Wednesday, December 31, 2008

Asymmetrical Warfare

The Mouse that Roared is a 1959 Cold War comedy starring the greatest performer in the history of the movies, Peter Sellers. Five years before his turn in Dr. Strangelove, this film sees an ad hoc military force from tiny "Fenwick" invade Manhattan and capture a doomsday device. The action bizarrely anticipates both the Cuban Missile Crisis and the challenges of less technologically advanced military foes that still haunt the U.S.

Militarism is ludicrous in The Mouse that Roared. The Fenwick Army does jumping jacks in their chainmail on the poop deck of their one vessel. They shoot arrows at anyone who challenges them. Needless to say, the U.S. does not respond with an effective "counter-insurgency." But beyond the obvious silliness, this film confidently presents war as a profitable deception fought by pawns.

What got me thinking about this movie, though, is the deployment of European troops outside the continent in order to protect an investment (Fenwick invades the U.S. because California's wine industry is threatening their own). This was cheeky and unrealistic from 1959 until now.

A new flavor of military action is taking shape--one that lacks U.S. leadership. Somali pirates seized a huge Saudi oil tanker in November. It becomes clear why this shocked the international community when you see in this clip how little these pirates are working with. And while it's true that the push to combat piracy off the Somali coast has been multilateral, it hasn't been from the U.S.-led NATO. It has been a Franco-British police action, with help from such unlikely military players as Japan and China.

The 100,000 American military troops on European soil mean that the U.S. takes care of much of the defense budget for European countries. But there has been some complicated political pressure for Europe to kick in more resources to NATO. It's complicated because in the zero-sum game of militarism, empowering others means you yourself are weaker.

One small tip in the balance of power was the deployment to Macedonia of the European Rapid Reaction Force (ERRF) in 2002. The ERRF consists of 60,000 on-call soliders from the national armies of the member states. It's a sort of Euro-SWAT team, that could theoretically deliver bandits back to a theoretically-functioning Somali government.

This is not the return of Napoleon. But maybe at least we won't see any more comedies about the U.S. army humiliated by "a bunch of fifteenth century Europeans."