The Geopolitics Of the Battle of the Military Budget


         Several months ago, Col. Lang introduced me to this esteemed group as “a grand  military analyst” who would be posting regularly on SST. Perhaps it was because of discomfort with that description of myself that I did not follow up after a couple of initial posts but, today, I have returned at the explicit invitation of the Colonel, who said of the following report: “IMO the brass is manipulating the threat scene to grow threats that will support bigger budgets.”  — Willy B

            The Army has long had an identity crisis, going back to at least Rumsfeld's "transformation" effort, followed by the retooling of the Army for long term occupation and counter-insurgency, to now being called on to confront Russia. Underlying all of this, actually, is the insanity of the geopolitical outlook that dominates national security making in Washington, which is causing turmoil within all of the services, but which they all seem to be incapable of recognizing. In an article in Politico posted on Friday, Mark Perry recalls the April 5 testimony to the Senate Armed Services Committee of a panel of Army officers led by LTG HR McMaster, widely considered to be the smartest man in the Army, in which they claimed that the Army is now  in danger of being "outranged and outgunned" in the next war (which could only be against Russia and/or China) and that the Army is in danger of becoming " too small to secure the nation." While the testimony seems to have been a consensus document among senior Army officers, not everybody, as Perry writes, was buying it. "This is the 'Chicken-Little, sky-is-falling' set in the Army," a senior Pentagon officer told him. "These guys want us to believe the Russians are 10 feet tall. There's a simpler explanation: The Army is looking for a purpose, and a bigger chunk of the budget. And the best way to get that is to paint the Russians as being able to land in our rear and on both of our flanks at the same time [this is a reference to Grant's rejecting of advice to move his headquarters during the Battle of the Wilderness in 1864, with which Perry opens his article]. What a crock."

            McMaster was reportedly behind a study, also reported in Politico two days after the testimony, that reported that the Russian-backed rebel army in Ukraine has been using "surprisingly lethal tanks" and artillery as well as "swarms of unmanned aerial vehicles" to run roughshod over Ukrainian nationalists, which, like the testimony, has also been ridiculed, not only be senior retired Army officers that Perry but also by the Air Force, in particular, retired LTG David Deptula, long an outspoken advocate for air power, who criticized McMaster for promoting a single service view of future warfare. McMaster's critics also point to the numbers when comparing the US and Russian militaries, both in terms of budgets and hardware. How can anyone think, therefore, that the Russia is about to overrun the US Army?

            Perry portrays Gen. Mark Milley, the chief of staff of the Army, who is currently touring Africa in an effort to organize anti-terrorism cooperation,  as ambivalent about the McMaster testimony, but he told the New York Times that the question in the Army is whether the new focus on the ever-widening terrorist threat in Africa — not to mention the focus on the Islamic State in Syria and Iraq, and the continuing war in Afghanistan — is taking away from the Army's ability to fight a land war against a more traditional military adversary. "Today, a major in the Army knows nothing but fighting terrorists and guerrillas, because he came into the Army after 9/11," General Milley said in an interview during his flight to Arusha. "But as we get into the higher-end threats, our skills have atrophied over 15 years." A result, General Milley said, has been a loss of what he calls muscle memory: how to fight a large land war, including one where an established adversary is able to bring sophisticated air defenses, tanks, infantry, naval power and even cyberweapons into battle. The Times reports that Army officials are trying to balance the military's responsibilities in Africa, the Middle East and South Asia while relearning how to fight higher-end, great-power conflicts, as well.

            But Perry doesn't restrict his fire only to the Army. Air Force General Philip Breedlove, the just retired commander of NATO also comes in for criticism. Six weeks ago, in early March, Breedlove told a group of Washington reporters that Russia had "upped the ante" in Ukraine with "well over a thousand combat vehicles, Russian combat forces, some of their most sophisticated air defense [units and] battalions of artillery." The situation, Breedlove said, "is not getting better. It is getting worse every day." A senior civilian advisor at the Pentagon told Perry that Breedlove's report simply wasn't true. Justin Raimondo, writing in, notes that Breedlove was probably getting his intelligence from the Kiev regime itself, "and they are notoriously unreliable: these are the same people who have been citing 'evidence' of a full-scale Russian invasion for years now" in an effort to get both economic aid and offensive weapons.

            Besides Deptula, Perry also cites a couple of famous Army dissidents, both retired, LTC Daniel Davis and Col. Douglas Macgregor, blasting the McMaster testimony. His best quote comes from that unnamed Pentagon officer, though. "You know, which would you rather have—a high-speed rail system, or another brigade in Poland? Because that's what this is really all about. The debate is about money, and there simply isn't enough to go around," the Pentagon officer told him. "Which is not to mention the other question, which is even more important: How many British soldiers do you think want to die for Estonia? And if they don't want to, why should we?"

            All of this is a manifestation of the underlying problem, which is the US commitment, particularly under the current and previous president, to the British/neocon  geopolitically driven idea that we must run the world, as stated by Dick Cheney in that infamous 1992 defense planning guidance document. The Russians aren't committed to such an idea for themselves. They're building a military appropriate for their needs and Putin has proven to be a master of how to employ it, generating very efficient results, while we are spreading chaos around the globe.

            Coming from the geopolitical side is Seth Cropsey of the Hudson Institute, who complains that the White House has adopted Alfred E. Neuman's outlook to foreign policy: "What, me worry?" In Cropsey's view, there's plenty to worry about, and it's the Chinese, the Russians and the Iranians. "As Russia, China, and Iran's militaries expand, the Obama Administration is cutting the American defense budget—depleting not only the U.S. military's fleet of ships and planes, but also the precisions weapons and missiles they carry— making it more difficult for the U.S. to provide for the common defense, deter adversaries and honor commitments to allies," Cropsey writes. As Perry points out at the conclusion of his report, this is political fodder for Obama's critics in Congress who complain that Obama isn’t taking us to war fast enough. Cropsey zeros in on what he says is a $189 million shortfall in Obama's budget for SM-3 interceptor missiles that are used in the Navy's Aegis combat system, including the Aegis Ashore installation just turned on in Romania. The $189 million would buy 19 missiles, not cheap at $11 million a pop but, in Cropsey’s view, affordable compared to a single F-35. Whatever the reason for the shortfall "it's an example, writ small, of the current administration's dim view of the importance of strong U.S. defenses," Cropsey writes.

            Another example of this paranoid nonsense comes from Matthew Costlow of the National Institute for Public Policy, who claims that only Russia is running a nuclear arms race and they are way ahead. He even goes so far as to imply that Russia may violate the New START treaty as it already (allegedly) has violated the INF Treaty. Therefore, "Instead of taking seriously the demonstrably false claims of a U.S.-instigated nuclear arms race, the United States should instead be focused on modernizing its nuclear forces to deter threats that are all too real, including Russia and China."

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35 Responses to The Geopolitics Of the Battle of the Military Budget

  1. mbrenner says:

    Two brief points;
    1. This type of self-serving scaremongering is exactly what our leaders – political as well as military – have been doing in the GWOT which should be viewed as an ‘industry’ more than a strategy. There are always those who will exploit it; their model is David Petraeus
    2. For 7+ years, there has been no direction, much less coordination, of national security policies (including budgets)from the Oval Office. Obama instinctively bends the knee before the brass just as he does before the CIA/NSA. The meddling in minutiae by his mindless White House staff is of trivial consequence compared to this abdication of Constitutional duty

  2. bth says:

    Like most things there are kernels of truth.
    That there are budget war? Army hyping Russia, Navy hyping some sand mounds in the South China Sea, the Air Force telling up the F35 most expensive program on earth will replace everything including ground attack aircraft like the A10?
    And then there are the Russian in the Ukraine elements. One group who will no doubt bombard this thread with posts Wed morning after punching their time clock will swear the Russians aren’t anywhere to be seen (just ignore the lying eyes of the open source content) which says otherwise. Is it so hard to fathom that truth is more nuanced with regard to Russia?
    Most of McMasters’ quotes are taken out of context and exaggerated. He is no idiot. The Army is way down in size given the foreign policy commitments and its congress that is actually trying to keep the headcount up. The Russian UAV plus artillery and EW combination has proven highly effective in Ukraine and Syria. To say that the US air force will cover US ground troops or our allies belies what is actually happening in Syria around Russian air defenses and in a more contorted definition of allies over the Ukraine. State on state drone, EW and cyber warfare we better be taking seriously.
    It should probably be more importantly noted that Congress isn’t funding the overseas contingent reserve for a full year! It is going to force the next president into a budget supplemental or face a crisis next April. This is far more important than McMaster’s commentary.

  3. In 1957 Henry Kissinger wrote a piece entitle FOREIGN POLICY AND NUCLEAR WEAPONS in which he noted, “As the power of modern weapons grows, the threat of all-out war loses its credibility and therefore its political effectiveness . . . The American people must be made aware that with the end of our atomic monopoly all-out war has ceased to be an instrument of policy, except as a last resort, and that for most of the issues
    likely to be in dispute our only choice is between a strategy of limited war or inaction.”
    Disclosure I am not a Kissinger fan [unlike HRC] and believe his discourse here too simplistic. But wondering if large scale conventional war at least somewhat remote?
    President Obama has committed the U.S. to a One trillion dollar upgrade of the nuclear Triad over the next decade. We continue to worry about air superiority.
    Andrew F. Krepineevich, “Calvary to Computer: The Pattern of Military Revolutions,” NATIONAL INTEREST 37 [1994]: p.30, offers a popular definition of a military revolution: “What is a Military Revolution? It is what occurs when the application of new technologies into a significant number of military systems combines with innovative operational concepts and organizational adaptions in a way that fundamentally alters the character and conduct of conflict. It does so by producing a dramatic increase-often an order of magnitude or greater-in the combat potential and military effectiveness of armed forces.”
    Computers and drones and cell phnones?
    Can the military leadership do deep thinking and provide leadership?

  4. turcopolier says:

    It has long been the case that major threats were hyped to Congress to support high force levels and big budgets to run them. The armed forces long ago became self licking ice cream cones. pl

  5. annamaria says:

    “He is no idiot.” Could McMaster acknowledge this? –
    “…the truth being told about the mercenary terrorists created by the US against Syria, Lebanon, Palestine, Iraq and Iran – on behalf of Israel… This attack is now admitted in the words of US figures such as Hillary Clinton and Gen. Wesley Clarke.”

  6. Larry Kart says:

    “…self-licking ice cream cones.” If you came up with that phrase yourself, you are a genius.

  7. kooshy says:

    Sorry if OT
    To me, it looks like that KSA to boost her own legitimacy, sees itself not only the custodian of the two holly shrines, but ultimately the custodian of all Arabs, and ultimately the custodian of all muslims. She postures and acts like a mini US, with her own foreign policy posture toward other Arabs and muslims. Like how US sees herself as the custodian of western democracy, the gate keeper of the holly shrine of UN, and for that matter the legitimizer of democracy for the whole solar system, based on her own interpolation of democratic values, yes IMO, KSA also sees herself in this same position for the rest of Arabs.
    In fact many in US believe this institutionalized, forward foreign policy posture, legitimizes the US as the only custodian of democracy in the world. IMO, for US elite class, this is the thinking that gives them the right to R2P, the right to attacking who ever, and whenever, they want and wish, which international laws and treaties to uphold, or not, and the exceptionalism that now is cultured within them. Like US, KSA see herself with a substantial financial power based on a single commodity, like the US , KSA has a very well equipped military, but very little propose to fight and no will to die for their elite’ hubristic craze. Nevertheless, no matter how many lives are lost, what the cost is, and how many on going wars they are in, both, constantly threaten others with use of force, for what end? No one knows. Here is an example.
    Saudis threaten military force in Syria if talks fail

  8. turcopolier says:

    Larry Kart
    If only… A basilisk lent me that. pl

  9. Henshaw says:

    +1. Made my day.

  10. VietnamVet says:

    Hydrogen bombs have made war between militaries possessing them impossible except as an extinction event. Man being man, instead is playing a game of chicken to see how much power and wealth one man can gather onto himself without blowing the world up. Since the western populace has opted out of being cannon fodder; the war fighting has been left to volunteers, mercenaries and religious fanatics. Without armies strong enough to secure their borders, the religious fanatics fueled by drone bombing and oil money are spreading through the world and are the real threat; not, Russia, France, China, Great Britain or India. Instead of chaos, influence and money must be used to assure sovereign states have secure borders with healthy purposeful populations and that Israel, Pakistan and North Korea do not go off their reservations.

  11. YT says:

    Col. sir,
    Please send my regards to said basilisk.
    I recall that the last we heard ’bout him, he underwent surgery for cardiac arrest.

  12. LondonBob says:
    Right on cue. Hard to know where to start with this article, I just hope he is promoting his book. That us ‘Little Englanders’ who wish for us to live, in Lord Salisbury’s words, in splendid isolation are actually now able to get our voices heard is positive thing.

  13. LondonBob says:

    The neocon talking heads promoted by the media can keep on pushing the Russian aggression meme however opinion polls, votes (Dutch vote on EU Association agreement with the Ukraine, Austrian Presidential election, the success of Sanders and Trump) etc. show that the people aren’t buying it. It would be odd that this wouldn’t be reflected in the comment threads online.

  14. Imagine says:

    NATO too IMHO. “SLICC’s”: urf urf urf. That’s Jonathan Swift level description.

  15. Chris Chuba says:

    Here is a strong proponent of the F-35 …
    It slices, it dices, the pilot can see through the airplane, target missiles previously targeted by other F-35’s, replace AWAC’s, … However, this is what caught my eye from part 1, “the F-22, should be able to beat the pants off an F-35. The F-35 is a multi-purpose plane. The F-22 is a specialist in air-to-air combat, and is going to win, because that’s what it’s made for.”
    So there will definitely be a time where the Russian Sukhoi PAK FA will be superior to the F-35 as a fighter. I suppose that the planners were thinking that our force of 189 F-22’s would fill in until they figured this out. I suspect that this would be true for the Chinese knock off as well but the Russians are more likely to export a few of theirs. So far, I have only heard about the Russians partnering with India so they seem less promiscuous about exporting their stealth than we are.

  16. jonst says:

    WRC wrote: “But wondering if large scale conventional war at least somewhat remote”. Tell me the location of the possible crisis and we might have a clearer answer to your question….Syria? Libya? South China Sea? One answer. OTOH….Ukrainian-Russian border? Baltic nations? Turkish Russian confrontation? Georgia geo-political area? China Korean border….I’ll give you a different answer. History is full of people and nation ‘stumblin in’ to all kinds of surprises. When you are close to their respective borders, that is.

  17. bth says:

    Off topic. I am reading “A History – ISIS” by Fawaz A. Gerges, 2016, Princeton University Press. A very well researched book fresh off the press. Well worth the read.

  18. Vic says:

    Spot on.
    Remember the “legs” of national strategy (DIME)? The root cause of our military problem (not enough of it) is a crappy economy. Until the economy turns around the Army (and other services) will continue to decline in size strength and capabilities.
    I think the government took “risk” and cut back on military funding over the past decade to try to allow the economy to grow. It also cut back on military missions and commitments (we are going to do less with less). This has not worked. Things seem to be getting worse. The economy has not bounced back as it previously would have. Hopefully, this is not a self reinforcing feed back loop.
    Arguing over defense budgets, equipment procurement, end strengths is like arguing over how many angels fit on a pin head. The money is just not there to do much of anything for the military. The critical debate is how to fix the economy (which drives the size and equipment of the military).

  19. ex-PFC Chuck says:

    I don’t know who originated it, but the term has been around a while. I first ran across it in the last decade when I saw it used by one of the people of the military reform movement that coalesced around the late USAF Col. John Boyd in the late 1970s. Might have been Chuck Spinney, but I don’t recall for sure.

  20. ex-PFC Chuck says:

    Perhaps I’m reading too much in to your first two sentences, but if you’re suggesting that there is virtually no chance that we will stumble into a nuclear exchange with Russia and/or China I beg to differ. They may not be great, but the chances are by no means vanishingly small. Those of us who were more or less sentient beings in the fall of 1962 remember how tense those days in October were but several facts and incidents have emerged from deep classification since that suggest we weren’t nearly fearful enough.
    In the early 1990s a seminar was held in Moscow attended by many of the key players in the crisis from both the USA and the USSR. According to an appendix in one of Robert McNamara’s books the US team was operating under the assumption that none of the nuclear-tipped missiles was in position and ready to fire. IIRC (I don’t have the book at hand so I can’t now verify it) that was true of the IRBMs but there were about fifteen missiles that were ready to fire that had a range of about 100 miles. That would have been more than enough to reduce much of the US fleet converging on the island to glowing scrap metal. If President Kennedy had not resisted the immense pressure he was under to attack and the USSR replied with a counter attack on the fleet the US would have almost certainly launched the ICBMs and the B-52s, and the last half century would have been very different.
    There have also been reports of two incidents, one on each side, in which we have to thank two firm, cool-headed junior officers avoided starting nuclear war because of the stupidity and misunderstanding of others. You can read the details of these at the links below. The US incident has not been officially confirmed and has been denied by some. One other person who was at the scene the account in an Asian news publication although he (presumably it was a guy) refused to be identified. However considering the candor with which the US military informs the public of its screw-ups, I find the airman’s story compelling.

  21. thepanzer says:

    Lets say the Russians do have a more significant presence in Ukraine.
    So what?
    It’s their backyard, which they have longstanding national and ethnic ties to.
    We have zero, exactly zero, national or historic ties to Ukraine and our involvement in the region has no potential upside other than making various R2P and neocon apparatchiks feel fulfilled. The potential downsides to these boneheaded adventures is massive.
    Our current policy seems to be “poke the bear until it’s angry, then shoot the bear because it’s angry.” Maybe not the best idea with a nuclear armed nation that excels at rocketry…

  22. thepanzer says:

    In good news though, the F-35 should excel at static displays, stadium flyovers, and airshows.

  23. Jack says:

    As would be expected the neocons are hitching their wagons to the Borg Queen. She is the only certainty to continue our interventionist foreign policy and bigger budgets for the national security surveillance state.

  24. fasteddiez says:

    Oh no, not “secure their borders again.” The Gods of war, having increasingly too much on their plate, are in need a sub contracted deity to relieve the pressure of this indispensable task. May the God of personnel management lend a hand in this mission.

  25. VietnamVet says:

    Yes, possession of nuclear weapons in of themselves pose risks, as do nuclear power plants. Especially, as time passes, generations forget lessons of the past, empires crumble and money isn’t spent on training and upkeep. But, Mutual Assured Destruction (MAD) kept the first Cold War cold. What is frightening about Hillary Clinton and her fellow neo-cons is their purposeful ratcheting up of super power tensions and their blind support of Israel while the real problems of the spreading chaos, unsecure borders, inadequate jobs and religious fanaticism are ignored.

  26. Walker says:

    Actually, our underlying national strategy seems to be based more on the DOD’s 1992 neocon-written Defence Planning Guidance document. This document advocated unchallenged US world dominance as our number one goal. It identified global military power as our sole unique asset. It legitimized preemptive war and deprecated multilateral diplomacy, international law, and international institutions such as the UN when they do not conform to American wishes.
    This document caused a scandal when it became public. President George HW Bush disavowed it. However, our actual behavior tends to follow it. If one looks at the conduct and outcomes of our violent interventions around the world, it’s hard to say that democracy and human rights were the real goal.

  27. turcopolier says:

    The proposed 1992 Strategic Policy document was drafted by Zalmai Khalilzad when he was in Scooter Libby’s office in OSD. Wolfowitz was then Libby’s boss at policy chief in OSD. This was during the Bush 41 Administration but even then the neocons had infiltrated the Executive Branch. I was then DIO for the ME and South Asia. I challenged the document as frankly imperialist and listened to Khalilzad scream at me at the Army and Navy Club in Farragut Square that like most “native Americans” I had no understanding of the utility of military power. The document was retracted as you say. It had been leaked to the press by the US Army for the purpose of killing it. I agree that the neocons acted on the basis of the retracted document once they came to full power under Bush 43. And BTW I was the host for lunch at the club. pl

  28. Emad says:

    Timely post by your guest author. Very much appreciate what you’ve done here.
    I’ve a question:
    The last time the U.S. armed forces faced a similar budgetary environment and battlefield performance was after the Vietnam war (To me the Clinton years don’t count). Were the officers brought up in that era different from the current crop of GWOT-addicted general officers who are incapable of or unwilling to take tough decisions on what weapon systems are really needed for a realistic threat environment? Or has it always more or less been like this, that is, the armed forces as an institution just want more, bigger and badder?

  29. turcopolier says:

    IMO it has always been thus. Tthe big difference in recent history is that GOs have become accustomed to the idea that if they scheme long enough they can get whatever their hearts desire. pl

  30. SmoothieX12 says:

    Vice-Admiral Vasily Alexandrovich Arkhipov–superintendent of my naval academy. We were the last class 1985 graduated under his command. At the time of Cuban Missile Crisis he was Chief of Staff of 69th Brigade (Submarines) of the Northern Fleet. He was senior officer of the detachment of subs around Cuba. He suffered from asthma which he “earned” while taking part in the events. Conditions on subs then (overheating) and stress will do that to many. I was privileged to know him.

  31. kooshy says:

    Yes i am familiar with that Document PW drew up. but IMO this line of self centered thinking goes back way behind 20th century. I am trying to explain the now cultured imperialistic thinking/ mentality that forms the
    US policy and demands the planers to formulate, legalize and put it in papers.

  32. kooshy says:

    Thank you Colonel Lang

  33. Babak Makkinejad says:

    It is just Power, or the abundance of it, that has gotten into their heads and corrupted that quality that the English – in their better days – used to call “Judgment”.
    Power Corrupts – without a doubt – as our Japanese friends amply demonstrated during their brief imperial moment from 1900 to 1945.

  34. Bill Herschel says:

    Thank you.

  35. Walker says:

    Many would like to have the opportunity to express such opinions about the DPG. Thank you for actually doing it.

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