The “Future of War” is what you want it to be
To provide some background, Lynn evaluates “The Future of War” and concludes that we face 3 major strategic threats; lethality, duration, and asymmetry. According to Lynn, the strongest nations historically wielded the most military power, but that balance has shifted so that smaller nations and criminal groups can obtain immensely lethal weapons. The duration of conflicts has also strengthened as “our deployments to Iraq and Afghanistan have now lasted longer than the U.S. participation in World War I and World War II combined.” Conflicts also feature greater asymmetry than in the past. It used to be that similar forces with comparable capabilities met, but now adversaries make up for a lack of direct strength with creativity. In the background of this argument, Lynn contends that the debt crisis will require the military to be more efficient and to potentially adapt to lower spending levels—a change that would be welcome but I’m skeptical of since it runs strongly counter to recent trends.
“We’re not going to have [the luxury of greater military spending] for the foreseeable future,” Lynn explained. “It’s clear that the deficit crisis requires all of our government functions to reduce their planned spending levels and defense will be no exception.”
At first glance this thesis appears to be an accurate summary of the threats on the horizon and changes that will have to be made. However, the speech also operates based on very pernicious premises that must be challenged more forcefully by those on both the Left and Right who favor reduced military spending and a less expansive global military presence. Depending on the source and year, the US accounts for 44-48% of global military spending, a reality indirectly confirmed by Lynn through his observation that few, if any, countries would dare to directly challenge the American military. Yet, Lynn operates under the assumption that the US must prepare for major conflicts of a long duration, and actively sustain a defense employment posture that provides the ability to rapidly enter into such conflicts. This should be supplemented by a whole range of new weapons to meet large conventional threats and emerging threats from these smaller but more potent actors.
”In other words we will need both 5th generation fighters and counter-IED technology,” Lynn explains.
This all sounds reasonable unless you step back for a moment and entertain exactly what Lynn is recommending for the future. While counter-IED technology is wonderful conceptually, it assumes that US forces will be engaged on the ground in insurgency situations or other scenarios where they face active resistance from local groups for a somewhat lengthy period of time. Conventional armies generally don’t resort to improvised explosive devices. It’s time to get out of Afghanistan, but even a look at the past 40 years of American history shows that intervention has rarely been necessary and has nearly always led to more harm than good.
Similarly, a nation that accounts for nearly half of total military spending must invest in new 5th generation fighters when we literally face no threats to our military supremacy. Near the end of his address, Lynn adds that “new long range bomber capable of manned and unmanned operations” are needed. Our air force is the envy of the world, and we don’t even have close competitors in this regard. The only need for such massive expenditures would be to prepare for a major global conflict, and to quote notable critic of US defense posture and military historian Col. Andrew Bachevitch (whose books I highly recommend):
“The notion that we have to go policing the planet to prevent Adolf Hitler from climbing back into his saddle is patently absurd. There is no Hitler; there is no Stalin. There are a variety of thugs that do great evil in the world. But the threat posed comes nowhere near the threat posed by some of these earlier antagonists”
The US currently maintains a troop presence in 135 nations around the world. Few Americans realize the enormous and unnecessary expenditures that result from this muscular defense posture. And frankly, we don’t need a new generation of manned and unmanned long range bombers, simply because we do not face national security threats that would require the enormous monetary expenditure. The F-22 fighter jet program, dubbed “the most outstanding fighter plane ever built,” cost $65 billion dollars. I shudder to think of the development costs of these new unmanned long range bombers that could be put toward our failing infrastructure, subpar schools, or underfunded health care programs.