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Endless Military Superiority | The Nation

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Endless Military Superiority

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To fully appreciate the long-term significance of the Rumsfeld program, it is useful to separate the budget plan into the three axes or dimensions of military planning: vertical, horizontal and temporal. The vertical dimension refers to the relative intensity or destructiveness of combat--the "ladder of escalation," from low-intensity conflict up through major regional wars to global conventional war and on to nuclear war. The horizontal dimension refers to geographical reach--the military's capacity to "project power" to distant locations. Finally, the temporal dimension refers to the military's capacity to anticipate and prepare for combat with enemies in the distant future.

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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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In the past, US strategy has placed explicit or implicit limits on the movement of American forces along these three axes. With respect to the vertical dimension, Pentagon doctrine has always stressed US superiority at the upper end of the axis but essentially disdained preparation for limited war--the assumption being that any military establishment capable of overpowering a major adversary would have no difficulty in defeating a host of minor enemies. As for the horizontal axis, US strategy has always placed a premium on Europe, East Asia and the Middle East, the three areas deemed to be of greatest strategic importance to the United States. Finally, strategy has generally stressed preparation for likely encounters in the near to mid-term, focusing on a clash with the Soviet Union or, more recently, with familiar adversaries like Iraq and North Korea.

But the new Pentagon strategy takes an entirely different stance. Instead of setting limits, it seeks to insure US dominance at every conceivable point on all three axes. On the vertical axis, the new strategy calls for a US capacity to prevail in any type of warfare, from terrorism and insurgency on up to all-out nuclear war. Although the greatest emphasis will be placed on beefing up US capabilities in mid-range conflicts, considerable funding will also be devoted to low-level warfare--counterterrorism, counterinsurgency and "police" operations.

To enhance US capacity in such operations, the Pentagon is boosting the strength of the Special Operations Forces and providing them with a wide array of new equipment. Major initiatives include acquiring four AC-130U flying gun platforms (of the type used to pound enemy positions in Afghanistan) and converting four Trident ballistic-missile submarines into "strike submarines" that will carry Tomahawk land-attack cruise missiles and will be able to infiltrate small squads of Special Forces commandos into the coastal areas of hostile powers.

Additional funding will also be devoted to nuclear warfare and space-based systems. Under the Nuclear Posture Review, submitted to Congress in January, the Administration will reduce the number of nuclear warheads deployed on operational missiles and bombers but establish a large "responsive capability" made up of once-operational weapons that could be quickly restored to active status. (The new arms-reduction agreement signed by Presidents Bush and Putin in May puts no restrictions on measures of this sort.) Funds will also be committed in the Energy Department budget for a study of the possible modification of existing nuclear warheads for use in strikes on underground bunkers, and for measures aimed at reducing the time it would take to resume the testing of nuclear weapons (in case a decision to do so is made by this or a future President).

On the horizontal axis, particular emphasis will be placed on the enhancement of US capabilities to project power to distant battlefields. Such missions typically involve two types of equipment: "mobility" systems, whose function is to deliver US-based troops to far-off battle zones; and "anti-access-denial" systems, whose task is to overpower the "access denial" forces employed by an enemy to foil an invasion of its territory.

To enhance power projection, the new budget sets aside $4 billion for twelve C-17 intercontinental cargo planes. Work will also begin on an amphibious transport ship and a new class of "maritime prepositioning ships"--large vessels with helipads and built-in docks that will be used as floating supply depots in areas far removed from existing bases. And to bolster anti-access-denial capabilities, the Pentagon will begin development of a new long-range bomber and acquire additional Unmanned Aerial Vehicles (UAVs, pilotless spy planes like the Predator, used in Afghanistan).

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