Earlier I wrote a bit about what I would do to cut the Department of Defense down to something more limited in scope and expense. Granted… some of the proposals weren’t strictly Department of Defense, but that’s not particularly important. In that post, I mentioned I might get around to explaining some of my rationale for my recommended changes, and at the moment I have some time, so I’ll start and see how far I get.
1. There are no substantial external threats to the United States
My first, and most important, recommendation was to recognize that there are no existential threats to our territorial sovereignty and survival of the United States. All my other recommendations pivot on this point. However, after further reflection, I need to slightly modify this one… We need to recognize that there are no substantial external threats to the aforementioned. If there are no external threats, and we are committed to not using the military for domestic security, there is no need to maintain a large standing military with all the infrastructure that goes with it.
Our geography is such that the majority of our borders are protected by vast expanses of water, and forcefully invading a well armed country by sea is not an easy undertaking, nor is it one that is likely to succeed given the substantial segment of the population that is privately armed and the resources that would be available in the National Guard and Reserves if I were to get my way with those organizations. No nation in the world currently possesses, or could reasonably quickly acquire, the fleet of vessels required to force entry from the sea.
An invasion across the borders to the north is similarly unlikely to succeed. To the north there is either 1) a nominally friendly and ethnically similar culture that lacks the military capacity to seriously threaten invasion, or 2) arctic wilderness. Even had they a desire to invade, Canada doesn’t have enough people and equipment to seriously challenge a United States focused on homeland defense. We will not be invaded from the north unless the world unites and convinces Canada to allow them to stage an invasion from Canadian territory, in which case there would be an extended build-up providing ample time to prepare a potent response. I find the prospect of a world revolt against the United States astronomically unlikely, especially if we quit interfering in other people’s business (intervening would be a more politically correct but less accurate term).
The border to the south is more problematic, but not when it comes down to essentials. First, the only threat currently present at that border is a criminal element that has overwhelmed Mexico’s capacity to deal with it. While border crime, drug trafficking, and human smuggling all have substantial impacts on our nation, it is not an existential threat. The drug cartels aren’t interested in replacing our government. In fact, they rely on the US as a principal market for their goods, and would suffer if it collapsed. Laying the criminal element aside, Mexico (like Canada) lacks the resources to invade… even without the rampant crime siphoning resources. Any attempt by Mexico to invade would require an extended period of build-up and preparation that would be highly visible and allow the United States to prepare an overwhelming response. Additionally, Mexico is significantly dependent on trade with the US, and would suffer greatly by any serious deterioration in status-quo relations. There is simply no motivation for Mexico to attack.
I’ve never come across anyone who would argue that we are likely to ever be forcefully invaded. So the question remains: “what then are the external threats to our vital interests that justify the expense and risk of maintaining a large standing army and constantly using it around the world to interfere in other nation’s business?” This is a much thornier issue, but one I believe has an answer that is much simpler than the big-brained think tanks would have you believe. I’ll give you a hint… it starts with “N” and ends in three letters that spell out a number between 0 and 2.
To set the stage for my argument, consider the political environment between the 1920s and 1960s. A new political ideology developed by Karl Marx and Friedrich Engels and fundamentally opposed to the capitalistic principals on which this nation was founded was gaining steam around the globe, including in the US. Multiple nations fell into its grasp as one corrupt dictatorship or government after another crumbled. There were reasonable fears (especially in the ’30s and ’50s) that this revolutionary wave would flood over the US, and that it was being supported by foreign governments. This fear of communism was among the factors contributing much of American intervention in Greece, Korea, Cambodia, Laos, and Vietnam.
The question remains, was this a valid external threat to survival of the United States? The answer is a clear NO. Communist insurgencies have only ever thrived in locations where oppression and corruption created conditions where the message of communism resonated. To paraphrase Thomas Jefferson in the Declaration of Independence — A satisfied people, secure in their persons, property, and prospects are extraordinarily unlikely to ditch an existing governmental system in favor of revolution. No matter the extent of foreign involvement and support, without corruption, oppression, and inequality creating conditions for growth, communism or any other form of government inimical to the American system of representative democracy will never get enough of a foothold to threaten national survival. In fact, I’d argue that foreign involvement only strengthens the will of a people to resist that influence… Cuba being a case in point. I claim this logic applies to any form of externally driven or supported revolution. Any revolution, whether supported externally or not, is a result of issues internal to a state, and is therefore not an external threat.
One last aspect to consider is the potential that perceived or real external threats could be a means for stabilizing internal dissent. Rather than get into conspiracy theories, I’ll offer up that this tactic was/is used regularly by the likes of the Kim dynasty in North Korea, Hugo Chaves and his successor in Venezuela, and the Castros in Cuba. It’s a cheap move that does tend to galvanize support, but one that can’t be used regularly without the public catching on to the scam. Furthermore, investing the resources wasted in “dealing” with the external threat in actually dealing with the underlying issues is much more likely to produce long-term results. Made-up or manufactured external threats aren’t a legitimate strategy for national survival.
Finally, I will admit that there are substantial threats to our long-term viability as a nation. The nation is in tremendous debt. Our families are falling apart. Our morals and standards are sinking faster than a lead brick thrown into a deep pool of water. Our primary and secondary education systems, struggling against a relentless tide of parental disengagement, over-regulation, political correctness, and sense of student individual entitlement are putting out generations of poorly educated zombies who don’t know how to think about hard problems, ask hard questions, and come to logical and supportable conclusions. Our post-secondary education system openly espouses moral and political philosophies, political and pseudo-scientific theories, and other ideas fundamentally opposed to the foundations on which our nation was built. Our society has become so politically correct we cannot label anything as wrong or right without offending the sensitivities of some politically connected group who crush anyone who disagrees with their opinions. Our government has grown into a behemoth that reaches into every aspect of the lives of ordinary citizens and has been heavily corrupted by special interest groups and a small class of privileged elite. We continue to pour our nation’s blood and treasure into half-hearted wars in foreign countries. We have out-sourced almost all manufacturing and manual labor. We are dependent on a very narrow range of food sources and subject to minor disruptions causing mass hunger. We are raising generations who don’t value hard work, denigrate traditional values, despise traditional gender roles, and view parenthood as an unfortunate and optional consequence of sex. Our financial system is built on a fiat currency with striking resemblances to a Ponzi scheme. The list of real threats to our future could continue much longer, but those above should be sufficient to demonstrate that none of them are an externally driven threat except to the extent that we have out-sourced a problem we created in the first place.
2. Imperialism and Interventionism rarely advance National Interests
Many may interpret my feelings and preferences as being those of an isolationist. That is wildly inaccurate. I recognize that no nation on the face of the planet currently is fully self-sufficient. Even were the United States to re-tool the economy and resources to become self-sufficient, doing so would be anti-competitive, inefficient, and fundamentally against my personal economic and political philosophies.
Now, that said, I don’t think it is in our interest to “intervene” or get involved in the internal and even international affairs of other nations. Our track-record of intervention is abysmal. Even in Iraq, where Saddam Hussein was widely despised throughout the Middle East as a brutal dictator, our intervention destabilized the region, created conditions for a sectarian civil war, enabled a radical Islamist movement to occupy and destroy cultural heritage across vast swaths of territory and terrorize huge numbers of people, and has re-written the Saddam narrative to portray him as being a hero of the people who resisted the imperialist invaders. Our involvement in the Philipines, Nicaragua, Egypt, Lybia, Somalia, Lebanon, Bosnia, Afghanistan, Vietnam, Cambodia, Laos, Cuba, Iran, Saudi Arabia, Kuwait, Tunisia, Columbia, Mali, and other places have resulted in significant second-order backlash without much by way of positive outcomes.
External solutions to internal problems are almost never optimal. Our attempts to impose a Western-style government in Iraq demonstrated an unrealistic understanding of the cultural dynamic in the area. Similar failures have characterized our experience in Afghanistan. Our support for corrupt governments in South Vietnam helped to harden Ho Chi Minh towards communism as opposed to ethnic nationalism and anti-imperialism. Our support for the Shah in Iran was, and continues to be, a major factor in anti-American sentiment in that country. The Bay of Pigs invasion was an astonishing failure, and actually strengthened the Castro regime. Short of the Marshal plan for rebuilding Europe and MacArthur’s dictating terms in reconstituting the government of Japan after WWII (cases where the long-term cost/benefit calculations are debatable), I am taxed to find a case where American intervention ultimately created conditions favorable to the United States.
I believe we would be better off letting other nations sort out their own issues. International relations should deal principally with ensuring fair access to markets without passing judgment on their form of government, cultural values, political affiliations or preferences, and national character.
3. The majority of the Armed forces belong in reserve status.
One of the core functions of the Federal Government is to provide for the common defense. There is a clear requirement for a capable and credible force to respond to aggression or large-scale threats on the order of World War II, but having that capability embodied in a standing military is an enormous burden on the economy, an easily accessible tool for international interference, and has historically been a threat to the government it ostensibly serves. Consequently, the founders feared large standing armies. So how can the government provide for the common defense without a standing army? The answer is pretty simple, and is consistent with what the founders had in mind… namely a large militia composed of people trained, equipped, and ready to respond in a crisis.
I can’t say how often I’ve sat in meetings where the services complain about the high and escalating personnel and health-care costs. Cutting the military to a core staff capable of overseeing and managing training for the reserves and handling the administrative and acquisition tasks of the restructured military would bring enormous cost savings in reduced personnel, retirement, and health care costs. Furthermore, the reduced training schedule for reserves would extend the service life of expensive equipment while simultaneously reducing operational costs.
Moving a large portion of the military into the reserves would also put a large number of personnel who are essentially bottomless resource sinks back into the economy where they can contribute to the overall economic activity of the nation. Doing so would also tend to reduce the appetite for deploying the military to deal with every perceived crisis around the globe. Local governments and populations would be less insulated from the military and feel the effects of deployment more substantially than under the current model. Activation and deployment would be much more likely to have enough of an impact to engender the kind of debate and discussion that should be warranted before we sacrifice our brothers and sisters in armed combat.
4. Close all military bases on foreign soil
Bases on foreign soil really only serve only a handful of purposes. Primarily, they enable global access for the US military, or otherwise stated… they make it much easier to get involved in the affairs of other nations. Initially, many of the bases we maintain overseas were built during or after major conflicts such as WWII or the Korean War to help stabilize the regions and prevent regional nations from rearming and igniting another war. However, after six or seven decades of the United States subsidizing foreign security these bases remain, and are used as jumping-off points for international adventures.
We deliberately maintained an occupying force in Europe and Japan after WWII, and as a result the affected nations have under-invested in their own defense, relying on the US security guarantee, while spending broadly on social programs and other domestic expenditures. The net result is American taxpayers funding generous medical, retirement, and other social programs throughout the territories of our former allies and adversaries. I firmly believe the security situation in Europe would quickly stabilize to a new norm if we were to withdraw, saving the US untold costs.
5. Eliminate the United States Marine Corps
This proposal won’t make me any friends among my marine brethren, but it is long overdue. The USMC is essentially an offensive force postured for forcibly entering foreign territory and securing port or beach head access. They have served as a separate Army and Air Force, while refusing to integrate into the broader joint fight. If we decide as a nation to abandon our practice of interfering the internal affairs of other governments, we have no need for an amphibious assault force. Furthermore, this would eliminate redundancies and institutional conflicts with the other services. While the USMC brags about their low-cost force, their budget only encapsulates personnel costs with the Navy picking up the tab for all their equipment and facilities. Finally, eliminating the USMC would also allow the USN to cut it’s large fleet of amphibious ships and support capabilities.
6. Eliminate the pre-positioning fleet
The US military maintains a fleet of ships loaded with tanks, trucks, helicopters, bombs, bullets, and just about everything you would need to start a war. These ships are stationed at various places around the world and require staff, transportation, and maintenance… all so we are in a position to more rapidly involve ourselves somewhere overseas. If you haven’t noticed, I’m not a fan of getting involved overseas, and anything that makes it easier to do that is on my chopping block. I can conceive of no situation where we would use the pre-positioning fleet to defend the homeland, and major world crises on the scale of a world war don’t break out on timescales that would preclude shipping equipment from the territorial limits of the United States.
7. Eliminate Ground-based ICBMs and tactical nuclear weapons.
The number and type of nuclear weapons in the current inventory far exceed the quantity required for maintaining a credible nuclear deterrent. China, for example, maintains a nuclear deterrent consisting of a comparatively small number of weapons, yet is in no danger of suffering a “first strike” attack. The infrastructure required to produce, maintain, and field the broad array of nuclear weapons and associated equipment is enormous and expensive due to extensive safety, security, and certification requirements for anything that comes within earshot of a nuclear weapon. Any reduction in the number and type of weapons would yield significant savings.
Personally, I don’t like tactical nuclear weapons. Any time someone considers deploying a weapon capable of this scale of destruction, it is strategic, and it had better be worth it. Tactical nukes are not necessary as a deterrent, and use as a tactical weapon would be a human tragedy on a massive scale. Get rid of each and every one of them.
Similarly, I don’t like silo-launched nuclear weapons. They are at fixed locations and are consequently easily targeted. I believe a small fleet of nuclear capable bombers with strategic weapons (B83s) and the current inventory of submarine launched weapons is more than adequate to ensure we are capable of responding to an attack and providing a credible deterrent.
8. Consolidate and refocus intelligence agencies and operations.
There are a wide variety of intelligence agencies spread throughout the DoD and other government agencies. The NRO launches and manages spy satellites. The NSA manages technical intelligence operations. DIA manages the DoD’s intelligence programs. The CIA does it’s thing, and so do all the other 3, 4, and 5-letter agencies who are part of the overall Intelligence Community (IC). Within that big, happy family of the IC, there is intense competition for resources, infighting, secret keeping, rice-bowl politics, overlapping and disputed authorities and operations, competing priorities, and all the other crap that goes along with big parallel bureaucracies. Restructuring and consolidating these organizations would cut waste and simplify setting and following-through on priorities.
Another change the IC desperately needs is to place less trust and emphasis on technology and technical intelligence. We have become fascinated and intoxicated by the information we are able to gather and process using imaging, signal collection, and cyber operations, but tend to forget the human aspects of the situation. The wealth of information available tends to lead analysts to believe they know more than they really do, and can also put analysis in a position where they see what they expect to see. What was supposed to be an adjunct to traditional spycraft has become the principal tool for the work.
In addition to providing often incomplete or wrong pictures of the targeted individual or group, technical capabilities are also profoundly expensive to develop and maintain due to the frequency with which technologies become obsolete both on the sensor and target side of the equations. Rather than continue in this arms-race of technical means, we should refocus our efforts on more traditional spycraft. If it’s not worth the risk posed by boots on the ground and eyes on the target, it’s probably not worth bothering with.
That’s it for now… Maybe I’ll work my way down the rest of the list another night.