The United States and many of its allies are in the process of dealing with the post-Afghanistan strategic environment. Soon it will be passé to talk of counter-insurgency campaigns, of military-led efforts at nation building and of humanitarian interventions. Budgetary constraints operating in Washington and other allied capitals are forcing a re-think. What sort of post-Afghanistan, post-Iraq force structures should be maintained? The knock-on effects of such speculations are daunting. Laboured by what can be afforded, national armies, navies, air forces and (for those that have them) marines, will have to be significantly pared back in size, and according to some – capability, in order to rebalance personnel, hardware and military readiness. Will this have a deleterious effect on the idea of conventional military deterrence? In the short to medium term, the answer has to be yes. During this transitional period it is highly likely that states such as North Korea, Iran, Russia and China will capitalise on America’s perceived weakness and the weakness of America’s more robust allies. What does this mean? It means that China will have a free hand to ‘push’ its naval forces out beyond the first to the second island chain and consolidate its presence in the Western Pacific and the South China Sea. Russia will be able to manoeuvre in Central Asia and the Caucuses, rebuilding its economic and social ties to both regions – when necessary at the point of a gun. Iran can pursue more aggressive policies against the GCC states, individually or collectively, while North Korea can rattle its sabre safe in the knowledge that South Korea and Japan cannot count on direct and timely US combat support. And while America’s recent experiment with targeted simultaneous special force raids in Libya and Somalia (Oct.5, 2013) demonstrated the effectiveness of high technology in combination with the extreme professionalism of special force units, only the Libyan raid succeeded. US Special Forces were pushed back by local militants in Somalia and were forced to withdraw. So while the US and its allies ponder over the future of their military, the future is already here. Those who for so long couldn’t pushback or act against the dominating presence of US influence, are now doing so, or preparing to do so. Over the next 5-10 years, should the US and its alliance network transit to newer, more economically sustainable and technologically adept force structures, the world will have changed. But for the prospect of social or economic collapse in either China or Russia, these two countries’ strategic footprints will be larger, and their willingness and ability to challenge, aid and support non-Western agendas will further expand. In the eventuality that the Chinese and Russian military modernization programs retain their ability to deploy military units ‘en masse’ and retain their organisational culture to sacrifice for the national interest against a light and nimble, technologically savvy, yet casualty-averse US-led West – the outcome of future battles, stratagems and diplomatic feints will be interesting to observe.
By Dr. John Bruni, Director SAGE International