Larry Wilkerson on Strategic Adjustment

July 2013

I was there (special asst to CJCS Powell) when we implemented the reductions to establish the Base Force and, further, when Les Aspin and Bill Clinton implemented even further cuts (resulting in the need, later, to use contractors massively in order to fight two wars simultaneously and thus avoid end strength limitations imposed by the very Congress that approved those cuts and authorized those two wars–or, actually, three wars if we count the backdrop war, the so-called GWOT–and to enrich men like Richard Cheney). Those were interesting times and very insightful as to what composes such situations in terms of the White House, the bureaucracy–civilian and military–and the national security decision-making process.

Today, my approach is that of the IPS/CAP report for 2013. The first step is to acknowledge that we spend $1.2T or more now annually on the national security account. That is State (150 account), VA, DOD, DOE (nuclear weapons), 17 intelligence bodies, and Homeland Security Dept. While GDP–particularly our anemic GDP–is an atrocious measure of almost anything and certainly for national security spending, such a holistic approach demonstrates a 7-8% of GDP expenditure rather than the 3-5% so often cited. That’s a hell of a lot of money by any measure.

Once this holistic approach to national security is the rule–and it has to be if one is going to make sense of what the nation is doing–then the first requirement is to balance appropriately the overall accounts in accordance with the nation’s strategic approach to the world. Since the best and only sensible strategic approach is to lead with soft rather than hard power, one realizes immediately how out of balance is the national security budget. This is true whether one is a balance of power theorist or otherwise; unless of course one’s objective is to destroy the empire through bankruptcy.

When even a rough re-balancing is accomplished within the accounts listed above, it becomes immediately clear that we can reduce the national security budget by somewhere between three-quarters of a trillion and a trillion dollars over the next decade, or done wisely year by year, between $60-100B per year, starting with FY 2014.

The essential details of these reductions should be accomplished in accordance with the nature of the threats we envision and the resultant capabilities we believe required to meet those threats. The White House, not DOD, should lead these efforts. DOD, as the major user of funds, should have a strong voice, but that voice should be conditioned by the overall strategy devised in the White House.

Will anything remotely resembling this happen? Probably not. We are led by amateurs, in all branches of government. I see not a strategic–or even an adult and wise–mind among them.

Col. Lawrence Wilkerson (US Army, ret.) had a distinguished career in the U.S. Army, was special assistant to CJCS Colin Powell and was Chief of Staff during Powell’s term as Secretary of State.

Comments are closed.