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Jewish World Review March 1, 2001 / 6 Adar, 5761

Mort Zuckerman

Mort Zuckerman
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Rethinking the next war -- THE world is in awe of the American war machine. Our Navy possesses a dozen immense supercarrier battle groups and dominates the seas; our nuclear submarines patrol the waters below; our fighters and bombers control the skies, supported by aerial tankers that allow them to fly half a world away and back. We alone have a worldwide satellite network providing constant intelligence and surveillance. Our Army possesses the world's best weapons, along with the best-trained and best-educated troops. Our smart weapons can cover hundreds of miles and hit a target within 1 meter. Our sea- and ground-launched ballistic missiles provide an overwhelming strategic deterrence. The cost is high. We spend more than the combined total of the next seven military powers. Our R&D budget alone, some $34 billion last year, exceeds the individual defense budgets of nearly all our NATO allies.

So why do we have to contemplate spending hundreds of billions more dollars? The answer is in the epigram from the trenches of World War I–that generals are always ready to fight the last war. America is all too ready to fight wars like the Gulf War–ready, in fact, to fight two such wars at once. But that is not the primary menace we face in the future. The need now is to cope with unconventional threats–so-called asymmetrical threats, which we cannot expect to fight from large, fixed bases. We must plan for longer-range warfare in which our forces will be dispersed and mobility will be at a premium.

In Kosovo, for instance, the Army literally could not assemble its helicopter forces in time, and its tanks were too heavy to move over local roads and bridges. We will fight future battles from long distances using remote stand-off weapons that do almost everything that ground armor once did but with more flexibility, greater stealth, and less logistical support. This strategy acknowledges a limitation on our war machine–that we are more casualty-shy than the authoritarian societies we are likely to confront. Paradoxically, our overwhelming military power has made it clear to potential adversaries that their only hope is to offset it through some asymmetrical attack.

Taking stock. Our real dangers won't lie so much in the kind of hot TV scenes depicted in Kosovo, Bosnia, Haiti, Rwanda, or East Timor. They will lie in the proliferation of weapons of mass destruction, the possibility that Russia will lose control of its nuclear, chemical, and biological weapons, and that new forces of terrorism may threaten the United States at home, especially our vulnerable information systems. That is why Secretary of Defense Donald Rumsfeld wants a top-to-bottom strategic review.

The Clinton administration was reluctant to second-guess uniformed experts. But Rumsfeld, backed by President Bush and Vice President Cheney, has the expertise and confidence to address the key defense questions. For example: Do we need to station as many troops around the world? Do we need as many nuclear weapons on full alert? Does a two-major-theater war strategy have any relevance, given the 10-year decline of both Iraq and North Korea? Budgetary shares among the services have been relatively static to avoid strife within the Pentagon, but is that realistic? Do we need a separate agency to handle information systems, as well as recruitment and training of specialized personnel? Can we identify and eliminate redundant bases and expensive weaponry that the pork-barrel Congress foisted on the Pentagon? In sum, what structure, forces, and weapons do we need to carry out our strategy?

Rumsfeld has wisely selected Andy Marshall to head this new review. He is a 27-year Pentagon veteran and acclaimed military analyst described by the Economist as "one of the most original military thinkers in America."

There is an interesting parallel in all this with the building of our transcontinental railway in the middle of the 19th century. We needed a military presence on the Plains and in the Rockies to protect the settlers heading west. The military had spent millions of dollars building forts, but without much effect on Indian attacks against settlers because the cavalry could not get to the fighting in time. Railroads made the difference. They gave the Army the ability to move troops faster and safer from one place to another, making the military more effective with fewer men and fewer forts. The lesson of the Plains stands today. By exploiting the latest technology, we can transform our military strategy and our military forces–and reduce our military costs.

JWR contributor Mort Zuckerman is editor-in-chief and publisher of U.S. News and World Report. Send your comments to him by clicking here.


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A failed peace process 01/08/01: How the bottom fell out
01/03/01: Quipping in the new year
12/20/00: A time for healing
11/13/00: The need for legitimacy
10/30/00: Arafat's bloody cynicism
10/18/00: Arafat torches peace
10/03/00: A great step backward
09/08/00: The Perfect Storm
08/29/00: Don't blow the surplus
08/15/00: Voting for grown-ups
08/01/00: Arafat's lack of nerve
07/17/00: Can there be a new peace between old enemies? Or will new enemies regress to an old state of war?
07/11/00: A time to celebrate
06/19/00: A bit of straight talk
06/08/00: Using hate against Israel
05/26/00: Is the Federal Reserve trigger-happy?
04/18/00: Tensions on the 'Net
04/13/00: A paranoid power
03/10/00: Fuel prices in the red zone
02/25/00: Web wake-up call
02/18/00: Back to the future
01/21/00: Whistling while we work
01/11/00: Loose lips, fast quips
12/23/99: The times of our lives
12/14/99: Hey, big spender
11/18/99: Fountain of Youth
11/04/99: An impossible partner
10/14/99: A nation divided
10/05/99: India at center stage
09/21/99: Along with good cops, we need a better probation system
09/08/99: Though plundered and confused, Russia can solve its problems
08/31/99: The military should spend more on forces and less on facilities
08/05/99: Squandering the surplus
07/06/99: More than ever, America's unique promise is a reality
06/24/99: The time has come to hit the brakes on affirmative action
06/15/99: America should take pride in honoring its responsibilities
06/02/99: The Middle Kingdom shows its antagonistic side
05/11/99: Technology's transforming power is giving a lift to everything
05/04/99: The big game gets bigger
04/30/99: On Kosovo, Russia talked loudly and carried a small stick
04/21/99: No time to go wobbly
04/13/99: The Evil of two lessers

© 2001, Mortimer Zuckerman