Military Engagement and Forward Presence: Down but Not Out as Tools to Shape and Win

  • January 01, 2016
  • Dr John R Deni



Military engagement and forward-based U.S. military forces offer decisionmakers effective and efficient mechanisms for maintaining American influence, deterring aggression, assuring allies, building tomorrow’s coalitions, managing the challenge of disorder in the security environment, mitigating the risk of a major interstate war, and facilitating U.S. and coalition operations should deterrence fail. Unfortunately, significant cuts to overseas permanent presence and continuing pockets of institutional bias against engagement as a force multiplier and readiness enhancer have combined to limit the leverage possible through these two policy tools. Instead, reliance on precision strike stand-off capabilities and a strategy of surging American military might from CONUS after a crisis has already started have become particularly attractive approaches for managing insecurity in a more resource-constrained environment. This approach is short-sighted politically and strategically. Relying on stand-off capabilities and so-called “surge readiness” – instead of placing greater emphasis on forward presence and, when employed selectively, military engagement – will ultimately result in reduced American influence with friends and adversaries alike, encourage adversaries to act hastily and aggressively, and have the effect of reducing, not expanding, options available to any President.