American defense policy is at the crossroads in view of growing pressure for fiscal austerity and withdrawal from Afghanistan. Ongoing Secretary of Defense Robert Gates articulated that the United States must maintain the role of the world policeman, and NATO allies make more defense contributions to deal with new security challenges in the 21st century. Before leaving the job to the next Secretary Leon Panetta, Gates presented an overview of US defense policy at the American Enterprise Institute on May 24. See the video below.
In this event, Secretary Gates advocated that the United States maintain defense capability in spite of fiscal constraints. The fundamental premise of his speech is that the ultimate guarantee to defend the world from aggressors and dictators is American hard power which is the size, strength, and outreach of its armed forces. While Gates stressed importance of victory in the War on Terror in Afghanistan and Iraq, he told that the US military needs reforms in weaponry systems and organizations to meet requirements to deal with new threats. Though he believes defense expenditure does not hurt the economy, political reality does not allow the Pentagon to be exempted from budget cut. Today, the nature of threats is complicated and unpredictable, but free nations do not face a gigantic military adversary after the Cold War. In order to manage the trade off between politico-fiscal constraints and military demand, Gates raised key aspects to determine the future of US defense, which are priority, strategy, and risks. As the United States needs to fight two major wars, its armed forces must be large enough, and small forces are no use however efficient they may be. In addition to maintaining superiority against China and Russia, the United States must manage threats by non-state actors like Hezbollah which have more well equipped armed forces than state actors. Therefore, small and efficient military capability does not make sense. At the end of the speech, Secretary Gates emphasized America’s special responsibility in maintaining world peace, despite growing antipathy to the war among the public.
In view of US role in the world, some conservative media criticize President Obama’s “dangerous instinct” to cut defense expenditure whose share in GDP of 3.5% which is half of that of 7.5% during the Cold War, while introducing European styled health care system. On the other hand, they applaud Gates as he resisted such Little Americanism (“The Gates Farewell Warning”; Wall Street Journal; May 28, 2011). Former Ambassador to the United Nations John Bolton argues furthermore “Adam Smith wrote in ‘The Wealth of Nations’ that ‘the first duty of the sovereign, that of protecting the society from the violence and invasion of other independent societies, can be performed only by means of a military force.’” (“National Security Must Not Be an Afterthought”; Washington Examiner; May 24, 2011) Taking America’s role as the global policeman into serious consideration, the Defending Defense Project, jointly run by the American Enterprise Institute, the Heritage Foundation, and the Foreign Policy Initiative, released an open letter of question to next Secretary of Defense Leon Panetta. Most importantly, quoting comments “I have long believed, and I still do, that the defense budget, however large it may be, is not the cause of this country's fiscal woes” and "a smaller military, no matter how superb, will be able to go to fewer places and be able to do fewer things” by Secretary Gates, this letter asks whether next Secretary Panetta agrees to the above viewpoints. Regarding rising threats, China and Iran are key focuses. Finally, this letter demands incoming Secretary Panetta to reconsider withdrawal from Iraq and Afghanistan because current plans were made before the Arab spring (“Ten Questions on the Future of US Defense Spending Priorities for Secretary of Defense Nominee Leon Panetta”; Defending Defense Project; June 7, 2011).
Military capability of NATO allies is also an important issue to think of US defense. At NATO Defense Ministers Meeting in Brussels, Secretary Gates urged European allies to make more contribution in defense. As shown in the table, some members like Spain and Belgium spend around 1% of GDP for defense. This is almost the same as that of Japan whose pacifist constitution and mindsets still pose constraints to military activities（”Gates Questions NATO's Future”; Wall Street Journal; June 11, 2011). Things have not changed since Robert Kagan talked of American Mars and European Venus in his well known book, “Of Paradise and Power”. NATO members other than Britain and France are military pygmies.
Another focal point of US defense in the world is Afghanistan. The Obama administration sees the successful attack to Osama bin Laden is a good opportunity to end the long war. However, we have to note that strategists in the military do not believe Obama’s decision right. Robert Kagan, Director of the Foreign Policy Initiative, mentions that the entire military leaders worry caustic outcomes by withdrawal as commented by the Chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff Admiral Michael Mullen that the decision will embolden insurgents and increase risks to remaining troops. Also, it will lead allies to cut defense contribution in Afghanistan (“Military leaders know Obama’s decision is a disaster”; Post Partisan—Washington Post; June 23, 2011). At the Senate hearing on June 23, General David Petraeus testified that he agrees with Admiral Mullen. Toby Harnden illustrates critical gaps between Obama and armed forces (“General David Petraeus: I disagree with Barack Obama but 'I'm no quitter'”; Daily Telegraph Blog; June 24, 2011). Actually, ongoing Gates warned the risk of premature withdrawal when he visited Afghanistan (“Gates: No Rush for U.S. Troops to Leave Afghanistan”; NPR; June 4, 2011). Neighborhood countries do not want confusions associated with US withdrawal. When American officials talked with the Taliban, India raised concerns because Delhi officials do not believe in the Good Taliban Theory (“India and the Taliban Talks”; Diplomat Blog; June 26, 2011).
In view of fiscal austerity, cost performance is a vital issue of consideration. However, obsession with efficiency will ruin national security as new threat emerges one after another. Regretfully, national security is a secondary issue in the debate for 2012 presidential election at this stage. Though Republican candidates attack unanimously Obama’s economic and social security policy, they are split on defense, particularly with regard to Afghanistan (“GOP hopefuls stake out Afghanistan positions”; Washington Post; June 23, 2011). But remember! Fragile global security shall never allow nation building at home. Also, America’s position will be weakened if cutting its own defense while urge “free riders” to spend more on it.