November 14, 2016

Sovereignty Versus Globalism

Strategic Ramifications of the Trump Presidency in the US,
and the Expression of Something Wider and Deeper

Analysis. By Gregory R. Copley, Director, The Zahedi Center. The great schism between urban-driven globalism and nationalism reached a significant milestone with the US election of November 8, 2016. The election inched the competition slightly back in favor of nationalism with the elevation of Donald Trump to the US Presidency.

Around the world, the schism, or competition between globalism and nationalism could equally be described as being between sovereignty and anti-sovereignty, for at stake is the future of the Westphalian nation-state model. How Pres. Trump prosecutes his mandate from Washington, or Prime Minister Theresa May from London, will determine whether momentum is restored to the concept of a balanced nation-state, as opposed to the city-state globalist concept.

But to understand in which direction the incoming US Donald Trump Administration would likely move, it is essential to comprehend the US nationalist movement which thrust him into the Presidency, and where the nationalist revival trend (the trend toward reinforced sovereignty) is moving globally.

The major outstanding question, however, is whether Donald Trump will be able to continue to be responsive to that ill-defined movement, and whether he will be able to bend the entrenched institutions of state to the wishes of that movement. And there is the question as to whether Mr Trump himself recognizes what the movement is that he tapped into with his visceral rejection of the career political élite.

The progressive assault on nation-state structures and borders by urban-led “globalization”, particularly since the end of the Cold War, has already produced a series of protective responses in 2016. These most strikingly included the June 2016 vote by the UK to leave the European Union apart from the November 8, 2016, election of Donald Trump to the US Presidency and the mounting groundswell of opposition, for example, to German Chancellor Angela Merkel.

There have been several other indicators in 2016 of the start of a backlash in many states against the transformation of societies by globalization thinking, and more should be expected in the coming months and years.1 What is significant in the US backlash is that Donald Trump is not a conventional Republican Party politician, by virtue of the fact that he is not part of the professional political class which has, in all modern states, assumed dominance over government.

Globalization — essentially a global network of “city states” — has been perceived as jeopardizing the nation-state structure, with the resultant response in the form of separate nationalist movements in various countries around the world. This is not entirely a post-Cold War phenomenon; it was the underground nationalist movement within the USSR which brought about the sudden collapse of the “internationalist” Soviet communism phenomenon in the late 1980s.

Renowned Australian-American mathematician, astronaut, and cyber authority Dr Paul Scully-Power, in collaborating on this report, described the phenomenon: “What we are seeing today in the world mimics to a large extent the mathematical theory of chaos. For in chaos there is structure: small imbedded entities which can grow exponentially until they coalesce and there is then a sudden phase shift of the total dynamics. These dynamics are non-linear in that these phase shifts can occur somewhat spontaneously and not to the timescale of linear projections. Hence, we should be attuned to the possibility that a ‘globalization of nationalism’ could occur much faster than anyone presently contemplates.”

At its core, the current backlash is driven by identity security issues within populations which have felt increasingly threatened, and is expressed by processes which can, in part, be described as spontaneous nationalism. Unsurprisingly, nationalism has been consistently vilified by urban-led intellectualism since the end of the Cold War. Anti-nationalism was a rising phenomenon in Western European political circles after World War II, and that war — and war in general — was blamed on “nationalist xenophobia”.

But the rise of globalization itself seemed to have peaked by 2008, or so, at the latest; its benefits seeming to be available only to élites in major urban cities.2 Elsewhere, employment was threatened and national identity belittled. Thus, the election of Donald Trump — as with the Brexit vote — seemed timed to correct the economic faltering of the globalization movement, at least for the US and UK.

As a result of nationalist-oriented economic policies, moving away from entitlement and globalized supply-chain practices, the election of Mr Trump to the US Presidency, coupled with the confirmation of a Republican-dominated House of Representatives and Senate, seems likely to mark an interruption of the steady downward strategic trajectory which the US has been experiencing for the past decade. Significantly, two of the major US strategic competitors, the People’s Republic of China (PRC) and Russia, both already had a head start by virtue of their unambiguous commitment to nationalism. Perhaps, ironically, they had been the first to understand the failure of their earlier “internationalist” and anti-nationalist ideological movements.

But it will take some time for the incoming Trump Administration to arrest the continued accumulation of national debt, to restore US international prestige and respect, and to build a new national security structure capable of dealing with a totally transformed global strategic context: a context in which the US no longer automatically dominates.

Re-starting economic growth will, ironically, be the easiest part of the task, and this will provide the base for strategic re-birth. The reconstruction of global credibility and capability should be expected to take as much as two decades, and even assuming its stature and reputation is restored, the US would be operating in an entirely different contextual framework.

The Status Quo Ante Cannot Be Restored

So the incoming Trump Administration, if it succeeds in all its stated initial goals, still cannot restore the status quo ante of US’ primacy in the global strategic architecture in the near term — if ever — because that architecture has been breached irreversibly. For example:

  • The two century-old Western containments of Russia and China, and of much of the Middle East, have been broken;

  • The global population is both shifting and (unevenly) starting to reduce, particularly the core populations in the advanced economies, the major trading nations3;

  • The shape of the conventional global economy is moving in a new direction  — a decline over the longer-term, because of changing population patterns and levels, among other things — ending 70 years of growing scale and prosperity; and

  • The post World Wars I and II “imposition” of Westphalian nation-state structures on the Middle East and Africa is coming to an end and traditional loyalties and hierarchies are offering greater nationalistic allure to many people than the Westphalian model of nationalism.4

As a result, once the Trump Administration takes steps to stimulate the domestic US economy through lower taxes, a commitment to infrastructure renewal, and a dramatic reduction in government regulation and government manpower, the US should begin to move closer toward a balanced budget. It is probable that in its review of government spending, the Trump Administration would look to some clean-sheet analysis on defense spending, possibly leading to a reduction in an overall Defense Dept. budget but endeavoring to create a more efficient Defense sector.

It is probable, too, that the State Dept. budget — which was dramatically inflated during various Democratic Administrations (Carter, Clinton, and particularly Obama) — would be reduced in order to minimize the cuts in Defense spending.

But these are short-term measures, meant for the coming decade.

What is critical if Pres. Trump is to achieve his over-arching objectives is that he understands that he must, for the time being, avoid commitments of US defense forces into new (or expanded existing) foreign conflicts. The outgoing Barack Obama Administration, however, has, during the months leading up to the November 8, 2016, elections, actually committed US forces to prepare for direct involvement in the wars in Syria and Yemen, quite apart from the ongoing engagements in Iraq and Afghanistan. Incoming Pres. Trump will need careful advice to reverse these legacy conflicts which Pres. Obama seems determined to bequeath to him.

Indeed, before the US can move toward resuming command of the global commons — if that is ever again possible in terms which were familiar during the Cold War and immediate post-Cold War period — it must transform its appreciation of the “new” world and the strategies and technologies required to manage it. The linear extrapolation of existing systems, structures, and doctrines being attempted by the US during the past eight years attempts, but fails, to provide the capacity to dominate the newly-fluid architecture which already exists. And other powers, such as the PRC and Russia (but also others), are moving into new realms which will make future competition not only interesting but unavoidable.

Whole-of-Government Approaches in an Information Dominance/Cyber Age

The emerging global framework means that national security once again becomes a whole-of-government, even a whole-of-society affair, blending infrastructure, psychological and political strategies, economic strategies, and hard defense capabilities. It raises questions as to whether all “national security” should come under a single, uniformed command and control structure; it certainly spells the end of stovepiped compartmentalization of strategic capabilities and doctrines if new national security structures are to be effective.

This will be a difficult transition for the US Defense structure, the defense industrial base, and even the legislative branch of the US Government to absorb. It requires new, clean-sheet thinking. But during the period of reconstruction of a strategic vision and capability, and while the US goes through the process of stopping the massive economic decline and starting an incentively-stimulated economic growth, it will be critical for Pres. Trump to avoid being dragged into direct conflict.

The security doctrinal transition would be to an era of Strategic Information Dominance (SID) in the broadest terms, to include cyber warfare, and the manipulation or employment of hard communications assets and sensors (including space-based assets), given that both the hard and soft tools now exist for the imposition of a nation’s will and that using direct military capabilities is only one of a range of capabilities.

Within this Strategic Information Dominance realm, Dr Scully-Power and this analyst assert that globalization has as its foundation and fabric the global Internet, the interconnection of people and places, especially the major urban centers. Hence the rise of nationalism takes this into account and extends the concept of nationalism to the Internet, just as, in the early Internet era the rise of globalism was a phenomenon promoted by the Internet. Without a nationalistic framework to the Internet, nation states will lie prey to insidious attacks on their way of life. Urban societies in particular are totally dependent on an uninterrupted supply of electricity and other forms of energy (not to mention communications) which can be disrupted by a cyber attack from anywhere in the world.5

Indeed cyber warfare and its overarching framework of strategic information dominance is several orders of magnitude more powerful than kinetic weapons, can be perpetrated by small groups (not necessarily by nation states) and has a very low cost of entry. It is therefore almost obvious that polarized societies will inevitably turn to cyber warfare in order to achieve their objectives.

This adds to the urgency that the Trump White House begins a range of realignment of relations with Russia and the People’s Republic of China as well as with historical allies, particularly the Five Eyes community (UK, Canada, Australia, and New Zealand, with the US: the UKUSA Accords countries). This will mean, almost certainly, a US-led approach to re-shaping the North Atlantic Alliance (NATO), to either give it a new purpose or to reduce or even retire it.

If Pres. Trump focuses, as he said he would, on re-starting the US economy, then he would inevitably need to enter into negotiated partnerships with Russia on the Eastern Mediterranean and Middle East, and possibly forging a new modus vivendi with the PRC on the South and East China Seas. Confrontation, at this point, is not an option for the US (and certainly not desired by Moscow and Beijing), so it may mean conceding some of those regional spaces to Russia and the PRC, or massaging an accommodation in which the US has a rôle.

It is likely that — even in a single four-year term of Pres. Trump — the economic stimulation, which should significantly raise the US economic growth rate, would create a rising tide which would float many boats. The economies of the UK, Japan, Australia, and the EU would significantly benefit from a revival of US economic growth. This would, to some degree, take the place of the PRC as the driver of trade and commodity prices. This would also significantly help stabilize and revive the PRC economy.

However, the post-Cold War trend which has built the concept of city-states has meant that, inevitably, the current model of the nation-state — the Westphalian model which evolved from the Peace of Westphalia in 1648 — has come under stress and borders become porous or are treated as irrelevant. The automatic reaction of those societies which have the will to survive will be a reversion to nationalism. Nationalism will protect the balanced urban-rural nation-state; there is no other mechanism to do so.

This natural reversion to nationalism, which was the hallmark of the Trump election campaign, would almost certainly result in a significant degree of protectionism for US industry, but that protectionism may take the form of incentives rather than penalties, in order to stimulate a revival of US manufacturing and energy production and infrastructure renewal. In some respects, US allies should prepare for the fact that the first Trump term would be a period of a return to “soft isolationism”, to give the country time to heal its economic and social wounds, and to rebuild a degree of domestic unity.

Some attempts to limit or modify the various free trade agreements (FTAs) to which the US is signatory will certainly be seen by the Trump White House as critical to the reconstruction of the US economy and employment, but, equally importantly, in sustaining the support for Mr Trump and the Republican Party of those industrial workers who crossed over from the Democratic Party to support his domestic manufacturing agenda. The Trump White House can expect to face significant bureaucratic obfuscation of this process from within his own Department of State. Indeed, the resistance to most of the Trump foreign and economic policy agenda will be profound within a civil service structure built along heavily statist lines by successive Democratic Party administrations.

Hence, the selection of a strong and knowledgeable Secretary of State will be of profound importance, and the indication that former House of Representatives Speaker Dr Newton (“Newt”) Gingrich could fill this post is a sign of a determination to commit to a new and purposeful foreign policy.

It will not, however, be possible for the Trump Administration to oversee the modernization or replacement of most of the existing, obsolescent civilian infrastructure, or legacy defense systems and doctrine. There will be neither sufficient funds nor sufficient will; the task is too big for a single Presidential term. In the defense arena, it should be expected that Pres. Trump would move to retire a number of key military and intelligence officials who he believes had been compromised by being politicized by the outgoing President. Replacing legacy major defense systems en bloc is undesirable, in any event, because legacy-technology threats will continue to exist as the new Strategic Information Dominance era gradually emerges.

Above all, the Trump Administration urgently needs to review the status of its alliances and its traditional patterns. Some need overhauling; some need reinforcing. The NATO situation is of significant concern to the President-elect, and rightly so: the North Atlantic Alliance successfully safeguarded the West against the USSR and the Warsaw Treaty Organization. Either the Alliance should be restructured to perform new tasks, or it should be put into stasis. Attempts to sustain NATO as an anti-Russian organization, as a resource to tackle other, out-of-theater missions, have only served to delay or vitiate the NATO victory in the Cold War. Apart from eliminating a military and political threat to the West, the goal of NATO was — according to UK Prime Minister Margaret Thatcher and US Pres. Ronald Reagan — to bring the peoples of the former Soviet Union into the Western framework.

Successors to Mrs Thatcher and Pres. Reagan insisted, however, on keeping Russia — as the successor state to the USSR — as an enemy, and the outgoing/current US Obama Administration, and particularly Secretary of State Hillary Clinton, may have succeeded in souring the opportunity to evolve a new framework of cooperation with Russia. But what is clear is that the rôle of Turkey within NATO and historically for Western Europe — to assist in containing Russia — is now over. Russia has broken through to the South, and Turkey has declared itself the enemy of the US and the European Union. And yet it is still in NATO, while conducting strategic operations inimical to NATO and the West.

Former US Director of the Defense Intelligence Agency (DIA), Lt.-Gen. Michael Flynn, who parted on bad terms from the Obama Administration and went on to support now-President-elect Trump, has called for a revival of US support for Turkey, which demonstrates his limited understanding of the evolving geopolitical framework and of the real situation with Turkey. Turkey’s thrust for the foreseeable future is inimical to US and Western interests (as it is to the interests of most of its neighbors, including Russia, although Moscow has Turkey temporarily constrained). Similarly, former Clinton Administration Director of Central Intelligence, James Woolsey, now also a supporter of President-elect Trump, has voiced support for Turkey as “a NATO ally”. These two high-profile supporters of the incoming President have demonstrated that they understand little of the nuance of this key area of strategic concern to the US.

That the US needs some respite from foreign military confrontation seems obvious, if it is to correct its domestic social and economic conditions, but that does not mean that the US can have a withdrawal from the international arena. It must work to clarify and repair its core alliance relations, which have been badly damaged. It must see what new options can be developed given the re-drawing of the geopolitical fault lines by the break-outs by Russia and the PRC. And it must, if it is to succeed, start to plan leap-frog technological and doctrinal strategic policies to avoid being further constrained in its global future.

The whole concept of both personal and national security is about to change, with the populace demanding that the government protect them by providing security, both personal and nationally. This runs counter to the commonly accepted rationale for a defense department whose strategy is predicated on building armaments for use “over there”. That will soon become the minor issue, for the focus must now be to protect the nation “over here”. The Trump Administration is forced, as a result, to therefore resile from supporting proxy wars around the globe and to focus on the security of its people. Only then would it be able to restore trust in government, a trust which has been abrogated and which was the basis of the Trump victory.

Dr Scully-Power notes: “So in an era of complexity where perplexity reigns, there is an overwhelming need for integrity and creativity which is the ultimate yardstick of the success or otherwise of the Trump ascendency.”

All of this will require totally new thinking, as well as an understanding of where all the bodies are buried in the Washington maze; these are opposing, but strangely symbiotic, skills. Mr Trump needs outsiders who understand the inside. Such individuals are in short supply: deeply knowledgeable and strongly independent thinkers such as Stefan Possony, Herman Kahn, and Robert Strausz-Hupé, are no longer alive.

Omar Khayyám’s 73rd quatrain of his Rubáiyát captured much of the angst being expressed in many societies:

Ah, Love! Could thou and I with Fate conspire

To grasp this sorry Scheme of Things entire,

    Would not we shatter it to bits — and then

Re-mold it nearer to the Heart’s Desire!

The Trump election, as with the Brexit vote — and potentially other emerging public groundswells of nationalism in France, Italy, Austria, and elsewhere, quite apart from the return to pre-colonial traditional leadership and narrowly-focused nationalism in Africa and parts of the Middle East — represented  that “shattering to bits” of what had seemed to be a global view of globalism.

Or, as Shakespeare offered a more active vision of the “call to arms” which impelled US voters in electing Trump and in the UK breaking with the EU, in Julius Caesar:

                                    There is a tide in the affairs of men,

                                    Which, taken at the flood, leads on to fortune;

                                    Omitted, all the voyage of their life

                                    Is bound in shallows and in miseries.

                                    On such a full sea we are now afloat,

                                    And we must take the current when it serves,

                                    Or lose our ventures.

Political leaders around the world will need to take note not of Pres. Trump himself, necessarily, but of the groundswell movement which gave him the Presidency. It is the movement of the world away from globalism and back to nationalism.


1. The election of a bloc of anti-establishment, nationalist Senators from Pauline Hanson’s One Nation Party in the Australian elections of July 2, 2016, was part of the same process. The groundswells in Hungarian and Austrian politics represent a similar basis, with a likely significant nationalist vote in the Austrian Presidential election second round of December 2, 2016, and a rise in support for the National Front (Front National: FN) of Marine le Pen in the May 7, 2017, French Presidential election and the June 2017 Parliamentary elections. A Presidential election win by Marine le Pen is possible, even if pitted against conservative former Pres. Nicolas Sarkozy. Italy’s December 4, 2016, referendum on reforming Parliament to limit the power of the Senate was also expected to reflect rising nationalist tendencies in the country. It has been suggested that this referendum could be a significant indicator on Italy’s continued participation within the European Union.

2. See, Copley, Gregory R.: “The Wave Breaks, and the 20th Century, Along With Globalization, Passes”, in Defense & Foreign Affairs Special Analysis, February 10, 2009. This, in part, noted:

Globalization was already dead by late 2008, and rigor had begun by early 2009 to show the irreversibility of its passing. True, lingering phantoms of the phenomenon remain abroad in the world — and will be evident for decades in technologies and structures — like sabers still carried on 21st Century parade grounds, just as the legacy hierarchies of Genghis Khan and, earlier, Alexander the Great, continued to exist centuries after their periods of “globalization” had ended. 

The failing condition of the modern iteration of globalization, only born with the end of the Cold War in 1990, has been evident for a few years. Globalization appeared as the hot, hard wind of an ebola-like virus: fast to come; faster to go. And, as in the silence of a stricken village after an ebola devastation, new life stirs, mirroring in its tentative emergence the generations of nature past. The brief, aberrant breeze of the open, global pattern is quickly lost. We, those who emerged from the earlier era and those born into the new, have begun to return to human nature’s proven old ways, but we have yet to re-learn them. 

The new age — beyond the Age of Global Transformation now taking root — will reflect the patterns of species behavior since time immemorial: survival through adaptation. The first human reaction to structural collapse in societies, however, as we enter the chaos of transformation is to cling to what remains of the past, and to make increasing sacrifices to old gods. We yearn for a familiar pattern, and we flock to those who promise the restoration of fathomable stability. 

Thus, the first generation of leaders to capture the maelstrom populations of the transformation years is comprised of those who can speak eloquently and point the finger of blame. It is easy, then, to see how, as people rally around leaders promising solutions and assigning blame, the world will begin to resume more nationalistic lines. 

Some of the characteristics of the globalization era will, of necessity, begin to erode as economic uncertainty bites. Travel, imported acquisitions, and — consequentially — communications will to some degree shrink. Societies will need to rebuild local founts of food, manufactured goods, and resources to avoid the cost, and dependence, of imported supplies. Internally, those societies which prosper will be those which become more balanced and more capable of creating internal solutions to local needs. But this, too, will engender greater isolationism within societies, and among sub-societies, and create more fear of outsiders. 

Nationalism will be seen as necessary, too, as economic hardship in many areas begins to eat at living standards and healthcare quality. Societies will be vulnerable to epidemics and pandemics, some of which are already beginning to roil and bubble through refugee camps and shantytowns. 

3. See, particularly, Copley, Gregory R.: UnCivilization: Urban Geopolitics in a Time of Chaos. Alexandria, Virginia, 2012: The International Strategic Studies Association.

4. See, Bodansky, Yossef: “The History of What’s Next”, in Defense & Foreign Affairs Strategic Policy, 10-2016, and in Defense & Foreign Affairs Special Analysis, September 22, 2016.

5. See, particularly, Copley, UnCivilization (op. cit.), and Copley, Pickford, Bodansky, Archibald: Energy Security 2.0: How Energy is Central to the Changing Global Balance in the New Age of Geography, Alexandria, Virginia, 2011: the International Strategic Studies Association.

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