THE United States is about to embark on a cost-cutting exercise to its military capabilities that carry a significant message for its allies. The US Defense Secretary Leon E Panetta is expected to announce a 500bn dollars reduction over the next ten years, representing an eight per cent fall in total spending; there is pressure from Congress for even bigger economies.
There is plenty to discuss about the detail of how this cut will be implemented but of greater immediate interest is the thinking behind it. Mr Panetta has said that the United States will have to abandon its world policeman role and be prepared to fight only one long-term ground war at a time; if events require a second intervention it will have to be limited to spoiling an adversary's intentions.
This approach may appear logical in theory but it begs the question of how the degree of commitment involved in a war can be determined in advance.
Did President Bush think that US forces would be still be in Afghanistan ten years after he sent them to smoke out Osama Bin Laden or that changing the regime in Iraq would take almost as long? President Obama rehearsed the low-key approach in the US's recent limited involvement in Libya; it worked for him but threw heavier costs on his allies who are already cutting their capabilities.