Fixing America’s Military

Ultimately, "fixing America's military" will require fixing America.

Fixing America's Military Phil Carter has teamed with Fred Kaplan to write the first in a ten-part series on fixing what ails America’s military.

Many of the suggestions are familiar: drastically change budget priorities away from major procurement programs designed to fight an enemy that doesn’t exist; do away with parity between the Service budgets, realigning spending to our real-world mission requirements; stabilize career patterns to make them less burdensome on wives and families; and promote the most innovate, visionary leaders rather than the best bureaucrats.

Amusingly, I made many of these suggestions in various graduate school papers I wrote in the early 1990s, when most international relations articles had the phrase “post-Cold War Era” as part of the title. When I started my dissertation, in the fall of 1993, my proposed topic was to outline the realignment of Service roles and missions for that new era. Within a couple of months doing preliminary research, however, I realized that the question wasn’t at all interesting because the experts all had fairly similar ideas in that regard.

What was interesting it that it was very clear that we weren’t actually going to do much about that consensus. My eventual product, Fighting the Last War: Bureaucratic Politics and the Roles and Missions of the United States Armed Forces for the Post-Cold War Era, explored the various reasons why that was. The very short version was that the Services had cultural identities that mitigated against reorganizing for something other than all-out maneuver warfare (then, peacekeeping; now, COIN and stabilization ops) and that Congress and other players had every incentive to resist change as well. We might not — and, indeed, probably don’t — need the F-22 but everyone who matters really, really wants it.

Some of the less fundamental changes Carter and Kaplan propose, notably investing in education bonuses and other quality-of-life issues, have at least some chance of getting enacted into policy, at least in watered down form. But it’s going to be next to impossible to change the Army’s culture so that the John Nagl’s of the world become the norm. And the only way to create an Air Force that doesn’t see the acquisition of faster, shinier toys as essential to its survival is to abolish the Air Force.

The article’s close is almost a throw-away:

If we want to continue the kind of military we’re pursuing, and the kinds of wars we’re fighting, then let’s pass a surtax to pay for it. If we don’t want to pay for it, then let’s drop the whole idea—scale back our missions in the world and figure out some other way to fulfill them.

Politically, a war tax is a non-starter — especially with a less-than-popular war. But we seem to have a bipartisan addiction to military intervention around the world with no end in sight.

George W. Bush famously campaigned on an end to nation-building but wound up launching perhaps the most ambitious nation-building enterprise in American history. The election of a Barack Obama as president might eventually get us out of that endeavor but he’d almost certainly get us in to others just as Bill Clinton did. The main difference between the Democrats and Republicans on this score is which interventions they deem essential to America’s interests.

Ultimately, then, “fixing America’s military” will require fixing America. Unless we somehow create a political system that doesn’t reward spending billions of dollars to “create jobs” in the states and districts of our most powerful Members of Congress, we’ll continue to buy major weapons systems we don’t need. And unless we give up on the notion that every problem that exists somewhere in the world is ours to solve, we’re not going to stop needing our military to do things it’s not particularly equipped to handle.

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James Joyner
About James Joyner
James Joyner is Professor and Department Head of Security Studies at Marine Corps University's Command and Staff College and a nonresident senior fellow at the Scowcroft Center for Strategy and Security at the Atlantic Council. He's a former Army officer and Desert Storm vet. Views expressed here are his own. Follow James on Twitter @DrJJoyner.

Comments

  1. Christian Prophet says:

    Comment in violation of site policies deleted.

    Those wishing to buy candidate advertising should send inquiries to otb@blogads.com

  2. Triumph says:

    The very short version was that the Services had cultural identities that mitigated against reorganizing for something other than all-out maneuver warfare (then, peacekeeping; now, COIN and stabilization ops) and that Congress and other players had every incentive to resist change as well.

    So you basically just applied James Q. Wilson to a study of the military?

  3. Dave Schuler says:

    The very short version was that the Services had cultural identities that mitigated against reorganizing for something other than all-out maneuver warfare (then, peacekeeping; now, COIN and stabilization ops) and that Congress and other players had every incentive to resist change as well.

    Pretty obvious, really. Just human nature. Let’s say you’ve got a guy who’s spent his entire career supporting some weapons system or what have you. Just because conditions change will he change his tune to match them? Doubtful.

  4. Michael says:

    promote the most innovate, visionary leaders rather than the best bureaucrats.

    It’s the same problem in business, when bureaucrats are in charge of deciding who gets promoted, invariably they will promote bureaucrats. Is there any objective way of determine which candidate is better, other than who their superior feels is better?

  5. Ultimately, then, “fixing America’s military” will require fixing America.

    Good luck with that.

  6. mannning says:

    We need a robust military.
    We need to be able to fight many kinds of wars.
    We need a number of new divisions for the army.
    We need an air force second to none.
    We need a navy that can rule the seas.
    We must be willing to support these goals.
    We do still have potential enemies that are stirring up the arms race once again, and they are manpower loaded. and are technologically well up the power curve.

    Militarily:
    We do not have strong allies in Europe.
    We do not have strong allies in the Far East.
    We do not have strong allies in the Mid East.
    Ditto Africa and South America.

    What do we do, for example, if China attempts to take over the Saudi oil, the Iranian oil, and the Sudanese oil? Hunker down, and accept it?

    Fortress America is no longer viable.

  7. Michael says:

    What do we do, for example, if China attempts to take over the Saudi oil, the Iranian oil, and the Sudanese oil? Hunker down, and accept it?

    That’s one of the worst thought out hypotheticals I’ve heard to date. There is a lot of ground to control between China and those oil fields, across hostile countries. Not to mention the resistance and insurgencies China would face from Saudi Arabia, Sudan and Iran alone. If the US even had to do anything, it would just be to loan supplies those other countries, to be paid back in the form of cheap oil in the future. So, lets recap:

    1.) China becomes the 3rd world’s new bogeyman
    2.) USA becomes the 3rd world’s best hope for defense.
    3.) China’s communist government collapses under the strain of the war, plus the post-war reparations, maybe as a condition of the ceasefire itself.
    4.) The US has access to cheap oil for some time into the future as payment war debts.

    Such a move by China would probably be one of the most ideal situations for the US.

  8. Steve Plunk says:

    “George W. Bush famously campaigned on an end to nation-building but wound up launching perhaps the most ambitious nation-building enterprise in American history.”

    I find it surprising there are still people who ignore 9/11 and the changes it forced upon this country and this president. This was not a simple change of heart concerning nation building but was response based in the national interest moving forward from that day. Literally, things changed overnight.

  9. Cernig says:

    James, do you honestly not see the disconnect between this post and the one you wrote about McCain’s League fo Democracies idea?

    Regards, C

  10. James Joyner says:

    James, do you honestly not see the disconnect between this post and the one you wrote about McCain’s League fo Democracies idea?

    Not at all. America is a global power with global interests and it makes sense to work with our democratic allies in achieving consensus on those interests. That doesn’t require — and would likely mitigate against — invading countries and imposing democracy.

  11. Michael says:

    I find it surprising there are still people who ignore 9/11 and the changes it forced upon this country and this president. This was not a simple change of heart concerning nation building but was response based in the national interest moving forward from that day. Literally, things changed overnight.

    Saying “9/11 changed everything” isn’t a blanket excuse for every change you want to make. Nobody says “We need to change to the Metric system, because 9/11 changed everything”. If you want to start nation building, fine, but have a good reason for it, 9/11 isn’t enough.

  12. Bithead says:

    George W. Bush famously campaigned on an end to nation-building but wound up launching perhaps the most ambitious nation-building enterprise in American history. The election of a Barack Obama as president might eventually get us out of that endeavor but he’d almost certainly get us in to others just as Bill Clinton did.

    I said during Bush’s 2000 campaign that the idea he was trying to push was a fantasy. The kind of isolation he proposed then was certainly a heartfelt desire of the American voter, but was simply not in mesh with the realities of being in the role of the lone superpower…. a reality he was reminded of, and to his credit reacted well to, when 9/11 came along. 9/11 didn’t really change everything, it simly reminded us of reality. That is tacitly admitted to, also, in the reference to Obama likely getting us into the same situation. Again, try as we might, we cannot ingore the role of the world’s lone superpower. I submit that 9/11 was the result of the last time we tried.

  13. Barry says:

    James Joyner: “The main difference between the Democrats and Republicans on this score is which interventions they deem essential to America’s interests. ”

    Well, it’s ‘main’ after (a) not getting into stupid messes, and (b) not getting deeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeep into very stupid messes, and (c) doing in the the most incompetant, corrupt way possible, as if the real objective was fighting a war so as to enrich one’s cronies.

  14. James Joyner says:

    Well, it’s ‘main’ after (a) not getting into stupid messes, and (b) not getting deeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeep into very stupid messes, and (c) doing in the the most incompetant, corrupt way possible, as if the real objective was fighting a war so as to enrich one’s cronies.

    Umm, remind me again which party got us into Vietnam and ran that as incompetently as possible?

    Look, Iraq was a bipartisan mess approved overwhelmingly by both Houses of Congress. A Republican president led the charge, to be sure, and gets most of the blame for the screw-ups. But it was a national mess.

    Similarly, Clinton, the only Democratic president we’ve had in the post-Cold War period, got us into numerous stupid messes. Granted, Bosnia and Somalia II: Chasing the Warlords weren’t of as large a scale as Iraq. But they were even less tied to our national interests.

  15. mannning says:

    Friend Michael got the first point well. China would have to cross three nations to get to Iran. But the next point is that Chinese think in long terms, so such an attack would have to take place over perhaps 20 years, one nation at a time, starting with Kazakhstan, not in one fell swoop.

    Five years or so later would bring Chinese armor to Turkmenistan and Uzbekistan, fully bypassing Kyrgyzstan and Tajikistan. In the next phase, another five years later, the Chinese would be massing for an attack on Iran.

    At each stage our pacifists would yell and scream but do nothing, while China takes its time to assimilate its winnings, lay pipes and pump the oil it captured in each nation, ensure the self-sufficiency of its forces in the nations, secure its supply lines, and ready its forces before moving on to the next target. New equipment would be issued in each phase to make their forces even more deadly. They are, of course, under the umbrella of MAD against Russia, the EU and the US.

    The Chinese would have no problem in fielding an army of 20 million men, overwhelming armor, and air superiority just for this 15 or 20 year effort. So, it might be 30 years; that doesn’t change things a whole lot.

    We would not stop it as things stand. Central Asia would become Chinese, and later…the Middle East. A large part of oil reserves in the world would be theirs, and they would not be shy about going for it. All of this done by a land bridge, obviating the need for supremacy of the seas, and making it extremely difficult for other nations to support the victims.

    Farfetched? Sounds like every major empire building effort in history to me. Darius, Alexander, Caesar, et all, and Hitler (though he went far, far too fast!)

  16. mannning says:

    Would we cut off trade with China if she rolled into Kaz? Would the Chinese economy falter over the 20-30 years postulated. I think not in both cases. Do you want to bet on these events, and virtually disarm the US? That is really stupid.

  17. mannning says:

    A Repiblican President led the charge in Nam? After Kennedy and LBJ got it going well. And it was Nixon that ordered the pullout just as we were on the brink of victory. You could say that he got us out, or that he orchestrated the defeat, along with a pacifistic Democratic Congress that balked at its responsibilities to support the South, thus making a mockery of 58,000 dead Americans, and 2 or 3 million Asians in SE Asia.
    Get the results in the corrent context.

  18. mannning says:

    correct

  19. mannning says:

    Just the big problems, James.