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Taming the Wolf

March 7, 2013

Last month, Deputy Defense Secretary Ashton Carter warned that the sequestration would bring “the wolf at the door” ready to eat away at America’s national security readiness. As Paul Krugman sniped, the automatic cuts where “designed to be stupid”. While the remaining tax havens for the ultra-rich and cuts in food assistance for the poor are nonsensical in many ways, the yearly subtraction of $46 billion from the DOD is not.

As the DOD has now grudgingly been forced to face the wolf, there is optimism that the DOD will become more efficient and effective if it learns how to tame it: first, by staying away from the smorgasbord of threats; second, by streamlining excess force structures; and lastly, by shifting to a comprehensive inter-organizational approach.

First, the DOD must turn away from the buffet of threats. Last year, General Martin Dempsey argued to a panel of the House Appropriations Committee that, “In my personal military judgment, formed over 38 years, we are living in the most dangerous time in my lifetime right now.” And for the past 16 months, Defense Secretary Leon Panetta has claimed that the cuts will be devastating for US national security. While PR firms probably gave General Dempsey and Defense Secretary Panetta an A for effort on the attempt to secure the budget, such ludicrous statements should not pass so freely. As Cohen and Zenko have argued, the United States is more secure than Washington thinks. With the sequestration in effect, it will force the DOD to get sharper lenses that critically examines low, midrange and high level threats more carefully.

Second, by streamlining excess force-structures it will require the DOD to become smarter. The conventional wisdom that the sequestration will lead to less-trained and less-equipped soldiers is not true. Looking across the pond proves the opposite. Despite substantial cuts in European defense spending with a 16.5 percent decline from 2001 to 2011, the total per-soldier spending has increased by 31.5 percent. Simply stated, the DOD can get more bang for their buck. The Center for Strategic and International Studies’ (CSIS) report on European Defense Trends 2012 indicates that the growth in per-soldier spending have left European governments with increasingly more resources available to recruit, train, compensate, equip and sustain each individual soldier. While the defense cuts transitioned most of the European forces to a smaller force structure, it has made them better-trained and better-equipped.

Analyzing the per-soldier spending provides only one insight on how to become more efficient. The quality of the doctrines, operational capabilities and information intelligence must be accounted for as well. With a more precise threat-landscape, it will inevitably reduce the need for a bloated force structure. In an era of a relative stability and peace, the U.S. military should not be the primary mechanism through which the US engages with the world.

Lastly, the sequestration will force the DOD to coordinate comprehensive strategies intra-organizationally. While defense-pundits look at the term “comprehensive approach” as one of those buzzwords tree-hugging civilians came up with, the opposite is true. Dr. Cecile Wendling has shown that military and civilian agencies that work in tandem towards a common goal become more efficient and more cost-effective. However, it has taken the US over 12 years to coordinate this intra-organizational approach. This delay is simply because agencies safeguard their own cattle rather than focusing on a communal approach that protects everyone from the wolf. The sequestration might just limit those individualist protectionist tendencies.

Even though budgets should not drive strategy, with the sequestration in place this is the reality. In the end, Deputy Defense Secretary Carter may find that the domestication of the floor-scratching wolf will not be that bad after all.

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One Comment
  1. pontus permalink

    Eller för att citera en annan europé, kvantitet är en kvalitet i sig självt, Keep up the good writing /p

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