It may be said that American history is a history of war. The United States has constantly been involved in a series of wars. After the Revolutionary War (April 19, 1775 – September 3, 1783) in which the U.S. won independence from Britain, there was the Civil War (1861 – 1865), a war over slavery and other issues between the northern states and the southern states that voted to secede. It was the bloodiest conflict in American history, with a total of 500,000 killed and wounded. This was followed by the Spanish-American War (April 25 – August 12, 1898), when the U.S. acquired former Spanish colonies in the Caribbean Sea and Pacific Ocean. The U.S. fought with the Allied forces against Germany in World War I (July 28, 1914 – November 11, 1918), and with the Allied forces against the Axis powers (mainly Germany, Japan, and Italy) in World War II (September 1, 1939 – September 2, 1945). (The U.S. joined the war on December 7, 1941.) The Korean War (June 25, 1950 – July 27, 1953) was a conflict over dominion of the Korean Peninsula, fought against the Chinese People’s Volunteer Army backed by Socialist Bloc countries. The Vietnam War (November 1965 – April 30, 1975) was a war with the Democratic Republic of Vietnam (North Vietnam) led by Ho Chi Minh, set against a backdrop of communist ideology. There was also the Iran-Iraq War (September 22, 1980 – August 20, 1988), when the U.S. joined to support Iraq in an oil conflict in the Persian Gulf; the Gulf War (January 17 – February 28, 1991), fought by multinational coalition forces after Iraq invaded Kuwait; and the ongoing war in Afghanistan (started on October 7, 2001), in which the U.S. led military intervention in Afghanistan to remove the Al-Qaeda terrorist organization.
Page 7 of the July 7, 2021 issue of The Nikkei included an article by Janan Ganesh, reprinted from the British Financial Times, entitled “The U.S. Sees China as a Preferable Enemy.” Ganesh is the magazine’s chief U.S. political commentator. The following is an English translation of the Japanese-language article:
However, even when keeping this supplementary information in mind, there are many points that should cause concern. If war broke out in the Pacific Ocean, even in the event of an American military victory the U.S. might lose more soldiers than the 2,352 killed in Afghanistan over the past 20 years.
Fighting with China would be a greater tribulation than the war in Afghanistan, even looking just at the predicted scale of damage. However, this is not the only difference.
The U.S. did not face global powers in the fights against Al Qaeda, an international terrorist organization, and the Taliban, an armed antigovernment group. The ruling methods used by these organizations appealed in no way to third countries as models for growth and order.
It is not wrong to be pleased by this change. In some ways, the Republican Party is leveling conventional criticisms at President Joe Biden for withdrawing the American military from Afghanistan.
The U.S. has entered an era of facing off against an enemy that requires a more powerful military force and mental basis than the past, a change from the era when it fought the war on terrorism, which is ending in a disheartened way with few results.
No one is stronger than the U.S. in armed diplomacy involving major nations. However, it is unskilled at dealing with localized uprisings and insurrections, and it has made many blunders.
Right after the birth of the American republic, it fended off the threat of the British Empire, and it kept Europe away from the Civil War. Afterwards, it defeated Imperial Japan and Nazi Germany, guiding both countries to becoming pacifist, democratic nations. The U.S. fought the Cold War with the Soviet Union in a patient way according to a precise, colossal plan.
One part of the reason is the inherent difficulty of dealing with uprisings and insurrections. Another cause is America’s unique history as a superpower.
The U.S. has never had an official colony, putting aside Cuba, the Philippines, etc. This means that American politicians, elite military authorities, and even elite journalists tend to see conflicts only as something that occurs between nations (this is why many blamed the fiasco of the Iraq occupation on intervention by Iran).
Therefore, it is only natural that the war on terrorism – in which the enemy was not another state – was a troublesome era for the U.S. Perhaps fighting against the superpower China would be a tempting return to a familiar world.
Switching from a fight against terrorism to one against China is not merely an ideology; this also affects military strength itself. For a generation, the Pentagon has been planning to fight two Afghanistan-sized regional conflicts at the same time. However, this plan was changed in 2018, and now the objective is to be able to fight a single war for the meaning of America’s existence.
The new military posture should be more successful than the war on terrorism. During the war on terrorism, the most powerful military in history was forcibly transformed to fight against terrorism in more detail. This required a great deal of money and human resources.
It is not right to dismiss the American military’s measures against terrorism as errors. If not for the reforms of that time, the war in Afghanistan might have led to even worse results.
Still, the Taliban has actually grown stronger after the U.S. military spent almost 20 years in Afghanistan. Biden himself despaired about the war in Afghanistan as far back as 2009, and was opposed to then-President Barack Obama sending reinforcements.
The American military was forced to administer a world of darkness, with vague objectives and constantly changing enemies, to occupy Afghanistan. For some enemies, it is actually easier to incorporate them than to clearly defeat them. Considering this, the idea of confronting a major power probably seems like a type of liberation to the U.S.
The U.S. standing against China with military force would be nothing but good news to the top leaders in the American military. The U.S. would prefer to fight with China rather than against terrorism, because it is possible that this could unify a nation lacking solidarity.
Looking back at the past, American conflicts with other countries have served as opportunities for national unity. National solidarity was achieved when the U.S. joined World War II. This was a complete change from the period between the wars, when there was endless antagonism among political parties. World War II was also a chance for national solidarity in the former Soviet Union, where there were continual purges.
With the collapse of the Soviet Union, the barely-remaining bipartisan spirit in Washington crumbled as well (the year 1988, right after the end of the Cold War, was the last time when the Senate unanimously approved a Supreme Court judicial nominee). The fight against terrorism could not bring the country together like the Cold War.
The most unique characteristic of the war in Afghanistan, which has lasted for 20 years, is that American unity has crumbled since the 9/11 terrorist attacks. Although brutal and violent acts of terrorism are frequent, they have not been able to inspire a sense of oneness like in the past.
Maybe fighting against a traditional superpower, with a population four times larger than the U.S., might achieve this. The U.S. has frequently discovered its own identity in contrast to others. It would not have been possible for a country like this to discover its identity in Afghanistan.
I agree with a great deal of the analysis in this article.
Before the war in Afghanistan, the Vietnam War was another example of the U.S. being unable to defeat a small nation. Protests occurred in the U.S. at that time as well, and the people were divided. Today the U.S. is in conflict with China, which is now clearly a major power. Besides carrying out unfair economic activities, China does not balk at blatantly suppressing human rights in the Xinjiang Uygur Autonomous Region and Hong Kong. As a country that esteems fairness and human rights, there are numerous reasons for the U.S. to censure China. Opposition with China will certainly help build a sense of national unity. The question of how strong a fight the U.S. will put up is one of great importance to Japan.
The Japan Forum for Strategic Studies’ Quarterly Report Vol. 89 (Summer Issue, published July 1, 2021) included a transcript of a lecture by commentator Michio Ezaki, who won the 1st APA Japan Restoration Grand Prize from the APA Japan Restoration Foundation. A section of this transcript follows.
What is intelligence?
What does “intelligence” mean? According to Professor Michael Herman at Oxford University in the United Kingdom, intelligence is “information collected by a nation or an organization that corresponds to an organ of the state to use in national policy or political measures, these activities, or the intelligence agency that conducts these activities.”
The important point here is that this information is collected to be used in national policy or political measures.
Intelligence activities mainly include so-called espionage, sabotage (subversive activities), and influence operations (various operations used against media and politicians to gain an edge in national policy). A pressing issue is how to enhance our country’s intelligence agencies to oppose these three types of activities conducted by foreign countries. As the premise to this, I will discuss two points.
First, even when efforts are made to expand national policy (specifically national security strategies) and intelligence activities, this will mean nothing without structures for utilizing them in national policy.
Second, it is a mistake to think of intelligence from the viewpoint of isolated diplomacy. Collaboration with allies and friendly nations is of premium importance in superior intelligence activities.
Japanese intelligence during the Showa period
I will start by explaining the first point. Looking at prewar Japanese intelligence from the Taisho to the Showa periods, active intelligence activities were conducted separately by the Ministry of Foreign Affairs, army, navy, Ministry of Home Affairs, and private sector. There were also talented intelligence officers. Despite this, there were no structures for collecting and analyzing intelligence from these ministries and the private sector and applying it to national policy, nor were there any for the democratic control of intelligence agencies.
Moreover, there were no structures for these ministries’ intelligence agencies to mutually confirm each other’s information, or for the National Diet to check movements by intelligence agencies. There was no double- or triple-checking, either. In the Showa period, intelligence activities by the army and navy became increasingly self-righteous and of poorer quality. There were also more harmful effects from this vertical split.
For instance, there was an overwhelming deficiency of information about the U.S. Armed Forces in both the army and navy. Not only did this lead to the huge strategic mistake of asking the Soviet Union to mediate the cessation of hostilities, but there was also a significant shortage of information analysis about the power structures in Soviet decision-making. Some diplomats did correctly perceive the Soviet Union’s intentions, but their knowledge was disregarded by the government and military authorities.
Prewar Japan’s only strategy was its military strategy, the Military Defense Policy. There was no national strategy that incorporated diplomacy, intelligence, military, and economic (DIME).
Accordingly, Japan had a narrow-minded way of thinking that said national security depended solely on the military. Information that was unfavorable to military operations was ignored. The supply chains that upheld military affairs – specifically the state of the national economy – were dismissed as well, and intelligence was not much reflected in national policy.
Considering these past mistakes, the question of how to link national strategy and intelligence is an important one for Japan.
This is perfectly expressed by the theme of this symposium, “National Defense, Government, Diplomacy, Economy, and Academia.” It is not enough to think about these things separately. Intelligence activities are only useful when a comprehensive national strategy exists.
Accordingly, if we are to expand our intelligence activities, this must be premised on sufficiently maintaining and developing a national plan to formulate and promote a national security strategy that is also based on diplomacy, intelligence, and the economy, not only on military affairs.
(End of excerpt)
Akashi Motojiro’s intelligence activities during the Russo-Japanese War greatly furthered Japan’s victory, yet after that Japanese intelligence fell to a terrible level. Japan did not even realize that the U.S. had broken its diplomatic and navy codes during World War II. We must urgently increase our military strength to maintain a balance of power against the growing Chinese military. In addition, Japan should establish a national strategy as quickly as possible based on the enhancement of intelligence activities and other factors as well.
July 14 (Wednesday), 11:00 a.m.