This essay responded to the question: "In terms of financial clout and technological expertise, which major powers, if any, threaten to match U.S. military power?"
An interesting question, but slightly off the mark. Since Vietnam, American technological advances have swept military competition. Today, no nation can stand up against us in industrial warfare. That is, if the battle is decided by the 20th-century means of supplies and manpower, both dependent upon the internal combustion engine, any opposing force will be defeated swiftly and with low American casualties. A conventional army cannot fight without heat-generating machines and metal. American airborne sensors and weapons pluck them as easily as bats swallowing mosquitoes.
Therefore, today our enemies do not wear uniforms. They blend in among the people. They apply as jiu-jitsu our morality to offset our firepower. Twenty or thirty thousand ISIS fighters roam across several countries. Our senior military say they are losing, but somehow ISIS hasn’t gotten the word that they are being destroyed.
What’s going on here? In the current war, it is not a matter of technology. We emplaced selfish, sectarian politicians in power in Iraq, and they betrayed their trust to their own people and to us. Fault on us. Our money is outmatched by an Islamist willingness to sacrifice—to die. On our American side, dying is not acceptable. Our objectives are too limited to expend our true treasure. We have no theory of victory, no moral imperative, no allies who trust us to remain constant.
Shifting forward, the next major war could be quite different and much more perilous. Currently, due to technology America possesses three critical advantages. We have undisputed air superiority. That means with impunity we watch the enemy and decide when to bomb him and with how much high explosive. Second, we go anywhere we want when we want. We control the seas, period. No adversary can prevent our movement, and no adversary can venture onto any ocean. We can move our supplies and forces, and he cannot, because we control the sea lanes and, from the air, the land lines. Third, we communicate with impunity and prevent robust enemy communications. Take away any one of those three technological advantages and American military prowess would collapse.
We are not ferocious fighters. Our senior military leaders have inculcated rules of engagement more diffident than those of police SWAT teams. We rely upon money and technology, not upon resolve or strategy. If we continue to reduce the Defense budget, we will lose one of those three technological advantages.