The recently published review of the United States’ defense strategy illustrates the ongoing strategic shift away from conventional thinking on warfare and international security challenges. One of the main priorities mentioned in the 2010 review report, aside from achieving "victory" in both Afghanistan and Iraq, is to enhance other states’ abilities to solve international security problems and counter challenges posed by ongoing conflicts, the proliferation of weapons of mass destruction, as well as the technical equipment that enables the production of these weapons and ballistic missiles by financing, equipping and training their security and defense forces. The emphasis on enhancing its partners’ and regional allies’ capabilities within the security realm is understandable as the United States finds its own defense capabilities stretched thin due to demanding conflicts in Iraq and Afghanistan-Pakistan. But it remains to be seen whether this approach will bring a long-term solution to the hybrid challenges in complex societies as the ones mentioned above.
On February 1st of this year, the United States’ Department of Defense issued a new defense strategy, outlined in the new Quadrennial Defense Refview (QDR). The document demonstrates a clear strategic shift from the previous review report from 2006, which still hinged upon the strategic principle that the United States’ Defense apparatus should be capable of conducting two major conventional combat operations simultaneously, even if in distant regions of the world. Prior to the publication of the report, Secretary of Defense Robert Gates stated on various occasions that this strategic framework had become both outdated and inadequate to defend the United States and its interests in an era that is characterised by what Philip Bobbitt referred to as the epic struggle between terror and consent.
The new defense review emphasises that the United States "must prepare for a broad range of security challenges on the horizon – ranging from military modernization programs of other countries to non-state groups developing more cunning and destructive means to attack the United States and [its] allies and partners." The challenges of the 21st century are expected to be increasingly complex and hybrid in character (a combination of traditional, irregular and disruptive challenges) and aimed at specific vulnerabilities of the so called states of consent, an expectation that is seemingly affirmed by current developments in countries like Mexico, Afghanistan, Pakistan, Iraq, Yemen and Somalia.
In order to adequately address these composite challenges, the QDR emphasizes the importance of further institutionalising the concept of irregular warfare, in which protecting the populace is pivotal. Recognising the complex nature of multidimensional warfare as well as the fact that the ongoing conflicts in Afghanistan-Pakistan and Iraq have stretched American capabilities thin, the QDR furthermore underlines the importance of improving the security capacity of its partners and regional allies in order to "enhance other states’ abilities to solve global security problems, and to address… ongoing conflicts" as well as other security challenges. The recent agreement to provide the United Arab Emirates, Bahrain, Kuwait and Qatar, with Patriot systems, reportedly to contain the Iranian regime, is an example of this conceptual thinking.
The emphasis on enhancing other states’ capabilities in the security and defense realm is at least partially generated by the prevalent perception within the United States that combined challenges to international stability and security cannot be addressed by what still remains to be the world’s dominant superpower alone. Moreover, the concept of training, financing and equipping allies and regional partners is likely to reverberate within the modus operandi of the North Atlantic Treaty Association as well. After the disintegration of the Soviet Union, the Atlantic Alliance has established a solid reputation with its endeavors in the realm of Security Sector Reform (SSR) and Security Sector Development (SSD), initially through a range of Disarmamment, Demobilization and Reintegration (DDR) Programmes in the former Soviet sphere of influence, and more recently with its training missions in both Iraq (NTM-I) and Afghanistan (NTM-A).
Although the reintegration efforts in the more conventional former Communist bloc proved ultimately successful, it remains to be seen whether the partners and regional allies, financed, trained and equipped by the United States or NATO personnel, will prove to be the willing and capable long-term partners of consent in the complex security challenges of the 21st century as is envisioned in the recently published defense strategy of the United States.
Djörn Eversteijn is a researcher at the Hague Centre for Strategic Studies.
Related Material From Atlantic Community:
- Jerome Grossman: Accepting American Hegemony
- Donatella Scatamacchia: Rome in the Ranks
- Sebastian Bruns: Rasmussen Set to Reinvigorate NATO