Future of U.S. Military Needs a ‘Fundamental Rethink,’ Says New Study

Mike O'Brien

A far reaching study on the future role of the military in the coming decade calls for a radical shift in strategy against a backdrop of sustained financial constraints.

The report is based on the premise that "while foreign threats have dominated national security planning in the past … future wars may more typically involve nontraditional foes and means threatening the homeland."

The study was authored by the National Defense University Strategy Study Group (NDUSSG) and was distributed earlier this week by the Foreign Policy Research Institute.

The group was led by Michael J. Mazarr, a professor and associate dean for academics at the National War College, and the report proposes a "sustainable national security posture" over the next 10 years.

It concludes that "the United States is buying systems, forces and capabilities increasingly mismatched to the challenges, threats, and opportunities of the emerging environment."

The authors say terrorism will be the biggest threat, involving biological pathogens, cyber activity and financial instruments.

The NDUSSG says "fundamental rethinking" is needed to ensure the U.S. moves from military dominance to "restrained ambitions and greater selectivity."

It says anti-U.S. groups have many means — from insurgency to social protest, cyber attacks and misinformation campaigns to active resistance — "to thwart efforts to employ military or even economic [sanctions] or informational power to coerce them."

Even though Asia, North Africa and the Middle East will face disruptive transitions in the next decade, the study says we are entering "a time of relatively low direct threats to the United States, but a wider range of potential threats."

The threats will come in form of cyber-militias, non-government activist groups and terrorist networks with "influence drastically out of proportion to their size or resources."

The report adds that the U.S. has to stay "first among equals but use its power and influence to spur the actions of networks, coalitions, emerging powers and the international community generally." This "will demand more listening and less talking."

Ultimately, the new proposed plan of action would call for the closure of some U.S. military bases around the world and boosting the training of host nations’ forces with rotational deployments to maintain a local presence.

A rethink on large-deck aircraft carriers and hugely expensive programs such as the F-35 would also be needed.

In his assessment of the study, Walter Pincus – writing in his Fine Print column for the Washington Post – said it was clear better intelligence and collective action seem more appropriate for the future.

He said it would be wise for Defense Secretary Chuck Hagel and Joint Chiefs Chairman Martin Dempsey to take another look at the NDUSSG study.

However, Mr. Pincus concludes that the ideas contained in the study "are worth considering, but try selling any of these ideas on Capitol Hill."