Archive for the ‘Issues’ Category

Reset Defense Bulletin: Small Changes for the Army and Navy

PDA Review
from 20 Janaury 2014 Reset Defense Bulletin

In the last issue of the Reset Defense Bulletin we reported that the Pentagon will likely pass up one of the best options for greater strategic efficiency — that is relying more on a strong and capable strategic reserve for large and medium scale wars.

The size of the Total Army has been declining and will be down by about 100,000 this decade. However, the relative size of the active and reserve components has not yet been decided. Sydney Freedberg in Breaking Defense reports of the National Guard leadership complaining of being cut 10% t0 315,000 while the active component Army is hoping to remain as close to 490,000 as they can. Reportedly many in the Army expect there will be a further 8% reduction (to 450,000) in the active component before the end of the decade. By way of comparison the study Reasonable Defense from the Project on Defense Alternatives calls for 420,000 in the active component and 325,000 in the Guard.

In a sign that the Pentagon may face up to a small part of their fiscal reality, Bloomberg reports that the Navy will order 32 rather than 52 Littoral Combat Ships (LCS).

Navy experts Eric Labs of CBO and Ronald O’Rourke of CRS have long caste doubt the affordability of the Navy’s 30 year shipbuilding plan. Indeed, in an odd budgetary gambit, the Navy has lobbied to get the $90-100 billion cost of replacing their aging ballistic missile subs paid from some Pentagon treasury outside Navy’s regular shipbuilding budget (Frank Oliveri of Roll Call and Ronald O’Rourke of the Congressional Research Service offer details.) Christopher Preble and Matt Fay suggest that the Navy buy the SSBN[X] with funds saved from eliminating or curtailing the Air Force’s ICBM and Bomber legs of the strategic nuclear posture.

Now it looks like a small portion of the Navy shipbuilding budget deficit will be paid for by producing fewer than planned of the over-budget and under-performing LCS.

Coincidentally, a Defense News editorial praises the flexibility and affordability of frigates, calling particular attention to Denmark’s Iver Huitfeldt-class frigates as “long-range, efficient but highly flexible ships that come equipped with considerable capabilities.” Perhaps the Navy will now replace some retiring frigates with modern frigates proven by allied navies, instead of the much more expensive LCS.


Danish Ivar Huitfeldt Class Frigate

There has been several calls for disbanding the Air Force (Carroll, Farley) and for folding its roles and missions back into the other services. This is surely a ‘non-starter’ with a White House that has been consistently reluctant to take on anything held very dear by the Pentagon brass or their supporters in Congress. However, radical proposals such as this one will sometimes open space for discussion of other changes to strategic ambitions and to now calcified service roles and missions — which too often excessively and wastefully overlap. One such area is the strategic triad, jeaslously protected by the Navy and Air Force.

Reuters reports that the Pentagon is considering additional educational and financial incentives for Air Force officers who guard and operate the nation’s ICBM force. There have been a number of recent incidents of misbehavior which has to be worrisome given the extraordinary responsibility these service members have to prevent an unintentional nuclear war. “The scandals are raising questions about how to keep up morale of the force in the post-Cold War era…” Is it possible that the mission of maintaining such a large nuclear arsenal no longer makes good sense to those who are closest to it?

In a related piece Walter Pincus reports:

An unpublished Rand Corporation study done between December 2012 and February 2013 found that those in the nuclear missile force ‘have low job satisfaction and often feel job-related burnout.’

Pincus then laments:

Despite problems among the U.S. strategic nuclear force personnel, questions about the role of nuclear deterrence in the age of growing cyber and terrorist threats, and current budgetary pressures in defense spending, Hagel did not propose that the Obama administration would seek to reduce further the new START level of deployed warheads, cut the number of stockpiled warheads or eliminate one leg of the triad.

Winslow Wheeler has contributed a good analysis and comment on how national security spending fared in the ‘Omnibus’ spending bill that just passed through Congress. Wheeler sums it up this way:

The bill attempts to build a bridge to a future time when higher defense budgets are politically feasible. In the meantime, the congressional appropriators will use gimmicks and dodges to keep spending higher while appearing to be lower.

Defense News provides a summary of how appropriators added more than $5 billion to Overseas Contingency Operations funding to cover procurement and other items that didn’t get funded in the base budget. As a consequence of this maneuver, ‘war spending’ is actually rising in the year that the Afghan war is supposed to end.

There are links to all the literature cited above in the 20 Janaury 2014 Reset Defense Bulletin.

A New Challenge for Our Military: Honest Introspection

David Rothkopf. Foreign Policy, 19 March 2012.


Certainly there has been national debate about whether we should have been involved in those wars, one that has belatedly delivered the message to our political leadership that it is time to bring our troops home. But about one crucial array of issues concerning our involvement we have been stunningly silent: the competence of our military leaders, the effectiveness of the strategies they have employed, and the very structure and character of our military itself.

We Can Live with a Nuclear Iran

Paul Pillar. Washington Monthly, March/April 2012.


Fears of a bomb in Tehran’s hands are overhyped, and a war to prevent it would be a disaster.

Insiders: U.S. Should Begin ‘Pivot’ to Asia Through Diplomacy, Not Military Steps

Sara Sorcher. National Journal, 29 November 2011.


President Obama recently announced steps to strengthen the architecture of an American foreign policy with new focus on the Pacific, including plans to deploy 2,500 troops to a base in Australia—all the while insisting that any reductions in U.S. defense spending will not come at the expense of priorities in the Asia-Pacific region. Even as many in Washington warily eye China’s rapidly modernizing military and expanding naval presence in the Pacific, 39 percent of Insiders said the next move is to improve American engagement with Beijing while avoiding any military-related steps.

Going for Broke: The Budgetary Consequences of Current US Defense Strategy

Carl Conetta. PDA Briefing Memo #52, 25 October 2011.


The sharp rise in the Pentagon’s base budget since 1998 (46% in real terms) is substantially due to strategic choice, not security requirements, per se. It reflects a refusal to set priorities as well as a move away from the traditional goals of military deterrence, containment, and defense to more ambitious ends: threat prevention, command of the commons, and the transformation of the global security environment. The geographic scope of routine US military activity also has expanded.

companion piece: The Pentagon’s New Mission Set: A Sustainable Choice?, by Carl Conetta. An updated and expanded excerpt from the Report of the Task Force on a Unified Security Budget (USB) for the United States, August 2011.

Pentagon review must aim for more than modest cuts in defense spending

Project on Defense Alternatives, Briefing Memo #49, 25 April 2011.

There is good reason to welcome a strategic review, as promised by President Obama on 13 April. For nearly 14 years, US defense policy has been guided by the “QDR consensus” – a set of axioms and imperatives that won adherence among defense planners in the course of four Quadrennial Defense Reviews, beginning in 1997. In retrospect, this consensus has produced a syndrome of profligate and desultory military activism. It has fed the dysfunctions of our military procurement system and helped drive the Pentagon’s base budget to unsustainable heights. Certainly, it is time for a fresh start. But will the promised review deliver?

Will the review be more open and critical than the QDRs it aims to rectify? How deep will it dig? Will it even aim to “rectify?” Or will it serve a more narrow purpose: a revised bargain among the Commander-in-Chief, his defense secretary, and the chiefs of the armed services to exchange modest new constraints on budget growth for a strong rationale, a bulwark, against any further cuts.

What the President seeks is only $400 billion in savings over 12 years – about 6.5% of planned base budget expenditures. Last year, the President’s Fiscal Commission and other independent task forces identified more than twice as much in potential defense savings over a period of just ten years. And it is unclear whether the President intends to extract the $400 billion from the Pentagon’s budget alone or from the larger “security basket,” which includes International Affairs, Homeland Security, and Veterans Affairs.

Also, it is not encouraging that the President applauded Defense Security Gates for having “already saved” $400 billion in previous years, when most of those “savings” never left the Pentagon’s coffers, nor dented the government’s deficits. What the nation needs now are “savings” in the colloquial sense of an actual decrease in defense spending.

A serious strategic review should enable considerably more than a 6.5% retraction in planned future expenditures. It should do more than limit future growth. And maybe it will. But we should recognize at the start that what the President has proposed is not itself substantial enough to actually necessitate a strategic review. Yes, we need one – but not because the President hopes to modestly dampen Pentagon growth.

To be meaningful, such a review must look well beyond $400 billion in savings, and even beyond what the Fiscal Commission and other task forces have proposed. Of course, Secretary Gates and Admiral Mullen disagree. They have already publicly derided any substantial new constraints on their spending as putting the nation and its armed services at risk. The strategic review should be more than a conciliatory concession to their concerns, which are tendentious.

We can gain needed perspective by comparing recent budget submissions and proposals in historical context. This table prepared by PDA converts recent plans and proposals into average annual Pentagon base budgets, expressed in 2010 dollars. It shows that the President’s requests and proposals, including his recent one, would produce average annual budgets that occupy a narrow band of spending. They are all close cousins.

Even the more ambitious proposal by the Sustainable Defense Task Force does not go far afield.

All of the President’s requests and proposals produce average annual budgets that, in real terms, exceed previous spending, exceed Reagan-era levels of spending, and substantially exceed average spending during the entire Cold War period. (And, notably, the budget average for the Cold War years includes war spending, while the more recent averages do not.)

We should gladly accept the opportunity for a review of defense planning and work to make it worthwhile. But we need not and should not accept the idea that modest revisions in budget planning give good reason to hit the “strategy panic” button.

Why they hate us?: How many Muslims has the U.S. killed in the past 30 years?

Stephen M. Walt., 30 November 2009.


Yet if you really want to know “why they hate us,” … the fact remains that the United States has killed a very large number of Arab or Muslim individuals over the past three decades.

Editor’s Comment:

And no amount of “public diplomacy” or “American narrative” will win friends when the U.S. is responsible for killing sons and daughters of people in their home land. That is a basic piece of strategic wisdom!

Public Opinion on Global Issues: A Web-based Digest of Polling from Around the World

Council on Foreign Relations, November 2009.

Project website —


Publics around the world—including in the United States—are strongly internationalist in orientation. They believe that global challenges are simply too complex and daunting to be addressed by unilateral or even regional means. In every country polled, most people support a global system based on the rule of law, international treaties, and robust multilateral institutions. They believe their own government is obliged to abide by international law, even when doing so is at odds with its perceived national interest. Large majorities, including among Americans, reject a hegemonic role for the United States, but do want the United States to participate in multilateral efforts to address international issues.