Build-down

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That nation relies on a life line: a stream of tankers in continual motion, traversing ten thousand miles to reach the Persian Gulf. To ensure the safety of this traffic, Tokyo depends on the U.S. Navy. Yet Japan could readily take on a prickly nationalism, akin to that of France under Charles de Gaulle. Like the Philippines, which has recently demanded American withdrawal from Subie Bay, Japan could refuse continued U.S. naval presence at Yokosuka and instead set about building its own naval force.

Such a build-up would raise concern in the other regional powers, China and Russia. China remembers all too well the Japanese conquests of World War II. Russia, for its part, remains aware that it holds Vladivostok and the Far East largely through the thin thread of the Trans-Siberian Railroad. Both powers, then, would find it highly prudent to match Japan’s build-up with similar naval programs of their own. And with the pot aboil in the northwest Pacific, we would increase our own regional forces, to intervene as an ally against any aggressor and to preserve the peace.

 

In restructuring our forces to meet such challenges, our peacetime military today confronts a new prospect. For a generation we have faced the need to fight and win a global war. But the new challenges are regional, representing a vastly lessened threat. We may define our ground and air forces in the light of the nth-country problem, as we plan to fight a future Saddam Hussein—or two at once, as the Pentagon proposes to be ready to do. Similarly we may structure our Navy so as to support such a regional war, while maintaining the peace in a separate region such as the northwest Pacific.

With this we have reached a new milestone. As we face it, we can recall the developments that have marked our armed forces during the past two centuries. We can remember the events that led us to build a minimal navy and an army suited largely for fighting Indians. Then came West Point and the rise of professionalism; the younger Mahan and the modern Navy; air power and the advent of modern technology; NSC 68 and that historical anomaly the national-security state.

Today we are in the midst of a similar moment of sweeping change, as we shift from an era of global threat to one of regionalism. We will no longer arm ourselves against a Soviet enemy that now is no more. But there are words of Plato that Britain learned during its century of relative peace and that we may learn anew in the next: “Only the dead have seen the end of war.”