Lazarus over at Information Dissemination has an absolutely superb piece about it. His assertion is that what passes for strategic thought is almost entirely about budgets and technology. Essentially, that the SCMR and QDR have been driving strategic considerations, rather than the other way around.
The Cold War strategy of containment was created when propeller-driven aircraft were the sole delivery source for atomic weapons. It achieved final success in an age of thermonuclear weapons delivered by multiple means. What similar strategies have been conceived by the McNamara-inspired, budget and technology -driven national security process? The disastrous Vietnam conflict and its mania for budget and analysis-driven warfare does not inspire confidence in the current system to create something as long-lasting and viable as Containment….
This ingrained institutional focus on money and technology at the expense of the geography, logistics, history, and cultural studies that have informed past successful strategies leaves the U.S. ill-prepared to confront the challenges of a new and potentially violent period of history.
Indeed, I would assert that the defense structure proposed by then-Secretary of Defense Cheney and CJCS Colin Powell at the end of the Cold War (1991) was the last serious attempt to include the above elements and considerations into a strategic view (and a military) that had the capabilities to meet America’s strategic needs in the post-Cold War world. The work figured carefully the requirements for simultaneously waging two Major Regional Conflicts (MRCs) of a full-spectrum nature, and calculated the force and logistics requirements for shaping, fighting, and supplying those two MRCs simultaneously. (For those who ask how such calculations should be made, I suggest reading that document front to back. ) The 1992 proposed force structure represented massive cuts in the Cold War military structure, upwards of 25% in both budget and size.
The ink was hardly dry on that strategy document when Clinton SecDef Lester Aspin undid the entire effort with his “Bottom-up Review”. On the recommendations of that “review”, the respective services’ structure and budgets were slashed to levels far below what was considered the minimum for maintaining the capabilities and capacity across the spectrum required in the “uni-polar” 1990s and 2000s. Nowhere in Aspin’s document was the careful calculus, based on empirical and historical data. Instead, it contained assertions of dubious legitimacy, and considerable, if unidentified, risk. (Considerably smaller estimates for what fighting an MRC entailed, and an assertion that fighting two simultaneously was no longer a requirement, to wit the new “fight one, hold one” concept, whatever that might mean.) The hollowing of the force eviscerated not only existing capability, but severely reduced R&D and production of replacement systems and equipment, and bottomed training and maintenance budgets. The “savings”, of course, was known as the Peace Dividend, which was almost entirely spent on social programs and other Clinton Administration priorities. As a result, the “Army we have” that went into Iraq in 2003 was the Army (and other services) created by a budget and technology-driven process with non-strategic political overtones. Contemporary conversations about Defense force structure and spending echo the disastrous Aspin tenure as SecDef.
I was a Senior Mentor (for China) at the Fletcher School of Diplomacy SIMULEX exercise this weekend, where the subject of “grand strategy” was central to the respective country teams playing in the event. This precise discussion (how a strategy drives military development) was had on a number of occasions. It took a while, but students began to understand and embrace the “long view” of decades and centuries inherent in Chinese strategic thinking, rather than the 4-year QDR/election cycle immediacy of what passes for American strategy efforts.
Go read the whole thing. Lazarus is also spot-on in his discussions of Goldwater-Nichols accelerating the very conditions it was enacted to prevent.
BTW: Here are some previous thoughts of mine on the subject: