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Less is More: the Future of the United States Military

By Nicole Goetz In 2009, the U.S. Navy implemented ‘A global force for good’ as its new recruiting motto. At the time, the armed forces were in the midst of the Iraq and Afghanistan wars and were still continuing other smaller operations around the globe as part of the Global War on Terror. Since then, it seems that the entire U.S. armed forces has adapted the mantle of a global force for good as it continues operations in East Asia, South America, the Middle East, and the most recent addition: Africa with Operation United Assistance. However, in recent years it has become clear that the U.S. economy cannot maintain its global military ambitions.

Currently, the United States military has on-going operations in just about every continent and region of the world. However, this comes at a cost: the exhaustion of the American pocketbook. While it is true that no other country can compete with the U.S.’s military technology or with its budget, in reality, the U.S. cannot afford its own military.

In 2011, Congress passed a law saying that if they could not agree on a plan to reduce the country’s deficit by $4 trillion dollars, about $1 trillion in automatic, arbitrary, and comprehensive budget cuts would take place by 2013.[1] These cuts are better known as sequestration, and to the U.S. military, its very own nightmare. The official sequester period started on March 1st of 2013 and since then the U.S. military and Department of Defense have faced over $75 billion dollars in budget cuts.[2] Global force for good or otherwise, the U.S. military is shrinking faster than is its ability to adapt and adhere to the global demand of its services.

Despite these severe budget cuts that will reduce the army to its smallest size since 1940[3], the Department of Defense and Washington are not abandoning their operations abroad. Rather, the U.S. military will continue its operations around the world and attempt to allocate its resources and money more efficiently without losing its effectiveness.

John Arquilla, a professor of defense analysis at the Naval Postgraduate School, said that while an official ‘Obama Doctrine’ does not exist, he said that given current economic climate, “Obama’s doctrine is an ‘economy of force’.” Arquilla continued that the shift to a smaller and less expensive military is “very wise for our time…Doing more with less.”[4]

‘Do more with less’ has become the military’s unofficial slogan as it struggles to compensate for the funds lost. Unfortunately, the demands for the U.S. military have not diminished alongside its capacity. For example, combat operations in Afghanistan may have ended in December of 2014, but the U.S. military most likely will continue to maintain a strong presence there to avoid having a repeat of post-U.S. withdrawal Iraq. It will also continue its operations in Iraq as it continues to combat Islamic State of Iraq and the Levant (ISIL). In November of 2014, President Obama authorized the deployment of an additional 1,500 American troops to Iraq by spring of 2015.[5] This is in addition to the 10,800 troops already in Afghanistan.[6]

In Europe, the U.S. Air Force, alongside NATO, have increased flyovers over Eastern Europe to meet Russia’s intrusive Ukraine flyovers.[7] The U.S. has increased its naval presence in the Black Sea. Originally the U.S. warships entered the sea to deter terrorist threats and provide security and assistance for the 2014 Winter Olympics in Sochi, but its presence and need have been extended as stakes in the region have grown. The Black Sea region now permanently hosts about 500 U.S. troops.[8] The amount of U.S. and NATO troops in the region may increase in 2015 as President Putin just declared NATO as a chief threat to Russian security and claimed the right to use nuclear weapons to counter any aggression.[9]

On the other side of the globe, the U.S. Navy will increase its presence to deter North Korean aggression or possible attack on South Korea, an effort which includes 180 ships, including eight ballistic missile defense destroyers deployed to Japan and three of the U.S. Navy’s newest Zumwalt-class stealth destroyers.[10] The U.S. and South Korea also conducted joint-military exercises in the Korean peninsula recently as a way to display its power to North Korea. Currently, the Army has about 19,000 soldiers stationed in South Korea.[11] Other joint operations between the U.S. and other countries’ militaries will take place in the Pacific region throughout 2015. Some of these partnering countries include Thailand, the Philippines, Indonesia, and Malaysia.[12]

Then there are the smaller, but still prominent missions in Latin America and Africa. In its own hemisphere, the U.S. is continuing to deploy troops in Latin America to counter drug cartels and help train local government militias. In West Africa, Operation United Assistance is 4,000-strong, providing aid and support for the region in the fight against Ebola.[13] The demand for the U.S. military may go down in both regions as relations with Cuba improve and Guantanamo closes and as the need for assistance in combating the Ebola epidemic decreases.

These are just some of the major operations that the media covers. The U.S. military and Washington have dozens of more operations in its global counterterrorism and security efforts. While the need for U.S. troops fluctuates on a crisis to crisis basis, the demand for its service is not diminishing. Rather, one can argue that the demand for the U.S. military’s efforts and operations abroad are increasing as new threats, including terror, nuclear, and cyber, are continuing to materialize worldwide.

According to the 2015 budget proposal, the ‘global force for good’ will continue most of its operations with its $495.6 billion budget.[14] The key to the military’s success is better allocation of its funds. This includes many reforms such as: taking steps to slow the growth in military compensation and benefit costs, retire aging aircrafts and refurbish select naval assets for updates in weapons and platforms, and reforming infrastructure by cutting 20 percent in operating budgets for headquarters staff.[15] The purpose of the cuts is too redistribute funds to training and modernization efforts, but with such significant cuts comes major backlash. The budget cuts have caused major points of contention within the Department of Defense on the reallocation of available funds.

For now, the Department of Defense will move forward with its reforms. The size of the military will continue to shrink as a direct reflection of its budget, not its need. It will continue to be the ‘global force for good’ as it does ‘more with less.’ Meanwhile, President Obama has laid out two missions for the U.S. military: protecting the United States by doing things like aiding the fight against ISIS but also helping protect the rest of the world with humanitarian missions like Operation United Assistance.[16]

Overall, the U.S. has the world’s strongest military in terms of technology, troop quality, and leadership, but these factors alone cannot lead to complete success on the international stage. In a sense, the Department of Defense is a business and must allocate its funds efficiently and strategically to stay afloat and be successful. The current budget of the Department of Defense is adverse to its intentions—including extra money for any unexpected crises that may arise—for 2015. This new year will test the U.S. military’s ability to adapt and change as it continues its dual mission to defend and assist around the world.

[1] ”The Sequester,” The White House, accessed December 21, 2014, http://www.whitehouse.gov/issues/sequester.

[2] Nick Simeone, “Hagel Outlines Budget Reducing Troop Strength, Force Structure,” Department of Defense, 24 February 2014, accessed December 21, 2014, http://www.defense.gov/news/newsarticle.aspx?id=121703.

[3] Julie Kliegman, “Hagel says Congress responsible for defense cuts, not Obama,” Politifact, 5 March 2014, accessed December 20, 2014, http://www.politifact.com/truth-o-meter/statements/2014/mar/05/chuck-hagel/hagel-says-congress-responsible-defense-cuts-not-o/.

[4] Christopher Woolf, “‘Do more with less’ might the military’s unofficial motto,” Public Radio International, 18 September 2014, accessed December 19, 2014, http://www.pri.org/stories/2014-09-18/do-more-less-might-be-militarys-unofficial-motto.

[5] Helene Cooper and Michael D. Shear, “Obama to Send 1,500 More Troops to Assist Iraq,” New York Times, 7 November 2014, accessed 04 January 2015, http://www.nytimes.com/2014/11/08/world/middleeast/us-to-send-1500-more-troops-to-iraq.html?_r=0.

[6] “2015 deployments: Back to Europe, Iraq, and other hotspots,” The Army Times, 28 December 2014, accessed 05 January 2015, http://www.armytimes.com/story/military/2014/12/27/army-deployments-2015/20861125/.

[7] John Vandiver, “NATO to bolster troop presence in eastern Europe,” Stars and Stripes, 05 September 2014, accessed 06 January 2015, http://www.stripes.com/news/europe/nato-to-bolster-troop-presence-in-eastern-europe-1.301643.

[8] Richard Weitz, “After Ukraine, Black Sea Becomes Contested Zone for Russia, NATO,” World Politics Review, 02 December 2014, accessed 06 January 2014, http://www.worldpoliticsreview.com/articles/14556/after-ukraine-black-sea-becomes-contested-zone-for-russia-nato.

[9] Carol J. Williams, “Russia revises military doctrine to name NATO as chief threat,” LA Times, 26 December 2014, accessed 05 January 2015, http://www.latimes.com/world/europe/la-fg-russia-military-doctrine-nato-20141226-story.html.

[10] Dennis Lynch, “U.S. Navy warns of ‘provocative actions’ from North Korea, plans to increase Pacific naval presence,” International Business Times, 09 December 2014, accessed 19 December 2014, http://www.ibtimes.com/us-navy-warns-provocative-actions-north-korea-plans-increase-pacific-naval-presence-1745047.

[11] “2015 deployments: Back to Europe, Iraq, and other hotspots,” The Army Times, 28 December 2014, accessed 05 January 2015, http://www.armytimes.com/story/military/2014/12/27/army-deployments-2015/20861125/.

[12] Ibid.

[13] “DoD Helps Fight Ebola in West Africa: Operation United Assistance,” accessed 25 December 2014, http://www.defense.gov/home/features/2014/1014_ebola/

[14] “DoD Releases Fiscal 2015 Budget Proposal and 2014 QDR,” U.S. Department of Defense, 04 march 2014, accessed 25 December 2014, http://www.defense.gov/releases/release.aspx?releaseid=16567.

[15] “Fiscal Year 2015: Budget of the U.S. Government,” The White House, accessed 19 December 2014, http://www.whitehouse.gov/sites/default/files/omb/budget/fy2015/assets/budget.pdf, pg. 57.

[16] Christopher Woolf, “‘Do more with less’ might the military’s unofficial motto,” Public Radio International, 18 September 2014, accessed December 19, 2014, http://www.pri.org/stories/2014-09-18/do-more-less-might-be-militarys-unofficial-motto.

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