Robert Paterson's Radio Weblog
What is really going on beneath the surface? What is the nature of the bifurcation that is unfolding? That's what interests me.

Spirit Blood and Treasure - The New Context for Conflict - Introduction

Spirit, Blood, and Treasure


Franklin Spinney, John Sayen, and Donald E. Vandergriff

© Copyright 2001 Presidio Press

Machines don't fight wars, people do . . . and they use their minds."

Col. John R. Boyd, USAF (Ret.)

Two profound environmental changes occurred in the waning years of the twentieth century. First, the Cold War ended suddenly. Second, the dominant features of contemporary conflict began to mutate as a variety of irregular forces around the world learned how to attack the political will of their adversaries while bypassing the traditional strengths of conventional military forces. The threads of this mutation reach far back in time.1 The emerging pattern of combat in the last half of the twentieth century (e.g., Vietnam, the Intifada, Lebanon, Somalia, Chechnya, Yugoslavia, as well as the rise of organized state and nonstate terrorism) suggests that irregular warfare is now spreading rapidly around the world. Its practitioners learn to amplify their successes and discard their mistakes. The primary exceptions to this trend—the Arab-Israeli wars of 1956, 1967, and 1973; the Falklands War; and the Persian Gulf War—are beginning to look more and more like transitional anomalies that usually accompany the end of an era. This new generation of warfare has come to be known as fourth-generation warfare or "4GW."2

A third factor impeded the military's response to change. This factor took the form of a gradual buildup of internal rigidities during the forty years of cold war. By 1990, a tightly woven web of mutually supporting rigidities made it difficult, if not impossible, for the military to reorient its internal arrangements to the changes implied by end of the Cold War and the rise of 4GW.

A changing external environment left the U.S. military-industrial-congressional complex (MICC) high and dry like a beached, bloated whale during most of the 1990s, flapping futilely to pump life into its internal organs while engaging in fanciful struggles to return to an environment that no longer existed. By 2000, the struggle had come to a head in the middle of a presidential election, with cries for huge budget increases emanating from service chiefs, retired chiefs, news media pundits, defense lobbyists, and a host of voices in Congress.3

The aim of this anthology is to present a variety of perspectives for understanding the deeper causes of this dilemma and to suggest a number of corrections that might put the military on a healthier pathway into the future. The last chapter concludes the discussion by analyzing the failures of the first Quadrennial Defense Review (QDR) and then introducing an action plan to begin a more realistic attack on the problem in the near term.

In this introduction we describe the relationships in inherent in the end of the Cold War, the rise of 4GW, and the military's growing internal paralysis.

The End of the Cold War and the Question of "Ready for What?"

Contemporary force structures (hardware and organizations), as well as operational doctrines (ideas, style of war, and traditions) are largely legacies of events over the entire twentieth century, although one can discern influences reaching back to the Civil War and the Napoleonic era. The assumptions underpinning the personnel system, on the other hand, extend back to the late eighteenth century, beginning with the widespread fear of a standing army held by the framers of the Constitution. The changed conditions caused by the end of the Cold War, together with the rise of 4GW, have turned these comfortable historical stabilities on their collective heads. It forces our leaders to call for the most fundamental—and uncomfortable—reexamination of the military question "Ready for What?" in more than a hundred years.

It cannot be emphasized too strongly that the strategic question "Ready for What?" poses an uncertainty new to our experience. The military strategies in World Wars I and II and the Cold War reflected a general agreement that the central strategic problem facing the United States between 1914 and 1990 was the need to counter power imbalances in Europe caused by the rise of first Germany and then the Soviet Union. In this sense, the role of the United States evolved insensibly into one somewhat like that of Great Britain in the nineteenth century.

To be sure, the centrality of the balance of power question to the United States may not have been so clear to a contemporaneous observer at different points in the twentieth century. During the period between the world wars, for example, that observer faced a distracting isolationist debate in the aftermath of the Senate's rejection of the Treaty of Versailles in March 1920. But while that debate was accompanied by domestic political reactions (e.g., budget reductions and demobilization), it did not affect the strategic outlook of military professionals in America's war colleges, who were trying to imagine and plan for the next war.4 A contemporaneous observer would also have witnessed the rise of Japanese power in east Asia during the first half of the twentieth century and the global nature of the communist threat in the second half (particularly in Vietnam and Korea). Nevertheless, looking back at the cacophony of events in the twentieth century, it is safe to say that the isolationist debate, the problem of Japanese power, and the global expansion of communism took a back seat when they came in conflict with the strategic realities posed by the heavy conventional capabilities of German and Soviet armies in Europe, and later the Soviet Union's theater and strategic nuclear capabilities.5

The cumulative effects of this evolution caused America to abandon completely its traditional nineteenth century organizational premises: no entangling alliances, mobilization instead of a large standing army, coastal and frontier defense, and small-scale interventionist operations oriented toward protecting U.S. interests in the western hemisphere, as well as American seaborne commerce.6 Between 1950 and 1990, these traditional notions were replaced completely by the dynamics of the bipolar Cold War world: a worldwide network of entangling alliances centering on the North Atlantic Treaty Organization (NATO), the maintenance of large standing forces, a massive permanent forward deployment of heavy forces in Europe and elsewhere, and the ability to execute large-scale interventions to counter the worldwide communist revolutionary movement.

These organizational dynamics led to a deeply entrenched foreign policy and military strategy fixated on stable, bipolar worldview. This insensibly suppressed the physical and psychological effects of regional rivalries and caused each side to establish alliances that might otherwise be considered questionable (e.g., U.S. alliances with right-wing dictators in Central America and Islamic fundamentalists in Afghanistan, because they were anticommunist).

The sudden collapse of Soviet power in 1991and Russia's subsequent, albeit imperfect, struggle to adopt Western political values shattered the simple bipolar orientation that had conditioned American strategy and thinking for two generations. More importantly, it restored the balance of power in Europe for the first time in almost a hundred years.7 This obviated the requirement for a massive forward deployment of heavy U.S. air and land forces on the European continent.

The collapse of Soviet power also neutralized the easily understood bipolar dynamics of the Cold War. This unleashed a welter of hitherto suppressed nationalist, ethnic, religious, and criminal conflicts, which exploded in a rapidly changing, multipolar, multicultural political context. Each conflict, being rooted in the unique histories and cultures of the belligerents, defies the generalized logic of the Cold War.8 Moreover, these conflicts taken place in environments that embody poorly understood global forces, which are pushing many parts of the world into chaos. Among these forces are the pressures of over population, rapid urbanization, accelerating environmental degradation, stark poverty and the widening gap between rich and poor, growing scarcities (including water), the effects of near-instantaneous global communications, and the growing moral conflict between Western materialism and Eastern spiritual values.

What do these changes imply for the orientation of our military forces?

  1. A restored balance of power, with U.S. military operations evolving toward a modern variation of nineteenth-century intervention operations, at least in the near term. This includes:

    1. Increased focus on littorals (regions within a hundred miles of the sea), where most of the world's people, wealth, commerce, in stabilities, and U.S. interests are concentrated.

    2. Decreased need for large standing land and air forces, and an enhanced role for reserve forces.

    3. Decreased need for heavy naval forces configured for global war at sea and heavy bombing forces, with a concurrent shift to maintaining control of littoral regions in support of interventions

    4. The need for intervention and extraction capabilities to protect lives, property, commerce, and other interests, with an emphasis on high-speed lighter forces configured for autonomous operations in hostile regions.

  2. The rise of fourth-generation warfare, resulting in an increased need for irregular war-fighting skills/capabilities in close-quarters combat and small-unit operations among state/nonstate actors. Characteristic of this are the following:

    1. Decreased reliance on firepower/attrition in ground warfare.

    2. Decreased reliance on deep-strike/interdiction/strategic bombardment of "infrastructure" in air warfare.

    3. Increased reliance on fast-transient littoral penetration operations, infowar operations, Special Forces operations, political-military operations, counterdrug/antiterrorist/antinuclear operations, and increased occurrences of urban/suburban combat.

    4. Increased resource constraints resulting in internal competition for resources.

    The Evolving Nature of Warfare

    The four generations of war began after the nation-state had become the predominant form of government in Europe and European armies were equipped with firearms. However, firearms during this period (running generally from the late seventeenth through the early to mid-nineteenth centuries) were quite primitive. They suffered from short effective ranges, slow rates of fire, unreliable ignition, and an inability to fire effective exploding projectiles. This in turn left room for such weapons as the sword and bayonet. The extensive use of close-order formations was also required, despite their vulnerability. Close-order formations massed enough firearms on a given frontage to repel shock action by cavalry and bayonet-wielding infantry. They could also maneuver, albeit slowly, and battlefields were still small enough for generals to exert personal control over their men.

    Second-generation warfare resulted from a combination of the Industrial Revolution and the fact that firearms had become technically mature. Small arms tripled their effective ranges and increased their rates of fire by tenfold. Artillery was able to rain exploding shells upon enemies the gunners could not even see. These new weapons could now be built in great numbers and at a low cost. Widely adopted Prussian-style mobilization systems allowed nations to tap much of their adult male populations for military service. Armies of unprecedented size and firepower began to appear. Steamships and railways could move armies and their weapons and supplies wherever they were needed. Battlefields grew steadily in size until they covered entire continents. The armies became so large that maneuver became difficult. In many parts of the world, armies could easily anchor both flanks on impassible terrain (such as the ocean or mountains) and thus force their opponents into complete passivity or costly frontal attacks. Armies thus began to rely more and more on their firepower to batter holes in their enemies that their infantry (and later armor) could then exploit. Second-generation warfare became a pounding match in which the side with the greatest (or best-managed) resources always won. Battle resembled an engineering problem more than a military one. Nevertheless, World War I, which was the classic second-generation struggle, caused great frustration. Even with good planning and management, most armies exchanged huge losses for trivial gains. Tactical control became highly centralized. Large staffs were needed to produce the complex plans required to coordinate artillery fires with advances by infantry. The inevitable "friction" of war often caused plans to go awry, as it was frequently difficult to implement the last-minute changes that mishaps generated. Nevertheless, in second-generation warfare, God generally was "on the side of the big battalions." Since the Central Powers were markedly inferior to their enemies in both population and industry, they finally had to yield after more than four years of slaughter.

    For major industrial powers like the United States, Great Britain, and France, which could count on individually or collectively dominating their likely adversaries, second-generation warfare offered a fairly certain, if expensive, guarantee of ultimate victory. Germany, on the other hand, although a major industrial power in its own right, found itself sandwiched into central Europe by powerful enemies. It had to fight hostile coalitions that could draw on much larger populations and industrial bases. Worse, Germany's geographic location made it vulnerable to economic blockade. Its prospects in a world of second-generation warfare were grim indeed. Therefore, even while World War I was still raging, Germany began to move toward a new form of warfare that would leverage its highly professional officer and noncommissioned (NCO) corps to offset its enemies' numerical and material superiority. This third-generation warfare began by addressing the new reality that armies had become so large that they could no longer be outflanked in any strategic sense. However, these armies' newfound firepower had forced them to disperse themselves sufficiently that their front lines were riddled with gaps everywhere. Small units could easily slip through unnoticed and attack frontline positions from behind. Better still, they could press on and assault the enemy's artillery positions, command posts, and supply dumps. Cap above all, they could spread chaos and confusion and upset the carefully laid plans of their second-generation enemies.

    In order for a third-generation attack to succeed, command and control had to be highly decentralized, as opposed to the highly centralized in second-generation command system. There was no way that a major headquarters could tell a small-unit leader how to slip through an enemy's defensive positions. Once he was in the enemy's rear, the small-unit leader was beyond close tactical control and had to rely on his own judgment. Higher headquarters could only ensure that he was good at making decisions and that he understood the overall plan and his role in accomplishing it. The effects of this kind of warfare could be devastating at tactical and operational levels. Freed from close control and not tied to an artillery fire plan, the attacking infantry could literally run circles around a defending force and create a rapidly changing situation. German third-generation offensives launched at Caporetto against the Italians and Riga against the Russians in 1917 proved devastating. The Ludendorff offensive against the British and French in 1918 was also initially successful, more so than any previous second-generation offensive. However, it was not enough. Horse-drawn artillery and supply services could not keep pace with the infantry's advance, so the offensive ground to a halt before the enemy could be decisively defeated. Despite heavy losses, the Italians, Russians, French, and British all ultimately survived these German attacks. The new ideas had come too late and required too much time for full implementation. More importantly, four years of blockade and bloodshed had worn the Germans down. They were unable to exploit their third-generation successes and ultimately suffered an inevitable collapse.

    In World War II, the Germans again employed third-generation warfare, this time enhancing it with tanks, close-air support, and motorization. This proved successful against Poland in 1939, France in 1940, and Greece and the Soviet Union in 1941. A third-generation operation by the Communist Chinese in November 1950 defeated the greatly superior U.S./UN Eighth Army and permanently drove U.S./UN forces out of North Korea. However, despite its successes, third-generation methods alone have not been enough to ensure ultimate victory. The industrial age material superiority that dominated second-generation warfare still retained much of its old importance.

    Ponderous and inflexible as they usually were, second-generation armies could still defeat their third-generation foes by wearing them down in prolonged battles of attrition. Also, maintaining the fine edge of combat leadership, trust, and cohesion that successful third-generation operations required became increasingly difficult in the face of prolonged combat and mounting casualties. Although it was a considerable improvement over second-generation operations, third-generation warfare retained many features of the first- and second-generation styles of conflict. It was based on armies of uniformed soldiers who fought within defined front lines and rear areas and under the control of recognized national governments. Third-generation armies still depended heavily on the backing of their national industries and populations, and the industrial superiority of nations like the United States continued to play a decisive role. Third-generation methods also were not so easily adapted to naval and air warfare. In those arenas, numbers and technology counted fourth more than anything else. In short, third-generation warfare limited but did not end the military superiority of the major industrial nations. As a result, the victors in World War II saw no reason to update their doctrines to incorporate third-generation methods. They had won without them, albeit at a high price. Resistance to third-generation methods has remained strong in the United States despite its defeat in Korea by third-generation Chinese and North Korean troops. Nor has defeat in Vietnam led to any serious questioning of the "tried and true" the second-generation way of war.

    However, the emergence of fourth-generation warfare is likely to have much greater impact. The introduction of nuclear weapons changed everything. Costly as they are, these devices are still far cheaper than conventional second- or third-generation armies. Their use, or even the threat of their use, could render the employment of such armies extremely difficult and risky, if not impossible. Conventional warfare was soon restricted to regions of the world where neither side would or could bring nuclear weapons into play. As weapons of mass destruction have proliferated, the number, extent, and importance of the regions where conventional armies can safely operate has diminished.

    A second important development is the gradual breakdown in the loyalty of individuals and ethnic or other groups to their established national governments. The causes for this are many and varied, but prominent among them is that nation states are losing their reason for being. Modern nations evolved in large part as an efficient means of marshalling the human and materiel resources needed to wage war. However, nuclear weapons are making the second- and third-generation war impossible. Moreover, the welfare state, which attempts to buy popular loyalty with promises of financial security, has diverted so many resources from the military that the gigantic land armies that European states employed prior to 1945 have become largely extinct. This has started to threaten the materiel superiority on which the world's surviving the second-generation armies depend.

    A third important development, which occurred after the fall of the Soviet Union, is the computer revolution and the creation of the Internet. This has resulted in a change in the nature of wealth and power. In the past, wealth was mainly tied up in land and in capital equipment. Such wealth was not easily moved to avoid taxation, regulation, or confiscation by whatever government happened to control its location. Today, wealth increasingly exists in the form of electronic information. Transmission through the Internet makes this wealth highly mobile. Strong encryption makes it difficult for governments to interfere with the flow of wealth as it crosses their borders. The Internet also has made it possible to conduct business from almost any location with telephone service. This has left nations like the United States in a vulnerable position. Five percent of American taxpayers earn about 30 percent of America's wealth but pay 51 percent of its taxes. If another country were to offer a haven to these people where their human rights and property would be respected, it could probably attract wealthy taxpayers in great numbers. This would severely undermine the finances of the United States and many European countries whose governments also rely on a small minority of their taxpayers for the bulk of their tax income. National governments would have to compete with each other for taxpayers. In order to do that they would have to become more efficient; they would no more be able to afford expensive militaries than "cradle-to-grave" socialism.

    These developments are starting to divert wealth and power away from nations and toward private and other nonstate entities. Nearly all the armed conflicts occurring after the fall of the Soviet Union have involved a nation state on only one side—usually the losing side. Although most nation states enjoy far greater resources than most nonstates, the nonstates are learning to fight effectively with limited resources. They usually present few, if any, important targets vulnerable to conventional attack, and their followers are usually much more willing to fight and die for their causes. They seldom wear uniforms and may be difficult to distinguish from the general population. They are also far less hampered by convention and more likely to seek new and innovative means to achieve their objectives.

    Although the era of fourth-generation warfare is only beginning, it is already apparent that size and resources, however vital they may have been in the past, can be a liability in fourth-generation warfare. This is because of the overarching importance of the need to minimize a nation's target profile. All successful fourth-generation belligerents thus far have practiced this principle. The side that has nothing to attack inevitably forfeits the initiative if it cannot stop its opponents from attacking anything. In Mogadishu, Gen. Muhammad Farrah Aideed successfully denied the U.S. Army's Task Force Ranger a target by constantly moving his headquarters. When Aideed was given an opportunity to attack them, the result was the collapse of the UN intervention. Likewise, the Chechens' success in eluding Russian targeting has produced a war of attrition that Russia's weak economy will be hard pressed to sustain. Communist guerrillas in Vietnam and the Mujihadeen in Afghanistan were in their own fashion also able to steal the initiative from their opponents by denying them targets. In the recent war over Kosovo, the Serbs easily dispersed their military forces sufficiently to negate the effects of NATO air strikes. The North Atlantic Treaty Organization's air forces could not protect the NATO-backed Kosovar-Albanian guerrillas from Serbian attack. On the other hand, Serbia was still a conventional nation state with cities and other infrastructure that could be targeted from the air and whose destruction would cause substantial hardship. Serbia was forced to agree to NATO's occupation of Kosovo not because the tiny Balkan nation was too small to oppose the powerful nineteen-nation NATO coalition, but because it was too large. Even so, Serbia at least temporarily thwarted NATO plans to create an independent Kosovo and occupy and break up Serbia. Victory eluded Belgrade because it presented too much of a target.

    Fourth-generation warfare thus threatens to place second-generation powers in the position of the elephant terrified by a mouse, of the dinosaur whose eggs are eaten by rodents, or of the lion stung to death by a swarm of wasps.

    The Roots of Paralysis

    The Defense Department's hardening of the arteries—remaining a second-generation power—has its roots in the forty-year semimobilization for the Cold War, and in a history of having to raise armies almost overnight to meet crises. While defense budgets and the intensity of Cold War politics waxed and waned between 1950 and 1990, a stable consensus on the existence of the Cold War threat resulted in what amounted to a permanent semimobilization. This steady state condition led to an insensible rise of a different domestic political economy supporting the military than had existed in the United States prior to 1950. By the time the Cold War ended in 1990, the new political economy took the form of a vast spiderweb of well-developed, intricate relations among defense contractors, politicians, members of the Defense Department, and a wide array of supporting actors, including publicists, lobbyists, academics, and journalists. Today, this web of influence has gone well beyond the military-industrial complex Pres. Dwight D. Eisenhower warned about in his farewell interests on 17 January 1961,9 and is more accurately described as a military-industrial-congressional complex.

    The MICC has grown more and more isolated from the larger American economy over time. The defense industry produces goods that often have no close commercial equivalent. The high political content in its demand function encouraged the evolution of a peculiar form of nonmarket dynamics, together with a host of supporting belief systems. These would be counterproductive in a competitive market economy. The symptoms of these dynamics have resulted in an accelerating rate of growth in the technological complexity of weapons as well as the cost of buying and operating those weapons.

    Inside these dynamics, however, is a less obvious habitual pattern of bureaucratic behavior made up of deeply entrenched, politically motivated modes of conduct. These modes of conduct, sometimes called Defense Power Games, can be grouped loosely into two complementary bureaucratic strategies: front-loading and political engineering.

    In general terms, front-loading is the art of downplaying or exaggerating the long-term consequences of a current decision in order to overcome resistance to, and obtain approval for, a given course of action. Political engineering is the art of quickly building a support network of vested interests to lock in a front-loaded decision before its true costs or performance become apparent. Together, the effects of these gaming strategies work like a bait-and-switch operation, creating a pattern of pervasive overcommitment and paralysis. Readers interested in a more detailed description of how these strategies work together can download Defense Power Games from the Worldwide Web.10

    While the complementary effects of these power games can be discerned in many types of policy making,11 they are most evident in the development and procurement of new high-tech weapons. In this case, the most obvious front-loading strategy is the "buy-in," or a deliberate low-balling of a cost estimate by a contractor to win a competition, by a government sponsor to get a program approved, or, more usually, both. Whereas front-loading relies on surreptitiousness to get the game going, political engineering must be overt and felt to be effective. The most common political-engineering strategy in weapons procurement is the art of building a political safety net by spreading subcontracts, dollars, jobs, and profits to as many congressional districts as possible before the consequences of the buy-in (i.e., the inevitable cost growth) are felt.

    The front-loading and political engineering gaming strategies have several pernicious consequences. First, they seek to pack the defense budget with more new weapons programs than needed. Second, they have subtle biases designed to increase the complexity and cost of weapons. "Complexity" can be defined as a subjective quality of the "whole" relating the number and arrangement of its "parts" to one's ability to comprehend the "whole." It follows that increasing the complexity of anything makes it less comprehensible. Therefore it is easier to front-load a decision by downplaying its future costs or exaggerating its future effectiveness. Moreover, the greater variety of parts increases the need for subcontracts during its development, thereby making it easier to set up a political engineering operation. Finally, the inward focus of these gaming strategies corrupts decision making by debasing intellectual rigor and increasing cynicism among decision makers.12

    In addition to packing the budget with too many high-cost programs, defense power games create a powerful structural asymmetry wherein unit costs always grow faster than budgets, even when budgets increase rapidly, as they did in the 1980s. But when the costs of the "parts" grow faster than the budgets for the "whole," the miracle of compound interest kicks in to make deteriorating trends inevitable. These include shrinking forces, aging weapons, continual pressure to reduce readiness, and short-term decision making that is always struggling to cobble things together because it is in the middle of a funding crisis.13

    Although the increasing complexity of weapons and the accompanying cost growth have been the norm since the mid-1950s, these mutually reinforcing trends accelerated during the 1970s and 1980s with the development and fielding of a new generation of Cold War weapons in the aftermath of Vietnam. Most post-Vietnam weapons cost far more to procure and operate than the weapons they replaced.14 An even more expensive generation of Cold War–inspired replacement weapons entered research and development in the late 1980s and early 1990s as the Cold War ended and budget reductions began to take effect.15 The coincidence of tightening budgets with a long-range plan to modernize with an even more costly generation of weapons set the stage for a budget crisis in the late 1990s.16 The size of America's combat-coded force shrank faster than it is budgets, and spending per unit of combat power increased (adjusted for the effects of inflation).17

    When the new generation of weapons began to enter procurement in the mid- to late 1990s, the rising cost of operating the existing generation of aging weapons precluded the allocation of sufficient procurement dollars to pay for the high production rates needed to modernize the force in a timely matter. The predictable result was what Undersecretary of Defense Jacques Gansler called the "Defense Death Spiral."18 It consists of declining rates of modernization, aging forces, low readiness, and plummeting morale. It is fed by a cacophony of cries for long-term increases in the defense budget. If implemented, this would put the Defense Department on an evolutionary pathway leading to a domestic political war with Social Security and Medicare and ten years' time.

    It was no accident that the combination of relatively modest budget declines accompanying the end of the Cold War, coupled with rapidly increasing unit costs, overwhelmed the "savings" from force-structure reductions, and reinforced each other to create an "underfunding" crisis in the summer of 2000. The often-cited deployments in support of peacekeeping operations exacerbated but were not the central cause of the crisis.

    The continued acceleration in the growth of complexity and cost that created the post–Cold War funding crisis is consistent with two conclusions about the roots of paralysis. First, these internal MICC behavioral dynamics operate independently of changes in the severity of external threats and therefore should be considered autonomous forces misshaping the American military. Second, the MICC is behaving like a neo-Madisonian faction in that it is a subgroup promoting its own welfare (in the form of maintaining Cold War business as usual) at the expense of the general welfare.19

    The Other Factor: Stuck In Our Own History

    To understand why the second-generation warfare is "hard-wired" in the minds of military and political leaders, and why the tactics of front-loading and political engineering have become the norm, it is necessary to go back in U.S. military history. Today's Department of Defense, as well as its supporting industrial and financial network, is still modeled on what is traditionally called the Mobilization System. In the case of the military, it stems from Secretary of War John C. Calhoun's circa 1818 "expansible army" concept.20 The national military strategy of the time saw the navy as the first line of defense. Ground forces, if needed at all, would be provided by a small cadre of regulars, reinforced by militia in time of war. Protected by the navy at sea, there would be sufficient time to assemble and train militia units, which would, of course, disappear once the emergency was resolved. With conscripts substituted for militia after Secretary of War Elihu Root's 1899–1904 reforms, that basic idea has underlain U.S. military policy for more than 180 years. It could be seen in the Gulf War with a train-up and buildup that almost six months, and in Kosovo, where it took weeks to deploy the army. When it took the air force almost two months—instead of the three days promised—to push Serbia out of Kosovo, many political and military leaders began to panic because they feared a ground campaign would take months to prepare for and execute, not to mention the concurrent risk of casualties.21

    As the nineteenth century unfolded, Calhoun's expansible army idea was reinforced by the Industrial Revolution and later by the changing managerial and professional climate of the Progressive Era. The latter was seen as a way to harness the power of the former through centralization and do away with human inefficiencies through effective management.22 A tradition began that in times of war or threatened attacks on national security, factories would begin spewing out military hardware. At the same time, conscription would provide a manpower pool partly trained in training factories (training centers) based on the efficiency theories of Frederick Taylor.23 At some later point, materiel and partly trained people would come together in units.

    Men who traditionally had been expected to be efficient stewards of what little money Congress provided rather than professionals would lead these units. Trained to some level of effectiveness and led by an unreliable pool of officers, these units would then go to war. They would fare better or worse depending on their leaders, who, with the exception of the occasional officer who had taken time to educate himself in the art of war, focused more on routine and politics rather than operations and tactics. As a result of this trend, technology was seen as a way to bridge the gap between amateurism and professionalism. This evolved over time into a doctrine of attrition through centralized control, supported by a never-ending supply of materiel and manpower to produce victory. Today it is known as the "American Way of War."24

    The Mobilization System became institutionalized after World War II due to the slow and painful preparation for that conflict.25 Since World War II and the advent of limited wars like Korea, Vietnam, and the Gulf War with, this system has only been exercised to a fraction of its intended scope. The system itself is antiquated in a world now absent of confrontation between major powers on the scale of the Cold War. Laws (the Officer Personnel Act of 1947 advocating the "up-or-out" promotion system and a larger officer corps at the middle and upper grades), policies (the Individual Replacement System [IRS]), and processes (centralized attrition doctrine) devised to meet the demands of the Mobilization System have themselves become ineffective. Given the complexities of modern weapons systems, it is no longer possible to suddenly begin manufacturing large numbers of tanks, planes, ships, and other impedimenta of war. Whatever force is in being will fight its war with whatever is available. This means units should be ready to fight when war begins.

    While conscription legislation might be enacted, the manpower pool with us created would have nothing with which to fight. Partially trained conscripts and leaders would be assigned as individuals to replace losses in existing units, which are nothing more than administrative centers in the eyes of personnel bureaucrats. However, the IRS begun in 1912, adversely commented on by senior officials after every major twentieth century war. It is perhaps the most grossly incorrect derivative of the Mobilization System, and has prevented the development and sustainment of effective military units.

    Other derivatives of the Mobilization System are the force structures of the military—mainly the army, which has been divided into active, National Guard, and reserve components. Finally, there is the MICC.26 These two institutions have also been built around the need to expand for World War III. They are ineffective in a world characterized by contingency operations in which immediate readiness and rapid response to crisis are urgent requirements. These two components act to counter effectiveness in the type of warfare the country will wage in the future. The former places a large portion of its officer corps in overhead or supporting roles having little to do with fighting wars. It maintains a few large combat units, such as divisions that are still Napoleonic in nature. These cannot be rotated while in combat, but instead are kept up to strength by the IRS.

    The MICC creates declining readiness over time in its vain attempt to bridge the gap mentioned earlier in this essay. As weapons systems become more complex in the quest for a "silver bullet," those that are mission ready decline. This forces servicemen to "do more with less." It also forces the services to maintain large supporting tails to maintain their high-tech forces. Units watch their "gold-plated" equipment spending more time being maintained than in the field.

    The "Death Spiral" Will Continue

    The internal factors described above lock decision makers into a perpetual day-to-day struggle to keep the defense ship afloat, a struggle punctuated by imagined or contrived crises that call for higher budgets.27 This leads to a bailout mentality, which in turn soaks up the energy and saps the political will needed to change the ship's course.

    By the summer of 2000, this bailout mentality had exploded once again. It did so despite the fact that the Cold War was history and the United States was outspending all its conceivable adversaries combined by a factor of two or three to one.28

    To date, the Defense Department's reaction to the mismatch between the military's internal workings and the changes in its environment has been similar to that of the French army in the 1930s. Our military institutions in the 1990s responded to the end of the Cold War by basing plans on a future worldview that reflected only a comfortable modification of the past. In our case, however, planners have used the information revolution to do it with far greater sophistication than the French. Planners constructed their worldview into a precise definition of the distant future by repackaging old ideas into glitzy computerized "visions"—virtual reality—of the threats and forces they wanted to see, as opposed to the ones they are more likely to see. It is no coincidence that the "vision-based" future worlds of the 1990s, e.g., Joint Vision 2010 or the so-called future Revolution in Military Affairs (RMA), also protected the same internal commercial and political interests creating the cost growth and political rigidity that locked the military into its death spiral.

    While the different players in the MICC remained mired in this fanciful struggle to preserve their dying Cold War lifestyle, the real world moved away from it. The result is now evident in a widening web of contradictions among

    bullet an outdated dogmatic American style of war,
    bullet emerging requirements to address the new irregular threats of fourth-generation warfare, and
    bullet the unaffordable and growing cost of continuing Cold War business as usual.

    The American military must find a way to extricate itself from this web of contradictions or it will not thrive and grow over the first quarter of the twenty-first century.

    Some believe that increasing the defense budget is the key to extracting the military from its death spiral. We take a different view. More money spent the same way would be the easy answer, and might temporarily paper over the worst effects of these mismatches. Although we disagree over specific solutions, we are united in the belief that more money spent the same way will not fix, and may indeed exacerbate, the deeper problems now enervating our military. We believe more fundamental changes are needed urgently in all three categories of military power:

    1. People: recruiting, retention, personnel management, unit cohesion, empowerment, and character development.

    2. Ideas: military theory, doctrine, training, and organization.

    3. Hardware: weapons, supplies, support infrastructure, and technology—at a cost the nation can afford to sustain over the long term.

    Changes in the first two categories are by far the most important. If we get them right, we will have the intellectual wherewithal and the force of character needed to identify and make the hard decisions to fix the killer problems in the third category.

    The purpose of this book is to stimulate debate over deeper problems and surface internal reforms designed to place our military on a healthier pathway to the future. What you will read is by no means comprehensive. Most of the essays focus on types of changes needed in the first two categories, and—for reasons of space, personal experience, and continuity of exposition—tend to concentrate on ground forces. The aim of this introductory essay is to set the stage by describing the nature of change in large institutions and why fundamental reforms are needed for all services in the three categories listed above.

    The Nature of Change in a Military Culture

    The nature of the institution being changed lies at the heart of any question about institutional reform. At its most fundamental level, the conduct of war is a clash of independent wills operating in the moral, mental, and physical domains. War is not a mechanical phenomenon of physics or technology. War is a living phenomenon, evolving continuously through the interaction of competing human minds with chance and necessity. Moreover, the conduct of war is a group activity embodying multiple interactions among complex formal hierarchies of individuals, each operating according to its own tempo and rhythm under conditions of stress and uncertainty. Organizational culture is, therefore, of paramount importance to the performance of military institutions. A common culture is the harmonizing glue, the shared set of beliefs, values, traditions, and experiences. It makes it possible for the complex hierarchies to take the initiative rapidly or react with a variety of responses to sudden external changes. They will not fly apart in a struggle to gain sustenance, avoid danger, and overcome obstacles and enemies.

    When addressing cultural change, it is also important to recognize that a military culture does not exist in isolation but interacts continuously with its supporting domestic environment, as well as with the menacing environment posed by its external threats. Finally, we must remember that the question of how a military culture changes is driven by the fact that, like all other forms of life, it is a complex-adaptive, goal-seeking phenomenon.

    It is well established in mathematics, physics, biology, and anthropology that any interaction embodying the characteristics described above evolves unpredictably through time via a process known technically as coevolution. Such a process necessarily embodies positive (amplifying) as well as negative (damping) feedback control effects. In the cultural coevolution of a military organization, for example, the environment (including its domestic dimensions, like the political and economic institutions sustaining the military) shapes the military culture while it feeds on and shapes the environment that sustains it. An example of this is the self-serving use of inefficient, politically motivated weapons procurement strategies. These are motivated by a desire to spread subcontracts around the country to increase the dependency of congressional districts on the continued flow of dollars, jobs, and profits.

    Among other things, this interaction means that changes in the character of a conflict or one's adversaries can also shape as well as be shaped by changes in a military system's institutional culture. This process of coadaptation—action and counteraction—is straightforward, forceful, and relatively easy to understand during active conflict. During extended periods of peace, the combination of a speculative threat and the shaping effects of domestic environmental factors such as politics and economics make it far more difficult to anticipate and deal with the emergence of new tactics, operational concepts, or to predict how new technologies will actually perform.

    Military institutions, like all other aspects of culture, thus coevolve with a changing environment over time. During this process, some characteristics carry forward into the future through tradition and learning, whereas others change and mutate according to chance and necessity. By looking to the past, we may be able to catch a partial glimpse of the future. However, the interplay of chance with necessity means that the future remains inherently unpredictable. Those who rely on computer-generated global visions of the future to guide current decisions have a different, and we believe erroneous, concept of change. They fallaciously assume that we can plan for the future precisely, so that the interplay of chance and necessity will have little or no impact on developing the future military. As conservative economic philosopher F. A. Hayek has demonstrated, this kind of assumption leads to a fatally flawed argument in predicting how groups of individuals will act.29

    Institutional change cannot be dictated from the top down. Change does not happen in accord with predictable rules of cause and effect; it evolves from the interplay of chance and necessity. It is a bottom-up process shaped by competition in the free market of ideas as moderated by general guidance. With this background in mind, let us examine briefly the evolutionary pathway that led us into the web of mismatches embodied in the American style of war, the unaffordable cost of doing business as usual, and the emerging requirements of fourth-generation warfare.

    How to Change

    What should the American people expect from Congress and the military as the United States begins to adapt to this changing face of warfare?

    Retired air force colonel John Boyd, a leading military theorist, stated that effective military systems prioritize the components of which they are composed: people, ideas, and hardware. In the United States, the people aspect is most important. Boyd responded to the army's emphasis on synchronization—the methodical timing of several events in time and space—with the comment, "you can only synchronize watches not people." He also emphasized that "people fight wars, not machines, and they use their minds." In sum, military systems that give people top priority adapt to the changing nature of warfare more quickly than those that emphasize machines. Boyd defined this in testimony before Congress in April 1991: "There are three basic elements [to win wars] and in order of importance they are: People, because wars are fought by people not weapons. Strategy and tactics [ideas] because wars fought without innovational ideas become . . . blood baths winnable or not. Hardware, because weapons that don't work or can't be [produced] in quantity will bring down even the best people and best ideas."

    Boyd went on to describe how each aspect is interrelated:

    our military needs to be trained in innovative tactics and strategies that will lead to quick decisive victory at minimum cost to American lives . . . This requires, first, an understanding of conflict. Conflict can be viewed as repeated cycles of observing-orienting-deciding-acting by both sides (and at all levels). The adversary that can move through these cycles faster gains an inestimable advantage by disrupting his enemy's ability to respond effectively . . . These create continuous and unpredictable change. Therefore our tactics and strategy need to be based on the idea of adapting to and shaping this change faster than the enemy30

    An effective military system is able to combine the concepts that Boyd describes into its military culture.

    If this is true, then why has the U.S. defense establishment failed to reform itself? Americans love to boast about their innovation, their ability to adapt and overcome adversity. If the current establishment is so out of date, corrupt, and slow to adapt to the twenty-first century, why does no one do anything about it except a few "reformers"?

    This book will address changes needed in the defense establishment. We define the "establishment" as consisting of more than its actual fighting component. A modern military machine, especially one as large as that of the United States, is composed of several interrelated institutions. To field a rifleman on the battlefield requires these institutions to work in harmony to ensure that he is well trained and led, is employing the right doctrine, and is equipped for whatever mission that confronts him. In terms Boyd would have understood, this book examines the complex process for change by dividing the essays into three parts: people, ideas, and hardware.

    Like an effective combined-arms team, the authors of the following essays represent all the services, as well as Department of the Defense, its acquisition community, and Congress. Some of the authors are service members—both active and retired—while others are government civilians. Their motivation is simple: They are patriots who believe America will lose its next war unless their ideas are adopted by a national security establishment badly in need of change.

    Return to War, Chaos, and Business


    1. Robert Asprey, War in the Shadows: The Guerrilla in History, 2 vols. (New York: Doubleday, 1975). p. 16, 28, 222–228. This two-volume study is probably the most comprehensive history of irregular warfare available.

    2. Readers can find a compendium of articles on 4GW on the Internet at "Defense and the National Interest": 

    3. In June 2000, the service chiefs submitted a first draft of the new Future Years Defense Plan that detailed unfounded requirements of $30 billion per year. Several active and retired officers called for an increase in the defense budget to 4 percent of gross domestic product (GDP) in midsummer. If implemented, this budget would exceed the highest levels of the Cold War (see ). On 14 September 2000, Daniel L. Crippen, director of the Congressional Budget Office (CBO) told the Senate Budget Committee that the Pentagon's budgets needed about $50 billion more per year to fully fund its current program. On 27 September, the service chiefs told the Senate Armed Services Committee that they needed a collective budget increase of about $50 to $60 billion per year to maintain the current force and ensure the future state of readiness (New York Times, 28 September 2000).

    4. It obviously affected budgets.

    5. The United States concentrated most of its resources in World War II against Germany, notwithstanding the fact that Japan triggered America's involvement in World War II. Planning for U.S. forces during the Cold War was premised on the assumption that if our forces were configured to cope with the Warsaw Pact/Soviet threat, they could cope with any threats posed by the global expansion of communism.

    6. The Mexican and Spanish-American Wars were anomalies associated with the imperative of imperial expansion (Manifest Destiny and colonialism, respectively). The Civil War, which had a profound impact on American military culture, was an anomaly in that it was an internal affair and largely unrelated to foreign policy nostrums of the founding fathers that guided American policy during most of the nineteenth century.

    7. The traditional concept of balance of power is a situation where no single major European power is more powerful than the combined power of the next two most powerful countries.

    8. Reflected in concepts like deterrence and analogies to Munich.

    9. "Our military organization today bears little relation to that known … in peacetime, or indeed by the fighting men of World War II or Korea. Until the latest of our world conflicts, the United States had no armaments industry. American makers of plowshares could, with time and as required, make swords as well. But now we can no longer risk emergency improvisation of national defense; we have been compelled to create a permanent armaments industry of vast proportions. Added to this, three and a half million men and women are directly engaged in the defense establishment. We annually spend on military security more than the net income of all United States corporations.

    "This conjunction of an immense military establishment and a large arms industry is new in the American experience. The total influence—economic, political, even spiritual—is felt in every city, every Statehouse, every office of the Federal government. We recognize the imperative need for this development. Yet we must not fail to comprehend its grave implications. Our toil, resources and livelihood are all involved; so is the very structure of our society.

    "In the councils of government, we must guard against the acquisition of unwarranted influence, whether sought or unsought, by the military-industrial complex. The potential for the disastrous rise of misplaced power exists and will persist" (Pres. Dwight D. Eisenhower, "Farewell Address to the Nation," 17 January 1961. Public Papers of the Presidents: Dwight D. Eisenhower, 1960–61 (Washington, D.C. Eisenhower Center, 1969) p. 103.

    10. Franklin C. Spinney, Defense Power Games (Washington, D.C: Fund for Constitutional Government, 1990). This report can be downloaded from the "Defense and National Interest" at the following URL:

    11. The decision to deploy peacekeepers to Bosnia is a case in point. The Clinton administration sold the deployment to Congress by saying it would last one year. However, it became clear after the deployment that there was no light at the end of the tunnel. But the American deployment had committed prestige to the operation, which enabled its promoters to then argue that a decision to pull out would destroy U.S. "credibility."

    12. An example illustrates the illogical cynicism now permeating the debate over the size of the defense budget: On 25 February 2000, the Defense Department's inspector general identified $2.3 trillion of unsubstantiated accounting adjustments during his annual audit of DoD's bookkeeping system and issued yet another disclaimer of opinion saying, "DoD internal controls were not adequate to ensure that resources were properly managed and accounted for, that DoD complied with applicable laws and regulations, and that the financial statements were free of material misstatements" (see ). Nevertheless, six months later, on 14 September 2000, the CBO's Daniel Crippen did not explain to the Senate Budget Committee how the CBO analysts could reliably determine that there was a $50 billion per year shortfall in the Pentagon's budget, when the Pentagon's inspector general could not determine how the budget dollars were being spent because the DoD's bookkeeping system could not be audited.

    13. Franklin C. Spinney, "Defense Spending Time Bomb," Challenge: The Magazine of Economic Affairs, July-August 1996, pp. 23–33. This report illustrates the general point with a case study of air force tactical fighter aviation. It shows how the long-term effects of behavior that drives up costs faster than budgets leads to smaller and older forces and continual pressure to reduce readiness. Finally, it gives the reader an idea of the magnitude of the adjustment now needed to fix the current aging crisis. It can be found on the Internet at .

    14. Promises of lower life cycle costs have not materialized because the increased reliance on computer diagnostics increased both the variety and quantity of depot-repairable repair parts, requiring a more sophisticated logistics management system to keep track of the growing number of individually accountable items in the supply pipeline. Moreover, by displacing a greater percentage of repairs in space and time from the point of activity, it became more difficult to determine the appropriate mix for war stockpiles. This led to an increasing dependence on wartime work-arounds such as cannibalization to support peacetime operations. All this translates into more money. If, for example, one compares the M1 tank to the M60A3 it replaced, official DoD budget data indicates unit procurement costs increased by a factor of 200 percent and operating costs per mile increased by 70 percent to 180 percent for the M1 and M1A1 respectively. A similar comparison of the F-15 to the F-4 reveals an increase of 240 percent in unit procurement costs and a 53 percent increase in operating and support cost per flying hour. All comparisons have the effects of inflation removed and include the appropriate allocation of depot and replenishment spares costs using official service budget factors. With a few exceptions (e.g., A-10) the overwhelming majority of other weapon categories exhibited a similar pattern of cost increases.

    15. Obvious examples being the F-22, Comanche helicopter, V-22 tilt-rotor, Crusader self-propelled howitzer, SSN-21, and NSSN.

    16. In the case of tactical fighters, for example, the air force and navy made deliberate decisions to rush the F-22 and F/A-18E/F into engineering and manufacturing development in 1991 and 1992 before constructing a fiscally realistic plan to modernize their entire inventory of tactical fighters over the long term. These decisions led directly to the aging/readiness crises of the late 1990s and the subsequent addition of a huge and potentially unaffordable budget bow wave to pay for the required addition of more than twenty-nine hundred Joint Strike Fighters during the first two decades of the twenty-first century. See Franklin C. Spinney, "JSF: One More Card in the House," Proceedings XXIV. 3 (Annapolis, MD: U.S. Naval Institute, September 2000): p. 96.

    17. Comptroller data indicates that defense budgets declined by 37 percent in inflation-adjusted dollars between the Reagan peak in 1985 and the Clinton low in 1998. On the other hand, most combat forces (e.g., ships in the navy, tactical fighters in the air force, maneuver battalions in the army, nuclear platforms) declined by 40 to 50 percent.

    18. Defense Daily, 3 September 1998.

    19. James Madison, Federalist No. 10 (originally titled "The Same Subject Continued: The Union as a Safeguard Against Domestic Faction and Insurrection," New York Packet, 23 November 1787). Available on the Internet at: .

    20. Donald E. Vandergriff, "Why the U.S. Army Cannot Practice Unit Cohesion," unpublished paper presented to the First Friday Group, 9 February 2000. The authors believe the insights shared by Gen. Donn Starry, USA (Ret.), during this lecture and subsequent meetings between him and Donald Vandergriff are pertinent. See also, John C. Calhoun, Reports and Public Letters of John C. Calhoun, vol. 5 (New York: D. Appleton, 1855), p. 84.

    21. Franklin C. Spinney, "Driving Bill and Madeline Bananas," Proceedings vol. 6, XXIII (April 1999), p. 5.

    22. Samuel Haber, Efficiency and Uplift: Scientific Management in the Progressive Era, (New York: Simon and Schuster, 1964), p. 148. See also, Russell F. Weigley, "The Elihu Root Reforms and the Progressive Era," in Command and Commanders in Modern Warfare, ed. William Geffen (Boulder, Colo.: U.S. Air Force Academy, 1969), p. 15.

    23. U.S. Congress, Congressional Record, 23 February 1915, 63rd Cong., 3d sess., pp. 4343–90. See also Andrew J. Bacevich, "Progressivism, Professionalism, and Reform," Parameters 9, no. 1 (March 1975): p. 4.

    24. Russell F. Weigley, The American Way of War (New York: Macmillan, 1973), p. 328–360.

    25. Marvin A. Kreidberg and Merton Henry, History of Military Mobilization in the United States Army, 1775–1945 (Washington, D.C.: Department of the Army, June 1955), p. 706.

    26. Eisenhower, "Farewell Address."

    27. For example, the bomber gap in the early 1950s, the missile gap in 1960, the "window of vulnerability" in the late 1970s, and the inability to prosecute two major theater wars simultaneously in the late 1990s.

    28. Russia, China, Iraq, Iran, Syria, North Korea, Libya, Cuba, Sudan, Serbia.

    29. F. A. Hayek, The Fatal Conceit: The Errors of Socialism (Chicago: University of Chicago Press, 1988).

    30. As quoted in Maj. Jeffrey L. Cowan, USAF, "From Air Force Fighter Pilot to Marine Corps Warfighting: Colonel John Boyd, His Theories on War, and their Unexpected Legacy" (thesis, U.S. Marine Corps Command and Staff College, 2000), p. 14.

    © Copyright 2003 Robert Paterson. Click here to send an email to the editor of this weblog.
    Last update: 08/02/2003; 4:00:08 PM.