I wonder sometimes how the military views the forthcoming budget deluge. Resources look like they will go south, but are the services anticipating this trend, and if so, how?
The Army should be sitting pretty today. It has 67,000 more soldiers than it did ten years ago, bigger than the entire military force of a number of other countries. And, according to DOD, the Army’s budget has grown, more than doubled, from fiscal year 2001 to FY 2010, or 180% in current dollars and 118% in constant dollars. Outstrips the growth in the overall Pentagon budget, and leaves the Army with $215.6 billion this year, about twice as big as China’s estimated overall defense budget.
But even with that largesse, and with the wars in Iraq and, soon, Afghanistan, winding down, fear has struck the Army, budgetary fear. As Lt. Col. Mark Elfendahl put it at the symposium, even the U.S. “credit card has a limit. When that credit card gets taken away, what do we do?”
Some smoke signals came earlier this month courtesy of the “Alternative Futures Symposium” organized by the Army’s training and Doctrine Command (TRADOC) and reported in National Defense this week. And what a set of signals they are.
First, what are those futures. Well, very dark, indeed, if the Army is to be believed. The symposium played with three scenarios: “global economic collapse, one where enemies would deny the U.S. military access to critical areas of the world, and one where Asia has taken over as the global center of power.” Sounds like an excellent justification for budget growth, even though the U.S. Army already overshadows every other ground force in the world (possibly except China, and they are a “stay at home” military.)
Despite its abilities and its funding, the Army now fears America will lose its appetite to use the force, because doing so costs so much. So are there other missions that could justify the force? Stunningly, one of them seems to be to suppress potential social unrest here at home, normally a mission for the National Guard, when it is needed at all (and that is rare). According to Col. Elfendahl, “our sense is that there would be a greater domestic focus,” for the Army. Posse comitatus, step aside!! here come the Army!
Failing that mission, and given what the Army fears will be a reluctance to use a large force overseas, maybe fomenting coups would be a useful mission. The director of war-gaming at TRADOC, William Rittenhouse, suggested this possibility: “We normally react to insurgencies. But what if we fomented insurgencies” in areas where we would like to change the government. Now that would guarantee the world of “persistent war” Army chief of Staff General George Casey warned the Aspen Institute’s Ideas Festival about last July.
The only saving grace of the symposium may have been Rittenhouse’s admission that the Army hasn’t yet found a big enemy to justify the budget, but that China may not be the one: “how we can co-exist with China,” was his reported summary of the China threat others use to justify bigger military budgets.
The time for a sensible rethink of the missions and uses of the military is on us, especially with the budget pressures the nation faces. Not clear the TRADOC conference helped much, though.