History shows that the national mood determines spending priorities as much if not more than even economic needs. In a representative republic, our elected officials respond to the mood and desires of their constituents in fits and starts – but usually head in that direction.

If you are making long-range plans, like military budgets and systems development, to avoid spending time and money on systems that Congress or a future Pentagon will never support for production – because they don’t meet the mood and direction the nation is going – you need to make sure you can see the big picture.

To do that, you need to make sure you are not stuck in either group-think in your small circle, or worse than that – have tunnel vision such that you are unaware of what is going on around you.

A nation and a society can often have trouble with self-reflection. In the national security arena, a professional must make the effort to read widely and deeply; seeking out not just like-minded ideas, but even more importantly contrary ideas. Better than that, make an effort to read foreign sources of opinion and analysis.

Where do you look? Well, if you want to get an outsider’s view, the Anglophere-centric The Economist is good. The English version of Der Spiegel works. The major British papers and their English language counterparts from Japan, Singapore, Al-Jazeera works too. Everyone finds their mix.

There is no nation that is more like the United States – and therefor more likely to pick up our nuanced trends – than our friends to the north, Canada. Some don’t really “get” us – but our fellow North Americans usually do.

You could do worse than to take the time to listen to a relatively objective opinion from a friend. The Canadian Conference of Defence Associations Institute (a non-partisan think-tank) has its strategic assessment out. It is well worth your time to read the whole thing, but the opening section on the United States has an interesting hook;

Americans are war-weary, disappointed with what has been achieved at great expense, and feeling exploited by ungrateful allies. Debate is intensifying over how national interests should be defined and the degree to which the security of Americans requires expenditure of lives and treasure in faraway places. There is a rising mood of disengagement which will translate into actual disengagement in selected areas no longer deemed to be in the national interest.

There will be no going back to Iraq whatever happens and 2012 will feature continued drawdown of US forces and involvement in Afghanistan. The Administration will find it very difficult to send forces anywhere in 2012 unless the security interests of the United States or those of its closest friends and allies are openly threatened or humanitarian needs are overwhelming. With the economy improving but remaining fragile, the United States would be hard pressed to finance or gain public support for any new foreign policy or defence initiative not directly in support of the supreme interests of the country.

In the event Washington cannot avoid sending forces into harm’s way in 2012, there is every indication the Pentagon would want any engagement to be short and sharp, with objectives which are as narrow and clearly defined as possible, and with little or no chance of stretching into a lengthy and complex intervention of the type which characterized the Iraq and Afghanistan campaigns. One should expect the Administration’s posture to prefer persuasion over force and, when diplomacy and sanctions fail, to favour the employment of military force with as much precision as possible.

If they are correct – what are the implications for the defense budget and the Navy-Marine Corps team? Are we training and equipping our forces to be ready for this in a shrinking resource environment? Are we adjusting our manpower allocations to ensure that the “high-demand-low-density” assets will be there in the right amount, or will they be put under the same haircut as everyone else?

If the American public’s mood continues along these lines – are we being realistic on what kind of budget we will have in 10-years? Are we being too optimistic, too pessimistic – or just about right?

Having served with the Canadian forces, have Canadian friends, and heck – even took the family to Canada for our summer vacation last year, I admit to being a Canadaphile – as a result, agree or disagree, I always give them a good listen.

This time, I think they about nailed it.

Hat tip T.E. Ricks.

Posted by CDRSalamander in Foreign Policy
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  • Sean

    “the Pentagon would want any engagement to be short and sharp, with objectives which are as narrow and clearly defined as possible, and with little or no chance of stretching into a lengthy and complex intervention…”

    “prefer persuasion over force and, when diplomacy and sanctions fail, to favour the employment of military force…”

    Sounds familiar…..

    The Weinberger doctrine:

    1. The United States should not commit forces to combat unless the vital national interests of the United States or its allies are involved.

    2. U.S. troops should only be committed wholeheartedly and with the clear intention of winning. Otherwise, troops should not be committed.

    3. U.S. combat troops should be committed only with clearly defined political and military objectives and with the capacity to accomplish those objectives.

    4. The relationship between the objectives and the size and composition of the forces committed should be continually reassessed and adjusted if necessary.

    5. U.S. troops should not be committed to battle without a “reasonable assurance” of the support of U.S. public opinion and Congress.

    6. The commitment of U.S. troops should be considered only as a last resort

  • Sean,
    Nice snag. I thought there was an echo of D&Gs past ….

  • Benjamin Walthrop

    Great post. I concur with your assessment that the Canadian’s have largely nailed the way forward on the defense budget. The cuts that are coming, should not come as a surprise to anyone. They are going to be deep, and force structure reductions are looming.

    It remains to be seen if the early cuts through PTS and ERB, the decommissioning of 7 cruisers earlier than designed lifecycle, and the reductions in numbers and extension of procurment schedules in the out years will be enough to shield the USN from futher reductions in force structure. I am concerned they will not, and the iron triangle of the budget (almost insured by Goldwater-Nichols) will remain in place. It is telling that General Odierno has recently remarked on the Army’s relevance in the Pacific. It’s an opening public shot in the “Pentagon Wars” to come.

    I suspect that we’ll be very lucky to field a fleet of more than about 220 in FY 2030 regardless of administration or Congressional control by either major political party.

    Fuel budgets (flight time and underway time) will probably come down. Readiness will suffer. We need to be thinking of ways to mitigate these challenges. Some of them are ongoing, but we haven’t really touched others. Here’s my list:

    Foward Basing to reduce transit times and maintenance.
    Smarter use of ships propulsion to limit fuel consumption.

  • Benjamin Walthrop

    Posted too soon. Continued:

    A requirement’s diet…Capability costs and we have to understand this upfront in every acquisition.

    We have to figure out how to make reduced manning work. A complete requirements review including Condition I-III requirements is in order.

    A bottom up review of damage control, with a focus on doing it smart rather than hard. This can be done, but institutional biases will be very hard to overcome.

    Finally, the USN MUST have a deeper and renewed focus on training. With a smaller force structure, we’ll have to be smarter, and the gutting of the training pipeline over the last 15 years must be reversed. We’re out of money…We have to train the force that we have better to think.

  • Curtis

    Plenty of room on those little ships for big masts and spars and topgallants, mainsails, jibs, etc. Save those fuel $! Can’t you see it now? A whole ATG or CVBG beating to windward.

  • GIMP

    I think the Canadian assessment is spot on. We’ve known for thousands of years that “There is no instance of a country having benefited from prolonged warfare”.― (Sun Tzu, The Art of War).

    I cannot conceive of any member of our national senior leadership, civilian and military, having been unable to predict that occupying nations for a decade would be a colossal resource drain, and that it would result in little to no net gain in US interests as a return on expenditure (spending something to gain nothing is not an investment).

    Of course every use of force should be short, sharp, with a defined end state and date of such end state being achieved specifically identified as part of the output of the military planning process prior to execution.

    Of course the American public is disenchanted. How could they not be? They look at the money spent and lives lost, weigh them against the benefit derived and not only see nothing in return for a lot, but a committment to continue achieving nothing at great expense that has been irrationally based on either a misguided sense of pride or terrible analysis that considers sunk costs instead of return on future expenditure.

    We did the wrong thing in Iraq and compounded our error by staying. We probably did the right thing in Afghanistan, but blundered badly by staying longer than a month or so. We should have crushed the enemy and left.

    Hindsight may be 20/20, but anyone should have been able to predict that nothing good could come out of an occupation, never mind multiple simultaneous ones.

    Now DoD budgets will take a bit hit. Of course they will, look at what DoD has spent over the past decade on a couple of occupations. DoD decided against rapid decisive victory and spent the money that could have gone toward people, parts, and programs over the past decade. What could anyone expect would happen?

  • PK

    curtis: i really really hope you’re being facetious.

    for the professional “seismic earth compaction specialists” among us, the last couple of knots at the top end of a ships speed take half the horsepower that the plant can produce.

    back during the “oil shortages” of the 70’s the engineers went through all kinds of maintainence hell because of nitwits and bean counters saying “we can save lots of fuel by simply killing fires within 30 minutes of shifting colors on arrival”. well they did save a couple of hundred dollars in fuel money every time they got home but they had to spend a lot of manhours clearing flash rust from the inside of lubeoil tanks and reduction gearcasings because of the plant “inhaling” moisture which condensed on the insides of the tanks and casings as a result of the rapid cooldown. well now they use gas turbine that have other problems.

    what i’m trying to get across is that the head shed will beat up the chengs (its the easiest thing to do) about fuel usage and it won’t help a bit [they almost have a religeon about it as it is].

    the places to ensure cruising economy are in the drafting room where the hull form is designed, the meetings where the weight of the ship (draft) is affected and lastly the hand on the throttle lever in the pilot house.


  • James

    GIMP I believe you have it backwards. The DOD didnt decide on a slow grinding standoff (which is basicly what we have in the war on terrorism) the politicans and whether they admit it or not the american people have demanded.

    Sharp fast hard hitting wars are just that. They are brutal ugly and destructive to the extreme. They are also far cheaper. However you cant feel Nice about what you did afterwards. You cant “say wow look we liberated them they love us” you can look and be happy that the threat to our nation and people is over but sense most people cant even be bothered to look at the threats to our nations thats expecting alot.

    Both iraq and afhgainistan suffered from the same problem. We didnt have enough infantry to support a COIN operation and didnt have a clue about the culture we were dealing with.

    The iraqis arent going to have american style democracy different culture, different values and beliefs. The afghanies are without even the most basic tenants of western culture and are in even worse shape.

    We cant make the world america. We can however protect ourselves and allies. Do what we can.

  • Benjamin Walthrop

    It’s not about beating up the CHENGs. It’s about changing habits created during the age of boilers. All prime movers online for sea and anchor makes sense for steam plants. Not so much for diesel and gas turbine plants. The requirements at the fleet level or even the individual ship level are wrong, and we have to acknowledge the advantages that technology have provided. This is hard to achieve in a zero defect mentality navy. We’re about to be in the position to re-evaluate our assumptions. It’s about time.

  • Jay

    Remind me – was the “Weinberger Doctrine” formulated before, or after the Beirut USMC barracks bombing?

  • I am also a Canadian, and I have spent a considerable amount of time over the years blogging on U.S. defense/intelligence/national security affairs. It is therefore refreshing to see a fellow Canadian (Canadian Conference of Defence Associations Institute) concur with my own analysis.

  • GIMP

    James, it is a matter of perspective. I consider that the DoD is part of the executive branch of the USG, thus it necessarily includes the leader of the executive branch, POTUS, all the way down to the junior member of the armed forces, which includes a number of political appointees. I don’t think you can really seperate the uniformed from civilian leadership in the DoD. They all contribute to the decision making, and they all are to blame for poor decisions.

    I do not believe the American public had any interest at all in prolonged combat. I think the American public expected, and had a right to expect, that we would go in, crush the enemy, and leave. I think they exerted zero pressure to rebuild the stuff we just bombed. Trying to establish any kind of government anywhere is futile. Either there is justification for going in, smashing things to bits, and getting out, or there isn’t. Smashing things just to fix them afterwards is dumber than sh*t. Occupying someone else’s country is equally as dumb. You couldn’t occupy a US city with American troops under the same conditions and restrictions we’ve been occupying other nations without the populace hating the occupiers, even if it’s all Americans.

    We are far better off smashing the enemy and leaving. Fear is a great motivator, and if we punish those who attack or facilitate attacks on us, others will be far less likely to let terrorists operate in their midst, lest they be the next. Nation building afterward is ridiculous. It defeats the purpose of the military action. “It is better to be feared than to be loved” – Niccollo Machiavelli, The Prince. Machiavelli had it exactly right. We can’t build anyone else’s government for them. What we can do is put the world on notice that in peace they’ll have no better friend, in war, no fiercer enemy. We won’t be spending a dime or a minute rebuilding your country, so good luck with that, and by the way, all you have to do is make a discreet phone call if you can’t stop terrorists from operating within your borders. We’ll be happy to eliminate your pests and give you a little friendly bonus too. Screw with us and your life will be short, your infrastructure smashed, and your nation devastated. Have a nice day.

  • JL332

    GIMP’s got it right… Couldn’t have said it any better.

  • Benjamin Walthrop

    Unfortunately both Iraq and Afghanistan represent a completely strategically inappropriate application of “the Pottery Barn” rule.

  • In Iraq we could have done what Thebes did when they destroyed Sparta as a military power. They did not attempt to occupy their city. They freed the slaves (Helots) that were the source of Sparta’s wealth, fortified and armed them, and turned them against the Spartans.

  • Diogenes of NJ

    Or as the Greeks did to Troy, which I believe was a more permanent solution.

    – Kyon

  • RickWilmes

    In Iraq, what is their source of wealth? The Shiites who were oppressed by Hussein and the minority Sunnis?

    The Shiites and Iran are more the enemies of the US than the Sunnis. And yes the American people are tired of war, they are tired of our leaders and politicians going after the wrong enemy and wasting our soldiers lives and money with nothing to show for it.

    In essence the Middle East is collapsing into Islamic Totalitarianism and the American people are treated like criminals everytime they get on an airplane.

  • Phil C.

    Research has repeatedly shown that in western democratic nations — the US especially – that defense budgets move in response to public opinion. I’ve published research to that fact. The correlation is extremely high. When the public thinks defense budgets are too high, they go down; when the public thinks they are too low, they go up. You don’t need to read international newspapers, just look at the latest polling data.

    This is an outcome we should applaud. We are a country founded on democratic principles and one with a constitution that puts the task of “raising and supporting armies…providing and maintaining a navy” in the hands of the democratically elected representatives (instead of in the hands of the military). I, for one, am glad that the people’s representatives listen.