A key objective of the new administration will be to “rebalance”
Since 1998, defense spending has risen by 90 percent in real terms, bringing the national defense budget close to $700 billion annually, which represents about 46 percent of global defense expenditure (in purchasing power terms). All told, there are approximately 440,000
What the operations in Iraq and Afghanistan have shown the world is that the United States, unimpeded by a peer competitor, cannot by its current methods reliably stabilize two impoverished nations comprising only one percent of the world’s population—despite the investment of nearly 5,000 American lives and more than $850 billion. What General David Petreaus once asked of the
No great wisdom is needed to suspect that a sea-change in method is due.
Giving greater play to diplomacy and “soft power” is advisable, but not sufficient. More fundamental is the need to roll back
Military moderation is also essential to the revival of
Refiguring the role of force and the armed forces in
And the advent of a new administration in
Mapping a path out of the current policy cull-de-sac begins with the question, How did we get here?
The advent of primacy
The end of the East-West Cold War, beginning with the fall of the Berlin Wall in 1989, put the
More relevant was the altered balance of power between the
The end of the Cold War also prompted strategic realignments favoring the
These circumstances presented a historic opportunity to increase global cooperation, advance the demilitarization of international affairs, and claim a permanent peace dividend. The end of the Cold War also brought to the fore a host of transnational problems—terrorism among them—that could be effectively addressed only through broad cooperation.
Grasping the promise that was born when the Wall came down proved from the start to be more difficult than many had hoped. One problem was that
The primacy principle Many nations, including
The exercise of primacy does not necessarily entail military activism, of course. The
By 1997, military primacy had been codified as the foundation of
To paraphrase former
Putting primacy to work
Throughout the 1990s, the
■ Three successive
■ The ways in which national leadership imagine using force and our armed forces have multiplied, and
Beyond the traditional objectives of deterring and defending against aggression, there has been an increasing emphasis on trying to use force and forceful pressure to actually “prevent the emergence” of threats and, more generally, to stabilize and “shape” the strategic environment (as the 1997 US Quadrennial Defense Review put it.)
In the past, threat prevention and “environment shaping” were largely in the purview of the State Department. But a feature of our post-Cold War practice has been the increasing intrusion of the Department of Defense (DOD) on the provinces of State. Parallel to this, diplomatic functions have been increasingly militarized. Thus, today coercive diplomacy plays a bigger role relative to traditional “quid pro quo” diplomacy. Similarly, “offensive counter-proliferation”—that is, arms control by means of bombardment or even regime change—has grown in importance.
DOD has even exerted more influence over US programs in support of democratization and development— and this influence is growing. The 2006 Quadrennial Defense Review strongly advocated for greater Pentagon authority in managing US security partnerships and conducting development assistance programs. Already the Pentagon oversees 22 percent of US official development funds—up from 3.5 percent in 1998.
The use of force—a last resort?
One legacy of the 20th century’s great conflicts was the emergence of a general societal presumption against war: the simple idea that war should be an instrument of last and infrequent resort, mostly restricted to defense against aggression. The reasons are both moral and pragmatic, having to do with the inherent unpredictability of war and its human cost. The “last resort” principle embodies an implicit recognition that war constitutes a zone of profound and chaotic effects. Thus, it holds, we mostly should not go to war unless it is forced upon us.
The “last resort” principle has been in retreat in
A nation’s “war threshold” reflects a number of considerations: For what purposes should a nation resort to military force and threats? What are the diplomatic prerequisites to using force? How soon in a developing clash of interests should force be brought into play? The threshold also pertains to the level of civilian casualties, collateral damage, and general mayhem that a nation is willing to risk.
Lowering the threshold on force can mean that the relationship between going to war and national self-defense becomes more attenuated. It can mean that the limits on “pre-emptive” uses of force become looser— or that forceful coercion becomes diplomacy’s routine companion. It can mean that the “rules of engagement” within war become more permissive or that firepower comes to play a greater role in stability operations. It can mean a greater willingness to “go it alone” in prosecuting a war or undertaking it with just a small circle of friends in coalition. In sum: all those considerations that normally act to limit the frequency, extent, and intensity of war become less compelling.
Certainly, the advent of clear
At the same time that official thinking about the use of force was changing, defense planners (especially at Rand Corporation) began exploring new ways of calibrating threats and managing the security environment. These ideas became important enablers of increased military activism.
In 1991, General Colin Powell, who was then Chairman of the US Joint Chiefs, had observed that the Pentagon was “running out of demons.” But as the scale of “clear and present” dangers receded, the Pentagon refocused defense preparation and action on unknown and prospective threats. Emphasizing “uncertainty,” planners relaxed their assumptions about
Paradoxically, as the scale and stakes of security challenges declined, the Pentagon adopted more ambitious military objectives, seeking to deploy force ever faster and win wars more quickly and in more than one theater simultaneously. One aim was to be prepared to deal quickly and decisively with a very broad range of possible “surprises”. None of these were remotely as serious or immediate as the challenge that had once been posed by the Soviet bloc. And almost none involved attacks on the
Unfortunately, rather than immunizing the United States against unpleasant surprises, the effort to defeat uncertainty only dissipated America’s resources and attention. Thus, when Al Qaeda terrorists attacked the
These recent failures point to a simple truth: Attempts to hedge against uncertainty by preparing in all directions for all scenarios will leave a nation’s defenses less sensitive to and prepared for what is actually emerging. In fact, the emphasis on “uncertainty” during the past decade has allowed each military service and branch to find some justification for continuing to do and buy what it has been doing and buying for years. Thus, despite years of talk about “transformation”, the
It is hubris that leads policy makers and planners to think that
Prevention or provocation?
The post-Cold War focus on potential worst case scenarios also increased the attraction of “jumping the gun”— that is, taking action early. “Acting early” can refer to several stratagems—preemption, prevention, or preclusion— each more risk-averse than the one preceding. Preemption involves taking action to spoil an attack that is in its preparatory stages. Prevention, by contrast, involves acting forcefully now against an adversary who officials believe will attempt a serious, unavoidable aggression at some point in future years. Preclusion goes a step further, seeking to remove the possibility of a future aggression even when this eventuality does not seem certain or undeterrable
To appreciate the difference among these stratagems, it helps to dissect the notion of “threat”. A “real and present” threat of aggression minimally comprises a serious clash of interests and the intention, capability, and opportunity to do harm. When some of these elements are missing, there is still risk, but not an immediate threat of the type once posed by the
Preventive and preclusive military operations imply treating adversaries (or potential adversaries) who do not pose an imminent threat of attack as though they do. Such actions target not aggression, per se, nor even the imminent danger of aggression but, instead, the capability to aggress—be it existing, emergent, or suspected. Prevention and preclusion also can target actors who security officials believe are predisposed, due to the nature of their governments or belief systems, to do America significant harm at some point in the future, although they presently lack the capability. Successive
While the second Bush administration clearly crossed a threshold in attacking
Does prevention work? Our recent experience shows that treating potential threats as though they are imminent ones can exacerbate tensions and precipitate the outcome that “prevention” is meant to preclude. Thus, in addressing the nuclear programs of both
Using military power to shape the world
The most costly peacetime function of the
“Nudging” is supposed to occur by means of “armed dissuasion”—a process that involves using military assets and activity to “stake out” or strongly assert US interests in a specific situation or outcome. We might think of this as “preemptive deterrence” or “preemptive containment.” The spread of US military bases and partnerships toward the borders of
Another key objective of dissuasion has been to discourage other countries from initiating arms competitions with the
Linking military modernization to the dissuasion of military competition also alters the status of arms control in
Does armed dissuasion work?
One test of the increased emphasis on militarized environment shaping is relations with
Whether armed dissuasion is provocative or not depends on what behaviors it targets and what rules it seeks to set. Generally speaking: if dissuasive acts impinge on the internal affairs, sovereignty, core interests, or normal prerogatives of a target country, they are more likely to prompt resistance than compliance. The
Smaller states can respond to shaping efforts by seeking shelter under the strategic umbrella of larger ones. In this way, efforts at militarized “environment shaping” may be adding impetus to a process of global repolarization and remilitarization. This process is apparent in the formation and expansion of the Shanghai Cooperation Organization (SCO), which includes as full members
Is primacy worth the candle?
For more than a dozen years,
Military primacy is not sustainable, at any rate. Indeed, the more it is exercised, the more it invites balancing behavior on the part of others. In this light, it is important to note that present global disparities in military power do not reflect the global distribution of human and material resources. Today, the
Implicit in the “primacy principle” and in the expanded use of
A litmus for progress
Setting a new course in policy begins with acknowledging that the diffuse surge in
American leaders also need to be more cognizant of the costs and chaos that attend war. Among these is the risk of unnecessarily adding impetus to global remilitarization and re-polarization. A new cost-benefit calculus must be brought to bear in US military strategy.
To escape the paradox of “less security at greater cost”,
The real measure of a renewed
In the future,
Peace and stability operations are important and will remain so—but they should be undertaken only as multilateral affairs under the auspices of inclusive international institutions. To be successful, they must be based on strong global, regional, and local consensus. They are not wars and should not be prosecuted as such. Generally speaking, the rules of engagement in such efforts—and in counter-insurgency campaigns as well—should become more restrictive, not less.
The struggle for meaningful transformation
During the first two years of the Obama administration, all of
First, popular domestic assent to
A second impediment to change is that the institutional base of
Like all bureaucracies, DOD and the services tend to see and represent the world in terms of their own defining missions and functions. They are attuned to the military aspect of foreign affairs and tend to view these in terms of military conflict scenarios. There is nothing inherently wrong with this bias; it conforms to the military’s role and it belongs in the mix. What is dysfunctional, however, is the overall imbalance in
Paradoxically, the armed services do not explicitly favor military activism. Indeed, the Joint Chiefs often exert a restraining influence when political leadership is considering war. Nonetheless, the net effect of the defense establishment’s “policy shops” and “think tanks” is to prime the charge for forceful intervention.
DOD and the services are also intent on defending their institutional prerogatives and preserving (or expanding) their budget share. Again, like all bureaucracies, they seek to grow—consuming more resources, appending new roles, and extending the scope of their authority. This they perceive and portray as a national security imperative. An important and potentially supportive constituency is the more-than-12-million voters who live in households with at least one person who is in the active or reserve military, employed by DOD, or employed by a defense contractor. Many millions more live in cities and towns heavily dependent on DOD activity. For good reason, American politicians generally demure from “running against the Pentagon”.
So, can the next administration steer clear of the present overemphasis on military power and chart an alternative course for
Unfortunately, presidential campaigns tell us little about what comes next in this area of policy. For different reasons, both Democrats and Republicans have handled defense issues gingerly. So the prospect for meaningful reform depends on November 4th marking not the conclusion of the