NATO representatives who met in Munich for their 38th annual conference
to explore matters of military resources and responsibility were
oddly depressed. The reason for it wasn't the insufficiency of their
combined might. It was the critical predominance of American might.
We learn of the pertinence of national pride, and with it the collateral
diminution of influence. The looming question seemed to be: What
if NATO, or one of its component nations, committed itself to an
enterprise and the United States didn't get into the act? Could
the NATO powers go it alone?
NATO secretary-general Lord Robertson said it flatly. The European
NATO allies are "militarily undersized." The spending
by NATO on military defense is $140 billion. That isn't enough to
give NATO much bang, were it to undertake a serious initiative without
the back-up power of the United States.
The contrast was illustrated in a piece for the Financial Times
by Yale historian Paul Kennedy, and he began it with a snapshot
of our carrier force built around the USS Enterprise.
The ship is, of course, an aircraft carrier, nuclear-powered. On
September 11 it was cruising about in the Indian Ocean and was forthwith
directed toward the Near East and traveled 30 miles per hour in
the direction of the war zone.
Now that carrier has a crew of 3,200. They simply run the ship.
The air-force component has 2,400 pilots and air crew who maintain
70 state-of-the-art aircraft, ready to go on a moment's notice.
Although it is called a dreadnought, in fact aircraft carriers do
have things to dread, for which reason they do not go about the
world unescorted. The Enterprise is accompanied by an Aegis-type
cruiser. This is a large surface ship, charged with intercepting
incoming missiles. We have then a "bevy" of frigates and
destroyers, out there searching for enemy submarine activity. Then,
lurking about, are hunter-killer submarines, at least one, perhaps
two. In the rear are the supply vessels. Marine troops and their
helicopters are on board.
We now have twelve of these floating garrisons, and when the USS
Ronald Reagan is launched, we'll have a thirteenth. When
time came for action against Afghanistan, our B-1 bombers flew in
from the continental United States and B-52s came up from Diego
Garcia. The war was won with fewer casualties than New York loses
in one week to murderers.
Now this colossus, in the language of Prof. Kennedy, has been "stupefying
to the Russian and Chinese military, worrying to the Indians, and
disturbing to proponents of a common European defense policy."
Because, in military terms, we are the only player. We spend more
than the next nine largest national-defense budgets combined. And
this rise in military power is the result of providential developments.
ago the Soviet Union was struggling for nuclear supremacy, and Japan
was assumed to be the economic behemoth of the ensuing decade. Exit
Russia as a potential aggressor they have left only nuclear
bombs, and these, in modern warfare, are all but useless. And exit
Japan, which is left behind, engrossed in learning simple economic
Then we've had in America the explosion of technological prowess.
At the meeting of the cyber people in San Francisco on Monday, we
learned that Moore's Law has been anachronized. That law was the
hubristic fancy of the scientist Gordon Moore, who toyed with the
idea back in 1965 that every 18 months, the power of a computer
chip would double. What discredited Moore's fantasy is, we learn,
that chips will increase in power a lot faster than that. Add to
it all the increase in United States economic power, and lo, the
creature that sprung from the loins of America the Beautiful dominates
the air, land, and sea.
"It is as if, among the various inhabitants of the apes and
monkeys cage at the London Zoo, one creature had grown bigger and
bigger and bigger until it became a 500 lb. gorilla.
It couldn't help becoming that big, and in a certain way America
today cannot help being what it is either," writes Kennedy.
The implications of it all are enormous, causing us concern less
for the old maxim that we ought not to get involved in the affairs
of other nations, than concern over the implications of failing
to get involved when a sophisticated political and strategic polity
tell us how much American power is needed. Not to colonize, but
to help ensure stability and keep the muscles of our allies in shape,
so that they can render critical service in predictable crisis-points,
this being an age when a half dozen rowdy nations have realistic
prospects of putting their hands on the ultimate weapons, biological
and chemical, and of course nuclear.