Strategic Depth & America’s Security Future
America can afford to reduce its global military presence. In Europe and in Asia, America must take better advantage of its security structure and change the status quo of being the world’s first line of defense. Alliance commitments in spending and manning must reflect relative regional threats. It clearly in America’s interest to evolve from the world’s first line of defense into the decisive force for regional victories.
Whereas the threats to American interests posed by China and Russia are incremental and currently manageable, they both represent the gradual whittling away of American influence. As Mitchell and Grygiel effectively argue[i], beating the US on the margins of its interests and reach gradually diminishes the trust our allies have in American led security systems. To balance our commitments with the erosion of American public will and increasing fiscal constraints posed by America’s deficit comes the necessity for our allies to evolve from being prodigious benefactors of American security into true partners in our mutual security interests.
For decades American money and troops have secured the territorial integrity of European and Asian allies. What began as a cold war necessity evolved into a turn of the century dependency. Nations like Germany and Japan, with some of the most powerful economies in the world, were content with sustaining a security status quo that allowed them to direct their GDP towards other interests. With a supportive budget and populace, America proceeded with this arrangement as it permitted strategic access and diplomatic support to our operations against adversaries in Russia, China and the Middle East. The world has evolved, and so too must America’s thinking on how to achieve its security interests.
In Europe, an exaggerated Russian threat, combined with the withdrawal of American forces, has inspired several NATO partners to inch a little closer to the 2% of GDP spending on defense that the NATO charter calls for. In Asia, Japan has eliminated several of its constitutional impediments to the expansion and use of its self-defense forces, and South Korea and Australia possess robust enough economies to expand their forces to meet regional threats. Most significantly, India remains an untapped, highly capable partner in any plan to check Chinese challenges.
Despite the positive potential our Allies present, conventional American security thinking defaults to the forward positioning of US forces and commitment of US funds. A recent RAND war game in the Baltics clearly depicted that NATO’s combined forces in Latvia, Estonia and Lithuania would be no match against a concerted Russian invasion. The likelihood of such an assault notwithstanding, RAND recommended that no less than seven NATO armored brigades would need to be stationed in the Baltics to deter and defeat such an eventuality. Simultaneously, the Army’s blue ribbon commission on the future of the Army recommended the forward stationing of an American Armored brigade in Europe to meet the perceived Russian threat. Think tanks across America, less CATO, advocate for more troops overseas to meet any challenge that presents itself.
What contemporary American security analysts seem to be missing is the opportunity to leverage our global Allies and revolutionize American security policy. We must shift from an alliance of security liabilities to a system of strategic enablers. Rather than be the first line of defense against Russian aggression in the Baltics, we must create the strategic depth from which a strategic, decisive blow arrives. We must encourage our allies to bear their fair share of the burdens of an alliance, recognizing that the Soviet Union has been replaced by a less ideologically driven, pragmatic Russian federation riddled with vulnerabilities, and that China can be balanced in its ambitions by current and new Pacific partners. Such a shift in thinking has several foundational preconditions.
The first requirement is that we demand that our allies be as concerned with their territorial integrity as America is. The framework to demonstrate that commitment already exists in Europe through the NATO charter. America should not even consider actively partnering, much less stationing troops with any NATO member that isn’t, or doesn’t plan on meeting the 2% of GDP bar set by the charter for defense spending. If it is determined that permanent, forward American basing is the most appropriate security solution, the American commitment in troops should not exceed the number of troops on active duty from the host nation dedicated to its own territorial defense.
European security analysts seem to forget that NATO is composed of 28 partners, few of whom neither meet their charter commitments nor their potential. Whereas European Armies are the smallest in the world relative to their populations, their defense industries’ exports are among the highest in the world. They clearly have the capacity to grow should they be committed enough to man the equipment.
Given Europe’s economic strength and population, we should no longer constrain our thinking to the dated concept of NATO’s general defense plan, where American men and women constitute the most substantial force scampering into position to defend European borders from Eurasian attack.
In the improbable circumstance Russia sees fit to swarm across the Baltics, it should be made to slog its way through thousands of Estonian, Lithuanian, Latvian, Polish, Dutch, British and German men, women, tanks and airplanes before it ever has a chance to kill an American. This is particularly true when viewed in light of the paltry sums those nations spend to defend themselves and the insignificant ratio of their national populations committed to their own defense.
A further revolution in European Security thinking must involve an end to unproductive NATO expansion. Nations such as the Former Yugoslav Republic of Macedonia create unnecessary tensions with longstanding member Greece and promise little to no increase in Alliance capacity at the cost of significant diplomatic damage. Whereas Estonia, Latvia and Lithuania’s contributions to U.S./NATO operations in Iraq and Afghanistan is to be saluted, it was not at a level commensurate to the security challenges they would pose should Russia cause any of them to invoke article V.
As China expands its military and absorbs foreign territory, our Asian partners must be leveraged to help meet the threat. Japan must be encouraged to diversify its influence beyond its economic and diplomatic resources and develop its maritime and aerospace capacity. This includes its multilateral engagement and cooperation with the nations with islands under dispute with China. Although South Korean defense spending is understandably prioritized to meet its existential northern adversary, it can diversify the utility of its force in a manner that can be applied to other adversaries as well.
Australia’s Defense forces (ADF) are highly capable but small. America is doing well to encourage the Australian army’s current evolution from a light infantry dominated Army into a hardened, networked force. It must resist the temptation to influence Australia’s military acquistion process as it already has with Australia’s pursuit of more submarines. America’s ultimate goal with regard to the ADF should be to boost its current total of 57,000 active duty service members to a level that better reflects the reality of the Pacific’s security challenges. A more robust ADF could be America’s primary pacific partner and host of large scale joint and combined pacific exercises.
India is only second to China in the size of its population and growth rate of its economy, and possesses a technologically advanced, nuclear capable, professional military. It represents Asia’s most significant strategic counterpart to China. Fortunately for the United States, it also has a number of easily exploited seams in its unsteady relationship with China. India and China have ongoing disputes both on their land border and in the South China Sea. Pew research polls indicate a majority in both countries views the other unfavorably, and despite the scale of their bilateral trade, India suffers a massive imbalance and has been the victim of China’s aggressive cyber espionage and theft programs. Perhaps the greatest challenge to our engagement with India lies in our partnership with Pakistan, an ally whose relative worth has not been justified by its loyalty to American pursuits.
The combined navies and air forces of the Asian world, with an Indian land force on its border, backed up by America’s Pacific fleet and air forces would undoubtedly deter China’s ongoing extraterritorial ambitions. It certainly present multiple dilemmas for China’s war planners. Should deterrence fail, and China evolve into a less rational nation, such an international, regional force, supported by America, could also undoubtedly handle any Chinese aggression.
The contemporary American-led global security architecture is too costly, in terms of both blood and treasure and in the validity of the Alliances that underpin it. American forces ought to reinforce our allies and evolve away from the unenviable status quo of being a trip wire, or worse yet, a speed bump in the effort to secure another nation’s integrity. Nothing less than a revolution in our approach is needed to meet the incremental challenge of our global adversaries. We cannot go it alone, nor should we bear the full brunt of global security any longer.