August 3, 2012

A Comment on the Role of Defense

This story by the WaPo's Greg Jaffe about an evolving operational concept known as AirSea Battle has caused a bit of a ruckus among some elements of the military/defense analytic community. Though Jaffe seemingly wants to provide comment on the concept itself, his article quickly veers to criticism both explicit and implied of the concept and the work of an office in DoD via the suspicions he casts about the actors involved and his view of their motivations. Bryan McGrath in this post made short work of revealing Jaffe's bias while Daniel Goure did an excellent job here in providing some historical context to criticism of this and other operational concepts. I myself engaged in a bit of back-n-forth with colleagues regarding the merits of this concept and the differences among the various versions discussed but the simple point I'd like to raise here is this: we have a Department of State to promote US interests abroad and to prevent wars from happening and a Department of Defense to defend those interests when threatened and to win the wars State is unable to prevent. Given this, the Pentagon would be derelict in its duties if it did not think about a wide array of worst-case-scenarios, their implications, and prospective methods and capabilities to ensure the U.S. wins if it ever comes to war.

There is indeed an inherent tension within the Pentagon. The majority of the military establishment is focused on dealing with 'now' threats and situations while a very small portion attempts to think many years, perhaps decades, down the road about what the future might hold. Such an exercise is fraught with unknowns, contradictions, and assumptions. But such exercises are critical if the U.S. intends to maintain necessary advantages over rivals, competitors and enemies. For a half century the U.S. competed with the Soviet Union. During the period, regional conflicts and wishful powers were largely held in check. With the Soviet Union's dissolution opportunities arose for other forces to evolve with the largest of these being China. Like nature, politics abhors a vacuum. When one major power departs the scene others will compete to take its place. So it is with China's efforts to become the hegemonic power in Asia. If the US has interest in maintaining its interests in Asia, it must account for China's rise and the related implications.

The Asia-Pacific region is far different than the European-Mediterranean area. It stands to reason, then, that military and diplomatic efforts will have to change to account for such differences. Thus, exploration of things like AirSea Battle and other DoD initiatives are necessary to ensure U.S. interests are protected. This isn't simply an excuse for the defense-industrial complex to earn great fortunes at taxpayer expense or for some general to play out a warrior fantasy. Rather, it is a reflection of and response to the dynamic nature of our world.

DoD's responsibility is to prepare for war just as the State Department does all it can to seek and promote peaceful interactions with other nations. It is for the President and Congress to determine which tool is best suited to any given situation. T. Roosevelt had it right when he said "speak softly, and carry a big stick." One is able to speak softly and still have influence only when the big stick exists and is seen as credible by one's opponents.

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