Wednesday, December 17, 2008

American Military Power is Not Going Away

Robert Kaplan offers an excellent response to the renewed debate on American relative international decline, "A Gentler Hegemony":

Near the end of the Cold War, the U.S. Navy had almost 600 ships; it is down to 280. But in aggregate tonnage that is still more than the next 17 navies combined. Our military secures the global commons to the benefit of all nations. Without the U.S. Navy, the seas would be unsafe for merchant shipping, which, in an era of globalization, accounts for 90 percent of world trade. We may not be able to control events on land in the Middle East, but our Navy and Air Force control all entry and exit points to the region. The multinational anti-piracy patrols that have taken shape in the Strait of Malacca and the Gulf of Aden have done so under the aegis of the U.S. Navy. Sure the economic crisis will affect shipbuilding, meaning the decline in the number of our ships will continue, and there will come a point where quantity affects quality. But this will be an exceedingly gradual transition, which we will assuage by leveraging naval allies such as India and Japan.

Then there are the dozens of training deployments around the world that the U.S. military, particularly Army Special Forces, conducts in any given week. We are all over Africa, Asia and Latin America with these small missions that increase America's diplomatic throw-weight without running the risk of getting us bogged down. Aside from Iraq and Afghanistan, our military posture around the world is generally light, lethal and highly mobile. We have been quietly reducing land forces in South Korea while compensating with a more effective air and naval presence. In Colombia, platoon-size numbers of Green Berets have been instrumental in fighting narco-terrorists; in Algeria, such training teams have helped improve our relationship with that formerly radical Arab country. Such stripped-down American military deployments garner no headlines, but they are a formula that works.

The Marines, after becoming virtually desert forces since 2001, will return to their expeditionary roots aboard amphibious ships in the Greater Indian Ocean and Western Pacific. American military power is not going away. But instead of being in-your-face, it will lurk just over the horizon. And that will make all the difference.

In sum, we may no longer be at Charles Krauthammer's "
Unipolar Moment," but neither have we become Sweden. Declinism of the sort being preached will go immediately out of fashion at the world's next humanitarian catastrophe, when the very people enraged at the U.S. military because of Iraq will demand that it lead a coalition to save lives. We might have intervened in Darfur had we not been bogged down in Iraq; after Cyclone Nargis, our ships would have provided large-scale relief, had Burma's military government allowed them to proceed. As world population rises, and with vast urban areas with tottering infrastructures in the most environmentally and seismically fragile zones, the opportunities for U.S. military-led disaster relief will be legion. The American military remains a force for good, a fact that will become self-evident in the crises to come.


Norm said...

India and Pakistan have just about finished their mobilization of troops. After serious war games Pakistan's troops remain on India's border instead of going back to Afghanistan. Iran has mobilized a large force on its border with Pakistan. We are going to have a major confrontation between two nuclear powers in the next few months with Iran ready to steal a chunk of western Pakistan. Are we ready ?

AmPowerBlog said...

I hope so, Norm.

Tom the Redhunter said...

Indeed, Donald, despite the fantasies of those over at the Daily Kooks website, we will remain the world's largest and most powerful military force, and one that acts for good.

But many of our weapons are growing old and need replacement badly. Here's a partial list

F-22 Raptor - this fighter will replace the F-15, which first flew in 1972. The Russians, Chinese, and others are building new fighters that are the equal of if not better than the F-15 or F-16

F-35 Lightning II - this will replace the Navy's F-18s and the USMC AV-8 Harrier, and be a second line USAF fighter to the F-22. We have great carriers, but the F-18 is barely adequate for today.

Virgina Class Subs The Los Angeles class first went to sea in 1975. We only have 3 Seawolf subs. Again, our enemies aren't sitting still.

V-22 Osprey - this will replace helicopters like the CH-53, CH-46/47, which are Vietnam era weapons. Traditional helicopter technology has reached the point of diminishing returns, and we need something that can fly faster and farther.

Missile Defense - Iran will get the bomb, and will learn to put it on missiles. Ditto with the DPRK and others too I'm sure.

We're also lacking in personnel. From 1974 to 1989, the Army had about 770,000 to 780,000 active troops (all of them volunteers). Today, we have around 508,000.

During the last part of the Cold War we spent about 8% of GDP on national defense. Today it's at about 3.7% or so. While we don't need to go back to Cold War levels, we do need to do more. The unfortunate fact of history is that there will always be another war.

The question is whether President Obama will fully fund these needed weapons systems or will scale them back or cancel them. My guess is he won't do anything dramatic for a year or so, but when SecDef Gates leaves watch out.

AmPowerBlog said...

Our nuclear strategic force as well, Tom the Redhunter...

Anonymous said...

Down the page is a post where you express very little sadness over what may be the demise of the American auto industry because you had friends that bought cars with defects. You seem cool with the fact that foreign companies will now have the monopoly on producing vehicles.

Yet, in this comment thread you give dittoes to Tom for his opinion that our military toys need upgrading. I'll leave aside the fact that most of the items mentioned are bigger lemons than anything out of Detroit.

We are not even at war and you guys want to ramp up like it's WWII. To make matters worse we don't even have an industrial base anymore. Are you going to ask those Japanese and German car companies in the south to produce our armaments? There's some irony!

AmPowerBlog said...

Anonymous: Start a blog, because one anon-comment is all you get.

P.S. We have a manufacturing base, and if the Big Three didn't blow it, we'd have an auto sector as well.

dave in boca said...

Norm, twenty years ago a Minister in the NWFP in Peshawar told me that Pakistan would be divided between the Iranians to the west [Benazir Bhutto's mother was Iranian, he told me] and revert to Pubjab/NWFP/Sindh.

I thought the guy was nuts at the time. Who knows?

Robert Kaplan is the clearest thinker about long-term US strategic policy around these day, IMHO.

courtneyme109 said...

Wow. Great post and commentary too.

America's 30 year in the future military still has no real competitors. Most of NATO (discounting nightvision and battlefield meds) are still like 1960 era combatty capabilities wise.

NATO may be ready to man up as their casus belli for trying to skate by phat, fat, drunk and stupid under Great Satan's all protective umbrella is about to split in January.

Ditto Nippon (whose pacifist constitution could be sidelined by a Chair at the big boy table at UN) SoKo and Taiwan.

Geopolitically wise - Baer's book "Devil we know" actually includes the makebelieve nation state of Pakistan as part of a Grand Bargain with Iran. It gets divy'd up between Afghanistan a new place called Pashtunistan, a Balochian semi autonomous region and India.

The WordSmith from Nantucket said...

Robert Kaplan is the clearest thinker about long-term US strategic policy around these day, IMHO.

His books, Imperial Grunts and Hog Pilots and Blue Water Grunts are great reads for anyone who thinks American military interventionism all over the world hasn't been a positive force of overall good.

Anonymous said...

You're absolutely hilarious pretending to be a political science associate professor or whatever. Establishing the morality of our military before new wars have even begun? Talk about proactive!