In This Article
The Premise: Published in 2016, this book seeks to convey what military, intelligence, and homeland security believed the 21st century would hold for the United States. Author William J. Parker III assembled essays from America’s “best and brightest,” including captains, colonels, majors, PhDs, and lawyers. Each of the U.S. armed services discusses its approach to the 21st century.
The Army has moved from dominating land into a world where its role is increasingly restricted by political concerns. Land dominance focused on being an army of occupation — less so in Iraq, but more so in Afghanistan. The Army philosophy was to bring lasting change to places where America was investing its national prestige.
The Navy treatise was focused on budgeting and contractor management efficiency. Future Navy missions weren’t questioned critically. Given the importance of maritime commerce and influence, this essay didn’t impress. The critical question of how the U.S. Navy could win against a peer adversary wasn’t mentioned.
One of the largest sections is an essay by the U.S. Coast Guard, by then part of the Department of Homeland Security (DHS). The section began with buoy tending and ended with how one of the USCG’s most important missions was dealing with the feelings of its service members. It’s a precursor of the sensitivity training that is commonplace in the American military today.
The Air Force section totally lost me. It went on and on about cyber warfare and personnel skills development. I didn’t see much in the way of substance discussing what types of air campaigns the Air Force needed to prepare for. There was no mention of Yemen, which was just beginning to become a proving ground for advanced drone warfare, something that would become a vital element of the current war in Ukraine.
The Air Force section was also silent about the modernization of nuclear forces, and shift toward lower-yield weapons intended to influence regional power struggles. This glaring omission would have future consequences in the early days of 2022, when Vladimir Putin raised Russia’s threats of employing tactical nuclear weapons in Ukraine.
Chapters were also devoted to the intelligence community, the FBI, and various elements of the DHS. These U.S. assets seemed to struggle finding direction, even a decade after September 11. There were worrisome questions asked. Writers expressed concern about homeland security turning toward the American people as international threats were perceived to be more remote. This hesitancy from non-military U.S. assets is the main reason I’d recommend serious students of American policy take the time to read this book. It’s a warning about what rot lurks inside the apple.
There are other poignant nuggets in this book. Almost in passing, one of the analysts noted a key difference between the U.S. and countries like China and Russia — both of the latter warn that harming one of their citizens abroad will result in swift retribution. This contrasts with our own government’s accommodating posture when foreign regimes mistreat U.S. nationals.
There’s a haunting feeling reading this book. At the writing cutoff in 2013, we were departing from the war in Iraq. The Arab Spring was just sprouting. And no one thought Russia would be bold enough to launch a full-scale military offensive on the capital of Ukraine.
The section written describing the U.S. strategy in Afghanistan is telling. The book makes little mention of Afghanistan’s problems of corruption that would lead to the humiliating U.S. withdrawal in August 2021.
Read it? Yes. But if you do, it’s best viewed as a historical work about America’s struggles to understand the world. Yet again, the “best and the brightest” got a lot of things wrong.
Book & Author
Guaranteeing America’s Security in the Twenty-First Century by William J. Parker III
$35 (Amazon hard cover version)