The Defense Sequester is here – the “doomsday” scenario that both sides, Democrats and Republicans, thought was too terrible to even consider it becoming reality. The moment is finally upon us. And what has the Pentagon done to prepare? Nothing.
Folks, we’re looking at fabulous leadership once more from a political appointee. The truth is that sticking one’s head in a hole, and hoping for the best outcome is simply not a strategy.
So now that all the best tricks known to man to kick the can down the road have failed to prevent the cold hard facts of reality, what will be the effects of “sequester” to our national security infrastructure?
The honest answer is probably not much – and there are two reasons why.
First, we have always had the most industrious and adaptive military in the history of warfare – and have never been tied to “tradition” if it did not give us an edge – this departure from military tradition and adapting to circumstance has driven many of our adversaries mad with frustration – but resulted in consistent military victories.
From the early days of the Revolutionary War and General George Washington’s Continental Army, to the rapid come back and adaptive reasoned brilliance of our leaders during World War II, to the Cold War strategy that eventually pushed the Soviet Union into the dustbin of history. We have always found a way…we will find a way here. To quote Clint Eastwood’s character, Gunny Highway, from the movie "Heartbreak Ridge," we will “Improvise, adapt and overcome.”
We need an effective defense – not an expensive defense.
Second, there has been a significant squandering of resources given to the Department of Defense.
The sequestration presents us with an opportunity to actual make some hard decisions – not pleasant ones – about what will be the spending priorities of our defense and security establishments. There are bottomless pits of money, such as the Joint IED Defeat Organization (JIEDO) that have accomplished virtually nothing over the course of the wars of the last decade but continue to suck down dollars like a Florida sinkhole sucks down cars. We need an effective defense – not an expensive defense.
The current system requires that you “use” your entire budget – or you get less the next year – so of course you spend it -- even if it means wasting the money on non-essential contracts or equipment.
We need an effective defense – not an expensive defense. We have the latter. The two are not necessarily mutually exclusive concepts – but the latter has been the preference of both this White House and the Congress. It is time for Congress to pick up the reins of its Constitutional responsibility regarding the budget and do the hard work of oversight and accountability.
To establish an effective defense, we need to create and implement a strategy based on real and anticipated threats to the American people and our interests. Only after a real strategic framework is established, with the full partnership of Congress, will we see an effective defense established…at this point we are not even on the road.
The most recent “strategy” put forth recently came from Secretary of Defense Leon Panetta. It does not provide a roadmap of any consequence for the Department of Defense to follow. Panetta's “Five Point Strategy” is not only unserious – it is a re-enforcement and continuation of everything that is wrong about the Pentagon – and will do nothing to focus our resources or make the American people safer. It is not innovative or adaptive – it is simply the status quo warmed over. Here is a link to the full transcript.
The first element of Secretary Panetta's strategy is to make our forces “smaller and leaner”. Okay, you say, that's great but to do what? To achieve what? This is not a viable strategic point – this is a political punch line to create the false perception of “progress.”
The second element is to “maintain force projection.” But to go where and achieve what strategic goals? This, again, is not “strategy” – this is simply a "capability statement" regarding a tactical capability. The definition of capability statement is a promotional or marketing statement about your business and its capabilities and skills that advertises who your company is. This is not a strategic imperative that defines the U.S. goals – this second element reads more like an advertising slogan.
The third element laid out by Secretary Panetta is that our military should “do force projection in the Asia Pacific and in the Middle East. ” But didn’t we just cover “force projection” in the second element of the “strategy”?
And – again – this is a great advertising slogan – but it is not a strategy element. Here is a flowery, but hollow quote: “building innovative partnerships and partner capacity across the globe.” Again, to do what? We already have solid partnerships – how do we create “innovative” partnerships? What does this even mean?
The forth element is more marketing: “The fourth element of the new defense strategy is that we must always remain capable of being able to confront and defeat aggression from more than one adversary at a time anywhere, anytime.”
Really – why? What do we define as “aggression”? And what kind of “adversary” are we talking about? Is it a nation state, a terrorist organization, an organized crime family?
The complete lack of precision of words and thought here, in what is the strategic policy of our nation, is mind-numbing. It is this sloppy thinking that has resulted in the complete loss of strategic and genuine focus on real and developing threats.
The fifth element: "We must also be able to invest in the future, to protect and prioritize key investments in technology and new capabilities” means absolutely nothing.
Who is “we” here? “Invest” in technology to do what? “Capabilities” to do what? How will this “investment” make our military more effective/efficient and, ultimately, make the American people safer? The fifth point of Panetta's strategy should tie the others together in a cohesive package but it does just the opposite.
I would have expected much more from our Secretary of Defense at such a critical time.
We have had well-defined defense strategies in the last 7 decades – some more effective than others. The “New Look,” Containment, the Truman Doctrine, the Reagan Doctrine, Mutually Assured Destruction (MAD), to name a few. Using these as a measure, we need to look at a real path forward for the 21st Century.
Last time I checked, the Cold War is over. The fall of the Berlin Wall, in 1989, is a rough “end date” of the Cold War period. Yet the vast majority of or global footprint and spending is on Cold War legacy locations and capabilities.
Upon achieving victory in 1945, there was a re-thinking of our defense infrastructure that materialized in the the National Security Act of 1947. That act created the Department of Defense we see today – as well as CIA and other notable defense capabilities. We now need to do the same thing – we need to restructure – to have a National Security Act of 2013 – that breaks the paradigm and momentum of the Cold War legacy infrastructure.
It's time to rethink the National Security Act of 1947 and the major adjustment of the legislation that came through the Goldwater/Nichols Act of 1983 (which helped create the bloat of general officers that now exists). The Panetta budget and strategy does not innovate, does not fundamentally restructure and does not adapt.
Here's what we must do:
Short term. Conduct an accounting of what we have spent. A full audit of the Pentagon and its spending is a good start point. Then look at contract reform as a primary structural issue that needs to be fixed even before you have an effective strategy. Then establish real accountability and build in incentives to save money at the functional level. Congress should lead these efforts and insure these fundamentals are done immediately. Put in place policies that encourage and reward Pentagon frugality and creative (cost cutting) solutions.
Long term. Establish and define what the real and expected threats against the United States are for the next ten, twenty and thirty years by doing an honest and concise threat assessment. Then, create a new and real strategy to adapt to these threats and focus on keeping the American people safe.
This threat assessment should be from a “clean sheet” approach – and be brutally honest and frank.
This threat assessment should be from a “clean sheet” approach – and be brutally honest and frank.
From this assessment, the establishment of a real strategy would be formed. And then work with congress to establish a new national security infrastructure that replaces the 1947 national security act – that will establish and fund an effective defense establishment – not the cold war legacy.
I suspect a real assessment of global “threat” will identify four key issues:
1. Energy and natural resource competition/security. Petroleum, natural resources such as potable water and food, as well as rare earth elements will all become key to the continued global economy.
2. Cyber attacks and terrorism. There has been constant lip service by DoD on this issue – but nothing done to actually take action to make the American people more secure. It is far more likely that we will see a significant cyber-attack against the homeland than another major Al Qaeda attack – we should act as such.
3. Missile Threat/Defense. There is no doubt rogue nations such as North Korea and Iran continue to develop effective ballistic missile systems that could pose a real threat to the U.S. and our allies – this is an area we must continue to work.
4. Radical Islam and Terrorism and Loose Nuclear Weapons. The terrorist networks are not defeated and have reemerged as a credible threat. We need to look at the roots of these networks and effectively deal with them. Simply using drones to kill terrorists one or two at a time is not only bad economically, it will not defeat the networks. And like a cancer, until you cut the source of the cancer out, it will continue to grow back.
We must begin with the end in mind; what do we wish to accomplish to keep the American people security and U.S. interests protected?
The Panetta Five Point Strategy does nothing to define how it does either objective well and Sequestration, while severe, will make us think and force us to make hard decisions, and encourage us to do a fundamental reexamination of our entire defense establishment.
We can achieve significant cost savings simply by seeking an effective national security policy – and it is what we must do – to both stop the bloat that now continues to fill our budget and actually put into place an effective defense that will make the American people more secure.
Lt. Col. Tony Shaffer (ret.) is a former senior intelligence officer and the New York Times bestselling author of Operation "Dark Heart: Spycraft an Special Operations on the Frontlines of Afghanistan – And The Path to Victory." His latest book is The Last Line. He is the Director of External Communications for the Center for Advanced Defense Studies (CADS) and Senior Advisor on the Congressional Task Force on National and Homeland Security. The opinions reflected here are those solely of Lt. Col. Shaffer -- and are not the opinion of the Center for Advanced Defense Studies (CADS) or of any other group or organization with which Lt. Col. Shaffer is affiliated.