A blue-ribbon panel of bipartisan national security experts is warning Congress that there should be no peace dividend after the wars in Iraq and Afghanistan wind down, because U.S. naval and air forces will have to grow in light of China and North Korea.
The panel, mandated by Congress to assess the Pentagon’s 2010 Quadrennial Defense Review, appears to endorse Obama administration efforts for the current growth of forces, like the U.S. Army and Marines, for operations in Iraq and Afghanistan. Panel leaders also praised Defense Secretary Robert Gates’ reform efforts like his $101 billion, five-year austerity plan.
But the panel suggests that the reform efforts will not be enough monetarily, and naval and aerial forces like the ship fleet and long-range strike capabilities will need even more investment, if for no other reason than to help ameliorate Asian allies and ward off confrontation with China or North Korea. In particular, the panel reached back to the 1990s to resubmit a proposal for 346 ships or more, including 11 aircraft carriers, 55 attack submarines and four guided missile subs, while also advocating 180 Air Force bombers and eight wings of up to 380 aircraft devoted to intelligence, surveillance and reconnaissance.
The panel's cochairmen, former Clinton administration defense chief William Perry and former Bush administration national security councilor Stephen Hadley, admit that their spirited band of reviewers did not have the wherewithal to conduct a proper force posture review like the Pentagon does regularly. But, in a reference to the Soviet adage that quantity has a quality all of its own, the panel criticizes the decades-old drive to replace larger fleets of ships and aircraft with smaller fleets of more-powerful units. "We are concerned that, beyond a certain point, quality cannot substitute for quantity.”
Perry told House Armed Services Committee yesterday that he seriously doubts the U.S. will go to war with China, and he added that it would be a monumental failure of diplomacy if it happened - seemingly lending a hand to the administration's global outreach efforts. But he and Hadley both stressed that allies want the U.S. to engage China across the Pacific, and credible engagement only comes if it is backed by a substantial military force.
Not surprisingly, HASC ranking Republican Buck McKeon quickly jumped on the notion to reiterate "peace through strength," the Reagan adage for dealing with the Soviets. Everything old is new again.