You Can't Always Get What You Want

A variety of overseas operations are burdening the U.S. military and hindering its effectiveness. It’s time to bring our commitments in line with our capabilities.

The U.S. military posture after the Cold War, and especially after 9/11, has been based on a grand strategy that is no longer sustainable militarily or politically. Current U.S. force posture and basing decisions reflect thinking that is wedded to the current short-term threat, without factoring in longer-term challenges and force requirements, especially in Asia. The current focus on terrorism is too narrow: It fails to consider emerging geostrategic threats and power shifts. It is debatable whether the U.S. is in fact capable of delivering sufficient forces where needed, especially considering our new area of security commitments due to NATO expansion, our new base footprint in Central Asia, the Middle East and increasingly in Africa, and the ongoing wars in Afghanistan and Iraq. U.S. deployments in Europe are also becoming harder to maintain given troop shortages.

If a dramatic increase in the size of the military to match our expansive grand strategy is not in the cards, we must consider reducing the scope of the country's global security commitments and jettisoning post-Cold War assumptions about the need to accelerate transitions to democracy in critical regions of the world. American resources should be refocused on a lower-cost security strategy based on support for regime legitimacy as the path to regional stability, irrespective of whether legitimacy is based on democratic franchise, nationalism, or simply a regime's ability to control its territory. Moving away from "democratic universalism" in favor of a national interest-driven realist paradigm is the best way to limit the scope of our global military commitments and to make them sustainable.



Andrew A. Michta is professor of national security studies at the George C. Marshall European Center for Security in Germany. He will expand on this topic in a forthcoming issue of The National Interest. The views expressed in this article are those of the author and do not necessarily reflect the official policy or position of the George C. Marshall European Center for Security Studies, the Department of Defense, or the U.S. Government.


1 The projected 2012 troop numbers are based in part on those given by Secretary of Defense Robert Gates while speaking at a joint press conference with Secretary Condoleezza Rice and General Peter Pace at the White House Conference Center Briefing Room, Washington, D.C., January 11, 2007.