In an increasingly digitally-mediated era of great power competition, it’s not asymmetry of power, but the asymmetry of vulnerability that is driving international political outcomes. For the United States, retrenchment from the Middle East might make sense. Israel’s increasingly far-right government has made it a more costly ally, and the entire world is shifting away from fossil fuels. But it hardly follows that any resources the United States gains from retrenchment will make it more secure. The stopping power of water only works, at best, for material threats. And the evolution of small, dispersed, inexpensive, and autonomous sea-going denial technologies call this into question. In a non-material sense, domestic and foreign disinformation campaigns have caused citizens worldwide to lose faith in the democratic process. Finally, the United States’ derogation from its core principles—along with two unnecessary wars in the Middle East and a force-first foreign policy—has hurt its global reputation, increased the number of its adversaries, and enabled them to target U.S. vulnerabilities.
Ivan Arreguin-Toft, Ph.D. (@imarreguintoft) is the author of How the Weak Win Wars: A Theory of Asymmetric Conflict. He is a founding member of the Global Cyber Security Capacity Centre at Oxford University’s Martin School; where he served as Associate Director of Dimension 1 (cybersecurity policy and strategy) from 2012–2015. He is currently an Associate at the International Security Program, at the Belfer Center for Science and International Affairs at Harvard University’s Kennedy School of Government.