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Endless Military Superiority | The Nation

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Endless Military Superiority

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If, as expected, Congress approves the Administration's proposed military budget for 2003, US military spending will grow by $45 billion in the next fiscal year--a 13 percent increase over this year's allocation and the largest increase since the early Reagan era. Some of the additional money will be used to pay for the war in Afghanistan and to underwrite a hefty increase in military pay, but much of it will be devoted to the "transformation" of the military establishment. Even larger amounts will be devoted to transformation in the coming years, as the Defense Department begins to replace existing, cold war-era weapons with new, super-sophisticated systems. The initiation of this effort has produced great joy in the arms industry and sparked a wide-ranging debate over the relative merits of various technologies and weapons systems. But while much has been said about the technical and financial aspects of transformation, very little attention has been paid to its political and strategic dimensions--the aspects that will have the greatest impact on US and international security in the years ahead.

About the Author

Michael T. Klare
Michael T. Klare is a professor of peace and world security studies at Hampshire College and the defense correspondent...

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When pressed on the meaning of "transformation," Defense Secretary Donald Rumsfeld and his associates speak of the need to abandon longstanding strategic assumptions and to organize US forces for combat against unfamiliar enemies in unexpected circumstances. Much emphasis is also placed on the development of advanced technologies to increase US prowess on future battlefields. But a close examination of Pentagon statements indicates that a lot more is going on than a mere desire to utilize new technologies or to prepare for the unknown. It is possible to detect a fundamental shift in strategic thinking--a shift with far-reaching implications for the United States and the world.

When alluding to this shift, Pentagon officials speak of replacing the "threat-based strategy" that long governed US military planning with what they describe as a "capabilities-based approach." This means that the Defense Department will no longer organize its forces to counter specific military threats posed by clearly identifiable enemies, but instead will acquire a capacity to defeat any conceivable type of attack mounted by any imaginable adversary at any point in time--from now to the far-distant future. Put differently, this is a mandate for the pursuit of permanent military supremacy.

The pursuit of permanent supremacy is not a new endeavor. Ever since the end of the cold war, policy-makers have sought to convert America's sole- superpower status into an immutable fact of life. In the most explicit expression of this outlook, the Pentagon's draft "Defense Planning Guidance" for fiscal years 1994-99, drawn up in February 1992, called for a concerted US effort to preserve its sole-superpower status into the foreseeable future. "Our first objective," the highly classified document stated, "is to prevent the re-emergence of a new rival, either on the territory of the former Soviet Union or elsewhere, that poses a threat on the order of that posed formerly by the Soviet Union."

This statement, attributed in part to Paul Wolfowitz (then the Under Secretary of Defense for Policy and now the Deputy Secretary of Defense), provoked a worldwide outcry when excerpts were published in the New York Times and the Washington Post. Critics, especially in Europe, charged that it assumed a "world policeman" role for the United States and the subordination of America's allies to second-class status in a US-dominated world order. Faced with this criticism, the Defense Department adopted a revised guidance document that called for greater collaboration between the United States and its allies.

Although the idea of US military supremacy was too touchy to discuss publicly during the 1990s, the concept never fully disappeared. A number of prominent pundits and strategists continued to circulate the ideas contained in the original draft of the 1992 guidance document. Then, during the 2000 presidential campaign, proponents of this approach were given a new chance to advance their views by George W. Bush. In his most important speech on military policy, given at the Citadel in September 1999, Bush reiterated many of the concepts first articulated in the 1992 document. Most significant, he embraced the concept of permanent military superiority. Pointing to America's huge advantage in military technology, he promised "to take advantage of a tremendous opportunity--given to few nations in history--to extend the current peace into the far realm of the future. A chance to project America's peaceful influence, not just across the world, but across the years."

In this speech--reportedly prepared with the assistance of Wolfowitz--Bush said the United States needed sufficient airlift and sealift to move troops to any point in the world quickly, along with sophisticated surveillance devices to locate enemy forces at any time of day or night, and advanced munitions to destroy them with minimum risk to American fighters. "Our forces in the next century must be agile, lethal, readily deployable and require a minimum of logistical support," Bush declared. "We must be able to project our power over long distances, in days or weeks rather than months. Our military must be able to identify targets by a variety of means" and "be able to destroy those targets almost instantly, with an array of weapons."

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