The Roman Philosopher Lucius Anneaus Seneca (4 BCE-65 CE) was perhaps the first to note the universal trend that growth is slow but ruin is rapid. I call this tendency the "Seneca Effect."

Monday, April 26, 2021

The Seneca Collapse of Bombing: What Happened to the Mighty Western Military Machine?

 Western bombing campaigns after the collapse of the Soviet Union: actual and threatened.


Have you noticed something strange? The last major bombing campaign carried out by the West (NATO or US alone) was in 2011, the one against Libya that eventually led to the assassination of president Qaddafi for the joy of the queen of darkness, Hillary Clinton. But things have been strangely quiet from then on. 

Not that bombing has stopped, and the US drones are still active in various areas of the world. But, for the past ten years, we haven't seen anymore the kind of spectacular "shock and awe" campaigns that were waged against Libya, Serbia, and Iraq. You could see the abrupt stop of the campaigns as a sort of "Seneca Collapse." What's happening?

I plotted the duration of these campaigns as a function of time for the past 30 years or so, that is, after the fall of the Soviet Union in 1991. Before that date, you might argue that the balance of power between the two world empires had prevented this kind of heavy operations on the part of the Western Empire. Indeed, earlier on, the last major military operation that had directly involved the Western forces on a somewhat "even" footing -- that is not a military cakewalk -- had been Vietnam, ending in 1975.

I know that the plot is somewhat arbitrary in how "major" campaigns are defined. For instance, I didn't include the long-lasting, relatively low level, Afghanistan campaign. But even that war is expected to end this year, at least in terms of direct US involvement, after 17 years from its start. 

Clearly, there is a line that separates the past 10 years from the previous 20. Before the line, the West seemed to have no compunction in unleashing all its might against a foreign country of the kind unable to retaliate. But, after the line, something happened. No more spectacular bombing campaigns. 

Think about how, in 2012, President Obama said that President Assad of Syria had passed the "red line" and that he would face appropriate retribution. Everyone was expecting a repetition of the Libyan campaign of the year before, with the probable result of the assassination of Assad. Pope Francis took the threat seriously enough that he called for a special day of prayer and fasting for peace for Syria. I fasted, too.

But nothing happened . Obama said he had changed his mind because he had realized that the public opinion was against the bombing. As if they had taken that into account when they had decided to invade Iraq in 2003!

Then, there came Donald Trump. Lots of warlike speeches, but very little in terms of substance. In 2017, Trump unleashed a missile strike against Syria. It was a joke: a single strike and almost none of the missiles arrived on target. Then, it was silence. 

In 2020, things seemed to be getting serious with the assassination of the Iranian general Qasem Soleimani by US forces. It could be interpreted only in terms of an attempt to create a "casus belli" to start a major war in the Gulf Region. What happened, instead, was that the US and Iran governments collaborated to avoid that the situation could escalate out of control. The Iranians launched a wave of missiles on the US bases in Iraq, but they gave plenty of warning for the Americans who were able to evacuate the target areas before the strike. There was no further military action. Silence ensued.   

And we are in 2021. President Biden started his presidency by encouraging the Ukrainian government to try to retake by force the separatist region of the Donbass. Ukraine massed troops at the border. Russia responded by lining up troops on the opposite side. The US announced they would send two warships to the Black Sea: sitting ducks for the Russian missiles, but an excellent casus belli if the idea was to start a major war.  Everything seemed to be set for a confrontation that could have rapidly escalated out of control. 

And then, strangely, things quieted down. The US declared they won't send warships to the Caspian sea, the Russians pulled back their troops, and the Ukrainian government continued making warlike noises, but no more than that. We can't say that the crisis is over, but things seem to be quiet, right now. 

So, what's happened? How was it that three major wars that seemed to be unavoidable (Syria, Iran, and Ukraine -- and Afghanistan, too) petered out into a nearly deafening silence?


I can think of a few answers:

1. Nothing special is happening: the ten-year lull is just a statistical fluctuation.

2. God exists, and the Pope can speak to Him. 

3. Putin has rebuilt the Russian military forces to such a degree that he can credibly scare the Western leaders to the point that they are wary of starting major campaigns.

4. Drones have superseded the traditional massive bombing campaigns, ineffective and expensive. 

5. Something else is stirring in the darkness of the things not covered by the media. It may be what Shoshana Zuboff called the "epistemic coup" on the part of the internet controlling companies: Google, Facebook, Microsoft, and the others. If she is right, power is now in the hands of an obscure coalition of Internet barons who have no interest in showering the military-industrial lobby with money, nor in gaining electoral points by bombing foreigners. Therefore, they actively discourage politicians from starting new wars. And it works.

Time will tell us more.


  1. Black sea, not Caspian I believe.

  2. Replies
    1. Actually, of course I was giving away secret information about a new version of the Philadelphia experiment that would have teleported warships from the Mediterranean Sea directly in the Caspian Sea!

  3. 5 might be the answer, but, sir, there should also be an assessment of Drone Casualties

    1. Yes, but the number of victims is a minor parameter. What counts, I think, is that drones alone, so far, haven't won a single military campaign, with the only exception of the Armenia-Azerbajan one of 2020. So, I think drones are still a minor factor. That might change soon, though, but it will not be the same kind of war: as someone said about the Balaklava charge, "it is beautiful, but it is not war."

  4. I think Trump also authorize the drop of a thermobaric bomb on a site with allegedly many Taliban tunnels in Afghanistan ...

  5. If masters were in need of tracking whenever their slaves go to the rest room on 24/7, slavery wouldn't have existed, ever

    Our single player-Chess Western Civilisation has become so confused about what it is doing - it thinks a smart Control is simply a matter of burning the maximum possible of fossil fuels.

    Zuboff, and alike, hate acknowledging that burning 23000 hours of useful work in a barrel of oil to control an individual of 24 hours of useful work a day, at best, is a matter of stupidity, especially if the individual is not after you and will never be able to be after you - owing to geography, distances and the laws of nature.

    Our Western Civilisation should have taken the opportunity of this pandemic to dissolve itself, peacefully, in dignity and gracefully - announcing clearly and loudly its inability to challenge the Laws of Physics;

    Humans are grown-up and they must understand that our Civilisation is not God, therefore cannot be blamed for - that the energy-saturated style of the world today will never last forever.

    The global objective now should be to leave some fossil fuels wherever they are in the ground for medicine - in the future, not vaccines-against-viruses, Show Off Wars and Single Player-Chess Gaming.

    The finite Energy resources burned playing Vaccine Nany-Civilisation, and now War Superman - are more precious than what the vaccine-drone Nany-Civilisation would ever achieve burning the little left of remaining finite fossil fuels.

    After the miserable failure of E=mc^2 on its promise of 'too cheap to meter'-excess Energy, burning finite fossil fuels to contain Life with the severely depleting one-off fossil fuel reserves - is a matter of stupidity, no matter how a civilisation practicing that thinks itself smart.

    After all, whoever enjoys a single player-Chess this long will ultimately seek help from a doctor, sooner or later;

    We hope no one will be hurt until the player does that, and no more cities, towns and nations around the world turn another Mosul, Raqqa, Iraq, Syria, Yemen or Libya.


  6. “Global military spending hits highest level since 1988… Military spending as a share of GDP – the military burden – reached a global average of 2.4% in 2020, up from 2.2% in 2019. This was the biggest year-on-year rise in the military burden since the global financial and economic crisis in 2009…

    “The US, China, India, Russia, and the UK were the top five spenders in 2020, with 62% of the global military expenditure, the survey said.”

  7. "Something else is stirring in the darkness of the things not covered by the media"
    True, but this not (only) about the web barons. Rather take a look at Wall street.
    This article gives some clues:
    The US are no longer able to build their own weapons.
    Also it seems like the bankers have sold the american technology to foreign countries not telling it to the military.
    I specially love this quote: "the system we have right now, I swear to God, we would have lost World War II"

    1. Another thought happened to me. What if during the last 10 years they have kept their resources to prepare something big, really big? Time will tell, indeed.

  8. Hello Ugo,

    War is a messy business with a few winners (bomb sellers) and a lot of losers.

    The bombardements over the "ISIS/Daesh" area were quite numerous. The allied air force of the Netherlands (where I currently live) made according to their own estimate 1050 bomb strikes over Syria/Iraq during 2014-2016.
    As far as I know, there were weekly strikes for over a year, just from those F16 squadrons. (And they were probably outnumbered by the UK and US forces.)
    So I would estimate 500+ days of bombings there.

    Everyone can start a war. That is not difficult. However, to de-escalate is very challenging and a worthy task for all of us.

    Thanks for your great posts!

    1. Ah, well, yes. Bombing never stopped and it is continuing to this day. I suppose that once a campaign has started, no politician knows how to stop it without looking like a weakling (Biden will have managed a fantastic feat if he can stop the direct US involvement in Afghanistan after 17 years !!). But what I was plotting in the figure was a specific kind of campaign, the kind that's supposed to bring down a local tyrant (not our son of a bitch). That seems to have disappeared during the past 10 years. It may be a coincidence or a trend, who knows?

  9. Update as of July 1 the USA is out of Afghanistan for better or worse. The end of the longest of the US wars, except of course the endless but limited war on terror.
    Perhaps the Military Industrial Complex will be replaced by a Medical Industrial Complex.
    One operates overseas,one domestically.

  10. A fascinating analysis.
    I think summary point 3 is spot on.
    "3. Putin has rebuilt the Russian military forces to such a degree that he can credibly scare the Western leaders to the point that they are wary of starting major campaigns."
    Lets never forget the disarming and near mutiny on the USS Donald Cook.