The Great Nightfall: How We Win the New Cold War

Reviewed by RADM Edward Masso, USN (Ret.)

Ambassador J William Middendorf II has written a clarion call to attention for all policy makers in his recently published book, “The Great Nightfall” How We Win the New Cold War. Drawing from his substantial career in public service where he served as a Naval Officer in World War II, United States Ambassador to the Netherlands, Under Secretary of the Navy, Secretary of the Navy and United States Ambassador to the Organization of American States and Ambassador to the European Union, Ambassador Middendorf breaks down the most dangerous threats that the United States faces in the decades ahead. At 95 years old, Ambassador Middendorf brings experience in his written assessments, forged by a front-row seat in world history and political affairs that precious few before him have ever experienced.

“The Great Nightfall” captures the successful conclusion of the first cold war where the United States broke the backs of the former Soviet Union through military strength, solid partnerships and alliances such as NATO, and in the Pacific Rim. As we take a metaphoric navigational fix on today, we find that our predominant competitor is China, delivering a bigger Navy with legions of hypersonic and cruise missiles, as well as sophisticated capabilities in artificial intelligence, machine learning, data optimization and analytics, predictive analytics, quantum computing, and information technology espionage. This espionage runs the gamut between human spies, electronic surveillance and technology theft captured under our noses in our own University environments.

Ambassador Middendorf expertly identifies the order of nations dangerous to our national security. China is closely joined by Russia, North Korea, Iran, as well as Terrorist organizations who pose threats militarily, in nuclear technologies, modern weaponry, economically, and domestically, creating overt and covert threats from within our own nation. This analysis is not unlike that of Seth Cropsey who wrote similar opinions in his book Seablindness: How Political Neglect is Choking American Seapower and What to Do About It (Encounter Books, 2017)Ambassador Middendorf methodically breaks down the threats from each cohort and then delves into risks that are posed from the strengths of our competitor nations. Each phenomenon is exposed such as: China’s threat to Taiwan, India and Pakistan’s volatile relationship, China’s border issues with India, the incongruous positions posed by developing Space Weapons, and of course, the prodigious and dangerous Cyber threats posed by each nation-state mentioned above.

The threats that our foreign and national defense policies must hurriedly address are called out by name, including: the need for a national cyber strategy, the risk and danger of an electromagnetic pulse attack, China’s (and other nations) infiltration into our Universities, the complex Chinese Belt and Road Strategy (BRI) meant to disrupt alliances through loans, economic assistance and other nefarious activities, the emergence of Chinese robust and very capable Aircraft Carriers, Attack Submarines, and other expansion efforts such as in the Spratly Islands

Some of Ambassador Middendorf’s sage quotes further tell the story, such as: regarding Russia, “they are a gas station with nukes”. Speaking about the reliability of trusting and negotiating with North Korean leader, Kim Jong Un, “expect lies, do your homework, because they will have. Choose your words very carefully. And, have Job-like patience.” Further, Ambassador Middendorf poses the question about Taiwan: “What would the US response be if China tried to take Taiwan by force?”. These and other personal observations underscore his views of the seriousness of figuring out how we frame and shape US foreign policy and more importantly, what we need to do to mitigate the risks he feels the United States are susceptible to.

The book is sobering, but not fatalistic in its analysis and recommendations for the US future. Looking across the Cyber Threat, he breaks down the Information Warfare mission elements into four parts: Command and Control Missions, Offensive Information Missions, Defensive Information Missions and Information support & Information Safeguarding with solid suggestions for the need to strengthen our capabilities. In the areas of data optimization, the US must invest In a national strategy to improve capabilities in artificial intelligence, predictive analytics, and machine learning.

Additionally, Ambassador Middendorf recommends, especially from a naval perspective, investment in unmanned warships, a more robust shipbuilding program, enhanced operator training, more rigorous ship repair and maintenance, and truly assessing the efficacy and future of Super Carriers such as the Gerald Ford Class that are being delivered at $25B per ship. In his analysis the trade space between one Ford Class CVN and four Virginia Class SSN’s is not a decision. Build four more SSN’s.

Other suggestions specifically for shipbuilding include:

  • 355 ships
  • 11 (or less) CVN’s
  • 88-104 Surface Combatants
  • 48-66 SSN’s
  • 12 Columbia Class SSBN’s
  • 34-38 Amphibious ships

This thinking varies somewhat from what retired Captain Jerry Hendrix advocates in his recently published book To Provide and Maintain a Navy (Focsle Publishing 2020) where he envisions a need by 2040 for a 456 ship Navy of similar composition to Ambassador Middendorf’s vision. Hendrix’ vision has more specifics on Unmanned Surface and Undersea vessels.

The final chapter of this remarkable read is called, “With Friends Like These”, a reference to our allies. Ambassador Middendorf believes that “too many nations of the world have substituted the United States for their own police forces”.  Regional partnerships and alliances are critical to defending against aggression in any form from China, Russia, North Korea, Iran, and terrorist factions. Our existing partnerships must be enhanced and nurtured. There should be little room for miscommunications or lack of alignment in strategic intent.

The Great Nightfall How We Win the New Cold War is a book for policy makers, Military War College students, and anyone who has an interest in what an expert with seventy years of policy experience envisions ahead for the United States. Complacency is not an option. Holding fast on tradition cannot measure up to the challenges that the United States faces today. Ambassador Middendorf has made his case in an evidence-based manner that is not merely a great read but is exactly a clarion call to action.


The Great Nightfall: How We Win the New Cold War (J. William Middendorf II, Heritage Harbor Foundation Publishing, Providence, RI, 2020)

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