Tuesday, April 18, 2006

What Good is War in the Next World Order?

Part V of the "Next World Order" series, which asks the blasphemous question "why do we need a military?" Links to parts I through IV are included at the bottom of this article.

In its 1997 "Statement of Principles," the neoconservative think tank Project for the New American Century (PNAC) urged a return to a "Reaganite policy of military strength" and a need to increase defense spending significantly "if we are to carry out our global responsibilities today and modernize our armed forces for the future[.]"

For all their collective brainpower, the PNACers overlooked the elephant hiding behind the couch in their clubhouse. During the Reagan era, America had a peer military competitor. Since the fall of the Berlin Wall, it hasn't. Even so, at the urging of the neoconservatives, America will spend upwards of a half trillion dollars for our Department of Defense in 2006, an expenditure that matches the military spending of the rest of the world combined. And that half trillion doesn't cover the cost of Homeland Security and other federal domestic security programs.

For all our politicians' and generals' talk about "transforming" the military to meet the needs of the new century, our force doesn't look significantly different from the one we had in the middle of the last one.

In World War II, our Navy had aircraft carriers, surface combatants, submarines, amphibious assault craft and Marines. Our Air Force--then a branch of our Army--had bombers, fighters and cargo planes. The Army had armor, infantry, artillery and special forces.

What we have now is a higher tech version of what we had then. We've traded our old fashioned P.F. Flyers for new fangled Nike Air Jordans that run faster, jump higher and stop on a smaller dime. But our old shoes did something that our news ones never have: win an actual war in which the enemies actually surrendered and signed actual documents to that effect, and effectively told their populations to shut the hell up and deal with it.

When the Soviet Union fell apart and what was left of its military did the same, the U.S. armed services fell all over themselves to justify their continued existence and their slices of the federal budget pie.

With no maritime power to challenge its dominance of the open oceans, the Navy adopted a strategy of patrolling littoral waters from which it could project air power (carrier aircraft, cruise missiles, and naval gunfire) and land power (Marines) ashore.

The Air Force suffered from both its proven successes and failures. The two Gulf Wars illustrated that air supremacy is a given in any U.S. conflict, and that the "shock and awe" value of strategic bombing isn't worth the cost of the point papers air power advocates wrote about it. The Air Force's main function has become to take the Army wherever it needs to go to do whatever it needs to do when it gets there. And yeah, support whatever the Army's doing with direct air support. Except the Air Force doesn't really like doing direct support of Army ground operations, and the Navy's better at doing that anyway.

The poor Army folks--God bless them--don't know which way to point their gun barrels. Are they a heavy force? Are they a light force? Are they Patton's tank warriors or Sergeant Fury's Howling Commandos? Do they pull triggers or punch buttons on computer keyboards? Do they pitch their own tents or does a subsidiary of Halliburton do that for them?

In short, the best-trained, best-equipped, best-financed force in history is something of a Chinese fire department. It's a navy that's a coast guard with an air force and an army, an air force that's an airline, and an army that's neck deep in its outsourced latrine.

And you wonder why a bunch of sand herders have the mighty U.S. military stymied in the Middle East?

I don't.


I'm one of those fuddy-duddies who still doesn't think terrorism is a military problem. It's a law enforcement problem. You won't hear this at any war college or university national security program, but military force is good for two basic things: destroying stuff and killing people. It is best used to destroy the stuff and kill the people of other military forces. If there's no other military force to destroy or kill, the whole idea of applying military force to a problem gets fuzzy. Sure, it's great to rebuild electrical generators and paint schools, but you don't really need a military to do that. You need a Peace Corps.

And if we ever again decide that our political aims will be served by large scale destruction of population centers and industrial sites, well, we can do that without putting a single boot on the ground.

There are more than a few highly respected people in the field of military science who think a Nagasaki-style demonstration is just the thing we need to put an end to terrorism. I happen to think the people who think that are nuts. There's every reason to believe that turning, say, Tallil into solar panel would only add to terrorist recruiting.

Besides, is that really the kind of thing we want to do? Is that what we want to be?

The mightiest nation in human history that blows "freedom loving peoples" to smithereens in order to liberate them?

That's not my idea of enlightened world leadership.

Coming in the Next World Order: what do we need, what don't we need?

Earlier in the Next World Order series:

Part I: America's 21st Century Military

Part II: Network-centric Warfare

Part III: America's Military Industrial Complex

Part IV: The Revolt of the Retired Generals


  1. It's an excellent series. You've laid out the challenges, goals and yardstick.

    One of the reasons you won't hear about terrorism in any university national security program, or any war college, is that terrorism is the name of the game for the 21st century. No monolithic USSR to make everyone look under the bed every night, no viable global military power to guard against. Yet. That will change in about 8 years, as China's throbbing economy polevaults the country from a regional bruiser to a world-wide military power.

    Terrorism is all there is to sustain the military industrial machine, which has itself become a self-justifying commercial and global enterprise.

    Failing to right the racial and economic wrongs in the US, and Third World will explode in our faces in the future. Terrorism is a criminal problem. Crime as a monolithic social challenge stems from poverty. But large defense contractors don't understand how to convert from making guns to making jobs in order to create a more equitable society. The profit could be just as good, but it isn't sexy.

  2. I'll touch on converting guns into jobs later, but I see plenty of job creating federal business we could be getting done in this country.

  3. As William James said, war is life lived in extremis. This nicely sets out how the US is desperately trying to cling to this life. But James also suggested a civilian corps much like our modern day Americorps, exactly what we need in NOLA.

    Out of enemies to flash on the screen while budgeting for your army? Choose an "ism."

  4. "The direct use of force is such a poor solution to any problem, it is generally employed only by small children and large nations" - David Friedman

    These wars on nouns never seem to do a whole lot of good do they?

    I especially agree with the part where you speak of terrorism being a law enforcement problem.

    I linked to this peice from my site (not that i get a whole lot of traffic) because i think this is a great series.

  5. Ariadne,

    "Desperately trying to cling to this life." Yes, that's exactly what we're doing.


    "War on nouns..." Boy, do I wish I'd come up with that one. Thanks much for the link from your site.


  6. "Weapons are easily packaged; stored; inventoried. Jobs, though -- well then you've got people, people who expect to get paid, and naturally they whine for health insurance...! and days off for sick kids! Too messy, too expensive; no profit in it... Gotta cut costs everywhere we can, always!"

    That's also the mentality that stops the creation of, or even any debate about, a civilian corps.

    Excellent series. Thank you.

  7. Not only is terrorism a law enforcement problem (or at the least, a quasi-law enforcement problem, occupying some region between traditional law enforcement and traditional military problems), I think we'll find as time moves on that more and more of what might be categorized as disputes between sovereign nations are more amenable to being addressed by law enforment methods than traditional military means. This is a natural consequence of the growth of population, convergence of cultures, and dissemination of technology around the globe.

    I'm not really a fan of the one world government idea, nor am I much of a conspiracy theorist when it comes to that issue. But I think the natural consequence of the development and continued growth of human society around the world is going to place us in a situation where much of what happens between nations simply can't be addressed by getting the military together and pounding the hell out of the other side. The interests of all nations will be too interconnected, for one thing.

    At some point we're going to have to face the fact that we're all in it together here, and that we're once race of people (humanity) whose lives are so connected to an impacted by the lives of everyone else around the globe that it is in all of our interests to work together. The "provincial" mindset of the past is serving us less and less these days.

    Anyway, I don't want to get into a rant, but it is in the interest of people everywhere to combat hunger, disease, lack of education, and lack of opportunity everywhere.

  8. Jeff,

    The subject of a civilian corps deserves a whole separate installment, and I'll try to get to it somewhere along the way. Many pros, many cons. Much to ponder. What does a civilian corps do? Stuff that would be better outsourced?

    I dunno.


    Yeah, I think as time marches on more and more of the developed nations will see things that way. Maybe too radical an idea for the post-WWI world, but today it might seem like a superior choice to armed conflict.

    More to come.