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Declaring Global War 6
According to Long Cycle theory, the NATO vs. Russia conflict in Ukraine may be the start of the sixth Global War of the Modern-era. Or alternatively, a multilateral Postmodern global order may emerge.
Ever since classical times, theorists have pursued a cyclical theory of global society by trying to pull patterns from jumbles of historic data. Human life is after all embedded in cycles, from the daily rise and fall of the sun, to the annual parade of seasons, to the rise and fall—birth and death--of beings. Seeking order from the chaos of history serves to better orient the present. However, there is no fixed destiny for human society. Our collective future is not an automatic function of the past. The present must always influence and shape the future. These studies of patterns are driven by the desire to conceptually recognize a dangerous cycle, and to avoid its reappearance through our present actions.
In 1978, American scholar George Modelski proposed a concept of Long Cycles of Global Leadership. According to Modelski, the first Long Cycle began with the 15th century innovation of oceanic maritime travel by the Portuguese. Blue water naval reach empowered one nation to reign as the primary leader of a globe now united by ocean-going sailing vessels. Previously great powers such as Venice, the Mongol Empire or even the Roman Empire were regional powers. Due to their inability to transverse oceans, their shipping was limited to coastal voyages. For example Venice’s trade empire hugged the shores from the Black Sea to Antwerp. But when Bartolomeu Dias navigated around the southern tip of Africa opening the way to Asia, and then Ferdinand Magellan circumnavigated the entire globe, Portugal inaugurated the Modern-era of global hegemony. These naval innovations—along with the rise of Capitalism in Northern Italy--launched a qualitative leap whereby the Premodern-era ended, and the Modern-era began. Portugal succeeded the Republic of Venice as not only the European regional power but also ascending to become the first hegemon of the global political system—which according to Modelski:
may be defined as the institutions and arrangements for the management of global problems or relations, or alternatively as the structure for the management of global interdependence. This system was 'born' (or constructed) about the year 1500, and it is still with us; thus temporally it covers the earth as one political unit and directs our attention away from habitual and exclusive preoccupation with European affairs and events to patterns of interdependence that are intercontinental, oceanic and of global reach.
According to Modelski, there have been five long cycles of global leadership: Portugal (1516-1609), Dutch (1609-1714), Britain I (1714-1815), Britain II (1815-1945), and the USA (1945-current). A generation-long global war determines which nation will serve as global leader for a roughly hundred-year reign. The hegemon’s term is split into three periods: one generation of effective global leadership, a second generation of delegitimization and gently declining global leadership. Sensing an opportunity for the global crown, rival nation-states challengers rise to battle the aging hegemon. This struggle ushers in a Global War, a period of approximately 25-30 years of turmoil and strife which decides the global leader for the next roughly 100 year cycle.
For the Current US-led Long Cycle, clearly the two world wars represent a Global War. Afterwards US successfully steered the globe for a generation up until 1973. Paradoxically it was the rise of the Petrodollar, along with the humiliating defeat in Vietnam ushered in the delegitimization period, one of gentle decline and deindustrialization. The decline of dominance period started in the late Nineties with NATO’s slow march eastwards, and the “free trade” agreements with NAFTA and Communist China and then accelerated as billion dollar weapons systems were used for 20 years to suppress barefoot goat herders in Iraq and Afghanistan. Global War 6 started in February 2022 as the eight-year strife in the Donbass erupted into a major conventional war.
Clearly the current struggle between US/NATO and Russia/China/Primal Horde has all the hallmarks of Global War 6:
It’s important to not that in the last two Global Wars the top challenger was primarily defeated by Russia/USSR. In the climatic stages of the Napoleonic Wars, the French Army occupied, looted and burned Moscow in 1812, but Napoleon’s army was then annihilated on their retreat from “General Winter” and pursuing Russian troops eventually destroyed the French in their victorious Battle of Paris in 1814. Britain mythologies Waterloo but the war had long been decided by that point although Britain’s naval victory at Trafalgar was decisive in checking French ambitions to become a naval power. Similarly in WW2 German troops were 40kms from Moscow but a couple years later the Red Army occupied Berlin. Hollywood in the meantime would have us believe WW2 was decided on the beaches of Normandy although there is no questioning the importance of the American victory over Japan’s rising maritime ambitions. This pattern may to be repeating as China grows stronger while Russia traps the West in a land war of attrition in Ukraine.
The Dutch during their wars against Louis XIV took an innovative approach to their declining fortunes. Realizing that the United Provinces was just too small of a nation to continue as global leader, William of Orange in 1688 launched an invasion against his much larger ally Britain and proceeded to quickly conquer the nation. Once on the English throne, William’s England and the Dutch combined forces against France and eventually emerged victorious. In WW2, once Britain had lost global power, she meekly curtsied in obedience to the new American power, creating a “special relationship,” and has been able to maintain a sense of her former glory to this day. And so, one American strategy would be for a portion of the elite (Elon Musk?) to try to co-opt China by to joining forces with the CPC leadership in the coming struggle.
All five global hegemons have been maritime powers. All five defeated challengers were terrestrial powers. The recent pattern of these wars is that two terrestrial powers destroy themselves, leaving the top sea power to capture the global crown.
So far only Britain has managed to reverse their stage of decline (with the industrial revolution/steam power) and manged to repeat as global hegemon at the conclusion of the Global War 4 (Napoleonic Wars). If we accept the premise that the war in Ukraine is the start of Global War 6, this precedent demonstrates it is possible for the USA to emerge victorious and claim a second term at the helm of global affairs.
Global War 6’s the two main challengers so far—Communist China and Russia—are both primarily land powers. Ideally US grand strategy would aim at provoking these two into fighting each other. In the early 70’s, the US managed to drive a wedge between the USSR and Maoist China by accepting the One China Policy, which seemed to cede control over Taiwan to China. Recently as China’s economic might rises, the US seems to be backpedalling on China ever controlling this “unsinkable battleship” of an island. Now, the US and her allies are being sucked into a land war of attrition against Russia for which they are not prepared. This leaves China—who the US recently declared “Greatest Threat to Global Order and Stability”—on the sidelines to develop her naval power.
There are several reasons to doubt that the patterns established in the first five Global Wars will hold for the sixth. With over 13,000 nuclear weapons deployed across the globe, it is all too easy to image a spiral of escalation that will not only end any Global War, but may well end most life on earth. With the development of hypersonic anti-ship missiles, will naval power really be as potent as it once was? Perhaps large aircraft carriers will become military dinosaurs and swarms of smaller drone ships will carry the day? And culturally, the wealthy nations have lost most warrior virtues, labelling them as “toxic masculinity” and promoting a culture of male passivity. Additionally, global low birth rates means nations will struggle demographically to provide fresh meat for the war machines to grind. Already in Ukraine, in two societies that do retain a warlike culture, the manpower deployed is miniscule compared the campaigns on the Eastern Front during Global War 5 (WW2). On the other hand perhaps unmanned drones will replace soldiers and AI algorithms will replace military strategists as Global War 6 gathers pace?
Is the globe then on the verge of another qualitative shift? Will the Modern-era model of one nation-state holding global leadership evolve into to a Postmodern order featuring a group of nations taking power similar to the situation I describe in Primal Parity? In this scenario, the BRICS+ nations—powered foremost by China—would lead the world as a coalition of nations. One sign of this is the World Economic Forum (WEF) agitating constantly for global power—they hope to project corporate power upon a new global order.
As Modelski points out, the position of global hegemon brings huge financial benefits: for example the US profits from with the dollar being the global reserve currency:
Monopoly (which is never absolute but requires a substantial control over the relevant system) creates rents. This means that to its holders accrue benefits larger than they otherwise would be, e.g., in a more dispersed system.
But monopoly rents also attract rivalry and competition. Hence in its time each world power also faces the necessity of confronting other great powers willing and ready to reach out for global status. From initial unipolarity, the global system moves into bipolarity and multipolarity. The initial preponderance gained in world conflicts cannot and does not last because it inevitably attracts rival power centers. The global system that is past its prime becomes the arena of 'oligopolistic rivalry,' wherein a number of major powers strive to maximize their (usually short-run) advantages and long-term considerations of world interests become increasingly secondary.
So the Primal Horde’s rise in the form of BRICS+ is an attempt to escape paying rent due to the US monopoly position. The paradox is that while the dollar’s global reserve currency status does bring benefits, the strong dollar is also the cause of America’s deindustrialization which results in divisive cultural rot that destroys social cohesion. Already the US/EU’s lack of an arms manufacturing base is impacting the war in Ukraine, with NATO General Secretary openly stating that the war in Ukraine is, “consuming an enormous quantity of Allied ammunition, and depleting our stockpiles.”
China as the primary challenger to US global power is well-aware of the dangers of holding the world’s reserve currency. This is why the BRICS+ is working on a different concept: an international currency to facilitate global trade.
Given the pattern of roughly 30-year Global Wars, it would indeed be paradoxical if the BRICS+ exchange currency was a success in destroying the strong dollar and forced America back towards industry and production—thus possibly triggering a cultural rejuvenation. In turn social cohesion could then return to the point where the US could emerge victorious if Global War 6 manages to stay non-nuclear as it reaches its conclusion in the early 2050’s.
Another possibility is that if the BRICS+ international currency is a success is a qualitative leap toward a communal global leadership organization, where a large coalition of nations band together as global hegemons. This new Primal Horde global order would represent the end of the Modern-era and the start of the Postmodern-era where no single nation-state monopolizes global power. Such a new order may no longer require Long Cycles and their long Global Wars. On the other hand, a new global regime means sailing into unchartered Postmodern-era political territory, the new global order may turn out as the same or even worse as the old order. Humans are after all, all-too-human.