U.S. Military Should Do Less, Not Spend More

Much is said these days about the mismatch of missions and resources for the military. A recent Rand Corporation report warned that failing to deploy a large enough Army could “lead to a failure of the U.S. strategy and subsequent regret.”

But as I point out in National Interest online, “the solution is not to spend more. It is to reassess foreign policy objectives. Better to scale back an over-ambitious strategy than to waste scarce resources pursuing dubious goals.”

For instance, Rand pointed to 2007-2008, when the Bush administration decided to increase combat forces in both Iraq and Afghanistan. The report explained: “Unfortunately, insufficient ground forces existed to meet the demands in both Iraq and Afghanistan.”

Yet what was achieved by both of these wars? The disastrous Iraq invasion was misguided from the start. Little more has been achieved in Afghanistan after14 year of nation-building.

The problem was not too few troops. It was the wrong objectives.

That continues to be the case. Rand addressed contingencies involving the Islamic State, Russia in the Baltics and Ukraine, and North Korea. To “limit regret” in confronting such challenges, Rand advocated adding more soldiers.

Better would be reducing requirements. After relying on America for decades, Washington’s defense dependents should do more to protect themselves.

First there’s the Middle East and the Islamic State. If the mission in these areas changes, noted Rand, then U.S. forces “would need to increase significantly.”

Yet Yemen long has been a mess and the Houthis have been fighting the central authorities for decades. There’s no reason to believe that keeping combat forces in Afghanistan for another year will do more than prolong failure.

As for ISIL, where are America’s supposed Arab allies? Most have essentially gone AWOL. Yet the Islamic State is essentially at war with every major country in the Middle East. Counting paramilitary forces, more than a million men are available to deal with a couple tens of thousands of ISIL fighters.

The second “threat” to the U.S. comes from Moscow. In the Rand analysts’ view, some 120,000 additional U.S. army personnel are required to confront possible Russian aggression.

Yet while the lawless dismemberment of Crimea offends Americans’ sense of justice, it threatens neither the U.S. nor Europe. As for garrisoning the Baltics, where are the Europeans? The European Union has a larger population and economy than America.

Finally, there’s North Korea. Even Rand acknowledged that “a wealthy and technologically advanced South Korea can now provide well-trained and armed forces to defeat a conventional invasion.” But the researchers cited the North’s artillery, missiles, and unconventional capabilities and feared collapse would leave nuclear materials vulnerable to theft.

Nearly 200,000 extra U.S. soldiers could be needed.

But where are the South Koreans? With around 40 times the economic strength and twice the population, they could put more men under arms.

And how about neighboring states? The studious refusal of the South Koreans and Japanese to cooperate depends on Washington’s continuing willingness to step into the gap.

Moreover, China would not be comfortable with 150,000 U.S. soldiers heading toward the Yalu. Beijing might intervene to preserve a puppet rump state, keep U.S. forces away from the border, and collect nuclear materials.

Pushing defense responsibilities back on those who actually are threatened is the best way to close the strategy-resource mismatch. Rand’s objection is striking: “this approach ignores the fact that the most capable U.S. allies are currently cutting their ground forces more than we are and that they rely on U.S. ground forces for much of the combat and logistics support they receive during deployed operations.”

Yes, because Washington allows them to do so. But if they won’t defend themselves, why should Washington do so?

Facing an entitlement tsunami, Americans soon will have little choice but to expect their foreign “friends” to do more. The U.S. should start shifting defense responsibilities now.