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America’s global leadership requires the ability to conduct two nearly simultaneous “major regional contingencies,” or wars, on opposite sides of the world. At this point we do not have that capability, even though we face the real prospect of significant, possibly simultaneous wars by the middle of this century.
During World War II, the U.S. had the luxury of time to shuffle forces from Germany to Asia once we defeated the Nazis, before we had the means to defeat the Japanese. Unfortunately, today, thanks to the multiple threats posed by near-peer adversaries China, Russia we no longer enjoy the luxury of time, and if we wish to protect our global interests, we must act with our allies to build a force capable of addressing 21st century realities.
Artist’s concept of Hypersonic Air-breathing Weapons Concept (HAWC) vehicle (Defense Advanced Research Projects Agency)
Today, Russia is stirring troubles in Europe and not just in Ukraine, which require a renewed focus in that arena. Meanwhile, China is beating the war drums across much of Asia, building the world’s largest and soon most capable armed force poised by all estimates for a blow-out of a regional fight perhaps beginning with Taiwan.
The U.S. must therefore have a serious discussion about the need for a realistic two major regional contingencies capability, a concept recently abandoned for mostly budget reasons but now necessary thanks to the alliance of authoritarian global enemies.
This concept was established in 1993 by then-defense secretary Les Aspin, and endorsed by General Colin Powell, the Chairman of the Joint Chiefs. Their concept came about in the wake of the First Gulf War, as those Pentagon leaders grappled with the end of the Cold War leaving the U.S. as the world’s sole superpower. For the next two decades every administration believed that a force sized to fight two wars was needed to address a host of requirements that included forward presence, regional deterrence and even major regional conflicts.
At the time, the Pentagon determined that capability in terms of Army divisions, Marine expeditionary forces, aircraft carriers, naval combatants, strategic bombers, fighter wings and a host of enabling capabilities. However, today’s military is much too small to credibly pass the two major regional contingencies test even though our threat is growing which means we must increase our size, modernize our weapons platforms and invest in new technologies.
We never attained the near-simultaneity capability envisioned by Aspin-Powell, however. That sobering reality was demonstrated by a proof-of-concept situation, when we invaded Afghanistan in 2001 which was followed 16 months later by our invasion of Iraq. Those efforts severely tested our capabilities, proved our two major regional contingencies effort inadequate at the time and soon our defense establishment abandoned the approach.
This concept failed primarily because our political class interfered by squandering our investment in unnecessary wars, they embraced the wrong technologies, further encumbered Pentagon processes and advanced woke social experiments on our force. For example, instead of investing in a meaningful two major regional contingencies capability, the political establishment invested our resources in a war with al Qaeda, the perpetrators of the September 11 attacks on America, which unnecessarily morphed into a failed two-decade nation building effort. Then the Iraq war of choice further wasted resources and distracted us from true national interests, which continue in part today.
Meanwhile, the Pentagon’s technologists focused on defeating terrorists and not as much on hypersonic platforms and artificial intelligence. Now we trail our adversaries in these and other significant applied sciences. Further, politicians created such a labyrinth of bureaucratic nonsense as to cripple the Pentagon’s ability to make quick and sound decisions. Then of course, there were a series of administrations which treated our military personnel as lab rats upon which to impose an assortment of bizarre social experiments rather than focusing on building and sustaining fighting prowess.
So, if we are serious about remaining a global super power in the 21st century and given our growing list of existential adversaries, we must do the following:
First, we must invest in a force with an eye on the 21st century realities and sufficiently fund the Pentagon to field a true two major regional contingencies capability. Even though past administrations embraced the two-war policy, they never provided the funding to ensure sufficient forces and capabilities to achieve that goal.
Today, the U.S. defense budget is roughly 3.7 percent of our GDP, a figure that is insufficient to defend our freedom going forward and by comparison at the peak of World War II our government spent 79 percent of the GDP, much for the war effort.
FILE PHOTO: The Pentagon building is seen in Arlington, Virginia, U.S. October 9, 2020. REUTERS/Carlos Barria/File Photo (REUTERS/Carlos Barria/File Photo)
Second, we must focus on contingencies in Europe against Russia and in the Pacific against China. Both countries present true existential threats albeit for different reasons – Russia’s nuclear capability and China’s multi-pronged, all-domain capabilities. Otherwise, we must also sustain engagement in the world’s other regions or risk flare-ups that impact our national interests.
Third, we must become serious about arming our forces with the latest technology. We’ve fallen behind China in key areas because of two decades of distraction and now Beijing aims to lead the world with its Military-Civil Fusion development strategy, an integrated national strategic system to accelerate the modernization of its military.
Fourth, we must streamline our outdated military procurement process. The Pentagon’s processes are encumbered by congressionally mandated nonsense, preventing quick decisions because of legal constraints, and also by Pentagon officials who build-in layers of red tape to protect themselves.
Finally, stop the social engineering. Building a fighting force is hard enough without imposing sex-based social causes and politically-driven agendas on the force. They hurt our fighting capability.
The 21st century presents the U.S. with real challenges from the authoritarian regimes in China and Russia. That means our full-range of security capabilities must be ready to fight on at least two fronts across all domains (land, air, sea, space, and cyberspace). Right now, we lack that elastic capability and if we are to survive as a free people, we must make changes like those outlined above.