Can we really afford to blindly invest in more military manpower when we have no idea what our future military requirements are?
The New York Times editorialized today
that we need a bigger military. And I suppose, in a Pentagon bureaucrat's Utopia where there were unlimited amounts of money to spend on manpower, machines and bureaucracy, that would be great. But here in the real world, such proposals may not be prudent. Indeed, they may be quite daft, given our real
resource constraints. (Matt Yglesias
and Steve Clemons
echo this sentiment, but focus on the demand side of the equation.) After citing a litany of facts indicating that today's military is overstretched, the NYT Times editorial board comes to this conclusion:
Listing all the dangers is much easier than coming up with solutions. But there are some obvious short-term answers. Barring any unexpected breakthroughs in Iraq, Washington needs to increase its recruitment quotas sharply for active-duty service in the Army and Marine Corps. The current Army [end strength] of just above 500,000 ought to go up to nearly 600,000, still substantially below the levels of the late 1980's. The Marines' [end strength] should go up from the current 178,000 to around 200,000. Attracting those recruits will require offering financial and other inducements on top of the added payroll costs. [corrections added]People are more important than hardware, but people cost money too.
Most of the additional money required for this could come from elsewhere in the military budget. The Pentagon is taking a big step in the right direction by proposing sharp cuts in the unneeded F-22 stealth fighter program. As the military raises recruitment targets for the Army and Marines, it can reduce recruitment for the Air Force and Navy, which have more active-duty members than they now need. America's ground forces have been asked to do too much, with too little, for too long.
In fact, the Army's Chief of Staff told
a breakfast meeting of reporters in June 2004 that it costs $3.6 billion per year to train, pay, and equip a cohort of 10,000 soldiers. I always joke that the Pentagon doesn't care about numbers until they hit the 8th digit — that is, the .1 of a billion point. But buying an additional 100,000 permanent active-duty soldiers for the Army, and another 20,000 Marines, will cost serious money. It's not as easy as simply saying that we should cut expensive weapons systems
. Just like weapons systems, soldiers cost money too. Moreover, you don't just pay for the soldier and his personal equipment — you pay for his family, their housing, their medical care, their leadership, their training base, their combat equipment (i.e. trucks and tanks), their training, et cetera. When you consider an increase of this magnitude to the permanent end-strength of the military, you've got to take the long view of how much these increases will cost. And, perhaps more importantly, you must consider quality
in addition to quantity
— you can't dilute the quality of today's force just to create more force structure. If we fall into that trap, we will have regressed back to the WWI/WWII attrition-based model of warfare.
As I wrote in June 2004 for Slate
, the real problem is that we still don't have a good handle on the force requirements for the global war on terrorism. We don't know for certain whether it's prudent to invest in more permanent force structure, and we don't know for certain how many more troops/units to purchase if we choose that course of action. Simply put, we're chasing a moving target when it comes to military force structure.
. . . Today's National Military Strategy is a "1-4-2-1" model, meaning:
1) Defend the United States;But this model is failing spectacularly when it comes to dealing with the reality of Iraq. The 1-4-2-1 paradigm effectively commits us to holding everywhere else in the world for as long as it takes to extricate U.S. forces from Iraq. If the North Koreans attack South Korea, or more likely, if North Korea implodes, the United States will be hard-pressed to dispatch ground troops to help, although we still have a formidable air and naval response capability not tied down in Iraq.
4) Maintain forces capable of deterring aggression and coercion in four critical regions: Europe, Northeast Asia, Southwest Asia, the Middle East;
2) Maintain a capability to combat aggression in two of these regions simultaneously;
1) Maintain a capability to "win decisively"—up to and including forcing regime change and occupation—in one of those two conflicts "at a time and place of our choosing."
The 1-4-2-1 model also provides very little help in predicting a force size because the range of possible post-9/11 missions is so vast—everything from formal major regional conflicts to small special forces and civil affairs deployments (as in the Philippines) to ongoing peacekeeping (as in the Balkans) to special ops works all over the world. The 1-4-2-1 model still sees military requirements through the prism of state-based warfare. But as the post-9/11 deployments show, that prism may be anachronistic. Tomorrow's major military deployment might not be for combat at all—it might require the deployment of an expeditionary nation-building force to stave off a humanitarian crisis. A new military planning model ought to take these kinds of missions into account, too.
In many of these places, firepower might not be the answer, and the 1-4-2-1 model also fails to predict the other kinds of forces which might be necessary for a given situation. If America decides to intervene somewhere like Sudan, it will need a mix of civil affairs troops, military police, engineers, and medical personnel, not just pure combat forces. Furthermore, military forces alone may not be sufficient; we may need to create units with the Treasury Department capable of managing the economic aspects of nation-building, or within the Department of Justice to manage the legal parts of the job. The 1-4-2-1 model also assumes the mission will end when major combat operations end—something which has proved to be wildly off the mark.
Finally, the 1-4-2-1 model is opaque. War planners may know how this model gets translated into personnel requirements, but congressional staffs and the public do not. Thus, politicians have a tendency to throw out arbitrary numbers, like the 20,000- and 30,000-man troop increases now being weighed on Capitol Hill without having any precise idea of what the Army really needs.
Which brings us to the Army expansion proposals now being floated in Washington. At best, these proposals take the current size of the Army and adjust from that point based on some conception of what the Army needs to get its job done; at worst, they represent a potentially dangerous wartime diversion of taxpayer dollars from places where the force really needs the money.
* * *
It would be very easy to throw more money at the troop-strength problem by hiring more infantrymen. But doing so won't fix the deeper structural issues which make today's military inefficient—like the decades-old decisions to concentrate critical support functions like military police and logistics in the reserves. Nor will throwing more troops at the problem take into account the revolutionary changes in warfare that have taken place just in the past 15 years. We may need more ground troops today to win wars and decisively manage the postwar aftermath, but we may not need more support personnel, sailors, and airmen. The only way to find out is through an intellectually honest assessment of America's military requirements. This is an assignment the next president—whoever he is—should give his Secretary of Defense immediately.
We don't have a new president and we don't have a new SecDef. But the current secretary has said he intends to continue transforming the Pentagon to be relevant and effective in the 21st Century. He will soon have an opportunity to address this problem, in the form of the 2005 Quadrennial Defense Review. In theory, Secretary Rumsfeld can use this review to identify the requirements for American military force structure, and to create a strategic architecture for the procurement, management, mobilization and sustainment of that force structure. I say "in theory", because past QDRs haven't always been worth the paper they've been printed on. When he came into office in 2001, Mr. Rumsfeld committed himself to military transformation. Since the 2004 election, he has reaffirmed this commitment. It's time to prove it.