I would like to begin by expressing my thanks to the chairman, ranking member and the members of this committee for inviting me to testify this morning. As an alumnus of the committee staff, it is an honor and pleasure to return, though I might prefer to be on your side of the dais.
The topic of this hearing-the "strategic readiness" of the U.S. armed forces-is a particularly important one. Since the attacks of September 11, Americans in uniform, and especially the soldiers and Marines who have born the biggest burden of our efforts in Iraq and Afghanistan, have constantly scrambled simply to keep up with the tasks the nation has ordered them to perform. They have proven themselves to be remarkably resilient and, in my judgment, victorious. But the hectic pace of operations has made it very difficult to look at any larger picture.
Unfortunately, the problem of assessing American strategic readiness began long before 9/11. This is the essential question of the post-Cold War era: absent the Soviet superpower doppelganger, what should America's military be prepared to do?
Measuring readiness is a straightforward task. It's easy to count how many people are present for duty, or how many aircraft are in flying condition, how many munitions and spare parts are on the shelves. The hard part is designing the right yardstick. To measure "strategic readiness," one must first define a strategy. This is something that successive administrations, of both parties, have utterly failed to do. As a result, the defense budget is in free-fall and the Department of Defense in organizational chaos.
The Strategy Deficit
By logic and by law, the Defense Department should receive basic guidance from the National Security Strategy of the United States. Indeed, the 1986 Goldwater-Nichols Act specified that such reports are to be issued each year along with the submission of the
president's budget; Congress quite rightly demanded that the executive branch make its priorities plain so that it might best perform its Article 1, Section 8, Constitutional functions.
With time, and particularly in the post-Cold War years, this process has become almost hopelessly debased. The definition of "security" has been expanded beyond meaning: "national" security now subsumes "natural" security, energy security, economic security and dozens of other flavors of non-military security. President Obama's 2010 NSS made climate change a top priority. Whether one believes that climate change is an ecological imperative or not, it is at best a secondary security consideration. The 2006 NSS of George W. Bush likewise stated that the United States "must engage the opportunities and confront the challenges of globalization." Even more problematic, these are statements of strategic ends; strategy itself is better understood as a "how-to" process that frames the ways in which government agencies should execute their missions, and gives them guidance in determining what means will be most appropriate and effective in doing so.
Is sum, it ought to be no surprise that the Department of Defense has been confused about what its missions are, how it should organize itself, and what to buy. The only thing worse than a big government bureaucracy is a big government bureaucracy with little guidance or oversight. The long-running and unsatisfactory series of post-Cold War defense reviews reflect the failures of strategic guidance.
Indeed, this was a problem confronted very early in the deliberations of the recent Quadrennial Defense Review Independent Panel, an initiative that originated in the House Armed Services Committee, co-chaired by former Secretary of Defense William Perry and former National Security Adviser Stephen Hadley. Indeed the line-up of today's witnesses also participated: Rudy DeLeon was one of the leading members of the blue-ribbon panel while Mackenzie Eaglen, Tom Mahnken and I served as consultants. The nonpartisan, unanimous consensus was that the defense review process was deeply flawed, and its "original sin" was the absence of strategic guidance.
This recognition almost brought the panel's deliberations to a halt. It faced the same conundrum as the Pentagon has faced. How could the panel perform its mission of assessing the QDR without a set of strategic benchmarks? What defined success or failure?
At the same time, the panel understood that, having somehow become the world's "sole superpower," the United States must have been doing something right. There was an extremely consistent U.S. national security strategy through 50 years of Cold War. it has remained the de facto-if unarticulated-strategy of the years since, has been maintained in essence by President Obama and ought to continue as the "rebuttable strategic proposition" if we wish to preserve the remarkably peaceful, prosperous and free world it has produced. Certainly a change in strategy would likely mean an unwelcome change in the international system and the balance of military power. The panel's deduced principles of American strategy are succinct and worth quoting.
America has for most of the last century pursued four enduring security interests: the defense of the American homeland; assured access to the sea, air, space, and cyberspace; the preservation of a favorable balance of power across Eurasia that prevents authoritarian domination of that region; providing for the global common good through such actions as humanitarian aid, development assistance, and disaster relief.
Each of those compact clauses requires some consideration, but they contain the essential measures of "strategic readiness." If U.S. military forces cannot carry out the implied missions and tasks related to these four tenets of long-term American strategy at an acceptable level of risk, they must be considered dangerously unready.
Threats and Challenges
A second step in evaluating force readiness is to assess what present and potential adversaries may threaten these core security interests. The Independent Panel's framework is a useful formula for analysis:
- Homeland defense. The Defense Department is, of course, only one agency charged with "homeland security," but its role is critical and its mission has been expanding. Beyond providing domestic support to civilian agencies, the military also plays a critical role in the broader "American homeland"-that is, North America from the Arctic to the Caribbean Basin. Recent years have seen a challenge to-indeed in places like Venezuela a reversal of-the democratic tide that swept Latin America in the 1980s. These rogue states have made common cause with still more noxious allies: drug cartels and international terrorists. In sum, the U.S. military must expect to be more deeply engaged in this mission in the future.
- Access to "the international commons." While there are distinct differences across the maritime, aerospace and cyberspace domains, they are common in providing the means for international commerce as well as being theaters of war. Indeed, while it is impossible to put an exact price tag on the value of the U.S. security guarantees that underpin globalized trade, it is intuitively obvious that the loss of such guarantees would play havoc with the system. And as commerce and capital seek additional just-in-time efficiencies, the system paradoxically becomes more brittle and subject to shocks from instability, as oil markets now demonstrate.
While U.S. capabilities in all these domains remain unparalleled, it is also the case that the margin of dominance is disappearing, and at a distressingly rapid pace. At sea, pirates prey on commercial shipping and murder private sailors; dozens of navies have dispatched ships to patrol the waters off Somalia, but it has required the U.S. Navy to bring a modicum of coherence to the policing of an area larger than the western European continent. More menacingly, China's massive and accelerating military modernization has concentrated on complicating the ability of U.S. forces, and especially the Navy, to project power across the
western Pacific. China's successes will be imitated, and indeed China is likely to export these "anti-access" systems like anti-ship ballistic missiles as it seeks to build clients and allies as a global power.
China's massive ballistic missile force is proving the People's Liberation Army with a new and cheap form of air power-offsetting what has been the unique element of U.S. military power in the late 20th century. This is noting less than "shock and awe" by other means and without the bravado. Yet it is arguably the most strategically important military technical and operational development of our time, one which already has destabilized the military balance in East Asia.
The realm of cyberspace is also one that appears to favor the attacker. We have already seen "low intensity" or "irregular" forms of cyberwar and "cyber-piracy." The Stuxnet attack might be regarded as a kind of strategic raid not unlike the Doolittle Raid on Tokyo in World War II-one with limited tactical value but pregnant with larger meaning. And much has been written about more sophisticated and even massively destructive forms of cyberwar that may be available to more sophisticated and powerful actors. So while the facts and the future are murky, it is also clear that broad "cyber-stability" is way beyond the means of the private sector and thus, in the event of a genuinely catastrophic threat, the world will certainly look to the United States as the "cyber-guarantor of last resort." Again, while we must coordinate a whole-of-government approach to the mission, the greatest threats are most likely to demand a Department of Defense response.
- Continental balances. It is often argued that the United States is naturally an "offshore balancer," a referee of disputes across Eurasia. However, through the course of the 20th century, the United States has routinely, regularly and decisively "come ashore." The first step was into the Philippines-part of what the Chinese would regard as "the first island" chain and a de facto part of the strategic geography of Eurasia's eastern littoral. The next, unfortunately retraced, came in Europe with World War I. But after World War II America did not "come home" to the status quo, but remained to reconstruct and defend western Europe and deter-and ultimately defeat and disband-the Soviet Union. Similarly we remained in Japan and advanced into Korea and Vietnam; the withdrawal from Vietnam was a retreat that proved the rule on U.S. posture in East Asia. And finally, the United States has, reluctantly, slowly, hesitantly but continuously, become more deeply engaged, and engaged "ashore" in the greater Middle East.
These "continental commitments" are not blunders but successes; like the British before us, Americans see these distant lands as elements in a single, global system. The defense of the "commons," in fact, begins on the continents. These continental interests remain today, and we benefit from our past successes. That we have residual forces in Germany or Korea or Japan-or should retain a core element in Iraq-is a testament to our abiding interests and also that, in Europe
for example, we still need way-stations for projecting power elsewhere. But where those interests are threatened, we must expect to increase forces, or, in the strategic sense, redeploy them. After a century of unprecedented war in Europe, that is a low probability. In a turbulent Middle East, in the throes of a hopeful change but also in the shadow of a nuclear Iran, it is myopia of a high order to presume that the story will end on schedule in 2014 when we imagine that we'll hand over "lead responsibility" to the Afghans. In South Asia, in particular, the story is only beginning. Likewise in East Asia, where China rises as a global power, we hope to find a like-minded "responsible stakeholder" in the international system we maintain-and which has been the framework for China's new prosperity-but are increasingly aware of a strategic competitor.
- The Common Good. Reflecting America's own founding political principles, the United States has an interest in a certain quality of international life that compels us to take military steps that a narrow calculation of our material or "power" interests cannot justify. It includes a variety of humanitarian operations, but in fact goes beyond that. It includes a kind of political common good in the form of representative governance. We do not go to war simply to create democracies, but when we do fight we tend to define lasting victory not just with the fall of the tyrant but with the rise of the republic. This has proved to be strategic good sense as well as principle-in-action.
A Strategic 'Stoplight' Assessment
The U.S. military's readiness reporting system is complex to the point of being arcane. The "C-level" status of any unit is only the roughest of measures, and gives immense latitude to commanders' discretion-or, sometimes, manipulation. Almost inevitably, these calculations get boiled down to the traditional red-yellow-green "stoplight charts" that allow senior leaders to conduct their quarterly reviews at least in an expeditious manner. What follows is a kind of home-grown "strategic" stoplight chart, in summary text rather than in PowerPoint, and following the formula adopted by the QDR Independent Panel.
- Bottom-line assessment: Green, gradually trending toward yellow.
The Defense Department is reasonably well prepared to respond to many of the tasks of homeland defense, including an attempt at a repeat of a 9/11-style terrorist attack. The creation of U.S. Northern Command should clarify previously uncertain command relationships as well as directing any required military support in case of a Katrina-sized natural disaster. One question concerns the readiness of National Guard units, which have not only been heavily employed in Iraq and Afghanistan but suffered equipment shortfalls as well. Such units are likely to be at high states of personnel and training readiness, while their equipments status should be scrutinized. Further, while much work has been done to think through the consequences of an attack at home involving weapons
of mass destruction, and even if in fact the probability of such an attack is low, it is also clear that such circumstances would demand a massive mobilization of forces that would tax both active and reserve components of all services quite severely.
In considering the current and emerging missions that might be associated with the defense of the "regional homeland," larger uncertainties arise. The U.S. Southern Command area of operations is an increasingly volatile region, and the initial Pentagon response to the Haiti earthquake, while superb, also showed that many systems and units are at a "low-demand, high-density" premium. For example, despite numerous assertions to the contrary, it's hard to be comfortable with Air Force assertions that they have sufficient C-17s or C-130s to meet real-world lift requirements. Broadly speaking, U.S. force posture in Latin America is a shadow of its former self, and there is at least a correlation in time between our retreat and the rise of new dangers.
- Bottom-line assessment: Red-yellow, rapidly trending red.
The United States Navy and Air Force have ruled the waves, skies and near-earth space without challenge since the end of the Cold War. But now all three of those domains are at issue.
The challenges to American sea-power and air-power superiority are regional and local, and come mostly in the form of new capabilities being fielded by the Chinese People's Liberation Army. As numerous studies both by the Defense Department and outside researchers have detailed, the PLA has done a sophisticated analysis of U.S. power projection operations, thought hard about how those operations would be conducted in the western Pacific, and developed "anti-access" and "area denial" capabilities-ranging from a large, varied and increasingly accurate fleet of ballistic and cruise missiles; to the intelligence, surveillance and reconnaissance means to target U.S. surface combatants; to a growing fleet of attack submarines and other vessels. Taken altogether, the Chinese challenge is significant. Moreover, the PLA is now moving toward the systems needed to project their own forces into the waters and skies it wishes to deny to U.S. forces and exceeding the capabilities of our regional allies.
We can also expect that, beginning in the near-term, China's anti-access capabilities will command a buyer's market in international sales. Iran, for example, confronts a very similar challenge in breaking out of an American "containment" regime that frustrates its aspirations to regional hegemony. Further, Beijing has attentively cultivated a kind of low-key "sponsor-client" relationship not only with Tehran but with other anti-American regimes. It is quite conceivable that China would make these capabilities available at bargain-basement prices to its current and prospective clients.
If China is working to offset American advantages at sea and in the skies, it seeks its own advantages in space and cyberspace. Superiority in both realms is critical to American military preeminence, but that is already at risk; the unknown question is the
limit on China's ambitions and capabilities. The PLA has successfully tested an anti-satellite weapon, but there is much more to the picture. China's space industry is massive and mature; it is an important player in commercial space. In some areas, such as heavy lift vehicles, the Chinese already may have an advantage, and its ability to produce sophisticated satellites is rapidly improving. By comparison, the U.S. space industry has been in a long period of slow decline, as both Pentagon and NASA efforts have been repeatedly reduced. U.S. industry is handicapped in international commercial competition, not only by China but also by European and other government-subsidized space industries. For the past two decades in particular, U.S. armed forces have enjoyed singular and near-monopolies on the military exploitation of space, but that monopoly is coming to an end. And because these space advantages accrue to all American military activities-down to street-by-street infantry operations in Iraq or Afghanistan-the loss of this monopoly will have pervasive effects.
It is impossible to assess the "military balance in cyberspace." While the U.S. government rightly has spent liberally to develop capabilities, they are of course deeply classified. And, at the same time, there is an exploding, global world of commerce in these capabilities that may prove to matter more. We do know that a "cyber arms race" has begun, but we have little idea of the capabilities "bean count," let alone a way to do a broader net assessment. It is apparent that cyberspace is already and will continue to be a realm of conflict and war, and that any outcome in cyberspace would have serious implications in other realms of war, especially for today's "information intensive" systems, operational concepts and military organizations: the assumption of information supremacy is baked into every aspect of American military power. Even if more extreme imaginings of cyber-war are science fiction, the prudent assessment-that U.S. military forces cannot be certain of the dominance heretofore taken for granted-is scary enough. This leads to the inescapable conclusion that the "global commons" has become contested in new ways. This represents, in fact, more a return to the historical norm-there is nothing exceptional about having to fight for "access" in war-but at the same time represents a reversal of recent experience. And while our adversaries and potential adversaries have invested in capabilities to contest the commons, the United States has not made sufficient investments to preserve its predominance.
- Bottom-line assessment: Yellow slipping toward red
The hard-won ability of U.S. armed forces to dominate the international commons-the investments of more than a century beginning with Theodore Roosevelt's determination to build a large, ocean-going Navy-has permitted the United States to move from becoming one great power among several to history's "sole superpower." But the measure of that "superpower" status has been America's ability to sustain its presence for the long haul and in many places across the Eurasian continent. We have long since ceased to be an "offshore balancer"-intervening to preserve a stable balance among local powers and then receding-and gradually become an "onshore guarantor"-
remaining engaged (usually with small garrisons of U.S. forces deployed in the area), changing the nature of local regimes (Germany and Japan are the starkest, but hardly the only, examples). The result is remarkable: an extraordinarily peaceful, prosperous and free global system of states.
The central achievement of America's continental commitments is the current peace of Europe. It's been more than 20 years since the Berlin Wall came down and the better part of two decades since the collapse of the Soviet empire, and the fundamental balance of power in Europe has only improved: despite the initial failure of democracy in Russia, the Georgia war and Moscow's slinking attempts to reconstruct a sphere of influence in southeastern Europe, and the 1990s Balkans wars, all of central Europe and a substantial part of Eastern Europe are securely tied to the West. But most of all, the reunified Germany has proved to be the model of a "responsible stakeholder," not only providing the economic engine of Europe (and now bearing the load of others' profligacy) but gingerly contributing ever more to common security endeavors. The wonder of Germany's presence in Afghanistan is not that sustaining and expanding the mission is so difficult, but that it's been sustained at all. After 50 years of working within NATO, Germany is no longer the greatest threat to Europe, but now the greatest hope for Europe.
As a result, the prospects for sustaining the U.S. continental commitment in Europe are bright. We have a continuing role to play-less in reassuring the Europeans about each other and more in prodding Europeans to behave more like "normal" nations. Additionally, the residual U.S. military presence in Europe is key to our ability to project power farther abroad, particularly in the greater Middle East. In sum, our European posture is a strong positive element in American strategic readiness.
By contrast, our preparedness to continue our long-term and ever-expanding commitment to the greater Middle East is questionable. Since the end of World War II, the United States has replaced France and Britain as the active Western power in the region, responded to Soviet attempts to develop regional clients, balanced among local powers and, since Operation Desert Storm, again crossed the line between "off-shore balancer" and "on-shore guarantor." In addition, our appreciation of the extent of the theater has expanded from Arabia and the Persian Gulf to South Asia and, more recently has amounted to an increasingly comprehensive and connected view of the Muslim world. In light of the political winds now sweeping North Africa and the region, it seems extremely unlikely that this is a moment that will require less American effort or will be less volatile or violent. Yet that appears to be this administration's strategic planning assumption.
Further, a nuclear-armed Iran would introduce an entirely new and immensely destabilizing element into the regional balance of power, one that would place still greater burdens on the United States, whether we expand and extend our current policy of containment-based on a highly uncertain strategy of deterrence-or opt for some more aggressive posture, an expansion of the current "quasi-war." Finally, it must be considered that the region's energy resources will continue to be a critical interest around
the globe, not only for current developed economies in Europe and East Asia but for the rapidly developing great powers of China and India. If American power in the region wanes, these countries will be certain to seek other means of securing the resources their economies demand.
Despite the difficulties of Iraq and Afghanistan and the persistent dangers posed by al Qaeda and its associated movements, the net result of the enlarged U.S. presence in the region has been geopolitically positive, in my judgment; that is, our position as the most influential actor across the region has been improved. At the same time, it must be recognized-and the heartening developments in Tunisia, Libya and Egypt should be a reminder-that the future of the region will be most determined by its own people. What is worrisome from an American perspective is that we are making long-term force-reduction decisions based on the expectation of a reduced presence in Iraq and Afghanistan in the near-term. Even if conditions in those countries were conducive to a lessened posture, the long-term trend over the past generation has been toward increased commitment.
But the most serious gap between U.S. strategy and force posture is in the Asia-Pacific region, or the "Indo-Pacific," to include the Bay of Bengal and the littoral states that border it. Fortunately, our presence in Northeast Asia remains relatively robust and our Japanese and Korean allies are among our most capable strategic partners. The Korean army is largely capable of defending its territory and Seoul is gradually but significantly improving its naval and air power-projection capabilities, including advanced diesel submarines, Aegis-equipped destroyers, land-attack cruise missiles and the F-35 strike fighter. Japan's modernization-and its development toward strategic "normalcy"-has been slower, and the refusal to sell Japan a version of the U.S. F-22 was not helpful. Further, disputes over future basing rights have yet to be settled. Nonetheless Japan remains the keystone of U.S. posture in the western Pacific.
Beyond the problems posed by North Korea, the ability to defend Taiwan against a variety of Chinese threats is increasingly uncertain. And, alas, successive U.S. administrations have tended to take a blame-the-victim approach, citing Taipei's tardiness in contracting to buy approved weapons. It must also be said that fear of provoking China has been the dominant philosophy behind the approach to Taiwan arms sales; Taipei would be an excellent candidate for the jump-jet version of the F-35, but the Pentagon tends to discourage such forward thinking. And it is really the U.S. failures to respond to growing PLA capabilities, despite a region-wide appreciation that even a nominally "peaceful" unification of the island with the Chinese mainland would unhinge American Pacific strategy, that are most worrisome. The utility of traditional U.S. Navy and Air Force forms of power projection-relatively short-range forces limited to a small number of highly developed operational bases-is declining, and there are few substitutes readily to hand.
The picture in Southeast Asia is murkier still. U.S. presence in the region has steadily declined since the retrocession of Clark Air Field and the Subic Bay naval facility to the Philippines. While there has been a big expansion of facilities on Guam,
these are no substitute. The bright spots in the region are Australia, an ever-constant ally of increasingly like-minded strategic views and one undertaking an energetic program of military modernization, and Indonesia. A common concern about Islamist terrorism reversed a tide of military and strategic isolation imposed upon Jakarta by the United States, and the deepening of democracy in Indonesia and its own worries about China's rise are creating new opportunities for cooperation. But if Australia is a partner of the greatest currency, a working partnership with Indonesia remains just a hope for the future.
Completing the regional picture-and completing the Northeast Asia-Persian Gulf link as well-is the eastern Indian Ocean, from the western end of the Strait of Molucca through the Andaman Sea and the Bay of Bengal. This is a region where expanding Chinese global interests are intersecting with India's traditional-but also expanding-security interests, and also a piece of the world's most critical sea line of communication. The United States has only the most fleeting military presence in the region, and the hopes for a strategic partnership with India are in very early stages of development. It's also apparent that there is very little U.S. force capacity to maintain such a presence, nor provide the kind of logistics support that presence would require. While it is impossible to predict with certainty what crises or conflicts might arise in the region and what an appropriate American response might be, it is not too early to think about the capacities that such a contingency would call for.
In sum, the preparedness of U.S. forces to deal with the range of Indo-Pacific contingencies varies widely, but in the aggregate appears to be increasingly inadequate. And in the effort to compute a total stoplight assessment of our readiness to fulfill our traditional "continental commitments," the problems of Asia make the overall picture much worse, especially given the rise of new global great powers in the region. To oversimplify, things are going well in Europe, going along in the greater Middle East and going downhill in the Indo-Pacific.
'Public Good' Readiness
- Bottom-line assessment: Green
The ability of U.S. armed forces to contribute to the larger public good, quite beyond the greatest public good of providing global security guarantees, is inevitably a residue of its combat preparedness, a measure of its overall size and capabilities. The ability to employ military organizations, people and equipment for humanitarian and other purposes, including providing the largest contributions to American "state-building" efforts in hostile environments, is an indispensable tool of U.S. strategy or statecraft. And, of course, the military possesses capabilities not found elsewhere in the U.S. government or around the world.
However, the ability to so employ U.S. military forces has mostly been a serendipitous effect; there has never been a consistent force-planning measure that accounts for even the most predictable kinds of public-good missions, such as post-
combat reconstruction. The danger is that the demand will exceed what a reduced force can supply.
Even this cursory tour of the strategic readiness horizon suggests that the capacity of the U.S. military is both dangerously small and imperfectly shaped for the coming decades. At the same time, it is also apparent that the world's appetite for American security guarantees is growing and that there is no obvious substitute in sight. In sum, we are not well able to continue to meet the needs of our traditional strategy in a rapidly changing security environment, we are not "green to go" across the variety of missions that make for global strategic readiness.
As a good number of recent analyses have suggested, the United States needs a different force. After a lost generation of military modernization and in the throes of a series of technological shifts related to the revolution in information technologies, this should come as no surprise. Indeed, if there is a surprise, it is that modified and upgraded versions of the basic platforms bought during the Reagan buildup have had such long and useful service. But absent a significant recapitalization of the force, the era of unquestioned American military advantage is drawing to a close.
Yet too few studies or forecasts care to dwell on the quantitative decline in U.S. military power. In particular, the decision to again reduce the size of the Army and Marine Corps on the presumption that Iraq and Afghanistan mark the end of lengthy land wars is to repeat a persistent past mistake. But the point bears broader application. Since Teddy Roosevelt insisted on a "two-ocean" Navy, or Franklin Roosevelt faced the need to fight World War II in the Pacific as well as Europe, American strategists have understood that a global power may have to simultaneously operate on multiple fronts. This long-standing wisdom was translated into the well-known "two-war" force-sizing constructs of the post-Cold War era, but that construct is no longer fashionable. My contrarian view is that, unless such a force-sizing construct is reinstated, the United States will face a recurring problem of strategic unreadiness.
Finally, we must accept that it is beyond the scope of any possible defense "reform" to solve this problem. There is a presumption that a $700-billion-per year defense budget must include a lot of waste, fraud, and abuse. Yet if we turn the telescope around to consider the value that Americans get for their defense dollars-still less than 5 percent of GDP-it looks like a remarkably effective return on investment. And while we may not be as ready as we need to lead as we have in the past, we are far less prepared to live in a world where we have to follow the Chinese, or the Iranians, or others who do not share our desire for liberty.
Thomas Donnelly is director of the Center for Defense Studies at AEI.