Mullen Signals Sea Change
Admiral Mike Mullen, the Chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff, told the graduating class of the Army War College to accept responsibility, listen to their subordinates, and broaden their horizons. He also signaled a radical transformation of the way the Defense Department does business.
The chairman also called on a national discourse on defense. “Quite frankly, I don’t believe our armed forces are as balanced as they need to be for that future,” he said. “That’s why I have so strongly argued for a renewed debate in this country about the level of defense spending.”
He said he would like to see a thoughtful reevaluation of the threats America faces and the risks the country is willing to run. He suggested the country should invest roughly 4 percent of gross domestic product in national defense. “Whether we stay at that level or rise above it is, of course, for the American people to decide, but we ought to have that discussion,” he said. “Maintaining a force that is correctly shaped, sized, trained and equipped so that we may adequately defend our nation is our most pressing long-term problem.”
Like Phil Carter, I see this as momentous and long overdue. Perhaps it’s wishful thinking but I think Phil’s interpretation is correct:
Mullen is speaking in code here. When he uses the word “balanced,” he’s referring to the allocation of resources among and within the services. Consider that along with his comments about counterinsurgency and the need for full-spectrum operations, and it’s clear he’s talking about a massive reallocation of Pentagon money and a dramatic reordering of priorities. More troops, especially those useful for small wars (special operations, intelligence, logistics, military police, civil affairs, etc.). Fewer high-tech aircraft, like the Joint Strike Fighter. More versatile low-tech aircraft, like the C-17 transport plane or the UH-60 helicopter. And many more changes along those lines.
I’ve been arguing, along with many others, for these things since the early 1990s. These things were obvious to me during the Somalia operation and without the benefit of a senior service college education. Indeed, there was widespread agreement on the need to transform, not merely resize, the force for the post-Cold War era. Except at the margins, though, it didn’t happen because entrenched interests and institutional inertia coalesced around saving the big ticket programs. It’s high time that we get past those barriers.