“I have never met anyone who did not support our troops.
Sometimes, however, we hear accusations that someone or
some group does not support the men and women
serving in our Armed Forces.
But this is pure demagoguery,
and it is intellectually dishonest.”
– Ron Paul
It is taken as a basic fact of life that the number one spender in the world is the United States and with it an expectation that the US involve itself across the globe with its military in nearly every conceivable issue. Far less understood is the “why” behind this sort of spending and the goal that the US military is supposedly organized to accomplish and execute. This overarching goal is known as “grand strategy” and for the longest time any discussions of what US grand strategy should look like have been confined to the military with little to no input from a public that really couldn’t be bothered to understand or weigh in on the most basic issues of the use of military power.
The only real input for the past 20 years has been the disingenuous question of, “Do you support the troops?” which provided a thin veneer of legitimacy to runaway bloat and military spending with no discernable or measurable end. The general consensus for most Americans is that we are to, “Make the world safe for democracy and freedom” which has allowed us to usher in the collapse of Libya turning it into an open air slave market through the use of air power, maintaining a peacekeeping force in Kosovo for over 20 years, and ushering an ever expanding presence in Africa with little to no public discussion of the issue.
Currently the “grand strategy” of the United States is summed up in the 2018 National Defense Strategy (NDS) which has eleven objectives from the fairly understandable, “Defending the homeland from attack” to the far more open ended, “Maintaining favorable regional balances of power in the Indo-Pacific, Europe, the Middle East, and the Western Hemisphere” to the frankly inane, “Continuously delivering performance with affordability and speed as we change Departmental mindset, culture, and management systems.”
The primary issue with goals found in the NDS is that they are for the most part so open ended and vague as to justify the growth of military ad infinitum as there are precious few metrics by which success or failure of these goals can be compared to. The secondary issue is that the NDS goals in general are oriented towards a never-ending use of the US military as the primary tool of government action rather than one of last resort.
While curbing military spending in and of itself is a good and proper goal, to do so without addressing the underlying strategic goals is an exercise in folly. To assign objectives to an organization and then deliberately withhold the resources needed to properly execute them only breeds failure and distress. Therefore, let us explore how the military would look like when given a discrete set of goals oriented towards use as a last resort and rather than as a means of endless adventurism. The current list of objectives is as follows:
- Defending the homeland from attack;
- Sustaining Joint Force military advantages, both globally and in key regions;
- Deterring adversaries from aggression against our vital interests;
- Enabling U.S. interagency counterparts to advance U.S. influence and interests;
- Maintaining favorable regional balances of power in the Indo-Pacific, Europe, the Middle East, and the Western Hemisphere;
- Defending allies from military aggression and bolstering partners against coercion, and fairly sharing responsibilities for common defense;
- Dissuading, preventing, or deterring state adversaries and non-state actors from acquiring, proliferating, or using weapons of mass destruction;
- Preventing terrorists from directing or supporting external operations against the United States homeland and our citizens, allies, and partners overseas;
- Ensuring common domains remain open and free;
- Continuously delivering performance with affordability and speed as we change Departmental mindset, culture, and management systems;
- Establishing an unmatched twenty-first century National Security Innovation Base that effectively supports Department operations and sustains security and solvency.
A more reasonable list of objectives would be something along these lines:
- Defend the homeland from attack
- Fulfill responsibilities for the common defense with our allies
- Ensuring common domains remain open and free
- Dissuade or deter the acquisition, proliferation, or use of weapons of mass destruction
This isn’t to say that goals omitted or adjusted are not important, it is to say that they are not necessarily the proper role for the US military to orient itself towards. Use of diplomacy and trade on the grounds of mutual aid, mutual respect, and solidarity with humanity are far more important with dealing with many of these issues than the threat of invasion. Imagine the military as a hammer; it makes no sense to use a hammer to fix every problem in your house when you also have saws, screw drivers, and duct tape.
By insisting that we use a hammer to fix every problem we not only deform the hammer by using it improperly, we allow our other tools to rust away, and are forced to redefine what success looks like to make it fit our desire to only use a hammer. It might be a cool thing to make a hammer that can also drill holes, repair glass, and mow your lawn but if this comes at the cost of making a hammer so unwieldly that it can no longer hammer a nail, or breaks after using it twice is it actually a good idea?
“Imagine the military as a hammer; it makes no sense to use a hammer to fix every problem in your house when you also have saws, screw drivers, and duct tape.”
So with these goals in mind what sort of military would the United States have? From a very basic analysis these goals would allow for a sizeable reduction in the force structure of the US Army and/or the migration of many active-duty components into the reserves as the need to have a large force constantly in use overseas will be reduced to one of basic training and partnership with allied militaries for the common defense. This is in sharp comparison with our current policy of expanding US influence, maintaining the endless War on Terror, and protecting an unspecified and undefined list of “vital interests.”
The role of the US Navy would remain largely unchanged as their role currently is largely the same as the one proposed. While the specifics of force structure and ship building would need to be re-looked at as the service constantly evolves to meet specific threats and fulfill responsibilities in more efficient ways the overall mission set changes the least of all of the armed services under this set of strategic goals.
While the Army would likely see the largest number of changes and the Navy the least, the Airforce would undergo a handful of changes, but possibly the most significant. This is because the maintenance and deployment of nuclear weapons are largely the responsibility of the Airforce and under these goals the composition of America’s arsenal of WMDs would change significantly due to the highly defensive nature of the goals stated.
In essence, these goals call upon the US to give up or significantly reduce its first-strike capability with nuclear weapons while maintaining at least some amount of second strike-capability. This would mean the elimination of most land-based missile systems and long-range bombers while retaining submarine-based platforms. While this admittedly falls short of total abolition of WMDs it does provide a meaningful and practical method of reducing the stockpile of these weapons and the means of using them in any form other than in self-defense; this is a necessary step on the path towards the total elimination of these weapons for the sake of all humanity.
As far as global presence goes these hypothetical goals underpin at least a realistic reduction of US imperialistic and militaristic impulses. By focusing on defense of the homeland, common defense based on diplomatic agreements, and elimination of many of the ill-defined goals that have enabled endless adventurism the US will be in a position to consolidate and eliminate many of the extraneous overseas bases that both drain our commonwealth and help destabilize large portions of the globe. In order to make this more than just a pipe dream, political campaigns need to talk about US grand strategy and lay out visions and principles that can be debated by the citizenry in a manner that isn’t just, “Do you support the troops?”
Eric Anton is a husband and father of three, and an Army Veteran. He is a former member of the National Committee of the American Solidarity Party.