Today, the Heritage Foundation rolls out its 2015 Index of U.S. Military Power. Modeled after that institution’s extremely useful and widely cited Index of Economic Freedom, this new document is likely to stand alongside the IISS’s annual Military Balance and SIPRI’s Yearbook as one of the basic sources for information and analysis to support discussions of U.S. national security policy, defense strategy and requisite military capabilities.
The core philosophical assumption driving this Index is that U.S. military power matters, that it is a unique resource not only to the security and foreign policies of this nation but to the world. For more than six decades, U.S. military power and global presence has been a force for international peace and stability. It follows that the diminution of that power not only threatens the security of the homeland and vital national interests but also creates a power vacuum that, with the withdrawal of American military presence from contested and unstable regions of the globe, others will try to fill. We have only to look around the world, to the rise of ISIS, or Russia’s occupation of Crimea and eastern Ukraine, to see the effects of our withdrawal on peace and stability. The state of U.S. military power, like the extent of economic freedom, matters not only to Americans but to the people of the world.
The Index’s purpose is to address the nature of U.S. military strategy: the management of the relationship between military means and the ends or goals of national policy. To date, only the U.S. government has provided similar assessments in such documents as the National Security Strategy, National Defense Strategy, Quadrennial Defense Review and reports and testimony to the Congress. Unfortunately, as administration’s change so too has the definition of national goals and priorities as well as assessments of the adequacy of U.S. military power. Because the goal posts are continuously being moved and the definitions of performance changed, it is virtually impossible to extract from these sources alone either meaningful trends or a sense of the adequacy of existing or proposed military capabilities. In addition, too often administration’s fall back on the totally vaporous statement that they are “accepting risk” with respect to the ability to meet military missions to cover the inadequacy of proposed forces and capabilities.
What policymakers, legislators and defense analysts require is a yardstick or baseline against which to judge the adequacy of U.S. military power. Such a judgment will have obvious implications for other serious policy issues such as defense budgets, force structure and investments in new military capabilities. It is certainly possible to argue with any baseline. But since the end of the Cold War, every administration has accepted, in general, these fundamental missions: nuclear deterrence, protection of the homeland, forward military presence in regions of interest, confront/halt/defeat adversaries in two regions of the world and provide support to civil authorities. To this already demanding list of missions one could add counterterrorism, counter piracy and responding to humanitarian crises.
The Index is much more than a compendium of facts and figures. It addresses the fundamental question of national security decisionmaking: how much military power is enough and for what? It establishes criteria by which to assess the adequacy of U.S. military power to meet enduring national security objectives over time. It creates a context, one which will be enriched over time as subsequent editions of the Index are published, to assess not only the implications of changes in force size and posture but also the impact of such factors as evolving alliance relationships and the impact of investments in new capabilities and technologies.
Using this standard, the Index places a spotlight on an inconvenient truth, one obscured by U.S. government reports, commissions and pronouncements. This truth is that U.S. military power is no longer adequate to meet the essential set of national security requirements. The reality is that this nation has been on a defense holiday since the end of the Cold War, despite more than a decade of fighting in Iraq and Afghanistan. The growing military threats from ISIS, Al Qaeda, North Korea, Iran, Russia and China mean that the sabbatical is over.
The new Index of U.S. Military Power is being introduced at a particularly propitious time. It is incontrovertible that U.S. military power and presence in the world is declining. The armed forces themselves are worn out, inadequately resourced and badly in need of modernization. Nor can there be any argument that threats to our security and that of our friends and allies are multiplying and growing bolder and even stronger. At the same time, according to blunt statements by senior defense officials, this nation is losing its military-technological edge. Yet, there has not been a diminution in the demands on U.S. military power. With the debate on a new Authorization for the Use of Military Force about to begin and the threat of sequestration looming, it is precisely the time to bring forth a new methodology for assessing U.S. military power and a consistent standard for defining how much is enough.
Find Archived Articles: