A debate is heating up over how the U.S. should approach the security of regions of interest. One side of the debate, represented most recently by professor Robert Pape, argues for reduced U.S. presence on the ground overseas and reliance more on intervention by means of offshore air and naval power. This approach would also reduce the risks to U.S. forces that have been so obvious in parts of the Middle East. The other side, defended by Kori Schake at foreignpolicy.com, argues that the U.S. still has a primary role to play in providing regional security and for political and operational reasons, the U.S. must maintain a significant local military presence in regions of interest.
There is a Third Way, one more appropriate to the growing military potential and national commitments of U.S. allies. This Third Way focuses on enhancing the ability of regional allies to defend themselves and, acting collectively, to balance substantially the threat posed by regional aggressors. The U.S. role would vary from region to region. In some, more emphasis would be given to providing assistance and collaborative support from offshore. In other regions, a strong onshore presence would make more sense.
The Third Way in regional security would depend on regional allies acquiring the military hardware, training and support needed to enhance their ability to counter potential threats. In particular, this approach would require that allies have significant capabilities in such areas as integrated air and missile defense, local sea control, regional ISR, C-RAM and precision strike.
Interoperability between U.S. and regional military forces would be central to the Third Way. Interoperability allows for the development of close military-to-military contacts. It also enhances the effectiveness of both forces. Interoperability demonstrates commitment which serves to enhance either an offshore or an onshore U.S. posture.
This Third Way provides an opportunity for the U.S. to tailor regional security relationships with allies according to the nature of the threat, the ability of allies to develop their own defensive capabilities and the assets the U.S. can commit to each region.
The U.S. is already pursuing elements of a Third Way strategy. The international program for the Joint Strike Fighter will enhance the military capabilities of key allies in Europe, the Middle East and East Asia. This program will also enhance the interoperability of U.S. and allied forces. Another area that reflects a Third Way to enhance regional security is integrated air and missile defense. U.S. sales of Patriot and THAAD missile defense systems and of F-15 fighters provide enhanced regional security and an improved capability for local militaries to operate alongside U.S. forces.
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