Tag: qdr

Do More, Spend More

Defense News today features a story that unintentionally provides an window into what is wrong with the Washington Foreign Policy Establishment (WFPE)— a group of supposedly smart people that has repeatedly failed to come up with a credible plan that may enable the United States to shed some of the burdens of global governance. Indeed, the key take away from a report to be released tomorrow (“The QDR in Perspective: Meeting America’s National Security Needs in the 21st Century”), is that we shouldn’t try to shed such burdens. This message is particularly curious given that even some long-time proponents of America-As-World-Government are beginning to rethink their positions.

I wasn’t expecting much, but when I perused a draft that was flying around the wires/fibers yesterday (the official release is not until tomorrow), it was even worse than I could have imagined.

“We are concerned,” the authors explain, “by what we see as a growing gap between our interests and our military capability to protect those interests.” Fair enough. But they fail to offer a reasonable alternative that would address this imbalance by boosting the military capability of other countries, and thereby relieve the burdens that have fallen disproportionately on the backs of our soldiers, sailors, airmen and Marines. Instead, they call for more ships, more planes, and a larger force across the board, with the costs borne exclusively by U.S. taxpayers.

When the Obama administration released its National Security Strategy, I knocked the president and his senior advisors for failing to come up with a reasonable plan for forcing other countries to take responsibility for their own defense, and redistribute the burdens of policing the global commons among the many beneficiaries of a stable and peaceful international system. I had a similar view of the QDR, which spoke vaguely of sharing burdens and building partner capacity. The Obama team at least deserved credit, however, for recognizing that the United States should not indefinitely underwrite global security; we need other countries to do more.

The alternate QDR doesn’t even get that right. It instead makes a full-throated case for the United States remaining as the world’s policeman/armed social worker, and blithely expects the American people to keep spending more and more on our military.

I could comfort myself that this report will be the last of its type. Going back to the now-infamous Defense Planning Guidance of 1992, which set the course for the post-Cold War military, there has been a general consensus in Washington that the United States is now, and forever shall be, the sole guarantor of world order, the indispensable nation. And, for the most part, the American people have gone along.

Over time, however, the costs and risks of this approach have grown, exacerbated by the weakness of our allies, and by the inability of the Pentagon to control costs. And the benefits are meager. Today, many Americans have begun to ask why, for example, we each (every man, woman and child) spend about $2,700 on our military, when people in other countries spend less than a third as much on theirs. It is not that this level of spending will bankrupt us, per se; the key constraint on U.S. strategy is the willingness of the American people to pay for the defense of others.

Such support was always tenuous. In The Case for Goliath, Michael Mandelbaum famously argued that the United States could sustain its global posture so long as the American people didn’t scrutinize the true object (to be the world’s government) too closely. The title and description of Mandelbaum’s forthcoming book suggests that even he believes that time is running out. Other one-time enthusiasts of American unipolarity are beginning to come around to this point of view. (e.g. here and here)

To stare at the obvious imbalance between our strategic ends and our fiscal means, and to conclude that the only alternative is to dramatically increase the size of the military, the costs of which have already nearly doubled in the past 15 years, belies a fundamental inability to think strategically. The evidence suggests that our hyperactive foreign policy of the post-Cold War years has undermined American security, and ultimately been a big waste of money. There are sound strategic reasons for choosing to do less. Our fiscal problem adds to the urgency of a change in course, and especially for cuts in military spending.

Beyond that, however, our strategy must align to our political culture. To ignore the growing evidence that Americans are demanding that we do less around the world, and conclude instead that Washington must do more, demonstrates a deep disdain for the public that actually pays the bills – and offers up its sons and daughters to build other people’s countries, and fight other people’s wars.

QDR: The Pentagon Hedges

As usual, Ben Friedman beat me to the punch regarding the Quadrennial Defense Review (QDR) (.pdf), and, as usual again, he nails it.

I do see some value in the exercise, however. So let’s not “forget it” just yet.

By constructing a rationale to justify our existing defense posture, and providing a blueprint for force planning into the future, the QDR can be particularly useful for taking on some sacred cows. For example, the proposals to cancel the CG(X) cruiser, shut down production of the C-17 and the F-22, restructuring the DDG-1000 destroyer and the Future Combat Systems program, are sure to rile up members of Congress who continue to treat the defense budget as just another vehicle for dispensing pork barrel goodies to a handful of constituents. By singling these programs out as inconsistent with our strategic objectives, the QDR forces the advocates of these programs to come up with different rationales, beyond the inevitable “jobs, jobs, jobs” mantra.

But the QDR can only do so much. The real culprit driving an enormous defense posture is a national security strategy which presumes that the United States is, and always will be, the world’s indispensable nation. We need a different grand strategy, one that would shift some of the burdens on our friends and allies around the world who have grown too comfortable under the U.S. security umbrella.

There is vague language in the QDR about evolving our strategic posture in different regions, and emphasis on building capacity, but the bottom line is the same as it has been for decades: a de facto permanent presence for U.S. forces in Europe and Asia, and continued attention to security in “key regions” (a phrase that appears seven times), which could be construed as everywhere in the world.

For nearly two decades, the United States has been the policeman for the world. If the senior civilian leadership in the White House had decided to push other countries to take responsibility for their own security, and for security in their respective regions, the QDR might have become a vehicle for responsibly shaping a smaller military that is explicitly oriented toward defending U.S. security. Instead, because the military is convinced that they will be expected to answer all of the world’s 911 calls for the foreseeable future, the Pentagon hedged its bets.

I can’t say that I blame them.

Quadrennial Claptrap

Since the mid-1990s, the Defense Department has been legally required to review its strategy and force structure every four years, producing what’s called the Quadrennial Defense Review.

The result has been a series of vacuous documents that commingle vague, unsubstantiated claims about great historical shifts underway (think Tom Friedman but without the empirical rigor) with threat inflation. There is no evidence that these documents have produced much beyond wasted time and effort.

Naturally, the Department of Homeland Security decided to produce a quadrennial homeland security review, which is underway. Last week, ForeignPolicy.com reported that the State Department will get in on the act with a Quadrennial Diplomacy and Development Review.  Apparently grand strategy documents have great allure to policy-makers. So it’s worth reflecting on why the QDR has failed.

I say it’s because strategy is overrated. The idea is that government is a scientific enterprise where smart people get together, figure out the wisest course, and then marshal their bureaucracies to the new objectives. The trouble with this view is that government is political; it is about competing bureaucratic interests or ideologies trying to impose their preferences on each other.  Strategy documents have no inherent power over these forces.

In practice, because the military services participate in the QDR’s production, it is an output of the politics it is supposed to guide, a logroll that justifies existing realities. The services all employ manpower to defend their prerogatives. Consultants get hired. A great fuss occurs. Compromise language carries the day, and the thing winds up vapidly endorsing the existing force structure and programs.

A better way to go would for the Office of the Secretary of Defense to use strategy documents to give its views official heft; one more way to impose their preferences on the rest of the Pentagon. That argues for civilian authorship, not service inclusion. Of course, this method is only as good as OSD’s ideas.

The next QDR is due this year. The document will likely endorse the Secretary Gates’ desire to make the military better suited to counterinsurgency, which is OK, and overstate our ability to succeed in these wars, which is not.

The owner of the document is the Undersecretary of Defense for Policy, Michelle Flournoy, who previously founded the Center for New American Security, which has, in its brief life, exhibited great enthusiasm for counterinsurgency campaigns or US military-led nation-building.

Flournoy and a co-author just published a kind of preview of the QDR in Proceedings, the Naval Institute’s magazine. The article not encouraging. It cites the disastrous vehicle of Cold War threat inflation, NSC-68, as an example to emulate. Unsurprisingly it buys into the trendy idea that future US wars will be hybrid wars, mixing conventional and unconventional tactics as Hezbollah did in 2006 in Lebanon. It takes the conventional position that the United States has to police global commons (space, cyberspace, airspace and sea lanes), to protect the “international system.” This apparently means that free trade requires US military hegemony, a common claim with a hazy causal logic. The article makes the curious argument that because the commons are a public good, other nations have “powerful incentives” to help the United States police them. I am all for burden sharing, but this misunderstands the meaning of public goods, which are notoriously underprovided. Powerful incentives encourage free-riding, not mutual aide.

Worst of all, the article buys into the idea that the United States needs to fix failed states, which is a recipe for empire.

The good news is that there is time to fix all this. Maybe the Pentagon will embrace restraint. You never know.