The New York Analysis of Policy and Government examines the Heritage Foundation’s authoritative study of military threats to the U.S., and the ability of the Pentagon to respond to them, in this three-part series.
The authoritative Heritage Foundation has completed a thorough review of the United States’ military posture in a comprehensive study entitled the 2018 Index of Military Strength. Overall, America’s defense posture is rated “marginal” and is trending toward “weak.”
The study concludes that the current U.S. military force is likely capable of meeting the demands of a single major regional conflict while also attending to various presence and engagement activities, but that it would be very hard-pressed to do more and certainly would be ill-equipped to handle two nearly simultaneous major regional contingencies.
Budget cuts and budget uncertainty have forced the Pentagon to field a small, aging, and overworked force. According to Heritage, “Essential maintenance continues to be deferred; the availability of fewer units for operational deployments increases the frequency and length of deployments; and old equipment continues to be extended while programmed replacements are either delayed or beset by developmental difficulties. The military services have continued to prioritize readiness for current operations by shifting funding to deployed or soon-to-deploy units while sacrificing the ability to keep non-deployed units in “ready” condition; delaying, reducing, extending, or canceling modernization programs; and sustaining the reduction in size and number of military units. While Congress and the new Administration have taken some positive steps to fund readiness in 2017 more robustly, they have not overturned the Budget Control Act that caps defense spending. Without a real commitment to increases in modernization, capacity, and readiness accounts over the next few years, America’s military branches will continue to be strained to meet the missions they are called upon to fulfill. As currently postured, the U.S. military is only marginally able to meet the demands of defending America’s vital national interests.”
While the U.S. was slashing defense spending during the Obama Administration, Russia, China, North Korea, and Iran were moving rapidly ahead and dramatically enhancing their own capabilities. Heritage notes:
Russia, China, Iran, North Korea, and terrorist groups in the Middle East and Afghanistan—remained actual or potential threats to U.S. interests over the past year. All amply demonstrated a commitment to expanding their capabilities to pursue their respective interests that directly challenged those of the U.S. All also continued or increased their aggressive behavior when compared to the 2016 Index.
Worryingly, all of the six noted threat actors now rank “high” on the scale of threats to U.S. interests, with Russia coming close to being elevated to “severe” from its past score of “high.”
Russia and China continue to be the most worrisome, both because of the ongoing modernization and expansion of their offensive military capabilities and because of the more enduring effect they are having within their respective regions. Russia has maintained its active involvement in the conflict in Ukraine, has been more assertive in the Baltic Sea region, and has continued to insert itself into the Syrian conflict. China’s provocative behavior continues to include militarization of islands that it has built in highly disputed international waters of the South China Sea. China also continues its aggressive naval tactics to intimidate such neighboring countries as Japan and the Philippines and continues to bully other countries that try to exercise their right to navigate international waters in the region.
North Korea has executed an alarming number of missile tests: 18 as of early August 2017 compared to 21 for all of 2016. These tests have demonstrated the commitment of Kim Jong-un’s regime to fielding a force of shortrange, medium-range, and long-range ballistic, cruise, and submarine-launched missiles, presumably with the ability to carry nuclear warheads. The latest tests have hinted at North Korea’s ability to reach targets in the United States. These developments, combined with its increasingly hostile rhetoric toward the West over the past year, make North Korea the most volatile threat addressed in the Index.
Terrorism based in Afghanistan continues to challenge the stability of that country. To the extent that various groups based in the region straddling the border with Pakistan remain potent and active, they also remain a threat in being to the stability of Pakistan, which is a matter of concern given Pakistan’s status as a nuclear power and its sustained frictions with India, also a nuclear power.
In addition, Iran’s efforts to develop more advanced military capabilities and its active support of the various terrorist groups operating in the Middle East continue to undermine regional security conditions and therefore to threaten the regional interests of the U.S.
With these threats taken together, the globalized threat to U.S. vital national interests as a whole during 2017 remained “high.”
The Report continues tomorrow.