An independent vision for U.S. national security
November 16th, 2012
10:43 AM ET

An independent vision for U.S. national security

By Barry M. Blechman, Special to CNN

Editor’s note: Barry Blechman is co-founder of the Stimson Center and chaired the Defense Advisory Committee, the members of which are listed below and who co-signed this op-ed. The views expressed are those of the authors.

Partisan bickering in Washington has overwhelmed even the discussion of U.S. national security, an area that used to be fenced from Beltway infighting.  Yet not only is national security too important to leave to simplistic posturing, it is an area that should prompt a great deal of agreement.  As evidence, we – a group of 15 Republican, Democratic, and independent former policymakers, retired military officers, and academics – reached a solid consensus on a new U.S. defense strategy for the future.  And even we were surprised how easily we reached it.

U.S. armed forces are now overwhelmingly superior to those of any potential adversary, or combination of adversaries, and will likely remain so for years to come because of the dedication of our uniformed men and women and the high priority U.S. taxpayers have long put on national defense.  American space, air, naval, and special operations forces make it possible for the U.S. to reach virtually any spot on the globe in a timely manner, whether to destroy targets or deliver humanitarian goods – and, together with our ground components, to sustain such campaigns for considerable periods of time.  These forces have unprecedented flexibility, agility, reach, precision, and lethality, providing capabilities that seemed like distant visions not many years ago. Military superiority, however, does not translate into military omnipotence. U.S. capabilities to fight protracted wars on the ground, to defeat insurgencies, to stabilize governance, and to ensure security for societies in distant regions are limited, at best.  This is not because of any deficiencies in, nor malpractices by, the U.S. armed forces. The task of establishing order in undeveloped societies riven by internal conflicts is simply too hard a task, and not one for which military forces are particularly well-suited.

To capitalize on these comparative strengths and weaknesses, U.S. defense strategy and policy should be based on the following principles:

-  The U.S. should maintain space, air, naval and special operations forces superior to those of any potential adversary.  To maintain these forces, the United States must prioritize funding basic research in science and technology in pursuit of advanced military capabilities.

- The U.S. should strongly resist being drawn into protracted land wars. The United States must maintain competent ground forces in support of its commitments to allies and to provide the punching power to achieve specific objectives quickly and decisively. But such deployments should be conducted only to achieve the rapid defeat of the enemy’s forces and the equally rapid withdrawal of U.S. forces, as was done in the first Gulf War.

- The U.S. should shift over time from a mindset that emphasizes static deployments overseas.  Instead, we should rely primarily on frequent rotations of expeditionary forces to exercise jointly with allies, to become familiar with potential combat zones, and to demonstrate U.S. resolve and capabilities.

- The U.S. should revise the Cold War nuclear planning assumptions it still uses, which would allow reductions in the size of its nuclear forces, preferably through a new treaty with Russia, and commensurate reductions in planned nuclear modernization programs. Such cuts would free resources for the conventional forces more likely to be used to defend American security.

- The U.S. should implement long-standing proposals to utilize manpower more efficiently, to reform personnel compensation systems, and to streamline the system used to acquire equipment, goods and services. Efficiency reforms already recommended by authoritative organizations could save nearly one trillion dollars over ten years, but have long been stymied by bureaucratic and special interests. Overcoming these obstacles would free up resources that can make real contributions to US security

- The U.S. owes a huge debt to all those who have served in the nation’s wars, and particularly to the men and women who have served repeatedly in Iraq and Afghanistan.  This sacred debt can be honored by implementing more effective policies that better care for our service members’ health, vocational, family and other needs.

Such a consensus strategy also directly addresses our nation’s fiscal crisis. In considering what strategy the U.S. should pursue, we started from an evaluation of U.S. interests and threats to those interests and not from a budget-driven math exercise. But after reaching consensus on strategy, we looked at how that strategy could be implemented at four alternative ten-year budgets. The fiscal year 2013 budget submitted by President Obama in accord with the Budget Control Act (BCA) served as the baseline. The alternatives included a budget that would keep pace with inflation (a 4 percent increase over the baseline), a budget that smoothed the cuts required by the Sequester provision of the BCA over ten years (a 10 percent cut from the baseline), and a budget that replicated the size of reductions in defense spending that followed the end of the Vietnam War and the Cold War (a 15 percent cut from the baseline). Although risk rises with lower budgets as they allow fewer hedges against unexpected threats, we believe our strategy could be executed with acceptable risk to U.S. national security under all four scenarios.

By capitalizing on our military strengths, and avoiding our comparative weaknesses, we can implement a defense strategy that protects U.S. national security and yet also helps resolve our nation’s fiscal crisis.  We were able to reach a consensus on a revised defense strategy despite our diverse points of view.  We believe such an effort suggests opportunity for politicians and policymakers in Washington. At this critical time, we must not use U.S. national security as a political hostage, even while we address the very real problems our country faces.  When we sat down to do it, we could. So can the President and the Congress.

Barry M. Blechman (chair)             Gordon Adams             Graham Allison          Michael J. Bayer                Gen. B.B. Bell (USA-ret)                Richard K. Betts             Amb. Lincoln P. Bloomfield, Jr.          Amb. Richard Burt          Gen. James Cartwright (USMC-ret)          Lt. Gen. Daniel W. Christman (USA-ret)                         Lt. Gen. David A. Deptula (USAF-ret)     Leslie H. Gelb     Jessica T. Mathews          Admiral Bill Owens (USN-ret)           Anne-Marie Slaughter

The signatories served together as the Defense Advisory Committee brought together by the Stimson Center under a grant from the Peter G. Peterson Foundation. The summary report of their findings was released Thursday and can be seen here.

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soundoff (12 Responses)
  1. USN Ret.

    One of the new things Obama has suggested is that ativie duty military pay into their medical, to save money. Most likly congress will not approve this messure. I hope.
    But if they do. Don't get shot or your premiums will go up.

    November 16, 2012 at 11:08 am | Reply
    • Jolly

      That was DOA months ago and no longer exists.

      November 16, 2012 at 11:35 am | Reply
  2. Quigley

    The reason that we're so "overwhelmingly superior" to other countries militarily is the simple fact that we're spending 60% of our revenue on the giganticly oversized armed forces! Right now with our drones, we're creating new enemies in the Middle East and Central Asia by bombing people over there out of existance. This needs to stop!

    November 16, 2012 at 11:36 am | Reply
  3. JAL

    Many policy makers are sad right now because they are counting up evils wins. Dont forget, there is a plan and good WILL win. We believe in the God of the Exodus to help us carry forward during times like this.

    November 16, 2012 at 11:43 am | Reply
    • Henning

      I was very excited to order this on the first day. Got yrsteeday and played around with it while on a long walk, awesome! But today its cloudy and I cannot get ANY GPS signal. It is still showing me at home and I'm now 7 miles away ..not sure what to do. Have tried turning on, off, etc. still no luck.

      December 29, 2012 at 7:40 am | Reply
  4. USN Ret.

    Only because majority leadership in congress changed in 2010. I read other news outlets not just CNN. If Obama was not serious why even say it.

    November 16, 2012 at 12:33 pm | Reply
  5. Hahahahhahaha

    Republicans think we're hiding national security up Paula Broadwell's C_nt!!!!!!!!! Hahahahahahahahah

    November 16, 2012 at 2:38 pm | Reply
  6. General Sherman

    Gee Hahahahhahaha, you sound like a Tea Partier talking about Paula Broadwell's you know what. We don't need to own the whole Pacific Ocean nor dominate the Middle East in order to have national security. Just don't let the right-wing thugs in Washington tell you otherwise! Besides, we had national security ever since 1815 when the British threated to take over this country.

    November 16, 2012 at 2:58 pm | Reply
  7. deniz boro

    It is easier to get a budget for substance rather than services. Substance in the form of weapons helps the domestic economy anyway. No administrator, politician or army can advance with advanced gun-power in a blind-folded manner (say sacked in bags or bagged off-donot know the actual jargon). Or well, it ends up shooting out the innocent and making things more complicated. Sept 11 was not the result of insufficient gunpower but insuficient intelligence, planning and foresight. The times of the white hatted decent triggerman solving all problems are out by decades. All the current disputes of the world are economical or, in other words, a result of some power strugle of some individuals. Can the world's democracy get together and stop this? I have my doubts.

    November 16, 2012 at 4:15 pm | Reply
  8. 100 % ETHIO

    Downgrading American Heroes in the Mass-Media, is outrageous and discrediting. This must stop, before it lead US to more consequences.

    However, discussing some sensitive issues behind closed doors, are acceptable.

    I thought, Media has its own gatekeepers. ...and 1/3rd is only shared to the public.

    November 18, 2012 at 12:19 am | Reply
  9. j. von hettlingen

    One important principle that the U.S. defense strategy and policy should not omit: DON'T UNDERESTIMATE YOUR ENEMY! Indeed, in all situations, one has to do a cost/benefit analysis, before one embarks on a foray.

    November 18, 2012 at 5:22 pm | Reply
  10. james

    I think this is a good report....very sensible. Since congress isn't sensible and the special interest groups don't have the nation at heart, we need coalitions like this to make our decisions. The U.S, system of government no longer serves our needs. Preoccupation with checks and balances is choking us. Besides, politicians are jack of all trades and master of none.

    November 19, 2012 at 9:32 am | Reply

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