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What Churchill Can Teach Us About the Coming Era of Lasers, Cyborgs, and Killer Drones - By P.W. Singer | Foreign Policy

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With that quote in mind, for the last year I've been taking an informal poll of the joint chiefs who lead the U.S. military, asking each of them what period in history they think provides the most apt parallel to today. Interestingly, every single one of them has answered the same: the early 1990s, when the United States sharply pared back its military spending and drew down the personnel size of its armed forces following the collapse of the Soviet Union. These experiences were both painful for the military of that time (side note: most of the joint chiefs were midcareer officers at that time) and in many ways haunted the military a decade later in Iraq and Afghanistan, when the force had to be re-expanded as well as regain many skills and technologies that had atrophied in a procurement holiday.

With similar worries about force cuts and the utterly unstrategic nature of sequestration-fueled budget slashing, the 1990s are certainly an apt parallel, and indeed one widely shared in the defense establishment. But I fear it may fall prey to another one of those mistakes that recur in history. That is, in looking for rhymes, we too often turn to the songs we know best, not the tune that might be a better fit.

History is longer than our own past -- and sometimes the most important lessons must be drawn from beyond our personal experience. Today's tough budget times will lead to military cuts like those that occurred in the 1990s, but the United States is in the midst of a fundamentally different context, both politically and technologically. If there is a natural historical comparison, it is not to the end of the Cold War, but the period surrounding World War I. But it's not Wilsonian America of which I speak -- today, the United States has assumed a role parallel to that of Britain, the last great power, whose time at the top was just coming to an end.

Like Britain back then, today's United States has global responsibilities but also global burdens. For those who would claim the United States today is a mirror of back then, owning the Philippines and having an army one-third the size of Bulgaria is not the same as having roughly 800 bases in 156 countries and half the world's military spending. And like Britain and its colonial wars of that period, while the U.S. military is similarly engaged in a series of conflicts around the planet, the Boer wars and Afghanistans of the world remain at the level of what back then would have been called "small wars": tough, painful, and exhausting, but not existential threats. There is breathing space for strategic assessment.

So... What would Churchill say?

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