Rather than the old two major theater war concept, the Army and Marine Corps should plan for something more like a “1+ 2” capability. The one war would most likely be in regard to North Korea—where we are fortunate to have a formidable ally in the South Korea, but where the combination of terrain, North Korea’s huge armies, and North Korea’s nuclear weapons would make any war extremely stressing. The two smaller operations would be protracted, dangerous, coalition missions to help stabilize crucial countries, most likely in the broader Middle East region. They might involve one to three brigades each (up to say 25,000 U.S. troops), but over several years. Ideally we would not have to conduct two, or even one, at a time in the future. But force planning requires reasonable worst-case planning.
This new approach would hardly be a retreat from the world. Combining the ground-force requirements with preparation for possible crises near China and Iran, it would in fact allow us the capacity to carry out not one or two but, if necessary, several significant operations at once. But it would allow selective cutbacks in capabilities we no longer need as much as we once did, while ushering in a more realistic and flexible kind of force planning for the future. Ground forces might wind up slightly smaller than in the 1990s, and structured somewhat differently. It is the kind of choice we will have to make even to achieve Panetta’s $400 billion 10-year defense-spending reductions.