This week, CDS contributor Michael Auslin writes in National Review on U.S. strategy in Asia. Inverting U.S. counterinsurgency terminology (“clear, hold, and build”), Auslin proposes that the US adopt a “build, hold, and clear” policy in Asia. This strategy would move beyond America’s current “hub and spoke” model (a series of bilateral mutual-defense alliances) to a more comprehensive system addressing regional issues and promoting regional interconnectivity and development.
Auslin suggests building a pair of cooperative and mutually reinforcing “concentric triangles” based on shared interests, values and goals. The outer triangle would include Japan, South Korea, Australia and India, with the inner triangle comprised of Indonesia, Singapore, Malaysia and Vietnam. These triangles would not be a substitute for American presence in Asia, however: Auslin rightly points out the U.S. must retain its position in Asia by demonstrating a firm commitment to oversee and guide this vital building process. This commitment would provide the basis for the U.S. and its regional partners to deal with the region’s many problems, such as the ever-destabilizing North Korea.
Most importantly, Auslin reminds us that as we enter the second decade of the 21st century, the Indo-Pacific Region will demand our increasing attention and focus:
A Build, Hold, and Clear strategy is the most flexible and realistic approach to maintaining American influence and protecting our interests in the Indo-Pacific region. No doubt some, especially those in Beijing, will see this as a plan to contain China. In reality, this approach is not anti-China, but pro-Asia. Our goal should be an unreserved commitment to defending against the slow deterioration of security in the Indo-Pacific region, leading the continuing growth in economic production and trade, and furthering the trend of political liberalization.
Read the rest here.
(U.S. Navy/Mass Communication Specialist Seaman Anna Wade/flickr user Official U.S. Navy Imagery)
With the congressional “supercommittee” – or, to be precise, the Joint Select Committee on Deficit Reduction – now complete, the stage is set for a very high drama indeed. Now comes the moment when Americans must confront the costs of remaining the world’s sole superpower, the guarantor of an international system that has created a generation of great-power peace, widespread prosperity, and unprecedented human liberty.
The committee members must take action to avert the train wreck awaiting the Pentagon: doing nothing will result in an automatic “sequestration” that will make the cumulative reductions in military spending of the Obama years something above $1.3 trillion. That’s a cut with big consequences. New Defense Secretary Leon Panetta and the current chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff, Adm. Mike Mullen – a man who has heretofore pronounced the debt to be the greatest threat to the country – last week said the cuts in view would be “disastrous” and “unacceptable.” The incoming chairman, Army Gen. Martin Dempsey, described such cuts as creating “very high risk” to U.S. national security. Serious stuff.
The composition of the supercommittee looks at first glance to be a recipe for gridlock and sequestration, or the functional equivalent thereof. The House Republican nominees are green eyeshade types: Jeb Hensarling is a disciple of Sen. Phil Gramm, Fred Upton is a veteran of the Reagan Office of Management and Budget, and Dave Camp heads the Ways and Means Committee. Nancy Pelosi has named a resolutely diverse troika of liberals – previous campaign committee chairman Chris van Hollen, leadership number-two James Clyburn, and ex-chairman of the Congressional Hispanic Caucus Xavier Becera, three who can be expected to carry out her guidance to “address our entire budget” – that’s code for raiding military budgets – “while strengthening” – that is, defending to the last – “Medicare, Medicaid and Social Security.”
The Senate nominees are the upper-body partisan equivalents. Majority Leader Harry Reid named campaign committee leader Patty Murray, the lugubrious Max Baucus, and Massachusetts liberal and former presidential candidate John Kerry. Minority leader Mitch McConnell counts on former OMB director Rob Portman, former currency trader Pat Toomey, and Minority whip John Kyl. Sen. Kyl is also the supercommittee member with the most familiarity, experience, and interest in military and national security affairs, yet often concentrates narrowly on the nuclear programs that have been the focus of much of his work and legislative efforts. If there’s any member of the committee who is willing to throw himself in front of the locomotive headed for the Pentagon, it’s Kyl. But he will have to transcend his past persona to do so.
Of course, all congressional leaders promise that the super-process will be “transparent” and “open,” but time is short: the committee is supposed to conclude its business by Thanksgiving. One measure of seriousness is whether the committee will hold hearings and take testimony on the national security consequences of big military cuts. There needs to be a moment of truth where the supercommittee looks Panetta, Mullen, and Dempsey in the eye and asks them to spell out the real world ramifications of reducing American military power by another 20 percent. Further, the defense superstars from the past should be called to speak. Bob Gates has earned his retirement, but we need to hear from him at least one more time. Likewise, it’s time for Colin Powell to make his views known. He once declared that the size of the U.S. military in the post-Cold War era should be a sign to the rest of the world that a “superpower lives here.” What has changed?
The two armed services committees should also make themselves heard – these moments are what congressional defense policy committees are for. Current service chiefs should be called upon to explain how they will deal with big budget cuts while continuing to provide forces for current operations. Theater commanders should describe what a lowered U.S military presence will mean in their areas of responsibility. And retired four-stars – who, even after their active careers are done, have an ongoing responsibility to the nation – should be asked to once again provide their professional judgments.
For 20 years, Congress has asked for countless defense reviews and strategies, and there is an immense body of literature that seeks to links the ends, ways and means of American policy, strategy and military power. The time for debate will have expired by Thanksgiving, and the supercommittee will have made what can only be a fateful decision. It can act, or it can simply stand aside and let American military power and global leadership be “sequestered.”
Cross-posted from the Weekly Standard.
(U.S. Air Force/ Staff Sgt. Ryan Crane)
The recent exchange of fire between the IDF and Lebanese Armed Forces troops is a reminder that Israel’s northern border has been relatively quiet these last five years, or ever since the 2006 war that Israel fought with Hezbollah. Five years ago, on July 12, a Hezbollah ambush set off the 34-day conflict that has loomed large over the region ever since. In the war’s immediate aftermath, many outside observers hailed Hezbollah as the winner.
However, five years later our understanding of the war is different. Israel, despite its many blunders—political, diplomatic, and military—and despite the sacrifice of 121 soldiers and the loss of 44 civilians, comes out looking much better than it did back then. Deterrence has been re-established and in spite of operations against Hezbollah targets, like the 2008 assassination of Imad Mughniyeh in Damascus, attributed to Israel, the border is quieter than ever. The five-year anniversary provides an opportunity to reexamine the conflict, and what others may learn from it, including American officials.
Reservists from the 91st Division’s C Company were feeling good that July morning. It was the last day of their deployment, and the infantrymen—students and professionals, fathers and husbands in civilian life—were looking forward to getting home. Though there had been warnings of infiltration attempts in the area, the routine morning patrol left the company base without the standard briefing; after all, they were only hours away from swapping their olive green uniforms for jeans and shorts. Their relaxed attitude had deadly consequences. As the patrol’s two Humvees rounded a bend on the Israel-Lebanon border road near Moshav Zar’it, Hezbollah fighters waiting in a prepared position opened fire at the vehicles with RPGs, killing five and capturing two, Udi Goldwasser and Eldad Regev.
Already engaged in Operation Summer Rains in Gaza after the kidnapping of Gilad Shalit two weeks before, Israel decided to respond with force. Though able to achieve some initial successes, including knocking out most of Hezbollah’s medium- and long-range rockets, the IDF proved unable to slow the rain of short-range rockets on northern Israel. For most of the war, Israeli chief of staff Dan Halutz introduced ground forces reluctantly, sending them to fight urban battles only kilometers from the border, only to repeatedly relinquish captured territory by withdrawing immediately. Though Israel managed to kill hundreds of Hezbollah fighters, it captured very few prisoners. In short, the IDF underperformed.
The political leadership did considerably worse. Prime Minister Ehud Olmert declared unrealistic war aims—return of the kidnapped soldiers, expulsion of Hezbollah from the area, and fulfillment of United Nations Security Council Resolution 1559 calling for the disbanding of all militias in Lebanon and calling for the deployment of the Lebanese army in all of southern Lebanon. But by leaving fulfillment of so many of the war’s aims in enemy hands, Olmert gave Hezbollah leverage over Israel’s ability to claim victory. It was hardly a surprise, then, when after the ceasefire was declared, Hezbollah’s general secretary Hassan Nasrallah declared that it was Hezbollah who won the war.
Despite the initial backing Israel received from America, Europe, and many Arab states, the lack of progress in the war and mounting civilian casualties in Lebanon caused this rare international support to dissipate. Israel’s failure to slow the katyusha fire or present a coherent plan for victory caused the U.S. to push for a negotiated settlement.
The perception of failure reverberated at home as much as it did in foreign capitals. By failing to defeat Hezbollah decisively on the ground or to achieve the stated war aims, the IDF let the Israeli public decide it was defeated. Israeli media promoted this narrative after the war effort began to sputter. For instance, there was the story of Paratrooper Battalion 890. On its way out of Bint Jbeil, the battalion received intelligence on an elite Hezbollah force on the attack, and prepared an ambush that killed 26 Hezbollah guerrillas without losing a single soldier. The Ma’ariv headline the next day read simply, “The Ground Forces left Bint Jbeil”.
In hindsight, the sources of Israel’s frustration in the war seem obvious. After years of fighting Palestinian terrorists, patrolling the territories, and transferring money from defense to domestic ministries, the IDF lost its fighting edge. This was especially true of the reservists, as the government slashed their training budget drastically. The IDF adopted “Kela” in 2003, a multi-year spending plan involving painful cuts. The IDF closed entire units and released 6,000 regular army personnel. Only a month and a half after approving the plan, the government slashed another NIS (New Israeli Shekel) 500 million from the IDF budget, leading to further reductions in reserve call-ups, training, and equipment.
The drop in training was especially severe. By 2006, the IDF training budget was only half of what it had been in 2001. Cuts in reserve training were even more severe, dropping by 70 percent. In fact, in 2003, the reserve training budget temporarily dropped to zero, and training simply did not take place.
The skills of the regular army suffered as well. Instead of adhering to the pre-2000 schedule of deploying for four months, then training as a brigade for four months, units performed yearlong tours in the West Bank and Gaza, rarely training between deployments. The lack of preparation showed itself in the fighting. Combined and joint operations were often ineffective.
Perhaps the most salient example showing the deteriorated state of combined operations was the August 11-13 battle at Wadi Saluki. The commander of the 401st Armored Brigade, Col. Motti Kidor, ordered the 9th Battalion to cross the Saluki River, then spearhead a drive west to the coast. To reach the river, the battalion had to traverse exposed ground dominated by surrounding villages. Battalion commander Lt. Col. Effie Defrin called in an artillery smoke screen to conceal his advance, but the smoke screen, improperly deployed, dissipated after a few minutes. Defrin also expected an engineering battalion to prepare his route, but before the tanks could advance, the engineers were withdrawn without finishing their work.
The route Defrin took cut him off from radio communication with a Nahal infantry brigade tasked with protecting his forces from the overlooking heights. Moreover, the infantrymen seemed not to grasp fully that their mission was to protect the armored advance, which came under withering anti-tank fire from Hezbollah fighters hidden on the ridges above.
Even though Kidor and Nahal commander Mickey Edelstein established headquarters in the same house, their coordination was minimal at best, and as a result, Edelstein did not know the tanks were under attack and out of touch. The Saluki crossing cost 11 dead and 50 wounded. “I never imagined,” said a general at a post-war briefing on the battle, “that the army’s performance was so shoddy.”
Trendy, complicated ideas introduced into the IDF also left their mark on Israel’s 2006 performance. Innovative ideas are exciting to the military, but not all innovation is helpful. In the IDF, Gen. Shimon Naveh, director of the IDF’s Operational Theory Research Institute from 1995-2005, introduced innovative, exciting ideas about Operational Art, and those who refused to buy into them were marginalized. Naveh tried to change the way IDF officers conceived of their operations, applying ideas and terms from literary theory, psychology, and postmodern French philosophy to military art. He assigned his disciples books like A Thousand Plateaus: Capitalism and Schizophrenia by the French post-structuralists Gilles Deleuze and Felix Guattari. Using their theory, Naveh crafted a framework for commanders to make swift decisions in the constantly changing battlefield environment. “I tried to extricate us from the Western separation between practice and theory,” explains Naveh. “This hero, the commander, the operative person, lives in a permanently coalescing space. He needs a theory in order to think critically about the object of his observation, and the moment he acts, he changes the world, thus obliging him to recast the theory.”
These innovative but overly complex and theoretical ideas proved detrimental to the IDF performance in the 2006 conflict. Naveh’s complicated terminology became the lingua franca of some segments of the officer corps, which in practice translated into unclear orders that were understood neither by subordinates nor by the officers who gave them. Unclear language and thinking had an effect even at the apex of IDF command. For instance, Halutz issued an order for entry into Lebanon, Operation Changing Direction 3: “A system-wide, integrated, and timed strike (Onslaught) of maneuver operations with all capabilities in order to undermine the operational performance of the organization [Hezbollah].” An order to conquer a hill or occupy a village is easy for commanders to follow. In the middle of a difficult war, they should not have to start deciphering what they might do to “undermine the operational performance” of Hezbollah, and how they should measure success in this regard.
While a core group of senior Israeli officers immersed themselves in Naveh’s teachings, political leaders failed to maintain Israel’s deterrence against Hezbollah. After Israel withdrew from Lebanon in 2000, then-prime minister Ehud Barak warned both Lebanon and Syria that cross-border attacks would be considered “acts of war.” But Barak, and later Ariel Sharon and Olmert, repeatedly vetoed IDF recommendations to respond aggressively, protecting the calm on the border while allowing Hezbollah to attack and build up its arsenal. Gen. Gabi Ashkenazi, then commanding the IDF’s Northern Command, wrote a letter to his superiors in August 2000 stating that continued Hezbollah provocations “will lead to a situation that we will not be able to accept.” Two months later, Hezbollah kidnapped three soldiers. The IDF pushed for a determined strike to deter future aggression, but the cabinet decided on limited and largely ineffective aerial attacks. The 2006 war was proof that deterrence without the determination to follow through on threats would not win Israel calm and quiet but only war.
It was the 2006 conflict that re-established Israeli deterrence. It is true that since the war Hezbollah has built up its arsenal beyond pre-war levels. But with more than 500 of its fighters dead, and Nasrallah living in a bunker, Hezbollah has never been as quiet as it has been since the 2006 war.
Despite the limits of deterrence, Israel sees it as the best available option. “This approach provides a limited remedy,” BESA Center’s Dr. Eitan Shamir writes in Infinity Journal. “Israel paid a high price in international public opinion in while its approach did not solve the root causes of the problem. Moreover, it does not even prevent the organizations from rearming and preparing for the next round, which will most likely be more violent. However, it has bought years of quiet borders—not a negligible achievement in this volatile region.”
American commanders see the complex challenge posed by Hezbollah as a harbinger of future conflicts the U.S. will face. Gen. George Casey, Jr., US Army chief of staff, declared, “the conflict that…intrigues me most, and I think speaks more toward what we can expect in the decades ahead, is the one that happened in Lebanon in the summer of 2006.”
The Pentagon has sent at least twelve teams to interview Israeli officers who fought in 2006. “I’ve organized five major games in the last two years,” said Frank Hoffman of the Marine Corps Warfighting Laboratory in Quantico. “And all of them have focused on Hezbollah.”
Nonetheless, several reports that came out shortly after the conflict erred on fundamental aspects of the war. In “We Were Caught Unprepared,” a Ft. Leavenworth Combat Studies Institute study of the war, historian Matt Matthews claims that Israel adopted a doctrine, based on Effects-Based Operations (EBO), that led it to believe that airpower alone could win the war. “For six years,” contends Matthews, “the IDF conducted a ounterinsurgency campaign against the Palestinians and developed a doctrine rooted in EBO and high-tech wizardry.”
However, Israel never adopted this doctrine, nor did it ever think it could win from the air. Matthews misses the real problem: The IDF had no doctrine, especially in the ground war. More troublingly, Matthews’s uncritical use of sources leads him to present the war as a resounding victory for Hezbollah. Despite this, “We Were Caught Unprepared” and other associated CSI studies are among the most-cited works on the wars in the United States, causing other students of the conflict to adopt their erroneous conclusions.
Perhaps the most pertinent lessons the United States military can draw from the Second Lebanon War concern defense budgets and strategy against terrorist organizations. With calls in the United States to pull money from defense budgets, and a military focused on COIN, the American armed forces could find themselves in a situation similar to the IDF of 2006. Without appropriate training and resources, even the most skilled formations will struggle in complex combat situations that differ greatly from counter-insurgency operations. As the Israelis learned, facing a certain type of conflict for a decade is no guarantee of the shape future warfare will take. It would be most prudent to train and fund an American military that can handle both COIN and the conventional ends of the spectrum. Indeed, Israeli-style deterrence may begin to look like an attractive alternative to resource and manpower heavy population centric counterinsurgency strategy.
There is no doubt that American adversaries are studying and perhaps preparing to emulate Hezbollah’s strategy from 2006. Studying Israel’s successes and failures is a key component in preparing for America’s future conflicts.
Cross-posted from the Weekly Standard.
Russia recently announced efforts to develop a long-range, high-yield submarine-launched ballistic missile (SLBM). Its designer—Makeyev Design Bureau—claims that the new “Liner” missile’s payload-to-range ratio will outperform both domestic and international counterparts. The Liner tested successfully in a surreptitious trial conducted last May. It was subsequently assumed that the missile in question was an existing liquid-propellant Russian SLBM, the RSM-54 Sineva (SS-N-23), which is used on Russia’s Delta-IV submarines. But Makeyev Design Bureau now claims that the May test involved the Liner rather than the Sineva. Some of the confusion may stem from reports that the Liner is in reality a heavily altered variant of the Sineva.
The problem, however, is that no one seems to know much about the Liner. A press release by its designer on August 9 stated that the missile is twice as powerful as another SLBM currently being developed by Russia. That missile, the RSM-56 Bulava (SS-NX-30), is a three-stage solid-propellant SLBM capable of delivering six warheads at a range of 8,000 to 10,000 kilometers. By comparison, according to the press release, the Liner will be able to deliver 9-12 warheads at a higher payload-to-range ratio than any solid-propellant ballistic missile in existence, including the Bulava. But the press release mysteriously disappeared from the missile designer’s website the same day it was posted.
“At this time, it’s completely unclear what the Liner is—there is no information at this time,” explains Alexander Khramchikhin, an analyst at the Institute for Political and Military Analysis in Moscow. However, the timing of the vanished press release—nearly two months after the Liner’s test trial in May—and its frequent mention of the Bulava raise questions. Last month the designer of the Bulava, Yuri Solomonov, criticized the Defense Ministry for delaying payments to his employer and failing to implement the Kremlin’s defense procurement program. Without the payments, he argues, the Moscow Institute of Thermotechnics (MIT) won’t be able to provide Russia’s strategic forces with the ballistic missiles mandated by the Kremlin’s defense modernization plans.
The Defense Ministry shot back that the prices charged by MIT have increased exponentially in recent years and that the Bulava’s cost overruns have been especially outrageous. President Dmitry Medvedev responded in typical fashion by directing his defense minister to “get rid of any officials that are responsible,” but also reminded Russia’s defense establishment that, traditionally, “panic-mongers were executed by firing squad.”
In his interview, Solomonov also blasted the Defense Ministry for its plans to procure a liquid-propellant, ground-based intercontinental ballistic missile that would replace Russia’s RS20V (SS-18). Makeyev Design Bureau is said to be developing this missile as well.
It’s possible that the supposedly successful test trial of the Liner is linked to the rhetorical battle being fought between Solomonov and the Defense Ministry. The Liner’s sudden promotion two months following its initial test, coupled with persistent comparisons to the Bulava, may represent an attempt by the Defense Ministry to pressure MIT into lowering prices. But such efforts wouldn’t succeed—at least not in the short-term. The Bulava is being developed specifically for use on Russia’s new Borei class submarines. And deployment of the first Borei class submarine, the Yuriy Dolgorukiy, has been delayed because of the Bulava’s less than stellar test record, although its three most recent trials have been successful. Regardless, because of the time that would be required to develop a new SLBM, the Defense Ministry’s implicit threat to procure an alternative to the Bulava remains highly implausible.
What’s more likely, rather than representing collective pressure by the Ministry of Defense on MIT, the testing of the Liner may be an effort by pro-liquid-propellant factions within the Ministry to highlight the advantages of liquid- over solid-fuel SLBMs. This is an ongoing debate in Russia’s defense community. While solid-propellant ballistic missiles have greater thrust power in their boost-phase, ground-based variants can’t be made mobile and must be placed in stationary silos, which makes them vulnerable to attack. Moreover, solid-fuel missiles have smaller payload capacities. But liquid-propellant SLBMs have other drawbacks. Because their fuel is stored under high pressure, liquid-propellant SLBMs are prone to accidents resulting from leaks or complications in the combustion process. And they’re significantly slower and less accurate than their solid-propellant counterparts. Solomonov outlined precisely these arguments against liquid-fuel missiles in his interview last month.
His detractors, however, maintain that the eventual deployment of Solomonov’s solid-propellant Bulava shouldn’t substitute liquid-propellant alternatives. They argue that Russia needs both. The Liner’s recent test is undoubtedly their response to Solomonov and the solid-fuel camp. For Americans, this is a debate worth following if for no other reason than its indication of Russia’s continued obsession with nuclear deterrence.
In a classic case of closing the barn door after the horses have bolted, the newly appointed secretary of defense, Leon Panetta, and retiring Joint Chiefs chairman Admiral Mike Mullen held a joint press -conference this past Thursday in which they decried the impending cuts to the defense budget made likely by the debt ceiling deal. In particular, they complained that, if the still-to-be-appointed joint committee of House and Senate members is unable to reach an agreement on how to trim $1.5 trillion more over the next decade from the federal budget, or Congress as a whole refuses to pass the committee’s recommendations, the automatic $500 to $600 billion in defense cuts that could be mandated by the debt -agreement would be “disastrous” and “unacceptable.” Indeed, for just FY 2013 alone, the automatic cuts could result in defense spending being slashed by approximately $100 billion from the administration’s own projected figure in last winter’s budget submission—a cut of nearly 20 percent.
Of course, one reason these additional cuts would be disastrous is that the administration—along with members of Congress—has already accepted as a done deal the agreement’s initial cut to “security” spending that will likely reduce defense accounts by some $25 to $30 billion for next year and $330 to $350 billion over the next ten.
Coming on the heels of $400 billion already cut from defense by the administration in its first two years, the Pentagon is looking at the prospect of trying to maintain a defense capability second to none, with global responsibilities and new threats on the horizon (Iran, China), shorn of $1.3 trillion over the next decade it expected to have just three years ago. It is simply not the case that defense has not been “on the table” when it comes to deficit reduction efforts. Indeed, military budgets have been on the table since the 1990s’ “peace dividend.” One only wishes that were also true for entitlements.
Moreover, these cuts come at the worst time. The American military has been ridden hard for a decade and now faces the prospect of being put away wet. As the recent hearings on readiness before the House Armed Services Committee showed, this is a military that is slipping—and in some cases has already slipped—into a state that leaves it unprepared for any new major contingency.
Nor is this news. Just one year ago, the bipartisan panel Congress created to review the Pentagon’s latest Quadrennial Defense Review—headed by former national security adviser Stephen Hadley and former defense secretary William Perry—concluded that “there is a significant and growing gap between the ‘force structure’ of the military—its size and its inventory of equipment—and the missions it will be called on to perform in the future.” Instead of cutting defense, there exists an “urgent necessity of recapitalizing and modernizing the weapons and equipment inventory of all the services.” The fact that everyone assumes that the debt deal’s initial cut of some $330 billion from the Pentagon’s coffers doesn’t amount to much reflects just how far we’ve come in ignoring the true state of the American military. The late Daniel Patrick Moynihan sketched the decline in American culture a quarter century ago when he noted that we were “defining deviancy down.” That is, we were lowering the bar for what was once considered unacceptable behavior, and giving a pass to things society once frowned upon. Well, welcome to the world of defining defense down.
While the defense budget has grown substantially over the past decade, most of that increase has gone to fighting two wars (wars that Congress authorized by large margins), paying for the men and women who are at war, and maintaining the aging equipment they use. Undoubtedly, there are savings to be made in Pentagon programs like TRICARE for Life, the military’s health care plan. But even here, getting that program into sensible order will save at most a few billion annually—nothing on the order of the kind of “savings” required by the current arbitrary and mandated cuts.
No, to meet the hundreds of billions in reductions set by the debt agreement, the only real alternative will be to cut the size of the active-duty force, strip it of some capabilities, and cancel or greatly reduce the procurement of new platforms and weapons systems. The result will be a military that is smaller and less capable of meeting present and rising dangers. In the words of incoming Joint Chiefs chairman General Martin Dempsey, there’s a “very high risk” to following this path. Yet, right now, we seem to be doing so blindly. As a first order of business, and well before the Joint Committee reports in late November, Congress and the appropriate oversight committees should be demanding to know from the administration and the military precisely what those very high risks are. We believe an honest assessment of those risks will lead to the assessment that the price of these cuts will be the inability to respond effectively to a real national security crisis—and that this is a cost to peace and security that we are unwilling to pay. And then Congress has to act to ensure that these planned defense cuts do not stand.
Cross-posted from The Weekly Standard.
(U.S. Air Force/Staff Sgt. Ryan Crane)
Now that the Great Debt Ceiling Deal has become the law of the land, it’s time to consider what just happened to America, and in particular to America’s armed forces. On the one hand, it’s complicated. On the other hand, it’s ugly.
What we know pretty well: For the upcoming 2012 fiscal year and the annual congressional appropriations bills, we know that $684 billion has been allocated for “security” agencies. These include the military, Homeland Security, Veterans, nuclear security, the intelligence community, and the 150 or so foreign aid budget accounts. That represents a $44 billion reduction from the Obama administration’s original budget requests, which totaled $728 billion.
While under the budget deal Congress still can apportion the $44 billion of cuts as it sees fit, it’s unlikely that House speaker John Boehner’s rhetorical promises to protect the military at the expense of other “security” accounts can be fulfilled. The politics of that would be messy, at best, and very few of these other accounts offer up the kind of “big ticket” cut possibilities that defense does and are required to hit the $44 billion mark.
More likely, the cuts will be more or less proportionate to existing budget ratios within the security account, meaning the administration’s original request of $553 billion for the military (also affirmed in the House budget resolution crafted by Rep. Paul Ryan) will probably be dunned for about 76 percent of the total cut—about $34 billion. Thus the 2012 defense topline will come in around $520 billion, give or take a billion or so that might be pulled from foreign aid or the intelligence community.
That’s lower than the numbers being used by both the White House and defense committee members in the House – they’re talking about defense spending of $530 billion – and much lower than the more optimistic talk coming out of the speaker’s corner or the I-know-nothing stuff coming out of the Senate. And while it’s true, strictly speaking, that we will have to wait until the appropriations process is complete, months from now, the logic of what is going to happen is clear: the defense budget is going to get schwacked.
It represents a $10 billion cut (more in inflation-adjusted, purchasing-power dollars) from the 2011 budget of $530 billion. That’s the one the former Defense Secretary Robert Gates complained about so vociferously, forecasting a “crisis” if he wasn’t given $540 billion.
What we know less well: Things get less certain in 2013 and beyond. The debt ceiling deal holds “security” spending for 2013 to $686 billion. Back in February when it rolled out the 2012 defense budget, the Obama administration forecast that military spending for 2013 would be $571 billion. It’s a more than reasonable assumption that the military will be forced to swallow another couple of spoonfuls of cuts to keep within that topline for the same reasons noted above. Hence, $50 billion might be a good guess, based upon the budget arithmetic and likely appropriation politics.
What we should fear: The so-called “second tranche” of deficit reduction, in the hands of a soon-to-be-named “supercommittee” of lawmakers backed by the threat of an automatic sequestration “trigger” should it fail to agree on sufficient further cuts, would almost certainly push the military past what incoming chairman of the Joint Chiefs Gen. Martin Dempsey described as a “very high risk” threshold of cuts. The deficit reduction law seeks another $1.2 to $1.5 trillion in cuts and, if the supercommittee fails to meet the target, mandates additional reductions (split between domestic and security accounts).
The composition of the supercommittee matters a lot. It’s likely that there will be great solidarity among the Democratic members; they will be looking to defend social entitlements (and also looking to frame the 2012 election as a Republicans-throw-granny-under-the-bus contest). If they can’t raise taxes, they’ll look for bigger defense cuts. Conversely, the prime directive for Republicans will be no new taxes. They’d love to run on that issue in 2012. Unless they’re also hawkish on defense, the military will be the odd man out on the conservative side, too. And the sequestration, while allowing both sides to point fingers at one another, would also rip another $500-billion-plus out of defense spending.
But even more important may be the larger political debate. The supercommittee won’t be operating in a vacuum. If Republicans aren’t more committed to their professed strong America and Reaganite principles this second step in deficit reduction could be the one that takes the U.S military over the cliff, toward Dempsey’s “very high risk” future. It will be a time, too, when the party’s presidential candidates can make a big difference.
Tea Partiers, Speaker Boehner, Rep. Ryan and other committed conservatives have done a huge public service in changing the subject of American political debate since 2008. They’ve turned the ship of state toward a new heading. But these are the narrow seas, where the course between less government and a weak America must be carefully charted. To trust a “supercommittee” or to put things on sequestration autopilot – or to defer to a president who prefers to “lead from behind” – is to run very high risks indeed.
Cross-posted from the Weekly Standard.
(U.S. Air Force/Staff Sgt. Ryan Crane)
This December, the Japanese Air Self-Defense Force (JASDF) plans to announce which of the three competing aircraft will replace its antiquated F-4s, aircraft that were first purchased back in the late 1960s. In the running for the 45 or so fighters to be acquired are Boeing’s F/A 18, the Eurofighter Typhoon, and Lockheed Martin’s F-35—the stealthy “Joint Strike Fighter” currently in the final stages of development. Although either the F-18 or the Typhoon would be a substantial and needed upgrade for the Japanese air fleet, the acquisition of the F-35 would present an opportunity for Japan to acquire a transformational military capability, begin to address the growing imbalance in air power in the region as a result of China’s own military modernization program, and to reaffirm alliance ties with the United States.
However, the current slash and burn budget environment in Washington has placed the F-35 Joint Strike Fighter program squarely in the sights of those willing to balance the nation’s books on the backs of the U.S. military. Senator John McCain, the ranking Republican on the Senate Armed Services Committee, recently referred to the program as a “train wreck” and urged the Defense Department to consider other options if Lockheed Martin cannot control rising costs. Left unsaid was what other options exist, with the administration and Congress already having agreed to end procurement of the other, stealthy, fifth-generation fighter, the F-22, several hundred planes short of what the Air Force believed was necessary.
Of course, the good news is that should Japan elect to acquire the F-35s, it would apply downward pressure on the cost per unit for both the U.S. military and the allied countries, such as Australia, Canada, and the United Kingdom, who are participating in the program. Also of importance would be the interoperability of the JASDF with U.S. Air Forces based in Japan and the Pacific; the purchase of F-35s would lead to even closer strategic and tactical cooperation.
Because the Japanese people have renounced the threat or use of war as a means for settling international disputes in Article 9 of their Peace Constitution, the capabilities of the F-35 (it can serve in an air defense or a ground-attack role) that make it attractive to some allies is not a selling point to the Japanese, politically or publicly. But Japan’s leaders and military have also gradually come to realize that “defending Japan” might require more than protecting Japan’s home waters, air space, and the island itself. For example, in April 2010, the JASDF began operating KC767 cargo aircraft equipped with a midair refueling boom in its tail. While members of the JASDF will assure anyone who enquires that Japan does not endeavor to use the capability to project power, tankers plus stealthy F-35s provide Japan with a capability to meet threats further afield and, in the case of North Korea, an ability to preempt a North Korean missile attack.
The expansion of Japan’s understanding of Article 9 will only occur through a gradual process of reinterpretation of constitutional restraints. The military bureaucracy is heavily colonized by civilians and its ethos is decision-making by consensus, ensuring this process is labored and incremental. But in a region whose balance of power is rapidly changing and where threats continue to grow, Japan must build flexibility into its range of military capabilities to ensure its own safety.
With the cost of recovery from this year’s tsunami weighing heavily on Japanese policy makers, there will be understandably be arguments in favor of acquiring less capable planes as a way of managing a very difficult fiscal situation. That said, over the long term, the savings will count far less than bolstering the defense of Japan itself and deepening its alliances.
Cross-posted from the Enterprise Blog.
Last week marked the 150th anniversary of the first Battle of Bull Run – or Manassas, if you’re of the secesh persuasion – the first large-scale engagement of the Civil War. Though the Confederate forces claimed the victory, they were unable to exploit the day’s success; the Union forces skedaddled back to Washington but the city’s defenses were intimidating to the Rebs, who were almost as disorganized by their triumph as the Yankees were by their defeat.
The fact is that Bull Run was also an early indication that the war would be a long one. Massive armies would contend across a continent, employing new industrial-age technologies – mass production of both arms and ammunition of all sorts, “precision” weapons (rifled muskets and the lethal Minie ball, in particular), railroads and telegraphs – that changed both the art and science of warfare. Napoleonic tactics became all but suicidal, but more dispersed formations were impossible to command.
Bull Run was the Mother of All First Battles (see America’s First Battles, 1776-1965), that lugubrious American tradition – think Kasserine Pass in World War II or the story of Task Force Smith in Korea – wherein poorly prepared forces blunder into a fight and get a devil of a whipping. It often requires a long process of trial, error and spilled blood to figure out what’s gone wrong. Even Stonewall Jackson could never give up the idea of the decisive bayonet charge.
Today’s U.S. military is at the opposite end of the learning curve. It’s an exquisitely professional force, even at the trying arts of irregular warfare (although that knowledge was purchased dearly, too). But it’s the exception to the American rule that regards war as an anomaly, peace as the natural human dividend and men on horseback with suspicion. The enthusiasm of both political parties for defense budget cuts is palpable, and preserving the quality of today’s force will be very difficult to do. On the current path, it may not be too long before the future U.S. military will suffer from a new form of “hollowness,” unready, surprised and tasting defeat.
Cross-posted from the Enterprise Blog.
Bull Run Further Reading
Our Top Picks
- Davis, William C. Battle at Bull Run: a History of the First Major Campaign of the Civil War. 2nd ed. Mechanicsburg, PA: Stackpole, 1995.
- Gottfried, Bradley M. The Maps of First Bull Run: An atlas of the First Bull Run (Manassas) Campaign, including the Battle of Ball’s Bluff, June–October 1861. El Dorado Hills, CA: Savas Beatie, 2009.
- Hankinson, Alan. First Bull Run 1861: The South’s First Victory. Osprey Campaign Series #10. London: Osprey Publishing, 1991.
- McDonald, JoAnna M. We Shall Meet Again: the First Battle of Manassas (Bull Run), July 18-21, 1861. Shippensburg, PA: White Mane, 1999
(flickr/U.S. National Archives and Records Administration/Mathew Brady)
When President Obama announced last spring that he wanted to trim $400 billion from national security programs in an effort to address the country’s fiscal crisis, the question was whether this was a ceiling to further cuts or just its floor.
Coming on the heels of $400 billion already cut from the defense budget the last two years by the administration, the hope was that it was a ceiling.
But Tuesday, the “Gang of Six” –a bipartisan group of U.S. Senators–put forward a proposal to trim $3.7 trillion from the government’s budget over the next ten years. President Obama’s praised the plan and declared it “broadly consistent” with his approach for getting the country’s finances under control.
Although the plan is somewhat sketchy on how these savings will be achieved, it is noteworthy that Sen. Tom Coburn (R-Okla.), a key member of the six, recently put forward his own plan that included $1 trillion in defense cuts over the next decade.
Reading the tea leaves, it seems pretty obvious that defense will be the largest bill-payer for addressing the deficit.
Understandably, the country wants its elected representatives to address the nation’s fiscal crisis. But in doing so, will it be creating a crisis on the national security front?
Indeed, what is striking about the various deficit-reduction proposals is how often they are proposed in abstraction from the known threats and requirements that the country faces today and will likely face in the future. Whatever one thinks about the advisability of cutting this or that military program, reducing benefits for the all-volunteer force, or trimming numbers in active duty forces, at a minimum, such decisions should be tied to some strategic calculus about what role we want the United States to play in the world today and tomorrow. Maybe our allies in Europe can get away with just making defense cuts a budget exercise but it is extremely dangerous for Washington to go down this road.
Whether we like it or not, in the next few years, we will still be dealing with the conflict in Afghanistan, an aggressive and likely nuclear-capable Iran, the continuing threat of Islamist terrorism, possibly a failed, nuclear-armed state in Pakistan, a Putin-led and revanchist Russia, a rising and increasingly assertive China, and of course the seeming never-ending problem child of Asia, North Korea.
Add to that the requirement to protect the American homeland and maintain assured access to the global commons–sea, space and cyberspace–and one quickly sees why the U.S. defense budget is as large as it is. There is a lot on the country’s plate.
And this is what we know is on our plate. But if the past quarter century has taught us anything, it’s that strategic surprises are just as likely to occur as not–and that includes wars that no one expected to be fighting. When George H. W. Bush was elected president in 1988, Panamanian dictator Manuel Noriega was clearly a problem. Nevertheless, Bush was not expecting that just a little more than a year later, he would be ordering an invasion of Panama. Of course, the bigger surprise was the First Gulf War. Even when Saddam Hussein had massed troops on Kuwait’s border, only a few individuals saw this as a prelude to an actual invasion, let alone the opening act in what would end with an American-led counter-invasion in 1991 totaling well over a half-million men in arms.
Similarly, when President Clinton began his presidency in 1993, he was undoubtedly aware of the fact that Yugoslavia was flying apart, with Slovenia, Croatia and Macedonia already having declared their independence from Belgrade. But equally certain is the fact that he had no idea that just a few years later he would be ordering U.S. aircraft to bomb Bosnian Serb positions in 1995 to stem the Serb militia’s onslaught against the Muslim Bosniaks and UN-designated ” safe areas.” And even less improbable for candidate Clinton was President Clinton’s decision, in conjunction with NATO allies, to engage in a sustained bombing campaign in the spring of 1999 against Yugoslavian forces, government installations and key infrastructure in a successful effort to force Milosevic’s military to leave Kosovo and prevent a repetition of the bloody violence and massacres that had occurred previously in Bosnia.
For his part, George W. Bush came to the White House determined to avoid such conflicts. Indeed, an argument among many of his senior advisors was that the United States had entered an era of ” strategic pause” in which the United States could focus on domestic affairs and the transformation of its military in the absence of a great power rival. However, as we know, by the end of his first term, President Bush and the Congress had authorized wars that resulted in tens of thousands of troops being deployed in both Afghanistan and Iraq.
Nor has President Obama escaped his own unexpected war. Even while determined to end combat operations in Iraq and drawdown in Afghanistan as quickly as possible, Obama now finds himself in armed conflict with Libya. Although it is clear that this was not something he wanted to do, nevertheless, the U.S. navy and air force, in conjunction with NATO allies, are slowly but surely engaged in attempting to squeeze Qaddafi out of power.
Four presidents and various wars later, it is obvious that whatever the policy predilection or party affiliation of the person sitting in the Oval Office they likely will be faced with, as former Defense Secretary Donald Rumsfeld noted, the problem of going ” to war with the army you have…not the army you might want or wish to have at a later time.”
Those arguing for deep cuts in the defense budget will suggest that the majority of these conflicts were avoidable. Yet, in doing so, they are ignoring the realities of history, statecraft and domestic politics. And cutting troops or buying fewer planes or ships is not going to change those dynamics. However, what it will do is leave the men and women of the American military in a far more precarious position to carry out what we as a nation will almost surely be asking them to do.
Cross-posted from Fox News.com