Presence- Do We Stay or Do We Go?
NATIONAL DEFENSE UNIV WASHINGTON DC INST FOR NATIONAL STRATEGIC STUDIES
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America maintained an unprecedented level of its military strength overseas for over forty years--from a quarter to a third of the Armed Forces. The primary purpose was to contain the Soviet Union. This rationale is now gone leaving defense intellectuals to debate how to protect our interests in a new era. The naval camp contends it can be achieved by forward presence--keeping some combat forces abroad. The continental camp argues that it can be accomplished with virtual presence--forces based in the United States but capable of rapidly responding to overseas crises. This is the difference between being engaged on the world scene and a return to Fortress America. Form follows function in overseas presence as elsewhere. That presence was structured to oppose a specific land power in the Cold War, the Soviet Bloc. U.S. presence abroad during that period--excluding the Vietnam and Persian Gulf Wars--averaged about half a million. Of those, almost 400,000 were Army and Air Force personnel who directly countered threats in Europe and Korea. Naval forces made up the balance, supporting Europe and Korea on the maritime flanks. And they handled uncertain threats--some 80 percent of the crises to which the Nation responded from 1945 to the end of the Cold War. As the Soviet threat receded, so did land-based presence in Europe. Force levels there dropped from 340,000 in 1989 to under 100,000 today. On the other hand, naval presence remains about the same as it was during the Cold War, just under 100,000. Why While the certain threat went away, the uncertain ones did not. Now an intense competition for resources among the services prompts the question does the systematic naval presence stay or does it go The new Air Force white paper Global Presence published in the last issue of JFQ proposes replacing the cop on the beat with virtual presence, satellite coverage of key areas backed by CONUS-based bombers and troop transports responding on warning.
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