Skip to Main Content
Have library access? Log in through your library
Research Report

To Rebuild America’s Military

Copyright Date: Oct. 1, 2015
Pages: 87
  • Cite this Item

Table of Contents

  1. (pp. 3-5)

    The United States must rebuild its military forces. In the generation since the fall of the Berlin Wall, America has demanded that those in uniform “do more with less.” The government has spent an ever-shrinking slice of our national wealth on military power: the defense budget represented 4.5 percent of gross domestic product (GDP) in 1991, is now under 3 percent, and, thanks to the limits set in the 2011 Budget Control Act (BCA), is set to shrink to 2.6 percent in 2019. There are fewer men and woman on active-duty service, too—about 1.4 million versus 2 million in...

  2. (pp. 6-7)

    What are the purposes of US military power? The inability to articulate a straightforward answer to this essential question has confounded the Defense Department since the end of the Cold War. Failing to define clear benchmarks for geopolitical success, the various formal military strategies adopted by administrations of both parties have not provided a consistent basis for defense planning, and thus the United States has suffered from repeated strategic surprises: China’s challenge to the peace of the western Pacific; Russia’s revanche in Europe; and, most of all, the breakdown of order in the Middle East. Rather than actively shaping the...

  3. (pp. 8-12)

    The United States never has been an “isolationist” power. Though we live at an oceanic remove from Eurasia’s wars, we have always understood that the balance of power there—whether the threat came from Habsburg Spain, Bourbon or Napoleonic France, Wilhemine or Hitlerite Germany, Russia’s czars or Soviet premiers, or Japanese emperors—framed our security here.

    America has not always been strong. The Founders understood only too well how their experiment in self-government hung precariously between France and Britain. When the British government threatened to intervene in the American Civil War, Secretary of State William Seward believed it would consolidate...

  4. (pp. 13-23)

    US military forces will have to be resized, restructured, and correctly repostured to give future presidents the means necessary to carry out the strategy outlined. To begin with, today’s military is too small and is losing its traditional technological advantages. Second, the individual services have become in some respects too dependent on one another—losing service capabilities developed by and for a single service that for some contingencies result in the less efficient use of US forces. Finally, the Obama administration has overseen and accelerated the final stages of a global retrenchment, with the American military increasingly stationed in the...

  5. (pp. 24-40)

    In 1961, responding to the management directives of the new secretary of defense, Robert McNamara, RAND political scientists Alain Enthoven and K. V. Smith in a famous report addressed the quintessential question of Cold War defense planning: How Much Is Enough?16 Indeed, since the United States became a global power at the end of the 19th century, the prime directive for American security strategy is to have sufficient military capacity to achieve its geopolitical purposes.

    Since the end of the Cold War, US defense planners have strayed ever further from this first-order enquiry. Absent the Soviet Union, whose military provided...

  6. (pp. 41-62)

    Even as the size of America’s military has been deeply cut over the past generation, so too have the US armed forces lost the tremendous technological advantages they once enjoyed. If the 1991 Gulf War revealed the superiority conveyed by the many investments of the Reagan years, so may the next war demonstrate the consequences of the failures to substantially modernize the force since then.

    Just as the traditional strategy and the three-theater force posture advocated in this report will require a significant expansion of the current US military, it will equally require accelerating the pace of current procurements, rapid...

  7. (pp. 63-70)

    Rebuilding the capacity and capability of America’s military to a three-theater standard will require substantial sustained reinvestment. To understand the scope of this challenge, it is crucial to understand that the problems of today originated years ago. As devastating as the cuts of the early Obama years and the Budget Control Act of 2011 have been for the military, the current predicament the Pentagon finds itself in is a product of three successive US administrations. The hole is so deep because we have been digging it for more than 20 years.

    In President Bill Clinton’s first term, more than $160...

  8. (pp. 71-75)

    Because the need to rebuild the US military is so urgent and so great, the Department of Defense cannot afford to waste a single dollar. Further, to sustain the long-term build-up needed to accomplish this task, the Pentagon must demonstrate that it is a good steward of taxpayer money. Thus the project of rearmament depends, in large measure, on a complementary project of reform—one that should begin by reversing the failed reforms of the past. Indeed the Pentagon is facing a host of obstacles that extend well beyond declining budgets, cuts in force structure, and readiness shortfalls. Three of...

  9. (pp. 76-77)

    It has been the purpose of this report to set out the military missions, force requirements, reforms, and price necessary to sustain American geopolitical leadership and the general global stability, broadly shared prosperity, and remarkable liberty that leadership has secured since the end of World War II. We believe that this “world America made,” as Robert Kagan calls it, is a very valuable thing. It behooves us to keep it.

    The cost of keeping it, as this study should make plain, is significant. What we recommend here is a comprehensive and undoubtedly long-term program of rearmament. We cannot quickly make...