You Worry Too Much

Christian Brose, a former speechwriter for secretaries of state Condoleezza Rice and Colin Powell, has an interesting post up at Foreign Policy magazine’s GOP-in-exile blog, Shadow Government, venting some agita about counterinsurgency and grand strategy. It’s a smart worry, but it seems a bit misplaced. Brose writes:

My concern about the current COIN fixation is that by redesigning our military to better fight the last wars (insurgencies), at the expense of different future ones (interstate conflicts), we may invite the very thing the COIN strategists seem to be betting won’t emerge: namely, the rise of a peer competitor that is not content just to play the peaceful role of a responsible stakeholder. In fact, such a traditional threat might not emerge if we remain on our current trajectory of military spending and force structure (or a slightly modified version of it), but only because we would be successfully dissuading it.

Sensible! History is filled with similar miscalculations — you invest too heavily in one method of warfighting only to leave yourself vulnerable to a different one. And certainly, every foreign country seeking to play a leading global role, for good or ill, will look closely at whatever the U.S. defense posture pivots towards — some for opportunities to assist, some for weaknesses to exploit.

But what’s striking about this moment, with a tentative but real U.S. embrace of counterinsurgency, is how the binary that Brose poses (fighting insurgencies versus fighting big states) doesn’t come into relief. The doctrinal Army documents that embrace counterinsurgency use the term full-spectrum a whole lot. By that, they mean that stability operations like counterinsurgency need to be among the things that the Army does, not the entirety of it. Go to the Command and Staff General College at Ft. Leavenworth and you’ll hear similar things from the U.S. Army majors being educated there. The COINdinistas basically agree with Brose’s argument, and embrace it as a caveat, balancing out what they advocate.

But more important than what the counterinsurgents advocate, from the perspective of Brose’s concern, is what the military is buying. The procurement decisions — how many aircraft carriers or refueling tanker aircraft or missile systems, etc — are what really affect, and deter, would-be adversary states. And there Brose ought to pour himself a pre-afternoon drink and put his feet up, because no system has been cancelled since, like, Donald Rumsfeld scrapped the Crusader artillery system in 2002. Counterinsurgency is tech-lite and ground-force specific. The really pricey things, for projecting power all around the globe, are in the Navy and the Air Force, and they’re not losing their budgets or their cherished projects. You hear a lot of loose talk about how military budgets just have to come down because of the bad economy and the massive budget projections, but — at the risk of prediction — watch how they don’t. Or, rather, watch how when they do, a lot of the weapons platforms that Brose considers necessary to deter peer competitors and others might consider dinosaurs remain in place.

Of course, you can wave this post in my face after the Indian conquest of California in 2030.

Crossposted to The Streak.

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Spencer Ackerman

Spencer Ackerman

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