The Pentagon’s flawed theory of US military dominance is illusory


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American military analysts love the strategies and the theories behind them. The theories provide what appear to be perfectly reasonable and rational approaches to warfare, even offering a sense of certainty about the outcome. After all, they were designed with military precision. Authorized personnel from the Pentagon or military think tanks are responsible for creating strong, catchy names for the theories. A long-standing theory is ‘Escalation Dominance’, which has a close cousin called ‘Full-Spectrum Dominance’.

Both theories promote the idea that effective deterrence comes from the ability to defeat the enemy at every stage of a potential conflict, anywhere and anytime, from small-scale skirmishes between proxy guerrillas to and including nuclear war, and possible escalation in a specific conflict. Such strategies would, in theory, deter any adversary from engaging in an escalation of the escalation ladder.

Like all military strategies, they look quite convincing on paper, even seductive. What American, or red-blooded Russian, would walk away from domination? But in reality, these theories fail and we could very likely end up with a catastrophic escalation. Escalation Dominance has already failed given that Russia has invaded Ukraine and taken a substantial step up the escalation ladder, with perhaps more to come.

A hubris undermines these military theories, a terribly misplaced and dangerous self-confidence, not to mention a staggering disregard for the millions of lives sacrificed if such theories are put to the test and fail. Playing with computers is one thing, unleashing it on the world is another. Reading the enemy’s mind once the escalation begins and the missiles fly is futile, even suicidal.

Some say Ukraine should not have given up its vast nuclear arsenal at the end of the Cold War in exchange for guarantees of protection from the West. In the eyes of some commentators, President Zelensky has hinted that Ukraine may now have to develop its own nuclear deterrent program. Putin quickly responded with threats of retaliation. Meanwhile, military analysts are refining their theories and fine-tuning their messaging as world events continue to unsettle them.

These military analysts are well paid, often by the US government, arms manufacturers and the mass media, all of which have an interest in waging war. Military think tanks are funded by American taxpayers’ money, as are military research programs at American universities across the country. We spend tens of millions of dollars playing computer war games. We spend nearly $1 trillion a year to fund the personnel and machinery needed for war.

Where are the millions for peace?

Is it inconceivable to think that the same money, the same talent and the same resources could be invested in creating a strategy for a new security agreement in Europe that would include Russia? After the atrocities that Putin and his army have inflicted on Ukraine, this is a bitter pill to swallow. But the alternative is either a long proxy war with Russia that bleeds the Ukrainian and Russian peoples (while bleeding Western economies), or to continue to rise through the ranks with more deadly weapons delivered and deployed by Ukraine. In both cases, many more die. And as the fog of war sets in, escalation dominance becomes escalation guesswork. At some point, the military has to admit that it only has a theory. Given their track record, risking all of humanity on one of their theories is a gamble for the delusional.

A new security agreement including Russia would mean the gradual withdrawal of NATO. Russia, a major oil state, could be weaned from its fossil fuel exports and ushered into a new alternative energy economy. Contrary to our broken promises of the 1990s, we would truly integrate the Russian economy into Western economies without the perceived threat of NATO. Compromises would be needed on both sides. We could slowly, gradually escalate towards peace.

Peace is no harder (or easier) than war, and yet we are obsessed with war. We simply have not devoted the resources necessary to make peace in the same determined and relentless way that we have made war. No million dollar think tanks to develop peace strategies. No big dollar grants for university peace initiatives. No well-paid peace analysts.

We don’t pose any sexy titles for our strategy. Peace, and only peace. That’s it. We can split the atom and rocket to the stars. We can surely resolve our differences without incinerating each other. We must devote our minds, our money and our resources to it. Domination is for tyrants. It must fall and humanity must prevail. Peace is everything.

Kevin Martin, unionized by PeaceVoice, is president of the Peace Action Education Fund, the nation’s largest grassroots peace and disarmament organization with more than 200,000 supporters nationwide.

Brad Wolf, a former lawyer, professor and community college dean, is co-founder of the Peace Action Network of Lancaster, Pennsylvania and writes for various publications.


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