Friday, April 07, 2006

America's 21st Century Military and the Next New World Order

This is the first article in a series on the future of American power.

In the post-Iraq era America will need to answer three critical questions about the nature of its military.

-- What do we need the force to do?

-- What kind of force do we need to do it?

-- What kind of force can we afford?

Real Security: The Democratic Plan to Protect America and Restore Our Leadership in the World calls for a "21st Century Military." Under Democratic leadership, the document states, America will "Rebuild a state-of-the-art military by making the needed investments in equipment and manpower so that we can project power to protect America wherever and whenever necessary."

As with much of the Democrats' security strategy, the notion of a 21st century military is vague, but when it comes to modern strategic force planning, vagueness is a virtue.

For starters, with so much of modern weaponry coming directly from off-the-shelf sources, what constitutes "state-of-the-art" changes rapidly, often from week to week. Iran's recently unveiled maritime weapons and platforms, for example, herald a new geo-strategic calculus for U.S. naval forces that up to now have patrolled in the Arabian Gulf and northern Indian Ocean with relative impunity.

Equally debatable is the question of where and when we'll need to project power in order to protect ourselves. If, for example, we become independent of foreign oil by 2020 as "Real Security" calls for, do we really need to bother to project naval power in the Arabian Gulf and the Indian Ocean? If not, how much do we need to invest in countermeasures to Iran's rocket torpedoes and stealthy patrol boats and anti-ship cruise missiles?

Oil independence not only brings our maritime force strategy into question. If we don't have a vested interest in the flow of Gulf region oil, what's the need to maintain a significant ground force footprint in the Middle East? And if we don't need to project land power in the Middle East, where else will we need to project it? We're certainly not going to conduct an Iraq-style invasion and occupation of Russia or China or Europe. And nobody's going to invade the continental United States.

Mister Bush has become fond of saying, "We can no longer hope that oceans protect us from harm." As with so much of what Bush says, that statement is largely bunk.

Yes, terrorists can sneak into this country, hijack airplanes, and drive them into skyscrapers. But that was as true in 1948 as it is now. Rogue nations like Iran or North Korea may someday be able to strike American cities with nuclear tipped intercontinental ballistic missiles, but the Soviets became capable of doing that during the Eisenhower administration.

But no one can muster sufficient ground forces to invade and occupy America, and even if they could, they couldn't muster enough maritime or air transportation to bring a force that size across the oceans. Even if they could muster that kind of transoceanic transportation, we could easily sink it or shoot it down before it got halfway here.

Some argue that the Iraq experience proves that we need to expand our land power services, but the real lesson learned from the Iraq war is that we don't want to fight any more wars like it. With no need for a standing ground force to repel a military invasion, America's Army and Marine Corps will continue to conduct their primary business abroad. But how much offshore business is left for them to engage in?

Russia isn't likely to invade Western Europe. Its army has been bogged down in an insurgency style war in Chechnya for over a decade. Mainland China might attempt to invade Taiwan, but helping Taiwan repel such an invasion would mainly involve air and maritime interdiction operations. North Korea might invade South Korea, and any of several of its neighbors might attempt another invasion of Israel, but South Korea and Israel are capable of handling those contingencies without significant levels of assistance from U.S. ground forces.

It's just possible, I suppose, that Russia and China might engage in a major land war along their mutual border. But if they ever do, why would we want to step into the middle of it?

So we can say we did?

Next week: war as an instrument of power in the next new world order.

Other Jeff Huber articles on national security issues:

In an Arms Race With Ourselves

Wars and Empires

Invasion of the Transformers


  1. I predict, even if* we were to become oil independent, there are still American-based oil companies with lots of valuable foreign interests.

    There's money to be made and investments to be protected. "Prepare to deploy...!"

    Regarding the HR needs of the future military, something definitely needs to change about Guard/Reserves being drained so heavily into active duty.

    Doesn't Canada have (or maybe once had) some sort of national service period for young people...? Not specifically military training, more like the old British Home Guards?

    *Texas-size IF

  2. Good post Jeff. I find myself so possessed by the present that I forget to think forward. Thanks for reminding me.
    If Seymour Hersh in the New Yorker is correct and Bush is planning to use tactical nuclear weapons against Iran any predictions on future military needs becomes extremely weird.
    I can't even get my head around all the various strategic challenges that this would present.

  3. I'm not much in favor of a mandatory national service. Sounds like a tax funded internship program to me.


    I haven't read Hersh's piece yet (busy with taxes). Will do so soon and get back with you.

  4. In 1838, Abraham Lincoln knew that there was only one way to destroy the United States. From within.

    "...At what point shall we expect the approach of danger? By what means shall we fortify against it?-- Shall we expect some transatlantic military giant, to step the Ocean, and crush us at a blow? Never!--All the armies of Europe, Asia and Africa combined, with all the treasure of the earth (our own excepted) in their military chest; with a Buonaparte for a commander, could not by force, take a drink from the Ohio, or make a track on the Blue Ridge, in a trial of a thousand years.

    At what point then is the approach of danger to be expected? I answer, if it ever reach us, it must spring up amongst us. It cannot come from abroad. If destruction be our lot, we must ourselves be its author and finisher. As a nation of freemen, we must live through all time, or die by suicide."

    We need a military that insures that we can protect our vital interests and project our power in the defense and support of those interests.

  5. I'm not sure how the Lincoln quote supports the "vital interests and project power" argument.

    If we can only be destroyed from within, why is projecting power abroad so important?

    I'll be addressing these issues in coming installments. I don't have a problem with maintainin a capablility to project military power abroad--I have a problem with using glittering generalities to justify any and all manufacturing and use of force.