Not your father’s military

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Not your father’s military

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Oh Young-hwan

The year 2014 marks the first year the United States has escaped from its 13-year tunnel of warfare. It ended combat operations in Afghanistan and its forces left Iraq at the end of 2011. Come to think of it, the Sept. 11, 2001 terrorist attack, the trigger of both wars, was a turning point for this century. The attacks have reshaped the world.

The U.S.-led war against terrorism became the spirit of our time and it was also the symbol of the United States as a superpower. The world was divided between supporters of the United States and non-supporters. The war in Afghanistan was a case in which the 19th century met the 21st. The war against Iraq demonstrated the essence of modern warfare led by precision strikes.

And yet, the two wars also changed the United States. It took only a short time for U.S. troops to score victories against the Taliban and Saddam Hussein’s regime, but then they found themselves sinking into the mire. A highly incomplete democracy was implanted in Iraq. The Arab Spring sprang up in other places. The balance of power in the Middle East was upended and anti-American Iran rose to become the leading power. The impact of China’s rise, of course, is also strong.

The 13-year-long tunnel of military campaigns, the longest in the history of the United States, proved to be the collapse of U.S. hegemony. It has lost many dollars, power and authority while it gained public pessimism toward foreign adventures. According to the Center for Defense Information, the two wars cost $1.49 trillion. A Harvard University study showed that the cost may reach $6 trillion when medical treatments and compensation for war veterans are included.

The state coffers will empty out and the fiscal fundamentalism has inevitably gained power as we can see with the Republican Tea Party. The budget sequestration was a by-product. Meanwhile, a survey by the Pew Research Center showed that 53 percent of Americans were apathetic about the U.S. role as a global leader, and that figure is the lowest in the past 40 years.

The United States probably has no real ability to intervene in Ukraine and the Middle East, not that it doesn’t want to. In the geopolitical realm as well, we see a “tapering” of the United States.

The Barack Obama administration recently presented a new military strategy and defense reform plan after 13 years of wars. The Quadrennial Defense Review clearly showed the zeal for reductions in an era of austerity.

Since fiscal 2012, the U.S. defense budget was cut $487 billion over the coming 10 years under the Budget Control Act. With budget sequestration, an additional $50 billion in the defense budget had to be cut annually starting next year.

Troop cuts are unavoidable. Ground forces will be reduced from 520,000 to up to 450,000, the lowest since 1940. If there is a war, it will likely be similar to the Gulf War waged by the first Bush administration, not the Iraq War waged by his son.

The capabilities reduction also bring about changes in global strategy. Four years ago, the U.S. managed to maintain a strategy to fight two major ground wars simultaneously. The Pentagon abandoned that strategy and reshaped it so that it can handle one large war and a short-term stabilizing operation, while it can also deny the success for an enemy in a second region.

The strategy of winning two victories simultaneously in Northeast Asia and the Gulf region has ended. The strategy is about a victory in one region and deterrence in another. It is about making a choice and concentrating capabilities. Observers said it is the biggest military strategy change since the deployment of nuclear weapons.

The United States will probably intervene in a conflict only when it becomes a grave matter of its own life and death, and a plan to strengthen its alliances is a natural outcome of that evolution. Through alliances, it intends to complement the capabilities vacuum.

The report called the partnership with allied countries a lifeline and mentioned a new paradigm for the stationing of troops. Reinforcing alliances and specialization of missions will likely accelerate. The U.S. desire for improved Korea-Japan relations jibes with its military strategy of reduction.

The defense reform of the Obama administration is also interlocked with the defense reform of the Park Geun-hye administration. Seoul also recently announced a reform plan. Army troops will be cut from 490,000 to 380,000. U.S. forces in Korea will more likely have a stronger role as rotating troops rather than a stationary fixture.

Under a new situation in which U.S. reinforcements will not be as easy as in the past, the cut of Korea’s troops can become a new challenge to national security. Even if the U.S. handover of wartime operational control to Korea is delayed again, the situation will still be altered. There will be a price and the Korea-U.S. Combined Forces Command will be operated differently, and U.S. capabilities will be reduced.

But we still have a strong dependence on the United States, believing that all we need is American forces with wartime operational control. This infantile psychology is an obstacle to developing alliances and building a stronger military.

The walls between the Army, Navy and Air Force are still high. Improving their joint capabilities and integrating functions are the “creative economy” of an era of austerity. Urging internal reform is the mission of the Korean military in order to build a foundation for unification.

JoongAng Ilbo, March 14, Page 28

Translation by the Korea JoongAng Daily staff.

*The author is an editorial writer of the JoongAng Ilbo.

BY Oh Young-hwan

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