Gideon's Blog

In direct contravention of my wife's explicit instructions, herewith I inaugurate my first blog. Long may it prosper.

For some reason, I think I have something to say to you. You think you have something to say to me? Email me at: gideonsblogger -at- yahoo -dot- com

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Friday, March 12, 2004
A follow-up to the last post: one of the most crucial shortages we face in confronting our current war is a manpower shortage. We cannot occupy Iraq, conduct peacekeeping in Bosnia, Kossovo and Afghanistan, chase terrorists in the Philippines, Uzbekistan, Indonesia, and Yemen, deter a Chinese attack on Taiwan and a North Korean attack on South Korea, respond to local contingencies like Haiti (or, potentially, Venezuela), and be prepared for possible full-scale wars in places like Iran, or Syria, or Pakistan, all while adequately protecting the force and maintaining overall readiness. We're stretched as thin as can be and we're not prepared for half of the above contingencies. What are we going to do about it?

It seems to me we have only a few choices:

1. Increase the size of the AVF. All it takes is money. We had a bigger force in the 1980s than we do today; we could have a bigger force again. We just have to pay for it. We don't want to shortchange on basic equipment or spending on new technology, so growing the size of the force means additive expenditure on an annual basis in the nine figure range. We now spend about 3.5% of GDP on defense. Could we up that to 6% without uprooting our civilization? Sure. That's what the figure was in 1987. I'll bet we could get a fine force structure with that kind of money. We just can't get all those guns and all the butter we seem to want. So advocating this would take political courage, and would test just how much support our current war has.

2. Reinstate the draft. Stanley Kurtz used to be a big advocate of this option; I don't know if he still is. This option would take more political courage than option #1, and would apparently be less expensive. But I'm not convinced. I bet if you tallied the indirect costs of a draft from removing productive citizens from the economy, you'd discover that a draft is at least as expensive as simply spending enough to raise a bigger volunteer army. Most of those who advocate a draft do so for implicitly or explicitly cultural and moral reasons. Those reasons are not relevant to this discussion. Nonetheless, this is an option, with political costs and benefits, so I put it out there.

3. Recruit allies. We've done a good bit of this, actually, but the problem is that there are very few allies that we can (a) really rely on; (b) have high-quality personnel available; and (c) have substantial militaries. Britain and Australia are about it, and neither is exactly enormous as a military power. The Pakistanis are helping us hunt for al Qaeda in the Northwest Frontier, but they aren't exactly reliable or entirely high-quality. The Italians and the Japanese have sent troops to Iraq, but neither has exactly got a large and robust military. Allies can be useful in many ways - for diplomatic cover, for local knowledge, for basing, or just to give us someone to bounce our ideas off of. It's not obvious to me that they significantly impact out manpower shortage.

4. Recruit mercenaries. I'm not saying it's a good option, but it's an option. There's a big potential pool of people out there who could be recruited to a force to serve as an adjunct to the U.S. military, particularly if that service put them on a fast-track to U.S. citizenship or otherwise promised outsized benefits. You'd expect that on average this pool of people would be less-qualified than the recruitment pool for the U.S. military itself, but I'm not sure it would be less-qualified than the portion of the pool that winds up as ordinary grunts. Has anyone studied how much of the U.S. military's activities could be "outsourced" in some fashion? I don't know. There are, obviously, lots of downsides to using foreign mercenaries - in terms of security, diplomatic consequences, cultural consequences, etc. I'd prefer to pay more for American volunteers, just as I'd prefer American volunteers to American draftees. But, like the draft, this option should be on the table.

5. Change the mission. What is the mission, anyhow? We're trying, obviously, to wipe out al Qaeda and, to some extent, other terrorist groups. We're also trying to prevent rogue states from going nuclear, and to prevent nuclear weapons from falling into the hands of terrorists. In our more ambitious moments, we also talk about trying to change the culture of the Islamic world, though whether what we're most interested in is spreading democracy or just convincing Muslim governments to stamp out their native extremists to spare us the trouble of doing it ourselves is never 100% clear (because sometimes we favor one approach, sometimes the other, which is as it should be). Perhaps this is too ambitious? Perhaps we should focus only on al-Qaeda, and count on deterrence to deal with a nuclear Iran? I'd argue that would be a mistake, but it should be on the table as an option; someone should advocate ignoring the nuclear issue and focusing on the terrorists, if only so the question gets debated. Perhaps we should do the opposite - focus on a forceful anti-proliferation program, and forget about whether terrorists are breeding in Afghanistan, Somalia, Yemen, etc. After all, terrorism has been with us always. This I think would also be a mistake, but it should be debated. Perhaps we should be less altruistic, forget about trying to bring democracy to Iraq or Iran or wherever, and focus only on concrete threats: if terrorists attack us from your territory, or if you go nuclear and we don't trust you, we'll bomb you silly. This choice, too, would have profound implications. If we abandoned the at this point expected humanitarian dimension of warfare for reasons of cost, the diplomatic consequences would be severe. I think everyone would agree we'd have a far harder time winning international support even for wars like Afghanistan if we said, "we intend to kill as many Afghanis as it takes to convince the Afghanis and anyone else tempted to harbor al Qaeda that they'd better not give in to that temptation. When they get the message, we're out of here, and they can rebuild the country themselves." I mean, that is pretty much the alternative to what we're doing, right?

If we don't reconceptualize the mission, then between force-protection, occupation duty, deterrence, readiness and potential new wars, we need a lot more troops than we have now. We should be talking about that. By and large, we aren't.

The Bush Administration war program has been criticized, from the left and the right, in several ways. We are told that Iraq was a distraction from the real mission. Okay, then, what's the real mission, and what's the battle plan for accomplishing it? We are told that we had insufficient troops for Iraq and a poor plan for postwar occupation. We're told the same thing about the conduct of the Afghan campaign with respect to the events at Tora Bora. Okay, then, how many troops do we need to fulfill the mission, and where are we going to get them? I would love this election campaign to revolve around why we are fighting and how we can win. I don't suspect I'm going to get my wish. I'll have to get used to disappointment, I guess.