One of my major goals in my 2020 book In Denial was to illustrate the difference between how deniable military actions were conducted during the Cold War and how they are being carried out in a new century.

To do that I explored both the decision making process and the practices used by the United States – the major player in covert military action in pursuit of regime change during the Cold War. That exploration led me to wrestle with the fact that while those actions – ranging from the disaster at the Bay of Pigs to the Contra fiasco and worse, the emergence of death squads across Latin American and South America (including the in the Condor nations) – were almost entirely unsuccessful (and consistently disastrous in their consequences), they were never abandoned for any length of time.

Hopefully the book casts some light on how such operations were actually reviewed and officially deconstructed. In each instance (most publicly following both the Cuba Project and the Iran-Contra scandal) commitments were made never to make such mistakes again . Presidents, agencies, military services, and Congress all periodically signed up not to repeat the mistakes, yet in reality could never step away from the temptation. It appears to be the same overwhelming temptation which in the 21st Century once again moved the United States into covert actions in both Syria and Libya.

Yet other geopolitical players in the new century have chosen a different route, openly pursuing assertions to their own particular “spheres of influence”. Those players, the Russian Federation (under Putin), China and Iran have all moved to new forms of military action, and new practices and mechanisms of “denial”. Practices which so far have proved far more effective (and less expensive) than those of the United States carried out during the Cold War. Time will tell if those practices will prove more effective, or the consequences less damaging.

In his ongoing series of conversations on my National Security and Political Assassination series of books, Chuck Ochelli hosted a conversation on this subject a couple of weeks ago, if you are interested you can listen in at the following link (this week the next session in the series will give listeners a serious change of topic – while remaining in the national security space):

2 responses »

  1. John F Davies says:

    “Spheres of Influence”- The Elephant in the Room

    What has not been much discussed is the term “Sphere of Influence”. From the actions of the three major powers, it appears to be a euphemism for ” Areas of Vital Resources and Strategic Geography”. Indeed, our 20 year long so-called “War on Terror” can more accurately be described as an “Access War.” The regions of the world where this is being played out either have vast untapped mineral and/ or energy deposits-( Afghanistan, Iraq, Iran, ), or occupy a dominant geographical position over a major international trade route- ( Horn of Africa, Crimean Peninsula, South China Sea.). And in some cases, its even both.

    Back during the Cold War, certain areas of the world were considered to be the exclusive domain of one particular superpower. For instance, Latin America was considered America’s domain, and thus the U.S. Security establishment conducted extensive covert ops throughout South and Central America. The same thing can be said for Eastern Europe, as well as Southeast Asia. While the “Sphere’s of influence” may have changed,
    and the methodology may be different, the same mindset is at work.

  2. larryjoe2 says:

    Good point, I’d actually say that in contemporary times both market and resource access are dominant factors in terms of how the new spheres of influence have come into play,

    Certainly Putin would like more political control over the former Soviet republics to stimulate his trade policies, and access to Europe for energy sales. China’s new quest to set up a resource pipeline into Africa is obvious. Iran’s has more to do with energy production competition than markets and has a political/religious.emotional element not unlike the communist movements of Russia and China during the Cold War.

    I would say that of them all Putin’s is the most tactically sophisticated. His use of his oligarchic supporters running both military contractors and trade companies is a highly efficient approach – Central Africa or Libyan leaders pay for military and security services and as a part of the deal grant highly favorable resource and trade deals rather than doing it all with cash payments. Everybody gets what they want and it costs Russia nothing.

    China’s use of their fishing fleets against the Philippines and Vietnam is effective but does create a good bit of local opposition – until the cut the local fishermen into the deal with trade agreements. I’d recommend the book Asian Waters by Humphrey Hawksley on the details of how that works, its a real education.

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