Funding the military of the future

Soliders at ease

Tomorrow's military will not look like today's, and DOD should be ready to adjust its budgeting approach, according to panelists at a Project on Defense Alternatives event. (Stock image)

It is a widely held principle that strategy should not be driven by budget, but the two have been intertwined at the Pentagon for some time, experts say. For the military to be most effective – and to best posture the U.S. for continued economic recovery – the two need to be looked at separately, and tough choices must be made.

While there are some certainties – the drawdown, for one – what those choices will be remains a question, policy analysts said March 26 at a Project on Defense Alternatives event in Washington.

"Historically, budgets have always interacted with, if not driven, strategy in the U.S. military," said Gordon Adams, senior fellow at the Stimson Center and professor at American University. "There's a widespread recognition in the defense policy community that a discussion needs to be had," but that recognition is not yet taking effect at the Pentagon.

Adams argued that the current tangles over budget cuts and scarce resources is less about defense and more about a safer U.S. and a national dialog that is more focused on America's broader fiscal state, including the economy.

"It's been 150 years since we've not been number one economically," and the U.S. has enjoyed the world's top currency since 1920, said Carl Conetta, director of the Project on Defense Alternatives. But he said things are about to change, and soon neither of those statements will be true – in fact, the truth will look much different, thanks to rising Eastern economies, he said.

In light of that, what will the future military look like?

Conetta said that reasonable alternatives to today's military could be based on a different approach – one that helps sustain the economy and receives no more than 2.2 percent of the nation's gross domestic product; emphasizes defense over global environment-shaping; and focuses on multi-lateral cooperation.

That military would require a serious shift in strategy and outlook.

"This is a period where we can, if we step up to the plate, redefine what militaries properly do," said National Defense University's Gregory Foster. However, he said that intellectual leadership is critical to overcoming "chest-thumping" and the long-held belief of America as the world's lone superpower; he also acknowledged how much of a divide would need to be crossed to get to such an ethos at the Pentagon.

Adams admitted that what is more likely is a continuance of what is currently being done: a "peanut butter" approach that trims across a number of categories in DOD infrastructure, reduces service contracts and civilian capabilities and shrinks acquisition.

"These all are tried and true, and they all are likely based on history," Adams said. "We have to recognize that budget is driving strategy; separating [the two] at this point is almost intellectually incomprehensible."

But not impossible, according to Foster and Conetta, who called for an "ideological revolution" like the one that has changed the national tone on and approach to marriage equality.

"If we let feasibility drive us, we won't get things done," Foster said.

About the Author

Amber Corrin is a former staff writer for FCW and Defense Systems.


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