Thinking Outside the Base

By Bill Costello

The U.S. military needs to reinvent itself. If it continues to hold on to antiquated paradigms, U.S. national security could be at risk.

Consider what’s happening in China. The nation’s rapidly growing economy has enabled it to significantly increase its military budget. Over the past decade, China’s military-related spending has roughly doubled.

In a recent issue of "Foreign Policy", Nobel Prize-winning economist Robert Fogel predicted that China’s GDP will reach $123 trillion by 2040. He also predicted that the U.S.’s share of global GDP will be roughly one third that of China’s.

If China’s GDP surpasses that of the U.S., then it’s very likely that China’s military budget will also surpass that of the U.S.

Admiral Robert Willard, the leader of the U.S. Pacific Command, said the modernization of the Chinese military has occurred faster than U.S. intelligence predicted, and his greatest concern about China is “the uncertainty with regard to the military power that they’ve developed over the past year, which they’ve developed at an unprecedented rate.”

China’s military is taking a hybrid approach to military readiness by investing in both traditional and asymmetric military capabilities. Traditional capabilities include combined arms forces, combat intelligence, and nuclear weapons. Asymmetric capabilities include electronic warfare, computer network attacks, and anti-satellite operations.

China’s military still has a long way to go to catch up to the traditional capabilities of the U.S., which is why it’s leveraging its position by also investing in asymmetric capabilities.

Asymmetric weapons are generally used to counter military superiority by forces weaker than their adversaries in traditional capabilities. Rather than playing to an enemy’s strengths, asymmetric weapons exploit an enemy’s weaknesses.

For example, destroying U.S. satellites would make the nation more vulnerable to attacks. China demonstrated this capability in 2007 when it launched an anti-satellite missile that destroyed one of its own satellites.

The concept of “hybrid warfare” is not unique to China. Hezbollah has been successfully using it against the Israeli Defense Forces for years.

Michele Flournoy, U.S. under secretary of defense for policy, said, “We can expect to see more hybrid conflicts in which the enemy combines regular warfare tactics with irregular and asymmetric forms of warfare.”

Despite this acknowledgement, the U.S. military is still heavily invested in traditional capabilities and not prepared to meet the asymmetric challenges.

This situation is analogous to the creation of the Maginot Line, which was a massive line of concrete fortifications France constructed along its borders after World War I to keep enemies out. The fortification system was considered impenetrable. So instead of assaulting the Maginot Line directly, the Germans simply went around it in 1940 to attack France.

The U.S.’s superiority in traditional capabilities is a modern-day Maginot Line that adversaries can avoid by using asymmetric weapons.

In the interest of national security, the U.S. military needs to rethink the strategic mindset dominated by traditional capabilities. It needs to focus on developing superiority in asymmetric capabilities while maintaining its current traditional capabilities.

This shift in thinking becomes increasingly important as China’s military budget continues to rise with the nation’s economy. If it surpasses the U.S.’s military budget, the U.S. risks losing superiority in traditional capabilities. At that time, asymmetric capabilities will be more important than ever to the U.S.

The U.S.’s massive debt—which poses a national security problem, not just an economic one—increases the likelihood that China’s military budget will surpass that of the U.S.

U.S. Defense Secretary Robert Gates recently said, “We can’t have a strong military if we have a weak economy.”

Instead of planning to fight past wars, the U.S. military needs to prepare for future ones. To do this, it needs to start “thinking outside the base” so it can reinvent itself.

Bill Costello, M.Ed., is a U.S.-based education columnist, blogger, and author of Awaken Your Birdbrain: Using Creativity to Get What You Want. He can be reached at

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Author`s name Dmitry Sudakov