Students of the military art have long been familiar with the Iron Law of the Inverse. This great truth holds, among other things, that a service’s leadership effectiveness is inversely proportional to the number of generals available to lead; that combat ferocity is inversely proportional to the quantity of medals awarded; and that a service’s budgetary discipline is inversely proportional to the amount of money thrown their way.
Time, perhaps, to add a new codicil: The American military’s long-term prospects are inversely proportional to the slickness of their doctrinal brochures.
Recent example: Joint Vision 2010, a 34-page, heavy-paper, glossy little pub, with several dozen military action photos and busy full-color schematics, counterpointing modest quantities of large-type, double-spaced prose. JV 2010 emanates from the Office of the Chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff, but its style resonates of New Townhome Community Prospectus (80 percent Already Sold!), or perhaps a mass mailout for a group of recently incorporated Bill Gates wannabes, scavenging for start-up money.
JV 2010, which recently hit the streets after months of internal workup, has a purple cover. This signifies jointness. (Those who labor at inter-service tasks have long been known as “purple suiters.”) The pamphlet begins with a statement from the Chairman, General John Shalikashvili, emphasizing that modern warfare requires teamwork. The usually-obligatory quote from the Commander-in-Chief appears conspicuous by its absence. But General Shalikashvili writes that that this little document provides “an operationally based template for the evolution of the Armed Forces for a challenging and uncertain future.”
JV 2010 goes on to explain that the future belongs to high technology: the precision-guidance and information-age gizmos which will generate the capabilities for: “dominant maneuver; precision engagement; full dimensional protection; and focused logistics.” JV 2010 notes almost casually that, in some cases, “boots on the ground” will still be necessary. But, clearly, the future belongs to the machines.
JV 2010 isn’t wrong. The “dazzle-’em-with-imagery” format can’t quite conceal that this is a coherent, well-crafted approach to 21st century warfare. But for two reasons, both beyond the military’s control, this is also a template for disaster.
The first problem is perennial: Where’s the money coming from? There is simply no way the military can fund even a fraction of the necessary modernization programs; necessary because the technologies to counter information-age warfare are diffusing across the planet. Information-age forces are far less vulnerable to destruction than disruption; a three-to-five year technological lead is absolutely vital and easily lost.
Money is also critical because of a condition peculiar to periods of rapid technological change. Obviously, not everything can be modernized at once. But insufficiently funded modernization can leave significant portions of the force two and three generations behind, creating enormous interoperability problems, especially in communications, supply, and maintenance. Incomplete modernization could well result in a degraded active force and a marginal-to-useless reserve . . . or a modernized but tiny active force and a semi-skilled, cannon-fodder reserve.
The second, and even more disturbing failure involves the paper’s attitude toward weapons of mass destruction (WMD). The battlefield approach seems sensible enough. Active measures (anti-aircraft and anti-missile defenses, among others) do what they can, while mobility and dispersion limit damage on the ground. But JV 2010 nowhere mentions homeland protection, as though the constitutional requirement to “provide for the common defense” doesn’t include the people and territory of the United States. Again, this is primarily a political failure. But it would certainly have been an act of military statesmanship, had JV 2010 contained a paragraph reading:
“Today, the United States is involved in an unprecedented and potentially catastrophic asymmetrical arms race. While we concentrate on precision-guidance weaponry and information-age warfare, potential enemies (nation-states and subnational groups) acquire WMD and a variety of crude but serviceable delivery systems. New technologies permit development of active defenses that could prove highly effective against small WMD attacks. Many of these defenses could be adapted for homeland protection. Further, many defenses against non-airborne WMD may have domestic uses. Finally, the National Guard should be given WMD disaster relief as a high-priority mission, and trained and equipped accordingly. Ironically, to the extent that we maintain invincible conventional forces, potential enemies will be forced to consider terrorist use of WMD, especially against this open society. We hope that deterrence continues to work, even against the most fanatic rogue nations and their terrorist clients. But it is always better to save lives than to avenge them.”
Why hasn’t this been said?
The reasons are many, and often valid: unwillingness to defy the civilian leadership; the possible effect on other military priorities; lack of funding; reluctance to draw the military too deeply and openly into domestic counter-terrorism; inertia; exhaustion. But it grows ever harder to avoid the conclusion that, as a matter of professional as well as constitutional responsibility, the military must begin to take homeland defense seriously.
In the 1920s and 1930s, a diverse group of officers united around a common goal: to get the United States some air power. Two decades of public advocacy, professional struggle, and personal sacrifice paid off in World War II, then laid the foundations for the aerospace dominance which the United States has taken for granted ever since. Perhaps it’s time for a similar visionary movement to emerge around homeland defense.
“Purple prose” alone can’t defend us.
Philip Gold, a senior fellow of the Seattle-based Discovery Institute is Discovery’s director of aerospace and defense studies and is heading the project “Revisioning Defense: Protecting the People, Defending the Defenders.”