In a recent piece warning about an emerging arms race in hypersonic missiles, The New York Times quoted Will Roper, the Air Force’s senior acquisition and technology official, saying that the United States needed to invest more in such advanced weapons “if we want to dominate this new domain of fast flight.” This kind of statement is emblematic of a defense establishment that thinks in terms of military superiority — a paradigm that requires the United States to be capable of overmatching anyone at any time.
Not long ago, I argued in an essay for the Texas National Security Review that military superiority is politically unsustainable. American progressives make somewhat different wagers and accept different risks than the defense establishment when it comes to national security, which includes rejecting the principle of military superiority that has guided U.S. force structure and defense strategy since the end of the Cold War. They instead seek no more than what I described as “military sufficiency.” That argument proved controversial. As Robert Farley commented (sympathetically) about the essay, “the term ‘sufficiency’ is laden with all manner of disputed meanings.”
Farley’s not wrong. For a generation, U.S. defense strategists have treated nothing less than military superiority — that is, the ability to overmatch plausible adversaries in large-scale conventional wars — as sufficient for force planning. And I should have foreseen that leaving even the smallest rhetorical space for conventional thinking would permit defenders of the status quo to evade calls for doing defense differently —What’s “sufficiency” anyway, am I right?
Read the full article in War on the Rocks.
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