Having posed an exceedingly difficult question and elicited a range of thoughtful answers of many different sorts, I think I owe it to my readers to attempt some sort of answer of my own. Since I do not see the matter at all clearly, let me begin by proposing a series of changes to current U. S. policies and institutional arrangements that I believe would take us in the right direction.
The first change I would make is a reversion to a citizen armed force supplied with soldiers, sailors, and marines by conscription, or what is usually called the draft. Since there would not be a need for anything like as many military personnel as would be generated by a draft, one could create a variety of forms of service for those who numbers did not come up, but that is really a matter of cosmetics and public relations. Why do I start with the draft? Because a volunteer professional standing army that can be deployed at the will or whim of the Executive without concern for public opinion is the necessary precondition for a functioning imperial power. So it was for Rome, for France, for Great Britain, and so it is now for the American empire. Resistance to the Viet Nam War nearly tore this country apart and so damaged the citizen army that the military leaders successfully campaigned for an all-volunteer force. The United States has been at war now or two decades with scarcely a peep out of the citizenry, which contents itself with yellow ribbon decorations and ritual repetitions of “thank you for your service.” A draft not avoidable by enrolment in college would make it a great deal more difficult for Presidents to engage in military adventures.
The second change I would make is a reduction in and transformation of America’s nuclear arsenal and delivery systems so that their sole use would be a retaliatory second strike in response to a nuclear attack on American territory. For example, a small force of submarine based missiles would be adequate. There would be enormous institutional resistance in the military to this change, because it would involve getting rid of all land-based ICBMs in hardened silos, all intermediate range and battlefield nuclear weapons, and all weapons delivered by aircraft. It would be best to attempt to negotiate a multi-lateral agreement reducing all nation’s nuclear arsenals to this status, but if that proved impossible, then a unilateral change would be rational and desirable.
These two changes, by themselves, would fundamentally change America’s military posture in the world. Both would be very powerfully resisted both by the military and political establishment and, in the case of the draft, by the American people, but nothing less would have any significant impact on America’s imperial project.