Asan Plenum

Panel: Revolution in Military Affairs
Date/Time: Tuesday, April 28, 2015 / 12:30-13:45
Moderator: Choi Kang, The Asan Institute for Policy Studies
Bruce Bennett, RAND Corporation
Xu Weidi, National Defense University, PLA
Yamaguchi Noboru, International University of Japan

Panel Description

Military power has long been the foundation of American global preponderance. Even throughout the global financial crisis and resulting defense spending cuts known as “sequestration”, the U.S. continued to spend more on defense than the next thirteen countries combined. One aspect of military affairs where the U.S. remains a world-leader is in defense research and development. American innovations in war-fighting technologies such as robotics, cyber weapons, and next-generation aircraft are revolutionizing the modern battlefield. Yet, at the same time, technological innovation is also leveling the playing field for adversaries who can quickly adopt these very same technologies. At a time when the U.S. faces an increasingly diverse spectrum of security threats, what are the implications for future wars?

Session Sketch


Session 1, entitled “Revolution in Military Affairs”, compared capabilities of different military powers, assessed impacts of revolution in military affairs, and addressed challenges that nations are facing due to changing military dynamics. As traditional, conventional weapons are replaced by more high-tech weapons, empowered countries implement tactical strategies that were considered impossible in the past and confront new challenges as a consequence. All of the participating speakers could concede to the following three points: 1) while vital, technology does not completely determine a nation’s military power; 2) the United States is leading the world in military affairs; and 3) various dimensions such as human resources are critical.

Dr. Bruce Bennett, Senior Defense Analyst at RAND Corporation, emphasized that military capabilities must be assessed from a variety of dimensions. While technology is certainly a critical aspect, without the capable manpower to control such weapons and devices, technology does not contribute much to a nation’s military power. With regards to human resources, Bennett expressed his concerns about the diminishing number of soldiers in the Korean military. He noted that the Korean military decreased in size from 560,000 to 500,000 in a decade and expects this number to further diminish to about 300,000 in twenty years.

Bennett highlighted that the United States, while very influential and powerful, has limited resources and is entering an era of diminishing American dominance. He cautioned the audience from drawing quick conclusions about U.S. dominance in military power and concluded his remarks by stating that the nature of military is to destroy as opposed to create. In saying so, it is essential to adopt and use new technologies in a manner conducive to peace and stability.

Sr. Colonel Xu Weidi, Research Fellow at the Institute for Strategic Studies at the National Defense University in the Chinese People’s Liberation Army (PLA), stated that the United States is leading the world in military affairs and predicted this reputation to hold for at least twenty more years. Moreover, according to Xu, we now face completely different types of weapons that require a new way of thinking about and conceptualizing security. During World War II, for example, no one was concerned about weapons of mass destruction (WMD), which alludes that the body of thought surrounding nuclear security emerged in response to the changing military environment. Xu noted that China, while arduously developing its military capabilities, still lacks high-tech weapons and manpower to manage and utilize new technology. It is why the PLA is increasingly focusing more on “core capabilities.”

Lt. Gen. Yamaguchi Noboru, Professor at the International University of Japan, also argued that the United States is dominant in terms of conventional, traditional military power. Korea and Japan, however, have greatly enhanced their capabilities in information technology. While having more information generally helps improve military capabilities, according to Yamaguchi, commanders often wait too long to gather more intelligence without remaining conscientious of the decisions they should make. Yamaguchi also noted the importance of realizing the gap between advanced militaries and less advanced militaries when the two countries collaborate with one another.