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Preparing for World War III: The Home Front

During an interview on Tuesday, March 5, 2024, Brigadier General Amit Sa’ar of the IDF disclosed that he penned a letter intended for Prime Minister Netanyahu just before October 7, 2023, cautioning “that Iran, Hamas, and Hezbollah recognized an opportunity to attack Israel … due to internal conflict … as well as the level of readiness of the IDF at the time.”  His reflection, which focused on military preparation, domestic politics, and international threats, should be taken as a warning for the United States.

On June 6, 2021, the anniversary of D-Day, the authors of this essay predicted that the major Eurasian autocratic powers—China, Russia, and Iran—would soon launch multiple opportunistic or coordinated attacks.  Thus far, three of the four fronts of a new global conflict have emerged. 

Given that the upcoming general election will likely provoke political instability, we believe the following warning must now be issued:  Eurasian autocracies will see this election and any associated instability as a strategic opening for asymmetric and grey-zone attacks against the United States. At the same time, China will escalate its campaign to reincorporate Taiwan through blockade, invasion, or economic coercion.

How did we get here?

The ongoing conflicts have strained the military and policy resources of the United States and its allies. The perception of these conflicts as disconnected, rather than as parts of one coherent conflict, has produced profound confusion among the American and Western polities. The piling-on by our adversaries has stretched the military and industrial capacity of the United States to the point that allies are running short of key warfighting materiel, such as artillery shells.  The resources to fully support our allies are not available. None of the Western Powers have shifted their economy onto a wartime footing.

Several factors precipitated the Western Powers’ fall into this geo-strategic mess. First, military capabilities among many of our NATO allies have been eroded over the past generation.  Second, adversaries across Eurasia came to believe that the United States would no longer defend partners and allies, following the debacle in Afghanistan. And finally, in the American corridors of power, foreign policy experts tend to be regional specialists. They believe that a local rout of American influence and armed force has consequences only for neighboring states – the wider picture does not come into focus.  In this view, each front of this Eurasian war can be treated as a separate event, with only isolated, regional consequences.

Western Weakness

In the run-up to this presidential election, all signs point to an increasingly polarized electorate, one that believes it has the luxury of engaging in escalating demands and actions vis-à-vis their domestic rivals without suffering deleterious international consequences. The perception of a weaponized judiciary will only lead to further domestic strife. Authoritarian regimes watch the domestic politics of their democratic adversaries very closely for signs of weakness:  When the polity is divided and distracted, they perceive an opportunity to strike.

Autocratic powers will act to incite and exploit domestic instability through social media (here, here and here).  The rulers of autocratic regimes believe that public discontent, especially violent discontent, is a sign of weakness, and an indication that democracy cannot govern effectively, secure its territory, or defend its national interests overseas. In their calculus, domestic chaos in an adversary state creates an opportunity to seize an advantage by engaging in military adventurism.

Such perceptions may be an error:  In Israel, the disagreements over judicial reform were immediately put to one side to focus on destroying Hamas. National security, a dire necessity, trumped domestic disagreement, a political luxury. Political resilience and social solidarity reemerged in the breach.

The United States and our allies are being subjected to relentless information and digital grey-zone warfare intended to polarize the electorate and stymie coherent foreign policy action.  Attacks will no doubt ramp up in the run-up to the election. What’s more, the presence of antagonistic diasporas in the United States has roiled domestic electoral politics: Their competing and mutually exclusive demands are leading to incoherent foreign policy. In order to garner electoral support in critical districts, American political parties are increasingly pandering to antagonistic diasporas. Under these circumstances, identifying a bipartisan national interest is exceedingly difficult.

As the British geopolitical thinker, Halford Mackinder, once argued, “Democracy refuses to think strategically unless and until compelled to do so for purposes of defence.”  In the absence of a ‘Pearl Harbor’ moment, the United States is unlikely to shift to a war footing, no matter how many of our allies are threatened or attacked.


What should the United States do in advance of dire necessity compelling strategic thought? First, political will must be summoned to establish an emergency, bipartisan commission, the function of which will be to develop a grand strategy and an associated mobilization plan for the United States. The United States, as the dominant maritime power, has a national interest in maintaining the autonomy of those “bridgehead” powers, which occupy the rimland of Eurasia.  It is a national imperative to provide direct, early, and decisive support to deter the Eurasian autocratic regimes from realizing their imperial ambitions. 

Second, because American deterrence has failed repeatedly in recent years, a more decisive step must be taken.  The means to secure deterrence must be distributed among allies and partners along the Eurasian littoral.  Threatened allies and partners across Eurasia must look to their own defense and the United States must enable these powers to develop their own arms industries, the products of which will be deployed at their own discretion.

Third, the U.S. must recognize that a Chinese attack on or blockade of Taiwan is likely as the election approaches or in its immediate aftermath, especially during a lame-duck presidency or should the electoral outcome be contested. The United States must act forcefully to deter such an attack in the short-term.

Fourth, the political elites of both parties must agree to refrain from calling their adherents into the streets to engage in violent protests. Governors and mayors should warn would-be demonstrators that the laws pertaining to lawful assembly will be fully enforced.

Fifth, the commission should quickly recommend how to place our economy, society, and military on a wartime footing, and appropriate legislation should follow. NATO allies should be pressured to dramatically increase expenditures on arms and training.  Industries in the United States and among our allies must be called upon to invest, once again, in the production of military armaments and relevant advanced technologies, with the provision of strong economic incentives. Because the manpower of the Eurasian autocracies is potentially overwhelming, the United States and its allies must advance new and asymmetric military technologies. The export of dual-use technologies to autocratic regimes, either directly or through third party regimes, must be ended. And measures must be taken to allow this to occur without harming crown-jewel industries in the West.

A Time for Private Action

Regrettably, in the context of electoral polarization, it is hard to imagine the major political parties taking these actions.

The coming years will see not only massive disruptions to supply chains that flow through or near the territories of authoritarian regimes, but also increasing demand for the systems and munitions required for warfighting. With governments failing to act, the onus of shifting to a war-time footing falls on corporate leaders. Setting aside questions of national security and moral imperatives, pure economics justifies taking action now: Companies that are positioned to serve a broad war mobilization in the West will benefit from a period of increasing instability and strife, while those that continue to depend on autocratic regimes for their customers, suppliers, financing or personnel will find themselves in desperate straits.

Western companies must not wait for governments to act. Choosing to act now – in anticipation of a broadening conflict, rather than engaging in business-as-usual thinking – will differentiate the businesses that thrive from those that struggle over the coming years.

Michael Hochberg earned his PhD in Applied Physics from Caltech. He is currently a visiting scholar at the Centre for Geopolitics at Cambridge University and the President of Periplous LLC, which provides advisory services on strategy, technology, and organization design. He co-founded four companies, representing an exit value over a billion dollars in aggregate, spent some time as a tenured professor, and started the world’s first silicon photonics foundry service. His publications include a co-authored, widely used textbook on silicon photonics and his articles have appeared in Science, Nature, National Review, The Hill, American Spectator, RealClearDefense, Fast Company, Naval War College Review, etc. Michael’s writings can be found at longwalls.substack.com, and his twitter is @TheHochberg.

Leonard Hochberg is a Senior Fellow at the Foreign Policy Research Institute (FPRI) and serves as the Coordinator of the Mackinder Forum-U.S. (www.mackinderforum.org). He taught at Stanford University (among other institutions), was a Fellow at the Hoover Institution, and co-founded Strategic Forecasting, Inc. (i.e., STRATFOR). He has published work in Social Science History, Historical Methods, The Journal of Interdisciplinary History, Orbis, National Review, The Hill, American Spectator, RealClearDefense, Cartographica, Naval War College Review, etc. Len earned his PhD in political theory and European history from Cornell University.

This article was originally published by RealClearDefense and made available via RealClearWire.
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