In a Defense News Commentary in the Feb. 27 issue, Lord Robertson, a former secretary general of NATO, noted the world has been caught off guard regularly by a series of major events — some natural, like earthquakes or volcanoes, others manmade, like the Arab Spring.
What concerned him was that despite the turmoil and threats across the globe, this is happening at a time when defense budgets are being shrunk and the world’s only superpower is cutting back faster than most.
A number of articles and letters in the Washington Post have dealt with similar concerns, highlighting proposed foolhardy reductions in the nuclear warhead stockpile, the aversion of President Barack Obama to America’s superpower status and pointing out that while others are arming, the U.S. national defense structure is being deliberately dismantled.
Although there are some similarities in what is occurring now to the events of the early 1990s, when the Soviet Union collapsed and governments around the world were seeking a peace dividend, there also are some major differences.
In the 1990s, we used our existing resources to expel Iraqi occupying forces from Kuwait before continuing with a force reduction that had started prior to the Persian Gulf War. Today, while we have withdrawn from Iraq and are pulling back from Afghanistan, in neither case have we had the result we expected. The risks we sought to eliminate remain, yet once again, we are planning significant cuts in all areas of defense.
To exacerbate the problem, while we are drastically reducing our capabilities, we are attempting to dissuade Iran from developing a nuclear warhead, a situation that might well require stronger action than sanctions.
The changes that are being imposed now hardly equate to the period of 20 years ago. During the Iraq and Afghanistan wars we lost, or wore out, substantial quantities of military equipment without full replacement. This, coupled with the attrition of U.S. forces because of repeated and prolonged deployments, leaves us in a considerably weakened position internationally.
The common thread running among these issues and those discussed by other commentators has been the attempt to deal with each problem individually, without taking sufficient account of the broader ramifications and the interplay with other policy changes being implemented.
For example, the United States possessed thousands of nuclear warheads two decades ago. Now, our commander in chief is reported to be considering a further major reduction in nuclear warheads, from the 1,550 agreed in 2010 down to about 300. Normally, such a request would be preceded by an assessment of the number of warheads required to meet our obligations, rather than deciding a number beforehand and exerting pressure to dispose of the rest.
In the absence of any explanations, it has to be assumed that the drastic reduction being considered is part of Obama’s stated objective of moving toward a nuclear-free world.
On emotional grounds, few would argue with the president’s ambitious dream, but in the present environment of proliferation of warhead and missile technology to hostile nations, coupled with considerable unrest in the Middle East, that dream is in danger of becoming an achievable nightmare.
Despite diplomatic pressure exerted by America and allies for close to two decades, North Korea has joined the nuclear club, Iran seems to be very close to joining, and it has been well-publicized that Russia and China are enhancing their nuclear offensive systems.
Thus, the timing of a significant reduction in the U.S. stockpile seems strange, particularly as we exert stronger pressure on Iran in what may be a vain attempt to dissuade that country from producing a nuclear warhead.
We may yet find ourselves engaged in a real war with Iran, despite the efforts of our administration to avoid taking that final step.
The Army chief of staff has warned that we need to pause before making major changes to an Army that has been so overstressed for years. To add to his warning, we are proposing drastic reductions across the board at the same time as we are pushing Iran, an avowed hostile nation, to the brink of war.
There is far too much uncertainty throughout the world for America to be making significant cuts in all branches of the military. The pressure to expand social services at the expense of defense has been an ongoing debate for many years, but the level of proposed changes at this uncertain time seems particularly questionable.
A quote mentioned by Lord Robertson seems to sum up the situation succinctly: “I am interested in the future, because that’s where I’m going to spend the rest of my life.”
Ensuring that our future will be secure should be the highest priority of any administration.
Eugene Fox, left, vice president, and Stanley Orman, chief executive of Orman Associates, Rockville, Md., a defense consulting firm.