The future of american military strategy (cont)

Michael P. Noonan Marzo 2006



Charles V. Pena, a senior fellow with the Coalition for a Realistic Foreign Policy and an adviser on the Straus Military Reform Project, led off by claiming that the end of the Cold War ensured that the United States was relatively safe in a traditional nation-state strategic context. Our overwhelming strategic nuclear force is a deterrent and no other nation has the power projection capabilities to attack us directly. This reality allows us to think radically about how to change the military and reduce defense spending by at least 25 percent. In his opinion, the U.S. has an overcapacity in military capability. Overcapacity in defense capabilities is problematic because it leads their overuse, or misuse, by policymakers.

The U.S. should not underwrite the security of so many countries and regions around the world. The Europeans and East Asian nations should shoulder more of the burden for their security. Our global force posture should transition from a sprawling one to that of a balancer of last resort. "We would understand that crises and conflicts that develop around the world, for the most part, actually don't threaten U.S. national security," according to Pena. The United States would only step into crises or conflicts that truly threatened national security. National security should be more narrowly defined in general and should be seen first and foremost as protection from threats to the United States, its population, and its way of life. Al Qaeda is a real threat, but it is not a nation-state and our global presence helps to feed its popularity.

The military should be about half the size that it is today. In order to transform the military it needs to learn to do more with less. Reducing the defense budget will drive transformation because it will force tough choices that will drive new thinking and innovation. Funding from unnecessary weapons programs such as the F-22 should be reprogrammed for capabilities such as UAVs, language training, human intelligence, and SOF. Such a military should secure the U.S. from traditional threats and would acknowledge that the military is not the primary tool for dealing with the terrorism threat -- either domestically nor internationally.


Captain Joe Bouchard, USN (ret.), the Executive Director of the Center for Homeland Security and Defense (CHSD) at Zel Technologies, LLC, focused his remarks on the War on Terrorism. He began with the observation that the "War on Terrorism" is the wrong phrase because it implies that there is a military solution to the problem when there is not one. "What we are in these days is a clash of ideas, a clash of ideologies." Relating this to Pena's argument, he asserted that the offshore balancing approach is too state-centric. The ideological nature of our current protracted conflict requires active engagement around the world. He agreed that the defense budget could be reduced, but that a lot of restructuring needed to take place. He disagreed with the notion that the military should not play a large role in homeland security.


Bouchard argued that the homeland arena is one area where we could lose militarily. Northern Command and the National Guard should play expanded roles and the Federal Emergency Management Agency should be abolished.

Eugene Gholz, Assistant Professor at the LBJ School of Public Affairs at the University of Texas in Austin and a Research Associate of MIT's Security Studies Program, agreed with much of Pena's position. Gholz argued that the U.S. should be militarily "prudent" rather than "proactive."


Geographical space and distance allow us the opportunity not to act in crises or against threats that are peripheral to our security. A strategy of prudence would allow us to sit back and gather and process information about threats or potential threats. Increased information would allow us to make wiser defense investments. The quality of information would be improved "by developing a variety of views and interpretation and having real competition to understand the threat position the Americans face." While critics might label this as risky, Gholz proclaimed that it is the status quo that is risky because it assumes that we have enough information about threats to make responsible choices. Cutting back missions would go hand-in-hand with cutting the defense budget. Lastly, he called for a reduced emphasis on jointness in the military. "One of the key ways that we can diversify our portfolio of watching other countries and paying attention to what the emerging threats are and figuring out our best response to them is if we have multiple systems being developed by different services, multiple sets of equipment, and multiple organizational cultures that are paying attention to different threats," said Gholz. This would allow us to diversify our portfolio of strategic and military capabilities and potential responses.


Michael O'Hanlon, Senior Fellow of Foreign Policy Studies and The Sydney Stein, Jr. Chair at the Brookings Institution, delivered the luncheon keynote address. He focused on scenarios that might affect the future of American military strategy and places where we may have to fight.
Low Plausibility/Low Concern Scenarios
(1) Defending the Baltic states from a Russian invasion. O'Hanlon argued that economic coercion against Russia would be the primary response against any such eventuality.
(2) Defending Russia (primarily Siberia) from a Chinese invasion. Again, an economic response such as a blockade or global economic sanctions would be most appropriate.
(3) Defending a reunified Korea against a Chinese land invasion because of historical border disputes. He argued that this was extraordinarily unlikely because "China is going to have a lot of other more plausible and appealing places to apply military leverage, if it ever decides it wants to." Disputes over the resources on the seabed were more likely in his opinion.

Sufficiently Plausible/Sufficiently Important Scenarios
(4) China using an economic blockade and coercion against Taiwan in the event that Taiwan pushes more ambitiously for independence. Any blockade of Taiwan scenario would be challenging to our Navy and Air Force because it would necessitate maintaining an air supremacy, naval blockade breaking capability in the western Pacific for many, many months while China would be able to control escalation at times and places of its choosing.
(5) Intervening in Indonesia or the Philippines to prevent al Qaeda from taking large swaths of territory. This would require a lot of stability operations capability and ideally would be carried out at the invitation of the host country and as part of a multinational coalition. That said, under certain circumstances we might have to go in without permission.
(5a) An island in, or near, the Indonesian or Malacca Straits falling under the control of a Jihadi group threatening international shipping. In this scenario, O'Hanlon asserted that we would have the option of sailing around the lanes, even though it would be less economically efficient. (6) Intervening to ensure that neither Indonesia nor the Philippines become failed states. Both nations are too important to our global interests to allow them to fail, particularly if such state failure spread jihadi influence.
(7) The complete collapse of nuclear armed Pakistan. "Nuclear weapons in the hands of Pakistani Jihadi's would be directly threatening to the United States in a way that would send chills up my spine_ I think it would be actually a greater threat to our core security than almost any attack on any overseas ally that I can think of in a more classic sense," said O'Hanlon.
(8) Nuclear war between India and Pakistan over Kashmir. If a limited nuclear exchange occurred perhaps an international trusteeship for Kashmir could be set in place to alleviate the necessity of either country to concede defeat. A robustly sized force would be needed to rigorously control the borders.
(9) U.S. preemptive action against Iranian nuclear installations in response to increased Iranian support for terrorism and their making blatant progress towards a nuclear weapon. Iran's reaction would likely be twofold: (a) they will continue their nuclear program in a slower manner with public support and (b) doing something else such as fomenting "more trouble inside of Iraq, to supporting more anti-Israeli terror, to attacking our interests in the Persian Gulf."
(9a) Iran shutting down the Strait of Hormuz. This would require a more robust Navy presence in the Gulf for an extended period of time with a lot of quick response capacity to intercept ballistic missiles, to try to intercept anti-ship cruise missiles, and to be responsive against any submarines that would try to do a quick ambush and then retreat.
(10) An international trusteeship for Palestine. If the peace process broke down or stalled, this scenario, in the future, might be feasible.
(11) A jihadi coup in Saudi Arabia. This might put the eastern oil fields at risk and in today's world the loss of that oil supply would jeopardize the global economy. The U.S. would consider unilateral intervention if no other options were available. Hopefully future energy conservation and alternative energy production would allow for a time lag that might allow the situation to work itself out internally and, if not, would allow for the development of multilateral (for legitimacy purposes) intervention force.

According to O'Hanlon, "looking out over the future, I see all four of our Services as equally important for American national security, and I see high-end combat almost as important as it has been historically. Low-end or complex combat contingencies are more important than before, but not so much more important that we can ignore the old fashioned stuff." The U.S. must maintain robust forces across a wide range of capabilities. There are no easy choices in the defense budget because we have to keep doing a lot with limited resources.





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