Herbert London: Defense Reality And Mythology

Oct 18, 2017

Tocsin is in the air. The North Korean representative to the U.N. said President Trump’s recent speech was tantamount to a declaration to war. While this kind of verbal saber-rattling has occurred in the past, it is worth asking whether U.S. forces have the technological superiority to thwart any potential foe and the nuclear superiority to deter a “first strike.”

While the U.S. still enjoys some technological advantages over potential adversaries, that advantage is declining at a rapid rate. An American Enterprise Institute study noted that “The diffusion of advanced military technology and the means to manufacture it have accelerated. Capabilities in which the United States once enjoyed a monopoly (e.g. precision munitions and unmanned systems) have now proliferated…to virtually all U.S. adversaries in short order; Nations such as China and Russia have made concerted efforts to out pace and counter the military – technological advancements of the United States.”

While AEI study is not dispositive and several military officials have criticized the conclusion, no one disputes the fact that U.S. superiority is being challenged. Similarly, the once dominant nuclear arsenal of the U.S. is in descent. At the 2009 new Start Treaty meeting, President Barak Obama traded away U.S. nuclear superiority in what was a high risk experiment in unilateral disarmament. This decision was in keeping with his adolescent dream of a world without nuclear weapons.

However, President Obama made his decision without the consent of Congress or any consultation with the American public. Since the 2009 Start Treaty, Russia has tested several new mobile ICBM’s such as the SS-25 and the RS26, in violation of the treaty, but the Obama administration chose to ignore the violations. Moreover, the Chinese buildup of its Theater Strategic Rocket Force is a matter of concern, but the magnitude of the problem is concealed by the secrecy of stockpiling. Added to this equation is the growing nuclear arsenal of North Korea and Iran, both basically allied in targeting the U.S. with its fledging nuclear weapons.

Despite the fact military assessments invariably refer to the strength of U.S. armed forces, training budgets are at alarmingly low levels. One plausible explanation for the naval accidents in Asia is congestion in the Straits of Malacca and the lack of adequate training for naval officers in the region. Moreover, conventional war may be a condition of the past. It is conceivable that cyber warfare is in our future which could lead to a breakdown of the American economy.

The national security strategy for the U.S. has a range of capabilities including being militarily equipped to fight a two front war. But the alliance between China and Russia militates against this strategic position. According to the U.S. National Intelligence Council, “Asia will have surpassed North America and Europe combined in terms of global power based upon GDP, population size, military spending and technological investment.” That statement alone should alarm Americans.

Our capabilities are sliding, while potential adversaries are ascending. President Trump said as much and seemingly understands this issue. Yet all the bluster about military affairs cannot undo the damage of a previous administration devoted to stasis or diminishing U.S. capability. An increased defense budget may be necessary, but it will be years before U.S. gains unequivocal superiority on the military front it once had.

There isn’t any substitution for a hard-headed assessment of our assets based on facts as they are, not as what we would like them to be. So far, we are still captivated by illusions and these illusions have created a precarious military profile for a world in disarray.

Originally published in: TheHill.com.  

Herbert London is President of the London Center for Policy Research,  a senior fellow at the Manhattan Institute and author of the book The Transformational Decade (University Press of America). You can read all of Herb London’s commentaries at


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