As threats and challenges to America metastasize internationally, the imperative for a dramatically new defense strategy grows ever clearer. Unfortunately, President Obama's remaining three years in office will not meet that objective, as his just-released FY 2015 defense budget reveals. After Obama departs, his successor will inherit whatever is left standing in the strategic rubble he will leave behind.
Adam Smith once defined government's primary responsibility as protecting the country. To meet this obligation and craft new defense strategies, the next U.S. president will need enormous courage and willpower to make the inevitable and enormously difficult political decision to reduce entitlements and other domestic spending, while significantly increasing defense and intelligence expenditures. Without adequate resources, any new strategy would merely be rhetoric, of which our nation already has far too much. Consider the following basic realities a new president will face.
First, America must prepare for an unprecedented multiplicity of diverse threats, including international terrorism, nuclear proliferation and conventional warfare against medium-sized powers and perhaps large ones. Critically, the U.S. cannot conclude that only one threat scenario exists; therefore, its leadership must expressly reject the premise underlying Obama's pending defense budget that this country will not fight another major conventional ground conflict. That is precisely the kind of war the U.S. fought in Iraq in 1991 and in overthrowing Saddam Hussein in 2003. It would be folly not to prepare for such a conflict in the Middle East and in Korea, as well as the worst-case scenario -- far from remote given Russia's invasions of Georgia and Ukraine -- of ground wars elsewhere on the Eurasian landmass.
America must also continue confronting the ongoing terrorist assault on its way of life, supported by multiple state sponsors. This will require defending against terrorists' attacks and denying them bases of operation, similar to the wars in Afghanistan and in post-2003 Iraq. After withdrawing from Vietnam, the U.S. forgot many of its hard-won lessons. The nation should not repeat that same mistake in today's counter-terrorism world.
Moreover, the mortal threat of nuclear proliferation is accelerating. North Korea is progressing toward mating nuclear devices with ballistic missiles, and Iran's enrichment program continues unimpeded. Russia is modernizing its nuclear and ballistic-missile forces, and China is substantially expanding its stockpile of nuclear warheads, as well as missile and heavy-bomber delivery systems. China's development of a blue-water navy for the first time in 600 years increasingly pressures America's over-stretched naval and air forces, not just in the Pacific, but worldwide.
Second, no effective defense strategy can rest on anything other than unambiguous U.S. leadership internationally. Both multilateralists and isolationists deride the concept of America as the world’s “policeman,” and indeed that should not be its role. But Theodore Roosevelt was right when he said this nation’s objective must be “to make the world safe for ourselves.” The U.S. is not a Platonic guardian, but it can and should assertively and unapologetically protect its own interests. Many American allies are free riders who do not bear their fair share of the burdens — but this nation is not doing it for them. Americans are doing it for themselves. No one else will do it for them. That will not change.
Third, the U.S. is most secure when its politico-military powers of deterrence and dissuasion are strongest. Dramatic reductions in America’s military assets do not, as Obama believes, make America (or the world generally) safer, but more vulnerable. “Peace through strength” is not a bumper sticker; it derives directly from Rome’s axiom, si vis pacem, para bellum: If you want peace, prepare for war.
Accordingly, America’s future military preparedness requires not only maintaining conventional military capabilities far greater than its adversaries, but also dictates substantial increase in military outlays. Specifically, the country needs more advanced and sophisticated weapons systems to keep ahead of its enemies and to minimize casualties in future conflicts. The U.S. Navy needs substantial new growth instead of continuing to shrink, as well as more advanced surface and undersea drone capabilities, mirroring the country’s successes with unmanned aerial vehicles. Most of all, the U.S. needs a dramatic increase in national missile-defense capabilities, starved almost to death by President Obama.
These initiatives will put enormous pressure on budgeteers, but succumbing to math rather than actual threat assessments could be catastrophic in the not-too-distant future. America’s leaders should certainly stress economies in defense expenditures, such as dramatically overhauling the excessively cumbersome and inefficient military procurement system. What is saved there should be plowed back into the defense budget to bolster America’s teeth-to-tail ratio — not shifted to domestic programs, which have exploded in the last six years while defense has correspondingly shrunk.
If the United States is not prepared to invest in its protection, the nation should face up to the reality of being a declining power. Obama has started us along this road, but the American people do not really want to follow his lead—and that is what elections are all about.John Bolton was U.S. Ambassador to the United Nations in 2005-2006.