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Edited by Dr. Earl H. Tilford Jr.. | February 1996
Each January the regional analysts at the Strategic Studies Institute (SSI), U.S. Army War College, assess global trends that appear likely to determine the state of the world through the next decade. This year, SSI is attempting to integrate its "World View" with an assessment of how the Army of the 21st century will operate within a strategic environment that is both dynamic and uncertain. From these assessments of the world and the Army's future, SSI analysts devise study proposals which address those issues and threats that impact on the requirements for structuring an Army for the 21st century.
Several rather general strategic trends are apparent. Through the year 2006, the United States is unlikely to be confronted with a threat posed by a true global peer competitor. While Russia and China and, to a lesser extent, Japan, have the potential to become regional peer competitors, obstacles exist which may prevent them from doing so. In any event, it is not likely that they will be able, or perhaps even want, to pose such a challenge to the United States in the foreseeable future.
It may well be that what was known as the post-Cold War period has ended. If the December 1995 elections are any indication, Russia is edging backward into its future as large numbers of Russians, ordinary citizens and political figures alike, seem to long for a return to the stability and perceived national glories of their Soviet past. Meanwhile, Russian troops remain heavily engaged in Chechnya and in peacekeeping operations elsewhere around the southwestern periphery of the nation. No matter what direction Russia may take, it will have significant strategic implications for the United States and the West. Whether market-oriented reforms continue or Russia lapses into a more tightly state-controlled economy, it will be subjected to the harsh realities of long-term economic problems. While these factors will limit its ability to revive its military, the fact that Russia possess thousands of nuclear weapons means it will remain a significant factor in the strategic equation.
Even as 1996 began, U.S. Army units were moving into Bosnia to perform a massive and potentially dangerous peacekeeping mission with their NATO and non-NATO counterparts. Although a peace agreement has been signed, the volatile mixtures of age-old hatreds and animosities remain. While no one can predict with any certainty what the outcome of the Bosnian operation may be, the sure thing is that the implications for NATO and the future of European security extend well beyond the borders of the former Yugoslavia.
In the Middle East, Israel, Syria, and the Palestinians face the most difficult challenges of their long and tortured negotiations: the status of Jerusalem and the Golan Heights and the extent to which the Palestinians will have a truly independent state. Elsewhere, Iraq continues to pose a threat to its Persian Gulf neighbors, and through persistent efforts to develop weapons of mass destruction, to everyone else in the region as well. Meanwhile, Iran looms on the strategic horizon as a significant threat just as Saudi Arabia and other Middle Eastern allies may be facing increasing pressure to limit their relationship with the United States and Western European powers.
China is the big unknown in the Far East. Whether China will continue with market reforms while moderating its stance on human rights is uncertain. What is sure is that China is modernizing its armed forces, although it probably will not be capable of effective combined operations for many years. The extent to which China poses a threat to its neighbors and to the strategic interests of the United States is, however, uncertain. Elsewhere, while tensions remain high on the Korean Peninsula, in Vietnam, now that Washington and Hanoi have normalized relations, the two countries can seek wider areas of cooperation.
Japan is the economic powerhouse of Asia. It has the ability to harness its economy to become a major military power. If Japan so chooses, however, such a course might endanger its status as an economic superpower and antagonize every country in Asia.
For Africa, 1995 was a relatively peaceful year. Yet, potential trouble spots abound and are both acute and significant in Zaire and Nigeria. Throughout the continent, especially Sub-Saharan Africa, corrupt governments, infectious diseases, and high population growth continue as sources of concern.
South America remains a continent beset by rapidly expanding populations and persistent poverty. These problems will continue to compel scores of thousands to migrate--most legally--into the United States. If, after U.S. and U.N. forces leave Haiti, there is a return to politically-motivated violence, the potential for increased migration will be high in 1996.
From the perspective of 1996, SSI's analysts estimate that the following 18 major determinants will influence the Army's posture, U.S. vital or strategic interests, and the national military strategy over the coming decade.
Over the next decade, the world will remain unpredictable, dangerous, and violent. The Army, facing declining budgets, must meet the challenge of remaining effective in support and peacekeeping operations while staying ready to be a decisive and strategic force in war.
In 1996, the way the Bosnian operation unfolds will be crucial. Developments in the Middle East will reach a crucial stage as Israel, Syria and the Palestinians work to settle the most contentious issues. The Korean peninsula, the Taiwan Straits, Spratly Islands, and Cuba all bear watching. Long-term strategic concerns, however, must focus on Russia and China. Whatever directions those nations take will, inevitably, affect the United States and the Western democracies.