Tuesday, October 16, 2007

Day Late

I went to a day-long conference yesterday on the general topic of Post-Iraq Civil-Military (CM) Relations, intending to do Monday’s entry from my home. Alas, my home computer was off-line and was unresponsive to my commands and indifferent to the telephone “help” line. A cable technician is due to make a service call this afternoon.

Ordinarily, I would not have gone into even this much detail except that my computer problem actually relates to part of the discussion on CM. relations Bear with this for a few paragraphs.

Traditionally, CM relations in the United States focuses on four elements: Who is in control; what is the purpose of the military; who serves; and what is an acceptable level of military influence on non-military social issues?

None of the speakers – whether academicians, press, active duty or reserve or retired officers, heads of veteran organizations, or “think tank” representatives – expressed any doubt that civilian control of the military is so deeply embedded that it is not even an issue in today’s military establishment.

As for the purpose of the military, that too has changed and will continue to morph. This is an additive process; no mission, it seems, ever ends. Thus there is the traditional conventional warfighting mission “over there,” territorial defense, nuclear deterrence (with nuclear war implied if deterrence fails), peacekeeping, humanitarian assistance, and a slice of Homeland Security which is primarily anti-terror. Possible new missions include police-type functions such as enforcing quarantines in the event someone uses a biological “weapon” or there is a pandemic.

Who serves is still a sticky question. To undervalue the loss of life, as Secretary of Defense Donald Rumsfeld did by noting that everyone serving today is a “volunteer” (although many did not “volunteer” for Iraq and Afghan duty) suggests that those who do join are second-class citizens. On the other hand, no one could suggest a system of military or even national service that could not be gamed by the rich or other elites.

As to the final item, this gets to the broader relationship between American society as a whole and the military services that inevitably are a reflection, a microcosm, of that society. What skills in demand for military activities can be found or are absent in society – and if the latter how can military-age men and women (actually before prospective recruits reach that age) be induced to acquire these skills?

And this is where technology cuts in, for the national strategic military culture in the U.S. is overly techno-centric. This has been the tend since the Reagan era, a trend accelerated by 9/11, according to one speaker. The result has been a gross misallocation of resources and funding not only within the military services but also between the Pentagon and other agencies of the government – both those concerned with foreign affairs and domestic priorities (other than Homeland Defense which is also techno-centric).
Moreover, this maladjusted allocation of resources results in fewer good options in foreign policy and more inadequate options Cooperation with allies drops off because they are not willing to spend money to keep up with the technophiles in the Pentagon. And one need only look to Iraq for validation of the allies position: the most sophisticated, most expensive (at least a million dollars each) tank in the world can b destroyed in an instant with an improvised penetrating explosive. This inability to defeat low tech enemies on the battlefield can increase psychological insecurity that in turn points to another anti-humanistic solution: privatizing security and contracting out this “service.” One reason why the U.S. has lost so many troops in Iraq and Afghanistan and why so many innocent people of those countries have been killed by coalition forces is a failure to understand the importance of human networks in insurgency operations, especially when the lack of directed human skills (language, customs, culture) leaves only the gun as the link between soldiers and citizens of another land.

In a sense – and quite obviously trivial compared to the situations in Iraq and Afghanistan and in many communities in the U.S. – the same techno-mentality that governs the military governs my computer. But in the case of foreign policy, the current administration put the Pentagon on a “mission impossible” when it declared “war” on global terror The U.S. has managed to get on a highly destructive treadmill that encourages – “dictates” is more accurate – buying expensive equipment The high-tech military has the capability to respond to a problem while other agencies have minimal, if any, little or no capability. So another mission goes to the Puzzle palace – and with it the money and the talent. The military increases its clout, other agencies stagnate, and the circle spins again.

That works for awhile, especially until the Pentagon itself gets stymied – and its greatest deficiencies today are its lack of balance between human-centric and techno-centric programs. Paying junior officers a $35,000 bonus to extend their time in uniform for three years – after which they could still resign their commissions.

More on Wednesday.


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