For years, I've been skeptical about the preponderance of "big ticket items" in the US military budget, such as carriers and main battle tanks. Sure, the United States needs some of them...But how many, really? Especially when they contributed very little to the "little wars" the US was actually fighting? With the end of the Cold War, the justification collapsed even further.
Still, there are limits. William Lind cross the line in this recent post (and thanks to The Strategist for the pointer). In the 1990s, the "peace dividend" sparked a discussion about shrinking the military budget. Now, the catalyst is the ailments of the American economy. Lind's recommends grand strategic adjustments to this new situation:
First, adopt a defensive rather than an offensive grand strategy.
America followed a defensive grand strategy through most of her
history. We only went to war if someone attacked us. That defensive
grand strategy kept defense costs down and allowed our economy to
prosper. We do not have to be party to every quarrel in the world.
First, adopt a defensive rather than an offensive grand strategy. America followed a defensive grand strategy through most of her history. We only went to war if someone attacked us. That defensive grand strategy kept defense costs down and allowed our economy to prosper. We do not have to be party to every quarrel in the world.
Unfortunately, the days of "we'll keep the sword sheathed unless we're attacked" are long over...If they ever existed in the first place. I'll assume for the moment that Lind is describing the United States before Pearl Harbor--before WWII made Americans into energetic internationalists.
The pre-WWII United States was hardly pacific. The embargo on Japan that triggered the Pearl Harbor raid might not have been a military action, but it was hardly isolationist. The US objected to Japanese imperialism in China and Korea--hardly a policy based strictly on direct threats to the United States. In fact, it was a preface of American internationalism to come. The United States was worried about markets and resources in East Asia; the "special relationship" made it easier for the United States to respond to Japanese moves against these markets and resources.
Decades earlier, the United States had sent expeditionary forces to China. During the Boxer Rebellion, the United States fought alongside Europeans and Japanese to maintain their collective grip on China. And China was hardly the only place where the United States was willing to send its armed forces. While Americans might not have been part of the race for Africa, they did defend their great power supremacy in the Western Hemisphere from both external and internal threats. Nicaragua, Haiti, Mexico, the Dominican Republic, Panama...While these might not have been major wars, they were hardly defensive.
Therefore, WWII wasn't the first time that Americans were willing to use force to defend interests outside the territorial United States. American isolationism slowed down the grand strategic logic that led countries like Britain to see their interests threatened in every corner of the world (if we're worried about India, we have to be worried about Afghanistan...). However, the pull persisted, in spite of recessions and depressions.
Second, scrap virtually all the big ticket weapons programs such as new
fighter-bombers, more Aegis ships, and the Army’s Rube Goldbergian
Future Combat System. They are irrelevant to where war is going.
Second, scrap virtually all the big ticket weapons programs such as new fighter-bombers, more Aegis ships, and the Army’s Rube Goldbergian Future Combat System. They are irrelevant to where war is going.
No argument here, as long as there's an actual review, not a stampede. The US still needs to project power in a lot of places, if not everywhere. If some new weapons systems or upgrades to existing ones can help, let's still pursue them.
Third, as we cut, preserve combat units. That means, above all, Army
and Marine Corps infantry battalions. Cut the vast superstructure above
those battalions, but keep the battalions. Infantry battalions are what
we need most for Fourth Generation wars, which we should do our utmost
to avoid but which we will sometimes be drawn into, even with a
defensive grand strategy.
This may be the bitterest pill of all for the services to swallow. The Air Force and Navy would have to accept the primacy of ground forces. The Army would have to reform its structure and culture even further from the centrality of the divisional organization. Giving up a new weapons might be annoying; changing the way the Army operates will be agonizing.
In the Navy, keep the submarines. Submarines are today’s and tomorrow’s
capital ships, and geography dictates we must remain a maritime power.
Keep the carriers, too, though there is little need to build more of
them. Carriers are big, empty boxes, which can carry many things
besides aircraft. Mothball most of the cruisers and destroyers. Build
lots of small, cheap ships useful for controlling coastal and inland
waters, and create strategically mobile and sustainable “packages” of
such ships. Being able to control waters around and within stateless
regions can be important in 4GW.
Now we're in the outskirts of Cloud Cuckoo-land. Submarines can't handle all the missions that missile-armed surface ships or carrier-based aircraft perform. Sure, we might be fighting more little wars than big ones, but we do need, on occasion, to fight something like Operation DESERT STORM, threaten to use air and missile strikes to achieve foreign policy goals. Plus, a littoral navy that Lind is describing can't deploy across the globe--they're littoral.
I'm all for reducing the overall size of the Navy, but a Navy of submarines and modernized PT boats couldn't handle all the critical missions.
Fighter-bombers are largely useless in Fourth Generation wars, where
their main role is to create collateral damage that benefits our
enemies. Keep the air transport squadrons and the A-10s, and move them
all to the Air National Guard, which flies and maintains aircraft as
well as or better than the regular Air Force at a fraction of the cost.
Reduce the regular Air Force to strategic nuclear forces and a training
Fighter-bombers are largely useless in Fourth Generation wars, where their main role is to create collateral damage that benefits our enemies. Keep the air transport squadrons and the A-10s, and move them all to the Air National Guard, which flies and maintains aircraft as well as or better than the regular Air Force at a fraction of the cost. Reduce the regular Air Force to strategic nuclear forces and a training base.
Ladies and gentlemen, welcome to downtown Cloud Cuckoo-Land. Not every war the United States will fight will be a counterinsurgency war. People killed by American bombs in a conventional war might still appear on the evening news, often as a tool of "fourth generation war" used against us. But is this an argument for not fighting conventional wars, in which bombers and fighter-bombers play an important role?
If I have to shoot down enemy fighters, or deliver a "bunker-busting" payload against a highly reinforced enemy HQ, I'd rather not depend on A-10s, thank you. And if we're giving the A-10s to someone, why not the Army, to improve close air support coordination and better protect their budget?
There's a lot of merit in some of Lind's recommendations, and we've had decades of inattention to the real needs of fighting wars that were smaller and wholly unlike the hypothetical NATO/Warsaw Pact clash over Central Europe. However, you can go too far in the other direction.