THE NEW AMERICAN STRATEGIC OUTLOOK: CONTINUITY OR CHANGE?
"The United States has played a leading role in transforming the international system over the past sixty-five years. Working with like-minded nations, the United States has created a safer, more stable, and more prosperous world for the American people, our allies, and our partners around the globe than existed prior to World War II. Over the last decade, we have undertaken extended operations in Iraq and Afghanistan to bring stability to those countries and secure our interests. As we responsibly draw down from these two operations, take steps to protect our nation’’s economic vitality, and protect our interests in a world of accelerating change, we face an inflection point. This merited an assessment of the U.S. defense strategy in light of the changing geopolitical environment and our changing fiscal circumstances. This assessment reflects the President’’s strategic direction to the Department and was deeply informed by the Department’’s civilian and military leadership, including the Joint Chiefs of Staff, the Secretaries of the Military Departments, and the Combatant Commanders. Out of the assessment we developed a defense strategy that transitions our Defense enterprise from an emphasis on today’’s wars to preparing for future challenges, protects the broad range of U.S. national security interests, advances the Department’’s efforts to rebalance and reform, and supports the national security imperative of deficit reduction through a lower level of defense spending. This strategic guidance document describes the projected security environment and the key military missions for which the Department of Defense (DoD) will prepare. It is intended as a blueprint for the Joint Force in 2020, providing a set of precepts that will help guide decisions regarding the size and shape of the force over subsequent program and budget cycles, and highlighting some of the strategic risks that may be associated with the proposed strategy.
A Challenging Global Security Environment
The global security environment presents an increasingly complex set of challenges and opportunities to which all elements of U.S. national power must be applied. The demise of Osama bin Laden and the capturing or killing of many other senior al-Qa’’ida leaders have rendered the group far less capable. However, al-Qa’’ida and its affiliates remain active in Pakistan, Afghanistan, Yemen, Somalia, and elsewhere. More broadly, violent extremists will continue to threaten U.S. interests, allies, partners, and the homeland. The primary loci of these threats are South Asia and the Middle East. With the diffusion of destructive technology, these extremists have the potential to pose catastrophic threats that could directly affect our security and prosperity. For the foreseeable future, the United States will continue to take an active approach to countering these threats by monitoring the activities of non-state threats worldwide, working with allies and partners to establish control over ungoverned territories, and directly striking the most dangerous groups and individuals when necessary.
U.S. economic and security interests are inextricably linked to developments in the arc extending from the Western Pacific and East Asia into the Indian Ocean region and South Asia, creating a mix of evolving challenges and opportunities. Accordingly, while the U.S. military will continue to contribute to security globally, we will of necessity rebalance toward the Asia-Pacific region. Our relationships with Asian allies and key partners are critical to the future stability and growth of the region. We will emphasize our existing alliances, which provide a vital foundation for Asia-Pacific security. We will also expand our networks of cooperation with emerging partners throughout the Asia-Pacific to ensure collective capability and capacity for securing common interests. The United States is also investing in a long-term strategic partnership with India to support its ability to serve as a regional economic anchor and provider of security in the broader Indian Ocean region. Furthermore, we will maintain peace on the Korean Peninsula by effectively working with allies and other regional states to deter and defend against provocation from North Korea, which is actively pursuing a nuclear weapons program. The maintenance of peace, stability, the free flow of commerce, and of U.S. influence in this dynamic region will depend in part on an underlying balance of military capability and presence. Over the long term, China’’s emergence as a regional power will have the potential to affect the U.S. economy and our security in a variety of ways. Our two countries have a strong stake in peace and stability in East Asia and an interest in building a cooperative bilateral relationship. However, the growth of China’’s military power must be accompanied by greater clarity of its strategic intentions in order to avoid causing friction in the region. The United States will continue to make the necessary investments to ensure that we maintain regional access and the ability to operate freely in keeping with our treaty obligations and with international law. Working closely with our network of allies and partners, we will continue to promote a rules-based international order that ensures underlying stability and encourages the peaceful rise of new powers, economic dynamism, and constructive defense cooperation.
In the Middle East, the Arab Awakening presents both strategic opportunities and challenges. Regime changes, as well as tensions within and among states under pressure to reform, introduce uncertainty for the future. But they also may result in governments that, over the long term, are more responsive to the legitimate aspirations of their people, and are more stable and reliable partners of the United States. Our defense efforts in the Middle East will be aimed at countering violent extremists and destabilizing threats, as well as upholding our commitment to allies and partner states".
United States Department of Defence. "Sustaining U.S. Global Leadership: Priorities for the 21st century." The Council of Foreign Relations. 5 January 2012, in www.cfr.org.
"At the end of the day, less money results in less capability. And less capability is something we cannot afford at a time when we face a rising China, a nuclear North Korea, an Iran on the verge of going nuclear, a Pakistan threatened as never before by jihadists, and numerous terrorist groups, ranging from the Afghan and Pakistani Taliban to the Shabab in Somalia and al-Qaeda in the Arabian Peninsula. These groups threaten not only vital U.S. interests abroad but also increasingly the American homeland itself, as evidenced by AQAP's attempt to mail parcel bombs to the U.S. and by the Pakistani Taliban's sponsorship of an attempt to set off a car bomb in Times Square.
China presents a particularly worrisome long-term problem. It is in the midst of a rapid defense buildup which has allowed it to field a stealth fighter, an aircraft carrier, diesel submarines, cyberweapons, "carrier-killer" and satellite-killer ballistic missiles, and numerous other missiles. Even as things stand, China is increasingly able to contest the U.S. Navy's freedom of movement in the Western Pacific. As long ago as 2008, Rand predicted that by 2020 the U.S. would not be able to defend Taiwan from a Chinese attack, and that was before the surprise unveiling of China's J-20 Stealth fighter or its new aircraft carrier. The timeline for American dominance being threatened is shortening. The safety of U.S. bases in Okinawa, Guam, and elsewhere in the region can no longer be assured, creating the potential for a 21st-century Pearl Harbor. That trend will be exacerbated—leading to a potentially dangerous shift in the balance of power—unless we build up our shrinking fleet. But given the budget cuts being discussed, we will have trouble maintaining the current size of our fleet, much less expanding it.
We have already cancelled the F-22 and cut back the procurement of the F-35. Is the F-35 to be cancelled altogether or cut back to such an extent that we will have no answer to the fifth-generation fighters emanating from Russia and China? If that were to come to pass, it would signal the death knell for American power in the Pacific. If our power wanes, our allies will have to do what they need to do to ensure their own security. It's easy to imagine, under such a scenario, states such as Japan, South Korea, and Taiwan acquiring their own nuclear weapons, thus setting off a dangerous and destabilizing nuclear arms race with China.
Even given the dire consequences, it might still make sense to cut the defense budget—if it were bankrupting us and undermining our economic well-being, which is the foundation of our national security. But that's not the case. Defense spending, including supplemental appropriations, is less than 5 percent of gross domestic product and less than 20 percent of the federal budget. Both figures are lower than the historic norm. That means our armed forces are much less costly in relative terms than they were throughout much of the 20th century. Even at roughly $550 billion, our core defense budget is eminently affordable. It is, in fact, a bargain, considering the historic consequences of letting our guard down.
The United States' armed forces have been the greatest force for good the world has seen during the past century. They defeated Nazism and Japanese imperialism, deterred and defeated Communism, and stopped numerous lesser evils—from Slobodan Milosevic's ethnic cleansing to the oppression perpetrated by Saddam Hussein in Iraq and the Taliban in Afghanistan. Imagine a world in which America is not the leading military power. It would be a brutal, Hobbesian place in which aggressors rule and the rule of law is trampled on. And yet Congress will be helping to usher in such a New World Disorder if it continues to slash defense spending at the currently contemplated rate—just as previous Congresses did with previous rounds of "postwar" budget cuts going back to the dawn of the Republic.
But there is nothing inevitable about the outcome. The first tranche of sequestration cuts is not scheduled to take effect until the 2013 fiscal year. That means Congress has most of 2012 to find an alternative. Unfortunately, President Obama has threatened to veto any bill that tries to exempt the defense budget from sequestration. But that should not prevent pro-defense Democrats and Republicans from pushing such a bill anyway. If even one year of sequestration were to occur, major weapons systems (which will be costly and difficult to restart) might be cancelled—and great numbers of veterans (whose experience would be lost forever) might be layed off.
In the long run, the question of whether or not—and to what extent—we will cut defense will be decided in the 2012 elections. Obama appears sanguine about the impact of defense cuts, but his Republican challengers are not. Mitt Romney has promised to protect the defense budget and expand naval shipbuilding. Rick Perry has called on Leon Panetta to resign rather than accept massive cuts. Even Newt Gingrich, who has been critical of wasteful Pentagon spending, has said that sequestration would be "totally destructive" and "very dangerous to the survival of the country."
It is commonly said that every election is a turning point in our history. In many cases that's nothing more than partisan hype. In the case of the 2012 election, it's true: The future of the U.S. armed forces, and of American power in general, could depend greatly on the outcome".
Max Boot, "Slashing America's Defence: a suicidal trajectory." The Council on Foreign Relations. (January 2012), in www.cfr.org.
The American Department of Defence new strategic blueprint has raised the hackles of some commentators of the Max Boot variety (see above). As per them, the proposed reductions in the American Defence Department spending plans for the next ten years, with its changed emphasis on the Pacific-Orient theatre, will entail a drastic reduction in American military strength overseas. And with the same a drastic reduction in the United States ability to intervene actively overseas as well as to properly project Pax Americana. From a neutral perspective how accurate is this assessment? From what I am able to judge, the reductions in American military forces will primarily come at the expense of the Army (reduced from approximately 569,000 to 450,00) and the Marines (reduced from 200,000 to 175,000). Reductions of over twenty percent for one and over ten percent for the other. Such figures while they seem to be quite high, are as Mr. Boot himself admits, are quite well within the range of troop reductions in the aftermath of past wars. particularly as they relate to the Army 1. And indeed, based upon total numbers, the size of the Army will be roughly what it was circa 1999, not exactly a year when American forces could be said to be dangerously ill-manned or reduced in size. Looking at matters from a historical perspective, the strategic outlook of the current American Administration, is (as I have noted in this journal in the past) very similar indeed to those of past American Administrations, such as Eisenhower's and Nixon's, where in a post-bellum atmosphere, force reduction and a greater reliance (whether real or imagined is a different issue) on allies in different areas of the world was the goal. The thinking of the current American Administration, once one strips away the rhetoric of novelty (which all American Administrations feel some need to proclaim for reasons of publicity) is nothing so much as those of Eisenhower's 'New Look' and Nixon's 'Doctrine' 2. As the past master of American foreign relations historians of the second half of the twentieth century, John Lewis Gaddis, noted in his magnum opus, Strategies of Containment:
"Triangular politics had made possible progress toward John Foster Dulles's old goal of maximum deterrence at minimum cost-not by threatening escalation, though, but through the simple approach, made feasible by the triumph of geopolitics over ideology, of reducing the number of adversaries to be deterred. This reduction in adversaries, in turn made possible a fourth key element in the Nixon-Kissinger strategy: a phasing down of American commitments in the world, formally expressed in what came to be known as the Nixon Doctrine...Kissinger later further generalized the doctrine into an assertion 'that the United States will participate in the defence and development of allies and friends, but that America cannot--and--will not--conceive all the plans, design all the programs, execute all the decisions and undertake all the defence of the free nations of the world'. The United States would give first priority to its own interests: 'our interests must shape our commitments, rather than the other way around'" 3.
And while the emergence of Red China as a potential military rival in the Pacific-Orient theatre, can be said to be a (to use a vernacular expression) 'game changer', I for one, while recognizing that the PRC is indeed, a potential Great Power rival in the Pacific, do not feel that at present possesses anything close to the military power or reach that say Sovietskaya Vlast possessed for most of the Cold War 3. Indeed, insofar as the reductions planned in the American military budget are intended to shore-up American governmental finances, then they are indeed warranted. One may merely note that per se, such reductions will not by themselves cure the American patient of the various illnesses that he suffers from at present. However that calls for an altogether different post.
1. Max Boot. "Overspending the Peace Dividend." The Los Angeles Times. 10 January 2012, in www.latimes.com; Peter Orszag, "Pentagon Fires at Budget Targets that cannot be hit." Bloomberg. 10 January 2012, in www.bloomberg.com.
2. John Lewis Gaddis. Strategies of Containment: A critical appraisal of American National Security Policy during the Cold War. Revised and Expanded Edition. (2005), pp. 130-45, 293-296, et. passim.
3. See for this point, recently reiterated with good effect: Philip Stephens, "How American Could go it Alone." The Financial Times. 13 January 2012, in www.ft.com. For a different point of view of this important topic, in an important new book, to be reviewed in this space, see: Aaron L. Friedberg. A contest for Supremacy: China, America, and the struggle for mastery in Asia. (2011).