Global Change and National Security

Nov. 1, 1992
We stand at a great threshold of history. With the breakup of the Warsaw Pact and the collapse of the Soviet Union, a new world order has begun to take form. The end result, however, is not yet certain, nor is it predestined.

The United States has emerged from the cold war as the strongest nation on Earth. The Persian Gulf conflict confirmed our capability to project military power to safeguard our interests and fulfill our responsibilities. Furthermore, the principles that we defend have become both an inspiration and an example for a world in transition.

The new world order begins auspiciously. A spirit of freedom thrives where freedom has been suppressed for generations. The danger of global war is less today than at any time in the past fifty years. Nations East and West are committed to major reductions in their military forces. The United States and Russia have agreed to eliminate the majority of their strategic nuclear warheads.

These conditions, unfortunately, do not ensure peace and stability. In fact, instability is a leading by-product of the changes that produced the new world order. The prospect of regional conflict, perhaps with global implications, is extremely high. Political reform is still fragile, and many of the changes have shallow roots.

The United States is struggling to define its role in the new world order. That entails difficult decisions about policies, programs, and the allocation of resources. It is generally acknowledged that we cannot hold blindly to the approaches of the past. It is not equally recognized–although it should be–that we cannot make assumptions blindly about the future. The measure of our adjustment to change will ultimately be whether we establish strategies based on recognition of realities, risks, and prudent opportunities.

In this regard, we support the flexible approach prescribed by the National Military Strategy of the United States. We agree with the careful steps it proposes, leading gradually toward a smaller but highly capable Base Force for the years ahead. We wish, particularly, to commend the US Air Force which has shown extraordinary initiative and foresight in restructuring itself to meet the requisites of national security.

We are deeply concerned by the demands of some political factions and special interests for radically deeper reductions and for defense funding lower than the austere 3.7 percent of Gross National Product projected by 1997. The present net assessment of the Joint Chiefs of Staff is that the defense program as forecast provides “minimal capability” to meet “low to moderate risk.” We do not believe that an informed electorate would wish its government to materially diminish the capability from that level or that it incur any greater degree of risk. We invite others to join us in ensuring that the public understands the hidden consequences of such precipitous action.

We further believe that the performance of US forces in the Gulf War established a new standard of public expectation. In any future conflict, the armed forces will be expected to prevail quickly, decisively, and with few casualties. To enable our forces to achieve that result, we are obliged to ensure that defense programs and budgets are adequate to their requirements.

We concur, basically, with the popular depiction of the United States as the world’s only remaining superpower. This status derives from diplomatic as well as military instruments of power, and it has economic and ideological dimensions. It is important, however, to remember that other nations continue to possess significant military power. In some cases, that power is increasing. In certain instances or aspects, it may be equal to or greater than our own. Russia, for example, estimates that its armed forces will number 2.1 million by the end of 1995. The US plans a force level of 1.6 million at that time.

Most nations today possess at least some modern military technology, and we must expect that in the passage of time more of them will acquire weapons of mass destruction. As borders shift, interests change, and different balances of power evolve, the range of potential threats to the new world order will be enormous.

Schemes for the US to retreat from world leadership are neither wise nor realistic. We must remain an international power first of all to protect our own security and interests. Although we should expect–indeed insist–that our allies and other nations bear a fair share of the burden of global security, the leadership role is one that we cannot and should not seek to avoid.

Our specific interest is in the armed forces, and especially in the air forces, that the US will field to defend the nation and its stake in the new world order. Our forces must be adequate to deter war across the spectrum of conflict and, when need be, to conduct decisive military operations in support of national strategy.

The Air Force Association is proud of its relationship with the US Air Force. Our belief in airpower was upheld by the fact that it was the decisive factor in the nation’s most recent conflict. We restate, however, our long-held conviction that a sufficient defense posture must include a balanced mix of mutually supportive land, sea, and air forces.

We are encouraged by the impending reduction in nuclear weapons, but we believe the nation still requires a significant residual capability in all three legs of the strategic Triad of manned bombers, landbased missiles, and seabased missiles. In our judgment, the United States will not long maintain the relative combat advantages it now holds without continued improvements to its long-range power projection forces, including fighter and bomber forces. In at least two areas–space and airlift–we believe force requirements for the future will be even greater than they have been in the past.

It is imperative that the smaller US forces of the future have every edge that improved technology can give them. In addition to sustained modernization of major weapon systems, the missions ahead will require the development of increased capabilities in such areas as battlefield surveillance, targeting, and precision strike.

Force structure is but one element in military capability. When reductions are of the magnitude now planned, however, force size becomes an increasingly important factor. Between 1987 and 1997, the Department of Defense will lose more than one million people from the ranks of its active-duty, Guard, Reserve, and civilian components. The active-duty Air Force will drop by 29 percent.

We understand the reasons for the drawdown and recognize that it is a necessary element in the regeneration of forces for the future. We share, however, in the anguish the reductions cause to so many individuals who have served the nation so well. These departing veterans take with them a wealth of experience that the force could not replace easily or soon, should the need arise.

A similar phenomenon is occurring in the defense industry, where firms are releasing workers, closing plants, and turning to other markets. The defense industrial base is disintegrating, and it, like the military force structure, would be difficult if not impossible to replace.

For all of these reasons, we declare our opposition to the shameful and recurring ritual in which each successive defense cut is met instantly with the demand for more and deeper cuts. Defense reductions are touted as a painless means to resolve the federal deficit and fund all manner of spending initiatives.

The facts are these: If current defense outlays were reduced to zero, a deficit of $142.4 billion would still remain. If defense budgets continue to fall by annual decrements without regard to consequences, our capabilities will decline and our risks will increase. The probability will diminish that our armed forces can prevail in combat quickly, decisively, and with few casualties. A weakened defense posture might also encourage military challenges that we would not otherwise confront.

The Air Force Association warns its members and all others interested in the security of their nation to beware of those who make easy promises of a large peace dividend and offer unduly optimistic assumptions about the future.

The new world order will not be shaped by the actions of the United States alone. We must, however, accept the leadership role in which circumstances have placed us and meet it responsibly. We can be a powerful influence for peace and stability and at the same time maintain a reasonable measure of control over our own security and destiny. We cannot afford to do less.