The End of the Bush Military
Posted by Max Bergmann
Yesterday Secretary Gates officially buried the military strategy that had defined the Bush administration. The strategy somewhat incorrectly labeled "transformation" was vigorously pursued by Secretary Rumsfeld. It provided the foundation for the catastrophic war plans in Afghanistan and Iraq and came to dominate the thinking behind DoD procurement. While Gates' announcement may seem like an obvious development, the fact is that Gates' comments have real ramifications for the future direction of the military.
During the 2000 election campaign, conservatives were quick to attack the Clinton administration for cutting defense spending and pursuing dainty peacekeeping and stability operations in Haiti, Bosnia, and Kosovo. To conservatives these operations were a distraction from the real fights of the 21st century. The military even classified these missions as "operations other than war." Instead, conservative emphasized "transforming" the military to fight "21st century wars" by developing new highly advanced weapons systems that could instantly identify and destroy targets with pinpoint accuracy. In this vision of warfare speed and firepower were highly valued, ground forces were less essential and as a result needed to be smaller, lighter and more lethal. Warfare was essentially boiled down to a bunch of targets to be destroyed, as evidenced by Rumsfeld's infamous consternation over invading Afghanistan immediately after 9-11 when he said that there "aren't any good targets in Afghanistan."
Gates' speech importantly casts this naive vision of warfare aside:
Be modest about what military force can accomplish, and what technology can accomplish. The advances in precision, sensor, information and satellite technology have led to extraordinary gains in what the U.S. military can do... But also never neglect the psychological, cultural, political, and human dimensions of warfare, which is inevitably tragic, inefficient, and uncertain. Be skeptical of systems analysis, computer models, game theories, or doctrines that suggest otherwise. Look askance at idealized, triumphalist, or ethnocentric notions of future conflict that aspire to upend the immutable principles of war: where the enemy is killed, but our troops and innocent civilians are spared. Where adversaries can be cowed, shocked, or awed into submission, instead of being tracked down, hilltop by hilltop, house by house, block by bloody block.
Gates also adds that:
As we can expect a blended, high-low mix of adversaries and types of conflict, so too should America seek a better balance in the portfolio of capabilities we have – the types of units we field, the weapons we buy, the training we do. When it comes to procurement, for the better part of five decades, the trend has gone towards lower numbers as technology gains made each system more capable. In recent years these platforms have grown ever more baroque, ever more costly, are taking longer to build, and are being fielded in ever dwindling quantities.Given that resources are not unlimited, the dynamic of exchanging numbers for capability is perhaps reaching a point of diminishing returns.
The implications of this are huge. Under the conservative vision of military "transformation" weapons systems were not tied to defeating any particular threat, but were developed merely for the sake of making our military more capable. In other words, we continue to develop the F-22 not to defeat advanced Soviet aircraft which it was originally developed for, but merely to have a much better plane. What Gates' is essentially saying is that we should again tie weapons development to the threats and challenges we face - and since those are likely to be of the low-tech asymmetrical variety, instead of spending more than 300 million for each F-22, may be we can live with building more F-15s and F-16s for much less. Almost every weapons program this decade has been justified in terms of the abstract vision of "transformation" not any particular threat or challenge. Large, technologically advanced weapons programs take decades to develop and Gates' comments essentially cast doubt on many of these programs.
Over the last couple years Gates has effectively laid the ground work for the next administration to undertake a massive restructuring of the military. This is incredibly important in light of the inevitable budget tightening that the Pentagon will experience over the next few years. If and when this restructuring happens, Gates will deserve a lot of credit.