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The Lighthouse is the weekly email newsletter of the Independent Institute.
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Volume 10, Issue 5: February 4, 2008

  1. A U.S.-China Arms Race in Space?
  2. Kenya’s Carnage
  3. How to Undermine a Counterinsurgency Campaign
  4. Will the United States Follow the Roman Empire?

1) A U.S.-China Arms Race in Space?

Are China and the United States about to engage in an arms race in space? Although George H.W. Bush, Bill Clinton, and George W. Bush have been largely agnostic on the question of whether China is the next great threat to U.S. security, various influential “space warriors” have been urging U.S. policymakers to prepare for what they believe will be an inevitable showdown between the two countries, according to Independent Institute Research Fellow Mike Moore, author of Twilight War.

Thanks to China’s actions, judging its intentions is like trying to read tea leaves. On the one hand, “China has long been the lead player in a global effort to negotiate a ban on all space-related weapons, not just weapons of mass destruction,” writes Moore. On the other hand, continues Moore, “because of its ill-advised, ham-fisted, debris-producing antisatellite test in January 2007, China...shot itself in its collectivized foot.”

How should the United States respond to China’s mixed message? According to Moore, because pursuing an arms race in space would entail significant costs and risks for both countries, the most prudent course of action is instead to attempt to negotiate a treaty to prohibit space-based weapons. “We are so far ahead of everyone else in the military uses of space, we could afford to spend a few years in serious negotiations,” writes Moore. “If it becomes apparent after two or three years that the Chinese and Russians were just posturing, we will have learned something important. But if treaty talks make real progress, the nation and the world would benefit.”

“Call Their Bluff,” by Mike Moore (The Space Review, 1/28/08)

Twilight War: The Folly of U.S. Space Dominance, by Mike Moore

Upcoming event: Mike Moore will address the question, “Is the U.S. Provoking an Arms Race in Space?” in Oakland, Calif., February 12, 2008.

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2) Kenya’s Carnage

Kenya’s descent into violence, after credible allegations that the government of President Mwai Kibaki had rigged the December 27 election, is all the more tragic because Kenya had held so much promise for Africa. “Now when it looked as if Kenya was leaving behind its authoritarian politics, Kibaki, with a single stroke, has managed to make Kenya look no different than most corrupt and violent African states,” writes Independent Institute Senior Fellow Alvaro Vargas Llosa.

The recent post-election strife, in which more than 1,000 Kenyans have died, followed years of growing, mutual mistrust by rival tribal, religious, and political groups—including provincial residents resentful of the concentration of power around the country’s capital, Nairobi, Vargas Llosa notes. “But these tensions and grievances were only latent because, since the end of one-party rule in 2002, various institutional mechanisms seemed to be gradually falling into place, promising gradual participation, mobility and decentralization.”

By reversing Kenya’s positive trend, Kibaki “has followed the worst tradition of African politics of the last half-century,” continues Vargas Llosa. “After the trauma of colonialism, one African leader after another chose to establish tyrannical kleptocracies rather than the rule of law, cloaking their actions in foreign ideologies instead of building on local customs that held some promise for the development of limited governments and vibrant economies.”

“A Crime Against All Africans,” by Alvaro Vargas Llosa (1/30/08) Spanish Translation

For more on Africa, see Making Poor Nations Rich, edited by Benjamin Powell.

Liberty for Latin America: How to Undo Five Hundred Years of State Oppression, by Alvaro Vargas Llosa

The Che Guevara Myth, by Alvaro Vargas Llosa

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3) How to Undermine a Counterinsurgency Campaign

“In 2007, the U.S. conducted more than 1,100 air strikes [in Iraq], a more than fivefold increase over the previous year,” writes Independent Institute Research Fellow Charles Peña. Although these air strikes, as well as the 40,000 pounds of explosives dropped south of Baghdad on January 10, may have inflicted heavy insurgent casualties, they do not necessarily make for a sustainable, long-term victory, he argues.

As the U.S. Army/Marine Corps Field Manual FM 3-24 recognizes, even the use of relatively precise bombing tactics can backfire by inflicting deaths and damage that alienate the civilians whose support is necessary to win a counterinsurgency, Peña explains.

“In other words, bombing is a proverbial Catch-22,” writes Peña. “Even if civilians are not killed (the military claims that 35 al-Qaida militants were killed in the attack that dropped 40,000 pounds of bombs and that there were no civilian casualties), bombing results in destruction and devastation (the attack destroyed 25 homes and 13 vehicles).... So while bombing may be one solution to achieving security, it may also create setbacks to providing basic services and economic opportunity—and ultimately counterproductive to counterinsurgency.”

“Using Air Power Kills Insurgents, But Can Also Create New Ones,” by Charles Peña (The [Philadelphia] Bulletin, 1/23/08)

More by Charles Peña

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4) Will the United States Follow the Roman Empire?

Is the United States setting itself up to become a world empire that, like the empire of ancient Rome, will implode and drag down much of the world with it? Princeton University historian Harold James, author of The Roman Predicament: How the Rules of International Order Create the Politics of Empire, believes that the U.S. commitment to free trade and free markets, incomplete though it may be, is destined to produce an international backlash that will lead countries to adopt policies that will undermine global stability and prosperity.

In the Winter 2008 issue of The Independent Review, Texas A&M political scientist Michael Desch takes issue with James’s view. He argues that James’s diagnosis is correct—efforts to preserve the liberal international order can lead to illiberal imperial policies—but that his remedy is deeply flawed. “Rather than building more international institutions of governance [as James advocates],” Desch writes, “we should rely on the ‘invisible hand’ of the balance of power as the best means to preserve international order (not to mention our own domestic liberalism) without empire.”

“Although a few nonrealists have made principled arguments about why the world would be better off without a U.S. Empire, the realists, arguing largely on pragmatic grounds, have most insistently urged restraint and caution,” Desch continues. “The realists fear that as the United States grasps for the mantle of world domination, it will generate opposition around the world, resulting in greater international tension and conflict. Conversely, they are content to allow those same dynamics to ensure that no other state can establish its dominion. Realism, in sum, provides the United States with the basis for a consistent and sustained policy of engagement with the rest of the world based on the principle that Americans can pursue their national interests without having either to remake the rest of the world in their image or to retreat from the world completely.”

Michael C. Desch reviews The Roman Predicament: How the Rules of International Order Create the Politics of Empire, by Harold James (The Independent Review, Winter 2008).

Subscribe to The Independent Review.

The Empire Has No Clothes: U.S. Foreign Policy Exposed, by Ivan Eland

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