On paper, the US still has by far the world’s strongest military. This is the case whether or not you measure it by military spending, by various indices of military power (e.g. MEU, CAP, or the CMP developed on this blog), or as pertains to the narrower if arguably more relevant naval sphere, by naval megatonnage (even if the gap with China rapidly shrinks as the PLAN adds the equivalent of a major European Great Power navy every single year).
However, there are increasing reasons to think that large parts of this superiority could be becoming illusory – a dangerous state of affairs, given the recovery of bipartisan support for US military intervention and American elites’ oft-stated confidence in their military supremacy.
Some of these reasons are well covered in the military/strategy sphere, such as those relating to issues of the technological convergence of Chinese and other potential adversaries’ weapons systems. The most hyped example are Russian/Chinese hypersonic weapons, though there are many more prosaic examples, ranging from progressive improvements in Chinese fighter engines to the unexpected precision of Iranian ballistic missiles. This is accompanied by US procurement failures, with the F-35 program being the most high-profile example. However, what has not been written as much about is the rapid degradation of the human capital component in the US military – a factor that is no less important than military capital or technological prowess.
Fundamentally, you need your military forces to be staffed with high IQ and well trained men with high morale and commitment to its cause.
High IQ is especially important in commanding positions and in the more “g loaded” services. According to a 2015 paper by M.F. Cancian and M.W. Klein, it seems to have been going rapidly down even before the diversity drives of the 2010s. The cognitive performance of US Marine officers has seen a 10 IQ point decline between the 1980s and 2010.
Here is it looks like in terms of bell curves in 1980 and 2014.
On the other hand, there has been an increase in physical fitness. But, good and aesthetic as fitness maxing is, brawn doesn’t do nearly as much for your combat effectiveness as brains. During WW2, American officers were Chad jocks who could outrun their platoons, while German officers were nerds who studied military history, weapon specs, and did just one hour of athletics per week. Consequently, German units were much more combat effective than American ones, with the best US Marine divisions only being equivalent to second-tier Wehrmacht ones. On the rare occasions that they were more or less evenly matched on the battlefield, with no American logistics or air power preponderance, the Germans almost always won.
This decline is systemic and probably unavoidable in so far as private sector salaries have become much more competitive relative to public sector salaries, including military ones. The attraction of military service as a civic and patriotic ideal has also declined. In academic terms, West Point is a decidedly middling school; it is not where the intellectual gifted go. In fairness, this problem is not unique to the US Armed Forces. There have been similar trends in the Russian Armed Forces, though I imagine China may be more buffered from this by the banal fact that it has just 2 million soldiers out of 1.4 billion people. This should in principle allow China to be much more discerning in its selection criteria.
However, in the past few years, these long-standing trends in deteriorating human capital have been turbocharged by the rapid infiltration of Woke ideology into the American military. As late as 2018, the Army discharged “revolutionary socialist” Spencer Rapone from West Point for flashing “Communism Will Win” at his graduation.
But in retrospect, Rapone’s only problem may have been that he was just ahead of his time by a couple of years. Consider some of the following.
In September 2020, recommended reading courses at West Point included classics of military theory such as “Critical Race Theory: An Introduction” and “A Critical Introduction to Queer Theory”.
In October 2020, the head of the Air Force recruiting division says too many pilots are white men and that increasing diversity is a war-fighting imperative.
Pentagon leaders didn’t need to explain the why, although Gen. David Goldfein, our former chief of staff, did that in calling diversity “a war-fighting imperative.” It’s been clear for some time that our progress in better reflecting the society we serve has been too slow.
Air Force Chief of Staff Gen. Charles Q. Brown Jr., the first African-American to lead any branch of the military, has called on us to accelerate change or risk losing ground to Russia and China, both of which are integrating potential game-changing technologies like artificial intelligence and hypersonic flight. We need both the best technologies and the best people to win. Improving our diversity falls squarely in Brown’s mandate.
In December 2020, apparently unsatisfied with the existing decline in officer IQs, the military called for a “a thorough review of DOD aptitude tests to ensure they do not adversely impact diversity.”
Note that up until now, this was all still under President Trump. One of Joe Biden’s first acts in office was to reverse the transgender ban in the military, heralding it by choosing a transgender veteran to be part of the transition team at the Department of Defense.
By February 2021, the US Navy was recommending its sailors read racial grievance grifter Ibram X. Kendi on “How To Be An Anti-Racist”:
… as well as other classics in the naval genre such as “Sexual Minorities and Politics” and “The New Jim Crow”.
Conspicuously missing: “The Influence of Sea Power Upon History” by Alfred Thayer Mahan, one of the most prominent naval theorists of all time. (The Chinese for their part are reading him).
BTW, how is this for a “naval tradition” that the Chinese will require decades to master, George S. Friedman?
Amusingly, the list does include Ghost Fleet, a sci-fi book in which China knocks out most of the US hi-tech weapons in a surprise attack and the US, through a series of deus ex machina, weasels its way back to victory with a combination of retrofitting mothballed rust-buckets with 3D printed weapons systems, Anonymous hackers, eccentric Silicon Valley oligarchs, and a color revolution in Moscow (perhaps all the Navalny supporters just couldn’t bear the thought of all the trauma that Chinese and Russian troops were inflicting on the bodies of Black transgender soldiers?).
There is already evidence that all these diversity initiatives are having a deleterious effect even in peacetime.
For instance, the USS John McCain was apparently piloted by one such diversity hire during its 2017 collision with a Liberian-flagged tanker:
Check out the bios of the CO and XO. The CO is Commander Alfredo Sanchez, native of Puerto Rico. He appears to be a washout from flight school, reassigned to duty as a surface officer.
The XO is named… Commander Jessie Sanchez, also a native of Puerto Rico. He started out as an enlisted sailor, then got a diploma from a diploma mill and was commissioned as a limited duty officer. This is not a typical bio of a XO of a destroyer, at least in my day.
Not to be deterred, the appropriately named USS John McCain continues to intrepidly venture forth, splitting its time between the Black Sea and the South China Sea.
Meanwhile, even as all these SJW initiatives on racial diversity and transgenders get pushed into the military, the remaining rednecks and non-woke normies are getting policed by the Rainbow Commissars for sporting Pepe the Frog symbols.
Is it possible to arrest these trends? Probably not – as we see above, it was already in progress throughout the US Armed Forces for at least the past couple of years, including during a period when Republicans were ascendant. Moreover, it has its antecedents in the other Anglo-Saxon countries, having started off in Canada and progressed onto the UK from around 2015. A British military affairs watcher with whom I’ve occasionally exchanged emails presented the following timeline a couple of years ago:
Britain has gone from, in just 5 years, the ability to train, organize and deploy the highest quality brigade-level expeditionary forces in the world to having an eroded military now more focused on “wokeness” and “diversity” than combat capability. This decline is not an overnight, black and white phenomena, but appears intractable due to entrenched ideology. Britain now has “woke” Zampolits in the armed forces, the JEDIs (yes, seriously), the Joint Equality, Diversity and Inclusion unit. Canada – as a pioneer of military “wokeness” in the Anglo-Saxon countries – has had these for some time, but have increased in power and scope under Trudeau. Canadian Federal government offices even have “Positive Space Champions/Ambassadors”, equipped with rainbow lapel pins, to enforce/observe compliance with ideology around transgenderism, immigration, 2SLGBTQQIA+ and even climate change.
The Canadian case is less surprising as it clobbered it’s armed forces with politically correct ideology from around 1989/1990 onwards. The British case is far more extraordinary in it’s radical rearrangement of core ethos and human resources pipeline in such a short time and at such a rapid pace. Britain had stubbornly resisted attempts to alter it’s armed forces with such ideology until around 2015.
One might argue that this is not such a big deal for Canada since it doesn’t have any Great Power pretensions and is hardly going to go toe-to-toe with China anytime soon. However, the UK most certainly does retain imperial aspirations, if suborned to American ones – and yet it drank the Kool-Aid regardless. Since most social trends towards “liberalism” in the UK end up migrating across the Atlantic after a few years, that the US would follow shortly afterwards was close to inevitable.
And now that the Woke agenda has become the ideology of the US military, it will now seep down through various Atlancist institutions down to its vassals:
Diversity is our strength.
— NATO (@NATO) March 1, 2021
The obvious historical parallel to such “political education” of the armed forces is the Red Army. This was very much to its detriment and led to millions of extra casualties and surrenders in 1941-42, before the facts of German atrocities and starvation of POWs – as well as a reversal away from Bolshevik agitprop back towards military traditionalism – increased morale and stiffened backbones. But even there, it was accompanied from extremely harsh military discipline from the get go, with several divisions’ worth of Soviet troops getting shot for cowardice, desertion, self-wounding, and the like during the course of the war. Meanwhile, more than a hundred US soldiers claimed “brain injuries” from being in a bunker while Iranian missiles rained down on them for a few minutes. Which is fine so long as military action remains to theatrics, as it did in January 2020, but how they would cope in a real war with a peer competitor who refrains from telegraphing in upcoming missile strikes is a different matter.
The whitepill in this, so far it is, is that all of this self-destructive activity might imply that the US is much less serious about fighting a Great Power than its public rhetoric lets on. Perhaps, if China was to take Taiwan during the early 2020s, the US will just growl and snarl in response, levy massive sanctions – but slink away from an open military confrontation.
On the other hand, the defining thing about ideologues is that a lot of the time they really do drink their own Kool-Aid. Perhaps these days the top brass (if not its analysts) really do think that psychometric tests are social constructs and that diversity really does increase warfighting capacity. Or even if they do realize its hogwash they nonetheless keep quiet because the system has been promoting and selecting for toadies who don’t contradict their political masters. Aggressiveness married to hubris is always dangerous, and the US has no shortage of either, from George S. Friedman’s triumphalist rhetoric about “naval tradition” to US defense policy advisor Michele Flournoy’s powerful claims that the US has the ability to sink all Chinese vessels “within 72 hours” in the South China Sea.
But the nice thing about Wokeness is that even this has a silver lining:
The nice thing about the Great Awokening is that it crimps US capacity to fight imperialist wars. pic.twitter.com/0hWIoxAM9C
— 🇷🇺 ANATꙮLY 🤔 KARLIN (@akarlin88) January 3, 2020
Crazed as a Woke US military might be, it will find it much more difficult to win its wars, especially in conjunction with existing trends with respect to decreasing officer IQ. By breaking down meritocracy and undermining esprit de corps, wokeness probably translates into another effective 5-10 point reduction in IQ so far as combat effectiveness is concerned. This is taking place at the same time that the technological gap relative to “near peer” adversaries (perhaps the “near” part will soon become redundant) is rapidly narrowing.
Military defeat is one of the very few things that could decisively discredit the Woke ideology.