Information has a critical place in warfare. It is at once the source of both intelligence and the fog of war. Information is a nebulous infinite set from which we draw our frameworks, biases, and facts. The growing surfeit of data has led to proclamations that “data is the new oil” and even the idea that the information extracted from this data constitutes a kind of currency. At the tactical level, the intelligence born out of information preparation certainly constitutes a means of transacting operations. Yet beyond the battlefield, and into the realm of grand strategy, the utility of information can be uncertain.
Two years have passed since the refugee wave that took European politics by storm. Since then, much of the continent’s leadership has settled on a strategy aimed at managing the incoming migration flow abroad while trying to contain the mounting pressure at home. The public discourse is dominated by two opposing camps: on one side, re-surging ethno nationalist movements argue against the dangers of multicultural society, which is often painted as a driver of security risks and terrorism; on the other, progressive parties that try to balance their sense of humanitarian obligation with the temptation to pander to the masses with equally xenophobic campaigns.
Over the past 100 years economics has been transformed from a prime motivator for war, through the imperialist ideals of national prestige and territorial expansion, to a tool best used as a means to try and avoid war. Additionally through the establishment of the rules based global order that emerged after the Second World War the economic motivation for war has not only been diminished but has effectively been rendered illegal and immoral. While economic considerations may be enshrined in the architecture of the current global order and serve to provide a means for modern nations to collectively pursue peace through mutual prosperity (as demonstrated by the EU), economic considerations do nothing to deter an irrational actor motivated by non-material means.
While the United States is currently considered the world’s hegemonic power, several other states possess the potential to be superpowers in the making, such as Brazil, Russia, India, and China (the so-called BRIC countries). Assuming these great powers desire to better their positions, their respective strategies may either propel them into a leading international role or act as a hindrance to their ascent. The examples of China and India, in particular, serve as interesting cases to explore due to their potential to become superpowers as well as their vastly different approaches in world affairs.
Before considering the terms of a revised NAFTA, one should consider the thought-provoking insights of international relations scholar Parag Khanna. Khanna notes how outdated political boundaries serve as a constraint on the American economy because they prevent the integration of social, economic, and industrial components across state lines. He concludes that by redefining the American political map, that is, rethinking our current state borders, the economy will be better positioned for the future. This change of perspective, more so than a grand military strategy, will enable the US to remain a superpower. Renegotiating NAFTA must be viewed through this strategic lens.
America benefits from Saudi Arabia’s wealth. By virtue of being rich in oil reserves, and able to spend the proceeds from that oil however its royal family sees fit, the Kingdom of Saudi Arabia has great sway in the Middle East. Instances of the Kingdom’s impact include the multinational coalition it currently leads against the Shi’a Houthi regime in Yemen and its continuing power within the Organization of Petroleum Exporting Countries (OPEC).Saudi Arabia’s wealth is important to those interested in US foreign policy because America is an unofficial guarantor of Saudi sovereignty, tacitly giving assurance that it will protect the Kingdom from invasion. It is also important because the US leverages its relationship with Saudi Arabia to implement its policy in the region. From the US’ perspective, an affluent Saudi Arabia helps America get what it wants.
Numerous voices have claimed that the day of conventional war is over. For years, these voices have predicted that “war amongst the people,” or “hybrid war,” or “gray zone operations,” or “distributed security missions,” are the new face of war. But conventional war—however it may be changing—may not be as dead as some believe. Danger is already emerging from the confluence of several unfolding trends.