8 dec. 2008

The Overburden Of America's Defense Meltdown

From the Center of Defense Information / Strauss Military Reform Project
The most important problems can briefly be summarized as follows:

• Our military has broken its constitutional controls. Our Founding Fathers wanted no more than a very limited size and role for a federal military. They feared standing armies not only because they might be used against the American public, i.e. to establish military rule, but also for their potential to involve us in costly foreign wars that would drain our treasury, erode our freedoms and involve us in the “entangling alliances” that George Washington warned of in his farewell address. At that time our armies were composed mainly of state militias that the president needed the cooperation of Congress and the state governors in order to use. Today, we have one large all-volunteer federal Army, which for all practical purposes responds only to the president and the executive branch. It has engaged in numerous foreign wars, involved us in many entangling alliances, drained our treasury and eroded our liberties just as our Founding Fathers foresaw. It has enabled the president to take the nation to war on little more than his own authority. The recent repeal of the Posse Comitatus Act of 1878 allows him to unilaterally use the military not only against foreigners, but against the American people as well.

• Our military is inwardly focused. This is to say that it focuses on itself and its internal concerns, rather than looking outward at the world and reacting to what occurs there. This is partly a consequence of domestic politics, which determine the military budget, and partly due to a climate of intellectual laziness and complacency that prefers the glories of the past over the unpleasant realities of the present and future. This has made it very difficult for us either to produce or implement a realistic grand strategy or to adjust to changing realities, particularly the emergence of Fourth Generation War (4GW).

• Our military is very expensive. The “official” budget will soon hit $600 billion per year. This approximates the military budgets of all other nations of the world combined. Some have argued that this amounts to only a few percent of our gross national product (GNP) and that it should be increased. One might reply, however, that the military budget might instead be determined by the military needs of the nation (the determination of which requires looking outward at potential threats) more than an arbitrarily determined portion of its economy. Also, the real budget is much higher than the official one. The official budget does not include the Department of Homeland Security or Veterans Affairs, both of which are really military expenses. The current wars in Iraq and Afghanistan are paid for by offline “supplemental” budgets so they are not included either. If one adds these costs the budget climbs to about a trillion dollars. It absorbs much of the government’s discretionary spending and has contributed significantly to the depreciation of the dollar.

• As our military gets more expensive it gets smaller and less capable. Although the current military budget, even adjusting for inflation, is the highest since World War II it buys us only modest forces. At the height of the Reagan military buildup in the 1980s the U.S. Army had 18 active divisions. Yet today, with a higher budget, it has only 10. At the height of the Vietnam War the U.S. military maintained over 500,000 men in Vietnam besides a substantial force in Germany under NATO. It fought an enemy with more than half a million men under arms that had armor, heavy artillery, and even small naval and air forces. The North Vietnamese were also receiving assistance from both the Soviet Union and Communist China. Today, it is all the U.S. military can do to maintain 140,000 to 150,000 troops in Iraq and 30,000 in Afghanistan, where they fight enemies whose combined strength (after Saddam’s fall) seldom if ever exceeded 30,000. Unlike in Vietnam these enemies have no air or naval forces, no modern heavy weapons, little or no formal military training, and no outside support. This dramatic decrease in U.S. capabilities should be no less astonishing than the simultaneous increases in the budget. Worse, the strength of the forces we have is eroded by the skyrocketing costs of new weapons. It has resulted in a shrinking inventory of aging weapon systems only a fraction of which can be replaced because their replacements are too costly.

• Our military is not professional. That is to say its officers, especially the senior ones, are poorly educated in the military profession. U.S. Army training in mechanical skills such as flying an airplane or repairing a truck compares very well to similar training in foreign militaries. However, true comprehension of why things are done as opposed to how to do them, is usually deficient. This makes it much harder to deal with the unfamiliar and unexpected. This in turn relates to the military’s inward focus already referred to. It is easier to focus inwardly on the familiar than outwardly on the unfamiliar. This follows a long American tradition of commissioning officers at the last-minute (usually when a war is just beginning) based largely on civil education and social status, and then giving them training not unlike that of enlisted recruits. Subsequent promotion depends more on politics, social skills and personal ambition than on military and leadership skills. This has left us with a military that has a leadership that has never really learned to “think” in its own profession. Such leaders find it difficult to devise sound strategy or offer advice to their political superiors that they can clearly explain and justify.

A more detailed elaboration of these main points appears below. Readers should understand that the four points given above are in fact so closely interrelated that to discuss them separately would only lead to confusion. Therefore, I have taken a more chronological approach to describe how these problems evolved and what effect they have on military policy today.
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Peace to you all.