The Killer Gap. America is facing a shortage of well trained government killers, people who know how to go anywhere, at any time, and using any means available, fight Americas enemies up close and personally. This is liable to cause us problems as we enter the 21st century.
For thousands of years, the ultimate expression of political power was your soldiers going in and personally threatening the enemy leaders with a violent death if they did not do things your way. If the enemy bosses didnt take the hint, your troops killed them and found other locals more compatible with your way of thinking. This has been changing in the last few centuries. First, there were large sailing ships armed with large cannon. This provided the option of pursuing gunboat diplomacy. Shell your foes coastal cities until he saw the wisdom of doing what you wanted. But there were always hard cases, strong leaders who could survive watching their coasts blown apart by hostile warships. Today we blow things up using aircraft, but stubborn opponents are still out there. And to change their minds, you have to send in the ultimate killers, individual troops armed with assault rifles and a bloody minded disposition.
But we only have about 100,000 infantry, marines, special forces, rangers and others who can do this kind of work. These men are trained and motivated to kill and maim on command. Secure from the rest of the worlds trained killers by two oceans and friendly neighbors, we often forget that there are millions of professional (or semi-pro) killers out there who do not wear an American uniform. While they may not be able to come to us, Americas growing global economic interests make it more likely that we will have to go to them. Most of these guys are not impressed by laser guided bombs. The Serbian infantry were not bothered much by two months of NATO bombing. NATO troops entering Kosovo in June of 1999 were rather rattled to discover that the Serb killers were moving out of the area with all of their equipment and weapons. Had NATO not backed off on their demand for Kosovo independence, NATO ground troops would have had to go in and battle some very feisty Serb infantry.
The industrialized nations are, or strive to be, generally more civilized than the rest of the world. The warrior mentality so respected in places like Afghanistan, Somalia and wide swathes of Asia and Africa is discouraged. In the West, it takes more training and better leadership to create competent killers. And if more numerous, and warlike, populations should threaten Western interests, a killer gap will quickly be noticed. This is because a true warrior is not particularly vulnerable to punishment, or having his mind changed, from the air. The Russians found that the Afghans were unfazed by massive bombing, as were the Somalis and even the Serb soldiers.
The military professionals are not fooled by the current mania for precision bombing from high, and safe, altitude. They know that this gives potential foes the idea that America is unwilling to risk the lives of its troops. Feeling this way, more warrior minded peoples are encouraged to risk the wrath of the world's only superpower. This was the attitude of Iraq in 1991. They believed we would not risk American lives. They were wrong then, but everything America has done for the rest of the 1990s sends a different message. Potential enemies can also count. They know we only have 100,000 warriors, and are very reluctant to risk losing a single one in combat. This might be all the encouragement Iraq needs to make another grab for Kuwait, or for North Korea to attempt a unification of Korea on their terms.
The ultimate weapon is still the trained and organized ground soldier. The ultimate killer, who can go places a smart bomb cant reach and kill things a stealth bomber cant even find.
When the time comes that you need these killers, will they be there?