Principle #1 - Natural (God given) Rights.  This is the very foundation of our country - that we are blessed by our creator with certain rights that do not derive from any government.  In fact, the job of the government is to secure, respect, and protect those rights.  The same holds true for every person and every country in the world.  Those countries that have governments that do not protect and respect those rights are, by definition, evil and must, in the due course of history, be eliminated.

This leads us to directly recognize the second principle.

Principle #2 – Not all countries are equal.  There are good countries and there are bad countries.  This immediately establishes that there are behaviors which we, as a country, should aspire to and others which we should be avoiding.  We must hold other countries to these same standards of behavior.  This also immediately eliminates the misguided notion that all countries are equal and deserve to be treated on equal footing.  They are not all equal and they do not all deserve to be treated equally.

Recognizing this reality, we now need to understand why it matters.  It matters because there is an ideal world which we are striving for.  This leads us directly to the third principle.

Principle #3 – The ultimate goal is a cooperative, mutually beneficial, world community.  Those countries who will not abide by the community rules must be prevented from acting in, and negatively affecting, the rest of the world community.  This establishes our right to act against those countries.  A simple analogy is a neighborhood community that sees a criminal gang attempting to move in.  The community is striving for a peaceful, cooperative environment and the means to do so is by adhering to standards of behavior, both legal and moral (mainly moral;  the legal flows from the moral).  A criminal gang flouts those standards and, in so doing, degrades the effort and results of the community.  Therefore, the community has the right to reject the gang and act against them.   Similarly, countries that do not follow the rules and standards of the world community are, by definition, immature and/or evil and we have the right, indeed obligation, to act against them and correct their behavior.

The challenge is how to change an immature/evil country’s behavior and this is what a strategy does.  It provides the methodological blueprint for affecting that change.  This leads us to the fourth principle.

Principle #4 - Minimal time period of immaturity.  There is no need or requirement for the rest of the world to suffer while waiting for a country to mature.

The idea of not waiting around for a country to mature is incredibly important.  The world waited for Hitler and Germany to mature.  They never did and a world war resulted.  How many more people died because we, and the world, waited instead of acting?  We’ve waited for NKorea to mature and, as a result, we’ve spent the last several decades watching and allowing their citizens to suffer ruthless oppression, allowing NKorea to develop nuclear weapons and ballistic missiles, and tying up vast military resources on the Korea peninsula to guard against the various threats.  How many more NKorean people have suffered and died because we, and the world, have held off acting?  

The hard truth is that there are times when it is a mistake to try to avoid war.  Now, that's not to say we should leap straight to all out war at the first sign of a country performing some act that we find objectionable.  We should begin with politics, discussions, requests, warnings, and so on and then escalate, eventually, to more forceful actions such as sanctions, blockades, financial penalties, and so forth.  However, we must recognize when those actions are producing no benefits and then move to war, if necessary.  This is also where the Tomahawk diplomacy comes in (see, "The Daily Threat" for a bit more discussion of this concept).  

We don’t allow a child to occupy a co-equal place in society with adults.  Why?  Because they simply aren’t ready to make wise and responsible decisions.  When the child has sufficiently matured and demonstrated that maturity via a series of responsible actions (high school graduation, driver license, voting, job skill, paying taxes, etc.) then they are welcomed into society and are accorded the right to participate fully in society’s activities and benefits.  Some children never mature and wind up in jail where their societal rights are curtailed.  This is just common sense and we all instinctively understand that this is how a successful society must function.  Despite this common sense understanding we fail to apply it to the world community.  Instead, we accommodate and appease immature countries out of some misguided sense of equality.  The reality is that this isn’t equality, it’s moral cowardice.  For example, we’re afraid to call Iran the immature child that it is and correct it the way we should.  We’re afraid to identify China as the evil country that it is as it conducts illicit territorial seizures and ignores the rulings of tribunals established by treaties that it is a signatory to.  And so on.

With these few, simple principles well understood and firmly in hand, we can formulate a specific geopolitical strategy.  These principles give us our ultimate and short term goals, our justification for action, the definition of our relationships with other countries, and the imperative to act.  In fact, with these principles in mind, formulating a strategy becomes a fairly easy, straightforward task and the strategy should be fairly obvious to all.  The methods selected to achieve the strategy may be somewhat debatable but the fundamental principles eliminate most debate over the goals of the strategy itself.


  1. Spot on. Of course much of this might well be used--in fact was used--to justify colonialism. So what? A good percentage of the people colonized were better off under colonialism(particularly Anglo-American) than they were previously; in fact were better under colonialism than after colonialism ceased.

    1. How do you see any of this justifying colonialism?

      Maybe start by telling me what colonialism means as you're using it?

      There's nothing wrong with establishing colonies in unoccupied areas. There's a lot wrong with establishing colonies in occupied areas and nothing I've laid out would justify that other than the uncommon/unlikely case of a colonizing to prevent/eliminate an existing evil force.

      I suspect I'm not completely understanding you? Expand on it.

      We also need to be careful about applying today's thinking to the past. For example, in, say, the 1600's, the concept of God-given rights had yet to be widely 'discovered'. As another example, the thinking on slavery had yet to evolve. At the time, slavery was an economic tool and accepted. That doesn't make it right but it doesn't make it wrong AT THAT TIME.

      Just as a child slowly learns right from wrong as he grows (and commits some wrong acts along the way) so, too, has humanity grown and learned. Trying to apply today's understanding and standards to the past is a pointless rabbit hole of irrelevancy.

    2. Well now. I did say "might well be used", in particular referring to the "Not all countries are equal" theme and expansions thereon. The expression "Take up the white man's burden" (yeah, Kipling, but so what?) is pretty good shorthand for a perceived "Duty" for developed and civilized countries to guide lesser ones along to the paths of "righteousness and civilization" . I do not happen to agree with that concept, at least fully, but it has and does serve as rationale for colonialism of various degrees. I think judgements about "Right and wrong" tend to be (to put it mildly) highly subjective, though I heartily concur with the need to view historical actions in the light of contemporary knowledge and ethos. I ask a (almost) rhetorical question: "Would, say the people of Haiti --or most any sub Saharan African country-- be better off as is or as a colony of the United States?". That doesn't mean I think we should do that; but the question lingers.

    3. I fear you're missing a key point. You seem to be under the impression that what I've laid out demands that the US subjugate, colonize, or force other countries to become clones of the US. Apologies if I'm misinterpreting you.

      Nothing I've laid out precludes other countries from following their own paths, AS LONG AS THEY REMAIN POSITIVE CONTRIBUTORS TO GOOD AND BENEFICIAL INTERNATIONAL COMMUNITY. If they are good world neighbors, they can trade or not trade with the US, they can establish any type of government they wish, they can grant themselves any rights or restrictions on rights that they wish (as long as they don't violate the God-given rights of all people), they can practice any religion they wish, and so on.

      The US has no duty or obligation to 'guide' lesser nations although one would hope that our example would serve as a guide, IF ANOTHER COUNTRY WANTED TO EMULATE US.

      The US has no interest in, nor foundational imperative to, establish colonies. When was the last colony established by the US. We've outgrown that desire so I'm not sure where your focus on American colonization is coming from.

      Regarding judgements about right and wrong, they're very easy to make. Right and wrong is not grey - it's black and white. Only those who lack a moral compass see right and wrong as being shades of grey. 'Grey' is the excuse that moral cowards hide behind.

      Right and wrong are crystal clear. The implementation of that may sometimes be heartbreaking but the distinction is easy and clear.

      Those countries that lack a moral compass are inherently evil (China, Iran, NKorea, Russia as the better known examples) and must be eliminated in the due course of history since their existence is at odds with the human goal of a cooperative, mutually beneficial world society (Principle #3).

    4. "Well now. I did say "might well be used","

      And that would be an incorrect usage … a bastardization of the real meaning. Just as the Bible has been used, incorrectly, at times in history to justify wars so to would using what I've laid out to justify colonization be incorrect.

    5. My post was meant to be discursive not prescriptive. I thought I was pretty clear about not recommending that he US start colonizing anyone. I repeat my assertion that right and wrong are pretty much subjective. What is "Crystal clear" to you, and perhaps me, may not be so to a Venezuelan, Mongolian, Iraqi or eve3mn a German.

    6. "I thought I was pretty clear about not recommending that he US start colonizing anyone."

      Nope, didn't get that at all but now you've made it clear.

      "What is "Crystal clear" to you, and perhaps me, may not be so to a Venezuelan, Mongolian, Iraqi or eve3mn a German."

      If it's not clear then they have no moral compass.

    7. OK. However, based upon living in Italy for five years, not even all European moral compasses point to the same North as do ours.

    8. Then their moral compass is broken. You know, inside, what's right and what's wrong. If someone believes differently then they have no compass. It's really pretty simple.

      People may debate forms of government, degree of welfare, stop signs versus traffic circles, etc. but there is no debating right and wrong. Many people, whose compass is broken, try to rationalize wrongs into right but those of us with a true moral compass see that for the moral cowardice that it is.

      That's probably enough on this.

      Did you have a point about all this as it relates to the formulation of a geopolitical strategy?

    9. "That's probably enough on this."

      Okay, so you aren't interested in having a philosophical discussion on morality on this blog. Fair enough. I do, however, think you should explicitly acknowledge that these "foundational principles" are derived from moral absolutist principles, as evidenced by your comments. The primacy of moral absolutism versus moral relativism versus moral universalism is hardly a settled question in this nation and others.

    10. ""foundational principles" are derived from moral absolutist principles, "

      Absolutely! Thought I made that clear?

  2. Principle 2 variant, not all countries hold your values.
    The Chinese see the USA as promoter of chaos, where they prize social stasis. So in Chinese thinking we are the immature country.

    1. Then I would guess that they would likely have a different take on geopolitical strategy. Fortunately, we only have to worry about our own strategy.

      Now, are you simply noting a difference or are you suggesting that our principles should somehow be affected or impacted by another country's principles?

    2. Always a good idea to have an idea of the other fellows victory conditions, when formulating your strategy.

    3. True enough! So, how do you see China's view impacting our geopolitical strategy considerations?

    4. Praising social status is a woefully inefficient way for a society to operate. It promotes pretentious spending, greed, corruption.

  3. In general I agree with you in some things like maturity, but what I see is that USA never had enough maturity to judge over the rest of countries and that maturity is fading away faster each year


    1. Democracy is the worst form of government … except for all the rest.

      The US is the most immature country … except for all the rest.

      Maturity is not an end point. It's a never-ending process. We have matured since our founding and will continue to do so into the future. The US is the moral standard for the world. That doesn't mean we always measure up to our own standards - we often fall short - but at least we have standards and try to meet them. We are also one of the few countries that almost tears itself apart trying to self-discipline ourselves for our real or imagined shortcomings.

      The American people and culture know right from wrong. Our government often fails us and it's up to us to correct that since we are the government.

      Is there some specific aspect that you see us consistently failing?

  4. Principal 1 variant. Not all Western countries see Natural (God given) Rights. I seen it written before. Americans went to America to escape governments. Australians (had no choice) had to rely on the Government to eat and have shelter. The Government also lifted convicts to wealthy people.

    1. "Not all Western countries see Natural (God given) Rights."

      Too bad for them. That doesn't, however, change what's true. Also, these principles apply to the US, not other countries although I would encourage other countries to adopt them. Thus, we should not care what other countries believe. We should care only for what we know to be true and what guides us.

      I would also point out that God-given rights are, by definition, above and beyond any government's purview. Whether a country officially recognizes God-give rights doesn't change the fact of their existence. Failure to recognize those rights merely means that that government is invalid and is not serving the people.

      What specific Western country do you see that does not recognize God-given rights? I can't think of one off hand.

      This is also the beauty of having foundational principles. It doesn't matter what anyone else thinks, only that we have and hold to our own principles as the foundation of our actions (or strategy, in this case).

    2. For me my rights come from olde English common law and statues such as magna carta. Authority is derived from the Queen to courts, governments, and parliaments. In Australia that is on a state AND federal level, each independently deriving their authority from QEII.

    3. Do not confuse God-given rights with mundane, societal rights. God-given rights are few but fundamental. In a nutshell: life, liberty (freedom), and the pursuit of happiness (as the Founding Fathers meant it, not our corrupted understanding today). These rights are granted to you by God, and no one else, and no one can take them away. The Queen has no role in this.

      Societal rights are those rights that society (often including government) agrees to give itself. This could include such things as a drivers license, the right to own guns, medical care, govt sponsored education, and so on. These rights can come and go as society wishes. These rights may come from elections, convention, tradition, government, the Queen, or any other source that society agrees to.

    4. The rest of the world didn't do the Declaration of Independence. Australia's first forts were against the Americans (Cmdr Perry parked 11 ships in our harbour one afternoon, no one in Sydney knew till the morning).

      We have shared values, but the basis of these shared values have different roots.

    5. Australia since 1922 the Labour (Australian spelling) party changed it name to Labor (US spelling) in honour of American workers.

      Australian parliaments houses are named after the American houses.

      One thing watching your civil war, our states are not allowed to raise or maintain military forces.

    6. "The rest of the world didn't do the Declaration of Independence."

      That doesn't change the fact that all people have the same Natural Rights. The US simply put it eloquently into words.

    7. "Australia's first forts were against the Americans (Cmdr Perry parked 11 ships in our harbour one afternoon, no one in Sydney knew till the morning)."

      I'm embarrassed to say that I have no knowledge of this event and I can't find any information from a quick search. What year was it? What was the purpose?

    8. As the colony of Sydney grew, so too did the importance of defending it from foreign incursion, a point that was highlighted one night in 1839 when two American sloops and five smaller warships entered the harbour unheralded.

      The American commander said he could have set fire to all the ships on the harbour and reduced much of the town to ashes had Britain and America been at war.

      In 1841 work was begun to level Pinchgut and convert it to a fortification.


    9. I'm intrigued. I can find no mention of this visit to Australia by American vessels in any of my usual references. Do you know what the purpose of the visit was? Are you sure it was Matthew Perry? I can find no mention of such a visit in his bio.

    10. It wasn't Perry.
      The United States Exploring Expedition of 1838–1842 was an exploring and surveying expedition of the Pacific Ocean and surrounding lands conducted by the United States.

      On the night of 30 November 1839, unbeknown to the sleeping citizens of Sydney, two
      American sloops-of-war unsuspectingly entered Sydney Harbour and anchored peacefully at Farm Cove.16 These frigates – the Vincennes, weighing 760 tonnes with twenty-four guns
      and the Peacock, 650 tonnes with twenty-two guns – were part of the six ships that formed the United States Exploring Expedition to the Pacific and Antarctic.17 Ships that arrived
      near the Heads in the late afternoon, like these two American warships, were expected to
      anchor offshore and wait until the following morning for a pilot to bring them into the harbour.18 Despite this protocol, the Americans decided to sail into the harbour as they had
      charts of Port Jackson in their possession. As Commodore Wilkes of the Vincennes related:
      At sunset . . . we made the lighthouse on the headland of Port Jackson. We had a fair wind for entering the harbour, and although the night was dark and we had no pilot, it was important to avoid any loss of time, so I determined to run in . . . At half past ten p.m. we quietly dropped anchor off the Cove in the midst of the shipping without anyone having the least idea of our arrival.

    11. That was 180 year old news. This weeks news - (not sure about the Army Frigate part)

      The arrival of three Chinese warships in Sydney harbour was not a surprise, Scott Morrison has said, despite the fact that the government did not announce the visit in advance.

      On Monday an army frigate, an auxiliary replenishment ship and an amphibious vessel from the People’s Liberation Army were docking at Garden Island for a four-day stopover.

      It comes on the eve of the 30th anniversary of the Tiananmen Square massacre, and only a week after reports of Chinese military tailing Australian navy vessels transiting through the South China Sea.

    12. "The United States Exploring Expedition"

      Well, there's a chapter in US naval history that I was unaware of. Thank you for the reference!

    13. In today's news the Chinese TF is leaving.

      When three Chinese warships sailed through the Sydney Heads this week, defence figures with a keen sense of history felt an unmistakable tremor from the past.

      The ships of the People's Liberation Army Navy sailed straight past the Gothic-style Kirribilli House in a display of naval reach that unnerved some in Government for the strategic nous shown by Beijing.

      Some Coalition MPs were not convinced.

      If the PM knew about a visiting naval delegation, as he seemed to be suggesting, why didn't NSW Premier Gladys Berejiklian know about it, they wondered.

      One-hundred-and-eleven years ago, 16 American battleships painted white sailed through the same heads, greeted by an estimated half-million Sydneysiders.

      United States president Theodore Roosevelt had ordered the so-called Great White Fleet to make a global circumnavigation to demonstrate American naval might.

      For Australia, just seven years after federation, the 1908 visit was an important moment of post-colonial independence — prime minister Alfred Deakin had invited the US fleet to visit amid growing annoyance at the British Admiralty's antipodean neglect.

      The US display of power and reach through the Great White Fleet's 14-month global tour confirmed its arrival as the regional power, some 70-odd years after French diplomat Alexis de Tocqueville presciently observed the US and Russia were marked to "sway the destinies of half the world".

      If the professional strategic cynics are to be believed, the Chinese chose their timing with great precision; the flotsam of an election was still washing on Australian shores and new Defence Minister Linda Reynolds still finding her feet.

    14. I don't follow Australian matters closely but what I see is confusing. You have a PM who is somewhere between courting China and walking the fine neutral line while, at the same time, you have Chinese ships shadowing your ships, others conducting live fire exercises in 'your' waters, and ships making an (invited?) visit.

      Are you friends, enemies, or straddling the line?

      Did you have ships shadowing the Chinese while they conducted their live fire exercises so near you? Did you have ships escorting the Chinese ships in and out of your territorial waters? Regardless of public notice, did your military detect the visiting Chinese ships well away?

    15. This makes it all so strange. Strange it wasn't announced (but maybe avoiding protests was the reason). While the PLAN ships were shadowing fishing vessels were lasering out chopper pilots forcing them to land.

      We don't routinely shadow things, generally because nothing happens except the Russian fly a bomber down here every few years.

      Saw the lights on and thought we'd drop in?

      All our forces focus is north. We have 3 gigantic OTH radars, all looking north. However we also have 2 large networks of civilian undersea sensors that the navy taps into (no one knows if we have SOSUS). We have P3s and P8s. Most of our fighter force is in the south east where most of our population are remote from attackers.

      Our coal is being held up outside china. We get punished often. We are not neutral but don't throw gas on the fire. Most of our exports go to China. Most of the rest are to South Korea and Japan, which China can easily blockade thousands of km from our shores.

    16. China is building a large number of bases close together in a geographical advantageous area in Australia's Antarctic Territory, which they are allowed to do.

      From ½ way down

      China has developed a presence in the Antarctic through the establishment of four research stations, three of which are located in the Australian Antarctic Territory (AAT). China has already bestowed Chinese names on 359 sites on Antarctica. Notably, China’s Kunlun (昆仑站) research station, which opened in Australian territory in 2009, is located 7.4 kilometres from Dome Argus (Dome A), close to the centre of the continent—a demonstration of China’s commitment to Antarctica. Meanwhile, budget constraints placed on the Australian Antarctic Division have meant that Australia doesn’t possess the resources or equipment to develop a research base in this area. Moreover, China’s newest base, the Taishan (泰山站), which opened in 2014, is also located in the AAT. The Chinese government has recently announced plans to build a fifth research base in in the near future located in the Ross Sea region, which is speculated to be home to oil and gas deposits.

      Chinese President Xi Jinping’s 2014 visit to Hobart can also be seen an indication of China’s growing interest in the Antarctic. Yang Huigen, a member of Xi’s visiting delegation and the director general of the Polar Research Institute of China, stated that Chinese research ‘is natural-science based’, but acknowledged growing ‘concern about resource security’. Shortly after the visit, the Polar Research Institute opened a new division within the organisation dedicated to the study of geopolitics, law, governance and resources in the Antarctic.

      According to Antarctic specialist Anne-Marie Brady, ‘China’s rapid Antarctic…expansion reflects Beijing’s desire to become a maritime, and polar, great power’. Brady also argues that the establishment of China’s firth research base ‘will consolidate China’s Antarctic interests and help make china a leading contender in polar affairs’.

      So we are competing with them on the south pole and in the south pacific. For the Pacific that mean no Chinese bases. We used to want the French gone as well, but now we see them as new best friends vs China.

  5. This subject of geopolitical strategy reminds me of one of my favorite authors/spokespersons, Peter Zeihan, who makes a living as a geopolitical strategy consultant.

    He makes a few basic points.
    1) The US has the largest contiguous agricultural zone in the world, from the Rockies to the Atlantic, and running through the middle of it is the Mississippi/Missouri/Ohio River system, consisting of 13,000 miles of inland navigable waterway, which is more than the rest of the world combined. That makes it almost impossible for the US not to be an major economic power.
    2) The US is surrounded by ocean moats to the east and west, mountains and tundra to the north, and mountains and desert to the south. That makes it almost impossible for any foreign power to invade us, effectively guaranteeing our security.
    3) The US has a demographic pattern that is far more favorable to a strong economy than do most other developed countries. Russia, China, Japan, and most of Europe are very short of younger people.
    4) The shale oil revolution has made the US almost energy independent, at the same time drastically reducing our greenhouse gases.
    5) The US is basically a domestic economy. Imports and exports are a smaller part of our GDP than any other developed country, and most is with Canada and Mexico.

    The result is that the US is not that concerned with international economies any more, and that comes after a period of intense involvement during the Cold War.

    Basically, at Bretton Woods in 1944, we bribed up an alliance to win the Cold War. We were pretty much the only country left standing, economically and militarily. So we told the other western nations that we would give them free access to our economy, so they could rebuild their economies with exports to us, and we would protect their trade and supply chains, so they didn't have to spend big hunks of money to rebuild their military forces, and in return they would join us in fighting communism and do what we told them to do to win the Cold War. The problem is that it worked, and nobody ever figured out what to do next. Ross Perot said something in 1992 that I had been saying for several years at the time, that in the post-Cold-War era, economic power would be more important than military power. But we never changed course, and have spent 30 years in an outdated paradigm.

    Zeihan has comments about various politicians that I will omit since this is not a political board. If you want to know more, you can Google him and find videos of a number of his presentations to various group. They are all about an hour and cover pretty much the same stuff, but over time they get updated for more recent events.

  6. What if the US gradually is 'unable' (i.e. economically, realpolitically, and militarily- westpac conventional and eventually triad nuke deterrence) regard to China (say, 2020-30)?

    On top of that, what if China has no aspiration (and clearly convey such) to be 2nd coming of Nazi and INJ, and only wants to secure its own 'Monroe doctrine' sphere of influence via means other than kinetic war?

    What say you, CNO?

    1. Geopolitical strategy is not something that is promulgated once and never changed. It constantly changes, if need be, as conditions change. If China miraculously does a complete 180 degree change in its behavior, abandons the illegal islands, suddenly abides by the UNCLOS tribunal ruling, stops harassing US military, ends its intimidation of neighboring countries, abandons its more ridiculous territorial claims, scales back its EEZ definition to the national standard, begins respecting basic human rights, and more, then sure, US geopolitical strategy would change. Unfortunately, I see that as somewhat less likely than space aliens visiting us.

    2. Have you not seen the recent DoD's public released footage of naval pilot's UFO encounters?

      With China's rise, the world likely will gradually see, and settle for, China's intent on the world as China intended, and not as how we want, and demand, the world to see and act on China. In so far as I can see, China presents a hegemonic challenge to Pax Americana in westpac and a new economic model side-by-side with the Bretton Woods system, but not an existential threat to rights and freedom of ours.

      Anyway, we can was&wane geopolitics, but its implementation does come with a hefty price tag of $700B per year- real money that can be used wisely or wasted down the wrong rabbit hole.

    3. Do you have any point to make about the subject of the post, geopolitical principles?

    4. "Have you not seen the recent DoD's public released footage of naval pilot's UFO encounters?"

      First off, c'mon CNOps, that's a good joke! Moving swiftly on:

      "the world likely will gradually see, and settle for, China's intent on the world as China intended"

      Hard disagree. We have to spectacularly fail to counter their narrative when doing so is easy. Whether we believe they're the second coming of the Axis or not, we and our allies are committed to the international standardization of liberal democracy and human rights. China has to sell us and our allies on the idea that we should let them abuse their citizens, not just that they're not coming to pay us back for every western military intervention in China's history. It's a hard sell.

      "not an existential threat"


      "not an existential threat to rights and freedom of ours."

      Hard disagree. We already see their influence being spread everywhere Chinese nationals go in US society. Business, Universities, even our movies. We allow private individuals to pursue their economic self-interest, and that often means pursuing access to the Chinese market, since it's so large. Just as our military provides access to military equipment for the film industry in exchange for some control over their portrayal, China can trade access to their market to promote their worldview. Similar examples of Chinese influence abound. In sum, this represents an immediate threat to our ability to generate the political will to counter future challenges, and a long-term existential threat to our core cultural motifs - including but not limited to human rights.

      Furthermore, if we don't even mount a significant resistance to the rise of China with our allies then we lose credibility, the kind of credibility that's keeping a dozen dictators from massacring their detractors right now. The kind of credibility that makes bad people act good. We have a self-proclaimed responsibility to deter human rights violations, and to prevent authoritarian powers that commit such violation from growing beyond our capacity to check them. Unless China does a 180 as CNOps describes, we've already committed to resisting their growth and influence.

    5. CNO, No, I have no issue with one country setting its own geopolitical principle. However, the implementation (or success) of which will depend on said nation's wherewithal and cooperation(or opposition) of other nations (and their wherewithal.)

      And Darth, you're correct that the world does not have to settle for what China intended (as the same analogy above applies to China also, of its geopolitical aim and what it has to settle for.)

      However, I think it's a bit much to insist on individual Chinese subscribing to our view of universal rights of democracy and freedom. To them, dignity and full-stomach come first. Perhaps with first two fulfilled, they'll come to their rights and freedom; but we can't imposed on them.

      The threat you see is a collective sum of individual Chinese pragmatism playing out in every corner of the world. For that, I don't really have answer for that. I suppose if there are 1.4B of American/Japanese/Israeli/Russian/or any 1st-world people..the results will probably be 6 and half dozen difference. That's just realpolitik by number and size.

    6. "geopolitical principle. However, the implementation (or success) of which will depend on said nation's wherewithal and cooperation(or opposition) of other nations"

      No. A nation's geopolitical success depends not on cooperation with other nations - though that doesn't hurt - but, rather, on their own determination and courage.

      "I think it's a bit much to insist on individual Chinese subscribing to our view of universal rights of democracy and freedom."

      You've completely missed the point of the post. Go back and reread it. Nothing in the post - nothing - called for us to impose democracy on another country. The form of government that a people choose is up to them. The job of that government, whatever form it takes, is to secure, ensure, and protect the people's Natural Rights. There are many forms of government that can achieve that end.

      All people inherently yearn for their Natural Rights. It's instinctive. Some may not be in a position to exercise those rights - for instance, due to oppression in China - but that does not mean they do not want them.

      "but we can't imposed on them."

      My goodness, you've missed the point of the post! Natural Rights are not imposed on people - THEY'RE INHERENT AND GRANTED BY GOD.


      Well, you've missed the point on everything else so why should this be any different? True dignity comes from the knowledge and self-awareness that you have Natural Rights even if you can't fully exercise them due to threats to your survival - as in China. Still, a man who knows he possesses those Rights also possesses dignity no matter how bad his physical circumstances may be and no matter how oppressive the conditions he is forced to live under.

      I urge you to reread the post, slowly and thoughtfully. There is much wisdom in the post and I urge you to avail yourself of it. I've lead you to the water now it's up to you to drink.

  7. When you say "the methods selected to achieve the strategy may be somewhat debatable" this perhaps underplays the pitfalls in translating these principles into policy ?

    Let's take the NKorea example you offer up. I don't disagree with your disdain for their political system and its consequences, but there are practical reasons we ended up where we did, no?

    I'll posit I'm not a Korean-war era international politics expert. But, what was the alternative exit path in the 1950s? Keep fighting until China ran out of people (with us losing one for every twenty)? Nuke China? Invade China? And we can be confident that these escalations don't bring in the Soviets too, irradiate the globe, etc.?

    Even with the benefit of hindsight, that hardly seems a slam-dunk "shouda-done" given the unpredictable outcome and millions of dead (and, yes, I know from hundreds of thousands to millions have starved in NK, but their blood is not on our hands, whereas I, for one, would not feel comfortable with us, say, having nuked Beijing).

    OK, so when do we stop NK after that? China has always had their back, and with growing power at their disposal. Moreover, as SK recovered, NK always held the threat of massive devastation to Seoul and the civilian populace in their back pocket. Again, are the millions dead justified?

    This is just to say that while it is definitely good to agree on broad principles, the devil may very often be in the details...

    1. You just asked and answered your own question without realizing it! Or, you did realize the answer - since you stated it - but didn't have the courage to follow through.

      I have a post on exactly this coming. Hang in there a bit. You'll enjoy it!

  8. Great post! I want to add to it as usual, but I’m actually struggling. As foundational principles, your list seems to be exhaustive – at least for the USA and its allies. Everything else stems from our conviction that we are upholding an absolute moral Truth as a society – albeit with some domestic failings – and that we have both the right *and the responsibility* to create a world where every individual and nation upholds that moral truth to the best of their ability.

    If other countries have this same core drive, they’re potential allies – even if they’re currently immature. If they have different *and incompatible* core drives, they’re destined enemies - or evil, as you say. Ultimately, I think almost every individual person shares our core goal, even if their governments do not. Therefore, we often can – and often should – aim to treat the populations of evil governments as potential allies. Evil governments say we’re interfering in domestic politics and causing civil unrest, we say we’re promoting liberal democracy.

    For example, the CCP has a different and incompatible core drive – to promote social stability regardless of the human impact. However, large sections of China’s population either actively promote a more liberal paradigm, escape to more liberal countries, or secretly (for fear of political imprisonment and non-consensual organ harvesting) disapprove of the CCPs more authoritarian policies like holding political prisoners. We’ve been lax as of late in our “asymmetric” social/political influence operations there, and elsewhere.

    It's also worth noting that Europe as a whole is at least as committed to liberal moral absolutism as the USA. They beat themselves up about their colonial history about as much as we do. They are taking more refugees than they can cope with politically - if not economically - because they feel (partly) responsible for the refugee crisis. The list goes on. That isn't to say they're "more moral" than the USA, but that it is definitely their core principle. When engaging with them diplomatically, this must be considered, and can be leveraged. Saying "fight China because they're evil" rather than "fight China because we say so and you owe us" is likely to produce superior outcomes.

    I’ve been done outlining and rough drafting that guest post for a few weeks, but I set it aside before putting in references. Now that you’re getting into the geopolitics series I’ll patch it up and send it out in the next few days.

    1. "Evil governments say we’re interfering in domestic politics and causing civil unrest, we say we’re promoting liberal democracy."

      Key point of difference, here. You're correct that evil governments will accuse us of meddling in domestic politics but - and this is the difference - we should be saying (and doing!) that we're upholding the God-Given Natural Rights (Principle #1). THAT is our justification for acting and upholding God's Natural Rights is not meddling, it's a sacred duty to secure and protect those rights for ALL MEN, even if they happen to momentarily (in the time frame of history) reside in a country controlled by an evil government.

      The reason I'm belaboring this point is that it really is key. We should be loudly and proudly serving notice to evil governments that their time is limited and we'll do everything we can to eliminate them if they don't change their ways. Instead, we tip-toe around our reasons and … well, you know all the timid, half-assed actions we take and statements we make in attempts to not offend evil governments. To an extent, Trump has it right in calling out Iran, NKorea, Russia, and China although, thus far, he's linking it more to economics than morality but, hey, it's a step in the right direction over the previous decades of morally cowardly Presidents of both parties.

    2. With all due respect, CNO and Darth, you haven't learned a darn thing since 2001. Counting unfinished Afgh/Iraq, lining up Iran next, and putting China & Russia on notice(yikes with all them nukes), how long are we gonna water our 'regime change' venture with blood of our youth?

    3. Are you asking, how long will America fight for the rights of all people? Forever, I hope!

      Admittedly, our methodology has been flawed but that's part of the process of growing as a country. Whose freedom is China fighting for, by the way?

    4. " Whose freedom is China fighting for, by the way? "

      Since mainland China is not a Christian nation (though there are probably 100 million Chinese Christians), its definition of 'natural' right is more mundane- simply freedom from poverty & want, to Chinese first, and to people of B&R nations (specifically the 3rd world nations).

    5. One implicit assumption in these principles is that the goals of fighting for the rights of all people, and of securing "a cooperative, mutually beneficial, world community" are one and the same. You link them by saying that both countries that abuse their own people, and those who flout international convention, are "evil."

      This runs contrary to how international relations have been practiced, by the US and other nations, for pretty much all of history. In particular, we've accepted that some countries can participate successfully in the international order, while abusing their own people.

      Since WW1, or perhaps a bit earlier, we've accepted this compromise with increasing qualms, and made half-hearted efforts to encourage better domestic behavior among our allies and partners. Still, the strong competing preference for the US to realize economic and security benefits at the expense of foreign populations has regularly led us to ignore human rights concerns, and sometimes to directly contribute to them.

      The bottom line is that it seems we've always found it necessary to compromise. Freedom House lists 49 "Not Free" nations. Most are not close to the US, but several "highly strategic friends" in the Mideast and Central Asia receive tons of aid and weapons

      So I do look forward to finding out what you envision fighting for the rights of all people looks like with respect to Saudi Arabia, Syria, Russia, Myanmar, Zimbabwe, Uzbekistan, Turkish Kurds, etc. etc... Presumably your answer may hinge on your stipulation that change will happen "in the due course of history." But again, to point to the devil in the details, the really hard and contentious part is probably to finding the right line between short-term expediency and long-term principles.

      Like Tim, I find it hard not to see Afghanistan + Iraq 2003 as a cautionary lesson in the practical limits of using military means to compel other countries to honor the principles and spirit of "God-given rights" as articulated in the Declaration of Independence.

    6. "its definition of 'natural' right is more mundane- simply freedom from poverty & want"

      So … like zoo animals?

    7. "The bottom line is that it seems we've always found it necessary to compromise."

      Not quite. We've often found it expedient which is different than necessary. We are also constantly growing. Once upon a time we found slavery to be not only expedient but economically necessary. However, we grew and, in the due course of history, abolished it.

      "several "highly strategic friends" in the Mideast and Central Asia receive tons of aid and weapons"

      This is lamentable and deplorable. The rationale is that by accepting lesser abuses by these countries we gain stability to allow us to confront even worse countries such as Iran. As a practical matter, we can't instantaneously launch all out wars against every country that has a single violation of what we would consider unacceptable behavior. We simply don't have the capability. Nothing in the post says that we even should launch all out war. Instead, I said that we should try a range of actions beginning with the less forceful and proceeding up the scale as necessary.

      I also discussed the element of time. Obtaining change from other countries will not happen overnight. Saudi Arabia, for example is slowly granting more rights to women. The US has pressured them to do that and they have responded positively, if not as quickly as we might hope. Still, that's progress so no need to leap straight to war. If they continue on their course, they appear headed to the right end state. With patience on our part and continued artfully applied pressure, Saudi Arabia will hopefully become a full supporter of human rights.

      " the really hard and contentious part is probably to finding the right line between short-term expediency and long-term principles."

      Of course! Would you think otherwise? The way to find that balance is to ask whether progress is being made? If it is, then you have the right balance point (Saudi Arabia). If there is no progress (Iran) then you need to ratchet up the balance point towards more forceful actions. It's pretty straightforward unless one is trying to make it difficult for the sake of an argument.

      " I find it hard not to see Afghanistan + Iraq 2003 as a cautionary lesson "

      I agree 100%. Our approach was well intended but totally ineffective and, generally, counterproductive. We try, we learn.

    8. "upholding the God-Given Natural Rights (Principle #1)."

      Without debating the role of religion in the purportedly secular US government, this is not ideal rhetoric. We can safely expect most people around the world to believe in life, liberty, and the pursuit of happiness - whether as fundamental rights or as highly desirable states of being - but the same is not true of the entirety of Principle #1, particularly as you've elaborated it in the comments. People from other religious backgrounds may have different opinions on the origins of moral universal truths (which is more broad than moral absolutes), and their willingness to cooperate with us may be enhanced by appealing simply to those moral truths, rather than a specific worldview on how they come about. China is a principle example of this where the population is predominantly atheist, although it is broadly applicable.

    9. "The way to find that balance is to ask whether progress is being made"

      Not sure whether you are willing to entertain the discussion, but curious where this leaves you on the JCPOA.

      From my perspective, while it was not "perfect" (of course), Iran did, in response to JCPOA, stop its efforts to move toward nuclear weapons.

      JCPOA was also, although not a ratified treaty, a signed multilateral international agreement, that in the US received not only Presidential backing, but substantial (albeit mixed) congressional support.

      As a result, I concluded it was "making progress," and that by withdrawing, the US reduced its moral standing in the world community, while discouraging any inclination Iran's citizens and secular civilian leadership might have had to push the government for further cooperative and mutually-beneficial behavior.

      The agreement only ran about 18 months before it came under siege from the new administration. I, for one, would have liked to give it several years to see if the first positive steps could lead to more.

      Maybe you agree, maybe not. Certainly you can find many people here in the US who would come down on either side of this debate. One thing that does seem sorely lacking in that debate here in the US, however, is a sense of where the Iranian people are. I know that with respect to first principles, you argued we should not care what other nations believe. I understand that, and would not want our basic principles to be held hostage to public opinion in other nations either. However, I think it is important to recall that regardless of how much we may perceive its governance to be "evil," normal educated people in Iran trace a direct line from early 20th century British invasions and oil monopolies to the anti-democratic CIA coup in 1950s to 1980s US support for Saddam to present day abrogation of JCPOA. What they conclude is that the US and Britain are operating from a basic stance of disrespect for Iran, with the primary aim of economic exploitation.

      Why should we care what they think? Because I find it hard to see how we can expect to positively affect the situation in Iran if we are unwilling to acknowledge its citizens' perspective and legitimate historical concerns. What I mean by this is that if we (say) undertook a series of escalating measures over and above the current sanctions (which presumably would have to involve military force), to try to coerce them into the behaviors we prefer, while most Iranians continued to feel wronged and abused by the West, then (to judge from past experience and human nature) they are more likely to close ranks with the regime, suffer gamely, and seek acts of revenge against us where they may, then they are to thank us for our concern and overthrow their government.

      I suppose in part this is a very roundabout way to say that I don't find the Arabia/Iran analysis as cut as you do :)

    10. "Without debating the role of religion in the purportedly secular US government,"

      Our country was founded as a Christian country with God being an intimate part of government and society. The constitution merely forbids the establishment of a government imposed religion. It does not preclude God from government. That's a twisted, bastardization we've incorrectly imposed on ourselves. Indeed, a government without God is likely to be evil (how's our current government doing? Not well without any divine guidance!). The Founding Fathers understood this.

      "People from other religious backgrounds may have different opinions on the origins of moral universal truths"

      Nothing wrong with that. Nothing in the Principles forbids someone from having a different view of where their rights are derived and nothing says we have to impose our view of it on them AS LONG AS THEY ARE GOOD WORLD NEIGHBORS AND THEIR PEOPLE ARE ACCORDED THE NATURAL RIGHTS DUE ALL PEOPLE.

      "population is predominantly atheist"

      According to who? The government? I strongly suspect that the vast majority are religious but simply hide it out of the desire to stay alive. "There are no atheists in a foxhole." An atheist is just someone who hasn't found their correct path yet. Just because I don't believe the sun is the center of the universe doesn't make mean it isn't - it just means I don't know any better, yet.

    11. " So … like zoo animals? "

      CNO, the Bible tells you're created in the image of God, but your Bio-101 professor says we are Homo Sapiens with 97% identical genes as the monkey with similar primal instincts.

      As for 'zoo', I assumed you meant not-free/under restriction/governed. Well, I don't know where you live, but in my area if law&Order are removed and everybody can do as pleased without consequence, I'd imagine I'll be at front door with my rifle by week's end. In this country, we locked up similar number of criminals as China with 1/4 the population. To answer your question as you put it, it will fall somewhere between the Bible, Science, and Law&Order.

      However, that's not how China/Chinese see it. They see it as a paternalistic parents watching & be responsible over its brood. Hence the literal translation of 'Country' in Chinese is 'Country household'.

    12. "I concluded it was "making progress," and that by withdrawing, the US reduced its moral standing in the world community"

      As it relates to the type of human rights progress that the Principles are concerned with, the agreement did not address those so there has been no progress on Iran's part. Indeed, Iran has done nothing related to the agreement to grant more rights to its citizens, to stop the export of terror, to recognize the rights of neighboring countries (Israel), and so on. So, even if they were abiding by the agreement, it represents very little real progress.

      Objectively, at best, the agreement merely slowed down Iran's development of nuclear weapons. It is still allowed to enrich Uranium and, after 15 years, can resume development. Not exactly lasting progress even of that sort.

      So, from what little I gather, pulling out of the agreement was the correct choice. You don't bargain with evil (and you certainly don't send it pallets of money!).

      So, I have to completely disagree with you that any meaningful progress has been demonstrated.

      Side note: The legal status is somewhat murky but the agreement was never a binding treaty on the US, as noted in the Wiki article. It's unclear that there was anything of a legal nature to pull out of!

      Just a heads up … I'm not going to debate the agreement. This is not the forum for that. There are many other sites where you can do that if you are so inclined.

    13. "What they conclude is that the US and Britain are operating from a basic stance of disrespect for Iran,"

      It would be surprising if they thought otherwise since we don't respect their country and, indeed, should not. The Iranian people bear some responsibility in this. It is the right and duty of the people to abolish any government that does not serve the people (we mention the right of the people to abolish a government in the Declaration).

      Related to this is that, yes, the West has attempted to benefit from Iranian oil in the past and this is wrong and led to misguided actions on our part. In that, the Iranian people are correct in their beliefs, if that is their belief.

    14. "However, that's not how China/Chinese see it. They see it as a paternalistic parents watching & be responsible over its brood."

      That's just about the pro-slavery argument that was used in the US but we evolved and grew out of it. I know you're a Chinese sympathizer but you've got your work cut out for you trying to defend China! Good luck!

    15. " That's just about the pro-slavery argument that was used "

      What are you talking about?! Slaves and masters are two classes of people that shall never mix. Otoh, in China, the governed and governor all came from the same stock- much like mother hen and chicks of iterative continuity and regeneration. In case you haven't notice- if china is such a master/slave system, it should of failed. Instead, it is flourishing. Perhaps you saw it wrong.

      Anyway, I'm here with your indulgence. Thank you for the discussion.

  9. "Our country was founded as a Christian country with God being an intimate part of government and society."

    I respect you as a naval thinker but don't subscribe to this interpretation of the philosophy of the Constitutional Convention. Certainly the Founding Fathers were largely Christians (though perhaps some only nominally), and mostly shared a sense that religion played an important role in cementing morality and human judgement. But their culture had also been born out of the sometimes-deadly oppression of one Christian denomination by another, and I don't believe they would have endorsed the idea that the nation "belonged" to one particular strain of religious belief, however widely defined. They were sensitive to minority concerns and chose the boundaries of their ideological ambitions carefully.

    1. "I don't believe they would have endorsed the idea that the nation "belonged" to one particular strain of religious belief, however widely defined."

      They didn't! We specifically allowed the practice of any religion and we specifically outlawed the imposition of a state-sponsored religion. Beyond that, though, the Fathers understood that a society without any God was a society without a moral compass. As opposed to today, God was a part of everyday life and that life included government. The Fathers cited God repeatedly in various documents and proceedings, prayed for guidance, and recognized the role of God in their lives. None of that establishes a specific religion.

      Atheists aside, everyone in the world recognizes God even if they use different names or descriptions of Him. Our world is a God world. The recognition of God is fundamental to human existence and culture. Trying to deny it, as our current political system is, leads only to corrupt actions, as we see from Washington on a daily basis on both sides of the aisle.

      Eliminate God from government and society and you remove morality. Without morality you have anarchy.

    2. I would dearly like to see morality elevated in our culture and politics.

      Of course, here too, what I mean by this may differ from what someone else means. To provide a personal point of reference, my own denomination, (United Methodists) is riven right now between a portion that believes that morality is served by including homosexuals in the institutions of marriage and ordination, and a portion that believes morality is served by excluding homosexuals from these institutions. On this particular issue, at least, our understandings of how God wants us to live have led us to two radically different moral calculations.

      To return from that digression to the question at hand, I find probing the morality of American foreign policy poses serious challenges. To take Iraq 2003 again, for example, it seemed clear to me, from day 1, that the war was being sold to us under false pretenses, and that it did not serve American interests. However, I did hope it would benefit the Iraqis, and thus be morally justified.

      Sixteen years later, I think the jury is still out. I pray that in another 16 years, we can look back and say, without doubt, that even though it was bad for the US, at least the war ultimately had positive effects in the larger scheme of things. But even then, the larger number of people living in greater freedom will need to be weighed against the smaller but still substantial number of innocents killed by American forces, and the American lives lost in Iraq. Not to mention the possibility that Iraq might have found a less violent way to rid itself of Saddam, or that choosing not to invade in 2003 would have led to better (or conceivably worse) ripple-events elsewhere in the world.

      Neither a person nor a nation can allow itself to be paralyzed by unknowns, of course, but this is why I think it serves us well to approach these discussions with a great deal of humility.

    3. Bear in mind that simply having good intentions (for sake of discussion, let's say that we intervened in Iraq strictly to help the common people) does not guarantee good results. We attempted to impose democracy and that basically failed. We then left without finishing the job and that led to the rise of ISIS who promptly murdered untold numbers of people. So, best of intentions, worst of results. On the other hand, we also know that Sadaam's government was oppressive and murderous and so we unquestionably saved lives. As you say, will the ultimate balance sheet be positive?

      We learn, I hope, and the next time we attempt something similar we'll go about it in a better way.

  10. Hah, you spurred me to glance back over our sacred texts, and I am struck by how fleetingly God appears in our founding documents. I had expected much stronger and more direct references.

    When the Declaration talks about God-given rights, it references them as "Laws of Nature and of Nature's God" (an interesting formulation). It ends with appeal to the "protection of divine Providence."

    I could not find God, Creator, or Providence in the Constitution. Just protections against religious tests, state religion, and limitations to free religious exercise. Conceivably I missed something.

    1. You missed a couple of things.

      1. As you noted, the Declaration is based totally on God and Natural Rights. The Declaration set the basis for our government.

      2. The Constitution, which followed the Declaration, was concerned only with the mundane matters of formulating the government and, as such, was a practical rather than 'spiritual' document. We would not think to reference God when drawing up an apartment lease. The Constitution was similar though on a grander scale!

      3. As you undoubtedly know, the bulk of the relevant documents existed outside (or in addition to) the Declaration and Constitution. These include the so-called Federalist Papers and various other writings.

      4. The Fathers were also heavily influenced by the writings of earlier philosophers who, many of them, deeply recognized God in their own writings.

      5. It is also striking to see the daily acknowledgement of God in the personal writings of the Fathers as they corresponded with each other.


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