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Haitian refugees at encampments at Guantanomo

For The U.S. Military For The U.S.

Combining these trends and priorities, certain implications can be drawn for how the military can prepare today for the conflicts it may encounter in the coming years.

Balance Forces Among Four Fundamentally Different Missions
Adjust to Higher Operational Tempos
Expect Ad Hoc Coalitions Rather Than Alliances
Plan Based on Tasks, Not Threats
Give Continued Weight Forward Presence
Anticipate Declining Importance of Main Battle Platforms
Adjust to a World of WMD Proliferation
Consider What are the Most Appropriate Command Structures
Avoid Further Reductions in the Defense Budget

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Balance Forces Among
Four Fundamentally
Different Missions

The U.S. military will be expected to accomplish four fundamentally different missions, flowing from the four priorities listed above. Resources may be insufficient to accomplish all of these missions equally well. Thus, Washington is likely to face difficult choices about how to allocate available resources to respond to these missions. In order of descending priority, these missions are:

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Adjust to Higher
Operational Tempos

U.S. forces will be engaged in more operations even as their numbers decline. Forces will be committed simultaneously on numerous fronts. At the time of this writing in late 1994, U.S. forces are involved in Haiti to restore democracy, deployed to the Persian Gulf to deter Iraq, air-dropping humanitarian supplies in Bosnia, deterring an attack by North Korea, and maintaining thousands of Cuban and Haitian refugees in camps (see map on the following page).

The higher operational tempo takes a toll on several fronts. Less time is available for training, which can cut the edge U.S. forces have in the use of the most advanced technologies. Morale and re-enlistment rates can suffer from the human toll on those separated from their families.

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Expect Ad Hoc Coalitions Rather Than Alliances

There is no overpowering threat that will create enduring alliances the way the Soviet threat brought NATO into being. Like-minded states, including the NATO states, will not always agree on which regional crises deserve attention, so coalitions will shift from case to case. Public opinion, in the U.S. and internationally, will usually insist on intervention by a coalition rather than by U.S. forces alone, even when coalition partners add nothing to--or even complicate--the military effort. Most important, as defense spending declines, the U.S. will increasingly need to rely on coalition partners to complete the four missions discussed above. Programs like International Military Education and Training (IMET), aimed at increasing the ability of foreign forces to work with the U.S. military, will become more useful militarily, in addition to their political impact. In some situations, the U.S. may decide the most appropriate response to a security problem is to encourage a coalition in which it does not participate.

U.S. Overseas Military Operations Since Desert Storm

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Plan Based on Tasks,
Not Threats

After fifty years of being able to easily identify the chief threat to the United States, the U.S. military may have to return to an older style of planning in which the world is full of dangers but no one knows where or how the U.S. military will get involved in combatting those dangers. The best way to plan in a world with unknown enemies is to identify the sorts of tasks that the military will be called upon to do, not to guess about the specifics of where and whom the military will be asked to fight.

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Give Continued Weight to Forward Presence

During the Cold War, U.S. forward presence was primarily for deterrence, with U.S. forces abroad at times acting as a trip wire that assured U.S. commitment to respond vigorously in the event of an attack. In the new environment, a continuing U.S. forward presence, albeit at a lower level, provides reassurance in Europe, East Asia, the Middle East, and Central America that regional stability remains important to the United States. A U.S. presence also deters regional powers from jockeying for positions of dominance. Forward presence also provides staging areas for operations elsewhere, which becomes more important as the U.S. is called upon to intervene in disasters that could break out anywhere in the world, including areas far removed from the usual theaters of U.S. military operations. This staging area role may create problems in those cases in which the host country does not see eye-to-eye with the U.S. about its intervention in some third country crises.

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Anticipate Declining Importance of Main
Battle Platforms

Classical military formations, with their planes, ships, and tanks, are no longer the sole pillars of military might. For the militaries of the advanced industrial countries, the integration of advanced weapons and communication/sensing systems--the military technological revolution--is increasingly the key to success in war. This has two effects. First, large battle platforms are becoming more vulnerable to precision-guided munitions. Second, weapons are getting smaller, so they can be carried on smaller platforms. In less technologically advanced nations, success in limited warfare against major powers may be possible through deployment of "silver-bullet" weapons systems that can accomplish one particular task well (for example, brilliant mines for blocking straits or portable anti-aircraft weapons). With the proliferation of weapons of mass destruction, dispersion of forces becomes more attractive relative to concentrations of main battle platforms.

U.S. Military Personnel in Foreign Areas, FY 1988-93 chart Top of Section

Adjust to a World of
WMD Proliferation

Every effort must be made to prevent the proliferation of weapons of mass destruction. Experience in the Indian subcontinent indicates, however, that nations will sometimes acquire such weapons despite U.S. efforts. Counterproliferation policies are needed to deal with these contingencies. Anti-tactical ballistic missile systems, for example, will be needed to protect U.S. forward deployed forces and allied nations. New tactics, with an emphasis on dispersion of forces, will be needed. And new confidence-building measures to stabilize regions affected by proliferation will become important.

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Consider What are the
Most Appropriate Command Structures

The trend in the U.S. military has been towards more power for the unified CINCs. However, new information and communications technologies are shifting power to those with the most powerful computers and most effective sensors. Depending on how the new technologies are introduced, national level commanders in Washington could be tightly linked to the constituent elements of the unified command, thus affecting the CINCs' role. At the same time, the punch packed by the individual soldier is increasing, eroding the role of field commanders and resulting in flatter command and control structures. The fluidity of the political scene also complicates the formation of stable command divisions, because crises may flow across the areas of responsibility fixed during the Cold War.

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Avoid Further Reductions
in the Defense Budget

It will be impossible to meet all four military missions and deal with the other changes discussed above if current trends in budget cuts continue. By the end of the decade, defense spending is projected to fall to the lowest level relative to national income since 1950, and military personnel to the lowest level since 1939. In the short term, it is possible to maintain readiness by cutting force structure and reducing investment in research and procurement, especially because the U.S. has such a large inventory of advanced weaponry. However, if this trend continues, the United States will be forced to make a clear choice. Either it will have to skimp on research, development, and procurement of new weapons systems and risk being unready for a major peer competitor several decades from now. Or it will be forced to abandon its two major regional conflict strategy due to cuts in current force structure and reduced readiness. It will also have to reduce its current operations other than war and risk abandoning peace operations. These are choices no U.S. administration should be forced to make.

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1. We use the term "policy" to mean a course of action selected from among alternatives. We do not use the term in the sense favored by many military analysts, namely, a high-level overall plan embracing the government's general goals and procedures. We use the term "strategic" in a broad sense, relating to the government's overall aims.

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