Sponsored by the Project on Defense Alternatives
James Der Derian
Today President Bush will deliver what has been billed as a major defense policy statement. Coming on the heels of a Pentagon ''top-to-bottom'' defense review -- the result of two dozen panels of experts meeting for several months behind closed doors -- his speech has been preceded by high expectations and not a small amount of controversy. Will he come to the Naval Academy armed with a revolutionary plan to transform the military, as his earlier statements have suggested? In the end, it may not matter. No plan, said Clausewitz, the Prussian strategist, survives the first battle; and the counterattacks have already begun.
On Capitol Hill, military reform has the unpleasant ring of bases being closed and pet weapons projects getting axed. Largely excluded from the planning process, Congress is likely to put up a fight -- a prospect that Secretary of Defense Donald Rumsfeld has belatedly recognized this week in his trips to the Hill.
Fearing the loss of a division, carrier group or fighter program, each of the armed services has launched both public and private protests. In the defense industry, cracks will further widen between the heavy-metal advocates (those who favor tanks, ships and planes) and the electronica faction (who prefer precision munitions, remote sensors and robotics).
Public debates are already heating up over readiness to fight simultaneously one, one and a half, or two major regional conflicts. The power and vulnerability of aircraft carriers are being contrasted to the speed and cost of ''streetfighter'' ships, and the advantages of piloted aircraft against those of precision strike weapons and unmanned aerial vehicles.
Whatever the outcome, much of the credit, or blame, is likely to be laid at the doorstep of one man: Andrew Marshall. He was handpicked by Mr. Rumsfeld to guide the strategic review. Yet Mr. Marshall and his views remain enigmatic. Well-known if not adored by a tight circle of civilian and military strategists -- the so-called ''church of St. Andrew'' -- Mr. Marshall has been nearly invisible outside the defense establishment. A RAND Corporation nuclear expert beginning in 1949, he was brought by Henry Kissinger onto the National Security Council then appointed by President Nixon to direct the Pentagon's Office of Net Assessment.
He has been there ever since, despite efforts by some defense secretaries to get rid of him. His innocuous-sounding office comes with a big brief: to ''assess'' regional and global military balances and to determine long-term trends and threats.
Insiders say Mr. Marshall was behind some of the key strategic decisions of the Reagan years. His strategy for a protracted nuclear war -- based on weapons modernization, protection of governmental leaders from a first strike and an early version of Star Wars -- effectively beggared the Soviet war machine. He advocated providing Afghan resistance fighters with the highly effective Stinger missiles. He tagged AIDS as a national security issue.
Supporters call Mr. Marshall ''iconoclastic'' and ''delphic''; his detractors prefer ''paranoiac'' or worse. No one has ever called him prolix. At a future-war seminar that he sponsored, Mr. Marshall mumbled a few introductory words and then sat in silence, eyebrows arched, arms folded, for the remaining two days. His only intervention came at the end. He suggested that when it came to the future, it would be better to err on the side of being unimaginative. After that experience, I better understood why he has been called the Pentagon's Yoda.
Five years ago, I sought him out because of his legendary seven-page memo, ''Some Thoughts on Military Revolutions.'' First circulated in August 1993, it promoted the ''revolution in military affairs,'' a new movement in military analysis, in which information technologies combined with innovative military doctrine transform the nature of war.
My interview with Mr. Marshall took place in his paper-strewn Pentagon office. With one eye on the primitive rocket that stood between our chairs, I asked him about his current concerns. Even then Mr. Marshall saw Asia looming on the horizon. But his gaze was also directed backward, to Europe between the world wars. He had teams analyzing the failure of Great Britain, the leading power of the day, to formulate effective strategies of defense and deterrence from new technologies like the tank, airplane and radio. Relying on past glories, antiquated doctrine and international institutions like the League of Nations, Britain missed the revolution in military affairs of its day. Germany did not, and subdued most of Europe by blitzkrieg.
The rest may be history, but not for Andrew Marshall. In a time of great transformations, the interwar period shows what might happen if a ''peer competitor'' gets the technological jump on a complacent United States. ''The 20's,'' he told me, ''turned out to be a period of illusion.''
Andrew Marshall is unusual in that he may have the power to make his vision of our enemies -- whether illusionary or true -- into reality. However, the horse-trading, pork-barreling, balkanizing process called ''defense policy making'' has a way of chewing up grand visions, even when they are proclaimed by presidents.
Originally published in The New York Times, 25 May 2001. Reprinted by permission of the author.
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