JUL 9 1998
The model of modern military might
By GERALD SEGAL
FOR the next four weeks or so, an armada of 50 ships, 200 aircraft and 25,000 military personnel from six countries will play wargames in the Pacific near Hawaii.
These Rimpac exercises, held every two years by the United States, Japan, Canada, Australia, South Korea and Chile, will be observed by others, including China, Russia, Indonesia, Singapore and Thailand.
Are these "games for the boys" or do they tell us something serious about modern military power? In the early days of the post-Cold War era, many had predicted a diminished need for military power.
But the new age of UN peacekeeping dawned only dimly, and crises in the Balkans, the Gulf and the Taiwan Strait demonstrated the virtues of raw military power.
Nearly 10 years from the end of the Cold War, and following Asia's economic crisis, the world of military power is characterised by an increasing dominance of the Atlantic powers.
North Atlantic Treaty Organisation (Nato) countries now account for more than 58 per cent of total defence spending in the world, up by 10 per cent since 1985. The US alone accounts for a third of world defence spending. If US allies in Asia (Japan, South Korea, Australia) are included in the Nato total, the combined amount would account for nearly 70 per cent of total military spending.
In contrast, China has increased its share of total defence spending from 2.3 per cent to 4.2 per cent since 1985.
These numbers show an increasing importance of Western military power, despite a clear fall in military spending as a percentage of Gross Domestic Product (GDP). Nato countries spent 2.2 per cent of GDP on defence, down from 3.3 per cent in 1985.
China's spending has fallen from 7.9 per cent to 5.7 per cent, albeit with a much faster rising GDP than in Nato countries. Global defence spending is down from 6.7 per cent to 4.3 per cent in what has become known as the "peace dividend" from the ending of the Cold War.
Thus the focus has shifted from saving money to getting more "bang for the bucks" spent on the armed forces.
While it is difficult to be certain about trends in creating the very model of the modern military power, the results of the British Strategic Defence Review (SDR) announced recently highlighted at least three of the major components of a modern military power.
First, modern armed forces will have a far wider range of duties -- from relief missions and peacekeeping to high intensity warfare. But what will divide the first and second division powers will be their ability to wage the most furious and flexible forms of intense warfare.
Hence the stress on the high technologies of precision-guided weapons and rapid reaction forces.
The fact that Britain will build two aircraft carriers capable of carrying the modern Joint Strike Aircraft marks not so much a desire to return to "East of Suez", but that modern forces will need to operate at high intensity in distant places, and not necessarily with local support.
A second and very much related feature is the ability to be a player in the revolution in military affairs -- the application of information technologies designed to ensure control of the battlefield by controlling the information in warfare.
While there is much hype about this revolution, even the Chinese know (as Saddam Hussein learnt to his cost) that the evolution of smart military systems in the Nato world is actually increasing its lead over less developed powers.
As the British SDR makes plain, modern military power will require professional, not conscript, armed forces which are able to exploit these modern technologies. Conscripts, like unskilled labourers in mass production factories of the industrial age, are rendered obsolete in the information age.
A third feature of a modern military will be "jointness" -- the ability to operate forces that are integrated and interdependent. This is not just a matter of closer integration among once proudly independent air, naval and ground services, but also requires an ability to work in coalitions of the ready, willing and able.
Thus, modern aircraft carrier battle groups will carry expeditionary forces with air cavalry units that integrate parachute troops and attack helicopters. These forces will function in an information-rich environment where close collaboration with allies requires much prior practice in standard operating procedures.
The stress on "jointness" is one of the reasons the Rimpac-98 exercises matter. While the US and Canada are familiar with Nato standard operating procedures, Japan, South Korea and Australia will gain from an opportunity to test their ability to join these intensive and complex procedures.
In Rimpac-98, the Japanese will be testing their ability to cooperate in enforcing naval blockades as part of the new US-Japan strategic guidelines, but some of the skills acquired will also be useful if a blockade of Taiwan by China needs to be broken by an allied coalition.
Military powers unable to fight intensely, flexibly, with high technology and with "jointness" will be at a clear disadvantage.
While US allies in Nato benefit from a formal structure of integration, few Asian countries (apart from Australia and Japan) have serious prospects of being modern military powers. The rusting military power of Russia and the much less developed powers of China, India, Iraq or Iran cannot help but notice how far they are from the "best practice" of modern military power.
No wonder these states put increasing stress on weapons of mass destruction and the missiles needed to deliver such power.
[The writer is the Director of Studies at the International Institute for Strategic Studies. He contributed this article to The Straits Times.]