I have raised the prospect that the U.S. will face cuts in its military similar in character, if not scale, to those Russia was forced to make in the early 1990s with the collapse of the USSR.
One fact is beyond argument — the current fiscal and economic crisis will invariably reduce the funding and size of the U.S. military. In practical terms, this would translate into limiting the type, scale, and duration of missions Washington can launch around the world — they will be smaller and more selective. The days of President George W. Bush’s unilateral foreign policy are behind us, which means that from here on, Washington will become more prudent and conciliatory on the international arena, constrained by its fiscal challenges. The highlights of a U.S. foreign policy based on these new constraints are that it will be more defensive and cooperative in character.
However, where are trends in military capability going? It is arguable that future armaments will be able to do more with less. The F-35, for example, will replace several types of aircraft, which means that in the future, one piece of equipment will be able to do the job of several of its ancestors and do it better too. But the issue here is that new equipment is always an expensive investment – both to acquire and maintain.
Once a smaller military capacity becomes a fact, the first step is to change the character of the official military doctrine from offensive to defensive. Precedents already exist in Russia and China. Both are superpowers with potential global reach, but they practice restrained foreign policies. Evidence comes in the 737 military bases Washington supports around the world, while Russia has only 11 and China does not have any (although that may change in the future).
A more selective foreign policy will narrow down where and how many troops and how much equipment the U.S. has deployed abroad. With looming problems related to insurmountable debt and collapsing social policies, the available resources will be redirected to these areas as they gain higher priority, and fewer dollars will go the Pentagon’s way. Washington must make painful decisions where it can afford to diminish, or even eliminate, its influence and set narrower goals for both soft and hard power, embodied in an overall defensive doctrine.
The funding that goes into researching and building a new aircraft is prohibitively expensive. In the U.S., the F-22 program for instance was continually slashed until it reached a sanitary minimum of 187 aircraft, less than half the originally intended total. The F-35 program might face a similar fate, considering the aforementioned challenges it faces.
To solve this, Washington must extend cooperation on research and development on military matters internationally to both save money and pick up new insights. This kind of cooperation already exists through the frameworks of NATO and the development of the F-35, but it must be brought to a higher level.
The Eurofighter and the Russo-Indian Sukhoi PAK-FA projects represent next-generation technological cooperation that effectively places national security within an international framework. For Europe, the Eurofighter represents a multi-country effort with the end result that the major European powers have standardized inter-operable air forces. India’s relationship with Russian armaments is putting Moscow and Delhi on a new level of cooperation through the joint-development of a 5th generation aircraft, in tune with the emergence of the F-22. The pooling of resources between the two countries translates into better research and bigger quantities for cutting edge technology that the U.S. decided to pursue on its own.
Washington will not be able to maintain its current military-industrial commitments in this century. The solution is two-fold: a defensive doctrine with a more selective and amicable foreign policy and deepening cooperation with international partners in order to stay relevant and competitive. Those are the two choices in front of Washington.
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