David Eric Wilson, age 23, studied Economics and Political Science at the University of Arizona and was a member of the AzMUN for his four years of college. He is currently independently researching US-Latin American relations and hoping to begin graduate studies in international security shortly. He enjoys reading, playing soccer, and long walks on the beach.
By: David Eric Wilson
Early this year, the Pentagon announced some sweeping changes to the way the United States conducts its military policy. The impetus for the changes can be traced to the failure of the deficit-reduction super-committee last fall and the resulting automatic budget cuts that fall mainly on the Defense Department. Making the best of an unfavorable situation, policymakers have proposed the required cuts as part of a broad strategic makeover for the US military. After years of strategic missteps and growing budgetary bloat, these cuts and strategic shifts are not only inevitable, but also rather desirable. At the very least they demonstrate that those with their hands on the tiller of American foreign and defense policy haven’t failed to learn key lessons from the past ten years.
Highly evident in the reworked American strategy is a de-prioritizing of the protracted nation-building and counterinsurgency campaigns typified by the occupations of Iraq and Afghanistan. American forces will, according to the Pentagon’s white paper, “no longer be sized to conduct large-scale, prolonged stability operations.” After a decade occupying far-flung countries of dubious strategic value for what currently appear to be less than satisfactory outcomes, the de-emphasis on such campaigns comes not a moment too soon.
Instead, the United States military will prepare for a dramatically changed global playing field, with both an eye toward a rising China and mindful of reduced relative capability for power projection in many theatres. Across the globe, the military hopes to work with regional allies to confront threats instead of placing American boots on the ground. Also de-emphasized is the US military role in Europe, a controversial but wise move considering Europe is relatively safe from security threats and able to provide its own protection.
Not all is well with this new strategic mindset. The administration and the surrounding policy establishment still harbor a dangerous fixation with the use of force, albeit in less large-scale fashion. Take the current administration’s reliance on covert operations and drone strikes: the Obama White House has dramatically stepped up our use of such tactics as a means to hunt down and disrupt al-Qaeda networks at low cost. However, while such means may satisfy the short-term ends of crippling the organization’s operational structure, they run the risk of creating more long-term troubles. Drone strikes, steadily becoming the weapon of choice in America’s counterterrorism operations, sow the very grievances that fuel anti-American terrorism and blowback effects. Not only that, but drones and other inanimate means to wage war also raise difficult questions about the role of war in American democracy.
Even with these concerns, the emerging strategy remains laudable, if only for its ambition in attempting to steer the ship of American defense policy back on course after a long, confounding detour. One hopes that through such gradual changes, perhaps coupled with a few bold ideas (are they so much to ask for?), the policy establishment in Washington may find itself able to weather the great changes in store for it in the 21st century.
This post reflects the author’s personal opinions and not the opinions of Arizona Model United Nations.
Andrew Melton is on leave today because of his travels in Argentina.