Cutting the Army to historic low troop levels: do we realize where this might lead?

Feb. 25, 2014
THE MIL & AERO BLOG, 25 Feb. 2014. A resurgent People's Republic of China is in the midst of a military buildup, terrorism is rampant through the Middle East, and Venezuela and the Ukraine are nearing civil war. In short, the world is as dangerous as it's ever been.
THE MIL & AERO BLOG, 25 Feb. 2014. A resurgent People's Republic of China is in the midst of a military buildup, terrorism is rampant through the Middle East, and Venezuela and the Ukraine are nearing civil war. In short, the world is as dangerous as it's ever been.

Some scholars point to an ominous number of political similarities in the world today to what was seen in the world of Pre World War II in the late 1930s. A nuclear-capable North Korea and a soon-to-be-nuclear-capable Iran today are less than reassuring.

So what is the United States government about to do? Reduce the U.S. Army to its lowest troop levels since 1940 before Pearl Harbor; eliminate the Army's Ground Combat Vehicle (GCV) program; retire all Air Force A-10 close-air-support aircraft; cut the size of the Marine Corps; and place half the Navy's cruiser fleet offline or in reduced operating status for upgrading.

Related: Defense industry left guessing as U.S. Army struggles forward with an unclear mission

In an already-dangerous world, President Obama and Defense Secretary Chuck Hagel have announced plans to reduce the nation's military forces to levels not seen in decades. Even Hagel admits the planned defense cuts will pose new national security risks for the U.S. in the future.

There are many reasons for these upcoming defense cuts, which have been piling on top of one another now for years. The current force is "larger than we can afford to modernize and keep ready," Hagel says. Others say it's time the U.S. stepped down from its role as World Policeman. Cutting defense, some say, will free up money for domestic programs.

Some people call this smart economics. I call it whistling past the graveyard.

Related: Is the government shutdown a harbinger of more ominous things to come?

History shows us time and again that weakness and hesitancy on the world stage encourages stunts that lead to instability and can result in far worse.

It was perceived lack of strength and unwillingness to step up to international threats on the part of Great Britain that helped lead not only to the start of World War II, but also the start of World War I a hundred years ago this summer. A power vacuum in the world creates opportunities that are impossible to resist for adversaries.

History tells us that prolonged periods of weakness on the part of world powers in any era leads to big changes. Sometimes change is good, I'll admit, but history's lessons tell us that these kinds of changes have a tendency to kill millions and rearrange the global power structure in a way that leaves millions of others vulnerable to exploitation.

I realize that I'll be condemned in some quarters for holding this kind of view. The U.S. has been on top of the heap now for more than half a century. Perhaps it's time for others to step up to world leadership roles. I can see the position that the United States has had its time in the sun, and it's time for a change. The results of the past two national elections show us that a growing number of our citizens might agree.

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For those of us who believe it's time for the U.S. to step off the world's stage, however, I have a question: Is this really what you want? Is this really in your own personal interest?

Before answering, consider what's at stake. Most people alive today have no experience with the U.S. as a secondary power subject to the will of others.

Think what we take for granted: a free and open Internet, inexpensive imports at Walmart, a say in human rights issues throughout the world, travel access to most countries in the world, affordable education, and the list goes on.

I'm not saying all those things will go away with the U.S. out of the spotlight, but are they guaranteed to continue in a reshuffling of world power? There are no guarantees. Maybe what we value will continue, but then again maybe not. By the time things started going bad, most likely it would be too late.

I fear that those whistling past the graveyard today are whistling an old familiar tune that's been heard many times before: The world's a changed place today; it'll be okay this time.

Before we rush headlong into a new world order, which a hollow U.S. military could usher in, let's take a look back at what we've enjoyed for so long, and at what might lie ahead.

About the Author

John Keller | Editor

John Keller is editor-in-chief of Military & Aerospace Electronics magazine, which provides extensive coverage and analysis of enabling electronic and optoelectronic technologies in military, space, and commercial aviation applications. A member of the Military & Aerospace Electronics staff since the magazine's founding in 1989, Mr. Keller took over as chief editor in 1995.

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