Eight Questions and Seven Theses about Force Multipliers

“Force multipliers: Machines which allow a small effort to move a larger load are called force multipliers. Some examples of force multipliers include: a crowbar, wheelbarrow, nutcracker, and bottle opener. The number of times a machine multiplies the effort is called its mechanical advantage. The mechanical advantage of a machine is the number of times the load moved is greater than the effort used. Mechanical advantage (MA) = load/effort.” (Avison, 1989, p. 109)

“Force Multiplier. A capability that, when added to and employed by a combat force, significantly increases the combat potential of that force and thus enhances the probability of successful mission accomplishment.” (US Department of Defense [DoD], 2007, p. GL-11)

“Observation Number 9, cultural awareness is a force multiplier, reflects [sic] our recognition that knowledge of the cultural ‘terrain’ can be as important as, and sometimes even more important than, knowledge of the geographic terrain. This observation acknowledges that the people are, in many respects, the decisive terrain, and that we must study that terrain in the same way that we have always studied the geographic terrain.” (General David H. Petraeus, 2006, p. 8)

“Gender issues aren’t just personnel issues. They are intelligence issues! Gender is a force multiplier—if you understand how gender works in a particular society, you can control that society much more effectively!” (A senior US military lawyer speaking at a workshop on gender and international humanitarian law, in 2007. Quoted in Orford [2010, p. 335])

Whether it is smart (as in “smart bombs” or “smart power”), involves stealth (“stealth technology” like the B-2 bomber, or “leading from behind” as in the US-led NATO war on Libya), uses “leverage”, employs “force multipliers,” or engages in “full-spectrum operations,” the political and military establishment of the US has produced a battery of terms having an aura of rationality and science. Added to the physics of dominance produced in rhetoric about “force-multipliers,” there is a geometry of war (“asymmetric warfare” and “three-dimensional warfare”) and even a quasi-biology of war (“hybrid wars”). Power is described by military leaders using concepts of time, energy, mass, and velocity. Just as the US Department of State (DoS) announces “smart, effective American leadership” (DoS, 2010, p. 14), so does the US Army proclaim “the science of control” (US Army, 2008a, p. 6-1). It is fitting then that the new US Secretary of Defense, Ashton Carter, is someone who received a PhD in physics. What lies behind the scientific-sounding certitude is both a deep anxiety about the increasingly precarious global grasp of the US, and a signal that many other nations will face greater peril as the US leans more than ever on social and cultural forces internal to those nations in order to advance its political and corporate interests.

US military spokespersons appear to have little trouble in speaking either plainly or in transparent euphemisms about the US’ quest for control over other societies, through a variety of “force multipliers”. Force multiplication means using leverage, proxies, cogs, and networks of collaborators. Force multipliers can also refer to mechanisms, processes, and institutions: trade treaties, military education, or the rule of law. Power relations are built into force multiplication, such as “leveraging debt”: for example, structural adjustment policies have sought to reverse long-standing political principles and legal systems originating in anti-colonialism, national self-determination, and anti-imperialism, by eliminating the socio-economic supports of self-determination (such as tariffs, subsidies, wages, and support for national industries; see: Hickel & Kirk, [2014/11/20]). The concept—if we can call it that—of the “force multiplier” has itself been prone to multiplication, such that a force multiplier can refer to anything from military technology, to culture in the abstract, or culture in terms of news and entertainment communicated via radio, television, newspapers, and the Internet; gender and specifically relations between men and women; sexuality; law and legal enforcement systems; energy; food; education; “humanitarian aid” by non-governmental organizations (see Forte, 2014a, pp. 8-12; Lischer, 2007); and even induced mental states where according to retired US General Colin Powell, “perpetual optimism is a force multiplier” (Powell, 2006, slide 13). Simply showing images of potential force, by flying bombers over civilian areas with the expectation that crowds will post images to Twitter, is an act cast as a force multiplier designed to intimidate North Korea (Thompson, 2014/6/26). It seems that everything can or could be a force multiplier. The reason for this is due to the fact that in the West, militarization and securitization have reached such an extreme state of expansion (with practices following suit), that they are predicated on the potential recruitment of everything and everybody, manufacturing compliance with complicity as the desired by-product. That the means available may not produce “successful mission accomplishment,” does not in any way deny either the attempt to secure control or the desire for totalizing forms of control.

Events during 2014-2015 alone, the period in which this volume was developed, seem to speak to the active use of force multipliers by the US in Ukraine, Venezuela, Russia, Iraq and Syria. For example, backing anti-government protesters in Ukraine and Venezuela, both having explicit aims of overthrowing their respective, democratically-elected governments, succeeding in Ukraine where the US had an active hand in selecting pro-US “leaders” (see O’Connor, 2014/2/7). In addition, as confirmed in a multitude of US government documents, there has been extensive US financing and training of dozens of Venezuelan opposition groups (see Johnston, 2014/2/21; Capote, 2014/3/25; Carasik, 2014/4/8; US Embassy-Caracas, 2006/11/9). The Obama administration also quietly admitted to supporting activists in the 2014 protests, along with providing current funding worth US $5 million, among other means of intervening to destabilize the legitimate government (Balluck, 2014/4/27; US Department of State [DoS], 2014a, p. 126; Busby, 2014; Weisbrot, 2014/2/18; Al Jazeera, 2014/3/14). Recently, Obama went as far as officially declaring in an Executive Order that Venezuela was an “unusual and extraordinary threat to the national security and foreign policy of the United States,” a move typically used when imposing sanctions, and escalating intervention (Obama, 2015; White House, 2015a). In this same time period sanctions were imposed on Russia, support of NGOs in Russia was defended, and the US State Department appeared to be publicly adopting Pussy Riot, a supposed punk band that engaged in pornographic acts in Russian churches and museums, while also supporting LGBT rights in Russia, and this includes US and Western support for the “right” to spread information about “non-traditional” sex to minors—which Western corporate media (the state’s private information contractors) typically denounced as a “draconian” law that was “anti-gay,” without any mention of children or the fact that LGBT persons have legal protection in Russia; indeed, an argument has been made that Hollywood interests would be most affected by the passage of Russian Federation Federal Law № 135-FZ—hence all the noise (Heiss, 2014, pp. 63, 66; also see Ossowski, 2013/10/22). In Syria, the US began to openly support armed rebels with military aid, plus training, and financing. In Iraq, the US launched new military attacks, while loudly lauding the supporting role of its allies and partners (Obama, 2014a). Add all of this to news from recent years about Pentagon “sock puppets” in social media, the US crackdown on whistle blowers, and the supportive role played by US academics, universities, professional associations, and philanthropies, and we have, even so brief, a robust picture of US force multipliers. Typically we find such US multipliers listed in US documents under the banners of “democracy promotion,” “strategic communications,” “humanitarianism,” and “stabilization”.

The aim of this series of articles on force multipliers is to introduce and critically analyze the thinking and historical context implicated in the idea of force multipliers. This continues a project begun elsewhere (see Forte 2014a, 2014b) involving the critique of imperial ideology and its social and cultural practice. Specific to this series, we ask and address several questions:

  1. What is and what is not a force multiplier?
  2. What assumptions are at the root of the concept?
  3. Why does the US need force multipliers?
  4. What are the implied aims?
  5. What does the use of the term convey about how the US values its supposed partners and allies?
  6. What does the existence of social and cultural force multipliers, spread worldwide, suggest about the nature of US empire and its power?
  7. Since when has the US needed such multipliers?
  8. Does the possession and use of force multipliers suggest strength, weakness, or both?

Seven Theses about Force Multipliers

One of my theses is that the resort to the language of science betrays a need for conceptual security on the part of political and military leaders, along with an attempt to provide assurance of clear thinking and successful outcomes to deeply fatigued and disgruntled masses at home, and elected officials tasked with making budget cuts. Linguistic scientism also creates an aura of order and neutrality, which helps to mask much uglier realities. Conceptual security, even just the “sound” of such security, is needed to offset the rising instability caused by US interventions around the globe, ranging from fighting up to eight international wars simultaneously (Afghanistan, Iraq, Yemen, Somalia, Libya, Syria, Pakistan, Colombia), the spread of militant resistance across Africa wherever the US engages in military intervention, to the outright creation of what the US itself alludes to as “failed states” (Iraq, Libya), and multiple productions of chaos and disorder on the streets of Kiev and Caracas. In the face of such rising instability, US planners and their corporate allies seek to reassure themselves of eventual success, thus gaining continued political and financial support in the form of new laws, and new weapons or consulting contracts. Everything, at home and abroad, is thus cast in terms of overt or implied destabilization. Thus US strategists and policymakers do abroad what they fear at home: protests are not about free speech or free assembly, but about destabilization—this is why protests are repressed at home, yet encouraged abroad, and the fig leaf of “human rights” is not meant to be taken at face value. The “fear of the masses,” at the heart of democratic elitists, is now projected externally and turned into policy as “democracy promotion”. Fear at home continues meanwhile, and is conveyed by an “all-threats, all-hazards” philosophy of enhanced national security awareness, with calls for more community policing and even the use of conservation officers as “force multipliers” in “counterterrorism” (Carter & Gore, 2013, p. 285).

Related to the above thesis, one cannot help but think that, at best, a spurious science is being generated by strategists, offering imprecision that is muted by the sound of conceptual precision. The idea of developing force multipliers is more useful when read as a statement of intent, a plan, as an index of actual and desired reach, rather than something certain, fixed, and unambiguous. What is also interesting to note is that such language refuses to reject or deflect conspiratorial views of power; instead, it actively promotes such views, thereby validating them.

A second thesis is that the force multiplier idea, premised on the definition of using a small effort to move a large load, involves recognition of limits while threatening expansion. In simple terms, it can mean that either the effort is getting smaller because resources are diminished (budget cuts, increased costs, rising debt, collapse in public support), or the load is getting larger because too many interventionist projects have been initiated, or both. In some sense, the idea masks a deeper anxiety about perceived weakness and strain. This anxiety about a diminished autonomous capacity is starting to come out in the open: “success will increasingly depend on how well our military instrument can support the other instruments of power and enable our network of allies and partners” (DoD, 2015, p. i). However, the danger comes in the desire to maintain the “large load,” even to increase the size of the load, rather than scaling back to “small effort, small load,” or “no effort, no load”. “Force multiplier” implies projection at the same time as recognition of limits, of force that is insufficient on its own and thus requires extensions, that is, multiples of itself. However, we should also note some of the changing tone—more openly worried—that we find in very recent US military statements, such as those of the Chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff in the 2015 National Military Strategy: “control of escalation is becoming more difficult and more important…and that as a hedge against unpredictability with reduced resources, we may have to adjust our global posture” (DoD, 2015, p. i, emphasis added). While not going further and thus leaving much room for interpretation, the emphasized statement is still unusual in contrast with the normally assured tone of such documents.

A third thesis is that the use of partners and proxies highlights the role of collaborators in the imperialist project. As the load-bearing hands of US empire recede into the background, those of its local collaborators stand out on the front line. This shifts struggles for power from the international arena, between states, to the domestic arena within states. Inevitably then anti-imperialist violence becomes domestic, not international, which is exactly where US leaders want to move such violence—“Assad is killing his own people” can then become the opportunistic, expedient, and disingenuous claim fit for rhetorical contests about “human rights” at the UN Security Council, as a discredited US seeks to build up its “soft power” among the less-informed, the forgetful, and especially youths. No wonder then that doctrines like the “responsibility to protect” (R2P) are so popular among segments of the interventionist Western elite, as it allows them to treat opportunistically selected target states as if such states existed in a vacuum, and were not what they actually are: the new battlegrounds for the proxies of empire.

A fourth thesis is based on recognition of the simple fact that the force multiplier concept is ultimately rooted in military force. Problematically, the concept implies that if the multipliers fail, the hard force behind them will be brought closer to bear, creating a chain-link of connections that draw US intervention in more closely, turning indirect intervention into direct intervention. The force multiplier idea would thus appear to be a perilous, deceptive means of making a down payment on future US aggression against another nation, without wishing to telegraph such intentions too far in advance.

A fifth thesis is that the force multiplier idea reduces a complex world to a grid-like array, that is still based on ideas of “us” versus “them,” masking what is still the basic doctrine of George W. Bush—you are either with us or against us—by encoding it into scientific-sounding, or scientistic, rhetoric. The world is thus reduced to force multipliers versus force “diminishers”. By turning the term into a blob concept, US leaders make it seem that everything is open to intervention and manipulation, but likewise everything can also diminish US power. There has been obviously, painfully, little effort to clarify or elaborate on the concept, that is, little in the way of “deep thinking” that critically examines the concept, and what attempts there have been (e.g. Hurley, 2005), seem to obscure more than they explain by using sequences of mathematical equations with invented variables.

My sixth thesis is rather blunt: that this is all fake. By fake I mean that the attempt to produce a scientific effect around the idea of “force multipliers” is simply something intended as misdirection. The suggestion here is that those deploying the term are not taking their task seriously; they offer an underdeveloped concept as a gloss for a policy of destabilization—that is to say, phony science for real policy, masking internal uncertainty, confusion, and a refusal to logically think through the ramifications of policy. The scientism is for internal propaganda purposes, to impress peers, seniors, lawmakers, budget panels, and to convince the kinds of readers who might search for and consult documents of state. The fakery also allows proponents of the use of proxies—like the Afghan collaborators identified in WikiLeaks documents whose safety, once exposed, caused much public fretting among US officials—to defer questioning of US assumptions about the nature of humans, the nature of its allies, and the potential for contradictions and reversals, let alone potential harm to human proxies. Ultimately, the real message about force multipliers is not partnership, it is domination.

The seventh thesis, for which this chapter provides some notes for further development, concerns force multiplication as another form of capital accumulation, namely, extraction. The need to “multiply” plus the need to reduce energy expended, are both meaningful primarily, even exclusively, as an expression of cost. What is thus directly implied is that the US seeks to minimize the cost of any intervention in the affairs of another nation-state, by passing those costs onto others. Those others thus effectively subsidize US intervention, either “literally” by paying for it, or in analogous terms of taking on risk and of doing the leg work. By using humans as strategic resources, and by using more of them and at the least possible expense, we have a relation of extraction. This is the equation that is hidden by that of the force multiplier—it is not so much about power projection, which could also connote ideas of power being spread abroad, and even less power sharing, as it is about power extraction­­—rendering all others less powerful, or even powerless, in the face of US global expansion. Moreover, by fixating on a concept which is expressed as a function of cost, US military planners and diplomats make calculations, and this calculating logic about the cost and utility of others is fundamentally an instrumentalist and transactionalist perspective. Such an approach was already abundantly evident in US theorizations of winning hearts and minds in Afghanistan by distributing things and offering jobs, in return for non-resistance or armed cooperation—reducing human social interaction and cultural meaning to a matter of strategic gain and rational choice on the part of individual “agents”. The trick for an “overstretched” empire is, of course, how to minimize financial burdens by instead using cultural means—“shared values”—to win allegiance, acceptance, and acquiescence.


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zaniv5smExtracted from:
Force Multipliers: The Instrumentalities of Imperialism
Edited by
Maximilian C. Forte
Montreal, Alert Press, 2015
Available in print, or as a
Free E-book

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