American defense reality doesn't match our accepted mythology

American defense reality doesn't match our accepted mythology
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Tocsin is in the air. The North Korean representative to the U.N. said President Trump’s recent speech was tantamount to a declaration of 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. A 2014 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 some military officials have criticized that 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 2010 new Start Treaty meeting, President Barack ObamaBarack Hussein ObamaObama in Kenya for launch of sister’s sports center Get ready for summit with no agenda and calculated risks US envoy to Russia: 'Highly unlikely' that Trump will recognize Russia annexation of Crimea MORE 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 prior to the consent of the Senate and without any consultation with the American public.

Since then, Russia has tested several new intercontinental ballistic missiles such as the RS-26, in violation of our treaties. 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 fledgling 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, “By 2030, 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.

Herbert London is the president of the London Center for Policy Research, which conducts research on the key policy issues of our time: national security, energy, and risk analysis. He formerly served on the Board of Governors at St. John’s College and the Board of Overseers at the Center for Naval Analyses.