If the United States hopes to preserve its vital security interests at home and abroad beyond the near term, it will almost certainly find itself relying more on allies than it does at present. Equally important, it will rely on allies for substantially different kinds of military capability and basing support, and a different division of military missions than exists today. Several trends argue strongly for such a conclusion:
- The world does not appear to be evolving along the path to cooperative security, but rather, is reverting to more traditional great power politics. Put another way, we seem to be witnessing a reversal of the sharp decline in competition among the great powers that followed the Soviet Union’s collapse.
- The United States’ unipolar moment is already fading, and this trend will very likely continue. Over the next few decades, if economic trends persist, several great regional powers, to include China and India, will likely emerge. Russia is attempting to recover to great regional power status. With economic might comes military potential. Current regional powers, such as Germany and Japan, show signs of returning, over time, to less self-restrictive—and perhaps more independent—security postures. In short, the world will likely become increasingly multipolar in terms of power distribution, with Asia likely displacing Europe as the region of greater economic strength and military potential. As it does, the United States will have to rely more on its allies to maintain favorable military balances in key regions, and in key areas (e.g., space, the infosphere). At the same time, absent the overarching (and unifying) Soviet threat that characterized the Cold War era, America will find itself relying increasingly on “ad hoc coalitions” or “coalitions of the willing” to support its efforts at maintaining its global position. Put another way, allies are not likely to be as reliable as they once were, nor alliances as durable.
- To be sure, it is unlikely that any of these putative great regional powers will be able to match America’s military might directly. However, this may not be necessary to undermine the current favorable balances the United States enjoys in key regions around the world. There are several reasons for this:
- Great regional powers will be able to focus the bulk of their military effort within their region, optimizing their forces for operations in that environment. The United States, on the other hand, as a global power, must diffuse its military capability over multiple regions.
- Proliferation of weapons of mass destruction—nuclear, chemical and biological weapons—and missile technology, as well as uncertainty with respect to the security of America’s rapidly growing information infrastructure against information warfare, will likely demand an increasing share of US defense resources for homeland defense. All things being equal, this will leave relatively less military capability available for forward presence and power-projection operations, at the very time that great regional powers are on the rise.
- Great regional powers may ally themselves in a counter coalition that would dwarf not only the rogue state threats posed to the United States today, but even the challenge presented by Soviet Union during the Cold War.
- A military revolution now under way promises to change traditional (nonnuclear) warfare on a scale not seen since the period between the two world wars. Typically such revolutions produce a substantial decline in the value of certain defense systems. The United States, with by far the world’s largest inventory of military capital stock, stands to lose most from this phenomenon.
- Moreover, the military revolution will change the character of military competitions, and will likely present new challenges to the United States that will require its allies to shoulder a greater share of the defense burden. For example, US power-projection operations will become more difficult to execute as even second-rank military powers develop and deploy anti-access, or area/theater denial capabilities, putting fixed, forward bases (and perhaps maritime forces in the littoral) at high risk of destruction. Meeting this challenge to regional military balances will require the United States to transform both its power-projection forces and its global basing structure.