The Dragons and the Snakes … and the decline of the West


The Dragons and the Snakes

How the Rest learned to fight the West

By David Kilcullen

Published by Scribe
RRP $35.00 in paperback | ISBN 9781925849158

In this important and timely book, David Kilcullen explains what happened to the ‘snakes’ – the non-state threats from terrorists and guerrillas – and the ‘dragons’, state-based competitors such as Russia and China, who have watched on as the US struggled, firstly in Afghanistan, and then in Iraq.

He borrowed the descriptors from the 1993 warning from newly-appointed CIA director James Woolsey who warned that Western powers might have ‘slain a large dragon’ with the fall of the USSR, but now faced a ‘bewildering variety of poisonous snakes’.

As a combat veteran of Afghanistan and Iraq, David Kilcullen is recounting events in which he has participated as a decisionmaker, and in doing so, he acknowledges a personal role and admits to personal biases based on that experience.

He also explores the growing influence of competitive nation-states taking advantage of the West’s preoccupation with terrorism and the wars in Iraq and Afghanistan.

China represents … a “bandwidth challenge for the United States and other Western countries”

He covers a number of topics, for example, Russia’s intervention in Crimea and Ukraine as well as elsewhere and China’s approach to warfare that may now be so broad in its non-traditional approach (through cyber espionage, commercial dealings, industrial and influence peddling) as to present a ‘bandwidth challenge for the United States and other Western countries’.

Which then begs the question? Are we seeking to equip ourselves with advanced weapon superiority to support our allies for a type of war that belongs in the past? And are we seeing the inevitable decline of the superiority of the West?

Loss of primacy, he writes, implies ‘transition to a successor’, hopefully one not unfriendly to the west and capable of maintaining the global order on which Western prosperity depends.

He has some interesting views including the fact that US advanced weapon superiority creates problems not only for adversaries but also for allies like Australia and the UK. Advanced weapons systems are expensive and only equip a country for ‘traditional’ warfare. With limited Defence budgets, is this preoccupation diverting scarce resources from the ‘non-traditional’ approach Australia and its western allies are now encountering.

Without doubt, what we in the West are facing is a complex global arena devoid of past certainties. This book should be essential reading for anyone concerned about America’s future on the world stage and the challenges Australia faces in the minefield that is now our foreign policy stage.

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