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AMERICA'S STRATEGIC MUSCLE
by Marc Erikson, Asia Times Online

8:00 a.m. January 15, 2001 PDT

Temporary allies, such as conservative Arab nations or Pakistan, will soon come to realize that to stay America's friends they must reform their economies and societies or will sooner or later find themselves in the camp of US foes.



Collateral strategic consequences
In 1997, a war game was conducted at the US Army War College pitting US forces against a decentralized network of international terrorism cells named "Orange." The US military lost, in part because it didn't know how, in larger part because it didn't want to fight that kind of war.

Much has changed since then. The US hasn't won the war on terrorism it declared after September 11. Principal suspect Osama bin Laden and other Al-Qaeda leaders remain at large. But phase 1 of the war uprooting the Taliban Islamic holy warrior terror regime from Afghanistan has been a resounding success.

Collateral damage from the American military campaign has been bemoaned and castigated by critics; but it's the collateral strategic consequences of the campaign that will prove of lasting significance.

Already in the 1991 Gulf War, the US demonstrated the clear superiority of its military forces - not only over enemy Iraq, but also over its allies. However, the Afghan campaign, expected by many to turn into an extended quagmire, has given proof of far greater US global military dominance than even optimistic US analysts had believed possible.

This has sent the military leaderships of several major powers scrambling to the drawing board to assess the damage to their own military postures and evaluate the consequences of their diminished security policy options. It also spells the end to Clinton era "multilateralism"—US Secretary of State Colin Powell's war on terror coalition-building efforts notwithstanding. Henceforward, as one US analyst puts it, in light of its new freedom of action, American diplomatic doctrine will be: "The mission defines the coalition—and if it doesn't require one, don't waste time building it."

Military assessment
As the Afghan campaign progressed, US-allied Northern Alliance ground forces occupied towns and territory. But that was more of a political than a strict military requirement. Similarly, for political rather than military reasons did the US welcome the military support of the British cousins.

It was, however, US military precision action at a distance that quickly decided the outcome of the war. Over 60 percent of all explosives deployed were smart munitions launched from points out of reach of enemy forces.

During the Gulf War it had been a mere 8 percent. Furthermore, the cost of smart munitions has dropped from an average US$1 million per weapon in 1991 to about US$18,000 today. And most importantly, their delivery is effected by a highly sophisticated information-technology based system of command, control, communications, and intelligence that integrates real-time data collection, processing and distribution from platforms in outer space, in the air, at sea, and on the ground which the US alone has developed to near perfection and which no other power possesses or is likely to replicate in the foreseeable future.

The Afghan war was the first military action that demonstrated the "Revolution in Military Affairs" (RMA) that has taken place over the past several years and which US President George W Bush last January tasked senior Pentagon analyst Andrew Marshall, head of the Office of Net Assessment, to fully integrate into the US force structure. The Marshall report's recommendations to this effect are in part contained in the US Department of Defense's Quadrennial Defense Review Report, issued on September 30. Together with the Bush administration's decision to abandon the 1972 ABM treaty and push ahead with accelerated ballistic-missile defense development and early deployment, they define a new US military and security posture of which the Afghanistan campaign gave a glimpse.

The Russian military, projecting its own Afghanistan experiences onto the present US engagement, had expected and foretold a protracted quagmire for ever increasing numbers of US forces. Moscow's generals must now completely reassess their assumptions—which will have to include painful review of their country's military equipment, training and strategic options.

China, relying on Pakistani military and Inter-Services Intelligence (ISI) reports and predictions of a protracted, even unwinnable US Afghanistan campaign, will similarly need to ask itself the hardest of questions regarding its military preparedness. Most notably, the People's Liberation Army (PLA) will have to review and revamp its threat posture vis-a-vis Taiwan. The Afghanistan campaign has rendered much of it obsolete.

Historian Paul Kennedy points out that today the US accounts for 36 percent of global military spending—more than the spending of the next nine nations combined. But it's not just quantity of spending that counts, but the quality of the systems such defense outlays buy. A large portion of the US defense budget is devoted to IT-related research, development and acquisitions. US defense-IT spending is likely in the range of 80 percent of the world total. It can thus be projected that present US military superiority over any foe or combination of foes will not only be maintained, but almost certainly will increase further in coming years.

. . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . .

The Afghan war has demonstrated both an overwhelming global American military superiority and—less noticed by most—political superiority in the sense of rapid policy design and execution and quick reaction to unfolding events backed and underpinned by strong popular support.

The new global military equation is simple: based on American economic strength and high-tech prowess created in the 1980s and 1990s, military forces have been built which alone in the world have global reach, the capability of deploying anywhere and with sufficient clout to take on and defeat any enemy or combination of enemies with a minimum of American casualties.

But as important for the US's global role is the Bush administration's recently proven ability to act decisively in the foreign policy arena and domestically within the framework of fully functional democratic institutions and without undue restrictions on constitutionally guaranteed individual liberties. It's this powerful combination of military might and policy flexibility that comes with democratic backing that defines America's new role. George Bush Senior had talked of a "New World Order" after the collapse of the Soviet empire; George Bush Junior is in the process of creating it.

In this context, not only the American neo-conservatives grouped around William Kristol's Project for the New American Century (PNAC), but politically more liberal-minded Yale historian Paul Kennedy speak of a new American empire, an empire—says Kennedy—whose might well exceeds that of the classical Roman and British ones. The debate on whether America is an imperial power is over, PNAC scholars insist; the American empire is real. The challenge now is to figure out what to do with it.

On America's broad, longer-term "imperial" goals there is little disagreement among US liberals and (neo-)conservatives. Stripped of obligatory (but not therefore necessarily hypocritical as global anti-American sentiment has it) references to freedom and prosperity, they amount to this: Peace and security, based on US deterrence and military action capabilities; protection of global US interests, including access to key markets; and the promotion of the vitality and productivity of the global economy unfettered by undue restrictions.

The present US debate is over the style of implementation. In a pre-New Year article, the New York Times depicts two factions in the Bush administration: the Pentagon faction of Defense Secretary Donald Rumsfeld and his deputy Paul Wolfowitz supported by Vice President Dick Cheney, who are of the opinion that America must lead through strength and without too much concern for existing treaties and objections of allies (the "unilateralists"); and the faction of Secretary of State Colin Powell, who wants to see America lead by exemplifying the generosity of a great power, employ pragmatic means and forego the issuance of ultimatums (the "multilateralists").

But this characterization is too facile. The differences between Rumsfeld and Powell have been overdrawn in recent commentary. In part, they are differences that simply come with the job: the requirements of military leadership and of diplomacy are of a different nature. Moreover, both Rumsfeld and Powell value equally highly America's freedom of action based on military capability and economic power. The Clinton era multilateralism is dead and Powell will not insist on reviving it.

What both America's allies and foes will have to come to understand is that—tactical differences aside and unlike the posture of the classical empires—America is not a status quo power. This follows immediately from its broader strategic goals. Promotion of economic progress and free trade and investment of necessity have unsettling socio-economic consequences.

Temporary allies, such as conservative Arab nations or Pakistan, will soon come to realize that to stay America's friends they must reform their economies and societies or will sooner or later find themselves in the camp of US foes. America's broadest goal is to do what is necessary politically and militarily to safeguard the progressive dynamics of economic and technological change.

<<
Marc Erikson is a writer for Asia Times Online.

Article copyright © Marc Erikson, Asia Times Online; all rights reserved
related resources

| r e a d i n g |

Special Providence: American Foreign Policy and How it Changed the World; Walter Russell Mead; ISBN: 0375412301

The Tragedy of Great Power Politics; John J. Mearsheimer; ISBN: 0393020258

After Victory; G. John Ikenberry; ISBN: 0691050910

Alliance Politics (Cornell Studies in Security Affairs); Glenn H. Snyder; ISBN: 0801434025

The Origins of Alliances (Cornell Studies in Security Affairs); Stephen M. Walt; ISBN: 0801494184

Strategic Choice and International Relations; David A. Lake, Robert Powell; ISBN: 0691026971

War and Reason: Domestic and International Imperatives; Bruce Bueno De Mesquita, David Lalman; ISBN: 0300059221

War and Punishment; H. E. Goemans; ISBN: 0691049440

Entangling Relations; David A. Lake; ISBN: 0691059918

Terrorism, Asymmetric Warfare, and Weapons of Mass Destruction: Defending the U.S. Homeland; Anthony H. Cordesman; ISBN: 0275974278

How Did This Happen? Terrorism and the New War; Gideon Rose, James F. Hoge Jr.; ISBN: 1586481304

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Economic Sanctions and American Diplomacy; Richard Haass, Council on Foreign Relations; ISBN: 0876092121

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The Age of Terror: America and the World After September 11; Strobe Talbot, Nayan Chanda ; ISBN: 0465083560

Insurgency & Terrorism: Inside Modern Revolutionary Warfare; Bard E. O'Neill, Edward C. Meyer; ISBN: 1574883356

Holy War, Inc.: Inside The Secret World of Osama Bin Laden; Peter L. Bergen; ISBN: 0743205022

From Time Immemorial: The Origins of the Arab-Jewish Conflict over Palestine; Joan Peters; ISBN: 0963624202

Terror in the Mind of God: The Global Rise of Religious Violence (Comparative Studies in Religion and Society); Mark Juergensmeyer; ISBN: 0520223012

Insurgency & Terrorism: Inside Modern Revolutionary Warfare;Bard E. O'Neill, Edward C. Meyer; ISBN: 1574883356

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The New Jackals: Ramzi Yousef, Osama bin Laden and the Future of Terrorism; Simon Reeve; ISBN: 1555534074

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