Wednesday, September 08, 2010

Military Spending Must Only Go Up

In an article at Commentary, Arthur Herman complains that Defense Secretary Gates is proposing cuts in military spending.
Altogether, the Gates Pentagon has slated $300 billion to be axed, including $100 billion in the next five years through reduced overhead and cuts in low-priority programs. And as all this happens, Medicare, Medicaid, and Social Security will grow to spend five federal dollars for every dollar spent on defense.
First the factual error: Gates has not proposed cutting the military budget. He has proposed reallocating the money from his proposed cuts "from administrative overhead to force structure", and has proposed that military spending continue to increase.
What we need is modest, sustainable growth over a prolonged period of time that allows us to make sensible investment decisions, and not have these giant increases and giant decreases that make efficiency and doing acquisition in a sensible way almost impossible.
And the logical error, of course, is that the cost of Medicare, Medicaid and Social Security are not affected by whether or not there are cuts in the military budget. Herman continues,
But the Obama-Gates drawdown signals a more ominous trend—a unilateral shift away from maintaining an American military that is truly second to none toward something far more modest in size and scope. A peacetime drawdown, such as took place after World War II and after the Cold War, is entirely appropriate and to be expected. But imposing one while a war—not one war but two, actually—is ongoing is an innovation, and not a welcome one.
Nothing in Gates' proposal suggests that he intends to reduce the size and scope of the military, unless you mean on the administrative side. Nothing in Gates' proposal even slightly resembles a peacetime drawdown, let alone something that would make the U.S. military to be "more like those of our European allies".

Herman also finds it problematic that the shift in the military from fighting two conventional, large-scale, land-based conflicts at the same time is being shifted in favor of fighting one such conflict along with a greater capacity to deploy and act quickly in potentially numerous locations where the U.S. is not fighting a conventional military:
The era of relying on the Abrams tank, the B-52, and carriers like the USS Eisenhower to defend American interests was coming to an end. In their place would be a smaller, swifter, and more flexible force, able to perform a range of operations, from protecting the homeland “in cooperation with domestic agencies” to executing counterinsurgencies and humanitarian missions.
There's nothing new there, of course - Donald Rumsfeld was advancing a similar concept for the military before 9/11. (Herman later touches on that fact, but is intentionally vague about the similarity of Rumsfeld's conception to what he now opposes.) Frankly, there's something to be said for not having to spend three to six months transporting your equipment by air and sea before you can launch a military action. Contrary to Herman's expectation, not every future conflict in which the U.S. will be involved is going to be a war of choice against a weak opponent. Frankly, if the U.S. remains prepared for a single large-scale conflict against one of the world's stronger militaries, it shouldn't have any problem simultaneously kicking down the doors in two nations such as Iraq and Afghanistan.

Herman criticizes Gates for his role in trimming the CIA in the post-Cold War era,
Those same tensions are now rising at the Pentagon. Gates is setting in motion a scramble to get rid of what we have now in order to create room for what’s to come. The result is supposed to be a leaner but more fully ready and versatile force. But what if we end up not with something better but—as with the CIA in the 90s—a calamity waiting to happen?
Sort of a cross between poisoning the well ("Gates has been wrong before, so why should we trust him now") with an appeal to tradition ("We've been doing things in a particular way in the past, so we should assume that approach is better than the alternatives").

Although Herman concedes that the U.S. has "an abnormally large nuclear-weapons arsenal relative to the rest of the world", he stomps his feet at the idea of cuts,
During the Cold War, America’s overwhelming nuclear strength not only made all-out war with the USSR unimaginable; it also prevented regional conflicts like Korea and Vietnam from escalating into hot clashes between the world’s biggest nuclear powers. No one can say how our decline as a nuclear behemoth will affect the dynamic of our long-term dealings with China and Russia, especially when they have learned that we are prepared to throw away our greatest advantage in the nuclear sweepstakes—our missile defense—at the stroke of a treaty pen, while rogue nations like North Korea and Iran are allowed to continue their nuclear- and ballistic-missile programs unchecked.
Except there's no basis in fact for this appeal to fear. The U.S. with its smaller, updated nuclear arsenal will remain capable of destroying the entire world several times over. Compared to the U.S., China's nuclear arsenal is and will remain tiny, but Herman would have us tremble in our boots at the thought of a military conflict with China - If that's all it takes to rattle the world's only superpower, why does Herman think the continued, massive U.S. nuclear deterrant won't intimidate other nations? ("They U.S can only wipe our entire country off the face of the earth 100 times? I scoff at their weakness.") Herman's overstatement seems to reduce to "No military program can ever be cut, because any cut could make us weaker". As for missile defense, there are legitimate questions as to what it could achieve even if the technology works. (But Herman has his baggy pants on and is performing that classic dance - "U can't touch this.")

Herman isn't content to argue that the old way of arming the nation must be maintained - he's simultaneously insisting that new defense technologies render it too vulnerable to even weak nations:
In the larger strategic picture, it’s also one where relatively cheap but deadly accurate anti-ship, cruise, and ballistic missiles will allow not only big powers like China and Russia but also third-rate ones like Iran and Syria (or even terrorist bands like Hezbollah) to threaten our aircraft carriers off the Taiwan coast or in the Persian Gulf, and where electronic anti-satellite warfare and cyberattacks can, at minimal expense, deny us command and control of those same forces.
Apparently he sees no contradiction between asserting that the massively expensive ships and war planes that he insists cannot be cut will be useless even against a piddling opponent like Hezbollah, and his notion that we must maintain and even expand expand our military's use of and dependence upon them.
Yet here Gates and the Pentagon find themselves in a painful dilemma. Their ultimate goal is to modernize our forces so that we can avoid spending more money: but every modernizing solution requires spending more, not less.
I guess it bears repeating: Gates has proposed spending more money, not less. That being said, there's no logical basis for the assertion that "every modernizing solution requires spending more" money.

As you have no doubt inferred, the editorial's foundation is an appeal to fear ("Rethinking our military and its spending will make us weak, vulnerable and subject to terrorist attacks.")
In the end, there remains only one alternative: to shrink the mission. If you want to see the results of a shrinking CIA budget and mission, visit lower Manhattan. What might follow from Gates’s career-capping years at the Obama Pentagon could make Ground Zero look like a war game.
When people are in a state of fear they don't think very well. So is the issue here that Herman is trying to create a state of fear, or is it that he's working from a state of fear? (What else do we have in that finale? A false dichotomy, a non sequitur....)

1 comment:

  1. Herman suggests that "seafaring strength is a source of pride for Navy League members, as is the United States’s having a navy second to none" as if this means we can never reconsider how naval power is projected. This article from the Naval War College Review suggests, quite reasonably, that we rethink the navy and the defense of naval vessels. Were we in a military conflict with China, there's cause to believe that they could presently inflict massive damage on our naval fleet, as well as on AWACS and aerial refueling, and that capacity is apt to increase over time. If we are preparing for conflicts with militarily strong nations, the navy must evolve in ways Gates seems to appreciate, while Herman appears clueless.