In a recent presentation at Princeton University's Center for International Strategic Studies, Andrew Krepinevich, of the Center for Strategic and Budgetary Assessments, reminded Washington defense policymakers of the importance of thinking strategically.
Viewing the current mismatch between Defense Department desires and available resources, Krepinevich, took issue with those who see providing additional resources or creating efficiencies as the sum total of the solution set.
"There is an opportunity here, if the Obama administration is willing to seize it. It involves exploring all available options for diverting the country from its path toward a declining military posture, and doing so within the context of an overall integrated strategy," Krepinevich said
By way of example of a nation thinking strategically to maintain influence and economic power, Krepinevich cites the pre-World War I decision of Great Britain to largely cede naval dominance of the Western Hemisphere to the United States and the Far East to Japan.
Krepinevich is onto something here, and Washington policymakers should take note: $700 billion really ought to be sufficient to defend the United States and maintain its position of global leadership, if such resources were applied in a manner that reflected a considered strategy rather than a proportional distribution of funds to the armed services and the defense agencies.
After four massively hyped Quadrennial Defense Reviews, DoD continues to fund the Army, Air Force and Navy (to include the Marine Corps) at roughly equal levels in the base budget. One is forced to wonder if this happenstance is the result of the application of strategic thinking or, more likely, the leavings of a bureaucratic process designed to ensure that everyone gets their share.
As the United States faces the question of how best to extend its position of global leadership while drawing down from two costly land wars in Asia, such thinking threatens to accelerate what many perceive to be a precipitous decline in U.S. power and influence. Mounting debt, massive increases in entitlements and Keynesian stimulus spending serve to create considerable pressure to cut the defense budget. In the absence of the kind of thinking Krepinevich advocates, that pressure will result in a less-of-the-same military - one capable of doing largely the same things, except less often, in fewer places and to a lesser degree.
This force structure is not consistent with global leadership. So what is? The United States must place a premium on that element of its military power that is equally valuable in peacetime as it is in war, and that is sea power. When Great Britain chose to diminish its fleet, it did so because its land Army was already tiny in comparison (and dedicated to homeland defense).
We are not in a similar position today. While America's land power is honorably engaged in Afghanistan and Iraq, it is the stated policy of the U.S. government to draw down from those wars, leaving an open question as to the future of the Army.
The American people are not likely to support another massive land war soon, and nine years of combat against largely irregular forces should raise doubts about whether resetting the Army makes strategic sense in the face of mounting budget pressure.
Given that American sea power includes a Marine Corps that, in the words of Defense Secretary Robert Gates, "exceeds the size of most world armies," the right strategic decision for the United States is to accept more risk in the ability to fight extended land wars outside of its own borders and less risk in forces dedicated to the deterrence of adversaries, the assurance of allies, the maintenance of strategic balance and crisis response. In other words, sea power (and to a lesser extent, air power).
Sea power provides the president with scalable escalation and de-escalation options that do not rely on the permission or sanction of another government, a unique feature of the terrain upon, under, over and from which sea power operates.
On the lower end of the conflict scale, American sea power catalyzes the participation of other nations in sea-based cooperative approaches to common problems such as the proliferation of weapons of mass destruction and piracy, without the overhead associated with a large presence ashore. The centrality of American sea power to a coherent strategy is clear; but first, we must think strategically, and we must make tough choices.
Bryan McGrath, a retired U.S. Navy officer, is the director of Delex Consulting, Studies and Analysis, Vienna, Va., which performs consulting for the U.S. government on naval issues. McGrath was the lead author of the nation's current maritime strategy. The views here are his own.