American Must Prepare for the Next War
If the United States is to maintain its military supremacy into the 21st century, it is absolutely vital that the federal government ensure that its defense efforts are directed at preparing for the next war, rather than for re-fighting the wars of the past. Too often historically -- and I fear in the future as well -- America has been caught by surprise by global developments and forced to improvise a solution to challenges on the ground. While brilliant soldiers, diplomats, and politicians have often risen to this challenge, it may well turn out to be the case that the wars of this century will not allow us such latitude.
After both World Wars and the end of the Cold War, the United States has demobilized in a haphazard fashion that has left the nation ill-prepared to meet future challenges. Yet, as Donald Rumsfeld memorably and correctly reminded us vis-à-vis Iraq, "you go to war with the Army that you have." A careless reduction in defense spending today, as advocated by the left and even accepted by some on the right, would be a penny wise, pound foolish solution that will cost future generations tremendous amounts of blood and treasure.
The tremendous costs of the War on Terrorism, however one feels about the events of the last decade, do not contain therein a justification for reduced spending going forward. On the contrary, the fighting of the last decade has redirected resources towards systems, equipment, and training that, while vital in overcoming the challenges of the post-9-11 decade, would be of minimal value in a great power confrontation. Indeed, deep down, all of us know which nation America and the Western world must be prepared to confront in the coming years: the People's Republic of China.
The conflict between the United States and China is driven by mutually incompatible systems and ambitions. While economics is not a zero-sum game, power is. Our world can have only one hegemonic power at a time -- only one power can effectively control global institutions, defend world sea lanes, regulate international trade, and respond to emergencies as they occur. The alternative to the existence of such a leader -- a primus inter pares among the world's nations -- is a form of devastating global anarchy, where dictatorial regional powers conquer their neighbors and trade is disrupted by the whims of tyrants. In the end, either the United States will control such a system -- at a vital time in history, as advances in science and technology allow us to both settle human beings off this planet and, through advances in bio-tech, change the nature of humanity itself -- or it will be controlled by a vicious and dictatorial People's Republic of China, whose leaders are absolutely willing to brutally crush any who oppose them and who murder and exploit without compunction.
Whatever disagreements we in the West may have amongst ourselves -- and there are so very many -- even the most committed adherent of the "Occupy" movement, were you to catch him in a moment of unguarded honesty -- would admit that, from the perspective of an individual who values freedom, flawed American liberty is preferable to resolute Chinese despotism. If China is allowed to become the leading global power, it will not hesitate to oppress the rest of the world's people with as much cruelty as its leaders presently show to their own people.
None of this means, of course, that we desire preemptive or preventative war against the Chinese, or that we harbor any ill feeling toward the Chinese people. Just as we do not wish to see Chinese tyranny exported abroad, we desire freedom for the people of China as well. The ultimate aspiration of the English-speaking peoples, as expressed from time immemorial, is the creation of a single universal human civilization, where liberty and the rule of law prevail, and commerce and creation serve as the common language of humanity. Instead, in dealing with the rising power and aggression of the People's Republic of China, our model ought to be that laid out for us by those men and women who won the Cold War and saw to the demise of the Soviet Union while avoiding a direct clash between Soviet and Western armies.
Success ought to be defined as ensuring the freedom of both the people of the West and the people of China without a shot being fired. Of course, that being said, there is such a thing as degrees of failure.
For all of the tremendous strength displayed by the Chinese economy in recent decades, the system used by the People's Republic today is also tremendously flawed. They have asked the Chinese people to trade their liberty for prosperity -- a bargain that many have made willingly. However, the moment that the boom ends, there will come renewed demands for reform.
Events at such an epochal moment may play out in many ways. Certainly, the present leadership may give way peacefully. But on the other hand, they may turn -- as there are signs that they are already turning -- towards the oldest trick of dictators who require a distraction.
It is this eventuality for which we must be prepared. Ideally, not only will we be ready to defeat the Chinese if they turn to external aggression as a solution to domestic distress, but we can make ourselves so strong and so prepared for war that their leaders will understand that fighting the West is futile and that, by such calculations, war might be avoided altogether.
A modern-day policy of peace through strength requires innovation and investment on our part. It means adopting a mentality that would see us genuinely prepare to fight and win the next war by building new weapons systems that will revolutionize war in the 21st century as thoroughly as the airplane and motorized vehicle did in the last.
What we must do is now is devote resources to next-generation weapons systems that will be impossible for the Chinese and other potentially aggressive powers to counter for many decades. Instead of focusing defense dollars on, for example, the next generation of manned fighters, the time has come to embrace emerging technologies that sound to the unaware ear as though they emerge from the world of science fiction. Mass-produced drones, both in the air and on the land, could both prove capable of feats that no human could endure (for example, aerial maneuvers beyond the endurance of human pilots) and reduce (and it some cases eliminate altogether) risks to the lives of soldiers, sailors, and airmen. Hypersonic bombers could penetrate even the most advanced previous-generation air defenses and deliver precision weapons on any target anywhere in the world within hours. Well-funded and trained cyber-warriors could set any opposing state back decades (or more) in minutes. A new generation of missile defenses could greatly reduce the threat posed by enemy ballistic missiles. Orbital weapons platforms could deliver ordinance against targets anywhere on the Earth within minutes in a way that would be well-nigh-impossible to defend against.
Yet for all of the potential that exists for the next generation of weapons to both ensure the safety of the world and to tremendously reduce the human toll of war, none of this can come either quickly or cheaply. If we want to put these systems in place -- all of which, I might add, would help to advance civilian technology as well -- then we have to make these investments immediately. The alternative is to wait to develop these and to prepare for the next war until we need to, by which time it will be far too late, and our only alternative will be to send men and women into a land war in Asia with generation-old equipment while praying for the best.
Adam Yoshida is a political commentator and the author of A Land War in Asia.