The political debate in this country is, essentially, one where neither side listens to the other. Which is very strange. The challenges are still the same and two heads are usually better than one in solving a problem. At it’s core, that’s why I started the blog PolicyThunk. Instead of approaching what we need to do from our standard partisan answers, what if we actually took a policy approach and started by understanding what’s so and then said what’s possible. And, if oh by the way, we can throw in the gravy of “here’s why it makes sense for the two extremes of debate” that’s great.
One of my yardsticks of whether I have something to say policy-wise is whether I can see how to see common ground with someone on the other end of the spectrum. One example: military spending. My Dad and I find ourselves in strange agreement: military spending can and should be cut. Funny thing is, the majority of Americans think that it should be cut by at least 83B dollars. That’s according to a new survey (and true both generally and within every standard category: Democrats, Republicans, each age group, etc., etc.)
We’ve agreed that the answer is to subtract a lot of money. But, like mice finding out the meaning of life is 42, now we need the question. In this case, what does the military need to look like for it to cost $85 Billion less?
In some sense, we already know what it needs to be doing. We can pull many of the scenarios out of a careful read of what the U.S. Military is currently dealing with.
Libya is a very different way to fight a war. Pragmatically, it’s not hard to like a war (nope, Mr. Johnson/Bush/Obama, it’s not a conflict or police action, it’s a war) like that. The United States did not have to lead, did not have to send in foot soldiers and did not have to make a long term commitment. In military terms, it was a tightly-focused mission that was clearly defined and achievable. In terms of cost, it was a drop in the bucket.
Part of the success was that the cost of the effort was not primarily ours. It was widely spread internationally. Even other middle eastern countries committed military forces. Perhaps in our increasingly multi-polar world, military force will be more one of focused and smart than stupid and expensive.
But, once you arrive there, you have to start asking what does that new, smaller military look like?
On one level, it looks in a small amount like Donald Romsfeld’s vision. In an era of drones and minimal boots on the ground, do we really need so many aircraft carriers or mainline (read going head-to-head with the Soviets in Europe) battle tanks?
Another recent example is the Somalia pirate situation. There the challenge isn’t the weaponry of the opponents: they’re using speed boats and AK-47s. Movie extras with tranquilizer guns can handle them. The challenge is the battlefield is hundreds of miles across. How do you even find the enemy? And how do you get to them before they capture their target? Do you go with more and smaller ships so somebody is always a short distance away? Wouldn’t you pair that with expanded use of drones?
I could go on from there –the use of computers as a weapon did not begin or end with the computer virus attack on the Iranian nuclear program– but just as the cold war ended (and militaries had to change), another era has ended and the military needs to change again.
But, at this level, military Policy starts with seeing what you’re actually doing and what you expect to be doing. The types of weapons needed are smaller, cheaper, less expensive to operate.
And the skills are radically different. Some positions are going to be de-skilled. The US military is quite conscious of the power of video games. They’re literally adopting video game controllers for control of military equipment like drones. Piloting a drone is a much lower skill position that piloting a fighter jet. At the other extreme, the era of cyber warfare does herald the rise of one new high expertise area in the military.
Another area that will change is what various support services look like. For instance, when far fewer soliders ever spend time in a combat zone (as opposed to jockeying a drone and fighting a cyber ware), the number of combat injuries are going to drop radically. On the other hand, we have no idea what weird conditions are going to develop with people who live in the suburbs, commute to work and then remotely kill people through what feels like a video game. It’s the first time that a significant number of people are warriors, killing people, while being separated and divorced from the results of their actions. Insert your favorite pop psychology and screen play for Rambo as an ex-drone jockey let behind when he snaps.
Clearly there are going to be big losers. Your congressional district is very likely to loose jobs at companies big and small. Your district may or may not get new jobs. But, if we’re honest about what we’ll be doing and how we need to do it, we can save that $83+ Billion dollars and have military that makes policy sense.