Hagel’s Uphill Fight

Examining SECDEF's call for radical overhaul of our defense structure against the fate of similar calls past.

chuck-hagel-ndu-speech

My latest for The Atlantic, ”The Military Isn’t Going to Change Anytime Soon,” examines Chuck Hagel’s call for radical overhaul of our defense structure against the fate of similar calls past.

Hagel has directed a Strategic Choices and Management Review as guide to “matching missions with resources – looking at ends, ways, and means.”

While that might be a prudent step, I’m reminded of the Bottom-Up Review commissioned exactly two decades ago by Hagel’s predecessor, Les Aspin. Now, the nation is trying to achieve fiscal savings as we draw down from two major wars. Then, the nation was seeking a “peace dividend” after decades of cold war. The impetus then was much greater: the entire premise of the national security posture of the postwar era was obviated by the collapse of the Soviet Union. The United States no longer faced a peer competitor and was already involved in various peacekeeping and stabilization operations that required new capabilities. And, yet, the nation wound up with essentially the same force structure that we’d deployed against the Soviets, just proportionately smaller.

[…]

[D]uring times of tight budgets, bureaucratic institutions naturally fight to protect their core capabilities — based on their deeply ingrained sense of who they are — regardless of the actual demands that they’re called upon to meet.

[…]

This is compounded by the fact that military procurement, and to a lesser extent basing, impacts all fifty states and virtually every one of the 435 congressional districts.

[…]

More fundamentally than mere bureaucratic politics, turf wars, and Congressional leverage, though, is the fact that the uniformed leadership of our armed forces have a long institutional memory. Too often in our nation’s history, we’ve torn down our military capability at the onset of peacetime only to find ourselves unprepared for the next war. In World War II and Korea, in particular, we took heavy casualties at the outset as we sent unprepared and under-equipped men to fight.

There’s a lot more at the link; the article is some 1500 words.

FILED UNDER: Military Affairs, US Politics
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. Mike says:

    Reform is needed but it will be an uphill battle. The military is the ultimate bureacracy and bureacracies don’t like shrinking – they naturally grow.

  2. gVOR08 says:

    Larry O’Donnell was having fun last night playing similar clips from earlier SECDEFs, including Rumsfeld. Everybody sets out to reform the Pentagon. The Pentagon remains unreformed.

  3. Davebo says:

    Larry O’Donnell was having fun last night playing similar clips from earlier SECDEFs, including Rumsfeld.

    Oh I’d say Rumsfeld did a lot to reform the military. Some of it good, much of it disastrous.

  4. Tyrell says:

    Right now Secretary Hagel has a lot of other big problems to stay on top of: North Korea, Iran, Syria, Afghanistan, Pakistan, and of course the always mischievous Russians.

  5. anjin-san says:

    @ Tyrell

    Right now Secretary Hagel has a lot of other big problems to stay on top of

    The world is, as it has always been, a troubled place. That is hardly a reason not to put our own house in order.

  6. Dave Schuler says:

    I’ll repeat a suggestion I’ve made before both here and at my own place: if you want to change the military, substantially reduce the number of general officers.

  7. Ben Wolf says:

    Hagel is also going up against War Inc., the American defense industry. It’s one of the most powerful lobbies in the country, and with a corporatist president in the White House Hagel simply will not have the support he needs to wage a battle against those entrenched interests.

  8. Franklin says:

    @Ben Wolf:

    It’s one of the most powerful lobbies in the country …

    I’d say it is THE most powerful lobby. I don’t think all of Wall Street can even compare.

  9. Pharoah Narim says:

    Actually the military is going to change–for the simple reason they don’t like stalemates or undecisive outcomes like they experienced in Iraq and Afghanistan. They are going to spend the next 15 years building to decisively win a low intensity conflict and win the peace–only to find the next bar fight will be total war with a professional regular military. Damn.

  10. James Joyner says:

    @Pharoah Narim: Ha. No, the signs are already pretty clear that we’re going to re-invest in air and naval power at the expense of ground forces and expeditionary capability. That would be fine if we were going to eschew senseless engagements in the future. I fear, however, that we will not.

  11. gVOR08 says:

    @James Joyner: Yes, the military does seem to be taking away the same lesson they took from Vietnam – This counter-insurgency stuff is really hard, so let’s never do it again. Might work if they got to pick their wars. And the apparent desire to re-invest in air and naval power shows @Ben Wolf: is right. Although seeing Republican lack of reaction to the sequester cuts leaves me wondering if War Inc hasn’t lost some of its clout.