Europe And America Aren't Ready For Great Power Conflict
The need to rebuild the American military
Max Bergmann and Sophia Besch in Foreign Affairs.
When Russia invaded Ukraine in February 2022, it seemed like a transformational moment for European security. Surely now Europe would finally get its act together on defense. But as the war enters its second year, such a transformation has not materialized. The fault for the ongoing stasis lies with many parties—European states, NATO, the European Union and even the United States—all of whom have defaulted to the comfortable practices of the past in the hope of preserving an untenable status quo.
This is not to say that Europe has not been altered by the war. European publics and their leaders have rallied in support of Ukraine and maintained their support despite skyrocketing energy prices and high inflation. European countries have provided massive quantities of arms to Ukraine although not as much as the United States. Finland and Sweden have applied to join NATO. The EU has provided billions in lethal equipment to Ukraine and is training Ukrainian forces. And the sense of shock and urgency felt by European leaders in response to the Russian invasion of Ukraine is reflected clearly in defense spending hikes. Now most European countries in NATO come close to the organization’s goal that all members spend at least two percent of GDP on defense, with some countries such as Poland and the Baltic states spending far more.
But look more closely, and these changes seem less than transformative. Although the current spending bonanza might suggest a transformation, it may amount to little if underlying issues plaguing European defense remain unaddressed.
Instead of galvanizing efforts to address deep structural problems in European defense, the war has only reinforced them. European forces are in worse shape than previously thought, and weapons stockpiles have necessarily been depleted to support Ukraine. As Europe seeks to rearm, it is finding that its defense industries aren’t fit for purpose. Efforts to coordinate European procurements are not working, with countries all going their own separate ways, adding to the general dysfunction. The United States has demonstrated its indispensability to European security and confirmed Europe’s dependence on Washington. European leaders have seemingly accepted this as the natural state of affairs, with many declaring the pursuit of European “strategic autonomy” dead and turning their backs on cooperation with other EU countries. The momentum in favor of reform and change that had built up over the last decade appears to have vanished.
Although proposals exist for addressing these problems, none offer the kind of sweeping initiative that would be necessary to fix them. In short, a broken status quo prevails.
But the present situation is unsustainable. Joe Biden may be the last truly transatlanticist U.S. president, as a generational change will eventually come to American politics. While American national security leaders brought up in the twentieth century were consumed with European security—from the Cold War to NATO expansion and the Balkan wars—a younger generation focused instead on the Middle East, counterterrorism, and now, China. If Europeans do not reform their fragmented defense forces and procurement systems now, they will soon be back where they started before the Russian invasion of Ukraine. The opportunity to transform European defense is slipping away.
Clint Hinote returned from a deployment in Baghdad in the spring of 2018 to a new assignment and a staggering realization. A classified Pentagon wargame simulated a Chinese push to take control of the South China Sea. The Air Force officer, charged with plotting the service’s future, learned that China’s well-stocked missile force had rained down on the bases and ports the U.S. relied on in the region, turning American combat aircraft and munitions into smoldering ruins in a matter of days.
“My response was, ‘Holy crap. We are going to lose if we fight like this,’” he recalled.
The officer, now a lieutenant general, began posting yellow sticky notes on the walls of his closet-size office at the Pentagon, listing the problems to solve if the military was to have a chance of blunting a potential attack from China.
“I did not have an idea how to resolve them,” said Lt. Gen. Hinote. “I was struck how quickly China had advanced, and how our long-held doctrines about warfare were becoming obsolete.”
Five years ago, after decades fighting insurgencies in the Middle East and Central Asia, the U.S. started tackling a new era of great-power competition with China and Russia. It isn’t yet ready, and there are major obstacles in the way.
Despite an annual defense budget that has risen to more than $800 billion, the shift has been delayed by a preoccupation with the wars in Iraq and Afghanistan, the pursuit of big-ticket weapons that didn’t pan out, internal U.S. government debates over budgets and disagreement over the urgency of the threat from Beijing, according to current and former U.S. defense officials and commanders. Continuing concerns in the Mideast, especially about Iran, and the Russian invasion of Ukraine have absorbed attention and resources.
Corporate consolidation across the American defense industry has left the Pentagon with fewer arms manufacturers. Shipyards are struggling to produce the submarines the Navy says it needs to counter China’s larger naval fleet, and weapon designers are rushing to catch up with China and Russia in developing superfast hypersonic missiles.
When the Washington think tank the Center for Strategic and International Studies ran a wargame last year that simulated a Chinese amphibious attack on Taiwan, the U.S. side ran out of long-range anti-ship cruise missiles within a week.
The military is struggling to meet recruitment goals, with Americans turned off by the long conflicts in Iraq and Afghanistan, potentially leaving the all-volunteer force short of manpower. Plans to position more forces within striking range of China are still a work in progress. The Central Intelligence Agency, after two decades of conducting paramilitary operations against insurgents and terrorists, is moving away from those areas to focus more on its core mission of espionage.
The U.S. military’s success in the Mideast and Afghanistan came in part from air superiority, a less well-equipped foe and the ability to control the initiation of the war. A conflict with China would be very different. The U.S. would be fighting with its Asian bases and ports under attack and would need to support its forces over long and potentially vulnerable supply routes.
If a conflict with China gave Russia the confidence to take further action in Eastern Europe, the U.S. and its allies would need to fight a two-front war. China and Russia are both nuclear powers. Action could extend to the Arctic, where the U.S. lags behind Russia in icebreakers and ports as Moscow appears ready to welcome Beijing’s help in the region.
This article is the first in a series examining the challenges faced by America’s military as it enters a new international era.
The U.S. military is still more capable than its main adversaries. The Chinese have their own obstacles in developing the capability to carry out a large-scale amphibious assault, while the weaknesses of Russia’s military have been exposed in Ukraine. But a defense of Taiwan would require U.S. forces, which are also tasked with deterring conflict in Europe and the Middle East, to operate over enormous distances and within range of China’s firepower.
Youth In Middle Management Driving DEI
Why do big companies seem to be getting only more woke? It’s a question I’ve been asked frequently since I started to maintain a list of woke businesses in April 2021. I was frustrated that much of corporate America was fecklessly endorsing Democratic fear-mongering about a newly passed election-integrity law in Georgia—which, indeed, subsequent minority voter turnout proved to be a hysterical reaction. To my knowledge none of the organizations that joined the pressure campaign against Georgia have apologized. Most have become even more woke, inserting themselves into such issues as abortion and parental rights in education, causing my list to grow and grow.
A new paper by researchers from Baylor University and the Copenhagen Business School helps shed light on why.
Wokeness, the authors conclude, typically originates from power-seeking middle managers looking to carve out areas of responsibility that enhance their job security. Think of career fields that tend to attract more Democrats, like the human-resource bureaucrats who manage diversity-training programs or advertising teams that design social-justice marketing campaigns. Lower-status employees are somewhat expendable to a giant company, but rather less so if they specialize in wokeness. The diversity, equity and inclusion jargon alone makes such initiatives “difficult for outsiders, including top managers, to understand” and thus to “challenge,” the study explains. The result is that middle-management bureaucrats play an “outsized” role in spreading this leftwing ideology to corporate culture.
Though there is “little evidence of systematic support for woke ideas among executives,” they tend to rubber-stamp them anyway. Corporate leaders often fear their younger, more sensitive and progressive subordinates, as well as the advocacy groups that rate companies on woke metrics. Executives know that if they don’t approve leftwing initiatives, they could face public backlash. We’ve seen woke employees protest corporate policies at Amazon, Hachette, Disney, Netflix and a host of other companies. As the researchers point out, in some cases executives approve woke initiatives to shift the focus away from hard performance measures like profitability toward softer, more easily manipulated ones like “contributions to diversity or social justice.”
There’s little sign of wide support for wokeness among the public, the study notes, yet companies seem blind to the risk of alienating customers by going too far left. I think that’s partially explained by how social media distorts their view of public opinion. Because younger generations are more likely to take to Twitter or similar platforms to tarnish a brand that offends their sensibilities, businesses get the idea that their customers are more left-leaning than they really are. Even if they see through this, it seems to me that companies often seem more interested in building loyalty with the younger, woker demographic than fretting about older customers who don’t like their branding.
One serious consequence of all this, the study explains, is that “the promotion of corporate wokeness limits viewpoint diversity.” As leftwing ideology pervades a company, it becomes harder and harder to have an unorthodox opinion and still succeed there, the study concludes. That’s “typically bad for creativity and innovation.”
It also seems to lead to a disconnect between brands and their customers’ values. While 63% of corporate executives agreed “unequivocally” that companies “should speak out on social issues” in a November 2021 Brunswick Insights poll, a mere 36% of voters—and only 51% of Biden voters—concurred. Edelman’s 2022 Trust Barometer showed that Republican voters’ trust in businesses dipped 12 points last year, falling for the first time ever to a point at which a majority distrusted corporations. This is no doubt in part due to increasing frustration with corporate wokeism.
Politico’s War On Words
In my new book, The Snowflakes’ Revolt, I examine how progressive millennials have infiltrated and influenced American media over the past decade, taking ideas from college campuses into the newsroom and pushing the editorial line further to the left than ever before. Among the many prominent organizations where this has happened is Politico. One sign of the shift at this Washington news mainstay came in December 2020, when staff revolted after conservative commentator Ben Shapiro guest-authored the outlet’s flagship newsletter, Playbook. A few months later newsroom activists, unsatisfied by Politico’s response to their concerns, quickly seized on a new culture war battle — transgender issues.
The showdown centered on a March 2021 article titled “GOP seizes on women’s sports as unlikely wedge issue.” The article, by political reporter Gabby Orr, explored how Republicans sought to position themselves as defenders of women’s sports against transgender athletes. The row over the article didn’t generate as many headlines as the bust-up over Shapiro, but internally it was a decisive moment that marked a sea change in how the publication reported the news.
As a source briefed on the situation explained to me, Orr was informed by Politico’s director of editorial diversity initiatives Robin Turner that two colleagues had voiced concerns about her story. Turner wanted to arrange a meeting to discuss them. During the meeting, Orr was asked about her employment history at the Washington Examiner, a center-right outlet, and asked why the story omitted any transgender voices — though it had extensively quoted Kate Oakley, senior counsel at the Human Rights Campaign, an activist organization dedicated to LGBTQ+ issues.
Orr’s colleagues also complained that she quoted conservatives, such as American Principles Project director Terry Schilling and former White House policy adviser Stephen Miller, without “contextualizing” their comments. Schilling had pessimistically praised left-wing activists for their ability to convince the American public that transgender people were facing a wave of violence even though when “you look at the numbers… it’s, like, forty people.” Orr, her colleagues argued, should have explicitly told readers that those remarks were offensive and transphobic.
One attendee took issue with the phrase “biological women,” which appeared three times in the piece, but only in direct quotations. Her colleagues again described the phrase as offensive to transgender readers.
At the end of the meeting Turner suggested that Orr’s colleagues serve as “sensitivity readers” — making sure Orr wasn’t causing offense — prior to publication of future stories about transgender issues. Interestingly, the problem didn’t arise when Orr wrote a 5,000-word Politico magazine cover story on the same subject only six months earlier, extensively quoting trans people without drawing internal complaints.
Red States Move To Protect Teens Online
Toney and Brandy Roberts, the parents of Englyn Roberts, thought they had done everything right when they gave their teenage daughter a smartphone. They told her not to download social media apps like Instagram and TikTok. They required her to share her password and checked her phone regularly for apps or other questionable content.
But Englyn was able to outsmart them, accessing Instagram and TikTok without their knowledge. And in the midst of some boy troubles, her use of social media helped lead her down a very dark path. A friend shared an Instagram video on suicide, Englyn’s father, Toney, told 60 Minutes: “And that video was a lady on Instagram pretending to hang herself, and that’s ultimately what our child did. You ask yourself, how did she come up with this idea? And then when I did the research, there it was. She saw it on Instagram.”
“If that video [hadn’t been] sent to her, because she copied it, she wouldn’t have had a way of knowing how to do that certain way of hanging yourself,” her mom, Brandy, said. In the wake of this tragedy, Meta, Instagram’s parent company, said they are making every effort to protect children from harmful content on the social media site. But a CBS News producer impersonating a 13-year-old was able to get on Instagram easily and access content promoting self-harm and anorexia.
Englyn’s death is but one dramatic example of the toll social media are exacting on America’s teens. A mounting body of evidence indicates social media are a big factor in skyrocketing rates of anxiety and depression among adolescents, especially teenage girls, with these rates surging since 2010, when smartphones became widely available. Depression more than doubled in this same period, from 12 percent in 2010 to 26 percent today, for teen girls. Teen suicide among girls has risen to a 40-year high and, just last week, the CDC released a new report indicating that almost three in five teenage girls felt persistent sadness in 2021—the highest rates of sadness recorded in a decade.
So, what’s the answer? We must treat Big Tech the way we dealt with Big Tobacco at the end of the last century — as an industry whose access to a vulnerable population, our teens, must be curtailed.
The real star of North by Northwest is Cary Grant’s suit.
Items of Interest
China’s foreign minister says U.S. relationship risks going off the rails.
Top high school collaborated with the Chinese military.
Beware the free plane tickets to Hong Kong.
Two Americans dead, two rescued in Mexico kidnapping.
Jerome Powell testifies before Congress on rates.
DOJ files anti-trust lawsuit to block JetBlue purchase of Spirit airlines.
Kaminsky: FBI worked secretly with hospitals to strip Americans’ gun rights.
The growing bipartisan backlash against “Latinx”
Eric Adams: Take off your masks when entering stores.
Shafer: DeSantis and Trump, echo or choice.
Axios claims Trump considering four women for VP.
How the media got vinyl chloride risks wrong.
Semafor’s China think tank deals.
How John Heilemann lied about his lab leak stance.
How Google’s slow approach to AI let Microsoft get ahead.
ESPN debate erupts after JJ Redick calls out Kendrick Perkins for calling NBA writers racists.
Derek Carr may not be the upgrade the Saints need.
Are the Chicago Bears botching the draft?
New Daredevil series: Jon Bernthal returns as Punisher.
Chris Rock’s pointed criticism of Meghan Markle.
Kennedy: Why ladies should leave their man at home.
“If two people are in disagreement about something important, they may disagree as amicably as they like if it is just a matter of getting to the truth or the most amenable option. But if one party finds their whole purpose in life to reside in some aspect of that disagreement, then the chances of amicability fade fast and the likelihood of reaching any truth recedes.”
— Douglas Murray