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Strategic Thoughts Before Hiatus

February 16, 2011 Leave a comment

I’ll be off the net for a few days while I soak in some sun at an undisclosed, strategically insignificant location in the Caribbean.

Here are the strategic questions I’ll be pondering when not in a mai tai induced coma:

U.S. Grand Strategy.

  • After nearly almost a decade of “small wars,” the biggest question in U.S. grand strategy is not really whether we can, rather it is whether we shouldAfghanistan and Iraq have been long, bloody, and expensive.  Yet so far, there is relatively little to show in terms of strategic gains.  This should lead us to get beyond asking ourselves whether we can do small wars, guerilla wars, counter-insurgency, etc…  We have proven that with enough time, blood, and money we can do these operations.  We should now ask whether they are beneficial.  Are we getting enough back?

Safe Havens

  • Is territory, i.e. “safe havens,” really necessary for terrorism?  Is the primary battlefield cognitive?  Is this a war of ideas?  If so, what is the utility in trying to establish governance in ungoverned spaces which may serve as safe haven for terrorists.

More Safe Havens

  • Would it actually be better for terrorists to congregate in ungoverned spaces since airstrikes in those spaces would be less likely to arouse protests on the part of a sovereign state?

Reduced Budgets

  • How will the U.S. military, in what are sure to be leaner times ahead, balance the ends and ways of military strategy with reduced means?

The Next War

  • Does the U.S. military train for the next war to be a counter-insurgency type limited war?  Or, does it train toward a conventional war with a near peer?  Can it do both?  Is this choice a false dichotomy?

Middle East

  • What does the push for change in Egypt and the greater Middle East mean for the U.S.?  What if a country democratically elects a terrorist party/organization (ala Hamas)?  Do we REALLY support democracy?
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The (Not So) New Military-Industrial Complex

January 31, 2011 Leave a comment

Long-time defense reform advocate Franklin Spinney has authored a new article, “The Domestic Roots of Perpetual War” which examines the military-industrial complex in the context of the post-9/11 environment.  Here are the salient points:

  • Despite huge defense expenditures, we (Americans) don’t feel that much more safe.
  • Budgetary and debt pressures will soon bring the defense spending issue to a crisis point.
  • Our troops are stressed out by repeated deployments and our equipment is getting older rather than newer, even as we spend nearly three quarter of a trillion (with a T) on defense.
  • Continuous small wars serve the corporate strategies of defense contractors, who have failed to diversify following the Cold War.
  • Greater weapons system complexity is increasing rather than decreasing friction on the battlefield.
  • The Quadrennial Defense Review (QDR) process is broken.
    While Spinney does not make specific recommendations on a way forward vis a vis ends-ways-means, he does provide a good context for a wholesale strategic review of the defense budget.  His conclusions suggest that the U.S. should drop most of our complex weapons systems in favor of investments in our most important resource – people.