The Interlocking of Strategic Paradigms

Theodore Postol, Professor of Science, Technology and National Security Policy at MIT, has provided a forensic analysis of the videos and evidence emerging from Iran’s 13th April swarm drone and missile ‘demonstation’ attack into Israel: A ‘message’, rather than an ‘assault’.

The leading Israeli daily, Yediot Ahoronot, has estimated the cost of attempting to down this Iranian flotilla at between $2-3 billion dollars. The implications of this single number are substantial.

Professor Postol writes:

This indicates that the cost of defending against waves of attacks of this type is very likely to be unsustainable against an adequately armed and determined adversary”.
“The videos show an extremely important fact: All of the targets, whether drones or not, are shot down by air-to-air missiles”, [fired from mostly U.S. aircraft. Some 154 aircraft reportedly were aloft at the time] likely firing AIM-9x Sidewinder air to air missiles. The cost of a single Sidewinder air-to-air missile is about $500,000”.


“The fact that a very large number of unengaged ballistic missiles could be seen glowing as they reenter the atmosphere to lower altitudes [an indication of hyper-speed], indicates that whatever the effects of [Israel’s] David’s Sling and the Arrow missile defenses, they were not especially effective. Thus, the evidence at this point shows that essentially all or most of the arriving long-range ballistic missiles were not intercepted by any of the Israeli air and missile-defense systems”.

Postel adds, “I have analyzed the situation, and have concluded that commercially available optical and computational technology is more than capable of being adapted to a cruise missile guidance system to give it very high precision homing capability … it is my conclusion that the Iranians have already developed precision guided cruise missiles and drones”.

“The implications of this are clear. The cost of shooting down cruise missiles and drones will be very high and might well be unsustainable unless extremely inexpensive and effective anti-air systems can be implemented. At this time, no one has demonstrated a cost-effective defense system that can intercept ballistic missiles with any reliability”.

Just to be clear, Postol is saying that neither the U.S. nor Israel has more than a partial defence to a potential attack of this nature – especially as Iran has dispersed and buried its ballistic missile silos across the entire terrain of Iran under the control of autonomous units which are capable of continuing a war, even were central command and communications to be completely lost.

This amounts to paradigm change – clearly for Israel, for one. The huge physical expenditure on air defence ordinance – 2-3 billion dollars worth – will not be repeated willy-nilly by the U.S. Netanyahu will not easily persuade the U.S. to engage with Israel in any joint venture against Iran, given these unsustainable air-defence costs.

But also, as a second important implication, these Air Defence assets are not just expensive in dollar terms, they simply are not there: i.e. the store cupboard is near empty! And the U.S. lacks the manufacturing capacity to replace these not particularly effective, high cost platforms speedily.

‘Yes, Ukraine’ … the Middle East paradigm interlinks directly with the Ukraine paradigm where Russia has succeeded in destroying so much of the western supplied, air-defence capabilities in Ukraine, giving Russia near complete air dominance over the skies.

Positioning scarce air defence ‘to save Israel’ therefore, exposes Ukraine (and slows the U.S. pivot to China, too). And given the recent passage of the funding Bill for Ukraine in Congress, clearly air defence assets are a priority for sending to Kiev – where the West looks increasingly trapped and rummaging for a way out that does not lead to humiliation.

But before leaving the Middle East paradigm shift, the implications for Netanyahu are already evident: He must therefore focus back to the ‘near enemy’ – the Palestinian sphere or to Lebanon – to provide Israel with the ‘Great Victory’ that his government craves.

In short, the ‘cost’ for Biden of saving Israel from the Iranian flotilla which had been pre-announced by Iran to be demonstrative and not destructive nor lethal is that the White House must put-up with the corollary – an attack on Rafah. But this implies a different form of cost – an electoral erosion through exacerbating domestic tensions arising from the on-going blatant slaughter of Palestinians.

It is not just Israel that bears the weight of the Iranian paradigm shift. Consider the Sunni Arab States that have been working in various forms of collaboration (normalisation) with Israel.

In the event of wider conflict embracing Iran, clearly Israel cannot protect them – as Professor Postol so clearly shows. And can they count on the U.S.? The U.S. faces competing demands for its scarce Air Defences and (for now) Ukraine, and the pivot to China, are higher on the White House priority ladder.

In September 2019, the Saudi Abqaiq oil facility was hit by cruise missiles, which Postol notes, “had an effective accuracy of perhaps a few feet, much more precise than could be achieved with GPS guidance (suggesting an optical and computational guidance system, giving a very precise homing capability)”.

So, after the Iranian active deterrence paradigm shift, and the subsequent Air Defence depletion paradigm shock, the putative coming western paradigm shift (the Third Paradigm) is similarly interlinked with Ukraine.

For the western proxy war with Russia centred on Ukraine has made one thing abundantly clear: this is that the West’s off-shoring of its manufacturing base has left it uncompetitive, both in simple trade terms, and secondly, in limiting western defence manufacturing capacity. It finds (post-13 April) that it does not have the Air Defence assets to go round: ‘saving Israel’; ‘saving Ukraine’ and preparing for war with China.

The western maximalisation of shareholder returns model has not adapted readily to the logistical needs of the present ‘limited’ Ukraine/Russia war, let alone provided positioning for future wars – with Iran and China.

Put plainly, this ‘late stage’ global imperialism has been living a ‘false dawn’: With the economy shifting from manufacturing ‘things’, to the more lucrative sphere of imagining new financial products (such as derivatives) that make a lot of money quickly, but which destabilise society (through increasing disparities of wealth); and which ultimately, de-stabilise the global system itself (as the World Majority states recoil from the loss of sovereignty and autonomy that financialism entails).

More broadly, the global system is close to massive structural change. As the Financial Times warns,

the U.S. and EU cannot embrace national-security “infant industry” arguments, seize key value chains to narrow inequality, and break the fiscal and monetary ‘rules’, while also using the IMF and World Bank – and the economics profession– to preach free-market best practice to EM ex-China. And China can’t expect others not to copy what it does”. As the FT concludes, “the shift to a new economic paradigm has begun. Where it will end is very much up for grabs.”

‘Up for grabs’: Well, for the FT the answer may be opaque, but for the Global Majority is plain enough – “We’re going back to basics”: A simpler, largely national economy, protected from foreign competition by customs barriers. Call it ‘old- fashioned’ (the concepts have been written about for the last 200 years); yet it is nothing extreme. The notions simply reflect the flip side of the coin to Adam Smith’s doctrines, and that which Friedrich List advanced in his critique of the laissez-faire individualist approach of the Anglo-Americans.

‘European leaders’, however, see the economic paradigm solution differently:

“The ECB’s Panetta gave a speech echoing Mario Draghi’s call for “radical change”: He stated for the EU to thrive it needs a de facto national-security focused POLITICAL economy centered around: reducing dependence on foreign demand; enhancing energy security (green protectionism); advancing production of technology (industrial policy); rethinking participation in global value chains (tariffs/subsidies); governing migration flows (so higher labour costs); enhancing external security (huge funds for defence); and joint investments in European public goods (via Eurobonds … to be bought by ECB QE)”.

The ‘false dawn’ boom in U.S. financial services began as its industrial base was rotting away, and as new wars began to be promoted.

It is easy to see that the U.S. economy now needs structural change. Its real economy has become globally uncompetitive – hence Yellen’s call on China to curb its over-capacity which is hurting western economies.

But is it realistic to think that Europe can manage a relaunch as a ‘defence and national security-led political economy’, as Draghi and Panetta advocate as a continuation of war with Russia? Launched from near ground zero?

Is it realistic to think that the American Security State will allow Europe to do this, having deliberately reduced Europe to economic vassalage through causing it to abandon its prior business model based on cheap energy and selling high-end engineering products to China?

This Draghi-ECB plan represents a huge structural change; one that would take a decade or two to implement and would cost trillions. It would occur too, at a time of inevitable European fiscal austerity. Is there evidence that ordinary Europeans support such radical structural change?

Why then is Europe pursuing a path that embraces huge risks – one that potentially could drag Europe into a whirlpool of tensions ending in war with Russia?

For one main reason: The EU leadership held hubristic ambitions to turn the EU into a ‘geo-political’ empire – a global actor with the heft to join the U.S. at Top Table. To this end, the EU unreservedly offered itself as the auxiliary of the White House Team for their Ukraine project, and acquiesced to the entry price of emptying their armouries and sanctioning the cheap energy on which the economy depended.

It was this decision that has been de-industrialising Europe; that has made what remains of a real economy uncompetitive and triggered the inflation that is undermining living standards. Falling into line with Washington’s failing Ukraine project has released a cascade of disastrous decisions by the EU.

Were this policy line to change, Europe could revert to what it was: a trading association formed of diverse sovereign states. Many Europeans would settle for that: Placing the focus on making Europe competitive again; making Europe a diplomatic actor, rather than as a military actor.

Do Europeans even want to be at the American ‘top table’?

The views of individual contributors do not necessarily represent those of the Strategic Culture Foundation.

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