Sunday, December 10, 2017

It's Not for Want of Money

If America's military is short of anything, it's not money. The United States provides its military with more money than the combined defence budgets of the next eight most powerful states.

The problem is that America doesn't get much bang for its defence buck. A lot of that money is pissed away, squandered. A lot of it is soaked up to maintain a powerful, permanent US military presence in every corner of the world. The last region to be brought into America's fold was Africa after the 2007 launch of AfriCom or, formally, the United States Africa Command. At first no African country wanted anything to do with AfriCom and it had to operate from Germany. Since then it's gotten a toe hold, shootin' and everything.

This is serious stuff for a nation that has chosen military force or the threat of military force in lieu of diplomacy as its principal instrument of foreign policy. Historian and retired US Army commander, Andrew Bacevich, argues convincingly that America's modern military juggernaut has become so deeply integral to the nation state that breaking its hold on the apparatus of government would require a fundamental restructuring of the state itself.

Sam Clemens, Mark Twain, is often credited with the line that, "to a man who has only a hammer, everything looks like a nail." The same could be said of America's hyper-militarism. In the 21st century era of Perma-War, the military/industrial/neoconservative/evangelical/commercial (for profit) warfighting complex is constantly scouting for new enemies, new places to attack. Fortunately the advent of "New War" or low-intensity conflicts embroiling state actors (host nations and supporting allies), quasi-state actors (militias/warlords) and a confusing bundle of non-state actors ranging from rebels, insurgents, terrorists, organized crime and garden-variety criminal elements, each pursuing often shifting and conflicting interests, virtually ensures that conflicts that will seemingly never end.

But the prospect of other wars, "Old War," may be staging a comeback. "Peer on peer" warfare of the sort not really seen since 1945. The principals would be America, perhaps Europe, Russia and China. This is where having the most and best of everything should finally pay off, right? Perhaps but maybe not.

A new report released by the US strategic think tank, the RAND Corporation, contends that the United States can no longer take winning for granted if it locks horns with either Russia or China.

The document’s authors claim that at present, US armed forces are "insufficiently trained and ready," especially in terms of the active service components.

"In short, providing the military power called for by the United States' ambitious national security strategy, which has never been easy, has recently become considerably more challenging," the report reads. "The coincidence of this new reality with a period of constrained defense budgets has led to a situation in which it is now far from clear that our military forces are adequate for the tasks being placed before them."

"Put more starkly, assessments in this report will show that US forces could, under plausible assumptions, lose the next war they are called upon to fight, despite the United States outspending China military forces by a ratio of 2.7:1 and Russia by 6:1," the document continues. "The nation needs to do better than this."

According to analysts, NATO may face certain difficulties if Russia decides to move into Baltic states.

"In short, we concluded that, as currently postured, NATO cannot defend the Baltic states against a determined, short-warning Russian attack," the document says.

In case of China, the US will have tough times defending Taiwan if Beijing opts to retake the breakaway island republic. Besides, China studied previous US military campaigns to develop own strategies on this basis.

The RAND report, all 190-pages of it, is available free in PDF from the link above.

That post Cold War business is over, a glorious opportunity stupidly squandered. America now faces the return of strategic adversaries, rivals.  The US still has a technological lead but even that is being challenged, especially by China. There's something of a David and Goliath dynamic to this. America's rivals don't want to challenge the US in every corner of the world, only in their own neighbourhoods. That gives them terrific home field advantages including the ability to exploit gaps and weaknesses in America's deployments and technology.  We're simply not "all that" any more.

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