An Agenda for US Policy Debate and Transition
Project on Defense Alternatives
5 December 2008
defense policy evinces a disturbing paradox: it has been delivering less and
less security at ever increasing cost.
With national defense expenditures approaching $700 billion per year,
On a world
scale, what parallels the present paradox in
How deep a problem?
It is tempting to attribute the paradox of “less security at increasing cost” entirely to the Bush administration and a coterie of neo-conservative thinkers. But there is good reason to believe that the problem runs deeper.
■ By the late-1990s, defense budgets were already rising after a nine-year respite, but with little relationship to actual threats. The 9/11 attacks found the United States largely unaware and unprepared, despite a defense expenditure of $3.9 trillion during the preceding decade.
■ On the strategic level: polls show that
■ Key precursors and enablers of current policy
ideas – such as offensive counter-proliferation, the "rogue state
doctrine", and regime change – were
already evident in the
course, a prominent element of continuity in post-Cold War policymaking has
been the inability of national leadership to reach consensus on a
So how deep does the problem run? We can gain a fuller perspective on our present situation by thinking back twenty years. In 1989, the end of the Cold War presented a historic opportunity to increase global cooperation, advance the demilitarization of international affairs, and claim a permanent peace dividend. Twenty years later, this promise remains largely unfulfilled. Of course, grasping the promise proved from the start to be more difficult than many had imagined. Certainly, the failure was not a product of bad policy choices alone. But they played an important part. The quandary in which we find ourselves today is path dependent. At every juncture since 1989, our response to circumstances shaped what was to come and helped define what would seem “feasible” and “practical” at the next turn. It is the depth and the breadth of our current policy problems that should compel us to question not just the past six years of decision, but much of the past 20.
Three core concerns
Reviewing current policy, we have identified 25 specific concerns that relate to the paradox of “decreasing security at increasing cost.” These might form an agenda for policy discussion and change. From these we have distilled three overarching topics or concerns that, taken together, capture the fundamental problems in current policy. Alternative perspectives that address these three core concerns can provide guidance for understanding and addressing the rest.
Core concern 1. Security policy vision: How do we understand and hope to attain security?
entails our assessment of the security environment and its dynamics as well as
our security interests, goals, concerns, and strategy. Presently, the “war on terrorism” provides
the principal organizing theme for
An alternative approach might emphasize broad multilateral cooperation in mitigating and redressing the sources of stress and instability in the international system. Such an approach would not turn principally on waging and winning wars or pursuing strategic advantage in a contest of nation-states. Instead, it would turn on building broad cooperation and winning the confidence of people in troubled regions.
Water, food, energy, and health security, global warming, economic development, and the management of globalization – all represent concerns that can be addressed only on a global basis. Cooperation in these areas could serve as a foundation for cooperation on more divisive issues. This much is certain: How the community of nations responds to the challenge of post-Cold War regional instability – and how they relate to each other in responding – will determine the character of the international system for decades to come.
issue for the
■ Will we redouble efforts to cooperate across strategic divides – with Russia, China, and the Muslim world – or will we limit our chief efforts to friends and allies?
■ Will we work through global institutions and regimes – or around them?
■ Will we seek to lead by virtue of the strength of our ideas and diplomacy – or by throwing our weight around?
■ In our diplomatic practice, What will be the relative importance of “bargaining” versus “coercive pressure” (threats and sanctions).
Core concern 2. The role of force and the armed forces in US foreign and security policy
end of the Cold War the role of the
“Force” can serve a variety of functions and ends, including coercion, offensive goals, preemption, simple defense, deterrence, and dissuasion. Similarly, the armed forces can play a variety of roles. Besides serving in combat, they can undertake stability and constabulary missions, provide security and humanitarian assistance, undertake nation-building efforts, and serve to collect intelligence or conduct diplomacy. What is an appropriate balance among these functions and activities? What does recent experience suggest about our current dependence on force and the armed forces? Should it be rolled-back (in favor of other instruments) or simply refigured?
Any adequate alternative to current and recent defense policy must provide new guidance regarding the use of force and the role of the military.
Core concern 3.
The “fit” between
Military “transformation” and “revolution” have been DOD watchwords since the mid-1990s. But they have not yet inspired a defense posture that is demonstrably well-adapted to post-Cold War circumstances. A poorly-adapted defense posture is likely to be inefficient, relatively ineffective, and even counter-productive. And this helps produce a “sustainability” problem.
Ideally, defense planning would function like an adaptive process that adjusts military capabilities to fit changes in the strategic environment. Of course, no large-scale planning process works this way – that is, without friction. In the case of defense policy, a variety of interests – bureaucratic, political, parochial, and economic ones – impede adaptation. Institutional inertia and entrenched ideas also retard adaptation – that is: the past always drags on the present.
Adjusting the nation's defense posture to more closely fit the security environment would simultaneously render that posture more "sustainable". And this might turn the defense policy paradox "on its head" – yielding greater security at lower cost. However, this path entails changes in force development and modernization programs across the services.
three overarching concerns – security vision, role of force, and the “fit” and
An agenda for policy debate and change
The 25 specific concerns that we have identified can be divided into eight categories:
■ Policy on strategic warfare
■ Counter-proliferation, counter-terrorism, and homeland security
■ Policy on major military operations, conventional and irregular
■ Peacetime military engagement
■ The US stance on international law and arms control
■ Civil-military relations: The growing influence of the Pentagon
■ Defense budget, acquisition, and management issues
■ Country-specific controversies
Policy on Strategic Warfare
1. Nuclear weapons, missile defense, and the “new deterrence”
This involves the re-targeting of nuclear weapons, the renovation of US nuclear capabilities (including the weapons production complex), and the pursuit of a credible shield against ballistic missile attack. In fact, there is nothing “new” in this. It has been a long-standing dream of nuclear warfighters to “win” the arms race and render one’s own nuclear weapons usable by (1) blunting adversaries’ nuclear threats and (2) developing and maintaining one’s own options for credible, tailored nuclear attack. But there is no certainty in nuclear defense and any leakage is unacceptable. What is certain is that the pursuit of a nuclear “sword and shield” system-of-systems will inspire a broad range of counter-measures, breathe new life into the arms race, and kill the momentum toward nuclear disarmament.
2. Prompt global strike: The advent of conventional strategic warfare
This involves long-range, high-speed offensive capabilities – conventional and nuclear – that would allow intercontinental strikes on high-value targets with little or no warning. This is a “hair-trigger” capability that would enable a much expanded practice of forceful pre-emption, “prevention,” and coercion. New bombers, long-range missiles (ballistic and cruise), hyper-velocity air vehicles, cyber-warfare capabilities, and weapons based in space all might figure in prompt global strike. As in the case of the “new deterrence”, these efforts will elicit counter-measures, prompt those who feel threatened to greater secrecy and higher alert levels, and blur the boundary between nuclear and conventional strikes. Some adversaries may seek shelter under the umbrella of other nuclear powers. Thus, the net effect of these initiatives may be increased polarization and militarization.
3. Seizing the “new high ground”: the weaponization of space
global strike and missile defense initiatives may involve the use of outer
space as a staging area for weapons.
Space warfare also involves offensive and defensive capabilities to deny
the use of space to adversaries while protecting US space assets. But the
Counter-proliferation, counter-terrorism, and homeland security
4. Offensive counter-proliferation (OCP): Arms control by means of bombardment?
involves the use of military means (including bombardment) to interdict,
disrupt, or disable the development, transfer, or fielding of nuclear,
chemical, or biological weapons, their precursors, their means of delivery, or
other advanced weapons by adversaries or potential adversaries. One important issue is the balance in
5. Counter-terrorism and homeland protection: In search of an effective strategy
At issue is the scope and focus of the efforts as well as the balance among the various means for blunting terrorist threats: cooperative intelligence and law enforcement, military strikes and large-scale operations, and investments in direct homeland protection and incident response capabilities. US counter-terrorism efforts currently are poorly focused and emphasize military means, which often undermine cooperation and feed anti-Americanism. Presently, homeland protection efforts suffer from serious lapses and are poorly integrated. These efforts may be underfunded, but they also exhibit irrational priorities, heavily influenced by pork-barreling. As a result, there has been insufficient progress in reducing even the most prominent vulnerabilities, such as those affecting aviation and nuclear security. Also at issue is the trade-off between civil liberties and counter-terrorism efforts. This pertains both to intelligence collection and the treatment of suspects.
Major regional military operations, conventional and irregular
6. Planning and preparations for major wars reflect unnecessarily ambitious goals
presently preparing for several types of large-scale conventional wars. These preparations lay claim to much of the
7. “Shock and awe” strategy and attacks on civilian-military targets
DOD war planning emphasizes early and (sometimes) large-scale “precision” attack on political and infrastructure targets, often in cities. Forceful “coercive bargaining” also often involves holding such targets at risk. These practices blur the civilian-military divide, seriously complicate post-conflict reconstruction, erode international and popular support, and feed vengeful anti-Americanism. Also at issue is the importance of their contribution to battlefield success, which is less than current military doctrine assumes.
8. Counter-insurgency, peace and stability operations, nation-building
security policy guidance suggests that the
Peacetime military engagement
9. Global military presence & base posture
to current wars, the
10. Military cooperation, assistance, and arms transfers programs
9/11, US efforts in these areas have grown significantly and have diversified,
involving new beneficiaries. Total
transfers of security-related funds, goods, and services now significantly
exceed $20 billion per year (including Economic Support Funds for strategic
allies). In addition, US Combatant
Commanders invest substantially in cooperative planning and exercises. The putative needs of the “war on terrorism”
have become a determining factor in pursuing cooperation. Restrictions based on human rights and weapon
proliferation concerns have been substantially relaxed. And the Pentagon is seeking greater
authority to dispense funds, training, and weapons as it sees fit. But this “war time” framework induces
short-sightedness. Many of our new
beneficiaries are of uncertain reliability.
This problem has consistently plagued even longer-term relationships
based on perceived military necessity;
11. Adherence to international law and legal institutions
are decisions to use force, the protections afforded civilians and civilian
assets during military operations, the treatment of detainees (both military
and civilian), and the
12. The role of negotiated arms control in US security policy
Civil-military relations: The growing influence of the Pentagon
13. DOD domestic “perception management” efforts
Especially since the 1999 Kosovo war, DOD has come to view public information as a “battlespace” and has become more aggressive in attempting to manage the media, control the flow of information, and shape the coverage of American operations. The most recent example of these “strategic influence” campaigns to come to light is the use of 75 supposedly independent analysts as “message surrogates” in the news media. Other efforts include the planting of supposedly independent news stories in the media, the screening of journalist access to information based on their perceived bias, and the surreptitious shaping of public discussion on Internet blogs. Most serious is the stealthy conveyance of dubious or weak “intelligence” through third-parties. These propaganda campaigns are antithetical to well-informed public debate and, thus, represent a direct assault on our democratic process.
14. The Pentagon’s drive for expanded “authorities” and greater freedom of action
currently seeking greater freedom of action or “authorities” in a variety of
areas, including budget, finance, acquisition, and personnel. It also seeks greater freedom in providing
security and other types of assistance to potential partner nations in the war
on terror (including the provision of advanced weapons), and more freedom in nation-building activities,
including work with foreign police forces and interior ministries. This means loosening some of the constraints
on foreign assistance and arms transfers imposed by Congress, and allowing DOD to extend its writ into
areas traditionally in the State Department portfolio. Curiously, DOD points to
Defense budget and acquisition issues
15. DOD’s broken financial and inventory accounting system
Pentagon’s financial and asset accounting systems are in complete disarray,
making useful audits impossible. “DOD
does not know what it owns, where its inventory is located, and how its annual
budget is being spent,” according to Kwai Chan, a former lead analysts with the
Government Accountability Office. DOD
routinely cannot account for the final disposition of a trillion dollars or
more of its funds and assets. This opens
the door wide to waste, fraud, larceny, and misdirection of resources. As a result, the budget totals upon which
Congress bases and tracks its decisions are unreliable. And military units, personnel, and veterans
often do not receive and cannot find the goods and services supposedly at their
disposal. Indicative of the problem,
200,000 weapons and $9 billion in funds have been reported ‘lost” in
16. Pork-barrel spending: the Pentagon budget as “gravy train”
The temptation to see and use military spending as a form of welfare for congressional districts requires constant vigilance by independent observers and actors. Congressional add-ons or “earmarks” to presidential budget requests now often exceed $10 billion. But this is only the visible tip of the problem. Ongoing support for troubled or excessive programs within the yearly presidential budget request also may reflect parochial interest. This tendency was most evident when Congresspersons from both parties worked hard to preserve redundant military bases in their states and districts, often against the Pentagon’s assessment of requirements. Pork-barreling and horse-trading within Congress tends not only to boost the overall size of the budget (to the detriment of other priorities) but also to impede adaptation of our military to new circumstances.
17. DOD’s broken weapon procurement system
than any other nation, the
18. Military transformation: To what end? And how much of what is enough?
of a “revolution” in military capabilities has been a driver of
19. Setting the defense budget – forever more than $600 billion?
By the end
of FY-2009 it is likely that the
There are worthwhile policy choices that could lead the budget substantially lower, however – as noted throughout this document. These include more realistic war planning, refraining from the pursuit of destabilizing weapon capabilities, and restraint regarding military occupations and long-term counter-insurgency campaigns.
At any rate, proposals to anchor defense spending to a percentage of GDP are without merit and would not be tolerated in any other area of federal spending. In an absolute sense, the nation could probably afford devoting 4 percent of GDP to defense, although other needs would go wanting. But the budget should correspond to requirements, not abstract benchmarks. Moreover, given today’s highly-competitive global economy, greater care should be exercised regarding how we invest every percent of GDP.
21. Resolving the
cases, the goal of “regime change” has impeded resolution of the nuclear
issue. So have punitive measures and the
general designation of the two states as “rogues”, which tends to foreclose
normal diplomacy. Most deleterious is saber-rattling,
which undermines both diplomacy and the prospects for democratization and
stable transition. Progress in the
should be foremost in our policy toward
23. Israel-Palestine and
present confrontations help drive instability throughout the region. Currently, US security goals are focused on
isolating and weakening Hamas and Hezbollah.
But these two are probably the most popular and powerful organizations
in the region. And neither faces any
real prospect of neutralization. Can and
should they be engaged? How and to what
24. Relations with
25. Increased military activity in sub-Saharan Africa
With offices in Washington DC and Cambridge MA, the Project on Defense Alternatives develops and promotes defense policy innovation that reconciles the goals of effective defense against aggression, improved international cooperation and stability, and lower levels of military spending and armed force worldwide. Subscribe to the monthly PDA Updates Bulletin.