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Endless Military Superiority | The Nation

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Endless Military Superiority

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These core ideas--the projection of US power forward in time and horizontally across the earth's surface, and the use of advanced surveillance and munitions to overpower less capable adversaries--form the guiding principles of the Administration's military buildup. They have governed every aspect of Pentagon planning since the Bush team occupied the White House. And they have been subsumed into the Administration's definition of "transformation."

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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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While enjoying strong support from the White House, Secretary Rumsfeld encountered considerable resistance from entrenched bureaucracies in the Defense Department when he first sought to apply these principles. The military services were quite prepared to accept the billions of dollars promised by the White House for the procurement of new weapons, but they preferred to spend all of this money on conventional big-ticket items like tanks, heavy artillery, jet fighters, aircraft carriers and submarines. Throughout the spring and summer of 2001, Rumsfeld was rebuffed time and again when he sought to persuade senior officers to abandon their attachment to conventional weapons and embrace the new technologies favored by proponents of transformation.

September 11 and the subsequent mobilization of American power for the war in Afghanistan changed this picture in a number of significant ways. First of all, it gave the advocates of radical transformation a free hand to put their ideas into practice sooner and on a much bigger scale than they had ever envisioned. The apparent success of their efforts--in particular, the use of highly mobile, lightly armed Special Forces units to coordinate airstrikes by bombers equipped with laser-guided munitions--earned them enormous prestige in Washington.

Second, the outpouring of public support for the war against terrorism allowed Bush to secure from Congress sufficient funds to procure virtually all of the big-ticket items sought by the armed forces and to finance the more visionary systems favored by the transformers as well. The $45 billion added to the 2003 military budget is a testament to these extraordinary circumstances.

Finally, September 11 produced a significant alteration in the military posture favored by the President and his closest advisers. When first outlining this posture, in his 1999 Citadel address, Bush eagerly endorsed the extension of US power in time and space; at the same time, however, he explicitly rejected a prominent US role in peacekeeping and other "low intensity" operations. "We will not be permanent peacekeepers," he said at the time. "This is not our strength or our calling." But in the wake of 9/11, he has added low-intensity combat to the roster of military operations in which US forces will be expected to attain superiority.

The proposed Defense Department budget for fiscal year 2003, which begins on October 1, 2002, reflects all these developments. Most significant, it includes substantial funds both for "legacy" systems--tanks and planes developed during the cold war and favored by the military services--and for "transformative" systems preferred by the people around Bush and Rumsfeld. It also calls for the expansion of US "power projection" capabilities, so as to allow the rapid deployment of forces to distant battlefields. And it entails an acceleration of scientific and technical efforts aimed at the development of new types of weaponry for the wars of the distant future.

Most of the public commentary on the 2003 military budget has focused on the provision of vast sums for the procurement of "legacy" systems like the F-22 Raptor air-superiority fighter and the Joint Strike Fighter. Even with Rumsfeld's cancellation of the multibillion-dollar Crusader artillery system, the budget is crammed with big-ticket items. For this reason, the budget has come under attack from some military analysts who favor a big increase in Pentagon spending but who fault Rumsfeld for allocating too much money to legacy systems and not enough to innovative, high-tech weapons. "There are bits and pieces of transformation in the budget," says Andrew Krepinevich of the Center for Strategic and Budgetary Assessments, but not enough to make a fundamental difference. "I worry we are locking ourselves in by committing now to buying some of these weapons systems like fighter jets in such large numbers over the next two decades," he told the Wall Street Journal on March 28.

Krepinevich's comments have been echoed by some on the left who view the 2003 budget increase as a giant payoff to the nation's military companies--many of which contributed substantial funds to Bush's presidential campaign. But while it is certainly true that the new budget is extraordinarily generous to the builders of conventional military equipment, like the F-22, it would be a mistake to focus solely on that phenomenon and ignore the radical transformation of the US military establishment envisioned by the new budget.

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