From: The Burke Chair []

Sent: Thursday, January 05, 2012 1:41 PM

To: Ismoot

Subject: The New US Strategy: Asking the Right Questions


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The New US Strategy: Asking the Right Questions    



By Anthony H. Cordesman  


January 5, 2012  



President Obama, Secretary Panetta, and Chairman Dempsey have laid out the broad framework of a new defense strategy in conceptual terms. It is important to note, however, that concepts are easier. What counts are details and implementation.


As President Obama, Secretary Panetta, and Chairman Dempsey made clear in presenting the new strategy, most of these details will not be made clear until the specifics of the coming budget request are come out over the new few weeks. A broad emphasis on technology, the air-land battle in Asia, maintaining a strong posture in the Middle East, relying more on partnerships with our allies, reduced but ready ground forces, and a slow-down in procurement all may make sense. But theoretical arguments about concepts are just that until the Department releases tangible force plans, manpower plans, and procurement plans; and shows how US forces and force capabilities will change by mission and deployment.


This is unlikely to halt a rush to judgment about the new strategy before most of the critical facts are clear. It is important to understand, however, that a new strategy is not a matter of concepts. It is a matter of how forces and resources are allocated by mission. Accordingly, anyone who really cares about national security needs to understand that it will be necessary to wait until the key details are clear to make any judgments. This won't halt a flood of largely specious comments over the next week or so - this is an election year and an era of instant "news" - but it is a flood that cannot really address most of issues involved.


It is also important bear several things in mind as the real nature of the new strategy does become clear:

  • It focuses on the $487-$489 billion worth of cuts over ten years now underway, but as Chairman Dempsey pointed out in presenting the new strategy, there are many budget cycles to come. No one really knows what will happen over ten years as threats change and our economy changes. It is the near term changes - the ones already underway, coming in FY2012, and called for in the FY2013 budget which will be far more critical in the real world than the plans laid out for a decade into the future.
  • The New Strategy has no sequestration option. An additional $580 to $600 billion in cuts over 10 years would force massive changes that would effectively invalidate this entire exercise.
  • The debate of the number of wars is not inherently ridiculous but it comes close. What wars? Where? For how long? "Prevailing in more than one conflict at the same time?" Needing what force elements? There is no Cold War enemy to define the new conflict or conflicts. We entered Afghanistan and the Iraq in 2001 and 2003 and became engaged in long land-air wars that required so many resources that we could not provide the ground forces to fight in both conflicts at the same time, and had to starve Afghanistan of resources to surge in Iraq. What about North Korea? Iran? Etc.
  • It is easy to emphasize Asia, technology, and quality over quantity. In fact, this is what Secretary Rumsfeld did until 9/11 began to force an almost total reversal in every aspect of our strategy and plans less than a year after the Bush Administration came to office.
  • It is all very well to talk about improving technology and cutting and slowing procurement and R&D at the same time. A selective emphasis on SOF, IS&R, space, cyberwarfare, and unmanned systems sounds great, but everything depends on how well resources are allocated, and the Department's history is miserable. As the GAO has made all too clear, no service has been able to effectively manage its procurement efforts over the last decade, and no service had an affordable, practical procurement plan at the time the new strategy was announced. Moreover, no service has done a good job of showing that it could manage cuts in existing forces and equipment to buy new equipment during the last decade. Given this history of failure, the details really do count - and this includes our defense R&D efforts and defense industrial base.
  • The whole issue of civil-military operations is not really addressed, and the QDDR both failed to have substance and is effectively dead. The practical problem is that this issue is critical in transition in Afghanistan and in dealing with Pakistan. It already involves a new crisis in Iraq. It may be equally critical in building new regional partnerships, particularly given the political upheavals in the Middle East. The same is true of how the new strategy is tied to specific military advisory efforts, arms transfers, joint exercises and facilities. Half a strategy is better than none, but a Defense Department strategy is not a national security strategy, and the other half is critical.
  • Exactly how do we create smaller and cheaper forces that can be so flexible, ready, and deployable that they can fight and defeat any aggressor in any fight in every kind of war at once?
  • How do we maintain an all-volunteer force - the willingness to stay in military careers for the years required to be fully effective - and cut spending? What are the details of the human factors necessary to make such a strategy workable?


In short the devil lies in the details, none of which will really be know before the budget, tangible force plans, manpower plans, procurement plans, and details on how US forces and force capabilities will change by mission and deployment become clear. Moreover, it is the changes during the next few years that count - not speculation about a future 10 years from now where the only certainty is that every estimate made now will prove wrong when the future actually occurs.



"Sustaining U.S. Global Leadership: Priorities for 21st Century Defense," the brief strategic guidance memno released after Secretary Paqnetta's remarks, can be downloaded here:







The US Defense Budget is analyzed in detail in a number of studies by the Burke Chair:


   Defense Budget Cuts and Non-Traditional Threats to US Strategy: An Update and is available on the CSIS web site at:


  The National Security Implications of a Balanced Budget Amendment is available on the CSIS website at:


  Rethinking a Resource-Based Strategy is available on the CSIS web site at   


  The Coming Challenges in Defense Planning, Programming, and Budgeting: This brief analyzes the budgeting and planning challenges the Department of Defense (DOD) faces at it enters FY 2011. In particular, it focuses on the budgeting and planning challenges raised by rising Operations and Maintenance costs, sustained high tempo of operations, rising Military Personnel costs, procurement process inefficiency and expanding entitlements for military personnel and their families. This study is available on the CSIS web site at


  "Unplanning" for Uncertainty: This brief focuses on recent changes in and additions to the DOD's planning priorities as laid out in the 2010 Quadrennial Defense Report. Moreover, this brief analyzes how planned outlays stated in the DOD's FY 2011 Budget Request reflect or fail to reflect these stated planning priorities. This study is available on the CSIS web site at

  The Growing Challenges in Defense Spending and the Defense Budget: An Overview, which is available on the CSIS web site at It analyzes the impact of growing pressure on the US federal budget from deficit spending and a potential crisis in entitlements spending that already affects all government spending and which will begin to sharply accelerate in FY2014. These pressures have helped lead Secretary Gates to seek some $100 billion in defense cuts over the next five years, but such cuts will at most buy time for the FY2012 budget request. It shows that the proposed cuts laid out to date would only amount to a maximum of roughly half of the $100 billion under the best possible conditions, and even if the entire $100 billion cut took place it could not possibly deal with the broad range of pressures on defense spending. CBO estimates indicate that they would only amount to something like a third of the likely escalation in the Department's probable need for funds above the Department's Baseline budget request, even if one makes extraordinarily low estimates of the future cost of the Afghan conflict.

  The Uncertain Cost of War(s): A PDF of this brief is available at It examines possible ways to assess the past and future real costs of the wars in Iraq and Afghanistan. The brief focuses on the problem of the Department of Defense's over-reliance on "emergency" supplemental funding for Overseas Contingency Operations in Iraq and Afghanistan and identifies a past budgeting and planning errors that may have a major impact on future operations overseas.  

  The Macroeconomics of US Defense Spending: This brief is available on the CSIS web site at  It begins by comparing US economic prospects and defense spending with those of the rest of the international community. It then focuses on the interaction of the US federal budget and defense spending in the context of the domestic macroeconomic realities which the US faces. In particular, this brief gives special attention to the potential threat that rapidly rising entitlements spending and debt service payments pose to national security.

These issues are addressed in more depth in US Defense Planning: Creating Reality Based Strategy, Planning, Programming, and Budgeting, which is available on the CSIS web site at





To Download the full report, Click Here 

To view all Burke Chair Reports on Defense Spending
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The Burke Chair in Strategy is held by Anthony H. Cordesman
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