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Stars and Stripes July 13, 2009

Analyst: U.S. military advantages disappearing

By Geoff Ziezulewicz

American military dominance is eroding in the face of an ascendant Chinese power, hostile states like Iran and the spread of sophisticated weapons and technology to militant groups, and the Pentagon must reassess its long-term strategy, according to a top defense analyst recently appointed to review Defense Department policy.

In a Foreign Affairs journal piece published this month, titled "The Pentagon’s Wasting Assets," Andrew Krepinevich argues that the Pentagon needs to better prepare for this new world order by rethinking U.S. global advantages largely taken for granted since the end of the Cold War.

"Wasting assets" is a defense term for when traditional ways of projecting power become obsolete.

Krepinevich was recently appointed to Defense Secretary Robert Gates’ Defense Policy Board, a panel tasked with reviewing Pentagon strategy. The group of Pentagon outsiders serves as an independent advisory panel for Defense Department leadership.

"His credentials as a defense analyst and innovative military thinker are widely recognized, including by Secretary Gates," Pentagon spokesman Geoff Morrell wrote in an e-mail to Stars and Stripes.

Krepinevich also wrote "7 Deadly Scenarios," a book published this year looking at security nightmares like the political implosion of Pakistan or a worldwide cyberattack, and whether the U.S. government is ready. Morrell said Gates asked Krepinevich to join the policy board after reading the book.

The U.S. has enjoyed an "overwhelming advantage" in technology and resources in recent decades that made it easy to project power worldwide, according to Krepinevich. "U.S. grand strategy assumes that such advantages will continue indefinitely," he wrote. "In fact, they are already starting to disappear."

Krepinevich is president of the Center for Strategic and Budgetary Assessments, an independent think tank that promotes new thinking on defense planning and investment strategies, and also served as a consultant to numerous defense secretaries.

In the Foreign Affairs article, he points to the massive 2002 Millennium Challenge war game to showcase how powerless the U.S. military could be against enemies it does not foresee.

In that war game, U.S. forces engaged "an ‘unnamed Persian Gulf military’ meant to be a stand-in for Iran," Krepinevich writes. "The ‘Iranian’ forces … successfully countered the U.S. forces at every turn," he writes. "The U.S. fleet that steamed into the Persian Gulf found itself subjected to a surprise attack by swarms of Iranian suicide vessels and anti-ship cruise missiles. Well over half the U.S. ships were sunk or put out of action."

Eventually a "do-over" was ordered, and the game "proceeded to a much more agreeable conclusion," Krepinevich wrote.

Krepinevich argues that "nonstate" groups also pose a greater threat than once thought.

For example, the 2006 Israel-Hezbollah war in Lebanon showed the potential for such groups to field advanced weaponry, and there’s no reason not to think the diffusion of guided mortars and cruise missiles to insurgent groups won’t continue, Krepinevich said in a telephone interview Friday.

Hezbollah fired more than 4,000 rockets at Israeli targets during that war, destroying numerous tanks and hitting an Israeli warship, according to Krepinevich.

"There are already guided mortars evidently widely available in the international arms market," he said.

Large bases in Iraq and Afghanistan could become vulnerable to insurgents using missiles that can be fired with a range and accuracy the U.S. would have a hard time defending, he warned.

Furthermore, Pacific air bases on Okinawa and Guam will become increasingly vulnerable to Chinese ballistic missiles, he said, and the Chinese will likely increase their precision capabilities in the future.

U.S. dominance of information technology also will be challenged in coming years: China has already demonstrated the ability to shoot down some satellites and could one day threaten the Global Positioning System, according to Krepinevich.

"I don’t think the Chinese would set out to go to war," he said. "I do think by their actions they are setting out to at least bring about a change to the power balance in that part of the world."

While he doesn’t agree with every detail of Krepinevich’s report, Michael O’Hanlon, a national security analyst at the Brookings Institution, said in an e-mail that a "richer and fuller" debate needs to be had about "the growing vulnerability of things we’ve assumed to be invulnerable for decades."

"I’m not as pessimistic as Andy and don’t agree with him on every suggestion, but he is right to push the issue and raise the warning flags," O’Hanlon wrote.

Others disagreed with Krepinevich’s assertions.

John Pike, who heads Globalsecurity.org, a defense information clearinghouse, called the article "a real knee-slapper."

Krepinevich’s article contains too many vagaries and doesn’t take into account the true level of the U.S. military’s technological advantages in the world, Pike said.

"America’s military today is bigger than the rest of the planet combined," Pike said. "The preponderance of military power the U.S. has today is without precedent."

Krepinevich proposes a variety of solutions to this strategic fork in the road, including emphasis on certain emerging technologies, dropping overpriced weapons systems and continuing to field and train indigenous forces in war zones, among other prescriptions.

A strategy to change things won’t come about overnight, Krepinevich notes, but it must come.

"A decline in the U.S. military’s ability to influence events abroad may be inevitable," he writes. "However, it should not be the result of indifference or lack of attention."

Copyright 2009, Stars and Stripes