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Spinney on the QDR

Friday, February 5th, 2010

Boyd Acolyte Franklin “Chuck” Spinney writing on the QDR ( Hat tip to Kev Hall).

The Pentagon Goes Intellectually AWOL

….Even by the dismal intellectual standards of Pentagon bureaucracy, the QDR and the FY 2011 budget, taken together, establish a new standard of analytical vacuity, psychological denial, and just plane meaningless drivel. I will keep this short by using just one important case to prove my allegation. Judge for yourself if it is necessary and sufficient to make the point.

First, I must bore you with a little background: The Pentagon has been producing FYDPs since 1962. But these FYDPs have been repeatedly criticized for producing defense budgets that were disconnected from the national military strategy — and because the dollar allocations made in any budget determine what any government’s policy really is, the critique was logically equivalent to saying there was no strategy. The congressional legislation in the mid 1990s that established the QDR was only the most recent attempt to deal with this long standing criticism. The aim of that legislation was to require the Pentagon to lay out an intellectual framework for matching its military strategy and ambitions to the resource constraints shaping those ambitions, especially budgetary constraints, but also constraints relating to people, the limitations imposed by available technologies, etc.

The new FY 2011 budget and its accompanying FYDP, therefore, are supposed to attach budgetary and programmatic meat to the strategic skeleton that is the QDR, both of which were completed at the same time and made public on 1 February — itself a somewhat illogical sequence, given that one is supposed to precede the other. In theory, these documents should permit an analysis of the strengths and weaknesses implicit in the matchup between resources and strategy. Therefore, these documents should enable the Secretary of Defense to send the President and the Congress a comprehensive set of priorities, opportunity costs, and risks associated with his strategic plan. This information would then become the grist for a rational national debate by linking strategic considerations to the inevitable compromises made in the sausage making factory that is Congress. Moreover, as this is President Obama’s first budget, and because it represents $700+ billion that Mr. Obama just put off limits in the coming national debate over whether or how to shrink the federal deficit, it was crucially important for the Pentagon to get the QDR and the accompanying FY 2011-2015 FYDP right in a logically consistent and transparent manner.

If we apply this standard to the Pentagon’s recently completed handiwork, only one conclusion is possible: the Pentagon flunked the test by being intellectually absent without leave.

Read the rest here.

Defense acquisitions and budgeting process arcana are not my forte, but Spinney is not the only defense analyst giving the QDR a thumbs down for being insufficient on important issues. If the process is rigidly determinative of the kinds of outcomes generated and if that process is dysfunctional or broken, then even a talented top DoD civilian staff armed with an ocean of money and a deep reservoir of political capital will not be able to translate our national security priorities into concrete military results.

“Methods are the masters of masters.” – Talleyrand

The Incredible Shrinking State Department must Evolve or Die

Thursday, October 15th, 2009

A quick ‘think” post.

It is generally a bad sign for a SECSTATE so early in an administration to have to come out and deny that they have been marginalized by the White House, as Secretary Clinton felt compelld to do the other day. The denial itself serves as confirmation of the fact.

It is tempting to write this off as another example of traditional, politically-motivated, battles between White House staffers, determined to protect the authority of the POTUS over foreign policy and the bureaucracy at State.  We have seen this struggle in the past with Al Haig, Cyrus Vance, William Rogers, Cordell Hull, Robert Lansing and other SECSTATEs who sooner or later found themselves sidelined and excluded from key foreign policy decisions by the president. However, this is not just a case of Obama insiders distrusting and attempting to “box in” the Clintons as political rivals, by using other high profile players ( though that has been done to Clinton).

Nor is it just that State is grossly underfunded relative to its responsibilities by the U.S. Congress, which it most certainly is. I’m pretty critical of State but to do everything they *should* be doing, and to do the job right, requires a sizable budget increase, perhaps upwards of 50 %. This cut off the nose to spite our foreign policy face niggardliness by the legislature is not new. Go back and read the memoirs of diplomats of a century ago. They wrestled with the same budgetary penury as State has to deal with today; even during WWII when you’d have thought money would be no object, Congress stiffed diplomats in hazardous, war-zone, postings on their food allowances. The foreign service was long the preserve of wealthy, well-connected, white men because back in the day, only they could afford to live on a State Department salary.

No, the hidden problem for the State Department is that in an age of failing, failed and fake states, diplomacy means less than it once did and accomplishes less in a greater number of places. You could replace Hillary Clinton with Talleyrand as SECSTATE and give him $ 100 billion to play with and he’d still be stuck with a collection of chaotic Gap states without effective internal governance, eroding sovereignty and multiplying non-state actors freebooting across international borders. The problem for State is the global evironment and their disinclination to adapt effectively to it as an institution. It’s foreign interlocutors frequently cannot deliver on any deals, even if they wanted to do so. When that is the reality, what role does diplomacy have in policy or strategy?

State needs to overhaul its personnel system and FSO culture to embrace the reality that interagency teamwork at the inception of policy planning is the only way the USG will be able to effectively advance its interests and nurture stability. The age of ambassadors or even mano-a-mano superpower summitry is over, even among great powers because State cannot execute policy across the DIME bureaucratic spectrum much less bring in the private sector on its own. It has neither the imagination nor the power to go it alone. For that matter, State is having enough  trouble just managing its core functions plus public diplomacy and development aid ( the last two so poorly they should be hived off immediately).

SECSTATE Clinton would like to be the Mario Andretti of Obama ‘s foreign policy but what she’s driving amounts to an Edsel. State needs an engineer to re-design it, and an advocate who can pull in the funding, not an operator or manager of the status quo. If State does not change its culture and its structures in the next decade, it is just marking time until some catastrophe results in it being retired to the historical graveyard and replaced with a new agency better suited to the conditions of the 21st century.

The First Annual Zenpundit Big Pair of Stones Award

Tuesday, April 7th, 2009

Secretary of Defense Robert Gates.

Rock on Mr. Secretary !

“One day you will come to a fork in the road. And you’re going to have to make a decision about what direction you want to go.” [Boyd] raised his hand and pointed. “If you go that way you can be somebody. You will have to make compromises and you will have to turn your back on your friends. But you will be a member of the club and you will get promoted and you will get good assignments.” Then Boyd raised the other hand and pointed another direction. “Or you can go that way and you can do something–something for your country and for your Air Force and for yourself. If you decide to do some thing, you may not get promoted and you may not get the good assignments and you certainly will not be a favorite of your superiors. But you won’t have to compromise yourself. You will be true to your friends and to yourself. And your work might make a difference.” He paused and stared. “To be somebody or to do something. In life there is often a roll call. That’s when you will have to make a decision. To be or to do? Which way will you go?”

                                                          – Colonel John Boyd

Barnett in the House!

Thursday, March 26th, 2009

Dr. Barnett made an important appearance today to testify before the House Armed Services Committee on the future of the U.S. Navy and the global strategic environment it faces:

Tom’s testimony today

I appear before the subcommittee today to provide my professional analysis of the current global security environment and future conflict trends, concentrating on how accurately–in my opinion–America’s naval services address both in their strategic vision and force-structure planning.  As has been the case throughout my two decades of working for, and with, the Department of Navy, current procurement plans portend a “train wreck” between desired fleet size and likely future budget levels dedicated to shipbuilding.  I am neither surprised nor dismayed by this current mismatch, for it reflects the inherent tension between the Department’s continuing desire to maintain some suitable portion of its legacy force and its more recent impulse toward adapting itself to the far more prosaic tasks of integrating globalization’s “frontier areas”–as I like to call them–as part of our nation’s decades-long effort to play bodyguard to the global economy’s advance, as well as defeat its enemies in the “long war against violent extremism” following 9/11.  Right now, this tension is mirrored throughout the Defense Department as a whole:  between what Secretary Gates has defined as the “next-war-itis” crowd (primarily Air Force and Navy) and those left with the ever-growing burdens of the long war–namely, the Army and Marines. 

….As someone who helped write the Department of Navy’s white paper, …From the Sea, in the early 1990s and has spent the last decade arguing that America’s grand strategy should center on fostering globalization’s advance, I greatly welcome the Department’s 2007 Maritime Strategic Concept that stated: 

    United State seapower will be globally postured to secure our homeland and citizens from direct attack and to advance our interests around the world.  As our security and prosperity are inextricably linked with those of others, U.S. maritime forces will be deployed to protect and sustain the peaceful global system comprised of interdependent networks of trade, finance, information, law, people and governance. 

Rather than merely focusing on whatever line-up of rogue powers constitutes today’s most pressing security threats, the Department’s strategic concept locates it operational center of gravity amidst the most pervasive and persistently revolutionary dynamics associated with globalization’s advance around the planet, for it is primarily in those frontier-like regions currently experiencing heightened levels of integration with the global economy (increasingly as the result of Asian economic activity, not Western) that we locate virtually all of the mass violence and instability in the system.   

Moreover, this strategic bias toward globalization’s Gap regions (e.g., a continuous posturing of “credible combat power” in the Western Pacific and the Arabian Gulf/Indian Ocean) and SysAdmin-style operations there makes eminent sense in a time horizon likely to witness the disappearance of the three major-war scenarios that currently justify our nation’s continued funding of our Leviathan force–namely, China-Taiwan, Iran, and North Korea.  First, the Taiwan scenario increasingly bleeds plausibility as that island state seeks a peace treaty with the mainland and proceeds in its course of economic integration with China.  Second, as Iran moves ever closer to achieving an A-to-Z nuclear weapon capability, America finds itself effectively deterred from major war with that regime (even as Israel will likely make a show–largely futile–of delaying this achievement through conventional strikes sometime in the next 12 months).  Meanwhile, the six-party talks on North Korea have effectively demystified any potential great-power war scenarios stemming from that regime’s eventual collapse, as America now focuses largely on the question of “loose nukes” and China fears only that Pyongyang’s political demise might reflect badly on continued “communist” rule in Beijing–hardly the makings of World War III. 

Read the rest here.

Tom has probably made the heads of many senior admirals explode today. Though, it must be said, this is unlikely to be the first time that has happened and everything Dr. Barnett said this morning was perfectly consistent with what he’s been saying and writing for years, as he made clear in his statement. It’s more where he was saying it and to whom. Coming down so hard in Congressional testimony in favor of expanding the Navy’s capacity at littoral operations at the expense of capital ship building and submarines is waving a red flag at the “Big War” crowd while executing a taunting, end-zone dance.

Ok, I exaggerated that last part, but from the text, Tom gave a very strong signal to the Committee as to where the Navy should be headed in coming years.


Evidently, Tom also caused the heads of committee members to explode as well. Galrahn was there at the hearing and had this anecdote:

My favorite moment was during Thomas Barnett’s opening statement, which I thought was really good. Dr. Barnett said something along the lines of “I want allies with million man armies and I want them to be ready to kill people,” which is strategically exactly right.

Well, what the audio and video won’t show is the reaction by Maine Congresswoman Chellie Pingree (D), who looked to me like she was about to either feint or have a heart attack when Barnett said that. It was a priceless moment of facial expressions as she struggled to cope with the idea he was expressing. Honestly, I’m still laughing writing about it here. It was only afterward I was reminded that she is co-sponsor in the creation of a new government organization.

The Department of Peace.

Good. The whole concept of a Department of Peace amounts to institutionalizing antiwar activists on the Federal payroll to try and obstruct foreign policy and erode national security for the benefit of unfriendly and undemocratic foreign states. If Bashir Assad and Hugo Chavez want foreign agents to lobby Congress, they can hire K Street lawyers like everyone else; we don’t need to have U.S. taxpayers footing the bill to promote far Left political causes.

Tom also weighed in on his blog on the experience:

Questions from members are extremely specific to their pet causes. I considered that exchange largely to be a showy waste of time.

Only sparks: I raise issue of Navy needing to accept more tactical risk if they want to influence events ashore more, referencing LCS. I get a small lecture about “sons and daughters” from Taylor. I refrain from mentioning my family members now in Iraq, considering that a counter-grandstanding move better avoided.

Instead, I counter with logic of Army-Marine COIN: you accept more risk when you get closer in–plain and simple. The Navy has already perfected its force structure in terms of largely rendering itself casualty-free and irrelevant to the long war, so it’s just a question of “whose sons and daughters” bear the brunt.

Taylor thanks me for a response he clearly had no expectation of triggering.

Then Thompson, who panders a grace bordering on the sublime (decrying costs in aggregate but praising individual systems and platforms), gets pissed when I downplay the intell capture argument offered by Seawolf sub proponents (Oh, to need $2.2B stealthy platforms to spy off Syria’s coast! His example, not mine). He laments that it’s too bad that the American public can’t truly know how value such collection is! This is the classic insider put down: If only you knew the secrets I know! Then you’d not dare to question my porkish logic!


Fallows’ $ 1.4 Trillion Question

Monday, January 21st, 2008

Both Tom and John have weighed in on the important piece by James Fallows in The Atlantic Monthly, entitled “The $1.4 Trillion Dollar Question“:

Dr. Barnett:

What Fallows doesn’t address in China’s vast surplus/savings is the huge and very real current sovereign debts and future mandates that are hidden in this development scheme: overseas resource dependencies demanding investment stakes, future aging costs, current and future enviro costs, future requirements to build out (and up) the poor interior, and so on.

Those are real sovereign liabilities because the people will expect some/much government help in these matters over time to ensure continued development and sustained movement up the product chain (gotta get as rich as possible before getting old).

Having said all that, Fallows’ analysis of the government’s logic is dead on. I suspect that, with all his time spent in China, we’ll see a book that does a big turn in explaining China to America. That will be a huge journalistic endeavor, and most welcome from someone with his considerable narrative talents.

As for the larger strategic question, we owe China a quiet international security order within which to develop, and sufficient partnership so as to obviate too much defense spending on their part. Eventually, Deng’s “grand compromise” of 1992 (PLA supports him on market acceleration in return for money and cover to modernize) must be tempered so that China doesn’t field a military for a war that should never happen and which it could never win. It needs to field a SysAdmin-heavy force that partners with us in mutual dependence: we can’t rule the peace with our Leviathan-heavy force, but they can’t rule war with their Leviathan-lite force either, so we must cooperate in extending and protecting globalization to our mutual advantage.”

John Robb:

Fallows runs through the details of the “financial balance of terror” between the US and China and concludes that it won’t last long. However, of the reasons he listed for a collapse of the balance, he didn’t include the most likely: that China will need the money to shore up its domestic economy as the US heads into a lengthy and severe recession.

Remember, China hasn’t endured anything other than growth pain for over a decade. Further, the average Chinese citizens hasn’t reaped much from that boom. They don’t have the financial reserves to weather a crisis (and many of those that do will lose their shirts when China’s market bubble tanks). So where will this cash go over the next two years? Not into Blackstones or US Treasuries. Instead, it will be invested domestically. Into jobs and projects to shore up the little bit of legitimacy the Chinese government still has (we see a similar pattern with many of the globe’s marginally legitimate governments, from Saudi Arabia to Russia).

Frankly, I’m not sure that $1.4 trillion (the normative value of which is evaporating with each plunge in the dollar) will be enough to prevent China from disintegrating if this crisis becomes a panic.”

My two cents:

China holds enormous reserves in dollars because their financial strategy – parking surplus cash in Treasury securities – also represents an internal political strategy of deferring acrimonious, major, spending and investment choices that might precipitate division among the elite. China’s leaders are acutely aware of their nation’s deficiencies and historical tendency toward centrifugal, regional, disintegration and keeping the country intact and the state in charge is right up there in terms of priority with sustaining a fantastic rate of GDP growth. The dollar surplus represents an agreeable, strategic, “rainy day fund” consensus choice of the elite and significant changes here will only be in response to pressures or needs that the elite of the CCP can get behind as a whole. Likely, cautious changes but possibly also too little too late.

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