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World View: The 1997 Strategic Assessment from the Strategic Studies Institute

Edited by Dr. Earl H. Tilford Jr.. | January 1997

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The Army and Society.

Each January the analysts at the Strategic Studies Institute (SSI), U.S. Army War College, assess domestic and global trends for the year ahead and beyond as part of a process for devising a strategic context that may be used by Army planners and other policymakers. At this writing, the Army's approach to the future, along with that of the other services, confront the ongoing Quadrennial Defense Review (QDR), the outcome of which may establish entirely new directions. The global strategic assessments reached by SSI analysts, when considered in conjunction with the roles and missions the Army leadership proposes for the future, will shape SSI's study plan and focus the efforts of our Strategic Outreach Program.

The Army of the 21st century, from Force XXI through Army XXI to the Army After Next, will still be America's Army. Both the Department of Defense (DoD) and the U.S. Army will be defined, perhaps redefined, within the context of the domestic and strategic environment. The domestic environment will be largely determined by three general trends: perception of threats, declining defense budgets, and ever heightened expectations for technology. These will be linked, inexorably, to the strategic landscape where a multipolar world produces a proliferation of threats without giving rise to a significant peer competitor.

Army XXI will emerge from Force XXI at around the year 2000. While it truly will be an Information Age, digitized Army, it will not be radically different from the Army of today.

By the end of the first decade of the 21st century, Army XXI will be nearing obsolescence in terms of weapons and equipment designed in the 1980s and 1990s. Decisions made before the turn of the century, some as a part of this year's QDR process, will determine the shape of the Army After Next, the force that will begin to evolve after 2010.

On the foreseeable strategic landscape, there seems very little possibility of a global war involving the United States or its allies. That does not, however, preclude the possibility of a regional war of considerable intensity. The strategic international environment, however, is likely to remain unsettled through the decade and the armed forces of the United States will remain engaged throughout the world. Even though it is highly unlikely that the United States will find itself threatened by a true global peer competitor, Russia, China, Japan and possibly India have the potential to become regional peer competitors and might very well threaten each other or their neighbors. The possibility of war with Iran, Iraq, or North Korea cannot be discounted. Before the year 2000 each of these nations will have missiles that can deliver chemical, biological, and quite possibly nuclear weapons, over great distances. While a war with any one of these countries would not be "major" in the classical sense, war with two or more of them would be quite challenging and the outcome might be problematic, especially if U.S. armed forces contract further or fail to attain key mobility and modernizatin objectives.

Russia's continuing descent into economic and political chaos will keep it from posing a major conventional military threat beyond its immediate borders. On the other hand, there are many nuclear weapons in Russia and, given the country's current state of quasi-anarchy, the kind of threat these weapons pose cannot be reliably deterred by traditional nuclear strategies. The Russian armed forces are, and will likely remain, virtually incapable of conducting sustained military operations on even a small scale. Russia's nuclear arsenal, however, is robust. Furthermore, it is not clear the degree to which these forces are under the command and control of responsible civilian and military authorities.

In Eastern Europe there are two important strategic issues. The first issue is threefold in nature: which countries are admitted to NATO, how Russia accomodates NATO enlargement, and what happens with those nations who are not among the first to be admitted. Poland, Hungary, the Czech Republic, and quite possibly Slovenia will be accepted into NATO by the end of the century. Economic problems, a lack of sufficient progress toward democratic reforms, and various political and cultural issues complicate the question for other nations in Eastern Europe.

The second strategically important issue for Eastern Europe that could affect all of Europe and Russia is how the situation in Bosnia finally resolves. NATO, Russian, and other European troops will remain in Bosnia well into 1998, albeit at lower strength than in 1996. Old animosities are, however, very much alive and could resurface when the foreign troops are withdrawn. Reignited violence could foster an attempt to partition Bosnia between Serbia and Croatia and further test the resolve of the European community.

From the perspective of the Western European nations, NATO remains quite viable as the century draws to a close. Furthermore, the heavy involvement of American forces in Bosnia has emphasized the fundamental role of the United States in European security. But the United States and its allies, although seeking ways to strengthen their associ-ation, have to be sensitive to a more "engaged" France and the on-going antagonism between Greece and Turkey.

Ethnic conflict, economic disintegration, and disease threaten the security and socio-political viability of Sub-Saharan Africa. Civil war with accompanying famine and, in some cases, genocidal acts will be a feature of the African landscape well into the 21st century. Dysfunctional governments, some on the verge of collapse, add to the specter of periodic human disasters of the kind of propor-tions that will tax the will and resources of the international community. Meanwhile, the dominant issue in South Africa is how to face the world in the post-apartheid era. Ethnic violence, smuggling, and drug trafficking are among the problems that South Africa's new leadership must meet to sustain legitimacy and maintain order.

Across the Atlantic, the countries of Latin America will continue to face the challenges of expanding democratic forms of government amid continuing economic hardships and problems associated with increasing populations. Corruption, drug abuse, terrorism, insurgency, and the threat that the military may reassert control in a number of countries are among the problems facing a number of nations. Poverty and desperation will continue to drive many people into the United States with most of them entering the country illegally.

The Western Pacific and East Asia have overtaken Europe as the primary trading arena for the United States. In 1997, the United States and China will work hard toward forging a better relationship in the wake of the contentions that arose in 1996 over Taiwan, human rights abuses, proliferation problems, and trade issues. The Korean peninsula remains a sensitive area and U.S. forces are likely to remain there as a deterrent well into the 21st century. Japan and the United States seem to have clarified their relationship, and by doing so perhaps strengthened it, following the problems that arose after the rape of a 12-year-old girl by American servicemen last year.

In the Middle East, two problems could reach the crisis point in 1997. First, the situation in Iraqi Kurdistan is a part of the continuing confrontation between Iraq and the West, especially the United States. The Kurdish imbroglio has become a complicating and potentially explosive problem in an already dangerous situation. Second, continuing problems between the Israelis and Palestinians on the West Bank and in Gaza are impeding progress in the peace process. Even with some renewal of progress on Palestinian issues, terrorist acts, many likely originating in southern Lebanon, will probably foster retaliatory or preemptive strikes that always hold the potential for wider violence between Israel and Syria.


In carrying out the mandate of the Lieberman Amendment, DoD and the National Defense Panel face a daunting task that would be difficult to accomplish in a stable security environment. But such stability is not likely to occur in the foreseeable future. Simply because U.S. policymakers had roughly 50 years of relative planning constancy during the Cold War does not mean that the post-Cold War era will lead to a similar period of stability. To the contrary, the planning constants that characterized East-West confrontation may have been atypical, and the United States may be facing a period of prolonged uncertainty in defense planning issues.

The United States may be best served, therefore, by preserving a high degree of flexibility in its defense policy over the next decade. At the same time, the QDR and the Alternative Force Structure Assessment should focus on providing the United States with a balanced force capable of operating effectively throughout the spectrum of conflict, at all levels of warfare, and across the range of military operations.