Editor’s Note: In a roundtable discussion published in Democracy Journal (Summer 2010), P.W. Singer, Lawrence Korb, Heather Hurlburt, and Robert Hunter offer insight into American defense strategy and military challenges the United States will likely to confront in the next decade.
P.W. SINGER: Compared with what we have now, three things will be different. One is the type of conflicts that the president in the year 2021 may be dealing with. By that point, cyber-warfare will be a far more real zone of competition and conflict. War in space will also be on the agenda. And I don’t mean Klingons; I mean the fact that our global security apparatus will depend on nodes in space, and we’ll likely see more competition and even conflict there. Second, to build off what Larry was saying, one of the implications of global warming is that the Arctic is melting and underneath it you’ll have as much oil and natural gas as Saudi Arabia does. You will have a division of the globe that will have to be figured out that will be the largest division of land area since the Pope divided the New World. Finally, the America the president leads in 2021 will be different. Detroit won’t be a powerhouse of manufacturing, as it’s been for past presidents; in an ideal world, maybe it’s a powerhouse of green energy. Or, in a less ideal world, it’s just done. The demographics of America will be very different. The nation will be as much as 30 percent Latino. That has huge implications for our alliances and potential alliances. Maybe we’re looking more southward, instead of toward NATO, for allies. Finally, the president in 2021, and a majority of his or her staff, won’t be of the Boomer generation. If you go into the 2021 White House and say, we have to avoid another Vietnam, that’s a lot like going to Obama right now and making a comparison to World War II. Because, to a president in 2021, Vietnam will be as distant as World War II is to Obama.
US military buildup so far is not part of a larger strategy, so it's not clear what the end game is for the US. That was the same ultimate goal for the administrations of George W. Bush, Obama, and now Trump. The Carl Vinson strike group cannot stay at the DPRK's [Democratic People's Republic of Korea] doorstep indefinitely.
The president is surrounded by serious advisers who have either served or serve in the military, and are aware of the risks of military action [against North Korea]. I think Trump, whatever his public posture, is getting a sober education on some of the realities.
Deterrence [against North Korea] has worked remarkably well for more than 60 years as both sides understand the consequences of taking military action. The question is whether those ground rules are changing now. I don't believe they are. Still, miscalculation is a concern and too much rhetoric and idle chatter from both sides about preemptive strikes could lead one side to seriously consider taking action. There are extraordinary inhibitions in the use of force, but that's not a guarantee.