America’s Future—Defense Policy Principles, Part I

I wrote about nature of war from foreign policy perspective here.

In this first post about national defense policy principles and force structures, I want to talk about the meaning of “war” and “state of war”  from a defense policy perspective.  There is far more to war than shooting and exchanging missile fire, although overtly military actions are certainly central aspects of any war, especially in the end game.  A clear understanding is necessary if Defense and State are to work together as the unified whole they must in order for the United States effectively to defend itself in wars of any type.

The damage doesn’t have to be done with bombs or bullets.  Anything that is designed deliberately to impede or to prevent our freedom of action is damaging: it is an act of war.

What, then, is “war?”  Certainly it includes the formally declared state of war, wherein Congress acts under its Article I, Section 8 responsibilities; I won’t go into that further here.  War also includes, though, the aggregation of those acts of war described in the link above (and in links within that post); it need not be declared in order to be in progress, or to be damaging to us and to our security and even survival.  Indeed, in the modern world, where the distribution of formal military power among the nations of the world is so vastly asymmetric, the weaker almost invariably will make war—shooting or otherwise—outside a formal, openly declared state.  Rather, the (weak) attacker will fight in as stealthy a manner as can be managed, at least until the damage done has accumulated to the point of eliminating military advantage and transferring practical advantage to the attacker.  Obviously, such conflicts from deep within the shadows, includes seemingly nonviolent fighting [sic] as well as the asymmetry of terrorist attack.

Moreover, America’s enemies, especially those actively fighting us, are not even necessarily classically formed nation-states; they’re much more amorphous.  These entities, which I’ve been calling non-national entities in earlier posts, have components that are spread across national boundaries; they’re organized as coordinating, but largely separate and more or less independent components.  Further, these non-national entities operate outside Geneva Conventions governing the “proper” way of conducting warfare.  This diffusion across national boundaries and this lack of Convention guidance complicates our response to attacks, but they need not constrain us to the point we cannot defend ourselves.

Complications arise when an overt attack, or a limited series of “acts of war,” originate from within the jurisdiction of a nation-state with which we are not (formally) at war.  (When the attack originates from within a nation that is a friend or ally, the situation actually is much simpler: we can expect that when the attackers are identified, the “host” nation will act decisively on its own initiative.)  It is difficult to enter the host nation’s borders in order to strike the entity and destroy its ability to continue its war against us.  Alternatively, the diffusion of the non-national entity can make it difficult to identify useful targets.  It is the role of diplomacy to create the conditions, permissive or not, that facilitate our entry.  Afghanistan is one example of diplomacy’s success in enabling such an entry for such a purpose.

The Geneva Conventions contain within them mechanisms for prosecuting a defense against attackers who themselves do not follow the Conventions; however, even at that, the Conventions themselves are obsolete: they cannot apply in any practical way to modern wars that don’t necessarily involve actual shooting, nor are they an efficient framework for addressing the kind of war prosecuted by terrorist non-national entities.

In the end, while our diplomacy is creating the conditions that legitimize bypassing the Conventions in wars involving non-national entities and/or undeclared wars inflicted on us by nation-states, our defense policy that must create the conditions for actually fighting such wars to their only possible end: the destruction of the attacker’s ability to continue, wherever it exists, whether that attacker is a nation-state or not, and whether a legal, formal state of war exists or not.

Some examples of patterns of actions deliberately inimical to us and of non-declared war include these (note that this is not an exhaustive list; it is for illustration only).


  • in 2007, threatened nuclear war against a US ally, Poland, if we went ahead with a planned missile defense shield radar installation.
  • in 2008, invaded and partitioned a US ally, Georgia, in a naked Sudetenland-like Anschluss.  Nominally, the partitioned provinces, with Russian tanks backing them, simply declared their independence from Georgia; however, they are functionally principalities of Russia.
  • in 2009, participated with the People’s Republic of China in a hack into our national electric power grid control facilities.
  • presently, in response our renewed efforts to defend ourselves against missile attacks, has said they will move nuclear missiles into western Russia so as to target our defensive installations, and our European allies generally.
  • actively supports Iran’s efforts to obtain nuclear weapons, knowing Iranian purposes for the devices.  Russia routinely blocks any serious options, beginning with truly effective sanctions, that would influence Iran to stop its development and acquisition efforts.

Russia’s behaviors are not overt acts of war, but they are inimical to American interests, and Russia clearly knows this.


  • actively engaged in hacking into our defense and national infrastructure computer systems, not just for “ordinary” espionage, but also to plant malware having the purpose of disabling those systems at a time of Chinese selection.  These hacks include a years-long penetration of the US Chamber of Commerce, hacks into our national electric power grid control facilities, and attacks against Lockheed Martin, maker of our newest fighter, the F-35, as well as an attack against the F-35 program itself.
  • routinely ships poisoned trade goods, including laptops assembled in Chinese factories under US trade names having Trojans installed before they leave the factory, baby formula with poisons in the mix, gypsum sheets for American housing permeated with sulfur (including hydrogen sulfide), strontium, and organic compounds associated with acrylic paints.
  • actively supports Iran’s efforts to obtain nuclear weapons, knowing Iranian purposes for the devices.  The PRC routinely blocks any serious options, beginning with truly effective sanctions, that would influence Iran to stop its development and acquisition efforts.

While the poisoned trade goods may not be overt acts of war, but rather reflective of incompetence, it’s hard to accept the thesis that a modern nation like the PRC really is that sloppy.  The hacking and delivery of malware with a view to damaging our national ability to function plainly are acts of war, as DoD has lately recognized.

Iran has had a long-standing shadowy war in progress against the US.

  • in November 1979, Iran attacked the US embassy in Tehran and seized our diplomats and staff, imprisoning them for a year and a quarter.  Under international law, this is a casus belli.
  • in 1998, Iran, together with Sudan, participated in the terrorist bombings of the American embassies in Nairobi, Kenya and Dar es Salaam, Tanzania, another casus belli.
  • presently threatens an ally of the US, Israel, with extermination.
  • presently developing nuclear weapons, which it will use for that extermination, and which it will pass to other terrorists so they can attack US allies in Europe and attack us directly in our homeland.

Northern Korea:

  • frequently attacks with artillery, and at sea, an ally of the US, the Republic of Korea.
  • transfers nuclear weapons technology to nations inimical to the US, including Saddam’s Iraq, Syria, and Iran.

Even Pakistan, a alleged US ally, actively transfers nuclear weapons technology to nations inimical to us, including the same Syria and Iran.

I’ll address the policy principles and force structure that must guide these capabilities in subsequent posts.  Our responses won’t necessarily be to shoot back, or to respond in kind (though these options will plainly be present); they do need to be directed to the purpose, and be capable, of promptly defeating the inimical acts.

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