Reading the works of American military pundits and the vast US media commentariat that amplifies their voices often feels like entering an alternate universe. Weaknesses are touted as “strengths”; self-congratulatory propaganda and delusion are seen as substitutes for hard analysis; belligerent, callous jingoism passes as the norm; and American “exceptionalism” is taken for granted almost as a theological truth. Clearly a day of reckoning is coming. It has been coming for some time now.
This is why it is so refreshing to read a work untainted by these delusions. I consider Andrei Martyanov’s The (Real) Revolution in Military Affairs required reading by those who truly care about the fate of the United States: those who are not, unlike the vast majority of our elites, only interested in squeezing as much as they can get from the ailing body of the nation and its institutions. Martyanov was born in 1963 in Baku, and graduated from the Kirov Naval Red Banner Academy at a time when the Soviet Union was already experiencing its own precipitous decline. He emigrated to the United States in the mid 1990s and currently works as a director in a aerospace group. He was raised and educated within the Soviet system, and this gives him a perspective and depth of understanding that is entirely lacking in the military literature churned out by parasitic American “think-tanks” looking to start the next war.
He is technically trained, and knows weapons systems. Perhaps more importantly, he knows corruption and decline when he sees it, and has experienced it first hand in a way that no American can ever fully appreciate. Martyanov is angry, to say the least; he has more than a few bones to pick, and his book pulses with the kind of red-hot anger that cuts through the cant and fakery peddled by the US political elite and its propaganda arm, the US media. The thesis of the book is simple: the United States is grossly unprepared for a modern conflict with an opponent that can fight back. He makes several points in this regard.
The vast majority of people commenting on military affairs in the US—that is, in the media and in academia—are simply not qualified to render opinions on the subject. They lack the technical background, knowledge of weapons systems, military experience, and depth of perception to grasp the realities of modern war. Almost all of them have lived lives of comfort and security, never knowing what it means to go hungry or experience true hardship. American politicians and military pundits are primarily from backgrounds (e.g., law, journalism, business) that render them incapable of offering any meaningful opinion outside the accepted platitudes that are features of the public discourse.
Phrases like “the greatest military in the world” and “American exceptionalism” are bandied about as gospel, and have supplanted rational analysis. Martyanov reserves special contempt for the military “professionals” who see the coining of new, meaningless terms like “fourth generation warfare,” “hybrid warfare,” “kinetic warfare,” “Thucydides Trap,” as substitutes for hard, realistic analysis. And in this, he is absolutely correct. What drives the coinage of these pointless words and concepts is essentially self-promotion, careerism, and financial greed on the part of their inventors. He notes:
Any “strategic” concept advanced by the Western political class, unless it is supported by a serious assessment of military power and its application, merits nothing more than the title of an exercise in sophistry and, as the last two decades demonstrated so dramatically, shouldn’t be taken seriously—be that Fukuyama’s “End of History,” neoconservative war-mongering, liberal interventionism, Thucydides Trap, or even Huntington’s most impressive effort. There is nothing scientific about those concepts without a deep understanding of the nature of military power.
Martyanov’s second point is that the advent of hypersonic weapons has changed the landscape of war permanently. There are no rear areas; the days of American command and control centers remaining untouched are over. Hypersonic missiles and projectiles can now reach almost any place at any time, rendering America’s traditional geographic advantages meaningless. The US Navy is living in a state of delusion, unable to accept the fact that its carrier battle groups would be annihilated, and in short order, in the event of any conflict with Russia, China, and perhaps even Iran. Even tanks have lost much of their luster as offensive weapons; precision munitions would not spare them, either. The US has been throwing vast amounts of money at weapons systems of dubious value, such as the F-35 “stealth” aircraft, when it should have been upgrading its missile forces. The illegal 2018 cruise missile strike on Syria, the author notes, resulted in the shooting down of 70 of the 103 missiles fired by the US at Syrian targets. The real revolution in military affairs has taken place in hypersonic munitions, fast-paced net-centric warfare, and data fusion. Martyanov notes acidly:
Moreover, Western elites, and American elites especially, are generally simply not in the frame of mind to view their countries and indeed themselves personally as possible and legitimate targets in case of a conventional war. Russians know, for example, that President Putin even today could be a target for a variety of governmental and non-governmental groups—even in peace time…They simply cannot conceive of the fact that even in a conventional war scenario many Washington D.C. buildings could be attacked and destroyed.
The author heaps scorn on the US media establishment, which has lost all credibility and functions as little more than a propaganda arm of the US government. Real reform of the US political and military system is supremely difficult, if not impossible, in a media atmosphere that functions more as a circus than as a vehicle for the edification of the public. Those in the US who “get it,” who truly do understand how far the US has fallen behind, and who recognize that there is nothing “exceptional” about the US military, are simply ignored. Their voices are drowned out by a chorus of militarists, flunkies, yes-men, and warmongers of the Bolton-Pompeo type; in this climate, no reform is possible, Martyanov suggests, no matter who sits in the Oval Office.
The author’s final point is that the United States’s problems are derived from a fundamental corruption of its institutions and people, a theme that has figured prominently in some of my own essays. Martyanov holds nothing back:
A good life in the full meaning of the word cannot be good as long as “the pursuit of happiness” is defined only by consumerism and by the “values” of fringe elites which attack the moral fabric of the overwhelming majority in a society. The United States is being subjected to incessant propaganda promoting bizarre lifestyles and esoteric pseudo-scientific concepts of matters ranging from education to art to sex, and admits but obscures the real injustice of its radical social stratification—the proverbial split between the 1 and the 99 percenters.
All in all, Martyanov delivers a harsh indictment, and one that is entirely justified. No one interested in current military affairs or conflict studies can afford to ignore this work. Can there be any meaningful response? Will a shattering American military defeat be the only remedy for its blindness, arrogance, and dysfunction? Or is some kind of reform possible? We cannot know. But predictions about wars are more often wrong than they are right; the truth is that no one really knows what the outcome will be when powerful opposing forces collide. Of course, a nation cannot base its survival on blind optimism, but in fairness it should be acknowledged that, despite Martyanov’s pessimism, reform of congenitally sick systems can and does happen in history.
Reform is always possible, of course, provided the right conditions are met. While this appears unlikely in the near term, we cannot rule out the possibility that good leadership with arise from some as-yet-unknown quarter. It is unquestionably true that hubris, arrogance, and blindness characterize much of the US political and media elites today. Yet Martyanov perhaps underestimates the resources and resilience of the American political system and society; history has proven it to be capable of dynamism and practical achievement once a national consensus has been formed. And if the root of America’s sickness lies in moral corruption brought on by wealth and ease, then perhaps a protracted period of hardship and want, combined with a renewed emphasis on character and moral training in the education of the youth, will be sufficient as corrective measures.
Read more on the consequences of hubris and arrogance in Sallust: