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Washington Post: Is Hagel Tying America's Hands (And is That a Bad Thing)?

Author: David Edelstein
February 28, 2014


"In an ideal world, the United States can guarantee the security of its interests without being tempted to undertake occupations and interventions that have little chance of succeeding and promise high costs. The U.S. military will retain substantial air, sea, and ground capabilities even after the proposed cuts. These capabilities ought to be sufficient to deter the most likely adversaries from taking aggressive actions and to reassure allies about the sincerity of America's commitment to their security."

The news that Secretary of Defense Chuck Hagel will propose to cut the U.S. Army to pre-World War II levels is sure to generate much controversy and consternation. Despite the fact that the United States spends nearly five times as much on its defense as the next country on the list, China, the idea of cutting the U.S. defense budget is always met with opposition, much of it from the representatives of those states and districts most likely to be affected by the cuts.

Aside from the question of how this proposal will play politically, there is also the strategic question of how these force reductions might affect the ability of the U.S. military to protect American interests. The New York Times quotes American officials as saying that the resulting military "will be a military capable of defeating any adversary, but too small for protracted military occupations" and that it "could invite adventurism by adversaries."

This adventurism would be driven by the way in which Hagel's plan would reduce the options available to American political leaders for confronting adversaries. Other states would be encouraged to take actions that they would not have previously taken as they no longer are deterred by the threat of occupation. This raises a fundamental question: can the United States still deter adversaries absent the capability to occupy them for protracted periods of time?

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