Thursday, February 27, 2014


"It is never easy to slim the Pentagon behemoth. In times of emergency, such as after the 9/11 attacks, US defence spending tends to balloon rapidly. In times of relative calm, previous gains are rarely clawed back. Chuck Hagel, the Pentagon chief, this week broke with the trend, outlining a vision for a leaner US defence posture. It is a vision to be applauded. The defence secretary’s budget unveiled a reduction in US forces to just 440,000 – its lowest since before Pearl Harbor. From now on, the US would be equipped to fight just one conventional war rather than two simultaneously. Yet it would extend its technological edge and remain more powerful than the combined capability of the next few powers in the world rankings. Mr Hagel’s vision makes sense as far as it goes. However, sketching it out was the easy part. Now he must persuade Congress to put it into effect. The case for a smaller US army is strong. After the wars in Afghanistan and Iraq, the American public has little appetite for prolonged foreign occupations. Results on the ground offer little evidence that they have been worth the expense in lives and money. This week President Barack Obama told Hamid Karzai that the US would consider withdrawing altogether from Afghanistan by the end of this year unless Kabul agreed to a treaty putting the US presence on a legal footing. Such an agreement looks remote. After the deaths of 2,313 US personnel and more than $1tn in expenditure, this is a terrible return on investment. The US army was never equipped to build civil societies in faraway lands. But it will continue to win wars. A slimmer army only reflects the exponential growth in military technology. In 2001, it cost $2,300 to equip a US marine. That has since risen tenfold. The age of the underequipped “grunt” is over. The US army can achieve more with fewer people.".
Editorial, "A US army that is leaner but stronger." The Financial Times. 26 February 2014, in
"At the simplest level of budgetary planning, the Secretary’s budget statements ignore the fact that the Congressional Budget Office projects that the Department’s failure to manage the real-world crises in personnel, modernization, and readiness costs will have as negative an overall budget impact over time as Sequestration will. Ignoring the Department’s long history of undercosting its budget, its cost overruns, and the resulting cuts in forces, modernization, and readiness means one more year of failing to cope with reality. Presenting an unaffordable plan is as bad as failing to budget enough money. The far more serious problem, however, is that Secretary Hagel fails to provide any meaningful picture of where the U.S. is going and of the defense posture it is trying to create. He focuses on current spending levels and not on any aspect of programming. He talks about cuts in personnel, equipment, and force strength in case-specific terms, but does not address readiness and does not address any plan or provide any serious details as to what the United States is seeking in in terms of changes in its alliances and partnerships, and its specific goals in force levels, deployments, modernization, personnel, and readiness.... Worse, we are going to leave these issues to be addressed in the future by another mindless waste of time like the Quadrennial Defense Review (QDR). All the past QDRs have been set so far in the future to be practical or relevant. Each successive QDR has proved to be one more colostomy bag after another of half-digested concepts and vague strategic priorities filled with noise and futility and signifying nothing. They have failed to set any meaningful goals for implementing the strategies they discuss, and have failed to provide any realistic plans and details about how we will shape alliances and partnerships, force levels, deployments, modernization, personnel, and readiness. Like all of his recent predecessors, Secretary Hagel has failed dismally to show the U.S. has any real plans for the future and to provide any meaningful sense of direction and real justification for defense spending. The best that can be said of his speech on the FY2015 defense budget is that U.S. strategy and forces will go hollow in a kinder and gentler manner than simply enforcing sequestration".
Anthony Cordesman, "Going Hollow: The Hagel Preview of the FY2015 Defense Budget." The Center for Strategic and International Study. 25 February 2014 in .
The gist of Anthony Cordesman's criticism of American Defense Secretary Hagel's proposed defense 'strategy' is of course by definition pertinent and on the mark. No one can be more cogent and adept at finding fault with a defense policy statement than Dr. Cordesman. Without however gainsaying Dr. Cordesman immense knowledge, erudition and experience, there is an element in his critique of Secretary Hagel which sounds (at least to me) rather naïve and (dare one say it?) idealistic. Meaning: given the organization and history of the American Defense department, as well as the (should one say?) peculiar manner in which in America, public monies are voted on and approved by the national legislature (a form of semi-bribery and or subsidy for the voters back home), it is difficult to imagine something better bearing fruit in this particular exercise. If one merely thinks back into the history of the American defense department, one immediately re-imagines a long series of intra-service clashes and rivalries, with in some cases the nominal head of the department, a mere cipher if not a complete eunuch: the Admirals Revolt of the late 1940's, Ridgeway's & Taylor's dissent in the 1950's, the endemic dislike (if at time muted) of much of the military hierarchy for then Defense Secretary Macnamara's reforms in the 1960's. Et cetera. In times of austerity, the modus operandi is akin to sauve que peut. In years of plenty it is 'spend what you may, spend on anything'. In short, due to the unique weaknesses and liabilities of the American governmental system, it is almost impossible to expect or anticipate a rational decision-making apparatus in place to decide on policy, particular as it relates to procurement and spending on the forces in the USA. This was true under Secretary Forrestal in the late 1940's and it is true to-day under Secretary Hagel. Given the emphasis (one is almost tempted to characterize it as 'obsession') with austerity, particularly in the armed forces, Secretary Hagel has probably done the best that can be expected. Faute de mieux. With it being understood, that Secretary Hagel was not, repeat not appointed with the idea that he would be able to plot a new strategic grand-strategy for America's armed forces. That unfortunately, is something which is beyond the purview of any American Secretary of Defense. Those few Secretaries who endeavored to try, did not fare very well: Macnamara, and Rumsfeld come immediately to mind. In this instance there is indeed something to be said for mediocrity. In that respect Secretary Hagel, a safe pair of hands if there ever was one, is exactly what the doctor ordered.


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