For decades, one of the Pentagon's fundamental strategic doctrines has been sustaining a military that could successfully prosecute two wars simultaneously. But after the last Quadrennial Defense Review, a Pentagon force shaping study, Defense department planners largely backed off the combat catechisms of old. The new doctrine, said defense strategists, would be that the military could fight a counterinsurgency while deterring "peer or near-peer competition," namely Russia and China.
Critics of the revamped warfighting dogma said that it was simply a creative way to justify Secretary Gates's cuts to replacement weapons left over from the Reagan era. Advocates countered that the new strategy was more in sync with 21st century threats. Both are somewhat right and somewhat wrong.
The problem with both strategies is that they failed to address a rapid proliferation of military power. Globalization isn't limited to iPods and Big Macs. Information moves instantly and technical knowledge is no longer limited to secure vaults in Western military headquarters. The smaller bad guys, rogue states like Syria, North Korea, Iran, etc, are finding themselves with ballistic missiles, cyber war capabilities, and easier access to designs on WMDs.
Take this report from the Center for Strategic and Budgetary Assessments, which claims that Iran has managed to get its hands on advanced integrated air defense systems that can deny Iranian airspace to all but a few U.S. fighters and bombers. CSBA argues that Iran's acquisition of new air defense systems limits our strike planning options to stealth B-2 bombers, of which the Pentagon can deploy approximately 16.
Had Korea gone hot early this morning, a U.S. military that has atrophied since the end of the Cold War would find the bulk of its peer deterrence assets, aircraft carriers, advanced F-22 fighter jets, cruisers and destroyers tied up in Korea -- essentially stripping us of our ability to conventionally deter China, Russia, Iran, and the rest of the rogue's gallery.
Capability gaps and planning shortfalls are the unfortunate offspring of being forced to reinvent combat doctrines as an answer to a decaying military. Sound strategic planning postures the force in such a way that any scenario could be effectively parried. We allow American power to atrophy at our own risk.
There will always be an Iran building a new missile or a North Korea fielding some sort of new anti-access capability. The best way to prevent those threats from turning serious is crafting a serious, credible, and balanced military that can respond in a prompt, agile, devastating manner. That means military modernization now, and it also means that the Defense department closely examine combat doctrines for loopholes.