The U.S. military needs massive restructuring. Its current structure originated with the reforms instituted in 1903 after the Spanish-American War. A major overhaul on the eve of World War II made it possible to fight the Axis powers. The National Security Act of 1947 institutionalized the Industrial Age force extant today. Now, the armed forces of the United States would be hard-pressed to counter a North Korean invasion of South Korea without using nuclear weapons.
In fact, war on the Korean peninsula is one of our immediate threats. Iran, soon to be a nuclear-armed state, is bent on establishing hegemony in the world’s energy epicenter. Despite a predictably forthcoming declaration of “victory” in the ill-conceived War on Terror, al Qaeda and associated groups will continue to attack U.S. interests abroad while putting the nation on the defensive at home.
An anti-American alliance between Iran, Syria, North Korea, Venezuela, and possibly Cuba is not beyond the realm of possibility. If Mexico continues to descend into anarchy, that alliance could extend to our immediate and un-defended southern border; imagine the cost of trying to fortify it sufficiently to keep it secure.
Slicing the salami thicker will result in fewer divisions, cutting new weapons acquisition, and trimming at the edges by reducing costs associated with professional military education. This is like starting a weight reduction with a frontal lobotomy and removing a few fingers. What is needed is drastic restructuring of the armed forces, massive reduction in the associated bureaucracy, and major changes in the way officers are educated.
Meanwhile, China is building a first-class fighting force, one capable of global power projection. While Russia’s ability to project power remains questionable, its modernization programs focus on high-tech weaponry and on revitalizing nuclear forces.
Critics argue that the United States now spends more on its military than the next 10 nations combined. True. A lot of that goes to sustaining force structures that are redundant, unnecessary, and ill-suited for Information Age warfare. Much of it goes to personnel costs (including retirement), maintaining bases and posts that are no longer needed, and unnecessary civilian personnel. There is much that can be cut, but also much more that needs to be restructured if the United States is to survive the challenges beyond 2015.
Earl Tilford is a retired Air Force officer and college professor who lives in Tuscaloosa, Alabama. He is the author of several books on the air war in Vietnam. His latest book, Turning the Tide: The University of Alabama in the 1960s has been accepted for publication by the University of Alabama Press.