The word “decadence” derives from the medieval Latin de cadere — to fall away, by implication from some previous height or standard of virtue or excellence. Some years ago, literary critic Robert Adams fleshed out this meaning and its application to human affairs. In Decadent Societies, he described historical decadence as the process whereby “societies that without suffering a grievous wound began to languish, struggled vainly for a while against minor enemies, and then succumbed to inner weakness.” From this he arrived at “the simplest definition of decadence; it is not failure, misfortune, or weakness, but the deliberate neglect of the essentials of self-preservation — incapacity or unwillingness to face a clear and present danger.”
By this standard, America is a decadent society. Despite the expenditure of well over $300 billion a year on defense and related activities, despite rhetoric about being “the world’s only superpower” and lacking any conceivable “peer competitor,” and despite all the high-tech gadgetry, today the United States possesses less usable military power than at any time since the late 1970s, perhaps the late 1940s. The problem goes far deeper than the debate over transient “readiness.” It is structural. Its components are the following:
• Ten years after the fall of the Soviet Union, the United States continues to field a smaller, ever more costly, unmaintainable, unready, and irrelevant version of its Cold War/industrial age military dinosaur.
• The United States clings to an outdated military strategy of fighting two major land wars on two transoceanic fronts.
• The United States squanders its power on ill-conceived and open-ended commitments — we’re now on our second decade of bombing Iraq and plan on staying in the Balkans indefinitely.
• The Navy dwindles to 300 deteriorating ships. The Air Force plans to fly its B-52 bombers until they’re 70 years old, and it cannot maintain its tactical aircraft fleet. The Marine Corps faces the obsolescence of its helicopters and other major systems. The Army’s tanks and trucks, helicopters and weapons wear out. Even M-16 ammunition is in short supply. During the Kosovo operation, the Army couldn’t get to the fight at all.
• Preventing casualties has become an end in itself, and an extreme casualty-intolerance drives major political and military decisions.
• The United States refuses to mount an effective national missile defense, or to organize properly for effective homeland defense against terrorism and weapons of mass destruction.
• The United States fails to exploit its tremendous potential offensive advantages in space. Simultaneously, we neglect to defend the civilian and military systems upon which we are now critically and irrevocably dependent.
After years of official denials, not even the Pentagon denies that this force is in serious trouble. The question for the next administration is: What now?
Dollars are not enough
One answer, much beloved of both political conservatives and the Pentagon, is to spend more money. Throughout the Cold War, peacetime defense spending averaged about 3 percent of GNP. In recent months, both conservative civilian analysts and senior officers have touted a “4 percent solution” — raising defense spending from its present 2.9 percent of GDP to 4 percent. This proposal, an attempt to lock in a share of the pie, would produce extremely high annual defense budgets — within a decade or so, well over $400 billion, assuming the economy remains robust. In a time of peace, these levels of spending should not be necessary.
Still, more money must be spent. Final fiscal 2001 expenditures (the basic defense appropriations bill enacted in August 2000, plus all the ancillary bills and inevitable supplementals) will probably tally at least $320 billion. But several score billion, carefully targeted, are additionally needed over the next several years to maintain parts of the present “legacy force” while moving towards a twenty-first century “transformation force.”
One item that, contrary to Pentagon rhetoric, does not need endless spending is personnel. There are currently about 1.4 million men and women on active duty. A properly structured twenty-first century force — smaller units, more people-replacing high technology, more privatization and outsourcing of domestic support functions, base closures, etc. — could have 1.2 million individuals or fewer. This is vital. Until 1973, America’s military was predominantly young, single, and male. Today it is older, increasingly female, married, and with children. Support requirements, from housing and medical care to day-care centers and morale services, are enormous; construction and maintenance backlogs stretch into the next decade. The best way to provide a decent lifestyle for active service members is to downsize dramatically.
But more important than money is thought, and a clear sense of destination. Merely parceling out the billions in the traditional manner no longer makes sense. The “legacy force” is too large, too unwieldy, and too expensive. Part of it can and should be cut, part of it transformed. But where is this “transformation force” bound? Superficial arguments and invocations of “readiness” are meaningless. The real questions are: Who should be getting ready for what, and how?
Where we’ve been
Thirty years ago the Marine Corps tried, not too successfully, to teach me the fine art of land navigation. I managed to revalidate the old adage about few things being more dangerous than a second lieutenant with a map and compass. But I do recall one irrefutable axiom of the art: You can’t know where you’re going until you know where you are. And you can’t know where you are until you know where you’ve been.
Ten years ago, the United States had the world’s most powerful military. By many measurements — technology and expenditure, especially — we still do. But this expensive, high-tech force grows ever more fragile, and expensive technologies don’t automatically produce either victory or security, as the USS Cole incident most recently proved. For reasons ranging from Clinton budget cuts to casualty intolerance, from material unreadiness to ethical ambiguity, we face a serious lack of usable power. To put it bluntly: A force that is unready, unsustainable, mistrustful of both its missions and its leaders, and unable or unwilling to take casualties does not constitute usable power.
The confluence of forces and circumstances adding up to this peril did not develop suddenly. When the Cold War ended, it became apparent that America’s conventional forces could be drawn down somewhat from their Reagan-era levels. Defense Secretary Dick Cheney and Joint Chiefs Chairman Colin Powell were determined not to “mess up the build-down,” as had happened after previous wars, and to keep a base force capable of rapid reconstitution, should the need arise. Their 1990, pre-Desert Storm Base Force Study (BFS) proposed about a 25 percent cut, more or less across the board. Their requirement was that the United States be ready to fight two “Major Regional Conflicts” (MRCs) — specifically, in the Persian Gulf and Korea — at the same time. Why this approach? Essentially, plans centered around fighting a single war would call for forces much smaller than either Cheney or Powell wanted. From the beginning, then, the “two MRC strategy” was less a strategy than a sizing justification.
In structural terms, this was not wrong; the larger force would provide a much more effective base from which to reconstitute. But it was also part of a venerable tradition of military fantasy, of finding allegedly “strategic” justifications for the maximum fundable force. The “plans/resources mismatch” has long been part of the American way of war. In World War II, the United States raised only half the divisions originally planned, yet exhausted its manpower pool. Only Hiroshima kept the extent of the exhaustion from becoming a national scandal and eventual tragedy. The 1951 Lisbon Conference, held while Korea was decimating American strength, set utterly unreachable, not to say fantastic, NATO ground-force goals.
The Kennedy administration posited a “two-and-a-half war” strategy, simultaneously fighting the USSR, China, and some half-power somewhere. The half-war that did occur, Vietnam, required 15 years of recovery time. After Nixon opened China, the strategy dropped to “one-and-a-half.” Jimmy Carter played with a “swing strategy,” whereby American forces in one theater would hold on until forces in another theater could win and then swing on over. Never in the twentieth century did conventional plans and resources balance.
Ronald Reagan broke this pattern, if only by refusing to take the fantasy game too seriously. (One notable exception: Navy Secretary John Lehman’s “maritime strategy,” which called for carrier attacks and Marine assaults upon the Soviet Union as a means of justifying a 600-ship Navy.) Reagan’s strategy was simple: Build, then build some more, simultaneously pressuring the Soviets to accept that, given the ever-widening technological and economic gaps between us and them, it was time to come to terms. There was a Revolution in Military Affairs (RMA) — a.k.a. the microprocessor revolution — aborning, which yielded incredible advances in precision targeting, intelligence-gathering, and communications. The Soviets, who called it the “military-technological revolution” and who may have sensed their doom before we did, began to yield to the logic. Then the Soviet Union collapsed.
And then came Desert Storm, a conflict at once climacteric and prophetic. It was, in some ways, the clash the Pentagon had planned for decades in central Europe, only fought in the Arabian desert. But it was also the merest first glimpse of what an RMA military could do against a conventionally powerful but technologically inferior foe — so long as that foe did not resort to nuclear, biological, or chemical weapons of mass destruction.
So President Clinton inherited both a superb yet shrinking military and a daunting conundrum: how to transform it, technologically and structurally, into a force that could handle whatever the twenty-first century might send our way. And what would come our way was increasingly clear. It wouldn’t be massed armies, but “asymmetric” threats and “niche capabilities,” from knocking out our satellites and denying access to vital foreign ports and airfields, to terror weapons overseas and at home, and, increasingly, to cyber attacks.
Clinton’s response to this challenge was progressive structural decay and, strategically, eight years of what the Navy calls “steering by your wake.” The 25 percent Cheney-Powell reduction grew to over a 40 percent reduction. Simultaneously, Clinton used the force more, sending the military on 48 separate overseas missions, from short-term disaster relief to the Balkans to the inherited mess in Iraq. (In the 15 years preceding his administration, a much larger military did only 20 such operations.) The Pentagon started raiding maintenance funds to pay for current operations, then raiding procurement and R&D accounts to pay for maintenance.
Soon enough, it became clear that the military was headed for crisis. But even as the force began imploding, the “two Major Regional Conflicts strategy” remained the official line. Les Aspin, Clinton’s first defense secretary, flirted briefly with “win-hold-win,” a throwback to the old Carter swing notion, but nobody bought it. So the 1993 Bottom-Up Review (BUR) concluded: Everything’s fine; we’ll just do more with less. Serious analysts pronounced the BUR DOA. And a cycle began that would consume the rest of the decade — a cycle of high-level pronouncements followed by devastating criticism.
In 1995 the administration created the Commission on Roles and Missions (CORM) in accordance with that ancient rule of bureaucracy: If you want to make sure nothing happens, study the problem. Directions for Defense: The Report of the Commission on Roles and Missions concluded, once again, that the state of the military was no cause for concern. In 1996, the National Defense Authorization Act was passed, which instructed the Defense Department to produce, every four years, a Quadrennial Defense Review (QDR). The first QDR came out in 1997 and at last conceded that the “two nearly simultaneous MRCs” scenario was not realistic. So it changed MRC to MTW (“Major Theater War”) and “nearly simultaneous” to “overlapping time frames.” Again, outside the Pentagon, the reaction was dismissive.
Finally Congress noticed a pattern. All these studies that weren’t intended to produce major changes weren’t producing major changes. So Congress chartered the National Defense Panel (NDP) to undertake a critique of the QDR. Their effort, Transforming Defense, came out in late 1997 and represented a fine initial attempt to break the mold. Specifically, they introduced two terms that had been conspicuously absent in most prior official pronouncements. These terms were transformation — time to get serious about forcing this venture into the next century — and homeland defense — time to get serious about the myriad threats now gathering.
Congress also chartered the National Security Studies Group (NSSG), also called the United States Commission on National Security/21st Century, to prepare the way for the 2001 QDR II and produce something to give the next president. The commission has thus far issued two of its three intended reports. In the first, New World Coming, the theme was clear. “[F]or many years to come Americans will be increasingly less secure, and much less secure than they now believe themselves to be.” (Italics in the original.) The second report, Seeking a National Strategy, provided little more than a checklist for strategic decision making, apparently due to irreconcilable differences among commission members. The final report will be submitted to the next president. Meanwhile the QDR II process is under way.
In sum, 10 years of official studiousness has produced little more than a faux vindication of the present structure and strategy coupled with a growing uneasiness that two key concepts, “transformation” and “homeland defense,” have yet to be addressed substantively, let alone comprehensively.
Of course, the defense debate has hardly been confined to commissions. While these reports were being churned out, the armed forces — the keepers of the operational arts of warfare and the writers of their own budgets — were engaged in a veritable war over war.
The war over war
Inter-service rivalry — the phrase conjures up a variety of images, from Army-Navy football games to generals and admirals pounding table tops. It sometimes seems almost ludicrous. Yet inter-service rivalry, a relatively recent and peculiarly American affair, is a serious game with serious consequences. Money is involved, trillions of dollars over decades. And, today, the futures of the individual services are also at stake.
In the beginning, there was no inter-service rivalry. If it happened on land, the Army did it. The Navy pursued its activities at sea. There were, of course, a few overlaps. The Army maintained coastal defenses and artillery; the Navy might occasionally bombard a fort or land small parties of Marines. But neither could do the other’s job. Therefore, neither could take the other’s job. Since there was no permanent unified command structure, neither service could command the other. And since there was no Defense Department, the secretaries of war and the Navy reported directly to their sole common superior, the commander in chief. Everybody knew the rules.
The airplane was the first innovation to blur the tidy distinction between land and naval operations. Then came an incredible proliferation of mix-and-match weapons. You could put airplanes on ships: carriers. You could put armies on ships: large-scale amphibious operations. You could put soldiers on airplanes and helicopters: airborne and air-assault forces. You could hang or stow missiles on almost anything. Aircraft and missile ranges now covered continents and more. Satellites could provide precision guidance and navigation for missiles flying 5,000 miles — or second lieutenants 50 meters outside the wire. Once, for example, there were only two or three effective ways to fight enemy tanks. Now there are many, including (theoretically) submarine-launched cruise missiles carrying sub-munitions guided by satellite.
To put it differently, systems proliferate, but effects converge. People can do each other’s jobs. That’s why, despite all the talk (and action) in the realm of “jointness” and cooperation in the field, the services guard their “core competencies,” their “operational arts,” so jealously. The Army, for example, accepts the Marines as fellow land warriors; the National Security Act of 1947 mandates such acceptance. But watch what would happen should the Marines propose to establish a parachute regiment, or should the Army wish to station a brigade permanently afloat somewhere. Airborne means Army; amphibious means Marines. And that must always be that.
The 1990s witnessed many large and small inter-service clashes over roles, missions, and core competencies. Three are presented here as examples of what the services were debating operationally while the high-level commissions pondered strategy.
Presence. “Presence” (as distinguished from occupation via conquest) might be defined as the art and science of influencing people without the actual use of force. Traditionally, presence was achieved in two ways. One was through the Army: “boots on the ground.” The other was Navy: “showing the flag.” In some cases, presence was powerful — a carrier battle group off-shore, an amphibious group with Marines at the ready, Cold War forces garrisoned in Europe, etc. In other cases, “gunboat diplomacy” — the fact that the gunboat, however puny, symbolized national might and the readiness to use it — yielded presence.
As the American overseas structure shrank in the 1990s, presence seemed a viable means of enhancing service missions and appropriations. The Army argued for more exercises and activities; the Navy wanted the same. Things that had never been considered “presence” started getting counted. “Relationships,” for example — contacts with foreign militaries, from exercises and officer exchange to cocktail parties. The USS Cole was in Aden as much on a “presence” as on a refueling stop.
In the mid-1990s, in an unacknowledged but nonetheless real exercise in budget advocacy, the Air Force proposed “virtual presence.” Since long-range bombers operating from three bases (Guam, Diego Garcia, the continental U.S.) could hit any point on earth within 18 hours of alert, and since everybody knew it, we had presence without actually being there.
The Navy countered that submarines provided even better “virtual presence,” since they could be anywhere, stay there almost indefinitely, land seals, fire missiles, conduct reconnaissance and surveillance, etc. The debate over claims of presence, and the money accompanying them, accomplished little, save raising inter-service anxieties and suspicions.
Halt. “Halt” was an Air Force construct that roiled the Army and, to a lesser extent, the Marines for several years. American strategy has long been to let the other side hit first, halt their advance, assemble forces, then launch a climactic ground counter-offensive. Air power advocates argued that the vital phase was the “halt,” a phase dominated by air power, and not the final attack. After all, once an enemy was halted, he would have effectively lost. Also, an early halt would provide time to mobilize and train the reserves.
In some ways, this was an Air Force bid to be deemed the decisive arm and be funded accordingly. Why shouldn’t it work? In Desert Storm, the ground offensive hadn’t won the war in the traditional manner. The ground offensive ended it after a stunning demonstration that the best way to fight massed ground forces was now from the air. Correspondingly, fewer ground forces, at least active ground forces, would be needed. The Army countered that it was still the decisive force, since people lived on land, not in the air, and that this was just the latest in a long series of dubious Air Force claims to battlefield supremacy. Furthermore, what would happen if the “halt” didn’t work?
“Great powers don’t do windows.” At issue here is the propriety and efficacy of “Military Operations Other Than War” (MOOTW), specifically humanitarian relief, peacekeeping, and peace-enforcing. At first, it seemed that MOOTW might be not such a bad deal, financially. Former Army Chief of Staff Dennis Reimer proclaimed his service “the 911 force for the global village.” The Marine Corps, allied with the Army in the “halt” debate, countered that they already had the “911” job. The Navy and Air Force touted their respective and not inconsiderable contributions. Behind this dispute was the notion: If that’s where the money is, so be it.
Experience soon revealed, however, that relief and peacekeeping operations were service money-losers and that they blunted and exhausted combat units. They also did bad things to the military ethos. Support for these operations soon became something of a litmus test for separating the traditional warriors from the new do-gooders. Defense analyst and Desert Storm veteran John Hillen neatly summed up the prevailing contempt: “Great powers don’t do windows.” For reasons of national policy as well as military preference, relief and peacekeeping operations were anathema.
Hillen had a point. The warrior and constabulary ethics (victory versus peacekeeping) don’t mix, as the recent unpleasantness involving the 82nd Airborne Division paratroopers in Bosnia and their alleged use of “excessive force” has sadly demonstrated. Sadly, too, military disgust with MOOTW has generated another mindset, known as “radical force protection.” It kept U.S. and NATO aircraft three miles above mobile ground targets during the Kosovo bombing. One young Army lieutenant, just back from Bosnia, related to a West Point class that his battalion commander had given him the mission of prohibiting casualties. Every day while in Bosnia, he told his men that there was nothing there worth dying for.
The “great powers don’t do windows” mindset and the “radical force protection” approach, coupled with legally inexpressible disdain for the senior civilian and, in some cases, military leadership, have begun to produce an attitude not seen since the final years of Vietnam. It might be called “contempt of mission,” an alienation from the essence of military professionalism, the sanctity of accomplishing the mission, and the civilian world. It is not a comforting development.
Army, Navy, Air Force, Marines
Still, the picture is not all bleak. Military alienation could vanish quickly, given the right changes. And if the 1990s were a decade of straitening, they were also a time of rethinking. Untold thousands of good men and women left the military. But others, in the post-Vietnam tradition, have stayed. Despite all the physical and moral degradations, each of the services has laid the basis for transformation. There have also been numerous acts of military statesmanship. These must be given their due, before proceeding to this essay’s proposal for serious but limited and prudent restructuring.
Army. It is possible that the current Army chief of staff, Gen. Eric Shinseki, will go down in history as one of this country’s great peacetime military innovators. If so, he will have to build on an ambiguous legacy, and against considerable internal opposition. At the moment, Gen. Shinseki is grappling with two issues, one unique, the other perennial.
The unique issue is transformation, evolving the Army into a force capable of prevailing on the traditional battlefield with smaller, lighter, more lethal units, while also dealing with unconventional and “asymmetric” threats, such as weapons of mass destruction, terrorist attacks, and urban warfare where combatants mingle with civilians. The challenge is unique, in that never before has an army had to do so much so quickly when not goaded by the threat of defeat. The 1990s produced a strange counterpoint of initiative and elision. Endless programs and ideas with names like “Force XXI,” “The Army after Next,” “The Army after Next and a Half,” and “digitizing the battlefield” yielded a mixture of promising ideas and dead ends, still to be sorted out. No other mixture could have been expected.
Transformation from an industrial age to a twenty-first century force involves more than applying technology to existing structures. The Army’s combat power is organized around 10 active divisions, in effect mini-armies of 12,000 to 18,000 and more depending on type (airborne, air assault, light infantry, armored, etc.), capable of extended operations. This divisional structure dates back at least to Napoleon. It is also obsolete. The future probably lies with brigades of a few thousand, perhaps tailored into light corps. This means new kinds of weapons — goodbye to the heavy tank, heavy mechanized infantry, ponderous logistical support units, perhaps even Army aviation as currently conceived. Furthermore, new communications, intelligence, and other technologies mandate flattening the hierarchy, perhaps even taking out a layer or two.
And there’s the difficulty. While cuts in enlisted personnel might be done fairly easily as a byproduct of restructuring, the elimination of officer slots — especially the prized command and staff jobs vital to promotion — will be harder to accomplish. And, of course, cuts in active duty personnel usually entail greater reliance on the part-time citizen-soldiery.
That’s the second issue: What should be done with the National Guard, the repository of the Army’s reserve combat power? Throughout the 1990s, the Pentagon claimed it could “find no mission” for the guard’s eight divisions; it was willing to tolerate 15 smaller “enhanced brigades.” Simultaneously, the Army miserably overused the guard on Balkan and other assignments, conducting the largest aggregate peacetime call-up in American history. Army-National Guard relations, rarely cordial, grew publicly acerbic. And National Guard recruiting and retention fell off. Guard members are liable for unlimited state duty, in addition to federal call-ups, all of which take a toll on careers and families.
To his credit, Gen. Shinseki has directed an intense set of experimental transformation programs, leading to fundamental decisions in the 2001-03 period. Perhaps most notable: the experimental brigades and future weapons systems work now underway at Fort Lewis, Washington, and elsewhere. (One intriguing concept: the “distributed tank.” A tank consists of weapons, sensors, and transportation. Why not split up the functions to different platforms?) He has also moved toward greater integration of the guard and the active forces. The Pentagon has found uses for those eight divisions. Internal opposition has been intense.
What will the Army look like in 10 years? Impossible to predict. What should it look like? Smaller, certainly. Still built around divisions? Probably not — it would be far better to concentrate on task-organizing “building-block” brigades of a few thousand members divided into light, easily transported and sustained “expeditionary” corps, as needed for specific tasks and missions, from full open-field combat to street war. There is, to be sure, an enormous danger here. Lighter units might prove too weak for full combat, yet too much (or too irrelevant) for urban and other lesser contingencies. And, as Marine Commandant James Jones likes to point out, even though it’s necessary for Army units to become more “expeditionary,” i.e. lighter and more easily deployed, “expeditionary” also requires sustainability. Marine expeditionary deployments are built for sustainability from the sea and from austere shore facilities — a challenge that the Army, with its traditional dependence on elaborate logistic support systems and massive fixed bases, has yet to solve.
What will be the active/guard/reserve relationship? Very likely, a high and increasing level of dependence on citizen-soldiers across the spectrum of operations and conflict. In fact, it may not be too much of an exaggeration to predict that the United States will return, de facto, to something resembling the Founders’ original military intent: a small active establishment backed up by a large (over a million) citizen-soldiery. And also, capable: New training techniques, from virtual reality simulators to computerized exercises and various forms of “distance learning” make possible unprecedented levels of peacetime readiness. In this sense, twenty-first century technologies empower eighteenth century virtues. Reserve and National Guard flying squadrons have long been the equals of their full-time counterparts. In Desert Storm, one Marine reserve tank company accounted for about half the Corps’ ground tank kills.
Navy. This service’s act of military statesmanship came early. When the Soviet Navy collapsed, there was no fleet out there left to fight. In 1992, the Navy issued a short paper, “. . . from the Sea,” that abandoned a century-long orientation, the central belief that the job of the Navy was to fight other navies. There would be no more fleet action on the high seas, no more patrolling the sea lanes against packs of lethal predators — from now on, the Navy would support the land campaign. Given the Navy’s traditional fierce independence, this represented a conversion of almost Pauline proportions. Adm. Frank Kelso, who presided as chief of naval operations, is now remembered for only one thing — his resignation over the Tailhook scandal. He deserves better.
But a change of heart does not automatically produce a change of hulls. Transforming the fleet will take decades, and the Navy remains far too enamored of aircraft carriers. Once, these expensive ships were justified because they could take air power far beyond the reach of land-based aviation. Today, Air Force “global reach” is real. Also, there’s the notorious “Rule of Three.” It takes three carriers to keep one on-station — one there, one preparing to relieve it, one recovering from the last deployment. Still, there are promising efforts underway to develop vessels suited for littoral operations and support of the land campaign: the weapons-heavy “streetfighter” and the land attack destroyer, to mention only two. In the past, most surface combatants were designed for high-seas operations, which generated very different weapons and other requirements. To protect an aircraft carrier is one task; to bombard a hostile shore for days on end is quite another. Torpedos and depth charges don’t work there. But the attack submarine, originally intended for fighting Soviet submarines, is showing remarkable utility in this area. Naval aviation is also undergoing a slow reconfiguration.
So what will the Navy look like in 10 years? Not too different from its present mix of ships. What should it look like? Certainly larger — 350 ships, at a minimum. It should also be moving away from dependence on large-deck carriers to a force based on smaller surface combatants and attack submarines.
Air Force. Whatever happens to the Army and Navy, the former will still put boots on the ground and the latter will still put to sea. Only the Air Force, at the moment of its world supremacy, must evolve into something entirely different.
After Desert Storm, the Air Force did a commendable job of downsizing and restructuring. Under its current leader, Gen. Michael Ryan, the Air Force has shifted to an “expeditionary” mode, tailoring a set of 10 “Aerospace Expeditionary Forces” (AEFS) capable of rapid deployment and extended operations overseas, in addition to long-range bombers operating from fixed bases. It’s a wise restructuring, both for operational and personnel reasons.
But the age of manned air combat is coming to an end. Aircraft have simply grown too expensive, and although there needs to be a person in the loop somewhere, that somewhere is no longer always the cockpit. The future lies with cheaper, more plentiful unmanned and robotic vehicles, with nano-technologies and micro-systems, and in space. Especially in space, which the Air Force has never given the attention and resources it deserves. The Air Force must, over the next few decades, yield pilot dominance to — dare we say? — geeks. In the short term, the Air Force must get what it needs to maintain air supremacy, specifically the F-22 fighter. But in the long term, its future depends on applying its traditional genius, courage, and energy to a transformation that no military service has ever undergone before.
So what will the Air Force look like in 10 years? Structurally, it will be about the same, perhaps a bit smaller. Hopefully, it will be flying an adequate fleet of F-22 fighters (intended to replace the F-15) and receiving its share of the joint strike fighter (replacing the F-16 and A-10). What should it look like? It should look like a service fully committed to its own unique transformation, aggressively developing and fielding unmanned and space systems.
Marines. Former Commandant Charles Krulak did a brilliant job of insulating the Marine Corps from its commander in chief. Alone among the services, the Marines raised their recruiting and retention standards, exceeded their quotas, and kept their boot camps single-sex. Results in three other areas have been mixed but promising.
First, by law, the Marine Corps holds primary responsibility for the amphibious mission. But the World War II-style beach assault has gone the way of the cavalry charge. It’s now called “operational maneuver from the sea,” emphasizing landings by air and sea in lightly defended or undefended areas, launched from over the horizon and not dependent on major supply buildups ashore. In an age of deadly antiaircraft and antiship missiles (not to mention new forms of mines), this is no simple task. The corps also faces obsolescence of many of its critical systems, such as helicopters and amphibious assault vehicles. The doctrine is sound; the assets are inadequate.
Second, Gen. Krulak developed the concept of the “three block war” — being prepared to serve as peacekeepers on one block, as peace enforcers on the second, and to fight all-out on the third. This means urban warfare, especially in Third World mega-sprawls where militias with assault rifles and cell phones can work to deadly effect, and the media can show the consequences to the world. (A case in point is the current Israeli-Palestinian conflict.) The Marines’ “urban warrior” exercises demonstrated how hard it will be to develop doctrine and equipment for such combat.
Third, the Marine Corps has undertaken serious work in the development of non-lethal weaponry for use in this kind of combat, especially in situations where the enemy mingles with civilians. To date, results have also been mixed. Clearly, however, these efforts can pay dividends for the other services and, in some cases, civilian law enforcement. They should be continued.
What will the Marine Corps look like in 10 years? About the same as today, although perhaps a bit larger. What should it look like? The current commandant, Gen. Jones, should keep it on course.
Space Force, Peace Force, warriors, guard
The 1990s were indeed a time of military decline and decay. But there was also serious thought. It’s clear that overall strategy must be reconceived. It’s also clear that many useful and vital initiatives are out there, in the services, the research establishment, the contractors, and elsewhere; only a few have been mentioned here. But how to get from here to there? More precisely, how to prepare for future conflict without reviving the struggles and animosities of the past, and without a vicious resurgence of inter-service rivalry? Some analysts and senior officers hold that such a revival may be inevitable, perhaps even beneficial. It’s time to put everything on the table, they argue. Time to reopen the National Security Act of 1947 and other legislation and agreements; time, perhaps, even to consider merging the services. This approach is dangerous. Too much animosity would result; too much of value would be lost. The current structure can be adapted to twenty-first century requirements, provided three things happen.
First, as already mentioned, more money must be allocated. Carefully targeted spending increases, coupled with serious restructuring and Pentagon business reforms, can solve a lot of problems.
Second, a coherent new strategy must be developed, based more on countering the array of threats this country faces than on planning for particular wars in particular locales. This is an approach sometimes known as a “capabilities-based strategy.” It may not be as satisfying as containing communism or smashing the Axis, but it is a strategy appropriate to an era when dangers are many, foes numerous, and resources limited.
Third, there must be a new concept of the division of military labor that transcends service interests and parochialism. This need not be legally enshrined. The current structure is adequate, and few with any clear understanding of how militaries work would wish to alter or abolish the services, with their mix of empowering traditions and institutional competencies. But the old land/sea/air distinctions long ago lost their clarity.
What we need is not a new structure so much as a new heuristic, one that I call Space Force, Peace Force, warriors, guard — and a new division of labor based on the premise that a twenty-first century force should be both smaller and more specialized than the present arrangement. This might seem odd, perhaps even illogical. The Pentagon has long held that conventional forces should be “general purpose,” on the assumption that if you trained to the most demanding contingency, usually major war, the lesser missions could also get done. Perhaps, in some cases, this doctrine still holds. But in the twenty-first century it will be necessary both to acquire new capabilities and protect certain parts of the force from debilitating involvement with certain missions.
Space Force. As presently constituted, the Air Force cannot effectively maintain and enhance U.S. space supremacy — that is, the ability to exploit freely and protect space-based systems while denying the use of space to others, if necessary. Treaties and other restrictions on these activities need to be revisited, but the internal difficulties are budgetary, institutional, and cultural. From the beginning, the Air Force has been a pilot-dominated service; missilery and satellites have never provided fast-track careers. Moreover, though much of what the Air Force does in space benefits the other services, space appropriations come, for the most part, out of the Air Force share of the budget. In recent years, there has been considerable official rhetoric about the need for cultural change, starting with basic officer training, and about evolving into an “air and space,” thence to a “space and air” service. Despite such rhetoric and the ubiquitous misnomer “aerospace” (air and space are different realms with utterly different requirements), it seems unlikely. So unlikely that, in 1999, Congress chartered a Space Commission to report in 2001 on possible alternatives.
One of the commission’s possible (perhaps even likely) recommendations might be the establishment within the Air Force of a separate Space Corps, with its own budget line item and ample career opportunities. Over decades, this Space Corps should evolve into a separate Space Service within the Department of the Air Force, as the Marine Corps exists within the Navy Department. The Air Force itself should make a transition as swiftly and prudently as possible into an unmanned force, while maintaining a world-class-plus manned force through the next two or three decades. Funding here must be a top priority. Air and space supremacy must never be lost.
Peace Force. Military Operations Other Than War are expensive, exhausting, and require specialized capabilities and assets. Save in extremis, combat forces should not be committed to this work. The Army should establish an active/reserve Peace Command, which should provide the military nucleus for a unified Peace Command, akin to the current unified Special Operations Command. These troops should possess adequate combat capabilities for their missions, especially for self-defense. However, the unified Peace Command should make maximum use of non-military assets, including other government agencies, police, foreign capabilities, and professional military companies (PMCs) for routine training and security duties.
The rationale here is twofold. First, a Peace Force would provide necessary capabilities in an efficient manner. Second, and just as important, a Peace Force would protect other forces from such assignments. Ongoing deployments consume triple forces: one unit on-site, one preparing to relieve it, and one just back and recovering. Placing 10,000 soldiers in Bosnia, for example, means tying up 30,000. This drain quickly becomes unaffordable and dangerous.
Warriors. As John Hillen puts it, “When they’re not training to fight, they should be fighting.” Preparing for combat in this high-tech era is a full-time job; preparing for several different kinds of combat requires an unremitting focus and effort. These forces must be protected from lesser distractions. And for the next decade or so, the warriors must both train and transform. Who should make up the warriors? The Army forces, whether rapidly deployable brigades, follow-on units, or combined active/National Guard forces for sustained combat. The Marine Corps, prepared for amphibious assaults and “three block wars”; this is the force that should handle short-term and emergency MOOTW. Marine units afloat, especially in the Mediterranean and the Pacific, have been doing this for decades. The warriors should also include the Air Force’s aerospace expeditionary forces and the Navy’s combat fleet.
It is true, of course, that in an emergency, we go with what’s available. And, just as Peace Forces need combat training and capabilities, warriors need some MOOTW training. But the distinction must be established and maintained.
Guard. This comprises all military homeland defense efforts, excluding air and missile defense and including cyberwar. It involves everything from counterterrorism and border control to “consequence management” after attacks. At the moment, homeland defense is a bureaucratic mess, even by Beltway standards. There’s a counterterrorism “czar” in the White House. Thirty-some major federal agencies participate in countless activities and task forces. Last year, the Norfolk-based Atlantic Command was redesignated the Joint Forces Command and given responsibility for “support” of civilian authorities. By all accounts, military participation in civilian law enforcement and related activities has been increasing for years.
Nothing makes for trouble like unclear arrangements, and military “mission creep” in domestic affairs is especially pernicious. And the Posse Comitatus Act, passed after the Civil War, forbids military participation in domestic law enforcement. Although much amended in recent years to handle nuclear and terrorist “consequence management,” it is still on the books. Therefore, there should be established a Homeland Defense Command, headed by a civilian, with a military deputy and tenacious oversight of civil liberties. To the maximum extent possible, military participation should be limited to the National Guard. At some point, it may be desirable to consider segmenting the Army National Guard into deploying and stay-at-home units. The guard resists this idea ferociously. However, non-deploying units might yield considerable dividends in personnel recruiting and retention. Beyond exceptional circumstances, active combat troops should not be tasked with domestic missions.
Leadership and sacrifice
Were the United States to withdraw from the world, were we not to care from whom we bought our oil, or what people did to each other, or whether anyone bought our goods, we could get by on far less. Mere retaliatory forces might suffice. Many would hate us, but few would have reason to attack us. Libertarian defense analyst Ivan Eland could possibly be right when he argues that “the best defense is to give no offense.” But giving up our leadership role in world affairs would have profound and perilous consequences, both for our nation and for the rest of the world.
When Robert Adams offered his definition of decadence as the deliberate neglect of the essentials of self-preservation, he meant the inability to face a clear and present danger. But what is the clear and present danger today? Many argue that, if history is any guide, there will someday be another war. True enough. Others point to proliferation of weapons of mass destruction, death, and disruption. But this country suffers from an even greater danger, of which military decay forms only part. We want the good things we enjoy — a relatively peaceful, stable, and increasingly prosperous world — but we don’t like paying what they cost.
Eighty years ago, in The Revolt of the Masses, José Ortega y Gasset divided humanity into two groups, the aristocrats and the masses. The categories had nothing to do with birth, social status, wealth, or accomplishment. Aristocrats were people who knew that civilization is neither automatic nor self-perpetuating, that it requires effort and sacrifice, and that they were the ones responsible to make that effort and sacrifice. The masses were those who believed that civilization just grew, who showed radical ingratitude for civilization’s blessings, who believed that they were not and need not be responsible.
On balance, ours has been an aristocratic nation, responsible for the maintenance and advancement of civilization. Challenges change. Issues come and go. But the need for our military power, in proper and usable quality and quantity, does not. On balance, the world has been the better for our aristocracy. We’ve made mistakes. We will make mistakes. Certainly, we could use a little instruction in modesty, in the differences between leadership and bullying, and in knowing when to let others be strong. But there is no reason to believe that in the twenty-first century the world’s need for our aristocracy, backed by appropriate arms, is any the less. Nor is there any reason to believe that such efforts, properly conducted, will not benefit us as well.
So there is a clear and present danger here. It’s the failure to remember who and what we are when at our best, and to arm and act accordingly. And that is the decadence that admits and allows all the others.