The Army’s latest headcount shows that nearly 2,600 soldiers departed active service in March without being replaced, an action that plunges manning to its lowest level since before World War II, according to ArmyTimes.com. This is occurring as The People's Liberation Army (incidentally the world's largest military force, with a strength of approximately 2,285,000 personnel, or 0.18% of China's population) has begun aggressively recruiting, and rattling its sabre increasingly loudly over US interference in the South China Sea island dispute and most recently in Hong Kong.
During the past year the size of the active force has been reduced by 16,548 soldiers, the rough equivalent of three brigades.
Endstrength for March was 479,172 soldiers, which is 154 fewer troopers than were on active duty when the Army halted the post-Cold War drawdown in 1999 with 479,424 soldiers, the smallest force since 1940, when the active component numbered 269,023 soldiers.
According to the Army Times, the Army is on track to reach its goal of reducing the number of active duty troops to 475,000 by Sept. 30, the end of fiscal year 2016. Under a drawdown plan unveiled last July, the number of active-duty soldiers would be reduced to 460,000 soldiers by the end of fiscal year 2017 and 450,000 by the end of fiscal year 2018, barring action by Congress or the Pentagon.
If those targets are met, the number of soldiers on active duty would be down 20 percent from 2010, when there were nearly 570,000 soldiers on active duty.
When the Army presented its plan last July, military officials said their hands were tied by reduced funding levels.
"These are not cuts the Army wants to make, these are cuts required by budget environment in which we operate," Gen. Daniel Allyn, vice chief of staff of the Army, said at the time. "This 40,000 soldier cut ... will only get us to the program force, it does not deal with the continued threat of sequestration."
In addition to those on active duty, the Army has 548,024 soldiers in reserve, for a total force of 1,027,196 soldiers. Under the drawdown plan, the total force number would be reduced to 980,000 by the end of fiscal year 2018.
And this is occurring as China builds its military might with aggressive recruiting tactics.
As we previously noted, whilst history doesn’t repeat it often rhymes. As Alexander, Rome and Britain fell from their positions of absolute global dominance, so too has the US begun to slip. America’s global economic dominance has been declining since 1998, well before the Global Financial Crisis. A large part of this decline has actually had little to do with the actions of the US but rather with the unraveling of a century’s long economic anomaly. China has begun to return to the position in the global economy it occupied for millenia before the industrial revolution. Just as the dollar emerged to global reserve currency status as its economic might grew, so the chart below suggests the increasing push for de-dollarization across the 'rest of the isolated world' may be a smart bet...
The geopolitical consequences of the diminishment of US global dominance
Each of these events has shown America’s unwillingness to take strong foreign policy action and certainly underlined its unwillingness to use force. America’s allies and enemies have looked on and taken note. America’s geopolitical multiplier has declined even as its relative economic strength has waned and the US has slipped backwards towards the rest of the pack of major world powers in terms of relative geopolitical power.
Throughout this piece we have looked to see what we can learn from history in trying to understand changes in the level of structural geopolitical tension in the world. We have in general argued that the broad sweep of world history suggests that the major driver of significant structural change in global levels of geopolitical tension has been the relative rise and fall of the world’s leading power. We have also suggested a number of important caveats to this view – chiefly that a dominant superpower only provides for structurally lower geopolitical tensions when it is itself internally stable. We have also sought to distinguish between a nation being an “economic” superpower (which we can broadly measure directly) and being a genuine “geopolitical” superpower (which we can’t). On this subject we have hypothesised that the level of a nations geopolitical power can roughly be estimated multiplying its relative economic power by a “geopolitical multiplier” which reflects that nations ability to amass and project force, its willingness to intervene in the affairs of the world and the extent of its “soft power”.
Given this analysis it strikes us that today we are in the midst of an extremely rare historical event – the relative decline of a world superpower. US global geopolitical dominance is on the wane – driven on the one hand by the historic rise of China from its disproportionate lows and on the other to a host of internal US issues, from a crisis of American confidence in the core of the US economic model to general war weariness. This is not to say that America’s position in the global system is on the brink of collapse. Far from it. The US will remain the greater of just two great powers for the foreseeable future as its “geopolitical multiplier”, boosted by its deeply embedded soft power and continuing commitment to the “free world” order, allows it to outperform its relative economic power. As America’s current Defence Secretary, Chuck Hagel, said earlier this year, “We (the USA) do not engage in the world because we are a great nation. Rather, we are a great nation because we engage in the world.”
Nevertheless the US is losing its place as the sole dominant geopolitical superpower and history suggests that during such shifts geopolitical tensions structurally increase. If this analysis is correct then the rise in the past five years, and most notably in the past year, of global geopolitical tensions may well prove not temporary but structural to the current world system and the world may continue to experience more frequent, longer lasting and more far reaching geopolitical stresses than it has in at least two decades. If this is indeed the case then markets might have to price in a higher degree of geopolitical risk in the years ahead.