The newly-released National Military Strategy (NMS) begins with this ominous statement: “The ongoing shifts in relative power and increasing interconnectedness in the international order indicate a strategic inflection point.” Although the NMS hews to the line that the United States will remain the world’s preeminent power it goes on to say in obfuscating bureaucratese that “a growing number of state and non-state actors exhibit consequential influence.” The NMS speaks of a “multi-nodal” world, a shift from the commonly used term multi-polar, in an effort to reflect the idea that more is involved in future international power relationships than how nation states line up for or against one another.
The NMS provides a clear signal that the attention of U.S. military leaders is shifting from fighting today’s wars and towards future challenges. Moreover, those security concerns are located in two regions, the Middle East, naturally, but more particularly, Asia. U.S. security challenges in the Middle East at the time the NMS was written centered on terrorists with advanced technology and states with nuclear weapons. To these two concerns now must be added that of political instability, possibly involving key U.S. allies such as Egypt, Jordan, Morocco and Saudi Arabia.
According to the NMS, “the Nation’s strategic priorities and interests will increasingly emanate from the Asia-Pacific region.” Asia is home to two rising global powers and a host of important regional actors. Asia is becoming the center of global economic activity and, in particular, manufacturing. In this region, the dominant problem is China. The U.S. is increasingly concerned about the extent and purpose of China’s military modernization and “its assertiveness in space, cyberspace, in the Yellow Sea, East China Sea, and South China Sea.”
The NMS predicts that the United States will remain the world’s foremost economic and military power for the foreseeable future, although the rising national debt could eventually undercut U.S. national security. The U.S. also retains a broad set of security relationships with nations in every region including the most powerful security alliance in the world, NATO.
So what is this strategic inflection point of which the NMS speaks? Apparently, despite all the politically correct statements about U.S. power, our military’s technological preeminence and the state of our alliance relationships, those behind the NMS’s carefully chosen words appear to see America’s star waning. Asia is rising and America is declining.
Moreover, there is a tone to the NMS which suggests that its authors are concerned that the United States will not be able to field the forces and technology to defeat advanced threats. Although this is ostensibly a document about military strategy, the NMS spends an inordinate amount of time talking about the need to employ the full spectrum of power in order to ensure U.S. security. The NMS repeatedly makes the point about the limited utility of military power and the need for a whole-of-nation approach to future security threats. China’s military modernization continues unabated and the NMS seems to be proposing reliance primarily on diplomatic and economic means to counter it.
When it comes to defining the capabilities of the Joint Force needed to deter and defeat aggression and meet the other demands on the military, the NMS comes up with the obligatory set of statements about keeping the advantage over prospective adversaries in terms of both technology and human capital. What it does not explain is how this is to be done in an era of declining defense budgets, shrinking industrial production and waning military-technical superiority. The United States has lost any advantage it once held in space and missile technology. It now has a single competitor in the fifth-generation fighter competition, the F-35 and but one armored fighting vehicle in production, the Stryker. Anyone want to bet that we still have the lead in cyber warfare? So is the NMS’s strategic inflection point really a point of no return for the U.S. military?
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