Thursday, June 10, 2010

 I wasn't able to attend in person, but I did manage to watch a bit of the proceedings from today's conference at CNAS.  They had a great cast of presenters, headlined by Michèle Flournoy, Under Secretary of Defense for Policy (and rumored successor to Bob Gates as SecDef) giving the keynote.

Her speech was good, though it didn't contain anything she hasn't said before.  I thought her defense of Gates' attempts to restructure the Armed Forces was strong, and a clear indication that if she is indeed the next Secretary of Defense that she intends to continue along the same path.  Her clear commitment to a force constituted to meet the small, irregular challenges of today, however, I find slightly worrisome.

The basic premise, that the U.S. military was ill-prepared for the wars they are currently fighting, is sound.  As is the underlying assumption, that these wars (call them small wars, hybrid, 5th generation, whatever) will be the most prevalent forms of kinetic conflict in the future.  What concerns me is that fighting these wars is only possible because of American hegemony in traditional warfare.  In other words, the U.S. ends up fighting small/hybrid wars/insurgencies because their dominance in all other aspects of warfare means that nobody is willing to even mount a challenge.  But, if a majority of resources are shifted away from conventional operations, that could potentially leave the U.S. military open to a challenge from a near-peer rival (the most obvious candidate being China).

I'm not the first person to suggest this danger; in fact I think this places me firmly with the majority of military analysts.  Nor am I pressing the panic button: I don't think this scenario is likely, and I think Gates/Flournoy are smart to seek an increase in the U.S. irregular/hybrid capabilities.  But it's important to be cognizant that the pendulum can swing too far the other way and avoid becoming enamored with the latest and greatest in technology and strategy.

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